Stacking Functions Garden


1 Comment

Solstice Garden update

It’s been about six week since I planted my vegetable gardens, and things are coming along nicely.

Hops taking over!Our hops plant, is, well, you can see here how it’s doing. And I cut it back to the ground every fall! Crazy.

Snow peas on trellisI’ve never had taller snow peas. They are approaching 6 feet tall, and just finally starting to really produce. You can see the sugar pie pumpkins coming in at the bottom too. To the right, happy happy tomatoes, which survived my early-planting experiment and are now thriving.

Snow peas interplanted with cucumbersSo far, inter-planting snow peas and cucumbers (as well as snow peas and pumpkins on the previous trellis picture) is turning out really great! The cucumbers, in particular, are climbing up the snow pea plants almost unassisted. I am very interested to see if this works out well, because it means doubling my yield of vegetables on the exact same square footage for these trellises.

RaspberriesWe’ve had a VERY rainy few weeks, and the raspberries don’t even look like the same plants that they did 6 weeks ago. They are huge and bushy and covered with flowers and little white fruits. After such a disappointing year last year (I think it was about 10 raspberries total) we are due for a bumper crop! Crossing my fingers.

Anise HyssopSince I’ve been promoting anise hyssop on here so much this year, I should let you know: IT SPREADS. This was once three plants. And it’s been thinned out and cut back a bit!

Monarch on silkweedI don’t know if it’s because I added so much more milkweed to our landscape last year, but we have seen TONS of monarchs this year. At least quadruple the number we usually see. Some of them we just left out in nature, because I felt that 14—the number of eggs we found and brought in—was enough. But then again, after a thunderstorm I checked on these guys outside and couldn’t find them. I hope they found a nice safe place to make their chrysalises.

Monarch chrysalisInside, all but one of our 14 caterpillars are now in chrysalis. And No. 14 will join his or her comrades any minute now. For a day or two, they were eating so much milkweed that I feared we might run out!

Purple cauliflowerFinally, a pic from our community garden plot at Sabathani. Adam took this when he and the kids stopped there this week to weed and pick strawberries. Because that plot gets a little more sun than my plot at home, things seem to grow more quickly there. My cauliflowers at home are not nearly this far along, although we’ve also been battling cabbage worms at home.

So far everything is coming along nicely in the garden except for one miss: my radishes suddenly bolted this week! I don’t know how I managed to miss the right moment to pick them, but I did, and as a result all but 4 or 5 were in flower when I went to check on them last night. Pretty disappointing, but I do have a few more that I planted a week or two later, so I’m going to try and be vigilant and catch those in the next few days/week.

How’s your garden growing so far?


2 Comments

Here we go!

Gardening season is a go! A slow go, but it’s started. We even ate some pea shoots out of the garden this weekend, and they were tasty:

Thinned out pea shootsI’m going to have to thin these one more time in order to make room; I plan to interplant them with cucumbers on one trellis and small pie pumpkins on the other. A friend tried this last year and reported great success.

Community garden plot, before prepping and plantingHere’s our community garden plot at Sabathani. Yikes. We grew pumpkins here rather successfully last year, but towards the fall the weeds really got away from us, especially around the edges. Here I’m measuring to see where my paths should go. Next we worked it up with a fork, pulled up LOTS of quackgrass and worked in some composted manure.

Community garden plot, planted!After! At the very back is Anneke’s popcorn—she received a packet of Strawberry Popcorn seeds in her Easter basket. Then a burlap walking path, then 6 small brussels sprouts plants and 5 hills of potatoes—they’re actually small craters right now until the plants come up. We also interplanted anise hyssop with the brussels and horseradish with the potatoes, after consulting a companion planting book. There are LOTS of pests at Sabathani, so I’m willing to try just about anything. Up front are three hills of Long Island Cheese pumpkins interplanted with several extra cauliflower plants; why did I buy a 6-pack for my home garden when I only needed two? Anyway, it’s worth a try to see if we can get those cauliflowers done and eaten before the pumpkin plants completely take over. On the left-hand side of the plot are volunteer strawberries.

Carrots with burlap sack protectionI also manage a Master Gardener demonstration plot at Sabathani—we use it for teaching and donate all the produce to the food shelf. Since this garden is very open and windy, I have never had much luck sprouting carrots there. I’m going to try this little burlap tent to keep them dark and hopefully prevent them from drying out too much. The tricky thing about carrot seeds is that they don’t want to be buried too deeply, yet they need to be kept dark and moist, and oh did I mention they take up to 20 days to sprout!? I’ll report back on whether this works or not.

My home gardenBack at home, where weeds are few and pests are fewer. The newly-thinned peas are stretching up to to the trellises, onions, cauliflower, broccolli, kohlrabi, carrots, and radishes are in. And… tomatoes. I planted tomatoes, even after seeing the forecast lows in the upper 30s! I love experimenting way too much and it may prove to be fatal for these young plants. They’re under the hoop house in my very sheltered garden, so my gamble is at least an educated one. In general, it’s best to wait until nighttime lows are in the 50s to plant warm season crops like tomatoes. But we’re almost there! Next week, I promise!

lettuce in a raised planterMy lettuce and other greens are also coming along nicely; we’ve had several harvests. That’s part of the reason why the biggest plants have not really changed size much: I keep picking leaves. The other two tanks are the kids’ fairy gardens, which Anneke incongruously decided must have elephant ears this year. Should be an interesting experience for those fairies, anyway.

Fire blight on an apple treeThis final picture is from upstairs, looking out over our back yard, with dog damage along the path. Our grass needs some help—this week we worked up those areas and added some seed in hopes of filling it in a bit. But the main thing I want to show you is the apple tree to the left, in front of the car. Even from this distance, you can see the blackened areas of the trunk and branches. The fire blight has spread. This tree will have to be cut down this year. Our harvests the last two years have been next to nothing, anyway. Instead of being sad, I’m actually a little excited. Since we’re also getting rid of the sandbox, it’s going to open up a whole new space for a small tree or large shrub (along with some underplantings, of course). WHAT SHOULD I PUT THERE!? A new dwarf apple? A serviceberry? Oh the possibilities are endless. And thus begins 2015 planning season!


7 Comments

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.


1 Comment

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!


2 Comments

Garden Plan 2012

Time for my favorite post of the year: my garden plan is complete! Check it out:

garden layout for 6ft by 20ft garden plot

DETAILS (let’s start with the stock tanks, shall we?):

Stock tanks
Inspired by Eliot Coleman, I’m going to try and get multiple harvests out of 2 of my 3 tanks this year.  I’ll start some lettuce and greens seeds indoors in a few weeks, then plant them out in March or early April in some (brand new not yet built) hoop houses. Then I will probably just grow more heat-tolerant greens during the hot part of summer, followed by a fall planting of spinach and carrots in high hopes of a Christmastime harvest.  We shall see!  The stock tank in the top of the plan that lists herbs is in a shadier spot than the other two, so I’ll plant accordingly there.

Deck area
I want to possibly try Feverfew, an herb with medicinal use that has cute flowers. I’ve heard it repels bees (?!) so the deck would be a perfect spot. I’m also bringing back zucchini after a 2-year absence (check out my summer 2009 gardening posts for zucchini ridiculousness). Just one hill this time! Also a hill of watermelon using seeds that we saved from a really cool orange-fleshed watermelon last summer.

Tomatoes
I’m going to try something new with tomatoes this year, too. Also inspired by Eliot Coleman’s book as well as a couple of friends’ gardens, I’m going to try training tomatoes up on twine hanging down from a structure like so:

tomato trellis system

This is my friend Brian’s tomato jungle. A fellow master gardener that I know also has a system along these lines.  I’m hoping to get a higher yield this way — more plants, pruned down to their central stem.  No more bushy tomatoes in giant, tipsy cages.

Cabbage/green beans/fennel
I didn’t plan enough room for cabbage last year, so I’ve tried to be more realistic this year (note that the circles are significantly larger). We’re going to try Napa cabbage this year. Also, moving fennel back into the garden because it simply does not grow well in part-shade, no matter how hard I wish for it.

Leeks/basil/banana peppers/shallots
I’ve never grown leeks or shallots before, and Adam requested both. Really, this year is all about satisfying Mr. Gourmet Cook. I will always grow sweet banana peppers because they are hands-down my favorite pickled food.

Garlic/parsnips/bunch o’ herbs
I struggled to come up with something to plant in between my rows of garlic, which will be harvested by mid-July. It had to be something that started *VERY* slowly — why, parsnips of course! Parsnips and I are back together for 2012.

Trellises
I found some softball-size heirloom melons that are supposed to be trellis-able, so I’m trying those as well as cucumbers and peas.

Garden planning and seed starting information

My garden plans for 2009, 2010, and 2011
Starting seeds without peat or plastic
U of M Extension seed starting guide
U of M Extension: planting dates for vegetables (highly recommended)
U of M Extension: a whole bunch more information about vegetables


1 Comment

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!


Leave a comment

July 4, 2011

Make no mistake about it: summer is here! Whoa Nellie is it hot; it’s supposed to be hot all week. My peppers are finally growing noticeably.  Raspberries are almost there:

Last year we picked our first raspberries on the 4th, so they’re a bit later (and closer to normal) this year.  Another 7-10 days and we should be knee deep in berries.

Asiatic lilies are blooming. Here’s one nestled in some garlic and fennel.

A pumpkin bloom! The pumpkin plants are so big they are starting to take over our deck as evidenced at the bottom of the following picture:

Look at the potato tower (bottom right)! Holy moly! It has wee white flowers at the top.

Other phenology notes for July 4, 2011:

– Strawberries are pretty much done, but we’ll still get alpine strawberries here and there
– Echinacea, asiatic lilies, cucumbers, pumpkins, and tomatoes all blooming
– Couple of green tomatoes coming in
– Garlic is almost done, and so is the first cabbage

Here’s a little wide-angle shot I photoshopped for you, showing the entire garden (click to enlarge):

Things will start changing soon — I plan to pick that large head of cabbage today and start harvesting all the garlic within a week or so. Take a deep breath, here we go!