Raised Row Bed Garden

I finished a major backyard garden project within the past hour. I have put in a raised row bed garden. Inspired by a great website on how to do it (http://oldworldgardenfarms.com/2012/11/20/growing-simple-the-raised-row-garden-way/), I adapted their plan to the resources available to me and the conditions of my garden. That site provides an excellent, detailed description of how to do this.

First, I had made the commitment/decision last month to devote most of my back yard to being a food garden. My desire for fresh food over the years and my motivation towards sustained good health also pushed me in this direction. Second, I had to take into account the realities of my back yard (gophers). Third, I really did not want to till my soil. This meant, of course, that I had to make several trips to the home improvement store to get supplies.

The basic design is to alternate rows of soil (that sits atop the mulch) with walking paths that contain just the mulch.IMG_3081

How To: After taking some measurements, it looked like the best thing for me was to create three separate spaces: two 10 feet by 10 feet squares and one 8 feet by 4 feet rectangle. In all, I needed: (a) wood bark mulch (120 cubic feet), (b) organic gardening soil (30 cubic feet), (c) chicken wire – 2 rolls measuring 36 inches by 50 inches, (d) two boxes of garden staples or landscaping fabric pins, and (e) various vegetable and fruit seeds.

I put down the chicken wire first, cutting them at 10-foot lengths (and 8-foot length for the rectangular space) and keeping them in place with garden staples. I did this for each of my three raised-row spaces. You may skip this step if you don’t have a problem with burrowing animals. A nice benefit of this step is that it provides a good outline for pouring your mulch.

Each of the 10 feet by 10 feet squares required 55 cubic feet of wood bark mulch. This will not only ensure a comfortable step but will, importantly, reduce the chance for weeds. I just poured bags of mulch (each bag contains 2 cubic feet of hardwood mulch) over the chicken wire and used a bow rake (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rake_%28tool%29) to help distribute the mulch evenly. I split 27 cubic feet of garden soil between these two square spaces, creating 4 raised rows for each of these spaces.

The 8 feet by 4 feet rectangle required 10 cubic feet of wood bark mulch and 3 cubic feet of garden soil, which formed 1 raised row.

I then planted seeds into each row and watered the rows using the “mist” setting. I’m hoping that things will start growing in the coming weeks! I will thin the seedlings as needed at that time.

This project is doable for one person – as I did – but it takes some time. I purchased the supplies over two weekends, and installed the garden over two additional weekends. I took several resting periods every hour and drank plenty of water throughout, to make sure that I was in comfortable condition, and worked on the project during late afternoons, when it was cooler. This is a very labor-intensive project so any extra hands will certainly reduce the time it takes to enjoy your new (and hopefully prolific) garden!


Pear Trees Removed Because of Beetle Damage

Sadly, I had my pear trees removed this morning. I made the decision to remove the pear trees because the snout beetle, also known as plum curculio, had been drilling holes into and destroying all of my fruit. The damage worsened over the past few weeks, making it untenable to keep these 4-1/2 year-old trees. The greater presence of the beetles increased the risk that they would damage my apple trees also, of which only one is currently in fruit.IMG_3080

It had been very instructive to have these 3-in-1 pear trees, if only for a few years. During that time, I learned about how dwarf varieties of pear trees are kept small in size because they are grafted onto quince rootstock. I also learned that sometimes, quince can overtake the tree and transform a pear tree into a quince tree. I learned more about brown rot and snout beetles than I ever thought I needed to know. I was able to enjoy a few pears and even one Asian pear that grew from these trees, so the loss has been bittersweet.

I have not yet decided what to do with these now-empty spaces. I have a gardening project that I am finishing up and will post with more information very shortly, so maybe this empty space can be added on to that project. Or I may end up planting two new fruit trees. That small space is a blank canvas so I will have to think what might best go here, in the context of the other types of elements in the yard and my budget. I hope to come up with a happy solution soon.

CONSUMER ALERT UPDATE:  The quince is related to apples and pears, whose seeds are highly toxic if ingested.  For this reason, do not ingest the seeds of these fruits.

More information on toxic plants can be found here:


Ghost Plants Bursting All Over!

Also known as the mother of pearl plant and Graptopetalum paraguayense, this feisty succulent has really made its presence known! I have many succulents, largely the result of plant breakage, e.g., rosettes of this plant often get too heavy and break off on their own.

I have taken these broken off pieces and planted them directly into the soil, next to their larger parent plant and they have simply thrived, not only rooting and becoming an independent, stand-alone plant but these new plants are  producing new rosettes as well. Propagating this plant is as simple as that. I only give them water and tender loving care! I adore these rosettes – more, please! When mature, these plants also produce flower stalks that become dotted with dainty yellow flowers. I snapped this photo within the past half hour.

Most every broken-off piece of my various succulent plants have rooted and thrived, but this is the only one of my succulents that can really spread. It has taken less than one year for this spreading to happen in my garden. For this reason, if you will be planting this succulent directly into the ground, it should be given sufficient space where it can happily produce a field of future beautiful rosettes.

The larger, parent plant started in a container. When it started getting large and pieces of the plant kept breaking off more frequently, I transplanted them directly into the soil of my backyard and voilà! Happy memories!

If planting directly into the ground is not an option, I recommend buying larger, multiple containers to accommodate the future needs of this plant.

Autumn Container Garden Planning

Because my summer container garden did not become active with seedlings until mid-summer, I’m now having to plan on planting my autumn garden at the same time that my summer crops will begin to fruit – not a bad situation to be in, but I’ll have to gather up my remaining empty 5-gallon containers.

I’ll be making a visit to my local garden store in the next week or so to purchase bags of potting soil. I’m lucky to have a bounty of vegetable seeds ready to plant!

For the past few years, I’d been a bit dissatisfied with the portion of my backyard that had remained “undeveloped,” just bare soil, which was grating on my sense of aesthetics and practicality.  But these days I’m grateful to even have an undeveloped backyard space, so I’m counting my blessings much more.

Happily,  it has turned out to be a bit of an unexpected blessing: I have a few tree saplings in that space, planted in the ground, plus many tomato plants in containers also in that space. I’ll soon add my soon-to-be vegetable containers in that space. Because the space is mostly a blank canvas, I feel a bit of freedom to move containers around and change the “occupants” of that space as I (and my palate) desire.

At this time, it seems to be a fun and good use of that garden space. My overall goal is to grow delicious and nutritious crops from my own backyard. It takes some time and money, but it’s well worth it to me.

With each passing year, I try to be a better planner with regard to my container garden, but sometimes, despite efforts, as I’ve discovered this season, I may be awash with warm and cold season crops at the same time, all of which I will gladly enjoy!

Garden Design: Installing In-Ground Outline

Literally, from remnant lumber boards! As mentioned in previous posts, I like to think of my garden as rectangular IMG_1544sections that I create by installing lumber boards directly into the ground to create a can’t-miss outline. As shown in the photo, I dug a shallow trench measuring the approximate width of the board.

You don’t have to do it perfectly – if it’s a little crooked, you can move the board (since the soil is now loose to allow you to do this). Or, you can leave it as is!

I started this project a little late in the day so will be continuing it on next weekend. The soil in my backyard was mostly loose from previous watering, but the last bit for the section pictured was simply hard soil. I soaked the small area with a bit of water a few times, allowing the water to seep through and dug a little bit each time until I reached the desired depth. This is the “length” part of the rectangle that I’m working on – I’ve a few more boards to install and more digging. After that, I’ll install the “width” part.

This is a type of project that I can do myself, at my own pace. The labor, for me, is not too intensive, provided that I’ve sufficiently watered the soil to loosen it up enough to make it easy to dig. It saves my back, but it does require a little bit of time. The result is worth it to me:  having multiple nicely planned, themed mini-yards within my backyard (as much as that’s possible!).

Tomato Container Garden

This weekend, I’m heading to a home improvement store to get a few bags of potting soil. From previous experience, each 2-cubic foot bag provides enough soil to fill six 5-gallon containers, a few more if I filled the containers less abundantly. I saved up several of these containers over the years, but may need to few more. My plan is place these containers in the bare area encircled by my four fruit tree saplings. I might as well use this space before the trees mature, eh?

In each container, I’ll be sprinkling tomato seeds – I love tomatoes! My guess is that I’ll devote at least 9 containers to tomatoes. Additional containers will be devoted to other crops. I’m not sure how “permanent” this new tomato garden will be, which makes containers ideal for this space. This new tomato garden will be viewable from my bedroom window. My first, and original, tomato garden will be in the side garden, outside of my kitchen. I already envision several salads, sandwiches, pasta sauces, and canning in my future!

Although my saplings are planted directly into the ground, my tomato plants will not be. In the past, gophers have damaged or killed a few of my plants, and I don’t want to lose my tomatoes to them. So far, the saplings still stand (maybe the saplings’ roots are not so tasty to gophers?).

SHOPPING TIP: It’s very helpful and cost effective to get accurate estimates of the the amount and types of garden supplies I need, well in advance of going to the store. Measuring and quantifying are central to my garden design efforts and reduce the time I spend standing in the aisle trying to remember the dimensions of the garden space I have (which I’ve done too many times in the past to count, resulting in several repeat trips to the store!). I take this information to the store and get what I need. Very little time wasted these days, which I’m grateful for.

CONSUMER ALERT UPDATE: The non-fruit parts of tomato plants are poisonous if ingested. More information on toxic plants can be found here:


Backyard Cleanup and Design

Today was a beautiful afternoon for continuing with my backyard cleanup. Stubborn weeds were further treated with Roundup Super Concentrate. Overhanging tree branches from the neighbors behind me were trimmed. Leaves and other debris were raked and placed into the green waste bin.

With much of the garden maintenance stuff behind me, I now have a near-ready blank backyard canvas space to start contemplating what to place in it. Many possibilities! I’ve already planted 4 fruit tree saplings in that space and am trying to figure what to do with the remaining space. The space is a square. So far, I’m thinking about filling the center with containers, to be planted with tomato and lettuce seeds (while I patiently wait for the saplings to mature and fruit).

I could get fancy and consider other crops but based on the produce that I actually buy from the market and eat, this is the best use of my food garden space.

I’m not yet sure what to do with the perimeter. I don’t want to be entirely focused on food-producing plants in this space so am putting on the list of possibilities annuals and perennials, as well as one of my all-time favorites, lavender, which I seem to not be able to get enough of!

It’s a source of great pleasure plus a dose of frustration to figure how to use an empty space of yard, but I know that the time I’m taking now will produce a great stand-alone yard that will complement the adjacent rose garden. I walked through and stood in the space after the cleanup today and looked all around me. I really feel an excitement to fill it out! I’ll update this blog with my latest garden design thoughts and plans as they become more concrete.

UPDATE: Here are detailed manufacturer’s instructions on how to use this product: http://www.scotts.com/smg/catalog/productTemplate.jsp?proId=prod70348&itemId=cat50096&tabs=usage

Succulent: Fan Aloe!

Also known as Aloe plicatilis, this img_1507stunning succulent native of South Africa was gifted to me a few years ago, purchased at a yard sale! Apparently, I’ve got to go on the yard sale circuit myself if beauties like this can be found! Click on the image to see the absolutely gorgeous details! I am impressed by the unusual smooth paddle-shaped leaves, reminding me of wooden paint stirrers!

As with the other succulents I’ve written about in this blog, the fan aloe is propagated by cuttings. You know that’s my next step!

I love a good mystery, and I’ve been going over the years to various nurseries to see if I could find something that looked like this. Well, a recent trip to a local nursery finally paid off. I can’t tell you the enormous relief and satisfaction I have just knowing what this plant is.

I’ve read that it can be treated as a small tree or shrub, but I currently have it in a container, where it happily resides. I have several needle-free succulent specimens that it has gotten me to thinking about creating my very own dedicated succulent garden, planted directly in the soil (but keeping, of course, several specimens in their containers).

I am currently in the midst of installing the next portion of my backyard, by myself. My vision is to think about my backyard as several rectangular sections rather than a singular “back yard.”

HOW TO: So that I’m clear about the theme of each section, I dig shallow trenches that outline each garden section and slide in remnant lumber boards that I get very cheaply (no more than $3 each). I dig only deep enough to match the width of the board and pack back some soil so that the boards stay in place. It’s a no-nonsense, real outline carved into the soil! Because of this outline, when I install my garden section, I know exactly the amount of area that I have to work with for each garden section (and how much mulch to get!).

It is a strategy that keeps me from becoming overwhelmed thinking about designing the entire backyard all at once, and frankly, paying for all at once. In my opinion, it’s much more interesting to come up with ideas over time and create a specific-themed garden section when the ideas are more clear. I definitely think a succulent garden is in order!

Cymbidium Orchid: Lengthening Flower Spike!

About one month since this cymbidium orchid’s spike first emerged, quite a bit of growth has occurred. When the first buds appeared, the buds appeared tightly bound to the spike and in close proximity to each other. Now, the length of the spike has increased quite a bit, allowing each flower bud sufficient physical space for the eventual flowers that will emerge.img_1382 It towers over the jade plant, which is trying to steal the attention!

The length of the cymbidium flower spike brings up a practical and garden design question: Do you let the spike grow naturally, allowing it to curve and possibly cascade down the container? Or do you intervene and while the spike is very young, secure it with twist ties or twine to a garden stake? I’ve done both. It’s a matter of aesthetics, which is highly subjective. How do you want your garden to look?

If you allow it to curve or cascade naturally, you’ll have to be vigilant about the stress placed on the spike because of the added weight of the mature flowers. The added weight may increase the chance that the spike will snap off. I’ve had that happen, unfortunately. The solution to that, for my container garden, is to have bamboo stakes at the ready to insert both inside the container and outside the container. Gently securing the spike at this stage, may help relieve the stress on the spike by providing valuable support, while allowing you to have the look of a flower cascade in your garden, a truly lovely vision that I highly recommend. It’s almost like a shower of flowers!

In the early years of my garden, I “trained” the young orchid spikes to grow quite upright, and they do so very nicely and easily with the help of a sturdy bamboo stake and multiple twist ties in several spots throughout the length of the spike. Using this strategy, you likely will have to adjust your twist ties as the spike gets taller and taller (else your twist ties may end up slicing off immature flower buds). The look of an upright cymbidium flower spike echoes that of the gladiolas that I used to have in my garden.

It’s a matter of personal preference which way you want to go, but both are doable. Cymbidium orchids make a garden that much more pleasing.

CONSUMER ALERT UPDATE:  Ingestion of the sap of the jade plant may cause illness and skin contact with the sap may also cause dermatitis. More information on toxic plants can be found here:


Alstromeria Re-Emerging

I have several alstromeria or Peruvian lily plants in my backyard garden. When their flowering season concludes, the plant’s many “branches” dry up, as shown in the photo. Inimg_1379 autumn, the plant re-emerges, and because it is a tuber, many “plantlets” emerge in a wide swath around the original plant, as shown. It will eventually be very lush (see my previous posts on alstromeria, in flower, with photos).

It grows quite prolifically, in flowers and leaves, so if you want a tightly controlled garden design where plants stay within a tidy space, this plant may not be for you. Over the years, I’ve rather enjoyed the free-flowing growing patterns of this and other plants. Alstromeria flowers and leaves are beautiful in color and shape and always appreciated!

CONSUMER ALERT UPDATE: There have been reports that alstromeria or Peruvian lily plant is poisonous if it is ingested. Please take care with this plant. More information on toxic plants can be found here:


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