Front Yard Reset

We changed over this yard to an edible landscape, with lots of pebbles, rocks and stone. Alicia suggested the name “Fruity Pebbles” for this project. I like it.

Thanks to Anna + her nephew, and Alicia for helping. Very special thanks to Steve for putting in a lot of work on it with me. Seems everyday was a hot one when we did this project.

Another raised bed

We built another raised bed this week in Campbell. This one has an interesting shape designed by the homeowner. She had the indent put into the bed so that the maximum width of the bed was 4′ from anywhere around the bed you stand. Pretty cool idea.

First step:

In the beginning...

In the beginning…

Then magically soil, drip irrigation, plants & mulch appear!

Do "U" see what we did?

Do “U” see what we did?

We also, put some new drip and worm “towers” in her existing raised bed. The idea of the worm tower is…. well just check this link: THIS LINK!

Chitra, the homeowner is a very good cook. She grinds her own spices and makes this fresh fermented batter (I couldn’t tell you the pronunciation or the spelling, but it contains rice & lentils) to make into dosas, steamed cakes, and this flatbread among other things. Thanks so much Chitra for some fine south Indian cooking!





Recent Projects

I always mean to get before/after photos of projects I do but usually forget. Here are some recent projects though that I got pictures of.

Gopi’s Bed:

Not where he sleeps, but where he puts his peppers & eggplants. I like working for Indian clients because they usually offer you something cool like Indian style tea, yogurt or home cooking! We got Gopi to help out so that he could break a sweat. He was tired but I think he liked it.


Gopis Yard

After: 12′ x 4′ x 1′ w/ drip irrigation



T-bone’s Trellis:

Here we have a raised bed and a trellis attached to it. You can’t see but off picture there is a grape and that will climb the trellis to provide shade. This raised bed juts around the corner and is bolted into the cinder block wall behind it. This bed has perennials edible plants in it, like citrus, berries, and stone fruit. Thanks to Steve for the assist on this one!

After (sorry no before pics) Bed is L-shaped 5′ x 1.5′ x 2′ on each L, w/ drip irrigation.

Apartment corner

Apartment corner

So woody!

So woody!

Destroying lawns one at a time…..

Our friend Oliver approached me about doing something with his front lawn. He and a friend had already come up with an idea. It wasn’t edible landscaping, but xeriscaping. Well I could get behind that, as it meant replacing the lawn with a landscape that would need little to no water, as well as minimal maintenance. No gas guzzling mowers or weed wackers!

We ordered, and Oliver and I moved, 11.5 tons of rock. I installed some drip for the roses that were already out there, and some drip for the aloes and agave that we put out as well.

There were some modifications to the plan. We ordered three types of rock instead of two, added some feature red lava rock we found on Craigslist, and changed the flow between the different types of rocks, creating a river effect. Oliver did a great job creating little jetty’s and inlets with the rocks. Looking at the red lava rocks sitting in the white dolomite made me think of fire and ice. So I call this the “Fire and Ice” yard. That agave in the middle of the white rock is maybe 1.5 feet across now, but will get to 6-8 feet wide and send up some pretty cool shoots and give some height to the yard.

15 lawn sprinklers and 850 square feet of lawn are gone! Goodbye sirs, you will not be missed.

Arts & Crafts: Wall Art

What would have happened if Bob Villa took Martha Stewart on a date 35 years ago? There would have been some awkward moments for sure. Bob would probably have spilled some of his clam chowder on his flannel shirt. Martha would have taken out a monogrammed handkerchief and gently swabbed the chowder off of it. There would be a sheepish smile from both of them, and their eyes would meet. “It’s a good thing” as Martha would say.

What if that fateful night they had a love child? And while he neither had the skills of his father or the tastes of his mother he still felt he had to live up to those expectations of being the best at what they do. One day he took some old fence boards and cut them up. He rough sanded them just like his father would, but then something told him to stop. There is no need to do anything else to these boards he thought. This was art in itself. While he could not create great works of art, like Michelangelo or Degas, he didn’t have to; nature accomplished that feat when it created the wavy patterns of the wood grains. They reminded him of the rolling waves of the sea. The old wood was desiccated enough that only the peaks of the waves met the sandpaper, and the troughs were spared harsh greetings of the tiny pulverized rocks that were glued together on a distant cousin of the old wood. Light and shade, peaks and valleys.

The son hung the old wood boards on his wall, admiring what nature created for him. He admired it’s beauty for a while, but something felt lacking. His mother had mentioned to him that beauty can not only be found on the hidden insides of nature, but also on the outsides. It’s a different kind of beauty, nature becomes more of an exhibitionist when it wants something to be noticed. The son then knew what to do. He found natures great works in his own yard, begging for attention. The sirens call was answered by the bees, the humming birds and now a human. It all made sense. You can’t have the external beauty without the internal beauty that supports it. So why not display natures great works of art together?

Building a Pergola

When we moved into the house last year we found ourselves with a backyard that had no shade. The upside is lots of areas to grow fruiting plants. The downside is full afternoon sun hitting the back of the house and patio. So we thought, how about building a structure that not only provides shade but supports fruiting plants?

Isn’t this a trellis? Are Bruce Wayne & Batman the same person? I don’t know. It’s similar though. Pergolas are usually made to frame an “outdoor room”.

For the posts I had Sierra Lumber & Fence come dig the post holes, pour the footings and install a bracket to attach the redwood posts to. Digging 3 foot deep holes and mixing & pouring all the concrete for that is hard work, so I “subbed” it out to these guys. That day they also delivered the redwood I was going to be using to build the pergola.

I waited a couple of days for the concrete to cure and installed the posts onto the footings. Designing the pergola was easy. There are web sites where you can enter the dimensions  of your pergola and see what custom pergola kit they would create for you. This is good to do because there are some structural considerations. The span of the beams across the posts, the height of the wood and any cross braces all need to be considered. I copied the custom pergola kit plans for the footprint size of a pergola the same size as mine. This way I knew things would be sound, and I would have no sagging. I did make some minor changes, and copied the simple style of my trellis so they would both match. I built some raised boxes around three of the posts and put in some bare root grapes this year; Himrod, Suffolk Red, and Concord. It will take a few years for them to completely cover the pergola but it will be pretty awesome when it does. I saw a similar pergola on an edible landscaping home tour and it was the inspiration for this idea. Since grapes are deciduous they will drop their leaves in the winter and let the sunlight through. Then they will grow back and it the hot summer they will be full of leaves to shade the patio and part of the house. Good idea eh?

Oh yeah the specs:

Footprint: 12′ x 16′  ,  Posts: 4×6  , Beams 2×8 , Rafters (18″ Cantilevered): 2×6 , and 2x2s to train the grapes across. All rough-cut redwood.





….at a time!

Out with the deck….In with the trellis!

When we moved into our house last year it had a deck that was perpendicular to the house. We thought it was awkward and decided to rip it out. I wanted to salvage as much of the redwood as I could, to use for various projects we had in mind. So I borrowed a couple of pry bars, and off we went:

Ugh, there was more concrete rubble buried under the deck. Like we needed more of that! The decks base strangely was a mix of pressure treated wood and redwood. I did damage some of the boards when prying them up, and some had too much weather damage to use. In total I think I salvaged 80% of the redwood and 100% of the pressure treated wood.

I wanted to make a trellis to train a fruiting vine over it. I was really interested in kiwi, passion-fruit, or grapes. Anyway, I had seen many of these structures around Sunnyvale and looked at a few and then copied the structure and style of one I liked in particular.

All the salvaged boards were 2×6’s. I had to buy 4×4 redwood posts to complete the project. The 2×6’s are connected to the posts with thru-bolts and the end cuts are all done with a square & circular saw. I ripped some of the 2×6’s to use for the top of the trellis. I gave all the wood a rough grit sanding before putting it together.

Since I was going to build a pergola (another project & post coming for that) that was going to hold grapes I decided on passion-fruit for this project. I remember going to Hawaii and buying a “lilikoi” from local who was selling them on the side of the road. It was deep purple and I had no idea what it was. I cut it open at some place I was eating lunch and some of the contents spilled out onto my plate. I took a spoon and scooped the pulp & juice out and ate it…..WOW! I’ve never had anything like that, really unique tasting fruit, great combination of sweet & tart. When I found out you could grow the purple “edulis” varieties here in Northern California it was a no brainer to add to my edible landscape. They taste just as good as the one I had in Hawaii.



Using Urbanite for hardscaping (Part III: Tree Rings & Planter Beds)

You still have some leftover concrete? Another project you can do with them is build raised beds. Unlike wood, they will never rot and need replacing. You can see the project I’ve done here is a raised bed that rings around the tree. By raising (mounding the soil) I can get better drainage. This can help for heavy clay soils that don’t move water well. This is a really easy project, just lay them out and dig until you find them level enough for you to be happy with. The more OCD your personality is, the longer the project will take you.


Using Urbanite for hardscaping (Part 2: Patio)

So maybe you find yourself (or someone on Craigslist does) with a pile of this laying around:

You could take this to the dump, pay the fees and add to the large pile there, or you could recycle it to make a patio. Yeah I know you could pay hundreds or (or thousands) of dollars to buy new concrete pavers for a patio, but you are saving up for that ultra cool gold backpack you’ve always wanted. So for your patio find some urbanite and start digging!

The patio we built has a layer of base rock tamped down and slightly graded away from the house. There was some coarse sand laying around from brick removal from another area so we put that on top of the base rock (which was covered with weed fabric). It was 4″ of base rock and 2″ of sand. The urbanite is 4″ thick. Then comes the part where you have to do some creative thinking and make fit the pieces in like a puzzle. However unlike a puzzle there is no set way for them all to go together. Use your imagination (and a chisel) if necessary. You should take a level or 2×4 to make sure there are no large height differences between the pieces (less than 1/4″). You could make them all perfect if you like but chances are (unless you mortar them together) there will be some shifting. Put some plants in between the stones instead of mortar!

Using Urbanite for hardscaping (Part 1: Retaining Wall)

Urbanite is a word that can mean different things to people when you bring it up. When I think of it, I get visions in my head of broken slabs of 4″ thick concrete. Using this product has many benefits for you. A primary benefit is saving money. If we bought new concrete blocks for the size wall we built below, it would have cost us $2000-$2500 to purchase them. The urbanite cost 0$. The cherry on top of the money you saved is that you are re-using concrete and stopping it from going to the landfill. The cherry on top of that cherry is you have a unique retaining wall that will be one of a kind, standing apart for all the store bought block walls around the neighborhood.

This wall is a “dry-stack” retaining wall. That means there is no mortar or cement holding the wall together. One advantage a dry stack wall has is water has a place to escape. If you were to seal a wall you would have to make sure you had some sort of drainage for the water to escape through.

All walls are usually built “2 on 1”, meaning you lay two stones over one, and never stack directly on top of each other. This gives the wall more structural support. The wall is deeper at the base and tapers to half that depth at the top. For a 4ft retaining wall like this, that means 2ft deep on the base courses (course = layer) and ending up with only 1ft at the top. You don’t have to taper the wall, I think it looks nice though. The wall is set on base rock that was tamped down with a machine tamper. The wall starts below the sidewalk, with the first course completely under and the second course half way under ground level. As each course is laid it is back filled with leftover base rock and concrete rubble. It is good to lay the “stones” slightly leaning back towards the earth being retained. You can also use “shim” type scrap concrete to help level pieces if you want a neater looking wall.

The end result? Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I think this is a beautiful wall. What do you think?