Category Archives: outdoors

2017 Garden Planning

Last year was my most successful year ever in the veggie garden, which means I actually harvested something! So the bar is not set terribly high for me to do even better this year. 🙂

Spaghetti Squash: this was my big winner, I think I ended up with about 10 squashes off of 2 plants, out of the 4 that I initially planted. Here’s how they looked midway through last season:

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My biggest learning there was to make sure I put something over the newly planted seeds and then the new seedlings until they get established. My first attempt I think a squirrel came through and dug everything up, so my second attempt I put overturned buckets over the newly planted spots. But then I don’t think the trellises I had were big enough for 4 full-sized plants anyway, so I’ll have to up my trellis game this year. We do spaghetti squash basically once a week all fall and winter, so I need more!

Tomatoes: similarly, I got 4 good-sized seedlings transplanted, but 2 thrived and 2 limped along until I finally pulled them. I thought I got them in pretty early but they took a loonnnggggg time to finally really start setting lots of fruit. Possibly the soil mix wasn’t very good, Or I planted them too deep and they spent all their energy making new roots? At any rate, I was finally harvesting lots of fruit and many more green ones were forming when it finally got too cold back in early November-ish. I was super happy with the trellises we made out of trellis netting and electrical conduit for a frame. Here’s how it looked early in the season (I don’t seem to have a photo from the end of the season, but the plants were almost to the top!):

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The problem is I don’t really have all that much raised bed space, especially if I want to actually, you know, rotate my crops each season. So I’m going to be brave and plant them… gasp… in the ground this year! There’s a big spot, about 4 feet wide by 24 feet long, on the side of the house, that up to this point I’ve just used to stash random yard stuff and junk intended for the landfill. I haven’t been deliberately amending the soil, but I’ve been throwing layers of cardboard and mulch there ever since we moved in to keep the weeds at bay. So the top 6 inches or so look pretty nice, then it gets dense and clay-like. So for now I’ll throw a bunch of compost on top. And in April I’ll dig big holes and add fun amendments and stuff in with my tomato seedlings and hope for the best! Here’s how the space look right now:

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Other stuff: I’m putting hoops on one of my raised beds, I’m hoping to use row cover to keep it shady and a little cooler, maybe it’ll help the broccoli, spinach, and cilantro when things get hot in the summer?  I’ve ordered more bare-root strawberries, and I might try putting row cover over them in the summer too. I’m going to try some peas on last year’s tomato trellis this spring. And I’m going to try filling one of my 3’x3′ beds with potatoes. Potatoes! Crazy!

I’ve also ordered some bare-root blueberries, but the spot I have picked out for them is on the other side of the yard, and I’m going to build a new raised bed to hopefully keep the soil appropriately acidic and keep the bermuda grass out. I think that will kinda be a separate project from the rest of the garden, we’ll see.

Gardening  things are happening!

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February Gardening

It’s been quite a while, so I have way more than a month’s worth of changes to the back yard to talk about.

First off, two of my neighbors got motivated about replacing our shared fence line, so we took the opportunity to remove the overgrown yuccas that were pushing the fences over and threatening the power lines. The back yard is really almost too sunny in the summer now, but the removal of the yuccas did reveal some pretty birch(?) trees that I didn’t even know existed in my neighbor’s yard. We’re vaguely discussing possible replacement trees, but it’s not a high priority. Here’s how that corner looks now, though the neighbor’s trees are boring and leafless at the moment:

No more yuccas

My raised veggie garden beds were over on the opposite side of the house from the chicken coop, but we’ve been slowly moving them over, along with the compost pile. It allows more flexibility in moving the temporary chicken fence so I can let them in and around the beds if I want, and also means less walking to toss the old chicken bedding in the compost. Also, this side of the house is much more visible from the kitchen and dining room windows, so the garden is less likely to suffer from my “out of sight, out of mind” forgetfulness.

New garden box location

So far I’ve just started planting in the 6’x3′ box, (spinach, cilantro, carrots, bunching onions) and also put in some bare root strawberry plants in the long skinny box. I’m hoping to make two 3’x3′ boxes for tomatoes and basil, we’ll see how that goes. The oregano plant I got last year survived my neglect, so I moved it to a big pot that I had available. The parsley that I put in the ground last year (near the rosemary) limped along all summer then went crazy once it started raining. I’m going to plant some more next month, but I’m hoping after that it’ll just self-seed.

Parsley

The dwarf citrus trees that I got last March (one each of navel orange, lemon, and lime) are doing okay.  They’re still in their original tubs… the pots I had procured are still too big I think. I guess I should revisit the pots this year, maybe I can buy an in-between size and hopefully not kill them off.

Potted Citrus

The front yard is still in a holding pattern. I’ve done my best to let the grass die, but it doesn’t make sense to do anything fancy until our theoretical renovation to the house actually happens. It looks like we got a bunch of volunteer poppies that presumably blew in from the neighbor’s yard, so maybe I’ll weed around them and try to encourage them along.

 

March Gardening

Probably the biggest thing that’s been happening this month in the garden and the yard is weeding. Boring. The weeds have been growing like crazy, but since I have a pretty thick layer of mulch nearly everywhere that isn’t grass, most of the weeds have really shallow roots. So I’ve been able to pull a few square feet almost every day whenever I have a few spare minutes. I think this is the first year where I’ve managed to deal with most of the weeds before they went to seed. Maybe that means there will be fewer weeds next year? Haha I can dream.

I haven’t done anything other than weed control in the front yard, since we have hopes of tearing up and re-landscaping this year sometime. But even with my neglect, the alyssum and lavender went ahead and did their thing:

Alyssum and lavender

I’m trying out leaving weeds where I pulled them if they haven’t gone to seed, as a little free mulch. You can see them strewn about in the photo above. We’ll see how that goes.

Also in the front yard, my neighbor has awesome poppies growing like crazy in the patch of earth between the sidewalk and the curb. And a few volunteers have taken hold in my patch! I don’t quite have the energy to pull up the grass completely, but I’m keeping it short and trying to give the poppies an advantage. My section is in the foreground, my neighbor’s is in the background:

poppies

The rest of the front yard is… green for now.

Green

But over half of it is just weeds, since we didn’t water at all last summer and a lot of the grass died. The weeds are still mow-able, but at the moment they’re growing faster than grass, so I have to mow a lot to keep things under control. Once things heat up this summer it should all turn brown and dead again. We haven’t replaced it yet because we’re hoping to hire some folks to do a big renovation on the house soon that probably involves construction equipment. And that equipment will presumably need to drive over the front yard. So for now I’m just trying to keep the house visible behind the weeds. 🙂

Moving on to the back yard, please notice the lack of weeds:

garden sans weeds

For comparison, in past years this has looked a bit like a field of mature wheat by the time I get around to hacking it all down. Progress! The fabric over the bigger garden box is there because I just transplanted my broccoli seedlings, and I read a suggestion to use a floating row cover for a few days after transplanting, so we’ll see how this goes. The smaller garden box has almost everything transplanted now, though they’re all still pretty small:

garden box

I haven’t actually used mulch in the boxes before, but it seems like an obvious way to conserve a little water. We’ll see how this straw works out.

Oh! And I bought some dwarf fruit trees! I’m going to grow them in containers. Or possibly they’ll all die. Hopefully if they do they’ll die within a year so I can return them and try again. 🙂 I got one each of orange, lemon, lime, and avocado:

Fruit trees

And I bought those big plastic containers, got home, and read that you shouldn’t put small citrus trees in big containers. Sigh. So for now I’m keeping them in their original black containers that they came in. I did pot up the avocado (the one on the top left by itself in the picture) because it’s a bit bigger and was looking kinda sad after a week in its original container. I’ve been checking the soil regularly with a cheap moisture meter to hopefully not overwater these guys. I’m probably damaging the roots because I’m checking the moisture level so often, but I’m hoping it’s worth it to get a feel for this sort of thing as a newbie, even if I kill a few plants off. 🙂

one last picture, I made an outdoor mini greenhouse/cold frame thing:

cold frame

My seedlings are all doing pretty well in there, so now I’m back to just starting seeds in the garage, then moving them out here. I’ll do a separate post on how I put this together.

Breathing New Life into an Old Swing Set

I started contemplating fixing up the dilapidated swing set over a year ago, and now I can finally (finally!) declare success! As a refresher, here’s the swing set the way it’s looked since we inherited it with the house:

Swing Set

And here’s how it looks now:

Finished Swing Set

Really just a fresh coat of spray paint in one of my favorite colors took the frame from ugly to awesome:

spray paint before and after

And I ordered the swings/chains, “rings”, and rope online. It was a bit of a gamble to get them all the same shade of yellow since I got them from different sources, but I think I got it pretty close! The painting and ordering actually happened months ago, and Dakota was loving it even before we got all the elements set up.

In progress

The reason why it took so long for me to declare victory was the slide.

Slide detail

I spray painted the plastic part of the slide a while back, and though the bright yellow started to chip off a little, (shoulda used primer!) it still looks pretty good. What took me forever was that I wanted to build the ladder out of steel pipe. After a few false starts I ordered the T connectors and custom length pieces of pipe (for the rungs, since I wanted to use the existing holes in the plastic slide) online. The shipping was a bit high, and I’m sure I could have found someone local to cut pipe for me if I had tried. But it’s hard to beat the ease of ordering exactly what you need from your computer, while wearing your PJs. 🙂

Once I had everything, it was pretty easy to connect all the pieces of pipe and slide them into the existing holes. And then I spray painted them to match and declared victory! The slide is pretty solid and doesn’t need support from the rest of the structure at all.

Swing Set Done

Sadly Dakota will probably be outgrowing this thing pretty soon. Since we aren’t cementing it into the ground or anything she can’t swing very high before the whole thing starts rocking. On the plus side we can always reuse all of the elements on a larger (wooden?) frame if we want to keep the DIY fun going.

Shed Shed Shed

We built the chicken coop from scratch, so in some ways it feels like a cop-out to buy a pre-fab shed instead of building one from scratch too. Too bad, because I like our new shed a lot.

Shed!

The setup and assembly were pretty involved. Us being us, we stretched it out for monnnthhhhsssss. First, the thing required a level base to sit on, and with our mild temperatures and minimal rainfall we probably could have just gone with hard-packed dirt underneath, but what’s the fun in that? Since we’re considering eventually re-doing our back patio with paver stones, we figured this would be a good place to practice. 🙂 So first “we” (and by that I mean mostly Dave, with help from Dakota) dug out a few inches of dirt:

Digging

The internet says that for a proper patio we’re supposed to lay a bunch of gravel first, but again with the warm climate and the fact that we’re using the cheapest paver stones possible and no one will even really see if things start to buckle, we decided to just vaguely tamp and level the dirt, then add a few inches of sand.

Laying pavers

I really like how the base ended up. We have a few takeaways for the future especially with how to do the edges correctly, but overall it was educational and ultimately satisfying.

Paver base

The actually assembling of the shed was pretty intense… I’d say it took a total of 8 hours with two people working on it, and that estimate doesn’t include breaks. The instructions were a little cryptic in places, but we were able to avoid any major mistakes (that I know of). I didn’t get any progress shots, so here’s the finished shed:

Completed shed

 

And here it is from the other side:

Finished shed again

It’s over on the “utility” side of our yard, so it doesn’t have to look pretty, but overall I think it’s fairly spiffy-looking. Or maybe I just think that because of how much room it’s freeing up in the garage. I plan to let the chickens roam freely on that side, and hopefully they can keep the weeds at bay. Otherwise we just need to even out the dirt piles we made from shoveling out the base, and then we’re pretty much all set over there.

March Outdoor Chores

I should probably just title this post “Outdoor Procrastinating”, because whenever I think about getting some work done outside, I think about how I’m STILL not done with the chicken coop, and then I decide to go read a book or bake cookies or something instead of face up to my own slowness.

Okay, that’s a little unfair, here’s the coop as it looks today, and I really am almost done, at least with the functionality:

Coop progress

And I finally got around to trimming back the magenta bougainvillea (and the giant privet that was growing behind it):

Bougainvillea and rosemary

See the poor rosemary bush on the far right side? It looks all lopsided because it was almost completely covered. And despite all the neglect, it still was providing us with delicious fresh flavor for dinner a few nights each week.

Speaking of herbs, here are my mostly ignored herb boxes:

Herb boxes

I think maybe I need to trim back the parsley somehow? That’s the big leafy one in the middle. And the garlic is probably close to ready to be harvested, I’ll have to double check with mister Google on how one determines such things. But why is the garlic to the right of the parsley so much bigger than the garlic to the left of the parsley? Slightly more sun? Slightly better drainage? who knows!

Here’s the main garden box, I finally got around to planting little strawberry plants, hopefully they won’t die horribly, I’m at least watering them a few times a week:

Strawberries

The onion seeds I planted are just starting to break through the soil on both sides of the strawberries, so that’s cool I guess.

Here’s the last big thing I need to prune back, the middle jasmine:

Jasmine bloom

It’s the giant white mound. Since it’s furiously blooming at the moment I figure I’ll let it have its fun. I cut back the jasmine on the far right of the picture before it started blooming, so no flowers from that one this year. 😦 Oh and that fence is SO GETTING REPLACED this year. I know I say that every year, but it’s happening for real this time.

Let’s see, to finish things off, here’s the front yard. The lavender just loves being completely ignored and is looking fabulous:

Lavender

The hydrangea is also doing well despite being completely ignored. I didn’t even cut off the dead flowers from last year. I’m a horrible plant mom. 😉

Hydrangea

I got yet another fuchsia in a hanging pot last week. It’s looking a little droopy, despite the fact that I HAVE been water it! Booooo. Maybe I’m over-watering? Sigh. All previous fuchsias died off after a few months, but they at least looked good while they lasted…

Fuchsia

And thus ends my report on the outdoor happenings this month. Wish me luck on finishing the coop!

 

Shipping Pallet Compost Pile

Dave recently (and perhaps foolishly) mentioned that there are occasionally abandoned shipping pallets at his work that he could abscond with. I had to immediately show him a sampling of the insane number of “make X out of a shipping pallet” tutorials there are on Pinterest and pretty much all over the internet.

He gets a reprieve though, as I’m not actually very into the whole reclaimed wood look (yet…) but I did recall seeing examples of shipping pallets being used as bins/fences for composting. And especially now that we have chickens it seems silly to not have a compost pile, especially as this is the third year in a row where I’ve gone out and bought compost for gardening.

Compost Pile

So yes, behold! Compost. I’m not trying very hard, I suppose I should do some reading, as I hear that there’s brown stuff and green stuff that you’re supposed to layer or something. Anyway, I figure I’ll go buy a pitchfork and turn it occasionally. And keep adding the stuff I clean out of the coop and trimmings from the yard, and hopefully the whole brown/green thing will work itself out. Here’s a better shot of my veggie garden with the compost lurking in the background:

Garden and compost pile

And here’s the view of the whole side yard from the back patio:

Side yard garden garden and compost

The shipping pallets are in the back right of the photo. They look halfway decent from this view!

I have started separating out raw veggie scraps from the stuff that we put in our city compost bin, which still gets discarded meat from dinner and Starbucks cups and such. But I figure I should be offering the veggie scraps to the chickens? I guess if I do they’ll still eventually end up in the compost pile… In a sense. 😀

Speaking of chickens, I’ve finished framing the coop and moved it into place in the back yard. Now I just need to add the siding and the roof:

Coop progress

I’m planning to build a small (four feet long) outdoor run off the right side of the coop, and also enclose the part underneath the platform with hardware cloth for a little more secured outdoor space. You can see the remains of the old fencing slats piled up behind the coop, after I pulled out the pieces I wanted for siding, which are in the garage being cut down to size.

Lucky me, Dakota still really likes hanging out in the back yard and is decently good at keeping herself entertained!

Outdoor baby

 

Goodbye, Mulberry

That’s right, we finally pulled the trigger on getting rid of the mulberry. We even spent the extra moola to get the stump ground down. As I’ve lamented many times here, the thing grows like a weed, attacks the roof, and shades the solar panels. We would basically have to get it pollarded once a year to keep it in check. Here is how it looked a few days ago from the back patio:

Mullberry from the patio

And here was the view from the far corner of our yard:

Mulberry in the yard

The tree cutter guys didn’t show up until the afternoon so they only managed to get the mulberry down to the stump by the end of the first day. Dakota thought the chainsaws were awesome:

Dakota watching the tree cutters

And here is where we were at the end of day one:

Mulberry removal progress

The overgrown privet on the right against the fence was also slated for removal, as was the small dead tree against the fence just to the right of the stump in the picture above. The big tree to the far left is the elderberry, and it got a stay of execution… for now.

Here’s the new view from the back corner of the yard The elderberry is more obvious of course, but there’s just sooo much more space!

Yard without mulberry

And here’s the view from the patio:

Patio view after

No more little dead tree, no more privet and NO MORE MULBERRY! I’m a little sad though… The thing was big enough to support a tire swing or something similar, and the shade it cast on the yard in the summer was quite nice. Now we’re debating putting in a more reasonable tree, something that can give some shade (and maybe a little privacy from our back fence neighbor) without growing super fast.

As a bonus, they also removed the stump from the yucca in the front yard. (Yucca’s are much more sponge-like so it hardly took any time at all to grind up.) Here’s how it looked after Dave took a chainsaw to it last week:

Yucca-Free PatioAnd here we are now:

No more yucca stump

Unfortunately yuccas (and mulberries and privets, for that matter) can all grow back from just the roots. The pros did a pretty good job of pulling up roots and grinding everything down, but we may very well be battling the reemergence of these plants from now on. Ah well, at least now we stand a chance of winning!

Outdoor Chore Catchup

The weather has been just gorgeous for the past few weeks! Sorry everyone in the rest of the US. If it makes you feel better, sales tax here is 9%… Anyway, We’ve been spending as much time as we can outside, and as a result I’m soooo close to being caught back up on chores that got shoved aside when Dakota was born. For instance, the side yard (where the garden box and apple tree reside):

Side yard weeds

This was back at the end of November, when the apple tree (back left of the picture) had leaves and a few fruit left. Three apples that I managed to salvage, in fact. Well a few times a week I’ve managed to plunk Dakota down in the back yard like so:

Baby outdoors

And get a little weeding/mulching/pruning done. I finally got it down to this:

Weeded side yard

It’s much easier to see the garden box and the apple tree, right? That hulking mass of green in the back is one of several privet invasions. This one was still small enough for us to handle ourselves, so Dave got to break out his cute new chainsaw:

Attacking the privet

And it’s way better now, though there’s still a bit of overgrown  greenery back there. It’s technically on our neighbor’s yard, but the fence there is pretty much toast so we need to discuss things with him about that whole area anyway.

Unfortunately I still have this part of the side yard to tackle:

Side yard mess

This is off to the right of the newly weeded and mulched area. Plant-wise, we have from left to right: Prickly yellow rose, overgrown jasmine, diseased red rose, more overgrown jasmine, behemoth white rose. I’d already pruned the white rose half-way back when I snapped this pic… it’s still 8 feet tall, but at least now it’s not 10 feet wide. And note the lovely sheet of plywood covering the hole in the fence that Loki was using to visit the neighbor and the rest of the block.

Back to Dave though, since he was on a roll with the chainsaw, he decided to finally take care of this yucca growing in the front yard:

Pokey Yucca

This thing was stabbing me with its fronds ever time I went into the garage. Ugh. Anyway, I didn’t even have a chance to get a front view picture because it came down so fast, So here’s a photo from the middle of last year:

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here’s the post-demolition side view:

Yucca Gone

And here’s our new front view:

Yucca-Free Patio

The window to the front bedroom is now a little short on privacy, I’m on the lookout for a big hanging plant to place over the railing to help with that.

Now I have many much more fun outdoor projects I can get rolling on, like restarting/expanding the vegetable garden boxes, starting a compost pile, fixing up the swing set, getting the mulberry tree cut down, setting up a storage shed, and CHICKENS! Chickens are finally happening. Oh yes.

Yard Work To-Dos

I didn’t really have anything I wanted to blog about, so I decided to walk around the back yard and take pictures of all the stuff I have NOT been doing… See, I’ve managed to keep up with mowing the lawn, but not too much else has been happening with the back yard. The white rose bush is back to behemoth size:

overgrown rose and jasmine

That’s it on the right, probably around eight feet tall? I’m pretty sure I’m going to cut it down to about a foot tall, for real this time. This thing grows like crazy even with horrible neglect, and I can’t keep up with it when it’s taller than me. The jasmine has pretty much completely engulfed the red rose bush, (on the left in the above picture) so I’ll take a swat at that too. I’m thinking at least one of those jasmines just needs to go. Or maybe I should nix the red rose bush? It’s always been the least healthy of the roses I’ve inherited. It makes me cringe even contemplating killing a rose bush though…

The apple tree is looking just pathetic:

apple tree

I keep thinking I should at least spend a few hours picking apples off it so hopefully those collapsed branches can recover, but there always seems to be something higher priority that I’d rather do instead.

The rest of that fence line is doing a bit better, here it is with the apple tree just visible in the distance:

fence line

I managed to unearth the two pink roses from the mounds of weeds they were drowning in. They’re to the right just in front of the magenta bougainvillea in the above picture, they’re hard to see because there aren’t any blooms at the moment. These two roses don’t get any water from the automatic sprinkler system (I should totally remedy that) and yet they STILL keep on trucking.

I hacked back the purple bougainvillea and got a good start in on its jasmine buddy, (in the foreground of the above picture) but I still need to attack the magenta bougainvillea. (back near the apple tree) I’m going to give myself one more year to try to keep up with them, but if they get overgrown again I’m going to call it quits and uproot them.

Moving along…

The stump that the power company left us when they cut the huge yucca tree down has gone and sprouted:

yucca stump

It no longer looks like a decaying stump, at least.

The privet flowered and fruited:

Privet

Sorry this picture isn’t super helpful, the privet is the “tree” with the cluster of “trunks” right up against the fence, and there are a bunch of dark berries and leaves in the upper part of the pixture. I’m like, 90% sure it hadn’t produced fruit since we moved in, so maybe it has some sort of multi-year cycle? Anyway, I don’t like it. Really I don’t like any of the trees along the back fence and I want them to go away. But I do like shade and privacy, so I guess I’ll have to figure out my priorities at some point. Blah.

The far side of the house has managed to stay mostly weed-free thanks to my cardboard and mulch laying efforts:

Mulch

Aaaannnddd the mulberry tree is currently shading the solar panels for part of the day. We got the thing pollarded less than two years ago, and I don’t think I can stomach the expense and hassle of yearly pollarding, so we are having serious discussions about cutting it down. 😦 On the one hand the shade is lovely. On the other hand it grows too fast, and the roots have put cracks in the patio and are probably close to attacking the foundation of the house. Sigh.