Saturday, November 12, 2011

Backyard Bonanza!

So I started writing this post in June after a couple of visits from Aaron's mom, Robin, and then Aaron's dad, Steve.  I admit, I dropped the ball on this one.  There was just so much change taking place in our backyard that I wanted to wait for the finished project to post about it.  I have finally learned that a backyard is never officially done.  There is a continual change taking place at all times.  That's nature, right?  So I'm going to post a bunch of pictures of a few yard projects we've tackled in the time between June and now.

First up is a small-ish project I attacked on my own.  I simply dug out a small garden running along the patio off the back door.  I only got about halfway done when I realized the soil was probably not the best place to try to grow anything without some major amendment.  Once the second project I'm about to tell you about was complete I went back to this one and got it finished out and planted a bunch of volunteer tomato plants there.

Second on the list was the back corner vegetable garden project.  When Robin was here visiting in May (a time we like to call Gardenstravaganza) we did our first major weeding of the yard and flower beds.  We also bought a tiller and started getting our future garden dug up and amended.

We are totally unlucky in the soil department here; ours is very hard packed and super dry.  When watered, the water runs off or just sits on the top rather than soaking in so some major work was needed to prepare for the veggies, fruits and herbs.  Robin got us started with some plants that I planted after she had gone.  While she was still in town we also mulched many of the flower beds with cedar mulch.  If you look carefully in the first picture you can see what a mess the back corner of our yard was.

Before planting the veggies and herbs I needed to build a short retaining wall as our garden site was on an incline.  The previous owners left us a large stack of bricks so I planned on using those to build the wall with.  I dug out what would be the lower level and made sure it was level before I set the first row of bricks in.  After that I just  staggered the brick placement and waited for Aaron to get home.

I knew we needed a way to hold the bricks together, but I really didn't want to use mortar, so I hoped Aaron would have something better in mind.  We  didn't come up with much on our own, but a quick trip to the Home Depot revealed a new favorite product: masonry epoxy.  It comes in a caulk-style tube that we popped into our caulking gun and went to work with.  Our wall was glued together in no time and the best part is that water has a path to run through rather than being held in the upper level of the garden which may have been the case with mortar.  I quickly got the plants in the ground and our garden was ready to grow!

Soon to come: a current picture of the garden all planted up!

The third project to report is one that Steve helped us with when he was visiting in June.  When we moved into our house there was a large sand pit framed out in the backyard that we were told was an abandoned project.  The former owners had planned a brick patio (which was why there was a huge stack of bricks left in the backyard), but we had other plans for the brick and wanted a different style of patio.  For the first couple of months all the cats in our neighborhood used the sandpit as a large litter box so we knew we needed to get something put in quickly.

I had chosen a few inspiration pictures from Pinterest and we knew we wanted to incorporate square pavers, pebbles and a fire bowl like these:

 I sourced the large 24" square pavers, but they were pretty expensive compared to easy-to-get 12" square pavers from Lowe's.  We eventually decided to top our cinderblock bench with the large pavers and opted for the 12" pavers for the ground cover filled in with river pebbles.  Once I had a plan drawn out we borrowed Aaron's company truck (with a lift gate!) and made a one-stop-shop at Lowe's to purchase the cinderblocks, pavers and pebbles.

When we got back home with our materials  Aaron and Steve got to work leveling and tamping the sand to form our base for our new patio.  I think it is appropriate to mention here that below the sand was the black blocker material and a layer of concrete rubble.  We were spared a lot of work with that already being dug out and in place for us.  I began unloading the cinderblocks from the truck and was about three quarters of the way done when our friends Ren and Mike showed up to help! (Yeah, we owe them big time!)  Mike went back to join the guys while Ren and I finished getting the cinderblocks out of the truck bed and then to the backyard.

Once the sand was level and ready the first layer of cinderblocks went down.  Again, we used our miracle masonry epoxy to affix the second layer of blocks to the first and the 24" pavers to the top.  While Mike and Aaron built the bench  Ren and I brought the 12" pavers to the backyard and Steve laid the 12" pavers in a simple hatch pattern on the sand. Finally we filled in the blank space with the pebbles and swept them into place.  It was tough work, but we all had a good time and the patio we have to enjoy was well worth it.

We had decided not to make a fire bowl out of concrete after going back and forth for a while prior to the start of the project.  I loved the look of it, but it just didn't end up being very practical for us.  Some cons were that we probably couldn't lift it to empty the ashes into our compost heap and most tutorials said that the wood shouldn't directly touch the concrete while burning and we couldn't see a way around that.  So it was back to the drawing board.  My second choice was purchasing a 30-quart stainless steel salad prep bowl from a restaurant supply store.  That idea was put on hold until Robin came back to visit us and prompted a trip to the restaurant supply store.  Once there we found a large steel wok with handles that was much cooler than a salad bowl.  Robin treated us to the wok and some piñon wood for our first backyard fire. 

Coming soon: A picture of the completed project.

Overall, our garden this year included:
Bell Peppers, red and yellow
Serrano Chiles
New Mexico Chiles 
Purple Table Grapes
Pumpkins, although a large first batch of them died a while back and now I've got two new plants exploding with growth, but no fruit yet.
Tomatoes, Mr. Stripey, Celebrity, Black Prince, and volunteer Romas and the on-the-vine variety from the store.  We also have a cherry tomato plant that has just started growing and has some small green fruit on the vine, but I fear I'll lose the plant to the cooling weather before we get any ripe fruit from it.

Hopefully I'll get some current photos posted soon so you can see how far we've come in only seven months!

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