Gardening: Raised Beds

During the haze of last summer, I never got a blog post done about this, but now spring is coming again and as I’m getting ready to prepare next year’s gardens, I thought I’d post about how we got here with this year’s garden!

I’m living in Northern VA. The ground here is garbage. Compressed clay that never ever drains, with very little to feed plants. Our roses required multiple-foot-deep (and wide) holes in order to not behave like we’d planted them in too-small pots. The drainage is an especial problem because water where we are is very… spotty. So if you plant dry plants they drown, and wet plants dry out (or drown too).

The solution, we decided, was raised beds.

I’ve got a little experience with these, as my parents built and then modified a set of them while I was living with them. So I sat down and figured out a good size and sketched it out on graph paper to make sure that made sense in terms of the yard.

And “roughly” what I was going to put in.

Then… the work started.

We had to buy a bunch of lumber, untreated since we didn’t want to leech the stuff they use for pressure treatment into my veggies. And other materials, like nifty slotted bricks for the corners and joints…

Since it was going to be in the middle of the yard, I didn’t really want it to be pasty white, so we stained the outside surfaces.

Since the boards were untreated and they were going to be outside and against wet soil, we had to seal them. We used a “spar varnish” which is specifically meant for use on outside stuff, sprayed onto the boards.

Then, of course, they had to dry, and we repeated with the back side!

Once it was all dry (for a third time) it was time to put it together.

Which took some time, but I got it done! The slotted blocks are totally cool.

Our ground is NOT very diggable. At all. BUT just in case, I lined the bottom with small gauge fencing. Because I really don’t want ot lose stuff to voles and gophers.

Now, as an added layer of protection to keep the soil in and as much moisture away from the wood as popular (I don’t really wanna have to rebuild this thing every other year) we lined the sides with Tyvek. This also helps keep the water from running out the sides too badly.

Finally, along the back, I put up trellis made from a section of goat fence cut in half. For those who haven’t heard of that before, it’s the same idea as hog or cow fence, just with different holes. Cow and hog have more at the bottom and large spaces at the top, goat has even smallish holes all over, perfect for beans and peas. Held up with standard fence posts.

And so, the structure was done!

Which meant… time to fill it up. We got some lovely compost from a local landscaping company for… not too expensive, because we were also regrading our yard at the time and working on several other projects so I got about 7 yards of compost, plus a big pile of topsoil. The compost (or rather, much of it) went into the garden.

Woohoo! We’ve got a garden! It’s got dirt and everything! And steps!

Ok, now plants… which… sort of went as planned. Quick, change the plan, no one will notice, right? Right?

And pretty soon, OMG IT’S GROWING. It’s funny, it’s not like plants that are planted in good dirt and cared for, are unlikely to grow. They may not flower, or bear fruit, but still when stuff started coming up from seed I was both overjoyed and relieved that it had “worked.” Brains are funny things.

And grow it did, fast!

Lettuce, beans, peas, and carrots

And by the end of summer… (yes, we also put down 2400 sq feet of sod, by ourselves, in this time)

Definitely had some flaws, but mostly in my planning on how close things could or couldn’t be and what would run over other things. Also discovered after the fact that the compost is low in calcium, so I fought blossom end rot a fair amount, though it only reduced my yields. Had some bug challenges, mostly arising from the fact that almost no one else in the area has a serious garden, especially a vegetable garden. That’ll be the biggest challenge with the upcoming year, keeping the squash bugs and cucumber beetles backed off enough they don’t kill stuff. I lost almost all my melons, a third of my squash vines, and all my cucumber plants to them this year. Sadness. Hopefully better luck with those this coming year!

More dirt coming to refill the raised bed early next month, and the peas will go in on the 20th of March, as will the early in-house seeding of things like tomatoes. I can’t wait!

That’s all for now!

~The Gnome

Yes, I do still craft things…

Ack, I thought I had already posted this. Durr. Apparently not.

So, I make stuff!

A few weeks ago, now, Mom had to have her gallbladder out. Not a huge deal, but long and sore. As an early Xmas gift to make her happy, and to make her feel better about the house for for turkey day while G’ma is visiting, I made her this.

A pair of slip covers in duck cloth, for the couch. One of the upper cushions and one for the lower cushions. She’s wanted one for *years* but they’re expensive. So I made one (and another one ready to make for her b-day). Super simple, 4.5yds of fabric.

I also recently finished a hat. Knit. Super simple. From my own handspun yarn. Merino. In an almost black maroon merino with blue flecks.

I need to make more things with my own yarn. I like it. It’s fun.

In other news… Happy Thanksgiving to my U.S. readers. Happy Thursday to my non-U.S. readers! We got up early and got things going. And now, the cranberry sauce (fresh, not jellied) is made, the green jello (with pineapple and cream cheese) is set, the turkey’s in the oven, the gravy’s stewing, and the stuffing’s in! Just rolls/biscuits, and mashed potatoes left (and slicing up homemade pickles, putting out olives, etc).

~The Gnome

Of Chickens and Injury…

Two weekends ago, we moved this.


It is a chicken house, and this is after Dad and I started to lift it up so we could start moving it. Moving it, we decided, would be easier with wheels. It weighs… something around 1300ish pounds. Very very heavy.

So we put on wheels!



Unfortunately, our first attachment wasn’t strong enough and they came off. Doh! So we tried another method and…

We’re off! Just pretend it’s a handpushed train car. The tracks are how we moved it, the plywood allowed for the 90 degree turn into the gate (and again once it was in the gate).

On the way

Once we finally had it in place, we had to get it off the wheels and extra boards and onto cinder blocks (because the dirt it’s on is soft and will likely sink with chicken scratching and water).

Almost done

And then, level it all… and… DONE!


And yesterday, our new baby chickens came in! Buff Orpingtons (gold ones) and Bard Rocks (black ones)!


All together now… AWWWwwww!

The one sad part of this whole thing was that I was an idiot. I did this whole moving thing… in my flip flops. This was dumb, because inherently at some point something’s going to go wrong. Of course it did, and I had to lift/shove that 1300lbs more than once. Doh. Which I didn’t think about the time, but by the next day I realized what I’d done…

Pulled my plantar fascia. Ow ow ow. Acute plantar fasciitis! Ow! Taking forever to heal, which sucks (two weeks in, only somewhat better). Trying to keep it stretched enough to keep walking without tearing it further. Massaging it frequently. Trying to stay off it.

Do not want! Yay for dumb.

That’s all for now! Will try to get an update up early next week. Got quite a bit to put up. Fiber, yarn, whee!

~The Gnome

Best Invention Ever

The ice cream maker.

Not just ’cause it makes ice cream. In fact I haven’t been using it to make ice cream…

It’s summer… and summer means fruits and veggies such as, cantaloupe!

I mentioned it before but I did it again last night. Slightly different recipe this time. My own concoction.

The first batch was Cantaloupe/Lime/Mint
1/2 Large Cantaloupe
6+ Tablespoons good lime juice
~1/4c chopped mint
1 1/4c Simple Syrup

This one was Cantaloupe/Cranberry/Lime different, but also very tasty. I’m so getting myself one of these when I have my own place. It’s awesome! And so healthy, just make simple syrup and after that everything just goes in the blender to taste and then the ice cream maker. So there’s about 3/4 of a cup of sugar in an entire batch of dessert. Not bad!


1/2 Large Cantaloupe
~1/2c Cranberry Juice (Cranberry, not cocktail, not with water)
~1/4c Lime
1c Simple Syrup

Nom nom

Also been making progress on weaving the scarf.

~The Gnome

Inch By Inch, Row By Row…

Gonna make this garden grow.
Gonna mulch it deep and low.
Gonna make it fertile ground…

Pullin’ weeds and pickin’ stones
We are made of dreams and bones
Need a place to call my own
‘Cause the time is close at hand…

We have two vegetable gardens this year. One at home, which has been repeatedly nommed by groundhogs, an insistent deer, bugs, and something else, but has still managed to keep growing and producing. And we have a second vegetable garden at the public gardens. The public gardens are new in this location and so are a little weedier than an established garden, but otherwise it’s been great. We’ve got lots of stuff growing and I’ve made a lot of stir fries and goulash sorts of things with the kohlrabi, chard, beets, peppers, and tomatoes.

A few nights ago, Mom and I made a batch of dill pickles (Grandma’s recipe!) and yesterday I picked this…


Our third cantaloupe of the season (two varieties, this is the less totally awesome one), some more cukes, the first carrots we’ve picked, a TON of cherry tomatoes, and a fair bunch of “normal” tomatoes.

So for dinner I made pasta capreze. Our tomatoes, our basil, our chives. In the old days it would have been my home made cheese too.


And for dessert… sorbet! Sorry, didn’t get a good photo of that.

Mmmm sorbet. Cantaloupe, mint, lime. Fantastalicious and refreshing. And a great use for a cantaloupe with really nice flavor but not as firm a texture as we like.

Ok, that’s it for now!

~The Gnome