Maybe Martha Is Just Bored

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Sometimes I get the urge to participate in some conspicuous consumption – funnily enough, this feeling always occurs when the bank account is at its lowest ebb and it tends to happen more in the winter than in the summer. Maybe it’s because I’m inside most often in the winter and I’m confronted with all the things that I feel are lacking in our interior environment – a proper entertainment unit instead of a cheap coffee table not large enough to accommodate our ancient sound system (we own a turntable that was my gift to my husband for our first anniversary), some modern wood dining chairs instead of the filthy upholstered Queen Anne-s, an amazing light-filled pendant instead of the puny $20 Home Depot special currently burning a hole into the dining table (and a dimmer switch so we can stop eating under interrogation lighting)…well, where do I stop? – So many things I’d love to change if so many other things about my life were different. But I have found a great solution for this insignificant-when-compared-to-having-real-problems crisis though – reorganize!

See, for me, while I may be a traditionalist, I’m not a habituist, and a large part of the craving to buy is to have something new to look at and interact with (part of the joy of buying Ikea furniture is putting it together). But, as I said, financial constraints and, in almost equal amounts, a desire to live within a lighter footprint, has had me trying to deal with my feelings of boredom in a less deleterious way – re-arranging, re-organizing, and re-purposing our things and our space can make me see them in a different way and, at the very least, I get some cleaning done (I’m absolutely shocked by the size dustballs can grow to!).

So today I’m going to tackle the seed starting table which I’d allowed to get in a chaotic mess once I’d finished starting all my plants last spring. I’d had big plans to grow herbs on it this winter and to start some micro-greens but the paraphernalia cluttering the shelves is preventing me from going forward with those grand plans (and when one is a procrastinator, any little obstacle can trip you up).

Shelving Winter 2011

Dealing with the leftover potting soil, pots, baskets, peppermint bunches needing to be stripped and stored, finding a place in the tiny kitchen for the new roasting pan, making a place in the pantry for the new batch of brew (in bottles on the floor), and tidying up all the other odds and ends is going to keep me occupied for the rest of today. Hopefully I’ll have something to show you tomorrow…


Thinking Inside the Box Some More

Monday, November 29th, 2010

This is a continuation from a previous post on the wood boxes we made to contain the kitchen garden beds.

Once the box is constructed, you’ll want to put it in place. We’re fortunate in that the concrete walk, the patio, and the fence create lots of square edges and right angles, and the surface was already fairly level. We decided to locate the first box by the garage door and situate the rest of the boxes using it as a starting point – originally, we had a bed directly opposite the door and it made circulation so tight that we decided this was the most important part to get right in the new plan. (If you don’t have straight edges to work off of, I suggest laying out the box locations using stakes and string first – believe me when I say moving those around is easier than moving boxes.)

A Word (or Two) of Caution

You’re going to need a level site before you start permanently placing the boxes – it makes levelling the boxes themselves so much easier. It doesn’t have to be perfect though – within an inch or so – because if you’re using pea gravel or bark mulch for the path, you can increase the thickness to hide any gaps where the box bottom meets the ground; the most important connection is between the boxes themselves.

Because It’s All About the Connection

Using a level is a good place to start but make sure it looks straight to the eye as well. Using a level is a good place to start but make sure it looks straight to the eye as well.

Once you’re happy with the first box, it’s time to move on. Assuming that you’ve already sketched out the garden plan (you did do that, right?), you’ll know how much path space you’ll want to leave between the boxes – in our case, we took what was left over after locating two 4 ft. by 4 ft. (inside dimension) beds in a 10 ft. wide space. Then, after setting the boxes equidistant apart, we set about trying to get them level with each other, either by packing soil under the corners to raise the box or by trenching underneath to lower it. Warning: This can be the frustrating part! Sometimes it can feel like you’re going around in circles. But take a breath and remember that neither Rome nor Versailles were built in a day – and they had slaves to do the hard part!

Once we got the first two boxes done, we set up a system where I would shovel soil into the box and my slave husband would double-check that the box hadn’t moved (remember: we didn’t stake our boxes in place). Because I don’t do much digging over in the spring and, therefore, don’t shift the soil very much, I figure the weight of the soil will hold the boxes in place fairly well.

Raw Food Might Be Good But Raw Wood, Not So Much

2010 More Refined Garden

2010 More Refined Garden

If we hadn’t been so eager to get the boxes constructed and installed, we’d have stained them first. Who knew the sight of so much raw wood would bother us so much though? It just made the garden feel so Basic Handyman in style, not at all the polished, professional appearance I’d hoped it would project! So we toddled off to the big box store and picked up a can of dark, semi-transparent exterior stain, and then attempted to get all the wood stained before it rained (we were unsuccessful and, if you look closely, you can see some streaking). But next year will be soon enough for another coat.


Thinking Inside the Box

Saturday, November 6th, 2010

This year’s kitchen garden was very different from last year’s…

2009 Wild Child of a Garden

2009 Wild Child of a Garden

2010 More Refined Garden

2010 More Refined Garden

See what I mean? The first one was always getting out of hand – weeds filled the clay-hard dirt paths, the mounded beds that I’d painstakingly sculptured never showed a clear delineation of their edges, and the metal spirals were inadequate supports for the fruit-laden tomato plants, always listing drunkenly askew.

Now For a Little Design Chat

The design elements I incorporated this year radically changed the appearance and maintenance of the garden.

The bamboo supports more than meet the weighty demands of indeterminate tomato plants and provide a sense of definition to the kitchen garden ‘room’.

The pea gravel, layered on top of landscape fabric, provides a dry surface to walk on (unlike last year’s muddy skin) and, while I had to weed a couple of times along the edges, it was wholly unlike last year’s epic battle against the unwanted. The pea gravel path also provides a uniform background to the vegetable foliage which both highlights the greenery through contrasting texture and color, and ties the various plantings together.

But the wood boxes are what really defined the garden this year. They crisply sculpture the garden and bring a sense of order to last year’s vegetal chaos. Because I don’t plant in rows and I have a lot of different kinds of plants in a very small space, unless the beds are kept contained, the whole thing can quickly look like a mess. But a lush abundance of plants, edged in a single containing material, I think creates a lovely perfect tension between human control and natural exuberance.

So, in case you too would like this “lovely perfect tension between human control and natural exuberance” in your own garden, stay tuned for my next post on how to build a box.