In October of last year we bought our first house in Edmonton--and we've been renovating ever since. Sound familiar?
Our initial attraction to the property was it's three-fold potential:
• Potential to make this old house (1942) into a energy-efficient family home (hopefully for many years to come);
• Potential to make this huge double lot (8000+ square feet) into a more environmentally sensitive/edible landscape (we love growing our own food); and finally,
• The potential (and challenge) of being good neighbors/citizens in an older and struggling North Edmonton community (Build better communities, stop urban-sprawl, "improve, don't move", etc.).
Idealistic? Yes, whatever...
One of the biggest challenges to renovations and landscaping we are constantly up against is cost. Not making a lot of money, the cost of creating a space we can enjoy without guilt has called for some genuine creative thinking... and I hope some of the ideas we've come up with will be of interest to readers who can relate.
Problem: Our beautiful property came with some house (1250+ square feet), some garage, lots of lawn, tonnes of concrete and zero garden space. We desperately wanted a garden come spring, so this was definitely a problem. One of the best areas for our "potential" garden included a 1000 square foot concrete driveway pad, some of which I can only presume was at one point used as RV storage by a previous owner.
Solution: It took almost two full days last November with my father, his old pick-up truck, a sledge hammer and a rented jack-hammer to remove a third of the pad to make room for our garden plot. Who knew the residential noise bylaw kicks in at 8:00 pm on weekdays? So much for being a good neighbor.
Problem: I’m thankful to live in a city that has free concrete-recycling. Unfortunately, this particular concrete had wire mesh run through it, which—according to who you talk to at the dump—means it doesn’t qualify for “free” status. Ouch!
Solution: We ended up paying for some loads and breaking-down/hand-separating the mesh as best we could from some of the last loads to keep costs under control. With the grunt work done (thanks Dad!) thus emerged our next dilemma.
Problem: The ground beneath the concrete was so gravelly and compact that without renting an expensive bobcat to do some serious groundwork, would have been unusable.
Solution: After doing some research we decided on building a series of raised garden beds.
• Pros: more plants, less earth compaction, fewer weeds, better yields, etc.
• Cons: more watering, minor bed repair and maintenance, etc.
The majority of the planks for building the beds came from my attic where we'd shoveled and vacuumed out wood shavings in order to redo some really old electrical and make way for blown in insulation. Other wood used for the beds came from my basement renovation (basement insulation and planning a future mother-in-law suite) and the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. A significant amount of the wood shavings (20+ contractor size garbage bags) from the attic went straight into our garden beds and compost.
Attic Boards: Here's the boards and shavings from our attic.
Problem: As we built and planted these new beds, we were also striping large-rock stucco siding off the house in order to re-insulate the walls with fiberglass (as opposed to wood shavings) and an external layer of 2-inch rigid insulation. I wasn't happy to learn that no facility exists in Edmonton to recycle or reuse old stucco. The thought of all this stucco going to landfill and the cost by weight (approx. $75 per truckload) was discouraging.
Solution: I decided to try using as weed control on the paths between our raised beds--it looked pretty good! We now have white stucco paths between our raised beds and not a truckload of the stuff left the yard.
Our Recycled Raised Garden Beds: Recycled brick border, stucco paths, attic board boxes, stucco mesh trellis
These first few little innovations have let to a stream of other useful ideas--old french doors protect our cucumber patch like a greenhouse, stucco wire was used to build pea fences, two-litre pop bottles used to protect and warm vulnerable plants from an unusually cold spring, etc. But how’d our garden do? Until next time...