Springing into action … again

It’s a little over a year since I published my first post … wasn’t WordPress supposed to send me some sort of YeeHaw about that? Whatever – the point is, I’m kinda back where I started: in the veggie garden. I gave up on it in July when the weeds swallowed my wheelbarrow, but that was a tactical retreat, not an admission of defeat.

His complaints are clearly nonsensical, since it's quite obvious that he's having a blast.
His complaints are clearly nonsensical, since it’s obvious that he’s having a blast. Here, he’s making a big spread-out pile of horse manure, dirt and stable waste into a compact, tall pile, while seated on two very big round things. Every man’s dream, right?

This spring Himself and I have gone in with a unified front and guns blazing. We have experienced some friendly fire (mainly when Himself accuses me of constantly dreaming up projects that are, and I quote, “too damn big”, and then, and I quote further, of “expecting him to do all the damn work”), but no one is actually dead. Yet.

I had to concede some key arguments in order to get him on board … but to be honest, while my ideals are good, they were more than I could accomplish given how unfit I am. I really wanted this garden to be established using a permaculture and no-till approach from the outset, but it simply wasn’t practical. The area we’ve set aside for fruit and veggies (with a corner lopped out of it for the chickens) is pretty big – around 100×80 ft – and it was hillocky and rutted and impossible, especially since I’m hobbling about on a fractured ankle. So I lifted the tractor ban, and the ground is now depressingly compacted, but flat and smooth. As we fill it up with raised beds and plants it will become inaccessible to the tractor, and I’m hopeful that, given time and plenty of tasty composted goodies, the earthworms and other tiny critters will heal the soil.

Himself has had a few concessions to make as well. Being an engineer with (gawd help us) a military school background, he likes things neat, matching, with square corners. Do you have any idea what it would cost to fill 8,000 sq,ft with beautifully crafted raised beds like these? Nor do I, and although he could probably calculate it with ease, it makes no difference: however you add it up, the answer amounts to “a shitload”.

In any case, I find repurposing more satisfying, which is why I was very happy to learn that a local farmer was ripping out hundreds of acres of wine grapes … and replacing them with carrots – can you believe such a thing??? But his bizarre choice was my good fortune, because he advertised 8-ft long, 5-in diameter wood poles, formerly used to hold up the vines, on Craigslist for a little bit of nothing. With only minimal eye-rolling by Himself, we purchased three truckloads. (Reverting to the subject of friendly fire: I helped with the first load and was thereby incapacitated and unable to walk for nearly a week, so Himself and some other sturdy fellow fetched the other two loads. I should get points for wanting to help, right?)

What's left of the pole pile after yesterday's work party.
What’s left of the pole pile after yesterday’s work party, with Argos doing a “stay” to help make the picture pretty.

Then on Saturday we had a work party, involving a couple of young, energetic friends with whom I occasionally trade babysitting for farm labor, and a gang of teenagers in need of pocket money. As it turned out, “8 feet long and 5 inches diameter” was merely an approximate description of the poles … but that just made the design and construction process more interesting. (Or so it seemed to me, after Himself asked me please to be quiet and let him get the job done. One of my Life Rules is, Never argue with an engineer, especially if he’s carrying a hammer, so I sat down on the side of the asparagus bed and let him get on with it. He adapted my original concept design, which necessitated some fixing by me – ha ha! – but I’m happy with the end result.)

The start of my raised bed garden
The start of our raised bed garden. To the left, bordering the Nasty Neighbor, is a bed I built a few weeks ago, using old power poles. It contains an 80-ft row of asparagus. The three raised beds are what we built on Saturday. The Engineer says this looks, and I quote, “scruffy”. I think it looks rustic, and will be charming when full of greenly growing goodness.

If you’re wondering how to build raised beds using somewhat uneven old poles, the way we did it was to lay the bottom ones out. (The poles are used only for the long sides of the bed.) We then hammered sections of rebar into the ground to hold them in place. (In the final step, the rebar needs to be hammered right down such that it doesn’t stick up above the level of the top pole and stab unwary gardeners.) The end pieces, 5-ft sections of 2×6 lumber that Himself had lying around, were nailed to the poles. Then we laid the next layer, nailing it to 2×6 in its turn. My design called for three sections of rebar – two at each end on the outside and one in the middle inside – that essentially brace the poles into place, which minimizes the load on the end pieces. I think this would make them more stable and better suited to being sat on while one is weeding, so will build the remaining beds that way. Some of the poles are bent, creating gaps when they were laid on top of each other, so in a few places we’ve had to block the gaps inside with some old chipboard from one of Himself’s piles of Random Stuff That I May Need One Day. This will probably rot within a year or two, but by then the soil will have stabilized such that it’ll remain in place.

So far this year, I have planted a second plum tree, a peach tree, about 80 asparagus, a rhubarb plant, about 15 strawberries, a gooseberry bush, a horseradish, and about 10 walking onions. I have more berry bushes, another rhubarb plant and some fingerling potatoes waiting to go into the ground. I should have started seedlings in pots weeks ago, but am behind the curve … After last year’s weedy debacle, part of me couldn’t quite believe we’d be able to get our act together this year. But Himself has quit pouring contumely upon my commitment to organic gardening, and I’ve quit being rigid and perfectionist about it, and we’re managing to cooperate … so I guess this week will see me hard at work with seed packets and potting soil. In the fullness of time, maybe there will be crops!

He also sent me this link in case I should feel the need to
He also sent me this link in case I should feel the need to “perform my own calculations”. You’ve just got to love such optimism!

And … I’ve just received an email that reminds me of the many benefits of sharing life’s challenges with an engineer. While I have been writing this, he has been very busy Calculating, and has sent me the following:

I have calculated how much dirt/manure mix we have available in the pile in the front yard.
The pile is between 5-1/2 to 6 ft tall and the radius of the pile at the base is a bit more than 6-1/2 ft.
This calculates out to a pile volume of something between 270-to-295 cubic feet of soil/manure mix.
The volume of a 14 ft long raised bed is 14x4x1.25 = 70 cubic feet
Therefore, there is ample soil/manure in the pile to support filling at least FOUR MORE 14 ft beds.

I am now doubly motivated to build and fill the remaining beds, just to see if he’s right!

Your turn! How does spring affect your behavior? If you’re a gardener, do you try to befriend Mother Nature, or do you believe in better living through chemicals? Have you ever felt the urge to hit someone with a set square if something you build doesn’t line up perfectly?

Author: Belladonna Took

Well into my second half-century and still trying to figure out what to be when I grow up. Born South African, naturalized American, perpetually at risk of losing my balance and landing ass-first in the Atlantic.

21 thoughts on “Springing into action … again”

  1. One day, sooner (I hope) rather than later, I will once again attempt to wrest produce from the soil – but being in a city apartment with all the windows facing north/slightly east tend to disuade such notions for now. I will own a yard again – soon.

    Love how you’ve recycled the old poles from the vinyard – waste not, want not 🙂 and they lend character to your raised beds.


    1. Thank you, Peg… 🙂 Apartment dwelling … ugh, I haven’t done that for many years. You have my sympathy (I think) – although of course you get to enjoy that incredible city buzz, and theaters, and museums, and such. That has to be a significant compensation!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m certainly more comfortable dwelling in the city – I can catch a ride to work if my car doesn’t cooperate, or avail myself of public transportation. But in winter, everything entertainment costs in Wisconsin – so I usually abstain. Planning to buy property requires a lot of sacrifices.

        Summers, though? Wonderful! We have Friday Night Live all up and around the downtown area (local musicians and artists show off their talents in the streets) and the local Farmer’s Market every Saturday. We also have a long park system that follows the river that winds through town.

        My camera and I are frequent visitors to downtown in the spring-fall months – and this year, with the kids and their LED Poi – we might just have to set up somewhere within the park walkway and stage our own little show.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m a huge fan of organic, haphazard gardening. I laugh when I see how well-planned and laid out some people’s gardens are. Our garden shifts and changes every year, with much of it being experimental. I believe in a Darwinian survival of the fittest. The perennials that have stayed with us are the ones that don’t need watering, are self-seeding and are super hardy during a Minnesota May snow.
    Good luck – you’re more ambitious than I!


    1. More ambitious? More crazy, perhaps! I grew up in South Africa, in an era where anyone with a garden had a gardener at least a couple times a week. Having to be responsible for all the weeding myself makes for quite a challenge, and I honestly don’t know whether I can pull it off … but I’m going to try!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I laughed my way through reading this entire post – seriously you said it so well “Never argue with an engineer, especially if he’s carrying a hammer.”
    P.S. my life is filled with engineers, like 90% of the people I know are engineers. I am not. I am proud of this fact. 🙂


    1. And, here are HIMSELF’s comments, wherein the Engineer finally, after several years, takes umbrage at Belladonna’s whinging about “tractors compacting the soil”…which is totally not true ! (be prepared for a brief technical dissertation kept in the simplest of terms)…

      1) The weight of the tractor is 2,700 lbs from http://www.tractordata.com/farm-tractors/001/2/4/1249-kubota-l3010-dimensions.html.

      2) The tractor has FOUR tyres – on the rear are two size 12.4×24; on the front are two size 7.2×16. From http://www.titan-intl.com/databook-agriculture the total footprint of these four tyres calculates out to 280 sq. inches.

      3) 2,700/280=9.64 lbs/sq inch ground loading pressure from the weight of the tractor on the garden soil.

      4) In the interest of keeping this response only mildly technical, I will not perform human footprint pressure calculations. However, from a table in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ground_pressure , an adult walking male exerts 16+ lbs/sq inch ground load pressure on average.

      5) From the above, it is obvious that walking on the garden soil is nearly 70% more soil-compacting than driving on it with the tractor.

      I rest my case.

      Liked by 1 person

          1. Yup… very true – that’s why the raised beds – however we don’t have a helicopter, so it was necessary to use the tractor to move the soil into the beds. And, point being, the tractor is much less soil-compacting than foot traffic.

            Of course… the least impacting activity would have been to do nothing… no bed, no garden …

            Those who consider themselves ‘environmentally enlightened’ tend to lose sight of the fact that there’s no such thing as ‘zero impact’ by any activity. As me ol’ Spanish Granny useta say… “No se puede hacer un omelet sin romper los huevos.”

            Liked by 3 people

  4. I want permaculture, but it’s not going to happen. Our property has an enormous hole in it and is on a hill. The bedrock is shale that is at various depths… The Husband will be acquiring some chickens – in our spring and after he’s built the “hok”. And having been a stock / poultry farmer (yes, I married Farmer Brown), he’s discovering about growing green things that have their feet in the ground. He always said he was more comfortable with things that “eat, breathe and sh*t”…

    I’m envious of your Spring!!! Good luck and have fun!


    1. From what I’ve read, the whole point of permaculture is that it can happen pretty much anywhere, provided you have the physical strength and time to do the initial work. In SA, we’d hire in labor. Here, apart from now and then, that’s not really an option for ordinary folks like us. And I do think it’s possible to spend so much time stressing over “doing it right” that you lose touch with the desired end – which is, after all, a healthy, beautiful, productive garden suited to your environment.

      I am loving the return of spring – and especially that it’s early this year! Usually we’re just past our “final frost date” (mid-May) when the Russian olive starts blooming and I am completely wiped out by allergies. (I used to love the fragrance of Russian olive – it reminds me of syringa – but we have a LOT of it near our home, and after eight years living here I’m now fiercely allergic). Anyway, this year I have hopes of getting a lot done while I’m still able to breathe outside… 🙂


  5. Spring makes me feel like a different person! Walking into the garden yesterday, watering can in hand (I’ve been planting, you see), I had a bit of an epiphany: “This is what I’m for.”


  6. We were full of boundless energy our first few years here in the country and did raised beds for veggies. But really, my heart wasn’t in it and I wasn’t that good at fighting off the various insects which seemed to attack so voraciously. So I hit the farmers’ markets for vegetables now and enjoy my perennial borders. Will there be recipes featuring rhubarb or asparagus? I hope so.


    1. Thanks for stopping by! I really, really hope we can make this work, because I absolutely love walking outside, pulling something out of the ground, and eating it an hour later. But life is about balance, right? So … we’ll see. As to recipes … well, Himself does amazing things with pickled asparagus! But it’ll be a year or two before we have that many. Both asparagus and rhubarb are foods that I like best when prepared very simply…:)


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