Terrific Broth

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

Category: Eat Green Page 1 of 10

Fall is Perfect for Gardening!

After a long summer dry spell, we welcomed Autumn rain with open arms. The water from the sky arrived just in time – with night temperature hovering about 40, it is almost time to blow dry the drip lines in the garden.

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Fall is the perfect time to garden – who is with me on this? There is much less weeding and much more flowers, and the sun is not nearly intense. Honestly, I am taking the Fall garden tasks very causally and spent most of my “gardening” time sipping coffee, petting dogs, and watching graceful grasses dancing in cool breeze. It is LUXURY.

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A front garden update

Our last year’s hard work in the front yard totally paid off. Our front yard is the one the most beautiful in the neighborhood I dare to say. I intentionally stayed with a cool color palette for flowers and I do not regret it.

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The flowers above is Rocky Mountain Columbine, which is the state flower of Colorado. The grasses behind them are Blue Grama, which is the Colorado state grass.

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Besides summer flowers there are also Autumn colors. Here are the red berries, the silver brocade sage, and the blue stonecrop:

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Last fall I dropped a couple pieces of blue stonecrop next to the dry creek. Look at how lovely they are doing now! Gotta love a strong ground cover plant.

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Succulent the dry creek

Inspired by the look of stonecrop next to the dry creek, I decided to dress it up even more. Last year I got some divisions of Hens and Chicks from a neighbor; they did very well in our climate and tripled in number during just one season. So I transplanted them along the dry creek to fill all the gaps and crannies.

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I also tucked some baby ones along the retaining wall. These voids were filled with sand and the little green bundles peeking out really brings the look up a notch.

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Re-work the veggie garden

The main gardening task this Fall is to redo the vegetable garden. We started growing vegetables in our back yard in the Spring of 2018 with just 5 beds, and added three more last Spring. After two seasons trying different vegetables, I now have a pretty good understanding on what grows well in our yard, and more importantly, what we like to eat. I would like to put more effort into vegetable gardening next year, and this Fall is the perfect time to plan and prepare the beds.

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There are a few things I wanted to address here: first, after two years of farming our vegetable beds could use some rejuvenation aka compost. Second, the bark mulch we put down two seasons ago has decomposed significantly and there are quite a few places bare ground is shown.

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Lastly, the drip system here could use some reconfiguration – we’ve been slowly adding drip lines and soaker hoses as the garden grows, which results in choppy grid and inconsistent water pressure throughout the system.

So here is the steps I took to rejuvenate the veggie garden space:

1. Redefine the veggie beds and restrict the bark mulch only on the paths

We used to have bark mulch on both veggie beds and the paths in between; I have found that the coarse mulch we used does not help with seed germination especially for small seeds. I would like to use compost as mulch next year for better soil health and veggie growth. So I racked all the bark mulch onto the paths between beds.

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I took this opportunity to redefine the boundary of each bed. To space them evenly I used a landscape measuring tape, which I found very useful in all different kinds of outdoor projects. From planning large project such as patio or fence, to planting hedges, I use it all the time when I need to measure long distance.

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We also decided to remove the very first veggie bed to make driving the trailer into the back yard easier. So I moved the edging back to define the new boundary.

The first bed:

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The new boundary:

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2. Organize the drip tubing and re-run soaker hoses

We have been watering the veggie garden with soaker hoses. After spacing the beds and move the mulch, I took out all the soakers hose onto the surface, fix the leaky area and rearranged them to accommodate the new grid of the veggie beds.

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The new grid:

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3. Propagate and divide perennial crops in the vegetable garden

Fall is a great time to propagate and divide perennials. We have some strawberry plants that are sending lots of runners. I buried the runners in soil which will encourage them to grow their own roots. I also divided our chive plant and made a row with the divisions in the front of the first veggie bed. Imagine a hedge of green shoots and purple flowers in Spring? Wouldn’t it be nice?

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4. Top-dress all beds with organic compost

As the last step, I put down a thick layer of compost over the vegetable beds to give the garden a boost of energy for the next season. These compost will be worked into the soil next Spring and another layer of compost will be used as mulch after Spring planting.

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After all the reorganization and refreshing I had to plant something. So I planted garlic crop in for next year. These are all the hard neck varieties and were grown successfully in this garden last year. And now I am using my own produce as seed garlic! How exciting!

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At the mean time…

Compared to my moderate gardening effort Slav is speeding down a long list of house winterizing – sealing the windows, replacing weather stripping on exterior doors, and winterizing our vehicles. Last weekend Slav fixed the sagging fence gate fortunately just replacing the hinges, and set a pair of cane bolts to hold the gates in place.

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This is the last 2% of fence work we did not complete before the ground frozen last winter, and you know how small tasks get overlooked – it only took us a year to wrap it up!

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Oh, The teeth mark on the fence gate? That was Charlie, our black lab, who developed a deep obsession on neighbor’s front yard and has broken out a few times this summer. Hopefully these can bolts will be able to keep him in the escape artist!

We are looking forward to some friends’ visit this coming week and a much-needed relaxation in the mountains. I hope to have an update on the basement in a couple weeks. We are so close!

Adding New Planting Space to Our Front Garden

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After an uncommonly wet Spring, we welcomed the heat of summer. It has been over 90 degrees (32 celsius) for the past two weeks. Despite of daily thunder, there was very little rain. Our garden immediately reacted – all the cool weather veggies lost their cool, and the lawn started to turn yellow. Without the leisure of natural precipitation, we started to spend our evenings dragging around hoses and watering different parts of our yard.

Backyard bee garden – the 2nd year:

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I had every intention of giving you a garden update before leaving for summer vacation, at which time the lawn was still green and the new growth on perennials were tender. But several unexpected incidents kept my up to my neck. First, our basement renovation hit some major road block, which we are still clearing away till this day. Shortly after, several wishful attempts at my day job did not work out as I hoped. Around the same time, my mom fell and broke her ankle back in Beijing.

Awakening climbing rose, the 2nd year:

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This might have been the first time I lost so much control of my life and in almost every aspect of it. To make peace I walked out to the garden. Chinese proverb says “谁非过客,花是主人”, which literally means “we are just trespasser on the land owned by flowers”. There is some truth to it, right? I am pretty sure that bindweed is the real owner of our property. Jokes aside, watching life rise and fall in nature did give me a fresh perspective on accomplishments. Not everything will work out, and too much attention might in fact stunt the growth.

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The Mailbox Underplanting

Have I shown you the small flower bed under the mailbox this year? It was a little dirt patch filled with weeds when we moved in two years ago.

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Last summer, we got rid of the weeds and created a mowing strip with brick pavers.

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And this is the same space today:

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Salvia, lily bulbs and grasses were planted this Spring to hold down the fort at this possibly the toughest spot of the whole property. The red rose are the only thing we kept from previous owner’s flower bed.

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Black Lily

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Creeping Stonecrop ground cover

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Creating a New Flower Bed

Since returning from our summer trip, I’ve been slowly working on a new flower bed in our front yard:

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This area is around 12 ft x 4 ft, and located right in front of our DIY horizontal fence on the north side.

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See the dry creek in the picture above? The new flower bed is located to its right and in front of the fence.

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We decided to replace the lawn with flower bed here for two reasons. First, it is hard to maintain this patch of the lawn. It is so close to the house that we had to water it by hand. It is also on a steep slope and hard to cut with our lawn mower. Second, we would like to soften the fence with some plants.

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I started by removing the grass and moving the edging separating the lawn and the old flower bed forward. Three blue avena grasses (helictotrichon sempervirens) were planted in a row a few feet from the fence. They are supposed to get 4 feet tall in a few years and will provide some soft texture in front of the fence. Along also planted was an iceberg climbing rose. We are lucky to have nurseries selling plants that have adopted our high country climate.

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We have pretty bad bindweed issue in this area, so I covered the area with my favorite landscape fabric. We have used it in our front yard flower bed and under the southern fence with success. It is worth the initial investment.

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I found the edge of the landscape fabric along the dry creek, and continued the  fabric to cover the entire new flower bed. I use this landscape staple to secure the fabric.

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The next step is to run drip irrigation, which we installed in all the perennial flower beds. It does not only water more effectively, but also avoids hard water deposits on the foliage of the plants from overhead watering.

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Running drip irrigation is easy and fun, like lego for adults. With the existing drip tubing nearby, I simply T-off the existing tubing and added emitters close to the root balls of the new plants:

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I also added two mist emitters to water the lawn immediately adjacent to the new flower bed:

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Fresh mulch makes everything look better:

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New plants in their happy home:

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Now when your walk around the corner, the view of this new flower bed replaced yellow and overgrown grass:

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The two emitters linked to the drip irrigation tubing will give plenty of water to the lawn between the dry creek and the evergreen pine. Our current lawn sprinkle does not reach this corner.

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We still have plenty of room for plants in this flower bed. I am taking my time to find plants I truly love. I am considering Arctic Fire dogwood for some red winter color, however a close contender is Chinese peony, if they can handle the beating afternoon sun and strong wind in this area. What do you think?

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How do you like a new flower bed? As I finished spreading the last bag of mulch, I realized how much creating a new flower bed meant to me. It is a new start. It is a new opportunity to succeed, a new battle to win. It is something I may start taking back the control I had been losing since the beginning of this year. I still might not succeed, but at least I am giving another shot. And this time, I need to let go all the expectations and just enjoy every inch of growth it gives, however small it might be. At the end, I am just trespassing on this land of, hopefully not bindweeds, but flowers.

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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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