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

Tag: Veggie garden Page 1 of 2

Onward and Upward

IMG_5215

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!

IMG_5208

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!

IMG_5290

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.

IMG_5195

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:

IMG_5207

IMG_5224

Along with some arugula:

IMG_5225

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:

IMG_5196

IMG_5198

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!

IMG_5219

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!

IMG_5211

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.

IMG_5213

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

IMG_5017

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

IMG_5245

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.

IMG_5249

IMG_5244

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.

IMG_5228

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

IMG_5230

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

IMG_5222

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

IMG_5223

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.

IMG_5185

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.

IMG_5204

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.

IMG_5237

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.

IMG_5229

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!

IMG_5232

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.

IMG_5235

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.

IMG_5236

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!

IMG_5261

 

Seed Starting for 2021

It’s this time of the year again!

IMG_4519

Green lawn grass, fruit tree flowers, and budding perennials… We still have cold snaps every week, but with warmer days in between. It is time to seed the vegetable garden again!

01

The 2021 Seed Haul

I have been buying seedlings for the vegetable garden. Our heavy clay soil is not ideal for direct sowing, and I have little time and patience for raising seedlings in trays. However, the year of 2020 taught me a lesson. Due to the pandemic I could hardly get any vegetable seedlings, and some of my online orders were cancelled. Anticipating a shortage of seedlings again in 2021 (which does not look like it will be the case), I purchased some seeds and decided to give this whole seed starting business a try.

First, tomatoes! I grew tomatoes every year because they do taste better home-grown. This year, I got seeds for several mid-size heirloom tomatoes and cherry tomatoes. Young green beans are so flavorful when picked fresh off the vines and cooked immediately. So they are a must too.

02

My favorite vegetable is undoubtedly peppers. I seeded some hot peppers this year and hope to create my own spice mix. The rumor is that pepper seeds are really hard to start without a heat mat, but I will give it a try anyway.

03

Each year I would like to try to grow a couple new vegetables. Last year I started a perennial asparagus bed, and this year, I plan to grow okra and rhubarb for the first time. Slav and I first start eating okra when living in North Carolina, but they are harder to find in restaurants here. I am curious how they will do in our cold climate. I also want to give eggplant a try – the store-bought eggplant in US tastes a lot less flavorful than the ones I had in China. Maybe home-grown eggplants will be different?

04

I am also gonna continue growing root vegetables such as beets and radishes. Despite our clay soil, they have been very eager to grow in my vegetable garden. In summer days, radishes and beets are always in rotation from our garden to grill.

Planting Vine Crops as Green Mulch

Last season, I tried watermelon and cantaloupe for the first time, which was a big success. I was surprised how little care they needed – you can pretty much just plant the seedlings, set up a drip emitter, and forget about them. Besides the fruits, an added benefit of vine crops is they function as a green mulch. My backyard had a big sloped area covered by woodchips which is very prone to weeds. But last summer, as the vine crop spread their leaves, they shaded all the weeds out. This season, I will be planting the entire side slope with melons, cucumber, pumpkin, and gourds as groundcover, and hopefully get some weird-looking pumpkins and gourds to decorate our front porch in the Fall!

05

Initial Planting

IMG_4519

On the first sunny weekend in April, I filled up all the small pots I saved in the past, and started planting seeds. The first 4 x 8 tray with smaller pots was mostly for peppers and tomatoes, and all the other bigger pots were seeded with vine crops including cucumbers, squashes, gourds, pumpkins, melons, and cantaloupes. Beans, radishes, and beets will be sowed directly to the vegetable garden.

IMG_4518

I did not use plant markers, but made a spreadsheet and labeled the trays instead:

2021 veggie garden

I had companies.

IMG_4524

The pups are always generous with their emotional support.

IMG_4526

The Recent Progress!

These are the trays, just seeded on April 3rd.

IMG_4518

Here were the same trays 11 days later, Most of the tomatoes and vine crops have germinated. Peppers, eggplants, and luffa were still taking their time.

IMG_4645

Fast forward to today, 3 weeks after the initial planting, all of the seedlings have sprouted!

Peppers and tomatoes:

IMG_4703

Melons and cantaloupe:

IMG_4701

Pumpkins, gourds, and cucumbers

IMG_4700

Among the seedlings, the vine crops are showing excellent growth, whereas the tomato and pepper seedlings are on the smaller side.

IMG_4704

The most anticipated among all seedlings are the luffa plants. I tried direct sow last season and had no success. I hope all the seedlings make it this year so I can make some luffa sponges in the fall!

IMG_4706

These are the okra seedlings! They look unique and cute with their hairy leaves:

IMG_4710

In our climate (zone 5b) we are not completely out of the woods when it comes to frost until the end of May. I will transplant the seedlings into the vegetable garden on Memorial Day weekend, which means that they will stay in their trays for another month.  It feels like a cool adventure! Now, what are growing in your vegetable garden this year?

A Veggie Garden Upgrade

IMG_3351

2020 might have been the best year in my veggie garden yet. I planted only what we like to eat, and raised most of the plants from seeds myself. For the first time, the joy of return exceeded the labor and stress gardening in this space.

IMG_3343

I also had plenty of time to take a hard look at the veggie garden. It has been producing well, thanks to periodic compost application. Practically speaking, there isn’t anything I have to do to here for productivity. But it does bother me how messy it looked:

IMG_3027

The edging made of scrap wood, the woodchip mulch, the lawn grass keep growing into the veggie bed…More I looked at this space, more I wanted to give it a facelift. After all, the goal of gardening this Fall is to make the gardener happy, remember?

IMG_3430

Can you tell what I did now? In short, I replaced all the woodchip mulch with pea gravel.

IMG_3332

Do you like it? I loved it. And Slav likes it too! When I first proposed this project Slav immediately agreed. I was surprised that he even had an opinion, but then I realized that he always has an opinion, just might not say it voluntarily. 🙂 Oh man!

The veggie garden has experienced a few cosmetic upgrades. When we first started this space in 2018, we kept the lawn between the veggie beds. Inevitably, grass grew into the beds rapidly. The following season, we put down cardboard with woodchip mulch on top to create some pathways. This method worked well for over a year, but then the cardboard broke down and weeds started finding their way out again. I guess the woodchip mulch we used is too coarse to block the light. If we had used compost over the cardboard layer, we might have completely blocked weed growth. But in general, we are ready to move onto other mulch material offering more tidy appearance.

IMG_3023

When we built the horizontal fence next to the vegetable patch, a combination of landscape fabric + pea gravel was used under the fence for weed suppression. It worked very well, and we loved the look of pea gravel too! After going through our options, we decided to expand the pea gravel into the veggie garden, which would also get rid of the railroad ties (saved from the old fence) we used to separate the two materials.

So I got to work, the first step was to rake away the woodchips. I started from the corner of the garden, where the veggie patch meets the small flower bed:

IMG_3033

The soil underneath the woodchip mulch was so rich. Apparently, the cardboard we put down in 2019 has completely disintegrated underneath the mulch.

IMG_3060

Remember this small flower bed? I carved it out this Spring for the ginkgo tree, and added irises to fill the space. I intended to keep it mulched, so I moved the metal edging to keep the pea gravel out and topped the bed with a fresh layer of black mulch.

IMG_3070

Look at the ginkgo tree!

IMG_3355

I know, it still look like a twig…but it actually grew a lot. It is definitely a much stronger twig now.

IMG_3427

Love the leaves. Ginkgo is also called maidenhair tree because of the shape of its leaves.

IMG_3358

Below is the transformation of the side pathway. After removing all the mulch, I got rid of the railroad ties, and lined the path with landscape fabric.

IMG_3063

IMG_3072

IMG_3074

Even without the pea gravel layer, it looked a lot better already! Next, I raked woodchips off the pathways between the veggie beds. At this point, Slav was recruited to help with the old strawberry bed.

IMG_3065

These strawberries have been here for three years and stopped producing this year. As the strawberry plants became weaker, lawn grass took over. Knowing this bed will be turned this Fall, I basically let it go the entire summer. So it looked bad… Upon my request, Slav dug up the old strawberry plants, sifted through the top soil to remove large stones and grass roots, and mixed in a couple inches of fresh compost. The soil in this bed is so fluffy and rich now, it will serve as an awesome garlic bed for next year.

IMG_3069

When Slav worked on turning the old strawberry bed, I started putting down a new irrigation line. The veggie bed is watered by drip, but the irrigation grid was never connected to the timer when I automated most of our irrigation this Spring. So basically, I still had to drag a hose to the veggie garden, connect it to the drip grid in order to water this space. The main reason of leaving it out of the automatic setup was simple: the veggie patch is far away from our backyard outdoor faucet. But since Slav was already digging, he offered to bury a water line for me to connect the veggie garden drip grid to the outdoor faucet!

IMG_3196

I connected a long poly tubing to the existing veggie garden drip grid using a T-connector, then Slav buried the tubing all the way to the outdoor faucet at the back of our house:

IMG_3198

Slav has buried poly tubing in front yard this Spring so he moved very quickly on this project. It probably only took him half an hour. But let me tell you, his work will save me at least half an hour, maybe an hour each day during growing season to keep the veggie plants alive. Thanks Slav!

IMG_3194

After all the pathways cleared, I laid down landscape fabric and Slav brought in the pea gravel.

IMG_3186

IMG_3420

IMG_3231

IMG_3335

What a transformation! Here was how the garden looked with woodchip mulch:

IMG_3021

And here is its new look with pea gravel:

IMG_3330

I think the small size of pea gravel made the pathways look tidy and spacious. I also love the color contrast between the gravel and the dark compost in veggie beds.

IMG_3339

I cannot help but putting a chair here. Morning coffee has never been so relaxing.

IMG_3421

It took us two days and $40 of pea gravel to complete the upgrade. Slav picked up the pea gravel with our trailer from a landscape company, so we did not pay any delivery fees. We had landscape fabric and poly tubing in hand. The woodchip mulch removed from the veggie garden did not go to waste either – it was applied to the newly planted patio garden, making this project essentially zero-waste. 🙂

IMG_3332

This small facelift for our veggie garden officially concluded the gardening tasks this Fall. A peony garden + a tidy veggie garden will give our backyard an awesome start next Spring. They are also treats to myself, after all the stress and work we had to put up with this year. 2020 has reminded me how to be kind to human beings, including myself. Treating myself is not selfish, and asking Slav for help does not make me weak. 2020, you have taught me a lot!

IMG_3211

Page 1 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén