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

Category: Gardening Page 1 of 9

Urban Farming

4 Years in the Ranch and a Patio Garden Update

IMG_5256

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.

IMG_5253

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:

IMG_3359

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

IMG_5285

IMG_5187

IMG_5286

IMG_5186

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:

IMG_5241

This one flowers coral pink when the flowers first open:

IMG_5272

which fade into a light pink:

IMG_5271

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:

IMG_5260

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.

IMG_5250

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

IMG_5239

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:

IMG_5240

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

IMG_5269

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:

IMG_3403

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:

IMG_5277

IMG_5281

IMG_5259

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.

IMG_5280

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!

IMG_5180

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.

IMG_5283

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.

IMG_5287

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

IMG_5267

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

IMG_5275

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.

IMG_5262

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

IMG_5265

IMG_5284

IMG_5263

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:

IMG_5408

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.

IMG_5450

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.

IMG_5261

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!

Spring Garden, 2021

IMG_4771

Spring used to be the season I looked forward to the least because of my love of snow, but gardening has changed that. I now enjoy coming home not in dark, still having an hour of day light to walk around the yard. Watching new life emerge from the soil is confirming and comforting, and nothing beats the excitement of seeing the first flower of the year.

The first wave of blooms are hellebores. I planted them in the Spring of 2019, and they have been establishing themselves for the past two years. I kept reminding myself that hellebores need time to establish. And this Spring, my patience has paid off! All the hellebores were loaded with buds as soon as they peeked out of the snow, and they have been flowering non-stop since March.

Look what a show they’ve put on:

During the months of March and April we had quite a few heavy winter storms. As soon as the snow melted, the herb garden woke up:

IMG_4989

IMG_4995

IMG_4992

IMG_4996

IMG_4997

IMG_4998

IMG_4994

IMG_4990

Last Spring I transplanted some periwinkle from a neighbor’s yard. I did not know if I would like them or not, but there were lots of nasty weeds spreading into my yard from our neighbor’s on the North, so I had to come up with a tough groundcover to plant against the fence as a “weed barrier”. These periwinkles grew quickly and by this Spring, they have already completely covered the strip of land against my neighbor’s fence! And they bloom the cutest dense mat of blue glowers!

IMG_4976

IMG_4974

One big landscape project last year was the patio garden. I love it as a soft border seperating the beautiful lawn space and the more practical raspberry patch. I planted some peonies here last Fall, who have come up and look very healthy:

IMG_4986

Next to the peonies are the patio planter boxes I built last Spring during the lockdown, which houses our strawberry plants:

IMG_4959

Behind the patio garden is the berry patch I planted in 2019.

IMG_4962

Next, the shrubs are all doing well! We inherited a lilac bush, which got a rejuvenation cut a couple years ago when we removed the chain link fence it grew into. It is still on its way of recovery, so we do not have flower this year – but it is OK! The service berry bush was loaded with flowers thanks to all the rain we got recently. And I am looking forward to harvesting service berries for the first time this year!

IMG_4966

We have quite a few trees on our property. The crabapple tree in the middle of the backyard has put on a spectacular show thanks to the trim and deep fertilizing treatment we gave it last year:

IMG_4771

IMG_4770

All our fruit trees but one came back this Spring and started to bud up:

IMG_5000

What we lost was a nectarine tree. It snapped during one of the heavy storms last Spring. We planted a cold-hardy pear tree at its place just a few days ago:

IMG_5002

I also planted a couple ornamental trees. One of them is a Chinese snowball viburnum. It gave us exact one flower last year. 🙂 I am hoping for more this year!

IMG_4982

The most exciting tree I have planted on our property is a gingko tree. I was told that it grows very slowly. However, it has grew 8 inches last year and came back happily:

IMG_5017

I adore the tender gingko leaves. Aren’t they cute?

IMG_5019

We will be planting the vegetable garden in the next a couple weeks and I will surely come back with more detailed update. Here are the garlic and asparagus beds looking lush today:

IMG_5014

That is pretty much the backyard! Moving onto the front yard, the perennial flower beds have a few blooms already:

IMG_5031

The western sandcherry:

IMG_5029

The dwarf pine and sedums:

IMG_5034

The irises by the dry creek showed the first few flower buds:

IMG_5038

IMG_5039

IMG_5036

IMG_5035

IMG_5024

The sedum and honey suckle in the front yard planter:

IMG_5040

Hens and chicks thriving in the tiny cracks between the retaining wall and the sidewalk:

IMG_5025

This is truly the best our garden has ever been. It looks so lush, healthy, and full of life that it literally stops our neighbors on their tracks. I think the labor and sweat we put in during the past three years has finally paid off!

Happy Spring, everyone!

IMG_4772

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?

Page 1 of 9

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén