Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Simple Raised Bed Gardens

It's already pretty late in the growing season here in Colorado, and if you're going to put in a garden you've probably already done it, but I just wanted to share these tips about building a raised bed for flowers or vegetables.

Colorado's Front Range soil is almost universally poor - mostly bentonite clay which, is virtually impossible to dig when it's dry and doesn't allow proper drainage - and makes gardening an act of will.  Raised beds offer a relatively easy solution for small scale backyard gardens because you add in the soil of your choice instead of trying to till amendments into the existing ground to make it usable.

There are a ton of different how-tos on the internet on building a raised bed, but these are the ones that stood out to me.  Below I have elaborated on the instructions that I thought were most helpful.

This Sunset Magazine one is pretty good, but it's a little over the top (How to Build a Raised Garden - Sunset.com).  It's 4ft by 8ft and uses 4x4 posts at the corners that are set into the ground to keep it in place, which is probably not necessary for most small beds.

The Better Homes and Gardens instructions are for a 4ft by 4ft bed that be taken apart (Raised Bed Gardening - How to Build a Raised Bed Garden - BHG.com).  The instructions are a little vague, but it's a cool design and would be great for someone who is renting and would like to take it with them when they move.

This video from Lowes (How To Build A Raised Flower Or Garden Bed - YouTube) is probably the simplest and is explained really well.  This one is 3ft by 5ft, which is also a nice size for a starter garden.

Basically, all of these instructions involve attaching some longer two-by-somethings to some short 4x4 posts, leveling the ground, setting the frame inside, and filling it with dirt.  In the dry Colorado climate you can use plain, untreated lumber instead of treated "green" wood (which you can't grow veggies in because it's poisonous) or expensive, but rot resistant, cedar or redwood.  Most people will loose interest in this little raised bed before it rots out in a few years anyway, so you may as well save a few bucks.  All of these instructions also enable you to start with readily available 8ft pieces of lumber and not have any waste, which is nice.  Depending on your level of handiness or ability to enlist a friend's help and power tools, I would have everything pre-cut at Lowes or Home Depot (or your local lumber yard) to the sizes you want and then follow the instructions in the Lowes video to pre-drill the planks and assemble the box.

Here are the materials you would need to build the 3ft by 5ft raised bed from the video:

  • (6) 8ft 2x4s, each cut into 3ft and 5ft lengths at the store
  • (4) 10-1/2" lengths of 4x4 post, cut from whatever 4x4 lumber is cheapest (2x4s are not actually 2" by 4" anymore, they're about 1-1/2" by 3-1/2", hence the 10-1/2" posts)
  • (1) 1 pound box of 3" deck screws - you'll need at least 48 screws, plus the ones that get messed up in the process 
  • 6ft of weed barrier cloth
  • Aprox. 15 cubic feet (5/8 cubic yard) of garden soil - the bagged stuff is about the actual size it says on the bag, the loose stuff tends to settle down, so you may need a little more; also, you don't need to use all potting soil, just whatever is easy to get

Here are the tools you will probably need:

  • Shovel to cut away the grass / sod (or just lay the weed barrier right on top if you've got a dead spot that's already level
  • Drill driver (corded or cordless) with a 5/32" drill bit (to drill the pilot holes) and at least one #2 Phillips driver bit (to drive the screws)
  • Level
  • Tape measure (to make sure the box is square, measure the diagonals when attaching the sides and make sure they are the same) 
There are no limits on the ways you can modify, expand, or customize your new raised garden, including adding hoops for a makeshift greenhouse or bird netting or attaching it to anchors to keep it from being bumped by the lawnmower.  

I hope you enjoy your new garden, and don't trip over it in the winter snow!  Maybe next time I'll elaborate on the slightly more complicated one that my family built this spring.  

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Maunderings for June 19, 2013

I've unintentionally taken a little while off of updating (again) while I spend some time at home in Colorado.  It's really nice to be back breathing the thin, dry, clean air and drinking good, fresh beer.  Drinking seems to be a theme today...

Even though China is a huge country and the wealthy seem to be obsessed with high end whiskey, 99.5% of all hard liquor consumed in China is baijiu.  So when the Economist graphed the top ten consumers of real spirits (vodka, rum, Scotch whiskey, gin, tequila), China doesn't even rank.  Unsurprisingly, Russians drink the most of anyone by a large margin.  What did surprise me was that the French drink ten times more Scotch per person than Americans (but non-Scotch whiskey wasn't mentioned, so that could have something to do with it) and that Filipinos drink nearly five times more gin than us.  Since gin and Scotch are my liquors of choice, I'm trying to bring our average more in line with global standards, and I encourage you to do your part.  ;)

This article about the worst charities in the U.S. will make you both want to drink and not feel bad about spending money on booze instead of donating it to these scams than donate less than 1% of their proceeds to their supposed beneficiaries.

This could either make you want to drink more or make you feel a little better about your situation. In China, graduates from Chinese universities are four times more likely to be unemployed than those with only an elementary school education. At least it's not just American college graduates who think that they're entitled to a better job than they are qualified for:
Jason Zhang, the recruiter who has years of experience hiring people, rolls his eyes at this type of candidate. "Chinese college graduates these days think they’re really special," he says with a smile. "The problem is -- they’re the only ones who think that." 
Zhang says Wang and many others in China’s class of 2013 will go all summer thinking they’ve got lots of options, and will probably end up unemployed.

Aaand, I forgot to hit "post" a few days ago, so here's bonus drinking related update, just for good measure. According to Telegraph in the UK, via Gothamist, the world's gin supply is in dire straights because of a fungus that is attacking juniper berries, the pungent herb that gives gin its gin-ness.  I regard this as a real emergency, but I am also surprised that there's no synthetic alternative available for desperate times like these.  But, necessity is the mother of invention, so maybe Britain will start to be innovative again and there will be.  In the meantime, enjoy your gin while you can, people!

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Maunderings for June 1, 2013

According to the Wall Street Journal, Chinese hot pot chain Hai Di Lao (pay wall) is planning to expand into the U.S.  Owner Zhang Yong started Hai Di Lao in Sichuan in 1994 and opened his first international branch in Singapore last year.  As someone who has recently spent over a month in Chengdu, Sichuan and ate the hot, mouth-numbing local specialty there more times than I can remember, I hope his particular brand of hot pot will find a niche in the U.S.  I think they'll have to work on their menus and educate Westerners on how hot pot works if they're going to be successful.  It is scheduled to open this September in the ritzy Los Angeles neighborhood of Arcadia.

I just ran a 5k charity race this morning wearing semi-generic cotton blend socks, and they didn't give me any trouble, but in case they did, the WSJ was kind enough to enlighten us on the booming high-end sock industry in the U.S.  Apparently the "Thread Architects" and R&D shops at these companies are turning out socks that fit like a glove, resist "trail grime", and can withstand three weeks of wear without washing, and only run $25 a pair(!).  The socks on my feet cost about $2.50, but I do need to wash them every time, so maybe it's worth it.

Luckily I didn't eat hot pot right before the run, or else my socks may have been the least of my worries.

Speaking of food... regarding Paleo Dieters, you know, the folks who have apparently confused personal health with evolutionary success as an excuse to eat nothing but steak, a semi-recent conference of archaeologists and other assorted smart people made some good clarifications on what humans can eat: "You want to know what the ideal human diet consists of? Everything. Humans can and will eat everything, and we are remarkably successful not in spite of this fact, but because of it. Our adaptability is the hallmark of the human species. We’re not called omnivores for nothing."  Read this guy's post, it's good.  Good like a bagel.