Thursday, April 26, 2012

Parking Strip "Farm"

Our parking strip redo project is just about done.  While we have grown veggies successfully in the parking strip for several years in raised sod beds, we got really tired of maintaining the grass around the crops.  So, over several weeks we transformed the space to smother the grass and enlarge the raised beds.

Old Sod Beds

Here's a description of the process:

  1. Drink Tea.
  2. Design- measure parking strip, sketch to scale raised bed locations and dimensions.  Argue Discuss with spouse how much space is allocated to vegetables vs. flowers.
  3. Calculate- determine how much soil and wood chips to order.
  4. Drink Coffee.
  5.  Remove old sod bed borders- Terry used a pick axe to break the sod down and then I spread the sod out over existing grassy areas.  We also scraped the sod off along the sidewalk about 2 inches below the elevation of the concrete.  
  6. Layout Design- mystify neighbors with dozens of blue and orange flags.  We marked the corners of the new raised beds with flags.
  7. Order soil- I debated whether to get 3-way mushroom Topsoil from H&B or Tacoma's Tagro Potting Soil.  I ended up ordering 13 yards of Tagro Potting Soil because the delivery fee was cheaper and to support the Tagro program.  It will break down faster than topsoil and dry out a little quicker, but it's a reliable product and usually weed free.  In addition to the new soil, we also had the soil that was in the old raised beds to use.
  8. Drink Coffee.
  9. Collect cardboard for sheet mulching- we dumpster dived in cardboard recycling bins at the City Dump, as well as, behind local strip malls.  Neighbors also donated their boxes. In total we stuffed my little truck's bed (which has a canopy) about 5 times.
  10. Sheet mulch over grass- to smother the grass we laid down overlapping double layers of cardboard.  This got us the most questions from passersby.  When we explained what the cardboard was for- lets just say most people could not see our vision.  Several people even asked how we were going to remove the cardboard later.  Smile.
  11. Move giant soil pile- as we laid sections of cardboard down, we shoveled and wheelbarrowed the soil to the locations of the new raised beds (between those handy flags).  We made the soil about twelve inches deep.  We raked the lumps out and shaped the sloped sides.  Once the soil was spread, we watered it down a little to help it settle.   And since we had some onion sets, seed potatoes and dahlia tubers to plant we did so.  Why wait till the whole project is done.
  12. Order free wood chips- a thick layer of wood chips is a key part of successful sheet mulching.  They hold the cardboard down and help smother the grass.  We really needed chips right away to cover the exposed cardboard, but had to wait until the soil pile was gone.  So, the day after the soil was moved, I made a call to a local tree service that did work for us a few years ago- the number was disconnected.  I called another local arborist who donated chips to the community garden last year- they wouldn't have any chips any time soon.  I called Tacoma Power and left a message on their wood chip request line- which said that I would receive a call within 10 days.  I scanned the phonebook, but didn't want to call companies that weren't located in Tacoma.  The next day, I just happened to drive past a tree service working in the neighborhood.  I stopped and asked if I could have the chips.  They said yes and in a couple hours they dropped off about 7 yards of chips for us to spread.  The chips were perfect too.  Lots of chunky cedar wood chips, not too many leaves and needles.
  13. Drink Coffee.
  14. Spread wood chips- we covered the rest of the cardboard with about a foot of wood chips.  We raked them out as best we could.  The chips create pathways between the beds.  Also, since the raised beds don't have typical wooden sides to help retain the soil and moisture, the chips will help.  We spread out the big pile and realized we didn't have enough chips.  Luckily, Tacoma Power called yesterday and dropped a small load that should take us to completion.  This load wasn't as nice as our first pile.  This load had a lot a fines- doug fir needles and small bits of actual wood.  So, with free chips, you never know what you're going to get.

The process wasn't as clean and tidy as the 14 steps might make it sound, but it worked.  We just have to drink some more coffee, collect another load of cardboard to finish the outer edge near the road and spread the new pile of chips.  Meanwhile, we've got most of the new beds planted.  Terry planted his early corn, beets, onions and potatoes.  I planted the flower beds out with some existing daylilies, dahlias, and irises I had elsewhere.  I'm also trying out a bunch of annual flower seeds- snapdragons, calendula, godetia, larkspur, cosmos, sweet peas and tithonia.  I'm excited to see how they do.  

For maintenance, we'll just have to stay on top of weeding out any grass that tries to poke up through or between the sheet mulch.  We can always add more cardboard/chips in trouble spots.  Also, there is bound to be some weed seed in the soil, so we'll have to keep the beds weeded so the darn things don't get established.  Terry will need to weed whack the tiny remaining strip of grass along the road.  Other than that, it's just watering and enjoying our crops and flowers.

New Raised Beds before Wood Chips

After Wood Chips
Onions Bed
Second pile of free chips- courtesy of Tacoma Power
Almost done- just need to finish the sloped edge by the road

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