Sunday, March 27, 2011

Preparing My Garden and A Day Like No Other

Today was bliss!! It really was. And it's not because I did anything overly exciting or extravagant, nor did anything overly exciting or extravagant happen to me. Instead I spent the day doing things that made me extremely happy.

My day started off with a visit from my parents. My Mom's car has been broken for a couple of months now, so I've hardly seen her in that time which is unusual for us. So they came by for coffee and tea and chocolate cake. Thankfully I had made a simple chocolate cake the other night and had just enough left for each of us to have a sliver topped with a dusting of icing sugar. The sun was shining, the conversation was great and the cake was delicious. After they left I got started on a gardening project I had been meaning to do since last year: building a square foot garden bed. Before I get into details, I will give you a bit of a tour of my backyard so you can see just how much space I'm working with.

Here is a view of the right side of my yard when I'm standing just
outside of my sliding patio door

Here is the left side of my yard

Here is a view looking back at my townhouse

Here we are back to almost the beginning photo.
As you can see, my yard is a fairly good size for a townhouse,
but quite small for gardening. The wall that the birdhouse is on will be
the home of some Super Sugar Snap Peas very soon

Yesterday I threw a permit on my van (I've taken the insurance off of my van and am again attempting to go car-lite, which I will blog about very soon) and ran some errands to pick up everything I needed. I already had 4 4-foot length cedar boards from last year so all I needed to buy was the components to make prime square foot gardening soil. I'm told from the square foot gardening book, that the best soil for this type of gardening is a mix of 1/3 compost, 1/3 peat moss and 1/3 vermiculite. Since I'm a lazy compost turner (translation: I don't turn it) it takes a bit longer for the stuff to break down into soil, so unfortunately I couldn't use any of it for my new raised garden bed. Luckily my grocery store had a sale on for 4 20L bags of organic compost for $10.00. As I was shopping my local Home Depot for vermiculite and peat moss, I came across this stuff:

As you can read from the packaging, it is made from Coconut Coir and is a green alternative to peat moss. I though I'd give it a try because I like doing environmentally responsible things, and because the package was much lighter and much smaller than a 3 cu. foot bag of peat. What! Those bags are awkward!

After gathering everything that I needed, I put together my raised garden bed. I love working with wood, and this was probably the easiest thing to put together. I just pre-drilled 3 holes into the end of each board, lined it all up so everything would go together evenly, and drilled in the deck screws (very important to use deck screws). It took me all of 10 minutes.

After it was all together and beautiful I had to find the perfect place in the yard for it. The spot in the picture is where I settled on. I needed enough room around each side for tending to the plants in the bed and also for mowing with my manual mower. I also wanted to leave enough room on the right side of it in case I ever wanted to put in a smaller raised bed next to it, or if I want to expand the bed which I have already dug up (where the stones are lined).  
After the bed was put together, I opened up the package of BeatsPeat. The directions seemed simple enough: "Combine BeatsPeat with 39 litres of water or until saturated. Watch it expand like magic! Mix into your soil for improved growing results". Easy, right? Umm, no. After searching unsucessfully for something to hold 39L of water in, I ended up filling the bags the compost came in with enough water to cover 2 squares of BeatsPeat (it comes in 4 squares), so I filled two bags. When I put them into the water, I half expected (okay way more than half) them to expand like magic, just like the trusty directions said. I pictured it fluffing up to the equivalent of a 3 cu. ft. bag of regular peat moss and then I would gracefully spread it into my bed. Nothing happened. So after 5 minutes of watching and waiting, I went inside to avoid that whole 'a watched pot never boils' thing. After 10 minutes I went back outside and still there was no change. I touched them and poked at them and they felt the same. So, the impatient me that I am, I ripped off a corner of one of the squares and broke it up with my hands and dropped it into the bed. Seeing that I wasn't getting anywhere fast with this stuff, I decided that is what I was going to have to do. I started breaking pieces off of each square, breaking the pieces apart and spreading them into the bed. Here is a picture to give you an idea of the size of the squares right out of the package:

BeatsPeat squares laying in my square foot garden bed,
which is 4ft X 4ft

It took me 1 hour to break them apart. My fingers were not happy campers after that. Once I had them all broken down, I mixed them together with the compost and the vermiculite and this was the result:

Beautiful, beautiful soil. I couldn't stop running my hands through it. It is the lightest, fluffiest, softest soil I have ever laid my hands on. As you can see though, I didn't end up buying enough of everything because only half of the garden bed is filled. In a few weeks I will make another trip to Home Depot and fill my lovely bed up. As for the BeatsPeat, if you are looking for an environmentally responsible peat that doesn't infringe on our fragile peat bogs then I wholeheartedly recommend this product. While I can't comment on it's ability to house any of my food just yet, I can say that it feels incredible. If you're not wanting much hassle with your gardening endeavors and just want to get the dirt in so you can start planting, by all means go for the bag-o'-peat. Your fingers, and your patience, will thank you.

Some other plans I have for my yard include the following:

That whole length of fence and lattice will house the sweet peas
I planted on Friday. I was going to stick with all edibles in my yard,
but I already had this pack of seeds on hand so I figured I may as well
use them. They will make for a lovely privacy curtain between mine
and my neighbours yard. The area in front of the compost bin
will hold a few blueberry bushes.

Here, at the end of where the sweet peas will be,
I will be growing Yarrow (Parker's Variety Achillea). It repels aphids,
attracts beneficial bugs to the yard, and can also be used a variety of ways
including tea or as an herb for use in cooking. It even helps speed up
the composting process! Yarrow grows up to 3 ft. tall
so it will fit nicely in this space.

This section of lattice will house my Purple Peacock Pole Beans, a
bean that is purple in color but turns green when cooked.
How fun is that?!

In this section of soil that is in front of where the Purple Peacock
Pole Beans will be, I will be planting Chamomile to be used mostly for tea.
I already have a Day Lily growing here (the green plant to the left) 
which the hummingbirds love, and just in front of that my Bleeding Heart
has begun to come back. I have a couple other flowering plants in here
but I don't remember what they are. I'm also going to be growing
Dwarf Munstead Lavender and some Calendulas,
but I haven't decided if they will be in pots or in this garden bed.

This I received for my 30th birthday from my sister.
It will hold small bunches of herbs that I don't use often
and won't need too much of.

This plant stand I also received for my birthday and it
currently holds my Rosemary. You can't see in the picture,
but the stand holds 3 pots.
In the other two pots will be Basil and another herb.

Lastly are my Chives and Parsley which have come back from
last year's planting. I recently had noticed that I had a bad infestion
of aphids at the base of the chives and they were also on the
underside of the parsley leaves.
After mixing together a solution of hot water, 1 tsp. baking soda,
1 tsp. of salt and a few drops of liquid dish soap in a spray bottle,
I gave the aphids a good blast.
I did that once a day for two days in the morning and now they are all
completely gone. After I did that, my chives took off
and have almost doubled in size in only a week.

Things are coming together and I'm very happy. After I was done for the day with my square foot garden, I couldn't stop looking outside at it everytime I was in the kitchen. I can visualize the food that will grow there, and I can visualize myself tending to my little garden. While I was mixing the soil it was so peaceful outside. The birds were chirping but everything else was silent. It was slightly overcast out but the clouds weren't thick, and ever so often the sun would peek through and light up the yard. I had my hands in this living soil that was going to help produce food for my family. I found myself feeling more peaceful and content than I ever recall feeling. I was in awe of God and His provisions for us, how He thoughtfully pieced everything together to work perfectly. From soil comes food. Something so simple, and yet so incredibly complex and beautiful. Today was a very good day.

This post was shared on Homestead Barn Hop #6


  1. Hi! I popped over from the Homestead Barn Hop today. We are doing a few raised beds as well...You did a great job with yours and you made it look so easy too! We have all we need if we just remember to look in the right places for it!
    Your post would be a good fit for my Farmgirl Friday and Farm Friday of Verde Farms blog parties!
    Hope to see you there sometime!

  2. Hi Deb! Thanks for coming by! I'll check out your blog parties for sure :)

  3. Another townhouse farmer! I thought I might be the only one! I will enjoy reading your blog to see how your garden comes along. Your raised bed is beautiful. I wonder about the metal containers though. If you get full sun on those in the summer won't it cook the plants? I envy your lattice fence. If we put up a fence it has to be 8-foot privacy fence - which would block all the sunlight. It looks like you have quite a nice set-up there.

  4. Amanda,
    What an inspiring post! I'm dying to get out in the garden instead of sitting at my computer writing to meet work deadlines! Maybe later in the week.
    It was great to chat on the HS list. Very nice blog.


  5. Hi Deb W! I thought I may be the only one too! I'm also a renter, which poses even more challenges. To be honest, I hadn't even thought of those containers being metal, but I think they'll be okay. They will only get sun for the first half of the day, give or take. I'll just make sure to keep a close eye on them and water frequently. Thanks for pointing that out!! The fences that were in the yard before were only about 3.5 feet high, so I bought some lattice and attached it to give me the privacy. It works nicely :) Thanks for stopping by and commenting!!

  6. Hi Melanie :D It was so nice to get out there after all the rain we've been having! I hope you get a chance to play in your garden :) It was great to chat with you too. I look forward to continuing!

  7. WOW! You've really been busy! : ) I'm assuming you've had your handy helpers getting their 'paws' dirty in there as well?? :)

  8. You bet "Holmer"!! They didn't help with building the raised garden bed as they were in the house watching a movie (there was a bit of "me" time happening in the yard that day!) but they have sure helped with all of the other areas of the yard. I must say they are great dirt diggers, worm finders, weed pullers, compost bin fillers, seed sowers and ant spotters. Helpers are grand :)

  9. You have a wonderful vision for your yard space and it's going to be lovely! Can't wait to see it in a couple of months!
    Thanks for encouraging other urban homesteaders and linking to the Homestead Barn Hop!

  10. Thanks Amy!! Glad that you stopped by, and thanks for the comment:)

  11. Great job...what my wife calls, "turning a sow's ear into a silk purse." Looks great. Do you job yourself out for gardening

    Just checking back to read any postings you may have written.

    I’ve been following and enjoying your blog for a while now and would like to invite you to visit and perhaps follow me back. Sorry I took so long for the invitation.

  12. Hi covnitkepr1 :) I'm 99% positive I had been following you, but then looking on your site I don't see my name there. I'm not sure what happened, but I'm now following you again. Thanks for coming by to comment!



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