Terrific Broth

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

Category: Gardening (Page 1 of 4)

Five Yard Tools That Make My Heart Sing

Mid-October, we entered gorgeous Colorado fall.




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




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:


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.


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.


2. Portable Branch chipper/shredder


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.


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



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


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.


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.


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:


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:


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


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


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


Pretty handy for washing and draining vegetables:


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


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


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.


5. A Compost Update

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


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.


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


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


The cardboard I laid at the bottom has completely disintegrated:


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


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:


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:


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



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.


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!


Setting Up Our Compost


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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:


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.


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.


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


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


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:




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


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:


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


Then watered it down:


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.


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


This is how it looks like now:


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!

Evergreen Sunroom Garden


The growing season in west Colorado is pretty short. Evergreen, where we currently live, is in zone 4b. The last frost is in late May, and the first snow fall is usually in September. Compared to central North Carolina, which is zone 7b, the growing season is cut down to half. And the plants and vegetables we can grow in the mountains are very limited.

To extend the growing season and get more fresh vegetables, many people here have green houses. As you might remember from this video tour, we have a pretty large sunroom included in our rental. The tenant who lived here for 14 years built a big rock flower bed in the sunroom and maintained a very successful garden.


The sunroom can accumulate a lot of heat. It only takes a couple hours of sunshine for the inside of the sunroom to reach 70 degrees. Therefore, I have never seen the water in the dog water station freeze. I have never had a green house before, so I am pretty shocked by the magic a simple structure can do to change the course of nature. Or look at it in another way, how amazing is the sun, that we just need to steal a little bit of its wonder to sustain our living.

As soon as I returned from my oversea trip, we brought back a bag of soil, gathered the egg shells we had been saving since moving in, and grabbed some herbs from a local nursery.


This rental is a temporary stay for us (we have found another place in Evergreen – cannot wait to show you the pictures!), so we decided to plant herbs instead of vegetables. We picked out lavender, basil, rosemary, thyme, sage, mint, chives, stevia, and a couple annuals to mix in some color.

Almost all of these plants require full sun. But I do not want to under-estimate the power of a few pieces of glass windows. Without proper ventilation, the sunroom can get to 90 degrees in a couple hours. To make sure that these tender plants are ready for hot and dry afternoons, I left them at their designated spots, and watched them for a few days.


The new soil was worked in, and the eggshells are grounded and added into the soil as well. The herbs got a good nice drink every morning. After a few days, almost all of them showed new growth, as if they were saying,”we like it here!”

Planting a garden is always a precious moment. Holding young, tender plants in my hands, just like holding a new baby, brings gratitude, a sense of new hope, and excitement. Regardless how well they may grow in the future, at this moment, it is good. After planting, the scent of lavender and mint lingered on my figures for hours. Mixed with the smell of fresh, wet soil, it is really the happiest perfume in the world.

The first I planted is the mint. We had such a wonderful mint garden back in North Carolina and it reminds me the happy days there.



I never had stevia before and am excited to try it out.


Lavender, basil and chives








A couple weeks have passed after planting. We since had a couple snow storms, but the herbs are doing very well. Here are them today:




They have shown quite some new growth and the flower seeds I planted right after moving-in sprouted as well. We might not be here long enough to enjoy all the fresh herbs and flowers, but I am glad that we made this place a bit sweeter than that we came to.

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