My Stay-cation Plans

Back last fall, my husband and I decided that we were going to do some renovations inside of our house. We’ve done some small improvements over the last 9 years of living here, like painting, adding electrical to the basement, adding real doors to the master bathroom, switching out light fixtures and doing a ton of work in the yard. But we hadn’t done anything major and it was starting to show – the door leading to the side of the house was in bad shape, all the tile floors were in horrible condition and ugly and we had a non-functioning 1/2 bathroom on the main floor (it was in working order the first 4 years we lived here and then died about 5 years ago and was used as a storage closet since its death up until its recent resurrection). So we spent a few months planning and somehow managed to get my husband’s dear father to fly out from Ontario and help us rip apart the house and put it back together.  So since we spent all our money on that, we felt like maybe we should probably do the responsible thing and not go on a vacation this year. I will admit that it is a little disappointing for me – the last couple of years we’ve been doing a drive down to Washington and Oregon and spending a week in Portland where I can dream about living in a city where people grow vegetables in the hell strip and keep chickens in their front yards. Sigh, oh well. So instead I decided to take 3 weeks off of my job and get some stuff done around the house.

The first few days were spent doing boring adult things, such as cleaning the house, doing laundry and taking my car in for servicing. How exciting. Then we took 4 days to drive through Saskatchewan into Manitoba for a family reunion for my husband’s step family. On our way to Manitoba, we made a detour in Shaunavon, Saskatchewan to eat at a friend’s restaurant called Harvest. The meal was amazing and afterwards we got a night time tour of the Historic Shaunavon Hotel – which we were told may or may not be haunted (unfortunately we did not experience any paranormal activity ourselves). The most exciting part of the tour was just hearing some of the history of the hotel – there was a bootlegging operation there at one time! The rest of the weekend was good as well – we got to experience some real Ukrainian tradition, mostly through food, got lots of family visiting in and had some really nice weather (people kept apologizing for the “crappy” weather (typical Canadians apologizing for things out of their control), but frankly it was nice to have some cool overcast days after the heat we’ve had in Calgary). I can’t say the drive was particularly exciting – my favorite parts were seeing the mustard and flax fields.

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Now back home, I have two weeks left of my stay-cation and lots of things to do, especially around the garden. It is a bit of a jungle out in the back yard and I need to deal with it immediately. I haven’t done any weeding for weeks and those hoses strewn all over the yard are going to seriously injure someone. I have a few obstacles that I need to address though:

#1. It is so hot outside that I don’t have any desire to step foot in the yard past 11am.
#2. We have some temporary but horrible neighbors living next door who have decided that instead of taking out their garbage, they would prefer to chuck it out their patio into the back yard and let the magpies have a garbage feast. So that is pleasant. The garbage is truly the tip of the iceberg but the good news is that they will be gone at the end of August so I really only need to deal with their horrible-ness for another month.
#3. I’m leaving my husband for a few days during the long weekend to escape to my sister’s place near Edmonton where we will build bird houses, enjoy the air conditioner in her house and visit Devonian Gardens (yay, finally!).

Putting all of that negativity aside, I have some real ambitions for the next couple of weeks:

– Head out to the Saskatoon Farm for berry picking. The one thing a year that I love the most and my husband hates the most (besides Christmas).
– Finish staining the fence. This has apparently turned into a four year project.
– Drastically trim back the lilac bush in the front. This lilac is a monster that we severely cut back annually but it just grows back the next year even bigger. It currently tries to murder you as you walk up the front steps and likes to annoy pizza delivery people by hiding our house number.
– Paint the wheelbarrow. The poor rusty wheelbarrow.
– Purchase, stain and install privacy lattice to attach to the fence. Back to the awful neighbors that I would like to pretend do not exist. Of course, I’ll still be able to hear them, but the less I see them, the better. I’d also like to plant some alpine clematis to grow up this lattice to provide even more privacy.
– Finishing laying cardboard and cedar mulch on the front beds.
– Top up the cedar mulch in the back garden (obviously I’m getting a huge truckload of cedar mulch delivered)
– Clean & organize the shed. You currently can’t see the floor.
– Clean & organize the bottom of the greenhouse and possibly plant a few things in there for the fall garden.
– Squirrel proof my bird feeder pole and install the bird feeders. The pole is up, but no feeders yet.
– Install a few decor items (I have a rain chain that I got for Christmas last year and some other things waiting to go up).
– Paint the front door.
– Plant two new trees in the back yard. I’m thinking another dwarf sour cherry and a columnar crab apple. This one is dependent on my wallet.
– Repair the rain barrel. It decided to crack during one of the huge rain storms in June and I haven’t bother to fix it yet.
– Work on finishing up some final touches on the indoor renovations I mentioned earlier. We have some painting to do, installing the light fixture, mirror and hardware, and putting up the baseboards and other moldings – you know, easy stuff (not).

Of course in my imaginary world I get all of these things done and more. But reality is usually a different story – what with the Netflix and the afternoon naps and all. Since I love to make to-do lists and pretend that we have all the time and money in the world, here are some of the “more” things I imagine I would get done:

– Build a “catio”. I really hate the term catio. Thank you, Jackson Galaxy. Anyway, we live on a busy street and therefore I keep my cats locked in the house at all times and they secretly (or not so secretly) resent me for it. So I’d love to build a little fenced in area where they can hang out in. Ideally, it would be attached to the basement window so they can go in and out as they please.
– Rip out the remainder of the sod in the front yard and install some more raised beds for vegetable growing. Yes, I want to be one of those weirdos growing kale and squash in my front yard.
– Build a new front porch and front walkway.
– Build a privacy pergola in the back yard on the deck.
– Put together a little sitting area at the side/front of the house – a little gazebo or something would be amazing.
– Build a raised bed cold frame (I have a spare polycarbonate sheet left over from building the greenhouse that I kept for this specific reason).
– Build and install a window box planter for my kitchen window.

Everything on my “more” list are actually things we will probably eventually do – but we’re talking 5 year plan here. Do you ever take a stay-cation to get things done around the house? What kind of big or small projects are on your radar for this summer? Wish me luck on my crazy list of things I think I’ll be able to accomplish – I’ll be preparing a full progress report, or at least snapping some photos as little things get finished and posting them on my instagram account.

Sod Mountain

The time finally came to deal with Sod Mountain. This was the dumping ground for the grass we removed from the back yard last year. A few years ago, right before we built our shed, we decided that we were going to clean up our alley in order to move our fence back about 6 feet and extend our yard a bit. Maybe a previous owner parked an RV in the back alley – that is really the only explanation I can find for why they required such a long parking spot back there. So why not move the fence back an extra few feet and extend the yard space. We had an old decrepit fence and a flimsy Rubbermaid shed that came with the house – the fence was removed and hauled to the city landfill and the shed was sold on Kijiji. We leveled out the back alley, moved the two compost bins, built a shed and then build a new fence. Amazing how adding an extra 6 feet of length to the yard can make it seem so much bigger! We still park our car in the alley and there is tons of room, so even when we decide to leave our home, someone with a longer truck or SUV can comfortably park in the spot without having to bulldoze the fence and shed.

IMG_3215Sod Mountain on July 1, 2014 – looking pretty terrible. There is a third composter and a raised raspberry bed back there!

Since the initial cleanup a few years ago, we have added a narrow raised bed and another compost bin (the bin was free from the city!), bringing the composter total to 3. I had planted raspberry bushes in the raised bed, but you know the saying out of sight, out of mind? Yeah. Good intentions. I’d also filled the bed with well-rotted manure from my parent’s farm which is black gold, but the downside is that it is full of weed seeds. So it is mainly just a weed garden. I cleaned this up a bit now and have intentions of throwing down some mulch to keep the weeds in check. Maybe I’ll remember to water it – although the raspberries seem to be doing really well on absolutely nothing but neglect.

 So what does one do with a surplus of removed sod? It seemed way too good to just take it to the landfill – plus it would have taken us an entire weekend to haul it away in a hatchback and we’re too cheap to rent a truck. I’m sure someone with a truck on Kijiji would have taken it away for a fee but I tried to approach the old sod as something I could use instead of something I had to get rid of. I decided that a good idea would be to build a giant raised bed, where we could throw the sod in and allow it to slowly decompose and eventually be used as garden soil when needed. Because we do still park back in the alley, we decided to put the three compost bins on top of the raised bed. I also wanted an area that I could throw more sod onto as we continue to slowly remove the grass in the front yard.

So began the task of making room for the giant raised bed. We measured things out to see what the maximum size the raised bed could be. We decided on 4’x10’. Initially, we were just going to build it about a foot high, but decided to add an extra level of 2”x6”s to give it some more height. This turned out to be a good idea because we ended up needing that extra space right away. Plus, we made sure to build the corner braces in about 4 inches from the top of the bed so that in the event that we do want to add another level and build it higher, it would be really easy to attach everything together. That was my husband’s brilliant idea.

IMG_3218After moving the composters and making room for the new raised bed

The second step was making the space to lay down the raised bed – so we temporarily moved the compost bins out of the way, including their contents (all 3 were completely full and with a lot of materials that hadn’t yet decomposed because we’ve been awful about maintaining our bins) and started shoveling some of the sod out of the way. It sounds really easy, but actually it was kind of back breaking. I really wish that I had thought of this idea like a year or so ago when we first began sod mountain because then we could have just built the bed and thrown the waste right in. Oh well. That’s why I am telling you about this so maybe you’ll learn from my mistakes – I guess not necessarily a mistake, but just not thinking ahead.

Next we constructed the raised bed and built it into place ensuring that it was leveled on the ground. There are a lot of tutorials online for building your own raised bed – we had built our first raised bed using a set of instructions I’d found online but as we built more beds, we found out what worked well for us and went along with that. We used cedar 2”x6” boards, cedar 4”x4” posts as braces and 3” cedar decking screws. I’ve read online that new cedar can actually affect your vegetable growing abilities in the first couple of years due to something that exists in cedar naturally, but I’ve actually never had a problem with this. Or at least, I haven’t noticed anything. Maybe if I had more space I could experiment with different materials and see if there is any difference. But really, in my location, the only lumber options I have are pressure treated, cedar and spruce, so I have gone with the natural rot resistant option that has served me well for the last 5 years since we started building raised beds.

Before we began filling the raised bed, I stapled some landscaping fabric into place just above the top level gap inside the raised bed (this is so that dirt will not escape the gaps) – I didn’t want to put fabric on the ground as I want worms to come up into the bed and work their little wormy magic. When the bed was in place, we started shoveling the contents of Sod Mountain inside. By this time, it had started to get really hot outside and we were pretty tired. But determined. So we finished and somewhat leveled the composters on top. I was actually impressed with how much sod we actually had – and of course it will settle a bit and I’ll have some more room to throw more sod into. After the composters were in place we threw the original contents back into the bins, watered them, and secured the lids. Now hopefully we will remember to maintain these.

IMG_3250All done! I also stained that one back section of our fence (finally).

It really doesn’t look like much, but it was a huge amount of hard labour and we’re both really pleased with the results. I will be topping the exposed bits with some cardboard and cedar mulch to try and keep weeds and grass from taking over. When I need to add more sod to the pile, I’ll just lift this up and throw in the waste. I will probably eventually start planting things in this bed as well – can you imagine a pumpkin growing in this pile? Finally, we’ll finish up the area with a fresh load of gravel for the parking spot.

IMG_3251We can finally get to the raspberry bushes!

I’m probably going way over board in my effort to beautify my alley – frankly, the alley is mainly used as a dumping ground for broken crap & dirty old mattresses, but I just think it is such a waste of space if I do nothing with it. Or maybe I’m a pioneer and others in my neighborhood will follow. The point is, if you plan on removing your lawn it is a good idea to plan ahead and decide what you should do with the removed sod. We didn’t really have a plan and we were just going to dispose of it, but I’m happy we didn’t and ended up turning it into something useful.