Sunday, June 26, 2011

How to build a garden

Outside diameter of the garden is approximately 12 ft x 8 ft.  Planting space is approximately 11 ft x 7 ft.  We used the cinder blocks (ugly, but functional, and not too noticeable from the house) for cost and expediency.  I wanted to get the garden planted and didn’t want to spend time building something from wood.  Also didn’t want to use treated lumber.  When we did the blocks we thought that we’d replace the blocks “next year” but 5 years later have decided it works fine the way it is.  The holes in the blocks are filled with pea-gravel.  Originally planting herbs and flowers in the holes, but that interfered with the fencing.  The pea gravel helps keep the fence posts in place.  You have to fill them with something so the critters can’t get in to the garden area.
The real beauty of this system is the removable fencing.   Each panel is approximately 4 feet long and 25” high.  (This was determined by the height of the chicken wire.) The tubes are ½” PVC pipe and the fencing part is a metal chicken wire held on to the vertical pipes with cable ties.  We tried plastic chicken ‘wire’ but the woodchuck ate through it.

Below shows the bottom of the fencing.  There’s a larger diameter tube set in the pea-gravel that the end of the fence telescopes in to.  You can’t fill the cinder block holes to the top because then the gravel falls in the tube.
Below you can see a close up of the tubing, wire, and cable ties.
 As far as filling the raised bed with soil, I laid a double layer of newspaper on the lawn before placing the cinder blocks down.  I wet the newspaper, then filled it with lots and lots of "Mel's Mix".  You can find the recipe at  I mixed the ingredients on a large tarp before dumping them into the raised bed.  I watered the soil as I added it to the garden. I added a row of 12" paving blocks down the middle of the garden to allow access to all plants.

I roughly adhere to the Square Foot method of gardening.  In my little garden this year I have 2 zucchini plants, 2 pickling cucumber plants, 2 slicing cucumber plants, a dozen leeks, a couple dozen onions, a dozen or so garlic plants, 4 celery plants, numerous green bean plants, 4 broccoli plants, 2 brussels sprouts plants, 2 green cabbages, 2 red cabbages, 7 peppers (bell, anaheim, jalepeno), 8 tomato plants (rutgers, roma, early girl), 1 watermelon plant and some zinnias.  Radishes and lettuce are done. That's a lot crammed into a little space, but it works year after year.  I do rotate my crops, never growing things in the same place 2 years in a row.  I have carrots and cherry tomatoes growing in containers near the house, and a wonderful herb spiral, too.  (It's grown up a lot--this photo is from May.)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Swingin' Good Time

This photo didn't post in the last post, so here it is.

A Wildlife Dilemma

All winter my family enjoys the visits of songbirds to our bird feeders.  Actually we keep the feeders filled well into spring with hopes of attracting an interesting migratory bird, and start up again in early October for the same reason.  Little black-capped chickadees and American goldfinches eat the thistle seed.  Juncos, sparrows and mourning doves hop around on the ground eating what the cardinals, finches and blue jays knock down from the big hanging feeder.  And wrens, nuthatches, downy woodpeckers and red-bellied woodpeckers hang upside down nibbling at the suet cakes.  We also enjoy the antics of the squirrels who hang from the feeders and the occasional visit of fun-loving raccoons.

About a week ago I was sitting on the patio by the fishpond when a small hawk landed in a maple tree about 20 feet away from me, and about 10 feet away from the bird feeding area.  It sat for maybe 5 minutes then flew off.  I thought that was neat, but at the time didn't think much of it.  Last week I was doing some yard work and enjoying the early spring weather when I heard what sounded like a pair of "jungle birds".  I looked up and saw the small hawk again.  I chased it around with my camera and it flew to a large tree in front of the neighbor's house where a second small hawk was sitting.  I took a photo of it and left my yard work to identify the birds.  Turns out they are Cooper's Hawks.  We saw one again yesterday.  It's kinda' neat to think they might be a breeding pair and we might have little hawk babies later this spring.

It has occurred to me that I haven't seen many songbirds at the feeders the past week or so, and I've let the big feeder go empty while I think about the following... If I continue feeding the songbirds, is that akin to setting up a smorgasbord for the hawks?  If I don't feed the songbirds (thus not attracting them to the feeder-of-death) will the Cooper's Hawks leave?  How is this different than spreading bird netting over my pond to protect my goldfish and bullfrogs from Great Blue Herons?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Fun weekend

On Friday I drove to my hometown in east-central Illinois for a reunion of sorts with my best friend from high school, Mary. Since I won't be attending my 30th class reunion later this summer, I told Mary that I'd come over and we'd do something fun. Mary got on the internet and discovered that the Woodstock Folk Music Festival was this weekend. I know this is the 40th anniversary year of THE Woodstock festival, but this was a much smaller festival in the town of Woodstock, Illinois. Then she discovered that one of my favorite artists, Natalia Zukerman, was going to be performing at this festival, so it was a definite Must-Go! Mary had seen Natalia in concert earlier this year on my recommendation and agreed that Natalia's not to be missed.

It was about a 4 hour drive to Woodstock and we got a little mixed up with a detour but finally found the town square. The venue was great, the weather was great and the music was great. Mary packed us a lovely picnic lunch--quiche, salad, fruit, linen napkins and tablecloth, fruity tea, biscuits--Mary calls herself the Martha Stewart of Birdland. Natalia took a photo of us with Mary's iPhone. If Mary can figure out how to send it I will post it.

After we got back to the prairie I got a tour of Birdland. I enjoyed seeing the aviary and meeting Ellis and the chickens. I liked the screened in vegetable garden and the Adirondack chairs that Mary made. The house at Birdland is very old, and Mary and her family have been working very hard to fix it up and enlarge it for the family. Every time I go, I see big changes!

I'm enjoying this cool's actually pleasant to be outside.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


I am very lucky to have raspberries growing in my backyard. There were some black raspberries growing in the yard when we moved here 3 years ago, way in the back corner and almost swallowed up by large coniferous trees and a 50+ year old lilac bush. We moved the plants to over by the shed that first summer hoping they would be happy there, and I have to say that this year they've been very happy!

My dad has grown red raspberries for years and years, and gave me about a dozen plants 3 years ago. I planted them around a rotting stump and they've had 2 very good producing summers. I've been picking raspberries almost every day now for 2 weeks and have 2 gallons of berries in the freezer. We've eaten some fresh, of course, and friends have come over to pick berries, too.

I made my first batch of raspberry jam today--10 half-pints of black raspberry jam. My dad really likes black raspberries, so I will give him several of these jars, and when he comes over for the Fourth of July weekend I will make him a black raspberry cobbler. I'm sure it won't be as good as his stepmother made, but I can try!

I also harvested a cucumber, some side shoots of broccoli and half a head of cabbage. Yes, half a head! This is my first year trying to grow cabbage and the slugs got the better of me. I tried pouring beer in shallow dishes but wasn't consistent with it. So one side of the cabbage was slimy and the other side was nice. The rest of the garden is looking good. The cauliflower heads are just starting to appear. I'd almost given up on them; the plants are huge! Lots of squash, zucchini, celery on the way.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Coldplay for my birthday!

Yesterday was my 40-somethingth birthday. I had a leisurely morning, then Caroline and I drove over to meet my parents for lunch at the Beef House. My parents had been on a trip with a club they're involved with and were on their way back to Illinois. On our drive home, we heard on the radio that there were still tickets available for Coldplay at Verizon Wireless Music Center. We stopped at the box office to see if any lawn seats were available, and I purchased 3 tickets for us. There were already people in line for the 6:00 gate opening when we bought our tickets at 3:30, so we ran home, packed a picnic dinner and waited for Karl to get home. Fortunately it's a quick drive to Verizon.

We arrived back at Verizon at 5:15. Verizon Wireless was there doing a promo where the first 100 Verizon customers who showed a Verizon phone could get in the "Jump The Line" gate area. Caroline has Verizon service, so I took her phone and got in that line while Caroline and Karl stayed in the regular line. When it was time to open all the gates, the Verizon gate was opened first, and it wasn't until all the Verizon people has been admitted that they opened the regular gates. It paid off, as I was able to place our blanket in the very front of the lawn section in the center section.

We ate our dinner and waited for the show to start. The first band was called Howling Bells. Didn't much care for them. Then came Snow Patrol, which at least I'd heard some of their songs. At this point Karl and I were beginning to think maybe we were too old to enjoy concerts...until Coldplay took the stage.

AWESOME! That about sums it up. A real crowd-pleasing show. Chris Martin has so much energy and really seems to enjoy what he's doing. Fun and entertaining to watch. About half-way through the band left the stage and went to a mini-stage located in a side section of the pavillion where they played a couple of songs. Then back to the main stage for a couple of numbers, then the band went to another mini-stage in the lawn section to our left. Finished up on the main stage. They played all the songs I wanted to hear except Speed of Sound.

As we were leaving Verizon we were handed a CD, which we promptly placed in the CD player of the car. Here's a link to get a free download of the CD that was handed out after the concert. It's 9 songs performed live by Coldplay. Fantastic!

Friday, June 5, 2009