Planning on what to do with the backyard has been a bit like waiting for my muse to guide me through a short story or a novel. There are times the inspiration arrives quickly; there are other times I don’t think I can even spell inspiration.
I’ve been on hold in the backyard because we really couldn’t come up with any ideas about what to do back there. We had kind of an overview, but nothing specific. Then there was the skyrocketing price of lumber. Finally, though, about a month ago it came to me. Unfortunately, so did the heatwave, so all work was put on hold. Now I find out I have to have total hip replacement the end of September, so any work in back will have to wait until December.
But we have a vision, and that’s a huge step in the right direction.
If you look closely at this picture you can see pathways I am digging out. I’m going to put borders along each of those pathways, fill them with mulch (actually, I finished filling most of them already), and then we will plant perennials and annuals along them. In the end, we will have a series of winding paths surrounded by flowering beauty.
That hill? I think I already mentioned it, but that hill will be supported and surrounded by large rocks, and we will have a small waterfall come off the hill; that will become a stream; and the stream will empty into a pond.
Look even more closely
Those sections of cattle fencing? We will have vines trained over them (currently Morning Glories, but next year Honeysuckle), and a seating area underneath for hot summer days, very similar to the grape arbor, which filled in beautifully this summer.
And under that grape arbor will be a deck, just as soon as I’m moving around again and the price of lumber drops.
Sheez, I’m tired just thinking about it
But I’m also excited to get started. This summer was kind of a washout. It was much too warm to do much of anything physical; add to that the pain in my hip and, well, the summer of 2021 just didn’t happen the way I planned.
So be it! Such is life! We move on and do what we can. I’m just glad my gardening/landscaping muse finally showed up and whispered in my ear.
I hope this finds you well. Thanks for stopping by.
It’s been a while, and much has happened this spring, so I believe it is time for an update.
THE ARBOR/PERGOLA STILL PARTIALLY-COMPLETED
Until the price of lumber drops, the pergola will remain incomplete. That’s fine. It’s not going anywhere, and it’s something I can complete even if the weather turns sour in the fall. In the meantime, here it is, partially-covered with grape vines and very serviceable. As you can see, I still have one base support/seat to build, but that’s about it.
THE FENCE GARDEN
The fence you see is actually attached to the original chain-link fence. I have nothing against the nextdoor neighbors, but we needed more privacy than a chain-link fence could give. It was an easy fix and it turned out just fine when I added it two years ago.
One year ago we started planting along the fence. This year those plantings have taken off and are thriving. The goal is to stuff that area with vegetation which will serve as a sound barrier. Again, no offense meant for the neighbors, but eight-year old kids can be a bit loud at times.
We are using a method I call “Stuff It Gardening.” The goal is to stuff so much vegetation in there so the weeds won’t have much of a chance to take over. We’ve seen it work in other gardens, and so far we have done much-less weeding than we normally would have.
A NEW FENCE GARDEN
Say hello to the original back fence. It’s a mess. It’s rotting. My goal, by winter, is to replace all of those fence slats and turn it into a new fence like the one separating us and the eight-year old. When that is done, I will dig out a new garden in front of the new fence, probably about five-feet wide. Once that is done, we’ll start our Stuff It planting in front of that new fence.
THE FUTURE WATERFALL/POND
And also say hello to a waste pile we’ve had for probably ten years. We are tired of it, and it just doesn’t fit into our overall plan for the backyard. I want to haul away all of the prunings and branches, and then dump about two yards of topsoil there, making a nice hill about three feet high.
At that point we will have to stabilize the hill with large rocks, and since we are messing around with rocks, we thought it would be a good idea to get a waterfall kit/pond and have a seriously-cool water feature in that corner. We love the sound of running water, and I think we can both pull this off, so why not try, right?
THE EXISTING VEGGIE GARDEN
So I think I’ll add a hoop roof to the existing vegetable garden using PVC pipe. I can put plastic sheeting over the top and extend the growing season, and roll the plastic up when the weather warms. It’s an easy fix so why not?
FRONT YARD DOING FINE
The front, with its berry bushes and fruit trees, is in good shape. There are no plans for the front yard other than to paint the exterior of the house, so that’s good news for this old man.
It all may sound like a lot to do, and I guess it is, but I love projects, and I love seeing the results of the projects, so there you go. A guy has to do something after retiring, right?
WHAT’S THE POINT OF ALL THIS?
We really want to turn the backyard into a lush haven of peace and tranquility. For too many years it’s just been a place for dogs to run, chickens to cluck, and quail to lay eggs. Now we have our sights set on walking into the backyard, sitting down, listening to the waterfall, and watching the birds, butterflies, and hummingbirds frolic. It sounds like heaven to me.
How long will all of this take? Sheez! Maybe two years, good Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise. Have I made mistakes along the way? Oh my, yes! Will I make more mistakes along the way? You bet I will. But it’s all part of the process, and the joy, for me, is in that process as well as the final product.
That’s it from our home. I hope this finds you all well, safe, healthy, and happy!
Let’s get this out of the way right out of the proverbial gate: I am not a Master Gardener, and in no way can I be described as an expert on No-Till Gardening. I only know what I know, and I know I’ve been practicing the No-Till Method for about five years now, and I am sold on it.
I’m not selling anything. I am not being sponsored by some No-Till company (there is none anyway). This blog is not monetized, so I get no payment of any sort. I’m just a casual gardener who has found something which works, and now I’m passing it on to you.
So far, the response to my earlier articles about this method of gardening have been positive, so I thought I would follow up on it all. I’ll answer a few questions along the way, questions which were asked weeks ago. Sorry for my tardiness but, at 72 years of age, I get some slack cut.
There are two main reasons why I prefer this method of gardening. First, I don’t have to do any digging with a shovel or do any tilling. I dislike both of those activities, so already I see huge benefits. Secondly, tilling and/or shoveling disrupts the natural processes happening in the soil. By not tilling, I am promoting a healthier soil.
A third benefit, a little bonus, which I’ll talk about a little later, is there is much less weeding during the growing season using the No-Till Method.
Take any section of lawn/ground, lay down cardboard, on top of that spread two or three inches of compost, and on top of that cover with mulch. Allow that combination to sit for six to eight months and you will have an “instant” garden ready for planting.
The photos I’m including show this process. You can see the “lawn” where I began my latest garden. Inside the “hoop” structure you can see that I have already spread the cardboard, compost, and mulch. Since I started this one in March, I will continue to add to it during the next eight months, so that by Spring of 2022 I will have a lush garden with extremely healthy soil.
How Quickly Does It Work?
I would say six months minimum. I would say within eight months, for sure, you will be ready to plant.
Very, very few. This next photo shows you the established garden after I took the cardboard off a month ago. As you can see, it is practically weedless. I did go out and do some light weeding for about a half hour on one section, but that was all, and that is considerably less weeding than I would have to do in a traditional garden.
I know of people who have used this method in Alaska. I know of people who have used it in Equatorial nations. If you live in an arid spot, the only other thing you should do is keep your new garden area moist during that six-to-eight months period while the soil is processing. Just a quick five-minute watering every couple of days will help break down all of that organic matter.
And That’s All There Is
And honestly, that’s all there is to it, other than the follow-up. This year, after the veggies have been harvested, we will leave stems and roots and stalks (cut to ground level) in the ground, cover it all up with cardboard, layer it with leaves from the neighborhood, and let Nature do its thing over the winter. Next Spring it will be ready, once again, for planting.
My good friend Sha had a few questions in need of answers regarding our remodel, and here they are:
From Sha: “You and Bev have been quite busy, Bill! I love your new flooring and the countertops in the kitchen. Are the appliances stainless or black? I have black appliances in my kitchen and love them.
“What colors do you plan on painting the kitchen and bathroom? And, what on earth is hog paneling?
“Your gardens are coming along nicely. I can’t wait to see the fruits of your labor. What types of berries and fruit will come up in your front yard?
“Now that you’re nearing renovations, have you decided to keep the house? I actually hope you do.”
So I guess I better get to answering them, eh?
I’ll answer the last, first. Yes, after about two years of weighing options and debating, we have decided to stay in this house. Bottom line: we are comfortable here and we love it here. We keep getting tempted. In the last six months, three homes within two blocks of our home have sold for ridiculously high prices, I mean bidding war prices. With the interest rates so low, and the demand so high, the price of our home just keeps on climbing. It has literally risen $50,000 in the last six months.
Okay, back to the questions. The appliances are stainless.
Bev has opted for one color throughout the entire house. I don’t get involved in that decision because, well, I just don’t care. She has decided upon a light gray/blue color, which is fine with me. My job isn’t to debate colors; my job is to do the actual painting, and I’m not sure when I’ll get around to that. Outdoor projects and the dogs are keeping me quite busy this spring.
Hog paneling is hog fencing. It is welded metal fencing. You’ve seen it a million times, and probably didn’t know what it was called. If I remember I’ll include a picture of it.
Oh my, what berries? I’m not sure I know them all. Blueberries, strawberries, gooseberries. Boysenberries, three different varieties of blackberries, and I’m sure there are a couple I’ve forgotten. The fruit trees are Asian Pear and two varieties of apple which I’ve forgotten.
And I think that takes care of all the questions. I still have to plant the veggies, but that will probably wait for another two weeks, until we are sure the last frost has happened.
Thanks for the questions, Sha, and Happy Spring to you all!
Things kicked into high gear as January unfolded. After several months of lethargy, the remodeling of several rooms in our house took place, and now we turn our attention to the outside. Let me share a few pics of the improvements inside, and then a few of the outside and the spring plans for that area. Please ignore the painting on the interior. We haven’t done that yet so no, the colors do not match and yes, we are very aware of it.
THE KITCHEN, BATHROOM, AND ODDS AND ENDS
New flooring, new countertops, new toilet, shower, sinks, all completed and what a difference it made. My God I was tired of that old flooring. It’s one of those things you don’t realize how much you dislike, because you see it daily and you get used to it, you know? But replace it with something new and suddenly you realize just how crappy the old stuff was.
Oh, and a new front door and new sliding door to the back, toss those in as well. All that’s left is to replace the picture window on the front wall, something which will be done in April.
The main garden is about ready for planting. It has sat under layers of cardboard and mulch for six months now, and the soil is actually in motion from so many worms, a sure sign that the preparations did the job properly.
THE FUTURE GARDEN
Same things, cardboard and mulch, plus compost, has changed this useless piece of grass into a nice section for planting. I’m going to use hog paneling to form mini-greenhouses over that new section. The hog paneling will be the perfect structure for six feet of peas and pole beans, and one more section I will cover with plastic and grow tomatoes in there. Very exciting stuff for a gardener, as you all well-know.
THE FRONT YARD UNTOUCHED
The front yard is in good shape. We added a layer of leaves over the winter. We pruned all the berries and fruit trees. We are now ready for nature to do its thing. I think we have ten varieties of berries out front, and three fruit trees. It should be a great season.
AND THAT’S THE UPDATE
I have two more projects to complete, but I don’t have any photos of them, so they can wait for another day. From my garden to yours. Have a great March/April, and may all of your plants yield bumper crops.
How many of us, living today, 2021, have lived through events so monumental as to completely alter our lifestyle and our beliefs?
Some might point to 9/11 as one such event. I’m not sure I would agree with that, but I understand the tendency. Some might say the death of a loved one, and I can understand that as well, but those seem like short-term alterations to our lives, don’t they? Can I honestly say that 9/11 changed the way I live my daily life? No, I cannot! Did the death of my father, when I was twenty, affect my life today? Perhaps emotionally it did, and still does, but I haven’t really altered the way I go about my day because of his death.
But The Great Depression? People who lived during the 30’s had their lives completely altered, and they never again looked at life as they once had.
One such seismic shift in attitude which happened to my parents was the belief that family comes first, followed closely by the welfare of their neighbors. In other words, a small community should look out for each other, because you sure as hell can’t rely upon the banks or the government to bail you out of problems so monumental as to seem soul-crushing.
They produced enough for their family to eat. They dried foods. They canned foods. And when they had enough to family, and there was still food left over, they walked it over to the neighbors and asked them if they needed it.
And the neighbors did the same thing!
Doing a home repair? Fixing a fence? Building a new addition to the barn? None of those chores were done in solitude in the 1930s, not in Charles City, Iowa, not in the social circle my parents lived. Many of you have surely heard of barn-raising parties? They happened! People would travel impressive distances to help a friend or neighbor build a barn in one day. Go outside to work on a downed section of a pasture fence and Bob and Andy would show up, with hammers, helping their neighbor, knowing that when the roles reversed the help would be there for them
It is no exaggeration that everyone in a small community knew everyone’s business during the 30s. That’s just the way it was. Strangers were looked on with suspicion. Friends were watched closely to make sure they were safe from two-legged predators in search of a quick steal. Who needs a security camera when Mrs. Shields was watching from her kitchen window 24/7, 365?
And in times of trouble . . .
One of my earliest memories, growing up, was Mom and Dad racing for the car when they heard a firetruck siren. We would pile into the car and race through the neighborhood until we found the source of trouble, and there we would get out of the car and Mom and Dad would pitch in, helping those in trouble. It was remarkable to see back in the 50s, and it’s still remarkable to think about today, seventy years later, and where do you suppose that practice originated? Yep, the Great Depression! Neighbors helping neighbors, good times and bad.
The point of it all
I’m not here to romanticize the Great Depression. That would be ridiculous. There was very little to romanticize during that decade. It was a horrible time for most working-class people. But I am here to tell you that some very admirable and honorable ways of treating people came out of those horrible years, and in my humble opinion we could use those ways in great supply in 2021.
Family first, then neighbors . . . four simple words which pack such a strong punch!
Many of you know my parents were children/teens during The Great Depression. I thought you might find it interesting to hear about some of the things they did, and their families did, just to survive during the 1929-1939 years.
It would be easy to simply look at that time as a history lesson and nothing more, but I believe many of the things they went through, and many of the solutions they turned to, are applicable today.
I don’t think it’s possible to overstate how hard life was during that time period. For many, and I’m talking maybe 20% of the population, if not more, hope was lost – literally and figuratively lost! They would get up each morning convinced that nothing good was going to happen. My parents told me several in their small town committed suicide, no light at the end of the tunnel, no reason to continue, all worldly possessions gone.
So, let’s get started with a look back, ninety years, my memories of their recollections.
THE NEED FOR FOOD
There are two sides of the family to talk about when it comes to discussions about food during those horrible years. My mother’s side had a farm in Charles City, Iowa. My father’s side lived in a tough city called East St. Louis, Illinois.
The farm held some advantages. Crops, gardens, chickens, food storage options, they were able to constantly put food on the table. Canning was huge for them. Hydration techniques were used. Meals were prepared and stretched as far as possible. Huge stews were made on Sunday, and those stews lasted all week. Bread was scarce, and actually avoided, because it took too many essentials, like flour, to make, so biscuits were the default treat with meals. Cornbread was also a common food on the dinner table.
My father’s side of the family had no such advantages. They stood in bread lines. They worked odd jobs, whatever was available, to make a little money for meals. My dad dropped out of high school and went to work, sending money back home from distant towns, riding boxcars around the Midwest.
The bottom line is this: they found a way. They used what they had and made it work, and if they didn’t have anything, they worked extra jobs, wherever they were, just to survive.
It’s what you do when times are tough, as my dad often told me, “you keep moving forward, Bill, and you never let the bastards know you are afraid.”
PASSING IT ON
So, by the time I was a young kid, those lessons were being passed on to me.
I remember clearly Mom cooking up a big roast on Sunday, and that roast appeared for dinner, in one form or another, for the rest of the work week. A roasted chicken became chicken soup. Broth was never discarded.
The one thing my parents would not do, and I remember asking them about it once, was grow vegetables once they had their own home and both had jobs. “I’ve grown enough potatoes to last a lifetime, Billy,” Mom told me. “No damned way I’m growing anymore, not with a grocery store three blocks away.”
We did, however, have fruit trees in our backyard, four trees planted within weeks of purchasing my childhood home, and those trees provided fruit for canning for the twenty years I lived there.
Old lessons die hard!
It’s interesting to see the subtle changes happening in cities across the United States. Many zoning commissions are now allowing community gardens within the city limits. Many cities, like the one I live in, Olympia, Washington, are allowing vegetable gardens to be grown in the front yards, instead of lawns. Many cities, like the one I live in, now allow property owners to raise chickens, quail, rabbits, and other food-producers.
I see an increased number of notices on public bulletin boards about classes being taught for canning, for gardening, and for other food preservation methods. YouTube is suddenly inundated with “sustainable living” videos.
It’s an interesting transformation, and I suspect it will continue. It would be easy to say we are not in a similar great depression, in 2021, but with so many people struggling financially, working for minimum wage, rents increasing, cost of living increasing, the reality is that millions of Americans have it every bit as bad as my parents did in the 30’s. Millions are homeless. Tens of millions of children suffer from hunger.
A change was needed . . . a change is needed . . . and it appears a change is happening.
If you can, reach out and lend a helping hand to someone. We will make it out of this mess, together, one act of kindness at a time.
One of Bev’s son is here in January to do remodeling and repairs to our home. Once he is done, we will then decide whether to rent out the entire home, and go somewhere else to live tiny, or live out of our “remodeled” garage, and rent out the rest of the house to someone else.
In other words, we have options. I suspect we will live here, out of the garage plus another shed we will build. The new shed will be the living space, and the garage will be the kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room for us.
We also have the option to park a tiny home in the back, or purchase a used RV and put that out back. I love having all these options.
Of course, in the back of our minds, we keep thinking how nice it would be to have a couple acres somewhere, and put a tiny home on that acreage, but the price of acreage in Thurston County is ridiculously high, plus there is all of the hassle of clearing land and starting over, and that just sounds exhausting to me. I’m not nearly as eager to start over at 72 as I was ten years ago.
We have firewood stacked in the side-by-side aviaries I built long ago. I’m using up the one side as quickly as possible so I can convert that side into a greenhouse. I’ve always wanted a greenhouse, and this spring of 2021 I will have one. I’m thinking of growing herbs for sale, but I’ll play around with other ideas until I’m ready to convert it.
The Olympia City Council passed new regulations which greatly increased the options for homeowners regarding outside additional structures. It’s an attempt by the Council to address the shortage of affordable housing in our city, and it’s a good decision/action. Most zoning areas in our city will now be able to build grandma apartments in the backyards, or convert the homes into duplexes if they choose.
Yes, we have options
And it’s a nice mindset to have. It’s nice to have Bev’s retirement within sight. She’s worked hard all of her life, as have I, and now we want to make the right decision for us moving forward.
Stay tuned! In the meantime, Happy New Year. Let’s hope 2021 is a year of bounty rather than a year of deprivation.
I confused a few people in my last blog post by using the term “no-tilling.” It should be easier to understand if you think of no-tilling as “no plowing.”
The whole point is this: turning over your soil, at the end of the growing season, or early in the spring before planting, not only eliminates many microorganisms, but also makes the soil unstable and prone to erosion and poor drainage.
Think of a forest! No one plows a forest, and yet growth occurs constantly there. This is possible because the forest is constantly being fed by decaying matter during the year, and that decaying matter produces some of the healthiest soil in the world.
What’s the point of cardboard?
I mentioned in the earlier article that you should layer cardboard over the entire garden area in the fall, once you have cut down stalks to the surface. Cardboard is organic matter. It serves as food for worms. The worms eat it, and then the worms poop it, and worm castings are nature’s perfect fertilizer. In addition, under that cardboard, the plants you left in the ground, and their roots, decay during the winter, and that decaying nourishes your soil.
Many people think that by laying down cardboard you will eliminate weeds. That is false! You will suppress weeds, and slow their appearance, but weeds will eventually break through the decaying cardboard.
Can you do this anywhere?
Someone asked me if this method is suitable for any climate. The answer is yes, as long as that climate has a growing season. I doubt seriously if this would work in Siberia, or Northern Alaska, but anywhere in the Continental United States, or almost all of Western and Eastern Europe, most definitely most of Asia and South America, this method works beautifully.
Ground which has never been used for gardening/farming will magically transform under the cardboard, compost, and mulch. No digging or plowing is necessary!
And then someone asked me . . .
Why do farmers in the Midwest, on giant farms of hundreds of acres, plow? And my answer is because that method is all they have ever known, and it is convenient for them to do so. If you have 100-acres of corn, that is a seriously large amount of cardboard needed.
And then someone asked me how do large farms manage to grow quality produce if they are harming the soil by plowing? And the answer is they really do harm the soil, but then they regenerate it using fertilizers and chemicals. They also have learned to leave sections of large farms fallow (not planted in) for a year so the soil can regenerate without being disturbed, which is basically the same principle of no-tilling, at least for one growing season.
If you want a garden which has very healthy soil, and you do not want to use fertilizers and other man-made additives, and you don’t feel like straining your muscles turning over soil with a hoe, or shovel, or plow, then give this a try. I promise it works!
We’ve been busy this fall with our gardens. In a normal year, we are every bit as busy in the fall as we are in the spring, because the fall is the time when we prepare the soil for planting in the spring, and preparing the soil, for us, means no-tilling.
I won’t go into a lengthy diatribe on the benefits of no-till gardening, nor will I discuss, in length, what we believe the detriments of tilling are. I will only say that we do not believe in tilling the soil. We believe the soil will be much healthier in the spring by not tilling, and that method has worked quite well for us. This no-tilling method promotes worms; worms promote healthy soil by aeration and worm droppings; and, in the end, the soil is very happy.
Our version of the no-tilling method
At the end of the growing season, we go into the garden and we cut down all stalks to ground level. We do not pull them out of the ground because to do so would disturb the soil and remove nutrients.
We then cover the entire garden with cardboard and newspapers we have saved up over the summer.
On top of the cardboard we put a thick layer of compost.
And on top of the compost we put a layer of mulch i.e. straw or wood shavings.
We then leave the garden alone over the winter and allow Nature to do its thing.
By late March we have an incredibly healthy garden with vibrant soil and a multitude of worms. We then have two choices: we can either remove the remaining cardboard, and plant, or we can punch holes in the cardboard and plant in the holes. Either method works. We prefer to remove the remaining cardboard but again, either method works.
We then can sit back and watch our bounty of vegetables and berries grow.
This method works quite well if you are thinking of starting a new garden. Do not till the space you have designated for your new garden. Stake out the corners of your planned garden, lay cardboard on the space within those stakes, and cover with compost and mulch. In the spring you will have vibrant soil and be ready to plant.
Trust me, this works!
Check out this video on no-till farming. I think you’ll love it; the guy in the video is a national guru in this method.