I like the wildness of my back yard. Morning glories
and ivy cover the fence on three sides, and in the back of my long and narrow lot, a gnarled old plum tree, full of character though not much of a fruit producer, is surrounded by ivy growing in its shade. Along the western fence, I've got two vigorous sambucas, deciduous trees/shrubs with variegated yellow and green leaves. At the edge of my deck, two flowering perennials are thriving — ceanothus, a native, and red bud, which is not native, but behaves like one.
Then there are two of my favorite "easy" plants — Peruvian lily
, a.k.a. alstrameria, and lavatera
— both of which are about to burst into flower, and will keep blooming until late summer.
I've also got raspberries, which grow like weeds, and five young fruit trees — apple, plum, pluot, lime, and avocado.
After this past winter's heavy rains, the garden looks as lush as a rainforest. (Slight exaggeration.)
For most of the past 20 years, in the middle of this wildness, in a patch that gets the most warm afternoon sun, I've been growing annual vegetables, like tomatoes and peppers and zucchini. I've also been regularly amending the soil in that patch with compost and horse manure and mulch so it's rich and loose, not the thick heavy clay that it was when I moved in.
But, as I wrote about last year
, the wildness that I like so much has been creeping into the vegetable patch, and the drip irrigation system has been becoming more spaghetti-like, and I end up watering weeds without intending to.
So this past winter, to reclaim some order, from the wild, I built two 4' x 8' garden beds. I've gone full circle —when I first moved here twenty years ago, I built some ramshackle garden beds, but they've been gone for a long time. The wood rotted and they weren't very well-constructed anyway. Those vegetable beds were all I had back then, and the garden has come a long way since then, with the trees, vines, and perennials I mentioned above. (I used to have grass, and I will say without hesitation that ridding my yard of grass was one of the best things I ever did. Not that it doesn't keep coming back. It's my most pernicious weed
Here are two "before" photos of the garden area — the first one with the summer planting, the second from November, after I harvested and cleared it of the veggies.
For someone who calls himself lazy, I worked pretty hard to build these two beds. It took more than a month from start to finish, though with the winter days so short, and the frequent rainfall, I only had those few dry, weekend days to get it done.
Lots of cutting wood with my decades-old old circular saw, nailing pieces together, digging, bending, kneeling, lugging.
The digging was relatively easy because the ground was so soft and wet, but the soil was heavy. Messy and muddy too. By the time I was done with digging the pathways, I had a couple of inches of wet, thick, clay soil on the soles of my boots, and my legs felt heavy when I walked.
I had plenty of scrap lumber to work with — redwood siding I found under Z's deck, as well as pressure treated beam and Trex posts left over from my deck and elsewhere.
I had enough of the siding for the 8' long sides — each side was two 1 x 8s that notched together. I had four 8 foot long pieces, so one box was made of those. The other one I built with 4-foot pieces side-by-side. From the outside, they look the same, because there's a post in the middle of the eight footer, to keep the walls from bowing under the weight of the soil, as well as to hold up a ledge to sit on.
The short end are where I had to improvise, mixing up 4" x 4" posts and 2" x 4"s — whatever I could cut to fit. You can the short sides in the slide show below — four different kinds of scrap on one wall.
I built the shell of the beds outside the garden bed, essentially nailing two long sides and two short sides into each other, then carried that wobbly box over to the bed that I had raked even. I nudged the box into place, then put in the four corner posts, nailed the sides into the posts, and then did the second level of the sides.
I was able to do everything with scraps until I got to the ledges. Those I bought — six 8' lengths of 1" x 6" rough redwood planks, two of which I cut in half. Those ledges are important to a lazy gardener — that's where I'll sit in between gardening tasks.
I used the level quite a bit, trying to make the ledges as level as possible, not easy because the yard isn't level, and my carpentry isn't that good. But this kind of outdoor structure doesn't need to be precise. These are garden beds, not fine furniture. I wanted the boxes to look neat as opposed to sloppy, rectangles as opposed to parallelograms. But rough was fine. I took care with the ledges because they would be the most visible part. And sitting is usually better on a level surface.
After I nailed the ledges into the posts, then I dug pathways and lay stepping stones around the beds.
Here's a slide show of the construction process.
Once the construction was finished, I had to fill the beds with soil. Some came from digging out the path, some from other parts of the yard, some from my compost pile. Twice over the winter, I was down in the Santa Cruz Mountains at Z's sister's horse ranch, where there's a virtually unlimited supply of manure. I layered the horse compost and weed clippings and soil like lasagna. I added a couple bags of potting soil from the garden store too.
When the beds were half-full with soil, I planted the cover crop — a mixture of fava beans, veitch, clover, peas.
Here are the beds this past weekend, the fava beans a couple feet high.
Part 2 to come. Setting up the drip irrigation. Getting ready to plant veggies.