The flagstone patio we vowed to build in the backyard of our home at Horsefeathers Farm was completed over the Memorial Day weekend, and I have the sore lower back to prove it.
The 100-square-foot home for vegetable pots containing tomatoes, peppers and herbs features one-half cubic yard of crushed rock, 1 cubic yard of sand and 2,000 pounds of silver-mist green slabs of flagstone set in place like a loose-fitting jigsaw puzzle.
Mined in Montana, one of the dense sedimentary rocks is imprinted with two tiny, fossilized ferns, adding an unexpected touch to our much-anticipated home-improvement project.
We used pressure-treated 2-by-6 inch lumber purchased at the big-box hardware store to frame the job site. Full disclosure: My next-door neighbor took the lead on the framing job. He charged me two beers.
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The sand, gravel and rock were purchased at Great Western Supply, whose owner, Dan O’Neill, and employee, Kelli Tokos, offered helpful advice along the way about how deep to excavate the job site – 4-6 inches – and how much gravel, sand and rock to buy to complete the job.
For example, O’Neill recommended that we buy a full pallet of our preferred rock, weighing in at 2,629 pounds. We knew we wouldn’t use it all, but it gave us extra rock to pick through to find the right shapes and sizes to complete the puzzle. Besides, the rock that we didn’t use we returned for a refund. O’Neill also waived the $55 delivery fee after he learned we live only about four miles from his Old Highway 99 landscape supply business.
The supplies cost a total of about $750. I would hazard to guess a contractor would have charged two or three times that to build our little patio. I fully understand. This was labor-intensive work with lots of shoveling, raking, tamping, lifting, placing and repositioning to get the desired result.
Here’s the capper: Less than one hour after we finished the patio on Memorial Day – still giddy with a rush of accomplishment – a mole poked two small piles of sand up between two 50-pound rocks.
This caught us by surprise, considering that Jake, our 10-year-old Labrador retriever, caught a mole last week not more than 50 feet from the project site. Looks like his mole-hunting days aren’t over just yet.
So what else is happening these days at our East Olympia outpost? Well, we have a study in contrasts developing between the perennial and annual fruits and vegetables we try to grow.
There’s a bountiful set of blueberries, strawberries and raspberries shaping up, suggesting the pollinating bees found ample windows of opportunity to do their thing amid the second cold, wet spring in a row. The apple and Asian pear trees also have an abundant set of fruit, further evidence of successful pollination.
We also had a 90 percent survival rate on the dahlia tubers that overwintered in the ground. However, we lost a few to the slugs since I separated and replanted them three weeks ago.
The annual vegetables are another story. My late-April planting of pea, spinach and lettuce seeds never sprouted, forcing a second, and even a third, planting of crops we’re usually starting to enjoy by early June. Not this year, that’s for sure.
I’ve even resorted to planting more vegetable starts and fewer seeds to make up for lost time. At least the 75 stalks of garlic that sprang forth from a November planting are well on their way to harvest in July.
Ray Parker, my East Olympia gardening guru, agreed with my overall assessment of the spring growing season – a good year for fruit trees and berry bushes, and a more challenging one for some of the vegetable crops. Here’s what he had to say about his best-known crop: bodacious corn.
“I put it in early, but it was too cold and wet, so I replanted it about a week ago,” Parker said by phone, offering me some leftover corn seed if I stop by his place on Defiance Street this weekend.
That’s pretty good timing, given that I plan to plant some corn and squash in the next week or so.
Other observations around the farm include a Wednesday morning sighting of a Western tanager, flitting about in the cedar trees and lilac bushes next to the house. It was my first glimpse of one of the most colorful neotropical migrants to arrive each spring in South Sound. I never grow tired of seeing the male’s red head aflame in mating color atop a bright yellow chest.
A few minutes later, a goldfinch graced one of the feeders in the front yard, a sure sign that spring is about to segue into summer, despite a slow start to the vegetable garden.