The Garden | 2018

Xeriscape Garden in Colorado with Squash Arch

Early this spring, I wrote about how I was spending long days removing our grass and xeriscaping our front yard. I promised a few readers that I'd share a post once all was said and done, so here it is! 

Above: Our front yard, with grass completely gone. Mulched, rocked, and raised veggie beds in. We planted two trees last year (to the right of the veggie beds: a clump of Aspens and a Ohio Buckeye), which are still quite small but hopefully will grow tall and provide us with lots of shade. You can see our corrugated metal garden beds with squash arch, and a small xeriscape garden patch where we're growing native flowers (like echinacea, candytuft, primrose, yarrow, blanket flower, lupine, etc) and herbs (mint, sage, rosemary, lavender, thyme, chives, oregano, and tarragon). Next year -- or perhaps this fall if I'm feeling motivated - I'll add some flowering bushes (like Russian Sage), along with other native flowers on the righthand side of the yard. And ultimately, we'll put in a path going straight up to the front door with flagstone. 

Summer Xeriscape Flowers

The first thing most people say when they walk up to the house is, "I didn't realize you put your vegetables in your front yard!" It is a bit different, I know, but our backyard is almost completely shaded so the front yard is much better for veggies. And so far, I like how it adds a focal point to the yard! 

Sugar Snap Peas in the Morning

My favorite thing all summer has been getting out in the garden before the heat hits. The lighting is beautiful, and I can see how everything is doing without burning up. 

Above: Sugar snap peas in early morning.

Below: First spaghetti squash in early summer. This year, I grew several type of winter squash -- Spaghetti squash, Kabocha, Delicata, and Acorn. Of those, the spaghetti squash and Kabocha squash plants had the most epic harvests -- just one squash vine would reach from one end of the 16-foot squash arch to the other and then onto the ground. Their leaves created a canopy that offers lots of shade and even protection from rain… by the time late summer rolled around, you could hide in that little tunnel through all sorts of weather! 

Spaghetti Squash growing on squash arch.
Acorn squash growing on vine
Squash arch in garden

Above: Squash tunnel in mid-summer.

Below: I grew tons of basil this year, most of which we used fresh in bruschetta, but I’ll be making a big batch of this pesto which I highly recommend using in this zoodle recipe! I also grew a patch of Thai basil, which we added to stir fries and curries all summer long -- we still are! 

Fresh basil, growing in garden beds

My adventures in tomato growing were slightly less successful -- the bed where the tomatoes grew had terrible issues with blight. I removed a few plants, including a Black Cherry Tomato and a Striped Roman Tomato. In part, this is because I planted too close together… lesson learned. What remained: Brad's Atomic Grape Tomatoes (the prettiest!), some simple La Roma Tomatoes, Blue Gold Berry Tomatoes, and Yellow Pear Cherry Tomatoes. 

Below: Brad’s Atomic Tomatoes, green on the vine. Below that: Brad’s Atomic Tomatoes harvested.

The Roma tomatoes were best for carpese and cooking; the Brad’s Atomic Tomatoes were best for eating straight with just a touch of salt, and the Blue Gold and Yellow Pear Cherry Tomatoes were best for salads. I’ve already vetted a list of super blight resistant tomatoes for next year… as I wander around the neighborhood, I see virtually every other garden had similar issues, likely because of our super wet June.

Tomatoes growing on the vine
Ripe Brad's Atomic Grape Tomatoes

Below: An Antigua eggplant on the vine. Below that: A basket full of eggplants.

I went crazy when it came to planting eggplants. There was just so many varieties to choose from! We eat a lot of eggplant around here (it’s Oliver’s fave), so it seemed fine in May, but since July hit not a week has gone by with less than 5 eggplants to harvest. This copious harvest lead to this Eggplant Cannelloni recipe, but we also made this Harissa Roasted Eggplant, grilled eggplant, and this Roasted Eggplant Salad. In need of more recipes…. please comment with your fave!

Antigua eggplant growing on plants
Eggplant harvest in basket

One thing I’ve barely touched yet in the garden are the hearty greens. While other items in the garden reach a “ripeness point,” the greens just keep growing and growing and I’ve let them go. The Swiss Chard is at least twice as big as what’s shown in the picture below now! And the kale, to the right, is super tall. Just last night I used it to make a Chopped Kale Salad with Dates, Bacon and Pecans.

Swiss chard growing in garden bed

Below: Dragon Tongue Beans on the vine.

Our bean harvest this year was epic — since the plants started fruiting, I’ve had a salad bowl full of beans on the counter that I just can’t get through… they are growing faster than we are eating! This week’s to do list: Pickle some beans! The dragon tongue beans are my favorite because of their colors, but our giant pile of beans is from the Blauhide Poles Beans we grew.

Next year, I’ll add some yellow and green beans into the mix. 🌈

Dragon tongue beans growing on vine
Bean harvest in wooden bowl

Below: Chamomile flowers in bloom. After the big hail storm in June, I replaced a few plants that I thought were never going to make it with seedlings I found on super sale at a nearby homestead. One of these was a little chamomile plant.

As the flowers bloomed, I plucked them and dried them. From just this one little plant — which was a bit smothered by an eggplant that took over the space - I got enough for about 2 cups of tea, but BOY do they smell amazing.

Chamomile flowers in bloom

Peppers! I planted a few types of peppers this year — Jalapeño, Shishito, Thai chili, Pimiento, and Poblano. Quite a few got wiped out by hail, so later in the season I added some Big Jim and a Red Bell to the mix. Far and away my favorites so far this season were the Poblano and Big Jim, which I stuffed (Poblano recipe here! Big Jim recipe here).

Below: Biggest pepper harvest yet this season.

Pepper harvest in basket

One of the largest losses in the garden this summer was my corn.

I babied the corn from the get-go, though I also learned I did quite a few things wrong. Turns out, corn doesn’t like to be planted in a row, but in a block. Despite my ignorance, the stalks grew tall — 8 feet! So I hand pollinated them, and they went to town making corn ears.

Some time in July we got a massive wind storm that blew a branch off our cottonwood tree and onto the corn, bending the stalks in half. Still, the corn recovered. I tied each stalk to a big bamboo stake and they continued to grow.

And then, one by one the ears disappeared. Darn squirrels! I hope they appreciated all of the work that went into it. Below: I snapped a picture of one ear they left on the ground — a red an purple ear, not quite ripe. So beautiful! This is called Painted Mountain Corn, which does well at higher elevations, and the ears show a variety of colors. I am a sucker for off-beat varieties you can’t find in the grocery store.

I haven’t decided if I’ll plant corn again next year — I want to - but it’s all a matter of space.

Painted Mountain Corn

One of my most exciting harvests all summer was just this week: a sugar baby watermelon!

It went from baby (below) to all grown up (below that) in just a month or so!

I also have a muskmelon plant with about 5 melons (not ripe yet!) and a honey dew plant that I put in after the hail. I’m not sure if the honey dew will ripen before our first frost — it’s still only half the size of my fist.

Baby Watermelon
Watermelon Harvest

We don’t see many hummingbirds in my neighborhood, but at the peak of the squash bloom season one took a liking to the yard. Every time I saw him, I would stay very still and just watch.

In the end, creating this garden was the most therapeutic, rewarding, beautiful thing I did all summer. Watching everything grow from seed and then actually fruit was delightful, and spending the early mornings amongst the bees and the birds was so relaxing, even when life was not.

Late summer harvest in a basket
Summer harvest on table

Below: Happy place.

Squash arch with morning light

House Update - #1 (House numbers & Fireplace redo)

Hi guys! I hope you will forgive me, today's post is not about food. But! This post has been a few months in the making and I'm so happy to finally share it.

Lately, I've been pouring a lot of my creative energy into making our new house feel more like home so I wanted to share some of the projects I've been working on! I hope you'll enjoy watching the transformation.

This blog post covers how we updated our house numbers and how we updated our living room fireplace. Read on for details and pictures! 

House Numbers

The first thing I wanted to do was to give the house numbers by the front door, and the porch light, a little update. Those old numbers felt like they were straight out of the 70s:

House numbers update

So of course I did my homework browsing Pinterest (my kind of homework!). Then, I set to work creating a little board for our numbers and wiring in a new light. Oliver was a huge help: the numbers were annoyingly uncooperative and "electrician" is far from something I can claim. 

Next, a slightly bigger project: updating our fireplace. I knew from the first time we walked through the house that this would be one of the first projects I tackled. Just look at that original 1970s brass fireplace! 

Living Room Fireplace

Before we moved in, the fireplace was dusty and had a brass surround. The shelves looked like an after thought and the shutters.... made me shudder. 

Before we moved in, the fireplace was dusty and had a brass surround. The shelves looked like an after thought and the shutters.... made me shudder. 

This had to be addressed-- ASAP! Honestly I hated the old brick so much that it felt like I had nothing to loose. I removed the old shelves, and that brass, so that I could refinish everything. While those were out, I white washed the brick.

At first, as the white wash was drying, I wasn't sure if I liked it or not. But I took a few deep breaths, reminded myself of how terrible the brick looked in the first place, and kept going. 

Next, I spray painted the old surround. Lucky for me, our surround is a total facade and is actually stuck on using magnets, which meant I could just pop it off and take it outside. This is important because the paint it was going to use can emit a lot of fumes! If you plan to spray paint your surround, see if it can be removed.

Please forgive my mid-construction-zone mess of a coffee table that proves that yes this is real life. While you're at it please forgive my crooked camera phone pic. 😜

Please forgive my mid-construction-zone mess of a coffee table that proves that yes this is real life. While you're at it please forgive my crooked camera phone pic. 😜

As you can see from the picture above, at this point I also applied wall paper to the wall on either side of the fireplace. Now, before we get too far, I NEVER in my life thought I'd be a proponent of wall paper. But when I started thinking about the built in shelves I knew I needed a way to make them look more built in-- not just stuck there. I had actually priced out what it would take to do wood paneling behind them, but then discovered this "reclaimed wood wallpaper" which only cost me $30. This was another "Let's just give it a shot" moment, and I bought the wallpaper. 

Up it went! With a learning curve. My parents actually came over for dinner the next day and for a few moments they thought it was real wood, so I'm going to say the wallpaper was a success. 

After all of that, I spent what was pretty much a whole weekend sanding down the old shelves to reveal their hard wood grain. Then, I stained them with a "natural" stain and put them back where they started. 

I also tacked on a bit of molding in matching stain above the shelves to help them look more built in. 

Oh yea, and I painted the right-hand wall a blue-grey, and made new cabin-inspired pillow covers:

White washed brick fireplace

The LAST fireplace update was to add a mantelpiece. It wasn't in the original plan but once all of the brick was white I decided something was needed. My dad, the engineer, helped me bolt on this piece of wood my friend Thomas found on his mountain property. I gave the top a good sanding and stained it like the shelves.

The fireplace: whitewashed, painted surround, installed reclaimed wood mantle, refinished shelves. 

The fireplace: whitewashed, painted surround, installed reclaimed wood mantle, refinished shelves. 

Now, we still have tons to do! We want to update our coffee table and come up with a better solution for the stereo and TV. I'm still toying with ideas for those shutters. And that popcorn ceiling. So far though, I'm pretty proud of our work! 

Have you ever done a similar project? How did it go?