V is for VICTORY! (and Venus)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Here's hoping that your Memorial Day Weekend was as productive as mine! The wife that is VENUS and I spent three wonderful days in the yard and at local nurseries, as we look for ways to creatively landscape the "Back 40" and our "fruit salad" backyard.

With gardening season now starting to move into full swing (yes -- there's still time to plant tomatoes, cucumbers, the good stuff) -- I needed to complete a rather important project that will hopefully lead to a vast improvement to our pickling project that we undertook for the first time last summer.

It's not that last year's Dill Pickle canning project was a failure, mind you. It wasn't! Venus and I canned 36 one-quart jars of different types of dill pickles last summer, and they were fabulous.

But we also learned a few things.

Not all cucumbers make great pickles. Despite our efforts to produce batch after batch of crunchy, garlic-dill pickles, some of them came out a tad "soft" after the canning process. We learned a very important lesson.

That cucumber that tastes so great in your summer salad? It may not turn out to be the best variety for pickling. Some do well, like the Armenian cucumber. But the Burpee hybrid? The Diva? If you like soft pickles, then you'll like these varieties. But if you want pickles to have a semblance of CRUNCH when you eat them, you may want to try another variety.

Venus and I spent last winter pouring over the seed catalogues and possibilities. We finally settled on two or three different seed packets for "pickling" cucumbers, and gardening friend Carri Stokes was kind enough to provide seeds for the highly desired, and very crunchy after canning, Armenian cucumber.

But -- all of these seeds presented a problem. Where do we plant them all? The cucumber bed I created last year is perfect for three or four varieties of cucumbers. But not eight. And, it's probably not wise to mix pickling cucumbers with slicers.

To put in short and sweet -- we needed another planter bed. And that's just one project that we knocked out this weekend.

However, this box is unlike the Lincoln Log boxes that I've described in great detail in previous posts on this blog (Planter Boxes on a Budget). This project would utilize standard Redwood fenceboard purchased from Home Depot, a Redwood 2X4, about 100 gold screws, three Makita cordless drills, a belt sander and finally, redwood stain to protect the finished project.

This was a big deal.

I was delighted to find the standard Redwood fenceboard on sale this weekend at the man's toy store, Home Depot. I was even more delighted when I discovered that not only was the desired fenceboard on sale (think CHEAP) -- it was also LOCAL. That's right. This is Mendocino County redwood -- the best redwood on the planet in my humble opinion.

Plus, at a price of $1.67 per wide fenceboard and $1.29 for the smaller trim boards, I wasn't going to argue. Bill Bird knows a deal when he sees one. This was a deal. Plus -- Home Depot would do a large part of the required cutting for me!

After purchasing the standard six foot long boards (well -- almost six feet -- they do cheat just a tad), I instructed my handy-dandy Home Depot wood-cutter to lop off the ear from the fenceboard in question -- lop off another one and a half feet from all four of the larger boards that would make up the sides of this box. I also had him cut the 2X4 into six pieces that were about eleven inches long.

These 2X4 pieces would hold my box together.

Venus' father (my father-in-law), the retired rocket scientist who knows all when it comes to box building (or any other subject -- just ask him), provided the "brains." He also served as the steady hand cutting the redwood trim boards, which had to be cut at a perfect length.

I must admit, he's far better with a table saw than I am.

This was a fairly easy project once we got all the tools in place. We used one Makita to drill pilot holes for the screws, another for the countersink and the third for the actual screw driving. Screws would then be driven into the 2X4 pieces placed in the corners, plus two more located in the center of the box for reinforcement.

I've found that putting the box together is actually the easy part of any planter-box building project. The toughest part of the job is installing the trim, or finishing boards. You can't be off by more than an 1/8th of an inch, otherwise it's back to the drawing board and back to table saw for another piece of wood.

The trim boards serve two purposes. First -- they look darn good! Secondly, they provide badly needed reinforcement for the box in question. A planter box doesn't need them mind you, but they do help hold everything together. And a planter box will last longer with as much reinforcement possible.

Trim boards required the same installation process as the front and side boards. You drill the pilot hole, countersink each pilot hole, then drill the gold screw home. There are 12 trim boards on the box, including two in each corner.

And finally, the box is finished off with a final piece of trim: "V for Venus."

I have several different methods of constructing planter boxes in the backyard -- and I'll be honest with you -- this is the most difficult. It is one of the cheapest boxes to build -- the cost is about $30 when you add in the cost of wood, screws, sandpaper and stain. But it does require some previous wood-working knowledge.

These boxes are quite rough by the way. This is cheap redwood fenceboard after all. So -- after the screwing is done -- out comes the belt sander and a storm of redwood dust to "smooth out the edges." The final step is transporting it to the garage -- where stain is applied.

And this is how the finished project looks. I'm guessing that there are about 100 screws in this box. The stain will provide protection against the elements outside. My hope is this box will grow a record number of pickling cucumbers for our pickling efforts this summer.

The yard will provide most of the ingredients for the pickling project. Fresh dill weed is already growing, and some of it is actually starting to flower now. A special kind of garlic is probably a month away from harvest, as are the Thai Hot Peppers that are growing in one of the main planter beds. The only ingredients not to come from the backyard will be the water, vinegar and canning salt.

Here's hoping for a tasty pickle.


Carri said...

Have fun with the Armenians! I feel guilty that you had to go make a whole other bed to house them. Oh wait- I had to go build another bed to house all the tomato plants I got from you! Ha!

Bill Bird said...


The box building has just begun. And I've already staked out new positions in the backyard for additional fruit and/or citrus trees. Your mature citrus trees make me jealous. You know, the grass is always greener.....

Anonymous said...

this box is a beauty! A question on your budget boxes (refrenced in this post) are those logs pressure treated? I love the idea (and the price) but I don't want to use pressure treated wood in the veggie garden. While it's no loger treated with arsenic, who knows what they use (regardless of what they say they use) and what could possibly leach into the soil and end up in my veggies!