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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. Β 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.

 

Saving the Yard

Both our front yard and back yard held up fairly well through our first summer, but last summer both of them were looking pretty miserable by the end. The grass was pretty prickly and had given up entirely in quite a few spots. In the front yard this was probably due to the in-ground sprinklers crapping out and my pathetic attempts at buying and using above-ground sprinklers not working so well. But the back yard was doing pretty badly too. I made an uneducated attempt to overseed in the fall, but I didn’t really research it enough and used a warm season seed mix, which unsurprisingly did very little in the way of growing. In my defense, the vast majority of advice and how-tos on lawn care assume you live somewhere where it rains a lot and freezes for part of the year. Sigh.

I hope that I’ll be able to spend a lot of this coming summer enjoying the nice weather outdoors, but if our lawn looks like it did last summer I won’t really want to spend any time on or near it. So after some much more obsessive researching on the topic, I’ve settled on the following plan of action: aerate, topdress with compost, and overseed. Oh and actually figure out how much water our sprinklers produce and adjust accordingly. All of this needs to happen soon if we want a useable yard this summer, and with a baby set to appear at any moment, I kicked it into high gear. For aerating, we already owned this manual tool:

Manual Aerator

In case it’s unclear, you hold the handles at the top, place the hollow spikes on the ground, and give the horizontal bar at the bottom a good stomp. I actually bought this thing last year, but in the fall our lawn was as hard as concrete so I quickly gave up. This time around, with softer soil from the rainy season and an extra 50 lbs of weight to use to my advantage, this actually worked quite well. It took me all of last week working in fairly short sessions each day just to do the front yard, but of course I wasn’t pushing myself, and I was pretty happy to get some sun each day and listen to podcasts as I worked. I’m still working on aerating the back yard, and I finally came up with a method to keep my holes more or less straight. We have these plastic yellow poles that I can move over to the leading edge of holes as I make each new pass down the yard:

Aerating the back yard

The dirt to the far right of the picture above is my attempt to fill in some of the dips in our yard with the most potential to break an ankle. Hopefully when I put grass seed down on the dirt it will actually grow, but non-broken ankles are more important than a pretty lawn. πŸ™‚

Next up, I needed compost. After pacing out the lawn and doing a little math, I figured I needed just about 2 cubic yards to top dress all of the grass with 1/4″ of compost. About a third of it would be for the front lawn, and the rest of it would be for the back. There seem to be quite a few landscaping companies around that sell compost in bulk, with options to bag it ourselves or have it delivered. I ended up going with the company that seemed to be the most friendly to non-professional DIY types, based on the reviews I read. They actually had an option to rent out a dump truck so we could really do IT ALL by ourselves, but we have so many other things going on, so we decided to pay the extra money to have it delivered. And since the delivery price was a flat charge, we also decided to order 3 cubic yards of mulch. We normally end up buying bags upon bags of the stuff from the hardware store anyway, so buying it all in once in bulk should save us some money in the end.

Anyway, the delivery date we picked was supposed to be rain-free, but of course by the evening before, the forecast had changed to “80% chance of rain, chance of thunderstorms”. Being the optimistic sort, I didn’t change the delivery date at the last minute, so this morning the truck arrived, leaving this in our driveway:

Driveway dump

We immediately covered the compost (on the right) with the tarps since we figured we wouldn’t get to it today and we wanted to protect it from the impending rain. Dave had already left for work, so Julie and I hauled out the wheelbarrow and shovels and got to work. Actually the above picture is after Julie had to stop and go to work, so we had already moved maybe a quarter or so of the mulch to the back yard. Actually most of the mulch is going to be used on the “utility” side yard, (where we keep the trash cans and such) which was crazy overrun with weeds. We did manage to start tearing through some of the weeds last weekend, but there are still many tall weeds in the way, so we mostly piled the mulch up for now:

Side yard mulch

The area on the right of the picture is where we already hoed away all of the weeds. Hopefully the rest of this area will look like that soon.

I took a nice nap after Julie went to work and then proceeded to get the rest of the mulch out of the driveway, with still no sign of rain. It did finally rain in the evening, but there wasn’t any thunder to speak of. Ah well.

Oh! and I found some baby snakes hiding under a board. Adorable!!

20130307-212126.jpg

Anyway, the landscaping people recommended that we let the compost “cool off” for a few days. So I guess I’ll get back to aerating and hoeing, and maybe I’ll start working on my topdressing skills sometime next week… If I’m still feeling energetic next week…

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. πŸ™‚ 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. 😦 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. πŸ™‚

Manual Labor

Our neighbors think we’re a little odd. When it comes to landscaping, we tend to stick with pretty primitive devices. We’ve been using a reel mower for awhile now:

Our neighbor took pity on Dave and lent us his gas-powered mower when we first moved in and the grass got a bit long. But generally the reel mower works just fine. We barely had to mow in the summer anyway considering how dead our grass was looking. We do have a plug-in weed whacker though, we aren’t completely crazy.

More recently we’ve been expanding our tools selection. To try to bring our lawn back to life we got an aerator (the kind with two hollow prongs on the end of a pole that you stomp on with your foot) and a little hand-dispenser for fertilizer. And then to move the pieces of the yucca tree to the side yard and out of the way, we got a wheelbarrow and an axe:

When we bought the axe, the little old lady at the hardware store cash register gave us a “be careful” instead of the more normal “have a nice day”. We may have been grinning gleefully at the time.

I’ve gotten pretty good at responding to our curious/confused neighbors… “Oh, this is to make up for not going to the gym for the past two weeks.” They generally nod sagely to that. πŸ™‚ Someday we’ll probably switch to less manual tools, but with a yard this size, these are working fine for us for now. Considering that we also don’t have much in the way of storage space, it’s nice to minimize the big/heavy tools when we can…