Monday, June 27, 2011

Beyond Bathtub Gardening

In an earlier post, I described a project we initiated at my house in which a bathtub we never used became an indoor garden for the cold months. It worked very well, too. Now it's summer, and another project we had dreamed about has finally taken shape. We get some fierce winds up on the mountain, and every time my wife has tried to grow tomatoes or herbs, they've gotten whipped to smithereens. Then there are the sudden hailstorms, like the one last summer, that left a dozen flourishing basil plants looking like someone had blasted them with a shotgun.

We have what might pass for a side yard, if you ignore the steepness of the slope--which could be a dangerous mistake. It has been a bit of an eyesore since we bought the house, although greatly improved by some valiant efforts on my wife's part to plant some things at the sunniest end. The one redeeming feature of that yard is a fence surrounding it with excellent wind protection. It was decided that we would build a few terraces and convert this wasted space into a garden. Here is how that unfolded:

One Saturday morning, I heard the unmistakable sound of a pick kachunking and thwacking outside. I went out onto the deck and looked down into the scruffy yard, and there was my lovely wife, flailing away at the roots of a dry bush. This was just days before she was due to have surgery, so...

I went around to the back of the house, entered the yard and said, "Hey, baby! Let me do that!" She was good enough to let me take over. So many projects begin this way--which is a good thing, because if she didn't start them, they'd never happen. And that's the truth.

It's amazing how extensive a little shrub's root system can be. I had figured this would be a matter of a few solid blows, but it ended up taking the better part of an hour.

Gertie really wanted to help.

After a while, I took a break to go out and buy a pile of cinder blocks and 3-foot lengths of rebar. Marcia had already made a run to the rockyard for about 35 pots of premium topsoil.

After excavating and flattening out a section of the slope, I began to build the retaining wall. I think Gertie had realized her skill set wasn't required, but she insisted on providing moral support.

Once the blocks were in place, I hammered the rebar stakes into the holes to anchor them and provide extra stability (well, any stability, actually).

My gorgeous farmer wasted no time. As soon as the soil was in place, she planted seedlings of zucchini, burgess, delicata, and yellow squashes.

We have plans to add two more terraces next year, but Marcia didn't want to wait. So she embedded a bunch of plastic pots to form a makeshift cascading terrace. Very organic-looking, it reminded me of Mexico--the way people make creative use of whatever materials they can get their hands on. These pots got cucumbers and peppers.

A couple of weeks later, I built a second bed, where three tiny kabocha squash plants went in right away. There are shallots rooting under that pile of protective hay, and marigolds surround the bed, as a deterrent to aphids (I hear they don't get along).

Not finished by any means, but there it is: our new wind-protected terraced garden!

After I took over the pick action, Marcia (no slacker, she) set about creating a wind-shielding greenhouse for tomato plants, herbs and other fragile items. We used to have a 15-foot peace sign on the front of our house, made out of PVC, with rope lights on it. It lasted about three years before it finally fell and broke. This new structure was 100% recycled from that peace sign.

This is a lot of work, but she made a fun project out of it...

...sort of a Frank Gehry greenhouse.

A little heavy duty plastic and white duct tape made a more than adequate wind shield, and steel mesh on top will keep hail from laying waste to the tender greens.

I can't wait until the heirloom tomatoes start popping out!

Next to the door to the greenhouse, the tarragon is already going wild.

The Swiss chard, parsley and mint like it better in the shade of the table.


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    Gucci: You're welcome (and thanks), but I would say it's your eagerness to learn that you have to thank...