Sunday, May 31, 2009

For Ruth: Truly Overdone Raised Beds

Over on "Live in It Then! Five Cents, Please," our good friend Ruth just posted a nifty trio of posts chronicling her and Larry's construction of a raised garden bed. Sturdily constructed of concrete blocks, and located very conveniently to their back stoop, it should serve them well with a minimum of fuss. Except for its somewhat disturbing sedan abuse, it appears to be a very sensible raised bed.

Sensible. Unlike the Ft. Harrington raised beds, which were constructed in June of 2000 with overkill, over-build, over-complexity, and general over-the-toppishness. The hyperthyroid Ft. Harrington raised beds are even visible on Google Earth, if you know where to look.

But they were fun to build, and they are actually still there, in excellent shape, ready to pop out veggies on a season's notice.

Staking out the plan.
We had lived in what would become "Ft. Harrington" for only one full calendar year when we decided that a garden would be wonderful, now that we had the space for it. We cleared the space you see above, which had been just a weedy, overgrown mess under previous owners. (It is also the leach field for our septic system.) We planted the tiny apple sapling at right, and staked out the locations for four 4x8 raised beds.

The first box.
The material for the raised bed boxes is local redwood, which -- even untreated, as it has to be for this application -- is rot resistant. The corners are 4x4 pieces; the sides are rough planks. I had envisioned all four boxes as three planks high, but this first box convinced me that the others could be just two planks high.

Short-box mass production -- Kelsey T. Dog, supervisor.
Note the spiffy new fence at left. That is part of the new periphery fencing that Doug built (with Adam's and my help -- Doug, after all, was the carpenter, so we were the grunts). The fence was built during our first summer here, 1999, in order to allow us to get a dog. We wound up with Kelsey instead. (Just joking, big guy!) Note how skinny he is here; he was only a year and a half old at the time.

New boxes at the ready.
The planks are attached to the legs with high-calibre lag bolts, not wimpy nails or even screws, and the legs extend six inches below the bottom of the boards to be sunk into the ground for stability. These are the DC-3's of raised beds. They will last longer than our house. After Armageddon, cockroaches will use them for mansions.

New boxes entrenched to ground level.

Moles, voles, or terrians can't claw up through this sturdy steel wire mesh at the bottom of each box. Well, terrians, maybe could, but they're not real. Or even highly-rated.

Compost-enhanced soil, shortly after its delivery. A human would be smelling the roses.

Lining the boxes.
The boxes are lined with heavy-duty black plastic sheeting for two reasons: 1) to eliminate water loss through the sides, and 2) to further retard any rot in the planks. Almost ten years after the boxes were built, there is no sign of any rot anywhere on any of them.

Ready for the dirt.

Full up.

This view was taken in spring, 2004, in the fifth year of the boxes' operation. Three minor alterations can be seen: posts for jute webbing for a tomato cage on the tall box, a wire trellis for vines on the far box, and wide planks along the long edges of all of the boxes. The last serve as benches for comfortable, lazy gardening.

Corn, peas, and beans, 2004 -- and notice how big the apple tree has become (trunk at left).

Pumpkin, tomato, and crooked-neck squash plants, 2004.

Garden supervisor.
This is JT, a neighbor's cat, and the self-appointed mayor of the settlement we call "Creepy Hollow" that surrounds Ft. Harrington. He approves of the raised beds, overbuilt as they may be.

Coming Soon: A Satchel of Ordinary Treasure

Yet Another Dog Picture
Left to right: Jim Harrington, Bonzo, Lynn Harrington
circa 1935

My long-promised new adjunct blog is about ready to roll out for public display. It will feature short excerpts from reminiscences of the first half of the 20th Century, primarily but not exclusively from my Dad, Lynn Harrington (1915 - 1999), and will concentrate on what life was like for a working-class family in the Syracuse area of Upstate New York during that time of rapid change in the routines of daily life.

I plan to have most of the posts for the next year be a serialization of Dad's Remembrances of a Childhood.

For "A Satchel of Ordinary Treasure" (1 of 3)
(Please click on the images to be taken to legible versions.)

After he retired (and even for about 15 years before), Dad wrote voluminously about his memories, and one little piece of his work has appeared in this blog, wonderfully illustrated by Brian Fies. Like that piece, the episodes in his Remembrances of a Childhood don't dwell as much on family events or extraordinary occurrences as they do on what ordinary daily life was like and his own recollections of its affect on him. This ordinariness -- and its differences from what is considered ordinary today -- makes it more likely to be of interest to people outside the family, but my main goal in "Satchel" will be to digitize Dad's work and thus preserve it for family in the future.

For "A Satchel of Ordinary Treasure" (2 of 3)
Please click to view larger.

Some of you know that I've been doing a similar thing with his photography: digitizing many of his slides and backing them up (with some commentary) on Flickr. Those slides are from a later time than the stories in "Satchel" will be. Slides can only be taken with a camera, and a camera would have been an unimaginable luxury in the time period from 1918 to 1930 for the working-class Harrington family. I'll try to come up with the occasional illustration -- especially when Dad describes some device or process that is unfamiliar to us now -- but "Satchel" will probably be significantly less graphics-heavy than what I've become accustomed to producing lately. Graphics may be in short supply, but images won't be: Dad was very good at using words as pixels to produce clear pictures in the mind's eye.

For "A Satchel of Ordinary Treasure" (3 of 3)

The title of the new blog comes from an episode early in Remembrances, and I'm not going to explain it on "Satchel" itself -- I'll leave it as an in-joke for my loyal readers over here:

The transition from horse power to internal combustion engines in the work of transportation, earth moving, and construction did not occur overnight. In my early childhood, up to about 1922 or 1923, horses and wagons made up a considerable share of the traffic on city streets.

We lived a little more nearly in the state of nature then than we do now. When a horse felt a call of nature, he stopped and answered it, no matter where he might be. It was a common occurrence in the city, and we took it quite for granted. We noticed, but thought nothing in particular about, the performance of a little man who walked past our house on his way to and from the street car line which carried him to and from work each day. He carried a brown leather satchel as he walked during the spring and summer months. On his homeward way in the evening, he commonly went out into the street in two or three places, opened his satchel, took out a small scoop, transferred some horse manure from street to satchel, replaced the scoop, closed the satchel, and continued on his homeward way. When I asked Mama why he did that, she said he probably had a nice garden, and used the manure to fertilize it.

"Satchel" will be online sometime on the weekend of June 6th and 7th. A link will be posted here when it's ready.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Three Thousand Words

Last Saturday (May 16th, 2009), Adam and Lynda took Adam's nieces, Grace and Kiana, to a little beach on the east side of San Francisco Bay. Adam captured some arresting images on that outing, including these three:

To Grace's left is the skyline of San Francisco. Directly beyond her is the Golden Gate Bridge. Slightly to her right are the hills of Marin County. She is looking directly toward the place on the Bay where her father's ashes were scattered two years ago.

Kiana tries to give her passenger ladybug the benefit of the doubt.

We can all fly, you know? We just have to try. And we just have to believe.

(All photos by Adam Harrington, who, I hope, will post them to his Flickr account without too much nagging by his father, who really wants to reference them from his own Flickr account. But I'm not pressuring him, no, of course not.)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

100 Days On

Oolie, graphic effects by Photoshop.

Thursday marked 100 days since this remarkable cat wandered away into a place where I can't communicate with him. What's remarkable about that is that I noticed the occasion. I've lived with more than a dozen mammals who have pre-deceased me, and the only ones whose anniversaries of departure stick with me like this are of the two-footed variety.

Except for Oolie, the Black Freighter, evidently.

And his absence continues to have odd repercussions among the remaining cats, well beyond what we'd expect. Oolie was, unquestionably, the top cat, the ace, the big deal, the boss. Never mind that it had been years since he was physically capable of beating up anybody... his aura and attitude was all that he needed to intimidate. When he vanished, three of our five remaining cats were in a pickle: who's the boss? They still haven't figured that out! The clear favorite is big Alnitak, the tall Maine Coon with a sometimes nasty attitude -- but the other two ace-programmed males, Finn and Al's nephew, Cooper, don't seem to be willing to let that happen by fiat. There isn't constant bickering, but there isn't the common deference that there was toward Oolie.

And his absence continues to have unsettling repercussions among the remaining two-footed critters around here, too. We see him all the time, striding around the periphery of our vision.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Defiance Redux

Doug's old band, Defiance, is at it again. They are in the finishing stages of production of their first new album in years, and you can get a tiny taste of it below, in a video taken in studio by the lead guitarist's, Jim Adams's, wife, Siobahn.

Jim was always, and continues to be, just damn good.

Here's Jim, laying down some lead tracks. This ain't no flying-V ukelele player, folks.