24 Carrot Rabbitry

City-fied Self-Sufficiency

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Category : Square Foot Garden

Homemade compost tumbler

I’ve been wanting a compost tumbler.  We generate enough yard, rabbit, and kitchen waste, I should be able to make some slammin’ compost!

Where my uncle works, they get plenty of things in 55-gallon metal drums, so we were able to get one for free (Thank you, Uncle’s boss!).  It had some sort of solvent/denatured alcohol stuff in it, so we let it air for a long, long time.  Months.  I know these barrels aren’t normally favored for this, but by the time Shay started working on it, the residue was gone.  It just smelled of rusty drum.  Some cement, some wood, some wheels, and some hardware, and Shay has turned it into a compost tumbler for me.

My new compost tumbler!

It rides on wheels, and is turned by a handle on the side. I do have to be careful as I am bringing the handle back up and around, that I don't lift it off of the wheels. Occasionally, it does start to roll off track, but, as long as I keep an eye on one of the wheels, I catch it quickly and just reverse the direction until it pops back into place.

Holes drilled in the ends, and in a row along the bottom, ensure good air flow through the contents and also help release excess water.

A file made these edges safe. I don't run my fingers along them on purpose, but I shouldn't get cut on them by accident.

I’ve already filled it up with dropped hay, bunny berries, garden trimmings, and such.  Now I just need to paint it black!

I rotate it every day or two, spraying the contents with water when needed.  We don’t have a lawn mower (my grandmother made my uncle get rid of it so he wouldn’t mow the yard anymore because of his age — so someone else cuts the yard), so I can’t grind the stuff up before I put it in there.  This will make it take longer to turn to compost than if I was able to shred everything up really fine.  Oh, well.

Shay admits that it cost more in the end than he expected because of the hardware (had to be suitable for outdoors), but I have a compost tumbler, and I’m happy! :)

Tristan Strawberries

We were wandering around the Wal-Mart garden center, when Shay noticed some strawberry plants.  There was no price, but we quickly found out (because we ACTUALLY found someone who WORKS there!!!) that they were only $1.18 each.  So I started off with 10, and then came back to reality and bought 6.

Really, the only reason I went down to six was that I also had to buy hanging baskets for them.  If not for that expense, I’d have taken ten.  Or more.

Anyway, I noticed deep pink flowers on them, a color I’d never seen on strawberries.  oooooooOOOOOOoooooooo.  :)  They didn’t say anything except “Tristan”, “everbearing”, and “8 hours full sun”.  Hey, how bad could they be?  They’re strawberries.

So I looked at the hanging pots, and there were some metal baskets with coir liners that looked really nice.  And we’ve all heard how the coir is supposed to keep things moist, so here was my chance.  There was no price, so I took along some inexpensive plastic pots as a hedge, since these things can be expensive.  They turned out to be only $7 each, though, so I bought three.

I looked at the coir liner, though, before I started planting, and wondered if they would really hold soil if I could see daylight through them.  So I poked around on the ‘net for some information.

Boy, was I glad I did!  I didn’t really find anything about them having the soil wash out, but plenty about them drying out!  Apparently, in hanging baskets, they really do not keep the moisture in.  In fact, people who have them say that if you do not line them with plastic, the coir will actually draw moisture from the soil and dry the pot out faster — so fast, that you may have to water twice a day when it’s hot:

http://forums2.gardenweb.com/forums/load/contain/msg0615251618006.html

http://urbanext.illinois.edu/containergardening/hanging.cfm

Now, inside an enclosed pot, or shredded and used like peat moss, it does help hold water in the soil.  Just not as the pot itself.

So I pulled out a black trash bag (okay, I know about chemicals and all that, but…) and made liners for the coir.  I punched several holes in the bottoms of each one, being careful to actually cut a little of the plastic off, not just poke holes, so the holes couldn’t close back up.  Once I had some soil inside, I trimmed around the top, at or just below the level of the coir.

One of them I forgot to trim until the plants were in. Oops. You can see a little of one of the rosey flowers in there, too. You can also see a white flower in the plant at right. I'm guessing this is a function of the fact that it's a hybrid -- you know how sometimes a bush will have one bunch of flowers that's a different color from the rest of them.

I planted them in the same Mel’s Mix used in the square foot garden, because it’s supposed to hold water really well, while allowing excess water to drain off.  One of my composts had been used up, though, so I substituted the manure that our rabbits so eagerly produce.  Rabbit manure is a “cold” manure, meaning it will not burn your plants with nutrients, so you can put it directly on your plants, rather than having to compost it first.

Once I had them planted, I thoroughly watered them.  The excess water did drain out through the holes in the bottom, though it did take longer than I expected.  But they finally did stop dripping.  They were still nice and moist today (I planted them yesterday).

I hung them from temporary nails on the outside of the garden. Temporary, because eventually they will be hanging inside the garden, which will be enclosed with mesh. The birds and squirrels are unbelievable around here. I already put mesh on the strawberry pot on the right, because it has a ripening strawberry in it.

It wasn’t until after I had them planted that I finally looked the Tristan strawberries up.  They are apparently a new variety from Holland:

http://www.kellynurseries.com/detail.asp?pid=3501

http://www.parkseed.com/gardening/PD/87661/

I don’t know why the one place says “runnerless”… some of mine have runners.  Maybe I bought rejects!  :D  The pictures are quite pretty, so we’ll see what happens.

Having to take a map with me anytime I wanted to know exactly what was where in the garden was getting a little old, so I wanted to label the plants.  At the nursery, they had some garden labels you could buy for about $4.50 a pack, with what looked like about 20 in a pack.  I have 100 squares in my garden… am I going to spend $25 just so I can label them all?!?  Uh… no.

So I poked around for some other ideas.  There are plenty of ideas around.  Like cutting up an old mini blind.  I didn’t have an old mini blind, so that was out.  Or plastic forks or knives.  Hey… I’ve got those.  Not 100, but I had almost enough to label all the stuff I’d planted.

So I got them out, and found a piece of fine sandpaper, and a fine-tipped Sharpie.  I sanded the handles of the forks until they were no longer shiny, wiped them with a paper towel, then wrote on them.

It is a little humorous that I'm using forks to mark plants that are growing food... at least I think it's a little funny.

I carefully slid the forks into the front right corner of each square.  For the squares around the sides, I put the forks in a couple of inches away from the side, being careful to try not to place them too close to a plant, or where I expected a plant to emerge.

Everything that we planted from seed (or clove, in the case of the garlic) got marked with a fork.

Now I just have to see how well the Sharpie will hold up in the sun.  I may need to get a paint pen or something.

Planting our Square Foot Garden! YAY!

With the garden filled and the grid done, it was time to plant!  We had 100 spaces to plant, most of them a square foot each, but some less.  Over the last several days, we shopped for plants and seed, and planted.

We found that Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, and Home Depot all sold almost nothing but Bonnie plants.  I’m sure they’re good, I saw a short video on them once, but good grief!  I have bought Bonnie plants before, but they wanted over $3 per plant — even for just-sprouted seedlings!

I am not that desperate to have already growing plants.  I needed to find some place that Bonnie hadn’t taken over.  So I went to one of the local nurseries.

Unfortunately, they had only tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers ready for transplant.  Everything else was seeds.  Oh, well.  So we bought the plants, and then we bought lots of seeds.

And we planted.  And planted, and planted, and planted.  We have now planted 68 squares (I’m still calling the smaller spaces squares, just for ease) of 100 available.  The rest will be planted later, to stagger harvesting.  Here’s what we have, top is North:

There is nylon trellis netting across the middle. We will be adding the netting to the north end where the pole beans are, and to the south end where the melons are. Having trellised plants in the middle and at the south will shade the garden for a while, but eventually the sun will be directly overhead. We'll take advantage of the shade for a little while to grow some end-of-season lettuce.

Yes, we like tomatoes.  And no, that is not too many of them.  :D

This is our first time gardening like this, so placement and such is really just guessing at this point… especially since we don’t have enough northern squares to plant all of our trellis plants.

Shay and my uncle are already talking about building another one.  That will solve that problem, since it will be oriented 90* relative to this one.  :)  Don’t worry, we don’t have the money to build another one yet!

Square Foot Gardening incorporates a number of ideas:

  • Nearly perfect soil from the beginning, rather than trying to improve your soil
  • Raised beds that are narrow enough to comfortably reach halfway across
  • Never walking on the soil, so you never need to till it
  • Eliminating extra space from the garden — such as the aisles between the rows
  • Reducing the amount of each crop being grown, rather than planting a full row
  • Planting the same crop at different times, to stagger the harvest
  • Replanting the same square with different crops — crop rotation & pest control

Most seeds come with directions to plant so many, then “thin to” one every so many inches.  This “thin to” distance is used to calculate how many seeds can be planted in one square foot.  Radishes don’t have to be thinned to one every three inches, in rows three feet apart.  They can be in mini-rows that are three inches apart.  So you can plant 16 radish seeds in one square foot.

In my case, I am using the spaces that are smaller than a square foot to plant these crops that can be planted 9 or 16 to a square (“thin to” 4 or 3 inches, respectively).

Not everything is so easy to calculate.  Some things, like pole beans and melons, have you building a mound, planting so many seeds in a circle on it, and thinning to so many seeds per mound.  The mounds are ___ far apart, and in rows that are ___ far apart.  So how do you know how many you can put in a square foot?  Well, I had to turn to the charts in the book for that.  Watermelons, cantaloupe, and vining squash need 2 square feet per plant.  Pole beans can be planted 8 per square foot!

So in my garden:

1 per square foot:

  • Eggplant
  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Okra

2 per square foot:

  • Cucumber — but I planted one, because it’s in a short square

4 per square foot:

  • Lettuce
  • Corn

8 per square foot:

  • Pole beans, except Dwarf Peas, which could be closer together

9 per square foot:

  • Bush beans
  • Beets
  • Turnips (small)
  • Spinach

16 per square foot:

  • Carrots — I planted 12 each, in short squares
  • Radishes — can take 12 in a short square, I planted 6, and will plant the other 6 later
  • Onions — I planted 2 short squares of 12 each

1 per 2 square feet:

  • Squash
  • Melons — I cheated a little on the watermelons, planting 2 in not quite 4 square feet

It is an intensive method of gardening designed to maximize the potential of the space, in a way that is easy for beginners.  There is an even more intensive method called “square inch gardening”, which plants things even closer together!

Somewhere in between then and now, we all managed to catch the flu.  My mom and my uncle ended up with pneumonia, and ILoveBunnies got strep throat.  I suspected Bunny-Wan Kenobi might be harboring a secondary infection as well, due to the congested cough he had developed, but it turned out to be allergies.  I hadn’t considered that, since he never had much allergy trouble before.  Shay and I managed to skirt the secondary infections, but it was a close call… either one or both of us could easily have ended up on antibiotics.

Meanwhile, as much as we could, we continued to work on the garden, since we are into planting season here!  A good bit of the country is still dealing with frozen ground and snow, but it’s been in the 70s and even around 80 since the middle of February.  Now, that is quite unusual here, but, especially with 80s predicted for the next week, it increasingly appears that the cold weather is over for us.

(To tell you the truth, I’d like the cold weather back.  Every day of chill is one less day of searing heat and suffocating humidity, the way I look at it.)

At any rate, once we had removed the rabbits from the garden, it was time to continue with preparing the garden for use.

The next thing to do was to lay down newspaper to help make sure all the vegetation under the garden would die. I laid down 15-20 layers of newspaper over the whole bottom of the garden, keeping it wet to stop it from blowing around, and weighting it with boards.

Meanwhile, Shay worked on the supports for the benches. Waiting to work on this until the rest was done saved time, since I could work inside while he worked outside.

He added supports for the benches beside the main posts, as well.

It is so nice to have these benches to sit on!

Inside, I started lining the bottom with chicken wire over the newspaper. We did this to keep pests like moles out, which are a problem here. I forgot to take a picture of the chicken wire. Shay finished up the wire, and we then lined the whole interior with landscape cloth -- not only to keep weeds out (yes, I know, the 15-20 layers of paper, but they will biodegrade eventually, and we have some mean vines around here), but also to keep the contents of the garden in. No matter how straight your lumber is, it will have gaps. We don't want to lose sand and growing mix through those gaps. Immediately after finishing the cloth, we began shoveling sand in. A little while later, 3 cubic yards of sand were spread in a layer 6-9 inches thick. We used the sand to roughly even out the bottom of the planting area, so it would all be the same depth.

Next, it was time to finish buying all the ingredients for the planting mix that would fill the garden.  In Square Foot Gardening, a particular mix is used, called “Mel’s Mix”, after Mel Bartholomew, the inventor of the Square Foot Gardening method.  Mel’s Mix is a 1:1:1 ratio of compost, peat moss, and vermiculite.  You’re supposed to use coarse vermiculite, since it holds more water and breaks down more slowly than fine vermiculite.  I got mine at a roofing and insulation company.  I thought I was getting coarse, until I got it home and realized it was fine.  Oh, well.  I’ll just try to stir some coarse vermiculite into the garden in a couple of years.

If you make your own compost, you can just use that.  I’m starting to compost, but I’m far from there!  If you need to buy compost, like I did, Mel strongly recommends buying and mixing at least five different kinds.  The reason is that most bagged compost has only one or two ingredients.  This will not satisfy the nutrient needs of your plants, just like eating only broccoli will not satisfy your nutritional needs.  The peat moss and vermiculite are there to keep the mix loose and to hold water, while allowing excess water to drain.  It is the compost that will provide the nutrients the plants need, and that is why you need at least 5 different ingredients.  This is what I ended up with:

Peat moss. I was able to find 3 cubic foot bales. These are compressed bales, and the peat moss expands to twice the volume once you unpack it. So a 3 cubic foot bale gives me 6 cubic feet of peat moss. Which is nice, because I got to cut my peat moss costs in half!

Vermiculite. These were 4 cubic foot bags. You can even read on it that it is concrete aggregate for "Siplast Roof Insulation Systems". Doesn't matter, as long as it is vermiculite.

Compost #1: Composted forest material and composted barnyard waste.

Compost #2: Mushroom compost. I don't remember what was in here, but it's supposed to be good. It has no cubic foot measurement, only pounds, so I had to estimate. It looked (when compared with other bags) like around 2 cubic feet.

Compost #3: Composted cow manure. Like the mushroom compost, I had to guesstimate this to be about 2 cubic feet.

Compost #4: Composted chicken manure. Unfortunately, unlike the cow manure, the smell did not compost out of it. I rememeber when we lived in Delaware, which is chicken farm heaven. You got the smell of the manure not only when you passed chicken houses, but also when the farmers spread the manure all over the fields! It could knock you senseless. This wasn't that bad, but it still wasn't pleasant.

Compost #5: Composted cotton burrs. Those would be the hard, sharp pods that split open to reveal the cotton. Surprisingly, this stank almost as much as the chicken manure compost. I figured cotton burrs should be pretty innocuous. Boy, was I wrong. This came in 2 cubic foot bags.

RESPIRATORS!!! Anyone involved in mixing the peat moss and vermiculite should wear one of these. It's not that they are toxic (the asbestos danger with new vermiculite was over decades ago when they closed a contaminated mine), it's just that dry vermiculite and dry peat moss have loads of particles that become airborne very easily. Mixing on a calm day will help, but you will probably have significant amounts flying into the air anyway. Large amounts of any kind of dust are bad to breathe, so we bought these. A simple mask might do if it fits well, but this kind is much more comfortable. It provides more coverage, and has a valve to let the air you breathe out escape -- saving you from a mask that gets more and more soggy and unpleasant from your breath. Wearing a mask is already unpleasant, and we were going to be wearing these things for a long time! So we sprang for the almost $5 apiece these cost to minimize our discomfort as much as possible. You can see some of the dust that this one captured.

The first of 9 loads of mix is in. We needed to keep the mix separate from the sand, so we laid a large tarp inside the garden box on top of the sand and mixed in it. I poured the ingredients in -- one cubic foot apiece (or my best estimation) of the composts, for a total of 5 cubic feet of compost, and 5 cubic feet of loosened peat moss, and 5 cubic feet (a bag and a quarter) of vermiculite. Mom misted the peat moss and vermiculite as I poured them out, and all during mixing, to keep as much dust down as possible. Shay mixed all while I poured, and I helped mix when I was finished. When the mix was ready, we used the hoes to pull most of it out of the tarp, and then lifted the end of the tarp to dump the rest of it out. At this point, Mom switched to a stronger stream of water to really thoroughly wet the mix. Here you can see Mom spraying the mix down, while Shay continues to mix a little.

Three loads of mix in, Shay sprays it down a little more as we break for the day. You can see a little of the 9' x 12' tarp we used in the corner.

Nine loads of mix, and the garden is filled! I had gotten enough for ten loads, just in case. The remainder is already being tapped for other applications. What an exhausting day!

The following day, the menfolk were back at work, but we were still busy on the garden. We measured and marked the bed at 1-foot intervals, then stapled nylon cord at the marks, and tied the cord to the staples. We were able to stretch the cord pretty tight. We started with the shorter lengths across the bed, since they would help support the longer ones.

Then we ran the lines down the length of the bed. We debated whether to lay the lines on top of the others, or whether to weave them over and under. We finally settled on the latter. We did manage to run out of nylon cord, so we tied in a length of heavy, white cotton twine to finish. You can see that the row of squares at left is actually narrower rectangles; we have this also at the one end that you cannot see. We'll be able to use these sections for crops that can have more than one plant per square foot, like onions, garlic, lettuce, carrots, radishes, etc.

Another thing you can see in the above picture is a whole lot of mud and water to the sides of the garden.  As we were mixing and filling, walking around the garden, the rainwater on the ground turned the clay almost into a liquid.  Eventually, we are going to have to put a walk around the garden.  We’ve already laid old boards from the grape arbor over some of this muck.

The reason we can't build a regular, much less expensive, 6-inch-deep square foot garden. This was the yard about a week ago. It doesn't look this bad now, but if you walk through the yard, it is still holding standing water. It just doesn't go anywhere. It has to evaporate.

Growing Bunnies in your Garden

Well, once we got our elevated garden bed built, it was time to plant.  So, what better to plant than rabbits! :)

It all started when the pest control people needed to come out and apply a new treatment they had for Formosan termites (Think regular termites are bad?  Look these critters up!).  I set this appointment up for a Monday, several weeks in advance, anticipating sending both litters of 6 to freezer camp the weekend right before.  As it happened, we spent that Saturday working on the elevated garden, and Sunday we mostly finished it.  Sunday evening, we butchered one of the litters, but not the other.

So then Monday morning was the termite treatment appointment.  The one problem with it was the wall that the rabbitry was built on.  I had to get the wall of the house, which was at the back of the rabbitry, as accessible as possible for the treatment, so we wouldn’t have an incomplete treatment.  You see, the three front posts of the rabbitry are set in concrete, and there is no way to remove the frame from which the cages are suspended from the rabbitry.

When the gentleman applying the treatment arrived, I requested that he treat that wall last, so I could do everything possible to give him access to it.  He was a really nice man, and we enjoyed chatting with him some near the end of the treatment.  But anyway, he agreed, but didn’t see that access would really be a problem.

So he went about treating the remainder of the house, and we continued the task we had started before he had arrived — removing the rabbits and their cages from the rabbitry.  Thank goodness we had taken care of the one litter, because this really would have been difficult with two litters of 6!

None of the trees in the back yard were leafing out yet, and I didn’t want to deal with bunny pee in the carport, so we were momentarily stuck as to where to put the rabbits.  Then, my mom suggested the new elevated garden.

Why, it was perfect!  Two feet high, give or take, so they would be safe.  The overhead structure was ideal for tying tarps to for shade.  And on grass… so no cement to clean up, and they could graze the day away. :)

The rabbit garden. This was the orientation for morning; later we changed the tarps so the northeastern corners were up.

Fluffy and Nibbles relax in the shade amongst the shreds of a box I gave them to play with, while Pearl guards her nest. You can see an adventerous popple poking its head up in the nest box.

The other meat litter, three in the left cage and three in the right, with Thumper in the middle. He's behind his wooden house.

Three of the meat litter munch happily on the grass.

The whole thing went really well.  After we had all the rabbits out, we cleaned the rabbitry and spread limestone in it.  The pest control man was able to just kneel at the front and lean through to the back, and he was able to fully treat the wall.  YAY!

He came and looked at the rabbits.  When he learned that we raised them for meat, he was pleasantly surprised.  A friend of his had just brought him two cleaned cottontails the previous day!  :D

Then we got to move them all back again…

In our next major step toward self-sufficiency and greater preparedness for tough times, we wanted to have a garden.  Now, mind you, we could have saved ourselves great expense and just tilled up a plot in the yard for a regular row garden.  Except that we do actually want to grow something besides rice.

You see, this yard was engineered some 60 years ago as a kind of overflow for water coming down the neighborhood hill.  Why, I have no idea.  It would seem to make sense that you channel the water toward the street, and then into the big drainage ditch behind the neighborhood.  Of course, that would require that you put the right sized pipes in from the beginning (um… no, they didn’t… they ended up replacing them with larger ones some time ago), but maybe designing the drainage correctly so that somebody doesn’t end up with their yard being used as a detention pond makes too much sense.  Maybe there’s something more to this design that I just don’t know about and understand.  *sigh*

(Oh, and making sure that the big drainage ditch is maintained well enough that it doesn’t have trees growing in it would help.  My grandmother spent many an hour bending the ears of the local officials trying to get them to do their jobs.  Especially since their lack of action periodically flooded people’s homes.  Eventually, they did clean the ditch out, and the larger drainage pipe keeps the bottom of the hill here from flooding as badly as it used to.  But I digress.)

So what happens here when it rains heavily is this:  for a while, all looks normal.  It’s raining, stuff gets wet, water puddles and runs down driveways to the streets, water runs down the streets from the top of the hill to the streets at the bottom of the hill.  It takes a while, though, for the water to collect in the yards at the top of the hill enough for it to start flowing.  You look out of our back window to see wet grass, and you move on.  The water reaches the channel at the side of our yard, and, once it reaches a certain depth, it suddenly breaks through into the back yard.  You pass by the back window again five minutes after you looked before and glance outside, and you now have a lake where the yard once was.

Our last heavy rain was almost two weeks ago.  Yesterday was our first rain at all since that day, and it barely rained enough to get everything damp.  Yet the yard has just dried out to the point at which you no longer sink into it as you walk.

So now you have a clear idea of the challenge of having a garden in our yard.  Well, unless, like I said before, we want to grow rice.  I have no doubt that rice would do very well here.

Not to be deterred from self-sufficiency (and fresh veggies), I began looking into how to have a garden in an area that holds water.  The key to it, apparently, is to build a raised bed that is 18-24″ in depth.  Wow, that’s big.  And… *sigh* it’s expensive.

One of the highest points of the yard is right beside a fig tree.  My uncle had built a grape arbor there some 20 years ago.  It was roughly 4′ x 19′, and the grapevines had not survived but a few years (maybe because they still got too much water — it is one of the highest points, but it still floods).  So Shay decided to turn the structure into a raised bed for me.

I looked at different methods of raised bed gardening, and settled on Square Foot Gardening.  I got the new book, which is updated and easier than the original method that the author developed some 35 years ago.  I have read that not all of the plant information in the new book is as accurate, though, as one would like, so it is recommended that it be paired with a book like the Garden Primer, which I already have, thanks to my mom and my uncle.

This method has many great reviews.  People can’t seem to glow about it enough.  There is the occasional person who tries it and doesn’t care for it, but the vast majority love it.

Unfortunately, I can’t build the 6″ deep raised bed that the method calls for.  Mine has to be 18-24″ deep.  So mine will cost significantly more.  But we’ve been selling stuff on eBay, and pooling unexpected checks and such, to build up enough money to do it.

So we went and bought the lumber, screws, twine, and other supplies for the garden.  Shay handpicked every piece of wood for it.

Our nice, fresh-cut-wood-smelling pile of lumber. The box held parts for the wheelbarrow we bought that day as well. Boy, is that thing going to get used!

I know about the debate about treated lumber for vegetable gardens.  That was because of the arsenic compound that was used to preserve the wood.  They don’t use it any more.  The new copper azole preservative is supposed to be safer.  Still, many home vegetable gardens have been built with lumber treated with the arsenic compound, with no ill effects.  It’s my understanding that it doesn’t leach out very fast or very far, and, just because it is in the soil, that doesn’t mean it will end up in your bell pepper.

When Shay took another look at the grape arbor, and found out how old it was, he decided it would be better to replace it than to use it and have to start replacing parts of it in a few years.  So we tore it all down.  Shay figured since we weren’t using the original structure, he could make the garden to the largest dimensions allowed by the wood he had bought.  This turned out to be 5′ x 20′.  The author of Square Foot Gardening suggests that it really shouldn’t be more than 4′ wide (for the sake of easy access), but it isn’t that hard to reach in 2 1/2 feet rather than 2 feet. Adding one foot to the width and one foot to the length adds 24 square feet to the garden, while using an additional 16 linear feet of wood (one foot per side, four planks deep) — wood we already had; we would just be cutting it longer.  Adding 24 square feet to the garden without making it one foot wider would have taken an additional 48 linear feet of wood (six feet on two sides, four planks deep) — wood we would have to buy if we wanted that space.  That was pretty hard to argue with.

Anyway, then it was time to lay out the garden.  With Shay’s construction experience, he was able to get it square and level, in spite of the fact that the ground is quite uneven.

Four lengths of hot pink twine marked out the plot. The holes you see already dug are four of the six holes that held the posts for the grape arbor.

Getting it all level. Shay didn't go for absolute perfection, since this was a garden, not a shed or something. But he came as close as he could without sacrificing a lot more time.

We used old arrows that had been given to Shay as stakes. They were bent or missing fletchings. They turned out to be perfect for use in the wet clay dirt -- they would stand straight unless the twine was disturbed. Instead of being pulled over like a wood stake, they would bend, and then stand back up once the pressure was back off of the string. Yet they could stand up straight under enough pressure to keep the string taut. Shay put a small piece of Duck tape on the arrow to keep the twine from going out of level.

Getting it square. This appears to be out of square, because the long side of the square is running downslope, while the twine is level. If you look straight down on it, though, you could see that it is indeed square.

Then it was time to erect the posts. Unlike the arbor, which had less structure, the garden would not need cement. The rest of the structure will keep the posts in line. As Shay cut wood and we began attaching cross pieces, Mom and I also furiously began emptying old flower pots into the old grape arbor holes. We eventually had to raid my uncle's pile of dirt to finish off the holes, but he still has enough to fill the other yard holes we have.

The top is finished, and the first set of 2" x 6" lumber has been attached. The height of the garden is not necessary or even suggested in the Square Foot Gardening book. It is a mirror of the arbor, and will support more climbing plants for us, and will also support clear plastic sheeting in the winter (we could use hoops, but this should be easier for my mom), as well as netting in the summer. We have incredibly determined birds around here. It also will support hanging baskets, which hoops would not. You can see we finally got all the holes filled in! Shay realized around this point that he had made a mistake in measuring. Forgetting to take into account the thickness of the wood for the sides, the resulting garden space will actually be 4' 9", rather than an even 5'. He said it helps keep him humble when realizes he's made a mistake like that. It really won't affect the garden much, though. I love my Shay!

The three full 2" x 6" layers are in. Additional 2x6s were added inside to take care of the quite variable distance from the ground to the bottom of the first level of 2x6s. The depth of the garden ranges from 19" to nearly 24", because of the lay of the land.

A closeup of the inside. You can see how the bottom 2x6 is angled to meet the ground. The one at the opposite end is actually a 2x4, because it was so close to the ground at that point. Shay initially wanted to dig channels for the bottom layer so that it would be level with the rest, but that would have taken a lot of time and effort, and gained only a little in the way of aesthetics.

The full length of the garden. You can see how the bottom layer is inset, like a kitchen cabinet. This tends to hide the fact that those pieces are angled rather than straight, like the three upper courses are. I think it looks just fine!

Short one length of 2x4, Shay reused a piece of the old arbor as the center crosspiece.

Meanwhile, Bunny-Wan Kenobi used my uncle's dirt pile as a place to try out his John Deere tractor with plow attachment. The little booger really works, too... miniature furrows! Pretty funny. Oh, and that is a medical bracelet he is wearing.

Now that most of the building is finished, we can start filling it.  We’ll put down newspaper first, then chicken wire (for moles), then line pretty much the whole thing with landscape fabric both to keep the mix in, and to keep weeds out.  I then need to put at least six inches of sand in it, to allow ample drainage for the garden.  Excess water needs to be able to drain out, something that would most certainly not happen otherwise.  The rest I will fill with a concoction known as “Mel’s mix” — a 1:1:1 mixture of compost, coarse vermiculite, and peat.  I may go deeper on the sand, depending on the prices of everything involved.  For now, it appears I will need approximately 2 cubic yards each of the sand and the three ingredients of Mel’s mix.  Cha-ching! Now I get to start calling around…