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Posts Tagged “back yard”

How to build a (covered) raised garden bed

By on March 31, 2016


We’re finally finished building our custom raised garden bed, and today we’re sharing our design and construction process.

How to Build a Covered Raised Garden Bed

Let’s get right to the specifics! We built the base of the raised bed from 2 x 10 untreated cedar boards. Cedar is a great choice for raised garden bed construction. It’s both food-safe (since we’ll be eating things from this garden) and very weather/rot-resistant.

Our local Menards had a great selection of cedar lumber, and we were able to get a lot of the boards cut down to the lengths we needed (and to fit in our car for the ride home).

Using Cedar for a Raised Garden Bed

Using Cedar to Build Raised Garden Bed

We designed the box base to be 4 feet wide by 6 feet long by 10 inches deep. It’s just wide enough to let us reach the plants in the center from the long sides, and the 10-inch depth will allow us to grow root crops like carrots, radishes and turnips.

John built the box outside on the site we’d chosen, and made sure it was level before attaching the sides together.

How to Build a Raised Garden Bed

How to Build a Raised Garden Bed

We also attached a layer of galvanized wire mesh and landscape fabric to the underside of the box. This will help keep out weeds, any existing plants or bulbs we might have missed, and even potential tunneling rodents. We poked small holes in the fabric for drainage, and John drove stakes into the ground at the corners and screwed them into the base once it was in place for stability.

How to Build a Raised Garden Bed

How to Build a Raised Garden Bed

How to Build a Raised Garden Bed

How to Build a Raised Garden Bed

So far, so good! But ultimately we needed our raised bed to be more protected from the neighborhood wildlife (which includes squirrels, rabbits, birds, and even the occasional raccoon). We love having visitors in our backyard, but not when they eat our homegrown produce.

So we designed a custom “roof” to sit permanently on top of the box base to keep out critters. The roof is basically a frame of thin cedar boards, with galvanized wire mesh covering the open spaces.

How to Build a Raised Garden Bed

The idea is to maximize sunlight, rainfall, air circulation, and beneficial insect access (like pollinating bees), while minimizing intrusion from anything larger (like pesky rabbits). John built the roof to be 3 feet high at the “peak” to accommodate plants that can grow that tall, like bush peas, beans and broccoli.

How to Build a Raised Garden Bed

To give us easy access to the inside of the garden bed for planting, watering and harvesting, John created doors for the long sides of the roof that hinge open from the top. These are also made from thin cedar boards, to minimize shadows from incoming sunlight.

How to Build a Raised Garden Bed

Once the raised bed and roof were constructed (and before we permanently attached the doors), I created a custom soil mixture to fill the box base, following the formula for Mel’s Mix. As outlined in Square Foot Gardening, Mel’s Mix is a combination of equal parts blended compost, perlite or vermiculite, and peat moss.

First, I got several bags of compost from different sources (such as mushroom compost, humus, manure, leaf, etc.) and mixed those together. Then I raked together equal amounts of the compost, perlite, and peat moss on a large tarp in our backyard until it was well combined.

How to Build a Raised Garden Bed

How to Build a Raised Garden Bed

How to Build a Raised Garden Bed

How to Build a Raised Garden Bed

As I mixed the soil and added it in batches to the raised bed, John stapled the wire mesh to the frame and doors.

To minimize the metallic glare of the wire mesh, we spray-painted it matte black (except for the north side against the fence, which we left as bare metal to function as a trellis for pea vines). The black color helps the mesh visually disappear and absorb sunlight. After attaching the mesh, John attached the doors to the frame with galvanized hinges.

How to Build a Raised Garden Bed

How to Build a Raised Garden Bed

build-raised-bed-20b

I also picked up a couple of basic 5-gallon buckets from the home improvement store to use as deep planting containers, for growing additional edibles that are too tall for the raised bed (like tomatoes). I painted them deep green to cover up their utilitarian appearance and help them blend into the garden, put some styrofoam pieces in the bottoms for drainage, and filled them with my soil mix.

I also refreshed some old metal tomato cages from our garage with a quick coat of spray paint. Since we’re trying to keep costs low with this project, this was an easy (and inexpensive) way to give a new look to existing containers and materials.

How to Build a Raised Garden Bed

How to Build a Raised Garden Bed

How to Build a Raised Garden Bed

To get the most from our available space in the raised garden bed, I marked out specific planting areas with jute twine and garden staples. Since I’m not following a strict square-foot gardening layout, these are mostly temporary guidelines just to help me organize and plant seeds and starts.

How to Build a Raised Garden Bed

And with that, our custom covered raised garden bed is finished!

How to Build a Raised Garden Bed

Now that spring is officially upon us, it’s time to actually start planting. In our next post, we’ll share what we’re doing with our indoor seedlings and how we’re direct-sowing outside as well.

build-raised-bed-26

(linked on Thrifty Decor Chick and Remodelaholic)

March 31, 2016

A raised garden bed for summer!

By on March 2, 2016


Today we’re introducing a new project that we’re really excited about: creating a raised garden bed in our backyard to grow vegetables and other edibles this summer!

A Raised Garden Bed for Summer

We haven’t posted in a while because not much has been happening around here in terms of home improvement or DIY projects. But life’s still been busy! We’ve been working on getting our finances in a stronger place as well as chasing E (four years) and T (eighteen months) around. Typical family-with-young-children routine stuff, with the requisite amount of curveballs and laughter.

But with this long winter coming to an end, we’re definitely ready for a new fun project! We’ve been dreaming of creating a proper vegetable garden since we bought our house almost three years ago. If you remember, the previous owner had cultivated an extensive ornamental garden on the property, and we’ve been mostly maintaining the landscaping while making a few changes here and there. For this new raised garden bed project, we’ll be keeping most of the existing backyard foliage and flowers intact, but we’ve started to clear a 4-foot by 6-foot space in a sun-happy spot to grow our plot of edibles.

Location of our New Raised Garden Bed

If you follow us on Instagram or Facebook, you may have noticed our recent backyard excavations. John has spent the last couple of weekends digging hostas, ferns, and bulbs out of the ground in this space on the north side of our yard between a tree stump and a dwarf Alberta spruce.

Clearing a Space for our Raised Garden Bed

We’re definitely feeling ambitious this year with this plan to set up a dedicated raised garden bed. E has been getting more and more curious about EVERYTHING, so I thought it would be great to give her (and T) the experience of growing our own food year after year. Planting seeds and watching things grow will hopefully get the kids excited to consume more vegetables, and try things like purple carrots and cherry tomatoes and sugar snap peas and Tuscan kale.

In addition to being a fun family project, growing a small plot of our own food will help our aforementioned financial goals by reducing overall food costs. I look forward to bypassing sad-looking produce at the grocery store, and even being able to replace a lot of my usual summer farmers market purchases with food from our own garden. And although we’ll have to spend more this year in start-up costs to build the raised garden bed, we’ll benefit from it for years to come.

Using Cedar to Build Raised Garden Bed

I’ve done a fair bit of edible gardening in the past, and several years ago when John and I were dating, we undertook an ambitious container garden on his condo’s porch balcony (with varying degrees of success).

Strawberry Container Garden

Balcony Container Garden

We built cedar boxes and used 5-gallon containers and large pots to grow everything from broccoli to tomatoes to chard to strawberries. Most of it grew pretty well and we had a lot of fun learning along the way. But we had failures too – like killing much of our indoor seedlings by overwatering the peat pots (whoops!), and losing a lot of tomatoes to blossom-end rot. Overall though, it was a really rewarding experience. And we’ve container-gardened in each place we’ve lived since.

Chicago Container Garden

Since we bought our house, I’ve been growing herbs and greens in our window boxes, and last summer we transplanted a broccoli seedling that E brought home from school into a 5-gallon container. She loved watching it grow (and eating it)!

Growing Broccoli in a Container Garden

Harvesting Broccoli from a Container Garden

I highly recommend container gardening, especially if you’re new to growing or have limited space. Even something as simple as a windowsill herb garden can bring flavor into your life (pun intended!). I bought Bountiful Container: Create Container Gardens of Vegetables, Herbs, Fruits, and Edible Flowers when John and I were growing our balcony garden, and it’s a great guide that I still reference and read today.

As long as we’re talking gardening books, I also just got All New Square Foot Gardening and am so excited to read it. I’ve been playing around with diagrams of how I’d like to arrange each plant in the raised bed. We probably won’t follow a strict square-foot approach, but I definitely want to organize and maximize our 4-foot by 6-foot space.

Square Foot Gardening and Bountiful Container

So we’re just about finished clearing the space of existing plants, relocating them elsewhere in our yard, and leveling the soil surface. We’ve also got all our wood and supplies to build the raised bed, and I’ve ordered seeds and bought some soil amendments to fill the frame. It’s been a nice break from the last days of cold winter reality to research what kind of vegetables to plant for a summer harvest.

Using Cedar for a Raised Garden Bed

Lettuce Seeds for a Raised Bed Garden

We’ll have lots more details and updates as this project gets underway!

(linked on Remodelaholic)

Links may contain affiliates.

March 2, 2016

Pruning our smoke tree into a bush

By on March 26, 2015


We’re back in the garden, and this time we’re pruning our smoke tree… again! You may remember that we originally tried this last year, with disastrous results. Well, now we’re changing up our landscaping techniques and hoping that this second time will be a charm.

Pruning our Smoke Tree into a Bush | RatherSquare.com

What is a smoke tree? It’s a colorful ornamental plant (genus name: Cotinus) that gets its common name from unique billowy flower clusters that appear in spring and resemble puffs of smoke. There are several smoke tree varieties (Royal Purple, Velvet Cloak, Grace, Golden Spirit and more), with deciduous leaves that vary from green to deep red to dark purple, depending on the season and species. Often used as a prominent accent in the garden because of its brilliant colors and unusual flowers, this plant can range in size from 8 to 30 feet in height, and it’s drought- and cold-tolerant. In other words, it’s very hardy and it grows fast! We’re not sure what variety ours is – John is thinking Royal Purple, but I’m leaning more toward Grace.

Pruning our Smoke Tree into a Bush | RatherSquare.com

Last year, we planned to trim down our smoke tree to make it smaller and more contained than before. We talked about our subsequent pruning attempt (and failure) in this post, but basically we pruned it at the wrong time of year (mid-winter) and in the wrong spots (we cut the branches at their ends, instead of at the branch collars). This caused the tree’s branches to skyrocket once the weather turned warm, rather than grow into the tidy compact shrub we were hoping for.

Pruning our Smoke Tree into a Bush | RatherSquare.com

Our goal – a cute little smoke tree underneath our dining nook window – was figuratively buried under the smoky monster that grew over and completely obliterated our backyard garden view. I mean, who needs curtains when you’ve got giant overgrown leafy branches?

Overgrown Smoke Tree | Rather Square

And by autumn, the tree branches had grown all the way to the roof line. While the bright reddish-orange color was really beautiful, the tree totally obscured our ornamental cherry tree and little Japanese maple. (Can’t see them in the photos below? That’s my point! They’re hiding next to the stairs on the left.)

Pruning our Smoke Tree into a Bush | RatherSquare.com

So, obviously not the results we were hoping for when we first pruned the smoke tree. And once the summer growing season was in full swing, any further pruning would just spur more growth, so we had no choice but to sit on our hands and wait. In the meantime, we did some more smoke tree pruning research (see our sources at the end of this post), and that’s when we started to consider rejuvenating the smoke tree by cutting it almost all the way to the ground. In theory this pruning method will encourage a smaller bushy plant instead of the taller splayed tree we’ve had for the past couple of years. Ideally, we’d like to end up with something about this size:

Pruning our Smoke Tree into a Bush | RatherSquare.com
(image via Gardenista)

Fast-forward (through a long snowy Midwest winter) to a few weeks ago. With the plant still dormant in the chilly late-winter weather, John gave our new smoke-tree-to-bush pruning method a try. He started by trimming off the numerous small upper branches with long-handled loppers.

Pruning our Smoke Tree into a Bush | RatherSquare.com

Pruning our Smoke Tree into a Bush | RatherSquare.com

Pruning our Smoke Tree into a Bush | RatherSquare.com

As he worked his way down the tree, he switched to a bow saw to cut through the thicker branches. (While he’s used this versatile tool on a variety of projects over the last 20 years, a more common saw for pruning is a folding saw like this one – it’s better for maneuvering around dense branch growth and conveniently folds up in your pocket when not in use.)

Pruning our Smoke Tree into a Bush | RatherSquare.com

Pruning our Smoke Tree into a Bush | RatherSquare.com

The previous owner had tied the smoke tree to a wooden trellis staked into the ground, to support it as it grew. But when John started removing the ties to take out the trellis, we realized that it had already been pulled out of the soil by the tree’s overgrown strength. It was literally hanging on by a thread!

Pruning our Smoke Tree into a Bush | RatherSquare.com

Pruning our Smoke Tree into a Bush | RatherSquare.com

After detaching the trellis, John revved up his trusty chainsaw to cut the main trunks of the smoke tree (the same way he sawed through our giant yew bushes last summer).

Pruning our Smoke Tree into a Bush | RatherSquare.com

Pruning our Smoke Tree into a Bush | RatherSquare.com

This is what we were left with when it was all over.

Pruning our Smoke Tree into a Bush | RatherSquare.com

And our view to the backyard is much improved!

Pruning our Smoke Tree into a Bush | RatherSquare.com

Now we just have to wait and see how things grow back this summer. According to our research, smoke trees usually experience a rapid growth rate after pruning (and we found that out firsthand last year) – up to 6 feet or more in height! But while the leaves will be bigger and more colorful than before, the signature “smoke” flowers may not appear until the following year.

It’s hard to imagine that this plant could go from 2-inch stumps to 6-foot-tall branches in one growing season, but we amateur gardeners are definitely intrigued – and hope we pruned it right this time. We’ll keep you posted on the progress!

Some of our sources for smoke tree information include:
The Arbor Day Foundation
Houzz article on using smoke trees in landscape design
Gardening Know How

What do you think – did we prune the smoke tree too much? Will it grow back, or will we be left with a big empty space in the garden this summer?

Links may contain affiliates.

March 26, 2015

Balance, value, and our goals for 2015

By on February 16, 2015


John and I have finally nailed down (pun intended!) our house project plans for 2015, and we’re excited to share them! Our challenge this year: How to get the most value from our small budget and limited free time.

How to get the most value from a small budget and limited free time | Rather Square

We’re starting out the year with a very limited house project budget, mainly for two reasons. First of all, we need to continue funneling cash into our emergency fund (since it was nearly drained to pay for the new furnace last year), and build it back up to a comfortable level so that we’re again prepared for unexpected disasters. Secondly, we’re still catching up financially after the unpaid maternity leave I took last year from my day job after Baby T was born. Since we’re committed to staying as debt-free as possible, this means that we need to be smart about how we spend on home improvement and DIY projects.

So we did a bit of informal cost-benefit analysis, and our first priority will be projects that improve our home’s functionality and safety. But we’re also adding some fun design projects to our list, things we can DIY at a minimal cost but that will have a big impact. Finally, we’ll need to fit these projects into our already-busy daily life and family responsibilities, so we’re trying to be as flexible as possible with our expectations and timeframes. It’s all about balance and keeping an eye on the big picture.

Without further ado, here are our goals and plans for 2015!


GOAL: Get an energy audit
WHEN: Before spring

Choosing a New Furnace for an Old House | Rather Square

Attic Insulation | Rather Square

We talked about scheduling an energy audit last year, but then didn’t follow through in favor of other projects. Now we’re finally planning to set up an audit next month so that we can get a clear overall picture of our home’s energy efficiency. Our new furnace was a big step in the right direction, and hopefully the results of the audit will help us make smart decisions going forward.

Our energy audit will cost about $100, but it’s a good investment and a valuable resource. Knowledge is power.


GOAL: Finish Toddler E’s bedroom
WHEN: Late winter/early spring

Toddler Girl Bedroom | Rather Square

Toddler Bedroom Owl Art | Rather Square

We’re so close to finishing the toddler’s big-girl room! The big remaining task is to hang some art on her walls. She’s already got these fun owl prints, and we’ll be looking for a few more affordable pieces to fill out the room (and then figure out how to hang them on the plaster walls – a question that applies to our whole house). Finally, we’re going to add shelving and a light to her closet.

The cost of completing this room will be pretty minimal, and Toddler E is excited to have her very own special space (which makes us all happy).


GOAL: Finish Baby T’s nursery
WHEN: Spring/early summer

How to Paint Fabric Drawers | Rather Square

Updating Curtains in a Nursery | Rather Square

The nursery too is nearly done, but there are a few important changes and additions we need to make. When we first bought the house, this room was used for storage and we painted the walls a blue-gray color. But now that we’ve re-designed this room as Baby T’s nursery, I’m realizing that a warmer paint tone would better tie the other design elements (like the rug, furniture and accessories) together. Also, the curtains we originally chose are too flimsy and short, and we need to find some more substantial panels to block light while Baby T sleeps. And then once the walls are repainted, we want to get (or make) some unique artwork to hang in here. Finally, we’ll add a shelf and lighting to the closet.

Finishing the nursery will cost a little more than the toddler’s room (we’ll need to purchase paint, curtain material and artwork), but I think we can be really creative here to get the most value for our budget.


GOAL: Clean up the front yard landscaping
WHEN: Summer

Front Yard Landscaping | Rather Square

Late Summer Landscaping | Rather Square

We’re not planning to take on any big landscaping projects this year, but there are a few smaller things we can do to tidy up the front of the house that will hopefully improve its curb appeal. First, we’d like to have the stumps of the yew shrubs removed. When John cut the yews down last summer, he left these in place since they weren’t something we wanted to try removing on our own. So this summer, we’ll hire someone to dig out the roots properly (to us, it’s a good value for the cost). We also want to add some more grass seed, take out our half-dead rosebushes, and transplant some of our backyard garden to the front. Our thumbs aren’t always green, but at least moving around the plants we already have is free!

This project will probably run us anywhere from $100 to $300 (root removal, grass seed, mulch and other basic landscaping upkeep materials), but aside from the root removal, we’ll be keeping costs down by doing this work ourselves.


GOAL: Refresh the front porch
WHEN: Summer

Front Porch | Rather Square

Front Porch Mailbox | Rather Square

There are a few front porch DIY projects that we’ve been meaning to do since we moved in, and this summer is a great time to finally get these underway. First, we want to repaint the hunter green steps and porch floor with a new color, and also add some traction to the steps since they get really slippery in the winter. While we’re at it, we want to replace the old brassy exterior light fixture, the rusty purple mailbox, and maybe even repaint the outer screen door.

All of this would improve both the front porch’s function (making it safer during snowy and rainy weather) and its visual aesthetics (hunter green and purple are not our favorite colors!). So these improvements should be a good investment and a good value.


GOAL: Repair and paint the back deck
WHEN: Summer

Back Deck | Rather Square

Back Deck Stairs | Rather Square

We use our back deck every morning as we leave the house for school and work. The wood is mostly in good shape, but it’s weathered and there are some areas that need reinforcement and/or rebuilding (like the wood on the bottom step in the above photo that just fell off soon after we moved in). So our first task is to repair any instabilities and make sure the structure is solid. After that, John wants to clean and paint the deck with a product like Deckover to both protect the wood and give it a slightly-rough, non-slip surface so it’s safer to walk on in the winter.

We’d love to build a bigger, better deck sometime in the future, but for now our goal is to make the existing deck stronger and safer. These fixes are relatively inexpensive and will go a long way toward extending its life and usefulness.


That takes us through the next six months or so, but as we found out last year, a lot can change in that time. So right now we don’t want to make any concrete plans beyond the end of this summer – instead, we’d like to see how things go with these initial projects, and then go from there. Since our lives and needs are always evolving, it’s better to keep our plans flexible. (And who knows – maybe we’ll win the lottery next month, and this carefully-budget-conscious list will suddenly get a lot bigger and shinier…!)

What are your goals for 2015 (home improvement and otherwise)?

February 16, 2015

State of the House: Downstairs, outside and more

By on January 15, 2015


We’re almost done reviewing all the progress (and um, lack of progress) we’ve made on our home so far, before jumping into our project ideas for 2015. In our last two posts we looked at the first floor and second floor, so now let’s head into the basement and then outside to see what’s left on our home improvement to-do list.


Basement

Basement Woodworking Studio | Rather Square

Basement Woodworking Studio | Rather Square

Completed!

Still to do…

General thoughts:

When we bought our house, the basement was divided into a semi-finished room (used by the former owners as a music rehearsal space) and an unfinished utility area. We haven’t done much to the utility area except upgrade the laundry machines, but John spent some time last year remodeling the other room to be his woodworking studio (pictured above). We definitely owe you a couple of posts on that project! The rest of the basement will be a long-term, small-sections-at-a-time renovation.


Exterior

Repairing Stucco | Rather Square

Built-In Window Boxes | Rather Square

Completed!

Still to do…

General thoughts:

Here we’ve got some small projects we can tackle easily (like upgrading the rusty battered mailbox) and huge ones that we’ll have to save up for (like repainting the entire exterior). The front and back entrances of the house are both somewhat dilapidated and will need attention soon – we’ll probably repaint and reinforce them as a short-term fix and then totally rebuild them down the road.


Garage

Garage, Before | Rather Square

Completed!

Still to do…

General thoughts:

The garage was built around the same time as our house, so it’s almost a century old. While the structure itself is solid and the roof was replaced by the previous owner, our home inspection noted that the original foundation has become very unstable over time. There are huge heaving cracks in the concrete floor caused by water damage that are getting worse every year. So, inspired by an episode of Rehab Addict, we got an estimate last year to lift up the garage structure, remove the old foundation, and repour a new one. It’s much more cost-effective than building a whole new garage, especially since the current walls and roof are still in good condition. Now that we have a quote, we’re hoping we can get these garage issues addressed before the foundation deteriorates much further.


Landscaping

Front Yard Landscaping | Rather Square

Annabelle Hydrangea | Rather Square

Completed!

Still to do…

General thoughts:

Our home’s previous owner spent a lot of thought and energy on the landscaping around the property. But while the ornamental garden, bushes and trees are beautiful, we don’t have enough time or resources to maintain them on the extensive level they require. So we’ve started redesigning the landscaping to better fit our interests and needs. The most dramatic transformation so far has been when John cut down our yews last summer, and we want to continue reimagining this front yard space with more inviting curb appeal.


Energy systems

Installing a Thermostat | Rather Square

Old Furnace, New Furnace | Rather Square

Completed!

Still to do…

General thoughts:

Even though our old house has a brand-new furnace, air conditioner, whole-house humidifier, and smart thermostat, it’s still woefully under-insulated, so we lose a lot of heat and energy through the outside walls and attic. We’ve gotten some preliminary estimates to add modern insulation that seem reasonable, but we need to save some bucks for that substantial project.


Whew, it feels like we’ve got enough work on our to-do list to last the next million years! Now we just need to decide what should be given top priority to complete by the end of this year.

What project(s) do you think we should work on first? What’s on your home improvement to-do list this year? Let us know in the comments!

Missed our recap of the first and second floors? Check those out here:
State of the House: First floor
State of the House: Second floor

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January 15, 2015