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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. ย 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.

 

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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. ๐Ÿ™‚

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. ๐Ÿ™‚ 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. ๐Ÿ™‚

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.

Outdoor Chores

It’s warmed up a bit here in the bay area, so I’ve been trying to salvage some of the horrible mess that is our outdoor space. First up, some looongggg overdue love for our little orange tree. It finally got some real sunlight this past year since we cut the mulberry tree way back. But it was extremely lopsided since it had been stuck half in the shade for so long. Dave had pruned it some last year to try and balance it out, but we didn’t want to cut away too much foliage all at once. So I figured it was time to take another stab at it. Here are the results:

Orange Tree

Someday I’ll learn to not try to take pictures of trees in bright morning sunlight, but hopefully you get the idea. It’s still looking a bit sparse, but hopefully it’ll fill in a bit more this year.

If you lean in and squint you can see that there are actually quite a lot of fruits growing on it at the moment. They’re actually delicious, about the size and flavor of clementines, but there are a TON of seeds in them, like two or three in each section. I generally only eat them outside so I can spit the seeds out as I go. I did harvest a few ripe ones before cutting off some of the big branches:

Oranges

But there are more where that came from, many more than we can possibly eat. They just need a little more time to grow.

I also FINALLY weeded and cleaned out all of the old fallen oranges under the tree. There were a bunch of random bricks placed haphazardly around the base of the tree, so I moved them to one side so I could rake, fertilize, and mulch. And then I uncovered this guy:

Happy Face

It’s a concrete paver with a face. At first i thought he was a bit creepy, but now that the area is more groomed I think he’s kinda sweet. He needs a name though. Fred? Marvin? I’m open to suggestions.

Speaking of the mulberry tree, here’s how it’s looking one year after being pollarded:

Mulberry Tree

It did sprout and then drop a bunch of leaves, so it’s not like it sat dormant all year. And now there are many, many new branches growing out from the main limbs. The thing really is just a giant weed. But it provides some very nice shade, so I continue to resist the urge to just have it cut down. We’ll probably need to get it cut back again in the fall though.

Anyway, that ends the productive things I can report. Next on my to-do list is attempting to fix up the front and back lawn. The front lawn is actually looking a bit greener and less sparse, but there are still some big sections that are dominated by weeds. Here’s the area by the fence:

Front Yard Fence

I’m actually tempted to turn that area into a row of flowers or something since it gets such good sun and it’s hard to mow. But for now I just have to get rid of those weeds! And here’s the rest of the yard; the weeds are a bit hard to see in the photo (sorry!) but trust me, they are abundant, especially along the edges where we didn’t get good sprinkler coverage and all the grass died:

Front Yard

Our neighbor must have finally weed-whacked his paver-stoned area (to the left of the picture) because it used to match our weeds a lot better. And OF COURSE all of the rest of our neighbors somehow effortlessly keep their lawns looking loverly, so we stick out like a sore thumb. Waa. It’s okay, they all have grown-up kids and think our attempts at responsible homeownership are cute. ๐Ÿ™‚ Luckily, they can’t see our back yard, which is even worse:

Back Yard

Allow me to highlight the especially silly-looking areas:

Back Yard Messes

In the yellow box we have my thriving dandelion garden. This is yet another spot where all of the grass had died over the summer, and the dandelions took over during the winter. And they’re so tall, I’m sure the roots are going to be impressive. Sigh.

In the red box is the crazy jasmine/bougainvillea growing back together again to form a crazy chimera-like monster. I had gotten that under control over the course of last winter/spring, but growing things have this tendency to, you know, GROW. It’s still not nearly as bad as it was, but I want to deal with it pretty soon before it gets completely out of control again. Maybe I’ll wait until the jasmine is done blooming in a month or so, because it’s so nice for a few weeks when it blooms, but there aren’t any flowers on new growth, so we didn’t have any last year after I cut it back. It would be sad to miss out on flowers two years in a row.

in the blue box is a spot where a few fence slats have fallen down. Boooo. In fact they’re leaning against one of the rose bushes… I’m such a bad plant mom. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ We’ll probably just nail those slats back into place with the help of a supporting cross-piece, because I’m still trying to stall before we replace the whole fence.

I’m not even going to take a picture of the side yards, because they are just flourishing weed jungles at the moment. I guess I should also save the apple tree from weeds pretty soon and maybe fertilize while I’m at it, but otherwise I plan to pretty much ignore the side yards. Well, maybe if I need to let out some pent up aggression I’ll attack a chunk at a time with the hoe. We’ll see. ๐Ÿ™‚

Pollarding

We did it, we finally tackled the mulberry tree. Or rather, we finally got around to hiring someone to tackle it. The tree guys came out, took a look, and decided it was way overgrown and our best bet would be to pollard it. We’ve seen some pretty strange-looking pollarded trees, especially on the Berkeley campus, but mulberry trees just grow so darn fast that it suits our main goals perfectly: keep the tree from taking over the yard/destroying our roof while still keep a chunk of the back yard in shade in the summer. Anyway, here’s the only “before” picture I could find:

(Sorry, crappy phone picture...)

And here is the pollarded, skeletal after:

So that's what the sky looks like!

The now-taller tree in the background is the elderberry tree that is leaning over our neighbor’s yard a tiny bit. We probably need to either pollard that one too, or maybe just cut it down entirely. Luckily, our neighbors are pretty much easy-going procrastinators like us, so there’s no rush.

And now, for a never-before-seen view of the back of our house!

Please ignore the pile of cardboard boxes...

Yup, our roof feels a lot less threatened now. And see that bushy green tree thing getting oh-so-much sun to the right of the house in the back of the picture? it’s our citrus tree!! And now it might actually do a little better since the mulberry tree isn’t leaning over it.

(yummy?)

We aren’t really sure if they’re supposed to be edible, but the tree trimmers chomped down on a few during their break, so maybe we should actually get it looked into. It certainly has a lot of fruit right now…