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

Tag: Veggie garden Page 1 of 3

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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https://www.flickr.com/photos/153141676@N05/52175850295/in/dateposted-public/

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!

The Never-ending Cycle of Vegetable Gardening

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The end of 2021 veggie garden

Right after my garden clean up last week, we had a week of hard frost. The veggie garden finally came to an end:

Tomatoes:

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Luffa:

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Peppers:

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Aubergine:

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Watermelons:

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Honeydew melons:

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Pole beans

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Birdhouse gourds:

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Our dill went to seeds in early Oct. You can see the new sprouts below already.

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It is like we have a never-ending vegetable garden – some self-seed, some produce runners, and some are just perennials. In the vegetable patch, we have garden chive and asparagus. Chive is not only evergreen in our zone, but also ever-growing even under snow. All the chives we have are from one small started plant we got in 2018. It grew into a monster bush by the end of 2019 season, then I divided it and planted the subdivisions along the first vegetable bed as a hedge. During summer months, we shear this hedge once a month, and use the clippings to make delicious pork chive dumplings.

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When weather gets cold, the growth of the hedge does slow down, but still produces enough for us to crop for seasoning.

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The asparagus patch occupies one of our five veggie beds. Although only in its second year, we have enjoyed lots of asparagus this Spring. When summer hit I let it grow freely into a patch of fern, which puts on a colorful show in the Fall:

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It is time to clean up the veggie patch

I spent a Saturday pulling dead plants out, gathering the remaining harvest, and weeding. It was a lot of work, but I enjoyed working in the vegetable garden. I like how neat it is with pea gravel on all the path, a much needed upgrade from the woodchip mulch we had before.

Below is the first veggie bed with the chive hedge. This bed was planted with garlic last Fall, and was home to peppers and watermelons later in the season.

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On the other side of our asparagus patch, the 3rd bed was planted with cucumber and tomato this year. The vertical trellis we made with T-posts and a cattle panel worked well for growing cucumbers. So it stays.

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We also built a bean tunnel this spring. They held up well with gourds and pole beans growing on them. Below the bean tunnel, I planted beetroots, aubergine, bush beans, lettuces and kale.

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This was the veggie garden before my cleaning effort:

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And after.

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Tidying up the patio garden

Another area planted with vegetables was the small flower bed next to the shed. It is the farthest flower bed from the house and we do not see it from the backdoor, so I planted green zucchini and yellow squashes here.

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which were certainly done after the frost:

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Pulling these humongous green “snakes” out was surprisingly easy – they had very shallow roots, which made me wonder how on earth they produced so much! I also cut back the irises in this bed:

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As I told you in my last week’s garden clean-up, I transplanted a subdivision of a red hot poker grass under the apple tree. The apple flowers white and the irises flower purple. I think this grass will fit in well.

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Charlie followed me during the whole clean up effort. By the end of the day, we were both covered in dirt and leaf clippings. What a sweet pup!

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Moving the trellises and applying compost

I absolutely love the bean trellises Slav built this spring. It is very sturdy but also pretty to look at. But there is a small modification I’d like to make:

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As you can see, both ends of the tunnel sit on the edge of the two beds below, making it hard to reach for plants near the bottom of the trellis. And honestly, it did not look pretty. I wish to shift the whole structure just a feet or two to the left, so the tunnel could sit in the middle of the beds below.

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Although the panels were heavy, Slav still moved them for me. What a trouper! Be careful saying “I do”, guys, There will be a lot to do…

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But honestly, doesn’t it look much better now spanning over the middle of the planting beds? Now I can easily reach to the bottom of the trellises from the paths on either side. We also adjusted the space between the panels. Each veggie bed is 16 feet long and each panel is about 4 feet wide. We left a few inches at the end and 1.5′ between panels. So the three panels can cover the entire length of veggie beds. I plan to grow different crops on each panel next year. But honestly, I think climbing gourds and melons will have no problem reaching neighboring panels.

As the T-posts were out and panels were down, Slav also flipped the soil in these two vegetable beds for me. It was actually quite labor-intensive. Our soil is hard clay with lots of rocks, and these two beds were never tilled before. We ended up with a bucket of rocks after tilling the soil!

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While Slav was working on the beds, I turned our home-made compost. We have two big compost bins. We put all our kitchen scrapes, garden clippings, paper towels, and egg cartons in here. Due to our dry and cold weather, we never got much finished compost from them. The material just disappears…This time, I scraped some finished compost out, and remixed the remaining matter into one bin. It was quite steamy (the compost, not me) and messy, so I did not take any pictures of this process. But we now have a whole bin emptied out, providing plenty of space for the kitchen scrapes over winter months.

Planting next year’s garlic

After tilling the top soil and moving the trellises, we topped the two beds with compost:

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We always apply a thick layer (4″-6″) compost to all of our vegetable beds in the Fall. The winter snow and spring rain wash the compost down into the soil. So when it is time to plant the veggie garden (usually on the Memorial Day weekend), the compost layer will be well-incorporated into the soil. The compost also functions as mulch for existing plants over winter months. This is particularly important for us because we always plant our garlic in the Fall.

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I plant exclusively hard neck garlic for scapes. We usually plant in mid-Oct, as soon as the veggie beds are cleared out, which gives me something to immediately look forward to after the end of the last season. 🙂

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After planting, I laid new drip tubing. We have been using 1/4″ black soaker hose in the veggie garden, which have disintegrated. They stopped providing adequate amount of water, so I had to hand-water this summer. These new drip tubing with built-in emitters should last a lot longer.

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Zero waste gardening

After planting the garlic, we had a couple windy days. All the sudden, our crabapple tree dropped all of its leaves. We went from this:

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to this, in just a week!

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In the past, we have been raking up the leaves. But this year we are trying a new approach. Our neighbor kindly lent us a leave vacuum, which not only sucks up leaves, but also shred leaves into tiny pieces into the attached bag. It took quite some strength to operate – imaging waving a 30-lb big barrel while carrying a whole bag of leaves on one shoulder – but it created nice leave mulch, which we put over all the vegetable beds:

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All the leaves from our yard are just the perfect amount to provide a 4″ layer of insulation. It is such a win-win for zero-waste gardening! Now, speaking for both the garlic cloves and us, we are ready for snow!

Onward and Upward

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Happy June, everyone! We had a busy but productive past few weeks. For starters, I was awarded a major grant for my research! This funding will not only kick-start the project I hope to do for years, but also allow me to assemble my own team. For any newly established scientist like me, getting a funding in this size is a big deal. So it is good news!

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Also in the past a few weeks, I wrote a manuscript to summarize my latest research project. I have been working on this project on and off for three years now, and the findings are interesting. In biomedical research, not every project works and most of the research effort does not make into publications. So when one project works out, it is worth a celebration.

Then it was my birthday! I turned 42 this year which sounds like a big number. But I still feel my life is on an upward trajectory. I am still gaining new insight, developing new interests, making new friends, and learning everyday. Just like a Chinese proverb said, “live like a student for life”. It keeps you young!

A mini bathroom update

Along with good new at work, things are really turning corners in the main floor bathroom! Slav finished and painted the drywall. And last week, the glass shower door was installed!

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We are still waiting for shower door silicone to cure, before our plumber can come back to install the fixtures. Slav is installing the lights and outlet covers this weekend – then we will have a new bathroom! It has been 8 months without a functional bath on the main floor. I am excited to have two toilets again!

Growing upwards with new garden trellises

The second half of May is also go-time in the garden. I usually plant our vegetable garden at the end of May, so hardscape in the vegetable garden always happens during the two-week period between Mother’s Day (when the last frost day passes) and the Memorial Day weekend. This year’s project is a proper bean tunnel.

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I have tried trellis netting before. It is good enough for beans and cucumbers to climb, but it also tends to sag with the weight of produce. So this year, I decided to build a legit bean tunnel using cattle panels. These cattle panels are so steady that they are hard to bend into narrow arches as I hoped. So instead of having a bean tunnel over a 3-foot wide pathway, we made it arch over about 7 feet wide, covering one pathway and one vegetable bed. It will add a bit more work during harvest time, but will also create a shaded area for lettuces and radishes. We will see!

Speaking of lettuces and radishes, these are the ones I sowed in early April:

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Along with some arugula:

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We have been eating them since mid-May and they are so good! We never had such a successful lettuce year like this Spring thanks to all the rain we’ve gotten.

We also made a cucumber trellis with the same cattle panel. I set it in the middle of a 4-foot wide vegetable bed, and planted cucumbers along trellis:

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The space on each side was planted with tomatoes. The idea is to train all the cucumber plants onto the trellis, and leave the ground space for tomatoes. I hope they all fit!

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Planting luffa for the first time…in the Gingko garden!

A new climber I am trying this year is luffa. I have been trying to germinate luffa for three seasons now, either in pots or in ground, without success. But apparently it is easy for other people! A friend germinated too many and gave me an extra plant, I hope it grows well and who knows, maybe I will get a sponge or two!

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By the way, I planted the luffa in the “ginkgo garden” so I can keep a close eye on it. This is a small mulched area off the corner of the vegetable garden, where the ginkgo tree was planted last year.

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I’ve shown you the ginkgo sprouting in early Spring. This picture was taken on May 8th.

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And this is the ginkgo now! Love how robust it is.

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I put some purple irises around the ginkgo to fill the space. They came from my neighbor’s garden and are super happy now living across the street from their old home.

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I love the look of dark blue/purple irises next purple/pink chive flowers with pink/red pea gravel. I did not plan a white/pink/purple garden on purpose, but I think I am getting there nonetheless!

Green mulch please!

Another big project in this year’s vegetable gardening is melons and gourds. I wanted to grow more vine crops as green mulch this year, particularly on a sloped area in our backyard. This part receives full sun, and stays out of our sight from the house – it is perfect to grow vine crops like melons and pumpkins.

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Planted here are cantaloupes, honeydews, watermelons, and different varieties of pumpkins and gourds.

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I germinated too many so some of them were planted along the back fence, among fruit trees, climbing roses, and blackberry bushes.

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By the way, our new pear tree sprouted! It looks healthy just like the apple tree we got from the same nursery last year.

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And we cannot forget squashes! Last year they produced so well that we gave out a lot. And this year we are growing just as much.

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The end of all five vegetable beds were recruited to plant pumpkins as well… I really geminated too many. They can trail off onto the pathways and should not interfere with whatever growing in our vegetable beds.

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Planting grapes along the northern fence!

The most exciting thing coming to our yard is…grapes! Boy this is really the year for vine crops! I got four grapes and planted them along the northern fence of our backyard.

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Honestly, the area next to the northern fence had me scratching my head for years now. Besides the lilac bush we inherited, this large 10-feet wide space along the fence were just a big, empty space covered with woodchip mulch. Besides the vine crops which are annual, I really wanted some perennials here. And some height will be nice since we are on a hill and can see straight into our northern neighbor’s home from our backyard.

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I tried growing evergreens along this fence, but none of them survived… I also tried blackberries, but they lack the height we need. During last year’s lockdown, maybe I just had enough time to think it through, a light bulb went on in my head: grapes!

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I now think growing grapes are the perfect killing-two-birds-with-one-stone solution: the fence offers protection from strong winds and unexpected late frosts, and the trellis for the grapes can function as a privacy screen between families. Free-standing grape trellis is pretty straight forward to build. However I think we will wait until next year given the unreasonable lumber price now.

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I have thought about growing grapes since we bought the house. When I was a little kid, my grandpa had one in his small Beijing-style courtyard, and I had fond memories of playing and eating under the grape trellis. I have been researching on how to grow grapes in our cold climate, and surprised by how much interest there is growing grapes on the front range! Lots of effort actually went into breeding the right variety – early maturity is a must since we have a relative short growing season – and developing the safest protocol of raising them in our specific climate (1, 2). Based on my research, the space in front of this northern fence is actually the ideal location for grape vines in our area.

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Apparently, grapes are recommended to be planted on slopes. especially on northern slopes, which ensures water drainage and even soil temperature in Spring weather. Grape trellis also should run west-east direction to cuts down on shade cast on vines by the trellis. In addition, this orientation dries up rain or dew quickly, and therefore cutting down on diseases. The northern fence in our backyard runs a perfect west-east direction, so running grape vines/trellis parallel to the fence is exactly what we are supposed to do. Last, this slope is far away from any lawn sprinkles, so we can control the irrigation to these grape vines (cutting down on watering before harvesting time will make the grapes taste sweeter). In summary, in front of northern fence could not be a better location even we had planned it!

Now everything veggie garden was planted, and the automatic drip system was turned on, we can hopefully kick our feet up and enjoy the fresh produce of our labor. The raspberry patch is already flowering, and we started to see peony blooms. I am coming back next week to give you an update of the patio garden we created last Spring. Stay tuned, friends!

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