gardening


Yard Work

So much for being more interesting last week! We were super busy doing yard work. Our garden beds are officially ready for business and I even direct sowed some seeds yesterday (cabbage, arugula, lettuce, spinach, bok choy, kale, a few onions to even out the row where last year’s onions have come back).

I’ve gone maybe a little overboard with planning the garden this year, but I think it’s going to turn out really well. As I’ve mentioned before, I plotted everything out using the Mother Earth News garden planner. The main benefit of this is that I know how many of each plant I should put where. Because I’m not good with spatial stuff, Ben set up our garden beds like so to help me out:

Our back garden bed

The twine down the middle of this bed shows the path that will be covered with living mulch and in theory should be, in addition to a little strip by the gate, the only place where we step after planting everything. The random wood and metal things indicate how much space I have in each row for each type of plant. After everything is planted and starts to grow, we’ll take these out.
Our front garden bed

The front bed has rows that go all the way across, so these are marked by twine or little fences Ben made with random stuff we had lying around. The fences are for climbing plants — zucchini, cucumbers, peas. I assume peas climb? I’ve never grown them before.
garlic!

I planted some garlic last year or the year before and forgot about it. It’s back!
Our pear tree
Our pear tree
Our pear tree

Our little pear tree that doesn’t make pears does produce some lovely little flowers.
LOL

This picture made me LOL. Josephine says “‘Sup.”


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.

Chairs!!

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


Our 2014 Garden: The Beginning

With gardening, my goal is to get a little better at it each year. I think we’ve come a long way since our first summer in this house, when we just let everything in the yard do what it did until we figured out what were legitimate plants and what were weeds.

Last year, my garden plan involved ordering a shit-ton of seeds, starting them, and planting them outside as soon as the weather allowed, which ended up being really late because winter went on forever. Then we got frustrated and bought some seedlings at the store and got some random things from a neighborhood festival. This had mixed results, the worst of which was everything being ready to harvest way too late in the season.

To try to make this year’s garden better than last year’s, I took a class (Getting the Most Out of Your Home Garden — more info. here), which was great and very informative (I hope to be able to incorporate some of what I learned into the garden posts I’m totally going to write on a somewhat regular basis). I also started using the Mother Earth News Vegetable Garden Planner, which is super awesome and lets you do stuff like this:

Denver urban garden plan

This is the plan for the big bed in our back yard. How cool is that?!

*Note: The garden planner is awesome, but I found it completely overwhelming to get started because I’m apparently not a very spatial person capable of drawing things to scale and in accurate relation to each other. So, as usual, Ben did all the hard work — he measured every single thing in our entire yard and input everything into the planner. (Unfortunately, our whole garden plan is too large to export, so you can’t see the whole thing, but don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll tell you more about it than you’ll ever want to know.)

An important thing I learned from class and through using the planner is that you don’t want to start all your seeds at the same time. This seems kind of, I don’t know, duh, but in the past, the best I’ve ever done is start cold-weather stuff (like broccoli and kale) at one time and hot-weather stuff (like tomatoes and peppers) later.

If you’re using the planner, after you have everything all set up and you’ve put your plants where you want them (this part is kind of like the logic games from the LSAT — some plants prefer to be close to or avoid certain other plants), you can click on the plant list, which as you might guess gives you a list of your plants. But it also tells you when to start things indoors, when to start them outdoors, when to plant them outside, and when to harvest. (Of course, if you’re not using a planner, you can figure this all out on your own by reading your seed packets. I just generally like to do the least amount of work possible.)

Here’s what part of our plant list looks like.

part of our plant list

The exciting news is that if you live in Denver, early February is when you want to start onions. So that’s what I did yesterday. The other cool thing about the planner is that it tells you how many plants you can fit where (if you’re less spatially impaired than I am, you can totally do this on your own by using math and stuff). The space I’ve plotted out for onions will fit seven plants. To make sure I have enough, I planted nine. (I put two seeds in each cell but promise I’ll thin them — I hate thinning plants and haven’t always done it.) In the past, I’ve never paid attention to plant spacing. Usually I just throw a bunch of plants in the ground where I think they look good and let them fend for themselves. We’ll see if correct spacing makes a difference.

Starting onions!

Woohoo! It’s the very humble and overly filtered to the point of looking post-apocalyptic start of our 2014 vegetable garden, which is a fun thing to think about when it’s -2 degrees outside.


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

garden

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!


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!