It’s harder than you think: Build a Vegetable Garden

Pinterest is the worst thing to ever happen to do-it-yourselfers. Beautiful pictures of amazing results by people who don’t document the annoying parts of the process. This inspires over-ambition and all sorts of extra hours of headaches.

Then you go online and try to find help and there are two varieties:
1. Detail lacking guidelines that don’t provide enough steps
2. This Old House that builds everything with so much effort and professionalism that the end results could survive the apocalypse but would take an average person an eternity to build

This series of how-to’s is going to be type #3. Real explanations of the annoyances that come with not being Bob Villa in the hopes that you won’t screw it up as much as I did.

Vegetable Garden

Jen and I decided to build a fenced-in raised bed garden. After much deliberation we wanted to go for a pinterest style complicated horseshoe shaped garden to allow no arm-reach beyond three feet for weeding and vegetable picking. (side note, it turns out 3 feet is kinda useless for veggie gardens. Almost all seed packages recommend 24 inch spacing, a 48″ bed width would have been smarter)

First: The finish product

Online recommendations for raised bed gardens:

1. Mark out your area
2. Buy cedar planks
3. Screw everything together
4. Done!

The more advanced sites suggest fence posts secured in concrete and really tall (8ft) fence varieties to prevent jumping deer. Forget that junk. We did four foot fences – no concrete. Totally good enough for a small garden.

Overall how’d the project go for us? Eh.

First I made some sketches and planned out materials. I used graph paper and planned aggressively. Jen and I found a spot in the yard. We laid it out with sticks, measured twice, and then turned the soil around the outline.


Annoyance Level: Low. we had some rocks, but so far so easy. Just make sure you use a spade style shovel. Once we got under the sod it was easy. We also didn’t level anything (*Remember this for later*). If you had to level your yard this part would stink

Next we bought some supplies. My calculations were pretty awesome. The problem occurred when we went to buy the wood. I had wanted to stack two 1×6 cedar planks to make a one foot tall raised bed.

When Sander and I arrived at the lumber yard I learned that they had 1×12 boards. PERFECT! except they weren’t cedar they were pine. No big deal right? Wrong. Cedar doesn’t rot. Pine does.

This was dumb.

In order to compensate for the 1×12 boards I tried to re-do my math on the spot and calculated wrong. So we bought one too few 10foot boards.

This was also dumb.


Annoyance Level: High.
What I should have done is called the lumber yard in advance and asked them if they had what I was looking for. That way I could do the math while not under pressure and I could double check my numbers. We were able to make due with the boards we had by better utilizing scrap, so I didn’t have to go back to the lumber yard. But it required an extra seam in the garden wall which I didn’t like. The pine error will be extra extra annoying when I have to replace all the pine boards in a couple years because of rot.

I got pressure treated 4×4’s for the corner posts. Pressure treated stuff shouldn’t really be used for vegetable gardens because they are loaded with all sorts of nasty chemicals. We got around this by wrapping each leg in plastic. The Jury is out on whether this was a good move or not. I’m hoping I never have to replace the fence posts.

The holes: I wanted to go down 24 inches with a hole post digger and quickly gave up and settled for 17inches. Why 17? Because that’s about where I started hitting an absurd number of huge rocks. 17 inches was good. 12 inches probably would have been okay.

4Setting up the Frame

Annoyance Level: Medium. The digging was definitely not as bad as I’d expected. But probably only because I relaxed my installation specifications. I definitely didn’t do the concrete. I just dropped the 4×4’s in the hole. I’m totally okay with this.

The measuring is SO important here. When you dig your holes, don’t measure to the edge of your construction – measure center to center. After I dug my holes and stuck the boards in I realized I had to lined them too narrowly by about an inch each. I did this with a trowel and it was stupid.

Also, remember how I didn’t level the yard? It turns out the north-side is about a half inch off from the south side. I measured the heights of my corner posts off the ground – I should have used a transit or a line level. I was lucky that the tilt didn’t create a visual problem, but it definitely resulted in some weird-sauce board alignment issues.



Annoyance Level: High

THIS IS IMPORTANT: When you have a framework that’s locked down, don’t be an idiot by cutting all the connecting pieces in advance. I trusted my measurements as law. But when I secured the corner posts in the ground I found that the dimensions drifted… Just slightly enough to be really annoying.

I used nails to put everything together. I would recommend nails for connection up to a solid fence post, but for every other connection I should have used short screws. The problem was that since my boards weren’t perfectly sized – nailing some pieces together would pop other joints. It was frustrating.

Because we wanted the chicken wire behind the boards, we had to put the mesh in place as we built the structure. We used a staple gun and it was definitely the right choice. Super easy.

We also ran a separate piece of chicken wire into the ground 6 inches to prevent burrowing animals. This wasn’t as annoying as expected.


So easy! For this we measured the door opening and laid out some strapping on the floor of our basement using little 1″ spacers to make everything aligned really nicely. I used a pencil attached to a string that was secured with some duct tape a few feet away to draw a nice radius along the top. I used a bandsaw to cut each board and then we nailed everything together.


We used a cheap spring loaded gate latch that I bought at Lowes. I worked ok. I had to adjust it in order to make the joints work.

Annoyance level: Low. The only thing I would have changed is the use of screws instead of nails and I would have had the door sit tighter in the frame. I left about an inch on each side. A half an inch on each side would have been fine and would have made the connection latch work a bit better. I bought the latch AFTER we built the gate. This is the wrong order.

Once the construction was complete, we layered the bottom of the garden with newspaper and cardboard (apparently this is useful; I don’t know why). Then we put down a layer of compost. Finally, we mixed leaf mulch with top soil to fill the first of the box. We planted some veggies and eventually, decided to put some gravel down on the inside path. We used some landscape fabric to prevent weeds.


BOOM. Done.


Total price? About $350.
These better be the most delicious vegetables ever.

Construction Projects

This summer has been a summer of construction, including the following ambitious plans:

1. Vegetable garden
2. Patio
3. Driveway Drainage
4. Shed

So far we have completed the first two items. And Gad-Zooks it has been a work fest. It’s well known that projects such as these are routinely underestimated. In our case? Yes. Efforts were completely underestimated. This week I will document the garden and patio events. The Vegetable Garden post will be up Tuesday morning, The patio post will be up Thursday morning.

See you then!


On Wednesday I was in my backyard trying to get a closer look at the river otter that has returned to our little pond when I spotted a large bird perched at the top of an overhanging tree. AN OSPREY! I was stunned! We’re about 4 or 5 miles in from the coast, so I never expected one to venture so far inland. But alas! There it was!

Birds of Prey are wonderful because they sit still for extended periods of time. I booked it back up to the house and pulled out my telescope with my camera mount to snag a pic.


In general, telescope pictures are hard to take. The focal length for most star related activities is infinity – so easy! But for close stuff the adjustment is coarse and the light balance is terrible. I spent a bit of time trying to get this one right, but it’s still whitewashed.

Still, I’m stoked about the bird. Such a treat!

The Cheese Files vol X

Italian Burrata Cheese.

This cheese came recommended by Michelle & Noah, two masterful foodies whose opinions carry more weight than most. Jen and I had been looking for a proper cheese for tomato caprese salad. During our trip through Italy we had the most amazing Caprese salads! But here at home, our attempts did little more than disappoint. Even the revered buffalo mozzarella felt like a cheap substitute.

Enter Burrata

The word “Burrata” means “Buttered” in Italian and, curiously, wikipedia reports that this cheese was originally a way to use up scraps of unused mozzaralla. Don’t be fooled, this is no left-over cheese. Burrata is a treasure chest of a cheese. It consists of a protective outside shell of mozzarella encasing a precious richness of cream inside. Like its mozzarella brethren, Burrata is sold in a salty brine. But unlike its inferior relatives, Burrata’s cream interior elevates the soft creamy texture to new levels. When you cut open the ball of Burrata, the thickened cream flows out. Quickly throwing on a caprese salad and topping with balsamic and basil? It’s perfect.

The faults of this cheese are very specific. The taste is off the charts, but use is limited and cost is high. Websites recommend it for salads and… well, that’s about it. It’s beyond perfect for Caprese but impossible with a cracker. The other downfall? Price = $5 per ball. This is an expensive luxury.

Like Heaven

Taste: 4/4
Price: $$$$
Independence: Low

*Fun fact: we made this amazingly perfect caprese salad with the WORST TOMATOES EVER GROWN. I am eager to see how memorable the salad is with fresh tomatoes and basil from the garden. I expect nothing less than nirvana.

Ravioli Apartment Complex

There are certain foodstuffs that require a very high time investment to make. In general, dinners that require me to schedule time on my calendar are less likely to happen. For example? Raviolis.

The solution: Economies of scale. If you make a HUGE HEAP of raviolis all at once it is entirely worth it. Jen and I have developed a good system: I make and roll the dough, Jen stuffs and seals the raviolis. We then lay the raviolis out in sheets and freeze for later. It’s perfect!

Except that freezer space becomes challenging when you have 200+ raviolis that need freezing because you can’t stack unfrozen raviolis; they stick together. A few weekends ago I built a ravioli apartment complex for the freezer. It accommodates up to 6 stories of raviolis, each of which holds approximately 62 raviolis.

Economies of scale has never been so delicious.


WOW. I have been so bad at posting it is disgusting. I am appalled at myself.

Today’s Five Things:

1. I have about 4 cheese posts to update
2. Things in the office are slow, we’ve been granted furlough once a week. I’m taking advantage of the time to try and get yardwork and guitar practicing done
3. Part of #2’s yardwork is a garden that Jen and I built last weekend. We will grow tomatoes and other vegetables of justice.
4. Since my last post, I have eaten so many raviolis. Soooo many.
5. Tonight we go to a bird of prey presentation. I am stoked.


I’m pleased to report the addition of a Nest Thermostat to the DiDonato home! While perusing the local papers a few weeks ago, Jen found a remarkable deal to get a free Nest with any solar consultation. We’ve been thinking about solar anyway so it seemed like an obvious choice. We signed up, enjoyed our consultation, and waited patiently for the mail.

This week the Nest arrived. It’s sleek and sexy on the wall and so far? I can’t decide if it’s better art or thermostat.

Honestly, I love the idea of the Nest but I’m not entirely convinced that it is worth the high price-tag. It has some potentially awesome features which could certainly prove their value: auto-away, adjustment of temps according to local weather conditions, and the peace of mind of never forgetting to turn down the thermostat during a vacation. But $250 is a LOT to spend on a Thermostat, especially if you’re already pretty good about keeping an eye on your utilities. Perhaps the most notable thing about the Nest is that I’m excited about the Nest. The Robot-ification of any device in my home is bound to get me excited, but perhaps the elegance of this tool is really its greatest attribute.

I’ll keep tabs over these next weeks/months and provide continued feedback.

Hooded Merganser

Jen and I are up to our ears in bird feeders. The current collection includes:

Shucked Sunflower Seeds
and a special Bluebird mix

Our five feeders reside just outside our breakfast nook window and we’ve taken great joy in our daily feathered visitors. For the most part, these visitors are recycled. We see the same seasonal birds over and over.

This past weekend, however, our eyes were diverted to an unexpected source: ducks.

I have never been interested in ducks. I think it’s because of their size. They don’t have the endearing smallness of a Pheobe and they don’t have the impressive grandeur of a heron or a hawk. Ducks are pretty middle of the road. This weekend that lackluster appeal took a dramatic turn.

Our backyard is framed by a large water hazard. It falls somewhere between the characterization of pond and marsh. On Saturday a flash of white coasting across the water caught my eye… it was a hooded merganser.

The hooded merganser has a giant bright white hooded head. It’s so odd-looking that it ignited in me an immediate deep interest in ducks. I pulled out my telescope, found my camera mount, and desperately tried to take pictures – but was grossly ineffective. Every evening since, I’ve been looking out trying to spot the return of the hooded merganser with no avail.

Even if it doesn’t return, I’m grateful that the hooded merganser has inspired me to delve into the ducks chapter of my Peterson’s Field Guide.