Breaking ground on the Bill J. Dunn Memorial Garden & Emporium, part 2

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It’s been three weeks since I started the seed cups in the basement in preparation for planting in May. Let’s see how those babies are doing, shall we?

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Good gracious me! There seem to be things growing in my seed cups! What a strange and delightful turn of events! Looks like the only stubborn late-bloomers (I’m hilarious) are the squash and cucumbers. Hurry up, guys! Time’s a’wasting! The radishes and peas are getting rather out of hand at this point and it’s almost time to prune. It’s all very exciting.

So now that we have our seeds started, we have to construct a permanent home for them in the yard. After careful deliberation (read: Ben and I stood around bickering in the yard for twenty minutes), we decided to place the garden on the South side of the backyard between the fence and the cement path leading to the back gate. This area gets plenty of sunlight throughout the day, since it’s out of range  of both the house and garage’s shadows.

So much better than rotting plywood.

The site of the future garden.

Ben got started on the first of three (maaaaaybe four?) raised garden beds. It’s a simple 8’x4′ frame of cedar (which tends to be weather- and rot-resistant) connected at the corners with four wooden fence posts we salvaged from the old plywood fence we tore down between our house and the neighbors’.

We dug four post holes to anchor the whole frame into the ground. Fortunately for us, our yard not only gets plenty of sunlight, but the soil is super soft. Perfect for planting.

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We were a little less concerned with silly things like “measuring” and “proper sequence of events” than we should have been. Some people would prefer to construct the whole thing before sticking the corner posts into the ground, but not us! As a result, the first garden bed is not exactly what I would call “even” or even “straight.” But who cares? YOLO, amirite?

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In the end I think we can all blame the dog for any aesthetic anomalies. He really fell down on his supervising role with this project.

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We left about a foot of the corner posts sticking up above ground. This will give us something to anchor sun shades on if necessary, or even a cold frame eventually. The previous owner of our house had filled the back corner of the yard with compost, which we then moved into the garden bed. In digging this out, I made several exciting discoveries:

  1. Half-rotted coconut shells are disgusting.
  2. The compost was piled up against our neighbors’ house, causing their wooden siding to rot.
  3. There was a surprising amount of non-compostable material in this compost heap, including: legos, a baseball, bits of wire and trash, and several bricks.

Because we don’t yet own a wheelbarrow (note to self: buy a goddamn wheelbarrow, you’re not as young as you used to be) we filled the garden bed via bucket brigade. We’ll need to buy more compost for the other two (three???) garden beds.

And voila! The finished product, sans plants:

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Breaking ground on the Bill J. Dunn Memorial Garden & Emporium, part 1

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My grandfather was quite the gardener in his day. I remember eating multi-colored tomatoes straight from the vine, marveling at the pineapple plant, and above all, the crisp, sharp taste of a perfect and thinly-sliced red radish. I don’t think I’ll ever eat another radish without thinking of Grandpa now that he’s gone.

I followed in his footsteps by honing my own green thumb at our last rental property. I got pretty good at it, but even there I was limited by space and the fact that any garden we built couldn’t come with us when we moved. It’s hard to pour a lot of money and sweat into something when you know you’ll only get to enjoy it for two summers. So now that we are Super Adult Homeowners (TM), I have dedicated myself to building a garden the old man would be proud of. It shall be such a garden! It shall be practical and functional yet pleasing to the eye! It shall have longevity and nutritional value! It shall be the first step in a year-round cycle of food production, preservation, and consumption! It shall create sustenance and enjoyment through the power of science!

We’re not messing around here, folks.

To make my garden perfect, I’ll need to stick to a strict schedule. Because Colorado’s weather is 90% perfect, sunny, and gorgeous and 10% unpredictable snowstorms the likes of which Hoth has never seen, it’s unwise to plant anything in the ground before mid-May. So if you want a decently long harvesting season, you need to start your seeds indoors. The first weekend in March I did just this.

I planted my seeds in red plastic solo cups after poking drainage holes in the bottom. Then I labeled a second solo cup with the seed species and stacked the two cups together. The space between the cups creates an instant water-reservoir (and prevents your soil from leaking out everywhere).

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What did I plant, you ask? Well I’ll tell you: cucumber, corn, carrots, onions, squash, kale, sugar snap peas, spinach, lettuce, and–of course!–radishes. I’ve found that tomatoes and bell peppers are hard to start from seeds, so I’m cheating and buying young plants instead. We’re deeply lucky in that our basement is both high-ceilinged and absurdly well-lit for a subterranean space. There’s a large, South-facing egress window down there. I placed a long folding table in front of this window and lined up my seed cups in rows by species.

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While every seed cup gets direct sunlight for a few hours each day, it’s still not quite enough light to keep my darling seedlings happy. Fortunately, my friend Bree’s daughter AJ figured this part out for me when she did her school science project. AJ conducted an experiment to see what kind of light is best for starting young plants. Her experiment revealed that fluorescent lights are actually best for seedlings, as traditional grow lights are far too hot for young plants and will actually burn them. So with AJ’s scientific findings in mind, I moved several fluorescent bulbs to the basement above the seed cups.

Then… I waited.

Until one afternoon about a week later I went downstairs to water the seeds and was met with the glorious sight of tiny, spring-green sprouts poking above the soil in a whole row of seed cups. None of the other rows had sprouted yet, but this veggie was apparently in a hurry. So which seeds had sprouted first?

The radishes, of course.

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