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

Category: Gardening Page 1 of 10

Urban Farming

Looking Forward to the 2022 Garden

When do you start thinking about gardening for the next season? It has become a tradition of mine to plan next year’s garden during the week after Christmas. Usually by this time, I have not touched dirt for a couple months. All I had were indoor plants and dried flowers:

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2022 will be our fifth planting season. When we bought this property, it was covered in poorly grown lawn and lots of weeds. Over the last four years, we planted hundreds of perennials and dozens of trees.

The backyard, 2017 summer

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The front yard, 2017

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The first two seasons on this property were devoted to establishing gardening space. In the Spring of 2018, we converted a big field of weedy lawn in our backyard to a vegetable garden. We also planted a couple perennial flower beds during Spring and Summer.

Veggie garden, 2018 summer

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Backyard perennial gardens, 2018 summer

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Front yard mailbox garden, 2018 summer

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Fruit trees and climbing roses along the back fence, 2018 summer.

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We also worked on the front yard, namely converting the northern slope into a big flower bed. It took us a couple months, and we finished just in time for Fall planting.

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We enjoyed the new planting so much that we decided to plant more perennials the next year. In the Spring of 2019, we covered a large portion of the backyard with woodchip mulch and planted hazelnut trees and raspberries here.

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We also added a small flower bed in the front yard to complete all the planting in the front yard.

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All the perennials we planted started filling in pretty well in 2020, and we were happy with the front yard planting. However, the flower beds in the backyard looked patchy, and mowing the lawn among these mulched flower beds was a pain. During the lockdown period, I came up with a good plan for this part of the yard. I first built up the soil around the shed and created a terrace garden:

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Then, I pushed the boundary of the raspberry patch further into the lawn, creating a narrow flower boarder of the entire mulched area.

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Lastly, I filled all the space left to this flower boarder with mulch, so we no longer had any lawn to maintain on the northern side of the backyard. Coming around Fall, I planted this wavy flower boarder with peonies and Russian sage, which have grown in very nicely since.

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We have yet to pave the shed patio, but the mulched garden space has been thriving.

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My second big achievement in 2020 was raising my own seedlings. First it was done as a necessity, but I soon found out that it was not as difficult as I imagined. Most importantly, raising seedlings enabled me to add more varieties of perennials and vegetables without breaking the bank.

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I again started my own seed in 2021, which resulted in the best vegetable garden I ever planted. The rest of the 2021 gardening effort went into reviving the lawn. Before winter hit, I covered the north side yard with cardboard and mulch, with the intention to plant a shade garden here in the future.

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All of our perennials have been growing like crazy in 2021. I have a feeling that our 2022 garden will be gorgeous! We will focus on maintenance and fine-tuning the flower beds in 2022, and of course raising my own seedings and planting a big vegetable garden is a must. I also ordered two new climbing vines – a passion flower and a pink clematis called “Josephine”. We had passion flower vine before and really enjoyed their big tropical looking flowers. I hope to grow it next to the mailbox so our neighbors can enjoy it too.

Although I won’t actually start seeds until April, it comforts me to having figured everything I need to do and having everything ordered. Are you also looking forward to the next season of gardening? What is your garden plan for 2022?

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!

Fluffing up the Garden

I wrapped up my garden clean-up last weekend and would like to share my Fall yard with you. I am still fairly new to gardening – only planted my first garden in 2018. But I read a lot about ways of gardening before I started. It is fair to say that I acquired my gardening skills through authority instead of empiricism.

My first garden bed in 2018:

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Vegetable beds , 1st year:

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Over the last three seasons, I gained a lot more experience and my intuition started to grow. I can finally tell whether a plant is happy, what it might need, and I have accepted that each plant has its own personality (e.g. the way they like to grow). It is important, for me at least as a gardener, to stop forcing a plant to grow into something I think it should be like, but letting it grow to what it wants to be.

Below is my 1st flower bed in this Spring. Some annual flowers have gone and now it is a herb garden:

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The vegetable patch this summer:

A fuller garden also means more lives. Pollinators, insects, and resident bunnies!

Bunny No. 1

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Bunny No. 2

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As my knowledge accumulated, my confidence also grew. This season, I started moving plants around – relocating unhappy plants, switching plants within the same flower bed based on their growing habit and desired view. Fine toning the garden beds, or what I call “fluffing” the garden made me felt like a real gardener for the first time.

Moving perennials out of the herb garden

My garden “fluffing” started in the pollinator/herb garden. We used to have an old tree stump here, which was hard to remove. I asked Slav to cut the stump flush with the ground, then planted this garden on top of it. Everything here are native, drought-tolerate plants that are pollinator magnets:

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The saying about perennials “the first year they sleep, the second year they creep, then the third year they leap” could not be more true. By the end of 2020, the whole bed was already too full:

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A full garden offers many benefits – less weeds, more insects, and almost no need for watering. However, taller plants also shade the ground around them, and I found the English lavenders and lavender cottons started to struggle. Last Fall, I transplanted the trio of English lavender to the patio garden. And this Fall, it is time to save the lavender cottons.

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I dug out all three of them, and transplanted them into the front yard. This spot used to have three larkspur, which are very pretty plants, supposedly. But they did not like this location and I did not like their look. So out they went. The front yard offers better sunlight and drainage. I am sure that the lavender cottons will create a really cute low mound of flowers here in spring. Their silver color and yellow little flowers should look nice next to the green dwarf pine and blue grasses.

Speaking of blue grasses, I also relocated one Blue Grama grass. Blue Grama grass is Colorado’s state grass and I am proud to have three of them. They were planted in a line initially, along the edge of the lawn, but the one on the very right has been competing with other plants for water and is visibly smaller. So I moved it for just a few feet, replanted it in front of other two grasses.

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Dividing plants in the herb garden

The second plant I took care of in the herb garden was the Red Hot Poker. The variety I have is called “flamenco“, which flowers in three colors (yellow, orange and red) in a gradient. The flowers look like candy cones and very cool. This grass was used a lot in the median strip on our local streets, which speaks for their toughness.

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You can see it in the middle of the picture above – this was when they first emerged in May. By mid-summer, the grass became a beast.

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Can you see it behind the catmint “walker’s low”? Being its fourth Spring, it stopped flowering, and started to flop from the center. I cut it back, divided it into many parts, and planted a trio in its original location:

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Another clump went under the transparent apple tree:

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I also planted a big clump behind the ginkgo tree. Ginkgo is famous for its slow-growing habit, so I do not think my ginkgo stick will reach to an appreciable height anytime soon. At the mean time, I want something taller as a backdrop:

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After moving the plants out, I cut back some low-mounding herbs that have spilled out of the flower bed:

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Now we can see the edging and path again! I know that this bed still looks very wild. But I intend to keep it this way for winter. Dead crowns not only protect the roots over the winter, but also provide nesting place for insects/eggs and small mammals. We will cut all the dead and broken back next May, after the danger of hard frost passes.

Cutting back irises

One plant I do cut back every Fall is iris. Their leaves are too unsightly to look at during winter, and having snow sit on the leaves often cause rot. I have most of my iris in the front yard along the dry creek. Cutting the leaves back revealed the shape of dry creek again:

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I planted hens-and-chicks and sedum along the dry creek. After cutting back the tall iris leaves, they finally got some winter sun:

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Season of Fall colors

This year we had the best Fall colors in our yard, probably due to the mild October we had. There has not been any snow, not even strong wind. So all the trees and perennials have had the opportunity to reach their fullest Fall color. It is truly a magnificent view:

Front yard flower bed:

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“Shenandoah” switch grass

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Sedum “Autumn joy”

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Mock orange “Snow White Sensation”

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“Berry Poppins” winterberry

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The honey suckle (second year)

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And here is how my backyard looks now:

Ash trees above the garden shed:

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Peony (all 11 of them!)

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Russian sage plants are still flowering:

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Chinese Snowball Viburnum (second year):

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The ginkgo tree (second year):

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The asparagus patch:

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And last but not the least, our beloved crabapple tree:

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Don’t you just love the colors? We are so fortunate to live in Colorado where we could appreciate all four seasons. Wherever you are, I hope you are enjoying the Fall as well!

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