Dirt-Stir-Crazy (And Other Backyard Preparation)

May 18, 2012   //  Posted in: Backyard, DIY, Gardening, Supporting Sponsors, Tools   //  By: Emily   //  7 responses

Thanks to Black & Decker for making this possible. I’m under no obligation to write about the 36V cordless tiller I received for free, but I’m doing it anyways. Because it’s badass.

We had a few very wet, cold, windy days immediately following the afternoon that I assembled our veggie and flower planter boxes in the backyard. It’s a good thing I hadn’t put the tomatoes in the ground right away. With the sun out this week I couldn’t put off the project any more, so I got right down to it.

Last you saw, I had this set of planter boxes assembled and resting in the middle of the yard just off the deck. Super convenient placement. Not. After discussion, we had determined that installing the planters in the back left corner of the yard would be most logical: close to our raspberry bushes, in a part of the yard that gets a lot of sunlight, and best of all, far enough away from Cody’s running loop so as not to trip him up. Dog likes to run, you know?

New set of planter boxes.

I debated removing the grass in an oval all around both boxes and making a mulchy walkway, but in the end decided to only clear out the spaces directly on the inside of both planters, leaving the outer edge grassy, and most of the yard in tact.

Easily said and done, once I was positive that the planters were in position, I used some leftover white spray paint to mark the inside of each box so I knew precisely where to cut. I didn’t spray the outside of the box because I didn’t want to chance a lot of white paint coating the wooden exterior, which I anticipate to wear naturally over time.

Spray painting along the inside of the planter boxes.

With the boxes out of the way, my dig-plan was clear. And the dog was intrigued.

Spray painting along the inside of the planter boxes.The dig only took an hour, but was a good workout; I trimmed around the edges first with a straight edge shovel to loosen the grass, and then moved inward, shaking as much loose soil back onto the ground as I could manage, aiming to only throw out a lightweight grass toupee.

Removing grass for the planter boxes.

Completely cleared, the ground was ready for the most exciting part: a serious tillin’.

Squeal, ready for the tiller!

The tiller, I’ve been really excited about since our trip to Arizona for the Black & Decker Blogger Event. It’s the only product that we didn’t have a chance to test on-site, probably because the Angels field maintenance crew didn’t want to deal with our path of destruction, but I’ve been eager to give it a try in our own yard.

No, I’ve never tilled before. Never operated anything that did such a thing so powerfully. I assembled it myself on the deck last weekend, and was eager to put it to use, so I got to it.

For a number of reasons, I decided to make this part of the post a video:

  • Pete wasn’t home to see the tiller off on her maiden voyage. It’s partially for him.
  • Sure, it’s kind of like a lawnmower, but I’ve never operated a tiller so I didn’t know what to expect. I thought you might like to see what a first-timer goes through to operate the product.
  • It seemed like a more entertaining option.

It was a one-time video shoot, with no redos and no retouching. I think you’ll be able to tell that I’m a tilling newbie right off the bat. Nonetheless, enjoy. I want to take it to the whole lawn now. Anyone have something I can power through?

I’m weird, right? Was I tilling deep enough? That thing was yanking me all over, which I guess is what it’s supposed to do to an extent, and I guess goes to prove that the 36V cordless product by Black & Decker has some brute strength for being battery-powered. Yeah, I need to practice more, that’s the lesson here.

The finished and tilled squares looked and felt good. Very light soil, but not enough yet. Before I loaded more into position, I had to get the planters in place and installed, which was as simple as pulling the structures back into position and hammering the rebar into the ground so they were flush with the top of the box. The dog happily scratched himself in the background, he’s uncontrollable.

These things are locked. in. tight.

Installing the planter boxes by hammering rebar reinforcements.

The big game plan was to use the box on the left for tomatoes, and the one on the right for an assorted mass of flowers. Before I could begin planting and seeding, I bought a lot (a lot, a lot) of soil to optimize the situation.

$30 bought me a healthy amount of peat moss, planter soil, in-ground gardening moisture-hold soil, hummus and manure for the tomatoes, and extra dirt. I made my dollar go a little further by purposefully selecting damaged bags at Home Depot; even a little tear in the bag (with seemingly no lost soil) saved me 10-50% off the retail price depending on the extent of the damage. It’s my understanding that “it all depends on the person ringing you out” so be sure to inquire and point out all damages when you’re paying to save a few dollars.

Soil, soil, soil.

Spread and mixed up a little by hand, both planters were considerably more filled and ready for planting. Notice that the soil on the left is darker? That’s thanks to the hummus and manure bags, which I layered in to give the tomato babies extra nutrients.

Soil, soil, soil.

I sprinkled flower seeds in the one on the right; only time will tell what that’s going to look like. For now, not much, but expect to be seeing Four O’Clocks, Marigolds, Gazania, and Gomphrena. Crossing my finger that they take root since the impatients were a big fat failure.

The tomatoes have been adjusting to real sunlight in the sunroom over the last week; my parents start them from seed early every spring and hand deliver me whatever ones they think I’ll like best. So lucky. These little guys just about ready to go into the ground. Hoping to get them adjusted this afternoon.

Assorted tomato plants, from Mom and Dad, 2012.

Till anything good lately? How does your springtime garden grow?

DIY Network: Corralling The Creepers

May 17, 2012   //  Posted in: DIY, DIY Network Projects, Garage, Gardening   //  By: Emily   //  Leave a comment

I don’t know if the ivy sprawling along my garage is ever going to be fully under control; so much of it climbs through my neighbor’s yard and along the side of my garage that I don’t have access to so easily. And it’s not that pretty ivy that transforms into a pretty rainbow every fall, it just stays green all year round, so it’s nice to have, but nonstop maintance. Thick, suffocating, green maintenance.

I successfully chiseled off a lot of it when I painted the garage door last summer, but that doesn’t mean that it’s inching it’s way back into place.

In this week’s post on DIY Network, I corralled the wild beast with a unique contemporary trellis. Check it out for yourself, and then go make one for less than $5.

Building an awesome trellis. Check it out for yourself at DIY Network.

To see more of my posts on DIY Network, browse here.

The Rumored Mini-Gate

May 16, 2012   //  Posted in: Backyard, DIY, Home Safety   //  By: Emily   //  one response

Checking off more backyard to-do’s in rapid succession, I finally got around to curing a little hole in the fence.

The yard is entirely fenced in, which as a dog-owner, is a great thing. I never thought Cody would try and escape through this little hole beneath the kitchen overhang in the backyard, but we have visiting dog friends over routinely enough that I’ve kept these cinder blocks from the previous homeowners in place to plug the gap between the steel frame fence and the house foundation. I suppose it helps to keep out other people’s wandering pets and wandering wild animals too.

Those cinder blocks. Little plug.

Funny thing is, as soon as I removed the cinder blocks in preparation for this project, Pete came outside to find Cody exploring the unfenced front yard. So much for thinking my big dog wouldn’t try to shimmy through that little hole. Curious peanut.

Yes, big enough for a Berner to squeeze through. But barely.

The simple solution that I’ve been planning for some time involved making a little fence, almost like a picket fence, to cover the space subtly, but look more finished than a stack of cement.

After spending Sunday re-familiarizing myself with all of the scrap wood during the springtime garage clean-out, I picked out a few pressure-treated pieces of 5/4 lumber that we had saved from when we built the deck. Measuring only 18″Wx15″H, it was a small space to be building for and wouldn’t require that much wood, so the plentiful amount on hand was more than enough.

We even had a few narrower 1x boards that would serve well as cross braces. And as much as I wanted the new fence to look like the front porch and pergola railings, it made more sense to align the lumber to stand vertically and blend in more with the steel-framed gate over time. With a few quick chop-chops from the chop saw, I had them sized to perfection.

Lumber, nail gun, and reading material to get this project started.

Oh. The Gennifer Choldenko novel? Just something from the shelf that helped me evenly separate the boards while I secured the pieces together with the nail gun. Sometimes I’m really high-tech like that. I haven’t actually read the book yet, but I picked it up from a garage sale because I thought it might be funny. Yay or nay?

Using a book for a board spacer.

Material investments for this project were of minimal expense. Because let’s face it, it’s a tiny gate. I bought:

  • Two 2-3/8″ brace bands used in chain link fence construction. Priced at $1.22 each, they didn’t break the bank.
  • A new set of 1/4″x5″ galvanized bolts, washers, and nuts for $2.50 (those shown in this picture are actually 3/8ths and ended up being just barely too thick to fit in the holes on the brace bands but I had to try them anyways since they were leftovers in the basement. The 1/4″ diameter was perfect.)
  • The lumber was free-zilla since it was pulled from my scrap pile, and the nail gun, 1-3/8″ brads, and air compressor were pulled straight from the basement.
  • Total cost: less than $5.00

Gate hardware. A quick $5 investment.

The brace bands themselves were the perfect find. They clamped right onto the steel bar that the real gate hinges to, and because they grip so well, it takes a lot of force to move them around. This was good, because I didn’t want a doggie-door style gate that could be pushed open.

The braces clamp right onto the existing gate frame.

Side note: See how the band actually wants to splay a little bit? That’s an easy fix with a little tap-tap of the hammer to force the tabs closer together.

By pre-drilling through the assembled fence, I was able to install the carriage bolts easily through the braces and secure them tightly. Buying 5″ bolts was clearly overkill so I had to trim the long ends down a little bit with a hack saw to make them less of a dog-poking hazard.

Oops, those bolts are really long.

The resulting piece is so fresh and clean in the space. Eventually, given time and weather it’ll age to look more like the gate it’s beside.

Finished mini-gate.

And as I’ve said, the braces make it stay really strong in position. Even though it’s not anchored to the house itself, It doesn’t want to twist or swing like a normal gate would, so “fully fenced-in” still holds true.

Finished mini-gate.

With the beautiful weather this week, I was also able to finish two other outdoor projects this week. I’m feelin’ all muscle-y and power-tool-pumped. More to come tomorrow!