Lots of Activity Today, too..

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Quick count for you since the morning was so crazy active…

725am-740am…32F…cloudy with a dusting of snow overnight….no new sightings.

10 American Goldfinches…these numbers are really shooting up; I haven’t seen this many at one time since we’ve moved in back in September; I can’t really explain it yet, but I love it; Hopefully, a sign to come this year.

1 Titmouse…where there is almost always 2

16 Eurasian Tree Sparrows…all over the ground since I put the cheap mix down yesterday; I expect Grackles and Cowbirds to clean up the mess soon.

5 Cardinals…yesterday I saw 5 males; today I saw 3 females; I just don’t seem to see them at the same time often, and when I do, there is obvious fighting amongst the males….unless the weather is bad, then they all get along nicely.

10 Dark-eyed Juncos….they come in with the finches, usually, but today came with the sparrows.

7 House Finches…these guys have been a bit timid lately; They tend to stay up in the treetops while all the chaos is going on; They come down once the heat dies down.

2 Black-capped Chickadees

8 Mourning Doves….sitting in the trees and dabbling on the ground.

8 European Starlings…came in and took over the feeders until they realized they can’t eat at them very well and quickly left.

2 Downy Woodpeckers…male and female.

1 Red-bellied Woodpecker….a regular

2 Purple Finches….the female is regular; the male is rather rare, but comes in with the house finches.

1 Robin….still hoping for worms

2 Song Sparrows….I am so happy to see these guys coming around more frequently. I just love the native sparrows. It gives me hope that the House Sparrows haven’t overtaken everything….yet.

1 Blue Jay….yesterday 3 of them hung in the trees; Today, one came into a feeder and chattered at me a bit; Typically, only the one comes to the feeders, but we have a lot of them in the area here.

And, for the HH, I didn’t use the 2nd layer of plastic last night because it was raining and I didn’t have anything to protect in there since I’m only running the experiment on holding temps. I didn’t get out early enough this morning to take a reading. However, the air temp got down to 32F, so I assume I got to 33 inside…..but when I checked, the max/min had just reset for the day and it was reading 42F with an air temp of 33F at about 10 am.

Keep Chuggin’!


Birds, Pictures, and Hoops..

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We are expecting some rain over the next few days. Temps are rather chilly after a nice 10 days of springlike days. The bird activity has been low. So, you know what that means? Yup, today was a good day at the feeders. Let’s do an official count…and watch the variety you can bring in if you diversify your feed and offer the basics (food, water, shelter, nesting sites).

830am…37F…overcast with showers in the area….no new sightings (but, a couple rare ones)

4 doves, 3 blue jays hopping in the trees rading squirrel nests of their nuts, 4 juncos, 3 downy woodpeckers, 6 goldfinches…two days in a row their numbers are way up, 1 red-belly, 3 cardinals…still chasing each other, 3 ETS, 1 house sparrow…they are rather rare at my house, 1 chickadee, 1 cooper’s hawk…flew over twice with a piece of food once and nesting material the second time, 1 robin, 1 flicker…these are rare for me, too, 3 starlings…nesting in a tree in my neighbor’s yard, 1 canadian goose….i hear them going crazy with the honking in the quarry behind my house and there are likely many more than 1, 4 house finches, and 1 brown creeper….i was dying to grab a shot of him but he flew away really quickly; they are pretty rare in my yard.

So, there is a nice diversity of 17 different species, of which I have some pictures to post today!

As for the hoophouse, I think I have things figured out. If I only use the single layer of plastic, I get about 1 degree of protection. If I use the second layer draped like a floating row cover over the milk jugs, I get about 6-8 degrees of protection. The next experiment I plan to run is in a separate bed with no hoops. I want to see if the floating row cover is all I need to be using. Granted, the hoops will help in the summer with taller plants and bird netting. But, we will deal with that when the time comes. My readings from overnight are 37/39.

I also planted some seeds yesterday. With hoop protection, I could have planted carrots, spinach, and peas directly in the garden a couple of weeks ago. With the cooloer temps, germination will take longer. But, who cares? I planted in my garden!

I plan to run another test, though. I want to sow some seeds inside and once they sprout, immediately move the seedlings outside to the garden. I am of the understanding this won’t kill them. So, I plan to try this today. Maybe tomorrow, you get pics of the process?

Keep Chuggin’!

Final Count Day and HH Update..

Final day of the GBBC and I didn’t get a very good one in. There just wasn’t much about other than my flock of House Finches. However, after my count, I did see a new one pop in… A Song Sparrow!! I had one at my old house, and he was a real favorite of mine. He would just sit and sing to me, and once I identified his song, I realized he sang A LOT! This guy was like a wren or chickadee…constantly singing. I missed him so much once we moved, but seeing this guy was a great sight.

However, this one is twice as big as my former buddy. He looked like a White-throated Sparrow, of which you’ve seen pictures from me. But, no white throat. My other SS was about the size of the chickadees. So, I was thrown off a bit when I saw him. The quick snaps are over on the right in my Flickr pages. I took a couple quickies and threw them on my photography forum for an ID. They confirmed him as a Song Sparrow.

As for the HoopHouse, I wrapped a second layer of plastic in there last night. Our temps were supposed to drop after midnight and all day. However, we have flat-lined at 42*. And, the HH is holding steady at 52. That is great. The second layer is really giving me some protection. I have laid that plastic over the top of the water jugs to trap as much of the water’s heat in as possible. I can’t wait to see what happens tonight, when we are supposed to drop to 25. If it can sustain above freezing temps tonight, I will be ready to transplant on Friday…the 25th…my original target date. And, the spring season will have officially begun here in my backyard.

I haven’t checked record lows in awhile for my area, but 25 this late in February is definitely possible, but not all that common. After March 1, it would be crazy to see temps drop into the teens. So, with that track record, I would be willing to gambooool with Mother Nature. Now, that I expressed my arrogance, watch her burn the crap out of me. But, I will just………Keep Chuggin’!

Wild Backyard Bird Count (2/19/11) and HH Update..

Big blog entry today!! 😉

Lots to talk about. First, the Great Backyard Bird Count is underway for a few days. You can find links, if you care to participate, by visiting either eBird.org or AllAboutBirds.org. This is a great way to contribute to those studying bird habits, habitats, breeding, and migrations among many other things bird related. Second, my hoop house went through it’s first night with the milk jugs in it, and I will report about that, too. So, kind of a double whammy of blog entries.

Ok, the birds. I haven’t done an official count in quite some time because I’ve been busy with other things, and nothing has really changed near the feeders. No new sightings, nothing really exciting to report. However, I have been looking forward to participating in the GBBC (Great Backyard Bird Count) for over a year because I missed last year’s count. The count runs this weekend for four days. Just go count birds for at least 15 minutes and submit a checklist. If you have a feeder in your yard, great. If you hike a trail, great. If you just sit on your deck, great. They really don’t care….they just want data for specific locations. The people in charge are trying to leverage volunteers to help them get an accurate idea of the bird population across the country and world. On either site I linked above, there are some cool things to play with to help you either identify birds or see where they live at different times of year. Set aside half an hour and poke around. You should be impressed. It is the main reason my kids are getting into birds with me. They play with the sounds and try to look up what they’ve just seen in the yard. It’s turned into very productive computer time. And, you know what that’s like today if you’re a parent of a younger kid. On to the count…

2/19/2011…8am…42F…cloudy…no new sightings

3 American Goldfinch, 6 House Finch, 1 White-breasted Nuthatch, 3 Dark-eyed Junco, 1 Downy Woodpecker, 5 Mourning Dove, 31 Canadian Geese (anything I see goes into the GBBC and these flew overhead as I have a quarry about a quarter mile from my house), 3 Common Grackle, 4 European Starling, 1 Cooper’s Hawk (carrying either a mouse or bird in it’s mouth flying overhead), 1 Red-bellied Woodpecker, 2 Northern Cardinal (both male and starting to get territorial again this week), 2 Black-capped Chickadee, 4 Eurasian Tree Sparrow, 1 Blue Jay, 1 Purple Finch (female).

Good turn out this morning. Katelyn will do the afternoon count today for the website. But, I bet I win…lol. The numbers are simply better in the mornings. And, she’s a sleeper these days. For example, here is yesterday afternoon’s count, too…..1 Downy, 1 Purple Finch, 2 Chickadees, 2 Doves, 1 Grackle, 4 Mallards flew over. That was it. 15 minutes and that was it. What a difference the mornings make!

As for the hoop house, I have really be struggling with frustration lately. I have no experience to base this on, but I thought it would hold heat better than it does. I had seen videos of people using them in the winter and such, and thought I could just pop one in and be virtually ready for planting because it would protect me from frosts. I felt that if it got to 85-100 degrees inside, surely it wouldn’t cool off to below freezing overnight. Well, the first two days I watched it immediately return to the air temperature once the sun went down. I starting wondering what the heck is the point of even doing this if I get it super hot and it just cools back down in a matter of minutes?

But, I did more research to rememdy the issue. I don’t have promising news, but I will go over the structure’s setup.

I used 10 foot PVC sections from a hardware store. I have placed them every two feet along my garden. I just placed one end in the ground against one side of my garden and doubled the pipe over so it formed an arch and stuck it in the ground opposite itself. I bracketed the pipe in place with metal bands I bought at the same store. I formed a ridge/spine by taking another of the 10 foot sections of PVC and lashed it into place with twine. It doesn’t have to be super tight…just enough to keep the spine from sliding. I, then, draped plastic sheeting/dropcloth over the hoops and it looks like a covered wagon. (Pics are on my Flickr to the side here and I believe have been posted in a recent blog update, too.) The plastic was 3.5mm thick, but it really didn’t hold heat. I read most people used 6mm plastic. I went out the next day and bought some. I did notice it held up in breezy conditions much better, but didn’t retain heat any better.

The next step was to add gallon milk jugs filled with water. The concept is the water jugs will absorb heat during the day and slowly give it off at night…keeping temps up under the plastic. Last night was the first test run. I was discouraged at sundown when the air temp and hoophouse temp were the same. However, this morning, I just went outside and the air was 42, but the hoophouse was 46. That ain’t bad! I may finally be getting somewhere. I spray painted the milk jugs black to help absorb more heat, too. Once I get a full day of sunshine, we should see what I have accomplished…if anything.

One other thing, I have been keeping the hoophouse covered during the day, no matter the temps, for testing purposes. If the air temps get above 50 degress with sunshine, I will likely have to open the house for the day. It can get really hot inside and my lettuce, spinach, and broccoli can’t handle that kind of heat. But, the trick is to spring-clamp the ends. All I will do is unclamp the ends and let the breeze blow right through. On hotter days, I will roll the sides up, too. After all danger of frost passes, around late April, I will take the plastic off for good and store it for autumn.

The result in keeping things covered throughout the day is my soil is heating up quickly. I was just breaking ice chunks in the dirt on Monday, and I measured 46 degrees at a depth of 6 inches yesterday afternoon. If I were more confident in the heat holding properties, I could feasibly put plants outside right now. How’s that for an early start to the gardening season?

Keep Chuggin’

First Sprout of 2011!

Briefly, I will mention that the birds are kicking into gear today with the impending storm coming into town this week. Obviously, something is in the air. The weathermen are talking ice turning to snow. Let’s hope for no power outages, as they are comparing this storm to the last major ice storm in 2006 that knocked 500,000 people offline for 3-4 days. That was not a fun week. Fingers crossed for no encore performance.

I haven’t had much of a chance, or desire to create one, to take bird photos lately. But, I may get back in there with some fresh snow cover again. We’ll see. My attention, lately has been on the second original focus of this blog…..gardening.

I am really getting overdue for a content post, and I would like to make it about the general concept of SFG, but I just can’t grab the time with everything going on around me.

What I can do is show you what I have done this week. I have built my boxes. One is a 2×8 foot box that will go up against the south wall of my house. That box will contain mostly tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers….my vines. I will build a trellis to support them and keep them there year after year only rotating the squares in which particular plants reside. I may put some lettuce or radishes in some of the squares before I can plant tomatoes or after the tomatoes are done to help with the nutrient rotation and fungal cleansing crop roation provides, but I should be ok to just switch the tomatoes with the peppers and so on.

The other box is the bigger one…..4×12 foot. That box will contain a bunch of lettuce, spinach, carrots, radishes, potatoes, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, peas, beans, and whatever else I decide to toss in. My goal with this box is to cover it early and late in the season with a hoop house, which I will show you how to build, and extend my growing season past Thanksgiving Day and into winter. I have seen pictures of greenhouses keeping veggies at 50F while the outside temps are in the single digits. Imagine fresh garden salads in December? It’s possible, and I intend to show you.

The boxes were easy to assemble. I want them at least 6 inches deep with soil (with square foot gardening techniques, you don’t need to dig up your existing, crappy soil. You just make your perfect soil and put it on top of the dirt in your yard. The veggie roots don’t go much deeper than 6 inches because all the nutrients are right there for them.). I bought 8 inch wood widths because it was cheaper. It provides me the added benefit of a couple inches of soil to settle and still get me the 6 inches I need.

Picture one is the wood lengths laid out. Picture two is the assembled boxes. Assembly is super easy. Just pre-drill two holes in each corner and screw them together after your wood is cut to the length you desire. One word of caution: Don’t ever make the boxes wider than 4 feet. You can run them as long as you want, but don’t make them wider than 4 feet if you plan to access them from either side. If they are going up against a wall, no longer than 2 feet wide….hence my 2×8 box. You simply cannot reach into the box to work veggies if they are more than 2 feet away. And, the biggest No-No in SFG is stepping on your soil and compacting it. (Again, more on SFG concepts later.)

The third picture is my first sprout of 2011. I have lettuce, broccoli, and cauliflower started in my basement. I planted them 4 days ago. Lettuce comes up really fast. Broccoli and cauliflower will wait another week or so….along with the celery I have forgotten to mention.

My calendar, according to the average last frost date, dictates I have the garden installed by February 25th so my veggies can go outside. You may laugh, but remember, I have the hoop house. I will put a thermometer out there to monitor the temps. And, cool season veggies like broccoli and lettuce can take some pretty cold temps. Spinanch can even withstand some freezing.

So enjoy, and realize I may not have been posting, but I am busy starting my garden. You will get pics as I complete small tasks. So, Keep Chuggin’!

1-16-11 backyard count..

Well, not MY backyard, but my daughter and I did a “count” of sorts.

We were out of town this weekend, and on the way back I noticed something. A TON of hawks. All kinds. Red-tailed, Red-Shouldered, Coopers, even some Kestrels. It was crazy nuts.

I grew up in a rather rural area of southeastern Kansas. We had always seen hawks. But, something lately has allowed a huge population boom to take place. On the way home, we counted 91 hawks of various kinds. This was an extension of a game I played as a kid when riding in the car………before DVD players, cell phones, and portable video games like Nintendo DS. We just made shit up to pass the time, as I’m sure you did.

Well, we used to see a hawk about every mile or so. It was if they had defined territories. You would see a hawk on a fence post (another story about this in a minute), if you saw it first you got a point, and you could look around at other stuff…because you knew that you wouldn’t see another hawk for another minute or so. You would look up in a minute, knowing a hawk was coming up, and bingo….there he would be. It got rather predictable.

These days, I have notice more of them in tree tops, etc. Winter is a great time to see them, too. I suppose it’s partly because there are no leaves in trees, making them easier to spot. But, it could also be that they are closer to highways looking for easy scavenging meals. But, anyway, we seem to see more sitting around during the winter.

So, today, I was driving home and started seeing WAY more than usual. Remembering my daughter’s recent interest in birds, too, I asked her to join me in the front seat to help me count them. I knew the number was going to be high. We started seeing them all over the place. So much for defending territories. Some of them were sharing a branch of a tree!

My hometown is about an hour and a half west of Joplin, MO, into Kansas. Along that hour and a half drive from Independence to Joplin, my daughter and I counted 91 hawks. I really thought we would crack 100, but it wasn’t to be today. Still, my daughter and I had a blast counting the hawks. And, she started taking notice of farms, fields, and other types of scenery like little ponds and creeks, too. Finally, a way to get their heads off the videos and see what a different part of the country has to offer!

The funny thing about hawks and eagles when driving through a rural area? If you find a really rural part, you can scare a hawk off his post. It’s rare today because the fences are farther off the roads than they used to be. But, when I was a kid, about 1980-1984ish, we would buzz past a hawk sitting right there off the shoulder on a post. We would honk the horn just as we whizzed past him and watch him fall to the ground. Those birds are so big they can’t flap those heavy wings fast enough to get airborn from only 4 feet up, especially when they are scared shitless for the first second. By the time they can react and fly it’s just too late. If you don’t believe me, next time you are in a old and rural area with fencelines right up against the road, try it. You will see they fall like a sack of potatoes right to the ground. If you don’t laugh when you get one, I think there must be something wrong with you. Because, even today, it cracks me up. I guess I am really just a big kid after all.

Keep Chuggin’!

1-11-11 backyard bird count..

What would this date in history be without a count? All ones (1/11/11)….aces wild!! What a great day, too. We started out with overnight snow so we know the feeders will be active. However, I was out plowing snow until 11am this morning and missed most of the morning show.

11am and again at 245pm…19F…cloudy with 3 inches new snow…new sighting: Cooper’s Hawk

Yes, you see it correctly. It is what we believe to be a Cooper’s Hawk. Cooper’s are mid-sized hawks that look, to me, like Red-tails and Red-shouldereds. So, I can’t tell them apart. My daughter immediately ID’d it, though, and ran to the computer to verify. I thinks she’s right. I am only waiting confirmation from my photography forum, photography-on-the-net.com….or close to that. I have it bookmarked and don’t remember the exact address, but if you google that, you will find it. It’s a great site, especially if you think MY bird shots are good. Look around there and you will see what real bird shots look like.

But, anyway, today I saw a ton of blackbirds. But, they were only eating the cheap mix and under the feeders. I don’t mind them so much when they do that. If you want to divert them from the expensive mixes, I am telling you to put out a tray of the cheap stuff and they won’t bother your feeders much going forward.

There were 36 Brown-headed cowbirds, 16 Eurasian Tree Sparrows, a couple finches, 5 Cardinals, a few Juncos, a few Doves, and 6 Starlings. I checked back later to find the hawk. Well, since I plowed overnight, I was awakened from a power nap by my wife, who spotted it. Mind you, this woman has about as much interest in birds as I have in watching Steel Magnolias, but she may be coming around. It went something like this…

“Holy cow, Chip, wake up. There is a big, huge bird by the feeders. What kind is it? It sort of looks like a hawk?! Seriously, get up and get your camera. I think you will want a picture of this.”

That hawk was sitting on one of my favorite perches for the little birds. He was so close to the window. However, by the time I got the camera set up and the longer lens on, he flew off into a tree top….where I had to stalk him. I got an “ok” shot of him. But, it would have been awesome to get a couple with him on that branch.

This is the solution to the pile-of-feathers mystery and blood in the birdbath we found the other day. I know what a pile of feathers means, but didn’t actually think we’d see him unless we were watching the murder take place. Today, he just hung out for 10 minutes, but I couldn’t get a better picture than this one.

Keep Chuggin’!

SFG Planning..

First, the birdies. Activity is light for the impending snow. We are set to get 3-5″ of the white stuff across the area this evening and overnight tonight. However, the birds haven’t increased their activity as of yet. My son usually gets hyperactive before storms, too, and he wasn’t this time. So, it has me wondering if this won’t pan out like the meteorologists say? Or, if my observations are far from foolproof? Time will tell.

As for the SFG (Square Foot Garden), as mentioned this is a complete technique to gardening that differs immensely from traditional row gardening. I am trying to plan my grids (square foot plots), and trying to maximize my space while rotating crops at the same time. I am a massive overthinker when it comes to this stuff, and being the off-season is no help. If it were already spring, I would just jam some things in the ground and worry about rotating or replanting when I ran out of space. But, with nothing to do yet, I am drawing on paper and really overthinking/obsessing over this stuff. Although, it is lots of fun to stretch the brain in this way.

However, I landed a huge item last week that will help me in the garden. My dad built a shelf, rack, lightstand, whatever you want to call it for my mom back in the early 1980’s. This thing is huge, and it was built for her to hang her ferns and hanging plants on in the winters. My mom had some two dozen hanging baskets of flowers, and it just didn’t make financial sense to toss them and start from scratch every year. So, he designed and built this light station for her complete with dedicated flourescent lighting on timer switches. When I get a picture, I will post it for all to see. Considering my father is not a craftsman, it’s really a neat set up.

I asked her about it the other day just thinking I was laying claim to it in case she ever decided to throw it out. To my surprise, the response was basically, “when can you take it?” She never wanted to throw it away…because it’s that cool…but, she wasn’t using it, either. When I showed a little interest, she almost couldn’t unload it fast enough. And, for that, I am excited.

What it will allow me to do is start seeds indoors for the gardens. I have never done this before, so it’ll be an adventure. And, since all plantings revolve around the average last frost in your area, I have to get busy. I am wanting to try broccoli this year, and it’s a cold weather plant. I can plant it as early as 12 weeks before the last frost and transplant it outdoors about 6 or 7 weeks before the last frost. Broccoli is that hardy, apparently. So, if my last frost is on tax day here in the STL area, looking at a calendar, I need to get the seeds started next week!! That doesn’t give me much time to get things set up.

The others I will start indoors will be lettuce, peppers, and tomatoes. I may add some annual flowers, too. But, the main thing is to learn how to time this for the garden. Lettuce is another cooler season plant that can handle some frost. I aim to have some in the ground around St. Patrick’s Day. The tomatoes and peppers, however, have to be timed to go into the ground as soon as the frost date has passed. So, they need about a 6 week head start indoors. Most of my planting activity can wait until late February, but I need to get this station set up before then.

So, I’ll keep you posted, and Keep Chuggin’!

1-7-11 backyard bird count..

12pm…31F…snow…no new sightings.

11 Northern Cardinals (8 male, 3 female), 2 Black-capped Chickadees, 9 House Finches, 2 Downy Woodpeckers, 1 Red-bellied Woodpecker, 3 Eurasian Tree Sparrows.

Yes, you see that correctly. 11 cardinals around the feeders at the same time. I have never seen them in these numbers. I have heard others talk about pretty strong winter flocks, but I have always seen them in pairs. Maybe a second pair nearby, but they always seem to struggle for territory when I notice. Not today. They were all friends, and more….and more…..and more just kept showing up. It looked like my dogwood tree had Christmas bows in it.

I got the chance to take some pics today, too. Here you go.

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Square Foot Gardening (SFG) Materials List..

Well, first we’ll start with a little activity surrounding the feeders. I will tell you that activity has been sparse, but has picked up today. I think a tree rat robbed my Titmice and Blue Jays of their peanuts. And, I noticed all three male Cardinals today playing nicely around the feeders. It is supposed to get a little crazy again, weather wise, so maybe that explains some of this. Nothing major is going to happen, but we are going to slip into a colder and snowier pattern for the foreseeable future. We have four shots of snow in the next 12 days or so. Of course, none will pan out, but this is indicative of lots of little shortwave impulses set to come through our area. And, that might have gotten the birdies active again. At one point, I looked outside and saw two or three Chickadees, a Red-bellied Woodpecker, two Downies, several Mourning Doves, at least a dozen Eurasian Tree Sparrows, a few finches (2 very pretty Goldfinches), and about 7 Dark-eyed Juncos. None of this is “official” because I wasn’t trying to count.

Anyway, on to the material list. I have settled on my sizes. I will make the 2×9 bed close to the a/c unit in back of my house a 2×8 bed instead to leave a little more room. I don’t want the airflow restricted too much. I still wonder about some of the plants getting the hot air discharged onto them, but we will have to experiment with this since it’s, by far, the best place in the yard for the vertical plants to grow. I will also add a 4×12 bed about 3 feet away from the 2×8. Maybe next year I will add the 2×16 along the fenceline and/or the other 4×12 to round things out. But, for now, this will have to do.

So, to accomplish this, I will use white pine, untreated wood. I don’t like this choice because it has no durability. But, when I am costing this stuff out, it is the least expensive alternative. I could have also chosen Cedar wood or vinyl boards, but those were triple the cost of white pine. My perimeter measures 52′. The most efficient use of wood was to buy 3-12′ sections and 2-8′ sections of 2″x6″ wood. The beds need be no higher than 6″ because my soil will be perfectly conditioned. The cost will run close to $28 for lumber.

Next is soil. Since we are making a “raised bed,” I will no longer need to till or turn over my soil. I also can make perfect soil from scratch instead of trying to measure and amend the dirt in my ground. You can only imagine how much time, effort, and potentially money this will save. I can get it right from the first time and never look back! And, since the beds are no wider than four feet, I will never have to step on my soil. I can keep light, fluffy, perfect soil forever. There goes a lot of back-breaking work….forever. The mixture of soil I will make is measured by volume and then divided into thirds. One third peat moss. One third compost. And, one third vermiculite. For those that don’t know, vermiculite is a mineral almost rock-like. However, it has super water retention. And, in the heat and cool, wet and dry balance of things, vermiculite expands and contracts continually working your soil like an aerator or earthworm would…keeping things fluffy and workable. Imagine how easy it will be to pull weeds and/or replace plants when they just slip out of the dirt!

Measuring the volume of these two beds gave me 48sqft + 16sqft and divide it by 2 because I am only using 6″ instead of a foot. 32cuft of volume. Dividing into thirds means 11cuft of each ingredient. I am going to try and buy the biggest bags I can find, but the biggest were 3.0 cuft of peat moss…2 bags because when they pop open from being compressed they will measure about 12 cuft. 7 bags of 1.5cuft bags of vermiculite. And, 11 bags of compost at one cuft each. Costs are $23.34, $91, and $40 respectively. The vermiculite is looking expensive, but trust me…don’t skimp here. Once right, always right for the soil. Do it right the first time. Total of $154.34 for the soil.

I need a box of 4″ deck screws to get into the wood. About $8.

I need to build a trellis for the vertical 2×8 bed. I need 5-10′ sections of EMT conduit for $8. The elbows to connect the pieces are another $8. And, re-bar to put in the ground for added stability will run me another $6. I need a nylon net for the plants to climb. That is about $10. Total for trellis and screws…$40.

For my hoop house I will be running the length of my 4×12 bed, I will need 9-10′ sections of 1/2″ PVC pipe…$13.50. I need conduit “c” clamps to mount them to the inside of the bed…$2.50 for all four packs. I need some plastic covering that will run me about $20. Total here….$36.

Breaking it all down…

Lumber – $28
Dirt – $155
Trellis – $40
Hoop house – $36

Total – $259

Not bad, imo, for 64 square feet of perfect, never needs to be fertilized or tilled, growing soil….forever.

That’s a basic estimate of my first two beds. I will let you know if anything changes. And, I will talk a little more about concepts of SFG and technique in future posts. But, for now, Keep Chuggin’!