Pizza Week

I usually let PB pick our theme for the week for school. Last week, I gave him a bunch of ideas and he picked Pizza. It was a great way for him to work on fractions. We used these worksheets, and make three different types of pretend pizzas, as long as the real thing for dinner one time. We also read Pete’s a Pizza, which might be one of PB’s favorite books. He likes to be made into a pizza as well as the main character in the book.

contact paper
I made this first pizza craft with contact paper and foam. First I cut out a large blog of red and another blog of white for the sauce and cheese. I taped a round piece of contact paper sticky side up on top. All of us cut out ingredients to the pizza out of craft foam. The cool think about craft foam on contact paper is that it comes off and re-sticks, so we made several different pizzas. PB’s favorite ingredient was the yellow pepperoni he made. When C was playing with it, I also had him tell me the colors when he put up the ingredients. He is finally doing pretty good on his colors too.

salt dough
For this craft, on the first day I made salt dough. C just played with the dough and kept putting it in his mouth. PB made a couple of pizza crusts and so did I. We let them dry for a couple of days, and then painted them with red paint for the sauce and sprinkled white glitter on for the cheese.

I had previously made most of these felt shapes for pretend tacos. I added a larger blog of white and red for the sauce, and we had pizzas instead.



Backyard Swales

In the backyard, I wanted a place to extend the garden with vegetables at first and more perennial crops like a food forest later. I wanted to take greater advantage of the water turn, not spend a lot of money, and also make it look nice. What I ended up planning on was two beds on contour (or flat), with a ditch or swale in front for the water turn, and a hugelkultur mound behind. I’m going to walk behind what we did so it makes sense.

First we used a transit level to mark out a level line, or a line on contour in the landscape. It’s marked with yellow flags in the pictures. Our backyard is pretty flat, but it still has a lot of hills and flat spots you don’t see unless you are out there with the level. The line we marked was nice and pleasingly curved. Several time Joe asked if it was really necessary to worry about an inch in grade. I said yes. Getting the first line right on contour both made for nice curves and made the water flow far more even than it would have been otherwise. If it wasn’t exactly level, we might have had to go back and re-dig or dam some areas up.

step 2

Next Joe dug up the downside part of the line we marked out. He dug about three feet wide and maybe a couple of feet deep. We then filled up this area with various sticks and logs we had on hand, and put the soil back on top. The rationale behind burying the woody material is it will break down and gradually add organic matter to the soil. It is often referred to as a hugelkultur bed. In drier climates, I think it is important to do this in the fall to give the woody material time to break down over the winter: otherwise it can strip the plants of nitrogen. For us, it was also an easy way to get rid of at least some of the large pile of shrubs and trees we’ve removed (pictured in back by the basketball court).

step 3

Joe dug a trench in front of the woody beds, piling more soil on top. This created a ditch or swale to let water flow down. The swale is flat, and is fun to see fill with water. Instead of the water just rushing down, it fills up gradually and soaks into the the area. It both channels our water turn, and collects rain water. We’ve had lots of rain, and filled it with irrigation water and it is doing the job.

step 4  water


After the mounds and swale were dug, we seeded the mound with a cover crop that included Austrian field pea, hairy vetch,  winter wheat and winter rye. I also put clover down where I wanted something more perennial. The seed was raked in and covered with a light straw mulch.



Next year I will start planting with a wide range of edible plants. I’m hoping it will be a better environment for my squash that were in the same area but all died this year using traditional agriculture practices.

This is completely new territory for me. It isn’t a far stretch in permaculture circles, but outside of that I have to explain in detail what I am doing and why to anyone who sees it. It remains to be seen if this will be a highly productive system or not, but I have high hopes. So far, the cover crops are coming up great.


I always wanted to put a slide down our hill. We finally did, and both the kids and I love it.

slide (1)

When I was looking for slides, I wanted a longer one but this one was far cheaper. Turns out it was the near perfect length. The hill wasn’t as steep as the slide needed to be, so we dug into the hill a bit. We made a platform out of a pallet we already had on had. I spray painted it with the kids, and it was anchored with some rebar. It ended up being a pretty easy project that is a lot of fun.

slide (2)
slide (3)

Now we just need to landscape around the slide, I’m not sure quite yet what we’ll do, but certainly something other than bare dirt. Any ideas?

Removing Lawn

I recently saw my neighbor up the street removing sod. I enjoy seeing people removing lawn, hopefully to turn into more interesting gardens. We are in the process of removing the lawn in our own front yard.There are several methods to get rid of lawn, and I’ll briefly explain each one.

1)Dig out by hand: Get a good shovel and dig.
Advantages: Can remove lawn from garden and be ready to re-plant in a few hours. Lowers the grade of the soil, which is usually desirable. No special equipment needed.
Disadvantage: Grass can regrow from deeper roots. It is the most labor intensive,. Sod is often hard to dispose of as many green wastes and dumpsters won’t take it. It also take the top few inches of soil away which is often the richest part of the soil, along with the organic matter of the grass.
Best For: Small areas wanted for immediate re-planting

2)Sod cutter: This is the method my neighbor was using. Just rent a sod cutter, which will cut the sod an inch or more below the soil. It can than be rolled and hauled away.
Advantages: Quicker than digging by hand. Other advantages the same as digging by hand.
Disadvantage: Many are the same as digging it out by hand. It is less labor intensive, but has the added the cost and availability of renting a sod cutter.
Best For: Large area wanted for immediate re-planting

3)Tilling: Use a heavy duty tiller to till lawn under.
Advantages: Quick method, retains top layer of soil and the organic matter of the grass.
Disadvantages: Getting the equipment if not available. Least effective method to kill the grass, might see a lot of regrowth.
Best For: Use with other methods (i.e. after sheet mulching)

4)Herbicide: Spray lawn with a non-selective herbicide like glyphosate.
Advantages: Least labor involved. Maintains top layer of soil. Can result in the least amount of lawn regrowth.
Disadvantages: Use of chemicals might not be desirable. Lawn will often need be sprayed multiple times, and will take up to a month to die out if using glyphosate (Round-up). Also glyphosate will not be effective unless the lawn is actively growing, so often ineffective in the summer months on cool season grass, and the fall/spring months on warm seasons grass when the grass tends to go dormant. Can be unattractive.
Best For: Effective die back without lots of effort

5)Sheet mulching: Layer a layer of corrugated cardboard or thick newspaper and top with compost, wood chips, or other mulch.
Advantages: Maintains top layer of soil and will add additional organic matter. Not labor intensive. Can look attractive immediately.
Disadvantages: Will take three or more months until grass is dead and area is ready for planting. The use of cardboard is controversial and will not help with soil health.
Best For: Large or small areas that are do not need to be immediately replanting.

6)Neglect: Do not water or otherwise care of lawn, and mow to very short height.
Advantage: No labor required. Can be effective in areas with little rainfall and high maintenance lawn.
Disadvantages: Takes time for grass to die, and in the meanwhile looks awful. Often not very effective.

I often use a combination of methods, for instance I’ve sprayed followed by sheet mulching followed by tilling. My favorite method is sheet mulching, because not only does it get rid of the lawn but it also can improve the soil at the same time.

In our front yard, I started out by neglecting it. We didn’t water it and it went brown pretty quickly. Where we walked frequently, the grass died back rather quickly. It didn’t look that great though, nor was it killing off all the lawn. We put down some sheet mulch. First I mowed it at my lowest mower height. We dug out a small strip on the edges so the bark mulch wouldn’t spill over onto the surrounding pathways. It was sheet mulched with a layer of cardboard and wood chips. Looked pretty good as soon as we were done, and it’s been there a little over a month. The cardboard is taking a while to break down because it is summer: it needs more moisture to disintegrate. I don’t think we’ll be planting too heavily until the spring, and by then I expect the cardboard to be gone (along with the lawn). It is also possible to cut holes in the cardboard to plant, although grass can also re-grow through the holes if it isn’t dead yet.

Right before we started sheet mulching

Right before we started sheet mulching

Cardboard first

Cardboard first

Then add the mulch

Then add the mulch

All finished

All finished


In my city, we don’t have swings at the parks. I’m not sure why, but it did mean I wanted to put swings in my garden.

I thought of a traditional swing set. Unoriginal, and often not functional. Metal swing sets tip if not anchored, and I’ve seen lots of wood ones collapse on themselves after a few years. They aren’t very cheap either.

On our property is a very large Douglas Fir. I thought it would be a wonderful place to hang a couple of swings. Later on, I saw this post, and we copied the construction of the swings. One swing is a traditional rope swing, the other we attached our existing baby swing.

The whole project took one evening, a large borrowed ladder, and cost about $50. The kids love the swings. Because they are hung on high branches, they swing high and far.

The only downside so far is the tree is rather sappy. It can get shoes and shorts pretty dirty.  


Parkstrip Bed

This park strip bed is mostly on my neighbor’s yard. My neighbors are getting old, and most of their landscape is taken care of by a variety of relatives and professionals. One such person tilled up the bed, and I knew I had to take immediate action. I went out and talked to them and volunteered to take over the bed, explaining some of what I had envisioned. It was readily agreed to, and I promptly mulched it in wood chips. I then took out my design hat and and brainstormed several directions the bed could take.


I took a trip to the garden center and ended up with a currently simple, but effective design. There are three grasses Calamagrostis  ‘Avalanche'(Variegated Feather Reed Grass), Deschampsia ‘Schottland'(Scottish Tufted Hair Grass), and Helictotrichon ‘Sapphaire’ (Blue Oats), and a ground cover Oenothera “Shimmer” (Evening Primrose). I want to plant more in the bed, but decided I would start with a basic foundation and add more later after I see how these plants did. (It’s cheaper that way too.)


The garden is super easy to maintain–I hand water it twice a week right now, and it will need even less water later on. The only other task is weeding, which I do once a week with a winged weeder. The weeds were coming up pretty good because of all the tilling at first, but now its hardly any work at all. (I wouldn’t have tilled the bed first if I was in charge–I would have just done a light hoeing to get rid of the weeds.)


I like the bed mostly because it is the only part of my garden that isn’t a tree, something I don’t want, or an annual. Right now it’s a bit underdeveloped, but it’ll just keeping getting better as the plants grow in.