Stacking Functions Garden


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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?


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Rabbit Damage

The rabbits. They’re especially destructive in winters like the one we’re having, with little snow cover. The day after Christmas, I saw this: Rabbit damage on viburnum, via The New Home Economics blog

One of my brand new viburnums with obvious rabbit damage—stripped bark and disappearing twigs galore. Obviously, my cut-in-half hardware cloth hoop did little to protect this plant. Since Christmas was over anyway, we took down the Christmas tree, clipped off all the branches, and used it as heavy mulch and rabbit-blocking aid.

Christmas tree branch mulch on viburnums, via The New Home Economics blog

I looked under the branches today and it does seem to have helped. I did the same thing with my blueberries, whose size had already been reduced by 50% by the time I got to them.

Blueberries with protective Christmas tree mulch, via The New Home Economics blog

They were very small to begin with, having been eaten to the ground last winter. They spent all of summer 2012 just trying to get re-established.

Raspberry hedge decimated by rabbits, via the New Home Economics blog

Things look even worse in the raspberry patch. If we don’t get significant snow cover soon, all canes will be eaten to the ground. A fresh dusting of snow today covered a truly astonishing amount of rabbit scat that was visible after a thaw last week.

Rabbit damage on crabapple shoots, via The New Home Economics blog

On the other hand, should I be thanking the buns for trimming the sprouts next to my sickly crab apple tree?

Rabbit damage on currant bush, via The New Home Economics blog

Many plants withstand a little rabbit damage. This established currant bush is a good example. You can see some bark nibbling going on, and maybe a handful of twigs eliminated, but for the most part we’re good here.

Red-twig dogwood with rabbit damage, via the New Home Economics blog

Here also, some minor damage near the bottom of a red-twig dogwood. It needs trimming every year anyway, so I’m not worried about it.

What to do about this? The most effective way to prevent rabbit damage is by blocking them, but blocking every single precious plant in my landscape would make my landscape ugly. Rabbits are one of the reasons why I chose stock tanks for my back yard container gardens, so I’ve found some creative ways around them.

The other big thing that we need to address is this:

Rabbit habitat, provided by friendly humans, via The New Home Economics blog

The previous owners of our home built a large deck about 4-6 inches off the ground right behind our house. I’m guessing it didn’t take the rabbits long to move in, and they were well-established—with several entrances and exits—by the time we bought this house 6 years ago. Then we started adding in all kinds of rabbit delicacies to the previously-sterile landscape, supporting the population even further…and… well… this problem is multi-faceted, suffice to say.

Magnolia in winter, via The New Home Economics

The one shrub they have no interest in: my magnolia, with its fantastic fur-covered toes that hold within them the first flowers of spring.

Killing rabbits is not a long-term solution to this problem. In any ecosystem—the inner city is definitely a unique one—if you remove a part of it, others will fill that niche. Translation: other bunnies will move in to a newly-vacant rabbit mansion under our deck.

So the next step is going to have to be: remove the habitat. I’m not excited about the expense of removing the deck and replacing it with a patio, but it’s got to be done. Will it get done this year? That remains to be seen.

What are your rabbit strategies? This is a problem I’ve been dealing with for quite some time:

Protecting baby plants from rabbits (summer 2012)
Rabbit damage, spring 2011 (after a VERY rough winter for the rabbits)
Me 1, rabbits 0 (protecting early spring tulips and strawberries)


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Book review: The Resilient Gardener

The Resilient GardenerThe Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times

by Carol Deppe

The title of this book is a bit heavy-handed; I probably wouldn’t have looked it up if my favorite permaculture blog hadn’t recommended it.

Yet, her broad definition of “hard times” resonated with me. Would your garden survive if you were unable to water it for two weeks? Weed it for three weeks? This concept was brought home to me long before I read this book, when Adam had a random injury in August that left him unable to do any lifting for well over a month. I had to do everything during that time, and it was both eye-opening and exhausting.

So, what if I, the primary gardener in the family, get a random injury? Or what if we have a drought and the city imposes watering limits (a very real possibility, actually)? I actually think these two questions should be asked about ANY landscape, not just a food-producing one.

Before I go any further, I should outline my recommendation regarding this book. Choose whichever of the following best applies to you:

1. If you live in Willamette Valley, Oregon and garden at any scale: BUY this book.

2. If you live anywhere else, and own or have access to acreage and have a desire to increase self-sufficiency by raising some staple crops like corn, beans, squash, or potatoes: BORROW this book from the library. (You may end up buying it.)

3. If you do not meet conditions 1 or 2: well, borrow it only if the topic really interests you.

This book suffers from the same problem affecting nearly all gardening (especially permaculture-oriented) books I read: warm climate-itis. The upper midwest is just a whole different ball game in gardening (though that’s not all bad, either).

Still, there are some useful nuggets in here. Here are a handful:

Plant spacing for resilience. Deppe grows corn, squash, beans, and potatoes enough to be self-sufficient on them as well as sell at market (i.e. she grows a shit ton of all four on acreage). The Willamette valley gets very dry in summer, but she grows most of her crops with little to no irrigation. She achieves this, in part, by increasing plant spacing to even double the amount recommended on the seed packet.

Timing. Because her region has rain at specific times (lots in the winter but very little in the summer) she plants strategically so that crops that need more water are maturing at the time when her region tends to get water. (This does not apply to the upper midwest, but still worth noting.)

Potatoes. She outlines three strategies for planting potatoes: hilling up, trenching, or growing in mulch, with details about how to determine which strategy is best for you. My own potato tower experiment was not successful, but I think that hilling up is probably a classic Minnesota potato strategy for a very good reason.

Ducks vs. Chickens. Deppe’s chapter on ducks offers a great comparison on determining whether you should raise ducks or chickens, and how raising fowl can have a dramatic effect on your resiliency. They can be a great choice if the land you live on happens to not be ideal for growing vegetables or fruit. Unfortunately they are not a choice for me right now, because of problems with obtaining a city permit.

Corn. Deppe has a real fondness for the lowly corn plant, and this book has great in-depth information on types of corn (flour, flint, dent), reasons and how-to’s for growing each, seed-saving and breeding techniques, and even recipes. As a person who is gluten-intolerant, she has a keen interest in providing high-quality non-wheat flour for herself—there are several interesting gluten-free recipes in the book.

Beans. One of the shortest chapters, but Deppe still manages to make a nice case for growing drying beans, and offers advice for those of us who still romanticize the old interplanting corn, beans, and squash myth. Deppe’s answer: it can be done, but mind your spacing and choose varieties that are suited for it.

I would love to think that someday Adam and I might be able to afford to buy a handful of acres somewhere in Minnesota or western Wisconsin. But since we likely wouldn’t be able to live there for many years, what crops (if any) could I realistically grow on this fantasy land, which I would only visit once per week in the best of times? Deppe’s book gave me LOTS of ideas to dream on, for now.


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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!


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Recipe: chicken wild rice soup in a crock pot

Chicken Wild Rice Soup

This recipe makes a lot of soup. I use a 5 quart crock pot (a no-frills oval-shaped one we received for a wedding present 12 years ago). Adjust accordingly if your pot is smaller:

Crock pot chicken and wild rice soup
4 chicken thighs
1 onion, chopped
6 carrots
1 1/2 c. wild rice
1 tsp each of dried oregano, basil, parsley
1 pint heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste

Early in the morning, place the chicken and onion in the bottom of the crock pot. Fill with filtered water, leaving an inch or two at the top. Add a splash of vinegar. Set the crock pot on low or “auto” and leave it for 8-10 hours.

When you get home from work, pull out the chicken and set it on a plate to cool for a bit. Add peeled, sliced carrots, wild rice, and spices. Remove the meat from the bones and return it to the pot. Cover it and let it cook another 60-90 minutes or until the wild rice is done. The wild rice could be parboiled or soaked ahead of time to shorten this second cook time substantially.

When the wild rice splits open, turn off the crock pot. Stir in salt and pepper to taste, then stir in the pint of cream. If you use a 5 quart crock pot, this recipe makes A LOT—a good 10-12 servings. I always make big soup recipes, freeze the leftovers in pint jars, and take them to work for lunch. I know you’re technically not supposed to freeze cream soups, but I thought this one was still great after being frozen.

This soup is very simple. But as one of my favorite cookbook authors says, 90% of good cooking is good shopping (or good gardening). I used meaty free-range chicken thighs, Minnesota wild rice, herbs from my own garden, and the best cream a person can buy in the Twin Cities. Quality makes a HUGE difference. You don’t have to choose recipes with 15 hard-to-find harder-to-pronounce ingredients to serve up a satisfying, nutritious, spectacular meal. This soup really brought that concept home for us.

My initial interest in grass-based dairy and meat grew from reading how much more nutritious they are (3.5MB PDF). Now I’m completely hooked on the taste as well. Homemade soup in a jar—your hipster co-workers will be impressed/jealous.


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Recipe: Evening in Minneapolis

A friend got me a variety of teas from Tea Source last Christmas, and I absolutely fell in love with Evening in Missoula. Since my favorite co-op also sells it, I’ve had it in the house ever since.

But I’ve also gotten much deeper into growing my own teas this year. Last year was the first time I had an herbal tea harvest, and I expanded my operations greatly in 2012:

quart jars of dried herbal tea

1 quart each of dried anise hyssop, sage, raspberry leaf, chocolate mint, lemon balm, bee balm, and german chamomile. I will pick more lemon balm and mint before the first frost.

Recipe: Evening in Minneapolis Tea
1 generous pinch each of: anise hyssop, mint, lemon balm, bee balm, and chamomile. Pour boiling water over leaves and steep for a good 5-10 minutes.

The flavor of this tea is more subtle than Evening in Missoula, but then again so is our landscape. I can taste each of the ingredients, but together they combine into a deeply satisfying evening tea.

The deeper I go into back yard foraging, the more exciting it becomes—and I’ve really only scratched the surface this year. The permaculture people are really onto something. The broader implications of growing your own perennial food plants are even more exciting than vegetable gardening, really. If we can get more people growing edible, native plants in their urban and suburban landscapes, well, think of the possibilities for ourselves and our planet.  (See how excited I am?!)

So, let’s START with a list of some great [mostly] native perennials that can be used for herbal tea. All titles below link to wikipedia.

Hops: Yes, hops for tea not just beer! Apparently it can relieve insomnia and indigestion. I was wondering if hops tea would taste like beer, but it doesn’t at all. It kinda tastes like snow peas, but not in an unpleasant way. It actually reminds me a bit of bee balm tea (see below).

Mints are probably the most popular herbal tea plant. They are considered invasive, so don’t plant them in full sun unless you want them to take over. But with 100s of varieties, each with a unique and interesting flavor, they’re a great place to start. Just look at the variety of mints available at my favorite plant sale.

Anise Hyssop, like mint, is a member of the Lamiaceae family. Native Americans used it to treat coughs, among other things. It’s my favorite of all the new plants I added this year; the flavor of the tea is like a mild, aromatic licorice.

Lemon Balm is another Lamiaceae member. Alas that it is not native to North America, though it has apparently become widespread. It’s not completely hardy to Minnesota, but will survive with some winter protection such as a nice pile of mulch or snow. It can be used in any application where you’d like some lemon scent or flavor.

Bee Balm is the common name for several different plants (also lamiaceae), but in particular wild bergamot (monarda fistulosa) and scarlet bee balm (monarda didyma) were used traditionally by Native Americans. Both plants are great for supporting pollinators and butterflies. I have wild bergamot in my yard and it makes a very bright, summery tea that is more stimulating than relaxing, in my experience.

Chamomile is two different non-native plants: German chamomile and Roman chamomile. These two are cousins in the Aster family (Asteraceae). I’ve grown both, and found German chamomile easier to grow, though it really does need full sun in order to get a large number of flowers. I’ve read that Roman chamomile has stronger medicinal qualities, and is a true perennial, while German chamomile is technically an annual, though it tends to re-seed itself and come back every year.

The sage commonly grown in herb gardens is Salvia officinalis. We only started making tea with it because we had such an overabundance—one plant really gives you quite a lot. It’s neither native nor hardy to Minnesota, so it must be re-planted every year. I love sage tea in the dead of winter. I’ve never tried to ward off evil with it, but it is delightful as a savory tea or mixed with butter and spread on pork chops.

I have been looking for a local foraging source for rose hips. They are one of the ingredients in Evening in Missoula tea and I believe they might be the magical one. They’re incredibly good for you, but sadly many modern hybrid rose bushes are sterile and don’t ever produce a fruit. Rose hips are easier to find on old rose bushes at your Grandma’s house. Maybe your great-Grandma’s house. They smell AMAZING, and add a nice tart flavor to teas.

I added MN native northern lungwort (mertensia paniculata, a member of the borage family) to my rain garden this year, and apparently the leaves of this pant can also be used in teas which support (surprise!) respiratory function. My plants aren’t big enough to harvest from yet, so I’ll have to report back on this one next year.

Feverfew is related to the chamomiles, and also is not native to North America, but apparently has even stronger medicinal qualities. I’ve never grown it, because it is another pesky full sun plant and I have such limited space for full sun plants. Perhaps next year, though!

This is by no means a complete list, but it’s a start. These are all on my radar. Can you think of any others? Another foraged (but not by me) tea that I’ve fallen in love with is Douglas Fir Tip from Juniper Ridge. We’ve made it a Christmastime tradition, due to the piney scent. Yes, it does taste a bit like drinking a pine tree, but in a really good way. Am I losing it?

Update: How could I forget Raspberry leaf tea? Apparently raspberry leaf tea was traditionally used to support menstruation, pregnancy, and childbirth. It has an earthy taste, but that depends on how strong you brew it. You may want to add honey.


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All plastic is oil: the movie Collapse

Collapse

The book that the documentary was based on.

I added the documentary Collapse to my Netflix queue at least two years ago, after a friend earnestly implored me to see it. It’s a profile of a guy named Michael Ruppert, whose blog/self-published newsletter predicted—with scary accuracy—the economic collapse of 2009. Back when the movie came out, I added his website to my RSS reader, but I had to stop reading after a while because I felt like I was going to have a panic attack if I read one more article about peak oil.

I was filled with dread at the prospect of watching the movie, but this weekend I finally got up the nerve. Honestly, it wasn’t that scary. As a matter of fact, as soon as the movie was over, Adam joked, “Wait, wait, don’t tell me, THIS is why you want to get chickens, right?”

If you’ve read about climate change, and if you’ve ever heard of the giant pool of money, most of the information that Ruppert presents is now old news. We’re probably past peak oil. Capitalism itself is unsustainable because infinite growth is not achievable on a planet with finite resources.

Honestly, this stuff doesn’t scare me that much anymore. I guess I’ve moved into the acceptance phase—I’m much more focused on what I can do about it.

Yet, I’ve also found myself slipping into old habits lately as our personal economic situation has improved. The kids are in school now; we’re not as desperately broke as we were when I first started writing this blog. For the past month or two, I’ve been noticing that our small “plastics” recycling bin has actually been full every time the recycling goes out. This is a clue that I’m not doing all I can to reduce plastic in my life. My goal is generally to only have to take the plastics bin out once or twice a year.

So I’m glad I watched this; if nothing else it was a good reminder that, indeed, all plastic is oil. Learning to live without plastic now will make it easier to adjust later when it’s no longer cheap and plentiful. Besides, given the facts that it’s nearly impossible to recycle AND possibly leaches chemicals into your food, it’s really not a great choice anyway.

I liked what Mr. Ruppert had to say. Yes, he’s a bit of a Lone Gunman, but he also advocates community building and local food networks and truly believes that we can confront this crisis if we change our paradigms. The revolution is at our doorstep—but it doesn’t need to be a violent one. We all need to quit wasting our time yelling about trivial political issues (related: turn off our TVs), and pull together to figure out how we survive the coming challenges. Planting a garden is a great place to start. I am IN. Are you?

(We’ll return to our regular posts about gardening and recipes later in the week, I promise!)


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Yogurt: oven method

When I started making yogurt 3 years ago, I had a hard time finding information and recipes.  Now the internets are practically exploding with yogurt methods — crock pot, oven, yogurt maker, heating pad, back seat of your car, you name it. Yes, there is even heirloom yogurt now. (Thanks, Christina!)

Anyway, as my kids kept getting bigger I started having to make yogurt with my little yogurt maker twice a week. I have limited time, so I put the yogurt maker away for a while. Here’s how we’re doing it, three years later:

Start with a 1/2 gallon of the best whole milk you can get your hands on. Heat it to just around the boiling point, or 180 degrees F. Remove from heat, plunge into a sink full of cold water, and bring the temperature back down to 110-115 degrees F.

Stir in a cup or so of yogurt from your last batch. Whisk.

My oven has a setting called “proofing” — for people who have time to bake bread (some day I’ll get back into it, sniff) — it holds the oven at around 100-110 degrees.  Perfect. I bake my yogurt overnight usually, around 8-9 hours. Simple, and it makes quite a bit — usually around 80 ounces.  Still no plastic to recycle (though now the city of Minneapolis does take yogurt containers).

A little chunky for ya? That’s what happens when you use non-homogenized milk. Doesn’t bother me, honestly. A solid week’s worth of full fat yogurt from grass-fed cows who live less than an hour away (and who I’ve actually met) for only about $5. Cool!


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Goodbye microwave

A few months ago, we got rid of our microwave. I was convinced that I couldn’t live without it, so I moved it to the basement. Turns out, I haven’t missed it a bit.

Many of my favorite food and nutrition bloggers are very against using a microwave to cook foods, and the Weston A Price Foundation recommends against it, since it was never used any traditional societies.

However, I’m having a really hard time finding solid scientific evidence that says, without a doubt, that microwaving food causes real, immediate harm.  But! BUT!  It all depends on how you look at it.

What is true: microwaving food in plastic containers causes the plastic to release toxic chemicals into the food. Also, from one of the more reliable sources I was able to find, scientists don’t all agree on how microwaves actually heat food. There’s also the issue of “popcorn lung,” i.e. highly processed foods specifically made to be microwaved that release airborne chemicals.

Additionally, as everyone knows, microwaves heat food really unevenly and therefore should not be used to cook raw meat or heat up baby bottles, and — let’s face it — microwaved food often just doesn’t taste as good.

What may or may not be true: microwaving food causes cancer, fibromyalgia, and host of other major human diseases. (Here’s a fairly typical article.)

Even if the more extreme assertions aren’t true, what I’ve read was enough to convince me that it’s probably not worth it. Additionally, microwaving food is kinda antithetical to the entire slow foods frame-of-mind — if you want to eat something but are feeling too lazy to cook it properly, maybe you’re not really hungry to begin with!

Our microwave occupied a large part of our kitchen counter.  We got rid of it, put a toaster oven in its place, and haven’t looked back.  Look how much counter space we freed up!

Before:

After:

I’ll be honest: I still use the microwave at work to heat up my soup lunches. (Hey! I’m not perfect!)

Do you feel strongly about microwaves? Know about some really great scientific evidence that they’re dangerous or that they’re safe?  Post it in the comments! Seriously. I’m interested in figuring all this stuff out, and I want to take an even-handed approach and investigate multiple sources.


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Detailed plant list

OK, people, we’re going deep into plant geek territory here today. Prepare yourself for latin names! My landscape plan shows where I’m planting all of these.

EVERY plant on this list is native to Minnesota/the upper midwest, and hardy to USDA zone 3, unless where otherwise noted.  Most of my information was pulled from the highly recommended book Landscaping with Native Plants of Minnesota, by Lynn Steiner.

Plants for my new shady rain garden

Lobelia Cardinalis
Cardinal flower
Height: 1-2 feet
Blooms late summer
Part sun to shade
I’m taking a chance planting this one in full shade — hopefully it will bloom; the flowers attract hummingbirds. This will be one of the taller plants in the rain garden, a focal point of sorts because of its bright red flowers.

Arisaema Triphyllum
Jack-in-the-pulpit
Height: 1-3 feet
Blooms early spring
Moderate to full shade
Jack-in-the-pulpit has large, tropical-looking leaves that will make it interesting in this deeply-shaded area. It also gets red fruits in late summer, which are poisonous. Native Americans had some interesting uses for this plant.  I’m growing it for looks. (Honestly!)

Mertensia Virginica

Virginia Bluebells

Virginia bluebells
Height: 1-2 feet
Blooms early spring
Part sun or shade
I added one of these to my front-yard garden two years ago and it is a cute little plant. The plants die back and go dormant in early June, so I plan to interplant them with ferns and meadow rue to fill in.

Thalictrum dioicum
Early meadow rue
Height: 1-3 feet
Blooms early spring
Light shade to deep shade
I’m following Lynn Steiner’s advice and using this exactly like I would use a fern, for its showy foliage.  I’ll interplant it with the Virginia bluebells and the ferns.

Polystichum acrostichoides
Christmas fern
Height: 1-2 feet
Partial shade to full shade
With dark green fronds that stays green into the winter, this is occasionally used for holiday decor. It’s a threatened species so it might be hard to find a nursery that sells it. If I can’t find it, I will try Athryium filix-femina, Lady fern.

So there you have it. A mass of jack-in-the pulpits, a mass of cardinal flowers, and a surrounding edge of rue, ferns, and Virginia bluebells. It was actually kinda hard to find shade loving flowers for a rain garden — I like ferns, but I’d like some flowers in there too.

Perennial screen under a maple tree

This is a dry shade situation, almost as challenging as a wet shade situation!  It will be interesting to see how this all turns out.

Viburnum trilobum
Highbush cranberry
Height: 10-12 feet tall, 10-12 feet wide in sun. I’m planning on 5-6 feet tall/wide for my mostly shady  spot. I’ll plant three of them to create a screen, and an understory layer under a mature maple tree.
Sun to shade
This is a very versatile native shrub for landscaping, and I can’t wait to plant it! It’s got beautiful flowers, and edible fruits (which also attract birds). I may go with another similar species called viburnum lentago (nannyberry) if it’s easier to find — apparently it is more shade-tolerant than trilobum.  Or perhaps I’ll plant one or two of each and see which does better.

Aquilegia canadensis
Wild columbine
Height: 1-2 feet
Blooms early spring-early summer
Full sun to full shade
One of my three main “under the viburnum” herbaceous perennials will be wild columbine. I added one of these in the front two years ago and love it — and so do the bees. It also attracts hummingbirds. This is such an easy plant to grow; I highly recommend it for just about any landscaping project.

Polygonatum biflorum
Giant Solomon’s seal
Height: 1-3 feet
Blooms early summer, dark purple berries in late summer
Light shade to full shade
The second of my three main perennials will be Giant Solomon’s seal, a super cool-looking plant with very light green foliage and dark purple berries in late summer which are prized by birds. It’s very tolerant of dry shade situations like mine.  Apparently, the roots of Solomon’s seal have a role in voodoo in the American south, but once again, I’m in it for the looks. (HONEST!)

Smilacina racemosa
False Solomon’s seal
Height: 1-3 feet
Blooms early summer, red marbled berries in late summer
Light shade to full shade
Third of my three main perennials is False Solomon’s seal, which ought to complement the other one perfectly well. It is apparently easy to grow but prefers acidic soil, so I may need to do a bit of amending around these plants. This one also had quite a few interesting uses to native Americans.

Allium tricoccum
Wild ramp
No bloom (??)
Full shade, but needs a bit of early spring sun (as in under deciduous trees)
Ramps! What permaculture garden is complete without ramps?!  I will finally have a place for them now.  These are a wild, hardy perennial member of the onion family, and their flavor is prized by foragers. I’ve never tried them, but I can’t wait!

A couple other ephemerals
Depending on what I can find, I will also add a few other native ephemerals (early spring blooming plants that die back before summer); namely Dutchman’s breeches (dicentra cucullaria), round-lobed hepatica (hepatica americana), and blood root (sanguinaria canadensis).

Wild Ginger

Filling in the rest of the groundcover
I will fill out the rest of the groundcover in this area with wild ginger (asarum canadense, not related to the ginger we eat), which fills in a nice carpet of green after spring ephemerals die out, and Maidenhair fern (adiantum pedatum) in the front, which is a small fern that is more tolerant than others of dry soil.

The arbor

I want to plant grape vines (these are not native) on the north side of the deck to grow up and over the arbor. My choices are somewhat limited by my hardiness zone.  There are several University of Minnesota cultivars that to consider, and I’ll probably plant 2-3 each of two different kinds. The two I’m most keen on are Edelweiss, which can be used for jellies/juicing OR wine, and Frontenac, a wine grape that is one of the U’s hardier and most disease-resistant.


Well there you have it; that oughtta do it for going completely broke on buying plants this year, huh?!  Since this is a very long-term project, I may wait until late June or July and try to get them after they go on sale. It will likely take until then to finish the hardscape parts of the project anyway.

One final thing: ALL of these plants (except the grapes), can be seen in their natural habitat at the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden & Bird Sanctuary, part of Theodore Wirth Park in north Minneapolis.  That place is a treasure and an inspiration. I cannot recommend it enough. Some of the more interesting notes about medicinal uses of plants in the list above came from a guide book I purchased there.

Update, 3/22/2012: D’oh, this post was over 1,000 words long and I still forgot one plant I want to add near my stock tanks: a western sand cherry shrub (link points to a PDF, sorry).