Stacking Functions Garden


How to make a raised bed garden

Yesterday we helped my parents install 4 ft. x 8 ft. raised-bed garden.  They haven’t had a garden for years and wanted to get back into it.   Here’s how we did it:

3 2x12x8 ft. construction-grade pine boards
1 2x2x8 ft. contstruction-grade pine board
2 1/2 in. ceramic-coated screws
Total cost: $30

1. Cut one of the 2x12x8’s in half.  Cut the 2x2x8 into 6 pieces (each is 16inch long), and cut one end of each at a 45 degree angle (see picture).

2. Assemble your garden structure upside down, as seen here:


Using the 2×2’s as braces on the inside of each corner makes the whole thing sturdier.  You screw your bigger boards to each other as well as to the 2×2’s, and put your two extra 2×2’s in the center of your longer board.  This will help with some of the outward pressure that the dirt will exert on the longer boards.


3. With the bed still upside down on the spot where you want it, make an outline with your shovel.  Then move your structure aside, rip up the sod inside the square, and break up the ground a bit.

4.  Tip your garden so that the spikes point into the ground and jump a little bit on top to sink those stakes into the ground.  I suppose you could use a rubber mallet, but come on, how fun would that be?

5. Fill with black dirt.  You will need 1 cubic yard.  My dad has a pickup so he was able to go get it from a local garden center for $35.

Raised beds seem like they’re getting more popular all the time.  They offer a number of advantages including increased drainage, decreased soil compaction, better productivity per square foot, they warm up sooner in the spring, oh there are tons of reasons.

Because we used regular pine boards, this particular one is not going to last forever.  If you have the means, I would highly recommend using cedar boards.  But they are like 3 times more expensive than pine, so be aware of that when planning this out.  I personally would not use “green-treated” lumber for a garden that I’m going to raise food in, since I wouldn’t want to risk leeching chemicals into my food.

Total cost of this project: $65

This is not a super big garden but it’s a great size to start with.  Eventually you could add another one (or two) and then suddenly you have this really convenient way to do crop rotation, etc.

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Gardening is the new black

My hometown newspaper (and employer) has an article about community gardens and the red tape that can accompany the effort to get one started. The  Homegrown Minneapolis initiative is trying to change that, and I applaud the effort.  Their very noble goals are:

• Using public and private land for community gardens and food production.

• Increasing access to farmers’ markets or mobile food delivery services.

• Encouraging restaurants, schools and other organizations to use locally grown food on their menus.

• Supporting entrepreneurs who want to create small businesses focused on local food production.

I am not going to be able to make this, but the Homegrown Minneapolis folks will host a public meeting from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Monday at Martin Luther King Park, 4055 Nicollet Av. S., Minneapolis.  If you go, let me know how it was.

Here’s a slightly more critical yet still hopeful take on the project.

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Companion planting

Last night, I read Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting for Successful Gardening by Louise Riotte.  Inspired by what I read, today I planted some herb “companion” seeds for my vegetables.

Brussels sprouts: added lettuce, dill, and onions.  The brussels sprouts are still very small so in the large spaces in between, I planted little bunches of these other “friends of cabbages” (according to the book).

Tomatoes: added radishes, basil, and parsley.

Cucumbers: added radishes.

I also moved the fennel out of the garden, because according to the book fennel and tomatoes hate each other.  (Who knew?)  I had the fennel right next door to the tomatoes.  I replaced it with onions which apparently benefit just about everything you put them next to.

So what’s with these “companions”?  According to the book, for example, radishes repel cucumber beetles.  You plant them not to have extra radishes for eating, but precisely because their presence will help out the cuke in the long run.

I really liked this book; it was easy to read and it’s organized in alphabetical order by vegetables and herbs, so you can easily reference whatever you’re working on.  Now, we’ll see what happens…

Has anyone out there done companion planting?  Does this really work?  Will these herb companions help hold down weeds while their vegetable buddies are still small?  (These are not rhetorical questions; I really want to know.)


Recipe: pizza

Frozen pizza used to be a staple in our household in our college years.  Then for a couple of glorious years, delivery pizza was our weekly treat.  When our twins were first born we were ordering pizza 2-3 times a week.  Both frozen pizza and delivery pizza are rather high in fat, and frozen pizza is chock full of preservatives.  Nary a whole grain is to be found in either one.

If you have a bread machine, you can easily make your own pizza dough to whip out your own healthier pizza.  The best part is that the ingredients for pizza dough are not perishable so you can put everything in the bread machine right away in the morning and set your delay timer and the dough will be ready and waiting for a very quick meal when you get home.

This recipe is adapted from the Cuisinart recipe booklet that came with my bread machine:

Pizza Dough
1 c. warm water
3/4 tsp. honey or sugar
1 1/2 tsp. kosher or sea salt
2 T. extra virgin olive oil (a generous 2)
1 1/2 c. white bread flour
1 1/2 c. whole wheat bread flour
1 3/4 tsp. yeast
1 tsp. garlic powder (optional)
1 tsp. oregano (optional)

Put all ingredients in bread machine, set to “dough” setting, 1.5 lb loaf size.  If possible, the first time you make this watch it while it goes through the first mixing/kneading cycle to make sure it’s not too wet and not too dry.

The more whole wheat flour you use, the trickier that part is because whole grain flours absorb more liquid, and they absorb it more slowly, than white flour.  So it’s good in general to keep an eye on your dough the first couple times you make any bread machine recipe and try to adapt it to make it more whole grain.


Preheat oven to 450.  Lightly grease a med.-large size cookie sheet and spread your dough out as thin as you like.  Top with pizza sauce, or pesto, or just brush with olive oil, some toppings, and bake in a 450 degree oven for 12-20 min.  Makes a nice big pizza, 5-7 servings.

I made this pizza last Thursday.  What ends up happening around here is that pizza is the last thing I make when we have run out of EVERYTHING so my toppings are really random.  This pizza was topped with: adzuki beans, whole garlic cloves, a 1/2 can of tomatoes which were cooked with a little bit of onion and spices, a little bit of grated monterey jack cheese, and a little bit of grated parmesan rind.

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Recipe: hot dog or hamburger buns

hotdogbunsSummer is here, and so is grilling season.  We grilled up some delicious fresh sausages from the Seward Co-op the other night and baked up our own buns to eat them on.  Like everything we’ve been trying lately, we were surprised at how easy it was.

Hamburger or hot dog buns
3 c. white bread flour
1 1/4 c. whole wheat bread flour
2 1/4 tsp. yeast
1 c. milk
1/3 c. sugar (optional)
1/3 c. butter
3/4 tsp. salt
2 eggs, beaten

Put all ingredients in bread machine and set to “dough” setting (2 lb size). When cycle is complete (usually around 1.5-2 hours), remove dough from machine and divide into 12 pieces.  Shape into desired shape — hamburger or hot dog, and place on a greased baking sheet.  Let rise for about 30 min.  Bake in 375 degree oven for 12-15 minutes.

I found these to be a little sweeter than I normally would like, so next time I’m leaving the sugar out.  I would also like to make them a little more “whole” wheat than this, but that’s going to have to be a work-in-progress.  This made quite a few more than we needed, so we froze the leftovers.


Does sewing fit in?

sewingmachineWhen I wrote up my initial description of a new liberal art called New Home Economics, I debated whether or not to include sewing. Sewing, knitting, and the like were definitely part of the “old” Home Economics. I’m reading a really old Home Economics book (from the 1800s) right now and the author goes on and on about knitting your own stockings, weaving your own straw hats, etc.

My first instinct was to not include sewing. I had to draw the line somewhere, and I thought it would be better to focus more on daily activities — eating and basic household stuff — in order to make the biggest impact. Most of us don’t buy clothes every single day. Plus, at some point getting all DIY about everything becomes unrealistic when you work full-time. Part of the reason we are able to do a lot of the from-scratch cooking we do is that Adam is home part-time. He can whip out a pot of dried beans on a Monday. We don’t have to cram every single thing into Saturday and Sunday.

When I think about attempting to make even some of my own or my kids’ clothes, I  feel overwhelmed. I enjoy knitting, and I sew a little bit (hemmed some curtains 3 years ago). I knitted a couple of pairs of mittens last year, and considered that an accomplishment. We DO buy a lot of our clothes second-hand, so that’s something.

But maybe there’s a place for sewing. I just noticed that one of the sheets for my bed has a hole in it. I hate to throw out that whole sheet, when most of it is still perfectly good. What else could I do with it?  I also have some old dish towels that my grandma embroidered for me that I am saving. I want to turn them into some cloth napkins, and maybe a bread bag or two. When will I get around to this? Hard to say.


Realistically, we’re not ever going to see huge numbers of people sewing all their own clothes. But what if people darned their socks? Sewed buttons back on? Repaired tears to jackets or mittens or pants? Most of us do at least some of those things, but could we do more?  Could I do more?

Maybe it comes down to being more conscious of what we throw away and purchase new, and examining each with much more care than we used to. So I am hereby creating a small checklist that I will try to complete before throwing a piece of clothing, or really anything at all, away:

1) Can this be repaired and still used?
2) If not, can it be taken apart and used for something else?
3) If I must dump this, can any part of it be recycled or composted?
4) If I must replace this, can I replace it with something that I can buy second-hand? Something that is more energy-efficient?

Do you think sewing should be included, or would that be taking New Home Economics too far?

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A green remodel

Story in today’s Star Tribune about a home remodel right in my neighborhood.  I walk past this house quite frequently and have been wondering how it looked on the inside.  I wish they had more pictures of the yard; the rain garden is really cool.  Money quote from the homeowner (who did much of the work himself):

“These are just good, old-fashioned, sensible values about not wasting what you have,” he said.

Read the story right here.

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Garden, planted

My garden is now completely planted for 2009.  I will still plant a couple of things for later harvest after my peas are done, such as some onions, kale, and maybe a couple more herbs.

Today we started our “3 sisters” guilds — we planted the corn and zucchini but will wait to plant the beans until the corn has sprouted.  You want the corn to be just a little ahead of the beans so that the beans have something to climb on.

We also put in our green (bush) beans, our tomatoes, and a second row of parsnips/radishes.  I staggered my radish planting so that we won’t have to eat all of them at the same time.

Here’s our garden right now (click to enlarge):

The row on the very left is the radishes, then you can see two sorta rows of lettuce, then my brussel sprout area.  The 3 sisters got planted in between and to the left of the window wells; we kinda followed the planting instructions from Renee’s Garden.  The tomatoes aren’t in the picture, but they are planted on the other side of our chain link fence next to the deck.

It feels really good to be done, and it also feels like a really long time before we’re going to get to eat any of this stuff.  My best guess is that maybe we’ll have some radishes and baby lettuces in 2 weeks.

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Ode to the parsnip

Photo: Adam being goofy with a particularly large parsnip from our 2008 garden.


I’ve been thinking about mashed parsnips lately. Parsnip-eating season is still months and months away, but I will post this now in the hopes that you might still find the time to plant a few of these in your garden so that you, too, can enjoy the bounty with me in, oh, about October or November.

Parsnips are related to carrots, but they’re white, and they are a lot bigger in girth. Their seeds take a LONG time to germinate, but once they are germinated you don’t have to do much with them except keep them minimally watered. Parsnips are probably not real popular commercially, most likely because of the very same factors that make them so awesome for the home garden: they need to freeze in order to reach perfection, and don’t keep that well.

When parsnips are subjected to a hard freeze their starches turn to sugar. It’s so great to grow something like this in Minnesota where our growing season is so short — once you have your first freeze, parsnip season starts, and doesn’t end until they are all eaten up. I pulled our last bunch of parsnips in December, with snow falling on me.

According to wikipedia, parsnips are actually richer in vitamins and minerals than carrots, particularly potassium. Like any root vegetable they’re also rich in fiber and low in calories. Apparently they were thought to be an aphrodisiac in the middle ages.

I’ve eaten store-bought parsnips, and they’re pretty good, once you get that weird wax coating off (why do they do that, anyway?). But straight from a 30 degree garden, parsnips are more than pretty good. They’re exceptional magical amazing oh heck I can’t think of a strong enough adjective, so let’s move on to a simple recipe:

Mashed Parsnips
Several parsnips
Butter, Nutmeg, Salt & Pepper (optional)

Slice up parsnips and boil or steam until tender. Mash with a potato masher. Stir in a little butter, nutmeg, salt & pepper to taste. Don’t even think about putting gravy on this.