Chris Sargent

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since Oct 13, 2014
SE Alaska
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Recent posts by Chris Sargent

Can you do raised beds with covers.  Lots of ways you can do covers from simple hoops to building frames.  Most of these show plastic to warm and protect the beds but you could just as easily cover with some type of wire.  Monkeys may figure out how to lift them but it shouldn't be too hard to add a latch or lock.  

Something like one of these





1 month ago
Our school lunch program is great and the staff are very supportive of using food from our school garden.  So we're very lucky in that regard.  

Does you school offer a salad bar.  We have one every day and much of our fresh produce goes on this. Its a nice way to use garden produce that doesn't require a lot of planning ahead of time.  When we have fresh lettuce and greens it supplements the purchased stuff (our garden isn't large enough to supply the entire need).  Same with other veggies.  There is standard store bought stuff on the bar but also garden produce as it is available.

Have a special event for garden produce.

We always have a garden stew day in the fall.  We harvest our potatoes, onions, carrots,etc,  We spend a week or two harvesting everything with the students and then it all goes to the kitchen.  The staff puts a garden stew lunch on the menu way in advance.  They then have time to look over what the garden produced and purchase whatever additional supplies are needed to round out the stew.  Then one the scheduled day we have a small harvest celebration, do a bit of stone soup type lessons and storytelling with the students, and they have garden stew for lunch.   This works nicely because the kitchen can plan and put a stew on the menu well in advance.  The produce is mainly storage type items so they can be harvest and kept for a few weeks, which gives the kitchen staff time to look over what is available and plan whatever else they need.  Plus its a fun event day for the students and the teachers can choose to participate with harvest type activities and lessons but they are not required too if their schedules don't allow for it.  The flexibility and choice to participate to varying degrees is really key to getting everyone on board.

One of the main hurtles to using garden produce in the lunchroom is, as you mentioned, the need to have menus and food orders prepared well in advance.  We've fond the best way to deal with this is to use the garden produce as a supplement so that if it is available it adds to the dish but the days menu can still be prepared with purchased ingredients if the garden harvest fails, is smaller than expected, or ripens later than expected, etc.

The other option is to have the students eat the produce right out of the garden.  My students are always begging to eat the produce when we're out there.  I try to plant plenty of items the kids can just harvest and pop into their mouths.  For us that is snap peas and snow peas, carrots, radishes, cherry tomatoes, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries.  A hungry classroom an strip a row of peas in record time.  When we do root veggies I sit out several bowls of water and veggie brushes and the students wash their harvest before they eat it.  Another easy and popular garden snack is lettuce wraps.  Each student gets a large lettuce leaf and then get to pick a few other veggies (peas, carrots, tomatoes, broccoli, or whatever is ripe).  They use the lettuce like a burrito wrap to wrap up their veggies and eat as roll.  Usually I give them some dressing to dip it in but not always.  

So my advice is basically to plan your garden around things that can be eaten raw as finger foods with little to no prep needed and/or storage type produce that can be harvested and kept long enough for kitchen staff to make a plan to utilize it.



1 month ago
I've build several fodder boxes to place around the chicken yard.  2x4 frame covered in hardware cloth.  I've planted a mix of wheat, clover, various greens (lettuce, kale, chards, etc.  usually whatever mix I have left over from the garden planting).  Just spread the seed and lay the box over them.  Chickens can't get to the seeds or scratch up the roots but will happily eat almost any green that grows up through the hardware cloth.  

I have lots of berries.  My backyard is covered in native salmonberries and the chickens love them!  Also have raspberries and blackberries planted along the fence row,  The chickens get whatever grows into and falls on their side.  They also really like the currents (I have black, red and josta).  The black and red are really heavy produces in our climate (I'm in SE AK and isn't that different than you in western OR) and provide a lot of berries from July to Sept (mix of varieties that fruit at different times).  There are more than enough for me and the chickens.  They also propagate really easily so I'm adding more cuttings around the chicken areas.  I also have native blueberries scattered around the chicken yard.  Bushes in the yard are protected by slabs of wood placed around the base so chickens can't scratch up the roots.  I'm experimenting with a mulberry tree (still to young to have fruit) but if I can keep it going I think it'll be a good food source for the chicks.  

Comfery...it's like chicken crack and grows really quickly.  Chickweed and peppercrest (Cardamine sp.)...well grows like weeds around here and the chickens love them both.   I've seeded various clovers for them.  And field peas.  Wheat and barley I've done on the small scale.  It doesn't tend to mature or dry out well here because our fall is so wet and cold so I've never tried to store it.  But it does make a nice meal for them for a few weeks in the fall.  

Compost pile/box in the chicken yard.  They pick over any table scraps I add and bugs.  I open the box and let the chickens turn it a few times over the summer.  There is always a buffet of worms when I do this.  

I can pretty much feed my chicken spring through fall but still need feed over winter.  I haven't really gotten into trying to grow/store winter feed.  However, I do supplement.  My chickens do really love squash and they gets some throughout the winter as a supplement.  Ive thought that these would be a good crop to grow and store for winter chickens.   Also potatoes.  They grow really well for me and store easily.  They do need a bit of processing (cooking before they can be feed out) but I can just chop up a bunch into big chunks and through them into a pot on the woodstove where they simmer until soft.  So I'm not spending too much time or wasted energy on this.  Again I just supplement their diet with these.  Not sure how they do as a regular feed.  
1 year ago
Sounds like an adventure.

Living on an island in Alaska I have lots of friends who live some variation of the off-road off-grid life style or have cabins they've built in a similar manner where everything has to be sourced on sight or hauled in on your back (sometime if you've chosen your sight well by boat).  So while I live on a road in a small town I do have plenty of this type of experience from helping out with friends places or just my own weekend/vacation time.  Just to let you know where my advice is coming from.  

The very 1st thing I think you need to figure out is how are you going to get to the site.  Have you had the chance to fully scout your property?  Do you know what the best access route is?  Does the site have any streams, gullies, steep hillsides that might have to be crossed?  Are there any really dense areas with lots of brush/vines etc. or areas with large blow downs.  Is it better to skirt around these areas or spend some time clearing them?  A good cleared access trail is going to be well worth the time you spend developing it.  Remember you're going to be traveling across the route in all weather (that little trickle you can step over now might become a knee deep torrent that is going to be dangerous to cross with a fully loaded pack after a spring rain).  That low area might turn into a boot stealing mess after a few weeks of hoofing across it in a damp spring.  Figuring out the access and spend you're first days on site creating a nice trail is going to save you so much physical strain and injury risk over the next weeks as you're carrying in heavy loads.  It doesn't need to be a highway but a nice footpath...cleared of ankle killing roots, pack snatching brambles, and boot sucking muck holes.  Something you can push a wheelbarrow or pull a small cart or sled along could be a big help.  Sometimes carts are more hassle than help when moving loads, all depends on the terrain.  


Once you know where you trail is going to start you need to consider a staging area.  I would suggest a short access drive and a clearing where you can leave a vehicle.  Something just in a bit from the main road and not visible from the road would be my 1st choice.  A short drive that you can gate or just hang a chain across might give you a bit more security.  Again it doesn't have to be fancy but a cleared area with space enough to turn a vehicle around.  I'd actually make this my 1st camp site.  Spend the 1st week or two right here.  Build a small shed here.  You're going to have times when you want to store loads near the road while you're waiting for muscle/time/weather conditions to get them to the main site.  Sometimes you'll leave these in your car but there are going to be times when the supplies need be on site and the vehicle may not always be there.  You're going to be spending a lot of time packing loads, taking everything out redistributing weight, figuring out how to fit that last thing or two into this load, realizing you can't even lift the pack off the ground, and leaving 1/3 of what you bought behind for the next trip in.  You don't really want to be doing this on the side of the road.  You also mentioned an atv and or cart.  Having a shed to leave these in near the road is a good idea.  Or just a covered carport type pole barn where you can organize your loads when it's wet/raining, snowing, etc. and store supplies out of the weather.  A simple timber structure should go up pretty fast.  You could just roof it with a tarp for now and take the whole thing down later if you don't need it long term.  Or finish it off with a real roof and maybe a storage loft for a permanent structure later.    Most people want to jump right into building at their more remote site but a good parking, staging, and storage area with road access is really something you're going to always need and want.  It'll make your life so much easier if you just spend some time on this first thing.  

So after I wrote this I reread your description and the fact you mention your site is 17 acres and has at road access on one side. So now I'm confused.  That's really a pretty small area.  I was thinking hike in as it would take you hours/miles to get into your site.  But then a realized on 17 acres you're never going to be more than a 15 min walk from the road.  Kinda changes the whole perspective.  You'll easily be able to hike back and forth to the car and/or staging area multiple times a day if you need too.  So not such a big deal to stress about what you bring in first.  Also much easier to just set up a nice base camp in the staging area near your vehicles.  No need to carry in your tents, sleeping bag, cookware, food, cloths, and all your tools on the 1st day.  Leave all that a base camp.  Set up a nice kitchen and a few creature comforts, like a good table/cook surface/worktop, if you're with your vehicles you can arrange for a few bigger heavier items (like a table, heavy dutch oven to cook in, etc.)  Maybe a few camping chairs, thicker foam pads or a few extra blankets to sleep better.  String up some large tarps and create some wind and rain protection.  

Slow down, spend some time making base camp comfortable and just exploring the site.  Don't try to start cutting down trees and building a structure on day one.  Get to know your site.  Really spend some time evaluating the trees.  Which ones do you really want to fell and which ones do you want to keep. Work on your trail and access.  Go back to base camp every night and cook a nice dinner and get a good nights sleep. You're going to be working really hard, going to want a lot of calories, and a way to ease sore muscles.  Allow yourself a bit of luxury while you're in base camp.  

Plan to hike into your main site every morning with just what you need for that day's project.  Plan what you're doing and just take the tools/supplies for that project.  Have a few projects lined up and an list of what you'll need for that project.  If you have extra room in your pack take a few supplies for the next project on the list.  Come out each evening with an empty pack and the next day take in a bit more.  You'll quickly have all your tools and big supplies at the site, especially if you're not trying carry in food and personal goods all the time.  

Start with felling some trees, take your chainsaw, axes, hand saws, etc.  Everyone has different preferences for what type of axes they like.  Some of it is just personal, how the ax is balanced, how heavy it is, the strength of the person swinging it etc.  Do you and your family know how you prefer to fell trees?  My husband and I each have different ways we like to fell trees and different tools we use.  The big chainsaw is nice for large trees and bucking up firewood.  But it does wear on the arms and shoulders.  Our lighter smaller saw takes longer to cut each tree but I can use it all day without the muscle strain the larger saw gives me.  A good sharp ax can actually be quicker when felling small trees.  Axes for felling are different than those for splitting firewood, and those are different than ones for timber framing, etc.  Also each person is going to have a weight and balance they like best.  I'd say don't try to buy and carry in all your tools at once. Get one or two basic items and start using them.  See what really works best for you and for your children (they are not likely to be the same for all of you). You're not going to be off in the remote wilderness.  You can easily take a weekly (or even daily if you need too) trip into town and buy, trade, or borrow tools and supplies.  Or really take your time and make your own as you need them.  Then you won't have wasted time, money, and effort on bringing in things other people told you you need but that don't fit your building style, or the local conditions, or whatever.  

While you're living in base camp you can also get your daily routines down.  Which pots and pans really work for how you're cooking.  What is the best way for store and filter water for your group.  Do you really use those buckets or prefer these totes?  Same thing with clothes, and sleeping gear, etc.  You're likely going to find some things you think are essential you never use, or you like one stye of tool better than a different one.  Maybe you much prefer a fixed blade in a sheath over the leatherman you thought you'd always use.  Leave these things at base camp and then plan some trips into town to trade, sell, barter things you're not using and pick up the things you really need.  

1st task, Clear and level a nice area where you can work.  You're going to be dragging around logs, debarking, trimming, measuring cutting, stacking, sorting, etc.  Having a cleared space to work is important.  Build some simple devices to help you. Some sawhorses, log holders, some block and braces to move and hold your logs. Maybe a shave bench.  Pick a site between a couple of good trees and sting up some rope.  Hang a tarp to shed all that spring rain.  You'll be able to keep mostly dry and work in difficult weather.  

First thing you build on your site is good weatherproof and rodent proof storage.  You need a good safe location to leave tools.  Tools left in the elements rust like crazy.  Small rodents love to chew tool handles and leather work gloves.  Moths and other bugs will happily destroy clothing.  Everything will want your food supplies.  If a mouse or squirrel can chew into it they will.  If you make it safe from rodents a raccoon will figure out how to open the latch or lift off a lid, plenty of critters will dig into sheds, or climb walls, etc.  So before you leave anything on site make sure you have a way to secure it from rain and wind as well as whatever might want to eat it, chew it up, or nest in it.  Once you have a secure shed you can start bringing in tools and supplies.   IF you're staying at base camp at 1st you don't need to worry as much about food storage right off.  Just eat most your meals at base camp and just bring in lunches and maybe a handful of backup/emergency items in case you need an afternoon snack or end up staying out through dinner.  

I wouldn't bother with a temp sleeping structure.  Anything you can throw up in a day or two is not likely to be small and cramped.  Plus not too likely to be very weatherproof nor keep out the bugs.  And bug are going to be your biggest enemy during spring and summer.  The tent will likely serve you better.  A second tent would be a good idea.  You and your adult children might each like their own living space.  Plus it gives you a safety backup option when one tent collapses under high winds in the middle of the worst thunderstorm of the century.  A hammock with a bug net over it is a really comfortable way to sleep in the summer.  Plus you can easily move it around if you want to spread out, have some personal space, or just take advantage of a different view now and again.  A thermarest type mattress in a hammock is really nice.  Adds just a bit more support and some warmth from cool breezes.  

Spend your time and effort on structures you are going to want to keep around longer term.  A good workshop/large shed would be high on my list.  You can always string some hammocks up inside it if the weather is really bad to sleep and take them down to work during the day.  Do you have any timber framing experience?  A simple timber framed structure would be a great 1st building.  Get up the frame and the roof.  Now you have a nice dry area to work and/or sleep. Then spend some time to finish out the walls.  Cordwood walls might be a good option since you have timber.  Or wattle and daub.  Do walls with some insulation value and this building will be a snug place to spend your 1st winter.  Later you'll have a really nice year round shop or maybe one of the adult kids would prefer to continue using this as a living space.  

An outdoor kitchen with a covered eating area and secure food storage would be next up for me.  Will make life around camp much better and still be nice to have and use even when the house is built.  I'd build a clay dome oven if it was me.  Really nice to bake in and if you have clay soils on site everything could be sourced right there.  Its an easy way to slow cook/simmer things for hours since they hold their heat so well.   bit of time to stoke up the fire and get it nice and hot in the morning and then fill it with pots of beans and rice, a roast or a good stew in a dutch oven, etc.  Close it up and walk away.  Come back a dinnertime and everything will have slow cooked/simmer all day.  When you're working all day it's nice to have a meal that you can prep and then doesn't need any tending until it's ready to eat that night.  Or fire it up, bake your pizza for dinner, load up some loaves of bread, they'll bake while you eat, take out the bread, and load up your pots of rice, or some grains or porridge and go to sleep.  They'll cook overnight and you'll have a warm breakfast the next day.  

Do you have any tree felling experience?  That's where you're going to need to start.  You can build some simple structures out of raw wood but most types of building you're going to need properly prepared and aged logs.  Most people spend a summer felling logs (or sometimes a winter as some trees and building types benefit from cutting the trees when there is no sap running during the winter).  Then dragging them to a storage area, debarking and prepping them, and letting them dry for a season or two before using.  If you want to be in a structure this winter you're going to be building with green wood.  This is ok for some building types but you need to understand how the wood is going to dry, and in the process shrink, warp, and crack. This might differ depending upon what tree species you'll be using.   A big concern if you're going to mill any and use boards.  Less of a concern for timbers, might be a concern for poles.   Maybe your husband knows this already from his carpentry experience but building things with milled 2x4 is a different ballgame than starting by cutting down the tree.  If you do build with green wood you're going to need to leave the timbers exposed for at least a season or two so they can properly dry out.  That means you're not going to want to finish a house, plaster, insulate or seal it up right away.  

Actually felling trees in the spring might be the worst time to do it.  Sap is running quite strong and the cambiun layer is going to be swollen with sap.  These means the trees will be really wet and heavy.  It also means if they dry too quickly they'll be more likely to warp or crack.  Cutting and prepping a bunch of spring trees then exposing them to a really hot summer conditions is likely going to be a problem.  Drying logs in shady area where they are not exposed to direct sun is often recommended to avoid temperature swings and rapid drying.  If you're using those logs in a structure when they're green they are going to be immediately exposed to sun and little protection from summer heat/rapid drying.  The plus side to felling in the spring is that the bark slips/peels off really easy because it is so wet and swollen. If you can then let the logs age in the round you'll have less work.  Sometimes it's better not to debark the logs as this will slow down the drying of the outer layer and keep it more compatible with drying on the heartwood.  Again this can depend upon species and time of year the tree is cut.  High sap content wood is also more prone to rot and more attractive to insects because of the higher sugar content in the wood.  I'd at least wait until summer when the trees are fully leafed out to cut any.  Growth is much slower then so the water/nutrient needs of the tree are reduced and thus sap content compared to the spring.  Plus cutting trees in the spring is just no fun.  Everything is full of sap and sticky, sticky, sticky.  You'll be covered in sap and pitch...which is almost impossible to wash off.  Even worse so will all your tools.  If you're using a chainsaw you're going to have to replace the chain often and soak and clean them so you'll have to have more spare chains in the rotation and spend a lot more elbow grease freeing the chains and bars.  Axes and saws are a little less trouble to clean but they will get coated with sap and bits of dirt and grit will stick to them or between the teeth and they will dull faster.  You'll still need to clean and sharpen them more often.  I cut sown some pine this last spring and bucked it up for firewood.  That stuff bleed everywhere and made huge mess of my tools and me.  Even after 10 months of drying there are still streaks of sticky sap on all the cut ends.  I've gotten to the point in the woodpile where I've starting using this pine and it's still a pain to handle.  I keep forgetting that it's mixed onto the wood pile and get my hands sticky whenever I go to pick up a piece without my gloves on.  I also got a nice glob of pitch and a stain on one of my better coats because I grabbed an armload of wood and carried it in on my way past the woodshed not thinking about the fact I was wearing my better coat and there was that sticky pine in the pile.  I can't even imagine trying to build with this stuff or using the sticky poles in a structure.  

Almost everyone I know that builds up here starts by just spending the 1st summer on site, doing prep work, and felling trees, maybe building a few simple storage sheds and a tent platform, possibly doing some foundation work and/or rockwork.  Then they come out for the winter, let everything age, dry, and settle.  Then the real building happens the second season when everything is prepped and ready.  Now Kentucky winters are not the same but it is going to get cold and wet and probably some snow and freezing temps.  Building a structure that is good for the winter starting from the trees is no easy task in one summer.  If you're also trying to improve the land, build some garden beds, forage, hunt, and preserve food, put up a winters supply of firewood, and so on.  Its a huge task! And possibly not the right way to do it from a timber strength and longevity point of view.  Just something to think about and consider when you're planning where to spend your first winter.    

Ok I feel like I've written a novel and barely even gotten started on all the things I could tell you.  But don't want to preach at you if you already know a lot of this.  I haven't even started on started on foraging and wild edibles which is actually a passion of mine.....
1 year ago
There are a couple of seed companies that specialize in Alaska varieties.  The biggest is Denali Seed and you'll find their seeds at https://bestcoolseeds.com/.  They have a mix of heirloom, hybrid, organic, and conventional seeds.  They do bred for Alaska conditions and only sell varieties that have been proven to grow here (although you do still need to be careful as some of their varieties can only be greenhouse grown).  I find thier descriptions and info about growing conditions to be really useful.  I've used them for years and had good results.

Then there is Foundroot. They specialize in open-pollinated varieties that are developed for Alaska conditions.  I just recently discovered them so haven't used them yet.  I plant to try them out this spring.

Jonny's Select seeds is a Maine company but specializes in cold weather, short season crops and I know many Alaskans use them.  

I also like West Coast Seeds out of British Columbia and Territorial Seeds from the Pacific Northwest but I'm in SE Alaska where the growing conditions are a bit more like that of BC.  Both have lots of cold hardy varieties that would likely do well for you as well.

Of course other local gardeners are your best resource.  Check out the Central Peninsula Gardening Club http://www.cenpengardenclub.org/  I would assume Homer and Seward probably have gardening clubs and would likely be worth your while to find out about some of their events.   This time of year many garden groups are doing workshops, group seed orders, seed exchanges, and the like.  

For general information on varieties and growing in Alaska the Cooperative Extension Service https://www.uaf.edu/ces/gardening/.  They have variety lists for the different Alaska regions. Lots of articles some with really good info about growing in our conditions.  

If you get up to Anchorage check out the botanical gardens there.  I know they sell some seeds in the gift shop.  Look for their spring plant sales.  Also a great resource for info especially for herbs and perienials.  

Read some of Jeff Lowenfels  Alaska gardening articles.  I know he just did an article about seeds.  I think he does one every year about this time so looking through the archives might get you some good info.  

Master Gardener Ed Buyarski does a couple of radio shows, Gardentalk https://www.ktoo.org/programs/gardentalk and In the Garden https://www.kfsk.org/in-the-garden/ and is a font of information on growing here in Alaska conditions.  



I second feeding it to the chickens.  I often give my used cooking oil and accumulated grease/fat to the chickens.  Usually mix it in with some grains, old bread, or whatever other scraps I might have around to soak up the oil.  The birds love it.  l sometimes mix a batch of grease with grains to make suet cakes.  You can throw them in the freezer and then feed out as treats though out the winter.  

If the oil is really old or gone rancid then I'm not sure if it would be ok for chickens or birds.  In that case I like the idea of soaking wood or cardboard in it to make fire starters.  
1 year ago
Daylilies have edible tubers and can be left in the ground until you want them.

Camas is another flower with an edible bulb. So is the dahlia (you can leave them in the ground in milder climates).

1 year ago
Most true cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon, Vaccinium oxycoccus) need very wet acidic conditions, they naturally grow in bogs and muskegs.   They can tolerate some drying out but need damp most of the time.  They also have really shallow root systems (pretty much within an inch or two of the surface). They are highly associated with sphagnum and while they may grow in soil they don't do very well or produce well unless in peat soil (possibly due to a dependence on mycorrhizal fungi symbiotic relationships)  Straight peat or a peat/sand mix is best if you don't happen to have a peat bog in your garden.  Then you want to plant in a low wet spot or create a depression, line with something (such as a pond liner) so that the area holds water and then layer on your peat and or sand.  I know all this because I live in are area full of muskeg (a type of peat marsh) and have built some native garden areas that include our native bog cranberry (V. oxycoccus).  I also spend a lot of time harvesting the wild ones and pay attention to where/how they grow.

In a hugelkulter bed the surface of the soil tends to be high and dry.  People often have problems with seedlings because their roots haven't grown down into the center where the rotting logs and moisture is.  Cranberry roots will never get that deep and so will always be in the dry soil.  My guess is if you try to plant some here they'll be dead within days.  They also don't transplant well so you have to baby them and keep them really wet and protected for the first season until the roots recover and the plant sends out runners.  I'm just not seeing how that would work on a hugelkultur.  Now having said that my experience is with the native berries.  The cultivated varieties may be a bit hardier.  

Lingonberry, (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) also called Low Bush Cranberry could be a candidate for you if you are willing to make some adaptations.  They tolerate dryer conditions (although they still need a large amount of watering and prefer moist conditions.  They actually grow really well on rotting logs.  Really old, really rotten wood that you can break apart by hand is perfect for them.  I have quite a few of these growing around my yard in/on rotted logs.  They are also more likely to be found on soil (rather than growing in peat). I even find them growing on rock piles and in gravel edges of old logging roads here.  But as I live in a rain forest even the rock piles are wet.  I've actually created some small low hugelbeds for my lingonberries.  I took some old, rotting logs and half buried them.  I laid them out side by side with a small gap between them.  This gap was filled with a mix of acidic soil and peat. The lingonberries were then nestled into the low areas where their rootscould grow down into the soil in the gaps and the runners could spread out over the tops of the logs.  I covered the rest of the exposed logs with moss (as I have an unlimited supply) to help the logs retain moisture.  You could go ahead and cover logs with a very thin layer of soil and then mulch really well.  I think that would serve the same function to retain moisture in the logs.  

So if you have already built the more traditional mounded hugelbeds I don't think you'll be able to plant any type of cranberry.  You might get away with the lingonberries along the lower edges where they can stay wetter and roots might be able to access the buried wood.  
1 year ago
Metal markers made out of flashing would be one way to go.

I had some student make markers for our school garden and also wanted something large enough to be easily read.  I wanted something that would last for years and withstand the elements.  So I decided to go with metal.  We tried a few different types and liked the copper flashing the best.  I used this copper flashing  Its a bit expensive as it is copper but I really like the look and a roll will make hundreds of markers.  Plus the softer copper is easier to write or press into.   I also love the way copper weathers so weathering and the elements are actually a positive.  If it becomes too weathered dark/hard to read a quick buffing will have it looking like new again.

Here are some of the finished markers the students made.



I've also used thin aluminum flashing for decorative projects around the garden.  We had the students draw pics into squares of thin aluminum flashing and then tacked them onto the wooden raised beds.  They've been out there for I think four years and still look good.  So that is an option if you want less expensive.

You can just use a thick pen, large nail, or awl to write onto the flashing.  Just want something that leaves a nice indent in the metal.  The ones I had to students do we used decorative letter punches from the craft store so they are fancier.  To make the letters more visible we spray painted them.  Just lay out the markers and give them a quick coat from a metal spray paint like Rustoleum.  Once the paint dries take some steel wool and rub the paint off from around the letters.  The paint stays in the depressions and makes the wording darker.  These are pretty thin so I think they'll hold up better attached to something solid.  You could use wood as the backer.  I plan to use plexiglass (because I live in a rain forest and everything stays really wet, molds, and rots here) so it lasts longer but it will ad to the expense.  The copper flashing tape already has an adhesive backing so it'll be easy to attach.  Finally I'm going to drill holes and use some metal wire to make stakes.  

If I was making hundreds of these I'd probably attach the flashing to the backing (thin plexiglass or plywood) as whole sheets.  Mark them into an even length x width and then hand write on them.  Paint the whole thing and use a fine sanding disk or buffing pad to rub the paint off the entire panel at once.  I'd probably go ahead and drill the holes while it was a larger sheet as well.  Then I would saw them apart into individual markers along the established lengths.  
1 year ago
Nice job.  Thanks for sharing.  I'm the garden coordinator for our local school and I love seeing what other schools are doing.
2 years ago