Terrific Broth

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

Category: Gardening (Page 1 of 5)

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 Рbad! 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. ūüôā 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!

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!

Five Yard Tools That Make My Heart Sing

Mid-October, we entered gorgeous Colorado fall.

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Our backyard looks like a heaven – I love the fallen leaves so much. The pups love to run through them too.

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However much I love the leaves, they need to be raked up for a healthier lawn. An early snow and wind also filled our yard with branches:

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We have been slowly accumulating gardening tools and gadgets to make yard maintenance easier. Even though I did not know about many of them, I was immediately a fan. Here are a few of my favorites that made yard work more enjoyable:

1. Electric Pole Saw

We have some tall trees on the property. Because of the uneven ground, trimming them with a chainsaw on a tall ladder is not always safe. So we invested in a pole saw when it was on sale. It makes taking down tall branches very easy. But what I did not expect, is how fun it is to use it! Slav almost treated it as a toy. He waved it around the yard taking down dead branches from our trees with such an excitement. None of our poor trees escaped; they all got some kind of haircut one way or another.

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This pole saw is pretty powerful – it cuts into brunches a few inches in diameter like butter, and does not bounce much. It eliminates the need of a tall ladder 95% of the time, which made trimming trees a lot safer. Slav used it to trim some big branches off the tree on the side of our house. It is technically our neighbor’s tree, but¬†its canopy shades our side yard and roof. It now looks much better.

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2. Portable Branch chipper/shredder

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Fall brings so much branches and leaves, especially after we got the pole saw. Branches started accumulating in our yard and we could not burn them fast enough. Not wanting them to suffocate the lawn, we got a compact branch chipper/leaf shredder from Harbor Freight Tools. This one is small and compact, but powerful enough for branches up to 1 1/2 inch size, which is what we needed. Anything bigger than that we usually burn them as firewood.

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The chipper came in one piece, so the only installation we did was to put the chipper on wheels, which took me 5 minutes:

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We not only use it for small branches, but also for shredding leaves as well. There are tons of videos showing how it operate on Youtube (here and here). Check it out!

The leaves and branches are shredded into small chips, similar to a fine mulch. We do not have lots of plants to mulch yet, so I put them into our¬†compost.¬† We get tons of kitchen waste and always need more carbon-rich materials. A clean lawn and a growing compost –¬†a total win-win in my book!

3. A Garden Caddy

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To transport more things while doing yard work, we found this wheelbarrow caddy in the Habitat for Humanity for $10. I had never used one before – heck, I have never used a wheelbarrow before! For $10, I decided to give it a try.

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It is basically a caddy that goes on top of a wheel barrel, so you can put small items inside while transporting soil and mulch. It should fit snuggly onto standard size of wheel barrels. For ours, it does not fit perfectly, but does stay on top.

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It is pretty useful to keep small things separated and clean. I listen to podcasts while gardening, and I keep my phone in the middle compartment. The green lid can be closed to keep water and dust out, and the small compartments on each side are great for snacks and speakers. I also like to carry some hot tea in my coffee mug, so the cup holders got used a lot. The big compartment carries a hose, garden gloves, and a set of small gardening tools, which I use regularly.

Coming next Spring, we have big plans of setting up vegetable beds and maybe a green house to raise seedlings early. I am sure the wheel barrel and this caddy will get lots of use.

4. A Potting Station

When we renovated our garden shed, we got rid of an old potting bench to gain more storage. We knew we want some kid of work surface in or near the shed before next spring. One day, Slav spotted this potting station for $40:

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It is made by backyard gear as a garden cart as well as a BBQ serving station. Being plastic and tolerates sun well, it makes a great potting station. Similar carts are sold for over $100 brand new, so $40 is a pretty reasonable price to us.

The left side handle can be used to move the cart around as well as hang tools, and there is a fold-able shelf on the right:

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It comes with a small drainer that you can put on top:

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And the top panels fold out to provide more working surface.

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The middle panels folds out to the back and there is a small sink below:

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Pretty handy for washing and draining vegetables:

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To bring water to the faucet, there is a port at the back for connecting to garden hose:

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The bottom cabinet offers shelves and drawers – lots of storage space:

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So far, I have kept it on our back patio as a serving cart. The sink can be filled with ice, and it just looks so cute on our new patio.

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5. A Compost Update

It has been a little over a month since we first set up our compost.

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If you remember it, I layered the left one with grass clippings and kitchen scraps and left it alone, while using the right one for new kitchen scrap accumulation. I watered the left bin well and basically left it alone – I probably turned it twice since setting it up.

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And here it is as of today, 5 weeks after:

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The pile has reduced to 40% of its volume and I think we are getting some compost:

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The cardboard I laid at the bottom has completely disintegrated:

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The stuff in the right bin also composted at the bottom, but with new things added every day, the top is still in works:

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The back of the shed does not get much sun. Since winter is coming, I decided to move them to the right side of the shed in order to keep the temperature in those bins as high as possible:

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I combined all the half-way-ready compost into the left bin and layered some new glass clipping on top – this bin will be left alone again for the winter:

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On the right, I laid down leaves and this will be our accumulation bin, which means new things will be added as we go.

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These bins worked very well for me – despite the food waste we put in, there was never any rodents. I did not even find bugs in the compost, which means the temperature was high enough in these bins to keep them out. The compost kept moisture well too – I think I only watered the bins once during these 5 weeks and our air is usually dry. But everything broke down nicely.

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Here you have it, five garden tools/gadgets that make gardening easier. Do you have a favorite gardening tool? How did you find it? We have big plans to convert this backyard to an urban farm/garden, so there will be lots of gardening next spring!

 

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