Kitchen Garden 2013

My hubby and I planted a small kitchen garden this year. A kitchen garden is also known as a potager garden. We planted four different varieties of tomatoes, green and red bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, beets, onions, basil, lemon verbena, dill, and two kinds of lettuce. There is also oregano, marigolds, and sunflowers. We don’t have much in our kitchen garden yet, but it’s a work in progress.

tomato planttomato planttomato plantred oak-leaf lettucesunflowers


Instead of Round-Up, I Used Elbow Grease

The photo above is the front yard before our landscape renovations. The photo on the right is after our landscape renovations (with much more to come!)

by Samantha Prust

My first house was in need of some TLC inside, but I conveniently hadn’t thought of the area outside around the house. Sure, I had looked at it. It had a nice big backyard. A crab apple tree, some aspen. I didn’t worry at the time. After chopping down overgrown foliage, it was time to tackle the trees and the turf–or the lack of it. The trees were easy: we just cut them down or hired a tree trimmer for the larger trees. We had a nice dirt yard in the front with some aspen suckers poking through the dried up soil. It was my first big “Uh-oh” moment. I had no idea how to fix it. My first inclination was to get the grass in better shape. Everyone said to use Round-Up to kill the weeds and aspen suckers. I didn’t want to use it. I was adamant about not using Round-Up or any other chemical weed killer because I don’t believe that is right for the environment and only ends up making it more difficult to get rid of weeds in the long run. I wanted a natural solution that wouldn’t compromise the health of our soil. When I met my husband, he was completely on board with my decision to avoid toxic chemicals in our yard. Also, we have pets and it’s not safe for them. We stuck by our rule: No Round-Up. The only other option was hand weeding. I decided it was a great option that would provide exercise, sunshine and some good ol’ dirt under the fingernails. We focused on hand weeding the front yard because that’s what everyone sees. I planted grass seed and fertilized it and it did grow. I used a nontoxic pre-emergent/fertilizer mix that contains corn gluten to kill the weeds before they come up.

The yard was looking pretty good for a couple of years. But the grass soon succumbed to the weeds and the sun baked the grass into an ugly, crispy brown carpet across the lawn. When the grass went dormant, that gave the weeds a chance to grow. I had had it with trying to cultivate a perfect green grass lawn. I decided that I didn’t want the hassle, maintenance, and expense (it takes a lot of watering to get a green lawn in Colorado) of such a lawn, so I began reading about xeriscaping. I had heard of it years before I bought my house, but I hadn’t thought of it as a viable option because I figured it took special gardening skills. I was always very attracted to high desert and native plants, and wanted to incorporate those into the landscape. It was decided: we would have a xeriscaped front yard. I was so excited! It would be a while before we could add any plants. I had to read more and plan out where we would put certain plants. In the meantime, I continued hand weeding. This went on year after year and this year is the first year we are caught up with weeds and have them under control (as much as this is possible). It was a great workout regimen, let me tell ya! We also had to pull up aspen sucker roots throughout the entire front yard.

So, after pulling out those big roots and hand weeding enough that the weeds were under control, we covered the soil with clear plastic. Now, I know they say not to do this, but we were on a mission to kill weeds and this seemed like a sure bet (it worked out great). After we secured the plastic in place with garden staples, we covered the plastic with wood mulch, all of which we got free from asking nearby tree trimmers if we could have their shredded mulch when they were done. They were more than happy to skip a trip to dump the mulch, so they just dumped it in our driveway and we shoveled wheelbarrows full and dumped it where we wanted it in the front yard. We left a space for grass where it was growing the best without any extra irrigation. This method worked great because once the weeds were suppressed by the plastic and mulch, we had more time to focus on getting the grass patch whipped into shape. I concentrated on weeds growing the grassy area and tried to reseed grass there as much as possible.

Finally, as you can see in the after pic, it is much improved. The after pic also shows that we repainted the house. We are still in the process of adding landscaping plantings, but we did plant a tree and a large ornamental pampas grass and a maiden grass, which the photo on the right doesn’t show. I will post another pic this spring when those plants are in full bloom. Slowly the front yard is beginning to take shape as our xeriscape garden. It is one of the most satisfying feelings to plant something and watch it grow and bring beauty to your landscape. I am really enjoying home improvement, especially outdoors!

Cue the Banjos

by Samantha Prust

Before we painted our house exterior, my husband and I used to sing hillbilly banjo music as we pulled into the driveway. It was our way of saying, “Yes, we ARE embarrassed by our house,” and it made us laugh when what we really wanted to do was cry. We also decided it could definitely pass as a crack house. The paint job didn’t look so bad when I bought the house, but after a few more years of wear and tear—spackled spots where we had insulation blown into the exterior walls, scraped off old paint and splotches of new paint samples on the siding—there was no curb appeal to speak of, unless, of course, you’re a hillbilly or a crack addict. It was time to paint.

I had never been fond of the house’s yellow body and maroon trim. For some reason, I don’t like maroon on a house. Yellow is a nice color for a house, but the yellow paint on our house was dull and faded. When it came time to paint the house, I was elated. I gathered paint samples. The one sample that attracted me the most was the Sherwin Williams Suburban Modern palette. Its brochure says, “Your future is bright. With clear, cheerful colors, the 1950s exhibited a new American outlook. The exuberance showed up on the walls as striking shades like chartreuse and organic shapes like boomerangs. Whether you just feel nostalgia for those optimistic days or you want to re-create the period in exacting detail, our Suburban Modern Preservation Palette provides the hues you desire.” Well, that sounds peachy keen, doesn’t it? And the names of the colors—sunbeam yellow, holiday turquoise, pink flamingo, radiant lilac, caribbean coral, burma jade—this was the palette for us.

I had read that you should try to match your neighborhood when choosing a paint color for your home’s exterior and I knew we could get away with these colors because there are houses in our neighborhood painted in these retro hues. However, there are a lot of “normal” colors, too. At first, we decided we wanted the body of the house to be less bold. We chose “beige” on the Suburban Modern palette, but when we tested a sample on the house, it looked pinkish. I thought, I can tell people it’s beige from the Suburban Modern palette all day long and they’ll still say our house looks pink. Not good. So then we thought we’d go with white for the body and burma jade for the trim. Later we decided against that because the house kitty corner from us is white with teal trim. Too close for comfort. We wanted our own style. Finally, we decided to go bold and use burma jade for the body and white for the trim.

Choosing the colors was difficult, but had I known how difficult the painting would be, I would’ve taken another year to choose the colors. My brother was here to help us paint and we couldn’t have done it without him! The transformation was unbelievable. People driving or riding by on their bicycles would shout out compliments: “Looks great!” and “Love the color!” The neighborhood was probably celebrating that we were finally painting the eyesore that had plagued their street for years. Dave and I certainly celebrated, even though we were a little disappointed that singing hillbilly banjo music when we pulled into the driveway was no longer applicable. Just a little.

As Spider-Free as a House Can Be

One of the things I am obsessed with is my house. Or our house, I should say. I say “I should say” because I couldn’t have done it without my husband Dave, yet part of me is possessive because I bought it before I met him. It is my baby. When we talk about possibly selling it one day for a “better” house, I scoff. There is no better house! After all, it is my first. And after all of the improvements we’ve made, I have such a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction. And I can’t wait to do more!

I’ve always wanted my own house, even though I didn’t realize it. The desire came to light when I moved to Colorado for graduate school. My first thought was, why continue to pay rent when instead I can put those payments toward owning my own house? It was pure economics. What I didn’t realize is that I wanted a house for other reasons: security, creativity, stability. I started to crave those things in a more tangible form after graduate school, when I began to recognize my flair for decorating. Even though I had lived in dumpy apartment after dumpy apartment since my sophomore year in college, I had always made those dumps my own. Posters, rugs, candles, lamps—whatever it took to make my space comfortable. When I started fantasizing about painting my apartment walls and then tearing down those same walls to make an open floor plan, I knew I had to buy a house.

After finding a real estate agent who would actually help me after hearing my budget and finding out I was a poor, single woman, I finally found a house I knew I could love because I could make it my own. It was in terrible shape, but there was something about its style that I liked. I didn’t know it at the time, but that style is “mid-century modern.” “Brady Bunch house,” I called it—probably because of the cathedral ceilings, the picture windows in the living room and the moss rock fireplace in the “den,” which is really a converted garage. But the house I bought certainly was a fixer-upper; one friend later admitted that after he saw it, he wanted to warn me not to buy it. I wouldn’t have heeded his warning, though: nothing could dissuade me, save for the inspector telling me the foundation was sinking. Luckily, he didn’t say that. He did say a lot of other things, and since buying the house, I have done a lot to it myself and even more with the help of Dave, and I feel a sense of pride because of all we’ve done. I’m glad I didn’t chicken out of the deal. I almost did, but my parents told me to go for it. I thank them for encouraging me. I think their faith in me gave me faith in myself. The one thought that kept going through my head, though, was, “I can’t buy a house!” Thankfully, that thought didn’t win out.

In 2002, I started my home renovation by chopping down all of the overgrown foliage around the house and in the front and back yards. This was no easy task, but I needed a blank slate. I learned a lot of things during this phase of renovation. I found out where spiders go when you chop down their living quarters; I discovered that something as common as a bush can contain surprising secrets; and I learned handy landscaping tips for poor people, including, “Don’t stand on top of your roommate’s van to trim trees with a bow saw…”

Before I started cleaning up the landscaping, I had the help of roommates and friends to fix up the interior. We painted some of the walls and removed old carpeting, which revealed wood floors underneath. I’ve done a lot to the interior since then with the help of my hubby, but at the time, adding some paint and ripping out carpeting was about all I could do money wise.

After doing this initial interior remodeling, I moved the renovation outdoors. I removed overgrown foliage around the house and in the front and back yards, all to create a blank slate. The biggest foliage removal challenge was “The Juniper Beast.” Years ago, someone planted it too close to the house; you couldn’t even see the backyard from the side yard. I hacked away at that thing for a couple of months. In it, I discovered many treasures: old socks, beer bottles, various kids’ toys, tennis balls and a lot of trash. Anything that got too close got sucked in. I hope the owner of those toys made it out okay.

Because I was a new home buyer with little money, I didn’t have a lot of the tools you need to own a home. That “handy landscaping tip” for poor people about not standing on top of your roommate’s van to trim trees with a bow saw comes from personal experience. I didn’t fall or injure myself or damage the van, but I came close to doing all three. Let’s just say that tree branches don’t always fall the way that you plan.

I also chopped a huge lilac bush down to the crown and suddenly, you could see the front porch. Then when I chopped down a towering evergreen bush that was hiding the wonderful picture windows in front, the neighbor from across the street came over and said, “I’m amazed. I didn’t even realize there were windows there!”

So that brings us to the answer to the question, “Where do spiders go when you chop down their living quarters?” Into yours. Yep, it seemed as if every spider had relocated to the inside of my house. I put out spider traps along the walls—those little folded paper tents that smell like peanut butter. It took a few months, but, finally, the house was spider-free—as spider-free as a house can be.

I think the best part of the DIY experience is that everything you do feels like a major accomplishment, no matter how mundane. Pulling out carpet staples for three hours? Yes! Give me more work—this feels great! Ouch, my back. It hurts so good!

The photo on the left is “The Juniper Beast” halfway through its demise. The photo on the right is after the Beast was defeated.