Saturday, April 18, 2015

Homesteading like a Jerk: Cinder Block Raised Bed

Some of my greatest blog idols are super-powered homesteaders. They are transparent with their faults and generous with their knowledge. They grow wheat. Their lawns are littered with chickens, pigs, and goats. They're good at sewing pillows from old sweaters, or making soaps, or combining different essential oils into healthy body remedies.

I, however, consider myself a newbie to this homesteading realm. I want a self-sufficient life, a healthy life, a more cost-efficient life, but like most newbies, I am not entirely sure how to get there. So I fly by the seat of my pants. I pin homesteading tips and tricks like it's my job (seriously, though, it's my job....if you have a blog and need a Pinterest manager, I'm your girl). And then I execute, hoping for the best. I don't expect to nail it the first time around. Nope, I just aim for learning something, or a bundle of things, to apply next time. Because there will always be a next time when Jen gets her heart set on something.

This week, I decided I would add two raised garden beds to my yard. We'd built one before out of fence planks. It became my raised garden bed of doom.

Not this time, I told myself. This time, I am going to plant with intention. I am going to grow with wisdom. I am going to think with the end in mind. Plain old fence planks aren't enough to hold such vast knowledge, not this time around. No. I need something more permanent. Something more...... concrete.

Hey Home Depot. I see you sell cinder blocks for like $1.40 a block. That ain't bad. Even with your huge delivery fee, the cinder block option is more affordable, movable, and weather-resistant than my planks. Looks like we got a winner.

So they arrived. On a flat-bed semi truck.

Dude couldn't get them through the gate into my backyard. He had a massive forklift that was just a teensy too wide for the doorway. And when I say teensy, I really mean his massive, gargantuan forklift would've left a hole twice the size of the gate had he followed my instructions and "just plowed on through."

So he just left them right here, in my front yard, just inside the gate. 80 cinder blocks. One nice day. And one Jen. Terminator time.

I'd cleared some backyard prairie plant debris from the far back reaches of my yard and piled it high on the lawn to help kill the grass. It kinda worked. See that little patch of yellowed grass?

Then I laid down some landscape fabric and started building my bed. Layer one, lookin'...hmm. Bit of a curve here, yes?

Well we could try and level the ground. Realign the structure. Build with physics in mind. But how 'bout we just shift them around instead. That's better.....right?

Layer two, lookin' decent.

How about a second one? Those blocks ain't gonna move themselves! Ah, there we go.

Now move that salvaged debris straw crap into the walkways and have your kid jump on it. Perfect.

Look at that! Two raised garden beds. Each have twice the planting area as the old one. Those little holes in the blocks are perfect for a border of marigolds and nasturtiums to keep bad bugs at bay and good bugs in plenty. Both beds together, with semi-truck delivery, cost less than $175. Without delivery we would've paid under $110. No level needed. No measurements needed. No experience needed. And look, you get a free pallet!

What's that? Took you four hours to move all those cinder blocks? It's time for dinner already, you say? Well, how about that. I'm sure you have dinner all planned out, right? Oh. I see. You were supposed to put the crockpot on seven hours ago. Well never fear, tomorrow's dinner menu is "breakfast for dinner," so you can just borrow from tomorrow and pull the ol' switcheroo. Wait, you don't want to sit at the stove and make pancakes for an hour? Stirring batter sounds about as fun as eating nails, you say? Too many dishes, hm?

Here you go. Pancake muffins. Rockin' the Halloween cupcake liners in April like a boss.

Better add something hearty and filling to that plate. Something worthy of 80 cinder block bicep curls.

There we go. Breakfast potatoes with chunks of seasoned sausage.

Now that, ladies and gentleman, is homesteading in real life. You get a plan, you execute on the plan, the plan falls apart, and then other plans you thought you'd planned fall apart too. So you improvise as best you can and try to take notes. And who knows. Maybe you'll get huge arm muscles and an unexpectedly delicious dinner out of it.

Anyone else gardening this spring? Made your plans yet? Ever had plans fall through? What tips and tricks do you have to share? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below! As always, thank you for reading :)



  1. Love your homesteading adventures. That would make an interesting blog niche or series. How it all works out with your chicks, garden, etc. We were going to put in a raised garden this year, but hubby doesn't think he has time. We will do our usual tomatoes, but I suggested adding cucumbers and a few herbs. I had a herb garden years ago and really miss it.

    1. Thank you Savvy :) I think I'm going to keep it up! Do a Homesteading run here while things are still new and interesting and filled with quirky little mistakes. I am also doing an herb garden this year - a spiral herb garden! Stay tuned for a jerk post! HAHA

  2. OMG I am laughing! The Halloween liners are classic! I'm still using up my Christmas ones. I wouldn't even attempt what you are doing - so impressed!

  3. Hey I just commented and it didn't show up! Did it go through? What I said was...

    I am dying laughing at this post, especially the Halloween cupcake liners! And I don't think you homestead like a jerk...I mean you tried it right?!

    1. Hahahah Kristen I love your comments, even if they show up a few times. Totally make my day! :) And you know, I never really thought I would be all into this home-spun, make-it-yourself, back-breaking work stuff. It kinda just fell into my lap after watching these food documentaries on Netflix. True story~!

  4. Sweet! That would be a LOT of carrying cinder blocks (great excuse to not exercise for a few days at least, I'd say). Gardens are fun, though I've always approached them so non-scientifically that I don't even know what the advantage of a raised garden is. In Michigan I grew zucchini and yellow squash and green onions, cilantro, and mint--chosen because they grew super easy and we eat a lot of them. I attempted to grow tomatoes but we had the worst times with our tomatoes. I don't know why, but I suddenly remembered that when we first moved to Malaysia, we planted a papaya tree from seeds in our tiny yard, mostly as a science experiment to see if it would grow, and it very quickly grew and became fruit-bearing, but my family hates papaya so my little brother chopped the tree down. That was a lesson in growing plants that produce foods you actually eat.

    1. HAHA My thoughts exactly, Rach. I don't think I worked my arms for like three days after that one haha. It is so true to only grow that which you'll eat - I am so swayed by the pretty pictures of fruits and veggies in the seed catalogs, but truly, nobody in my house likes snap peas or winter squash. I gotta cook these things, too, so I have restricted my plots to veggies I know how to cook. Companion planting is something new to me, too - and permaculture. But there are SO many books about it and awesome teachers (Joel Salatin, Geoff Lawton. Maybe someday I will make a post about my garden heroes! I think people would like them as much as I do.

  5. I don't have a garden but I'm ready for Spring and happy that with it comes warmer weather. As drowsy as I am with my allergies, I'm happy it's warm and I'm not brrrrr'ing every 5 seconds rushing to seek warmth.

    How the heck did you move all those cinder blocks?!?! I'm a pretty strong gal but that's just insanity. :P Good for you getting shit done and being productive!! Can't wait to see how all your plans go!! What are you going to plant first?!?!?!

    Have a great one Jen!! -Iva

    1. HAHA Iva you are so funny. "Brrr'ing every 5 seconds - so true. The temps dropped this week for us a little but they're going back up next week and I seriously cannot even wait. I am so ready to get out there and do some more.

      So I've already got some peppers, tomatoes, strawberries, cauliflower, lemon balm, oregano, thyme, and onion seedlings started inside my house. The first to be planted outside will be my spinach, cucumbers, corn, beans, zucchini, and marigold seeds. Then my tomatoes and peppers will get planted out there and fingers crossed, will survive. The herbs will be the last to get planted, I think. The spiral is going to kick ass! Can't wait to post about it!