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Large Backyard Planter

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posted on May, 2 2009 @ 12:45 AM
Although I'm from a ranching and hunting family, my wife is more of an urbanite, and it typically takes a great deal of coaxing on my part to convince her of the necessity of survival-oriented projects. We have made a lot of progress, however, since we married in 2001.

For example, she now understands the vital role of firearms in a modern survival strategy — that, if you aren't armed and aren't prepared to arm yourself, you will find yourself at the mercy of those who are armed...and those individuals do not necessarily have your best interests at heart.

Today we're geared up for extreme survival situations, have trained in mountain backpacking, and are Red Cross certified in wilderness emergency first response. In testing our skills, we've made extended solo excursions (just the two of us), unarmed, into remote and rather perilous wilderness areas, from the Smoky Mountains to high in the Canadian Rockies.

So, she has come a long way.

Nevertheless, you would have thought I had proposed group sex or something when I casually suggested growing our own food out in the backyard a couple of years ago. She was thoroughly opposed to plowing up our property and creating "a mudhole," insisting that there were plenty of farmer markets in the area to supply our needs.

After explaining to her at length that we cannot depend on the providence of others in a SITX, I finally resorted to the husband's secret weapon — I offered to build a large planter for her for her birthday.

Against her every instinct, she could not refuse a gift lovingly constructed by her husband. Remember that, guys.

Large Backyard Planter Project

First, it was essential to locate the area of the backyard that received the most direct sunlight (for about 8 hours a day). This wasn't easy in my case, as we have towering 70 and 80 foot oaks and pecan trees all over the property. After observing for a couple of days, I pinpointed the area, drove a stake at dead center, and used string and a can of spray paint to lay down a 14-foot diameter working area. She wanted it circular, and I had to concede — it was her birthday present, after all.

We live in the piedmont of the Carolinas, an area notorious for hard clay rather than rich top soil, and I knew this project would first require excavating and pulverizing the clay within my working area, which I did to a depth of about 18 inches.

Pick-axe and shovel were required, as our "soil" also contains an extraordinary amount of large rocks — I removed over 300 lbs of rock from this little 14-foot excavation.

After pulverizing the clay, the pernicious weeds and grasses were easier to extract and discard. In preparation for laying a ring foundation, I obtained a quantity of "blemished" cinderblock from the local brickworks, which is about a third of the price of premium cinderblock. Don't ever buy premium cinderblock or brick for projects like this, unless you're Donald Trump. Buying blemished (slightly defective) bricks, you can usually negotiate your price.

Once the loose soil is weeded out, I go back over the working area with a metal detector, looking for rusty nails, rusted shards of metal, et cetera. I'm the kind of gardener who likes digging with his bare hands, and I'm telling you I do not want a rusty nail through the palm of my hand, nor a filthy laceration from a rusted tin can lid — that's a trip to the doctor for a tetanus injection; and if you're in SITX and a doctor isn't available, then you've just exposed yourself to tetanus.

Before sinking my cinderblock, I cut up a length of PVC water pipe, glued in a couple of elbow joints, and laid a little irrigation pipe from the outside of the ring to the center. I cut those pipes back later and fitted them with a RainBird sprinkler head and a hose connector.

I happen to have several tons of river sand loitering on my property, so I laid down about 6 inches of sand in the circular trench around the perimeter, compacted it, then started sinking my cinderblock.

I packed the cinderblock in place with sand, also, which will allow the planter to drain properly. At this point, I cultivated about 400 lbs of river sand and 200 lbs of composted cow manure into the pulverized clay, and worked it in... So I now have about a 2-foot deep bed of reworked soil — 18 inches below the ground and a mound above ground.

Now I'm ready to start laying concrete and brick and mortar. NOTE: This is the first time I've laid brick, so no heckling from the Freemasons out there. You can probably see in the photos that this area of the backyard is not level — in fact it's a downhill slope to the right — and I decided to correct for this by building up a ring foundation about 6 inches higher on one side than the other, leveling the planter.

This called for some concrete forming, and there are a number of prefabricated concrete forms on the market for achieving various shapes, right. But if you want to spend about 1/5 the money, go to your local lumber place — where they actually rip lumber, not just stock it — and ask them for their scrap Masonite. Masonite is a marvelously flexible composite material that is perfect for forming concrete. Shape it, stake it in place, and start pouring.

I did cut up a quantity of half-inch hardware cloth and laid it in to reinforce my concrete.

I poured concrete foundation in two arcs, 6 inches deep on the tall side, then 2 inches deep on the low side, made sure it was level, then started laying brick. Again, I cannot emphasize enough that you do not need premium brick for a project like this. Go into your local brickworks, tell 'em you'd like a cube and a strap of blemished (slightly defective) brick, and you'll save yourself a lot of money.

Also, get yourself a GOOD set of gloves for working with brick. Brick is not stone. Brick is a manmade glass. It is sharp. It is unforgiving. It will cut your ass up but good if you try working it bare-handed.

I like the 3-hole brick for a couple of reasons. First, it's lighter and easier to handle. Second, you fill it up with mortar and it locks into the construction like a bitch. Once the mortar sets, you couldn't pull a brick out of there with a claw hammer. Solid bricks tend to separate from the mortar, right, and come loose. What I'm building here is a big double-ring of brick with mortar going right through and fusing the brick together.

I hid the fact that this is 3-hole by capping it with a fan of bricks on edge, right.


[edit on 5/2/2009 by Doc Velocity]

+4 more 
posted on May, 2 2009 @ 01:07 AM
My wife was supervising the project, BTW, and she stipulated a little fanwork on the steps, as well.

I formed these small, circular steps using aluminum flashing. Simple as hell. Embedded bricks in the concrete, gave the steps a smooth mortar texture.

After allowing the masonry to cure for a couple of weeks, I started filling the planter — 1.25 tons of low-end topsoil, the cheapest crap I could find. 800 lbs of river sand. 500 lbs of composted cow manure.

And you better believe I swam in that mixture for several hours, churning the topsoil and compost and river sand into the desired homogenous consistency. I do like getting dirty, baby. This fresh mix gets about a half-day irrigation, followed by a week's rest.

I then started with about 7 varieties of tomato, 10 varieties of pepper, a number of squashes, potatoes, pumpkins — pumpkins are a separate story — strawberries, onions, herbs, you name it, we are harvesting several hundred pounds of produce from the planter in addition to the pecans and apples and cherries from the trees around the house. Please refrain from any scurrilous remarks about the Doctor's Hawaiian shirts.

Check out the 7-foot tomatoes.

—Doc Velocity

[edit on 5/2/2009 by Doc Velocity]

posted on May, 2 2009 @ 01:12 AM
Looks the goods mate.

Practical and a feature in itself.

posted on May, 2 2009 @ 08:32 AM
Hey, speaking of soil and cultivating and Western Australia, what happened to that miracle soil formula dreamed up by an Aussie about 20 years ago?

From what I remember, there was a bloke down there in Australia who stumbled upon a formula for reinvigorating topsoil by a perfectly natural but accelerated bacterial process. He kept his formula top secret, of course, but went something like this:

Take a handful of your poor soil and dump it into a sheep's bladder, cram the sheep's bladder into the horn of a steer, cap the horn with a thick fistful of cow dung (and pack it in good), and then hammer the horn into the middle of whatever property you want reinvigorated.

According to the bloke, the bacterial decomposition of all these marvelous ingredients would take a while, but by the time it ate through the cow horn and dispersed into the surrounding soil, there would emerge some kind of turbo-bacteria that would spread outward like wildfire, converting sickly hardpan into healthy and robust topsoil.

Last I heard of this wonder-crud, it was transforming Australian ranchland for the better! No joke!

So... What the hell happened to it? I was expecting the stuff to sweep the world, turn the Sahara into a paradise and so forth. Alas, I haven't heard an update on the Australian miracle in a couple of decades.

— Doc Velocity

[edit on 5/2/2009 by Doc Velocity]

posted on May, 2 2009 @ 08:37 AM
Great post and pics of all of your hard work!!!

Love your soil mix....sand, dirt, poop!!
Live directly above you in VA and we have been doing the same for about three years now..with the addition of our own compost materials.

Thanks again and Peace...

posted on May, 2 2009 @ 08:43 AM
reply to post by Doc Velocity

What a great result....I'm so impressed I'm almost speechless. Especially the 7 foot outdoor tomatoes. If you ever fancy a holiday in Scotland......

posted on May, 2 2009 @ 08:54 AM
reply to post by Doc Velocity

Can't say I've heard of it before!

Sounds pretty interesting though, I'm a horticulturist by trade, so it's weird I haven't, must have been before my time?

I do know of some other methods for getting some nice rich soil though.

[edit on 2/5/09 by Chadwickus]

posted on May, 2 2009 @ 08:55 AM
On the cow horn idea: I watched a show about the worlds most expensive tea (white something) recently and the farmer was showing a relatively close method for vitalizing the soil. He had his own cattle and used the cow dung/ horn for that purpose.

On your garden, you've done a marvellous job. No doubt your wife has reconsidered the 'mudhole' analogy' completely. It's expertly constructed both in soil mix and containment. I also prefer round gardens in that they are more accessable from all directions. You wouldn't find a straight line anywhere in my own back yard where my focus is on herbs. The reason I don't bother with vegetables is that I'm surrounded by hundreds of Mennonite farms. They don't use electricity or gasoline engines, so I doubt SitX will have an impact on them at all.

Your step by step pics are great, Doc, and a great help for anyone else planning a similar garden.

posted on May, 2 2009 @ 09:17 AM
awesome job on your planter!!!

Your planter looks like a mansion compared to my mobile home looking sq ft garden made out of basic pine

If I ever get a bigger house with more yard, I'm using your method, I LUV the brick look.

love your tomatoes too, obviously they are indetermine types, but what varieties did you use? So far I've been growing the shorter determinate types due to space in the square foot plot, but I do the indetermine types in individual pots.

posted on May, 2 2009 @ 09:24 AM
reply to post by Doc Velocity

Wow, that looks really really nice. what a nice hudband you are!
I love the hawaiian shirts.

What a really really nice job you did on the brickwork.

Your backyard looked just like mine did when I lived in Alexandria.

I am looking at all the bags of dirt though, I know that wasn't cheap.

And it is just not about sitx either. Growing your own food saves fuel miles, is better for the environment. and homegrown food is so much healthier for you.
And the best part is that it tastes so much better.

My strawberries are amping up and I just can't wait, cuz I know they will taste like candy.

[edit on 2-5-2009 by nixie_nox]

posted on May, 2 2009 @ 09:25 AM
Impressive work and great advice on getting the prices down with the masonite and chipped bricks and blocks. When I was planting my onion patch I found a nail but for some reason pulling out my metal detector to search for more didn't hit my thick skull, again, thanks! What tomatoes are you growin? I'm looking at 20+ types this year. If the deer don't grow thumbs that is; neighbors say there it's not a pack that hangs around my garden but a herd. I'm telling ya they're building mounds and irrigation ditches they are!

*edit* That cow horn story sounds a bit far fetched... It seems some bone meal, blood meal, cow manure, and compost tea would have the same effects. If one wanted to forgo the sheep sacrifice that is.

[edit on 2-5-2009 by beaverg]

posted on May, 2 2009 @ 09:31 AM
reply to post by beaverg

I have a group that lives in my backyard. I almost know them by sight now. And they don't seem to bother my garden. But then mine is right by the house. Has to be in hose reach. lol
Its a wonder I grow anything at all because it is partly shaded and the soil sucks.

But I also stick stuff down at the end of the yard for them. that might be an idea, a deterrent garden. Just put a few things in there.

posted on May, 2 2009 @ 09:47 AM
That's awesome!!! It makes my garden look silly in comparison.

I'm going to drag my husband to the computer to read this thread. This changes my honey-do list completely!

posted on May, 2 2009 @ 09:48 AM
Excellent work doc! That is a beautiful planter, not only will it be a functional garden, but the way you have built it probably has added value onto your property. I have to say quite an extraordinary project and it must be a beautiful addition to your home.

posted on May, 2 2009 @ 11:09 AM
Excellent tutorial. I'm amazed by the variety of vegetables you are growing in that space, and the quantity. You really don't need a ton of room to have a productive garden.

Very well done!

edit: Do you mind revealing the approximate cost of the project?

[edit on 2-5-2009 by TheComte]

posted on May, 2 2009 @ 12:41 PM
Absolutely Amazing! Good Job! Your wife must be very proud of her creative husband and his very thoughtful gift of such a beautiful garden planter.

Really puts mine to shame! LOL Simple wood box built "above ground" that's not very big. Ah well, we all gotta start somewhere!

It is amazing what you can grow in a small space. My square foot garden has Green beans, tomatos (cherry), lettuce, cucumbers, watermelon, cantelope, basil, thyme, cilantro, rosemary and a couple others I can't remember off the top of my head. Just getting started and the plants are still what I consider seedlings but I look forward to the harvest!

[edit on 2-5-2009 by cnichols]

posted on May, 2 2009 @ 12:54 PM
Holy Moly Doc! Good job and thanks for posting!
Reminds me of our cellar project! Thats a ton o' bricks!

Looks reeeely nice, I bet mama loves!
I just wanted to post a link(or two)to help out with the peeps' motivation!

Could Food Shortages Bring Down Civilization?
The sooner we all get self sufficient the better......

Your project is proof it can also be beautifull!!!

posted on May, 2 2009 @ 01:29 PM
Hey Doc, thanks for the running commentary.
The pictures showing the progress are very neat and informative. I'm sure your wife enjoys "her" birthday present.

I hope you like tomatoes...they look like they got the lion's share of space.

Is that an owl on your knee in the final picture?

posted on May, 2 2009 @ 01:34 PM
that is awesome. First step, get a back yard.

posted on May, 2 2009 @ 01:43 PM
reply to post by Doc Velocity

WOW!!! Amazing job you did there. It looks very well done!

I need to get out there and do something like this!

Thanks for the step by step too!


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