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

Tag: Veggie garden Page 1 of 2

The Never-ending Cycle of Vegetable Gardening

IMG_6621

The end of 2021 veggie garden

Right after my garden clean up last week, we had a week of hard frost. The veggie garden finally came to an end:

Tomatoes:

IMG_6530

Luffa:

IMG_6532

Peppers:

IMG_6531

Aubergine:

IMG_6528

Watermelons:

IMG_6525

Honeydew melons:

IMG_6523

Pole beans

IMG_6529

Birdhouse gourds:

IMG_6526

Our dill went to seeds in early Oct. You can see the new sprouts below already.

IMG_6537

IMG_6536

It is like we have a never-ending vegetable garden – some self-seed, some produce runners, and some are just perennials. In the vegetable patch, we have garden chive and asparagus. Chive is not only evergreen in our zone, but also ever-growing even under snow. All the chives we have are from one small started plant we got in 2018. It grew into a monster bush by the end of 2019 season, then I divided it and planted the subdivisions along the first vegetable bed as a hedge. During summer months, we shear this hedge once a month, and use the clippings to make delicious pork chive dumplings.

IMG_5208

When weather gets cold, the growth of the hedge does slow down, but still produces enough for us to crop for seasoning.

IMG_6534

The asparagus patch occupies one of our five veggie beds. Although only in its second year, we have enjoyed lots of asparagus this Spring. When summer hit I let it grow freely into a patch of fern, which puts on a colorful show in the Fall:

IMG_6623

It is time to clean up the veggie patch

I spent a Saturday pulling dead plants out, gathering the remaining harvest, and weeding. It was a lot of work, but I enjoyed working in the vegetable garden. I like how neat it is with pea gravel on all the path, a much needed upgrade from the woodchip mulch we had before.

Below is the first veggie bed with the chive hedge. This bed was planted with garlic last Fall, and was home to peppers and watermelons later in the season.

IMG_6587

On the other side of our asparagus patch, the 3rd bed was planted with cucumber and tomato this year. The vertical trellis we made with T-posts and a cattle panel worked well for growing cucumbers. So it stays.

IMG_6588

We also built a bean tunnel this spring. They held up well with gourds and pole beans growing on them. Below the bean tunnel, I planted beetroots, aubergine, bush beans, lettuces and kale.

IMG_6590

This was the veggie garden before my cleaning effort:

IMG_6575

And after.

IMG_6607

Tidying up the patio garden

Another area planted with vegetables was the small flower bed next to the shed. It is the farthest flower bed from the house and we do not see it from the backdoor, so I planted green zucchini and yellow squashes here.

IMG_6583

which were certainly done after the frost:

IMG_6522

IMG_6521

Pulling these humongous green “snakes” out was surprisingly easy – they had very shallow roots, which made me wonder how on earth they produced so much! I also cut back the irises in this bed:

IMG_6624

As I told you in my last week’s garden clean-up, I transplanted a subdivision of a red hot poker grass under the apple tree. The apple flowers white and the irises flower purple. I think this grass will fit in well.

IMG_6651

Charlie followed me during the whole clean up effort. By the end of the day, we were both covered in dirt and leaf clippings. What a sweet pup!

IMG_6626

Moving the trellises and applying compost

I absolutely love the bean trellises Slav built this spring. It is very sturdy but also pretty to look at. But there is a small modification I’d like to make:

IMG_6581

As you can see, both ends of the tunnel sit on the edge of the two beds below, making it hard to reach for plants near the bottom of the trellis. And honestly, it did not look pretty. I wish to shift the whole structure just a feet or two to the left, so the tunnel could sit in the middle of the beds below.

IMG_6590

Although the panels were heavy, Slav still moved them for me. What a trouper! Be careful saying “I do”, guys, There will be a lot to do…

IMG_6617

But honestly, doesn’t it look much better now spanning over the middle of the planting beds? Now I can easily reach to the bottom of the trellises from the paths on either side. We also adjusted the space between the panels. Each veggie bed is 16 feet long and each panel is about 4 feet wide. We left a few inches at the end and 1.5′ between panels. So the three panels can cover the entire length of veggie beds. I plan to grow different crops on each panel next year. But honestly, I think climbing gourds and melons will have no problem reaching neighboring panels.

As the T-posts were out and panels were down, Slav also flipped the soil in these two vegetable beds for me. It was actually quite labor-intensive. Our soil is hard clay with lots of rocks, and these two beds were never tilled before. We ended up with a bucket of rocks after tilling the soil!

IMG_6621

While Slav was working on the beds, I turned our home-made compost. We have two big compost bins. We put all our kitchen scrapes, garden clippings, paper towels, and egg cartons in here. Due to our dry and cold weather, we never got much finished compost from them. The material just disappears…This time, I scraped some finished compost out, and remixed the remaining matter into one bin. It was quite steamy (the compost, not me) and messy, so I did not take any pictures of this process. But we now have a whole bin emptied out, providing plenty of space for the kitchen scrapes over winter months.

Planting next year’s garlic

After tilling the top soil and moving the trellises, we topped the two beds with compost:

IMG_6622

We always apply a thick layer (4″-6″) compost to all of our vegetable beds in the Fall. The winter snow and spring rain wash the compost down into the soil. So when it is time to plant the veggie garden (usually on the Memorial Day weekend), the compost layer will be well-incorporated into the soil. The compost also functions as mulch for existing plants over winter months. This is particularly important for us because we always plant our garlic in the Fall.

IMG_6635

I plant exclusively hard neck garlic for scapes. We usually plant in mid-Oct, as soon as the veggie beds are cleared out, which gives me something to immediately look forward to after the end of the last season. 🙂

IMG_6640

After planting, I laid new drip tubing. We have been using 1/4″ black soaker hose in the veggie garden, which have disintegrated. They stopped providing adequate amount of water, so I had to hand-water this summer. These new drip tubing with built-in emitters should last a lot longer.

IMG_6642

Zero waste gardening

After planting the garlic, we had a couple windy days. All the sudden, our crabapple tree dropped all of its leaves. We went from this:

IMG_6604

to this, in just a week!

IMG_6655

In the past, we have been raking up the leaves. But this year we are trying a new approach. Our neighbor kindly lent us a leave vacuum, which not only sucks up leaves, but also shred leaves into tiny pieces into the attached bag. It took quite some strength to operate – imaging waving a 30-lb big barrel while carrying a whole bag of leaves on one shoulder – but it created nice leave mulch, which we put over all the vegetable beds:

IMG_6650

All the leaves from our yard are just the perfect amount to provide a 4″ layer of insulation. It is such a win-win for zero-waste gardening! Now, speaking for both the garlic cloves and us, we are ready for snow!

Onward and Upward

IMG_5215

Happy June, everyone! We had a busy but productive past few weeks. For starters, I was awarded a major grant for my research! This funding will not only kick-start the project I hope to do for years, but also allow me to assemble my own team. For any newly established scientist like me, getting a funding in this size is a big deal. So it is good news!

IMG_5208

Also in the past a few weeks, I wrote a manuscript to summarize my latest research project. I have been working on this project on and off for three years now, and the findings are interesting. In biomedical research, not every project works and most of the research effort does not make into publications. So when one project works out, it is worth a celebration.

Then it was my birthday! I turned 42 this year which sounds like a big number. But I still feel my life is on an upward trajectory. I am still gaining new insight, developing new interests, making new friends, and learning everyday. Just like a Chinese proverb said, “live like a student for life”. It keeps you young!

A mini bathroom update

Along with good new at work, things are really turning corners in the main floor bathroom! Slav finished and painted the drywall. And last week, the glass shower door was installed!

IMG_5290

We are still waiting for shower door silicone to cure, before our plumber can come back to install the fixtures. Slav is installing the lights and outlet covers this weekend – then we will have a new bathroom! It has been 8 months without a functional bath on the main floor. I am excited to have two toilets again!

Growing upwards with new garden trellises

The second half of May is also go-time in the garden. I usually plant our vegetable garden at the end of May, so hardscape in the vegetable garden always happens during the two-week period between Mother’s Day (when the last frost day passes) and the Memorial Day weekend. This year’s project is a proper bean tunnel.

IMG_5195

I have tried trellis netting before. It is good enough for beans and cucumbers to climb, but it also tends to sag with the weight of produce. So this year, I decided to build a legit bean tunnel using cattle panels. These cattle panels are so steady that they are hard to bend into narrow arches as I hoped. So instead of having a bean tunnel over a 3-foot wide pathway, we made it arch over about 7 feet wide, covering one pathway and one vegetable bed. It will add a bit more work during harvest time, but will also create a shaded area for lettuces and radishes. We will see!

Speaking of lettuces and radishes, these are the ones I sowed in early April:

IMG_5207

IMG_5224

Along with some arugula:

IMG_5225

We have been eating them since mid-May and they are so good! We never had such a successful lettuce year like this Spring thanks to all the rain we’ve gotten.

We also made a cucumber trellis with the same cattle panel. I set it in the middle of a 4-foot wide vegetable bed, and planted cucumbers along trellis:

IMG_5196

IMG_5198

The space on each side was planted with tomatoes. The idea is to train all the cucumber plants onto the trellis, and leave the ground space for tomatoes. I hope they all fit!

IMG_5219

Planting luffa for the first time…in the Gingko garden!

A new climber I am trying this year is luffa. I have been trying to germinate luffa for three seasons now, either in pots or in ground, without success. But apparently it is easy for other people! A friend germinated too many and gave me an extra plant, I hope it grows well and who knows, maybe I will get a sponge or two!

IMG_5211

By the way, I planted the luffa in the “ginkgo garden” so I can keep a close eye on it. This is a small mulched area off the corner of the vegetable garden, where the ginkgo tree was planted last year.

IMG_5213

I’ve shown you the ginkgo sprouting in early Spring. This picture was taken on May 8th.

IMG_5017

And this is the ginkgo now! Love how robust it is.

IMG_5245

I put some purple irises around the ginkgo to fill the space. They came from my neighbor’s garden and are super happy now living across the street from their old home.

IMG_5249

IMG_5244

I love the look of dark blue/purple irises next purple/pink chive flowers with pink/red pea gravel. I did not plan a white/pink/purple garden on purpose, but I think I am getting there nonetheless!

Green mulch please!

Another big project in this year’s vegetable gardening is melons and gourds. I wanted to grow more vine crops as green mulch this year, particularly on a sloped area in our backyard. This part receives full sun, and stays out of our sight from the house – it is perfect to grow vine crops like melons and pumpkins.

IMG_5228

Planted here are cantaloupes, honeydews, watermelons, and different varieties of pumpkins and gourds.

IMG_5230

I germinated too many so some of them were planted along the back fence, among fruit trees, climbing roses, and blackberry bushes.

IMG_5222

By the way, our new pear tree sprouted! It looks healthy just like the apple tree we got from the same nursery last year.

IMG_5223

And we cannot forget squashes! Last year they produced so well that we gave out a lot. And this year we are growing just as much.

IMG_5185

The end of all five vegetable beds were recruited to plant pumpkins as well… I really geminated too many. They can trail off onto the pathways and should not interfere with whatever growing in our vegetable beds.

IMG_5204

Planting grapes along the northern fence!

The most exciting thing coming to our yard is…grapes! Boy this is really the year for vine crops! I got four grapes and planted them along the northern fence of our backyard.

IMG_5237

Honestly, the area next to the northern fence had me scratching my head for years now. Besides the lilac bush we inherited, this large 10-feet wide space along the fence were just a big, empty space covered with woodchip mulch. Besides the vine crops which are annual, I really wanted some perennials here. And some height will be nice since we are on a hill and can see straight into our northern neighbor’s home from our backyard.

IMG_5229

I tried growing evergreens along this fence, but none of them survived… I also tried blackberries, but they lack the height we need. During last year’s lockdown, maybe I just had enough time to think it through, a light bulb went on in my head: grapes!

IMG_5232

I now think growing grapes are the perfect killing-two-birds-with-one-stone solution: the fence offers protection from strong winds and unexpected late frosts, and the trellis for the grapes can function as a privacy screen between families. Free-standing grape trellis is pretty straight forward to build. However I think we will wait until next year given the unreasonable lumber price now.

IMG_5235

I have thought about growing grapes since we bought the house. When I was a little kid, my grandpa had one in his small Beijing-style courtyard, and I had fond memories of playing and eating under the grape trellis. I have been researching on how to grow grapes in our cold climate, and surprised by how much interest there is growing grapes on the front range! Lots of effort actually went into breeding the right variety – early maturity is a must since we have a relative short growing season – and developing the safest protocol of raising them in our specific climate (1, 2). Based on my research, the space in front of this northern fence is actually the ideal location for grape vines in our area.

IMG_5236

Apparently, grapes are recommended to be planted on slopes. especially on northern slopes, which ensures water drainage and even soil temperature in Spring weather. Grape trellis also should run west-east direction to cuts down on shade cast on vines by the trellis. In addition, this orientation dries up rain or dew quickly, and therefore cutting down on diseases. The northern fence in our backyard runs a perfect west-east direction, so running grape vines/trellis parallel to the fence is exactly what we are supposed to do. Last, this slope is far away from any lawn sprinkles, so we can control the irrigation to these grape vines (cutting down on watering before harvesting time will make the grapes taste sweeter). In summary, in front of northern fence could not be a better location even we had planned it!

Now everything veggie garden was planted, and the automatic drip system was turned on, we can hopefully kick our feet up and enjoy the fresh produce of our labor. The raspberry patch is already flowering, and we started to see peony blooms. I am coming back next week to give you an update of the patio garden we created last Spring. Stay tuned, friends!

IMG_5261

 

Seed Starting for 2021

It’s this time of the year again!

IMG_4519

Green lawn grass, fruit tree flowers, and budding perennials… We still have cold snaps every week, but with warmer days in between. It is time to seed the vegetable garden again!

01

The 2021 Seed Haul

I have been buying seedlings for the vegetable garden. Our heavy clay soil is not ideal for direct sowing, and I have little time and patience for raising seedlings in trays. However, the year of 2020 taught me a lesson. Due to the pandemic I could hardly get any vegetable seedlings, and some of my online orders were cancelled. Anticipating a shortage of seedlings again in 2021 (which does not look like it will be the case), I purchased some seeds and decided to give this whole seed starting business a try.

First, tomatoes! I grew tomatoes every year because they do taste better home-grown. This year, I got seeds for several mid-size heirloom tomatoes and cherry tomatoes. Young green beans are so flavorful when picked fresh off the vines and cooked immediately. So they are a must too.

02

My favorite vegetable is undoubtedly peppers. I seeded some hot peppers this year and hope to create my own spice mix. The rumor is that pepper seeds are really hard to start without a heat mat, but I will give it a try anyway.

03

Each year I would like to try to grow a couple new vegetables. Last year I started a perennial asparagus bed, and this year, I plan to grow okra and rhubarb for the first time. Slav and I first start eating okra when living in North Carolina, but they are harder to find in restaurants here. I am curious how they will do in our cold climate. I also want to give eggplant a try – the store-bought eggplant in US tastes a lot less flavorful than the ones I had in China. Maybe home-grown eggplants will be different?

04

I am also gonna continue growing root vegetables such as beets and radishes. Despite our clay soil, they have been very eager to grow in my vegetable garden. In summer days, radishes and beets are always in rotation from our garden to grill.

Planting Vine Crops as Green Mulch

Last season, I tried watermelon and cantaloupe for the first time, which was a big success. I was surprised how little care they needed – you can pretty much just plant the seedlings, set up a drip emitter, and forget about them. Besides the fruits, an added benefit of vine crops is they function as a green mulch. My backyard had a big sloped area covered by woodchips which is very prone to weeds. But last summer, as the vine crop spread their leaves, they shaded all the weeds out. This season, I will be planting the entire side slope with melons, cucumber, pumpkin, and gourds as groundcover, and hopefully get some weird-looking pumpkins and gourds to decorate our front porch in the Fall!

05

Initial Planting

IMG_4519

On the first sunny weekend in April, I filled up all the small pots I saved in the past, and started planting seeds. The first 4 x 8 tray with smaller pots was mostly for peppers and tomatoes, and all the other bigger pots were seeded with vine crops including cucumbers, squashes, gourds, pumpkins, melons, and cantaloupes. Beans, radishes, and beets will be sowed directly to the vegetable garden.

IMG_4518

I did not use plant markers, but made a spreadsheet and labeled the trays instead:

2021 veggie garden

I had companies.

IMG_4524

The pups are always generous with their emotional support.

IMG_4526

The Recent Progress!

These are the trays, just seeded on April 3rd.

IMG_4518

Here were the same trays 11 days later, Most of the tomatoes and vine crops have germinated. Peppers, eggplants, and luffa were still taking their time.

IMG_4645

Fast forward to today, 3 weeks after the initial planting, all of the seedlings have sprouted!

Peppers and tomatoes:

IMG_4703

Melons and cantaloupe:

IMG_4701

Pumpkins, gourds, and cucumbers

IMG_4700

Among the seedlings, the vine crops are showing excellent growth, whereas the tomato and pepper seedlings are on the smaller side.

IMG_4704

The most anticipated among all seedlings are the luffa plants. I tried direct sow last season and had no success. I hope all the seedlings make it this year so I can make some luffa sponges in the fall!

IMG_4706

These are the okra seedlings! They look unique and cute with their hairy leaves:

IMG_4710

In our climate (zone 5b) we are not completely out of the woods when it comes to frost until the end of May. I will transplant the seedlings into the vegetable garden on Memorial Day weekend, which means that they will stay in their trays for another month.  It feels like a cool adventure! Now, what are growing in your vegetable garden this year?

Page 1 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén