Picks and Shovels and Clay – Turning the Soil

Oh boy this last week has been fun :)

We have been turning over the soil in our garden for the last 10 days.  We’re using shovels for the initial turnover.  We decided that it’d be our exercise program for getting in shape for spring.  Our yard is also not ready for spring so we’re out there raking, trimming, clipping, and burning leaves.  I feel like a proper back-woods guy now.

One thing I should mention…. digging in hard clay is hard work.  REALLY hard work. Secondly, we found out that we REALLY need to amend this soil with more drainage and more loamy materials rich in nitrogen and other nutrients.

Snowy PatchAbout mid-way through the week, a very unusual ice storm hit our area, and covered our (turned once) garden plot into a snowy patch of empty ground!  we were covered with snow for three days.  Note the 1/2 inch of ice at the top of this PVC pipe.  It was COLD and rained ice for probably 10 straight hours.  In case we needed reminder that it was still wintertime!!

Our plan after the ice melts is to get a rototiller, get a bunch of soil amendment materials, and till the good stuff in with the bad stuff.  Then we start building the enclosure for our veggies!!

  • Supplies Purchased to-date:
    • 3 shovels (1 square and 2 round head)
    • 1 hoe
    • 1 order of seeds
  • Total Spent to-date: $150
  • Total Value in Harvested Vegetables:  $0

Backyard Garden: The Beginning

Small tomatoes in Korea


Well, a lot of thinking has led us to finally start working on a backyard garden.  We tried doing some container gardening on our back deck last year (tomatoes, herbs, peppers) and as a result of that, I haven’t bought hot salsa for over 4 months.  And the hot salsa I canned from all of those peppers and tomatoes?  I still have probably 6 cans left :)

Our garden goals are threefold:

  1. Get in better shape by doing something that benefits our health in multiple ways
  2. Eat AND CAN more veggies!
  3. Stop buying most of our veggies from the store and pay for our initial investment in equipment and supplies within 3 years

The ultimate goal I guess would be to never put a vegetable, herb, spice, or fruit in my mouth, without knowing for sure that it came from a reputable gardener (me!)  We also have nearly an acre to work with, so we figured this was a good opportunity to put that land to use.  Let the research begin!

Since we are new to outdoor gardening (I have some experience, but not a ton) we started off our research by figuring out what we COULD grow in our area.  We live in a sub-tropical zone but it still gets well below freezing 7 or 8 times during the winter.  It can be quite wet in the summer and short outbursts of very heavy rain are not uncommon.

After narrowing down the list by what we COULD grow, we wrote down stuff we regularly eat that was viable for our environment.  This research resulted in a list of 16 herbs and veggies that we eat regularly and buy from the store regularly.  Onions, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, 4 different herbs, lettuce, broccoli, beans, cucumbers, squash, etc… In some cases, multiple varieties of the above.

There were a couple of sites that were extremely helpful in our research, and I’ll call them out here:

Burpee seeds: This is a really fantastic web resource for understanding growing zones, what type of veggies grow best in what environments, what time of year to sow, first and last frost dates by region, etc.  Lots and lots of useful information on this site.  They connect really well to their seed bank e-commerce site too.  Each product description has a tabbed section at the bottom that has a TON of information about growing that particular vegetable, and most have videos explaining the sowing, growing, and harvesting process.  I highly recommend this site for people looking to do gardening research or even to become a customer.

Burpee provided us enough information about how big plants get, how much space they take up, and how much garden space you need for a good harvest.  All of our research on Burpee resulted in us drawing out the following garden map:


This is a 17 foot by 12 foot garden, with a large planting bed in the middle and planting beds completely around the edge of the garden.

Awkwardly, while the Burpee site was helpful, we did not become customers.  There are a few reasons:

  1. I don’t know how much GMO exposure I have with a large seed bank like this
  2. Their seed selection was somewhat general and not really region-specific
  3. Their seed packets were EXTREMELY expensive for someone who had a small amount of garden space
  4. The seed packets in some cases contained ten times more seeds than we needed for our garden plan

We landed on a Southeastern seed exchange site called Southern Exposure Seeds and this site was able to address some of our concerns above.  They had a very strong anti-GMO statement, an extremely southern-focused seed selection, smaller seed packets, and in some cases offered at less than half the cost.  In short:  These guys have their shit together if you are a backyard gardener in the South or Mid-Atlantic area of the US.

We purchased all of our seeds (except the potato chunks) from them.

Lastly, we started on research about growing cycles, harvest cycles, multiple cycle crops, overwintering, and other general information that we needed to know about each individual crop.

For this type of research, we found Old Farmers Almanac to be quite useful.  There is a ton of information on this site about the life-cycles of the plants, common pests and other environmental risks, scientific data on the crop itself, a little bit of history on the crop, etc.

There are also a lot of state universities that have agricultural extensions.  In these cases, they have wikis that contain large volumes of information about planting in your region.  My best suggestion here is to find an .EDU site close to your area that has an agricultural extension, and find out if they have a wiki or an informational site about agriculture.  Here is one from my area: Clemson Home & Garden Information

That’s our first update about the garden.  I’ll try to post at least once a week about it.

I will be keeping track of several things through this blog:

  1. How much we have spent on equipment, seeds, fertilizer, etc
  2. Approximately how much value we’ve gotten in edibles
  3. Improvements in our physical wellness as a result of this project
  4. Which online sites and social media sites were most helpful to us during this adventure
  • Supplies Purchased to-date:
    • 3 shovels (1 square and 2 round head)
    • 1 hoe
    • 1 order of seeds
  • Total Spent to-date: $150
  • Total Value in Harvested Vegetables:  $0

Social Media for Social Good: VMware Alumni

You know, feel-good moments don’t come along too often, but based on what I’ve seen over the last few days, I think the human race is going to turn out OK after all.

As some of you know, I was a very early employee at VMware, and founded their first set of online discussion forums. I was somewhere around the 100th employee of what became a multi-billion dollar business, and my time there was extremely fun and rewarding. I found my passion for Social Business there, so I have VMware to thank for that. I left the company in 2007, and shortly thereafter joined a mailing list and group on LinkedIn called the VMware Alumni group. Over the years, this group has had varying levels of activity, often flaring up at the oddest times for the strangest reasons.

Day before yesterday, the official news came out that VMware was going to have some layoffs.  An email started circulating in the VMware Alumni group about the layoff announcement. What has transpired since that initial email has been nothing short of amazing.

The discussions that flared up were in three basic categories:

  1. I remember my time at VMware, and it was a lot of fun.  I’m so glad I can reminisce with former employees on this mailing list.
  2. I was caught up in a layoff at <insert company here> and it was a bummer
  3. Hey, my company is hiring, if you just got laid off and are joining the Alumni group, come work for my company!

It was that third one that amazed me the most.  The outpouring of “I’m so sorry for those that are losing their jobs, let’s help them find new ones” was really amazing.

The postings about jobs became so prolific that the group owner actually created and posted a spreadsheet for all of the job postings.  He also made it so that anyone could edit the spreadsheet and re-post it.

To my fellow VMware alumni who have recently joined, welcome aboard.  To those who have been in the Alumni group for a while, I hope you share a similar good feeling about how heroic this list became as quickly as it did.

And for those VMware old-timers who are part of the Alumni group, I have one message for you:  The intersection is flooded.