Summertime Catch Up

Summertime has been a blast so far. The boy did his week of mountain bike camp and started doing some small jumps (and making my heart stop), my sister had a beautiful and fun wedding [for which there will be a separate dedicated detailed post, as my sister already called to complain about this], and then we went to Disneyland & the beach!

Obligatory castle pic

Obligatory castle pic

Driving already?! fyi, she was awful.

Driving already?! fyi, she was awful.

Arr matey! Treasure on Tom Sawyer's Island.

Arr matey! Treasure on Tom Sawyer’s Island.

beachy day of relaxation

beachy day of relaxation

Wedding Selfie with the lovely bride!

Wedding Selfie with the lovely bride!

Disney was so fun. It’s been interesting to me that when I told people we were going to Disneyland, the reaction was one of a polar pair. Either people looked at me with pity, and said something about how brave I was and how they could never do it, or their eyes gleamed with excitement and they started telling me about inside tips and how much they love it.  To the former, I was like, really? I’m going to DISNEYLAND, not having chemotherapy. I actually feel sorry for people who can’t have fun there or hate it. Quite a few, though, I suspect, say that because they think it would just be too commercial and anti-intellectual to say that they could possibly have fun there. My husband falls into this category.  To the latter, I say, you are my people. Let’s go ride.

There’s a gazillion blogs about ways to do Disneyland, and I read most of them, which meant that while I was somewhat maniacal about getting FastPasses and checking wait times on my phone, also meant that we waited in no line longer than 25 minutes and had so much fun.The best was the pin trading, which the kids got super into! The kids and I are looking forward to a trip to Orlando at some point in the future. Eric says that he’ll stay home and revel in being a curmudgeon instead.

After getting back, I was honestly depressed for a while. It was 8 total days of fun, and getting back to work and routine was hard. Especially when the rest of my family came back from vacation to…more summer vacation.

It was nice to get back to the garden this year. We’ve moved some things around, so that where we had had herbs in the central circle area we’ve now moved them back to be next to the bean screen. There’s less sun there so it’s a better fit for those plants and we have more room for vegetables. New this year: cabbage, cauliflower, leeks, different types of squash, and different types of tomatoes. I got new tomato cages on the recommendation of my neighbor, and while not cheap have been fantastic. For the first time the plants are happily supported and I’m not spending a bunch of time trying to make the flimsy little triangle cages stay upright by bolstering them with garden stakes.


June 5th. Little baby plants.

June 5th. Little baby plants.

July 1 garden

July 1 garden


July 10th garden

July 10th garden


My vision for the teepee in the middle was to have vines growing up it, and I left an opening to create a little hiding space for the kids.  Sadly, the beans just haven’t grown well there. Maybe it’s the variety I chose, maybe it’s because we’ve grown corn there for the past few years and the soil is depleted. I do fertilize with a natural fertilizer but, well, not everything grows well every year.

July 28 jungle

July 28 jungle


The other thing different this year is that I’ve been spraying with neem oil, a natural pesticide. According to the bottle, it doesn’t harm ladybugs but prevents bad bugs from eating or laying eggs on your plants. I will say that the aphid population has been near zero. The potato beetles don’t seem to care too much and nibble away, but don’t seem to be doing too much damage.


cabbage! No babies growing here.

cabbage! No babies growing here.


Another fun thing with all this rain has been all of the volunteer plants we’ve gotten! Two volunteer tomato plants, a bunch of dill, parsley, lettuce, cilantro. Some of these I just let go to seed so we keep getting more. The overall effect of this is somewhat jungle like given that there are plants popping up all over. I feel like if these plants are tough and determined enough to grow without actual irrigation, they deserve to live.

I have forgotten what kinds of squash I planted, unfortunately. I can’t remember if these are winter or summer squash. I have one that is giant, and am waiting to see if the shell hardens or not. This year again we have practically no squirrels chomping on the squash-two years of a late frost killing the blooms on my neighbors fruit trees has meant a large die off in the population. Thank you, Thomas Malthus.

unidentified squash object

unidentified squash object

We’ve already harvested our first tomato, kale, chard, basil, and of course plenty of other herbs. Should be a great rest of the growing year!

Garden, July

Holy Moly!

We go away for a week, and things go from this:


How big are those corn and tomato plants?

That BIG!

Harvest time! Those bean-y looking things are radish pods, which you get by letting a few radishes go to seed.  I wondered, what does one do with a radish pod.  So I googled it.  Apparently it’s a very common vegetable in Indian cooking and that’s mostly what came up.  Huh. I was getting back to my roots and didn’t even know it.  Get it? Get it? Also, those jalapenos are actually SPICY, which is a nice change from peppers in previous years that were somewhat cardboard flavored. Was it the alpaca poop? Was it the blistering heat? I’m not sure.

Baby watermelons–I hope the squirrels don’t figure these out.

And last but not least, the bean trellis growing nicely.  Soon our porch will be nice and shady.

Other than the poop, the biggest change I made this year is in how much I’ve watered.  Last year I followed all the gardening suggestions that tell you to water deeply 3 times a week. I think this may be a lovely idea when it’s not 100 degrees outside and dry as a bone.  I’ve been setting my drip system to water for 20 minutes every night and 15 minutes in the morning 3 times a week.  Even then some of the leaves got a bit crispy. Overall it’s worked out well and things are really, really growing this year.

Garden, early June

I tried to save some money by doing the irrigation myself in the front garden. I did hire someone to close the sprinkler heads and put in a single 1/2″ polypipe that I, in theory, would install the system from.  I put in drip line, soaker hose, and then, feeling very proud of myself, ran to the garage to turn on the system and see how it looked. When ran back out front, here’s what I saw:

Not sure how well you can see that, but instead of being a nice steady drip what I had was flailing plastic snakes, doing a very effective job of watering the sidewalk and me. I’m not sure exactly why, but my guess is that the system isn’t pressure controlled the way it should be.  I ran out and bought pressure controlling drip heads, and while it was a bit better, now the lines at the top of the system got no water coming out.  I then went and got a control switch to regulate how much water was coming out, which didn’t make much difference.

Right about now I was thinking that I should have just paid for the pros to do it since I’d likely spent a hell of a lot more time than I needed to. After about two days of various configurations, I think I’ve finally gotten it to work, though I may just end up getting it redone later this season.

The squash and flowers planted in those boxes are beginning to sprout, and the top garden is looking good, too:

Beans/peas/carrots/chard and accidentally planted beets.  I figure, if it’s growing there, let it grow.



and tomatoes

I’ve always wondered if the walls o water really make any difference, and this year I had a tomato and pepper that were planted without them and the difference is pretty remarkable!

Scrawny non-walls plant:

Healthy, bushy looking tomato plant:

Of course, I wonder if it will make any difference in terms of eventual yield.  My 80 year old neighbor teases me about them, but so far I’m impressed.

Garden Update-May

After the alpaca adventure last month, there’s been a lot of work done!

All the plants are now in, and I’ve redone the irrigation system to fit the new layout.

The herbs (upper left) have essentially become huge perennial shrubs. I really need to start picking and drying them throughout the season.

I’m waiting for all the sprouts to come up before I mulch with straw and newspaper like last year. The tomatoes and peppers are happy in the walls o water and there are even a few little tomato fruits! Now, I’ve been told that at this point I’m supposed to pick off the flowers and early fruit to encourage growth, is this true?

One of the things I’m bummed about this year is that I usually get all of my starts from a neighborhood woman who grows them in the back of her house and has a lot of great varieties. She (and others) sell at the Cherry Creek Farmer’s Market.  This year, my work schedule wouldn’t have allowed me to get to that market until late June so I just bought them at the local nursery.  I didn’t get the exact varieties I was hoping for, but I’m sure what I have will be just fine.

Trying beets again this year with a bit more success so far:

And first year of onions, grown from sets, looking happy:

With all the garden planning, the peas went in late this year, so we’ll see how they do.  I planted bean seeds last week and they’re already coming up! I can’t wait to see how this trellis works out. My only concern is that these plants are close to the house and don’t get as much sun as the stuff even a few feet further out front.

And in the front, Eric built little boxes-still waiting for these to sprout. The little walkway in between is lined with yarrow, creeping thyme, and a few echinacea seeds. The boxes are a little too close to the street and people can’t open their car doors…sorry neighbors. They’re not permanent and we’ll move them next year.

I’d like to try and post every few weeks during the summer- any suggestions/advice welcome!

Shoveling…excrement all day long

This year, I hired an edible landscape designer (Susan Adams of Simple Roots Gardening) for some new ideas for the vegetable garden.  I love the plan that she came up with. (click to view larger)

It looks a bit…overly ambitious to tell you the truth, but if there is anyone who is an expert in biting of way, way more than she can chew it’s me. I mean, with 2 kids and a full time job, why not add a small farm to take care of.  In fact, why stop there? Maybe it’s time I get some chickens (so trendy) or a backyard goat (even trendier)!

Since I’m pretty sure the animals would die from lack of care and we couldn’t even eat them, being vegetarian and all, it’s probably not the best idea for that.

Susan also does a soil test and tells you what your soil needs, and in my case I needed a lot of composted material. In one of my conversations with her, I mentioned that one of the doctors I work with has an alpaca farm and had invited me to come get alpaca manure for the garden.   Her eyes snapped open and she had an expression on her face as if I had told her where she could find a free trove of diamonds. So, of course, I borrowed a friend’s Ford F-150 and went to go pick it up.

The alpacas (or more accurately, paco-vicuñas) were curious and cute.

Their poop was not.

If you have ever wondered (and I know some of you have) how long it takes a smallish woman with one shovel to unload a pickup truck full of alpaca poop, the answer is about an hour and a half and 1 beer. Watch for that on the next SAT.

Neighbor kids came scurrying over after it was all done, wrinkled their noses, and promptly declared, “It smells like a farm over here!” I love when kids use euphemisms.

Over the last few weeks I’ve managed to get some seeds in and the bamboo trellis up and the walls o’ water up as well. Planted thus far: peas, onions, green onions, radish, spinach, lettuce, beets, kale, chard, carrots and broccoli. The perennial herbs have already come up nicely and we’ve had fresh sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano and chives for weeks now. Until the other plants can go in, I’ll be modifying the irrigation system we have in place. Last year I tried to water less and I don’t think it worked well-I thought the plants were smaller with lower yields.

As a few wise people told me when I started the garden 2 years ago, the grassy area in the center is now a patch of dead dirt and will be converted into a path of some sort this year–any other ideas of what to do with that path? It would be nice to keep it something that we could walk on barefooted, which is why I’ve been unexcited about gravel or wood chips, and ground cover takes so long to grow.

As a side note, a different Susan keeps telling me that I need to go and get new dirt for the garden as well, but the thought of digging out all that dirt and then replacing it is more than I can take right now. Next year, maybe.  (Next year, though, we might annex some of the neighbor’s front yard since all they have there are weeds, and that’ll be project enough.)

More pics when other things start coming up, since right now it just looks like a field of dirt. Just be happy you can’t smell it.

Nail-Biting Gardening

Sunday and Saturday were beautiful. 80-90 degrees, sunny, perfect for frolicking outside, and just the sort of weather to lull a gardener into a false sense of security.

Needless to say, I was fooled.

We got a bit more ambitious with the garden this year–tearing out the front patch between the sidewalk and the street to make way for squash, watermelon, and chard.

Breaking up the plot of dandelions and dead grass was tough, backbreaking work that I watched while sitting on the porch drinking margaritas. Eric borrowed a pickaxe from a neighbor and swung it through the heavy clay soil for about 2 days. Even so, much of it is still hard as rock and I’m hoping that it’ll get better just by planting. Using an online calculator, I learned that I’d have to purchase 16 bags of compost to till in 3″ into that area. I settled for 4 and mixed it in. We left a patch of ground cover along the road and in between the two plots to maintain access for people to get out of their cars.

Saturday, I bought all my starts from the same person as last year.

Sunday, I couldn’t wait any longer. I planted, even though the snooty woman at Echter’s told me to wait.

A few years ago, I was talking about Colorado gardening with a friend, I can’t remember who. They said something along the lines of, “You know, I’m not really a ‘walls of water’ gardener.” Ever since then, I figured it was really really uncool to be a “walls of water gardener” and never gave them a second thought. Then last year I went to a different friend’s house, someone I think of as pretty cool, and she had walls of water up. I reconsidered my self-image and bought walls of water to protect my little seedlings this year.

Planted this year: 2 types of corn, rainbow chard, 2 types of pole beans, 3 types of cucumbers, 4 types of tomato, 1 tomatillo plant, 2 types of eggplant, 3 types of peppers, basil, oregano, dill, rosemary, onions, lettuce, peas, carrots, radishes, butternut squash, watermelon, thyme, lemongrass, chives, and beets.

The next day, it rained. And rained and rained and got down to about 32 degrees.

I was scared for my little plantlings. I texted Eric from work and told him to cover the cucumbers and squash.

Two days of cold and rain later, everything is fine!! I’m sort of ridiculously happy about that.

One of the cucumbers got a little crispy, but I think will make it:

And the tomato and tomatillo plants were snug in their homes:

The spinach that overwintered is probably ready to pick, with the new seeds doing okay.

The cilantro has grown into little trees, and the last of the radishes are ready to harvest:

The first of the pea blossoms are here!

The lettuce and onions are doing well, too:

And we even had a blessing from the garden butterfly/fairy:

Looking forward to watching everything (and everyone) grow this year!

(And as a last note, here’s a comparison where things were last year. So many more green plants this year, and so much deader grass. I don’t think it’s going to make it–I see some sort of gravel/flagstone in the future. I know, I know you all told me so.)


I love surprises, no matter how small.

Like these, for example, which I first noticed about six weeks ago:


The radishes I planted in April have done wonderfully.

I know there are many of you out there that abhor radishes. I used to be one of them. But if you toss them with a bit of olive oil and roast them, they are absolutely delicious. The boy gobbled them up.

The peas are also looking happy:

This year I wanted to know exactly what the dirt was made of, so to speak. I took a few clumps of soil from very different parts of the garden and took them to Echter’s Greenhouse for a soil test.

It took about 20 minutes and was $4 a test, which I thought was a worthwhile investment, though I’m sure the results are not particularly surprising to Colorado gardeners who actually know what they are doing. (For example, I was resoundly mocked by my neighbor for going over to borrow “the flat spade-y thing”.)

And the results? Well–the pH of the front garden soil which has had dying grass and dandelions for years was near perfect at 6.5. The newly dug up area near the house that hasn’t been touched for 2 years is not terrible at 7. And the beds I so diligently dug up and amended last year?  The pH is 8! Maybe that’s why things didn’t seem to grow as well as the community garden. Or it could be that none of the soil has any nitrogen. Potassium and phosphorous were okay, which seems to be typical for Colorado soil.

I’ll be adding blood meal for nitrogen, but are there any fixes for the alkalinity of the soil? Googling tells me that my choices are basically sulfur or adding compost yearly and waiting a few years for it to correct, neither of which sounds terribly appealing.

Buying starts tomorrow and hopefully getting them into the ground over the next week! Yay for Spring!


For a few weeks, it was this:

after this:

after this:

after this:

Then it got cooler and the aphids moved in, and things looked a little less happy.

The dahlias finally bloomed, though, adding a nice fall surprise.

I’ve tried to plant for a fall crop as well, radishes, spinach, mache, chard, broccoli, and brussels sprouts, with some sprouts coming up.  Other than the radishes, though, it’s all a bit small and I’m not sure if I’ll get much.

There’s still a few cucumbers holding on, so I haven’t pulled that out yet, but I with the freezing temperatures coming next week that’ll have to go, too.

I was hoping to leave the beans to dry on the vine, but I’m not sure how that’ll do with the freeze.  I may have to dry them in the oven instead.

All in all, I was pretty happy with how everything turned out considering that I have no real idea what I’m doing.

Things I learned this year:

1) I am the major consumer of tomatoes in this household.  The girl only eats the small ones fresh off the plant.  The boy only eats the “big juuuuuicy red” ones.  Eric hates tomatoes.  There were days I ate a LOT of tomatoes. I never had enough to can, and, let’s be real here–I’ll never can anything.  (I did find them useful to barter.  I got a few delicious acorn squash for a bag of tomatoes–I clearly got the better end of that deal.) So next year, maybe not 3 tomato plants and definitely not the grape yellows.  Those were blah. Oh! There was what I’m calling a Darwin tomato in the backyard that sprouted from seed dropped from last year’s plant.  No water, fertilizer, anything, and it still grew.  I’m planting those seeds next year.

2)  I need new topsoil.  Next year, we are borrowing a truck and getting better dirt. This is one of the reasons I’m not planting a cover crop since I’m hoping to get largely new dirt next year anyway.

3)Peas.  I’m planting a LOT more peas.  They were very tasty.

4)I might give squash another year, but if I plant squash one more year to yield 2 tiny little fruits, it’s sayonara.

5)Who knew that the boy would love swiss chard so much?

6)Sad, but true: the pesto from Costco tastes better than the fresh pesto made from homegrown basil.

Anyway.  We’ll see if we get any fall/winter veggies, but I doubt it.

And now, for a few cute pictures of the girl because it’s been a while.

Garden Stage V

June 26 Garden

July 6 Garden

You know, I was feeling really disappointed in the garden this week, but comparing the two pictures makes me feel a little better.  People are posting on facebook about their amazing garden yields and what do I have to show so far? A salad.

Oh, and like, 20 peas, or enough to make about 4 bites of a dish.  Huzzah.

I even gave them little trellises for support, and this is how they repay me? For shame, peas, for shame.

While I was on my trip to NYC, it rained heavily.  I think this sad tomato plant got too much water and just didn’t recover.  I also realize now that it’s in the direct path of the tree trunk behind it and thus gets a LOT less sun than most everything else.  Every time I see it, I sing the R.E.M. song “Crush With Eyeliner” because it has the words “sad tomato” in the first verse.

The other ones look robust and are flowering, though no little tomatoes yet. 

At least the lettuce has had the decency to grow well.  Ungrateful plants.  After all the time and water I’ve spent on you.  Sigh.

Maybe I should have amended the soil more when I started out.  Or maybe this is just pretty normal for Colorado.  Or maybe, just maybe, my expectations of a perfect garden when I have no idea what I’m doing were a tad unrealistic.  Nah, that can’t be it.  These hands are golden! (Or, are they supposed to be green? Perhaps therein lies the problem.)

Next year, though, I’ll definitely move some things around.  I bought a couple more basil plants to replace the pepper (Susan, you were right about that.  Little pepper plant never got any bigger than the start I put in) and will see how they do in a sunnier spot.  I need to start the spinach earlier–it was an afterthought this year and bolted already, so I ripped it all out.  I did also apply a light fertilizing of an organic fertilizer about two weeks ago, and that did seem to help a bit.

I’m also going to plant some fall veggies now, such as Brussels Sprouts and another round of spinach.  Hopefully by next time, all those little flowers will have turned into fruits.

Or else, garden, or else.

Garden Stage IV

It’s been a few weeks now and everything seems to be coming up well!

I noticed earlier that the pea sprouts were looking a bit chomped on:

After an email consult from a friend, I determined that it was the cheerful, yet sharp-beaked, robins that were after the tender sprouts.  I covered them with a floating cover, and now look at them:

I also couldn’t believe how quickly the beans came up:

May 27 Bush Beans

May 28 Bush Beans

June 6 Bush Beans

Tomatoes doing well:

And some carrots:

The swiss chard has had a little trouble, which is odd since it’s supposed to be the easiest thing to grow.  All the instructions I read said to put it in the most hostile part of the garden and it would still thrive.  I soaked the seeds overnight like the package said to, and had mediocre results.  I then took a second batch and soaked them for 48 hours and those did MUCH better.  I wonder if the seeds were a bit older and had dried out more being here in Colorado.  Anyone else here plant chard with the same experience?

One thing I’m not sure about, though, is how much to water them.  The area is mostly set up with drips that run at 2 gallons per hour.  Some of the tomatoes have 2 drips going to their bases, so they have 4 gph, I suppose.  The row plants have drips set up every 10-12 inches or so per row.  I’m currently running it for 10 minutes once a day, unless it’s a very hot day and then I’ll run it twice.  One person I asked said that this wasn’t enough water for the plants and I should be running it longer or even twice daily every day.  Another gardener said that I should run it only 3-4 times a week, but for longer duration.  So what to do? I mean, everything seems to be doing well so far but I wonder if I need to change it as it grows.  Thoughts? Advice?

Next update in a few weeks!