Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Paver Patio

Last fall, after one of the rain storms, our patio fire pit was filled with water. We emptied it out and watched as the water ran straight back to the house. This, along with a couple low spots, was enough to deem it worthy to put forth the effort the following year to re-level the patio. Anticipating that it was going to take a day or two to finish, we planned to attack this project over Memorial Day weekend.

Thursday I did investigation as to what would be involved in laying a paver patio. I used the following sites as resources for instructions to install a paver patio:

1.) http://www.hometime.com/Howto/projects/patios/patios_1.htm

I decided to take off on Friday to get a good jump on the project. I figured that I could get a good start on the project if not almost complete it in one day. Ambitious, yes, but it's good to have a goal to reach. So away we go...

DAY 1:
Here's how the patio looked before any of the work:

It took about 3.5 hours to remove the pavers and stack them off to the side:

Once the pavers were removed, I found that there was a 3-4 inch layer of sand between the pavers and the gravel base. I decided to remove the sand to get down to the gravel base so that I could reset the the base with a good layer of minus crushed limestone per the instructions from the sites noted above. By the end of the day, I got the sand removed so that there was only a good gravel base. Since it was late in the day, I finished with renting a plate compactor from Home Depot for the upcoming work on the following day.

Oh...perhaps this is a good moment to mention that I had forgot that the patio is about 20' x 12'(240 square feet)...so much for getting this done in one day.

Day 2:

After a good night's sleep, I was up and ready to go. I made one quick trip to Home Depot for a couple more bags of crushed limestone since it had, and was finishing raining the early part of the morning. Before laying out the limestone, considering I had taken off the top layer of sand (and sand-gravel mix), I made a couple initial passes with the compactor to set the base level.

I laid out about a 3" layer of crushed limestone and went over it with a number of passes with the plate compactor. Everything turned out great with the compactor except for the last pass or so because a bit of the limestone had stuck and hardened to the bottom of the plate compactor. Tip to the readers, if the compactor isn't providing a smooth result, there may be debris stuck or collecting on the bottom of the plate.

After compacting the layer of crushed stone, and before laying the sand, I put down a weed blocker/stone stabilizer. I'm not sure if this is actually going to do anything, but I figured I'd give it a try; if it works, great, else no big deal.

To lay down the sand, I used a couple of rods about 1" thick and a steel 2x4 to level out a layer of sand evenly across the patio. This was a time consuming effort as I had decided to reused the sand that was dug up from day 1. What took so long was that the layer of gravel had been mixed in with the sand. Before being able to lay down the sand, I had to rake the gravel stones out of the sand. I got most of the them, but certainly there was quite a bit that I missed. As I used the beam to level the layer of sand, and stone caught at the top would be dragged causing a crease in the top layer. So, I'd have to remove the stone, re-add sand, and re-level. As you can imagine, this added considerable time.

We slowly worked the rods down from one end of the patio to the other to ensure an even level of sand. Eventually once the rods were removed, as we layed the pavers, we filled in the grove with sand. It was about 1:00 pm on Saturday that we finally got around to laying the pavers.

Day 3:

We got close, but we didn't finish the work on day 2. I had to take back the plate compactor and Cathy ran into some troubles with the last bit of laying the pavers. So for day 3, I had to finish things off laying the pavers. Overall, it was very much like Legos laying out the pavers...until the very end. I made it all the way to the corner of the curve with just one tiny hole left to fill. The problem, I didn't have any pavers which fit the hole. So, the Legos now turned into a puzzle. Moving on brick here, one brick there, I eventually worked my way all the way back to the house when I finally got all the pavers to fit. I of course checked the level of things to make sure the patio was pitched away from the house and sure enough it was.

The last step was to sweep the sand into the spaces between the pavers. The websites had mentioned that one should use the plate compactor and go back over the pavers once they were laid so that they were set, but rather than renting the plate compactor again, I used a hand tamper and tamped the pavers into place whilst sweeping over the patio to fill in between the pavers. I'm not sure if that's going to cost me in the long run, but with what energy I had at that point in time, it seemed like the most correct decision.

Day 4:

Not much left to do on Monday except for cleanup. There was still a large pile of mixed sand and gravel on the driveway which I shoveled up and moved it to the back of the yard and started a path into the woods. I swept some of the remaining sand in between some spots that were still lacking. Over the next couple rainfalls or so, I'll have to do this a couple times.

I don't have a picture of the final look of the patio, but that was mainly due to the low energy level after all of the work from the weekend. No worries though...coming soon :)

Update: Here is the finished patio!

Re-visiting the To-Do list and Veggie Garden 2009

So, here is the updated 2009 To-Do List:
  • Finish master plan of the yard
  • Re-landscape garage bed
  • Re-landscape west wall bed (aka fireplace bed) (become potentially optional)
  • Re-level brick patio
  • Power-wash trellis and mailbox post
  • Fill in holes in front bed (dead junipers and rose bushes)
  • Plan out vegetable garden
  • Re-mulch front yard beds
  • Get rid of barberry bush in back
  • Place stepping stones from garage to back yard (potentially optional)
  • Look at and either remove or repair yard sink
  • Trim large bush trio in back
  • Prune Mugo out front after killing the evil sawflies
  • Clear out back woods (lots of dead and dying hardwoods)
Not bad, eh? The big item - the re-leveling the brick patio - happened this past weekend. Eric will be blogging about it but, suffice to say, I can barely move today.

We also planted the veggie garden this weekend. We changed plans slightly when at the nursery. We decided we're going to let the far-east bed go fallow this year and just plant 2 beds. Part of the change was because we decided that growing broccoli and other plants in that family wasn't worth the hassle. But also because we discovered that our local supplier has leeks, shallots and garlic available for growing! HEY!

So here's what's in the beds this year.

Bed 1: beans, peas, cucumbers, lettuce, spinach, chard, eggplant, chamomile, zucchini, summer squash, onions, shallots, collards
Bed 2: SIX tomato plants, two tomatillo plants, cilantro, rosemary, oregano, parsley, basil, jalapenos, habanero, poblano, bell peppers, onions, leeks, shallots, garlic

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Lotsa Photos!

Salvia in a Box


Ajuga, salvia, columbine






More Columbine

Columbine Bloom

Yarrow and Snow-in-Summer

The last Columbine

Columbine bloom


Lucky's favorite spot

Lucky in the garden

Another Lucky shot

Same shot, no dog

Yarrow blooms

Saturday, May 16, 2009

What a difference a year makes

Bean Bed - Early May 2008

Bean Bed - May '09

May '08

May '09

May '08

May '09

I cannot get over how large some of these things have gotten. Like the ajuga, sedum and columbine - they're monstrous!

I wish these plants bloomed longer

First, our viburnum. When the window next to it is open, you can smell the blooms thru the whole house.

She got a bit leggy, so after the blooms are done but before it sets its buds for the next year we're going to prune her back.

Because I'm hoping to have the same result as we did with the crab apple tree. Look at it!

Isn't she beautiful? She's positively covered in blooms.

I thought last year's display was wonderful but this is unbelievable. We pruned her in the early winter and I think this is how she's thanking us.

Lastly, the sweet woodruff.

It generally doesn't get a whole lot of attention because it serves as a groundcover under one of our birch trees. But in a week or two, that whole verdant carpet will be covered in millions of tiny, delicate white flowers, like this.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Organic Lawn Care - Where to Start?

So, if you're willing to give organic lawn care a shot, where should you start?

With the soil, of course. If your soil is not healthy, your lawn surely isn't going to be.

There are several things you can do at this junction. If you're a very methodical sort of person, the first thing you can do is get a soil test run. Most states have soil testing services (here is a link to Wisconsin's) for a reasonably small fee. You send a sample from your yard in, they send you a detailed analysis back. The big thing you want to look at is pH. Grass loves a pH of about 6.5. Certain troublesome weeds - like dandelions - prefer a more alkaline soil. Other weeds prefer a more acidic soil. The goal is to get your soil to the pH to that range - 6.2 to 6.9 - that your grass loves, giving it a better chance of choking out the weeds. To sweeten a sour (acidic) soil you want to add lime. To make soil more acidic, add gardeners sulfur. For more information on how to adjust soil pH, here is a handy website.

Another place to start is with finding out how much topsoil you have. Stick a garden shovel into your lawn and see how deep it goes without too much effort. If you only have a few inches, you might first want to consider aerating and amending your soil first. You can rent aerators from various home improvement stores. You want to find an aerator that removes about a 4" plug of soil. Go across your lawn at least two times in different directions (i.e. horizontally and diagonally) - one pass is usually not enough to make much of a difference. After you aerate, spread some organic compost or humus & manure over the lawn. You don't need a lot - maybe 40 lbs for 15,000 square feet. This is a somewhat slow process, so if you have a small plot (less than 1/4 acre) with very thin topsoil, you may want to consider just ripping it all out, getting a load of topsoil in, and re-seeding the lawn.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Organic Lawn Care - Why bother?

This has been a huge goal of mine, to organically maintain our lawn.

What's wrong with fertilizers?

Well, the first thing is you're basically throwing your money away. Sure, that spring fertilizer helps green your lawn up quickly but that's about all it does. It's designed to give a short burst of food and anything the lawn cannot absorb in a short amount of time washes away (remember - fertilizers are water-soluble). The big problem with this is the chemicals leech into the local watershed (where does your tap water come from?) and, if you live between the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains, contributes to the massive algae and phytoplankton blooms that appear in the Gulf of Mexico every summer. This is a large enough problem that many states (though not Wisconsin), municipalities and Canadian Provinces have outlawed the use of fertilizers containing phosphorous.

And weed-n-feed or a lawn service?

Let's analogize this. You have a plantar wart on your foot. In order to get rid of it, do you just apply a medication to the wart or do you slather your whole body in it? Wouldn't the latter be just a bit overkill?

No lawn is 100% weed. In fact, it's safe to say that even the worst lawn is about 90% turf and 10% weed. So why would you apply weed killer to that 90% that doesn't need it? All of that excess, again, washes off into the groundwater or volatilizes into the air. And one of the most common chemicals in the herbicides used has been linked to a host of health problems, including an increased risk for non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

Add to that that manufacturers are only required to include active ingredients on the label. Active ingredients do not include inert materials, like heavy metals.

And... pesticides?

Again, if you have a problem with one particular pest - ants, for example - why would you apply a generic battery of chemicals designed to kill all sorts of insects to treat one problem? You may kill the pest but you're also killing the beneficial creatures like worms, birds and honeybees.

It doesn't just stay outdoors

All of these chemicals get tracked inside - by you, your children, your pets. It affects indoor air quality. Exposing your children to these chemicals can increase their chance of developing leukemia seven-fold. Contact with low levels of pesticides increases the risk of miscarriage and there has been a documented links between them and breast cancer. And studies have documented that exposure to lawns treated with herbicides four or more times a year doubled a dog's risk of canine lymphoma.

So, why go Organic?

Given all of that, I don't know why anyone would even think about using synthetic methods. But, if you still need convincing, I can give you 1 good reason to give organic lawn care a shot:

It's cheaper.

Just because your lawn looks green and weed-free doesn't mean it's healthy. Real health starts in the soil, which has been nuked to kingdom come by the products that are supposed to help - killing the worms, disturbing soil pH - increasing dependence on these products to continue looking good. Think of these products like steroids for your lawn - the more you use them, the more you need them to maintain that perfectly manicured appearance.

By going green, you can save all of that money you previously spent buying weed-n-feed for your lawn 4 times a year or paying someone else to do it for you. Also, an organic lawn uses less water than a lawn on steroids - the root system is deeper, better able to cope with drought. 40-60% of summer water use is spent on watering lawns - that's 40-60% of your water bill you could spend elsewhere!

In the next post I'll get into the nitty-gritty of organic lawn care. In the meantime, I leave you with some articles.

The Dark Side of Lawns
Beyond Pesticides - Lawn care: Hazards and Alternatives

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Garage Bed Renovation Part 2

The garage bed is almost officially done. Eric and I went to Milaeger's today to buy the last of the plants and I added them. The only thing left to do is buy and set up a rain barrel.

So, let's recap:




With the brick patio/stoop:

Just the Bed:

The Plants:
back row: Hollyhocks and mallow
middle row: phlox
front: creeping thyme


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