Thursday, July 31, 2008

Garden Variety

Mid summer here on Wolf Street, and thoughts naturally turn to the outdoors. In our case, outdoors is an 8x12 patch of concrete with a grill, a table, and some chairs. Our regular readers may recall that last summer we put up a fence along one side of the patio - I'm sure you'll be happy to learn it hasn't fallen down yet. This summer, we've decided to plant a garden. But instead of buying (or building) planter boxes to put on top of the concrete, we've opted to dig up portions of the concrete and plant directly into the ground. This idea stemmed from a conversation Betsy and I had with my aunt Kathleen at my brother's wedding last year. She was telling us about how amazing her garden was, and that she was sure it was because she had the concrete removed and planted directly into the ground. I remember this vaguely, but Betsy remembers it vividly. From that moment on, we were definitely digging up the patio.

When spring came, we talked about how we might go about digging up the concrete: rent a jackhammer? Hire a contractor? We kept visiting the subject, but could never come to a decision. Finally, as April turned to May, and our resolve was starting to weaken, we decided to give our friend Kevin a call. Kevin is a general contractor, and we figured he'd at least be able to give us some advice. He suggested a combination of a crazy-sharp saw to score the cement and a sledgehammer to break it up. Unfortunately, his crew had just quit so it was to be just me and him. (On the up side, it was cheaper to hire just one guy instead of three.)

After several scheduling delays, we got to it on a drizzly weekday morning. First, Kevin scored the outline of the garden with the saw while I sprayed the blade with water from the garden hose so the blade wouldn't overheat. A metal blade cutting into concrete with cement walls all around is pretty much louder than the loudest thing you can think of. Louder than standing next to an ambulance siren. Louder than a very low-flying helicopter. Louder than Dinosaur Jr and My Bloody Valentine at City Gardens in 1992 (and a lot less pleasant). After a minute, I called time and went to get my ear plugs. I couldn't find any for Kevin, but apparently he's used to this, which had me wondering how he had any hearing left at all.

Once the concrete was scored, the fun began - hitting the concrete with a sledge hammer. That fun lasted about 5 minutes until the fatigue set in. And we still had about 90 minutes of sledge-hammering to go. We switched off every 10 minutes or so, with the person not on hammer duty at the moment sweeping up the shards of concrete into a bucket and then dumping them into contractor trash bags. Kevin knew of a place that would take broken up concrete for $25 a ton, or something like that. Fortunately, we had less than a ton, but it didn't seem like much less than that.

Finally, after hammering, picking, and digging for almost 2 hours, we ended up with this:

As I was leaving for work later that day, our next door neighbor, Ann, came out and said she used to have an in-ground garden in her back yard, but the basement kept flooding so they had to have it cemented over. I said, "Nice timing, Ann."

I didn't really say that.

Anyway, after removing all the sandy dirt and small rocks that were in the holes, followed by the careful arranging of way too many pieces of slate around the perimeter, followed by 30 forty-pound bags of top soil, we began to plant. The left side was for flowers, and the right side was for vegetables and herbs. To start with, we stayed mostly with herbs, but we did put three tomato plants in. The end result is this:

Not bad, eh? These pictures are from about a month ago, so there have been some developments since then. We'll save that for another post, though.