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This project is from the Summer of 2010 and is now archived. Visit the IMA Island page for the next related project.

meager harvest

I pulled a couple radish from the garden and munched on them.  I have never grown radish before and now know that i have to pick them sooner.  Roots are funny in  that they ripen under the dirt so unless you know what you are looking for, which i don’t, you won’t know what you get till you pick them.  A few of them were still good and tasty.  I also pulled this mystery plant to the right.  It came up in rows so i know that i put it there but i can’t remember what i planted and my little sign did not make it this far.  Do you know what it is and how i can make it taste better?


evolution of the garden

My mom gave me a huge patio umbrella to shade the gardens.  Unfortunately i was too late to save the tomatoes but i’ve started some new seeds that are really thriving.  The conditions are great for starting seeds.  The dirt is very moist and warm.  Things have sprung up within a couple days and kept the pace up for the last week.    I’ve made some more adjustments and i’m thinking it will help everything last longer.  I drew a sketch so you could see the evolution the gardens have gone through without having to scroll through the whole blog.  It started out as a Styrofoam shell that would hold the bins.  I didn’t like that idea because it would be a lot of styrofoam that would be wasted and it didn’t seem as adjustable as i’d hoped.  My friend Jacob helped me design the rain barrel frame and that has proven much more useful. The final fix was shade and an overflow release to prevent the two things that were killing the plants, two much sun and too much water.  Now there is actually dry dirt on the top of the bins which means that finally have control over how much water they are getting.  I hope i’m not getting too excited because i’m sure i’ll come across another problem i’ll have to adjust to, but for now i feel that if i can keep an eye on them and give them little things they need i could quite possibly keep everything alive.


The tale of the traveling tomato…plant.

Today, a group of guys biked all the way from 86th and College with a tomato plant in a backpack.  This was an amazing gift since our tomatoes have been dying.  Hopefully, this little guy will get enough shade after we put up our umbrella for the tomatoes. Long live tomato plant!

We let them plant the tomato plant into our garden.

Again, thanks so much for biking us a tomato plant!



We received a note the other day wondering how the garden was doing.  I’ve been really bad about telling about all the progress we’ve been making especially in the garden. I like to think that i’m man enough to admit that i’ve done wrong and correct it.  So here it goes, baby.

My tomato plants hate me.  That’s the news, thanks for bringing it up.  Usually my self deprecating comments can be blamed on low self esteem but this one is completely factual, my tomato plants are pissed that i decided to plant them in the middle of a lake. They are getting way too much sun and too much water.  They get about 16 hours of sun and lots and lots of water, because they are in a lake which is made of water.  We had a good Samaritan and fellow tomato lover trade us a shade umbrella which i promptly posted, precariously protecting our precious plant pals.  I’m hoping that this helps to correct the problem as the leaves were actually starting to bake in the heat.

To correct the over watering i drilled holes in the side of the containers as an overflow release.  When it would rain the containers would not drain and thick puddles would form, drowning my babies.  I drilled 1/4″ holes but i may have to go bigger if this doesn’t drain enough.

I’ve lost a couple plants due to neglect so i spent the cool part of the morning sewing new seeds. here is the list now.

tomatoes, beets, cabbage, kohlrabi, beans, snow peas, spinach, melon.


painting the gardens

i’m painting the wood structure on the gardens to dress them up.  The exterior paint will also help protect the wood from all the elements.  It was a real challenge maneuvering everything out on the lake.  i had to put the pots on the deck and put the barrels inside while i balanced the wood frame on the rowboat.  it took a few hours but i eventually got two units painted.  The picture is not doing a very good job of showing what they look like but the frames are a clean white that matches the island.  The picture does do a good job of showing how well everything is growing.


manly garden

I did a lot of island work today.  First thing is i picked up a completed batch of message capsules from the fiberglass place in town.  We are putting fiberglass on 15 of the containers to keep them strong and sturdy.  We gave George 6 last week and he’s got them ready.  I dropped of the other 9 and they  should be ready by opening.  The other 15 will be available for opening day taking care of the increased traffic.  They will not be as sturdy but will only be for special occasions.  Above there is a picture of 2 containers next to each other that shows the difference in texture. It’s not that noticeable in the picture but they feel so strong and look really good.

I took our new friends to the lake and through them in the water.  They float! That’s a relief.  The wind was blowing toward the east so they all gathered on the beach but they look good.  Then I spent some time putting bolts and straps and buckles on the floating garden.  My idea is that it will make it easier to attach and re-arrange the gardens.  Before today they were just tied to each other.  I hate untying knots and worrying if the knots i have tied are strong enough so this will be a good thing.  Each garden unit has 4 straps that dangle.  I was going to trim those off but they have proven very usefull in towing and securing the units that i’m going to leave them on.  To attach the gardens i move one unit (strap side) parallel to the next unit.  The straps from the new unit loop around the frame of the first.  Then i pull the strap back across the second unit to the other side where there is an O bolt.  The strap is secured by a buckle tied to the end that latches onto the bolt.  Easy.

It took a while to get this all done but i’m enjoying taking my time on the lake.  However, today was supposed to be the first day in two weeks that it was sunny, that wasn’t the case.  Another day of rain in my favorite city.

As I was getting ready to pack up and head out the carpenters from the IMA came to install the new window.  Someone snuck on the island and kicked it out last winter when it was docked on the shore.  It’s not a big deal because it leaked anyway, now we have a new plexiglass one.  Watching them install it was fun, but scary.  There is nothing to hold onto up ontop of the island so he was holding himself up with his big toe as he reached over, despite his better judgement, to put some screws in the window. Thanks guys.


adding up

Towed another garden out to the island. After today there are three full units out. The first is attached to the island, the second is attached to the first and the third is attached to the second. They are much sturdier when the are all attached because they have a wider foot and are less likely to get a huge rocking swing or tip. It feels good to have them all out of my front yard and in the lake. I’m going to replace the bins that sunk and have a total of four units floating.

I’m noticing how much slower things go out on the lake. A simple task like tying wire on all the bins takes much longer because you have to gingerly maneuver the boat around or crawl out on the bins. Even getting out to the island takes a while. It’s over a half mile walk from the IMA where our oars and life vests are kept to the beach. Going out there for a simple task takes at least two ours with everything involved. I hope i don’t sound like i’m complaining, it feels very nice. I’m really excited for the pace of my life to slow down and i think there will be no way to help it once we start living out on the lake. Right now we are working at a fever pace. Jess leaves for Germany in about a week and we have some big things to finish before she’s gone. Once more of the material things are completed and we are just polishing the details or existing on the island, we will have more time to listen to the water or watch the herons fish on the shore. Can’t wait.


garden trouble

I hate it when my nervousness is reinforced by unfortunate events.  I was nervous about leaving the gardens out there unattended but i thought i was just being an overprotective parent.  The first night they were out there was a storm which highlighted some flaws in my design.  The fact that the bins are hanging suspended from straps which are not rigid gives them a swing effect.  The slightest rock of the gardens shifts the bins, everything over corrects and they just build momentum.  it didn’t take long for the bins to reach a tipping point.  I tied the garden close to the dock to try to eliminate the problem.  But it didn’t work.  I came back the next day to a horrific sight.  One garden contraption holds 3 bins; the contraption was on it’s side and 2 of the 3  bins were gone.  When i got out there i saw that one of the cradle straps had broken letting the two bins it was supporting fall to the bottom of the lake.  R.I.P. melons and sunflowers.

After a short period of cursing and morning i replaced the whole unit with a new one, slightly less weight and i tied some extra straps to bins so that if the cradle straps broke at least i could salvage the bins.  Everything good?

No, I come back the next day to see that the barrels are taking on water.  The bungs are not air tight and over the course of a day water is slowly leaking in.  The whole contraption is half submerged and the bins are hanging on for dear life.  To fix this problem I’m removing all the bungs and spreading waterproof caulk on the threads before screwing them back in.  Also i’m being more careful about arranging the two bungs so that they are parallel with the surface of the water.  Before some of the barrels had one submerged and one above water which really helped them suck in water.  Also, to correct the rocking i’m putting thin steel wire as braces connecting the handles on the bin to the frame.  Not only are the wires rigid enough to limit the swing they will act as an emergency catch if another strap breaks.  So, now we get to see what other problem arise.  I think we are good for a while.


sharing our land

Everyone recognizes us at the museum as the island residents.  Probably has something to do with us walking around with life vests and oars.  We were stopped on our way out and told us that they had to kick off some un-welcomed visitors who had swum out to the island and were hanging out on the porch.  One of the new challenges of living on the island is the location of the structure in relation to the shore.  We feel like we are caught in a weird spot.  We want to respect Andrea’s and the IMA’s decision of putting the island where it is, but the idea of being to close to shore changes the project so much that it kind of brings us down.   The beach the island is closest to right now is the typical party beach.  Almost every time we visit there is a new set of beer cans and trash.  Today there were beer cans and a cryptic message carved in the sands.

JAM***(Heart) ******NMS

Other than that we accomplished a lot today.  We brought a floating garden which we left out there to see how it weathers.  Jess rowed us out, towing our cargo behind.  We also had a few bike boxes that we cut up to get the contour of the bed.  We will start building the bed this week, having a cardboard model of the size and shape will help us build it off site and bring it to it’s new home already assembled.

Before we left we tied up the garden to the island and left a little message in one of the pots.  “Hello visitors, please take care not to damage our veggies. Thanks, Mike and Jess.”  The island is all locked up so even if someone does get out there i’m not worried about it, but my babies are very vulnerable and there is not really a way to keep them out of people’s reach. I figure all i can do is ask them polietly to leave them be.  I think a hostile sign would lead to hostile reactions.  We’ll see.  So now, i’m back home and the first of the gardens is staying the night in the lake.  I can’t say i’m not nervous for them like an over-protective parent during the first day of kindergarden.


floating garden

I’m going to take a minute to explain the floating gardens because i keep referencing them and i don’t want anyone to be confused.  the design from the floating gardens are basically an extreme version of the self watering container taken from The Urban Homestead by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen. Instead of the plants being watered from a second barrel, they will wick water up from the lake.

I’m planting everything in plastic storage containers some bigger than others depending on root depth.  The bottom of the containers will be right at water level.  There is a hole in the bottom of the containers that has a chinese takeout container with holes drilled in it.  Dirt will fill the containers and be moist without being over saturated. (hopefully)

The frame that holds the containers is a basic 2×4 frame with two 55 gallon drums to keep them buoyant.  The straps that cradle the containers and the drums are adjustable in an effort to keep everything at the perfect water level.

does that make sense?


The only thing that is unknown is the water quality of the lake. It’s being tested right now but we won’t know for a couple weeks. It is possible that we could grow the food and not be able  to eat it. I don’t know if that makes things any clearer. I drew a picture while my kids were painting I hope it helps.


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