Terrific Broth

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

Category: Projects (Page 2 of 29)

Garden Edging Continued | Perennial Bed Borders

“Spring is for planting, summer is for building, fall is for harvesting, and winter is for resting.” – Fouch Family Off Grid

One of my favorite homestead family, Fouch Family Off Grid, brilliantly summarized what the four seasons are like for their off-grid homestead. Although being city dwellers, we very much follow the same pattern. Except for us, the winter is for playing – in the snow.

This spring is our first in the ranch house. We planted, planted, and planted more. I had dirt under my finger nails for three months during which I presented at three conference meetings. Now summer rolls around, it is finally time to start building.

Edging project I: Honeybee’s heaven perennial bed

This past week was dedicated to garden edging. Garden edging is part of the hardscape and can be used to define an outdoor area or a flower bed. It is also a good way to keep the soil or mulch contained and the weeds out out of a flower bed. I initially went for soft edging, which means no physical boundary but mulching over the flower beds.

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It did not work very well for us because all the weeds were climbing into the bed.

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Not only the soft edging invited weeds, it also created problem for Slav who mows our lawn. The hedge trimmer hit the wood chips hard and and broke them into pieces. Some of them flew high in the air and even hit Slav’s face.

Here is an unspoken rule in our family: we try to make each other’s life easier. Slav takes out the recycle, so I make sure to flatten the cardbox boxes before putting them into the bins. I compost, so Slav chops kitchen scrapes fine so they break down faster. We are free to do whatever we want and however we want, but one’s action should not make the other’s household tasks more difficult. Although the consequence of my choice of soft edging was not immediately apparent, watching woodchips hitting Slav’s face was an implicit reminder that I needed to change things up.

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Edging can be done in different ways and with different materials – plastic, metal, brick, concrete, etc. You can see both plastic and concrete pavers against the flower bed below. I recently installed the same plastic garden edging along the back fence and really liked the look of it. But I do not think it is a good choice for edging this perennial bed. First, they are soft and cannot hold a perfect line by its own. Installing them against a relative straight fence avoids the problem, but they may appear wavy around a free-standing flower bed. Second, their primary function is to prevent root crossing and are meant to be installed deep into the soil. But the mulch in our flower bed was a couple inches above the ground so I want the edging to also be raised. Third, the plastic edging may not stand well to the blades of lawn mowers. Last, the main goal here is to create a wide separation between the wood chips and the grass, so I decided to use the concrete pavers, or more specifically, the concrete edgers.

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But first, look at how well everything is growing! This is the garden-in-a-box kit called “honeybee’s heaven” we planted early May. In just 6 weeks, everything has grown to 4x of their original size and all of the plants flowered. Thumbs up for native plants!

Saturday morning @ my #pollinatorgarden arden. #gardening #savethebees🐝

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Such pretty garden deserves a good edging – an expensive one. These edgers are not cheap, about $2.58 a pop that only lines 0.8 linear feet (in contrast the plastic edging was $28 for 60 feet!) But the edger blocks are wide and tall, perfect for blocking the root from crossing underground while leaving enough height to keep the mulch in. Slav kindly picked up 50 of them for me – they are so heavy that I could only transfer 8 pieces a time using the wheelbarrow! But I am glad they are because it means that they can stand by themselves without additional reinforcement.

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I started by laying them out to create a curve I like then started digging into the ground along the curve. A whole week of rain made digging a breeze.

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Then I set the edgers in. I used native soil to bump up the concrete edgers a bit, until they sat a few inches above the soil and level. These edgers have curves on both ends, so it was easy to form a nice curve without much gap in between. I actually lay them on their sides because I like the height and the look much better.

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To be clear, setting pavers are usually much more involved than the way I did it. Especially if you are creating a patio or a walk pass. This is a good article describing how garden edging using pavers should be done. I you are up for a permanent edging task or a surface that will be walked on, I high recommend that you follow these steps. It requires paver base, stone dust, sand, and a lot more leveling and compacting, but the end result will be permanent and perfectly level. For my flower bed I chose the sloppy way. Our perennial bed may not be permanent and its shape may change in upcoming years, so I do not want to anything permanent. Besides, our lawn mower is not going to ride on top of this edging but next to it, so it does not need to be perfectly level.

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This is the finished product and I like it. It does a great job holding all the mulch in, and I like how polished it made the bed look. The grey color ties into our back patio so, so well. And the best thing is, Slav can now use the hedge trimmer right against the garden bed without worrying about flying woodchips!

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Edging project II: Underplanting perennial garden

In this spirit I also installed the same edgers around the other perennial bed in our backyard, right under our crab apple tree. I used to have branches right against the bed as a natural edger and I absolutely adore it. But again it did not work well for mowing.

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In the process I made the bed larger. The crab apple tree shades everything below so the poor flowers are not growing as well as I hoped. We need to plant something else next year and a bigger bed will allow me to have both shade and partial shade plants here.

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Here is the bed when I finished:

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I like the result a lot more than I thought. Maybe because of the messy edge of the pavers, the bed does not feel too serious. I also like how the same concrete edger ties the two beds together. They echo the color of our concrete patio which downplayed their existence. I do not find them intruding at all.

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As you can see we have drip tubing runs in and out of this bed. We will bury them as some point so Slav can push the lawn mower through this area, probably next year after we set up all the veggie beds.

Edging project III: Frontyard mailbox underplanting

Next we moved onto edging the last perennial flower bed. This bed is in our front yard and directly under our mail box.

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Our black metal mailbox is very boring and I think the underplanting complements it nicely – a boring rectangle with just a few plants in it. There is one lavender, two rosemary bushes, and a struggling rose:

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This poor rose. We’ve got bunnies in this neighborhood and they love this rose bush, or more accurately, the taste of it. Every a few days I find the new growth on this rose leveled to the ground. Thankfully these bunnies are as dumb as their cotton tails are cute – they have not discovered my salad garden yet (knock on wood).

Although uninspiring, it is still a big upgrade compared to the weeds and broken bricks we inherited:

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For this bed I decided to create a mowing strip. Mowing strips are usually done with brick pavers. I chose to build one that is composed of two lines of bricks, one line on their side and the other laying flat. The taller edge keeps the mulch in while the flat part is leveled with the turf for the lawnmower to ride on.

To build this mowing strip I more or less followed the instructions here. Again, I did not use paver base or stone dust or any form of underlayment, because I do not know how permanent this flower bed will be. I simply dug down, leveled the brick with native dirt, laid bricks in, and packed around them with soil. I brushed some play sand in between the bricks to fill the gap so grass will not find their way into the flower bed.

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This brick paver is purposely different from the concrete grey ones I used in the backyard. I want to make the edging in the front yard more formal while keeping the backyard look more natural. This brick is super flat with sharp edges, making leveling them with the grass pretty easy.

The new border feels like the way it should have always been. I like the width and how it fills the void lawn a bit. As you may have noticed, we also made it bigger for more planting area. I want to add some winter interest plants here so from November to April our yard does not look super dead.

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Mulch!

As the final step of polishing everything up, we proceeded to mulch. Mulch is great for weed control and in our area, it is also crucial for reducing surface evaporation and keeping soil cooler. We have really bad problem with weeds especially where we water often, such as around the veggie beds:

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We could hardly see where the veggie beds end and where the weeds start. In preparation for mulching, I pulled most of weeds out, cut the grass super short, and covered all the path in between and around the veggie beds with heavy duty cardboard.

After weeding and mowing:

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Slav brought in two full trailer loads of wood chips and we mulched in between and all around the veggie beds:

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Doesn’t the mulch make everything look sharper? I could not be happier. Some of these wood chips are from fresh-chipped pine trees and they smell AMAZING. We continued the mulch along the back fence around the fruit trees and roses. This is another area I had been weeding by hand since this Spring, which took a few hours per week. With all the mulching we have replaced ~1000 sqft of the lawn that needs weeding and mowing constantly. Cutting down maintenance time while saving water sounds like a win-win to me.

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Here you have it, all three flower beds edged, large area mulched, and my landscaper (Slav) is happy. And guess who else is happy? These roses.

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Happy summer!

My First Rose | How to Install Plastic Garden Edging

I am always drawn to English cottage gardens – green hedges, lush garden beds filled with cut flowers, and roses and peonies wherever possible.

Tasha Tudor’s Garden

I want my garden to be informal but intentional – a bit messy. In this spirit, I’ve chosen to plant perennial flowers and blending them in with the surroundings with nature-looking wood mulch.

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We also plan to grow evergreen hedges. If you remember our backyard layout, we neighbors four properties with long stretch of fences that needs to be covered.

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I always knew our back fence will be the perfect place for a wall of climbing roses. It is west-facing and the majority of the fence receives full sun, ideal for growing roses. We have planted five fruit trees that will form canopies above the fence in a few years, but in between we could really use some green foliage and soft flowers.

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Choosing the right rose

After weeks of research, I finally pulled the trigger and got four climbing roses from a local nursery. High Country Roses specializes on cold-hardy roses that grows well in Colorado, where high altitude, high winds, and clay soil take a toll on regular varieties. I have learned that from the veggie garden that we have to plant the specialty plants selected for our harsh climate. The regulars just do not stick. 

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The climbing roses we got are called Awakening. It is a sport of New Dawn, one of the most popular David Austin Rose. Reportedly, Awakening has all the advantages of New Dawn, including the glossy foliage, light apple scent, subtle pink and white blooms, but they grow faster and bloom better (more repeat) than New Dawn.

Awakening:

Its parent flower: New Dawn

As you can see, Awakening also offers more petals per flower, a softer look I am after. Our yard and house are rectangle-shaped and look very stiff. I could use some bendy canes, layered pink pedals, and curved garden beds to break up the rectangles. During weeks of research I have not read a single complaint about Awakening, except it grows faster and bigger than many would think. The decision was made easy.

I brought them back from the nursery and left them our in partially shaded area for a few days to harden off:

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This is the look I am after:

Before planting, I still needed to tackle a few tasks in the area, including removing the open yard compost along the back fence, and edging along the pickets.

Edging along the fence

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As you can see, our yard slopes down towards the fence. Understandably there is a lot of soil build up against it:

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The metal edging installed along the fence have been pushed around by the soil and do not protect the fence from touching the soil anymore.

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Behind the fence there is a retaining wall, a few feet above neighbor’s yard. Preventing top soil from pilling up against the retaining wall is important for its integrity. So we really needed to refresh the edging before planting.

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I started by digging along the fence and pulling out all the old metal edging. You can see some was already pushed into the other side of the fence.

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After pulling every pieces of metal out, I was happy to find 6-mil poly (not landscape fabric) laid in our retaining wall on the other side of the fence. We have been wanting to come over to our neighbors to clean up the retaining wall since we moved in. Years of neglect granted it to be a shallow trash can and home for some happy weeds. Knowing that all that are only floating on the very surface above the plastic is comforting.

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Our back fence is 88 feet long so it took me a few hours to remove all the old metal edging and dig down until all the pickets were shown. The edging needed to be installed against and just below the fence, so no soil will ever be in contact with the pickets.

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We got the cheapest plastic edging from Home Depot. It is about $28 for 60 feet and we got two. They are also the tallest – about 5″. I want them to come above the soil a bit so we can mulch the area.

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According to instructions, I laid them flat under the sun for a day or so to soften them up. They were very easy to manipulate after that.

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I leaned the edging against the fence, made sure that the bottom of the edging sit just below the bottom of the pickets, and buried them with dirt.

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One of the complaints about this particular edging is that it is too soft to hold a straight line. It was not a problem in this project since I was putting it up again a relatively straight fence.

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Each roll of the edging is 60 feet, so for our 88 feet fence, I needed to join two together. Each roll of the edging came with a connector which made the seam tight and hardly noticeable.

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This is the finished look and I am very happy with it. The new black edging made the fence look more polished and a whole lotta sharper.

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Planting the Roses

The last task before planting the roses was to move the morning glory I previously planted along the fence.

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They came up from seeds I planted mid-May and really should have grown bigger by this point. 🙁 They are getting another chance at the corners of the back fence.

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While digging the morning glories out I was happy to see abundant of earth worms below. We have been piling up fall leaves and glass trimmings the back fence since last fall, 6 months till now. It was such a success. I did not cover, water, or turn them at all – just pile new stuff on top of the old. But all the fall leaves were completely broken down and mixed into the top soil thanks to the earth worms.

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All the open compost were transferred to the new veggie beds and roses were planted into the now rich top soil.

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We piled some wood chips we produced ourselves around the rose and watered them in. Now we wait! I do not expect much bloom this summer but hope to see some foliage. And I desperately need to learn how to care for these pretty babies. Should I stake the canes? Should I fertilize again? Should wait a few years before training the canes? I want pretty trellis that is self-supporting but invisible. which kind should I get? If you have experience growing and training climbing roses, or building garden trellis, I would love your advice!

Relaxation + Refinishing Outdoor Chairs

In modern times, having fun can be tiring too. I have found that the best way for me to unwind is doing nothing – such as walking around in the garden, sipping tea and watching the dogs play. Recently, we’ve spent chilly evenings outside on our back patio. Slav would build a fire, and I would make some tea, then we stare at the flames for a couple hours and simple let our mind go blank. Sometimes we talk, and sometimes we just sit there and be together. It is amazing how quickly the world recedes and the inner peace grows.

Weekday nights with my man.

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After building the back patio last year, we briefly entertained the idea of getting a set of patio furniture for dining and lounging. “Let’s set up a grilling/dining area with sun shades, a fire pit area surrounded by chairs, and lots and lots of planters!” But quickly, we realized – 99 percent of the time, there are just two of us using the patio. Filling the space with furniture for friends and family we wish we could entertain who live one or two time zones away just does not make sense. So we added two seats, a fire pit, a griddle, and left the rest of our 340 sqft of patio empty.

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We were fortunate to find our lounge chairs at Habitat for Humanity for a price of a steal. Although the cushions were worn, the wood frames were timeless and steady. A few IKEA cushions gave the chairs a clean and fresh restart.

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But these chairs were not finished for outdoor use – at least we suspect so. After one summer with strong sun and a harsh winter, the wood finish diminished.

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The surface finish started peeling and small cracks developed along the wood grain.

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I decided to refinish these chairs with oil + poly to protect them from summer sun and winter snow. One sunny Saturday morning, I got to work.

1. Sanding off old finishes

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The cushions were removed and the chairs were moved under shade. I started off sanding all the old finishes off the wood with 80 grit sand paper. I recently invested in a Bosch sander which makes sanding a breeze. For hard-to-reach corners and curves I borrowed Slav’s oscillating sanding tool.

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Sanding with 80-grit paper had an immediate effect. You can see from the picture below the un-sanded surface on the left and sanded surface on the right.

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The wood after cleaning up looked quite nice. Another round of 220-grit sand paper made everything super smooth.

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I wiped everything with a clean, damp microfiber cloth and let the mountain breeze dry everything off. It was a beautiful day to work outside, especially with Roxie by my side.

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Neighbor’s dog Cabby watched through the fence too.

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2. Oiling the chairs up

For repairing the wood I wanted some kind of oil product that penetrates and hardens inside the wood grain. Since I do not know what kind of wood our chairs are made of, I decided to go the safest route and use oil-varnish blends. I had some danish oil leftover from finishing the antique guest bed, which is perfect for this project. Simply rubbing it on generously and let the wood drink, then returning half an hour later for two more coats. I kept the chairs in the shade so everything dries evenly and slowly.

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The chair on the left got one coat of oil and the one on the right had not. It is pretty amazing how much oil the wood drink and immediately you can see the tone of the wood darkened. My girl stuck around:

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After the third coat, I wiped off the excess and let the chairs dry for > 72 hours before the next step.

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The color of the wood was incredibly rich.

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Since the oil was out, I took the opportunity to finish a wooden tray. Roxie finally fell asleep next to me:

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3. Sealing for UV Protection

Generally speaking, we could have started using the chairs after they had dried overnight. But we live in the highlands where UV really takes a toll on outdoor furniture. Therefore, I wanted to coat the chairs with an oil-based sealer. We used the Preserva clear sealer because it penetrates into the wood and reflects UV light. It was recommended to us for harsh environments that cycle between sun and snow. It was originally formulated for the Southern California market, but many CO stores carry them too.

This stain only requires 1-coat application. So after the danish oil dried for 72 hours, I brushed on as much as the wood can absorb and left it dry overnight. We used the clear finish so it did not change the color/tone of the wood.

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4. Spray-on Protection for Cushions

Before we put the chairs back to use, I washed all the outdoor cushion and sprayed on a layer of water-repellent. The IKEA cushion covers are for outdoor use but do get wet when it rains. Roxie loves to nap on these chairs and she brings quite a bit dirt onto the cushions, so having a coat of fabric guard should allow us to hose down the cushions once a while and extend their lives.

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After drying overnight we put everything together and they look gooood.

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After almost a week without our outdoor seating, We are happy to curl up next to fire again Our first night in these newly finished chairs happened to be the one-year anniversary of the closing.moving-in day of our ranch. Happy Anniversary, thePolskiRanch! We had a great time here, and we hope that you are having a great time with us too!

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