Archive for November, 2012

Building a Home – Raised Bed Gardens

Posted on: November 15th, 2012 No Comments

Early stages of a garden back home in Sidney, OH.

I grew up on a farm in a small town north of Cincinnati in Ohio called Sidney. Besides having cash crops like corn and soybeans, we had a garden for our own use. We used to eat sweet corn in the summer until we’d bust. When I moved to the city, I realized how I’d come to take fresh produce for granted. When Sara started coming home with me, we’d forage through my mom and dad’s garden looking for anything salvageable that they’d left behind. Now that we’d have our own place and enough space, we wanted to plan a garden. We decided to build several raised bed gardens because of the following advantages:

This soil is actually a 50%/50% mix of topsoil and compost (“garden mix”). Had we gotten the 100% compost, it may have been too strong for some plants to survive.

Our builder brought up the idea of installing the beds before we finished the house because once the sod and concrete sidewalks went down, there wouldn’t be a way to get a dump truck full of garden mix soil to the backyard without doing significant damage. We could have had the compost dumped in the front yard, but that would involve a LOT of trips with a wheelbarrow. So our planning started with the question of how much garden mix soil we would need. We had a little patch in our back yard that would serve as a good location and it measured about 30’x20′. A resource we had been using from the University of Florida extension in Miami Dade county (click here for the publication) recommended a planting depth of at least 8″. Using those three measurements, we figured we’d need about 400 cubic feet of garden mix, or about 15 cubic yards (“yards”). I decided to go with a little less and I’m glad I did: I failed to realize that raised beds can accommodate roughly twice the plant density of a regular garden because there are no walking paths. I ended up ordering 12 yards.*

The Lead Gardener screwing landscape timbers together. Timbers warp like crazy, so it’s best to use outdoor wood screws to hold them together.

Next came the question of what material to build the beds from. At $3 per piece, landscape timbers made the most sense. We were worried about the chemical treatment the timbers contained leaching into the soil and our food, so we lined the inside with a durable plastic. The first bed we made was 28’x4’x0.75″, which required about 24 landscape timbers. To prevent weeds from sprouting from under the newly laid garden beds, we put enough cardboard down to cover the entire 28’x4′ area. We then started to back fill the bed with the garden mix. The next two beds were 28’x4’x1′, requiring 32 timbers each (because we had ordered about 2 yards of garden mix too much, we decided to make the next two a little higher)**. We left about two feet between each of the beds as a walking space, hopefully enough space to fit crates of fresh vegetables!

Three raised bed gardens ready for planting!

We’re pretty happy with the final product. Sara is a little worried we’ll need to put out a bunch of plants to make full use of the space. I figure whatever we don’t use we can seed with flowers, but I’d rather have too much garden space than not enough.


*We got 12 yards of the garden mix delivered from Roberts Sand and Gravel for $450.

**There was a lot of additional work done to level the beds, way to much detail for the intention of this post. For more information on how to level your raised bed garden, send me an email or call me.

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Building a Home – Tile

Posted on: November 12th, 2012 No Comments

Permabase substrate on master bathroom shower walls.

Watching the guys prep for and install the bathroom and laundry room tile made me realize how little I actually knew about tile. Every job requires the right foundation for things to move forward smoothly and for a lasting product. In the case of tile, installing the foundation took much more time than the actual tiling. For the walls, the tilers used a substrate called Permabase. Permabase is a rigid combination of portland cement, fiberglass mesh and aggregate filler. It resists prolonged exposure to moisture and is very durable. After the Permabase wall board went up, there were still seams to deal with. To seal the seams and otherwise add another layer of water proofing protection, the tilers used an elastomeric (rubber) seal coat called Redgard. Once Redgard cures, it not only waterproofs the Permabase surface and seams but tile can be directly applied to the surface.


Raised (aka “floated”) laundry room floor.

Tile can normally be installed directly on top of unfinished concrete floors. Since we were putting in hardwood floors throughout the house though, all the rooms with tile floors needed to be raised an additional 1 1/4″ so all the surfaces would be flush. The solution was to raise the floor using a low viscosity mortar, self leveling mortar. I arrived a little late to see this step, and in fact they may have used a more viscous mortar that did not self level. In that case, an expert hand would be required to get the mortar level. UPDATE: They did in fact use a more viscous mortar and leveled it with using a technique I’m still not sure about. They used the same technique to form the funnel in the master shower, directing the water to the center drain. Video of tile being cut. This is interesting: Video of tile guy trying to cut his finger on tile saw.


Master shower with insert almost completely finished. The red is the remnants of the Redgard elastomeric sealer.

As I said before, once the foundation was down putting the tile up appeared to be a breeze. They would score the wall tile using a manual saw then break it perfectly in the shape they needed. To grind down the rough edges, they used a whetstone similar to the ones used to sharpen knives. For the ceramic floor tile, they used a wet saw to do the cuts. Work would slow when they rounded corners or had to install an insert as they did in the master bathroom wall.

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