Terrific Broth

The life of two scientists, creating a small home, in big mountains

Finally, Painted

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13 months after moving into our house, our living space is finally painted!!!

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Our walls and ceiling were all “white” to begin with, but the old paint reads very yellow in all the rooms and just feels outdated. The Extra White we chose is the true white color in SW. It reads a bit cool but not sterile, and brings a bit of modern feel into this old house.

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All the walls got Sherwin-Williams Extra White in Eggshell, and all the ceilings went for the same color in flat.

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We used Behr Ultra Pure White in semi-gloss on all the trims and doors throughout the main floor. Although both being white, the different sheens made the trims really pop next to the walls.

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The bedroom feels bigger with the crisp white paint:

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We painted inside the closet a lovely pink (Behr Pale Bud). I think it looks great with the bright white trims and soft grey curtains.

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Our walls were textured and it took Slav several weeks to smooth all the walls with joint compound as well as patch nail holes. Needless to say that this process produced lots of dust. It feels so good to have the house dust-free again and all the furniture uncovered.

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The puppies are more than pleased to have their favorite spots back.

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We decided at the last minute to upgrade all the wallplates, light switches, and receptacles. Not only the old ones have yellowed overtime, they were also covered with layers of paint. The screwless ones bring this house to 21 century.

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We replaced the old and dingy air duct covers shortly after we moved in. Now with freshly painted walls and new wall plate, our place feels so so upgraded.

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We used the last bit of wall paint in our kitchen. After removing some upper cabinets, we lived with a cabinet-shape yellow portion of unfinished drywall. A quick layer of white paint got rid of a major eyesore:

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And all the receptacles in the kitchen were upgraded as well:

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It feels so nice to be able to look around and see crisp white everywhere.

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Getting the place painted made a huge difference on how the main floor feels. It is a lot brighter and feels clean. Now it is finally time for flowers and art!

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Next week is our wedding anniversary and it is a big relief to finish painting before the big day. We have several fun activities lined up and I will be sure to come back to report! But first, we kick back in our bright and fresh living space, and enjoy some cut flowers and herb drinks from our own garden. Happy summer!

The Birds and the Bees

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Happy summer everyone! And for those of you who live in the States, happy the 4th of July!

Being in the middle of the week, this July 4th was moderately celebrated. It was breezy and overcast, so I spent most of the day in the garden tidying up. Our salad greens have bolted and were all harvested. Bindweed has found its way into our potato patch – bad! But do not worry, I am on top of it.

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Look! we’ve got beans! It is so satisfying to watch everything grow, and trust me, they grow fast. All the hard work of planting and setting up drip irrigation in Spring really paid off – we have been enjoying a steady stream of fresh greens and cut flowers with virtually no maintenance. 🙂 Just today, I noticed that our potato plants started flowering! It is a good sign that the plants are strong and healthy. It also means that Slav is finally getting his young potatoes.

Potato flowers:

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Our tomato, cucumber, and beans have been flowering for a few weeks and start bearing fruit. It is a lot later comparing to the harvests we had in North Carolina, but given that we had freezing nights in May, these plants are doing their best.

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Our most anticipated harvest is the strawberries. They are doing so well despite of the intense heat and they spread like weeds. I am happy to find that strawberries are perennials in my area – so next year we will plant a whole bed and just let them spread. I am watching these babies like a hawk and try to pick them before birds get them.

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Speaking of birds, Slav and I recently set up several birdhouses and feeders around our yard. Slav is big on bird watching and had feeders outside his bedroom window growing up. So we were very excited to see birds showing up in Spring, including this beautiful American Robin.

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Robins love earthworms and caterpillars, which we have plenty of. To encourage it to stay, Slav installed a birdhouse that Robins known to love on our Southern gable.

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We are not 100% certain about the location, but this is the southeast corner of our house and it is well protected from the harsh northwest wind and winter snow. There is a big Ash tree over this portion of the roof, so it does not get too hot either. I would like it if I were a bird.

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As you can see, the birdhouse is fairly open. Apparently Robins likes to nest on shelves, opposed to in closed spaces.

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In addition to the American Robin, we also see some black-capped Chickadee flying around the pine tree just outside of our living room window. These handsome little ones sing long and complex songs and we just love how perky and agile they are.

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To keep them happy, we put a bird feeder on our living room window, just under the pine tree:

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We were initially worried that they would not visit because the feeder is too close to the house. But guess what? This morning we spotted a chickadee eating out of it, while Roxie and I were in the living room!

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This brave bird quickly got used to the movement inside and just keeps coming. I see it every morning now.

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We also spotted a pair of Mourning Doves in this pine tree. They came a lot in late April, but have since disappeared. Some research tells us that April to early May is the time that male doves show females potential nesting sites, and females will pick one and build the nest. Isn’t that interesting? Just like real estate shopping! I guess our pine tree did not make the cut.

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To make our tree more attractive for next Spring (or procrastinating Doves this year), Slav made a big platform/shallow basket with chicken wires and secured it between the branches in the pine tree. That is apparently all these Doves need for starting nests.

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Chickadees, Robin, and Doves are what we have seen. But what I really want to attract to my garden is Wren. We have zillions of earwigs, which nibble the tender leaves on my plants. They love our wood chip mulch and are proliferating like crazy underneath. Wrens are the biggest earwig eaters and I want them as bad as Denver wants Amazon. We picked the prettiest wren house and Slav mounted it on the crab apple tree, again, shield from the northwest wind and strong afternoon sun:

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I stuffed some cotton balls to the side for birds to nest with. Hopefully we get some Wrens here soon!

To make the backyard more attractive to birds in general, we decided to set up a big bird feeder and a birdbath in our perennial garden.

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This location gets good sun all day and is far from all buildings and other trees in our yard. I’ve learned that being in the middle of an open field helps to reduce predators. Roxie and Charlie are good at chasing squirrels away so we do not need to worry about squirrels getting to bird houses or feeders. Finally! These dogs are useful for something besides cleaning mixing bowls.

Don’t you love the blue bird bath? It was a freebie from a neighbor last winter, and all we did to make it functional was to plug a small leak. It holds decent amount of water which we refresh every evening. Slav put a big rock in the middle for little birds to drink safely. Isn’t he the best?

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We have a good gathering every morning and this one particular visits often:

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The last thing we added to our garden is a bee hotel for leaf-cutter bees. Leaf-cutter bee is one of the native pollinators in Colorado.

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If you have not heard leaf-cutter bees, check them out. They are incredible pollinators and work much more effectively than honey bees. Unlike honey bees, they are solitary bees and do not make honey. They are also very gentle and hardly sting. These bees lay eggs in Autumn, which hatch in early summer. They mostly pollinate summer flowers, whereas Mason bees are the native Spring pollinators in our area (which we will be setting up nests for next Spring).

I first heard about the benefit of native bees from Garden Answer, a channel I follow on Youtube. The host of this channel also gardens in Zone 5b and in a dry climate, so I’ve learned a lot about plants suitable for my garden from her videos. Last year she did a great video on setting up native bee hotels. The process of setting up native bee hotel is 100 times easier than setting up honey bee hives, and virtually maintenance-free. Since we are not interested in making our own honey, native bee hotel sounds like a perfect idea to attract pollinators.

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As you can see, our first bee hotel is really simple. We just got a handful of reed tubes whose diameters are suitable for leaf cutter bees, and dropped them into a light color PVC tube.

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Slav pushed some tree bark in there to make sure that the reed tubing are secure, then hung the whole thing under the shed roof. This spot is sunny but has afternoon shade, and the roof keeps it protected.

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I found this clip of leaf-cutter bee cutting an Ash leaf. How amazing! It happens that the two trees next to the shed are both Ash. I am so looking forward to having these bees nesting in our yard.

Just like this, we are thoroughly enjoying the summer of Colorado. We are blessed with blue sky, beautiful sunsets, and cool evening breeze. Hopefully the feeders, houses, and the birdbath make the birds and the bees happy too. We have seen many birds visiting our feeder, but none of them have nested here yet. I will keep you posted!

Garden Edging Continued | Perennial Bed Borders

“Spring is for planting, summer is for building, fall is for harvesting, and winter is for resting.” – Fouch Family Off Grid

One of my favorite homestead family, Fouch Family Off Grid, brilliantly summarized what the four seasons are like for their off-grid homestead. Although being city dwellers, we very much follow the same pattern. Except for us, the winter is for playing – in the snow.

This spring is our first in the ranch house. We planted, planted, and planted more. I had dirt under my finger nails for three months during which I presented at three conference meetings. Now summer rolls around, it is finally time to start building.

Edging project I: Honeybee’s heaven perennial bed

This past week was dedicated to garden edging. Garden edging is part of the hardscape and can be used to define an outdoor area or a flower bed. It is also a good way to keep the soil or mulch contained and the weeds out out of a flower bed. I initially went for soft edging, which means no physical boundary but mulching over the flower beds.

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It did not work very well for us because all the weeds were climbing into the bed.

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Not only the soft edging invited weeds, it also created problem for Slav who mows our lawn. The hedge trimmer hit the wood chips hard and and broke them into pieces. Some of them flew high in the air and even hit Slav’s face.

Here is an unspoken rule in our family: we try to make each other’s life easier. Slav takes out the recycle, so I make sure to flatten the cardbox boxes before putting them into the bins. I compost, so Slav chops kitchen scrapes fine so they break down faster. We are free to do whatever we want and however we want, but one’s action should not make the other’s household tasks more difficult. Although the consequence of my choice of soft edging was not immediately apparent, watching woodchips hitting Slav’s face was an implicit reminder that I needed to change things up.

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Edging can be done in different ways and with different materials – plastic, metal, brick, concrete, etc. You can see both plastic and concrete pavers against the flower bed below. I recently installed the same plastic garden edging along the back fence and really liked the look of it. But I do not think it is a good choice for edging this perennial bed. First, they are soft and cannot hold a perfect line by its own. Installing them against a relative straight fence avoids the problem, but they may appear wavy around a free-standing flower bed. Second, their primary function is to prevent root crossing and are meant to be installed deep into the soil. But the mulch in our flower bed was a couple inches above the ground so I want the edging to also be raised. Third, the plastic edging may not stand well to the blades of lawn mowers. Last, the main goal here is to create a wide separation between the wood chips and the grass, so I decided to use the concrete pavers, or more specifically, the concrete edgers.

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But first, look at how well everything is growing! This is the garden-in-a-box kit called “honeybee’s heaven” we planted early May. In just 6 weeks, everything has grown to 4x of their original size and all of the plants flowered. Thumbs up for native plants!

Saturday morning @ my #pollinatorgarden arden. #gardening #savethebees🐝

A post shared by Terrific Broth (@terrificbroth) on

Such pretty garden deserves a good edging – an expensive one. These edgers are not cheap, about $2.58 a pop that only lines 0.8 linear feet (in contrast the plastic edging was $28 for 60 feet!) But the edger blocks are wide and tall, perfect for blocking the root from crossing underground while leaving enough height to keep the mulch in. Slav kindly picked up 50 of them for me – they are so heavy that I could only transfer 8 pieces a time using the wheelbarrow! But I am glad they are because it means that they can stand by themselves without additional reinforcement.

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I started by laying them out to create a curve I like then started digging into the ground along the curve. A whole week of rain made digging a breeze.

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Then I set the edgers in. I used native soil to bump up the concrete edgers a bit, until they sat a few inches above the soil and level. These edgers have curves on both ends, so it was easy to form a nice curve without much gap in between. I actually lay them on their sides because I like the height and the look much better.

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To be clear, setting pavers are usually much more involved than the way I did it. Especially if you are creating a patio or a walk pass. This is a good article describing how garden edging using pavers should be done. I you are up for a permanent edging task or a surface that will be walked on, I high recommend that you follow these steps. It requires paver base, stone dust, sand, and a lot more leveling and compacting, but the end result will be permanent and perfectly level. For my flower bed I chose the sloppy way. Our perennial bed may not be permanent and its shape may change in upcoming years, so I do not want to anything permanent. Besides, our lawn mower is not going to ride on top of this edging but next to it, so it does not need to be perfectly level.

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This is the finished product and I like it. It does a great job holding all the mulch in, and I like how polished it made the bed look. The grey color ties into our back patio so, so well. And the best thing is, Slav can now use the hedge trimmer right against the garden bed without worrying about flying woodchips!

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Edging project II: Underplanting perennial garden

In this spirit I also installed the same edgers around the other perennial bed in our backyard, right under our crab apple tree. I used to have branches right against the bed as a natural edger and I absolutely adore it. But again it did not work well for mowing.

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In the process I made the bed larger. The crab apple tree shades everything below so the poor flowers are not growing as well as I hoped. We need to plant something else next year and a bigger bed will allow me to have both shade and partial shade plants here.

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Here is the bed when I finished:

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I like the result a lot more than I thought. Maybe because of the messy edge of the pavers, the bed does not feel too serious. I also like how the same concrete edger ties the two beds together. They echo the color of our concrete patio which downplayed their existence. I do not find them intruding at all.

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As you can see we have drip tubing runs in and out of this bed. We will bury them as some point so Slav can push the lawn mower through this area, probably next year after we set up all the veggie beds.

Edging project III: Frontyard mailbox underplanting

Next we moved onto edging the last perennial flower bed. This bed is in our front yard and directly under our mail box.

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Our black metal mailbox is very boring and I think the underplanting complements it nicely – a boring rectangle with just a few plants in it. There is one lavender, two rosemary bushes, and a struggling rose:

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This poor rose. We’ve got bunnies in this neighborhood and they love this rose bush, or more accurately, the taste of it. Every a few days I find the new growth on this rose leveled to the ground. Thankfully these bunnies are as dumb as their cotton tails are cute – they have not discovered my salad garden yet (knock on wood).

Although uninspiring, it is still a big upgrade compared to the weeds and broken bricks we inherited:

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For this bed I decided to create a mowing strip. Mowing strips are usually done with brick pavers. I chose to build one that is composed of two lines of bricks, one line on their side and the other laying flat. The taller edge keeps the mulch in while the flat part is leveled with the turf for the lawnmower to ride on.

To build this mowing strip I more or less followed the instructions here. Again, I did not use paver base or stone dust or any form of underlayment, because I do not know how permanent this flower bed will be. I simply dug down, leveled the brick with native dirt, laid bricks in, and packed around them with soil. I brushed some play sand in between the bricks to fill the gap so grass will not find their way into the flower bed.

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This brick paver is purposely different from the concrete grey ones I used in the backyard. I want to make the edging in the front yard more formal while keeping the backyard look more natural. This brick is super flat with sharp edges, making leveling them with the grass pretty easy.

The new border feels like the way it should have always been. I like the width and how it fills the void lawn a bit. As you may have noticed, we also made it bigger for more planting area. I want to add some winter interest plants here so from November to April our yard does not look super dead.

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Mulch!

As the final step of polishing everything up, we proceeded to mulch. Mulch is great for weed control and in our area, it is also crucial for reducing surface evaporation and keeping soil cooler. We have really bad problem with weeds especially where we water often, such as around the veggie beds:

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We could hardly see where the veggie beds end and where the weeds start. In preparation for mulching, I pulled most of weeds out, cut the grass super short, and covered all the path in between and around the veggie beds with heavy duty cardboard.

After weeding and mowing:

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Slav brought in two full trailer loads of wood chips and we mulched in between and all around the veggie beds:

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Doesn’t the mulch make everything look sharper? I could not be happier. Some of these wood chips are from fresh-chipped pine trees and they smell AMAZING. We continued the mulch along the back fence around the fruit trees and roses. This is another area I had been weeding by hand since this Spring, which took a few hours per week. With all the mulching we have replaced ~1000 sqft of the lawn that needs weeding and mowing constantly. Cutting down maintenance time while saving water sounds like a win-win to me.

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Here you have it, all three flower beds edged, large area mulched, and my landscaper (Slav) is happy. And guess who else is happy? These roses.

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Happy summer!

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