Mulch Math

Monday was Memorial Day here in the USA.  Since it was a Federal holiday, and I’m a full-time worker, anymore I have the day off from work.  Which sort of screws up my scheduling for the remainder of the week, but what can you do.  I could have chosen Friday as my other day off, and then worked 4 days straight until my scheduled day off next week, OR I could have Wednesday off as I normally do, and then work 6 days.  Since my wife generally schedules her doctor’s appointments on Wednesdays, I figured that was the better choice to make, since I don’t mind working a six-day stretch at a time.

Since it was a day off, we’d decided that we were in need of a trip to either of the big box home improvement stores, Home Depot, or Lowes.  There are three in the vicinity, 20 and 40 miles away, depending on which direction we wished to travel.  If we decided on east (Home Depot), my theory was it would likely be more crowded, as it’s more of a ‘built-up’ area, and there would be more people shopping.  As it turned out, it didn’t make a difference.

A few miles after leaving the house, there was a distinct binging sound from the instrument panel.  We’d just taken the exit and were heading west when I discovered I’d forgotten to gas up the car the day before.  So we were approximately 20 miles from an empty gas tank, we were tooling down the road doing 65 mph and had the AC running full tilt.  The closest gas station was behind us and there wasn’t an exit to turn around at for another 10 miles.  Call it the perfect storm.  I shut down the AC to conserve gas and crossed my fingers that we weren’t going to run out before getting to our exit.  We do have AAA, so if worse came to worse, we could call and they’d bring us 5 gallons of gas, but no one wants to be in that situation, it’s kind of embarrassing, y’know?

As it turned out, we made it to the gas station with a smidge left in the tank.  With disaster averted, we were free to travel to Lowes and do a bit of shopping.  Only when we got to the store, the parking lot was jammed.  Looks like everyone else in the area was taking advantage of the warm weather and making the pilgrimage to get plants, home improvement options and all manner of stuff, taking it home to do whatever with it.   Oh well.

Once we got parked, we made out our game plan.  Roto-tiller hardware first, then mulch and potting soil second.  I’d already checked the website for the store before going, determining that they didn’t have much in the way of small engine repair options, so that was going to have to wait for another day.  Also before leaving, we’d gone out to the backyard and did some measuring, to see how much mulch we were going to be needing this year.  My wife had used the calculator on the Lowes website, plugged in the numbers and came up with about 21 bags, with a presumption of 2 inches of mulch in the beds (originally she went with 3 inches, but that raised the amount of bags to 30, so she went with less depth).  I used a different calculator but made an error, instead of using the measurements as separate pieces of the puzzle, I added them together, creating a huge square footage box, which translated to over 100 bags of mulch.  I only discovered my error later in the day.  Fortunately we didn’t buy the 100 bags!

Going to the hardware aisle, I found an associate, gave him the bolt that I had and informed him that I needed two more just like it.  It took him about five minutes to finally come up with them, though he insisted that the bolts were ¼”, when I used a 7/16ths wrench to remove them.  After getting two nuts to go with them and paying for them, we were about to go to the garden center when my wife decided to interact with the cashier.  She asked him about the mulch and potting soil, and he suggested that we pay for them right then and there, and pick them up at the garden center to save time.  I was ok with that, for the most part, but when my wife said “Five bags“, it stopped me short.  Instead of saying something, I just let the guy ring it up, thinking she’d changed her mind and decided to get fewer bags initially, to be sure they were the right color, or whatever else was on her mind about it. As it turned out, I should have said something, because later in the car she confirmed that she’d erred, she meant TEN bags, not five.

Going to the garden center with the receipt, I was able to find the potting soil easy enough, loaded the bags on a flatbed and rolled it towards the exit.  I talked to one of the cashiers, and asked her to confirm that they were paid for, but she pretty nonchalantly waved me through without even looking at my receipt.  Makes me wonder how much they lose in thievery per month if their employees are that lax.  Or maybe there was something else going on that I was unaware of.  Getting the mulch was a little more driving, as they had a space in the parking lot where the bags were on pallets.  Giving the receipt to one of the burly fellows, they took very little time to pile them in the Edge and we were pretty much done.

By that time both of us were pretty ready to come home.  I wanted to swing by Wal-Mart to check to see if they had anything in the way of small engine repair, but as it turned out they didn’t.  Piled into the car and headed home.

I went back to the Lowes website this evening and checked out their mulch calculator, plugging in the numbers as they were originally measured, and then as a combined total and discovered my error.  What I originally thought was my wife’s error turned out to be my own.  No harm done, but as the saying (sort of) goes ‘measure twice, order once‘.

Go, Go, Gardening!

garage-plotEven though the roto-tiller is down, that doesn’t stop the process of gardening around here.  We have a bevy of other non-powered tools to break ground, so that’s being used while I figure out the intricacies of the machinery.

Friday was my other day off for the week, and it was warm enough that we decided to do a little shopping for plants and other sundries that would be needed.  Too, I have a fledgling plan about building a raised bed off the garage.  For the last couple of years there’s been a bunch of leaves and other stuff there and it’s been a bit unsightly.  I measured the area that needs to be utilized, and it’s going to be rather narrow, but it can be anywhere from 8 to 10 feet in length, which will make up for it.  The reason it has to be narrow is that there’s a property line I have to contend with, that’s pretty close to the foundation of the garage.   When we first lived here, I had wondered why there was just a one bay garage, but quickly discovered the reason.  The property line is too close to have expanded any building outwards to accommodate more than one vehicle.  Behind the garage is the outline for what may have been a small outbuilding or barn in the past, there’s a concrete pad and what’s left of the foundation.  It appears to be rather old, certainly not cinderblock, more of an amalgamation of stone and some sort of really old mortar.  Even so, it has held up rather well over the years, and if I had access to a jack hammer, I would have gotten rid of it a while ago.

There are several places locally where we can get plants.  One we frequent more often than the others, generally because their prices are pretty reasonable.  Another one further afield has an ice cream stand attached and they sell plants on the side for the most part.  They have good prices on hanging baskets, certainly better than most of the other greenhouses and garden centers.  Our plan was hit the ice cream stand place first, then the other place on our way home.  My wife informed me that the first place opened at 2 pm, so we headed in that direction about 2:15.   Only, when we arrived, the sign outside said that they opened at three,  not two.  Oops.    Needless to say, neither of us wanted to sit around for 30 minutes, so we decided to take a little jaunt further east to another greenhouse we knew about.

They had a pretty good selection, except their prices are a little higher, and their offerings (as we found out later) were a teensy bit deceptive.  Most places sell things like marigolds in 6 packs, but this place sold them in individuals.  So instead of paying $1.99 for 6 plants, I ended up paying $1.49 for ONE plant.  Even if I had purchased 8 for their ‘discount’ price of $1.29/each, I’d still be paying more money for the plants that I wanted.  Granted their plants are very healthy looking, larger than at many of the places, but the sum total of what we spent there for what we got made my eyes water at the register.  I suppose there’s a good reason we don’t do more of our shopping there!

After spending about 45 minutes there, we returned to the ice cream place.  We had been there on Wednesday, and had spotted two very nice hanging baskets of petunias, in black and yellow that both of us had liked.  We didn’t get them at the time, figuring they’d still be there when we went back.  Except, they weren’t.  There were several others that piqued our respective fancies (I thought about getting two purple and yellow ones, but I think it was better that I didn’t, I needed a more suitable reason than the colors are the ones from my high school!) but in the end all we got was a Bougainvillea.  I had looked over the marigolds they had but they didn’t look especially healthy.  We’re going to take a trip (probably this coming Wednesday) to the greenhouse we visit most often and probably round out what we’re going to be getting for planting purposes.

The gardens are slowly starting to come together.

Turning Soil

backyard01It’s Springtime, the ‘season for new life’ as the pundits have called it over the millennia.  It’s also the season for weeds, invasive plants and other things growing in our gardens.  To that end, we have a limited amount of time to get things prepped before my wife and I go to our local garden center to purchase the items that are going to be blooming and festooning around our home this year.

We have a limited amount of space, because our property is rather small.  We have two separate lawns that we maintain, a few bushes that are left over from the previous owner(s) and as of this year, no trees.  There are multiple maple saplings trying to poke their way through the ground at different points in the backyard, but since none of them are in good places (usually around the foundations of the house) every year we cut them back, so as to keep some sort of disaster from happening. (no one wants a tree growing in the middle of their house unless it was purposefully designed to be there)

troy-bilt1Over the years we’ve assembled tools for this job, one of the most important ones is my wife’s 1970’s era Troy-Bilt™ Junior Roto-tiller.  For being close to 50 years old, it’s still in pretty good condition.  It’s the old workhorse that we have, my 30 yr old Agway snowblower comes in a close second.  Over the years it’s had some bumps and scrapes and a couple of tune-ups but in the last year or so it’s been running roughly, and over the winter I replaced the muffler that was pretty rusted, pitted and nearly useless.  Wednesday it took me a good 10 minutes of yanking the starter cord, fiddling with the choke to get it running, and even then it wouldn’t rev up to a higher RPM then a little above idle.  Even so I tried to take it out to the backyard, though when I attempted to use it in one of the easier beds, it didn’t do so very well under load.  After the third time the engine conked out, it took me another five minutes to get it started again.  Since the wheels are frozen on the axle, I can’t get them to move unless the engine is running.  After that I pretty much gave up and babied it back to the garage.  I figured after lunch I’d take apart the carburetor and see if I could do some tinkering to get it running more smoothly.

Even without the roto-tiller working adequately, I think we got a good amount of work done.  Between using the weed whacker to mow down the heavy-duty weeds, and using a garden fork to pull up dandelion roots, as well as digging out best we could knotweed stalks, the beds look way better than they did in the morning.  I even used my new non-clogging rake to collect the leaves from last fall, and deposit them on the brush pile behind the garage.  Though I expect my neighbor to the north is less than pleased to see the pile grow, as it backs up against part of his backyard.  He’s in the midst of his third year of transforming his father-in-law’s property into something of a cross between a Japanese garden and something I can’t quite put my finger on.  But at least it’s interesting to watch the transformation as it happens year to year.

In the evening, after taking a quick jaunt into the backwoods looking for the small engine repair place we used 2 years ago for the snowblower (finally found it, but it appeared abandoned) and then getting some lunch at a local hot dog stand, I checked out a couple of YouTube videos on repairing and cleaning carbs.  I then decided to do a little surgery on the tiller, and ended up with a problem almost immediately.  One of the nuts on the carb wouldn’t come off easily.  The first one did (finally), but the other one just spun on the bolt.  After ten minutes of screwing around with it (no pun intended) I gave up and went to get my Dremel.  Attaching a cutting wheel and then being sure I didn’t start a fire, I proceeded to cut off the offending bolt.  So, now I have to locate another bolt to put the carb back on when I finish messing around with it.  Too, I need to go to the Advanced Auto near here after work and get some carb cleaner, the right engine oil (SAE 30) as well as some shop rags, since this is going to be a messy job.  I’ve been mulling over just buying a new carburetor and calling it done, but I’d like to see if I can somehow resurrect this one, without having to call in an expert.  If all else fails, there are other small engine repair places in this area.

Oh, btw, this is what the garden area looks like now.  Pretty good if I do say so myself.

backyard02