Stacking Functions Garden

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And so it begins…

Seed starting time! Let’s start with a public service announcement. How many of you have seen this idea floating around Pinterest? Well, I am here to tell you several things, including this:

Guidelines for using toilet paper rolls for starting seeds

This was likely a staged picture. Tiny seedlings placed in rolls, picture snapped, water added later (hopefully). You can tell by the little bits of dried soil on the edges of the container. Here are what my toilet paper seed starters looked like, only a few hours after filling with damp soil and seeds:

Toilet paper seed starters.

Unrolling all over the place! A few actually fell apart. HOWEVER! That’s not to say that this idea is all wrong, because it still has merits. And all the rolls in the middle of my tray are still fine, due to being packed in tightly. Here’s how my setup looks this year:

Seed starting setup

I’ve had mixed success with starting seeds in the past, so here’s what I’m doing differently this year.

  1. I chose cool-season crops that I can plant out in (hopefully) mid-to-late March in my hoop house, including lettuce, chard, kale, arugula and spinach. I’ll also direct-sow snow peas with them. (Don’t start tomatoes, peppers, etc. until mid-March.)
  2. I started the seeds directly on the surface of the refrigerator top, which is nice and warm. As soon as most of them had sprouted, I put these trivets under them to increase airflow and hopefully reduce the temperature a bit.  They’re cool-season plants, after all.
  3. Last year, my spinach never did sprout in this set-up, so this year I kept my spinach seeds in a damp paper towel in the refrigerator until they sprouted (6 days). I planted them yesterday; crossing my fingers that they’ll turn into baby plants.
  4. As you can see, I added some tin foil around the edges to bounce the light around a bit; in the past I’ve had pretty leggy plants so I’m hoping this helps.
  5. As soon as everything is sprouted, I’m going to train a very small fan on this area to increase airflow even more. This is also supposed to help in building strong stems.
  6. Note: toilet paper rolls should be packed in very tightly or they will fall apart.

Winter seed startingI’m also trying winter seed sowing again. It didn’t work for me three years ago, but so many people are doing this now that I can’t help but be tempted.


I’m sticking to native perennial plants (except calendula), all of which prefer to be cold-stratified before sprouting. If this works, these are going into my boulevard. Last summer, we laid cardboard and woodchips over our entire boulevard, so the prep work is done. We’re trying to keep this project simple. In addition to these natives, we’ll divide and add some of our existing front-yard perennials. I’m hoping to not have to buy more than a handful of plants. TRYING to keep things a bit simpler than last year!

I can feel it: spring is coming! And it’s not just me… we’re getting a well-deserved thaw in Minnesota this weekend too, and it is glorious. Speaking of that, time to shut down the computer and GET. OUT. THERE!



Recipe: oatmeal tahini cookies

Oatmeal Tahini Cookies, via The New Home Economics

Note the patient little hand, waiting, waiting for the cookies to cool off enough to eat.

We’ve been making a lot of cookies lately. I always crave them in the winter anyway, and now that we have 4 lunches to prepare every morning, it’s nice to have a little something homemade to throw in. We’re making hummus this week, so as long as we had to buy tahini anyway, we decided to try tahini cookies. Without further ado:

Oatmeal Tahini Cookies
2 c. rolled oats
1 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1 c. chopped almonds
1 c. sucanat (or brown sugar)
scant 1/4 c. evaporated cane juice (or white sugar)
1 c. raisins (we used half craisins)
3/4 c. tahini
1/2 c. butter
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda

Cream butter and tahini. Mix in sugars, then eggs and vanilla. Add the flour, cinnamon, salt, baking soda, and oats. Stir in the almonds and raisins last of all. Bake at 350 degrees, 8-10 minutes. Adam likes big cookies so his took the full 10 minutes. This made a  couple dozen large cookies.

This is a substantial cookie, one that could easily carry you through an afternoon of snowshoeing, for example. The tahini brings out some of the same qualities that you’d get from a peanut butter oatmeal cookie but without an overwhelming peanut taste. I couldn’t really taste the tahini in the final product, which is OK. Good stuff!

A note about sugars: we’ve been experimenting with sucanat lately. Nutrition-minded types recommend it because, among other things, it is minimally processed and therefore still contains some minerals and all the awesome molasses flavor. Sucanat caramel popcorn, for example, is AMAZING. Once again, I tried it for the nutrition but got hooked for the flavor.


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In the bleak midwinter

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago

It’s a Christmas carol, but I find this song more fitting for right now. This winter has seemed closer to normal in terms of temperature (-14 degrees F in Minneapolis this morning), but we are sorely lacking in snow cover. Hopefully March will bring us closer to normal moisture levels.

Some garden bloggers post about how much they enjoy the break. What I’ve come to realize is that I need physical activity—the more difficult, the better—to truly feel happy and sleep well. Three seasons out of the year, that’s no problem. In the winter, however; not enough exercise… not enough light… and insomnia starts to become my reality.

I have rediscovered how much I love running, though, and it’s helped. I’ve been running home from work at least once per week. It’s a nice 4.5 miles through south Minneapolis and saves me a $2.50 bus fare (I’ve been wimping out on the winter bike commuting this year). There was a time in my life when I would go to the gym and work out; that time has mostly passed. With my schedule, it’s easier to exercise if I can also accomplish another task at the same time, e.g. commuting.

Lake Harriet Kite Festival 2013

A kite festival on a frozen lake in the middle of January: totally normal for Minnesota.

Our lives are changing rapidly right now. Of course, they’ve been changing rapidly since the kids were born, but it feels different now. I used to look forward to each new step. “Soon we won’t need to buy diapers anymore!” Now, I want everything to slow down. My Kindergarteners have been reading to me every night for the past couple weeks. I want to cherish this moment, and maybe that’s the gift of winter: I have time to do so.

We also made good on a plan we committed to a couple years ago: we finally got rid of our television completely during our Christmas break. We’re not screenless, though. I bought a new Mac last fall, which will finally enable me to occasionally work from home and start freelancing again. So the Mac is doing double duty as work and entertainment, and I don’t miss the television one bit. I don’t want to make a blanket judgment on TV watching—I do it, too (currently working our way through season 4 of Battlestar Galactica on DVD). But quantity matters—a lot. The average American is now watching 34 hours per week of TV. No wonder we collectively have no time for cooking or gardening!

Honestly, for me, TV cannot compare to the excitement of gardening, fermenting, reading, running, cooking, or baking, anyway. The movie is NEVER as good as the book, right? So, I’ll get off that soapbox.

seed inventory

Seed inventory time. I don’t have to buy very much seed this year. Apparently I went completely crazy with seed buying last year; I don’t even remember using some of these!

It doesn’t feel like it outside, but spring is ramping up. I’m adding master gardener volunteer activities to my calendar already, and plan to start my first seeds of the season in two or three weeks. I’m also excited and anxious to see what happens to the hundred or so new perennials I added last summer. My back yard will hopefully look very different this spring. I’m also starting to outline my 2013 garden calendar.

I’m not really sure what the point is, of this post, but I guess: I’m here, we’re getting through the winter, staying mostly healthy, and this too shall pass. Without winter, how can one truly appreciate spring? What are you most looking forward to?