Those archives will prove that starting a garden isn’t something done in a single year. In fact, I’m totally sure there’s no end in sight if you’re set on optimizing and finessing the space for new crops or challenges. Trying to find our way and build upon our vision is fun though, and this has been the best season yet in that respect. Every year brings new ideas, and this year’s #gardengoals were bigger than ever before – it’s the year we set out to install a permanent fence.
Our deer-trafficked yard requires a strictly fenced-in space, but while every neighbor and expert I’ve encountered suggests no shorter than 8′ fencing if you’re going to keep those creatures out of your crops, our trial years 2013-2016 only used a 4′ fence, and we had no issues with deer jumping in. Maybe they did bound around in there and I didn’t know, but we still haven’t witnessed trampled plants or tipped trellises. I think their avoidance has to do with the fact that we’re outdoors a lot more in the spring and summer, leaving human scents and traces of our presence and a whole lot more dog pee around the back hill that scare deer into keeping their distance. Plus, there’s a ton of foliage for them to eat, so no shortage of food for that four-legged crew.
That’s all to say, when we set out to take our garden from a simple 4′-temporary-metal-fence style to a more permanent design, we did decide to make a little taller using 6′ fencing (more accessible at local stores than 8′ fence, too), and applied wisdom from our own learnings by burying some of that height to beef up the bottom of the fence to discourage diggers and smaller wildlife from entering down low. So the fence is actually about 12″ buried, and 5′ high above ground.
This is what we were starting with (that broken leaning tree in the background came down all by itself a few days after I snapped this, FYI):
And here’s where we are today:
The new garden is just a little bigger than the old one; it’s sized 16′ x 32′ (512 sq. ft.), rectangular, not oval. We sunk 4x4x8′ posts down 2.5′ into the ground in cement, leaving 5.5′ atop so that we could attach fencing. There’s an actual gate too (as opposed to an opening that we snagged and squeezed through in the old fence).
One thing we really have working for us is the fact that our soil has a lot of sand in it; we hit the occasional root, but no rocks and no dense clay. I mean, look at this. Post holes are never easy, but we couldn’t have it easier.
If you’re curious, we did price this project in cedar. I did it while standing in the lumber section at Lowe’s, its prices right in front of me, thinking maybe I would pay a little more for cedar lumber, only to be told over the phone by the guy at the local lumberyard that it was, like, $90 per 4×4 in cedar, and in a moment of complete shock exclaimed – mouth-agape, high-pitched voice – “That’s great, lemme think about how many I’ll need and I’ll stop by later.” Not. Cedar would have made this project 8x more expensive, and all-in, as it was I think we spent about $500 on lumber and cement and fencing.
The posts are regular, untreated pine. We should have gotten pressure-treated, at the very least, but without having done a lot of research on how much the treatment would leach into the soil, I instinctively went the safe route. (Would come to learn that PT isn’t terribly bad for soil these days; it allegedly would kill the plants before harming the edible fruit, and we’ll just have to deal with rotting posts sooner as a result of not using them). We did use PT for the horizontal pieces along the front and top of the fence, as neither come in contact with the ground.
Prior to installing the posts, I stained them using what is still my *absolute favorite* stain, a natural solution of dissolved steel wool in apple cider vinegar. The stain I used for these posts had been sitting in the basement for a few years untouched, and man-oh-man was it concentrated. Normally it takes a few months to achieve a dark stain using this finish, but within a day of application the posts looked fantastic.
Our ground isn’t level, so there was some level of complexity with respect to getting a fence that looks level. After we got all 13 posts secured in cement, what worked really well for us to ensure that the metal fencing would all be an even height and not angled to be equidistant from the ground was to decide on the height of the fence and mark it at one post, and then run a horizontal board along to all of the other posts, one at a time, using a level to be certain that the same height marking was transferred all of the way around. For all intents and purposes, the height of the finished fence is between 50″-60″, varying slightly because of the unevenness of the underlying ground but looking visually straight along the top.
Originally, I thought we would just wrap the entire length of steel fencing around the new posts in one long sheet; we eventually surrendered to that idea when we realized we were inviting the process to turn into a damn wrestling match, and instead trimmed 8′ lengths of fencing so that they could be attached individually, post-to-post-to-post. I singlehandedly cut and installed 12 steel fence panels in about a half-day, using metal snips to cut and a pneumatic stapler to attach the fencing at the height we previously marked. Most aspects of this project were easily done solo, but would go a lot faster with a partner or crew, which is probably nice for you to keep in mind.
Trimming the fence into 8-foot lengths made it a lot easier to sink the fencing about 6″-12″ into the ground to ward off animals that–in our experience–try to burrow beneath the fence, or dig their way through. 6″-12″ certainly might not be enough deterrent for the strong-willed, I mean, what’s to say that anything isn’t going to dig deeper to get where he wants to go? We’re testing it out to see how it rolls, and we can adapt if necessary.
To make things even more complicated for the burrowing guys, I curled the end of the fencing underground when there was any excess. Shove it all in the hole!
I also purchased a secondary length of plastic fence/netting that would defend the lower 18″ of the garden fence from intruders, and sunk the lower edge of that underground too; after all, the metal fence with 4″x6″ openings is still wide enough for a lot of animals to squeeze through, but a fence with 1″x1″ square openings is a bit tougher for common yard folk.
I backfilled in around the buried fencing with soil, tamped it to be level with the grass in the yard, and we turned our attention to planting, and finishing a custom garden gate.
Quickly, the list of what we’re growing this year includes:
Pete’s the brains behind the garden gate, and kept the construction simple and strong. A little bit of research told us how to brace the rectangular frame so that it resisted sagging (note: it’s the opposite of what we thought), and we pimped it out with self-closing hinges and a latch that’s easy even for the kids to access from inside and out. We avoided hinging the door on the corner post, thinking it might be more susceptible to weakening over time, and we’re really happy how it turned out. We built up a ramp using some spare pavers so that the door closes to sit almost right atop them, leaving a mere space not even tall enough for a bunny to squeeze beneath. It’s a good fit, man.
At this point, I had made a second batch of vinegar/steel wool stain and allowed the vinegar to dissolve the steel wool for about 3 weeks. We used it both for the door, cross-pieces, and the trim that was added to the front of the posts to sandwich the metal fence and make it look more finished. The newer batch of steel wool wasn’t as concentrated as the stuff I had in the basement from two years ago, but I can attest that the concentration continues to age and darken wood for months after application, and I’m pretty confident that by next year, all of the boards will be more similar in color.
We added two horizontal fence pieces between each post – 1×4 at the top, and 1×6 across the middle – and then pieced in 1×4 trim pieces vertically along the fronts of the 4×4 posts. It looks pretty nicely finished, and was a simplified approach that still lets in a lot of sunlight. Used screws for everything, so that any component of this fence can be easily adjusted if/as necessary. Natural lighting in our garden has been steadily improving, and when we cut down one of the big trees in the middle of the yard this spring, we opened the garden up to good afternoon sunlight whereas before it was a partial-sun kind of space.
The fencing was pinned with staples to the backside of the horizontal pieces for added reinforcement, and we added plastic caps to the top of the posts to help prevent rain from soaking in. These are the plastic post caps we got from Amazon (aff link) and we totally thought they’d squeeze onto the post snug like a swimming cap, but they measure a little too big and overhang the 3.5″x3.5″ post in every direction… so buy a different kind. It’s a super frustrating finishing touch to this project. We had to add pin nails around the edge to keep them in place, and in all fairness to them that’s how the manufacturer intended, but it wasn’t how we thought it would work. Our alt plan? Custom copper caps that would patina like champs. Maybe in the future!
Here’s one more before + after for comparison; so nice to finally have this special garden in our own yard!
Before: Simple 4′ metal fence.
After: Customized wooden fence with gate. Note that the tree in the upper right was taken down! It looks far away but actually used to cast a big afternoon shadow on the garden in previous years.
For a little story on how the sale of this car is linked to the sale of our home, check out this Instagram post.
We traded in my 2008 Jeep Patriot for a 2017 Chevy Bolt EV one month ago, all the while sing-songing TMBG day-in and day-out. Electric Car was always one of our favorite songs on that kid’s album, and even though the idea of owning an electric vehicle seemed too futuristic even for us earlier adopters, here we are, three kids squished in the backseat shouting Hey Siri and trying to hijack the Apple Carplay.
The Bolt EV runs all-electric. No gas at all like its hybrid/plug-in counterpart, the Volt. I’m not going to get into the specs and details because there are plenty of reviews that compare the Bolt to other electric models, and I’m also not “a car guru” looking to hit all of the PR-approved talking points about the vehicle. I hope this overview, an effort to share our experience to-date, helps give you peace of mind in your buying process, or helps you think differently about your next auto investment.
We’ve received a lot of questions both from friends and strangers since we made the switch. Right from the start we were thrilled with the vehicle, but wanted to wait a bit to answer all of the why/how/what questions that have piqued your curiosity. We needed to learn more about the Bolt, and also live with it before suggesting that anyone else to go buy what might just be the most expensive car they’ve ever purchased (raises hand). We are officially one month in and have made adjustments to our budget, our home, and our routine to accommodate this change in lifestyle. But it’s real good, you guys.
The Jeep was definitely not my favorite car because it seemed like it was always ready for another thousand dollar repair. I’d really been fostering that whole “it’s paid off and we hardly drive it, so let’s see if we can keep it running for another 8 years” mentality, but compounding issues made it less and less reliable.
Two years ago, Toyota offered me the opportunity to drive its Prius PHV for a few weeks. It was a hybrid/plug-in (the Prime is its newer iteration) and even though it only had a 10-12 mile electric range before kicking over to hybrid, I thought so highly of it that I’ve planned ever since to try and upgrade to a hybrid or hybrid/electric car when the time was right.
We put in a lot of hours becoming well-versed in the options when it was apparent that the Jeep was on its way out. To be honest, an electric car didn’t seem entirely feasible from the get-go. I had a very natural battery-range terror at the thought of choosing a vehicle that had no reliance on gasoline, but the 240+ range on the Bolt is so much better than the Prius Plug-in had been in 2015, that it was hard to justify terror when really, we’re only zipping 10, 25, 75 mile distances between charging opportunities.
Make and model aside, we felt that if an electric car would work for our family, it was just one more good thing we could be doing to be environmentally-mindful. Federal and state tax incentives were certainly leaning in our favor too ($7,500 fed, $2,000 NY State) but I’ll get into that in the next section.
We’ll continue to cross our fingers and hope that electric will become increasingly normalized; technology must continue to improve – accessibility and affordability too. And while it’s not necessary since we can charge at home, it’s nice to see *free* charging stations popping up all over town (Rochester, NY folks: Public Market, Charlotte Beach, Downtown, College Town, Fairport Village, I-Square).
Yeah, Bolt is the most expensive car I’ve ever purchased, but that’s relative. The pre-tax sticker price was ~$43,000 and with time-of-sale incentives (which doesn’t include the Federal $7,500) we were able to get our monthly payments down to about $600. I’m upfront about money stuff, and I’m the friend who’s always asking “but how much did it cost?” because I firmly believe that knowledge is power and:
The incentives were enticing. There was a modest dealer incentive, topped by a $2,000 New York State Electric Car Rebate, and a $7,500 Federal Tax Credit too. I like to hope that both credits will be available for a long time, but truthfully I’m worried the Federal credit will be phased-out or cut (administration aside, it has been in effect for many years already). We figured it would be better to act while the opportunity still existed.
We also did some quick math on what we should expect as far as cost to charge the Bolt, and tried to calculate that against what we might save in gas by using it as our commuter, as well as our primary weekend vehicle. Based on recent gas prices and our electric company charges by kWh, I’m guessing that we’ll be netting a $200/month savings for our family (and that $600 monthly car payment suddenly looks a little easier). Additionally, EV vehicles have fewer moving parts resulting in less overall maintenance – no oil changes! We are cautiously skeptical about what other maintenance might be required over time, including how well the battery holds charge after a year or two of use, but the 8-year battery warranty takes away some of those concerns. We have not yet fiddled with changing our electricity rate structure; we figure that after 3 or 6-months we can compare our statements and adjust how the electricity is billed if we feel we can optimize it to our advantage.
I really hate buying cars, and never will I feel like I got “the best!” deal but I do enjoy being in that power position, so I asked-and-asked-and-asked for all of the discounts under the sun including but not limited to a better trade-in value for my Jeep, small business owner incentives offered by the dealer (show your schedule C), some kickback for being related to a GM employee, and I even negotiated a way to put a large(r than normally allowed) portion of my downpayment on my credit card instead of writing a check so I could earn myself some cash-back points. Plus, when you ask for the all-weather mats to be free, sometimes they just throw that in. Cha-ching! Hello-goodbye, money.
In all those hours spent researching electric cars, we probably should have paid more attention to what all of those charge cord upgrades meant, because when we got home and realized that the garage plug in the wall was only going to add about 30 miles of range to our vehicle every night we were… not ready. Learn from us. Our basic electric outlet is considered Level 1. Most public charge points are Level 2 (adds about 30 miles/hour in our experience). We paid about $750 extra for a CHAdeMO fast charge port on the Bolt to enable DC Fast Charging for access to Level 3 charge points–positioned to us as “wave of the future” to enable +/- 100 miles of charge in an hour– but come to realize the closest public Level 3 is in Toronto (we couldn’t even drive all the way there to try it) and we probably won’t ever have a need to quick-charge the battery in less than an hour, unless there came a day when Level 3s were literally at every gas station or mall across the country. So, if you’re living in the middle of nowhere or only going to use this car as a basic commuter, save your money, you probably won’t need the DC Fast Charging port. I still encourage you to check out where your local charge points are at because we definitely spot Level 3s on the ChargePoint app map in larger cities.
To convert our own Level 1 outlet into a faster Level 2 charging port, we purchased this Siemens VC30GRYU Versicharge 30-Amp Electric Vehicle Charger for $500 (affiliate link) and had our electrician come to install a special 240V outlet to support the higher voltage (another $330). It’ll take awhile to recoup those costs, but it’s already worth it to be able to charge faster. Spending money to save money sucks, but it definitely encourages us to make the most of EV technology (and maybe in the next few years we can upgrade the van into an electric-hybrid SUV, and reserve gasoline for when we take longer car trips).
At night, it looks like this while charging:
The green dream? Maybe this is just the incentive we needed to add some solar panels to our roof – charge our electric car, in our own garage, via the power of the sun. Do I hear a TMBG remix?
The Bolt is not a vehicle for a family with only one car, but to make the most of electric driving, we’ve found that we’ve adopted somewhat of a one-car family mindset. Having it as a more efficient option forced us to rebalance our priorities so that we were putting more miles on the Bolt, and making an effort to reserve our Dodge Caravan for those days we need to have both cars away from home, or for longer distance travel.
Like most small cars, it’s good for 2 passengers in the back, tougher with 3. Our 3 kids are small, but 2/3 are in car seats, and car seats are huge. We’re gradually upgrading to Diono seats, which are a bit narrower and significantly less bulky, and planning on using the Bolt to drive all 3 kids together until a time that they can’t stand each other. That’s also to say, your co-workers might not like squishing their thighs together to sit 3-across in the backseat on your way to lunch, but I do think they’ll find they have plenty of foot space.
I will say that the trunk space is in the Bolt is great, so traveling with our 3 kids and their “stuff” hasn’t been an issue yet. The “floor” of the trunk lifts up and drops down another foot, where you might ordinarily find a spare tire, and it’s enough room for strollers/pack ‘n’ play/backpacks/trumpets/baseball bats/folding camp chairs all at the same time.
If you’re upgrading your only car and you want a more efficient option, you should totally look at the Volt or Prius Prime as comparable hybrid/electrics, because they both have a pretty good electric range, and you too might find that you don’t need much gasoline.
Smooth ride. The engine doesn’t have gears, which means it doesn’t need to turn over the same way a conventional car does. I don’t even know if that’s the right terminology, but simply put, its acceleration is smooth and seamless because there’s no engine activity requiring gears to adjust with speed. It’s the complete opposite of driving a jerky stick shift.
We appreciate the one-pedal driving, and all reviews point to it being a more charge-efficient way of city driving, but it feels a bit like driving with the e-brake on. The regen hand paddle located on the back of the steering wheel is more favorable in my opinion. We use the regeneration function diligently, and on short sprints to and from the store, can usually regain the charge for whatever road mileage we’ve used. Acceleration-wise, we drive so much more efficiently than ever before, because the dashboard metrics fluctuate with every movement. And honestly, what that means is that we drive like Grandmas, going exactly the speed limit to avoid inefficiencies, and coasting to a stop so-so-so slowly when no one’s behind just to win a little extra charge.
Cameras everywhere. On all sides of the car. Pete previewed Surround Vision technology at a Volkswagen event a few months ago, and as someone who upgraded from a bare-bones Jeep to a car that I can parallel park without even needing to look out a window, it’s pretty incredible. The cameras work together to create an accurate overhead simulation of your car’s positioning, and there you can see front, back, and wide-angle views in all directions. I’m sharing this photo specifically though, because I can’t figure out why Cody was standing on the back left, but in the overhead it looks like he’s on my back right? It’s cool, but maybe someone more savvy in camera technology can tell me why that happened. (P.S. Pete’s in the front of the car in the aerial view, so you can see how he is distorted.)
It took us a few weeks to even notice this feature: Rear Camera Mirror. It’s a bit disorienting, and I’m pretty sure I’ll never use it except as novelty, but if you can get used to it, it’s nice to have a view out the back without blind spots.
The digital connectedness of it all is very cool, even if it does leave no doubt in my mind that Big Brother could be listening to and watching my every single movement. Please let it be used for good, like to tell Dunkin’ Donuts to give me more freebies because I’ve already Bolted through the drive-thru 4 times this week. Hi, big business and government. :)
With connectivity, comes the MyChevrolet app and OnStar and wi-fi capabilities. I’m not likely to sign up for any additional monthly charges once our freebies run out, but I like what I see already. In my first-month diagnostic recap, which was emailed to me by OnStar, the reporting shared that we had saved the equivalent of 68 gallons of gasoline, and avoided 1,317 pounds of CO2.
Given all the bells and whistles and lights and safety alarms and technologies, it’s really weird that the front seats are manually adjusted. Not a big deal, but curious.
We’ve already jammed our skulls against this pointy tail light, which is directly at 5′-8″ head-level when the trunk is open. Watch yo’ self.
When driving, if you tap the regen paddle on the steering wheel to slow the vehicle and generate battery power, the brake lights do appear for a moment, but do not remain on the whole time you engage with the paddle. Seems like a potential safety concern if the vehicle continues to slow down but from behind there’s no indication of braking (it slows faster than just coasting, too). And for what it’s worth, we do use the foot brake in conjunction with the hand brake, but it slows the car so startlingly fast that it’s more fluid to use one or the other instead of both in tandem.
A parent thing – I wish there were book holders on the back of the driver and passenger seats. Our toddler reads non-stop in the car.
There’s really not a lot of bad to say about this vehicle after driving it (and putting 1,600 miles on it in its first month at our home). I really encourage you to go take a test drive and experience how nice it is to drive any electric car. Let me know what you think!
*This post was not sponsored*
If our last 4 springs have been focused on clearing brush, this season has been the year of removing big, old trees. March windstorms did a real number on the City of Rochester and its surrounding areas; come to find we lack preparedness for those types of storms, but it feels silly to suggest how inconvenient it was to be forced out of our home for 3 nights due to downed lines knowing that the midwest and southern states are in a constant state of tornado hell this time of year. Our neighborhood survived with some expected damage, but we were fine.
The woods behind our house are a mess from the storms, but because that space is low priority it might remain that way for awhile. Most broken or tipped trees also knocked two or three more in their path like a domino line-up, many leaning and others snapped off halfway. Over the treehouse, a tall pine shifted and uprooted, but snagged itself in the branches of a neighboring tree. It was hard to tell exactly which way it would tumble–some part of it definitely would have hit the treehouse–so we avoided playing out there until we could have it removed.
Trees like that one can apparently be priced in the area of $2K for removal, and many tree companies have been upcharging too given the demand, but we lucked out by meeting a guy who knew a guy who climbed trees professionally and had free time on a Sunday and was able to come do the job for us at a fraction of the price. Our tree guy for life, is what I like to call him.
The big leaning tree was important, yeah, but the tree crew was actually more concerned with this tree in the middle of our backyard. It had cracked at the trunk, a fracture unrelated to the wind, and was worsening fast. This one, we could have taken down ourselves without much trouble, but had the crew take care of it while they were on site.
I took some pictures of the yard before the trees were removed, knowing that the split tree in the middle of the yard would really change the entire landscape of our space. I’ve grown to realize that even though I take a lot of pictures, I’m still not doing a great job at showcasing how much our yard has changed.
Here’s the backyard in 2013 (arrow pointing at cracked tree, which was one of the few we preserved when we cleared that land):
And in 2017. I mean, we’ve been busy, right?!:
Both trees came down in a matter of hours with the help of Pete + the small crew.
Part of the deal with our tree-guy-for-life was that we would get rid of all of the fallen wood so they didn’t have to haul it off. It’s the harder way out, but it’s an easy way to save some money, folks, what can I say. So, for weeks now we’ve been dedicating efforts to sustaining our free wood pile, which some sly neighbors have been silently devouring like stealthy little beavers.
The removal of those big trees actually came a few weeks after we removed a Sassafras tree from our front yard; in fact, those logs shown above are actually from that tree, and they’re leaning up against another Sassafras that isn’t looking too hot in my non-expert opinion. We have ongoing concerns about the health of the trees that line the front of our property–in truth, they might all have to go in the coming years–but they all made it through the windstorms, so hopefully they’re stronger than we expect.
The tree closest our driveway has always looked puny, and in the last year or so has developed some mighty big cracks (also sounded hollow AF) so we plotted and planned how we could drop it ourselves without simultaneously crashing our driveway. Worked like a charm.
When it fell, we witnessed hundreds–thousands–tens of thousands carpenter ants spilling out into our yard, creatures which undoubtedly were slowly leading to its demise and are probably also delighting in the bigger Sassafras trees lining the road in our neighborhood. They sucked so much life out of that tree that the cut logs weighed probably no more than 15-pounds each, evidenced by Pete carrying them easily over to the free wood pile.
Both the front yard and backyard are looking a bit different now, but on the plus side, our garden gets better afternoon sunlight than ever before. Will be back soon to share what we’ve been up to back there. (P.S. Sam’s weekly photo series mentioned here is still going strong. Closing in on one year!)