Theres always next year

A beginner gardener takes his setbacks in stride and dreams big for next year

Kingfield resident Alex Bauman began the gardening season with big plans for a tough project: Dig up a portion of his fully paved backyard and create a green space filled with raised beds for growing an array of vegetables. But the path to vegetation never runs smoothly, and Bauman encountered several setbacks (more than one layer of concrete covering the yard, the onerous task of removing thousands of pounds of concrete chunks) before achieving dirt. The Southwest Journal wraps up its three-part series charting Bauman’s progress with a discussion about the current state of his yard.

When last we talked you’d discovered a second layer of concrete beneath the initial layer you removed. What’s the status of your garden now?

Status is green! Well, sort of. I removed what I found of the second layer. Unfortunately it was rather broken and I have a feeling I’ll be encountering it for years to come. Anyway, the space has been filled with pulverized black dirt and actually has a row of raspberry shoots (courtesy of my grandmother)! I hope to add a few more perennials so there is less of
a monotonous color palette.

What do you hope to have completed by the first snowfall?

Mulch is crucial to overwintering perennials so the raspberries will get a thick mulch blanket, as will whatever other perennials end up in the ground — hopefully some feather reed grass and possibly some Russian sage. Also I’m doing some hardscaping: a fire pit with a sunken seating area around it lined with some of the broken concrete I took up from the yard. I want to get a flagstone path in as well, but I won’t be mortaring it and my standards of grading are low, so it shouldn’t take too long. I have two or three months before the ground freezes right?

What alterations have you had to make from your original plan and why?

Originally I was planning to do raised beds, which are recommended for vegetable gardens due to superior drainage, and which I like for aesthetic reasons. After looking at the price of topsoil, though, I decided to hold off on those this year. If the garden is wildly successful it won’t be too hard to add raised beds later — I still think it will be an aesthetic improvement.

Since you didn’t get to reap any sort of edible rewards this year will you spend the winter charting out your 2010 garden?

I already have a good idea of what to plant — kale, carrots, broccoli, tomatoes, eggplant, squash, various herbs, etc. — but that list will probably need revisions after next year, when I see how everything does.

Have you stayed on budget?

Surprisingly, I am pretty close to budget. I think I originally estimated about $1,000–$1,500 (giving myself a lot of leeway) and I’ve spent probably $1,100 right now. The plants and flagstone will probably cost $200 more, so that is pretty much the target number.

What have been the best and worst parts of this undertaking?

The best part I think was living out all my planning fantasies — for years I’ve thought about landscape design and sketched it out in my head or on paper, and now I’m finally living out the design. Something that kind of goes along with that is a lifelong passion for building sandcastles — digging in the dirt is a similar experience, and I really get a kick out of it.

The worst part, unfortunately, has been 90 percent of the work so far — pretty much everything about removing the concrete was really not fun. I recognize that good things have come out of it, and will continue to come out of it but the actual process was not fun, and not cheap.

What advice would you offer fellow DIY gardeners?

Don’t buy a house with a concrete yard! Seriously though, don’t be intimidated by DIYing. Yeah those landscaping companies can probably get a deal on supplies, but this is your garden and you are the one who will be enjoying it. The landscapers don’t know what you’ll want to sit in while drinking that mint julep.

That said, it’s probably worth it to hire someone to remove the concrete. First, do what you can to find out how deep it is and if there is any rebar or wire. If so, hire it out. Call every cousin you have and see if they know anyone with access to a bobcat. Final piece of advice: Call 811 before you dig!