Stacking Functions Garden


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High Season

Now that raspberries are done, I have a moment to catch my breath. Let’s take a look around:

I was hoping for jaw-dropping before-and-after pictures of our back yard landscape project by now, but I honestly don’t think it’s going to look all that impressive before next year. As you can see, the grass is quite unhappy right now—and honestly, it’s so hard to keep grass looking nice this time of year that I’m not even trying. I have plans for it this fall; fall is a great time to seed and do general turf up-keep.

The new plants (in the now-woodchipped areas of the lawn) are all surviving, but are still quite small. I am really excited to see what this will look like when the viburnums along the fence get to their full size.

Closer to the house, the stock tanks are coming along fine. Red Russian Kale (on the left) is unstoppable. We have cut nearly all the leaves off those plants many times this summer, and it just keeps coming back. I had thought about re-planting more of it in August, but this appears to be fine for the rest of the season.

starting seeds for fall planting

Speaking of which, I’m starting some new lettuces and greens for late summer hoop house/stock tank planting. I’ve never tried this before. Will be moving them outside as soon as this heat wave breaks.  It WILL break.

The tropical parts of my garden, naturally, are loving this summer. My one hill of zucchini is enormous, and we’ve been picking approximately one standard-size and a handful of cherry tomatoes every day for about a week.

My green beans (‘Maxibel Haricot Verts’) have been taking a short break from producing beans to double in size and put out new flowers. Round two, coming right up!

My garlic-to-parsnips succession plan did not work out. Only a handful of parsnips sprouted, so I sowed some turnip seeds in the open spots. They sprouted almost overnight, so I’m hopeful I’ll be able to get a few small ones (center top of picture). I’m also exhorting my 4 rosemary plants to get bigger; they have been uninspiring this year. Getting plenty of chamomile for this winter’s permaculture tea, though!

banana peppers with disease

Not everything is rosy, of course. This banana pepper plant has had strange growth habits and some leaf curling all summer. I thought about ripping it out a few weeks ago, but then suddenly it started to grow like crazy. Still no blooms, though. At this point I may as well see it through.

Thanks, city of Minneapolis

In other sad news, the city decided that we needed a new sidewalk, since our very old boulevard elm tree had pushed up the old one. I understand that a concrete professional’s main job is to lay straight, square concrete, but in order to do so, the crew removed at least 70% of this tree’s most important roots. Then they helpfully made this cut-out, as if the tree would be here for years to come. It will likely be dead by this time next year, thanks to their work. Adam saw the tree roots on the lawn that night and said “That’s it. We’re moving to the country.” (An empty threat, since I work downtown and refuse to be a long-haul commuter.)

OK, let’s get back to more positive updates. All six of the ostrich ferns that I added this spring looked dead, until a week or two ago suddenly they all had new life. I’m sensing fiddleheads in our kitchen next spring!

Also, the one heirloom melon seed (‘Sakata Sweet’) that sprouted has turned into quite the impressive plant, covered with blooms. This particular melon is supposed to reach softball size, so trellising it shouldn’t be a problem.

Christmas Lima Beans

Finally, I had all but finished my garden plan when I realized I had forgotten Christmas Lima Beans. Since the kids have declared them a yearly holiday tradition, I decided to just try throwing them into this corner, which rarely sees much action. Result: wow! This year is going much better than last, for all beans.

I’ve made two quarts of pickles so far, but judging by my cucumber plants, I have many more pickles in my near future:

What’s happening in your garden right now?


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Blanching leeks

When you buy a leek at the grocery store it usually has a beautiful, long white stem. That’s achieved through a process called “blanching” and there are several different methods—most involve hilling up soil around the plant as it grows. Some people put a 3- or 4-inch pipe around the leek to shade it as it grows upward.

Eliot Coleman suggests digging out the leeks when they get to a certain size, making a 10-inch hole, then dropping in the leek. He lets the leek grow to maturity from there. So, we tried it:

They were getting quite large—borderline too big for this. Also quite floppy, so it was definitely time to do something.

Adam marked a line on an old piece of leftover conduit pipe. It pulled out a plug of soil to make a beautiful little 10 inch hole for each leek.

We did not fill in the holes, per Coleman’s instructions. They will kinda fill in over time anyway. They needed a bit of extra water those first few days, but seem to be fine now. I also did this with another row of smaller leeks in the main garden. They seemed like they handled the transition better.  The time is supposedly right when the leeks are about pencil width. These stock tank ones were a bit bigger than that — you can see how far they still stick up after transplanting them 10 inches deeper!

We were out of town all last week, so we missed the start of high season by just a couple days.  Fortunately we found a cousin who was eager to take us up on our offer of free pick-your-own berries. When we got back we immediately headed into the garden and picked a couple gallons of haricot verts. They are absolutely gorgeous, and magically delicious. Green beans and raspberries have been in just about every meal for 5 days now.

Even more amazing are the banana peppers and one tiny cherry tomato. Never before have I harvested those in June. Yes, this was June 30, but still! What a year.

Now as we head into the hot hot heat of summer, cukes (trellis to the right) and tomatoes (big structure at the back) are taking off.

Our hops plant (on trellis on chimney) has reached the stage of total ridiculousness. There is no way Adam will use this many hops in his home brewing. Garlic is just about ready to harvest. The grape plant on the rabbit fence is also a bit out of control—I want to move that next year, even though it will be a pain. Even Master Gardeners definitely make mistakes with plant placement!

Here’s a close-up view of my tomato trellis. I’m on track to have my best tomato season ever (knock on wood). Maintaining it has been easier than I expected. Make sure you check on your plants about 2 times per week to remove suckers and make sure the string is wrapped around new growth.  I’ve also added a few more pieces of twine for branches that seem to need it.

Whew, busy times! And hot.

 


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Growing tomatoes on a trellis system

Here’s something new we’re trying this year: a tomato trellis!

tomatoes growing up a trellis

We bought six 8-ft cedar 2×2’s, cut 24 inches off of two of them and about a foot off the other two, then fastened it all together with screws to make a 7 foot tall x 6 foot long x 2 foot wide structure. Adam pounded it in with a mallet to about 1 foot deep.  It is very sturdy — I hope we can get it out in the fall so that we can rotate crops next year!

Twine is strung from the top bar, tied near the base of the plant, and wound around the central stem once a week or so.  I’m also pruning out all suckers — I’ve never pruned tomatoes this drastically before so we’ll see how it goes! (Here’s a great video tutorial.)  I can’t believe how big these plants are for early June.  And look:

Cherokee Purple heirloom tomatoes already!

Sungold tomatoes

Sungold cherry tomatoes: we’ll be eating these in just a few weeks. Never in my life have I been able to produce tomatoes before July. This is a strange, warm year.

How about the rest of the garden? Well things are just looking amazingly large and healthy. Maybe we’ll make up for 2011’s shortcomings this year.

Milkweed will be flowering soon. I want to make the pickled milkweed capers recipe from Trout Caviar, but I’m not really sure when they’re going to be ready to pick. It says 1/2″ pods, so we’re not there yet — I’m thinking it’s the post-flower seed pod he’s referring to.

Insane hops, herbs, disappointing nothing on the left trellis (heirloom melons never sprouted), de-scaped garlic. I made a small batch of garlic scape pesto this morning. Substituted sunflower seeds for pine nuts and omitted the parmesan; I didn’t feel like going to the grocery store. Result: excellent.

green beans and bok choi

Two more things I’ve never tried before: four heads of bok choi flanked by two rows of haricot verts green beans (cucumbers approaching the trellis in the background). The bok choi seems ready to start harvesting the outer leaves. I sense a stir-fry in my near future.

The whole garden, as seen from the deck (standing on a chair).  Anneke found a whole handful of snow peas that I had missed and ate them perched precariously by the rain barrel.  The zucchini and watermelon are in the foreground, this side of the fence.  I’m going to add some beneficial nematodes this week in hopes of avoiding the issues I had last year with squash vine borers. Fingers are crossed! How’s your garden growing?


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Drying foods for long-term storage

Here’s an area I’m just starting to, uh, get my feet wet in. A while back, I realized how fantastic certain herbs tasted when homegrown and dried. Last year, we had a very respectable herb store for the winter. We still have a bit of 2010 thyme left, more than enough to last us until April, so I didn’t dry any thyme this year.

This year I really wanted to get into growing my own herbal teas. So to that end, I planted significantly more mint in the shady area on the north side of the house. I’m not sure whether that long-term strategy is going to pay off because the mint just does not grow very enthusiastically in the deep shade. I may try more mint elsewhere in the yard next year–avoiding full sun so that it doesn’t get completely out of control. So here’s my respectable (in my opinion) first-ever herbal tea harvest for 2011:

home grown herbal teas

Left to right: foraged banana mint from a neglected garden (strange but good), peppermint from a neighbor, chamomile from our garden (we’ve already used more than half our supply) and chocolate mint from our garden. These make FANTASTIC teas. We usually just make loose-leaf tea in one of our french press coffee makers.  I love growing plants for tea — especially since so many are perennials.  Here are some tea plants you could grow:

German Chamomile: technically an annual, but I’ve had reports from other master gardeners that it re-seeds itself readily. It definitely needs full sun, and an open, breezy spot would suit it well — I’ve had mine fall victim to powdery mildew a few times.

Mint: there must be 4,000 varieties of mint, and all are perennials that do well in MN. Be aware that mint can become invasive in full sun. Better to plant it in part (but not full) shade to keep it under control.

Feverfew: looks and acts a lot like chamomile. Can be used medicinally for migraines. On my list to try for 2012.

Lemon Balm: another one with many varieties. Useful in salad dressings, too. Also on my list to plant in 2012.

Anise Hyssop: a midwest native that will tolerate part-shade. Licorice-flavor tea. On my 2012 list.

Valerian: gets four feet tall! Root is used as a sedative.

Well there you have just a few, but there are many, many more. We’ve also made tea with sage and raspberry leaves, since we usually have them in ready supply.

Here’s some more of our dry harvest:

1/2 pint (packed) rosemary, a bit of oregano, Christmas lima beans and Cherokee Trail of Tears beans. I know that dried beans are super cheap to buy, but you can’t really buy the heritage ones anywhere. They are super fun and easy to grow, so why not?! Unfortunately many of us in the Twin Cities had uninspiring bean harvests this year, but… well… there’s always next year.

Finally, sage and garlic in a very inspiring picture, photographically speaking. Good grief. Anyway, you get the idea. This will be the first time ever that we might just make it until next year without having to buy garlic. The sage should be dried out in another week.  It’s so great having some of our harvest put-by with minimal effort — drying could not be easier or less resource-intensive.


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Before and after

Oh early June. It was a time of great hope. Few if any vegetable-eating insects. Barely a day over 70 degrees. Full of excitement, I leaned out my upstairs window and took some pictures of the garden. They turned out so neat, I said to myself: “I’m going to do this every week all summer!”

Two and a half months later I remembered and took some more. So you’re just going to have to imagine everything in between:

view of garden from above

June 5, 2011: cabbages, garlic, and some new beets and celeriac on the right. Beans just sprouted under the trellises.

garden from above

August 14, 2011: cabbages and garlic long gone, beans reaching for the sky

another view of the garden from above

June 5, 2011: looking towards the back yard. Beets, celeriac, more garlic and some tiny pepper plants. Cucumbers barely sprouted.

Garden from above

August 14, 2011: beans and cucumbers reaching the second story, some prairie flowers we can't kill, and... another project.

Wait, what’s that in the back yard? Adam and the kids have been working on it all summer: a new garden shed! I plan to do a full post about it, when it’s finished. Since we’re patiently seeking out secondhand cedar siding, it might be another month or two.

 


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Garden update, late July

My garden is out of control. Huge behind-schedule work project + a handful of weekend getaways, and Adam has been busy with another project (you’ll find out about that soon enough). This is for posterity so I better be honest…

Here’s a view from standing on top of a chair, on the deck looking east. I love how the pumpkin and squash plants now totally dwarf the rainbarrel, the deck, the fence, and the potato tower.

Tomatoes are oh-so-close. We’ve eaten a handful of stupices and a few blondkopfchen — both are quite small and early. The blondkopfchen is the crazy one with the halo of blooms on top, on the left. After Aug. 1 I will probably start pinching off new blossoms, since there’s no point.

Lacinato kale, carrots, a cabbage in the back behind the overgrown chamomile. The kale came back beautifully from my earlier cabbage worm troubles.

Beets, turnips, celeriac, parsley, and such. It’s about time to do another beet & turnip harvest and thin these out more. Adam pulled one celeriac to see if it was ready and it most decidedly was not. It was just a mass of tiny roots, which makes me wonder whether the others will work out or not.

Variety peppers and cucumbers in the background (encroaching pumpkins/squash on the left). I need to start picking and pickling, really soon. We’ve eaten a few of each fresh.

Here’s another overview, to give you a good view of the bean trellises. In the middle is “Cherokee Trail of Tears” — a bean you can eat fresh or dried. I finally picked two tonight — my bush beans at my community garden plot have been producing beans for over two weeks.  I wasn’t aware that pole beans take so much longer. The Christmas Lima Beans, on the right trellis, have so far produced 0 pods. Plenty of blooms, though. I’m not giving up hope yet.

So did anything look different? Did things look maybe a little less crowded? That’s because we pulled out all the garlic about a week ago:

We dried it in the sun for about an hour then moved it into the garage to cure. It’s just about done, so this weekend we’ll clean it up further and move it inside and see how long we can make it last.

Our backyard prairie/native garden is also starting to take shape! We need one more stock tank (ahem, Dad), then we’ll fill in the areas around them with natives. We transplanted 4 milkweeds from a field near Adam’s parents’ house and less than 12 hours later we saw a very excited monarch butterfly in the back yard. That was fast!


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Garden update, mid-June

It’s the middle of June already! Time to check in on the edibles around the yard.

my urban garden

Things are coming along swimmingly in the garden. Dare I say it? Best garden year ever?! It might be a bit soon, I better not jinx myself. Look at the pumpkin, squash, and potato tower in the foreground! Happy to report that rabbits do not seem interested in pumpkin or squash plants. [phew]

The Tom Thumb peas that the kids planted back in April (see picture at the top of the page) are finally just about ready. They are in a part-shade spot, and I don’t think they get *quite* enough sunshine to have reached their full potential. But we’ll get one solid meal, anyway.

Rowan’s garden, with a couple of radishes left and some rather pathetic-looking “Gourmet Lettuce Mix” from High Mowing Organic Seeds. We had a couple of hot days.  Also, I should have thinned a bit more. I am going to give this another 7-10 days and if things don’t look better, I’m ripping it all out and planting some quick-growers that we could harvest before fall: turnips, radishes, and maybe some kale.

mesclun mix

Anneke’s garden, on the other hand, is looking spectacular. We planted it with a 50/50 mixture of Burpee Organic Mesclun mix and rainbow chard. I’ve thinned it quite a few times, adding the baby greens to our salad bowl as we go. I don’t know if this mix is more heat tolerant than the other, but I think it has a greater variety of lettuce types. The arugula we thinned out and ate early on; it’s gone now. All that remains are the hardier greens and lots of chard, filling in nicely.

bee pollinating a raspberry plantBees are hard at work to give us raspberries in a few weeks.

Alpine strawberries are loaded with fruit. Picking and eating immediately, every single day for about a week now.

Regular strawberries are just getting going — picked the first actual bowl full tonight.

comparing alpine strawberries with regular

Anneke was kind enough to stop eating strawberries long enough for me to shoot a quick comparison shot — alpine strawberries are tiny! The strawberry on the right is a standard size, like what you’d get at a pick-you-own farm (note: still smaller than grocery store strawberries). If making jam is your thing, you’d better plant 500 alpine strawberry plants and plan to spend your entire day picking.  Rather, alpines are great for eating fresh, especially when you have a part-shade situation. Regular strawberries will not produce much at all in part-shade, but alpines will.

Blueberries! I pinched off most of the flowers on this plant, because it’s still so young, but I had to keep at least a small handful of berries for my efforts.

Tomatoes. Absolutely mental. Could this be the year when I finally have a good tomato crop? Could it? Pretty please?

Cabbage area. Lots of things going on here: two cabbages, chamomile, rosemary, kale, carrots, garlic on either side, a sage in the back, and chrismas lima beans climbing the trellis to the right. Didn’t have great carrot sprouting rates, hence the couple of semi-bare areas. Look at how free of insect damage my cabbages are. Unbelievable, considering the cabbage worms I dealt with last summer. Could it be that surrounding my cabbages with herbs and garlic confounded them? Hard to say for sure.

This area looks like total chaos but it’s actually quite nicely ordered according to my plan. It includes: golden beets, red beets, turnips, celeriac, parsley, rosemary, and some nice green pole beans climbing the trellis in the back to the right.

Finally, the peppers and eggplant, with cuke plants finally reaching up toward their trellis at the back. Everything is kinda slow-moving in this area so far, so I hope growth rates pick up.

OK, that’s it! Lots going on here!


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Recipe: real baked beans

What?!  A vegetarian Nourishing Traditions recipe that could easily be made vegan?  Here it is, and this is one of the only recipes out of NT that I tried and immediately loved, with minimal changes.  It’s so easy that even I can make it.  Adam was not involved with this at all, and they turned out perfect.  Be warned: it takes two full days to complete the recipe, 98% unattended.

Baked Beans (from Nourishing Traditions)
4 cups dried beans (I used 1 c. black and 3 c. navy beans)
2 med. onions
2 T. butter
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 small can tomato paste -or- 1 can tomatoes, with liquid
3 T. tamari or soy sauce
3 T. white vinegar or white wine
1/4 c. maple syrup
1/4 c. molasses
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tsp. salt
1 pinch red pepper flakes

Cover the beans with water and soak for 24 hours.  No shit: 24 hours.  Drain, rinse, and set aside for a moment.

Heat the butter and olive oil in a dutch oven and sauté the onions until just soft.  Add the beans, with enough water to cover them, plus all the rest of the ingredients.  Bring to a boil on the stovetop, then bake in a 350 degree oven for 6 hours.  Yep, 6 hours.  Stir it maybe once per hour.  The last three hours, you might need to add a few cups more of water if it starts to dry out.

Crock pot/extremely lazy variation: skip frying the onions and just throw them in raw with everything else.  Cook on low for 12-14 hours and use a bit less water.  You won’t need to stir more than once or twice.

The first few times I made these, I really thought they were awesome but would be even better if I cooked them with a pork hock all day.  I tried that a few months back, and honestly, decided I like them better vegetarian.  The pork just kinda killed all the other flavors. Also, I think the flavor turns out a bit richer when they’re made in the oven rather than the crockpot.  But, both are good.

The best part:

This made 5 very full pints of baked beans. We’ll have one for supper tonight and freeze the rest.  Barbecue season here we come.

If you’ve never made homemade baked beans from dried beans, you ought to try it.  The texture is so much nicer than store-bought baked beans.  Less mushy, more substantial, and definitely richer-tasting.  Also, it’s a nice bonus to skip the BPA, high-fructose corn syrup, and everything else that you get along with any canned food off the grocery store shelf.  Win-win.

Update, June 14, 2011: Apparently, adding 2 T. of vinegar to the water for the soaking process helps make beans even more digestible.  I will try it next time I make them.


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Garden update

My garden is planted for 2011!  AND I got it done just in time for a lengthy gentle rainshower.  Talk about timing.

Shall we look at each area individually?  Yes we shall.

At the top, under the trellis, we have a tiny Golden Hops plant. Then we have 4 tomato plants and 4 sets of 2 basil plants spread out through the rest of the area.  For each set of basil there is one giant one and one tiny one.  I can spread out the harvest a bit that way.  Tomato varieties: Big Rainbow, Stupice, Green Zebra, and Blondkopfchen. Garlic lines the left side.

Garlic also lines either side of this area.  Down the middle, top to bottom: 1 sage, 1 tiny cabbage, 4 chamomile, 1 large cabbage, and a rosemary.  I planted carrot and kale seeds on either side.  Underneath the trellis on the right is Christmas Lima beans, and the one on the left is Cherokee Trail of Tears green beans.

Top to bottom: celeriac, rosemary, celeriac, parsley, celeriac, rosemary, celeriac, parsley, celeriac.  I planted beet and turnip seeds on either side.  I really like how the garlic frames these little garden plots.

Finally, we have 4 eggplants and a variety of pepper plants including sweet and hot banana peppers, jalapenos, poblanos, 1 bell pepper, and idontrememberwhatelse.  The trellis at the very back will have cucumbers.  The left side of the chain link fence by the deck will be 1 hill of squash and 1 hill of pie pumpkins.  I saved the seeds for both of those from a squash and a pumpkin that I picked up at the co-op last fall, so it will be interesting to see what happens there.

It’s all planted, yahoo!  I really stuck to my plan this year, too.

Here’s a first look at my master plan for the back yard:

Stock tanks!  The one on the right is from my Grandpa Rensenbrink’s dairy farm!  Cool huh?  I am eventually going to add one more of these, then surround all three with wood chip paths and pockets of tall perennial prairie grasses, sunflowers, and hollyhocks.  We planted lavender, radishes, and lettuce in Rowan’s garden and lavender, rainbow chard, and lettuce in Anneke’s garden.

If everything goes as I hope, this is going to be our biggest and most interesting harvest yet.


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Garden plan 2011: a CSA replacement

Last year, we had a CSA box every week from June-October.  As a result, my 2010 garden focus was growing larger amounts of only a few vegetables in my garden, with the idea that we would eat the CSA produce and preserve the garden produce.  It worked pretty well– we’re still stocked with kraut, pickles, and pickled peppers.  But I get bored easily, so new year, new plan.  We’re cancelling our CSA this year, and we’ll grow a greater variety.  I also have a bunch of old seeds that I’d like to use up.  (Yes, you can re-use old seeds.)

Here’s the tentative plan (click to enlarge):

Once again, I’m hoping to get some trellises built this spring.  We actually have a plan and materials on hand this time, so it shouldn’t be a problem.

Also: I’m adding some raised beds/very large containers in the backyard that will likely hold a few more veggies such as chard, radishes, and lettuce, and I also plan to construct a potato tower back there somewhere.  I will post more about the backyard plans later, as they take shape.

New for 2011:

  • I’ve never grown carrots before.  Weird, huh?  The kids will really get a kick out of them.
  • Trying a “garlic border” around each of my plant areas.  Hoping it will keep the cabbage worms away.  (Ha!)
  • Expanding the number of herbal tea plants I grow.  I’ve become really addicted to peppermint, chamomile, and raspberry leaf teas from my yard.
  • The aforementioned potato tower!
  • I will not be growing parsnips.  We’re officially on a break.  (Shocking, yes?)
  • I saved seeds from a promising-looking pumpkin and squash that I picked up at the farmer’s market last fall to use for my one small hill of each.  We’ll see how that goes…
  • I’m starting my few cabbage and celeriac plants indoors.  I tried to do a “scatter planting” of them very early last spring and it didn’t work well at all.  It took them forever to sprout, and by that time the bed was full of weeds.  Just a mess in general, and I never did see a celeriac.  I’d rather set out plants and know what I’m dealing with.  I also had to move the cabbages around a lot as they got bigger.  The whole thing was really kinda dumb — fortunately I did get several nice heads of cabbage out of it in the end.
  • I’ll start a couple of peppers and tomatoes, but I’m going to buy the rest at the annual Friends School Plant sale, since they usually have a really great selection of both and I’m going to it anyway.
  • Speaking of the Friends Sale, I’m hoping to pick up some native plants and start my evil master plan of converting the boulevard on my entire city block to native grasses and wildflowers instead of boring old grass.  Watch out, neighbors.  More on that in a future post as well!

Update, Feb. 4, 2011: Forgot to note that I’m moving my tomato plants to a new spot this year.  I put tomatoes in the same spot for ’09 and ’10, and it was not a good idea.  I got very few tomatoes in ’10.  So I’m trying the pumpkins and winter squash and crossing my fingers that the rabbits will not be interested in them (that area is outside the fence).