Lawn vs. Vegetable Garden: How About Both?

The lawn takes shape after 12 hours of excavating and moving dirt around.

The lawn takes shape after 12 hours of excavating and moving dirt around.

Even before the gas-powered mower was invented, the lawn had a long history of challenging the environment. According to Wikipedia, and my own suspicions, lawns are an English invention mostly created to flaunt power and wealth. While originally used as pasteur land, the English monarchy co-opted the lawn in the early 1600s by crafting vast ornamental landscapes that projected their style and class. Unfortunately, they were usually maintained by servants with hand shears.

In these days of water consciousness, the idea of installing a lawn doesn’t have the same cache it used to, unless you collect rain water in a barrel or live in a wet part of the country. Luckily, we fit in to the later category, and our lawn mower is of the push-powered variety. So lawn it is. Thirty feet by 15 ft. to be exact.

The big dig
Today begins the big dig to install a modest plot of lawn in our front yard for the kids to romp and play, and a hard-working vegetable garden from which the Weekndr family will yield a summer bounty of crops.

For years I’ve been concocting ideas for the ultimate landscape solution for our awkward plot of land. It had to be affordable, make use of the material already on our land (dirt, stones, recycled materials), and most of all it had to be well-balanced. For us that means: 1. provide entertainment, 2. be relatively easy to maintain, and 3. produce food.

These days, vegetable gardens are environmentally hot, whereas lawns are environmentally not. One is a tiny ecological miracle that produces ten times more than it takes, the other consumes water in large quantities and provides only fleeting entertainment in return.

A level garden emerges from a thorny hillside.

A level garden emerges from a thorny hillside.

To balance our increased environmental footprint I’ve been working the past few weeks to carve out a terraced vegetable garden on the steep, northwest corner of our property. It gets all the daytime sunlight and will make use of a previously thorny area where poison ivy prevailed. This was partly motivated by my latest project at work, www.vegetablegardener.com. But more so because we’ll be able to keep our kitchen stocked with fresh ingredients all summer long.

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Weeknd Project: Make a Tumbler Compost Bin

Build a tumbler compost bin with hardware store parts for a fraction of the price.

Here's how to build a tumbler compost bin with hardware store parts. It cost just a fraction of the price of store-bought one.

We started composting at the Weekendr house a few weeks ago. This year our yard will feature a sizable vegetable garden and common sense dictates that we recycle the organic scraps from the kitchen to make our own compost.

It’s a stinky endeavor, but we’re told by our gardener friends that it will pay off in spades. Everything from banana peels to kiwi skins to egg shells get put to good use.

After a few weeks of collecting kitchen waste in a mixing bowl on the back deck, it was apparent that we needed an industrial-strength compost bin to hold the rotting organic matter. I browsed the garden catalogs but prices for commercial compost bins are steep. You can expect to pay $250 and up for a good plastic tumbler compost bin.

I decided to save a buck and make my own with a trip to the hardware store. Here’s how I did it for under $50:

MATERIALS:

  • 20-Gallon Buckets (2)
  • Stainless Steel bolts, 3 in. long, 1/2 in. dia. (8)
  • Stainless Steel nuts, 1/2 in. dia. (8)
  • Rubber grommets, 1/2 in. dia. (16)
  • Metal Conduit, 4 ft. long, 1/2 dia.
  • Duct Tape
  • 2×4 Saw Horses (2) 
Two buckets, some bolts with nuts and rubber washers, a steel pipe, and a little help from Buddha.

Two buckets, some bolts with nuts and rubber washers, a steel pipe, and a little help from Buddha is all it takes to make a compost bin.

I spent about $40 on all the parts for this compost bin.

I spent about $40 on all the parts for this compost bin, not counting the 2x4 base that holds it.

I removed the rope handles from the buckets and used the holes for the 1/2-in. bolts.

I removed the rope handles from the buckets and used those holes to attach the 1/2-in. bolts.

The compost bin takes shape with the bolts on tight.

The compost bin takes shape once the two buckets are bolted together.

I didn't have a 1/2-in. dia. drill bit so I snipped a hole in the center of each bucket with wire cutters.

I didn't have a 1/2-in. dia. drill bit to drill the hole for the center pipe, so I snipped a hole in the center of each bucket with wire cutters.

A fast-moving baby puts the near-finished compost bin in perspective.

A fast-moving baby puts the near-finished compost bin into perspective.

I drilled holes in each end for air circulation and rested the pipe on a pair of 2x4 saw horses. Crank handle to come.

I drilled holes in each end of the compost bin for air circulation and rested the pipe on a pair of 2x4 saw horses. A crank handle will make this complete.

The finished compost bin. I cut a hole in the top for an opening and I still have to work that out.

The finished compost bin has a hole cut on top where the scraps go in.

I cut a flap lid on top for access to the bin. Right now it's held down with duct tape but I plan to come up with a better long-term solution.

I cut a flap lid on top for access to the bin. Right now it's held down with duct tape but I plan to come up with a better long-term solution.

 

I found an old rusty crank handle in the weeds while digging up the garden plot. It fits over the steel conduit perfectly! The compost Gods must be looking down on me.

I found an old rusty crank handle in the weeds while digging up the garden plot. It fits over the steel conduit perfectly! The compost Gods must be looking down on me.

The garden plot takes shape.

The garden plot takes shape.