The Great Garden Overhaul

tomatersThe Irish say, “It is a poor workman who blames his tools.” But that hasn’t stopped me from chalking up my spotty gardening results to less than optimal equipment. I actually have a pretty cool garden that I call Flying Terrier Farms. It consists of eight raised beds and a separate greenhouse clinging to the side of a steep Southern facing Sonoma hill. A recipe for success, I’m sure for most gardeners, but apparently not for me. My results have been wildly inconsistent. From waaaay too much success like the time my tomato patch turned into Tomato Cambodia to the mystery vegetables that sprout up when I think I’m planting something else, to the corn that was so hard it nearly broke my teeth. A knowledgeable gardener would probably diagnose these failures as my out of control seed habit, my tendency to overplant coupled with my reluctance to thin, and my steadfast refusal to take notes on my plantings that condemns me to make the same mistakes every season. I prefer to blame my tools.

It turns out, some of my tools were to blame. That sunny South facing Sonoma hillside? It completely disintegrated my black irrigation tubing after awhile. Even when the tubing was intact, I had a one-size-fits-all system. I couldn’t adjust the water individually in each bed. So if I drenched water loving crops such as watermelons, I drowned my potatoes and had an inability to dry farm my tomatoes later in the season for extra flavor. Also, I’d made the error of using the wrong material as the footing for the paths between my beds. Note to self: in Sonoma, anything resembling clay will turn into hard packed adobe in summer and a soupy mud pot in wet winters. It didn’t help that we hadn’t thought to put in proper drainage, so several of the stairs washed way.

Here's the Before. The path material isn't keeping out weeds and the lack of drainage is buckling out the wooden beds and stairs.

Here’s the Before. The path material isn’t keeping out weeds and the lack of drainage is buckling out the wooden beds and stairs.

Anyway, those have been my excuses. In May, I decided overhauling Flying Terrier Farms would be a priority project. Not that I had a plan. I turned it over to Louis, one of our ace workers here, and he had a plan.

First step: dig out all that hard packed adobe brick between the beds, remove it and expose the original irrigation tubing.

First step: dig out all that hard packed adobe brick between the beds, remove it and expose the original irrigation tubing.

Next: build an intricate system of French drains throughout the site to channel water run-off. Now replace all the main bed to bed conduit with heavy duty pipe that was buried to keep it out of the sun. Then replace the black in-bed lines that irrigated through easily clogged holes in the plastic with a more robust grade of irrigation lines featuring clog-proof mini sprinkler heads. The technical portion of this job is really cool. At every bed, they installed an irrigation system that individually controls the water to each bed. I change those controls with a little hand-held controller. I flip off the top of the controller unit, plug in the mini-controller and program watering for that bed. Each controller works off just one 9-volt battery that should last three years. And at the main valve, there is an easily cleaned filter that acts as a barrier between the water supply and the pipes to my beds. No more clogged irrigation lines!

Now the final touch — covering all those walkways with 3/4″ drain rock that will be permeable, weed resistant and won’t go through the brick to soup transition as the weather changes. Hey, remember I mentioned that this garden is all clinging to the side of a steep hill? So how do you get all that drain rock moved down a slope? The guys were on such a roll, the construction crew up the hill working on our someday to be completed dream house couldn’t resist pitching in. They built a chute for easy delivery. Just one hitch — what makes drain rock so good for draining is its irregular size and multi-angled shape. Those same features also make drain rock something that doesn’t easily go down a chute. It sticks and mounds up. No problem, the guys started experimenting with throwing buckets of rock down the chute like this:

Clearly, the team could have had fun doing this all day. The problem was Louis assessed that the throwing buckets down the chute method involved two sessions of loading — one above to load the buckets and one below to scoop that delivered rock into the wheelbarrow. He figured to eliminate one whole step by loading a wheelbarrow at the top, wheeling it down the hill and delivering each load directly where it should go. It was a very easy decision for Louis to make as he assigned wheelbarrow duty to his cousin DJ.

Apparently, DJ is so strong, he proclaims himself "The Chorizo of Steel". Actually, I was warned not to ask too much about that nickname.

Apparently, DJ is so strong, he proclaims himself “The Chorizo of Steel”. Actually, I was warned not to ask too much about that nickname.

Anyway, teamwork carried the day.

Anyway, teamwork carried the day.

See, everything looks GREAT! (Well, except for my one patch of sad and stunted corn. What's up with that?)

See, everything looks GREAT! (Well, except for my one patch of sad and stunted corn. What’s up with that?)

Here's another view. Because I can't show this off enough.

Here’s another view. Because I can’t show this off enough.

They even gave me a little Zen rock. Just because, I guess.

They even gave me a little Zen rock. Just because, I guess.

Thanks, guys! My garden thanks you.

Thanks, guys! My garden thanks you.

Only problem now: no more excuses!

NOTE: I realize now that for this post to have any instructional value at all, I should list the materials and makes of all the components that went into the newly refurbished Flying Terrier Farms. I’ll get right on that. Watch this space.

 

 

 

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Author: Lisa

Although I'd like to think of myself as a rootin', tootin', wine-makin' cowgirl, I currently only live in Sonoma part-time. Mostly I'm on freeways between San Jose, San Francisco and Sonoma. With two yapping terriers in crates behind me. We try to enjoy all three places and points in between. Which will explain why my post subjects are all over the map.

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1 Comment

  1. Seeds. Talking about your corn reminded me of the movie Second Hand Lions and their seed misadventure. Love that movie. Almost ready to watch it again.

    The adventures never end at Flying Terrier Farms:)

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