Last year was my first year with a grassy yard. I also had a number of plants around the edges of the yard. Then, in September, I got a puppy. Not only did I have way less time for yard maintenance, the puppy thought the plants were “playing” with her, and jumped upon and bit every single one of them until they died.
Now, she is almost a year old and and maybe won’t kill them as much if I replanted? I’m also thinking I would like more hardy plants, if possible. Perhaps a rose bush or some other kind of shrubbery? But before I plant anything, I would love to have an area of the yard delineated for non-grass plants.
There is one long edge of my yard that’s against a fence that I think would be perfect for this. So, without much planning (besides measuring–I’m not totally inept!), I went and bought concrete edging materials, brought them home, and then attempted to dig. After a half hour of digging and a few inches to show for it (the total space is 35 feet), I called some contractors. The lowest price I was quoted was around $1,500. But I don’t want to pay that much, so now I am thinking of going back to digging.
This entry is me, setting my intention and trying to get up the courage to dig!!!
Just in case it hadn’t been obvious, my yard and yard-related chores has been a real comfort to me these last few weeks! Anyway, I had wanted to dirt put down last fall, but frost hit and we ran out of time. So the yard stayed bare and barren all winter. Yes, it was a little depressing to look at, but honestly it was better than the cement. I’ve discovered that a cement yard really upsets me. The contractor who had originally busted up the concrete had a landscaping friend, and together they were going to get a large truck full of dirt delivered. But he began being unresponsive to me, for some still unknown reason. I called around to companies large and small, but could not seem to get anything. At this point I was anticipating having to to all the shoveling myself, but still wanted it done, as the level of the dirt was way below where it should be, volume-wise.
Finally, with the threat of stores closing and the increasingly valid desire to not be around anyone, I ordered two pallets of dirt from a store a few blocks from my house. I didn’t bother thinking about how difficult it would be to do the work myself, because there was no choice. It took only two and a half adults (my two kids each account for a quarter of an adult) to spread all of the dirt in my yard in two days.
But of course spreading the dirt is not the end of the job. The contractor had recommended me to get turf, but I didn’t want turf. I know I’m in the minority, but I don’t like the look of an overly even lawn. I wanted something that looked organic and a bit chaotic. I also wanted to see the grass grow from seeds. So I bought grass and clover seeds and single-handedly spread them over the yard and then spread another layer of dirt on top. The night I planted the seeds, there was a lot of rain, which continued for days. After that, I watered it a few times. I didn’t want to buy a sprinkler, as I had been advised. I think it’s a waste of water. Grass grows in fields that are never watered, so why couldn’t it grow in the yard without a sprinkler?
Then came the days of waiting. But after about two weeks, I started to see little shoots emerging from the ground. I was so happy, I started crying. It’s starting to fill in a bit now, but looks chaotic, which I like but may upset others. Also, I’m planning to plant a few more actual plants, like some flowering vines on the back fence (the green fence in the photo above), so I would not consider it “finished.” But I am way happier now than I was with the concrete!
Last week I wrote about my trials and tribulations of getting the cement in my backyard taken away. That actually took place last fall. After the contractor finished moving away most of the broken cement, he said we would wait to do the next part until the spring.
While this was ongoing, I decided to test my existing soil. A few people warned me that it may contain heavy metals or other dangerous things, and I had to do that before I planted anything in it we would possibly eat. I didn’t have a solid plan as to what to plant yet, but I wanted to include the possibility that I would be gardening edible plants.
After several annoying and possibly hilarious attempts to test using kits I bought online, I discovered the NYC Urban Soils Institute. You mail them a soil sample, and for a reasonable fee, they test it for you and email you the results. The soil from my yard came back as lacking in biologic material but otherwise fine. I was so happy to hear it!
Through the Soils Institute helpful website, I found that the best way to amend my soil was by adding organic matter. I would add to need topsoil, because the level was so far below the cement, but the winter is not the time to do that. Since it was a mild winter, I started just adding organic material by burying my organic garbage. It sounds odd, but I was already bringing scraps once a week to be composted. This was even easier! Just dig a hole and bury them!
A few people asked about animals digging it up, but we are vegetarians, so it was only fruit and vegetable scraps. I live in Queens, so the only animals about are stray cats, who wouldn’t want my scraps, and raccoons, who can easily find tastier stuff in garbage cans. I have never had a problem! And never will, since it is now spring and I stopped doing this because things are growing in the yard. More on this next week.
Last April, I started making sustainability swaps, and I’ve both kept up with and continued to do these. So this April, one year after starting this, I decided to write about a big, drastic, and potentially even (a little) life-changing multi-month project.
This story starts more than seven years ago, when we bought a house. The house and having a washing machine inside it is great, but it also fulfilled a dream of mine of having my own outdoor space. Being in Queens, NYC, of course that backyard space is pretty small. And unfortunately, it was also 100% paved, and that cement had been put in about two or three years before we bought the house, so it looked brand new. I thought it would be stupid to bust it up when it looked that good. I tried to have plants in containers, but it never worked out that well, and I didn’t spend that much time out there, because it was bare and dull.
Last fall, only a few days after having my older son’s birthday party in the yard, we busted up the cement! And when I say “we,” I mean paid contractors. I am not operating a jackhammer! I assume everyone knows concrete=bad, but maybe I am wrong. If you want to read about how bad cement is for the environment, you can start here. And personally I couldn’t finish this article because I started crying, but maybe you’ll do better.
Anyway, it’s gone, and I’m so happy! But of course, this bare surface cannot possibly be the end product I was looking for. And it’s not, but I will save the rest of the story for next week.