Posts Tagged ‘Oakland’
I’ve been busy over here for many weekends in a row now, planting corn, murdering my front lawn, deconstructing the huge “live-in” shed attached to the garage, and repurposing the shed materials into a few awesome building projects: namely a compost bin and a chicken coop.
The chicken coop is still in the works, but the compost bin is done!
I did a lot of research into bin design, looking at models using recycled wood pallets, buying a big plastic bin instead of building one, or building one out of the heaps of 2x4s rescued from the shed.
I settled on this 3-bin compost system, in part because I expect I’ll be able to generate a LOT of compost (I have so much yard waste already), but also because I saw a really well-done version of it on featured on Re-nest.
Mine isn’t quite as pretty — after all, most of the materials are recycled — but it does the trick! In the end, I spent about $150 on materials I didn’t have or couldn’t salvage, including the wire hardware cloth, two Trex boards (the slats on the front are this composite material — I had enough for two sections, salvaged from another Oakland homeowner’s pile of scrap, but needed more for the third section), one 9′ redwood 2×4, since i didn’t have enough of that length, and all the screws, hinges, and hardware. The Oakland Home Depot and Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore saw my face a few times that weekend…
I don’t want to think about what it would have cost to buy all new material! I guess the message is DON’T! Even if you don’t have salvage of your own, I found several places to buy recycled wood for really cheap. Urban Ore in Berkeley, for example, sells 2x4s at around $2 a pop!
Steve and I managed to build this guy in about two weekends, with a little extra work on his part on his time off during the week.
The PDF design I followed can be downloaded by clicking here.
If you’re researching container gardens, you know there are loads of options for sale — terra cotta pots, plastic troughs, Rubbermaid storage containers — and plenty more DIY instructions for redwood boxes, raised beds, and converting any “container” known to man into gardening space (did you see my computer garden post last week??).
Here in Oakland, I was looking for the cheapest possible option — but also something easily mobile, symmetrically attractive, deep enough for carrots, and wide enough to row some veggies.
I needed squares — cubes at least a foot deep.
Milk crates come in a variety of sizes (we have 12” cubes and 13”x15” boxes, and I’ve seen ones that are double wide), they’re really easy to move, they’re almost always free, and they can easily be arranged side by side in “beds.” I found most of my crates on Craigslist — I brought 28 of them home one day in my little Ford Escort when I discovered that a gelato shop in San Francisco looking to get rid of more than 100! Now I see them all over the place (I’m still hoping to score some of those double wides…).
While you can’t put soil directly into milk crates (huge gaping holes aren’t exactly conducive to holding dirt), they’re really easy to line. But what to line them with? I considered burlap, for economy’s sake and easy drainage, but I didn’t think it would last long. Instead, I settled on synthetic landscaping fabric. It’s about $25 for a 3×100-foot roll at my local Home Depot –I think I Iined about 15 crates with my first roll.
1. Cut the landscaping fabric to fit your boxes. You’ll need two identical strips for each box — the width must be 4 to 6 inches wider than the box width (if you bought 3- to 4-foot wide fabric, just cut it in half for most milk crates), and the length must be long enough to fit down both sides and across the bottom, plus a few inches leeway on each side. An easy way to measure is to wrap the fabric around the outside of the crate.
2. Put one strip across the inside of the box to cover two opposite sides. Make sure the fabric fits down into each corner so you don’t end up with a rounded bottom (likely to stretch and tear) when it’s filled with soil. Stitch in the handles on each — or wherever is convenient based on the placement of holes on your crate — to keep the fabric in place.
4. Fill it with soil! I used a mix that was about one half top soil, one quarter compost, one quarter chicken manure, plus a few tablespoons of dry organic fertilizer. I also added a few worms — we inherited a large family of earthworms when we got dirt from someone else’s yard, and I try to keep a few in each box, since they help keep the soil and plants healthy.
5. Plant! I’ve found that carrots, beans, and lettuces can be rowed in these containers, but that plants like eggplant and squash need a full container to themselves. I have peppers planted diagonally — 2 in one box — and they seem to do well that way. I found a really good resource on companion planting that I use to help determine what to plant with what and which boxes to put next to each other for pest control, flavor, shading, etc.
A lot of the inspiration for my rooftop garden came from seeing photos, videos, and blogs about what other people have done with their own urban spaces. On Urbivore, I’ll periodically feature other people’s gardens, in the hopes of inspiring you too!
Of course the easiest one to start with is my own.
My first garden, on a small patio in Portland, Maine, used Rubbermaid storage containers as pots — they were convenient, cheap, easy to move, and available in many sizes…but not terribly attractive.
The containers worked just fine, and I’d recommend them to any first-timer looking for fast and cheap. But for me — OCD about symmetry — the varying sizes, shapes, and colors of my plastic storage bins just didn’t make the aesthetic cut.
When I got the chance at a fresh start in Oakland, I took it.
I knew I wanted to put containers of some kind on the roof, which for us is a porch. I did a bunch of research into what other people were doing, and found woodworking plans (like this one) for building your own containers.
I even went so far as volunteering for a rooftop project work day with Bay Localize — a local non-profit promoting sustainable practices in the Bay Area — in order to get a feel for how building and using big wooden flats might work.
After that, the idea of building and moving all those flats (and all that dirt) on our own just didn’t seem reasonable — we’re not in this apartment forever!
They had a video posted on YouTube (I can’t find it anymore!?) with instructions on how to build a milk crate garden, so I watched it a few times and modified as needed.
I searched Craigslist and found one batch of “storage crates” — 11 for $15 – and then scored the mother lode when a San Francisco gelato company posted they had 100 milk crates on the sidewalk, for free (plus $4 bridge toll). I can officially say that a Ford Escort can hold exactly 28 crates and one driver.
We laid down shipping pallets (free on Craigslist) to keep crates from directly contacting the roof. (We initially had pallets on the actual roof surface, but moved them onto the decking to prevent trouble with our wishy-washy, undecided, and certifiably crazy landlord.)
On top of those pallets are milk crates that I lined with landscaping fabric — this keeps soil from falling out, but lets water drain and air get in. We filled the lined crates with good soil — most of it came free from a Craigslister looking to dig up a backyard raised garden bed, some has come from mixing store-bought bags of soil and compost.
We also tried following Glide’s video instructions for building wooden walls out of salvaged pallet wood. They were surprisingly difficult to build (old, dried-out pallets are impossible to take apart!), and, despite being stained, the walls on our 9-crate flat warped apart after a couple months. So… no more walls.
But that’s OK: I still have symmetry! And plenty of veggies, of course.
Currently planted: Four kinds of lettuce, hillbilly (purple!) spinach, carrots, four kinds of peppers, five different tomatoes, eggplant, two kinds of zucchini, summer squash, green beans, basil, sage, rosemary, thyme, watermelon, cantaloupe, two kinds of strawberries, sunflowers, violets, and an orange tree. And more crates await!