Anti-location: new garden space

ClareBroommaker's picture

Today, we added this spot to our city garden collection. With the very small garden lot we added in May, this means we have 10,455 square feet of new garden space. Both of these lots are in the same neighborhood, but not the one in which we live, so we will plant our long, slow crops that don't need much close attention, weeding, or watering. Our fruiting trees and shrubs, for instance. We'll do no leafy greens or root crops on these lots as we can assume high levels of lead. If anyone has even general knowledge of how a coke plant persistently affects the environs, I would appreciate hearing from you. There was a coke plant about five blocks away as recently as 1989. Coal coke, I mean.

This is our second lot on a dead end, which we do like. Not too much traffic, so perhaps a reduced risk of harm and theft. I also like that there are no sidewalks to trim, keep weeded, and shoveled of snow in winter. I appreciate sidewalks when I want to walk, but this street goes nowhere anyway. So yay for reduced tidy-up work.

Can't wait to see if there will be a summer breeze, as it is on a hill that I did not even know existed, at the juncture of the Mississippi and River Des Peres, for those who know this city.

We had a banner year for leaf collection, 120 bags. Also raked neighbors' yards and the alley behind our house. I've mulched the home garden, but have saved some leaves anticipating closing on this lot. Now I'm on the lookout for something to hold loose leaves in place over winter. Maybe some old fencing or netting of some kind. We cut down a spindly mulberry tree from the back edge of the lot and saved its branches to drop on top of leaves if nothing better turns up.

I don't mind telling you that we spent $5,500 for the lot. The lot bought in May was $1,500. For city land, very cheap. They say, "location, location, location," but my motto is "Anti-location, anti-location, anti-location!"

add photo: 
Sweet Tatorman's picture

Clare, if you are willing to spend $5500 for more gardening space I would suggest a few $ more for some peace of mind concerning soil contamination. Just yesterday I was looking at the soil testing options from my State's extension service that are a step up from the basic routine soil test. For only $12 I can get everything done in the $6 routine test plus some trace element analysis which includes Cadmium (Cd) and Lead (Pb). I just now looked at the soil lab options and fees for your State (I am assuming Missouri). They are not quite the bargain I have here in Georgia but do offer some tests specifically targeted at environmental contamination. Here is a link to their fee schedule. Scroll down to Environmental soil analysis. The most expensive option on the list is the metals package at $75 which includes the setup fee.
And BTW, congratulations on the new gardening space.

I'm sure I've heard of using fungi for heavy metal remediation. I *think* after the mushrooms grow, you pack them off to the landfill taking the toxic metals with them.

I agree with Tatorman. Get your soil tested. I'd get a number of tests for different areas of your new lot. You may discover that there are areas that are safe and areas that are not. That is, the front half may be fine for roots and leaves but the back half of the lot is bad.

You won't know without a test.

Sweet Tatorman's picture

Paul Stamets discusses the ability of mushrooms to bioaccumulate some heavy metals in his book Mycelium Running (my copy in my lap at the moment) and advocates as a means of mycoremediation. I am *highly* skeptical of the practicality of this.

ClareBroommaker's picture

We'll bring in wood chips in addition to the autumn leaves. That supports fungi, but usually not much in the way of harvestable fruiting bodies, unless, I'm supposing, one innoculates it with a specificdesired fungi.

alice's picture

Congratulations on your new garden.

One method for soil sampling on a budget is to mix your soil sample from across the lot. Then you are getting a picture of the combined amounts. If that showed a significant level of something then the next stage of that protocol would be to test say four samples to see if there is a difference across the lot.

Another thing you may already know about is to track is the shade. Shade is often critical in urban gardens. Most garden crops unless they are known for shade tolerance need a good amount of direct sunlight. Some diseases like fungal rust of alliums can be alleviated with sufficient light. So it might be that the back half of the lot needs to be dedicated to shade tolerant crops or whatever. (This is super important up here at 52 N as the sun angle is low much of the year, may not be so important where you are.)

ClareBroommaker's picture

I'm working on a layout for the shade. The corners of this lot are on the compass points such that the back left in the photo is to the north. The fruiting dogwoods can go where there's shade in summer. I will plan a seating area for the shade. Will have some ornamentals around the seating area. I look forward to this as I have almost no shaded area in any of my other gardens. I definitely need to sit and rest a lot in the summer! I want an elderberry bush. I see them growing sometimes on the edge of a woods, so I think they can take some shade. Anything like tool storage or compost bin will go in the shade in order to save sunny space for the plants.

I'm assuming the houses on either side of the grassy area didn't come with the lot you bought.
Will you need to fence it off?
Four-foot-high chain-link fences with double gates (so you can drive a car through it) make sure everyone knows not to run amuck in your new garden.
Remember to install the gate hinges on the inside of the fence, not the outside. My parents had a pair of double gates stolen right off the hinge pins because they'd been improperly mounted.
Their town, Wyoming, Delaware, is not known for criminal activity of any kind, other than minor traffic violations.

ClareBroommaker's picture

I had not even thought about fencing yet, but yeah, I think it would be smart. That's a good tip about putting gate hinges on the outside.

Aluminum chain-link has a lot going for it.
Unlike wood, it lasts and doesn't have to be replaced or repaired, other than when trees fall on it or someone goes at it with bolt-cutters.
Unlike plastic, it can be repaired without replacing everything.

It lasts. My parents' aluminum chain-link fence was installed in 1973 and it looks the same as ever. The only sign of damage (other than weathering) is where a tree fell on it.

You can get it in various heights. Don't go under four feet; a three-foot chain-link fence is too easy to climb over. Four feet discourages casual visitors.

The transparency is both good and bad. It's good because it doesn't block wind, sun, or viewing from the outside. It's bad because it doesn't block wind, sun, or viewing from the outside.

You can train vines up reinforced chain-link but they'll grow into and through the fence. Trees will grow through chain-link if you don't pay attention.

Plenty of people hate chain-link because it's utilitarian in nature. Some municipalities get worked up over chain-link unless you get green vinyl coated fencing which a) costs twice as much and b) disappears. Shiny bright chain-link will eventually weather into a dull gray.

Having watched my sister repair, replace, repair, replace, repair, replace rotted wooden stockade fencing and having seen how old or damaged plastic fencing can't be repaired at all, only replaced, I'd stick with chain-link.

If you can afford it, go with masonry walls or wrought iron.

lathechuck's picture

The most common chain-link fence material is galvanized (zinc-coated) steel, not aluminum. Home Depot does sell aluminum fence, but it comes in rigid rectangular panels. One advantage of that scheme is that it won't put tension on the fence posts, and won't need to be stretched as it's attached, the way chain-link fence does. 4'x50' galvanized steel is about $100. An aluminum panel, 5'x6', is also about $100, so be careful what you ask for.

I always thought it was aluminum. Learn something every day.

It's quite possible my parents, having bought their fence in 1973, did get aluminum.

Thanks for letting me know!

Sweet Tatorman's picture

Aluminum chain link fencing does exist. It is fairly pricey though as you can see from the link below. Clare could enclose her lot in 4 ft aluminum at about the cost of the lot itself.

Congratulations on extra growing space! I bet the neighbours will be pleased to be looking out on a green growing garden rather than another house as well. have you looked into wicking beds at all? They are completely enclosed with no contact to existing soil, so a good option for contaminated sites. I have friends who hauled 20 old fridges from the dump, removed the doors and tipped them on their backs to make excellent wicking beds. Over time they rust and look very industrial chic.

Sweet Tatorman's picture

I've been wondering if you have any updates for us on your several anti-locations, both this one and the groundhog infested one.

ClareBroommaker's picture

Well, mostly we've just been keeping those two lots mowed, continuing to mulch spots where the trees will be set, and nursing some baby trees in pots at home. We really lucked out that the ground hogs left some time after mid spring. Hallelujah. No sign of them other than their empty burrows. I know they could come back , though. At the ground hog lot, I just tonight, added to last of the hay we'd bought for mulching there.

We've met and really like neighbors at both places. One guy likes to help us load the mower onto our cargo carrier. A couple has placed a beehive on the lot pictured above. Neighborhood kids are welcome to kick their 2/3 inflated soccer ball on that lot. (I wonder if we still have a bike pump.) Neighbor who works for a mow & blow company keeps popping over with his huge Husqvarna mower to knock out that mowing in 10 minutes compared to the hour it takes my husband and I to do it. He will not accept pay, just does it out of the goodness of his heart after a long, hot day of mowing to support his family. We've brought him home canned delicacies and a cold case of beer to show our appreciation. Yet another guy brings us cold water and tells us what is going on in the immediate neighborhood. Oh, one man asked if he could plant pumpkins on the lot, even though he had told us that he owns 56 acres out in the country. I guess it's wooded with no sunny spots, or something. I had intended to try hull-less seed pumpkins there myself, but just did not get around to digging a couple holes and dropping the seeds in. I would have just let the vines scramble over the grass. Maybe next year while the trees will still be tiny.

I've bought some bare root trees for both lots and it looks like they won't be shipped until December or later. I'd so hoped to get them planted before then. I'd like to dig holes for them so I could pop them in as soon as they come, but I do fear people walking across the lots, and tripping in the holes. Maybe we can cover the wholes with plywood. The easiest thing would be to trench the trees into the back yard vegetable garden to await a spring planting. Peach seeds planted last fall in soda bottles (in ground) have not germinated. In the past I've always planted the seeds removed from the pit, so they are having a harder time.

I'm not going to fence either lot. Back in March a neighbor told me that a car had driven right through the lot, from the street and out to the alley. Yep, I saw the ruts left behind. It is a dead end street with nowhere to turn around to get back out, after all. This evidently was not the first time that happened. I'm told that a school bus tried to cut through the lot and got stuck there a few years ago. It was on the TV news. So yeah, some barrier is needed, especially once I get little trees planted. But chunks of concrete and some flagged sticks will serve well enough.

We're definitely at our max on what we can take of now. Work that would have been "nothing" 15 years ago, wear us out now. So it's hard for us, but we just go at it slowly, take lots of rests, and work as much as possible in the evening or morning. When we finish a day's work, we like to congratulate each other, "We did it!" with a nod to the improbability that we could have done so.

Other gardens are doing well enough. Where I last year had such a good butternut squash crop, I mulched in nice and deep with leaves last fall. Those are already disappeared into the soil and the soil will be great for planting next spring. A single stray sunflower came up on the edge of the spot. I left it to grow. It developed a huge diameter stalk. I thought it must be a Russian Mammoth. It flopped to the ground under its own weight and has put up scads of flowers, maybe six inches across. They are blooming in front of a nice big lambsquarters which makes a nice backdrop for the flowers. The flowers do not follow the sun, but always face east so that they are showing off to passersby. From that garden, I still need to pick some more hyssop, some "red zinger" type hibiscus, and tomatoes. I thought tomatoes had punked out, but they just keep going. Oh yeah, I finally got my husband to stop overhead watering that garden so often and the payback is that there is much less mildewy type leaf problems. But he has continued to be really good about hand watering a few things that want more water.

So that's that. Hurrah for the anti-locations! (--which are all bus accessible. So if you see an older couple with heavy duty loppers and a shovel get on the Catalan Loop or the Grand Ave bus, that'll be us.)

Sweet Tatorman's picture

Thanks for the detailed update! Having simpatico neighbors in both locations sounds like a big plus.