Stacking Functions Garden

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Going native

I was just reading through some recent posts, and realized that I forgot one of the most important reasons why I had my most successful gardening year ever in 2012.

I had very few pest problems this year, and with our mild winter/early spring I had actually expected an increase in pests. Two reasons: first, I added beneficial nematodes to the garden in early June, all around my zucchini plants. I later saw (and failed to catch) adult squash vine borers in there, so I know they laid eggs, but the nematodes must have done their job because my zucchini plants looked gorgeous all summer.

Second, and more important: I have added a great variety of native plants to my yard and garden over the past two years, and I can’t believe how many more birds, butterflies and spiders are around. I actually watched two birds flying in and out of the vegetable garden one day, feasting on crickets. HUGE spiders set up shop in several areas of the yard this summer.

American Highbush Cranberry (viburnum trilobum) is just one of the native shrubs I added this spring. They’re absolutely gorgeous right now, and next year they should produce berries.

I keep saving seed and replanting Florence Fennel from a packet I originally bought several years ago (I also get MANY volunteers). This fennel frustrates me because it seems that no matter what part of the yard I plant it in, I almost never get a bulb worthy of dicing. I get lots of neat foliage, and I use the seeds and feathery leaves interchangeably with dill, but I am ready to try a different variety—I keep dreaming of cucumber fennel salad and never getting around to making it. Anyway, when I pulled out the remaining fennel plants this weekend, look what I found! Weird fennel carrot-like roots!? So, we boiled them up with some parsnips and mashed them. Not too shabby.

Garden’s not done yet! I’ve never seen a better chard plant than this one; it’s been completely cut down several times and just keeps coming back. Apparently it’s hardy to about 15 degrees (F), so we’ll probably want to use it up by the end of November or so.

With all the native plants we added this year, our need for leaf mulch increased to the point that we no longer need to bag/dispose of ANY leaves. We raked them off the small grass area, and threw the extras on the raspberries. So there’s one chore greatly reduced, at least. Leaf mulch is exactly what native plants want and like—after all it’s what they’d get in the forest.

A friend of mine was touring my garden this summer, and seemed perplexed at all the work I’m putting into adding natives that supply only a little food at most. Why not focus more on adding as many vegetable and fruit areas as humanly possible? Well, that’s likely the direction I would have gone, if I didn’t have so much shade. Since I can’t grow traditional vegetables and fruits in the vast majority of my yard, I had to improvise. I am SO glad I did: even if you can’t eat all of the plants I’ve added, they still greatly benefit the plants that I CAN eat by increasing biodiversity in my little south Minneapolis yard.

There’s also the permaculture aspect of this: in order to achieve greater sustainability we need to expand our definition of edible and explore the native plants of our regions. In that vein, I will be more than thrilled to welcome nannyberries, highbush cranberries, gooseberries, fiddlehead ferns, and even more herbal teas to my table next year. Now if I can just get my hands on some ramps and a serviceberry bush or two, I’ll be set!


Recipe: creamy jalapeño dip

I wanted to call this post “the most magically delicious chip dip EVER OMG” but Adam thought that was silly and definitely not search engine optimized. Added bonus: this dip has only TWO ingredients.

Creamy Jalapeño Dip

In a small bowl, combine equal amounts of:
pickled jalapeños
sour cream

So, first of all: you have to get yourself some pickled jalapeños.

pickled jalapenos

A few weeks ago I picked a large number of large red jalapeños from my very generous mother-in-law’s garden. I sliced and seeded them (along with some banana peppers from my own garden), put them in a mason jar, covered with a salty brine (scant 1 T. salt : 1 c. water), and let them sit on the counter for several days, tasting every day. When they started tasting more pickled than salty, I transferred them to the fridge. So little effort, and they make everything from pizza to tacos to sushi amazingly good. I think I may replace my classic stand-by banana pepper recipe.

Anyway, mix chopped peppers with high quality sour cream. (I like Kalona Super Natural.) You might want to stir in a teaspoon or two of the brine to get a good consistency. And truly, that is it. The fat in the sour cream mellows the spiciness of the peppers to a perfect level (for this Minnesotan, anyway).

jalapeno chip dip

The red peppers really give this a holiday feel, no? I’d love to imagine serving this at Christmas, but there is not a chance that we’ll have any of these pickled lovelies left by then.


Home project: kids’ art display center

Our two 5YOs are quite the budding artists. The sheer volume of work they produce on a daily basis is astounding. And it’s not limited to scribbling with crayons, no, not for these children of an art teacher. They use real art supplies, and create 3D as well as 2D projects. We desperately needed to expand our “on the fridge” display operation, but didn’t feel like filling the walls with holes.  I saw these picture ledges at Ikea and had an idea:

Ikea hack: kids' art display shelf

The idea here is that we can display 3D art on top of the slim shelves, while also hanging 2D pieces from the wires/clips. I don’t know if I’d call this an Ikea “hack” insofar as we are still using it for its intended purpose. However, adding the wires to the bottom of the shelves doubled the functionality of the display shelf. (There we go with stacking functions again!)

Interested? For each shelf, you’ll need:

1 Ikea “Ribba” picture ledge, 45″ ($14.99)
1 Ikea “Dignitet” wire curtain rod ($12.99)
1 set Ikea “Deka” curtain wire clips ($6.99)

Mount the curtain rod brackets to the bottom of the shelf. Adam had to make a special trip to the hardware store to get the right size screws. Attach the wire. Attach the clips. Done! Total cost per shelf: $35. You could do this cheaper if you bought the lumber, screwed it together, and painted it, but… we decided to go with the easy route.