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

Tag: Back Yard Page 1 of 6

The Summer Backyard

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My friends, welcome to the backyard!

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June came and went quickly. We travelled, worked, and spent weekends tidying up the yard. Slav was busy at fertilizing, watering, and mowing the lawn, while I took care of the flower beds and planted the veggie garden. We managed to keep the backyard pretty neat this year, so I figured I will show you how far we’ve come.

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Climbing roses and fruit trees

After the hellebore blooms in Spring we finally entered the rose season. The climbing roses “awakeningI planted back in 2018 started covering the back fence.

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Also planted in 2018 are the fruit trees. The two cherry trees have not given us any fruit yet. I heard that it takes 5-9 years for cherry trees to bear fruits. For now we enjoy the healthy leaves and the privacy they provide.

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The apple tree we planted in 2018 bore exactly two apples this year. LOL. There should have been more had we not had snow in the middle of May. These are honey crisp apples which are hubby’s favorite.

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The nectarine and the peach tree planted in 2018 had died due to frost. So we planted another apple tree and a winter-hardy pear in their place. These two tree was purchased from Jung Seed and I can tell from the get-go that they were super healthy and much more robust. Just look at how many apples the new apple tree (transparent) bore this year:

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Can you believe that we just planted it last Spring? The pear tree also has grown tall.

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Speaking of newly planted trees, my baby ginkgo is going strong! It is supposed to grow slowly during its first ten years, but I can see how happy it is judging by the leaves and new branches. It also grew much taller than when it was first planted.

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Peppers and tomatoes

We had a cold, cold spring which really shows in the vegetable garden. All the heat-loving vegetables, such as peppers, aubergine, and okra are embarrassingly small. I actually intended to grow more peppers this year, and seeded lots of different varieties. But most of the pepper seedlings died during the crazy May snow storm and the ones survived have grown very slowly.

Pepper (my biggest one)

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Aubergine

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Okra

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Thankfully we still have lots of tomato plants. Oh the tomatoes! We ate so much fresh on sandwiches and salads and Slav made several big patches of tomato sauce, which we enjoyed all winter long on pizza and pasta dishes. This year I seeded even more and different varieties. The dedicated tomato bed can only contain half of the seedlings I raised, so I planted the rest in other vegetable beds wherever there was space.

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Some of them are dotted among the asparagus ferns,

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and the rest were planted in the pepper bed which was rather empty anyway….

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Did you notice the size differences between tomato seedlings planted in different beds? They are all from the same batch of seedlings! The ones planted very closely in the tomato bed are relatively small:

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On the other hand, the ones planted in between the asparagus ferns grew a lot bigger. It seems to be true that more space you give a crop, bigger it gets.

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I am looking forward to a good tomato year and we cannot wait! Especially given that other crops like peppers and cucumbers did not seem to be growing well.

The garlics and bean tunnel

One crop that did not get affected by the Spring weather is the garlic. ~140 garlic cloves were planted last Fall, and all of them sprouted.

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After enjoying scapes in June, we are ready to harvest the garlic heads in a couple weeks.

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I planted the garlics under the bean tunnel this season, and seeded noodle beans and cantaloupes in between. The beans have come up looking slender.

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I love how elegant these string beans look when climbing up. I actually do not know if they are green or red noodle beans, so it will be a surprise in July!

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Also these beds I planted lettuces and mustard greens. We have been using the leaves in burgers, soups, and for stir fry in June. Several rabbits visit often and I can tell that they enjoyed some leave too. 🙂

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The cold Spring weather was bad for some but good for others, including the rhubarb I raised from seeds last Spring. They were tiny and scrappy last season, but all three of them came back strooong this year. We have harvested a bunch of stalks and made several delicious pies. Rhubarb is hubby’s another favorite.

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Squashes and pumpkins

Last year we grew way too many yellow squashes and green zucchinis. It was nice to watch the plants grow, but honestly, it was a pain to consume that many. So this year, I only grew one plant each. The goal for my edible gardening this season is to only grow what we can/like to eat.

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As of the pumpkins, I raised mostly butternut squashes and small Kabocha pumpkins. Not only they are our favorite to eat, they also store very well in our heated house.

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I planted all the butternut squashes along the edge of the veggie beds, and concentrated all the Kabochas in the small side yard north to our house. I think they like the slopes there:

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The rest of the sloped side yard was planted with ornamental pumpkins. I am raising six different pumpkins and gourds here, which can be used for Fall decorations. A couple plants each will be enough for us and all of our neighbors. I felt proud seeing every front porch on my street decorated with my pumpkins.

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I used to scratch my head over how to use this sloped side yard. After last season, I know the answer: a pumpkin patch! Rambling vines love the sloped yard and their big leaves shade the soil in summer. I cannot think of a better use for this space.

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The hazelnut trees I planted in 2019 have grown to 8 feet tall. They have flowered profusely this Spring, but I have not seen any nuts yet. How many year does it take for hazelnut to produce? Anyone knows?

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Melons and cantaloupes

Another goal of mine this year is to grow more watermelons and cantaloupes. Last year I grew very few, and the fruits were so sweet and fragrant. So this season, I dedicated the mulched area along the back fence to melons:

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The melon plants remained small since planted. These seedlings needs a long time to put down good roots and they really need consistent heat to grow. I think the biggest lesson gardening has taught me is the art of patience. A Chinese proverb says, “Planning extensively and execute slowly. Patience and accuracy leads to steady progress”. I see it in gardening and try to apply it to my work every day.

The herb garden

The herb garden was the first flower bed we planted. It has been the most robust flower bed in our yard. And this year is no exception:

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Tarragon:

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Lemon balm:

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Walking onion:

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Mint:

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Comfrey:

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Catmint:

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Rosemary:

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I raised this little basil plant from seeds this Spring. Hopefully the July heat will help it grow better:

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One new plant I added this year to the herb garden is this Bay Laurel. We use bay leaves a lot in soups during cooler months. It makes sense to have our own plant and dry the leaves ourselves.

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As usual, Dill has been popping up everywhere.

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The berry garden

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I planted berries heavily as part of my edible garden. Nothing beats getting up the morning, walk around in my pjs with a cup of warm tea, and enjoy fresh berries of the plants. We had a good month of strawberries and service berries, and now come in season are raspberries and blackberries.

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Pies are made and smoothies are drunk. We felt such healthy peeps now!

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So, here is the backyard! I cannot believe how many trees, flowers, and different edible plants we have now in this small backyard, especially considering that four season ago, this was just a big lawn with a few half-dead trees! You have come a looong way, my backyard!

A Small Upgrade: Relocating the Coaxial Cable

Welcome to another small upgrade post! Without major renovation on our plate, we were able to address some small issues around the house. I am talking about old phone port to cover up, drywall cracks, old caulk, loose hinges, sagging boards, etc. Things like these still function, but are annoying to look at. Getting them taken care of is such a tension tamer.

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The safety hazard

One of the most exciting upgrades (we will share more in coming weeks) was moving the coaxial cable over our backyard.

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There were two cables coming into the house from the public utility poles – the electricity wire (high voltage) and the coaxial cable (low voltage). When we bought the house, both wires were installed pretty low to the ground. We raised the electrical wire higher when replacing the electrical panel. But the coaxial cable was still resting about 8 feet high from the ground.

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This cable is a big safety hazard. It spans across the backyard, and we had to always be careful when moving ladders or any tall objects. In winter months, when snow and ice accumulates on it, this cable sits at the height of our neck… We made several requests to the cable company to get it buried, only were told that it would cost us an arm and a leg, and the waiting time would be years long. However, relocating it in the air is free, and home owners are allowed to do it themselves. Well, I guess that settled it!

The game plan

Slav immediately came up with a game plan for moving the wires. All we want to do is to have it not over the lawn, where we walk cross a lot, and potentially raise it higher. Luckily for us, the coaxial cable actually originated from the very corner of our yard. We will not need to mess with this end at all:

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What we would be moving is the end where the cable met the house. The coaxial cable was hooked onto the fascia board above the cable box, which is located in the middle of the house.

 

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Here is the cable box. You can see the overhead cable coming in from the bottom, and making connections with the secondary cable going inside the house.

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The green wire next to the main coaxial cable is a ground wire. It runs into the electrical panel nearby, which might be the reason why the cable box is located where it is. The game plan was to keep everything in the picture intact, including the connecting box, the ground wire and the house coaxial cable. We will simply move the hook and the end of coaxial cable to the very northeast corner of the house, then run it back into the cable box along the house. We would have to extend the wire by a few dozen feet, but Slav was confident that it would not interrupt or slow down our internet.

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Relocating the main coaxial cable

Slav started by unhooking the coaxial cable from the box. Again, we will not move any remaining part, including the connection box, the ground wire, and the coaxial cable going inside the house.

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Then he took the coaxial cable off the wall. It was very easy since the nails holding them down were all loose from years of tension.

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Next, Slav remounted the hook to the northeast corner of the house, and reconnected the house-end of the coaxial cable to it.

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This corner of the house is the closest to where the cable comes from. In fact, this corner of the house is located about the same distance to the property line as where the cable comes from. So. the new path of the coaxial cable now runs almost parallel to the side fence. We are also fortunate that this side of the yard slopes down significantly, so when Slav tightened the cable, it sits much higher in relative to the ground, over 12 feet!

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Our raspberry bush are over 10 feet tall, the the cable is much higher than that.

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Now we can no longer see the cable from our backdoor. It actually runs over the roof of the garden shed and towards the house, almost parallel to the long side of the shed.

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Attaching and extending the coaxial cable

After hooking the cable back on the house, Slav started running the coaxial cable back towards the cable box. Instead of trimming the original cable, he attached the extra length under the soffit.

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And secured them to the wood trims using these coaxial stables. They are in black and less visible against the dark soffit:

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Slav used many staples, every 6″-8″ or so I’d say. It looks like an overkill, but the coaxial cable is rigid and needs these many staples to keep it straight and tightly against the trim.

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When the original cable ran out, Slav added another piece of coaxial cable using special connectors. He bought both the cable and connecters from Home Depot.

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The additional length of coaxial cable was brought into the cable box, terminated using the special connectors, and connected to the house cable:

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You can see the new connector in purple. Yay for having internet again!

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Finishing touches

Slav is the most thorough person when it comes to renovations. After cleaning up, he caulked all the prior nail holes, then brought out the trim paint and coated every single nail heads on the coaxial staples dark.

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The colors of the staples were pretty close to our trim color to begin with, Now with the touch-up paint on the nail heads, we no longer notice the coaxial cable under the soffit at all:

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And we can barely see the coaxial cable in the air either! This photo was taken from the middle of our yard, where the old cable used to be and at its lowest point.

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Instead of this:

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Now we have this:

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No more safety hazard!

 

Fluffing up the Garden

I wrapped up my garden clean-up last weekend and would like to share my Fall yard with you. I am still fairly new to gardening – only planted my first garden in 2018. But I read a lot about ways of gardening before I started. It is fair to say that I acquired my gardening skills through authority instead of empiricism.

My first garden bed in 2018:

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Vegetable beds , 1st year:

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Over the last three seasons, I gained a lot more experience and my intuition started to grow. I can finally tell whether a plant is happy, what it might need, and I have accepted that each plant has its own personality (e.g. the way they like to grow). It is important, for me at least as a gardener, to stop forcing a plant to grow into something I think it should be like, but letting it grow to what it wants to be.

Below is my 1st flower bed in this Spring. Some annual flowers have gone and now it is a herb garden:

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The vegetable patch this summer:

A fuller garden also means more lives. Pollinators, insects, and resident bunnies!

Bunny No. 1

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Bunny No. 2

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As my knowledge accumulated, my confidence also grew. This season, I started moving plants around – relocating unhappy plants, switching plants within the same flower bed based on their growing habit and desired view. Fine toning the garden beds, or what I call “fluffing” the garden made me felt like a real gardener for the first time.

Moving perennials out of the herb garden

My garden “fluffing” started in the pollinator/herb garden. We used to have an old tree stump here, which was hard to remove. I asked Slav to cut the stump flush with the ground, then planted this garden on top of it. Everything here are native, drought-tolerate plants that are pollinator magnets:

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The saying about perennials “the first year they sleep, the second year they creep, then the third year they leap” could not be more true. By the end of 2020, the whole bed was already too full:

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A full garden offers many benefits – less weeds, more insects, and almost no need for watering. However, taller plants also shade the ground around them, and I found the English lavenders and lavender cottons started to struggle. Last Fall, I transplanted the trio of English lavender to the patio garden. And this Fall, it is time to save the lavender cottons.

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I dug out all three of them, and transplanted them into the front yard. This spot used to have three larkspur, which are very pretty plants, supposedly. But they did not like this location and I did not like their look. So out they went. The front yard offers better sunlight and drainage. I am sure that the lavender cottons will create a really cute low mound of flowers here in spring. Their silver color and yellow little flowers should look nice next to the green dwarf pine and blue grasses.

Speaking of blue grasses, I also relocated one Blue Grama grass. Blue Grama grass is Colorado’s state grass and I am proud to have three of them. They were planted in a line initially, along the edge of the lawn, but the one on the very right has been competing with other plants for water and is visibly smaller. So I moved it for just a few feet, replanted it in front of other two grasses.

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Dividing plants in the herb garden

The second plant I took care of in the herb garden was the Red Hot Poker. The variety I have is called “flamenco“, which flowers in three colors (yellow, orange and red) in a gradient. The flowers look like candy cones and very cool. This grass was used a lot in the median strip on our local streets, which speaks for their toughness.

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You can see it in the middle of the picture above – this was when they first emerged in May. By mid-summer, the grass became a beast.

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Can you see it behind the catmint “walker’s low”? Being its fourth Spring, it stopped flowering, and started to flop from the center. I cut it back, divided it into many parts, and planted a trio in its original location:

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Another clump went under the transparent apple tree:

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I also planted a big clump behind the ginkgo tree. Ginkgo is famous for its slow-growing habit, so I do not think my ginkgo stick will reach to an appreciable height anytime soon. At the mean time, I want something taller as a backdrop:

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After moving the plants out, I cut back some low-mounding herbs that have spilled out of the flower bed:

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Now we can see the edging and path again! I know that this bed still looks very wild. But I intend to keep it this way for winter. Dead crowns not only protect the roots over the winter, but also provide nesting place for insects/eggs and small mammals. We will cut all the dead and broken back next May, after the danger of hard frost passes.

Cutting back irises

One plant I do cut back every Fall is iris. Their leaves are too unsightly to look at during winter, and having snow sit on the leaves often cause rot. I have most of my iris in the front yard along the dry creek. Cutting the leaves back revealed the shape of dry creek again:

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I planted hens-and-chicks and sedum along the dry creek. After cutting back the tall iris leaves, they finally got some winter sun:

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Season of Fall colors

This year we had the best Fall colors in our yard, probably due to the mild October we had. There has not been any snow, not even strong wind. So all the trees and perennials have had the opportunity to reach their fullest Fall color. It is truly a magnificent view:

Front yard flower bed:

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“Shenandoah” switch grass

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Sedum “Autumn joy”

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Mock orange “Snow White Sensation”

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“Berry Poppins” winterberry

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The honey suckle (second year)

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And here is how my backyard looks now:

Ash trees above the garden shed:

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Peony (all 11 of them!)

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Russian sage plants are still flowering:

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Chinese Snowball Viburnum (second year):

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The ginkgo tree (second year):

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The asparagus patch:

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And last but not the least, our beloved crabapple tree:

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Don’t you just love the colors? We are so fortunate to live in Colorado where we could appreciate all four seasons. Wherever you are, I hope you are enjoying the Fall as well!

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