Saturday, April 30, 2011

IndieFixx Interview

Screen shot 2011-04-30 at 10.32.05 PM
I did a fun interview with Jen Wallace from IndieFixx.  Sorry for the delay in posting this... I'm quite behind on posting these days!  Thanks for the great questions Jen :)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Day 4 & 5 Finished!

Day 5 Finished!
Day 5 and I'm finished!

I spent 3 hours yesterday (Day 4) redoing the newspaper bed.  I removed the frame, took out all of the newspaper I had laid down and double dug the bed.  Then I reinstalled the frame.  I was tired by the end of that 3 hours and called it a day.

Today (Day 5) I filled all of the beds with soil.  I'm surprised it took almost 5 hours to do!  I also cleaned up the work site a bit.  I found that it was faster to mix the soil directly in the beds.  I started by mixing in the wheelbarrow and that wasn't very efficient.  I'm planning to make a summery post so that all of the important information is in one place. 

All-in-all this project took 5 days (about 22 hours not including travel time to the many stores).  I was able to do most of this myself, but you definitely need a second person to lift the raised bed frames and set them in place.  The cost was about $250 with soil. 

And so we start.
And so we start!  We went to a few nurseries and bought some starter plants.  I was surprised to really like the plant selection (and price) at Fred Meyer.  I went to the one in the Ballard/Fremont area.  Their plants were healthy and well watered with the exception of a few cucumber flats. 

I'm also starting a few things from seed like spinach, lettuce, radishes and peas.  I've found with plants like tomatoes and peppers I get better results from buying gallon pots.  It'll be my first time growing broccoli and cabbages.  I never had enough space before, they're such HUGE plants.  Fingers crossed!

Phase II
As I was finishing off with the beds I looked over to the gate and began to wonder what I can do there... maybe a row of raspberries or asparagus?  This will be the never ending project. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Raised Bed Day 3

My day's work
Another day of digging.  I ended yesterday with my 1st bed finished and my 2nd half dug.  I picked up the work today around 3pm and finished all 3 beds around 7:30pm.  I decided to make the 3 beds with 3 different soil preparation methods:

The 1st bed was done with single digging and the sod removed.  It took about 3 hours. (right)

The 2nd bed done with double digging, the sod (top layer) was buried underneath another layer of soil. This was the more laborious of all 3.  It also took about 3 hours, but more heavy lifting was involved. (center)

The 3rd bed was done by just placing layers of newspaper on top of the sod and piling new soil in the frame.  It took about 30 minutes, but I have my doubts about the effectiveness and benefits of this method. (left)

My feeling on all 3 is that the double digging is best when cultivating a bed for the first time.  It was the hardest one to do, but well worth the work.  There's always weeds, grass or something growing on the top of your soil that you want to take out before planting.  Single digging just rotates the soil from one section to the next, what's on top of the soil still stays (relatively) on top.  You have to manually pick out any weeds or plant matter that you don't want growing back.  It's not so bad if you have a few plants here or there, but when there's a dense carpet of sod that's another story.  You can't effectively till sod with just a single dig.

Double digging is hard for me to explain.  It's basically like a single dig, but instead of rotating the soil from section to section you also rotate it from top to bottom.  You start by removing 2 shovel's depth worth of soil and place it aside (each shovel's depth is a layer)  Then you put the top layer of soil in the next section into the bottom layer of your first section.  After that you cover that top layer with the bottom layer of that next section... Top layer becomes bottom layer, each section at a time.  I was very confused by the instructions I read, even the illustration was no help, but once I got started digging it all made sense.  I'll try to do a demo tomorrow.  The plant matter in the top layer is buried so deep that it won't regrow.  Not only is it covered with 12" of soil, but I'm putting on another 12" after the raised bed frame gets installed.  No way is grass going to poke out of 24" worth of soil.  Another benefit to this method is how fluffy it gets the soil!  Because the soil takes up more volume I need to buy less soil to fill up the bed and I don't have to compost the sod, it gets composted in the ground.  The only drawback is how laborious it is, but honestly it's not that bad.
*This is the method I'll use from now on when cultivating new beds.

The 3rd method I used was placing newspaper onto of the soil to act as a barrier and kill the sod under it.  This is very simple, unless you're in a very wind situation.  I don't know if I was doing it right, but I don't like this method.  I'll illustrate below:
Newspaper down
So I'll just call this the "Newspaper" method.  It's as easy as it looks, lay down newspaper and pile soil onto of it.  My issue with this is drainage.  At my old home the previous owners had made a sidewalk garden using this method.  I didn't know this at first, but noticed that when I was watering the water would run off fairly quickly and the soil also got dry quickly.  It was mostly filled with drought tolerant plants like euphorbias, lavenders and sedums.  I thought that I had let the soil dry out to much and it lost some of it's water retention qualities.  After I started digging into the ground I found a layer of partially decomposed newspaper about 8" down.  It was effective in blocking out plants/weed under it, but it also formed a barrier for water and accelerated topsoil evaporation.  I noticed roots had a hard time penetrating the newspaper as well. 

Frame on
This is an image of all 3 beds in place.  I don't know if I'm doing the "newspaper" method right, but if so it seems like a perfect waste of top soil buring it under newspaper, inaccessible to the plants above it.  Then have to go buy a lot more soil to fill the bed.  There's also the drainage and evaporation issue and I don't know what kind of chemicals are in the paper and ink.  I wouldn't mind so much if I'm not eating the plants I grow.  I guess you can do the same with a weed blocker fabric, but you lose soil depth.  If I have a 12" raised bed and I dig another 12"-24" I'll have lots of room for roots to grow.  I couldn't hurt to give those roots more space right?

Yes it's easy and quick, but it's no good, unless you're planting a parking strip and don't really care.  You know one of the "set it and forget it" moments.  I feel so strongly against this that I'm redoing this bed tomorrow with the double dig method.  It'll add another day's work, but I'd rather do it now then regret it a month from now.  At least it has no soil in it!  So my conclusion is to double dig when cultivating new land.  Heck I might go back and do it to the 1st bed too... maybe... I'll see how my aches are by then :P

Another photo of Guy being helpful.  Notice how high the mound of soil it.  This is from double digging, no soil has been added, it's just what was there fluffed up.  Guy approves. :)

So tomorrow I redo my 3rd bed and fill the beds with soil.  I'm hoping I'll be ready for planting on Wednesday or Thursday.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Raised Bed Day 2

What a broken back looks like
This is what a broken back looks like!  We hauled about 70 cubic feet worth of compost, manure, peat moss and top soil up 10 steps and into our back yard.  I'm so thankful the old owner left his wheelbarrow behind.  It saved the day!  This is about $200 worth of soil and 3 trips in the Prius.

You can calculate how much soil you need by multiplying your bed's height, width and length.  Mine is 4x8x1= 32 cubic feet of soil is needed per bed (times 3 beds is 96 cubic feet).  I'm going to mix in some fill dirt that was left by the south side of our house.  The fill is clean and mostly sand. 

Cutting into the land
Today was the ground breaking and back breaking day.  This is the no-fun part and I would totally recommend renting a rototiller.  I started by marking out where the beds will go and used a shovel to cut a perimeter.  This gives me a nice clean edge.  I've dug 2"-3" wider than the bed's dimensoins to make sure I clear all of the grass around it. 

Second tilling
The next step is to till it.  This is just plain ol' elbow grease.  Nothing makes it easier...  I used a Japanese garden hoe similar to this one from JapanWoodworker, but with a longer handle.  I found that angle and ergonomics was good for me.

This is where I stopped today, we started at about 11am with buying and hauling soil and I stopped working at about 7pm.  We took 2 hours off to each lunch and wander through the Ballard Farmer's Market.  So for about 6 hours of work I got 1.5 beds tilled and all of my soil brought on site.  My husband and I did the hauling together, but I worked on the tilling by myself.  So you can gage the amount of work it takes to prepare for a raised bed.

There are lots of different methods used on how to build a raised bed (and how to prepare the soil).  You just have to pick the one that you have the energy and resources for.  I'm going to experiment with a few methods in each box.

Dug and ready
This is my first bed.  I've removed the sod and tilled it.  I started with the 2 steps above (cut the perimeter and a rough till).  After breaking the sod into big chunks I shook out soil and tossed the sod aside.  In most of the forums I've read removing the sod is unnecessary.  I just did it for the hell of it.  At this point it's ready for the raised bed frame.  Tilling and preparing this patch took about 2 hours and 30 minutes.
*To get the dirt out from the sod I beat clumps of it against a 2x4.  Lots of dirt went flying everywhere, my hair, my eyes, my mouth... not fun.  Not the best way to do this.

I won't be removing the sod in the other 2 bed.  I will double dig my 2nd bed (started and half-way done) and I'll just lay newspaper over the sod on the 3rd bed.  These are both methods that others have used and said works.  I'd like to see which 3 method is best at promoting plant growth and inhibiting weed/grass growth in the beds.  I'd like to see what the easiest & most efficient way is.  I'll have more info on the other 2 beds tomorrow (weather permitting) and I'll keep you guys posted throughout the season.

One down, 2 to go
This is the first bed with frame installed.  After tilling we lowered the frame into place, filling in any low points and making sure it was level.  We lifted the frame up again to dig a small trench where the frame was.  You'll see an indentation/footprint in the soil, just dig an inch or 2 slightly larger than that footprint.  Fill it with gravel for drainage.  I forgot to buy gravel this morning, but I had a bucket of small rocks laying around.  I packed the rest with the sandy fill dirt I had (not as good as gravel for drainage).  This drainage trench will help keep your wood dryer.  It'll still rot eventually, but this gives you some extra time.

Lower the frame onto your gravel once again and pack the outer perimeter with soil.  I just shoveled some fill dirt all the way around the walked on it.  You're pretty much just setting it into place.
*Where I live I'm not so concerned with digging critters so I didn't install chicken wire under the frame.  If you're concerned with moles or rats, rabbits etc. you should do so. This bed is ready for soil.  I'm waiting to fill all 3 at the same time.

I don't know if this is necessary either, but I staked all 4 corners of the frame into the ground.  This keeps it from moving around, but I assume once it's been loaded with soil it's not going anywhere.

A Little Too Wide
Today I realize that 4' across is pretty wide, especially given the extra lumber widths making it a total of 51" wide.  I'm on the shorter side and I can tell reaching the middle is going to be a hassle.  If you're shorter or have back issues I'd go with 3' or 3.5' wide beds.

My Little Helper
Just in case you guys are wondering.  This is Guy, my supervisor.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Raised Bed Gardening 2.0

Cut and Ready!
Today I started on the new raised beds.  This is the 2nd time I've built these and I've made a few changes to the first version.  Building a raised bed is very easy with a few good tools.  If you're interested in starting your own garden check out this wonderful article by Kate Gardner from PlanetNatural. So here are the details:

3 Beds total (for now... I'm probably going to build 2 or 3 more)
I really want a winter garden and a few beds to grow onions and garlic in, not to mention potatoes/yams.  All of these crops require a dedicated space for almost the entire growing season (in Seattle).  Unlike beans, peas, leafy greens, radishes and chard etc. where I was able to do 2 or 3 rounds in the same space.  With a yard that's about 2000sf I want to challenge myself to grow for year round eating!  I'm not much of a lawn person anyways :P

Beds are 4' x 8'
It just makes sense with lumber being 8' long.  It also fits nicely in the Prius.  Yes we hauled all of the lumber you see in that pic in our 2005 Prius!  It's like live action tetris.

Beds are 12" high
My first version was 18" high (or three levels of 2"X6") and it needed A LOT of soil to fill!  This time I'm only going with a 12" high bed (or two levels of 2"x6").  I searched around for more info on bed height and found this great video from GrowingYourGreens.

Cedar and Hemlock Fir
I originally planned on making all of my beds from cedar, but 2"x6"x8' cedar lumber was about $14.00 each and I needed 6 per bed.  Each bed would be about $90 with corner posts... that's a little more than I want to spend.  Lowes also had the same in Hemlock Fir for about $4 (or about $30 per bed with corner posts).  I debated for awhile at the cost vs. longevity of the wood and for the sake of experimentation I decided to go with both.  We made 2 Fir and 1 Cedar bed.  I'll keep you guys posted on how these compare to each other.

6 Cedar 2"x6"x8' = $84.00
12 Hemlock Fir 2"x6"x8' = $48.00
2 Hemlock Fir 4"x4"x8' = $16.00
Total for 3 beds: $148.00 (not including soil or misc things like screws and nails)

The Tools
Tools for the job:
circular saw, pencil, level, tape measure and drill.  You'll also need nails or screws and a level area to put it all together on.  It really helps to have a concrete pad or patio.  Measure and cut the wood.  Each bed has four 8' sections and four 4' sections and four corner posts that are 12"high.  Well the posts are really 11" since 2x6 lumber is really 1.5"x5.5".  

I Cheated
After you cut all of your pieces lay them out on a flat surface and begin to assemble.  In the past I used clamps to hold the wood together then pre-drilled and screwed them together... or you can have a helper hold the wood together, but it always slips or moves.  I cheated this time and used a nail gun!  It was soooo much faster!  I still pre-drilled and used screws, I just don't trust brad nails to withstand years of abuse.  I tend to overdo it.  This was the original tutorial I used from Popular Mechanics.

3 Down
My husband helped me with these and we managed to put all 3 together in about 2 hours.  I also added some braces in the middle of the 8' sections, my old beds were a bit wobbly in the middle. Tomorrow we'll deal with the soil and "install" our beds.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Three-Dimensional Line & My First Skype!

In Between, an installation of red strings and nails.
I have a group show that opens this Friday in Kirkland, WA.  I'll be there, so if you're in town please come by and say hi.

Three-Dimensional Line
Curated by Ellen Ziegler for In Lieu Exhibit Space
April 16 - May 28, 2011
Opening Reception: Friday, April 15, 2011, 6 - 8:30 PM 

The Three-Dimensional Line presents eleven artists who amalgamate volume, dimension, scale, emotion and illusion with line in a myriad of ways. This exhibition explores the creation of three-dimensional form in the space of a room or in the mind of a viewer.

In an effort to make sense of the world, the eye and the mind navigate between two and three dimensions, using what are sometimes the barest visual clues. The humor and mischievous play apparent in these works exemplify the power that artists can harness to compel and confound the viewer. A perceptual game ensues; we feel our neurons firing.

Timothy Brown
Robert Campbell
Diem Chau
Sean Johnson I LOVE HIS WORK! Yo man get a website! :P
Margie Livingston
Jean Lullie
and work on loan by Vija Celmins

Skype Yo!
In other news I have an opening tonight at Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota.  I couldn't be there physically but in the age of technology who needs a body?!  Greg Blair, the exhibition coordinator suggested we use Skype to get me to the opening.  This is my first time using Skype.  We did a test run yesterday and I'm SO HOOKED!  Yes yes... this old lady is behind on the times.
Thanks for introducing me to such fun new technology Greg!  See you tonight.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Spring Fever

We finally have some sun in Seattle.  Last year we had to wait until June for sunshine.  I swear I was a few weeks away from hanging myself.  This nice weather is giving me a serious case of Spring Fever!  Even with a pile of serious work to do I'm compelled to dig in the garden... that and buying a $4 head of lettuce.  Seriously should lettuce cost $4 per head?!  It was organic, but still, that's ridiculous.

Back yard
We just moved into a new house a few months ago.  At our old home I had a small, fairly well established garden that provided us with a decent amount of veggies during the summer.  This new place is a blank slate, but it's a good canvas... there's not a lot of stuff I have to remove and it's flat.  I just have to build the beds and till the soil.  I feel like I'm racing against time to build my beds, everyday I wait to plant is a good growing day wasted.

Laying it out
This is the sunniest part of the yard by our boxwood hedge.  It's close to house and the water supply.
I have no idea what I'm doing.  I found a bundle of 2x4's by the side of the house and decided to sketch out some bed designs.  I like sketching on paper, but this gives me a much better visual.  All in all I'm going to start with 4-5 beds.  I think this will grow WAY MORE than 2 people can ever eat.  I only had 1.5 beds in the old house.  This will give me room to do root veggies, onions, garlic, broccoli and cabbages.  I can also set aside some space for a winter garden.  When we had the smaller space I stuck to high output crops like spinach, lettuce, tomatoes and beans. 

An overhead shot from the kitchen window.  You can see 3.5 beds laid out here.  I've made them 8'wide by 4'deep with a 20"-24' footpath in between.  I'm planning out what I need for materials today and hopefully I can get this built next week.