Monday, December 1, 2008

Done Digging for Now!

Look - the garden beds are in! We did the final 5 hours of moving soil around – taking some out of the yard entirely (about 8 wheel barrows worth) and getting the beds shaped. This pic shows both planting areas – well there are really four planting areas.

At the top of the photo at the edge near the neighbors yard is a sunken bed the will help manage the water that runs off the north east corner of my roof. That water will help deep water the female Mulberry Tree (gives me berries in the spring) as well as the future mini apple orchard.

The bed below it is for the edible garden. I transplanted the salvia from the pots on the porch to create a perspective so my neighbors could see these are gardens, not mud pits!
I threw a mix of about 10 different kinds of flower and veggie seeds into the dirt which I had amended with really great organic mulch (from Ken Singh). Then I covered the seeds with more mulch and watered everything down really well with compost tea. The seeds have started to sprout (after about a week). I am really excited for them to turn into a riot of plants, all growing and blooming at different times.

Then this sunken ‘pit’ is to manage the water that runs off the porch roof (could be up to 200 gallons in a one inch rain!) and where I will plant a desert tree for shade for the house and the garden.

Now, I get to just sit back and water the beds and watch them for the next 30 days or so. Well, not really sit too much. I still have the brick edging to install and a brick patio, but I feel like the push is done to get the seeds into the ground so they could germinate.

I got it all done just 2 days before the Thanksgiving rain of ’08. It was great to see Mother Nature provide the water and then the sun.

This is not the end of my journey, just the beginning of new front yard adventures. I am already planning what to plant next spring!

Happy Digging,

Doreen Pollack

Monday, November 3, 2008

Earthworks in Progress

Two weeks ago, Ryan, Eika and I began to lay out the earthworks that will become the area where the rain water settles after it runs off the roof. These lower garden beds or sometimes called mulch pits are where I will plant the trees and the edible garden. When it rains the water will be channeled into these low spots and soak into my yard, watering the plants and staying in my lot instead of running into the street and the gutter.

We borrowed a roto tiller to loosen up the soil so we could dig it and move it around. The mulberry tree roots were close to the surface (they were getting water from the former lawn) and made tilling a challenge. The tiller jumped around a lot and had to be controlled. However, it really made digging much easier!

I wanted to be sure that I was creating the earthworks in the right size and location, so I had Ryan bring his Bunyip level, which is a tool made from clear hose used to measure the level of a piece of land over a distance.

Here’s a picture of Ryan and Erika using it to measure how much I needed to raise the soil level at the porch (where the soil had been eroded from rain runoff from the roof). I get about 200 gallons of water off the porch roof in a one-inch rain. I will use that water for the native shade tree I am planting to shade the front of the house from the morning sun. I am installing a brick patio at the base of the porch to help the water travel out to the tree and keep the soil in place.

Look at the great keyhole garden we created. See the path around it? The key hole design will allow me to reach into the garden to tend and harvest plants from all sides. Just above it in the photo where the hose is beginning to fill it with water, is another lowered bed for the future fruit trees. I will also plant some edibles around there as well. For now the mulberry tree will shade the new trees (to be planted in January) for at least the first year or so. Then I will trim back a large limb to bring in more sun and make room for the canopy of the fruit trees.

For now it is back to the sketch pad for me on what to do between the new brick patio and the side walk. The inspiration just hasn’t hit me yet – but I know it will. Plus I have lots of people to ask for their input.

Your feedback and ideas are always welcome. And if you ever want to come help me dig and design so you can learn how it’s done, just let me know!

Happy Digging,

Garden Goddess
Down 2 Earth

Monday, September 29, 2008


ARGGHHHHH! The bermuda is sprouting again! It’s been SIX weeks since I last sprayed and subsequently tilled up the grass, scrapped off the top 3 inches of soil and grass – AND IT IS GROWING BACK!

I have been watering the dirt to keep down the dust and because one of the border gardens is on the same valve. The sprinkler heads are in the same location they were when there was grass. That’s OK as the cover crop will need watering.

But the grass is coming back ALREADY! It is a little different this time. They must be sprouting from seed, because when I pull them up they are not deeply rooted or attached to the stolen. They have fine hair-like roots. And there are probably two dozen blades of grass, a small enough amount I can easily pluck them out of the ground.

But the gall of that grass to even think about growing back – SO SOON! The purslane and spurge are also growing pretty wild. But I think that is all because the dirt was just perfect for seed germinating – it was clear – nothing to get in the way of the seed from making contact with the soil, settling in, and getting a nice shower ever few days. The weather is still HOT – over 100 degrees, perfect for bermuda grass! And it is ALL sun!! No shade – yet.

I am glad I have taken the time to think about what I want to do next. I am in the Permaculture Design Course (32 of 72 hours under my belt or my butt since we sit a lot) and we just had a session on rain water harvesting in the soil using a concept called Earthworks. It is the use of grading, building berms and swales to route and hold the water so it can soak in instead of running off the lot. Much more complex than that but I think you get the picture.

I was going to plant my cover crop in a few weeks, but after consulting with a few ‘permies’ (Permaculturists), I decided to get the yard graded and the Earthworks in prior to doing all of my soil remediation.

Once I have the soil amendments and microorganisms in the soil, I do not want to disturb their environment least I kill them off! Essentially that means not tilling or turn the soil over and moving it around with a shovel AFTER the cover crop has grown and been removed.

So we will be creating the Earthworks mid-October and maybe getting the seeds in – we’ll see. The more help I have doing this, the quicker I can get the seed in. I still have time on the planting calendar, so it is all good.

If you want to be part of creating the rain water harvesting Earthworks, please let me know and I will fill you in on the details!

Happy Digging,

Doreen Pollack aka THE Garden Goddess

Monday, September 8, 2008

One Step Closer to Planting

This is sure taking longer than I thought! With the heat and the amount of physical labor involved I find I am limited by what I can do and what I can pay to have done. That being said, I am learning to ask people to help, whether I pay them or not, I am asking people I know, like my neighbors, to help me with the steps I cannot do myself. I suppose this is also part of the community building that goes along with such a bog project. I am just glad my first one of this scale is at my own home!

AND I am excited to announce the dead bermuda has been tilled and raked from the front yard. Eloy, who I met through our neighborhood community garden, had this great tractor/tiller. He lives so close he drove it over to my house and drove it over the lawn to till up the dead bermuda down to about 4-5 inches deep. Then he and another guy raked up the loosened grass and leveled the yard for me.

I had them take off some of the top soil as well, but the soil that was tilled up looks pretty good. I want to lower the garden beds from the driveway and sidewalk to keep the water on my lot. It ran off when I watered the grass so I knew it was high. Plus this will give me some room for amendments.

During the heavy rains this summer I took time to OBSERVE the water flow and puddling in my yard. I have a lot of water that runs off the roof, directed by 2 peaks on either side of the front porch cover, which is just an old aluminum roof. The dirt has eroded pretty deep. I can see the underside on the concrete footings of the porch. So I will build that up with some of the concrete debris I have from removing the brick path and use earthworks for the water to be diverted into the center of the yard where a future tree will be planted. This may not get done before planting.

Soil is heavy. It took two trips to the dump with my neighbor Kevin’s truck. What a great guy he is, he hired a few workers to shovel it all off my driveway and into his truck. They did a great job sweeping up afterwards as well.

And ALL of this happened when I was not at home! (I did get a chance to take a few pictures for my blog.) The only casualties were a few sprinkler heads, But now they I can get to them so easily with all the grass growing up into them, I was able to replace the broken heads myself.

I still have more to do before I plant my cover crop. I will order the compost tea through my friend Jennifer, buy the mustard green seeds (Don said Whole Foods has them in the sprouting section) and I still have some digging out of bermuda around the existing planter beds.

I will also do a jar test of the spoil to see how much clay, loam, silt and sand I have so I know how to amend it. That may mean a load of compost from Ken Singh.

I am targeting the weekend of September 20 & 21 to get the seeds in and tea sprayed. Anyone want to join me and learn how while I do, you are welcome. Just give me a call!

Doreen Pollack

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Bermuda is REALLY Dead

OK - I think it really is dead - NOW - finally. I have watered, fertilized, it has rained twice at least an inch each time and NO NEW SHOOTS have poked through the ground. Compare the picture above to the same shot on my first post. Do you agree with me? Of course you do!

Look at Mike's grass at the top of the picture, in fact there's Mike in a blue t-shirt working in the driveway on something. His grass is nice a green -not mine - It's dead - NOW - finally.

YIPPEE - Stage ONE is done.

OK so NOW what? Of yeah, time to remove all of the dead grass. Don Titmus recommends getting a sod cutter and slicing off the grass, throwing it away. Then hand dig the rest out around areas the sod cutter can't reach. Sounds like a lot of work and it is still 110 degrees outside.

HHMM - time to find a little help me thinks! Maybe some hourly labor or someone who needs a little extra cash? Who do you know? Send them my way!

STAGE TWO begins after the grass is removed - so stay tuned!

Doreen aka the Garden Goddess

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Dead Bermuda gets Mowed Down

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It's off to mow I go -----

Ok - The heat must be getting to me. Now I am singing Disney songs - and where are all those elves when I need them anyway? Why is it I seem to tackle my gardening projects in the heat of the summer?

The darned bermuda grass has dictated the timing of this project. You must kill bermuda when it is growing vigorously. That means HEAT, fertilizer and lots of water.

The monsoon rains have helped with the water. I got 1.3 inches of rain last Thursday night. I played in the rain again! My daisy-chained barrels worked beautifully and I got ALMOST 2 BARRELS FULL - 110 gallons! Plus the 30 gallon trash can was full! I was also emptying all of the small buckets into it as they were overflowing - silly me came in twice and changed my clothes cuz’ I thought I was done playing,(oh yeah I was also holding an umbrella and I couldn't carry buckets and the lightening was too close!) so the last time I went out, I remembered I had a rain poncho!

Ever notice how much the garden perks up after a rain fall. And lightening brings nitrogen to the earth. I just love a good rain! But I digress.....

It has been one week since I sprayed the grass. It is pretty brown in some places and still green in others. I decided to mow (bagged the grass and put it in the trash, just to be safe and not contaminate my compost with glyphosate) since the grass was pretty tall and had now fallen over when it died.

Here's the before mow and after photos:

I wanted the fertilizer to get down to the soil. Yes fertilizer! I know I am killing the grass but I want to be sure it is REALLY gone so I am testing to see if there is ANY life left in the deep roots. After I fertilized the entire lawn, I watered it in well and will begin a regular watering schedule to see if my grass comes up in the dead areas. I know I will need to spray at least one more time since I had the green grass in some areas.

In the meantime, I had the old tree stump ground out and pulled out the lantana around it. Just having them gone has opened up the side of the yard. With the grass cut so short, I can start to see my 'garden' out there - if only in my mind.
Until next time-
Happy Digging!
Doreen Pollack

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Big Spray

Well, I sprayed – it took me an hour and a half the first morning (it got too hot by 10:30am to continue) and an hour the next day, but it is done. I may have overdone it with the amount of Glyphosate I applied, 7 gallons for about 600 square feet. The back of the bottle said one gallon treats 300 square feet. But they have not seem how thick and lush my grass is, so I feel pretty certain that I got all of the grass blades wet. That was my goal, to wet the grass enough so the chemical would be pulled into the roots and start to do their thing – kill the grass.

One small event happened that MAY have made all my hard work for nothing – It rained about 12 hours after each spray! I was both giddy and upset when it rained at my house Sunday night. I got a chance to watch the rain fill my newly installed barrel. Those thirteen minutes of rain turned into several gallons in my barrel and other catchment devices (kitty litter buckets, watering cans, old trash cans).The weather man had said a 10 - 30% chance of rain, and since we hadn't had much rain yet, I gambled - and lost. But I blogged about it at the Phoenix Permaculture website and thankfully my grass removal mentor read my pitty-party post and responded: “You should be fine...the chem would have moved into the root zone in a few hours and so the kill will happen. Don’t Panic. Don”

You can visit Don’s website here to see the recommended process I am using.

Thanks goodness! Of course it wouldn’t have been the end of the world, but I feel a little relieved.

So far now, I go out and look closely at the lawn when I go to my car and watch for the tell tale signs that it is dying. I understand from a fellow gardener –Fred, who is also following the same process, that his took about a week. So watch for my celebratory post in about a week from now!

Until then – Happy Digging!
Doreen Pollack

Sunday, August 3, 2008

391 Bricks Later

Well the work is done. At least the bricks are removed. It took me two mornings to remove the brick sidewalk in 90 degree heat. I could only work for about 2 hours each morning before the heat got to me - and that was at 6:30 in the morning! It's not only about loosening the bricks, but it's putting them in the wheelbarrow (with the almost flat tire), pushing it down to driveway and then taking them out and stacking them. So each brick actually got handled twice, so it was more like moving 782 bricks!
And YES I did find more black plastic, landscape fabric and sand under the bricks, so that had to be pulled out. Black plastic was used many years ago as a weed and grass barrier. It is not recommended now as it also suffocates the soil. It was so old it fell apart as I tried to pull it up. Whatever is left will get removed when I take out the dead bermuda grass.

I also ran across tree roots. The Mulberry tree is on the other side of the yard, but I guess the roots travel far for water. They are about a half inch in diameter. I am concerned about cutting them, so I will ask an arborist before I do.
I trimmed up the rest of the bushes around the edge of the yard so I could get to the grass growing under them. I actually sprayed that grass last Sunday after I trimmed the bushed and it is already dying.

My friends all think I am crazy. My grass is looking so green and lush, everyone is complementing me on it. When I say that I did that to kill it they all look at me funny. Then I explain and they just shake their heads and their eyes glaze over. I guess not everyone is as excited as me about re-landscaping. I am turning into a gardening nerd - and I love it!
The next step is the BIG Spray! Off to shop for a sprayer and the Glyphosate. I am getting excited now.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Plan twice, do it once!

Well, I am sure I have had the first of many lessons yet to come – whatever you plan to do will take longer than expected.

I thought we could remove all the bricks in one morning. I mean, it was kind of cool and overcast Sunday morning. The ground was very damp, so it was easy to push the shovel into the earth and pop up the bricks. Yet after 2 ½ hours, we still have the brick sidewalk to take up.

You’ll remember my concern for grass growing under the bricks? Well, here’s a photo to prove it. In fact, bermuda can grow into concrete. Some of the bricks had a lot of concrete holding them in.

There were also a few surprises, one of them being landscape fabric under the bricks. There was a shallow layer of dirt and sand on top of the fabric, so the bermuda grew there very happily as well.

We had some help with the task. Mischief, the black and brow tortoise-shell cat and Annie, my sweet spaniel supervised. Mischief wanted to help us dig the new trench between Mike’s yard and mine, but she got tired quickly and laid down to rest.

Speaking of that trench, Mike has a Bermuda lawn he wants to keep and I want him to keep it on his side, so I need to dig at least a 6-8 inch trench, pour in cement and build up a border high enough to keep the grass on his side. Another project to add to the list. We’ll do it together and have to watch out for the roots of the established Mulberry tree that sits on the property line.

In the meantime, the rains are helping to green up the grass. Now I just need another week to get the sidewalk bricks up and then another to let that grass thrive in the fresh air!

If you do not have the detailed how-to instructions on Bermuda Grass Removal, please visit this website at

Until the next time, Happy Digging

Doreen, THE Garden Goddess

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Good Bye Bermuda Grass

Today is the first day of the bermuda grass removal campaign at the Goddess’ Gardens! Oh what an exciting day it is! This journey will ultimately end up with a wonderful edible and sensory garden right in my front yard! I can just smell the lavender and taste the peaches now!

I am tired of mowing and fertilizing a lawn that does nothing but sit there! It does not earn its keep as a play ground for children or pets (we have a back yard for that) and I spend lots of my time and money making it look good. (Well not that good.) And more importantly I use precious water to keep it green. I would rather use water for plants I can eat and use. And with a garden V.S. a lawn, I can use the rain water I collect and re-route off the roof to water the plants.

Oh but wait – first the Bermuda grass must DIE! I have been telling people I was going to do this for months now, but just didn’t know HOW. There are several ways.

Dig it out - but the roots can go down several feet!
Solarize – but that would also kill the roots of the other plants and trees I want to keep!
Or use a chemical – Glyphosate (i.e. Round Up)

I thought and researched about this. I went from thinking about renting a bobcat to dig it out and haul the dirt/grass away and then hand digging around all the border gardens; to laying down plastic and bricks and letting the sun cook it away (but how would I get all the grass growing in the border gardens?); to using a chemical even though I support using earth friendly products and being as natural as possible.

Then I attended a class through the Phoenix Permaculture Guild ( where we were taught how to use a chemical responsibly! Imagine that, use a chemical to kill a plant! (Bermuda grass) and then bring the soil back to life!

So this is my journey. One where I will make my Bermuda grass look the best it ever has – and then I will kill it off! This will take several months to do. Then I amend the soil and plant a cover crop; nurture and harvest it; and throw it away! Only then can I begin to plant my edible garden. My goal is to plant a peach tree in January 2009 as the start to my edible front yard.

This is what my lawn looks like now – not yet ready for the first spray. I must get all of the bricks removed, so I can get to all of the roots below them and all the grass that is brown is still alive below the surface, so it must be growing well above the surface for the Glyphosate to work its magic. I will water daily and fertilize weekly to get it healthy and growing so it will be able to bring the chemical down into its root system. Of course unless the monsoon rains help me out!

I will share my journey with you here – all the tips, tricks, mistakes, all of it, so you can benefit from it.

You can also get more tips on my website at and
Happy Digging,
Doreen aka THE Garden Goddess


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