May | 2013 | BluGill Urban Farm

Build a simple Nightstand

May 27, 2013 in Carpentry, Urban Farming

I know I promised many that I would begin sharing details of our urban farm endeavors, however, we had a three-day weekend (Happy Memorial Day), and thought I could take advantage of the extra time to be creative.  So, I would like to take a short detour and share my attempts at creating a small, simple nightstand.

A few weeks ago I recently started reading books before bed again (it has been far too long).  I have not had a nightstand near my bed for some time to purposefully avoid placing my alarm anywhere near me to easily hit the snooze button.  My alarm clock sits clear on the other side of the room to force me up with the roosters (not too successful). When I began reading nightly again, I needed a small light source for my night time reading, and somewhere to sit it on; hence the idea to build a small table to use as a nightstand. I thought this would be a perfect article to share on the BluGill Urban Farm website.  Other than a wine rack created around 2007 (pictured below) and a backyard garden fence (another article?), I have very little skill making anything.


So how did I fair creating this pile of wood:  into this:

Raw nightstand wood (Photo 0)

Completed Nightstand (Photo 13)

Come see.

Gather the wood

Nightstand rough sketchFirst, I visited a local hardware store and checked out their pile of less than perfect pieces of work.  I picked up several pieces of good quality useable oak boards for about $4.00 each.  I also checked out a large home hardware outlet and picked up additional pieces of poplar matching the height and width of my plan, so chose to use the poplar pieces instead of the oak.   The long thin pieces (1/2″x2″x2′) that make up the table top frame and the front cap cost $1.72 each. The larger pieces that make up left and right leg and table top (1″x12″x24″) cost $9.54 each.  And the half-size piece to became the bottom shelf cost $2.98.  The wood supply for a single night stand totaled under $37.00 (not including screws, glue and equipment).

Recommended Tools

I have read about and seen first hand the benefits and ease of the Kreg pocket hole jig drilling system and thought I would try it out.  I am aware of three separate hole sizes.  For material 1/2″ thick, the Mini pocket hole jig is necessary.  A jig is a term used to reference a template of sorts in wood working and other industries.  You can pick up the Kreg mini jig at for around $20.00.  Phoenix actually has a Rockler brick and mortar store, and the Mini jig sold for just under that price and the 2″ square driver bit (for the recommended screws) was around $6.00. Don’t forget your clamps (Kreg small clamp approximately $23) This small furniture design would be perfect to try my hand at using the Kreg Jig system.  And for an investment of under $50.00, I may just be able to start making strong, sturdy and simple furniture.

The Kreg Jig Setup

Measure your material thickness (top to bottom) and follow Kreg Photo 2 placement.  Examine Kreg Photo 1 to calculate the stop ring placement on the drill bit.  To check your figures, place the drill bit all the way through the jig to see the travel distance (Setup Photo 3) as a reality check.  If satisfied, clamp the jig tight onto wood member and drill (Kreg Photo 4).  Repeat as necessary.  See the images below for an idea of the Kreg Jig system.

The Build

See gallery below for images and explanation of the build process.  From start to finish, it took a novice (me) about seven (7) hours to purchase the equipment, cut the wood to size and pre-drill holes with the Kreg Pocket Hole jig, and assemble it primarily with wood screws and glue.  The following day the piece was ready to be stained and placed in action.  The material cost was well under $50.00, and the special jig used was a minimal investment at a price tag under $50.00.  It took no more than 2 hours to measure and cut the pieces on a circular saw and miter saw table, and another 5 hours to drill the pocket holes and assemble the pieces into the final product.  The following day, I spent less than an hour applying the first layer of stain.  I plan to sand down the surfaces with varying grades of sand paper to create a smoother shinier finish and re-stain it before I consider it completed.  I also plan to create a top drawer or shelf with the extra wood pieces.

All in all, this was a very rewarding simple exercise.  The Kreg Pocket Hole system proved to be the most efficient and easy manner to create this piece of furniture, especially for a novice such as myself.  I am sure a more experienced wood worker could create this in under 3 hours.

What do you think? Have any experiences to share? Have a correction to this article? Feel free to contact me with any constructive comments.

Tools of the Trade

May 17, 2013 in Gardening, Stone masonry, Urban Farming

Since the dawn of time…  okay, I won’t get too ‘korny.’

Man (and woman) use tools to complete tasks, solve problems, and save time and energy, that is no secret.  An urban farmer needs a variety of tools as well, whether planning your garden, preparing your selected area, separating those zones with edges or barriers, building structures and other improvements, harvesting, and just about any task you can imagine. Many may not realize the plethora of tool choices actually available.

Do not under-estimate the need for these multitude of tools.  I have heard more than once, “It is important to have the right tool for the job.”  I never quite accepted that statement, or fully appreciated it until I began this experiment in life, creating an urban farm.  All the same, do not be discouraged or quit your endeavor if you are unable to acquire the ‘preferred’ tool.  Use the available tool.  It may not be the most efficient method, but ultimately you will gain experience and complete the task, albeit not as efficient as someone with more tools in their arsenal.

I have learned by watching others more experienced than I, that run to the local hardware store multiple times during a single project to purchase just the right product or tool for the task.  Don’t be mistaken, I see the value in using the best tool, but I also see the value in planning ahead to reduce those trips and the reality of accomplishing tasks with the available resources.  My chosen paths will almost never describe the best method or tool.  When the best tool is known or available, I will certainly point that out.  As experienced urban farmers, carpenters, masons, and similar trades read my efforts, they will certainly detect my errors and may know a better or more ‘correct’ method.  However, I won’t let that discourage me from learning as I go on my own, and it should not discourage you, either.  I will catalog and store the knowledge gleaned from those more experienced.  I, however, am not afraid to try and fail, with or without the best tool in my shed.

Common Garden Tools

Having a variety of garden tools is important but not necessary.  You should obtain the most basic common garden tools such as shovels, rakes, hoes, and forks. See picture of common garden tools below. A scuffle hoe is important for weeding an area.  A heavy duty rake is good for heavy-duty movement, such as rocks and large amounts of dirt.  A leaf rake is good for smaller items such as leaves, small pebbles, and fine detailing an area. I find a square shovel good for long straight cuts such as for trenches, or shoveling large quantities of soil.  I use a spade shovel primarily for deep digs such as tree planting, or getting beneath large rocks.  In fact, I picked up a twist tiller for around $10.00 that has worked best for digging deeper and breaking apart the hard rocky soil in my desert soil.  In fact, it does better than a post hole digger, pick axe  or spade shovel in getting deep holes for posts and trees.  I have managed to dig almost 24″ deep in my extremely solid soil by using the twist tiller (combined with a small spade or shovel) where no other tool comes close. While it doesn’t work as well as seen on TV, it probably works better in your soil than in mine.

These tools are commonly used to prepare a garden or flower bed, which means digging up soil and disposing of excess.

Other common garden tools not pictured: twist tiller, spade shovel, fork, pick axe and of course water hose and nozzle ; if you see some common tools missing, please share.

Common Mason’s tools

When working with stone, rock, concrete, pavers, and bricks, common tools may include a level, rubber mallet, mining pick, chisel, hand spade and fork. Before setting off to mason, laying pavers or bricks, you must first dig out an area, lay a rock base, cover with sand and level.  Much of these tasks, too, include digging up soil and dealing with the excess. Are you sensing a pattern?

Other common tools not pictured: string, nails, stakes.

Our Urban Farm basically sits on top of a granite rock.  The top soil appears to be a mixture of native soils (caliche clay, sand and very little organic material), crushed native granite, and construction debris.  Every new task in the soil seems to include hard labor in the rock mines.  Local professional landscapers familiar with this area joke that a standard gardening tool is a jack hammer, and unfortunately, they are correct.  I personally haven’t resorted to a jack hammer, but I certainly understand why professionals tasked with completing projects efficiently would resort to a jack hammer.  This leads me to my next topic.

Working with Rocks

I thought it would be a great topic to share the trouble with my native soil, the size and amount of rocks in  my yard, the upturned construction debris, and creative ways to use this material to my benefit.  I wouldn’t be surprised to pull out a pink Cadillac from my backyard.

To ‘mine’ rocks from your yard (in order to create an urban farm) I recommend using in addition to the common mason hand tools and common garden tools discussed above, but also a 4 wheel cart (or wheelbarrow), small buck, large bucket, trash bin and multiple sizes of sifters.  See images of all three sets of common tools below.

Common garden tools

Common mason hand tools

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Common tools working with rocks


Many tools are needed to start an urban farm, to garden, to clear away land to make room for improvements.  Understanding the particulars of your task and geographic characteristics and assessing necessary tools is an important step to successfully create an Urban Farm.

Please follow us as we build our backyard urban farm with actual first-time attempts, once these initial background posts are complete.   Over the next several weeks, we will share our attempts at clearing our yard by setting up a make-shift Rock Quarry, laying brick paths, garden edges and patios, creating various raised garden beds, planting trees, fruits, vegetables, laying sprinklers and drippers, harvesting (hopefully), building simple wood furniture and structures, and lots more surprises too.  We already have a number of articles outlined and planned.  We will share details with pictures. We believe it will be very entertaining, maybe for those who know us personally, perhaps for others as well.

This site ( hopes to share common, simple, inexpensive methods to tackle various projects.  If we at BluGill Urban Farm can try and succeed, or try and fail, and fail, and fail again and keep trying until we succeed, anyone can create. We possess no prior experience or formal training how to grow crops in the desert or elsewhere for that matter.  We have no special skills or training building, masonry, carpentry.   Our articles are not intended to be step-by-step how-to do it the right way articles; only that if we can do it, anyone can. We only intend to inspire others to try.

Please feel free to contact us to share your stories.


Establish an Area for your Garden

May 11, 2013 in Gardening, Urban Farming

Techniques to establish a garden

When deciding to establish a backyard garden, you could simply hire a landscape artist to design the different zones in your backyard for several thousand dollars, bring in a team of professional landscapers for multiple thousands more, consult with a professional gardener for a few additional bucks, and literally overnight: ‘Poof’, you too can have an oasis in the desert or garden sanctuary ‘of your very own’ to show off to all your envious neighbors.

This Post is a continuation of a previous post titled, “Starting your background garden.”  Please feel free to return to that story before reading further.

However, if you are cost conscious, watching your pennies, on a budget, or merely want the genuine satisfaction of a Garden of Eden, consider incorporating your own blood and sweat and saving thousands of dollars by designing and building a garden yourself.  You may agree that would be much more rewarding.  At the end of the day you may earn the envy of your neighbors, and you will certainly feel a sense of pride and accomplishment having created the area yourself.  Follow my trials and tribulations that may provide insight and a bit of inspiration.

We may discover that success is 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration.  I know I have shed much blood and sweat already through my attempts at building an urban farm in my backyard since starting the adventure in March; it is only May!

The Planning Phase

An urban garden can be as simple or as elaborate as you choose.  It may be a good idea to write down some descriptive words to capture your desires or purpose.  Is my purpose to entertain in the backyard, or grow my own vegetables to eat healthier? Will it be a part time hobby or a full time business?   Whatever your decision, it will be the right one for you.

What is the purpose of your Plan?

With your purpose in mind, try sketching the area available to work in.  Start by rough-sketching your backyard or other area in a two-dimensional environment (on paper).   This can be prepared anywhere, on any scrap of paper, such as on a napkin in a restaurant while waiting for a table, or in your home office while waiting for the computer to boot up. I recommend using square grid-lined graph paper. 

In your sketch, identify permanent items such as existing structures including patios, air conditioning units, or other fixed objects.  Layout the remaining area into rough zones such as potential walkways, raised flower bed, ponds, other water features, sitting area, grass, potted plants, trees and vegetable garden areas. I will share my sketches in a later article.

Contemplate your design by sleeping on it overnight, discuss it with friends and other members in your family. Others may provide insight or design elements you didn’t initially consider.  Is there enough room to move between your design elements, do you need a walkway or a barrier between areas, do you need a gate or fence to separate a pet area from the garden or the kid’s area.  The idea is not for accuracy, but for  a general idea where to start, what portion to start first, and will each area interact or fit well within the space available and does it meet the purpose you have pondered?

The sketch doesn’t have to be to scale and can always leave room for change as you implement your plan as you go.  Remember, an urban farm can be as simple as placing small pots with herbs in your window sill (look for a later article about a very simple kitchen window bench).  By putting basic ideas on paper, it may allow you to visualize and contemplate available area roughly, how much of that area to devote to a garden or other features in order to meet your purpose, and what tools, time, and supplies may be needed to begin.

Once you decide the general design fits well with your ideas, or if you want a more precise layout, or think it would just be kewl to see a 3D concept view of you design, consider obtaining an off-the-shelf landscape design software tool such as Punch! Home and Landscape Designer ( or Realtime Landscaping ( to name only a few popular programs at a price tag between $50.00 and $400.00 depending upon the features you need and the version you choose.  The average price you can expect to pay is probably $79.00.

Since the topic of these articles are on gardening an Urban Farm, my goal is to design a yard that is pleasing to the eyes, can be used to entertain guests, to grow herbs, vegetables and fruit organically, incorporates natural stone to maximize longevity, and to do it inexpensively and over a period of months on my own and with the help of my family members.  That may seem a tall order; with my purpose in mind and a few sketches to ponder, let’s see where we go from there.

Weather Update

Arizona is famous for its extreme summer temperatures.  This year in Phoenix, the weather has been very mild compared to previous season.  I just accept that it means the weather is cooperating with my plans and will allow me a good start on the basic foundation for my urban farm, instead of finding hundreds of excuses why not to start… or… well… 100 plus degrees of excuses.  Without 100 degree temperatures the first day of spring, I have been given an opportunity from March to May of this year to explore my gardening passion unencumbered by my lack of experience and uncertain execution.  In fact, March and April were down-right pleasant with temperatures in the 70’s and 80’s, which is lower than normal for this area.  Only this week has it reached 100 degrees.

With 100 degree days, progress definitely slows, but I will share my efforts all the same. Stay tuned, and happy gardening.


Starting your backyard garden

May 3, 2013 in Gardening, Urban Farming

The Soil

Cactus sunset taken in Goodyear, Arizona

The arid desert earth appears to be filled with hard, unusable uninviting soil, but upon closer reflection it can be far from the truth.  The amount of sun Arizona receives can make for a much longer growing season, and multiple growing seasons in a single year.  While it is true, the soil is extremely alkaline (high salt content), it can also contains beneficial minerals, especially in areas that have not been cultivated extensively. Be aware of the potential for the high degree of clay or caliche in the soil and its high salt content that may cause salt burn in new vegetation growth, which appears as a yellowing effect on grass and leaves, and avoid potential plant failures.

Caliche causes a cement like barrier (typically several feet below the soil surface) making penetration of the roots in the soil difficult and water buildup due to lack of water drainage. This can cause root rot and fungal diseases in your plants.  If your garden area is prepared properly such as irrigating the intended area well over a period of several days before planting, digging out native soil, mixing with mulch and other soils, and creating ‘raised’ vegetation areas, a would-be farmer or gardener can succeed.

More established neighborhoods of a couple decades old would have less issues than newer developed areas.  If you find yourself in a newer developed area with ‘native’ soils, the first best practice is to be patient and prepare your garden area.  Irrigating the soil to push the alkaline content below your plants’ root system is essential. Also consider digging several inches of your planting area down, supplement with soil mixes, compost and top soils ideal for your particular plants.  Make friendly conversation with your local nursery, and they will certainly share their recommendation how to treat your particular soil.  Finally, consider increasing the height of your garden area above the native soil by using various raised garden bed techniques, which will be discussed in a later post.

Happy gardening.