Friday, May 26, 2017

Making Faux Rocks for My Landscape

Coloring my rock

As I've been planting and laying out my yard for our edible food forest and now more for the landscape design I want, I've been frustrated by the horrid St. Augustine grass and other weeds that constantly retake territory I've procured for myself.  SOOO, after looking into various edgings and blocks available at the builder supply stores, I kept coming back to wanting to create rock-scape planters, like those we had built around our pool when we lived in California.  Our whole pool was designed to look like a large pond surrounded by rock planters. I loved it!!

I began reading "how to" articles and watching loads of YouTube videos for ideas and to build my confidence to try to do these myself. I experimented with hypertufa pots with the idea of making varying sizes to encircle my garden beds.  They turned out alright, but I didn't really care for them enough to continue making more than the two I have some plants in. So after some preparing I began with my first "rock" made from two bags of cement that had hardened in our garage.  I built up the shape using a hypertufa mix and foam blocks.  I just kept adding small shovel full lumps around the foam and using my hands to press them all into a form I liked.  Once I got everything covered and shaped to my satisfaction, I took a large garbage bag and cut it so I could open it up completely to be able to cover my rock.  Hypertufa takes awhile to dry completely and it needs to remain damp so it dries and cures slowly.  I used canola oil spray on the side of the bag that would touch the hypertufa to ensure it didn't stick as the piece dried.  It took a good 2 weeks to completely dry, but I uncovered it after the first week.  I didn't bother carving it as I originally planned to add detail, because we thought it had acquired the look of coquina stone often found in Florida and liked the way it appeared.

Bags of hard cement recycled for my rock base

This is a recipe for Hypertufa - I didn't use acrylic fortifier or dyes on mine
My screen for cleaning the sticks and lumps in the peat moss

Pieces of styrofoam packing recycled for my rock

Using my hypertufa mix I began layering the foam and padding the pieces in with more mix

My Hypertufa Rock

So with this first rock finished, I began planning my next one.  I love the work of Moore Design I found on YouTube.  He has several videos with how to's and cement recipes so if you want to try this definitely check out his work. I needed some forms to build on and haven't found the broken cement pieces I'd like to, to be able to follow his examples.  Instead I decided to use some "trash" items that we were planning to take to the recycle center. An old helium tank found by the side of the road along our property and a large green sand tank that had been part of the water softener we had to replace.

Once Kevin had cleared the weeds and grass next to the planting bed I laid out my tanks.  I used Quikcrete builders cement to secure them in place and added broken foam pieces to add height and shape.  Once I got a basic shape I let that dry and then took a section of old chicken wire left by the former owners of this property to further cover the tanks and give the next layer of cement something to hold onto.  I then added a few pieces of broken cement we had here from a walk Kevin is working to replace as he works on a drainage problem we're having near the pool.  So I recycled all these items as part of my "rock",  Once I had a basic shape I let everything completely dry.

Kevin clearing the area and the bags I had of mulch I used to kill some grass before removing it

The tanks I placed down to recycle and add substance to my rock planter

The builders cement mix for holding the tanks and foam in place as the initial base of my planter

Not looking too pretty, but here's my base of tanks, foam chicken wire and cement

A closer look

I've added more cement and some broken cement pieces have been added for height and shape all covered now with a layer of cement to form my solid base

The next step was taken directly from the instructions in the Moore design video I gave a link to above. I used the 9 scoops of sand to 2 1/2 scoops of Portland Cement and only enough water to make it thick but not soupy. You need the cement to be workable, but thick enough to stay in place. I took handfuls with my gloved hands and covered the whole rock.  My initial piece was covered with fingerprints as a result.

The basic coat of finishing cement

You can see all my hand and finger prints in it as I placed the cement in place

I'm using a plastic bag to initially shaped and soften the rock and it's fingerprints

Some of my initial shaping

So to soften and shape this I took a plastic bag and began shaping and softening the rock edges. I used the side of my spade to cut into the cement to give some design elements to my initial work.

Once this had set to a semi hard piece, I then took the spade and old paint brush to cut in my rock elements and used the brush to soften the edges and remove the excess cement.  I think I went a bit overboard with my design work, but I am learning.  I used a steel brush to add a few pitted sections and then softened the areas I was a bit too ambitious on with the side of my plastic bag and the brush as the cement was still pliable yet firm enough to hold the work I was doing. I don't know if it was necessary, but I covered my rock with plastic the same way I had with the Hypertufa rock.  This cured far faster and by the next morning was completely set up.

This was my rock once it was dry.

Preparing to color the rock

I wet the whole rock first and added the charcoal and moss colors going back over with water to soften the edges and try to make it look more natural

And so here it is.  Maybe a bit too many details, but not bad for a first try.

My order of cement oxides arrived in the mail and I then set about to color my rock.  Again I used the suggestions from Moore Design for aging your rocks to color my piece.  I'm satisfied with the way it's turned out, but I can see areas for improving as I continue to learn how to do this.  I have loads of area to work on and expect one day to be a regular faux rock expert!!  (Insert BIG smile here)

Here's a closer look at the detail and color. I dry brushed a touch of white patio paint on some of the edges to give some additional highlights

In the meantime I'm keeping my eyes open for broken cement sources to make my job easier.  I also bought a load of builders sand as the bags of play sand from Lowes are too pricey for amounts I'll need as I continue to create my planters.  I'm truly excited to see how this will progress and work with the plants and eventually ponds and fountains I want to create. I'm also hoping these will make my life a bit easier in time by keeping the lawn separated from my planting beds.  Time will tell.

The first part of my rock planter on this side and they hypertufa rock is on the other side, now to continue building until I completely surround my planting beds

So what do you think?  I'll update as I make progress and my landscape takes shape.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Blooms and Frost

Frost on the roof and the papaya with fruit

Typical of this time of year the weather gets warmer and blooms begin to show, new growth in plants and from sprouting seeds happens then - ARGH,  a cold spell suddenly shows up and if we don't act fast the sudden freeze can wipe out a new crop, fruit setting or even kill tender and cold sensitive plants and trees!! With loads of pretty and fragrant blooms on our citrus, fruit on some of the oranges and papayas and flowers beginning to come out throughout the yard just these past few weeks, when the weather people began announcing a frost warning two days ago we took action.

Added new palms and Japanese iris to a new bed by the bamboo out front

The same palms covered by tarp against the frost

Brand new Adonidia Palms, Cast Iron plant and Giant Bird of Paradise

Covered with pop up against the frost that clearly shows on the roof

New Palms, Bird of Paradise and on the far left of this picture a small Foxtail Palm

Covered against cold

Eventually the upper story cold hardy trees will help shelter the majority of my plants, but for now we have to scramble to find sheets, burlap and other materials to cover or build shelters with to protect these from the frost.  They are definitely a pain to have to get out in the cold and set up and really ugly to look at, but considering the investment of time, money and materials we have in these plants it's worth it.

Extremely fragrant citrus flowers

We created this tee pee to cover new plants bought at the Leu Garden plant show and some of our citrus in pots

Once things are more established, or as I said the trees that will serve as upper story protection layers have grown up sufficiently to do their jobs we won't have to put up as many of these shelters, but with our landscape and garden still being relatively new being proactive is important.  Compared to last year when we had to cover entire banana circles and even use heaters, we're already seeing improvement, so we have made some progress.

Some of our Elephant Ears blooming

A small Tahitian Squash

One of the Pigeon Peas with older pods and new flowers

Chickens in the tunnel on a warmer day

Plants covered and the chicken tunnel and tractor

The younger bananas, elephant ears and star fruit covered, while the more established bananas were able to survive with the microclimate we've created with surrounding plantings

A younger banana circle that needed complete coverage
Duranta flowering

Pretty apple tree blossums

One of 4 baby pineapples


Purple Indian Mustard and Romaine Lettuce

Green onions

More Purple Mustard, some young broccoli, marigolds and longevity spinach.


More marigolds and young broccoli

Fumi, Peachy and Henny Penny in the chicken tunnel

My Garden beds covered for frost

The frost on the roof and covers, as well as the layers we had to put on ourselves to protect from the cold when venturing out this morning, definitely let me know it got cold for Central Florida.  We had heat lamps on in the chicken coop and they were all huddled together on the roosting bar under the lamp or inside the enclosed chicken house.  Once it warmed up they began to wander out to the tunnels to eat and as Cameron and I were out taking down the covers we had a couple of our local Sandhill Cranes show up to visit and feed on any feed or bugs the chickens left for them.

This pair of Sandhill Cranes visits regularly

At one point our rooster Fumi was eye to eye with one of the cranes as he was trying to encourage some of his girls who were still in the tunnel and too afraid of walking past these BIG birds to follow him back into the coop.  Despite the fact he walked back and forth several times they wouldn't follow him all the way back in.

Cameron got a piece of bread and was hand feeding the cranes for a bit, before we finished our work of taking all the covers off and hoping that tonight won't be so cold.  I'll have to check weather to be sure, but I think this front is moving on and we'll be okay for now.  I've been doing some plant shopping and have more seeds and bulbs planted to add to our food production and the aesthetics of our yard.

I only have video of the crane actually taking the bread from his hand, but here is Cameron holding it out

In time my desire is to have a highly productive food forest and at the same time a really pretty edible landscape.  I'm going for a tropical paradise in appearance, while taking care to use more appropriate plants for the zone 9 subtropical climate we live in. For now we're a work in progress, but baby steps right?  We will get there and all I have to do is look back at earlier blog posts when I get frustrated that it's not there yet to remind myself how far we've already come.