Weekend projects

We had a a busy weekend catching up on projects that had long been over due. As much as I love gardening, I’d rather be planning or planting than doing grunt work, but without the latter, it’s hard to do the former.

Over the years, the bark we’d used as mulch in the planting strip outside the front yard fence had broken down or been washed away by the winter rains, and in quite a few spots the soil had begun to look like this:

Cracked soil due to lack of mulch

This planting strip gets full sun for 6-8 hours. Without a protective mulch, the plants would fry in our hot summer weather since water would just run off without really soaking in (the planting strip slants down to the street).

On Friday I ordered bark from Dixon Landscape Materials in nearby Dixon, CA and on Saturday morning we went to work.

2 cubic yards of bark in our driveway
(the decomposed granite is for another project that was supposed to happen this weekend but didn’t)
In addition to keeping the soil cool and minimizing evaporation of precious water, fresh bark looks and smells awesome
This is the emerald bamboo (Bambusa textilis ‘Mutabilis’)
which I recently planted
I also mulched the stock tanks we installed last December

Another chore that really needed to be done was to pressure-wash the flagstone walkway and patio in the front of our house. Installed in the summer of 2006, this flagstone has had no maintenance other than occasional sweeping. Since this past winter had been a long and rainy one, a lot of grime and moss had settled on the stone, making it look permanently dirty and dingy.

Our neighbor (the best neighbor in the world, I might add, and not just because she makes awesome cakes and cookies) let me use her pressure washer and so I spent a couple of hours on Sunday spritzing all the grime away.

The difference is like night and day. While I had known that the flagstone was dirty, I hadn’t really known how dirty until it was clean again.

Before and after
Front porch after cleaning. I love how saturated and shiny wet flagstone is. Too bad it dries to a dull finish and a much lighter color. I might just try one of those sealants that give you that wet look, even though the ones I’ve seen make the stone look like cheap plastic.
Front walkway after pressure washing

The final project of the weekend was the easiest and quickest of them all. We love to eat and cook Mexican food, and in the last few years I’ve been experimenting with moles, the rich sauces that are the hallmark of Mexican regional cuisine. Many use chili peppers that are very hard to find in the U.S., and some—like the famous chilhuacle from Oaxaca—are hard to source even in Mexico. Instead of always using substitutes that are never quite the real thing, I decided to grow my own specialty peppers from seeds. My original intention had been to start the seeds indoor in January or February, but somehow time got away from me. Now it’s mid-April and our daytime temperatures are consistently in the 70s so the soil should be warm enough to sow straight in the ground.


Since our four raised vegetable beds were empty except for some snap peas, I appropriated half of the biggest bed and sowed the varieties shown above. I believe there were 15 or 20 seeds in each package, but I don’t expect them all to germinate. In fact, if I get 5 or each, I’d be happy. Germination can be pretty slow so I’m trying to be patient while I keep the soil moist. I’ll keep you updated on my great Mexican pepper experiment of 2011!



  1. Looking great! What's the common bark mulch you get out there -- a local product?

    You wouldn't like the flagstones sealed with the "wet" look. I think part of what you like is the change from dry to wet -- having it "wet" all the time would lessen its appeal I think. Plus it doesn't look right... like dyed mulch.

  2. Alan, I suspect you're right about the wet look on flagstone. Since we aren't 100% convinced we would like it, we've held off until now. I've seen too many fake-looking stone patios.

    The bark mulch we got is fir. They also sell "gorilla hair," which is finely shredded redwood bark. It looks too funky for my taste and can form an impenetrable layer so water runs off instead of percolate down.

  3. Looking good Gerhard. Do agree how nice the scent is of fresh bark mulch especially of coniferous origin. The newly jetwashed walkway looks great too. Is the grit for a future arid bed?

  4. Mark and Gaz, the decomposed granite will be used to cover the area in front of our raised tropical bed (it's bare dirt now). It'll probably have to wait until the weekend after Easter since we'll be at my in-laws for Easter.

  5. Gerhard, what sort of bark is it? I've heard some say that redwood and cedar shouldn't be used because they have tannins, and thus create tannic acid, and also supposedly leech nitrogen from the soil. On the other hand, I see a lot of redwood and cedar mulch under a lot of healthy plants.

  6. Whoops, sorry, just noticed Alan asked the same question!

  7. David, I was just going to reply that it's fir. But we've used both cedar and redwood before and I've never seen any adverse effects. On the other hand, a lot of the plants in this planting strip seem to prefer leaner soils anyway, like lavenders, salvias, etc.


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