My Great Outdoors: King Tender's Berkeley Garden

My Great Outdoors: King Tender's Berkeley Garden

Janel Laban
Jun 25, 2009

Name: King Tender
Location: Berkeley
Type of space: Garden

Tell us about your outdoor project and how you enjoy it: For the last four years, I've been working on turning the weed patch that was our backyard into a modest and yet functional oasis of flowers and vegetables. I like to grow vegetables and I like to have parties in the backyard. Then after our son began to get high lead tests this year, we learned that our backyard has lead levels...

...of about 1300 ppm (which means it is officially hazardous and requires special disposal methods). We couldn't afford to remove the soil (and we were worried this would just make our son's lead levels higher because it would stir up so much dirt). So we had to "cap" it. Now that it is capped, we spend many afternoons out there. I bought a space heater so we can eat dinner out there also (and it handily doubles as a reading light). And I am really enjoying the large crop of blueberries that I have coming in now. (Although I am still too nervous to let my son eat them; their roots are in the lead soil still.)

How did you create it?:
I did a lot of research online about lead and soil and tried to sort through it. I talked to some landscape designers but all of them knew nothing about lead and also thought my budget was too small for their time. So I finally ended up using as a model the suggestions made by the "Lead Safe Yard Project" and doing it all myself. It looks a bit wonky but... We built boxes around existing plants using 2x6 pieces of redwood with 4x4 redwood pieces as corner supports. Then we put down landscape fabric and stapled it to the redwood boxes. Then 3 inches or more of dirt. Then three inches or more of mulch. The concrete paver patio has a layer of sand and then landscape fabric on top of that. The vegetable boxes are 18" deep and also lined with landscape fabric. I tried to save as many plants as I could. And I will fill in many now empty areas in the fall when the rains start. It has been a lot of work. We only had wheelbarrow access to the backyard and so all the soil and paver stones had to be carried from the street to the backyard by wheelbarrow. If I had more time, I'd brag about our graywater system and that the only part of the garden that currently gets irrigated water are the vegetables.

Recommended store, site, product or resource?
We bought the wood at Ashby Lumber in Berkeley, California. Soil, mulch, and stones are from American Sand and Soil in Richmond, California. We made the table in the front ourselves.

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