Seedlings Update No. 1: frustration

It’s been 12 days since I started trying to germinate some seeds. California Poppys have a germination time of between 10 and 15 days, I’m told. I have two of those that have sprouted. But, that’s all. One looks good, the other looks, um, not as good. Is it, as they say, “leggy”? I’m not sure.

Two seedlings: in the foreground… lying down. In the background, standing up.

The picture shows the two seedlings. The one in the foreground is the first to have sprouted. It has been lying down like that the whole time. The second one, in the back, looks better with four leaves and is standing up. It’s possible others will still sprout. But, I’m a bit disappointed with the “crop” so far.

Spruce and Joshua Trees take longer to germinate, anywhere from 20 to 30 days. So, maybe they will still show up, too.

My tray has a heating mat and I have it on a thermostat set to 75 degrees (those are freedom units, of course. That’s what the F stands for, isn’t it?). I chose that number because it was about average for spring time and it’s what vegetable seeds seem to like. Also, I didn’t know I needed a thermostat initially. The mat didn’t come with one and the instructions said it would keep the soil about 10 degrees warmer than the ambient temperature. Since, the garage is around 50, I thought that would be okay. But, the mat was actually warming up to 80 or 90 degrees! That’s too warm. I’m wondering if I didn’t do something wrong with the seeds by having it too hot like that for the first few days. I also have two LED grow lights I bought on them during the day. I’m under the impression that the lights emit the right spectrum for plants to grow while limiting heat output and using minimal energy.

LED grow lights on the germination station.

Anyway, the seeds were cheap and this was just for fun. Maybe I will still get some more sprouts. And maybe I’m learning enough to not make mistakes with the veggies and the other poppy seeds I have. I bought some from Grow Native Nursery at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Gardens. Those are the ones I’m really hoping to get growing this year.

Winter blooms on Black Sage (salvia mellifera)

One of my black sage plants is showing flowers already.

This surprised me. It has been cold here, and even rainy. Yesterday the high was in the low 60’s and last night it actually got down to 30°!

According to  one of the best sites for information on California Native Plants, Las Pilitas, the black sage isn’t supposed to flower until March. I guess no one told this one.

Baby Makin’: Germinating Pines, Joshua Trees, and California Poppies

I didn’t put on any Luther Vandross or Barry White. But, maybe I should. What I did do, however, was to get out my Germination Station (Note: that link is to Amazon, but, at least right now, I don’t get anything for referring you to it. I’m linking it for information, though.) and fill it with some Black Gold seedling mix so I could sow some seeds and give it a try. As I mentioned in a previous post, I will be putting together a vegetable and herb garden bed. To grow those plants from seed, I got these items to increase my chances at success. The germination station comes with a heating pad and a cover to keep the seeds warm and moist. Also, this way, I should know if the seedling is a plant I’m growing or a weed.

To practice, I filled the 72 cells with the soil mix and sowed seeds for pine trees, Joshua trees, and California poppies. I got all of these seeds from a store in Julian, CA called the Julian Candy Basket when we visited this summer. It was a whim. I had bought California Poppies seeds last year but I lost the packets. These were seed packets that were inside of postcards. The were less than $3 each so I thought, “What the heck!” I like Joshua Trees and would like to have a couple in the corner of my yard. I had been wanting poppies, and the post card said it contained Blue Spruce, Bristle Cone Pine, Douglas Fir, Pinyon Pine, and White Pine. But, once I opened the card and got out the seed envelope it listed White Spruce, Norway Spruce, and Black Hills Spruce.

Seriously?! None of these seeds are what the card said they would be!

Come on, man!

I only bought it because it said it was seeds for a “Grand Canyon Pine Forest.” I am trying to have a California Native garden. Although I would like to be a purist and only grow plants that are native to my home state, I’ve already made a few concessions. I have some succulents that I’m not familiar with at all and I never see them on any of native plant sites. I also have a Gambel Oak which is, theoretically, suitable for this climate, but is actually native to Colorado. I have enjoyed visiting the Grand Canyon and I really like Pinyon pines. So, if I got a couple of those, I would have been perfectly happy. Even a Douglas Fir would be cool because it could be a Christmas tree one day.

But, no. All Spruces. Ugh.

Anyway, I’m just practicing. So, it’s fine. Maybe if they grow, I will put them in little 1 gallon pots and give them as Christmas gifts next year. That might be fun. You know, if growing trees is fun to you. The Black Hills and the Norway Spruce trees are pretty, at least, and the White Spruce grows fast. Maybe I will use them in the back yard on the western side of the north yard on the other side of the pool. They could act as screen for the street. I could, I suppose plant them in the front yard, too. We’ll see what happens.

In case you’re interested (and if you’re not, I will remind you that you voluntarily came to this blog to read this), I’ll briefly describe my process for sowing the seeds. If nothing else, this will serve as notes for me in case it doesn’t work so I might be able to figure out what I did wrong.

My germination station. That’s baby makin’ goin’ on right there.

First, I dropped the soil into the little cells in the tray that came with the germination station. I filled them to the top but I didn’t pack the soil down. I would drop the soil and then slide my hand across the top to scoop it into the cells, kind of like I was leveling it out. Then, I took the seeds and tried to drop one in per cell. In a couple cases, with the pines and poppies, I got two or even three in a single cell. Those seeds were small. The Joshua tree seeds were much larger, a little more than 1/4 inch wide, but thin. So, each of those cells got one.

There are six rows vertically and 12 across. On the right side, I sowed the first two rows with Joshua trees. So, 12 of those. On the left side, I sowed three rows of pines. So, 18 pines. The rest are California poppies, all in the middle. I did it that way so I could remember which was which.

After I placed the seeds, I went through and covered them. Next time I will get a little stick or something to make a hole about 1/8th of an inch deep to drop the seed in. We’ll see how this goes. Maybe I did it wrong. So, then I put the tray inside the station’s tray and watered the soil. I used a water bottle, like people drink out of, and poked holes in the lid to make a little sprinkler. I watered enough to saturate the soil but not so much to leave water standing in the bottom of the station. I put the lid on the tray, plugged in the heating pad and then set up the lights.

Now it’s up to the seeds to do their thing.

Rain and rest

Since finishing the paver patio/pathway, I’ve been resting a bit. I get back pain due to a bad S-I joint. It’s been nice to rest and maybe just stroll around the garden a bit, but I’m also thinking about the next thing. The south side of my yard is small, gets some shade, and I’m planning to put in vegetables, fruit trees, and herbs. I have two raised garden beds ready to go and plan on maybe a third. The area needs some work, though. There’s a lot of soil that was removed from the front yard when we put in some additional concrete for parking. And, the retaining wall I installed needs another 15 feet to really be finished.

My idea is to bring the wall over and curve it a bit, similar to how I have it on the north side. That will give a slightly raised area. Then, I will try to level the rest of the area and plant lime, orange, and avocado trees, one each. I have some heirloom seeds on order for vegetables and herbs.

And, of course, I’ve never really done gardening like this before. I had a tomato plant in 2015 that never really made it through the summer. I’m guessing I didn’t give it enough nutrients in the soil. But, I plan to have the beds have much better soil and fertilizer. They have hardware cloth across the bottom so that should keep at least the gophers out.

Rain has been much better this year than last. I remember going all of December with no rain. This year we’ve had over 5 inches since October! Most of it came in the last week of December. That’s great for my garden. I’m very interested to see what happens with my California native plants. I have California Buckwheat, manzanita, and sage that have been in the yard over a year now. My understanding is that after the first full year, the plants are usually established in the garden and they require little to no water.

In November I attended a workshop at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden nursery, called Grow Native. They sell, as far as I know, only California native plants. Anyway, one of the workers, a young guy who is studying native plants in school and sounds like he has a lot of experience gardening/landscaping, gave a workshop on planting and watering. To summarize, you did a hole twice and wide and 1.5 times as deep as the pot the plant is in. Then, you fill the hole with water, let it drain, then fill it with water again, same. Then, install the plant with the base of the plant about an inch higher than the surrounding soil, then water it again.

After that, I didn’t water much. I had some bad luck though with plants I bought in the Fall Planting Festival at Grow Native. We got some really damaging winds in November. I always seem to lose a plant or two to the wind. Sticky monkey flowers do not seem to respond to the wind well, at all. Also, four penstemon (electric blue) died. They just turned black. I don’t know what happened there. It wasn’t lack of water. Maybe the heat got them. Or, a disease. But, anyway, they died. Then, many of the sages I bought got a powdery white mildew that hasn’t gone away. The black sages and the Cleveland sages all got them. I was careful not to get water on the leaves and that never happened with the plants I have now. I’m waiting it out to see how it goes. I lost two Bee’s Bliss plants to that mildew. Bummer

Most of my plants seem to be doing well at the moment. I’m seeing some new leaves growing on the manzanitas and sages.

Coming soon to my garden: fruits and vegetables

The final phase of my yard makeover is the south yard which is a much smaller space. I thought it would be a good idea to grow stuff you can eat. So, a month ago I built two raised garden beds. I needed some place to put extra dirt in order to finish my path and patio areas. But, now that I’m done with that, and January is in full swing, it’s time to start the veggie and herb garden.

Raised garden beds that need filling.
I bought some seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and I got a little germination station, some seed soil, and a grow light (well, the light is on the way). I also got some garden soil and steer manure from Home Depot. I’m going to mix my native soil, which is actually pretty loamy, with the garden soil and manure. Then, my plan is to water it and see if I can get weeds to germinate so I can get rid of them. Meanwhile, I’m going to use my germination station to get seeds started indoors.

For practice with the GS, I’m going to try germinating some California poppy seeds I bought from Grow Native Nursery during the Fall Planting Festival. I also have some Joshua Tree and various pine tree seeds I got at a shop in Julian, California. So, I will try those, too. I’m not sure what I will do with a bunch of trees, though. I guess I will start a forest. Lol

Anyway, I will then start some carrots, lettuce, broccoli, garlic, and onions. Then, in a couple months, the warmer crops will be starting.

For now, I will hand water. But, soon, I want to get a micro-sprinkler system going over there. I have to put pressure regulator on the line that feeds the sprinklers on that side. Then, I will use the existing piping and add to it to have irrigation go up to my beds. I will cap off the other sprinklers there because there’s nothing but my shed and dirt over there. Long term, I’m going to to sift a bunch of rocks out of the top six inches of soil and put them on top as ground cover in most of that area. And maybe add another raised bed.

Then, I will get at least a lime tree and avocado tree. After that, maybe, but not for sure, a dwarf orange tree. That might be all the side yard can handle.

Aspergers Are Us: an interesting documentary

I just watched a documentary called Apergers Are Us which I enjoyed. I have a family member who is diagnosed as being on this spectrum. My wife says she thinks I am, too, but my therapist disagrees. Since he has the medical degree, I go with his diagnoses even though my wife is super-intelligent and rarely wrong. I make it a habit to never disagree with her unless I am very certain I am right. In this case, I am very certain my therapist is right.

I must add that this digression probably bolsters my wife’s argument. But, really, it’s not a digression. It may help to understand my interest in the documentary. I’d like to understand my family member better and the fact that my wife thinks I am on the spectrum means I am interested in it to see why she thinks that.

But, back to the documentary. This is a film about four young men who are autistic and formed a sketch comedy troupe. If you’re unfamiliar, Asperger syndrome is a kind of autism. It’s part of the autism spectrum.

As a pervasive developmental disorder, Asperger syndrome is distinguished by a pattern of symptoms rather than a single symptom. It is characterized by qualitative impairment in social interaction, by stereotyped and restricted patterns of behavior, activities and interests, and by no clinically significant delay in cognitive development or general delay in language.[31] Intense preoccupation with a narrow subject, one-sided verbosity, restricted prosody, and physical clumsiness are typical of the condition, but are not required for diagnosis. –Wikipedia

All of that being said, this is not a documentary about Asperger syndrome, or even autism. It is about some guys who are on the spectrum, that is, they have Asperger syndrome to one degree or another. And, they perform sketch comedy. The documentary is centered on how they are preparing for a “final show.” It turns out it was not their actual final show because if you go their website, you will see that they are still performing. That doesn’t detract from the documentary, to me, though. I rather enjoyed it because, ultimately, it’s a glimpse into the lives of these four men. And, it tells us something about how they think and interact with the world.

A quote from their website gives some insight:

We’re the first comedy troupe composed of autistic people. We’ve performed original absurdist and satirical sketches since 2010. We do not poke fun at Asperger’s and we did not form to prove that autistic people can be funny. We formed for the same reason anyone does comedy: To make you laugh! Please do not expect us to be anything like The Big Bang Theory or anything else that relies on making fun of people. Expect silly deadpan sketches that appeal to Aspies and sympathetic others alike. 

In much the same way, the documentary isn’t about Asperger’s and it’s not trying to prove they are funny. But, I think it does want you to understand these men and get an idea for how they think. Like any good film, especially documentaries, it’s about the people, not the topic.

One of the men, Noah, is both autistic and a counselor, or teacher, I’m not very clear about that, for other autistic/Asperger’s people. I wasn’t unfamiliar with Asperger’s in general prior to this. But, I enjoyed seeing how he worked with the other three. For example, he talks to a young boy who is clearly autistic, most likely Asperger’s, and notes how the boy covers his ears so he can keep reading without Noah talking to him. He just accepts this. Of course, being Asperger’s himself, he continues trying to talk to the boy. But, he accepts the boy’s fixation on the train schedule. Later in their show, there is a sketch about “train schedule man” whose super power is knowing all of the train schedules and always being able to produce a train schedule on demand. A dubious super power, and funny. And, one can see where it came from.

Acceptance. It’s something that keeps up for me. In this case, accepting people for how they are without needing to change them or judge them. In another instance, New Michael (That’s his name. New Michael. When he was 18, he changed his name from “Aaron” to “New Michael.” That’s what he wanted to be called and what people call him.) is having a hard time dealing with rehearsal because they are at his house and his sister is home. He feels self-conscious about rehearsing with her around. He gets overwhelmed and has to leave. Noah accepts it. He doesn’t get angry. It just is the way things are.

It’s a very interesting way to think about life in general. What if we could all just accept each other? I realize we still need norms for how to interact. Society should still have rules. But, at the same time, maybe it would be a better world if we didn’t get so bent out of shape when people didn’t conform to those norms. I don’t know. It’s just something I’m thinking about. As a teacher, I am often confronted with situations where students don’t conform to how I think they should behave. On some level, it’s my job to teach them to conform to those norms. In a way, that’s what grammar is all about. It’s a set of rules we use to make sure everyone can understand us. And, yet, I believe that those who study semiotics would say that grammar doesn’t really matter as long as people understand what you say. I understand that point of view, but at the same time, I think it’s fair to make a judgment about people who don’t use grammar correctly. Carelessness or a lack of education both tell you something about someone.

While a grammarian and semiotician debate might be entertaining, at least on some level, and maybe to a few people (two or three, certainly), it really isn’t the subject of this post. Some of the acceptance has to come from understanding. When you understand that a kid on the autistic spectrum might get overwhelmed sometimes, and might need a break, then you don’t have to get so angry about it. It seems to me that many people get very angry when others don’t conform to their ideas of how to behave, or think.

Maybe I’m too romantic or optimistic. I’m not naive, though, that’s for sure. But, it seems to me that most people are trying to do the right thing, or at very least, do what is beneficial to themselves. There are people, of course, that are broken, and they are the kind of people that hurt others. I think they are more rare, though. Most might hurt someone in the course of trying to do what they need to do, thinking it is what is best. But, they aren’t trying to hurt someone on purpose. The key is to see what people want, what they are trying to do, not necessarily what the outcome is. If you can see what people want, it makes them more relatable, more human.

When you can understand how people think, you can see them for who they are. And, this was the interesting thing about the documentary to me. Being able to see, for example, that Asperger’s makes someone self-centered because that’s just how they are, how their brain works, and not some defect of character, gives you the ability to be less judgmental and more empathetic. And, interestingly, Noah seems to have developed some empathy for others. He recognizes when others need some space or are indulging in their specific interests (A characteristic of Asperger’s is having a deep interest in topics that might be unusual; for example, as seen in the film, trains and their schedules.). To me, I would think it was rude for someone to just have to leave, or to ignore me while reading something. But, it might not be their intention to be rude.

In any case, I appreciated the opportunity to learn something about the four guys in the film. Even if you don’t know someone with Asperger’s or autism, or who is “on the spectrum” then you still might find worth watching. I think it’s a good film in it’s own right.

Gophers drive me crazy

I had really a really bad amount of gophers last year. Using traps, I was able to kill about 12 of them. I lost exact count, but that is close. I had one that was going after the flowering plants in my little central area. It got a Dr. Hurd manzanita, a Firecracker Penstemon, an Electric Blue penstemon, and started after another before I trapped it. It’s hard to describe the frustration of watching a plant die as a gopher attacks it from below.

Usually I would see the gopher mound and know I had one. But, this last summer, a couple of them stopped making mounds, somehow they stayed underground. I thought the heat was just killing my plants. I lost a black sage that was doing very well. It was over two feet tall and three feet wide, looked beautiful. Then, parts of it started dying. Finally, it was all brown and shriveled. It took me several plants dying to see that this was because of gophers.

I would bet I have lost at least 15 plants to gophers. After planting it, watering, weeding, watching over it, then to see it turn brown, shrivel, and die, all because some ugly rodent that rearranges my dirt is hungry is really enraging sometimes. But, I got that one. He evaded my traps a few times but I finally got him with the Black Box.

I have another gopher that is digging around the succulents next to and behind my waterfall. This is really upsetting. First, the animal is kicking dirt out of the area and down on the rocks. Secondly, it’s killing these plants. My succulents have been amazingly resililient I must admit. These particular plants are an unknown species to me. I got a gift from my sister-in-law, Martha, and I thought I would just go ahead and plant them. They’ve taken off and look great back there. It’s making me insane watching the gopher destroy them. I’ve been trying to trap it now for several weeks.

I have three kinds of traps. I have the aforementioned Black Box, the Easy Set pincer traps, and Cinch traps. I have not yet caught any gophers with the Cinch. The black box is probably the most successful trap. This is a hard plastic box with a spring wire that traps the animal and crushes it when the gopher gets inside. It works because the gopher goes to investigate a “problem” with its tunnel. Gophers, apparently, really hate having openings in their tunnels. There is a small hole at the back of the trap that, I think fools the animal into thinking the tunnel is longer than it really is. So, it goes inside and gets caught.

But, this one behind the waterfall has twice simply filled the trap. It happens. Eventually I’m going to get him. He’s making mounds but they are all “inside” the plants where I can’t really get in there. And, I haven’t seen new activity from him for a couple days now. I’m going to keep an eye on it.

Finished stone paver walkway/patio!

I was finally able to finish installing my paver patio and garden walkway.

Much of the walkway and patio areas can be seen here.

One of two paths leading from the house out to the garden.
In some ways, I’m glad I was so inexperienced at installing pavers. I think that if I had known how much work was involved in making my pathways curved I would never have done it. But, straight paths would have looked so much worse. I really like how the path curves through the garden. It looks much more organic and informal, which matches everything else in the garden. Straight paths would have looked far too formal and organized.

Almost all of the pavers I installed can be seen in this picture.
There is still a lot of work to do. But, at least now the pathway and patio areas mean the garden and yard can be used by others. I have a little fire pit I got from Home Depot for the patio on the far side. A bench will go on the little patio by the stream. I’m really looking forward to being able to walk through the garden without getting mud or dirt on my shoes. Between the stones and hose guides, if I need to water (which shouldn’t be often), it should be so much easier now.

And, above are a couple pictures of the pathway in progress, in case you’re interested. In some ways, it’s a very simple process. Level out the area, install edging, compact the ground, add a gravel base, if necessary (but if you read my previous post, you know why I skipped this step), add a sand base, level it, place pavers carefully (no dragging or sliding!), cut pavers on the sides to fit as needed.

I have no illusions about my skills, though. I am satisfied with how it came out. It looks good enough to me. However, I realize that a professional would probably tell me a variety of mistakes I made. My pattern is very irregular. Many of my cut pieces are poor fits. And, one thing I think that could be an issue that I didn’t foresee, is that I laid each block right against the other. There are little to no gaps between most of the pavers. I thought this a good thing but time will tell if I’m right. I feel like the right way to do it would have been to leave small gaps of 1/8th to 1/4th of an inch between each paver that would be filled with sand. This is how tiles with grout are done. I didn’t think that pavers were done that way.

My final step was to use the PermaSand I bought (aka polymeric sand) and sweep it into the gaps. This was not an insignificant amount of work. The instructions said to make sure all of it was swept off the surface and then two sprinkle water on it so that it penetrates all the way down. This activates the polymer that eventually hardens. The packaging says it will hold the stones together and inhibit weed or insect activity. Otherwise, I could see ants burrowing upward or weeds growing. Maybe that will still happen, I tried following the directions but I will see if that works.

My thinking was that pavers tight up against each other would be less likely to move around and would be stronger in the long run. But, if I’m wrong, I’ll just have to fix it somehow. One reason I chose pavers over concrete was the ability to change it, if necessary. I imagine that making repairs or alterations would be far simpler with pavers instead of concrete. Ideally, I won’t have to make any changes at all, though.

Dust was a serious issue on this project. I was unprepared for how much dust cutting the pavers created. I used an old miter saw with a diamond cutting blade to cut the pavers. It worked well enough. I had purchased a similar blade for my circular saw but found it more difficult to use. If I had known, I would have only bought the blade for the miter saw. I also got a grinding wheel for my angle grinder but I didn’t use that often, either. It took too long. The diamond blade on the miter saw chewed through stone after stone with relative ease. I have no idea how many I cut, but it must be in the hundreds. The curves required so many customized stones and that’s what really took the longest to complete the project.

I also struggled with estimating how many stones I needed. In total, I used 576 of the square stones and 641 of the rectangular larger stones. My initial order was for 1 pallet of the squares and 1 pallet of the rectangles. That got me through the larger patio (for the fire pit area) and the first pathway leading from  the house. Then, my wife helped me try to estimate how many I would need to finish. In my opinion, she did quite well. I ordered another pallet of the squares and two of the rectangles. Yesterday, I went to Home Depot twice. I bought 40 more rectangles the first time and then 25 the second time. That got me to the end. Whew! It’s hard to tell how many you need with irregular shaped areas and all the curving paths. I think getting within 60 is pretty amazing.

I I had been able to order all of them at once, I might have saved about $100, maybe more. I’m not sure. Ordering more of the blocks at once lowers the prices. The rectangular blocks cost $1.98 each and the squares were $1.31 each. But, in bulk, they are $1.78 and $1.18 each respectively. But, I did the best I could. Maybe I could have gotten one of those measuring devices with a wheel to find out exactly how much path and patio I had in length and then try to average out the width and then calculate the area and add 10% for waste but I’m not positive that would have gotten me closer. So, I guess I paid an “inexperience tax” or something.

I’m glad it’s done, though. As soon as the skies are clear, I’m going to get my telescope out and see if I can observe the Orion Nebula. It will be nice not to have to set up in the dirt. And, maybe the kids and I will have a little fire outside tonight. It should be fine to walk upon tonight.

Turned the corner on the path. Literally.

Turning the literal corner in the path.
I mentioned yesterday that I got to the corner of my pathway. This is one of the curviest parts of the path, with the inside corner being probably the sharpest turn. Like I mentioned before: wow, there are a lot of stones to cut.

Those in my family have been very supportive, telling me how great it looks. It’s very kind. I am well aware that there are mistakes and things I am doing that a true professional wouldn’t do. I get that. And, I’m also probably saving a thousand bucks or more by doing it myself. I like the way it looks, though. And, since I’m the client as well, I believe that mine is the only opinion that matters. Okay, my wife’s opinion matters, too. And she’s happy with it, too.

Path sanded and ready for stones.

Yesterday I also got a good amount of sand leveled into the path. This morning I laid out some more blocks. Tomorrow I will be doing a lot of cutting to get this section done. I think I can finish this in a couple days. Then, I will sweep in the sand and probably compact it and be done. I am really looking forward to being done.

Paver Patio and Path

I’ve been working on a huge project. This is, in many ways, the final phase of my backyard rehabilitation. Of course, the backyard will never be “done.” A garden is, hopefully, alive, and ever changing. Gophers, weeds, and wind will no doubt ensure I always have more work to do back there. And, plants need tending. But, in terms of the shape of the space and making it useful, this patio and path are the final piece, and largest, which is why it was last, probably.

Or maybe I put it off because I was took a long time deciding what to do and how to do it.

The north walkway from our covered patio. Blocks are laid but unsanded.
Paver stone patio area for a fire pit or other recreation. Unfinished, but the stones are laid down at least.

I originally wanted to have a decomposed granite walkway. It was inexpensive, comparatively, and looked natural. I new I could manage the construction. Concrete seemed better for permanency and neatness, but it was expensive and I wasn’t sure I could do it right. Concrete seems simple, to me, but at the same time, you have to know what you’re doing because you have a time frame to get it right. There’s no do-overs in concrete. So, pavers seemed like a good idea. After a while, anyway. They are not cheap. Each block costs about $1.20 and there are, well, hundreds of them. And, they are heavy so they needed to be shipped to me. And you have to cut them to make a curve.

So, honestly, I wasn’t sure I really wanted to work with pavers. I went back and forth for a long time over it. Finally, though, I realized that the pavers would, in theory, be more permanent. And, they would be easier to clean than decomposed granite. We get pretty bad winds sometimes and my mulch often gets blown around. Being able to sweep, or even use a leaf blower, to clean the patio and path seemed good. I also always thought the patio area with the fire pit was best as a hardscape.

That finally convinced me to use pavers. I chose some that looked similar to my existing retaining wall. It’s not the same color, but my wife pointed out that the blocks are gray and brown at times and that they kind of make a middle between the gray concrete of our covered patio and the sandstone color of the retaining wall.

Installing a paver patio and walkway is not easy work. You’ve got to prep the area. Honestly, most places I looked said to dig down about six to eight inches. I did not do that. Why? First, most places say to do that because you need a mixture of sand and gravel as a base. They said to use what is called “stone dust.” Or crushed gravel. That sort of thing. Well, my soil is, no kidding, at least 25% rock, probably more. It cannot be overstated how much rock is in my soil. I don’t dig holes as much as I remove rock. Think I’m exaggerating?

See all those rocks? I didn’t buy any of them. They are all from the yard. And there’s more where they came from.

If you look at the pictures of my garden, any of them, you are bound to see rocks as part of the landscape. I made a stream bed out of the rocks. There is probably 30 square feet of my yard that has rock as a ground cover. I didn’t buy any of it. All the rocks you see were removed from the ground.

So, the idea of digging six to eight inches down, removing all of that rock, just to add rock I bought, sounded ridiculous. Additionally, the way I understand it, this is largely to deal with the issue of the ground freezing. In Southern California, the ground doesn’t freeze. So, again, not necessary. I skipped it. I also skipped landscape fabric. I realize I may eventually regret these decisions, but we shall see. I’m planning on using polymeric sand to fill in between the pavers. This sand is chemically treated to solidly after it gets wet, kinda like cement. I don’t think weeds will grow through it. But, if it does, dealing with some weeds is less work and money than landscape fabric.

I leveled my areas and then I used a heavy tamper to compact the ground. I did this over several days, got blisters, and was very sore after. But, I did it. I watered when it was dry, and compacted. So, the base is my natural ground leveled and compacted. Now, when I say I leveled it, don’t get too serious. The yard isn’t level. But, I made the patio mostly level and the transitions between elevations gradual. I then put in edging and sand. And then pavers.

Edging and base for pathway in progress
One last piece of edging needed…
Sand and edging ready. Just need to level and place pavers.

When I originally designed my backyard garden, I chose curves for the areas because I liked the flowing look and our concrete patio has curves. I wanted an informal look. So, curves made sense. But, that was before pavers. Now, I have a lot of cutting to do. Curves mean cuts.

Curves mean cuts.

As you can see, I use a “soldier row” on each side of the square blocks. Then, the pattern is in the middle. Ha ha! Pattern! Get it?

There’s no pattern. But, I tried.

But, wherever the “pattern” overlaps the soldier row, I had to cut the paver. This, I’m told, helps the pavers be more firm or strong or something. Anyway, that’s why I’m doing it. Tomorrow, I will show how I turned the corner in that last picture. I actually got that done today but I didn’t get pictures before it got dark.

This is hard work. I’m tired.

An eclectic mind garden. Cultivate, prune, mulch, compost.