Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Reusing an Old Concrete Sidewalk

I recently re-acquainted myself with a local architect who happened to come through our home during the green home tour last fall. He's doing a renovation of a green detached garage, and told me about a neat idea he's doing that could have a place in our backyard plans.

Instead of completely demolishing an existing sidewalk to better fit our backyard design plan, we could take a saw and cut up the existing 24" wide sidewalk at intervals around every 18" or so. We could then reuse these "blocks" as really big concrete pavers set in a gravel base, as shown below (thanks to Tom for the photos).

We were warned that 18" x 24" sections 4 inches deep turned out to be really heavy, so we'd probably do a thinner section, maybe 10 or 12 high. For our yard, I think it would be neat to kind of stagger sections of concrete, similar to the recycled concrete paver design shown here.

Reuse the existing materials on-site
Little to no need for new concrete
Better drainage for stormwater

Labor intensive - cutting and making heavy
Winter questions - how will it hold up during snow shoveling?

As other ideas may be less feasible given our modest budget, reusing our old concrete may be a better alternative than leaving things for "next year" as we've been punting on solving the backyard dilemma for four years now. Some of the concrete we have is in really poor shape, especially the stairs leading down to the basement, and need to be fixed this summer. We'll have to seriously consider how well reused pavers would work.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Firmer, but not final, Backyard Plan

I've been meaning to post this for awhile, but here is a more refined version of our backyard plan that we're going with. Now we're starting to get a feel for the costs for redoing portions of the concrete (which need redone badly, especially near house / rear stairs).

The "Dharma patio" may or may not be feasible this year... we'll have to see. Click the image above to view a larger version of this - and kudos to Jen for the excellent digital mock-up using our original plat of survey!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

DIY Self-Watering Planters

For Easter, we made a trip out to my mother's house and were treated with a lovely surprise fresh from my stepfather's greenhouse: Nearly mature tomato plants! John provided us with two plants each of the following varieties:

  • Heirloom tomatoes
  • Cherokee tomatoes (which will be purple)
What a great addition to our garden! When we got home though, I realized that with my somewhat forgetful nature, these mature plants and their containers would need some kind of self-watering system to avoid drying out. So I took some terracotta pots from last season and made some deceptively simple outer containers - all I had to do was plug the drainholes.

I came up with a crafty solution of slicing up an old cork (our running cork collection came in quite handy) into "slices" about 4 mm thick. I then planned to insert that in the bottom of the pot, and seal it like a wine bottle.

Unfortunately, the corks were just bigger than the holes, so I had to make the diameter smaller. Doing this left a bit of a gap between the nice round curve of the pot and the chopped edge of my cork though, so I needed to water proof the cork somehow. I took an old candle that had burned almost all the way down, and dripped wax on top of and around the cork to seal the opening.

After letting the wax cool down for awhile, I tested the seal under the sink and it worked great. Voila! Self-watering containers! Now, the tomato plants, comfy in the plastic containers they came in, each have their own self-watering container that will allow them to "drink" from the bottom if they're thirsty. These should serve the plants well until it is warm enough to move them outside permanently.

In the meantime, I can hardly believe it but they are already beginning to flower. We may have fresh tomatoes from our little urban garden at the start of the season this year!