Tales from an amateur handy-dad Vol. 1: Building raised garden beds.

First of all- this blog isn’t dead yet! I’ve been way too busy with school to write anything that didn’t have a prescribed word count to think about this blog but as my last semester winds down I’m hoping to find more time to post here. Now onto the post.

So I decided that it would be a good idea to build some raised garden beds this year. Last year I half-assed tilled up a patch of my yard and got some corn, peas, beans, and…squash(?) out of it but it was messy and a pain. So I got a bug up my ass on Saturday and ran to my local co-op for the black stuff and then to a big box hardware for the lumber.

This was pretty easy to do. And you can do it on the cheap. When it comes to lumber, here’s a few things I learned:

*Don’t get treated lumber.
*Use reclaimed wood if you can.
*If you can’t use reclaimed wood, go with cedar or juniper.

I chose to go with cedar fence boards for the walls of my beds. I could have bought some cedar 2x6x8s but those are about $15 a pop. The 8′ cedar fence boards are $2.35 a pop. Doesn’t make much sense to spend a ton of money for something that will just hold dirt.

As for the dirt, pro tip: use as much o your own compost as you can. Don’t have any yet? Start a pile now and you’ll have black gold this time next year. Mine consists of veggie scraps, chicken  crap, wood shavings, grass, and leaves. Seems to be the right mixture as I had a lot of really rich, dark soil at the bottom of my pile.

So on to the instructions. I’ll start with the materials I use for two 4’x8′ beds:

Two 2x4s
Two 2x3s
Twelve 8′ cedar boards (about 5.5″ wide)
Screws (shown below)
Paper bags (or cardboard, you’ll see in a minute).
Dirt & compost.

First, I measured out 8 14″ sections of the 2×4. These will be the corner posts.

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Swanson speed square is a *must have* item, and keep the book that comes with it!!

Then I cut them of course. And did the same for the 2x3s (8 in total for supports)

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Yeah I'm know there's no safety guard on there but the miter saw was free...

Then I cut the ends of the 2x4s on an angle to make stakes.

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If the garlic bulbs don't keep the vampires away...

Okay next I ripped four of the fence boards in half, giving me eight 4′ sections. The lumber pile looks like thus:

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Okay, time to screw! I like these star headed screws because they seem to strip less easily, but maybe that’s just me..

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There's stars upon thars...

So the reason I cut the 2x4s to 14″ was to leave an inch over the top and another two inches for the stake end below. So that’s why I lined it all up like this. These are the 8′ sections here.

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Then I screwed in the 2×3 supports 3′ in from both sides of the fence boards. This will prevent the boards from bowing out because they are on the thin side. It’s also really easy to sink your screws too far since the wood is so soft. (Go ahead and make the joke, you know you want to…)

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I repeated this until I had four long sections. Then I lined them up in my yard where I wanted them. Remember to have the long sides facing south if you can to maximize sun exposure.

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The next part is where we prepped the grass. And by “prep” I mean “murder”. If you have access to a tiller, use that!! If not, you can do what I did. I set my mower to the lowest setting and mower, then went over that area with a weed whacker to get as much as I could. Then we sprayed the area with vinegar (yeah, it kills grass. Use it in your driveway instead of roundup, only takes a few minutes to work and WAY better for the environment). Then I hand tilled the area to break it all up. When I say ” I” , I mean my wife. I had to bail and she took over this part for bit.

When that was all done the grass looked deader. So then we attached the 4′ sections to either end and pounded down the stakes to try and hold it down and in place.

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See! Grass is deader!

Next, we lined the bottom with paper bags. I grabbed these lawn bags at aforementioned big box store because we didn’t have any on hand. This will ensure that grass stays even deader than before.

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Suffocate the grass!

Next, I started to fill it in with compost from our compost pile. This is a terrible photo of our compost pile and the black gold found underneath.

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Terrible photo of rotting things.

I was able to grab about 4-5 wheelbarrow loads of the stuff per each bed. Given a 4 yard Barrow, and it was about 82% full each time and the beds were 4×8…I dunno…math…

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Although the quality is generally terrible, child labor is free.

After I scooped as much worm poop as I could, we then filled in the beds with top soil that I bought from our local co-op/feed store. You can probably get it cheaper another way but I didn’t feel like trolling Craigslist for dirt on a Saturday.

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Dirt was sourced locally and creep-free.

And voilà! Raised garden beds! I left the supports and corner posts higher in case I ever wanted to attach something there. Next year I’ll use flexible PVC and turn these into mini greenhouses. I might also add a trellis or something for beans to grow on.

The only thing I might do over is to leave the supports an corner posts one inch higher, and the stake ends of the corner posts one inch lower.

So, that’s that. I’ll post photos when we have vegetables in there, and we’ll see what we end up with this year. It’s already looking like we’ll have more cherries than last year, and hopefully some pears, apples and plums to go along with those.

Let me know if you have any questions or extra tips in the comments.

Cheers.

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Making a dent

For the past year or so, I’ve been volunteering with a local non-profit, Sound Salmon Solutions. It’s an organization that works on salmon habitat restoration in the river basin where I live here in Snohomish County, WA.They work with local volunteers, land owners, local municipalities, Dept. of Fish and Wildlife and the tribes to accomplish all of this. A lot of what they do is removing invasive species like Himalayan Blackberry and Japanese Knotweed, and then planting native plants to restore habitat. They also do lots of educational outreach with schools and at public events. When I go to help out, it’s mostly been planting, but I’ve also volunteered my services as a photographer to snap some photos for their website.

Yesterday I went out to a private landowner’s property, and 25 or so of use planted 750 native plants like cedar, ash, alder, pine, willow, and some bushes like salmon berry and rose. It was all along the side of a creek that runs into the Stilly river (pictured below, the spot we were at is by the red star) that had previously been overgrown and choked out with invasive blackberry bushes. This was just part of the process that started a year ago and will continue with more maintenance over the next few years.

The yellow star denotes the area where I live, and it’s also right next to a confluence where the North and South forks of the Stillaguamish River meet before the river winds its way out into the Puget Sound. As you can see, the river feeds quite a bit of local agriculture (including the CSA we subsrcibe to, the Klesikc Family Farm). The river is also home to a large population of bald eagles, which feed upon the coho, chinook, steelhead, and other salmon.

The reason I included this in a post here is because part of adopting a more ecocentric world-view involves a focus on bioregions, and bioregional governance/stewardship. Rather than putting effort into say, protesting the Keystone XL pipeline, it would be more prudent and productive to put real work into improving the river where I live, and protecting the wilderness in the mountains I’m surrounded by. This is deep conservatism in action, because it relies heavily upon the people that live here in these watersheds and have a vested interest in seeing them thrive, as opposed to some far away, centralized entity with no real connection to this land.

It is important to note that much of the work has no direct human benefit. The work done this weekend will create forest to border the landowner’s property on the creek-side. Previous plantings have been for the sole benefit of salmon themselves. Will fishermen benefit? Sure, eventually they will. But at stake here is the reintroduction of the wild into parts of this land that have been manicured, distorted and destroyed for over a century.When planting, I was speaking with the landowner Leon, I believe. He was telling about how the land had been homesteaded as 160 acres in the 1870’s or 1880’s by his great-great grandfather. He talked about how much the land had changed in his 70+ years there due to some of the major floods and logging that takes place across the road from where he is. But he often recalled those childhood memories of running in the streams and creeks on the property and wading with the juvenile salmon by the dozens. That is it right there, the contact with the wild that fills us up and connects us to the world we live in. But, he said he hadn’t but a couple of salmon in the past decade or so swimming in those creeks and streams. Our work there will hopefully change that. I was planting side-by-side with some of his grandsons that were talking about how cool it would be to see the trees all grown up and to have a forest there in a few years. Hopefully the family stewardship of the land there will be a lasting legacy.

Later this year (I believe), in a river not too far south, they will be breaching a levy in order to restore an expanse of estuary that was taken over by agriculture and housing developments decades ago. I’ll post more on that when it happens.

 

Time to make progress

 
via Treehugger

This is a picture of a dead bird. This bird died because it ate all of that plastic you see there. Plastic that you and I threw away, and ended up in the ocean, or washed up on the shore. This bird doesn’t know any better, because evolution in our feathered friends hasn’t had time to adjust to the industrial revolution. Evolution has also failed to equip this bird with the ability to digest any of this plastic, so it just sits inside the bird, and the bird will either starve or hemorrhage or choke to death.

 

These are the stomach contents from a dead sea turtle. Again, a ton of fucking plastic. Chances are, the turtle found the plastic here:

This is a small part of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a swirling mass of floating plastic and other garbage that is twice the size of Texas in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. This is where my trash ends up. This is where your trash ends up. We’ve made this garbage patch.

This is another dead fucking bird. It died due to the oil that spilled in the Gulf of Mexico last year from the BP spill. That oil was being pumped for you and for me. We were going to use it to get to work, heat our homes, make our blue jeans, and to create a bunch of plastic, the same type of plastic the bird and the turtle died from.

This is one of the ways in which we source the oil that killed the bird and produced the plastic that created the trash that killed the other bird and that fucking turtle whose stomach contents are pictured above. We just fucking take it from other people. We make up all kinds of excuses for war and our international relationships and dealings, but it so much of it comes down to securing our unlimited access to oil and the profis that oil will afford a select few.

 

This is natural gas, and it is what some people are proposing we use to help get us off of oil. This is a picture of someone lighting their god damned drinking water on fire, because of the practice of hydraulic fracking for natural gas. Fracking allows natural gas to leak into the wells and aquifers that people use for drinking water, agriculture, and farming. Then the water is pretty much ruined forever. Though this is a pretty kick ass party trick. If you’re throwing a ” I can’t drink my fucking water any more” party, that is.

Meanwhile, while we’re burning all these fossil fuels, we’re making the Earth warmer. “Isn’t that a good thing?’ a total idiot might ask? No, it isn’t. One of the effects it is having is on the forests in British Colombia. “Who cares, because it’s only Canada?” you might ask? Well, that’s also something a complete idiot would ask. All those trees in the picture above aren’t supposed to be that color. They are brown and red because they are infested with bark beetles. Those bark beetles are experiencing warmer, shorter winters thanks to global warming, and that means that their offspring aren’t dying off during due to frigid temperatures, and their population is exploding. These trees are part of a system that forms an enormous carbon sink. But because they are dying, that carbon can’t be stored there. Which creates more warming. And more warming will cause more severe weather. So you’ll probably want to turn up the heater a bit more in the winter depending on where you live. And you’ll want to turn up the A/C a bit more in the summer. And that’ll require a bit more energy, which will end up using more oil.

Please, please do at least one thing today to change this. And then do it again tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that…

One thing you might even do is write to your representative. Let them know that the EPA needs to be able to regulate greenhouse gases, including CO2. While you’re at it, let them know that you don’t want mercury, sulfur dioxide, and other particulates in the air you breathe.

Just do something, stick with it, and make progress. We need it.

“…progress,
man’s distinctive mark alone,
Not God’s, and not the beast’s;
God is, they are,
Man partly is,
and wholly hopes to be”                     ~ Robert Browning Hamilton
 
 
Cheers.

The steeper bill to pay

The bill that House Republicans are proposing that will set the budget through the end of the fiscal year (Sept ’11) “loads up every piece of the far-right social agenda in one bill, from restricting a woman’s right to choose to preventing government from protecting the air we breathe and the water we drink.” – quote from as Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo. in Huff Post today. While I find many of the proposals distasteful, it is the ones concerning the environment that I would like to draw your attention to. As some of you reading this know, I’m currently in school, pursuing a degree in Environmental Policy and Planning. These issues are important to me, and often I’m shocked that there is so little regard paid to them.

I found a list of the environmental riders on the budget bill at the Sietch Blog. You can read them here, and there is a pdf version here. My thanks to the writers there for posting this. I’ll list just a couple of the ones that I found particularly appalling:

Section 1746: Taking Away EPA’s Authority to Enforce the Clean Air Act – states that zero funds may be used by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to enforce or promulgate any regulation related to the emissions of greenhouse gases due to concerns regarding climate change. This far reaching legislation prevents EPA from regulating carbon pollution and protecting Americans from the impacts of climate change. This section stops EPA from requiring new power plants, oil refineries, and other major new sources of carbon pollution to begin reducing their carbon emissions. It also prevents EPA from setting minimum federal standards for power plants and oil refineries, and severely interferes with EPA’s permitting process for new or expanded facilities. In addition, this section prevents the public from learning how much carbon pollution is actually being emitted by the largest polluters. This legislation ties EPA’s hands and allows carbon pollution to continue or even increase unabated – endangering public health, food and water supplies, wildlife habitat, species, forests and coastlines throughout our nation.

Section 1747: Blocking EPA Efforts to Clarify the Scope of the Clean Water Act – halts the EPA’s ongoing effort to make clear which waters remain protected by the Clean Water Act in the wake of confusing court decisions and subsequent Bush administration policy. This provision leaves millions of acres of wetlands and thousands of miles of streams without clear Clean Water Act protection. These streams provide at least part of the drinking water for 117 million Americans. It jeopardizes EPA’s ability to enforce the law against oil spills and waste dumping in these waters.

 Section 4008: Limiting Enforcement of the Cement Kiln Air Toxics Standard – EPA is prohibited from using any funds to implement or enforce a health standard to control mercury and other pollutants from cement plants. Cement plants are the third leading source of man-made mercury emissions and have evaded controls prescribed under the Clean Air Act for over 13 years. EPA finalized these life-saving standards in September 2010 with a compliance deadline of September 2014. These overdue standards will save 2,500 lives, prevent 1,000 heart attacks, and reduce 130,000 missed days of school and work each year, according to EPA estimates. EPA also projects that this rule would save $18 billion in health costs just from reductions of fine particulate matter. Defunding implementation of this critical reduction of mercury, lead, particulate matter and other hazardous pollutants will not remove any regulatory obligations. In fact, this amendment deprives states and cement manufacturers from getting technical assistance and support in developing compliance plans. Barring EPA from providing critical guidance for this protective health standard puts the public at risk and leaves industry without critical compliance input.

 Section 4015: Blocking EPA from Regulating Emissions from Stationary Sources – issues a “stop-work” order to the EPA for any regulation of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulfur hexafluoride, hydrofluorocarbons, or perfluorocarbons from stationary sources for any reason, including their impacts on ozone, climate change, or any other public health threat. The broad impacts of this amendment, therefore, include blocking work underway to address dangerous carbon dioxide pollution; a de facto construction ban on power plants and factories; interference with the

Renewable Fuel Standard; preventing EPA from implementing a three-year study of biomass greenhouse gas emissions; interference with the EPA’s acid rain program; preventing enforcement of rules covering emissions of HFCs and perfluorocarbons from refrigeration and other equipment.

This stop-work order would accomplish nothing other than to ensure that more dangerous pollution is dumped into the air and that U.S. companies fall behind in the global competition for clean energy markets.

The rest of the list is just as disgusting. Everything from defunding NOAA to gutting funding for important studies and our involvement in the IPCC. Many of these measures will not only create conditions of unparalleled environmental destruction, but cost thousands of jobs, and directly (and indirectly) impact the health of tens of thousands (or more), and the potential to contaminate the drinking water of hundreds of millions.

 

This is all being done in the name of controlling the deficit. But I doubt that the motivation behind such actions is really just fiscal responsibility. For whatever reason, it has become the party line of the Republicans that any government proposals that are aimed at benefiting the environment are somehow inherently evil. While I don’t doubt that this meme was started in the interests of businesses not wanting to spend a few extra bucks complying with environmental standards that protect the air we breathe and the water we drink, I believe this new round of cuts is born out of something else entirely. It’s almost as if the new partly line is simply “fuck the liberals, let’s pass reactionary legislation that will drum up hysteria and unite our base”. They’re even bringing back styrofoam into the congressional lunchroom. Yeah, styrofoam, that substance that has been banned in several cities and is toxic throughout its entire millennial life span. Oh, and there is that state rep in Montana that is introducing legislation that would declare global warming beneficial to the welfare and and business climate of his state. The Republicans are basically taking their ideological positions to the extreme, in an effort to gut government of any type of power to protect its citizens from the dangers that industry can impose upon us.

Unfortunately, Republicans are living in the delusion of “now”. All of their proposed cuts to environmental spending are looking at the short-term deficit impact. None of these cuts address the long-term economic impact (hint: it isn’t good) nor do they address the long-term health-effects, or the long-term environmental impacts (which will impact the other two). Republicans love talking about how we can’t pass the deficit bill on to our children and grandchildren, but when we craft policies that demonstrate a total disregard for the environment, we leave them with a much steeper bill to pay.

Some like to claim that the green/lib crowd is trying to scare people with doomsday-type scenarios about climate change and other environmental issues. But the facts remain:

We are running out of fresh water

We are affecting global climate change, and the Earth is getting hotter

We are running out of arable land

We are dumping hazardous chemicals into the land, air and water that are screwing with our health and depleting the amazing amount of biodiversity found on this wonderful planet of ours.

These facts should be of grave concern to everyone, regardless of political persuasion. But they aren’t. Because in the culture of capitalism we currently find ourselves in, there are those that value the future balance sheets of our children’s bank accounts more than we do their health and livelihoods.

That’s all for now. Cheers.

And more snow related suffering…….

Yes, I’m white. But that doesn’t mean that I want my news and information white-washed for me. Native Americans have suffered more than any other racial/ethnic group in the history of this continent, and they continue to be marginalized. I’m not one of those people who gets pissed off because there’s an NHL team in Chicago called “The Blackhawks”. But was does irk me is how my ancestor’s entire history, culture, and contribution to the world we live in today has been white-washed and almost completely ignored.

“In some areas homes have been without power since last November, facing record snowfalls and the collapsing infrastructure of America’s Midwestern water and power lines and disaster response systems.

“Power outages began with a storm in December knocking down around 5,000 power poles, and has been accelerated by an ice storm Jan. 22 knocking down another 3,000 power lines on the reservation.

“Frustration at the insufficient response of the Red Cross and governor’s office is mounting,” she added. “All of this while people sit without power, water and face food shortage.”

There is more snow-related devastation to report on, this time right here in the mid-west. Yet almost no one has heard about it. I can see why there was so little press about the dzud in Mongolia, but this is happening right here in our own backyard. I don’t want to pull the race card, but being a card-carrying member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, I fell like I have to call a spade a spade.

The news here in America is tiered according to race. When white children disappear, it makes the cover of Newsweek. When black children die in inner-cities, it barely makes the 6 o’clock news. And when thousands of Native Americans are left without power (heat), food and water, no one speaks at all. Scott Peterson got how much news coverage? How many unsolved murders were there that year?

Yes, I’m white. But that doesn’t mean that I want my news and information white-washed for me. Native Americans have suffered more than any other racial/ethnic group in the history of this continent, and they continue to be marginalized. I’m not one of those people who gets pissed off because there’s an NHL team in Chicago called “The Blackhawks”. But was does irk me is how my ancestor’s entire history, culture, and contribution to the world we live in today has been white-washed and almost completely written out of the history books. I’m also not one of those people who is going to get pissed off because you supported people in Haiti when they were in need. Compassion is compassion, and turning charity into a polarizing, fodder-for-more-partisianship mechanism is reckless and misguided. I’m all for helping out our fellow humans when we are in need, regarless of geography. But I will ask that you at least acknowledge the need right here in our own backyard.

Our culture is dying, our languages are fading away, our history has been all but lost to the great textbook publishers in Texas. Please don’t let our people suffer the same fate. You can donate to the local Red Cross here.

Cheers.