Stacking Functions Garden

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Making permaculture plans (but not for Nigel)


I have been so inspired by the book Edible Forest Gardens (by Dave Jacke & Eric Toensmeier) that I’ve been sketching and brainstorming about what we could do with our backyard, now that we’ve eliminated our problematic trees.  We’re nowhere near consensus on what we should do (or what we will be able to afford to do), but it’s fun to brainstorm.

I am inspired by many aspects of permaculture, but one of the most simple/profound is the concept of “stacking.”  Stacking refers to stacking functions: any element (plant, structure) that we put into our landscape ought to fulfill at least two functions.  The more functions you can stack on a single element, the better.  So planting something that looks great, but does absolutely nothing else?  Well, from now on I’m going to think twice about it.

Here are some examples of multiple-function plants, and their functions:

Dill: looks nice, attracts beneficial insects, edible (3!)
Apple tree: provides shade, looks pretty (esp. in the spring when in bloom), provides food
Trellis over your deck: provides shade & support for vines (plant useful vines like pole beans and you stack another function on)

I totally think “looks nice” is a valid function.  So I’m drawing up plans… lots of plans… coming up with ideas on how I can turn my backyard into a productive, enjoyable landscape.  Stay tuned.  Can you think of other good examples of stacking?

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Adam’s bike shop

Well, necessity has bred even more creativity around here. Adam has spent most evenings the past couple months teaching himself how to put bikes together. My 1980 Schwinn Worldsport keeps breaking down in one way or another, so he’s been slowly replacing components on that while at the same time building me a new single speed with an old Gitane frame that my friend CJ found in the trash:

bike1It’s so cool!  I can’t wait to ride it.  He just has a couple of things left.  He did some part swapping between his Peugeot, my Schwinn, and the Gitane, and ended up getting new chains for all three bikes, but got away with only 1 new wheelset.  He’s been getting a lot of vintage/gently used parts from eBay.  Here’s his Peugeot:

bike2And just so my old faithful Schwinn doesn’t feel left out, here’s a pic of it:

bike3That handlebar tape is relatively new, as is the rear wheel and the brakes.  I absolutely love cork handlebar tape; it’s very cushy and comfy.  I can’t wait to have two functional bikes!  Just in time for winter.  😦


Bicycle safety: the bottom line

When it comes to bike commuting, there is a lot of really great advice out there about how to stay safe.  But there is one simple way to boil that all down, and greatly increase your safety:

Design a bike route that you would never, ever drive.

What does this mean? Let me show you my bike route, to illustrate (click on map at right to enlarge).  The gray line represents my former bike route, and also the way I take when I drive my car to work.  It follows Park Avenue, a one-way street with an on-road bike lane in south Minneapolis.  Portland Ave, a one-way street 2 blocks west of Park, is the route home in that case.

Park and Portland are VERY busy roads.  Most suburbanites and all Minneapolis-ites know them as a very quick way to get through the south side when 35W is clogged.  These streets have a speed limit of 35 mph, and it’s not uncommon to get passed on your bike, very closely, by cars and trucks going 40-45 mph.

So what’s so great about my new route (in blue on the map)?

By biking on mostly residential streets, I minimize the number of cars that I come into contact with — cars don’t take these streets because it would be ridiculously slow for them.  For a large part of my ride, I’m cruising down tree-lined residential streets, saying hello to people, and watching out more for kids running around kicking soccer balls than for cars.  I only go through a handful of stoplights (mostly in and near downtown); however, I do have countless stop signs.  But because most of the intersections I’m crossing are minor, I can do a “California stop” (car drivers do it too, so don’t even start) and be on my merry way.

It sounds like a much slower way to ride, right?  Actually, it takes the exact same amount of time as my former ride (around 20-25 min), but it is different.  My overall speed is slower, but I stop less often and for shorter amounts of time.

I devised this route over a period of a couple of weeks last summer, partially out of a desire to ride past Powderhorn Park and see the lake every morning.   I ride right down the middle of the road, eliminating any risk of being doored, reducing the risk of hitting a pedestrian crossing the street, and ensuring that any of the slow-moving cars that I meet or that come up behind me definitely see me (I move to the side to let them pass immediately).  I ding my bell the entire way through the one or two dangerous intersections.

This summer was the first time that I biked an entire season, morning and night, on the new route.  And I had the fewest number of close calls that I’ve ever had.  I still had a couple, but overall fewer.  And my rides quickly became the most pleasant part of my day.  I’ve always loved riding, but now, well, I love it even more.

What do you think, readers?  If you ride, do you stick to residential streets, or are you one of those crazy bikers that I see riding down Lyndale or Cedar Avenues?  Bike paths?  I wish there was a quicker all bike-path way for me to get to work, but my current schedule doesn’t permit the extra half-hour each way that it would take.

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Planting garlic

The time is now for planting garlic, in the upper midwest.  You probably have just a couple more weeks, depending on the weather.  I got mine in today during the kids’ nap.  First I dug a trench about 3-4 in. deep:


Then I pulled apart the 4 bulbs of seed garlic that I had bought at the farmers’ market a few weeks ago, and placed each clove pointy side up in the trench:


If those cloves look ginormous, it’s because they ARE.  A couple of the bulbs only had 2-3 cloves in them.  I’m not sure what variety of garlic these are; I should have paid better attention when I was buying them.  My only hope is that I didn’t crowd them too close.  Anyway after placing the bulbs, I covered them with about 1/2 in. of compost:


Then I put the rest of the dirt back on top of the compost, watered with some fresh ICE COLD rain barrel water, and that’s it.  I also popped a couple of cloves into an open spot in my flower bed; I’m curious to see how they’ll do there.

Update, 14 April 2010: Success! (Including the flower bed ones!)

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A killer frost

The inner city’s first frost and our first snow both occurred the same night, Friday night.  (For non-Minnesotans:  that’s a little early for snow, and a little late for first frost.)  Here was the situation in my garden at 7 a.m. Saturday:



The snow had all melted by noon or so.  The tomatoes, banana peppers, beans, and zucchini are dead.  The parsnips can now be harvested, and the ‘late-season’ kale that I planted in mid-July is still very small, but looks healthy and I’ll probably harvest it relatively soon.  The brussels sprouts are all unfazed by light freezing, but we ripped them out today anyway because it was time to acknowledge that it’s just not going to happen.



Here’s the sad state of affairs as it looks right now.  I pulled out the soaker hoses and put them away, too.  I’m leaving the beans in place to see if the green ones that are still on there might think about drying up now that the plants are pretty much dead.


We started an additional “starter” area to the left of the compost bin, so now we are officially acknowledging that we have a 3-stage compost bin.  We create so much material for the bin that 2 side-by-side bins are not enough.  There used to be a pine tree directly to the left of the bin, but now that it’s gone we can use that area more easily.

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CSA Week 18

It’s here, boo-hoo. Our final week of CSA for 2009:

1 bunch kale
2 stalks of brussels sprouts
2 heads broccoli
1 bag saute mix
1 large butternut squash
2 bunches radishes
2 bags of herbs for transplanting or using fresh
4 onions
4-5 apples
1 pie pumpkin
4 truffles (a thank-you gift for last csa week)

I’m really sad to see our CSA come to an end.  It has been so great getting all this fresh produce every week.  Combined with what we grew in our garden, we had very cheap grocery store trips all summer long and into the fall now.  I don’t know whether we’re getting a CSA or not next year; depends on if we can find someone to split it with us.

Standard CSA info:

What is a CSA?
Where do we get our CSA from? Food 4 Thought.
See all of my CSA posts

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The end of my garden, 2009


Well, it’s going to freeze here.  Maybe not tonight, but any night now.  And there’s SNOW in the forecast for Saturday.  I am counting on that to be wrong.  But I brought in the few remaining tomatoes tonight, anyway.  Hopefully they will all ripen slowly over the next couple of weeks so I can still get a few tastes of summer.

The silver lining here is that the end of gardening season means the beginning of parsnip season!  I can’t wait to start digging them up.  I learned a lot this year.  Let’s review:

Some things I learned about gardening, 2009

1. brusselMy second attempt at brussels sprouts was a fail.  Until I can determine what I am doing wrong, I am not going to attempt growing them again.  They got further along this year than last, but they still never “sprouted” — they just got tiny, loose little bunches of leaves where the sprouts should have been.

2. Garlic is super easy to grow, and you get a double harvest because you can eat the ramps in June, and then harvest the garlic bulbs in August.  Definitely doing garlic again.  I’m planting my bulbs for 2010 in the next week or so; I will take a couple of pictures.

3. Four zucchini plants is too many.  One would be plenty.  In fact, I don’t think I’m going to do any zucchini next year because we get some in our CSA box, too, and that is more than enough for my zucchini needs.

4. Three tomato plants is a decent number.  Still not enough for canning, but I just don’t really have room for more than three.  We did have enough to freeze a couple of bags full though (we use them in soup).  I may try growing a couple more in pots next year.

5. Growing heirloom “dried” beans is super fun and easy.  Most definitely will do that again.

6. Because of my unique growing situation, between two two-story houses, so-called “late season” veggies that you plant in mid-July, such as beets and kale, are just not possible for me.  The sun dips below my neighbor’s roofline in mid-August and suddenly my garden is shaded during the warmest part of the day.

7.  I grew a lot of different herbs this year: fennel, basil, dill, thyme, rosemary, oregano, and cilantro/coriander.  They were super fun to fill in between my perennial flowers and we attracted a lot more bumblebees and butterflies to our garden in the process.

I’ll see if I can think of some more things I’ve learned.  Those are just off the top of my head.