Terrific Broth

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

Category: Gardening (Page 2 of 5)

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!

Evergreen Sunroom Garden

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Lavender, basil and chives

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Rosemary

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Sage

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Thyme

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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:

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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.

A three-year garden recap

I have not been gardening long – we always rent and did not have the money or freedom to plant until we moved into our current rental in the summer of 2012. Our first gardening experience was this front yard beautification in the summer of 2013 (with help from professionals):

June 2013, front garden with cannas, lantana and a dwarf palm tree

Which, did surprisingly well the following year:

Summer 2014, Lantana

We have since learned some tough lessons from this garden – it is on the north side of the house and as you can see from the first picture, the part of the garden next to the house never gets any direct sun. Actually, except from June to August, 40% of the garden is in constant shade. In addition, the soil is cold and is heavy clay that never drains well. More plants died here than thrived, mostly during winter and because of rotten roots, including the cute palm tree and lantana (my personal favorite). We have since replaced half of what we originally planted. And this is what looks like a few days ago:

April 2016, front yard garden, Lilies, cannas, hibiscus, gardenia

We have since put down some rosemary bushes in the center of the yard where the palm tree used to be. Rosemary does not do well in clay soil but I have seen it as perennials here. So we are given it a try this year and hope it makes the center evergreen piece in this garden.

One success we had in this garden is hibiscus. We got the non-tropical ones and they overwinter very well. They actually do not mind saggy soil at all and really enjoy themselves at the sunny spot in this garden. They have been given generous and elegant big flowers whole summer throughout which attracted many butterflies. They do, however, attract beetles like crazy and definitely require daily attention to remove bugs and dead flowers for continuous bloom.

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We also enjoyed growing lily here which is actually in partial shade:

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We got so many in such a short period of time so we gave them to everyone at my work and it made people so happy. Cannot wait for them to bloom again this year!

Our second garden is this little underplant area in the middle of our circular driveway:

June 2014, underplant in the driveway

Did not look so hot did it? But these plants are tough and just keep giving us surprises. It has been doing better and better each year and this is what it looks like last week:  

Much. Better. 🙂

We also tried to grow vegetables. yet so far it has not been going so well. We have many woodland critters who have been keeping a much closer eye on our fresh produce than we ever could. We have be successful with growing and producing cherry tomatoes (again, producing, not harvesting), and this year we decided to get our hands on peppers and cucumbers:

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If there is one thing gardening has taught me, is respect. Respect the plant, respect the nature. There is no other thing I could do but to provide what the plant need and to assist nature. That means be patient, be vigilance, be gentle, and be forgiving. 2016 has just started and we have already seen success and failure. We could not wait to see where 2016 takes us!

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