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

Category: From Farm to Table Page 1 of 5

Eat clean. Eat simple. Eat local. Vegetable gardening | Food production

The 2023 Veggie Garden

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It is now the end of June and we are officially in summer. The spring rain has stopped, and the temperature quickly rose to the 80s.

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While the lawn remains green, the growth has slowed down and we finally do not need to mow every week anymore. In contrast, the veggie garden started picking up the pace.

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This is what the seedling looked like a months ago, when they are first planted:

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And this is how the same bed looks like now! The tomato plants have tripled in their height and the cucumbers started climbing the trellis.

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We added a four feet fence around the veggie garden to prevent Charlie from eating the fruits. Charlie came to us last summer and by fall, we discovered that he liked to eat pumpkins and melons. What a naughty boy!

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We installed cattle panel fencing on three sides of the veggie garden using T posts and zip-ties. The cattle panel reaches all the way to the wooden privacy fence. To access the veggie garden, we created a small gate made from a piece of leftover cattle panel.

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The gate is next to the ginkgo tree bed. Lots of dill pops up in this bed from reseeding themselves in the previous fall. So I just let them grow. As our soil continues to improve, it seems to be easier for plants to reseed. There are so many tomato and pumpkin seedlings coming up this spring that I did not even need to raise my own seedlings, if it is not for trying new varieties.

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The first bed immediately next to the lawn grass was planted with tomatoes and cucumbers. A perennial chive border is kept at the edge of the bed as a boundary to stop the lawn grass from growing in. The cucumbers were planted at the base of the cattle panel, and 15 tomato plants are scattered in the rest of the bed. This bed receives most of the sunshine and gets overspray from the lawn sprinkles. Within a month, we already harvested the first cucumber, and the tomato plants are loaded with blossoms.

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I also planted borage at the end of this bed. Borage flowers attract pollinators and beneficial insects. They also has a cucumber-like taste and can be used as garnish in salads.

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Like in previous years, I planted butternut squashes and pumpkins at the end of all veggie beds, right against the pea gravel path. The roots of pumpkins only takes little space in the actual garden beds, but the vine and fruits can spill over onto the pea gravel path and create a pretty sea of green. it This strategy worked really well two season ago so I have been repeating it every.

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This was how the pumpkin seedlings looked like a month ago when they were first planted. it is amazing how fast pumpkins grow in our soil.

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The second veggie bed hosts perennial asparagus. In the middle of the bed, I inserted more tomatoes and okra plants.

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Again, this was how they looked like a month ago! I cannot believe how tiny they were back then.

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I planted 100+ garlic last fall which will be harvested in mid-July. To fully utilize the growing space, I interplanted peppers and eggplant seedlings among the garlic shoots. Peppers and eggplants are heat-loving annuals that grow very slowly in spring. By the time the summer heat kicks in and the plants start to grow, the garlic will be harvested, which allows more sunlight, nutrition, and air flow for the peppers and eggplants. This is the first season I am trying to interplant – hope it works!

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The last two veggie beds are my all-time favorite, because of the bean tunnel spans across the center of these two beds. Slav made the bean tunnel a couple seasons ago with three cattle panels, and I have grown pole beans, ornamental squashes, and luffa on them. This year, I am growing pole beans up the bean tunnel again, plus small watermelons and Japanese Kabocha squashes.

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The Japanese pumpkins grew so fast. I had to come out every other day to thread the leader around the trellis to make sure they are not taking over the tomato cages next to the tunnel.

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Kabocha squashes are good climbers just like cucumbers. By the peak of summer, their big green leaves should cover the entire trellise, and create nice shade for the gardening beds below. I have seeded more lettuce and radishes under the bean tunnel. Hopefully we will be able to grow salad greens all summer long.

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In the last bed, outside of the bean tunnel, there are 8 more tomatoes! These plants were risen from seeds I got from my sister and they are her favorite tomato varieties. I am looking forward to giving them a try and it will be fun to eat the same variety of tomato with her over video chat.

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Look how small the tomato and pumpkin seedlings were when first planted a month ago. OMG

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Due to the cold and wet spring, several fruit trees of ours did not bloom well. This honeycrisp apple tree is an exception. It looks like we will get a good harvest this fall.

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I planted several wine cup flower as ground cover under the fruit trees. These plants are native to our area and tough as nails. They bloom all summer long and are so pretty to look at.

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Fencing the veggie garden is not the only change we implanted this season. As a male dog, Charlie cannot help but peeing on plants with strong scent. So this spring, I made an effort to move all the herbs we actually cook with to the elevated planters.

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I also added spinach into the elevated planters. This is the first year I grew spinach and we loved cold spinach salads.

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The lettuce from my first winter sowing experiment did well too! Unfortunately I planted them into the landscape without thinking it through… Since they are at the ground level and not fenced in, I assume that they are “watered by Charlie” so they will not make to our table…

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After transplanting the edible herbs out of the herb garden, I filled the bed with comfrey, is one of the best nitrogen fixers. It grows so fast, that I can cut the top one-third off every week, soak them in water for a few days, to make liquid fertilizer for the veggie seedlings. I think it helps!

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We have been harvesting cucumbers, salad greens, radishes, and bok choy and the beans, tomatoes, and pumpkins are setting fruits. The first big harvest of the season will be garlic – we have close to 150 heads to gather in mid- to late-July and I cannot wait for it. We keep some for fresh eating, and make dried garlic powder and pickled garlic which last us all winter long. I will share with you how this year’s harvest goes. Stay tuned!

Happy Spring and Seed Starting!

On the lunar calendar, April 20 marks the start of “่ฐท้›จ”, which means “seeding in rain”. This is a period associated with significant more precipitation and considered the best time for sowing seeds.

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So here it begins, my 2023 vegetable garden! I have sown several trays of seeds at the beginning of April already.

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Above is the chicken scratch I created to record what seeds I have sown. I do not use plant tags most of them break down top quicky. With this sowing map, I only need to label the trays which is easier to keep track. Speaking of trays, I use these aluminium food trays used in catering events at my work. Usually after catering events, they are rinsed off and sent to recycle bin. So all I need to do is to bring some home. They are perfect for holding 28 of the 1-inch nursery pots and for me to bottom water the seedlings. After all the seedlings are planted, I can simply recycle them just like they would have been a couple months before.

Tray 2: Eggplants (Chinese strings, Ping Tung), China Jade cucumber, onions, and some tomato seeds I got from my sister.

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Besides a few vegetable garden staples, I also sowed some flowers for the first time. I want to interplant my vegetable garden this year with ornamental flowers, so I can make more bouquet for the house. I figured that it should not be too hard to raise flowers from seeds just like vegetables. For my first try, there are calendale (pacific beauty mix), zinnia (polar bear), gaura (sparkle white), cosmos (peppermint), marigold (white swan), and borage. I sowed mostly white flowers – I think they will look really good with abundance of green leaves in a vegetable garden.

Tray 1: Flowers!

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I raise most of my seedlings using old nursery pots. We purchased a few seedling kits when landscaping our front yard, the sunny herb garden, and most recently, the side yard. I saved the nursery pots from these plant kits, and have been using them for seed starting. For small seeds like tomatoes, I also use seedling pods. To pot them up, all I needed to do is to bury the seedling pods in potting soil without disturbing the root at all.

Tray 3: Cucumbers, ornamental gourds, and herbs.

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The tray above contains cucumbers (Suyo long cucumber, Armenian pale green), Luffa, and birdhouse gourd. These plants have sensitive root system and I found the best way of avoiding transplanting shock is to sow their seeds in as big of nursery pots as possible. The small green container with seedling pods are planted with some herb seeds such as rosemary, basil, thyme, and stevia. I used regular potting soil for my seed starting, which contains fertilizer and can feed the seedlings until they are transplanted into the ground. Comparing to using seedling mix, planting seeds directly in the potting soil spared me from having to fertilize the seedlings at all.

Tray 4: Tomatoes and peppers.

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The entire fourth tray are planted with tomatoes and peppers! I got different varieties of peppers, including some really hot ones. from Pepper Joe’s and the germination was good last year. I also sowed several heirloom tomatoes I have grown last year. We enjoyed cooking with different kind of tomatoes and the sauces made with different varieties taste very flavorful. We have been using the tomato sauces we cooked in homemade pizza, pasta, chilli, and tomato soup. Cannot wait to get more this year again!

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The last a few things I sowed are beetroots, ginger, and bunny tail ornamental grasses. I have sown beetroots directly in the ground, which worked very well. But this year, I would like to get some early harvest hence sowing them early. These little beetroot seedlings did not disappoint – they all came up within the first week of sowing and their colors are so vibrant already.

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I also directly planted ginger in the ground before, but did not get a good harvest. Our summer days are too short gingers. To get an early start this year, I planted organic ginger pieces in the soil in Mid march. I have not seen any sprout yet – not a good sign, but I am hopeful with the help of this video from a Youtube channel called “Soil and Margaritas“. Hopefully we can unlock the secret of growing ginger this year!

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The 10-day update!

Shortly after sowing the seeds, we started to see some sprouts. Below are the pictures I took on 4/12, 10 days after I sowed the seeds::

Tomatoes:

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Beetroots:

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Cucumber:

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Calendale, zinnia, and gaura.

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We are still experiencing freezing nights and some cold days. A shelving unit in my home office is where all the seedlings are kept. My office is at the Northeast corner of the house and does not have sufficient lighting for seedlings to grow. But I have discovered a simple way of raising seedlings without the need of adding grow light – by simply putting the seedling trays outside during the day when the weather is warm enough. Although the seedlings are only outside for 9-10 hours, versus grow lights were usually kept on for 16 hours per day, but our intense Colorado sun keeps the seedlings happy and I have never experienced any problems with leggy seedings.

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One additional advantage of raising the seedling under sunlight is that I do not need to harden them off before planting. The process of hardening off seedlings can be tedious and usually requires around-the-clock care during the first week. Accidentally leaving the seedlings in bad weather can destroy these tiny plants in just a couple hours. But the seedlings grow up with natural sunlight and breeze are already conditioned to the outdoor conditions and do not need any hardening off period.

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I will be sowing more seeds mostly warm weather crops – pumpkins, cantaloupes, andย  watermelons later this month. In a months we will be looking at a full rack of healthy seedlings for this season! I hope that you are having fun planning and planting your garden as well. Happy Spring!

The Summer Backyard

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My friends, welcome to the backyard!

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June came and went quickly. We travelled, worked, and spent weekends tidying up the yard. Slav was busy at fertilizing, watering, and mowing the lawn, while I took care of the flower beds and planted the veggie garden. We managed to keep the backyard pretty neat this year, so I figured I will show you how far we’ve come.

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Climbing roses and fruit trees

After the hellebore blooms in Spring we finally entered the rose season. The climbing roses “awakeningI planted back in 2018 started covering the back fence.

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Also planted in 2018 are the fruit trees. The two cherry trees have not given us any fruit yet. I heard that it takes 5-9 years for cherry trees to bear fruits. For now we enjoy the healthy leaves and the privacy they provide.

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The apple tree we planted in 2018 bore exactly two apples this year. LOL. There should have been more had we not had snow in the middle of May. These are honey crisp apples which are hubby’s favorite.

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The nectarine and the peach tree planted in 2018 had died due to frost. So we planted another apple tree and a winter-hardy pear in their place. These two tree was purchased from Jung Seed and I can tell from the get-go that they were super healthy and much more robust. Just look at how many apples the new apple tree (transparent) bore this year:

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Can you believe that we just planted it last Spring? The pear tree also has grown tall.

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Speaking of newly planted trees, my baby ginkgo is going strong! It is supposed to grow slowly during its first ten years, but I can see how happy it is judging by the leaves and new branches. It also grew much taller than when it was first planted.

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Peppers and tomatoes

We had a cold, cold spring which really shows in the vegetable garden. All the heat-loving vegetables, such as peppers, aubergine, and okra are embarrassingly small. I actually intended to grow more peppers this year, and seeded lots of different varieties. But most of the pepper seedlings died during the crazy May snow storm and the ones survived have grown very slowly.

Pepper (my biggest one)

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Aubergine

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Okra

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Thankfully we still have lots of tomato plants. Oh the tomatoes! We ate so much fresh on sandwiches and salads and Slav made several big patches of tomato sauce, which we enjoyed all winter long on pizza and pasta dishes. This year I seeded even more and different varieties. The dedicated tomato bed can only contain half of the seedlings I raised, so I planted the rest in other vegetable beds wherever there was space.

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Some of them are dotted among the asparagus ferns,

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and the rest were planted in the pepper bed which was rather empty anyway….

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Did you notice the size differences between tomato seedlings planted in different beds? They are all from the same batch of seedlings! The ones planted very closely in the tomato bed are relatively small:

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On the other hand, the ones planted in between the asparagus ferns grew a lot bigger. It seems to be true that more space you give a crop, bigger it gets.

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I am looking forward to a good tomato year and we cannot wait! Especially given that other crops like peppers and cucumbers did not seem to be growing well.

The garlics and bean tunnel

One crop that did not get affected by the Spring weather is the garlic. ~140 garlic cloves were planted last Fall, and all of them sprouted.

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After enjoying scapes in June, we are ready to harvest the garlic heads in a couple weeks.

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I planted the garlics under the bean tunnel this season, and seeded noodle beans and cantaloupes in between. The beans have come up looking slender.

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I love how elegant these string beans look when climbing up. I actually do not know if they are green or red noodle beans, so it will be a surprise in July!

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Also these beds I planted lettuces and mustard greens. We have been using the leaves in burgers, soups, and for stir fry in June. Several rabbits visit often and I can tell that they enjoyed some leave too. ๐Ÿ™‚

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The cold Spring weather was bad for some but good for others, including the rhubarb I raised from seeds last Spring. They were tiny and scrappy last season, but all three of them came back strooong this year. We have harvested a bunch of stalks and made several delicious pies. Rhubarb is hubby’s another favorite.

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Squashes and pumpkins

Last year we grew way too many yellow squashes and green zucchinis. It was nice to watch the plants grow, but honestly, it was a pain to consume that many. So this year, I only grew one plant each. The goal for my edible gardening this season is to only grow what we can/like to eat.

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As of the pumpkins, I raised mostly butternut squashes and small Kabocha pumpkins. Not only they are our favorite to eat, they also store very well in our heated house.

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I planted all the butternut squashes along the edge of the veggie beds, and concentrated all the Kabochas in the small side yard north to our house. I think they like the slopes there:

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The rest of the sloped side yard was planted with ornamental pumpkins. I am raising six different pumpkins and gourds here, which can be used for Fall decorations. A couple plants each will be enough for us and all of our neighbors. I felt proud seeing every front porch on my street decorated with my pumpkins.

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I used to scratch my head over how to use this sloped side yard. After last season, I know the answer: a pumpkin patch! Rambling vines love the sloped yard and their big leaves shade the soil in summer. I cannot think of a better use for this space.

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The hazelnut trees I planted in 2019 have grown to 8 feet tall. They have flowered profusely this Spring, but I have not seen any nuts yet. How many year does it take for hazelnut to produce? Anyone knows?

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Melons and cantaloupes

Another goal of mine this year is to grow more watermelons and cantaloupes. Last year I grew very few, and the fruits were so sweet and fragrant. So this season, I dedicated the mulched area along the back fence to melons:

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The melon plants remained small since planted. These seedlings needs a long time to put down good roots and they really need consistent heat to grow. I think the biggest lesson gardening has taught me is the art of patience. A Chinese proverb says, “Planning extensively and execute slowly. Patience and accuracy leads to steady progress”. I see it in gardening and try to apply it to my work every day.

The herb garden

The herb garden was the first flower bed we planted. It has been the most robust flower bed in our yard. And this year is no exception:

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Tarragon:

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Lemon balm:

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Walking onion:

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Mint:

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Comfrey:

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Catmint:

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Rosemary:

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I raised this little basil plant from seeds this Spring. Hopefully the July heat will help it grow better:

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One new plant I added this year to the herb garden is this Bay Laurel. We use bay leaves a lot in soups during cooler months. It makes sense to have our own plant and dry the leaves ourselves.

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As usual, Dill has been popping up everywhere.

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The berry garden

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I planted berries heavily as part of my edible garden. Nothing beats getting up the morning, walk around in my pjs with a cup of warm tea, and enjoy fresh berries of the plants. We had a good month of strawberries and service berries, and now come in season are raspberries and blackberries.

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Pies are made and smoothies are drunk. We felt such healthy peeps now!

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So, here is the backyard! I cannot believe how many trees, flowers, and different edible plants we have now in this small backyard, especially considering that four season ago, this was just a big lawn with a few half-dead trees! You have come a looong way, my backyard!

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