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my first raised vegetable garden: the materials

I spent most of my life in Ohio, so moving to the Pacific Northwest was a shock for this laissez-faire gardener, who used to just throw tomato seeds on the ground, then sit back and harvest all summer long, thanks to the hot weather and frequent storms. Our first summer in Seattle, I got a reality check: it was in the 60s most of the time, so my tomato plants just kind of did…nothing. Silly me. The disappointment put me off vegetable gardening for five years, with last summer moot as I wasn’t living here at all.

This year, I decided to finally learn to vegetable garden in Seattle. I knew this would take a lot of planning, and it seemed that raised beds were the key. Not only are they better in a cooler climate because the soil warms up faster above ground, they are easier to weed and, in my case, easier to keep out of range of two big, nosy dogs.

Cement Block It Is

After doing some reseplace, I realized that I didn’t have to go all spendy on (admittedly nice looking) wooden raised beds. Instead, I could simply use concrete blocks to put a bed together. I’ve been using this SHTF blog tutorial on building a concrete block raised bed as my guide. I love the idea of cement block because they’re heavy (so there’s not as much digging required, as “Ranger Man” at SHTF points out), they’re inexpensive, and you can even plant inside the holes in the bricks. We’re putting our beds in a section of yard that’s oddly shaped and not visible from our house, so it didn’t matter to me that the cement block wasn’t quite as pretty.

How Much Will Blocks Cost?

After measuring the space where our beds will go, I calculated what I might spend, figuring that prices at the Home Depot site were probably a good standard to follow. The typical 16″x8″x8″ blocks cost $1.32 each at Home Depot. If each bed was three blocks high, three blocks wide, and seven blocks long (exactly the same as the SHTF post, basically), for a total of 60 blocks, I would be spending about $80 a bed. That was more expensive than I had hoped, so I went to plan B:

Craigslist

I posted that I was looking for concrete blocks, and got two responses in less than a week: one from a man dismantling his old retaining wall (those are his aged blocks above) and one from a woman whose blocks were just a few years old — and all for free!

Scaling Back

I ended up with 60 blocks total, and we decided to try to break these into two smaller beds rather than keep trying to find more blocks for two bigger beds. Partially this is because I don’t want to burn myself out by taking on too much garden since it’s still a learning experience for me. Partially this is because, well, remember how I like the idea of concrete blocks because they’re heavy? Yeah, they’re heavy! Which means, they take some effort to transport. Our van just could not handle more than 30 blocks at a time — we really didn’t want to see how low we could make it sink onto the tires and still move forward. So we decided to call off the block seplace for now until we get what we have in some semblance of order. More to come!

From our partners

adventures in beekeeping, 2.0: here come the bees again…

It’s been a long time since we’ve had a bee hive. Four years, to be exact. Longtime Shelterrific fans will recall the sad chronicles of our ill-fated colony. Our lazy bees had plenty of food, but clustered too far away to retrieve it during the long, cold winter of 2008. I remember the day Chad went to pick up the box of them at the post office, with our then four month old daughter in the back seat of our hatchback Fit. Our bees may not have lasted one year, but our appreciation of them and our love of honey has only grown (along with our daughter and the size of our car!). We’ve decided to give it a try again this April, and have ordered a new hive and the necessary gear from Betterbee. One addition to our list — a kid’s size beekeepers suit from Brushy Mountain Bee Farm, so Isadora can get up-close-and-personal with the bees. Other than that, our plan for installation this year is to provide them with pre-made hive frames. Last time we let them free-form it, and I think it was just too much work.

One thing on our to-do list before the bees arrive is to watch the critically-acclaimed documentary, More Than Honey. In it, filmmaker Markus Imhoof journeys around the world to meet the global community of beekeepers. As the above still shows, it not only provides new looks at our favorite insects but reminds us how dependent we are on them to maintain much of our food sources.

Stay tuned for more updates we prepare for our bees arrival!

From our partners

seattle to chicago to seattle: finding a home for good

Last summer, I asked for advice on switching a living room with a dining room in a house I was renting in Chicago. I got some great responses, and I hope the people who now live in that house have taken that advice to heart, because just a few months after that post, my husband and I did something that shocked us (and quite a few of our friends, family members, and coworkers) but also made complete sense: I left my job, we packed everything up, and for the second time in six months, we moved cross-country. This time, we reversed the trip, moving back into the Seattle home we’d been unable to sell, and in the process finding home for good. It was a long, painful, and quite expensive (sigh) lesson. And here’s what we learned:

1) Listen to your gut. After we moved to Seattle from Ohio in late 2006, my husband and I had our issues with not being near family and longtime friends, not to mention the fact that it literally rained every single day the first month we were in town. But thanks to easy access to both fresh and salt water, mountains, and incredible forests (even within city limits), we said over and over, “I feel like we were meant to live here.” That’s something I should have carefully considered before I took a job in the Midwest again.

2) Don’t be afraid to change course. We are very, very lucky, and I know this. When we decided to leave Chicago, not only were my bosses incredibly understanding (One told me, “You have to be where it feeds your soul”), my husband was able to get his old job back in Seattle. But it was still a leap of faith. I didn’t have a job anymore (my department had been phased out in Seattle while I was away). We risked being viewed as incredible flakes for leaving in six months. But we ultimately decided that our mental health was worth whatever uncertainties we might face.

3) Know your costs of living — really, really know them. My move to Chicago came with a promotion, but even so, we ended up spending far more money than we were bringing in. It turned out to be very difficult to find a place to rent that would take two large dogs and include a yard, so we ended up spending $800 more a month than originally planned. Our Seattle house wasn’t feasible to rent out (we did our reseplace) but it also wasn’t selling. Of course, that eventually turned out to be a good thing, but it meant we spent six months paying both hefty rent and a hefty mortgage. On top of it all, my husband works in a very specialized field, so months of job seplaceing turned up nothing. It added up to a financial and emotional drain for which we hadn’t adequately prepared.

4) Distance is relative. We love and miss our families dearly (the bulk of whom live within about six hours of Chicago). However, it turned out that distance was, in fact, very relative. Weekends home ended up being exhausting, hours-long slogs across Indiana. We were living just far enough away that we were unable to convince anyone to make the drive to visit us — that may have happened eventually, but the point is, we were living closer to family, but we still weren’t really living near family.

5) Be realistic about what you want out of life. The Pacific Northwest isn’t for everyone. Summers are brilliantly sunny, but the gray season can last from November through May. But for us, proximity to incredible spots for hiking, whale-watching, and camping tips the balance, and we really can’t imagine being happier living anywhere else.

Chicago is a fantastic city — the downtown is just stunningly gorgeous. There is an endless supply of clubs, restaurants, incredible stores. A vibrant lakefront teems with people on summer weekends. All of which I adored during the many weekends I spent in Chicago in my 20s. These days, though, my husband and I like nothing better than to call it a night at 9 p.m., and we much prefer a solitary walk along a rocky shore on Vashon Island than living it up with a crowd covered in sunscreen. All of which to say: I am not knocking the city of Chicago; lots of folks just absolutely love it. But the truth was, we’d already found what was for us the perfect home. Seattle. It just took us two cross-country moves in six months to figure that out.

 

From our partners

would you try it? recycled denim insulation

We’ve been thinking about upping the insulation in our nearly 100-year old house. It’s not as drafty as you imagine, but in recent days if you mistakenly touch one of front bedroom walls, or step barefoot too close to the edge of the floor, you’re in for a shock. Burrrr. That baby is cold.

We hear a lot about spray foam insulation, and indeed have used it in our attic, but what about this? Recycled denim insulation! We heard about it via Uncrate and it has us investigating. Our green-focused neighbors recently had an energy audit done on their house. Would you get extra points for using recycled denim in your walls? Supposedly it features a natural fire retardant that also helps prevent mold and mildew. Called UltraTouch, it claims to be easy to use and install — no dangerous fibers here! It almost sounds sexy. I wonder if we could donate the skinny the jeans that no longer fit? For more information, visit Bonded Logic, and tell us: Would use recycled denim insulation in your house?

From our partners

ready for take off: mod new air enhancers

Here at Shelterrific, we’re always on the lookout for beautiful design solutions to traditionally ugly things, like humidifiers or water filters. When we spotted this futuristic air purifier at Designer Pages, we immediately fell in love. Made by AirMineral, this ingenious little device is called The Island, and it distributes a “a natural marine bio spray.” No, that’s not a fishy smell that gets squirted into your home, but rather a “mineral serum” that contains micro particles that help your body retain moisture and fight off toxins, reinforcing your whole immune system. We haven’t tested it so we can say whether that’s true or not, but anything looks this good and helps you breath smarter, cleaner air can’t be a bad thing, right? So new it’s not yet for sale online, but you can read more information about it at airmineral.com

From our partners