Terrific Broth

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

Tag: Garden

Vegetable Garden, 2018

Update (5/13/2018) : It has been one week after the veggie beds and perennial garden were planted. Here is an update of all the veggies as well as the fruit trees we planted early April. This weekend, we added a few more heirloom tomatoes and seeded gourd and morning glories along the back fence. The garden is looking better every day!

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Weekend had come and gone faaaast. We worked both days long and hard in the garden and I could not believe how much we’ve accomplished. We are both sore from hair to toe, so I will keep my words brief today and let the picture do the talking.

We decided on a small garden this year to get our hands warm with the dry and short growing season and heavy clay soil. To maximize the chance of success, I ordered two Garden-in-a-Box kits from Resource Central, a non-profit for water conservation in Boulder.

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We got their salad garden kit and a honeybee friendly perennial kit. Both include a few dozens of plants and come with a plant map for companionship.

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We also picked up some herbs from a local nursery with some fresh compost.

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We chose the southern side of our yard for the veggie garden. I mapped out a few 4’x16′ beds and put down old carpet weeks prior to suppress grass growth.

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The perennial garden were planted near the shed to cover an unsightly tree stump.

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We started digging early Saturday morning. Slav tackled the veggie beds as I worked on the perennial bed. Removing established turf was not easy, and we had to dig another 10″ down for better root growth.

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By late afternoon, after 8 hours of digging, we had this:

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Slav dug up two 4’x16′ beds and two narrow trenches for planting potatoes.

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Roxie loves fresh soil. She felt asleep on the cool soil and looked super cute.

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Look at her. Isn’t she the cutest?

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As of me, I dug out this 6′ x 14′ oval shape garden. We have heavy clay so I amended it by mixing in equal part of peat moss and another equal part of manure.

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Sunday morning, we started bright and early with the perennial garden.

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The plants perked up after a good drink and a couple hours of sun.

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Next, we put all 20 seeding potatoes in the trenches and covered them with loose black tea compost.

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We amended the veggie beds by further breaking the clumps and removing grass roots, followed by adding equal amount of the black tea compost.

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We were pretty beat after all the soil work. But we pushed through and planted all the veggies and herbs.

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This year We have more herbs then ever and rare varieties. I am pretty stoked.

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Also planted were five tomatoes and two peppers.

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And a bunch of lettuce, cabbage, chard, and kale.

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Soaking hoses were placed along the potato patches and in the veggie beds. Aside from growing our own food, saving water is big reason for replacing the turf.

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We are happy with all the progress. It is also exciting to watch our fruit trees grew.

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The two cherry trees put out lots of leaves and the nectarine tree really branched out:

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The peach tree did not grow many leaves, but it is about to flower:

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We planted the honey crisp apple weeks later, so it had a slow start. But it is catching up nicely.

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People says perennials “first year sleep, second year creep, and the third year leap”. We are anxious but hopeful. Trees and flowers, grow!

Back Home and 2018 Spring Yard!

After a week of travel and some catching-up at work, I am FINALLY back to the blog. Thank you so much for continuing to read and check back. It is very encouraging for a new blogger like me to see the blog traffic did not drop entirely down to zero. 🙂

I spent the last week of March in Southern California for work. For the most part, I stayed in Riverside, where Slav and I got our PhDs (in Neuroscience, in case you are wondering). I got to visit the houses we lived in, dine with old friends in our favorite restaurants, and walk around the campus in which we spent 5 years learning, doing research, and teaching. Walking down the memory lane was fun and gave me deep appreciation for how far we’ve come, but I also missed home terribly. Maybe age has something to do with it, but I do not enjoy being away from home for this long.

One thing I never paid attention to when I lived in SoCal, is its mission-style, Spanish Colonial Revival architecture. It turns out that the ceramic tile roof, the white stucco wall, and the arched front porches totally burned into my mind and have been subconsciously influencing my design decisions. Remember the phase II plans for our back patio? That is pretty much what Spanish Revival porches look like. Interestingly, we also lived in North Carolina for equal amount of time (>5 years), but I’ve never developed the same interest in Federal and Georgian-style southern houses.

Spring Cleaning – Pantry Closet

Since coming back, unsurprisingly, I was swamped with work. But we did manage to work on a few small things in and around the house. For example, as part of the spring cleaning and purging effort, we reorganized our pantry closet.

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It does not look like a superior product, but it is a lot more functional than the before:

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The original closet lacks shelving, so things tend to pile up and hard to find. One night, as I was cooking dinner, Slav added a couple shelves above and below the existing shelves. Adding these shelves could not be simpler: the cleats were already in place, and we have some leftover 5/8″ plywood from making the floating nightstand. Slav ripped down the plywood to size and popped them over the cleats – no nails or screws needed. This upgrade almost doubled the holding power of our pantry, so everything we store here can be organized to one layer and easy to find:

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To top shelf holds plastics. We are trying to cut down the plastic use, so I intentionally put them up high and make them hard to reach.

Dog treats and medicine were stored on the second shelf – We have a treat jar for dogs in the kitchen so these are just refills. The medicine is bulk ingredients for mixing Charlie’s joint supplement. If you have an older dog and want to make their joints healthier for longer, I highly recommend to mix your own joint supplements opposed to buy from pet stores. You can find all the pure ingredients online in bulk and in pharmaceutical grade. It is not only cheaper, but also you can control exactly what and how much your pet is taking. This sheet shows what and how much we give to our 10-year-old lab Charlie, you can use it to calculate how much your pets need based on their weight.

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The next two shelves hold our dry goods, sauces, and spices. We are eliminating some upper cabinets in our kitchen soon, so this pantry has to work harder to hold our spices. Putting sauces on Lazy Susans makes everything we need visible and easy to reach. For $10 a pop, they are god-sent.

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Pasta, grains, and cleaning supplies are located at the bottom. Pretty neat, right?

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We also added shelves into our toiletry closet next to our bathroom. Giving everything a dedicated and relatively permanent space not only makes keeping track and finding supplies quicker, but also makes cleaning inside the closets a lot easier. It is our intention to have a low-maintenance and low-consumption style of life, so there is less stress and more time to create. Having well-organized closets with spare room shall help.

Planting Fruit Trees

In addition to cleaning, Spring is also time to plant. We are currently experiencing a massive attack of analysis paralysis due to lack of landscaping experience. Yard work was easy last year, because all we needed to do was to fix obvious problems, such as getting rid of overgrown bushes and dead trees, power-washing the fence, and doing a gut-job on our garden shed (including demo, rebuild, paint, organization, and finishing touches). But this year we need to create, which feels like a much bigger responsibility.

There is no right way for gardening, so we decided to just follow our heart and plant whatever we want, starting with fruit trees.

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We planted five trees in total, including a Honey Crisp apple, a nectarine, two different cherries, and a peach. These bare-root fruit trees are only $12 a pop in Costco, making them good subjects to experimenting with.

Slav picked the cherry trees. One of the best memories from his childhood was climbing onto his parents’ cherry tree and eating fresh cherries. Apparently, his childhood cherry tree no longer exists. 🙁 So this 36 year-old man decides to recreate this magic happiness in our yard.

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We also got a honey crisp apple, a nectarine, and a peach, all of which we love and purchase constantly. They will likely spend the first a couple years growing to full size, and start producing delicious fruits in year 4. We planted them 14 feet apart to allow them to come to full size. By lining them along the back fence, we hope the mature trees also function as a privacy fence and hide the mix-and-match back fence.

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This is our first time growing fruit trees, so we followed the instructions to a tee. Fingers crossed!

Other Gardening Plans for 2018

We also plan to add a privacy hedge along our northern fence. This portion has double fencing – our neighbor’s wood fence and our chain link fence, with quite a few trees in between.

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The tree root started damaging neighbor’s wooden fence, which prevents us from taking down the chain link fence that we deeply hate. Since these trees do not provide flower or fruit, and appear to be quite invasive, Slav made the decision to cut all of them so he can fix neighbor’s fence, take down our chain link fence, and plant a privacy hedge instead. It will be a fairly big and expensive operation for which we need to coordinate with our neighbors. But if we could pull it off, we will have complete privacy in our backyard in just a few years.

The last thing we want to do this year in our yard is to experiment with vegetable gardening. Colorado receives only 8″~15″ precipitation each year, most of which during winter. So replacing turf with urban farming and Xeriscape is one serious matter to us. Among drought, heavy clay soil, and wind and hail, gardening vegetable will be a very different experience from what we had in North Carolina. This year’s goal is simply experimenting different methods of amending soil and watering, in preparation for bigger garden next year. To set us up for success, I ordered a veggie garden starter kit from Resource Central, which includes starter plant that are drought-resistant and locally raised. I also ordered their honey bee heaven garden kit to bring more pollinator into our yard.

Being warm and nice outside today, I shot a short video of our yard and explained our landscaping goals for you. Among the fencing, privacy hedge planting, and veggie and perennial beds, we will be busy as a bee!

 

Setting Up Our Compost

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Composting is now in full force at our ranch! We had composted when living in North Carolina and it was pretty easy. We mostly did the trench bury method, with a bit of help from a tumbling composter. It reduced our food waste so much and we were so hooked. As soon as we moved in our ranch, I asked Slav to keep the grass clippings for composting.

Decide the location of our compost bins

We kept our compost bins in mind while working on our shed (here, here, here, and here). Slav got rid of all the bushes around the shed and leveled the ground at the back, leaving plenty of room for wheel barrel to go around and compost bins.

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We want the compost bins to be tucked away from our views. From our back patio and most of the yard, we cannot see the back and the right side of the shed, making them ideal locations.

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You can probably tell by the way we painted the shed where the compost bins would go. Yes, they will be set up at the back of the shed. We need some covered firewood storage. The rake (part of the roof overhanging at gable end) of the shed is longer than the eaves (part of the roof overhanging the back walls). The back is also longer for us to set up multiple compost bins.

Our compost bins

We got this Rubbermaid bin from one of our many trips to Habitat for Humanity.

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This compost bin has an awesome design. It is 3′ long, 2’8″ wide and about 2′ tall on the sides. It is made with hollow plastic walls that are 2″ thick,  making the inside ~18 Cu Ft capacity. There are six plastic pieces: two on the top and four sides. It has holes all around near the bottom for drainage and ventilation, but these holes are not big enough for rodent to get inside. One side panel has a small detachable piece at the bottom to make removing the finished compost easier.

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I loved the design but unfortunately, this compost bin has been discontinued. Luckily, I spotted another one on Craigslist soon after and snapped it right away. Now I have two of them! The new one has lost its color on the top pieces, but it is still strong and fully functional.

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You can see our old window well there too. I plan to use it as a temporary storage for yard waste so I can add them in layers.

What to compost – C/N ratio is the key

As you might already know, composting needs both carbon-rich materials, such as paper and dry leaves, and nitrogen-rich materials, such as coffee ground and kitchen scrapes. The image below is an easy reference for what you can compost:

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What lots of us do not know, is how to balance the ratio of the carbon vs nitrogen. Too much nitrogen rich material leads to rotten compost piles and terrible smell, while too much carbon makes a dry and inactive pile which takes forever to break down. The right ratio is about 30:1 of carbon to nitrogen (C/N), and all the stuff we usually put in the compost bins already have an internal C/N ratio that we need to factor in. Here is a handy list for estimated C/N ratio for commonly composted items. You can see that fresh glass clippings already have a 20:1 C/N ratio, so does food scraps. Since we have mostly glass clippings and kitchen waste, my compost bins need more “brown” materials.

We have lots of cardboard boxes and egg cartons in hand. So they will be stored in the trash can we place in the shed until they are layered in the bins. This is also where the “window well” container comes in handy – we can dry fresh glass clippings before putting them into the bins to increases their C/N ratio.

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Setting up the bins

I assembled both bins and put them along the back of the shed. I made sure that the detachable piece at the bottom of each shed faces outside (the right compost bin has it on the right side and the left bin has it on the left side), so I can remove finished compost without working in between the bins.

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The window wells are pieced together in the middle for extra glass clippings:

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It is recommended to build “layers” when composting, like this:

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Our compost bins do not have a bottom and sit directly on dirt. At my first layer, I put down some cardboard boxes. They do compost, but I mainly put them there to prevent rodents from getting into the bins:

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Then I started layering in the compost bins on the left. First came dried grass clippings:

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Then a layer of food waste. Since my glass clippings was not as dry as I would like it to be, I did not add too much food waste:

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I then covered the food waste with more grass clippings and kept building my pile, until it was about 2 ft tall:

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Then watered it down:

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Putting the lid on and the left bin is set! This bin consumed all of our food waste and half glass clippings. The next step is to keep it wet and turn it a couple times a month. I am not gonna add anything new into this bin, since adding new material will make the breaking done process waaaay longer. Since I have two bins, I will add new material slowly into the right one while this one is cooking. Hopefully this one will be done by the time I fill up the right bin!

Stacking our firewood

Once the compost set up is finished, I turned my attention to the firewood piling up among the fence. Denver is sunny most of the time but still rains occasionally. We would like to protect our firewood from rain by stacking them under the gable of the shed.

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Remember the right side of the shed we reserved for these firewood?

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This is how it looks like now:

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With the shed painted and organized, the compost bins set, and the firewood stacked, my internal OCD is 100% satisfied – I now have the most organized shed, the coolest compost operation, and the prettiest firewood stash in the Highlands! Now we just need the compost to work!

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