Salad bar

It was April. I had planters on my back porch railing. And I had ideas on what to plant in them.

How about trailing annuals that would cascade over the edge of the planter and provide a curtain of blooms across the railing during the summer? What a delicious sight would that be!

Talking about delicious, how about something that would not just be a feast for the eye but also for the tummy?

I’ll make it short: the prospect of growing something edible in those planters won over the vision of cascading blooms.

We had been growing vegetables in our small raised planter over the past couple of years. Well, I say we, but Cathy deserves the credit. What we shared, though, was the frustration that our lettuces all bolted before they got a chance to grow into nice heads that could be harvested. They bolted because by the time they were beyond the seedling stage, we had entered the hot season. And just in case you don’t know, lettuces don’t like it hot. They are cool season plants.

With the back porch finished and planters on the railing, I saw an opening to sneak in a cool season crop. I seeded the planters with lettuces in early April. The few nights when we had frost, I moved the planters and sheltered them in the enclosed basement part of our back porch. This way, we got to grow our first crop of lettuces before it got too hot. And they were looking great!

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Back porch planters

My thumbs were itching! The green part of my thumbs, to be precise. Must be neurological, because my mind was seeing something that must have caused that itch…

A couple of years ago, Cathy put a raised planter together to start our small scale, yet delicious and appreciated vegetable production.

Last year, we put our back porch together, with access to the roof where we are eventually planning to have our vegetable garden. But all my mind was seeing was railings – railings that screamed: “hang a planter on me”!

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I had to make that itch stop. I decided to obey the call, and act.

So I got myself some hardware, brackets and lumber. I put the brackets up on the porch and railing posts and mounted a two by six onto them. This was the shelf that would hold the planters.

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To prevent the planter from sliding off, I took a small piece of board and attached it to the outer edge of the shelf. The board will act as a stop. I also drilled some drain holes into the shelf bottom.

Of course I knew the planter size before I started and dimensioned the brackets and shelves accordingly. And I was hoping that the whole assembly would be sturdy enough to hold the planters.

The best way to find out was to fill the planters with potting soil, soak them, and put them on the shelves.

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Yep, it’s holding up OK! Yet, I still have the green part of my thumb itching. May be I should plant something?

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Sump pit lid

It’s down to the finishing touches on the back porch enclosure. And to make it not just user friendly but also safe, I had to get a lid for the sump pit – a gas-tight lid to prevent moisture and potential radon from diffusing.

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There were a number of lid options out there, and I probably have been looking at most of them. But I am a cheapskate and those lids were expensive. That may be because some of them have a vehicular traffic rating, which we really didn’t need. Foot traffic is all this lid will see.

Because I didn’t want to reach deep into my pocket, I decided that a three quarter inch plywood cover should do. But how would I fit it onto the pit without creating a trip hazard?

Well, we cut out a one inch wide ledge from the upper most concrete adjustment ring. And we made it just deep enough so it would accommodate the three quarter inch plywood cover.

To prevent mold from growing on the bottom of the the cover I attached two layers of a 6 mil poly sheet. Those sheets will also serve as a vapor barrier. And to make the system gas-tight, I grabbed a neoprene gasket and installed it on the ledge. The plywood cover, which was now flush with the floor, is held down by six screws.

Cutting out the ledge was tricky, yet fairly easy thanks to the great help of our friend Rubani!

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Porch enclosure – stair insulation

I am obsessed with insulation. And in case you haven’t noticed, let me tell you about the stair insulation in the back porch. The perfect hybrid between ceiling and wall insulation: a combination of cut-and-cobble and some fluffy rock wool.

To address the air sealing, I again had to rely on cut-and-cobble pieces of XPS insulation underneath the stairs. And like with the ceiling, I carefully foamed around and between the pieces.

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I had the idea of filling the space between the installed XPS and the bottom of the stair stringer with rock wool. Our rock wool batts that typically are installed in a framed wall were not really suitable here. But I found several bags of loose rock wool at my favorite gold mine, the Rebuilding Exchange.

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To find a way around gravity, and to add an extra layer of insulation, I attached another sheet of XPS insulation to the bottom of the stair stringers. That allowed me to stuff the space with the loose rock wool without it falling down.

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Well, with that done, I can start to think about drywall and painting!

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Porch enclosure – wall insulation

I knew where I was going with the wall insulation – I had sketched it out when I was planning for the porch enclosure.

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I had room for a double stud wall using standard two by fours. The 1st half (outer part) of the double stud was as already in place. I installed it when I put up the exterior sheathing. This wall was ready to receive the rock wool insulation.

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With the 1st half (outer part) of the wall completed, I could start framing out the 2nd half (inner part). To minimize thermal bridging, the studs from the 1st and 2nd half are offset from each other.

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The two layers of rock wool alone (one layer for each half of the double stud wall) add up to a R-value of 30. With an additional one inch layer of XPS insulation on the outside, the R-value climbs to R-35.

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I am often asked why I opted for rock wool and not the cheaper fiberglass insulation. Well, rock wool insulation is easy to cut, shape, and install. It allows one to fill all nooks and crevices, like spaces behind electrical boxes.

But more importantly, I consider rock wool a low cost fire insurance. Again, rock wool is made out of rocks. And rocks don’t burn!

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