Posts Tagged “summer”
Today we’re introducing a new project that we’re really excited about: creating a raised garden bed in our backyard to grow vegetables and other edibles this summer!
We haven’t posted in a while because not much has been happening around here in terms of home improvement or DIY projects. But life’s still been busy! We’ve been working on getting our finances in a stronger place as well as chasing E (four years) and T (eighteen months) around. Typical family-with-young-children routine stuff, with the requisite amount of curveballs and laughter.
But with this long winter coming to an end, we’re definitely ready for a new fun project! We’ve been dreaming of creating a proper vegetable garden since we bought our house almost three years ago. If you remember, the previous owner had cultivated an extensive ornamental garden on the property, and we’ve been mostly maintaining the landscaping while making a few changes here and there. For this new raised garden bed project, we’ll be keeping most of the existing backyard foliage and flowers intact, but we’ve started to clear a 4-foot by 6-foot space in a sun-happy spot to grow our plot of edibles.
If you follow us on Instagram or Facebook, you may have noticed our recent backyard excavations. John has spent the last couple of weekends digging hostas, ferns, and bulbs out of the ground in this space on the north side of our yard between a tree stump and a dwarf Alberta spruce.
We’re definitely feeling ambitious this year with this plan to set up a dedicated raised garden bed. E has been getting more and more curious about EVERYTHING, so I thought it would be great to give her (and T) the experience of growing our own food year after year. Planting seeds and watching things grow will hopefully get the kids excited to consume more vegetables, and try things like purple carrots and cherry tomatoes and sugar snap peas and Tuscan kale.
In addition to being a fun family project, growing a small plot of our own food will help our aforementioned financial goals by reducing overall food costs. I look forward to bypassing sad-looking produce at the grocery store, and even being able to replace a lot of my usual summer farmers market purchases with food from our own garden. And although we’ll have to spend more this year in start-up costs to build the raised garden bed, we’ll benefit from it for years to come.
I’ve done a fair bit of edible gardening in the past, and several years ago when John and I were dating, we undertook an ambitious container garden on his condo’s porch balcony (with varying degrees of success).
We built cedar boxes and used 5-gallon containers and large pots to grow everything from broccoli to tomatoes to chard to strawberries. Most of it grew pretty well and we had a lot of fun learning along the way. But we had failures too – like killing much of our indoor seedlings by overwatering the peat pots (whoops!), and losing a lot of tomatoes to blossom-end rot. Overall though, it was a really rewarding experience. And we’ve container-gardened in each place we’ve lived since.
Since we bought our house, I’ve been growing herbs and greens in our window boxes, and last summer we transplanted a broccoli seedling that E brought home from school into a 5-gallon container. She loved watching it grow (and eating it)!
I highly recommend container gardening, especially if you’re new to growing or have limited space. Even something as simple as a windowsill herb garden can bring flavor into your life (pun intended!). I bought Bountiful Container: Create Container Gardens of Vegetables, Herbs, Fruits, and Edible Flowers when John and I were growing our balcony garden, and it’s a great guide that I still reference and read today.
As long as we’re talking gardening books, I also just got All New Square Foot Gardening and am so excited to read it. I’ve been playing around with diagrams of how I’d like to arrange each plant in the raised bed. We probably won’t follow a strict square-foot approach, but I definitely want to organize and maximize our 4-foot by 6-foot space.
So we’re just about finished clearing the space of existing plants, relocating them elsewhere in our yard, and leveling the soil surface. We’ve also got all our wood and supplies to build the raised bed, and I’ve ordered seeds and bought some soil amendments to fill the frame. It’s been a nice break from the last days of cold winter reality to research what kind of vegetables to plant for a summer harvest.
We’ll have lots more details and updates as this project gets underway!
(linked on Remodelaholic)
Links may contain affiliates.
It seems like we’ve been doing a lot of outdoor work this summer. Some projects were planned, others came up unexpectedly, and one or two were even emergencies. Since we knew we’d be having a new baby at the end of this season, we kept our landscaping ambitions low (in order to prioritize baby-related house updates). But somehow, we found ourselves outside every weekend working on something or other on our little plot of land. Here’s a round-up of what’s been going on.
Our biggest project this summer was cutting down the eight giant yew shrubs in our front yard.
John did this work himself with a variety of tools (including a chainsaw) and cleared away all the debris and old mulch, leaving us with eight short stumps and a front yard full of dirt.
We knew we wouldn’t have time this summer to do any major new landscaping in the former yew space, but John has managed a few small updates. First, he divided some hostas from our backyard (we have a lot back there) and replanted them in front of the stumps. Then he added new wood mulch to the area around the stumps and hostas, creating more of a defined border around the house. Finally, he planted grass seed in the remaining yard space to fill in up to the sidewalk.
The grass has mostly grown in well (except for one stubborn patch that we’re still trying to cultivate) and the hostas are hanging in there. Those take a few years to fill out, so we’re optimistic. You can also see a few straggly rosebushes (with no roses) near the sidewalk – we’ve left those in the ground for now, but they’ve never really flourished, and we’ll probably dig them out eventually. Finally, John transplanted some ornamental grass (that he brought from our backyard) around the horse head hitching post – some of it has thrived, some hasn’t. We’ll see what survives this next winter.
Now that the yews aren’t crowding everything else out, we’ve got a blank slate to be really creative here. There’s a lot more work to be done, but this is a good start and will hold us over until we have more time to devote to this area in the future.
We can’t forget our Annabelle hydrangeas! We’ve got about four of these bushes, and they were kind of big and floppy last summer. They draped over our paved walkway and were starting to block the path, as you can see below.
It was just the result I was hoping for – smaller bushes that don’t block our walkway access, but still lots of big fluffy blooms. So I must have done something right when pruning them last fall (unlike our failed smoke tree experiment). I’m so glad they grew back and thrived this year – they’re some of our favorite flowers in the garden!
Back in June, we bought some leafy vines and coleus plants for our window boxes (instead of planting herbs like we did last year). We hoped they would grow and drape over the sides and look really pretty.
We haven’t had time for much upkeep, and we’ve only been watering the window boxes sporadically because of our busy schedules. The coleus plants have held up pretty well, but the vines kind of shriveled and dried up.
This is one gardening project that has fallen to the bottom of our priority list as we get ready for baby, but if we’d put a little more effort in maintaining and caring for these window boxes, they’d probably look much better right now. Maybe next summer we’ll have more time to tend to these.
We’ve got a stone paver walkway that extends the full length of our lot on one side – it leads from the front curb to our back alley. We get a lot of weeds in between the stones and one of our long-term goals is to fill in the walkway spaces with polymeric sand for a more finished appearance. But John noticed some patches of moss growing in one shady spot near the side of the house (you can see it in the 2014 Annabelle hydrangea photo above), and decided to try and cultivate this look for now. It’s really pretty!
We probably can’t grow moss along the entire walkway, because it needs shady and damp conditions to thrive, and most of the walkway gets full sun. But for this one little area, it’s been a fun experiment to encourage a mossy green interlude.
Our large oak tree provides a lot of shade (and pretty yellow leaves in the fall) and helps keep the front of our house cool in the summer. Unfortunately, it has also been providing squirrels with a easy access route to our roof, and earlier this summer we discovered that some of these squirrels had gotten into the empty space above our sunroom. John climbed up a ladder to take a look, and realized that there wasn’t much flashing along the roof line (despite the fact that this roof was just put on a few years ago). So in order to keep animals out and to protect the exposed wood, he installed new aluminum flashing around the entire house.
This was one of these projects we hadn’t planned for, but it was a necessary fix. Since John was able to do it himself, we saved a lot of money than if we’d hired someone to come out and do the work.
In addition, he cut back several overhanging branches on the oak tree to discourage future tree-dwellers from migrating to our house. After trimming most of them from the ground with an extendable tree trimmer, he climbed the tree with a smaller tool to get some out-of-the-way stragglers.
We’re really hoping that these DIY preventative measures will help keep the roof free of unwanted visitors from now on.
Speaking of unwanted visitors… another unplanned project we encountered this summer (and didn’t save money on) was dealing with this hornets’ nest. We noticed it out of the blue one day a few weeks ago, and it was positioned right over our front sidewalk in the lower branches of the oak tree. It was a big safety issue for anybody walking by our house.
The nest had to be removed ASAP, but we decided to leave this job to the pros. So we called in a pest control company. Once the guy came out and got a good look at the nest, he told us that we had dangerous bald-faced hornets living there. They can get really angry and aggressive when defending their space (a single hornet can sting someone multiple times), especially when someone destroys their home. So he wore full-body protection, sprayed the nest, and then cut it down while we watched safely from inside the house. It cost us $250 for the removal, but it was definitely not something we would have been able to (or want to) take on ourselves.
So unless any further outdoor emergencies come up (fingers crossed!), this is probably all the landscaping we’ll be doing for the rest of the summer. The new baby is scheduled to arrive soon, and we’re focusing on getting ready for that by finishing the nursery and the toddler’s bedroom.
How does your August garden/yard/lawn/trees grow?
Remember the huge yew bushes in our front yard that we talked about in our last landscaping post? Well, we did a little work on them recently…
You may recall that last summer I spent a lot of time trying to trim their out-of-control growth. Aside from contorting myself into knots trying to reach some spots, I was frustrated to see that these bushes were pretty bare underneath and getting sparse on the tops too. We wondered if they could be as old as our house (92 years) – it’s hard to say. But it’s obvious that they are reaching the limits of their aesthetic qualities.
In addition to looking scraggly, the yews were proving to be a bit of a safety hazard. They obstructed the view from our entry pathway and living room windows – and with small children playing outside the house, it’s important that we’re able to keep a quick eye on them.
Plus, they just made our house look like it had an overgrown beard. Our harsh winter dumped a lot of snow on the yews and really crushed them down at times, but they are apparently engineered for survival at any cost, because they bounced back once the weather warmed up. I knew I’d have to do something about them this year, but hanging out the window again with heavy-duty shears didn’t sound too appealing. So we came to the conclusion that it was time to say farewell to the yew beard.
One option was to have them professionally removed (roots and all), which would cost between $500 and $700. But we ultimately decided that this cost is not in our budget right now. And digging up the yews ourselves is not a task we’d want to DIY, since these decades-old bushes have pretty extensive and solid root systems. I knew I’d largely be handling any yew removal on my own (with Laura on toddler-watch and fetus-growing duties), so I had to think about how much effort and knowledge a one-person amateur landscaper could take on.
I did some extensive research on yews and found that they are good candidates for renovation pruning, which means that they can be rejuvenated by cutting them down nearly to the ground, and then they’ll grow back over several years. Not only did this sound doable, but it would give us a chance to see if the yews might look better with all-new (and smaller!) growth. So I made the decision to go ahead with this approach.
This landscaping project took me two days. Not only did I cut down eight huge yews, but then I had to clear out all the trunks and branches and other debris from our front yard afterward. Laura was able to document this process during the toddler’s nap (somehow she slept through the chainsaw roar!) as I started at one side of the house and worked my way across the front.
It was easier to get the smaller branches first with my reciprocating saw and the loppers, and then use the chainsaw on the thicker trunks at the bottom.
Here’s a video of the chainsaw in action.
And once I chopped down every last bush, we were left with this aftermath.
I piled all the cut branches and trunks in an out-of-the-way area behind our garden for now, while we decide what to do with them. Maybe we’ll rent a wood chipper to make some mulch? If not, I need to figure out how to dispose of them (they’re too big for our village’s yardwaste bag pickup).
Here’s our front yard after all the debris was cleared away. It feels like our house can breathe a little more easily now without its big bushy beard.
It’s a little surreal to be able to stand in the space where these giant bushes used to be.
I counted the rings of the stumps, and it looks like these yews were actually about 60 years old. So not quite as old as our house, but they’ve still been around for a very long time. I can only imagine what kind of root systems must be under our front yard!
Now we wait to see how the yews will react to their clean close shave. These bushes grow pretty slowly, but a smaller, gentler greenery border in front of our house is our goal anyway.
In the meantime, we’ve suddenly got a lot more space in our front yard to do some landscaping! We don’t have a lot of time to allocate to this at the moment, but I’ve been brainstorming some small quick things we can do this summer to get this space ready for more major changes down the road.
I’ve got some ideas that I’ve already started to implement, so I’ll be back with a follow-up post soon. Have a great Fourth of July, readers!
Links may contain affiliates.
Did everyone have a good weekend? Ours was busy! We did a few house projects and even took a short road trip in the new car to visit family. But one of the highlights of our long weekend was going to the opening of our village’s farmers market, where we bought things not just to eat, but to plant.
Since we’ve lived in Oak Park, we’ve tried to go to this farmers market every Saturday it’s open, from May to October. It’s a great source of local produce, plants, cheese, bread, meat, handmade preserves, and more. One day I want to plant a full-on vegetable garden in our backyard – but until then, we keep our vegetable drawer and fruit basket well-stocked from the market each summer.
The weather on Saturday was warm and beautiful. I love going to opening day each year – it’s so nice to see fresh local produce after a winter of bland supermarket substitutes. And especially after this past winter, which went on forever, this first farmers market of the season seemed to make it official: summer is here!
One thing our farmers market is famous for is fresh donuts, so when we arrived, John took the toddler to get some (the line was long, but so worth the wait).
While they did that, I strolled around the stalls, getting a sense of what’s in season right now and absorbing all the possibilities. Lots of leafy greens, root vegetables, onions and garlic, and asparagus.
Tons of starter plants for tomatoes, peppers, herbs, squash, eggplant, and more.
Flowers and ornamentals – so much color!
Even musical entertainment! What a fun morning.
I ended up buying some asparagus and a giant bag of spinach. And of course, we also got donuts!
But we also came home with some ornamentals. Last summer at the market, we got some herb starter plants for our window boxes. This year we decided to change things up, and John picked out some green vines to plant in the boxes instead.
These are variegated ivy and vinca vines. The ivy will drape over the window boxes as it grows, while the vinca plants will get a little taller and fuller, but should also tumble over the edge and will produce vibrant purple flowers.
John planted both kinds in each box, but there was still room for something else. So he got a few red-and-green Coleus plants at Home Depot later in the afternoon to round out the mix.
We’re liking the combination of colors in these all these leafy plants. Right now everything looks small and new and a little sparse, but hopefully they’ll grow and fill out well. Fingers crossed for a really pretty window box garden this year!
We really have no experience with this type of ornamental gardening, but it’s kind of fun to try something new – especially in a small space like a window box. If all else fails and everything dies, we can just dump it out and pretend none of this ever happened, right?
So, what home and/or garden projects did you tackle this weekend?
Still lots of updates to show on the inside of our house, but let’s poke our heads out for a minute and talk about how to plant window box gardens!
These two south-facing (great for sun exposure) built-in window boxes are made of black metal and bolted into the exterior, so they can hold a lot of weight. They’re are about six feet off the ground, which means the bunnies can’t get in there and eat everything, but I also can’t reach them from the ground myself. So I have to do any planting, watering, and harvesting by leaning out the living room windows.
We’ve been container gardening for about five summers now, in the various apartments we’ve lived in. I really like to cook, so while I admire pretty gardens with flowers and ornamental plants, I’m more interested in growing things to harvest and eat. We’ve grown everything from tomatoes and broccoli to cilantro and green garlic. In the past we’ve been limited to containers because we didn’t have access to an in-ground garden area. Now we have this:
The previous owner put a lot of work into landscaping this space, and it’s beautiful, but doesn’t really suit our purposes. It’s going to take a lot of work to convert this mostly ornamental backyard into a functioning edible garden. So we’re not tackling that this summer. In fact, it will probably take many years to gradually replace some of the existing plants with a dedicated vegetable and herb space. Luckily, the previous owner did incorporate some perennial herbs into the backyard, so I’ve been harvesting a lot of those lately.
In the meantime, I decided to take advantage of the built-in window boxes to grow a few more things. In the first box, I planted a ton of basil (because I love making pesto) and a few parsley plants (great with egg dishes). First, I set a long plastic window box insert with drainage inside the metal built-in box. This will make for easier cleanup and portability, so when it’s time to remove the plants in the fall, I just have to lift out the inside container and clean that out, rather than trying to shovel soil out of something attached to the house. I added some rocks and pieces of Styrofoam to the bottom of the box for extra drainage.
Then I added some organic Miracle-Gro potting soil that we had left over from last year’s container garden and mixed in some organic fertilizer to bump up the soil’s nutrient content. All of this while leaning out the window!
Then I started planting my herbs. I bought some starter plants at Home Depot, and I planted the parsley in the middle and the basil out to the sides. In the past I’ve tried starting plants from seed, but with the chaos of the move and all the work we’ve been doing on the house, I decided to use already-started plants this year to save time.
I planted this window box (above, viewpoint from leaning out the window over the box) at the end of May. By mid-June, the herbs had grown really well (and our chalk-wielding toddler had decorated the walkway below).
By the beginning of July, the herbs were growing like gangbusters and the basil had almost overtaken the parsley.
The basil really needs to be cut back because it’s starting to sprout flower buds (this is called bolting), and by trimming off the tops of the plants, I can temporarily stop this process and encourage the basil to grow more leaves instead. So this weekend I’m planning on doing a big basil harvest and making some pesto for the freezer. Then hopefully I’ll have another basil harvest by the end of the summer.
In the second window box, I planted Swiss chard and red leaf lettuce. I used the same rocks-Styrofoam-soil-fertilzer base, but these starter plants were actually from the local farmers market. And again, I worked on this garden box by leaning out the window.
We eat a lot of greens in our family, so these plants have been harvested many times using a method called cut-and-come-again. And they are still going strong.
And that’s how to plant window box gardens! Pretty simple, right? What are you growing this summer?
Links may contain affiliates.