Saturday, March 17, 2012

A Greenhouse for the backyard

A neighbor moved and the new people did not want their backyard greenhouse, so they past it on to us. This greenhouse is a light-weight aluminum frame with a bunch of glass panels. It took us about two hours to remove all the glass and move the frame from their backyard to ours.

This is apparently Model 86 "Curved Greenhouse", probably from Halls Garden Products, Ltd. Aylesford, Kent, England, originally from 2004.

The first problem was figuring where to put it. We tried moving the frame around several places in the backyard, and finally decided it should go next to the South Bed, behind the stone wall and next to the raised garden. This area is shaded by several trees, but they are deciduous so they drop their leaves in the winter and so things should be sunny in the winter and more shaded in the summer.

The next problem is setting up a foundation. Since the placement of the greenhouse is still subject to change, I decided to use a relatively temporary foundation -- a box of wooden beams. The more permanent option would be a concrete slab, but that would make it hard to move. Instead I got eight 4x6 pressure treated timbers (YellaWood) from Home Depot ($132,37). The foundation box should be 101.5 by 76 inches, and I was able to get Home Depot to cut the 8-foot timbers to the correct lengths. I assembled the foundation in the garage and used 6 inch lag screws to hold them all together.

Next I had to level the ground where the greenhouse would go. The back of the greenhouse is at ground level, so the front is below ground, about 4 inches, since the ground slopes back.

After digging it out level from front to back and side to side, I poured sand (6 bags) along the edges. The idea is that the sand is easier to shift to get the foundation box level. I took the box from the garage and re-assembled it in place.

I covered the entire inside with weed barrier, running both front to back and side to side. I filled the bottom two inches of the box with decomposed granite, and then topped it off with 5 to 6 inches of rainbow gravel, from Whittlesey.

To get the rainbow gravel, which ended up being almost a ton of gravel, I rented a pick-up from U-Haul again. My calculations suggested 1/2 a ton would be enough, but after one load, it was clear I was significantly off and only had, at best 2/3 of what I needed, so I made another trip and got another 1/2 ton. The actual numbers were 1140 pounds the first trip ($66.02) and 980 pounds the second ($42.43). The pick-up rental was $55.45 plus $13.05 in gas, and $1.50 to wash out the pick-up bed.

Once this was done, we just have to put the glass back on the frame. The assembly book from the manufacturer shows how the various size panes should be installed.

We had some breakage of panes in moving and cleaning, and had to buy 5 replacement panes ($48.66). The easiest place to do this was at The Hardware Store, since the big box stores -- Home Depot and Lowe's -- don't cut glass. But the Hardware Store only had single thickness glass, and it seems the glass being replaced is somewhat thicker (maybe double strength glass). Next time we should try an actual glass shop.

The panes are held in place by little clips and "glazing spring clips". Both of these are normally grey metal, and if you drop one (or it springs off), it can be hard to find. To make it easier, I spray painted them yellow.

But after a day of washing glass and putting it up, we have it all in place.

Fixing a Leaky Faucet

We have hoses attached to all the exterior faucets -- one in each corner of the house. The main one for the garden appears to have been leaking -- a slow drip -- for the past year, so I figured this would be a good time to fix it.

Unfortunately, when I went to take the top off of the faucet, to replace washer, the faucet all but fell apart. The handle shattered into 5 or 6 pieces, and the base would not come off. Of course, Home Depot (where I bought the original faucet) no longer carries this brand, so there are no replacement parts.

And the copper pipe that it was attached to wanted to turn, rather than letting loose of the faucet.

Given that it was likely that I would break the pipes, I figured it was better to call an actual plumber. I chiselled out the mortar around the faucet and the pipes. This exposed a connection which the plumber says is an electrical grounding connection.

Lanier Plumbing sent a guy out who did an excellent job. He put an extension on the pipe that converted it from male threads to female threads, and should be more durable, plus being longer. That should make it easier to replace the faucet in the future. $122.88 for an hour's worth of work plus the faucet (male hose bib).

I still have to repair the mortar.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Dirt delivered

The dirt was delivered this afternoon, about 3:30. Three cubic yards.

I ordered more than was needed for the North Bed itself; I only put about 2 inches in depth on the North Bed, which comes out to about 1.2 cubic yards. But the minimum delivery is 3 cubic yards.

I put the rest on either side of the walkway, in Zone 2 or in the part that will become the lawn. Areas that had already been dug up, and have settled. I can either leave it there, long-term, or eventually transfer it somewhere else when that area is finished.

It took about 2 and a half hours to haul it all from the street to the back yard and distribute it around.

It's supposed to rain in the next couple of days, so I wanted to get this in before it rained.

The North Bed has an olive tree in the middle. My idea is to carpet the rest of it with lavender. Lavender is a perennial, so it will be there year after year. It is supposed to be hardy and drought-tolerant.

I bought 4 or 5 packs of lavender seeds from, and then planted them in areas of the North Bed. The instructions say they will germinate in about 20 days.

Building the Stone Wall

We have dug up a bunch of rocks. Linda thought we should keep them, so I piled them in the back yard.

From that Linda got the idea of building a rock wall separating the South Bed from the lawn.

We started at the end near the fence, selecting rocks that were big enough and shaped for stacking. We scattered the rocks over the yard, to make it easier to see each one.

We continued across the yard to meet the corner of the walkway at the raised garden. The idea was to make the wall two or three rocks high. It took about two days of moving, selecting, positioning.

We've moved the surplus rocks out to the front curb, to get rid of them.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

North Bed Drip Irrigation

I want to get my lavender planted in the North Bed, and before I do that, I should put in the irrigation. I have a supply line already run to the corner of the bed. I want to use the underground drip irrigation, like I did in the herb and iris beds.

First, I have to clear off the bed. Over the winter, I had bags of manure and rocks stacked on it, and Linda had put the leaves from the trees there. I moved all that off and cleared it to just the bed.

I measured the bed and laid out where the drip irrigation lines would go. The lines are 18 inches apart. I used examples from the Rain Bird documents on underground drip irrigation. I still had plenty of the drip lines from when I put it into the iris and herb beds. The Rain Bird document suggests a supply line up one side and a flush line at the other end. A valve at the end can be opened to flush out the lines, or closed to allow the drip.

With this layout, I can now see how many joints of what type, to buy the necessary connectors.

Then it is a day of cutting and connecting to create the irrigation system.

At the corner, where the supply line comes in, I put in a filter and pressure regulator. Since I may need to clean the filter, I put these two in a box.

At this point, it became obvious that the final connection between the output of the pressure regulator and the rest of the system would need to be made at the right height (or depth) underground. My plan was to put the drip lines 4 inches underground and then add 2 inches of really good dirt on top of the bed. This would give a good soil mix to start the lavender plants. So I needed to bury the entire irrigation system 4 inches under the ground.

While that was doable, with difficulty, it was the most complicated and difficult of the tasks for this job. In retrospect, I should have dug the trenches into the bed first (4 inches deep) where I wanted the drip lines to be, and then assembled everything in the trenches.

But in any case, I got the lines buried, and was able to make the final connection between the irrigation supply line and the array of drip lines.

Once that was done, I could bury the whole thing.

I'm ready now for 2 inches of good dirt on top of this bed. Given the size of the bed, this works out to about 1.2 cubic yards.

I had previously bought Grower's Mix from Austin Landscape Supplies for the raised bed, and that seems to have worked well. So I ordered another 3 cubic yards (minimum delivery order) of Grower's Mix ($35/cubic yard) plus delivery ($70) plus tax for a total of $189.43 to be delivered on Tuesday. This should be 40% compost, 20% sand, and 40% loam.

I also considered Hill Country Garden Soil from John Dromgoole's Natural Gardener, but at $46/cubic yard, it's more expensive, and the web site doesn't really say the blend. Whittlesey Landscape Supplies (where I have been getting the decomposed granite and rocks) has a Garden Mix, but it's only 33% compost, 22% sand, and 45% loam (plus delivery is more).