Yard & Garden

Yard & Garden Updates

Since we’ve lived in this house, we’ve done the following two or three times: Go to Target, buy four of the cheapest outdoor chairs we can find that aren’t hideous, use them in our yard until the intense Colorado sun destroys them, throw them out when they become unusable because they are exceptionally unlikely to be repurposed into anything else.

This year, we figured we should try something different. We were tired of buying new chairs every few years and it’s not good for the environment to buy relatively disposable shit like that. (Plus the last ones we bought were kind of retro cute and colorful but they were wobbly and that’s not a good idea when there might on occasion be small children and/or drunk people around.)

The new chairs had to be metal because that’s probably the only thing that can stand up to the sun. They had to go with our retro patio table and umbrella. I’m sure you’re already picturing the chairs we got.


We scored four of them in pristine condition with a matching metal and glass table (temporarily in the greenhouse) and cushions (which are kind of ugly but we’ll be loving in the summer when they act as oven mitts for our butts when we sit on these hot chairs) on Craigslist for $200. That’s way more than we usually spend, but these should last forever and they’re my favorite style of outdoor chairs ever. So cute! And nobody will wipe out on them. (Although we do have another chair that’s like these but a rocker and Ben totally wiped out on it the first night we had it.)

As for the garden, I planted two kinds of lettuce (freckles and something called “gourmet mix), arugula, and spinach in containers, which are on a shelf in the greenhouse. I could probably plant all the stuff in the ground at this point, but we’re planning to buy some additional soil for our garden beds and haven’t prepped the soil or gotten any mulch yet. So it’s greens in containers for now and in the ground later.

(If you’re wondering about this, everything we do in the garden is organic and natural. We don’t use any chemicals and haven’t (so far) even used fertilizer. I’m interested in fertilizer, but I was reading about natural, organic fertilizer the other day and so much of it is gross and not vegetarian — fish emulsion! — so I probably won’t bother. We use our own compost and this year we’ll be mulching with cardboard, straw, and living mulch (clover).)

containers for now

I also started a bunch more seeds: bok choy, broccoli, brussel sprouts, marigolds, peas, peppers (jalapeno, Hungarian hot wax, King Crimson sweet bell), sage, tomatillos, tomatoes (Rutgers, Cherokee purple, yellow pear, sweetie cherry). I got most of the seeds from High Mowing Organic Seeds and some from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. (This year, I’m going to try saving seeds for the first time. I spend a shitton of money on seeds.)

Starting seeds

The other cool thing is that on Monday, it was warm enough for me to lift weights outside. I don’t even run outside, but I love lifting weights outside and it’s one of the great benefits of working out at home. This was my view from the bench.

My view while working out today

Chicken Coop & Garden Tour

So, here’s what’s been happening in our yard.

chicken coop construction

Here is the framed chicken coop, with the interior wall about to go in. All window and vent openings are covered in hardware cloth. The main thing you need to know about building a chicken coop and run, if you’re into that sort of thing, is that when they’re inside, the chickens must be surrounded on all sides by a solid surface (such as wood) or hardware cloth. That includes above and under the ground of the run portion — yes, you have to dig up some dirt, install hardware cloth along the ground and attach it to something, be it other hardware cloth or a frame) and then put the dirt back in. Otherwise, you might have wildlife or Rottweilers digging into your chicken run, and nobody wants that. We used 1/2-inch hardware cloth from Amazon, because it was the best price we found.  (When the coop is finished, I’ll let you know how much it cost and provide links to stuff we bought online. For now, I’m living in denial.)

chicken coop construction

The triangle on top here is a vent. One thing I learned from my extensive perusal of backyardchickens.com is that your chicken coop needs more ventilation than you might think, even in winter. So we (well, Ben) put in lots.

chicken coop construction

Here is a view of the beautiful linoleum floor Ben got from Habitat for Humanity. It’s always good to visit places like H4H just to see if you can score any materials on the cheap, or cheep if you’re a chicken. (Sorry.) I was partial to the blue floral linoleum tiles, but we figured a big sheet would be cleaner.

chicken coop construction

Back of the coop, also with a big vent area. The big open space is where the nest boxes will go.

chicken coop construction

View of the other side wall, featuring one vent and one window.

chicken run

Looking toward the run.

nest boxes will go here

Here are the framed and linoleum-ed nest boxes. We certainly don’t need 3 nest boxes for 3 chickens, but we can have as many as 8 chickens in Denver, so Ben designed everything to accommodate as many as 8 chickens.

next box construction

Side view of nest boxes. The nest box roof is a door that opens upward, so we can reach in to gather eggs.

chicken coop construction

This is the current state of the coop. This weekend, Ben did the flashing on the roof, put in a ton of insulation, and installed the windows (there’s another window across from this one on the other side) and the outer walls. The windows are shed windows, installed so they can be opened and closed from the outside.

From here you can see the human doors to the coop and, on the right, to the run. Both have locks, mainly because we don’t want to risk any child we know opening a door on his own.

chicken coop and garden

Here you can see the coop and run, as well as the main plot of our garden. Here’s what’s in there:

  • arugula (in a container)
  • mint (in a container — always put mint in a container because it is super aggressive)
  • spinach
  • onions
  • carrots
  • 3 kinds of lettuce
  • kale
  • tomatillos
  • jalapenos
  • Joe E. Parker peppers
  • pepperoncini
  • broccoli
  • brussel sprouts
  • tomatoes, including several heirloom varieties


This looks like ass, but bear with me. When it comes to gardening, we are passionate about two things: spending as little money as possible and using what we already have. This giant thing used to be part of a trellis that Ben removed to make room for the chicken run. Rather than throw it out, we’re using it to keep the dogs off our plants. Here we have several varieties of cucumbers (marketmore, lemon, homemade pickles, something else, and maybe something else — I want to make pickles this year and cucumbers are great for juice, so I wanted to have as many cucumber plants as possible); edamame; zucchini; and mini eggplants. Way in back are a few more tomato plants in containers — Ben put our favorites in containers: peacevine (which are little), red pear, and early girl.

I planted a few things in the front yard, too: garlic (Soren and I planted some cloves in the late fall and they’re all growing), a few more tomatoes, and more zucchini.

We still have a bit more to plant: more tomatoes, basil, oregano, corn, and some kind of bush beans.

A cool thing about this year’s garden! With the exception of a few jalapeno plants, everything was grown from seed or acquired for free at an awesome neighborhood gardening festival. So if all goes well, we’ll get tons of food without spending much money (for once)!

garden and chicken run

As you can see, Sadie is really interested in the chickens all day every day. And we’ve been pretty busy!

My New Signature Pizza and the Cactus Show

I’m ready to declare this my signature pizza:pizza with apricot preserves, roasted garlic, rainbow chard, parmesan cheese, smoked gouda, and brie

  • thin crust
  • olive oil
  • apricot preserves
  • roasted garlic
  • rainbow chard (heat a little olive oil over medium head, add chard, fry (covered, stirring occasionally) for approximately 10 minutes until pleasantly soft, add salt and pepper to taste)
  • a little parmesan
  • a little smoked gouda
  • thinly sliced brie (I remove the rind)

So good. It’s kind of similar to the last pizza I made with chard, although that one is a lot more work.

Sorry the only picture I have is the bad one I just took of the microwaved leftovers at work (the other slice has red sauce, roasted garlic, yellow peppers, onions, and parmesan/mozzarella/gouda).

We went to the Colorado Cactus and Succulent Society show at the Botanic Gardens yesterday. It was cool. We bought a cactus that’s winter hardy and will allegedly grow to be 5 feet tall. We also got the guy below, who was picked out by Soren. I have a thing for cacti/succulents in glass containers, if that can be considered a thing.

succulent in a glass jar

The Tree Catastrophe

So I got home from work today to find this madness (sorry about the as usual bad, unedited iPhone photos).

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Our neighbors had this tree that was gigantic and dying. Their landlord (she lived there when we moved in but now rents the house) had been trying to have the tree taken out, but there were bees living in it, so she had to have a guy come out and get rid of the bees before another guy would come out and get rid of the tree.

And so it came to be that while waiting for this to happen, nature was all, haha fuck you people and your plans, and that gigantic dying tree just snapped in two and the big part fell across our yard and the next neighbor’s yard. The good news is that no people or animals were hurt (Update: There were two pigeon casualties. :() and no houses or cars suffered any damage. And the downed power line was dead, having been snapped right off the live wires behind the houses (of course I didn’t know that as I mountain-goated in my platform shoes over the thing when I got home).

The bad news isn’t even all that bad. Neighbor landlord is awesome and has already been out to check out the damage and has offered to pay for anything that needs to be fixed. Her tree guy will take care of the tree within the next few days and we’ll get as much free mulch as we want. But, the bad news is that our little baby tree in our front yard was snapped like the little twig it pretty much was, and all that’s left is a little branch Ben broke off for me and one leaf and one set of bright red helicopters that I carefully placed between pages of the biggest book I have (Colorado Real Property Law, a book I cite checked back in my freelance days — it was a tossup between that and the Nowak and Rotunda constitutional law hornbook). One section of our fence was taken out, but it’s just chain link so easy to replace (and it wasn’t the section that’s now completely covered with ivy, so that’s awesome).

And — ugh, I don’t even want to talk about this part, but the most traumatic thing about having a gigantic tree fall in our yard is the fact that I had to see the freakishly gigantic beehive that had been lurking inside the tree for who knows how long. Our yard is swarming (no exaggeration — you can hear the yard buzzing — don’t go out there!) with bees. Wait, not just bees. Bees, wasps, hornets, whatever flying things that were living in the ecosystem of that crazy tree. And I don’t mind any of these guys themselves. It’s the nests. We’ve had wasps building nests on our fence every day for weeks and I’ve been traumatized by their nests, but gigantor beehive was even worse. Oh man that shit freaks me right out. It’s that same feeling people get about lotus seed pods — do you know what I’m talking about? There’s a word for that but I can’t google it because sometimes when you google shit like that, pictures come up and I can’t even. Now I’m getting the crawlies and I’m going to lie awake tonight thinking about beehives and that’s so stupid but damn those things freak me out. So anyway, let’s never speak of the nests of bugs again. Deal?

And I know this is silly, especially in light of the hundreds of people in Colorado who have lost their homes this week, but I’ll miss you, little tree.

our tree

Our Garden: February 2012

During the weekend of The Great Denver Blizzard of 2012 (don’t believe the hype — it wasn’t all that), my thoughts turned to our garden. That doesn’t really make sense, but this always happens to me in February. Nothing against winter, but after the holiday sparkle of December and the glorious2012 garden: February new year of January, by February I’m thinking about spring and summer. The good news is that there are some gardening-related things you can do in February. Here’s what I’m doing this month.

1. Learn from last year’s mistakes.

Last year, I made some of the same mistakes I always make (this year will be different!). I ended up getting my seeds started too late. I started everything at the same time and wasn’t with it enough to start cool-weather veggies like lettuce early. The biggest mistake of all? Too much damn zucchini and yellow squash. No disrespect to zucchini, which is awesome, and yellow squash, which, truth be told I don’t like as much because it develops a pretty thick skin when you let them get big, which you’re bound to do when your shit gets all overgrown and you don’t even see the gigantic squashes lurking under all the foliage, but they kind of took over the garden, crowding out some of the other veggies like cucumbers, bless their hearts they never had a chance. As much as I enjoyed writing my “WTF to do with all this zucchini” posts, too much is more than enough. This year, I think we can get by with one (maybe 2) zucchini plants and one yellow squash plant.

2. Plan and get some seeds.

Our 2012 garden will be our 2011 garden +. The “plus” means we’re adding variety. We have leftover seeds (in the freezer) of everything we planted last year. I hope these work. I’m also planting:

  • moon cake edamame (edamame is one of Soren’s favorite things in the world; it’s also a fantastic snack to take to baseball games)
  • rainbow chard
  • De Cicco broccoli
  • Bloomsdale spinach
  • Hanover salad (spring) kale
  • Connecticut field pumpkin (good for carving)
  • Victoria rhubarb
  • valerian
  • calendula
  • evergreen hardy white onion (bunching)
  • wild garden lettuce mix
  • Cisineros grande tomatillo.

Oh, and I have some arugula seeds, too. This is quite ambitious for our limited space (and time), but I’m hoping for the best. My plan is to plan (that’s probably the point of a plan) well enough to get cool-weather veggies like broccoli, Brussel sprouts, lettuce, spinach, chard, etc. out there early. If they’re still hanging in there when the warm-weather stuff like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and squash are ready, cool; if not, we’ll have more room for the new guys.

I order most of my seeds from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.

Also! I’m happy to report that I found some super-helpful and free info. about Denver gardening on the internet:

3. Start composting.

Okay, yeah, if you’re a good gardener and/or hippie, unlike me, you probably already do this. But we’re just about to get started (finally). Because we have dogs who eat things, we need something covered, but I was horrified by the cost of compost bins ($100-200, what?). So what to do? We bought two 32-gallon trash cans from Home Depot ($15.47 each) and we’re going to drill some holes in them and hope for the best (I’m thinking something like this or this — I like the second option because it doesn’t require screens and seems easier). I also got a little fancy and ordered this compost bin for the kitchen ($19.99). So, $50 and a little effort and we’ll be keeping stuff out of landfills and providing luscious compost for our garden soon. Yay!

4. Start making toilet-paper-roll seed pots.

We usually buy one of those plastic seed-starting things with the little compartments and the cover. These are nice in theory and great for the early days, but I always run into trouble because plants grow at different rates and I end up with tomatoes and peppers that don’t fit under the lid and want to get outside in the sun and leggy little lettuce sprouts that aren’t ready for that madness.

Then I found this awesome post about using tp rolls to make seed pots. It’s environmentally friendly, free, and, well, fantastic. I’m not that good at it yet and mine don’t really like to stand up on their own, but I’m sure that once they’re filled with starter mix and next to each other on some sort of tray, it’ll all be good. Getting an early start on this project means I should have plenty of seed pots by the time I need them.

5. Be a total dork about gardening.

I think I have that one covered. I can’t wait ’til summer!