Front yard makeover – part 1

Earlier this year, drought restrictions in California had been lifted (unwisely so, in my humble opinion). And thus, our HOA sent out a letter saying that we no longer have an excuse to have dry/dead lawns.

I’m not much of a fan of lawns. And the environmentalist in me wanted to protest. But the frugal, rule abiding citizen in me also didn’t want to get fined. So, I got out my collection of saved newspapers, made a trip to the local landfill to pack my SUV with free compost and spent a good weekend on a DIY waterwise landscape makeover.

Here’s the before and after:


After covering the dry lawn with newspapers and a thick layer of compost, I topped it off with brown mulch and decorated with planters. Here’s the breakdown of materials and costs:

  • Newspapers = FREE (from work)
  • Compost = FREE (Miramar Greenery)
  • Brown mulch (Home Depot fortunately had a sale the weekend I did this) = $20
  • Landscaping stones (Home Depot) = $11
  • 2 large terracotta planters painted blue (farmers market, locally made) = $50
  • White and salmon ivy geraniums (Armstrong Garden Center) = $20
  • Planters containing succulents = FREE (I already had the planters and the succulents were propagated from cuttings my mom has collected over the years)
  • Labor = me

Running cost: $101

Hand pollinated watermelons


I haven’t seen a lot of bees in the garden lately and the watermelon buds weren’t growing so I’ve taken pollination into my own hands. These watermelons were hand pollinated two weeks ago. It was simple to do, I used the following video as a guide:

And here’s a video on pruning watermelon vines to optimize growth:

Too bad I wasn’t able to catch the rest of the watermelon buds before their flowers closed up…I missed hand pollinating at least four other buds. And one of the reasons I don’t have many pollinators in the garden is the lack of bee-friendly flowers. Right now I only have one borage plant and that gets attention from one bee at a time. Next season I’ll start a surplus of seeds from the Save the Bees wildflower mix and make room for other plants that attract pollinators. I also suspect that my backyard has oleander trees, whose nectar is poisonous to bees. I’ll have to confirm with a plant expert.

In the other garden bed, I finally transplanted tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and basil. I’m really hoping these will yield some produce before our “cold” season hits.

Not all garlic grows in SoCal

It’s the end of July and my garlic plants still haven’t sent up scapes. Another oddity that I noticed is many of the leaves are still green. I dug a few bulbs out to see if they were ready and found them to be disappointingly small.


For comparison, here’s my garlic harvest in 2014 when I was in Richland, Washington…


…and my garlic harvest this year in San Diego:


The ones this year are less developed and don’t have that long neck characteristic of hardneck garlic varieties. After some research, I learned that hardneck garlics aren’t suited for warm climates and need really cold winters to develop their bulbs. It turns out that I should be growing softneck varieties as I’m in zone 10. This kinda makes me sad since hardneck varieties are more diverse and interesting. Here are a couple articles I read: How to Grow Garlic in Warm Winter Areas and Hood River Garlic FAQs

Guess I’m buying a new set of garlic seed bulbs again. Savers Exchange carries mainly hardneck varieties, but Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply has several softneck and California varieties. Because I really like growing varieties I can’t find in the store, I’m purchasing Inchelium Red, a softneck variety that’s won taste tests.

Lesson learned. Let’s see how this one does in the next season.

Summer 2017 garden update

The plants have been getting a good dose of home-brewed worm compost tea every couple weeks. Weeding has been easy, since only a few pop up every now then, making them easy to nip in the bud.

IMG_20170716_132220Watermelons are butternut squash are climbing up the PVC arch trellis and the corn plants are thriving. However, it seems the squirrels were still able to nibble on the squash leaves closest to the perimeter….grrr!!! I guess the fencing and netting aren’t completely squirrel proof. In the far future, the plan is to build a garden enclosure to house all the future raised beds.

One of the cucumber plants that got attacked by squirrels is starting to come back and put up a little fight. The seedlings in this bed (sweet peppers and eggplants) are slow to grow. My tomato plants are still small…they’re growing well, but I haven’t transplanted them yet for fear of losing them to seedling-eating bugs and what not. I think I really pushed the limit in starting peppers, eggplants and tomatoes late this year. Live and learn.

I’ve also had to cage my container-grown plants. On the left is borage + marigolds. On the right is the herb garden (cages were taken off for the photo). I split my mint plant into two larger pots (the brown pots in the background and foreground) to increase my mint yield. We use a considerable amount of mint in our dishes.

Lastly, I doubled the size of my outdoor compost bin. I opened the side that served as the door to make it one of the new walls, closed up the rectangle with two more 3 ft x 3 ft welded wire panels and zip-tied the corners to U-post stakes.


The left side contains the remaining old compost that needs to be harvested. The uncomposted/unsifted pieces were transferred to the right side and I’ve been layering new yard waste on top, making a compost parfait. I covered the top with burlap cloth so that less moisture will escape. I weighed the new compost side with a large planter to help it compact.


Just when I thought I could sit back and let the garden do its thing, I found some unwelcome surprises.

The garden beds had several small holes in different spots and seedlings that I had just transplanted were munched down to their stems. After shaking my fists in the air shouting, “Whyyyyyyyyy?!?!” I decided to get to the bottom of this/these mysterious critters.

I gathered the following clues over the last three to four weeks: these critters only came out during the day; they left shallow holes dug from above ground, not tunnels or burrows from below; they only ate certain seedlings; and they could somewhat be kept out with fencing that mice could fit through.

Based on these clues and my location, it seemed reasonable that my garden was being attacked by squirrels. I was never able to catch them in the act myself. But this past weekend, my parents did me a favor by monitoring my yard and confirmed that, yes, my mystery invaders were indeed SQUIRRELS…lots of them, coming out in the afternoon through the rotting wood fence between my yard and the neighbor’s.

I couldn’t let the squirrels win this fight. I originally was going to just wrap hardware cloth around the perimeter of each raised bed, but my husband came up with a more aesthetically pleasing idea to build some legit pest fences.


The fences were constructed as four separate frames that could be individually removed from the border. The fence frames were built out of 2×2’s cut to fit right on top of the raised bed frames. Hardware cloth (1/4 in mesh) was cut and stapled to the frames. Near the ends of each frame, we installed 1/2 in 2 hole straps — these slip right over 3/8 in rebar stakes that hold the frames upright and in place.


The finishing touch was covering the top with bird netting (secured with clothespins) to block squirrels from climbing over the fence. The cost of homegrown produce sure keeps adding up!

Outdoor compost harvest

It’s been a year and a half since I started my outdoor compost bin and I wanted to see what I could collect.


So I made a compost sifter out of materials I had on hand: a Rubbermaid lid and 1/4 in hardware cloth.


I cut out a rectangular opening in the Rubbermaid lid, drilled a hole in each corner and secured hardware cloth (cut to size) with zip ties. Fasten this onto a Rubbermaid bin, shovel some compost and sift.



Happy to have this new supply of homemade compost!

Raised bed #2 (plus late seed starting)

I’ve had the second raised bed installed for a few months already, but it wasn’t until this weekend that I finally made the time to prepare it for planting. After mixing in compost with native yard soil, keeping the bed watered and putting up trellises, here’s the result:


The arch trellis was made using painted 10-foot-long PVC pipes, with the ends of the pipes placed over rebar stakes for stability. Welded wire was zip-tied to the pipes. My plan is to have watermelon and butternut squash grow up this arch. To the left is a standard vertical trellis made from two 6-foot-long stakes woven through welded wire. This one’s going to be for cucumbers. Plans for the rest of the bed include corn, nasturtium, tansy, sweet peppers, carrots and green onions.

Meanwhile, lettuce, carrots and green onions have been harvested from the first raised bed. Green onions are still growing, and I expect that the garlic won’t be ready for harvest until the summer. The rest of the bed is saved for tomatoes, Thai basil, chili peppers, marigold and nasturtium.


The group of planter pots in the background are saved for okra, borage, tansy and eggplant. A group of smaller planter pots is set up at the side of the house which gets afternoon shade. These pots are saved for herbs and more flowers (in particular, Save the Bees wildflower mix). Right now I have mint, parsley and Genovese basil growing:


Lastly, I’m experimenting to see how late I can push it with the San Diego growing season. All the plants I mentioned above (which I’ve reserved space in the pots and beds for) were just started from seed this weekend…yup…pretty late in the game. I started a batch of seeds in the winter, but life got in the way and those seedlings never got the chance to grow their first set of true leaves. So here’s the new batch to make up for the original seed starts. Let’s see if they’ll grow and yield anything before the warm season ends!