Tuesday, July 29, 2008

New Garden

There was a tree in my backyard on Saturday morning. It was a silver maple tree that had been brought thousands of miles from its natural habitat to be cultivated and planted in developing neighborhoods. The reason being because it grows fast and helps sell houses on tree-less lots. So far removed from where it belongs, on a riverbank in Vermont, this tree got sick in our hostile Texas environment. Random dead limbs would fall in the yard after a rain storm, and dry rotten roots could be pulled up with ease. This tree had to come down.

Question: How many guys does it take to chop a tree down?

Answer: Five, including this sweaty guy.

With the much appreciated help of five friends, the tree fell with much sweat and cursing. We drank beer and celebrated around the stump that we had created. The stump was ground into nothing the next day with the help of a Mexican entrepreneur, and plans for a garden in this newly created sunny spot began to form...

The Stump Grinder

This is the first of the new raised beds that I will be building, much better looking than the cement blocks!

Welcome to my new garden!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

To Build a Garden: Step 2

Step 2: Raised Bed Gardening

Now that we have ruined a portion of our backyards, let's try and at least make it look somewhat decent. You can use long 2X12 boards of wood, you can go buy great looking (though expensive) quarry blocks, or (like me) you can use the concrete blocks your father-in law gave you. You want to be a good 12 inches off the ground when you are done.

Place them around your garden. The hardest part with this is getting them to be as close to level as possible (so use a level!). You will probably have to do some digging to get them to be perfect. If you use bricks I suggest placing them first, then go back and level them one at a time. This way you don't get to the end and realize everything needs to be moved an inch down to make the last brick fit (and yes, that happened to me yesterday). This takes more patience than muscle, and it helps to have a helper.

I'm a gardener, not a bricklayer!

After you get the perimeter built for your raised bed we need to fill it the rest of the way with more dirt and compost. You can go to any place that sells dirt and tell them you need something for a vegetable garden. Make sure the dirt they sell you has good drainage (it looks a little sandy). I suggest Fertile Garden Supply here in S.A. You will need a truck. Spread the dirt in your garden evenly.

Now you will need to add compost, which adds all the nutrients and micro-organisms your veggie garden needs to get started. You can put your own compost in if you have been composting, or you can go buy some to get you started. I suggest bags of composted cow manure, which can be bought at Lowe's for $1.33 for a 40 pound bag. It has already been composted and does not stink at all. You want to get plenty, because this stuff is good for everything. Pour the compost in your garden and work it into the soil lightly with a hoe or a rake. Keep adding compost until the top layer of your garden is a rich, dark color.

Cow Poop: The Secret Ingredient

This final step is optional, but highly recommended. Buy some Medina Soil Activator, which can be found at Lowe's. It contains trace minerals and other things that really help the beneficial micro-organisms in your newly made garden. These little guys do everything from loosening the soil to breaking down nutrients for plants. There can be nearly 3 billion of them in a single gram of soil. Some of them will even form colonies on the roots and start a symbiotic relationship with your plants, adding rich nitrogen and other macro-nutrients to them. Also, the more good micro-organisms you have, the less of a chance the bad ones have to set up shop. You can read more about these fascinating little guys here: Soil Life.

This raised bed is ready for fall!

Allow a couple of days for the dirt to settle some and then you are ready for planting!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

To Build a Garden: Step 1

Step 1: The Dirty Work

Well, before doing any dirty work we must first decide WHERE to do it. Location is everything when it comes to a garden. 95% of vegetable plants enjoy a full sun location. Full sun means at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight a day. I am planting my new garden along the side of my house, it greets the morning sun and gets direct sunlight till around 2 or 3 in the afternoon. This will be a good garden for plants that need lots of water like cucumbers due to the fact that they will be shaded in the hottest part of the day. If you aren't sure where a good spot might be you can get a hose and lay it out as an outline of where you want your garden in your yard. Check on it from time to time and see if that spot is still getting plenty of sun. You can also use a compass to figure out which way the sun will be coming from in the morning (east) and setting in the evening (west).

After choosing the perfect spot mark the outline by tying string to stakes (or you can just eye-ball it like me). Keep in mind that you want to be able to reach everything in your garden without actually having to step foot in it (this way you don't compact the dirt down with your feet). You can make it as long as you want, but try not to make it any wider than 4 feet or so. See these pics for a good example: Picture 1, Picture 2

The garden fork, grub hoe, shovel, and hand-shovel

Now comes the hard part. You can do one of two things: you can rent a roto-tiller, or you can grab a shovel and get some serious exercise. Starting at one end of the garden dig down about 6 inches and turn the soil over. If you are digging in grass put back the grassy side face-down. The garden fork and grub hoe are two tools that can help you do this. A grub hoe is basically a normal garden hoe that thinks it's a pick-axe (good for getting deep and pulling up roots). As you dig toss out the big rocks and whatever else you find (I found a beer can from the 70's and a glass bottle while digging my first garden). If you hit limestone do not despair, as this is going to be a raised bed. Pull up or chop roots if you have to. While digging my second garden today I had to dig out two bushes and a weird tree.The former owner of my house had also put a rock garden there, so I had the pleasure of hand-removing little purple pumice stones all morning. This by far is the most difficult task, and will probably take you all day, so start early, drink lots of water and take breaks.

I suggest reading a little about raised bed gardening here, that way you can have this picture in your head while you dig.

Here are some pictures of my step 1 progress:


After. The meters in my backyard will make a nifty trellis for my climbing veggies!

Be sure to take before and after pics of your own hard work!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Let's get Back to the Garden for this post!

There are two questions people usually ask me when they find out I have a garden:

The first question is always: "What do you grow?"

I am always pleased to answer this as it is nearly never the same answer. Currently I still have those tomatoes I planted. They are not setting any new fruit because day-time and night-time temps are too high, so i am keeping them until the last green tomatoes turn red. I also planted Okra last week, which sprung up immediately. Okra is pretty hardy so I decided he would be best to endure the two hardest gardening months here in San Antonio. The other day the wind blew a layer of mulch to cover over two of the Okra seedlings and the doodle bugs had a feast, so I have re-planted them with some success. I also have some strung-out looking bell peppers that stop growing when they get to the size of large strawberries, I guess I must be doing something wrong. Oh, and let's not forget the Basil (i always forget to mention him). The Basil growing in my garden is delicious, I recommend eating it by wrapping a leaf of basil around a cherry tomato - Yum!

All these yellow flowers should be cherry tomatoes soon, but it's just too hot! :(

Strung-out Bell Peppers

Okra Sprout


The second question is usually something like: "Where (or how) do you build a garden?" 

Either way the second question usually hint's at the questioner's own inner desire to garden. Each of us have gardening in our genes (we were gardeners from the beginning), and we all have the desire to put something in the dirt and watch it sprout up and become food. The answer to this question is tricky, and it depends on a lot of things. I am not an expert, but I can tell you what has worked for me. 

I will be building a second garden in my backyard this week and I will post a how-to explanation with pictures. I will be using methods I learned about from my father-in-law Bo Cappadonna, and from diagrams that can be found in The Vegetable Gardener's Bible (there is a link to this book on the right column of this page).

Get your shovels ready!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Man-Nursing Tales: Intro

On December 17th of this year I will join the ranks of 113,000 other male-nurses in the US. Currently, since my classes don't run through the summer, I have taken a Nurse-Extern job in the emergency department at North East Baptist Hospital to keep my mind fresh over the summer months. 

What is a Nurse-Extern you ask? Basically it is a nurse that does not give medications or fill out paperwork (for now, this is a good thing). I help the RN's with technical skills. I start IV's, draw blood, do EKG's, insert urinary catheters, provide wound care, and transport soon-to-be moms to Labor and Delivery. There are also the more mundane tasks, such as making beds, transporting patients, stocking linen and supplies, taking vital signs, walking someone to the bathroom, and making sure there are always enough IV pumps to be found. My absolute least favorite thing to do is the dreaded one-to-one observation, which I will tell you about in another post.

In the ER I experience life. I meet people from all walks, from all colors, and from all levels of income. I get to love them all. Sometimes I meet people on their worst day, and sometimes I make it a little better (or worse). I have seen grown men cry like babies when I stick them with a needle, and I have had a nine-year old girl watch me do the whole thing without flinching. 

I have seen young women weep when they find out they are having a miscarriage, and I have seen the same weeping on those who have found out they are pregnant. I have seen people come to the hospital due to a culmination of their life-style choices, and I have seen people there due to simple misfortune. 

Through school I have witnessed a newborn's first breath, and in the ER I have seen someone's last. I have done chest compressions on failing hearts, and I have pushed air into failing lungs.

Life is very real to me, and I will try to write about my man-nursing experiences here. Stay tuned...

Friday, July 4, 2008

Jamming with Tiff and Taylor

Last night Tiff and I introduced Taylor to our songs that we have been writing together for over a year. Taylor was amazing, and with the drums our songs are really taking shape! So far we have about five or six songs, and I will keep you posted once we begin recording them for the demo.

My good friend Shaun was there to capture the moment with his new camera...