Raised Beds in the Backyard!

When I was little, before I recall having any real interest in growing flowers or trees or shrubs, my parents granted me a little territory in the backyard where I was permitted and encouraged to plant things. Tucked behind the garage and a part of the deck, this was a terraced section of the yard, each level retained by railroad-tie-style walls. It’s a set-up not uncommon for over-scaled homes built in the 1990s, where developers insisted on constructing houses whose boxy plans bore no relation to any given site’s existing topography. The land was simply built-up as needed, compacted, retained, and mulched. Consequently, the soil was difficult to plant in: rocky, full of clay, and nutrient-poor. It was shady back there, too, but I did what I could to encourage the success of my garden. My brother and sister had their own plots adjacent to mine, although I don’t remember my brother ever taking advantage of the opportunity. For her part, year after year my sister wrestled with a few strawberry plants whose results were scant at best, but found her footing more successfully with cucumbers. She took to peeling one and then perching at the kitchen counter with a paper plate of salt in front of her, eating it like a carrot and dipping the gnawed-off end onto the plate between bites. She still does this, and I still find it equal parts cute and grotesque.

Tomatoes were my thing. I don’t recall even especially liking tomatoes, but I really liked growing them. Part of it might have been that I knew my sister—who despised tomatoes—wouldn’t mess with my crops. She treated the plants like they were toxic, as though failing to give them the proper berth would result in disease or instant death. I’m not sure why sibling tampering was such a concern of mine. Would she try to…sabotage me? I can’t really say. We’re deeply competitive.

Likely due to the aforementioned sun and soil conditions, our plants’ production was never especially impressive but we didn’t know that. To us, anything our plants grew that we could eat felt like some form of low-level sorcery. Ripening tomatoes were placed in a neat row along the windowsill behind the sink, and on weekends they’d get sliced and served with bagels and lox to much fanfare and accolades. I loved it.

Then I grew up. Summers in high school tended to keep me away from home for long stretches, so it didn’t make sense to plant crops I couldn’t tend and harvest. Of course I didn’t know that over the next decade I’d find myself in a series of small urban apartments without outdoor space, occasionally entertaining the idea of one of those upside-down tomato plant grower-thingies from Skymall before forgetting about it. Then again, tomatoes were readily available at the store, and—like I said—it’s not like I even love tomatoes. I like them. I really like growing them. Outside. In the sun. And the dirt. With bugs and stuff.

SO. Then I bought a house, and shortly thereafter experienced the revelation that omg I can do that again! Technically, as it happens, some olde-timey Kingston law actually grants me the right to practice my husbandry on a whole goddamned farm. I can have chickens and goats and ducks and probably other stuff I should never, ever be allowed to know about. Can you imagine?? GOATS??? I fucking love goats. I guess let’s see how the veggies go first, though. Then we can discuss urban homesteading the shit outta this joint.

Between the asphalt-covered backyard, and the fence-building, and the front-garden-creating, and then the side-garden-planting, and the great dirt-moving effort, and SO MUCH WORK on the house, and also several other houses, it took a few years for the vegetable garden to start to become a reality.

Originally the idea was something like this. I wrote about it back in 2015. Outside of the new french doors on the garage there would be a fire pit/chill zone, and beyond that 4 large raised beds. As often happens, I’ll throw out an underdeveloped idea, and you guys help to develop it! Primary concerns were a) the location of the fire pit/chill zone is sad and b) those beds are too big to easily tend and c) pea gravel is apparently the work of the devil.

So the plan changed in subtle ways. I put the chill zone in the middle of the beds, and made the raised beds a foot narrower—bringing them down to 3 feet instead of 4 feet wide to make them easier to manage—and aligning them with the structure of the garage and the placement of the new doors. Pea gravel got replaced with reclaimed brick for improved walkability and weed prevention, and this plan felt solid enough to at least get started.

During the autumn that followed the great dirt-moving effort, I managed to build one of my raised beds and even get a coat of stain on it! I was so antsy to just get something done other than filling up the yard with soil, and wanted to see even a small part of my plan enacted just to make sure I even liked it, and that the height and length were right, that kind of thing.

In the spring, I promptly and efficiently picked up where I left off, finished the beds, got them all filled with great soil, and by mid-summer had a booming garden!


First thing’s first: Marimekko did that line of stuff for Target, so I got myself some cute chairs. I ordered a fire pit on Amazon. It was smaller than I’d imagined and arrived damaged but I was SO DETERMINED TO GET THIS PARTY STARTED that I just decided to use it rather than deal with a return.

Then I set about building the rest of the raised beds. I don’t think it’s especially useful for me to walk you through my process because I wouldn’t do it like this again if I were building these today. Basically the structure is just 1×6 pressure-treated boards attached to 4×4 pressure-treated posts, and I did most of the fastening with shanked siding nails because I was working alone and a nail gun is way easier than a drill and screws if you’re trying to hold things up at the same time.

To keep the middle from bowing out once the box was filled with dirt, I fastened these 2×2 pressure-treated stake things to the posts. They do the job.

I don’t especially know why I chose the wood I chose, but I wish I hadn’t. Pressure treated wood ALWAYS breaks my heart. I don’t know why I keep giving it the benefit of the doubt. It’s like, if you let the boards dry out before using them, they crack and warp and split. If you use them and then let them dry out, they crack and warp and split.

Unsurprisingly, my planter boxes have cracked and warped and split. Not in a way that makes them non-functional, and it’s not even that noticeable, but it is just…annoying.

If you’re interested in building similar but better raised beds, my pals Kim and Scott (sometimes we live parallel lives, I think) tackled pretty much the same project but with a few adjustments, including using 5/4″ decking boards (which are actually 1″ thick) instead of 1-by boards that are actually 3/4″ thick. They also capped off the top perimeters with a board, which looks much better and has the added benefit of obscuring the 4×4 posts.

I’d also strongly consider using cedar rather than pressure-treated, which—again—I have no idea why I didn’t do the first time around, but I didn’t. Cedar should last a comparable amount of time, and is naturally rot-resistant rather than needing to be treated. It should be noted that pressure-treated wood is made very differently than it was years ago, and seems to be now generally accepted as safe for growing edibles, but even just from a functional/aesthetic standpoint I’d prefer the cedar.

Ah well. That’s why this is not a step-by-step tutorial post. The raised beds are 3′ x 10′, and I used Cabot’s solid-color acrylic siding stain in black just on the parts that are visible with the planters filled to avoid unnecessary exposure to the soil.

If this WERE a step-by-step tutorial post, this picture PROBABLY wouldn’t make the cut. Any fledgling vegetation you think you see is just weeds. I built my raised beds in the spring with big ambitions, and then I went and tore the entire side of my house apart, which then meant wrapping up an ENORMOUS exterior project while also trying to reclaim my house as a place fit for living, attempting to pick up the tattered pieces of my kitchen, laundry room, pantry, 1/2 bath, bedroom, office, and den. So some chaos ensued. That was two years ago and I’m honestly only STARTING to feel like the house has recovered. Suffice to say there have been some decisions I would revise if given the opportunity but, of course, that’s not how life works! Lolz. *bursts into tears.*

So I built these raised beds, and then I didn’t plant a single solitary thing. Instead of filling them with soil and plants I filled them with mayhem and foolishness. That was it.

Over the course of that exterior renovation project that summer, I remember one day it felt COMPLETELY logical to spend the afternoon going to get a couple yards of stone dust, so I could begin whatever paving situation I was planning for around the beds. It’s not like there were at LEAST one thousand more pressing things to take care of.

I think by this point I’d actually calculated how many bricks I’d need, and it was almost 2,500 bricks. Which is just simply too many fucking bricks. So then I had this whole idea of using my impressive stock of bluestone slabs to do kind of a flagstone thing between and around the planter boxes.

So we spread landscape fabric and a few inches of stone dust, and then I got to work!

On other stuff. I worked on other stuff. Not my paving solution. Did I mention I wrecked the whole house at once? So my stone dust sat in these weird almost-paths with landscape fabric elegantly bordering them.

Adding insult to injury, one day I was innocently burning off-cuts of framing lumber and whatnot in the fire pit, and the fire department came. They shut that shit down. Apparently there is NO OPEN BURNING in the city of Kingston, which I kind of knew but thought a) was clearly not at all enforced, because fire pits are totally commonplace here and b) didn’t apply to manufactured fire pits, only to, ya know, that guy who wants to arrange some rocks in a circle and burn stuff in it.

Evidently I was mistaken. No open burning. No fire pit. Nobody can seem to give me a straight answer on whether this also applies to things like chimineas, which don’t exactly seem open so I’m maintaining that as an option until I inevitably buy one only to be told I just wasted hundreds of dollars, and to please keep my pyro tendencies in check.

I love burning things. I have a constant and steady supply of things to burn. Everyone back off.

By early the next spring, the situation had devolved into THIS. Feel free to note that the defunct fire pit has not moved. Also feel free to note the extreme chaos and disorder that would be…impossible not to note.

I share stuff like this not because I think embarrassing myself online is THAT fun (it’s a little fun), or because I think this is anything worth emulating, but you know what?


So. That’s what I have to say about that.

Like a fucking cherry on top of this shit sundae, also the tree fell. There are three other trees in the opposite corner of the backyard, but seeing as this was the ONLY remaining bit of intentional vegetation within 50 feet or so, this felt like a real slap in the face. On the bright side it was a Rose of Sharon, which I don’t actually like, so. No big loss but I was hoping to have some other stuff going on before removing it.

It wasn’t until early that summer that the beds finally got a little more attention! It was getting late in the season and I didn’t want to delay things further by worrying about giving the raised beds another coat of stain, so I just went ahead and filled them with enough soil, amended with compost, and planted stuff!

After this prolonged process, you can imagine how exciting this felt. Growing things to eat! In my very own backyard! At long last!

This was taken a few weeks after planting and before things really took off, but that summer I planted tomatoes, brussels sprouts, japanese eggplants, parsley, basil, cucumbers, and broccoli! AND IT ALL DID WELL! Like, REALLY well. TOO well. At a certain point, nobody wants your weird homegrown tomatoes anymore. Nobody is interested in your buckets of cucumbers. You can take your multiple kinds of basil and shove it all where the sun don’t shine.

NATURALLY, this coincided with the summer where I really didn’t have a kitchen. Even the makeshift kitchen wasn’t nearly as equipped for actual cooking as it ended up being as the months went on and a new kitchen didn’t magically materialize. The only functioning sink in the entire house was the original bathroom sink upstairs, a shallow double-tapped roughly 130-year-old porcelain little number that is really not ideal for washing dishes or, say, vegetables in.

This is a roundabout way of saying that a lot of those vegetables ended up making really nice compost for this year’s vegetables, and I still feel lousy about it.

ALSO. AS WE CAN ALL PLAINLY SEE. I was delusional about the amount of stone I thought I had. It’s so hard to tell when things are in piles. Then you spread them all around and it becomes painfully obvious that you have miscalculated. Maybe you spread a little more, because denial. And then you’re like, why did I spend hours spreading all these individually heavy objects out that now I have to put back? So perhaps you don’t put them back. Perhaps you decide that by seeing them all splayed about, inspiration will come. Perhaps while the inspiration is coming, you allow the spaces between them to fill with weeds that seem to overnight become as tall as you, turning your compost-from-the-dump garbage dustbowl yard into a kind of weed resort-spa.


Also you may notice I built 4 planters but have planted 2. On one hand, due to the truly insane amount of produce for someone with no easy means to cook it, I’m glad for this. On the other hand, it’s just because they were still in a state that was not good for planting, i.e. full of mayhem and foolishness rather than dirt and mulch.

WHICH brings us to this summer, where things are still nuts but not as nuts. This summer I got 3 of the 4 beds planted, this time with tomatoes, collard greens, romaine, chard, japanese eggplants, basil, parsley, cilantro, cucumbers, kale, broccoli, lavender and tarragon!

Every year you learn something about what to do next year, so now I know I definitely need to do tomato cages next year (I really like Joe Gardener’s approach!), definitely don’t need this many collard greens, strawberries are still kind of a waste of time, and I really don’t eat as much parsley as I thought I did.

Oh also! You can see where I decided to put the stone to use—walls! I’ve been chipping away at building these dry-stacked stone walls to kind of separate this area from the rest of the yard. It’s slow work but each stone that gets placed represents just a littttttle bit of progress, and there’s something kind of nice and meditative about that. Isn’t THIS ENTIRE ENDEAVOR basically just…that? Stone by stone until it starts to be something.

Look at those little tiny bottom teef! Look at the size of those weeds! The weed situation is sometimes under control and other times intense and not under control. This is in large part because there’s no weed barrier around and between most of the planter boxes or anything else to discourage weeds from growing.

Which leads us: back to the original plan for pea gravel! I cannot be talked down this time for various reasons. It is practical, it is affordable, it is beautiful, it is classic, and I have loved it forever. I believe I have a healthy understanding of the pros and cons and I have decided that the pros outweigh the cons and so IT IS SETTLED.

Except for the part where all summer now I have been talking about the enormous amount of pea gravel imminently arriving in my yard, but have not actually ordered or bought any pea gravel. Like every other summer, the demands of the house renovation and other projects have forced the backyard down the list of priorities, so while I WISH this area looked a whole lot better by now—and honestly expected it to—it’s not like the tomatoes really care whether they’re surrounded by pea gravel paths or bare landscape fabric or dirt. I’m still dying to get at least some of the gravel down while the weather’s still nice, since I’m excited for it and SO TIRED of looking at this mess.

ANYWAY. Now that I have more than sufficiently whined and moaned about stuff being difficult and time-consuming and disappointingly slow, I’d like to circle back to the part at the beginning—you know, about how this is fun and satisfying. I LOVE growing food in my backyard. I LOVE puttering around the beds, pulling weeds and cutting things back, yanking out spent plants to make way for new ones, thinking about what I’ll do the same and differently next year. It’s a fucking lovely experienceand someday it’ll be beautiful, too. Stone by stone.


About Daniel Kanter

Hi, I'm Daniel, and I love houses! I'm a serial renovator, DIY-er, and dog-cuddler based in Kingston, New York. Follow along as I bring my 1865 Greek Revival back to life and tackle my 30s to varying degrees of success. Welcome!

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  1. 9.14.18
    Mom said:

    I LOVE that you love to plant gardens, edible or not. I like to think I had a little impact there. My mom did that with us-here’s your area to plant. I only planted flowers. Her father, my grandfather, your great grandfather was a full time engineer came home to work his garden to feed his family of ten. So gardening for you is hereditary which is amazingly satisfying to your mom. But, next time you have excess contact a local food bank or soup kitchen. They’ll probably be happy to have any excess.

    • 9.15.18
      Wendy said:

      I agree with the food bank suggestion. My church has done raised beds on portions of our unused/ not often used property. The gardens are attended to by the gardening group, and we donate approx 500 lbs of veggies to the food pantry each year (that is our goal….to give the food pantry and its patrons FRESH food). And hugs to you….life can be messy, but progress is progress, no matter how big or small.

    • 9.17.18
      Daniel said:

      Thanks guys! The food bank suggestion is a great one…unfortunately by the time it became clear I had more than I was able to use, things were already kinda on their way out of the realm of acceptable freshness. This summer I’ve managed to keep up pretty well!

  2. 9.14.18
    MB said:

    This is reality, Daniel! Those outdoor projects seem straightforward, but are SO MUCH MORE effort than they visually seem to be. You’re doin a great job and even if it takes you a decade or more, thanks for sharing. It’s nice to be reminded this is how projects evolve when you’re working on something without a whole crew of professionals.

    And congrats on the garden haul! Always so satisfying to grow stuff. Low-level sorcery, indeed.

  3. 9.14.18
    Sara L. said:

    I admit it, I burst out laughing at the picture of the tree laying on all the other garbage. Delightful read, as always! I wish I had the “gardening gene” because I like vegetables, but all of this looks like waaaaaay too much work. I’ll just continue to enjoy it vicariously through reading about your adventures, and we’ll call it good. Although that last pic of the veggies is making me a little…green with envy. (ugh, I know, I hate myself enough for both of us.)

    • 9.17.18
      Daniel said:

      Haha! The actual growing veggies part is pretty easy and fun, it’s everything else that’s so much work!! A+ pun work! :)

  4. 9.14.18
    Jenn said:

    We are doing a similar area with rock and we initially were going to go with pea gravel but also heard of the cons (and my husband wanted more of a GREY look to the rock. We ended up going with a mix called “driveway gravel” which is smaller grey rock so it doesn’t move around as much as pea gravel – so far we are happy with the choice! It was also cheaper than pea gravel :)

    • 9.17.18
      Daniel said:

      Haha! Here all we have is grey rock!! I actually prefer the warmer, beige-ish pea gravel look, but it costs an arm and a leg to get here. We always want what we can’t have!

  5. 9.14.18
    Alexis said:

    I totally get you when you say this shit is hard. I occasionally berate myself for basically allowing my “updating of dated but fully functional house” to have stalled for, oh, eighteen months or so. Then I remember that I’m busy doing a surgical residency and a masters degree and get fucking realistic about how many hours there are in a day and how much energy I really have.

    It’s ok, it will get done, eventually… plus I’ve really enjoyed reading how your plans have changed and evolved over the years, which is way more entertaining than a slick, overly planned project.

    • 9.14.18
      Rachel said:

      Totally agree!!! I enjoy reading your blog much more than many others because I love how it’s REALISTIC (while simultaneously being crazy impressive). And, obviously, your writing is hilarious.

  6. 9.14.18
    Beth W. said:

    I’ve got an unwanted (needs a can of spray paint) chimnea… if you want to drive up to London (ontario)? I love what you’re doing and that you’re just as human as the rest of us. Keep up the good work!

    • 9.17.18
      Daniel said:

      Might be a *bit* far, but thank you!! :) <3

  7. 9.14.18
    Kit said:

    Pea gravel that shit, Daniel! I like pea gravel too, and it does the thing, and once it is down you will feel 1000x better about your yard. Like making the bed but outdoors. Or something.

    • 9.17.18
      Daniel said:

      Yes! I think it will be pretty transformative! I really hope I can get to it soon.

  8. 9.14.18
    Andrea said:

    You “rock”! Love your blog and your writing, and I for one am glad your renos and projects take time. That means you still have and will have a blog for us all to read! :-)

  9. 9.14.18
    Charisse said:

    Hi Daniel, We have built several garden boxes and retaining walls and have found you can use treated successfully, but with 4×4’s and they will work really well, not warp or crack. Make sure to choose nice straight 4×4’s to start with. You can eliminate the cross ties as well. instead, lay the second level on top and screw straight down thru to the first 4×4 on the ground. Start at the corner. We use 4 screws for each 4x4x8
    Then add the 3rd 4×4, screw it into the one below and so on to desired height. Stager the corners and screw them together as well, and or, use 4×4 upright in your inside corners and screw to that. Our boxes have remained straight, no warp for years. One wall is 14 years old and straight and true still. The raised box retaining walls are only a few years, but still looking really good. The screws are Timberlok screws and go in so easily with a driver. They come in several lengths; we use the 6″. I can send photos and more detail if you want.

    • 9.17.18
      Daniel said:

      I think I get the gist, thank you! Those definitely sound sturdy!!

  10. 9.14.18
    Andrea said:

    Daniel, it’s okay to plant FLOWERS in those raised beds. Like you could plant 50% vegetables and 50% flowers.

    I too am struggling with an old house that needs a ton of work, a yard that was a mess, uncomprehending neighbours, etc.

    A really easy and cheap solution is to plant some hardy flowers from seed, and/or hard to kill perennials. You can always transplant them when you are ready to grow more vegetables. My flower of choice for a difficult but wide and long flowerbed by my driveway was Cosmos.You don’t even have to bury the seeds – just sprinkle them on the soil, leave them alone when they sprout and look weedy, and before you know it you will have a bunch of giant plants with nice flowers that will keep blooming until the first frost kills them. You can collect the seeds – of which there will be many – and plant again next spring. I never even watered mine and I have some plants that are almost 7 feet tall.

    Plain old daylilies are great – and you can get many that aren’t plain old but fancy and unusual colors. I’m also a fan of old fashioned bearded iris. These are also hardy as long as they aren’t planted somewhere soggy and get enough sun.

    I’ve also noticed some tall decorative grasses that grow in bush-like clumps. They look great for taking up space but also create the same privacy as a mature bush of that size.

    I’m only still a fumbling gardener – I can’t give you botanical names.

    Also – did you know that some places sell daffodil bulbs in vast quantities – like 300 bulbs – for cheap ? The squirrels will leave the bulbs alone – unlike tulips – and you will have something cheerful next spring. I’m not a super daffodil fan – but squirrels hate them – unlike the many fancy black parrot tulips I planted which were all dug up as bulbs or decapitated at the bud stage.

    • 9.14.18
      Liza Vandermeer said:

      Cosmos is absolutely fabulous – great suggestion.

    • 9.15.18
      Andrea said:

      That’s what I was thinking. And then you have a steady supply of flowers indoors. And when you don’t feel like dealing with flowers indoors they still look lovely in your garden.

    • 9.16.18
      Lori said:

      Oooh, larkspur is absolutely fabulous for that purpose, and if you wanna fake being ultra-luxe, you can buy seed mixes that are only shades of blue. I love them.

    • 9.17.18
      Daniel said:

      Yes! I like flowers! I have lots of them elsewhere, but for the raised beds (which are mainly raised to keep dogs from trampling my food!) I think it’ll stay mostly edibles. I may mix in some flowers next year, or…EDIBLE flowers! My friend gave me a seed mix at the end of spring that I’d like to try next year.

    • 9.26.18
      Lauren said:

      How about rhubarb? It could take up one whole end of a bed, plus you could use it for baked goods or my favorite- Rhubarb Schnapps (https://www.eattherightstuff.com/blog/2008/11/11/rhubarb-schnapps.html). The schnapps make excellent gifts.

  11. 9.14.18
    Lori said:

    Ahhhhh, the post I have been waiting for!

    First, I’ve been dying to tell you that ‘Midwinter Fire’ dogwood would look freaking AMAZING against your black fence in the winter. This may not be news to you, but after another record hot miserable summer in Austin, I am dying to live out my zone envy vicariously.

    Second of all, with pea gravel, please please please install it over a compacted base. I personally loathe weed barrier with the fire of a thousand suns because it will fail 100% of the time and when weeds with running roots get underneath (when, not if), good luck taking care of that through the weed barrier without the use of some truly nasty herbicide. Also, weed barrier has a tendency to keep whatever’s on top of it from compacting correctly. That doesn’t matter so much if you’re putting, say, brick on top, but I’d worry with pea gravel. Another thing to note– pea gravel should be top dressing only, like 1″ deep, tops. Any more than that, and you’ll curse every time you try to run a wheelbarrow through it and if any of your friends ever attempt to traipse through there wearing non-practical shoes, they won’t be thrilled. And two words that should strike fear into your heart: litter box. (I don’t know if Mekko is like my dogs, but that shit is a literal delicacy.)

    And now I will shut up. I just have many, many feelings on this subject, since I have to deal with it professionally all the freaking time and removing failed weed barrier always expands my vocabulary in new & creative ways. I’m having traumatic flashbacks to my worst job ever just thinking about it.

    • 9.17.18
      Mouse said:

      Lori, talk to me. What’s the best way to cover pathways through slightly raised beds that won’t be insane weed/grass disasters? I hear you about weed barrier. The beds have already been there for 5 years or so, and the pathways–many feet of them–are now really bad. Grass snakes underground to the raised beds. Aaaugh.

      What would you do?


    • 9.19.18
      Lori said:

      Tell me more! Actually, are you on IG? Could you message me some pictures? It’d be easier to give advice if I can see what the situation is & ask a bunch of questions. I’m here: http://instagram.com/loridauldesign

    • 9.17.18
      Daniel said:

      So funny—I was looking at those dogwoods just a couple weeks ago!

      I think I have the same questions as Mouse! Oddly the place I was planning to get the pea through discourages the use of a base underneath like stone dust, although I don’t know why? I also HATE landscaping fabric but have kind of started using it for various areas, only to want to tear it all up a year or two later, so I’m ALL for skipping it here.

      And now I’m terrified of my yard becoming a big litter box. I do see stray cats in my yard every now and then. Yikes.

    • 9.19.18
      Lori said:

      Oh man, I had a long reply almost typed out and then hit something and deleted it all. Take two.

      Back in the olden days when I still blogged, I actually posted about how to install a pea gravel path: https://gardenerofgoodandevil.wordpress.com/2014/05/04/how-to-build-a-stable-pea-gravel-path/

      I’ve refined my technique a bit since then, but the basic premise is still the same. First, I dig out the base 6-8″ & rake it flat. Then I put down a few inches of road base, rake, water lightly, & tamp. I’ll do that in layers until I’m maybe 1-1.5″ or so below my final grade. Then I switch to decomposed granite. Only the very top half inch/inch should be pea gravel. You’ll probably want to put in some sort of edging to keep the compacted bits tight. I like using 14 gauge steel edging that’s dug in & installed so the top is flush with the final grade. (You can use an angle grinder to cut a shallow groove for bending clean corners if you need to.)

      The extreme alkalinity of the limestone road base helps discourage weeds, but you’ll still get things like annual spurges. Anything without a taproot can be easily dispatched with a spray bottle of horticultural vinegar on a sunny day (just make sure you zap it before it seeds). I also know a guy who had a flame weeder like someone else mentioned (there’s one called the Weed Dragon, which cracks me up).

      If you’re doing a large area, and it looks like you are, rent a plate compactor. Your arms and back will thank you, and it’ll go so much faster. Plus I personally find using the plate compactor to be lots of fun. It’s like vacuuming your yard hard & flat!

      I’ve also been really curious about some of the new stabilizers on the market, like Technisoil G3, which you spray onto a compacted granite base and it basically glues it together into permeable pavement. I’ve seen it in person & it doesn’t look like weeds could grow through it. (Doubt it’s the look you’re going for, but just throwing it out there in case anyone reading might find it helpful.)

      So anyway, to answer your question, I basically fixed all my crappy pea gravel areas by raking up all the gravel & then starting over with a tamped gravel base. It sucked.

      I also have a few suggestions based on the stuff you’ve mentioned hoarding (yay, HOARDE! I think you need a Weed Dragon to stash on top of your hoarde. For symbolism & things).

      Have you thought of paving just the fire pit area with brick? Like, you could do something like this: https://gardenerofgoodandevil.files.wordpress.com/2018/09/patio-sketch.jpg

      I’ve done something similar here with reclaimed brick: https://www.instagram.com/p/Blwjo6EF61p/. You just start in the middle and work your way out, and you use exactly the same kind of tamped base as you’d use for the pea gravel patio. I just used an angle grinder with a concrete blade to cut a piece of stone for the center to keep the bricks in place– you could actually sink a firepit down with a fire ring or something if you wanted & use that as your inside hard edge.

      Another thing I’ve seen locally that I love is something we call a “rubble path,” where you fit together all your odds and ends in a way that looks totally Zen & intentional:

      https://gardenerofgoodandevil.files.wordpress.com/2018/09/hornickel-mixed-patio.jpg (I have a million pictures from this garden that I really need to post bc it’s so good, SO GOOD.)


      I made one for a preschool texture path completely out of random crap we found in the yard, and it especially cracks me up because I had a little fun with it and pried out some asphalt from the driveway they’re removing and cut it into strips and worked it into the design: https://www.instagram.com/p/BmcNo-PDH7x/

      So yeah, anyway! :D

    • 9.19.18
      Gem said:

      Motion activated sprinklers are the solution for possible cat box activities! I use them and recommend them highly.

      We have pea gravel (and I’ve maintained a lot of gardens with pea gravel) and I completely agree that weed barrier is a bigger problem than a solution. Weeds eventually just grow on top and through it. I’ve spent more time removing weed barrier that’s gone bad than pulling weeds in gravel. Also in gardens I design I tend to like (specific) things growing in the gravel to soften edges. Raised garden beds with herbs in the gravel, for example.

  12. 9.14.18
    Heather said:

    You know… just, thank you. I too am working solo and it IS hard and takes FOREVER. So long in fact that you sometimes have to replace parts of your original build before your project is done (face plant). So, thank you for your humor and candor in showing the mess with beauty.

    • 9.17.18
      Daniel said:

      YEP! And sometimes you see it happening and you’re just too tired or occupied with the CURRENT project to care too much about the one you just did…like, the reason I mentioned those two raised beds needing a fresh coat of stain is that they got totally beat up and “accented” with primer when somebody decided they’d make good sawhorses to pre-prime siding during the whole side-of-house-restoration project. I kinda remember seeing it happen and just shrugging. Round and round we go.

  13. 9.14.18
    Alison said:

    To keep you company, we have bindweeds. I will leave it as that.

  14. 9.14.18


    You are SO right about life getting in the way (aka, shit happens) and plans get waylaid and you still have plans…

    I had hoped to do more but unemployment kinda reared its ugly fast at me in June and still am unemployed. :-(

    But like you, every so often, I just get out and putter in the yard, mow the lawn, run the weed eater, sweep the sidewalks, fight mosquitoes but at the same time, spend some warm evenings out on my deck with the Tiki torches and the porch flame bombs keeping them pests at bay while I enjoy the cool breeze blowing through the backyard.

    In fact, last Friday late afternoon, I HAD to get out and begin preparing for fall as the weather here is now officially in the 60’s and this week we’ve had periodic light showers, so a teaser of fall and the rainy season to come. Anyway, while dry, I began to remove dead stalks from the Iris’, the Daisy stalks etc then it threatened to rain so stopped there, and besides, it was getting nigh on dinner time so stopped down and then Saturday morning took advantage of the light rain that fell the evening before to finish weeding the beds, while the ground was damp and soft, even the Dandelions came up with relative ease.

    Even when life gets jacked up, you just gotta savor the quiet moments and do something to calm your soul, something you enjoy, even if for an hour and just be.

    I’m in total agreement that life is sometimes difficult, in dissaray and messy, why hide it? Too many people are too afraid, it seems to share that aspect so you see the before, then gleefully skip past all that to show you the ever so perfect end result and never tell you the journey TO perfection, just to gain approval from the readers. You, on the other hand are the real deal, you blog the good, the bad, and the ugly, and all of it in a compelling way all while keeping it real. I’m the same way brother.

    You just keep doing you brother and eventually, you’ll get it where you want it.

  15. 9.14.18
    lc said:

    Gardens just take time, especially if your’e starting with nothing (or concrete)

    I’m all excited about this book called “Cultivating Chaos: how to enrich landscapes with self-seeding plants”. It has sections like “plants in crevices and joints”, which helped me rethink my beat-up sidewalk.
    To your interests, there’s a section on gravel gardens, including a really beautiful one in the Netherlands, and Derek Jarman’s garden in Dungeness, Scotland — all stones and low plants. If you can find this book, it’s really inspiring!

  16. 9.14.18

    Oh, and ONE MORE THING! What your Mom suggests is good, but also pick up a small chest freezer and prep and freeze your bounty to enjoy during the winter months. I don’t know if you can do this with tomatoes, but canning those for sauces etc is an excellent way to enjoy your bounty through the winter months.

    Just you know, FYI. :-)

    • 9.17.18
      Daniel said:

      I’m going to attempt some canning later today!

  17. 9.14.18
    cindy said:

    Do you not have gophers in NY and therefore not need a hardware cloth (wire) barrier at the bottom of your planter boxs?

    • 9.17.18
      Daniel said:

      We do! That’s probably a very good idea. I’ve never seen one in or near my yard, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen! I don’t tend to have a lot of wildlife right around me, but five minutes in any direction and I probably would.

  18. 9.14.18
    Pamela Bartholomew said:

    You crack me up, I adore you and your blog!

  19. 9.14.18
    Jan said:

    Wow, it seems to be i”˜m not alone with things like that. I tried to grow my own vegetables in my landlords garden, so i”˜ve got a huge piece of land. This was two years ago. The first year i wasn’t able to plant anything except flowers and some berry bushes. The second year was the first year i really started planting crops like potatoes, carrots and beets. Unfortunately wild animals found their way to my little garden and it was a really hot and dry summer here in Germany so it ends in a pretty mess. I hope the next year will be better for both of us, i”˜m feeling with you!

    • 9.17.18
      Daniel said:

      Good luck! Stick with it! I’m really lucky with the animals…fenced-in yard, urban area and all. I think the squirrels eat the strawberries though.

  20. 9.14.18
    Jacki said:

    Thank you thank you thank you. I put in four 4×4 raised beds, planted them for a couple years, and then adopted a dog that taught our older dog how to pick veggies. I quit for a couple years (letting all the planters become home to 5 foot weeds) and then committed to planting just one this year with tomatoes. Which the dogs are eating off the vine. Sigh.

    I love seeing posts like this, because I always finish a project, and then feel overwhelmed by all the other projects and the things that have gone to shit while I was working on a project. So glad I am not alone!

    • 9.17.18
      Daniel said:

      You definitely are not alone! It’s impossible to do everything well at once…selectively letting things go to shit is a serious skill! It’s so cute that your dogs eat tomatoes off the vine, awwwwwww! My little Linus used to love tomatoes. One time he found one in the yard (I think a neighbor threw it over the fence, gross) and for several weeks afterward he’d immediately return to that spot every time we went outside looking for more. <3

  21. 9.14.18
    Kat said:

    First off, I love your mom ^^. Also, I wish I was your neighbor because I would NEVER get sick of bags of cucumbers and different types of basil. I live in Tampa, Florida, (and aren’t you somehow connected to Tampa?), and it’s just too bloody hot to grow gorgeous produce in the summer. In June, my basil turned into cinders, and the bugs eat ALL of my tomatoes! Always! It makes me so mad. Growing things is so satisfying! Right now, what with all the heat and rain, my garden is more rich, jungle foliage than edible crops. And I’m dying to hear about your pea gravel – I’m planning on doing a pea gravel patio in my back yard, to be flanked by raised beds, and all of those negative comments about pea gravel got me to wondering whether it’s actually a terrible idea. Keep us updated!!

    • 9.15.18
      Pippa said:

      Any kind of gravel will be a nightmare if the ground isn’t prepared properly. Any thoughts of throwing it down onto bare earth or God forbid – on top of weedmat will result in a never-ending cycle of weed infestation. It will be an unsightly mess within weeks and you will rue the day you tried to short-cut.

    • 9.17.18
      Daniel said:

      My mom’s family moved to Clearwater when she was about 14, so she’s kinda from there and it’s where we visited our grandparents until they both passed! I don’t recall them ever attempting growing produce there, although my grandmother was an orchid fanatic and had dozens of them outside. They seemed to be constantly in bloom which is just a total wonder to us up north. I will certainly keep everyone posted on the pea gravel situation, although now I feel more confused than ever on the best way to install it! haha!

    • 9.18.18
      April said:

      Hey Kat,

      My parents live in Sarasota (about an hour south of you). My father has recently discovered Earth Boxes and they are a game-changer for growing produce. We were never able to successfully grow tomatoes (or most other produce) when I was growing up because the various bugs would always get to them before they were ready to eat. The Earth Boxes are so successful that he now has a literal dill BUSH and so much basil he has no idea what to do with it. He’s growing heirloom tomatoes, onions, peppers, and other random things I can’t remember right now. No BUGS!!!! The Earth Boxes are a bit pricey to start but then last forever.

    • 10.4.18
      Kat said:

      April – wow, that is awesome! I will have to check it out!

  22. 9.14.18
    Joan said:

    I’ve decided that I’m the world’s worst gardener (so take heart). It would be better if I didn’t buy plants at all, or clear a spot in the yard. But I do, and then I plant them (or not), and they get ignored, either in the garden or in their little original pots on the porch, and it’s almost the same amount of guilt as ignoring dogs or cats or kids.

    • 9.17.18
      Daniel said:

      Oh, I get that! I’ve definitely impulse-bought plants that never made it into the ground and withered and died…it’s like you just picture that $30 just being ripped to shreds in front of you, sigh. Shit happens!

  23. 9.14.18
    Stacey said:

    Thank you!!!! I never got my front flower beds cleaned out this spring and finally the grass growing into them was knee high. I tried to pull it out and it wasn’t having it so I took it down to ground level with the trimmer, raked it up and decided I would deal with it later. Thank you for being real and showing us the ugly side. It helps to know I’m not the only one. Have you ever let your backyard grass get so tall you lost a 40 lb. terrier in it?

    • 9.17.18
      Daniel said:

      Oh, 40 pound terrier wouldn’t stand a chance in some of the states my yard has been in. Swallowed whole.

  24. 9.14.18
    faellie said:

    Thank you.

    Really, I feel so much better about my gorse garden now.

    • 9.17.18
      Daniel said:

      Happy to be of service, haha!

  25. 9.14.18
    Alix said:

    Thank you so much! Houses and gardens are so much work. I grew one pattypan squash for vegetables this year – but my basil did great.

    • 9.17.18
      Daniel said:

      Fresh basil is the best!

  26. 9.14.18
    Krystal said:

    I have been waiting for your garden updates since you first mentioned you were thinking about doing raised bed gardening. I am an avid gardener. I grew up on a stereotypical Iowa farm with my mother cultivating three enormous gardens plus the orchard, growing enough to feed the family of 5 all summer and preserve so much that our basement pantry sometimes looked like my parents were doomsday preppers … and that upbringing never leaves you. I live in North Carolina now (eek hurricane right now) and I’m in the middle of a largish city, only a couple blocks from downtown. Does this stop me from gardening? Admittedly … for a year or so. But then I couldn’t stand it in anymore. I now do container gardening in fabric grow bags on my back patio. A small but wonderfully overgrown place that holds all the veggies and flowers I can manage to squeeze back there. Plus a small spot for a chair/table so I can relax out there with some wine in the middle of my tiny jungle. I love it so much.

    My favorite thing about small space gardening is that your plans are forever evolving, just like you said. Things grow bigger than you planned, things produce more/less than you hoped, your produce needs as a single person aren’t always what you think they are … I love it. Every year is full of ups and down and learning experiences and ideas for the next year. I fortunately/unfortunately don’t have a house that occupies the rest of my time so I have the whole winter to sit around and think about what I’m going to be doing in my garden the next spring. So much fun. I have major dreams of being a mini homesteader someday. :D

    And in case anybody was remotely curious – my patio is approximately 50 sq feet. This year I had 6 tomato plants, five pepper plants (two cayenne, one jalapeño, one red bell pepper, one mini yellow bell pepper), a variety of herbs, potatoes, strawberries, lettuce, onions, carrots, garlic, snow peas, bush beans, cucumbers, zucchini, raspberries, blueberries, cherry tomatoes, and a boat load of flowers. I start a lot of my seeds indoors in the late winter/early spring before transplanting them. Yay gardening. So much fun. Can’t wait to see how your beds evolve over the years – be they filled with plants, weeds, or construction debris. :)

    • 9.17.18
      Daniel said:

      I love that, Krystal! Your set-up sounds amazing!

  27. 9.14.18
    SheLikesToTravel said:

    I like the idea of pea gravel. And I love that you wrote how hard it is to do these kinds of projects. I keep thinking of my own initiatives and how hard they have been. I appreciate the real.

  28. 9.14.18
    Pam said:

    We faced the very same yard dilemmas as you. Our solution was cobbles for walks and peastone around garden beds. Get the cobbles a few at a time (We get 20 for $100) and toss them against the fence till you get enough to install them. Love them, especially with the peastone accents. Our current problem is that I love that stone so much that I want to expand the area to where the grass paths are. Next spring for sure.

    • 9.17.18
      Daniel said:

      Sounds beautiful, Pam! Where do you source the cobbles?

  29. 9.14.18
    Jane said:

    Real life, real time reno and projects are so much more fun to read about!

    I started a long narrow raised bed this year, didn’t finish it, and bought a tomato plant at the supermarket because, damnit, I was going to eat something I grew this year no matter. It yielded a total of 4 tomatoes which averaged to $3.50 each. But still.

    Also, I’ve been renovating a house for a client in New Paltz (in slow motion as funds allow, for three years…) and they have an amazing gardener who loves pulling weeds and knows everything about everything green. She’s young, enthusiastic, and reasonably priced (cheap). If you ever want help keeping up with the weeds while you’re working on other projects, I can put you in touch with Andy. We have these great existential conversations while we’re both toiling away.

    • 9.17.18
      Daniel said:

      Thank you so much, Jane! I’d love to meet Andy!! I’ll shoot you an email!

  30. 9.14.18
    Laura C said:

    Go for the pea gravel and get a flame weeder. Efficacy is debatable but enjoyment factor is off the hook.

    • 9.17.18
      Daniel said:

      OH BOY that does look like a lot of fun.

  31. 9.14.18
    Kirsti said:

    I love your blog (and your dog). I love your honesty about how hard these projects are – we are discovering this as well since we’re two years into ownership of a 1940’s in need of renos inside and out and it’s nice to see the reality of these things. So many projects undone! So why not start another one? A really quick one. It’ll only take a Saturday afternoon. Or a weekend. Or a month of weekends. Or….

    This is a long story about gravel:
    One of our quick projects was a path of 2’x2′ concrete pavers down the ugly side of our house, bordered by a to-be-built raised bed for raspberries. There was talk of pea gravel, an idea I quashed with points about how hard it is to sweep drifts of fallen leaves off loose gravel. Then I saw a photo of a path of pavers, surrounded by pea gravel, bordered by raised beds like we were planning to build and it looked so fantastic I caved. The local landscape place’s pea gravel was too large for what we thought we wanted. We ended up going with 1/4″-1/2″ clear crush (it’s flatter and we reasoned it wouldn’t travel as much as rolly pea gravel). It looked fantastic. We were so pleased with ourselves for finishing a project (that we’d shoehorned into all the other projects that to date we still haven’t finished), plus we had a mound of leftover gravel for other projects.

    And then the cats came.

    They come in the daytime, they come at night and wake the dog up from snore to snorting, barking ball of fury. She hasn’t put two and two together to realize they come to leave her bottom treats.

    It is a beautiful litter box. I bought a motion activated water shooter thing – for a variety of reasons it’s not a solution/did not work. I’ve considered just digging the gravel out and putting down road base which may be less easily dug with cat paws. I’ve also considered all manner of sharp objects. Or sitting up late at night with the hose. Or tethering a medium-sized caiman under the lavender, beside the path.

    The only bright side is that it might be the litter-box equivalent of an aphid trap crop – luring the cats to poop in an area not-accessible to our dog who ranks cat poo right up there with peanut butter, and has the ability to vacuum it up from the ground at a gallop so that nobody can take it away from her. The whole thing is so annoying – going from being super happy with something we finally completed, that looks awesome, to realizing my raised raspberry bed is essentially surrounded by a moat of cat litter – that I’ve taken to writing a comment on a stranger’s blog about it. It appears from reading a previous comment here that we are not alone – and there’s a little bit of comfort in that.

    • 9.14.18
      Lori said:

      OMG, the same thing happened to me! It’s one of the reasons my comment way above is so “please do it this way and save yourself!!!!!1!” When I was younger and without the benefit of hindsight, I did the same thing with pea gravel in my front garden. Then, years later, after I’d managed to fix most of my pea gravel so it couldn’t be used as a litter box, my garden was on a very popular local tour. Imagine my horror as I walked out my front door to see that some random woman had TAKEN OFF HER SHOES and was walking barefoot, back and forth, in the one litter box area left in the garden, like it was some sort of deep meditation space. (Like, she was so into it and for so long that one of the volunteers was like, “Ma’am…are you all right?”) I’m sure that poor woman has toxoplasmosis now.

    • 9.17.18
      Daniel said:

      omg you guys! I never even considered this. Thank you thank you for the warning. Lori, what did you do to fix the pea so it couldn’t be used as a litter box? I need guidance!

  32. 9.14.18
    Southern Gal (@sogalitno) said:

    as usual i laughed thru most of this post but i am crying now. .. i miss my garden so much. i love reading about yours… such a wonderful space …

    a few words – a garden is NEVER finished (well the type you want). its not like a renovation project – once done its done (well unless its Daniel’s house and there is a design change years later ;o )

    a garden is more like a child or a pet – it grows and evolves and changes and parts of it die and other parts surprise you and things you expect will almost DEFINITELY NOT happen but you will be surprised and full of joy at other things…. its a wonderful journey and you are on your way! such an adventure!

    i love that you showed the IRL photos – and so much of our lives is like this – the AD and GardenDesign mag photos are airbrushed and styled every inch of them. i loved seeing the planters full of ‘mayhem and foolishness’ bec dont we all have that in our lives?

    in full disclosure mode – this week is six months since i moved and yes there are still boxes in many rooms… bec at this point its the unpack and PURGE stage (UGH UGH UGH) and its WORK not fun to do this. … so of course there are a million other things that MUST be done except finish going thru and settling in … and also it was freakingly hot this summer… and ….. well at some point i will get tired of boxes although the cats will be sad to lose their perches.

    anyway… we all lead imperfect lives …. the point is to get up each day and do what you can (rinse and repeat). and now i will not go look at my former secret garden photos and cry but will go run my friday errands and move on.

    • 9.17.18
      Daniel said:

      Big hugs! *I* miss your garden and I’ve only seen pictures of it! Good luck with the unpacking. I find it goes easier with some loud music and cocktails!

  33. 9.14.18
    Melissa said:

    When I was growing up in upstate NY, people used to joke about not leaving car doors unlocked because people might put a bag of zucchini in there! Zucchini and tomatoes were literally everywhere for free. I recently read that our local food pantry takes produce from abundant gardens. Something to consider!

  34. 9.14.18
    Heather said:

    I want to give a plug for pea gravel. We have it in our backyard and love it. It looks great IMO and is way easier than laying any sort of patio – which we have also done. You do have to refresh it occasionally (I just spent an afternoon shoveling and raking a yard of it) but it is a wonderful solution for large spaces that need some sort of ground cover. We also have raised beds where I grow tomatoes that I don’t like to eat. Anyway – keep up the awesome work. I love your blog!

  35. 9.14.18
    Catherine said:

    That midway hot mess project picture is absolutely everything.

  36. 9.14.18
    Lori said:

    So I am curious…are gas firepits ok under Kingston code? (Since you and Kim & Scott are living parallel renovation lives & all.)

    • 9.17.18
      Daniel said:

      I think they are? For a city that has it together in some ways, clarity about these kinds of laws is sorely lacking. I’m pretty sure anything under the sun is allowed as long as neighbors don’t complain and bug the police/fire departments.

  37. 9.14.18
    Laurel said:

    Daniel! It already looks beautiful! I’m so impressed. I love it now and I love the direction it’s going. Can’t wait to see how it all turns out!

    Also, please get goats. That would be the most amazingly exciting thing ever. Plus they’ll solve your weeding situation!

    • 9.17.18
      Daniel said:

      Don’t encourage me!!!

  38. 9.14.18
    Liza Vandermeer said:

    Oh God I love your blog. I love your dog’s little teef, and I love that you are persevering on the whole garden oasis concept, because sometimes it’s all about the journey, not the destination.

  39. 9.14.18
    Cindi M said:

    Oh, man! This is the life of a gardener. Keep on keepin on and learning from every success and those not so sucessful endeavors. This is the life and it is grand. Thanks for the laughs, Daniel.

  40. 9.14.18
    Kelly said:

    It’s amazing when you plant a garden and actually get food out of it. I tried to grow a veg garden for several years. After fighting with the birds for a few precious tomatoes (Yes, I tried bird netting which killed a couple of birds and made me feel terrible), I turned the area into a cactus and succulent garden. I live in Phoenix, which can be a difficult place to grow a garden, but cactus are usually easy. I would happily take your home grown tomatoes off of your hands.

    In fact, I can trade some floor tile for your tomatoes. I will likely have a surplus due to a misunderstanding, and unfortunately retuning it is not an option. #ExpensiveN00bRenovatingMistakes

    I hope you can get some kind of legal fire holding apparatus for your party zone. Gatherings on cool nights with a good fire are the best.

  41. 9.14.18
    greta said:

    You never even mentioned weather problems, which really cannot be controlled. Even big farms lose some crops every year. A local winery uses field covering mechanical nets to protect their grapes from flocks of birds. Never ending problems. Your present garden is very beautiful and successful. Your chard is amazing. I think you are more successful at things that you give yourself credit for. I also think your stone wall is a great idea. Divide and conquer your big yard!

    • 9.17.18
      Daniel said:

      Thank you, Greta!

  42. 9.15.18
    Stephanie Mitchell said:

    Just… Love.

    I have lived in my home for 16 years and whenever someone asks me what I am working on the answer is moving bricks/stones/pavers/gravel.

    Thank you for being a kindred spirit.

    • 9.17.18
      Daniel said:

      Haha, so true!!! I have moved the same stones and bricks around SO MANY DAMN TIMES (they’re out of the way! they’re in the way! they’re out of the way again!), I should start naming them.

  43. 9.15.18
    Jakob said:

    Man this is freakin’ lovely. I never had the gardening gene. My parents are superb gardeners. Hell, their parents were farmers. I manage to kill nearly every plant I touch, but luckily I’m in the Pacific Northwest where so many plants just grow with a minimum of fuss. A little pruning and keeping the blackberries at bay is usually all I manage. Ferns, rhododendrons, bulbs planted long before my time, perennials, an ancient lilac the size if a garage, but nothing planted in the spring and harvested in fall. Lavender, boxwood and a privet hedge are on my list, but buying plants feels a little like leading lambs to the slaughter.

  44. 9.15.18
    Lisa Colorado said:

    I loved reading your crazy story about raised beds, home remodel, fire department visit, flagstone to pea gravel chaos that took 3 seasons!! What a hoot. I love tumbled pea gravel cuz my pups like to garden and I venture along the paths barefoot at times. The first go around, I used the gray landscape fabric and had a few more weeds than I wanted. A few years later, I put all the pea gravel in buckets and 40 lb birdseed bags and used the expensive black landscape fabric with green stripes every foot like a nursery uses..love it. Make sure you cut it 3″ longer on all sides as the weight of the pea gravel will shrink it down. You will never have a weed, but strawberries and raspberries may push through, but not weeds! It looks perfect 10 years later. I made my own tomato cages with cattle panels, cut with bolt cutters (shoulders sore for a week) and used copper hog nose rings to fasten- this way they fold and I store on nails on the fence. Tallest and best producing tomatoes in the neighborhood. My 3rd year, I actually put in the drip lines after the lawn guy added the extra pressure reducer valve (that costs 5 bucks-he charged me $100 to install it) and the main drip line. Now, 15 years out, my Douglas Fir beds all need replacing..think I will go with cinder blocks. Or, move to a condo and give up gardening as last month, a Colorado hail storm demolished my garden and roof. The whole yard and garden looked like lettuce armageddon. I won’t even go into my mice story..they loved one tomato plant. Well, I guess I will tell it anyway as it isn’t fun to be picking tomatoes and a mouse is crawling around in there. But, I designed an awesome bird/pet safe snap trap inside a plastic shoe box with holes cut out and bricks on top. Did the trick the first night, but a racoon got to it before I got up that morning and dragged the whole contraption around a wire fence and into the garden path..what a sight. Guess racoons like peanut butter, too! Now, I have a live trap to trap and have animal control relocate the racoon. Then, if they ever finish building the new homes across the street and I stop feeding squirrels and birds, I can bring out my mouse trap and be done with them. Keep writing your raised bed story – you made me lmao. Happy gardening. Will there be a remodeling blog as well?

    • 9.15.18
      Southern Gal (@sogalitno) said:

      oh my reading of your travails… good luck and hope you continue with your garden! i had one for 12 years and now i dont and i miss it like heck.

  45. 9.15.18
    Adrienne said:

    As usual an absolutely lovely and inspiring story, Daniel. I always enjoy reading your posts, I find them strangely relaxing, and always informative. You seem to have an amazing sense of patience, look at how far you’ve come! I on the other hand want everything right away or at least to see results. The results of your garden are gorgeous and healthy veggies so full of life and the love you put into them…thanks so much, again for posting your progress.

    • 9.17.18
      Daniel said:

      Thank you, Adrienne! I wish the patience part was true!! These houses don’t give you a choice, I think. Patience or insanity are pretty much the options!

  46. 9.15.18
    Amanda Dobbratz said:

    Thanks for your blog Daniel! I love your honesty and humor. Know that others (like me) have similarly overt the top ambitions that are occasionally thwarted by things like life and work and weeds.

  47. 9.15.18
    Bean said:

    If this were my problem again (no real kitchen for months), and the weather was nice outside, I would just put my makeshift kitchen outdoors. A little gas propane grill (if that is legal in Kingston); the old sink set into an old table I will soon throw away; the old faucet hooked up to my garden hose, with a bucket underneath the sink drain (to catch the grey water, which I would throw on my plants); and a shade cover–I’d just outdoor kitchen my way through. Of course, my old kitchen was actually dismantled in the winter, and I wound up cooking upstairs and washing dishes in a dish tub in the bathtub. No, won’t be doing that again. My current reno is not something I’ll be living in until it is done–though that will be a year from now (well, that’s the goal–which means it will probably be two years, and there will still be projects undone when we move in).

    Here in the boonies, we use cinderblocks around the raised bed–if one puts them so that the holes point upwards, they make a good place to insert pvc pipe, bending it in an arc around the raised bed, and give one a way to put up shadecloth in the summer or clear plastic to make a “greenhouse” in the cool weather. Like this: https://www.thriftyfun.com/tf34769023.tip.html They are also easier to assemble by one’s onesies, and they do not rot or split.

    I hate pea gravel. I hate weeding pea gravel. I hate having to dig through it to get at the roots of the little plants that grow in the dust that settles in it (yes, I have serious weed block; no, it does not work to prevent little, rapidly-spreading weeds from growing in the settled dust). I cannot deny, however, that it looks really pretty . . . after I have weeded it . . . from a distance. Briefly. It is also fun to walk on, as it shifts under one’s weight rather like shells at the beach. I suppose if one gets used to the constant maintenance, it is okay.

    As usual, your mom is right about the food pantry. The local churches here take all the left-overs they can get. But, people also dehydrate around here, as well as freeze stuff (and my mom cans stuff–though I am way too lazy for that). You must be doing a lot right, though, if you had so much that there was too much to eat quickly–so that’s a triumph!

  48. 9.15.18
    Mary W. said:

    Why not make some of that raised bed square footage a cutting garden? Pretty, and some flowers help fix nitrogen in the soil.

    • 9.17.18
      Daniel said:

      I might! There’s also a whole lot of other yard to plant, too!

  49. 9.15.18
    Karen said:

    First of all, ”˜mayhem and foolishness’ would be a great name for a band (or a book, if a certain clever someone should decide to write one). Secondly, I live in a small town in Mass. Firepits are not allowed, but you are allowed to cook over an open fire. So, everyone keeps a pkg of hotdogs in a cooler or stuff to make s’mores handy, just in case. This also works at the beach. Can’t hurt to see if your town has the same rule.

    • 9.17.18
      Daniel said:

      Someone told me that was the rule here, but when I asked the friendly officers they seemed dubious. I’m pretty sure nobody actually knows the laws.

  50. 9.16.18
    Julia said:

    I LOVE this. This is my life. The house build and life overtaking everything while all I want to do is potter in the garden. The beds which look so good in my head never being finished or even built. Last summer I honestly thought I would grow enough to sustain us over winter hahahahaaaa. Days when I should be doing something really practical like sanding window frames suddenly getting spent entirely (and satisfyingly and addictively) in the garden. And growing stuff is so fun. Plus finding things you completely abandoned doing amazingly deep amongst the weeds is the best.

    • 9.17.18
      Daniel said:

      YES! There is limited time in the day and even more limited days with good weather, and the house NEEDS SO MUCH WORK that can really only happen in warmer months on nice days, so maintaining ANY semblance of a garden is so challenging. I get it. I get it so hard.

  51. 9.16.18
    Colleen said:

    You’re awesome and you kill me. ♥️

  52. 9.17.18
    Mouse said:

    Gardens are always morphing, changing….

    I agree with the posters who say mix in flowers. There’s an old Rodale gardening book about that kind of companion planting. Healthy way to avid pests etc, and also draws in the pollinators.
    I have a really big garden and over the years of planting various things it has become clear to me what I really like to grow and what I like to use in cooking; this will happen to you. For me, the things that transform my cooking are herbs so I have a lot of them and dry them as well, and I use a huge amount of real estate to grow garlic because FRESH GARLIC for a minimal amount of work. I plant about 100 cloves and dry and braid them and it usually lasts almost a year. One of your beds could be just garlic.
    You’ll find out what’s worth it to you—don’t give up a bed until you feel you know.
    “He who has a garden and a library wants for nothing”–Cicero

    • 9.17.18
      Daniel said:

      Garlic!! That reminds me! Yes! I want that!

  53. 9.17.18
    Natalie said:

    As always, you gave me a good chuckle! Thank you for sharing all aspects of your process, it’s refreshing and fun!

  54. 9.17.18
    t said:

    Just as a note of caution, your readers may want to read about pressure-treated wood and the chemicals it contains before using for raised beds in which they will be growing veggies/edibles. These chemical will leech into the soil, which is why cedar or other untreated lumber is usually recommended.

  55. 9.18.18
    Chaucea said:



    YES YES YES to Crusher Fines / Breeze / Crusher Run.

    Pea gravel is THE SUCK! Crusher Fines / Breeze / Crusher Run works very differently. It locks together, compacts well, keeps out weeds, is very stable to walk on–ALL the things that pea gravel SUCKS at!

    And of course lay down a very good quality commercial greenhouse grade landscaping material under the crusher fines, first.


    Please DO NOT use pea gravel, you will be extremely displeased with the results. Crusher fines is the material you’re looking for to create a wonderful surface for your raised beds and chillout spot. :)

  56. 9.18.18
    MARA SMITH said:

    I plan to build some raised beds soon, so they are ready to plant by spring. I was looking to do a pea gravel path around them too, so that my husband doesn’t curse me when he mows the grass. He doesn’t like “obstacle courses”. I’m not a gardener, but I’m wondering if I could use a sheet of wood underlayment (luan) under the pea gravel. Surely, that would prevent weeds from popping through, right? Is there a reason people don’t do that?

  57. 9.19.18
    Angela Tims said:

    Before ordering pea gravel please consider ramial wood chips that you can get for free from local arborist, its free and when weeds pop up you can easily slide them out because the soil isn’t compacted the way it would be with pea gravel. Also if you put them down about 12-18 inches deep very few weeds will pop up, within 3-6 months they will be flattened down to 3-6 inches and feel like walking on cork instead of crunchy gravel… it may seem high maintenance because you will have to top it off once a year but you will find that the gravel needs the same. Look into Back to Eden Garden, the mulch wears like the outdoor veraion of a wooden floor

  58. 9.22.18
    Jen said:

    You can have GOATS in your back yard in Kingston??????

  59. 9.26.18
    Ilse said:

    I feel like I know more about your childhood than either of my parents’ haha.

  60. 10.4.18
    Joyce said:

    You are awesome! I love this and everything you write. You’re doing a great job. I hope you know that.