Patio Makeover

When so many people think of homesteading, they think of gardens and land space – and when we moved into our suburban homestead, we didn’t have acres of open land. We have space to work with, but what we saw most prominently before us was an empty, closed-in patio.

A line of boxwoods and a handful of yew bushes are all that were growing in this cramped patio area. It provided some lovely private seating, but not much else. We had done some research into permaculture work and decided that we should take on our patio as one of our first major homestead projects and convert these big, plastic fences into some beautiful growing spaces.

All of the posts were held in by concrete, unfortunately – so while the lattice work came down rather easily, Evan about lost his sanity trying to pry out the concrete bases from the posts, which had started to rot.

Then it was time to remove the old yew bushes – while the birds loved to hide in the bushes, they were keeping us from growing food and plants that would sustain us and, ultimately, more pollinators and birds. Thankfully, we paired up with a farmer friend who would re-plant the yew bushes elsewhere rather than chop up a perfectly good, mature plant. (Olivia helped, too!)

(We found TONS of clay buried around the plants – so we scooped up a couple of buckets-worth of clay to experiment with cobb building in the future.)

Ta da!

Now, I should preface the next section of work by clearly stating that we will probably never build garden beds using trapezoid bricks – ever – again. This was a miserable project, and while it turned out beautifully, we could have done a lot better with bricks that fit together more easily and are better orchestrated to curve and connect in circles. If you want specifics, please reach out!

We purchased three pallets (something like 500 blocks) of trapezoid bricks from Home Depot and had them delivered to our side yard, where we painstakingly loaded them into the backyard and set up building various raised beds. Some of our beds were designed to be one brick deep while others would be closer to three bricks deep. To help keep things as level as possible, we dug down into the soil and laid several inches of sand, tamped it down, and then set up a base layer of patio stones while checking with a string level to maintain height against the existing concrete patio slab.

See how each level shrinks slightly because of the lip on the stone? That caused us a marriage-testing, sanity-questioning level of frustration that we now recommend others avoid at all costs, because each level now needed stones to be cut or chipped in order to fit the next level.

Once we figured out that the geometry of fitting smaller layers on top of smaller layers was exhausting to calculate, we finally settled on just breaking stones to make the layers fit together in the odd spots. At this point, it was well into summer, so getting the work done quickly wasn’t easy in sweltering temperatures. Things finally came together in July, with four beautiful beds ready to plant!

We quickly mixed in local compost from the city and some top soil and transplanted some herbs since we were so late in the season to get started on plantings (July is headed deep into summer in Kansas). I also added some river rock and patio stones from the side yard to transition the concrete patio slab to the yard and topped things off with some solar lights to add a lovely glow in the evenings. This spring, though, is when we’ll get to really unleash the loveliness of our patio, complete with plenty of herbs and some garlic and perennials we started this fall. Stay tuned!

Patio Permaculture

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When I realized it’s been over six months since I last blogged, I realized that I had two choices when it came to my first post back: 1: Attempt to go back and re-visit every single moment that I didn’t journal, or 2: just start writing again.

Alas, those of you looking for your next novel to read will be sorely disappointed.

I’ve decided to just pick back up and start where we are now, not where I left off. It’s now the end of March, and we’re squirming to see the fruits of some early garden labor. We have four beds prepared with some cover crops to kickstart our summer grow season – radishes & turnips, oats, peas, spinach, and even some potatoes for summer! We moved to our new home in August of last year, so when the ground got cooler we set up some beds with fall cover crops to start introducing some nutrients.

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We knew three years ago that wherever we ended up, we wanted to have a main area of our garden rooted in permaculture. This idea of never-ending food and food that cares for itself is exciting for us – how else to help nature but by helping nature help itself? Plus, after the initial energy of planting, all it takes is some general upkeep and the plants will take care of themselves. A big aspect of permaculture has to do with planning and utilizing the land fully – tracking the run-off and grading of the area, plus the availability of sunlight and wind, etc.

For us, our permaculture will be our patio. We are blessed with a beautiful patio area, sheltered by two gum trees (we now hate gum trees – and are now taking recommendations for using those damn sticky balls!) and until spring break it was enclosed by a plastic and wooden lattice system that provided privacy but not much else.

So, we attacked it! Evan did most of the heavy lifting, while my mother-in-law and I undid screws, zip-ties, carted the lattice to the side yard, and cleaned the beds of the sticky gum balls, mulch, and excess leaves.

Now that the lattice and posts are out, we plan on widening and raising the beds with pavers. We’ve already begun the research and have started sketching the different ideas we have for the beds – certain plants benefit each other, while others are unhelpful and attract more diseases or pests in combination. (For example, blackberries and raspberries pass diseases between one another and should be kept apart.)

As of now, we’ve planned on blueberries, raspberries, herbs of all varieties, pollinator plants for the bees, birds, and butterflies, a dwarf apple tree, hibiscuses, a rotation of peas and beans, lavender, asparagus, strawberries, and then maybe onions and garlic to tuck in between. It will take a season or two, but soon we’ll have a patio alive and thriving and also providing us with food and medicinal benefits.

Part 2: Feeling Irish with Potatoes

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Yep, you read that right. Today is the first day of spring, and it’s 81 degrees out. We’ve had an abnormally-toasty weekend, and the plants are loving it! The average temperatures in March are usually in the 50s and we tend to experience our last frost date in mid-April, but we might be lucky this year. We had a couple of bad cold snaps last week, but we’ve been unseasonably warm for a couple of weeks now, so we decided to jump in and plant our potatoes and onions this weekend. We’ve typically gone by the idea that we should start onions and potatoes as soon as the ground is warm enough to work, but I also love the fun saying that you should plant potatoes on St. Patrick’s Day.

 

 

Last week, I wrote about how we were gearing up for growing and waiting out those last few cold nights to venture out and plant potatoes for St. Patrick’s Day – and the warmth this weekend meant it was finally time!

We like to start with seed potatoes, and I like to let mine sit for a while to really encourage the eye growth and start the development process. When they look sprouted and begin to get a little shriveled and I go ahead and cut mine, usually in half, but enough so that each piece has its own growth.

 

In the past, I’ve had good luck with a modified-raised bed for potatoes where they can grow up rather than out, so we headed out to our city’s compost pile to collect supplies. We’re really lucky that our city not only collects compost but also provides the finished compost back to city residents at no cost – there’s a small fee if you want it by the truckload, but otherwise everyone is welcome to come load up pots and containers.

The finished compost is beautiful – warm, rich, light in your hands, and deeply nutritious. We filled 6-8 pots, which was more than enough for my potato pile.

Back at home, I took a small roll of 12″ tall chicken wire and used it to create a ring that would be the home for my potatoes for the next six months or so. To keep all the dirt from spilling out of the chicken wire, I lined it with some old newspaper from the garage.

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In addition to the compost, I used some old peat moss that we needed to get rid of, and I think it’ll help to have a little extra water retention in a raised and isolated “container.”

I put down a layer of 2-3 inches of dirt and then laid down my first layer of tubers, keeping 4-5 inches in between them for room to grow. I added another dirt layer of 4 inches or so and put down another layer of potato cuttings, trying to offset them as best as I could remember so they wouldn’t run into each other as they grow up through the soil. All in all, my 8 potatoes (16 cuttings) ended up in three growing layers.

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Up next, the onions! When we weren’t grilling and hanging out on our patio with Evan’s best friend, Cole, we were sowing rows of onions in the garden. We are planning on trying to grow the onions intermixed with tomatoes and peppers rather than give them their own dedicated patch – they can make great companion plants for peppers and tomatoes and help them fight off disease and pests. I am a little nervous about the tomatoes blocking their sunlight, but I’m excited to find a new way to use as much space of our tiny patch as we can. Intensive gardening methods can help you get so much more yield out of your square foot than traditional gardening methods (think rows and lots of empty soil between plants), and so far we’ve enjoyed reaping the benefits.

I picked up a big bag of baby onion bulbs a couple of weeks ago, though I’m kicking myself because I forgot to count how many we planted! I’m guessing that we put close to a hundred in the ground… (Thanks, Cole!)

This beautiful weather and the lack of freezing – or even frost – forecasted in the next week meant it was time for some of my indoor plants to soak up some sunshine. They rejoined the patio after a cold winter indoors and basked happily with us in the warm rays – a pixie grape vine we rescued from a garden center clearance sale (no longer the sad stick – now blossoming and growing strong!), cilantro seedlings, some rose of sharon seedlings I propagated last fall, St. John’s Wort, and a new growth of lilies of the valley (the bed & breakfast at which we were married let us take a few as a wedding keepsake).

 

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Spring has sprung, and it is a beautiful time of year to spend outside.

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New Patio Additions

Thanks to my amazing mother, we have a new patio set for the next season – solid, rust-proof steel and seating for six. With warmer temperatures ahead, we may find it even more difficult to stay inside with the cats. And we all know how much they hate the sunshine and fresh air…