It’s Starting…

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Planning for the 2016 garden has begun. This year will be a little complicated because we’re planning to move this summer once we buy a house somewhere in Northern VA. Since the exact dates are still unknown, I started seedlings a little early this year so that the main crops would be ready in June to July.

First step: Off to Lowe’s for some potting soil, Jiffy pots and other supplies. I went with Jiffy pots for seedlings this year so I can just plant the whole pot in the ground.

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Time to go to Lowes!

Then, the first batch of corn, cucumbers, green beans and beets got planted.

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The seedlings stayed outside for a few days, but then an unfortunate cold snap came, and everything got moved into the guest room. The cold delayed the seedlings from sprouting, but around 2 weeks after planting, it began!

The corn seedlings had a 100% germination rate again. Cucumbers and beans closer to 80%, beets were at 100%. Overall within expected results.

Corn grows fast, within a few days of sprouting they were 6 inches tall, and they’re still growing fast.

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Corn!

Next Step: Getting the plants into the actual garden!

 

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2015: Final Result

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My 2015 garden did well. Almost too well. Between managing the garden, doing 60-75 mile bike rides on the weekend, and planning for my wedding, I dropped the ball on updating this blog. The garden took a few hours to a full day every weekend, plus at least one mid-week session to pull down invasive bind-weed.

This was an average daily haul starting in July.

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The corn lasted 2-3 weeks, I got around 60 ears (40 plants with some producing 2 ears). Around 75% were well formed, the rest were franken-corn, and got boiled and frozen. This is just due to them not getting fully fertilized.

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The tomatoes and cucumbers lasted until late August, when our house-sitter forgot to water the garden for the 2 weeks we were out of town for the wedding. Whoops. Some of the tomatoes survived, but the cucumbers were fully killed.

Here are some final pictures:

 

Lessons learned for next year:

  1. Cucumbers take over the whole garden, so next year I may plant less. I ran out of ways to eat 4 cucumbers a day, and this is coming from someone who loves tomato-cucumber salad.
  2. Tomatoes need deeper soil. Mine did well, but not awesome. The 2 I planted in deeper soil produced buckets of tomatoes. Same holds true for carrots.
  3. I don’t need 6 hot pepper plants. 4 would be sufficient for my needs.
  4. Weed often. When I’d miss a week the bind weed and bermuda grass became almost uncontrollable.
  5. Corn fields are awesome!

Building an Urban Garden Step 5: Planting

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I want my very own personal cornfield. In case you were wondering, that has been the point of this project all along. So to start my very own cornfield, I bought a package of sweet corn seeds, and planted in a seed sprouting tray a week before I was ready to place them in the garden. Within 5 days, almost all of them had reached 3-4 inches tall.

To prep the section of the garden that was to become a corn field, I marked out rows that were a little over 2 feet apart, and placed the the plants ~10 inches apart in the rows.  3x spaghetti squash and 1x butternut squash got planted between the corn rows. They’ll provide cover to keep out some weeds. I’ve also slowly begun to plant various vine beans by the corn so the beans can climb the corn plans as they grow.

Corn field with squash
Corn field with squash

The next row is 3 sugar baby watermelons. These are a small, heirloom variety of watermelons that only require about 4 feet between them. It’s my first year growing these, so we’ll see how they do.

In the next row are 8 cucumber plants with radish seeds planted around them. Next to them are my fiancé’s one request for the garden–12 hot pepper plants. The hot peppers are a mix of serrano and cherry. I’ve found hot peppers do well in small spaces—they may not grow huge, but last year I filled a 12 inch pot with 3 plants, and they made a ton of peppers.

Watermelon (left) and cucumbers (right)
Watermelon (bottom) and cucumbers (top)
Hot Peppers
Hot Peppers

Five eggplants got planted in the row next to the peppers. 3 are classic eggplants, one is fairy tale eggplant, and another is a applegreen eggplant.

The 7 tomatoes are mix of varieties. They include a Custralee, an amazon chocolate, a mortgage lifter, a pineapple,and a carmello. Emily also gave me 2 cherry tomato plants, although I forgot the varieties.

Eggplants and tomatoes
Eggplants and tomatoes

I also planted a strawberry pot. They were on sale at a local nursery, so I thought “why not?”. I love strawberries.

Strawberry pot
Strawberry pot

Lastly, I planted some herbs. When it was done, I had 4 oregano plants–3 were survivors from last year, one came from a neighbor.  I also had 5 basil plants (yes, I will use this much on a regular basis), 3 mints (orange, chocolate, and lemon balm), thyme, rosemary, and lavender. I don’t believe everything is pictured. The blue bin is my first attempt at a compost bin. We’ll see how it goes.

Herbs and compost
Herbs and compost

Next up: my endless battle with bindweed–a type of invasive morning glory which is causing me endless grief, and progress on the garden’s growth in the weeks since it’s been planted.

Cycling in DC: Appreciating the Ride

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About a week ago I was biking to work, and got stuck at a stoplight. While getting annoyed at the length of the light and how late to work I was now going to be, I saw the Jefferson Memorial through the trees.

Jefferson Memorial and the tidal basin
Jefferson Memorial and the tidal basin

It was an amazing morning–I was alone on the trail at that moment, the weather was cool and crisp, and I had finally fixed my bike’s saddle so I was comfortable and riding smoothly. As I stood there, I realized that in my focus of getting to work and annoyance about being late, I had been ignoring the great views and amazing weather.

The next day, I saw a great view of the Washington Monument at the same intersection, which really made me realize how much my focus on “just getting to work” was ruining my experience of a really beautiful ride.

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Washington Monument

So for the past week, my focus on my work commute has been to slow down and take in the scenery. It’s been amazing. Seeing the Washington Monument over some trees in Alexandria, some beautiful segments of the Potomac River and Four Mile Run stream, some great segments of the Mount Vernon Trail with bridges, monuments, and of course, the Potomac River. These are all things I’ve been passing by every day for over a year, but never took the time to notice.

This past Saturday I took it a little further, and went on an early morning ride through some of the monuments in DC. I went early enough to avoid the tourists, and took the time to stop and take a few photos, which I included below. It was a gorgeous ride, and one I really want to repeat again soon.

Mount Vernon Trail and treeline from Arlington Memorial Bridge
Mount Vernon Trail and treeline from Arlington Memorial Bridge
Lincoln Memorial from Arlington Memorial Bridge
Lincoln Memorial from Arlington Memorial Bridge
Lincoln Memorial
Lincoln Memorial
Reflecting Pool
Reflecting Pool
World War II Memorial through the Reflecting Pool
World War II Memorial through the Reflecting Pool
Washington Monument
Washington Monument
Jefferson Memorial from right before the 14th St Bridge entrance
Jefferson Memorial from right before the 14th St Bridge entrance

And of course, the obligatory photo of my bike:

My bike at the World War II Memorial
My bike at the World War II Memorial

Step 4: Designing the Garden

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I have dirt, mulch, and a hole in the ground surrounded by a green fence. So now I need to design the garden!

My original intent was to do a 10×8 corn section, and five 1 ft horizontal rows of various vegetables in my garden. So to start, I used 70 feet of black landscape edging to line my hole. I just set it into the hole, and staked it so it stayed put.  The dirt I later used to fill in the garden holds the edging in place. Then I began marking off the areas I wanted to plant veggies in, using black garden edging.  I bought plenty of extra stakes for this process, and I had a good mallet for getting the stakes in.

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When I actually began laying everything out I realized I needed my paths to be closer to 18 inches wide (vs the 12 I originally allowed for) so that I had adequate room to maneuver between rows. When I did this, I realized that horizontal rows didn’t fit right. So I switched it over to an 8×8 section of corn, and 5 vertical rows that vary between 8.5 and 10 feet long, depending on the location. I also added spots for the 2 additional tomatoes Emily gave me. I did not install the rows very straight, even though I did my best with the tape measure, but they’re functional.

Rows in the image are significantly straighter than those in real life
Rows in the image are significantly straighter than they appear in real life.

Now that the edging is set, the dirt got released! I emptied the 26-27 bags of topsoil in the walkways. Then I emptied the first 6 bags of garden soil into the planting sections.  This led to about 2 inches of dirt everywhere. At this stage, I went and got about 8 wheelbarrow fulls of mulch from my driveway. Mulch is great because weeds have a difficult time growing through it. I emptied the mulch on the walkways, which raised them up another 2-3 inches. I pulled the edging up a few inches, and filled the planting sections with the remaining garden soil. In the end, there is about 4-5 inches of soil/mulch everywhere.

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Emptying dirt…

Within 36 hours,my garden went from “unsightly hole in the lawn” to “GARDEN!”.

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Building an Urban Garden Step 3: Dirt

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Dirt. When you have a yard, you think you’re the queen of all dirt. Why on earth would you need MORE dirt when your empire is already full of it???

Well…as I found out removing grass from a 25 by 10 foot spot in my yard, when you dig up grass, it takes 3-5 inches of dirt with it.  And this is 100 square feet of dirt that you’ll need to replace so that you don’t have a giant unsightly hole in your lawn.

So…off to Lowes!

$200 worth of dirt
$200 worth of dirt

In case you were wondering, that’s what $200 worth of soil looks like from Lowes. It took me 2 trips in a Ford Escape to get this home, and A LOT of help from the staff at Lowes with loading it all into my car (seriously, the staff at my local Lowes are ridiculously helpful. I love it there).

I got 33 bags (33sq feet) of a good mulch-y top soil, and 12 large bags of vegetable-specific garden soil (30 sq feet). I supplemented all of this with 6-7 additional bags of topsoil and organic garden soil we had lying around the lawn from other projects.

If you’re doing the math, you’ll realize this means I only got around 70 square feet of soil.

But don’t despair! I have 6 cubic yards of mulch in my driveway thanks to the city of Alexandria! That’s wayyy more than I need for this project (in fact, way more than I need for anything…anyone want some mulch???).

Garden dirt
Dirt in its new home

This is my dirt, in my garden.

Side note: I had wanted to try organic garden soil, but it came down to a cost issue—it cost me $80 for 30 sq feet of high quality vegetable garden soil I purchased, but it would have cost meat least twice as much to get the same amount in organic soil. I am all about organic gardening, but for a project this size the start-up cost is enormous, and wasn’t possible within my budget.

Building an Urban Garden Steps 1 and 2: Finding and Digging out Space

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Hi, I’m Erin (aka schmerin from roofgardengal). And this is my first post about building my garden in Del Ray, Alexandria.

In years past I’ve done windowsill gardening in Arlington–mostly herbs like basil, oregano, and some ill-fated pepper plants, and last year I used containers to garden on my fiancé’s townhome’s back porch.

So moving on to this year—WE RENTED A HOUSE WITH A YARD! Did I tell you? It HAS A YARD! That gets lots of sunlight! So this is my first post on how we built our garden.

Step 1 and 2 of building a garden: Finding and Digging out a Space.

Task 1: Find a location. Our backyard is a decent size, but has some weird bushes, a shed, and an odd cement path. All of which we’ve been informed by the landlord cannot be moved. So we looked around for a spot that had four qualities:

  1. Wouldn’t be an eyesore for the neighbors.
  2. Got plenty of sunlight during the day.
  3. Large enough to be around 20 feet long and 5-10 feet wide.
  4. Was easy to block the dog from getting into.

The spot that fit all of these qualifications ended up being on the west side of the lawn, behind the shed.

Task 2: Realize there is grass where the garden should be, but no grass in the center of the lawn (?!?!?). In case you were wondering, digging up and moving grass is really tough. Day 1 and about 6-8 hrs of work resulted in a 10×10 foot hole, and a nicely patched spot in the center of the yard.

Day 1 of digging
Day 1 of digging

Task 3: Add fencing. This step I’d actually recommend doing after digging the hole since the fencing blocks the shovel from getting to the right angles, but my fiancé and neighbor went ahead and did it at this point anyways. The green fencing is from Lowes, and is attached to 8-10 green stakes. It looks nice, and isn’t an eyesore for the neighbors. The gate was not built yet at this point.  The total size of the fenced in space is 25 by 10 feet.

Chris and Dave building a fence
Chris and Dave building a fence

Task 4: Keep digging.

Keep digging...
Keep digging…

Task 5: FINISH DIGGING! Digging took 3 days of 6-8 hrs each, spread over 3-4 weeks. Digging up grass is really tough work, especially on 80 degree days with full sun, which seemed to be every weekend.

DONE DIGGING!
DONE DIGGING!

Next post…DIRT.