Stacking Functions Garden

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The best-laid plans

Where to find me

Time to state the obvious: I don’t write here on Stacking Functions very often these days. I am still a blogger! Blogging is still a thing, and I may never stop. Lately, I am blogging for the Minnesota Horticultural Society’s Northern Gardener Blog, a monthly feature called Ask a Master Gardener. I can’t recommend this blog enough; new articles about gardening are posted there nearly every week, by a variety of wonderful writers.

If you join the Hort society for as low as $34 a year, you’ll get a handy email with links to new blog posts, plus my pride and joy: Northern Gardener magazine, to which I also contribute.

But I’d be sad to miss out on my annual Garden Recap and Planning post, so I’ve stopped by here for a visit.

What worked well in 2022 for me? I had a few successful endeavors this year.

Drip Irrigation

2022—our second drought year in a row. It got real bad this fall, and I am slightly nervous about how many of my trees and shrubs will actually be alive come spring.

In late 2021, I threw out the old soaker hose-based irrigation system I had used for several years. It kept springing leaks, and didn’t work that well in the first place. It was nearly impossible to get the water pressure just right—powerful enough so that it would actually drip out of the soaker hoses, but light enough so that it wouldn’t blow apart the connecting pieces. It was driving me crazy. I thought to myself, well I’ll just hand water for a year and see how it goes. And then we got hit with drought year two, even worse than 2021.

In early July, a fellow Hennepin County MG gave me a tour of his drip irrigation system, and I decided instantly to try it myself. I purchased from DripWorks, installed it in mid-July, and loved it immediately. Key features that make it successful: it has a pressure regulator that eliminates the guesswork around the correct water pressure, and it is infinitely configurable.

Digging the trench for the main line—I got a large kit so that I’d have enough for all my veggies and many perennials, too.

The only downside I’ve found so far is that squirrels seem to like chewing on the smaller drip tubes. I’ve had to replace one of them twice already.

The thing about drip irrigation is that it allows you to really just give things a good soaking without having to stand there for an hour. I was having a hard time keeping up with watering my vegetables, and it showed: the carrots and peppers in particular absolutely took off after I installed the drip irrigation.

Sowing lettuce seed under a shade cover

Lettuce seed does not like to sprout when it’s hot. And yet “when it’s hot” is precisely when it’s time to sow a second lettuce crop because your spring lettuce has all bolted. I’ve worked around this in the past by starting new lettuce seedlings indoors, under grow lights. But it feels silly to be messing around with grow lights during the longest days of summer, when sunlight is so very plentiful.

This frost blanket shaded the newly-sown seed just enough to get it to sprout in hot weather. The frame is the hoop house that I use to extend the season in the spring and fall, just without its plastic.

This year, short on time and energy, I decided to just try pulling out my spent lettuce in July, adding some fresh composted manure to the tank, and sowing some new lettuce seed. I shaded it with a frost blanket for the first week—until most everything had sprouted and was actively growing. It worked a wonder, and we had ample leaf lettuce from mid-August until almost Thanksgiving.

No time for preserves? Try syrup.

A recurring theme of my summer: I did not have a lot of energy or time for many things, including pitting cherries. The whole cherry harvest felt stressful and overwhelming. But I am always very motivated to harvest as many of the fruits as I can, as part of good orchard management to control the number of cherry maggot flies for next year.

Freshly-made gooseberry and cherry syrups. I didn’t bother canning either—they went into the freezer.

Desperate to use up about a gallon of cherries, I threw them in a pot with a small amount of water and several cups of sugar. I cooked them until they broke down and thickened slightly, strained out the pits and solid material, and called it cherry syrup. We then proceeded to put it on ice cream and in carbonated water, and it’s been a delight. 

I liked it so much that I did the same thing with my gooseberries, currants, and grapes, allowing us to make fancy black currant syrup-infused adult beverages and grape soda this summer and fall.

Cut flower gardening

My daughter asked me if I would grow some cutting flowers this year. Most of the flowers I grow are natives; 70% of my yard is a mix of prairie and woodland native plants, and many of them make fine cut flowers. But I wanted to try dahlias, to see if I was up for the challenge. Reader: I am hooked. Obsessed, even. I will always grow majority native plants, but I will also now make room for some dahlias going forward. We had fresh dahlia and zinnia bouquets for months, and it was a delight.

Some of the first dahlias I harvested this summer. I’m not sure of the name, but they’re a smaller one at 3-4 inches.

I also planted a row of zinnias in the alley next to the new garage. The soil was absolutely terrible—all rocky fill, and in a terrible location to boot. I planted the zinnias with little hope. To my surprise and delight, the zinnias thrived, and brightened up a dreary part of the neighborhood. I now plan to make this little zinnia patch permanent.

“Whirlygig” zinnias from Seed Savers Exchange, grown in poor soil in my alley.

On to 2023

As for 2023, I have a few small plans. First, my veggie garden:

Nothing too earth-shattering here, just more of my favorite tried-and-true vegetables plus moving some of the cutting flowers into the veg garden. Squirrels ate all but one of my cucumbers this year so I am doing a little crop rotation and putting cucumbers inside the squirrel-proof cage. I’ll try tomatoes in a newly-relocated tank, but I’ll only grow cherry tomatoes, knowing that a good 30% of them will be eaten by my furry tree rat friends. I’m trying celery this year! So that ticks my box for trying something new.

Second, I’ll have to replace my magnolia. I cut it down in September after debating it all summer long, and trying to wish and hope the magnolia scale away. I have a Regent serviceberry that I planted in a deeply-shaded area a few years ago that is struggling; I plan to relocate it to the area where the magnolia was.

If your magnolia looks like this, you have my sympathy.

Are you ready to believe that those are really truly my only plans for 2023’s garden? That’s all I’ve got so far, but it feels like plenty to be going on with. I am growing ever more protective of time that I could spend simply savoring my yard, too.

I’ll leave you with a few photos from the gardening season that was, 2022. Wishing you and yours good health in the new year.