Stacking Functions Garden


Garden Plan 2016

Hello again friends! I hope you had a wonderful holiday season. Now that my yard and gardens are buried in snow, it’s time to start planning for next season. Here’s the layout I came up with for this year. Click to enlarge:

Layout of garden // via The New Home Economics

Not terribly different from the last 2-3 years, honestly. Just a couple of new things I’m trying:

Peppers: I’m not growing peppers in the main vegetable garden this year. Rather, I’m going to plant 3-4 of them each in 3-4 big containers which I’ll spread around the sunniest parts of the front yard flower beds. I have some extra space in my cherry tree garden while I wait for the tree and surrounding shrubs to get bigger (I got tired of weeding this in 2015). I’ve not had good yields of peppers the past 2 years, so I want to give the garden a break from at least one nightshade vegetable.

Spacing: each year I have to re-learn the spacing lesson. I’m going to try once again to control myself when it comes to how many plants I try to cram into each area (exception: I’ve gotten good at crowding onions). It’s hard when you have a tiny garden!

Sabathani Community Garden: after two years of growing only pumpkins and potatoes there, we’re going to add just a couple of other things: namely kohlrabi and (maybe) some radishes and/or onions if I end up with extra.

Other than that, we’re just continuing to try and rotate things through. I’m growing two trellis’ worth of cucumbers, in hopes that I’ll produce enough for the squirrels AND me (rather than just enough for them). I also doubled the number of onions, because onions fresh from the garden are SO good. We plant onion “starts” quite close together go down the row, picking every other green onion to allow the remaining onions to get bigger. Last year, only a handful ever got close to full size.

I’m trying two new-to-me varieties of vegetables this year:

Watermelon Radish, via Seed Savers Exchange

First is the Watermelon Radish. It’s not just for looks either; these are seriously delicious. We first tried them at the farmers’ market last summer but have purchased them from the co-op several times since. I may try to squeeze a row of these in at my community garden plot. I ordered this (and all my seeds) from Seed Savers Exchange in Iowa.

Musquee de Provence pumpkin

Next up is the gorgeous Musquee de Provence pumpkin. I love Long Island Cheese pumpkins, but after two years in a row it’s time to try something new. Crossing my fingers for a long enough growing season–these need 110 days!

It might be useful to review some of my past garden plans. I keep making the same mistakes!

2015 Garden Plan

Garden Layout for 2015

The biggest problem with the 2015 garden plan was that I did not leave enough space for the beets (top right). The parsnips got shaded by the grapevine, leaned over the beets, which leaned over the carrots, and NONE of them sprouted very well. (It sure looked good when I planted it in May, though!) I also continue to have poor results with radishes (yet continue to not give up). My peppers also did not do well–I picked them up at the Friends Plant Sale as I often do, and many of them were spindly and weak. A dose of too-strong compost tea (oops) then killed some of them.

BUT! But. We had great crops of peas and beans. We *would* have had great crops of tomatoes and cucumbers had the ___ ___ squirrels not eaten so many. I was on the right track with planting smaller-sized tomatoes last year, but this year I might plant all F1 hybrid tomatoes and skip the heirlooms. When squirrels take so many, I need a plant that seriously produces.

2014 Garden Plan

2014 Garden Plan

Aaah, 2014: the Crazy Garden. The main thing I remember: this was *way* too many plants for the center-left spot. Even though that is the biggest spot of the garden, to think I could do carrots, kohlrabi, beets, chard, broccolli AND cauliflower was way too much. At most, 3 broccoli or cauliflower plants would have fit this area, along with maybe two rows of something smaller like chard or carrots. Kohlrabi plants also get pretty big. The other issue with the broccolli, kohlrabi, AND cauliflower was that they took too long to get to maturity–by the time the plants got ready to make heads, they stopped getting enough sunlight to do so–I didn’t get anything from those plants.

The longer I garden in this spot the more I’m checking the “days to maturity” on the seed packets / plant labels. The season of full sun is short between two 2-story buildings. Although brussels sprouts also did not do a whole lot at Sabathani (which gets plenty of sun for a very long season)–perhaps insufficient soil fertility? They just never amounted to much. This was part of the reason why I abandoned pretty much all cruciferous vegetables in 2015–I’d had it from the previous year.

2013 Garden Plan

2013 Garden Layout

For 2013, I remember the zucchini taking over the whole left section of the garden, and basil never getting tall enough because the garlic was so huge. You’ll notice I do not have garlic in my garden for 2016. I’ve been thinking a lot about rabbits and squirrels. And I can’t afford to use space in this rabbit-proof enclosure for plants that rabbits don’t eat. So I planted garlic all over my flower beds in front of the house this fall. I can identify garlic plants easily enough that I’m not worried about finding them.

Rabbits don’t eat tomatoes, either, but I have the tomato trellis here and very little sunny space elsewhere. So here they remain.

2012 Garden Plan

2012 Garden Plan

Oh boy, we are heading into the deep recesses of my memory: 2012. And clearly I didn’t learn from my mistakes in 2012 when planning my 2014 garden, because I crammed to many large cruciferous veggies in that left-middle spot again. Looking at these old plans makes me very grateful for my new herb spiral garden, which frees up the space I used to dedicate to them. My garden plans get more simple each year.

2011 Garden Plan

Garden layout 2011

Speaking of complicated garden plans, wow. This one sure looks neat as designed. This was before I built my tomato trellis, so it was the last year we used tomato cages. It was also the year we installed our four wall trellises. I really upped my garden game in 2011! But this plan was so complex. It took me a very long time to plan each section, and once again I crammed too many things into the center-left section (story of my gardening life). The celeriacs never amounted to anything and the cabbages took over and crushed everything around them. See the size of the “tomato” circles? My cabbage circles should have been the same size, in this design.

The thing I like about this design though is the biodiversity in each plot–meant to thwart garden pests that I struggled with my first few years of gardening. But since I started adding more and more native plants to my yard in 2012, the number of pests I have to deal with has plummeted. My biggest challenge now is maintaining fertility in this intensely-gardened soil, and continuing to tweak the varieties that I choose to take advantage of the intense but short period of full sun between two houses.

What am I going to do about fertility this year? Last year I added a large amount of Happy Frog Soil Conditioner to each of the beds, but the results were not as spectacular as I hoped. Disappointing, because I have great luck with that in my container gardens each year. I thought about trying lime this year, but our soil is alkaline so that might do more harm than good. Readers, can you comment on that? This was an interesting read about lime.

Any other advice for me? Is it time to finally take my own Master Gardener advice and just get a dang soil test?!

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Eight tips for new Minnesota gardeners

I’m not trying to create link bait or anything here; I know SO many people that are vegetable gardening for the first time this year, so I wanted to create a resource for them. So here you go, Lisa, Jon and Nick!

1. Light

As a master gardener, I hear this question all the time. “Why did my tomato plant not produce any tomatoes?” More often than not, it was because the plant simply did not get enough light. Most vegetables need AT LEAST 8 hours of sunlight per day. I would not go less than 10 for most vegetables, including favorites like tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini. The only vegetables that really tolerate shade (and actually benefit from a bit of it) are the ones that you eat as leaves: lettuce, kale, chard, most herbs. I have seen many Pinterest boards that list root vegetables like carrots and beets as being shade tolerant, but in my experience they still need a good 8 hours of sun. When you consider that a MN summer day can be as long as 15 hours around solstice time, 8 hours does technically qualify as part-shade, I guess.

2. Timing

Most of our favorite garden plants—including tomatoes, basil, cucumbers—are tropical by nature. They will not tolerate frost in the least. They don’t even like nighttime temperatures less than 50 degrees. So we have to be VERY patient in late April in early May. Watch the forecast and make an educated decision when you plant—in general the last frost occurs in the Twin Cities by May 10-15. Happily, many plants can be put in as soon as the snow clears away and the ground is soft enough to work. Radishes, peas, cabbage-family veggies: these can all be planted earlier and don’t mind the cold.

3. Rows

When I was a new gardener, I read lots of books about permaculture and alternative planting methods, and I really wanted to scatter-plant my seeds in order to maximize the space that I had. The problem with this was that, when the seeds sprouted, I couldn’t differentiate between what I had planted and what was a weed. If you plant in rows or at least in a grid pattern (if you’re trying square foot gardening), it will be much easier to identify your plants, since mother nature never plants weeds in straight lines.

4. Spacing

Another mistake I still make all the time is assuming I can cram one more broccoli plant here, or one more row of radishes there. What usually ends up happening is that they don’t end up getting enough sunlight or water and I get nothing at all. When you are a new gardener, especially, mind the spacing recommendations on the plant tag or seed packet. I have an illustration of tomato spacing for you:

Tomatoes, recently plantedHere are six heirloom tomatoes, recently planted, getting tied up with twine.

Tomatoes in high seasonHere they are in August. The trellis is about 6 feet tall, 6 feet long, and two feet wide. It *barely* fits six tomato plants, and only because I prune most of the suckers out.

5. Water

At the master gardener vegetable classes, we like to say “water infrequently and deeply”—and this is true for most of the season. However, the first few weeks you will want to water frequently and lightly until all your seeds are sprouted and your seedlings established. Then you can back off to once or twice a week (or less if we get plenty of rain).

6. Compost

Start a compost pile! It’s not rocket science; even if you’re a lazy composter you will, eventually, get compost. It’s free fertilizer for your garden, and reduces household waste.

5. Biodiversity

Most of my garden pest problems have disappeared since I started adding large numbers of native plants to the rest of my yard. We now have an abundance of beneficial insects, spiders, birds, and yes, wasps around who help us control all the crawly things that eat our cabbage and other vegetables. As an added benefit, you’re helping bees.

6. Edible landscaping

While we’re on the subject, why limit yourself to planting edibles in one area, and flowers in another? Small fruit trees and shrubs give you food year after year without having to be replanted. I love my currant bushes, alpine strawberries and raspberry hedge. I don’t like to think of my gardens just in terms of monetary value, but if that appeals to you, here it is: fruits are the very best return on investment you can get. Also, many native plants, such as my favorite anise hyssop, can be dried and made into herbal teas.

CurrantRed Lake currants are a beautiful landscape plant, aren’t they?

7. Plant herbs

This sort of goes along with edible landscaping, but herbs are also a great investment, in terms of money. They’re also more shade tolerant than standard garden produce, so they’re great to fill in other areas. My front flower garden has become an overgrown (yet somehow beautiful) mix of wild columbine, purple coneflowers, parsley, dill, cilantro, chives and fennel which all re-seed themselves each year. Added bonus: we now get black swallowtail butterflies every year, whose larvae love parsley. Herbs are some of the first things to come back in the spring, too, when you’re just dying for something fresh and green. I picked my first chives in April this year, and that was after a very late spring.

dill and herbsThis is pretty, right? It’s not a mess at all, in my mind.
8. Mulch

When it gets to be early June and everything is up and out of the ground, why not add a layer of mulch? It will help keep the ground from drying out and also simultaneously help keep weeds down. I’ve been using straw in the vegetable garden for a few years now and really like it. It also keeps things cleaner, which enables even more eating straight out of the garden. For my regular flower/herb/native plant beds, I use wood chips, which are FREE and also a little more acceptable for keeping my front-of-house yard attractive to normal people.

Since there are plenty of experienced gardeners who read this blog, what am I forgetting? Surely something? Post a comment!

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Putting by

Adam always makes fun of me when I use the phrase “putting food by”—as if it’s 1932. But I like it; it reminds me of both my grandmas. I’m not sure what happened this fall but we’ve put by way more than we ever have before. Take a look at this freezer!

A freezer full of food for the winter, via The New Home Economics

On the left we have 1/2 a hog (including the fat), a whole deer, 1/4 beef, and a bunch of sliced apples. On the right: lard, a few containers of tomato sauce, strawberry jam, pesto, and hops. All set.

Stock tank garden, via The New Home EconomicsOver in my fall greens garden, our wild arugula has gone completely mental. These plants (cascading over the front) have kept going all spring and summer, and the flowers do not seem to have any real negative effect on the taste. I had wild arugula last year as well that went to seed, and I’m noticing volunteers popping up everywhere. I’m considering letting it naturalize around this tank. It is so delicious. The rest of the greens are doing well, although once again the lettuce underperformed. It simply doesn’t grow very fast this time of year. The chard is doing really well though, so we have plenty to eat in here.

Tiny carrot, via The New Home EconomicsThe row of carrots that I planted near the end of July, however, is pretty underwhelming. They’re still very tiny, and I don’t know how much more they’re really going to grow at this point with the tiny amount of sunlight they’re getting. Well, now I know beyond the shadow of a doubt: I need to just stick with leafy greens in this part-shade situation.

Lacinato kale, via The New Home EconomicsLacinato kale still going strong in the main garden. Just because tomato and cucumber season is over does NOT mean fresh food season is over, not by a long shot.

Dried herbs for tea, via The New Home Economics

I’ve dried lots of herbs for tea this year. We ran out quickly last year of our favorites—anise hyssop and chocolate mint. I’m hoping to be able to give away samples of my Evening in Minneapolis blend for Christmas this year. Since we have not yet had a frost, herb picking and drying season is still in progress.

New compost bin

Finally, the most exciting development around here lately: we have a new compost bin! It’s a Mantis ComposTwin, which we were fortunate enough to find gently used, for a great price, on craigslist. Our old open compost bin was getting rickety, and we had complaints from some neighbors about squirrels and other rodents dining there, so I’m hoping to increase neighborhood harmony as well as produce compost faster. Plus now I don’t have to manually turn my pile. Excellent!

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Cover cropping

A first for me, in 2013: I am using cover crops both at my home garden and at the Sabathani community garden plot that I manage. Here’s Sabathani:

Cover crop of buckwheat and annual rye, via New Home EconomicsI planted this nearly a month ago, on September 16. Over the last two years at least, our plot at Sabathani has been riddled with disease. I’ve got the weeds under control now, but the insects and diseases translated to a less-than-average crop last year and a poor one this year.

Since the plot was producing next to nothing in early September anyway, I ripped out all the plants and put in buckwheat and annual rye. It might take a few years of doing this and other measures, but I’m hoping that by increasing soil fertility, I can improve my yield at this plot.

So, cover crops. How do they help? Mostly, they are about suppressing new weeds and creating a bunch of organic matter that is easily turned over into the soil in spring. On-site composting! There are a number of different options depending on your needs. I chose buckwheat and annual rye because they will both be killed by a frost, so in the spring I’ll simply have to turn the dead plant material over and start anew. Also, Southside Farm Supply (my new favorite neighborhood store) had both in stock, so that was also frankly a big point in their favor.

I was so impressed by how this went at Sabathani, that I decided to rip out most of my home garden yesterday, too (except the kale, Christmas lima beans, and rosemary).

Garden almost put to bed for winter, via The New Home EconomicsI hemmed and hawed about this for a couple of weeks, but as we are now nearly a full month past the first average frost date, it was now or never. Hopefully the seeds will have time to sprout and grow an inch or two before we get a killing frost.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about short-term vs. long-term gain. The plants that I removed yesterday were still very much alive and producing, albeit very little. But this year, anyway, I decided that the long-term health of my soil was more important than another handful of tomatoes and (maybe) one more quart of pickles. We’ll see if my strategy pays off.

It seems like I have fewer pest and disease problems every year at my house. 2012 and 2013 were VERY different years, weather-wise; yet I had what I would deem a mostly successful garden both years, with few problems. Could it be that I’m getting better with practice? Well, I wouldn’t want to brag.

I found a couple of University of Minnesota Extension resources on cover crops that I thought were quite useful:

Cover Crop Options (table of crops, when to plant, benefits of each, etc.)

Why you should consider using cover crops in 2012 (I’d add, “or any year”)

Both of the above links are written for farmers, but they are completely applicable to home gardeners interested in improving their soil.

The hard part about Minnesota, of course, is that our growing season is so short, and our winter so harsh—it can be hard to fit a few weeks in for growing a cover crop. In milder climates, cover crops are planted in the fall and grow all winter. Not so here in the north land, where NOTHING grows all winter. Uh oh, here comes another “I’m annoyed by permaculture people whose ideas/advice are all based on living in milder climates” moment. Well, at any rate, you have to try and make the most of where you live, and a Minnesota winter has its charms, too.

What do you think? Was it even worth it to plant a cover crop at my home garden this late in the game?


Still going…

The garden activity keeps slowly and quietly rolling on here in south Minneapolis.

Red Russian Kale re-sprouting

My “Red Russian” kale was looking tough after the first couple frosts, so I stripped all the leaves off and made a big pot of kale soup. I lazily left the stalks alone, and they re-sprouted these tiny little leaves! They’re getting a bit frost-damaged (we’ve had a handful of lows to just under 20 degrees F now), but I’m still tossing them in with other greens.

lacinato kale re-sprouting

The same thing happened with this lacinato kale that I had stripped sometime in early September. New growth is standing up to the cold much better than older leaves of the same type of kale:

As you can see, the larger, more mature kale leaves on the right are much sadder than the newer ones on the left. The seeds for these plants came from the same packet, but there’s been a bit of variation in leaf color and texture. The greener, curlier ones are putting up with the cold much better. That’s not to say the kale on the right has reached the unusable point yet: I think it will still be fine for a soup or a quiche. The sooner the better, though.

hoop house in Minnesota in November

Over in the hoop house, sad sights. The tiny bit of lettuce that is left is looking quite frost-damaged now, and the chard also looks less cheerful than it did a week or two ago. One thing I neglected to take into account when planting this in mid-August was that the growth rate of these plants slows down SO MUCH in the fall with the waning light. I should have planted more and crowded them in closer, because they just did not come close to achieving standard size. Chalk that up to experience; I’m still proud to have made my (likely) last lettuce harvest on 11/14.

dill seeds

I was disappointed with my dill this year — I used SO MUCH of it in 2011 that I didn’t leave quite enough seeded-out plants to get a good number of new ones for this year. So late this summer I plucked a bunch of seeded-out dill plants from one of my volunteer garden projects, put them in a bag, set them aside and forgot about them. I just found them today so I hurried to scatter those seeds around before the snow flies.

making leaf mold

My leaf mold project continues. You can see the layer separating our 2011 leaves and the newly-added 2012 leaves. If Elliot Coleman is right, I should have leaf mold for my 2013 garden. I’m very excited to try it out. It’s also amazing how many leaves you can pack into these simple little towers. We get A LOT of leaves, but this year we spread most of them on our new native plant gardens, and packed the rest in these towers. That’s ZERO bags of leaves from our yard!

bottle brush grass in autumn

I am glad to have a gardening off-season, short as it may be. It gives me time to pursue other interests like reading (while drinking tea with my homemade hipster jar holder), running with my old pal Blake (our 11YO german shepherd mix), and I’ve even picked up knitting needles again this past week.

leather canning jar holder

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!


2012, my best garden year yet

Time to start on a wrap-up of 2012’s garden. It’s not over yet, but we’ve just passed the average first frost date for Minneapolis, so it’s nearly time. What a year it’s been!

tomatoes on trellis

Trellising my tomatoes rocked. I had a great tomato year. One reason could be the chicken manure/bedding mixture I spread on the garden last fall—by this spring it looked like black gold. Another reason certainly was our early spring. The soil was so well-warmed by early May that the tomatoes experienced almost no transplant shock. They were growing within a day or two. I also added an additional layer of compost on them in mid-July and they really took off again after that. I might try to move that up a bit next year.

large heirloom tomato

One of the biggest tomatoes I’ve ever gotten! A brandywine, picked just a bit early in fear of squirrels stealing it. It ripened nicely a day or two later on the counter.

stock tank gardens

My stock tank gardens did well too. After this year I now have a better idea of how much light each one gets. The one on the left is quite shady; next year I’ll dedicate it to nasturtiums and arugula, which both did well in there this summer. In the middle, some fall lettuce and radishes are coming along nicely. On the right, the same kale and chard plants I first started in mid-February! They just keep coming back.

My first lettuce harvest this year was on April 11. In the next week or so as temperatures start to drop we’re going to get the hoop house on the right stock tank and quickly whip out a new one for the middle stock tank. I’m hoping to continue to have fresh greens through the end of November; I don’t think I planned well enough to hope for anything beyond that.

As a master gardener, I can’t let any learning opportunities pass me by, so I felt compelled to research the aster yellows that affected my echinacea. Apparently this was quite common in the Twin Cities this year due to the mild winter and early spring.

My first time growing shallots yielded a pretty nice-looking braid. I LOVE having these so handy in the kitchen.

My first-ever grape harvest made for some delicious jelly.

Our first substantial hops harvest, drying in the sun. Homebrew, ahoy!

If you’ve never grown Sun Gold cherry tomatoes, well, I am going to insist that you do so next year. They’re like candy. And one plant yields a LOT of fruit. I usually go heirloom, but this is one hybrid that I probably will include every year.

The garden still has harvests ahead, including the now-drying Christmas lima beans.

Rosemary and sage on the left, parsnips and turnips on the top/right. I filled in the empty spaces between the disappointing few parsnips that sprouted with some turnips on July 15, but I think they will not get very substantial. I was foiled again by the peak of my neighbor’s house, which likes to get in the way of the sunlight in all but the highest summer weeks for my main vegetable garden.

Let’s review some of the things that made 2012 a great garden year:

1. I amended the soil with chicken manure/bedding last fall. It composted over the winter and really enriched the soil. Never put on manure right when you’re planting, as it could burn the plants with its high nitrogen levels.

2. We had an early spring and the soil temperature was nice and toasty when I planted everything out in late April and early May.

3. Hoop houses on my stock tank gardens helped me get a jump start in March and hopefully will help me extend into November or so.

4. Quite simply, I got out there. I made sure to walk through my garden at least 2-3 times per week. This helped me keep up with pinching back my basil (resulting in multiple harvests), pruning my tomatoes as they climbed up their trellis, and general weeding and upkeep. My kids are 5 now, and I’m really starting to notice a change in how hurried I have to be in the garden. It’s nice to be able to get out there.

It’s far from over, really. We still have fall lettuce, radishes, and parsnips ahead of us! We’ll also be doing some initial planning for 2013 when we plant garlic in a few weeks.

Really, gardening is turning into more than a 3-months-out-of-the-year hobby. Having started seeds in mid-February 2012, I’m heading towards more of a 10-11 month cycle. Love it!


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Book Review: Four Season Harvest

Four-Season Harvest
Organic vegetables from your home garden all year long
By Eliot Coleman

You guys, I made a mistake. I bought the wrong book! Not that the Winter Harvest Handbook wasn’t awesome, inspiring, and great, but I kept getting the sense that I was missing something. That something was the information contained in this Eliot Coleman book from 1999, which a friend recently loaned to me.

Whereas Winter Harvest Handbook focused mainly on growing winter crops in a market-garden or CSA-farm scenario, Four-Season Harvest is all about the home garden. (Yes, I’m aware that 10 minutes of research and would have revealed this, but I’m here to serve you, dear reader, and prevent you from repeating my mistakes.)

Let’s dive right in and explore the many ways this book is influencing changes in my gardening life, starting this year.

My compost pile has always been OK… after a year, I do get compost, but it doesn’t move very fast, and I’ll admit that it occasionally gets smelly.  It’s also never heated up for me, as well-maintained compost piles should.  The past two years I’ve been adding dried leaves to it as “brown” material between the green layers, and this has greatly helped with the smell factor, and seemed to be an improvement overall, but still things were just not breaking down as quickly as I would have liked.

Enter Coleman’s very helpful chapter on composting. First of all, he does *not* recommend putting leaves in your compost pile, because apparently leaves are broken down primarily by fungi, while other compost ingredients are primarily broken down by bacteria.  The leaves and their fungi don’t necessarily subtract from that, but they definitely don’t add to it.  They can also end up slowing down the process when they clump together and form a dry, airless mass.  I’ve broken up many of these in my own bin.

Rather than leaves, he recommends keeping a bale of straw (not hay) and sandwiching your green layers (vegetable scraps, lawn clippings, and the like) with a layer of straw.  Because each stalk of straw is hollow, they help improve airflow, and they end up becoming a fuel to help heat up your pile.  I just checked my pile and it’s still frozen solid, but as soon as it thaws I am getting a bale of straw to try this method out.

But what about all my poor old leaves?  I have them all saved still, in bags!  Coleman recommends using them to create leaf mold.  Apparently leaf mold is a really great soil amendment for vegetables in the cabbage and carrot families.  To make leaf mold, create a round wire column out of fencing, 3-4 feet in diameter, (much like what I made for my potato tower last year), add leaves and water, and leave them for around 2 years. I may need a couple of these for the amount of leaves our trees produce!

Soil structure and aerating
Coleman uses a broad fork to gently aerate the soil, rather than tilling, which can disturb soil structure in the long run. I’m going to look for one of these at the garden store.

Garden layout
He has a map of his own garden, with details on crop rotation, succession planting, etc. If I had more land to work with, I would honestly just make an exact copy of his garden design, because it is brilliant. However, instead of a 43’x40′ garden spot I have a 21’x6′ spot that is shaded for 7 months of the year by the neighbor’s house. Humph.

Cold frames
Cold frame and green house/high tunnel design, maintenance, and care are covered extensively in this book. There’s even a table of planting and harvest dates for winter cold frame veggies (I’ve added some of these to my garden calendar). I would like to add a cold frame; there are limits to what we’ll be able to do with our mini hoop house, as cute as it is.  In order to really consider having greens from your home garden for 10 (maybe even 11-12) months, you really need a cold frame. Coleman recommends two 4’x8′ frames for each member of your family. YOWZA!  That’s definitely not happening on my less-than-1/4 acre!  I’m going to keep thinking about while being content with just my hoop house for this year.

Forcing endives and other root crops
There’s also a how-to on how to grow Belgian endives — it involves storing them in a root cellar, then sprouting them a few at a time in a bucket of wet sand under your kitchen sink. Very interesting stuff. He also gives details on sprouting cabbages, celeriac, beets and parsley root.

Finally, there’s several appendices full of descriptions of how to grow specific vegetables (including artichokes, and his technique is very interesting).

In short, I’m just going to have to buy my own copy of this book, even though I’ve totally blown my book budget for the entire year and it’s only March.  I recommend this one even more than Winter Harvest Handbook, especially for those of us who only dream of raising fields of food while gardening for ourselves, in the city.

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With Thanks

Having a really great Thanksgiving holiday.

It started with a snowy day last weekend — the perfect kind where you get a nice cozy day by the fire and then it all melts within 2 days.

Bacon ends — I love it that my favorite grocery store carries random, value-minded stuff like this. Cut up into small chunks and frozen individually, these will add a bit of glorious bacony flavor to many dishes in the next few months.

My first batch of kombucha turned out! (As did the pumpkin pie in the background.) That white part on the top is the “SCOBY” (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast). It started out as a film, but slowly grew into a solid mass reminiscent of soft beeswax. My kombucha is not as fizzy as store-bought, but it has a good flavor.  And now I have extra SCOBY to share with friends.  Locals, let me know if you want some.

Cleaned the last of the lacinato kale out of the garden today.  We’ll use a lot of it, and I also gave a rather large bag full to a friend for her pet rabbit.

And finally, the reason I pulled those last few kale plants: so that I could spread these 5 glorious bucketfuls of chicken manure/used bedding on the garden.  Friends with chickens are great friends indeed.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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Garden update

Here’s my garden now, during our Minnesota daylight bonanza.  From top to bottom: garlic, parsnips (at least half of which are dead from some unknown insect), banana peppers + herbs + 2 cauliflower, cabbages + cukes (to the right in cage), beans, peas climbing on the fence, and finally tomatoes on this side of the fence.  Nothing is perfect here, but things are definitely growing fast.  Especially those beans.  I had to thin the cabbages out a bit tonight.

I was warned about growing tomatoes in the same place twice.  Compare and contrast:

I planted these pots as an experiment, using half compost and half potting soil.  I wasn’t sure if they’d get enough light in this spot.  WOW.  They are more than twice the size of the pathetic little guys in the ground.  I might do all my tomatoes this way next year.  It is working great.

Peas on the fenceline: good idea or not?  Some of them got badly chewed up, but the ones that survived are producing peas and rabbits have lost interest now.  This could be done right, if care was taken to make sure that most of the leaves & stems stayed inside the fence until the plants reached a certain height.  Rabbits don’t seem to eat many plants over a foot tall.

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Garden update, Memorial Day weekend

Here’s how it’s looking out there in the vegetable garden.

First, the whole garden, an overview.  Adam thought my cardboard aisles looked ghetto so he offered to put down landscape fabric instead.  Fine by me.  The garlic (foreground) is huge.  We harvested some scapes last weekend.

Scapes are the bloom of the garlic plant.  Basically, you pick them as soon as you see them.  If you let the garlic plant go into full bloom, your final bulb in the fall will be much smaller because the plant will put energy into flowering instead of growing a bulb.  The scapes can be used like green onions/scallions and taste like (surprise) garlicky green onions.

Moving on, here is the radish/parsnip area.  What a mess.  I let the kids help me broadcast plant this area, and even after I tried to fix things, everything still came up in clumps.  I can definitely see some parsnip plants, so as soon as the radishes are all done — which will be very soon — I will re-arrange the parsnips and then possibly fill in with something else.

Peppers, herbs, and cauliflower.  A baby rabbit was getting past my rabbit-proof fence and ate 3 pepper plants and several peas before I figured out what was going on — I actually caught him in there one night.  (Boy was he cute.)  So I went to a local nursery this weekend and picked up four new pepper plants and put them in.  It’s easy to tell which are the new ones if you enlarge the picture — they’re the ones with no insect damage.  All these plants are doing well, though, and the cauliflower has already doubled in size from this picture (bonus points if you can pinpoint the tiny cauliflower plants in this pic).

Cabbages/celeriac area.  Well, I’ve finally determined that only TWO celeriac seeds sprouted.  I think it would have been better to start both of these plants inside.  Then I could have laid this out a little nicer, instead of re-arranging plants twice.  Right now I have about 20 cabbages —  I will need to thin a bit more since the variety I chose is supposed to get quite large.  But we can always eat a few of them small, right?  Right?  There have been absolutely no signs of cabbage worms now for a few days, so hopefully that was an isolated incident.

Finally, the odd west corner of the garden with its angled fence-line.  This year I’ve got peas along the fence and beans in the middle.  It’s ok, but it’s really hard to weed next to the peas, since I can’t quite reach everything.  If you enlarge the picture, you’ll also see the additional rabbit deterrant that Adam added to the bottom of the chain-link fence, and the three tomato plants and our neighbor’s dog beyond that.  I’d like to see that baby bunny TRY to get in there now.  In the immediate foreground is our cuke cage.  I started some cukes inside from seed but did not harden them off gradually and all but one died when I set them out in the hot sun a couple weeks ago.  So now I’m trying to just direct sow the cucumber seeds.  Should be OK.

And… here’s my final confession: against all advice and gardening wisdom, I am planting my tomatoes in the same spot as last year.  It is an absolutely ideal tomato spot — close to the kitchen, in prime rabbit area (rabbits don’t eat tomato plants), and along the fence so it makes staking/caging super easy.  My companion planting book says that tomatoes actually like being in the same spot each year, as long as the soil is well-amended (and I amended mine with lots of compost), but every other website, blog, publication, and master gardener I’ve ever consulted has said it’s a bad idea.  Well, all I can do is see what happens…