Terrific Broth

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

Tag: Back Yard Page 2 of 3

Home Stay + First Week in the Garden

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One silver lining of staying at home, is that I finally got to watch the garden waking up this Spring. Spring has come slowly but steadily, with alternating sunshine and snow/rain showers. And our trees and perennials seem to be loving it.

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One pleasant surprise: all my helleborus came back! They were planted last summer and did not look so hot last season. A couple of them died back to the ground. But a couple weeks ago, all nine of nine helleborus sprouted new shoots, and looked strong and healthy.

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I’ve not seen any buds, but I am just happy that they are putting down their roots.

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The 2020 Spring garden to-do

With the warm weather I managed to spend a few hours every day in the garden. This might be the year that I actually stay on top of the Spring garden tasks! Who knows? Maybe I can actually sit down and enjoy the garden in Summer… I started with a long to-do list, including planting more trees and climbing vines, hardscaping the backyard, expanding the berry garden, and finally whipping the vegetable garden into shape. With the lock-down it looked like I would be trekking along just fine.

One big thing I checked off the list this week, was to prepare the vegetable garden for Spring planting.

1. Reducing the size of the vegetable garden

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We started with five 4′ x 16′ beds in 2018 and added two more last year. However, after last summer of growing, I realized that adding the two new beds were a bad decision.

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For example, the bed I added in front of the original field was too close to our patio, leaving a narrow path in between. We started having problem backing the trailer into the backyard. As of the bed behind the original field, it was way too close to two of the fruit trees.

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Honestly, we we could get away with just five beds. So I decided to reverse these two beds back to lawn and mulched space, respectively.

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I have pushed the boundary of the veggie bed back last Fall. So this week I started by removing soil from the first bed. As you could see here, the soil here was higher than the lawn space in front of it. And this is all rich soil from last year’s vegetable gardening:

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I scraped the soil to match the lawn space then reseeded grass.

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Our nights are still rather cold, so I covered the newly seeded lawn with Harvest guard after watering them in:

 

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It might not be obvious, but this 4′ x 16′ space generated six wheelbarrows of soil. I did not want to ever put soil into trash, especially good soil thanks to the compost we mixed in last Fall.  So I transferred all six barrows into my newly built patio planters.

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I also leveled the last vegetable bed by moving the soil here to the planters. Here was what the space looked like before:

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As you can see, the original boundary was right next to the trunks of the fruit trees.

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It was a mess where this last bed met the fence too.

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From the picture below you can see how much taller the soil on the last bed was above the mulched space behind. This space could really use some retaining system.

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I pulled up the old lumber that held back the soil here and scrapped 8 inches of top soil off this space. All the top soil went to the patio planters as well.

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It took another 6 trips of wheelbarrow to level this bed. After that I stacked the lumber back (they are pressure treated) to create a retaining wall. They are not anchored into the ground, but it looked like they do not need to be.

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Then the space is covered by mulch. The young fruit trees will benefit from not having grass growing on top of their roots, since frequent watering required by lawn space does not promote healthy root structures for trees.

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When I mulch, I always start by sheet mulching with cardboard, then follow with a thick layer of wood chips. Sheet mulching really works in terms of suppressing weeds. Just remember to remove any tape and staples. This approach also encourages the proliferation of earthworms and other beneficial insects, which build healthy soil.

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The before:

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The much cleaner after:

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By pushing the retaining blocks uphill, the messy corner next to the fence is now much cleaner as well

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And the other bird killed by this stone? All the patio planters were filled almost to the top:

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2. Moving compost bins

After mulching the area I moved our compost bins here. It just makes more sense to have them next to where most of the green waste will be generated.

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I like how the composted bins filled the void between the two fruit trees. It brings more symmetry to the veggie garden area.

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3. Planting strawberries

With the patio planter most filled with soil, I topped them off with some garden soil I had on hand:

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Then I planted strawberries! We grew these seascape strawberries last summer for the first time, and they were such a hit. They are so sweet and lovely that I purchased another batch this Spring. The only problem was that the rabbits loved them just as much. Even our dogs could not keep the bunnies out of the yard. So I transplanted last year’s strawberry plants into the big patio planter:

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Then planted the new batch into the two smaller planters. Take that, bunnies!

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The new strawberry plants came as bare-root, so it will take a while for them to leaf out. But trust me, they are all snuggled up in there and will start producing as soon as the weather warms up.

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We also ordered some garden trellises this Spring. I tried them in the planters and loved the look. It will be nice to grow flowering vines up these trellises this summer.

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I put in some screws inside the planter to store the most frequently used gardening tools. It is nice to have them close yet out of weather.

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4. Planting asparagus

Besides the strawberries, we also welcomed asparagus to our vegetable garden. Slav loves asparagus and it is one of the few keto-friendly vegetables. I also liked the idea of having more perennial vegetables.

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We had one asparagus from last year as a trial plant. I gave it zero attention, and it thrived in our native soil. For the new asparagus, I followed the instruction and planted the bare-root plants deep into trenches.

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We will not be harvest from these new plants this year, and probably only lightly next Spring. But these asparagus will produce for us for decades and only getting stronger and more productive. Cannot wait!

5. The 2020 veggie garden plans

Last I used scrape lumber to separate the paths from garden beds. I have been using wood chip mulch on the entire garden, including both in the gardening beds and on the paths in between. But this year, I will use compost as mulch in the veggie beds and keep the mulch only on the paths.

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The first bed houses the strawberries we planted two years ago, which have naturalized in this garden bed. They produce smaller strawberries than the seascape variety, but also very sweet and tasty.

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Last Fall I created a chive border for this bed by dividing one chive – just one! The little seedlings all survived and started shooting up fast. We do not eat lots of chives, but I hope that they can attract more pollinators to the vegetable garden.

The second bed is occupied by asparagus. The third and fourth bed are reserved for tomato, pepper, cucumber, and beans:

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I planted garlic in the fifth and now the last veggie bed last fall, using the cloves from my own harvest last year! They have come up looking healthy. 🙂

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We usually harvest garlic here around July 4th. So this bed will be available for planting warm season vegetables after. I’d like to try squashes and melons. Wish me luck!

6. Winter sowing

That brings us to seed starting! I’ve never done that before – for things I cannot get transplants, I always just directly sow into the garden. But this year I want to try things that scares me. And today is for sowing seeds. I’ve heard good things about winter sowing. It sounds super easy and it was. I was able to sow creeping thyme, cutting flowers, cold weather greens including lettuces, spinach, and cabbage, and even some warm weather plants such as beans in an hour.

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Are you preparing a vegetable garden? Have you been working in the garden during lock-down? I am thankful for the hope and relaxation gardening provides this Spring. Be good and be well. We will get through this.

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Home Stay + Patio Planter Build

My personal life has always been driven by getting rid of stuff. I was Marie Kondo loooong before I even knew her existence. This Spring the urge of purging came stronger than ever, probably because I am stuck home with a husband and two messy dogs. But I am also cheap, led by my Chinese heritage. So I refuse to throw away anything that I can juice value out of. Balancing between saving things that can be used to create and getting stuff out of the house is the delicate dance I perform.

All this is to say that please imagine the extraordinary joy and relief I had when I turned leftover lumber from our horizontal fence build into a set of planter/seating combo for our patio. We used exclusively 1″x 6″ planks for our fence. But we did purchase fifty pieces of 1″ x 4″ planks for creating a decorative pattern, an idea was nixed quickly. Since returning these planks cost a restocking fee, my Chinese side decided to keep all the lumber in the garden shed for “future use”. Then my Kondo side blamed myself for the next 16 months every time I walked into the shed and saw this giant pile of wood.

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But not anymore. They are now my new planter/seating for our patio and for strawberries we will immensely enjoy over the summer months. Allow me to brag to you how I executed this perfect plan intersecting home organization, building projects, and garden planning. And feel free to admire along the way.

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A light bulb went off (on, actually…English is weird) moment

I’ve been wanting a planter/trellis combo on the north end of our patio. Our northern neighbor’s house sits lower than ours. Even though there is a 6′ fence between our properties, our patio is completely exposed to their eyes.

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We did plant some privacy trees along the fence but it will take years for them to grow into a sizable hedge. We need something to stop neighbor’s curious eyes now and for all four seasons. After some research, I decided on this design of planter box with tall climbing trellis.

Planter Boxes with Climbing Trellis

It offers not only privacy, but also function for growing herbs and flowers near the kitchen. I also like how the simple look of this planter box echoes our horizontal fence. Lastly, it is easy to build with the 1″ x 4″ cedar planks I intended to use up.

The cedar I had on hand could build more than one planter. For the second one, I landed on a bench planter design. This planter will be facing our backyard, where we do not need tall trellis for privacy. Rather, we need more seating that can be utilized from both side. Compared to having individual chairs on the patio, integrated seating reduces visual clutter while offering seating for multiple guests when needed.

One big advance of DIY is personalization. Slav has some snowboards than he could ride. But just like me, he has a hard time to throw them away. I planned to use one of them to create an unique seating bench – a good way to incorporate things that reflect our interests and taste into this build.

Cut list: the Basic Design and Dimension of the Planter

The first step was to decide the dimension of the planter. The picture below shows the northeast corner of the patio, where the two planters will be placed. The trellis planter will be set on the short edge, to the right in the picture, whereas the long side of the patio will be boxed in with the bench planter. Our patio is 6″~8″ above the soil at this corner, so I decided the planters should be 32″ tall, with 24″ above the patio when placed next to it.

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I also decided on this dimension because the 2″x 4″s we would use for vertical support for the planters are 96″ long. So there will be no waste when I cut them to three 32″ pieces. In addition, the 32″ height happens to accommodate nine of the 1″ x 4″ boards when arranged horizontally with minimal gaps in between. It is a fairly polished look I like.

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To minimize the scraps with 6′ long planks, I decided to make the width 2′ (24″) for both planters. In this way each dog ear plank will produce three side pieces without any waste.

Planter 1: Design the carcasses

With the plans in place I got to work. First I transported all 50 pieces of 1″ x 4″ x 6″ boards and some 2″ x 4″s left from the gate build to our newly organized garage. It was so nice to have plenty of room and all the right tools in place.

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I started with the planter bench and built the side panels first (32″ tall and 24″ wide).

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Next was to decided where the planter ends and where the bench starts. I like the look of square planters, so I kept the length of the planters equal with the width (24″).

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I used a couple of the full length 1″ x 4″ planks to link the two side panels together. They also kept everything straight and square. Then, I built the third side panel (furthest to the right) as the side of the snowboard bench. It does not only offer support for the snowboard, but also creates a side table on each end of the seating.

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The picture below offers a better view of the third/inner side panel. The snowboard/seating surface will be inserted into it and on both sides.

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The next step is to add planks onto the carcasses. I decided to cover the back of the planter+ table area completely, but leave the under the table area open to the patio side for additional storage.

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Above is a top view of the 2′ x 2′ planter box on one end. The pictures below show how the snowboard seating would be positioned into the inner side panel.

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Planter 1: Complete the Other End

It took a while to build the first end of the planter. But once I figured out exactly the style I wanted and the dimension, the other end was fast to build.

First the far end panel:

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Then the middle panel with half of the table top incorporated. To save the 1″ x 4″ I used only the dog ear portion and one piece of leftover 1″ x 6″ at the bottom. This panel will be mostly hidden anyway.

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Last was the inner side panel. I left out one horizontal board to accommodate the snowboard.

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After all three side panel were built, I connected them with horizontal planks:

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it is worth while to line up the screws. For any horizontal build, this step really elevates the look:

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Now we could get a good idea on what the final planter bench looks like.

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I made sure that the height of the snowboard works as seating for our patio. The table top part was not in the initial design – it was created to accommodate the curvy ends of the snowboard. But I like it now. It offers a nice separation between the soil and seating, and serves as a great spot to set drinks.

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The Second Planter Build

was a lot more straightforward as it is just a big box. We will get a already-made trellis once the stay-at-home order is over.

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The height and width of this planter remains the same, 32″ and 24″, respectively. After building the sides we have only 18 1″ x 4″ planks left, and I decided to use all of them and make the most of them too. Since taking the dog ear portion off the 6″ planks results in 70″ of straight planks, these planters are set to be 70″ long.

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Being this long it needs additional vertical support. I added another two pieces of 2″ x 4″s to link the planks from the middle. I also linked the two middle vertical supports with scraped 2″ x 4″s at the bottom, so the pressure of the soil is less likely to cause blowout in the middle of the planter.

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Out of 50 pieces of 1″ x 4″ x 6′ material I was only short for two 24″ horizontal boards – soooo impressed! I did have shorter scraps so two were jointed together on each end to create the top boards.

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With the supporting blocks they looked pretty good from the outside. I was pleased.

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Placing the Planters on the Patio

It took me two days to design/build these planters. Before sunset on Sunday, the planters were set onto the patio. They looked sharp! And I think they balanced out the visual weight of our fire pit + seating on the other side of the patio just right. I left the long boards at the bottom – they will come in handy to ensure everything is at the right level when we set the planters in place. Of course after all the snow melts. 🙂

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I am extremely pleased to have these new planters on our patio. The current plan is to move our strawberry plants, which are currently in ground, into these planters. We got beautiful and delicious strawberries from them last summer but had to fight bunnies for the fruit. But not this summer!

More importantly (to me), now the shed is empty again! Crowded by these boards our poor garden shed has become so dusty and disorganized. I can see my next project in the horizon…

How are you doing in quarantine? Are you managing to work on some fun projects? Or just enjoying life? Be good and be well, everyone!

Spring is here!

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Although the weather is still unpredictable (there is a blizzard outside right now), Spring has certainly arrived. Almost overnight, all the buds on the “Mount Baker” lilac turned green.

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The most exciting news is that everything we planted last year survived their first winter. Most of the trees and perennials we put into the ground were baby plants. With record snow fall and cold snaps this winter, I was worried about how many of them would make it. But after a careful check under the mulch, I found almost everything we planted last year has started to come back to life.

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The garlic

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The fruit trees

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Even the newly planted hazelnut trees started leafing out:

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Besides the hazelnut trees, we decided to add a berry garden in the backyard this Spring. To begin with, we ordered five blackberry canes and fifteen raspberry canes.

The blackberry canes

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The raspberry canes

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The new berry garden is located between the flower garden and the house. We have covered the field since last fall with black plastic to get rid of the grass. When the elm trees were removed a few weeks ago, we got yards of wood chips and used them to mulch the berry garden area.

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According to the planting guide, the canes need to be spaced a few feet apart. I used bricks to mark the location of the canes before digging.

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After getting the raspberry canes into the ground, I used flags to mark the canes so the dogs hopefully will not bother them.

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The blackberry canes were planted between the northern fence and the hazelnut trees.

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I also plan to add a garden path around the berry garden and the perennial garden. I laid out the shape of the path with garden hoses, and expanded the perennial garden bed to include the maple tree.

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The new shape of the garden bed works with the garden path much better. I filled the new garden bed with leftover wood chip mulch:

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The leftover concrete blocks make a perfect circle around the serviceberry bush:

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The nut trees and the berry canes added another 1000 sqft of edible garden space to our backyard, in addition to the 600 sqft of veggie garden. With good care, the berry garden should start producing next year, and the hazelnut trees should start producing after three years. I cannot help but wondering what our yard will look like in 5 years, with mature perennials, climbing roses, and fully-grown fruit and nut trees. What about your yard? Did everything wake up? What are you planting this Spring?

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