Friday, March 14, 2008

Buckets of Fun, or How the Pyramids Were Built

Welcome to Bucketville, home of the unsightly and stalwart evergrowing bucket brigade of repurposed containers!

J has been on site at a hotel that's under renovation and has been given a bunch of used 5 gallon buckets...yay! He's been schlepping home as many as they're throwing away (with permission, of course) They require soaking and cleaning, and we're using them as pots for the burgeoning plant experiments. We're on a crash course learning curve with the Bucket Garden, as we're starting to collect tree starts for our eventual orchard, as well as berry patch canes.

I went out to help J plant out some of the plants that had been collecting, and found that the many he had potted throughout the past weeks were...well...extremely heavy to lift. (More on that later.)

He's invested a lot of effort into cleaning up the buckets, drilling drainage holes in the bottoms, and mixing different soils as a gardening mix. He's been buzzing around out there in Bucketville (the backyard) in all his spare time, getting sweaty and communing with what he envisions as our plant investments. This is the first time I've seen him this excited about growing things...he's all aboard the enthusiam wagon to gather and nurture some plants that need to be better established by the time we're finally on some land, so that we won't have to wait as many years to see them bear fruit and so on. It seems a lot of plants and trees will do well for a long time in pots down here in our Zone 9/10, so the backyard has become .... um... bucketed.

See what I mean?

This, folks, is how to add resale value to your landscape...immediately. Just make big collections of are buckets in their "before" state. They are sitting exactly as you see them here, right in our backyard.

And here are more buckets, which, too are presently sitting in our backyard...this is the "being cleaned out" stage.

And here is the "Buckets of citrus plants" shot. These, in addition to the two groups of buckets already shown. Limes and lemons. I love to go talk to them...I encourage them to grow quickly. I've heard plants respond to being talked to, but I'm not sure how these are liking the part of the conversation that goes "so I can EAT you"...

Anyway, here are the baby lime and lemon trees after having been rescued...more details to come...

And here below are, of course, MORE buckets...this, our berry patch and miscellaneous survivor herbs collection. They have not yet been rescued. That is why you can't actually SEE them, because they're embedded in mortar, er, "a custom-mixed soil" with only half-full pots. Explanation in a moment...
Here is further bucket bounty, the non-citrus and other plants, kind of a motley crew.

Here is a close-up of the newly arrived Western Soapberry tree starts we received just yesterday...yay! (that's another post for later) They don't look like much right now, but since they are a native tree to most of the U.S. and since they tolerate a lot of differing conditions, we think they just might thrive (read "survive our amateur phase of gardening")

Note how they are planted in warm, fluffy soil that's well-drained. Imagine that we know what we're doing and that this soil contains the whole array of special nutrients and love in the exact combination needed to persuade these frail little twigs to burst forth and thrive...

They are evidence that we can correct some of our own mistakes, before it's too late....most of the time.

With the exception of the berries plants, ALL of these pots have been re-potted. With a smallish hand-held trowel.

You see, when I tried to LIFT one of these buckets (before the re-potting), being the observant sort of plant owner I am (cough cough), the fact that I nearly slipped a disc and experienced the surprise of each pot weighing approximately 79 1/2 lbs each clued me in that perhaps, just maybe, we had a little soil dilemma going on somewhere down there in the depths of each.

My sweet, witty, optimistic, and intelligent husband had a vision. And he always has a wonderful way of pairing vision with hard work. He believed he could take the best of what we had on hand around us, namely the rich soil from a low area and the sand from another area nearby, and utilize them as amendments to the soil used to pot many of our smaller plants. He's already composting our leftovers in shallow trenches, hopefully enriched some compacted ground and creating decomposed amendments for use in later months.

It's been a lot of work, especially as he had spent long hours shoveling the drainage area behind our house, where water has drained for years without pesticide runoff (our surrouding area's relatively wild still and we use no chemicals) He thoughtfully shoveled the rich muck into the bottom of each bucket, with the hopes the natural minerals and accumulated nutrients would be a power-packed natural boost. Then he added, from our side lot, a shovel of clayey sand (if there is such a thing) to each on top of that, the idea being that it is our native soil and that it would help with draining. THEN, he added a few handfuls of organic potting mix, the top layer. His reasoning was that the combination would approximate the layered "Lasagna" gardening concept, giving our little seedlings a nutritious environment in which to thrive.

Things don't always go as planned.

The first sign of trouble was when he told me the planters were draining off too much without anything added to the potting soil. Ergo the other soil additions, to help with some heft and some texture and more nutrients. It was logical to us both.

I've had a hectic work schedule, and I thought "hmmm, I've never had that problem before." We checked the sized of the drilled drainage holes and they were fine, not too large, not too small.


After J's hard work potting everything with the layers of soils, we noticed standing water in the pots. Not a good sign, when it was standing after an entire day.

We didn't want the roots to start rotting. None of these plants are water plants, and all need adequate drainage.

To save potting soil, J had potted all the plants only to their containers' halfway marks. Which was probably fine, but I really wanted all the planters to be brimming with fluffy soil up nearly to the top. Sort of like the difference between folks who sleep with just a sheet, and those who need two pillows and a huge comforter to wad up around them. I'm a two pillows gal :)

When we had an afternoon together, we bought more potting soil, and decided it was time to top off the shallow plantings. I wanted to organize the potted buckets and straighten things up a little. I was surprised at the unusual weight of the pots, and the difficulty I was having while trying to move them around. It literally felt as if they were each full of concrete!

"Um, again, what exactly did you put in these??" I asked J.

"You know, some of that rich soil from the ditch and some other things..."

"What other things?"

"Sand, potting mix, good stuff, you know...I layered them the Lasagna way it mentioned in some of those great articles we read" It was what we had discussed, and he had done the elbow work.

"These don't seem to be draining very well. Did you mix them all up really well?"

"You're supposed to put them in layers. Like Lasagna, remember? We have a lot of things to pot. I don't want to waste all the potting soil."

"I'm not sure you put the right layer combination down. And if you say Lasagna again, you're going to have to take me out to eat Italian...haha..."

(Smile and shrug from J, who is now digging holes for compost to be deposited)

(Me again)"Well, if the plants don't survive and we lose them entirely, we've wasted the money we paid for them and that's kind of beside the point of why we're trying to get them to grow, right? They have a lot off water that doesn't seem to be going anywhere. Plus, I like the pots to be full instead of halfway..."

At this point, I decided to tip one pot over and investigate the contents. It thudded like a concrete statue. It was so heavy I had to sit on a milk crate and brace it as I tipped it...I simply couldnt budge it to lift it, so I heaved it over on its side and started trying to loosen the contents. Water ran off the root clump of the plant I'd dislodged as I carefully held it up. I placed the survivor aside to await improved potting conditions.

"I don't think this is a good sign, honey" J came over to see what was happening.

The top layer of potting soil came out fine, so I piled it in the wheelbarrow. Then my trowel hit bedrock.

"What on earth...??"

It was wet sand alright, but not nice draining sand. It sat there as compacted as a brick, in a wet hard clump, that I dislodged next. It was heavy. It was clinging to the layer below it, through which peeked CLUMPS of ditch weeds.

"J, when you put this stuff in here, you didnt take the weeds out??"

"Plant matter, sweetie!" There were indeed reedy stalks, which should have added some aeration to the planter underworld. J was still in a very good mood. It's hard to be frustrated with the man you love as he digs compost holes and watches all his hard work being dumped like a huge mud pie container by container, all in good humor.

When he realized this wasn't going to end anytime soon, since I was troweling out the pot innards with the enthusiasm of an archaeologist at the cusp of a great discovery, he returned to observing from a safe distance, where he was attending to our compost holes. We don't have a compost pile...we just have the above-mentioned trenches he digs where it goes to die. We did that last year, and it seemed to work pretty well for now, since our weather is warm or hot nearly year-round. Dig the hole, bury the scraps, cover it up and hope it rots...I think that's our survival composting effort at this point. It bothers us now to throw things away in the trash, when it could be good food for worms and microbes, mice and desperate raccoons. J was very attentive to the compost hole as I excavated the impacted pot contents...

Below the sand layer lurked the uglier culprit. Only with a lot of strong-arming and elbow grease did the bottom layer allow itself to be dislodged, with a slow, reluctant sucking sound, and a wet THWOP as each clump landed on the ground. Each was the exact dimension of the shovel that had originally dug it (and had not chopped it up), intact with reeds and roots, a perfect cross-section slice of sodden ditch dirt. In its humbled and confined state, there is no way this stuff qualified as was dirt, pure and simple. If you get duped and get sold a piece of proverbial "swampland in Florida," it's THIS you've just acquired.

As I sat there amidst the growing glops of sand, weeds, clay, and potting soil, I felt sorry for my husband's wasted labors. And I remembered the story of the Hebrews serving as slaves during a certain period of Egyptian history, and their being made to add plant material to clay and sand...and make BRICKS to build great cities and pyramids...


My enthusiastic, wonderful, good natured Hebrew husband had been unknowingly mortaring our plants into immortal monuments for posterity. He had just about cemented them into a hastened afterlife.

He was just so excited about getting them all planted, how could I complain? We both learned from this. We commisserated...conferred...dug...emptied all the newly purchase soil and compost...and re-potted. And repotted and repotted and repotted. We still have some to go yet...

All the discarded Glop got to know where...the compost holes. That area of our backyard looks like we have a new groundhog colony springing up.

When we're finally in the country somewhere, someday, it won't matter what sort of an aesthetic "statement" our collection of odds and ends buckets makes, though I like things to be neat and not trashy. These trees will get planted into the ground then, and more baby plants will be bucketed till they're healthy enough to get off to a good start.

Until then, I'm not sure my neighbors are appreciative of our backyard collection. Hmmm...

Just think...

If I'd not interfered and had left my husband un-impeded to fulfill his cheerful dirt-sand-and-weed digging efforts, I might one day have looked out the back window to see this...

Which the neighbors probably would have admired...


I hope everyone has a wonderful night tonight and day tomorrow, full of rest and rejuvenation!

I leave further blog entries to be procrastinated for another day, to stop all projects and go "dig" our weekly time off from work.....shabbat shalom!


Mrs. K's Lemonade Stand said...

Citrus plants! I am so envious! (grins) Buckets increasing property value? I kind of like that concept! :)

Robbyn said...

Welcome back, Mrs K! (your title always makes me crave lemonade)

Yes, I'm sure P. Allen Smith (is that his name?) or Martha are not likely to go for the recycled 5 gallon paint bucket look, but it's doing the trick right now till the day when we can get these plants into their own home in the ground :)