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

Category: Eat Green Page 1 of 19

A Back Fence Upgrade

This week, we continue making small upgrades to our house and garden. Since having completed the main floor guest bathroom, our focus has been fine-toning the details inside and outside the house. We patched holes and touch-painted, refreshed the hidden portion under the roof, fixed broken pickets on the fence, re-potted all the indoor plants, and filled dead spots in our lawn. These tasks are rather keep-ups and do not make into the blog, but they are necessary for preserving the hard work we put in initially.

Over the last two weeks, we started to see some cool weather, which made working outside a lot more pleasant. And it was the time I decided to give the back fence a face lift:

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Ranch house - 2

Above pictures showed how the back fence looked like when we moved in. As you can see, the fence was finished with two different types of pickets, which aged into different colors. Shortly after we moved in, Slav gave the fence a good wash with our pressure washer:

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The washing effort made the fence look great for a while. But over time, the different types of wood started turning into different colors again.

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Challenges and decisions

The problem is that the older fence pickets are cedar, which age into a smoke grey, whereas the newer panels are treated wood, which maintain a much lighter and yellow color. The aging process of the cedar pickets happens very quickly – within a couple weeks, which makes it difficult to keep the fence look uniformed.

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We considered to rebuild the fence to match the horizontal fencing on the other side of the yard, but the current high lumber price puts our plan on halt. Besides, the back fence is actually pretty steady and functional, so it fees like a waste to rebuild just for a different look.

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We debated and discussed many times, and finally reached the conclusion to upgrade the look of the fence with minimal effort, before we have to rebuild for structure reasons. The rebuild will not need to happen until years down the road, and by that time, the lumber price should come down as well.

Painting the treated wood panels

To make the back fence look better, we first needed to stain/paint the lighter color panels to match the darker ones. It happened that we had some exterior paint left over from painting the gable, which are a dark grey color.

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I watered it down just a little bit to make the color a better match, and got onto painting:

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The painted pickets are a bit darker but over time, I think it will look similar to the naturally aged cedar pickets. Here is the same section of the fence before and after being painted:

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Close enough!

Installing the cattle panel

Next, I wanted to train the climbing rose up to the fence. We planted some climbing roses along the back fence in 2018. I did not train it up as I should have, due to our indecision of what to do with the back fence. now we have decided to keep the original fence for a while, I can finally lift the roses off the ground!

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The poor roses, they have been gobbled up by the pumpkins this year:

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I decided to train the climbing roses up onto the fence using cattle panel. I had done it with the front yard climbing rose with success, and I loved how steady these cattle panels are. In fact, we used them to create bean tunnels in the vegetable garden this year, and they look great with vine crops climbing on them:

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We got four 50″ x 16′ panels from Tractor Supply, my new favorite garden store! They have great seeds and soil, plus all the gardening/farming supplies you can think of. The best? They have little chicks year around in the stores. I love playing with the chicks every time I have an excuse to go inside.

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Slav secured the panels onto the fence pickets using metal staples.

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And they look nice! Plus I think they actually made the fence stronger.

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With the cattle panel secured to the fence, I can simply tie the branches of the roses onto the panel instead of trying to secure them onto the fence. It is a much easier way to train climbing roses, and once we are ready to replace the back fence, I can simply stake the panel up with T-posts and keep the roses in place.

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Training climbing rose

I spent an afternoon training the roses up. The most challenging part was separating them from the pumpkin vines and lifting them up. Even with long sleeves, long pants, and garden gloves, I got scratched all over my arms and legs! The awakening rose is famous for the strong thorns and I can tell you, they are no joke!

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But nonetheless, they are ON.

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The upgraded look of the back fence

Here is the upgraded look of our back fence, all in dark, covered by cattle panels, aligned with fruit trees and blackberry bushes, and soon with pink rose blooming all over! Do you like it?

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4 Years in the Ranch and a Patio Garden Update

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We moved into our ranch house 4 years ago. Four years! We started renovating the house from the day we moved in, and have made it so much better both appearance and functions. Besides the house itself, we also planted lots of trees and perennials, and turned these old weedy yards into beautiful flower beds and edible gardens.

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The most recent improvement of our backyard landscape is the patio garden. There used to be a straight line dividing the lawn space and the raspberry patch. Last Spring, I cut out a curved flower bed at the edge of the raspberry patch, and planted it with peonies:

2020 Fall:

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I am happy to report that all the peonies have come back this Spring! We even got flowers from some of them:

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This is my first time growing flowers with big petals. While I was excited to get flowers, I was so surprised watching peony flowers changing color over time:

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This one flowers coral pink when the flowers first open:

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which fade into a light pink:

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In between the peonies, I planted Russian sage. They are supposed to fill in the space between peonies when the peonies are done flowering, with a sea of purple flowers. They were such baby plants when I put them into the ground last Fall, and did not show up until mid-May, which really got me worried. But now they are getting bigger each day and I know they will be holding up well:

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Behind the patio garden is our raspberry patch, which just explored this year. Not only they came back earlier and grew fuller, they started developing young shoots all around the original plants, expanding into the pathways surrounding the patch.

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One of the varieties has already flowered – we are getting raspberry soon!

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One end of the patio garden reaches all the way to our back patio. It touches the cedar planter I built last year, which houses our strawberries:

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This Spring, I added a pot of wild strawberries at the end of the patio garden. They are supposed to be excellent groundcovers.

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On the other end, the patio garden wraps around the future shed patio, and connects to the flower bed along the back fence. That is how this garden beds got its name – it extends from the back patio to the shed patio! This area will see some disturbance when we build the shed patio, therefore, I did not plant anything precious, but only irises we got for free from a neighbor:

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The picture above was taken last summer, right after planting. And this is how it looks now! All the irises came back and some of them have flowered:

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I did not know the exact variety of these irises when planted them, and happy to see that they flower blue and purple. I have white and light purple irises in the front yard, and these two varieties fit well into my garden color theme. And both of the varieties smelled amazing.

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I also planted an apple tree! It is the only permanent planting I did here (away from the edge of the shed patio). It was very healthy when it arrived last Spring. So I am not surprised that it branched out early this year, and already looks so full in early summer. I think we are gonna see some fruit this year!

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Although I do not plan to put more perennials yet, I am comfortable using this space to grow annuals. This Spring, I interplanted squashes and zucchini among the irises. I raised them from seed myself this Spring, so they are the perfect filler for this area for next to nothing. And they will add some much needed height and color to this space once the irises are done.

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In between the shed patio garden and the raspberry patch is our herb garden! This is the first flower bed we planted, back to 2018, so all the plants have matured and got super big this Spring.

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Tarragon sits at the very tip of this oval garden, then there are oregano, lemon balm, and sage.

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There is also an Egyptian walking onion. I had lots of fun watching it grow and “walk”.

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Apparently, some of other herbs “walk” too! I think it is charming to have a bit lemon balm spilling over onto the pathways. Besides, when I walk on them and crash the leave, it smells amazing.

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We started this flower bed with a garden-in-a-box kit, so there are some flowering plants here too:

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These tall purple stalks are all from one catmint called “walker’s low”. It is seriously the best plant I’ve grown: it stays low, spreads far, flowers all Spring and summer, and it is a true pollinator magnet. There are always bees buzzing around these stalks, and this Spring, two hummingbird moths found it too:

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A mature garden not only has plants, but also inserts, birds, and even mammals. We have noticed bunny dropping in the backyard, and recently, we started to see two cottontail rabbits hanging out in our backyard.

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These two rabbits happily share the backyard with each other, and with the dogs. Amazingly, they do not escape when we walk onto the lawn! I think they have figured out that we mean no harm, so all they do when we got close is to hop away a few feet and watch us. Luckily, they do not touch the vegetable garden or any of my flowers, only eating grass. So there is no reason for us to stop them from coming into the yard either. In fact, I think one of them made a nest behind the garden shed, and the other one lives under the raspberry bushes.

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Recently, we decided to push the kitchen renovation to next year, which is the last big-ticket items on our renovation list. This decision freed us this summer to enjoy the fruit of our labor for the first time. It has been a lot of work during the past four years to get to this point, the point that we allow ourselves to slow down without rushing ourselves, the point that we can put work aside without feeling guilty. Today, at the 4-year-annivesary of our home ownership, I am looking at the work we did, and truly appreciating the comfort and beauty we created together. Happy anniversary, house!

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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