Stacking Functions Garden

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Four Lined Plant Bugs, gates, radishes, and everything in between

Happy Solstice to you! We spent ours in the company of our fellow Sabathani gardeners, cleaning up walkways and roasting marshmallows over a fire. It was a lovely evening.

Let’s get right into a garden update, shall we?


Meet my current nemesis, the four-lined plant bug. It’s a generalist, shown here feeding on some goldenrod. It also really loves herbs and plants in the mint family. It’s done quite a number on my bee balm:


In past years I tried not to get too worked up about this bug—its damage is not fatal, after all. But yesterday it almost destroyed several of my jalapeño plants. These guys are a little tricky to catch. They often scurry to the underside of the leaf as soon as they see me coming.

I’ve resorted to carefully watching plants that show signs of damage, then holding still to watch for movement. If I catch them I clap my hands together quickly over the leaf the bug is on. This usually either squashes it or slows it down enough for me to finish the job. I don’t get every single one. The numbers in my yard this year are a little disheartening, but at least I don’t have to worry about my wildflowers surviving.


Thankfully they’re not interested in all of my garden vegetables. Radishes never get very large in my home garden, but a string of cool days has really helped extend the harvest.


My home garden is dedicated this year to root vegetables, beans, and greens. Here are kale, collards, and chard which I planted from seed in early spring. The plan is to keep thinning them out as they get larger; we’ve already had one meal of thinnings so far and another is imminent.

Wait, is that milkweed growing in my garden? Yes, it is. I always try to pull these plants first to feed my butterflies, but I carefully work around them until I do need them.

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Good thing, too, because I found this big guy on a tiny milkweed plant between two onions. I’m having a good vegetable year so far, knock on wood. Here’s a picture of my lettuce from several days ago:

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Shortly after this some of it started to bolt, but we should be able to eke a few more weeks out of it. Underneath the big lettuce plants are some smaller ones that they crowded out, so hopefully as I pull bolting plants the smaller ones will fill in a little bit.

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My community garden plot is doing well so far, too. I attribute this to two factors. First, we grew pumpkins and squash there almost exclusively for 4+ years. After a poor season last year, it was time to try some different things on that soil.

Secondly, we planted a cover crop there last fall—a mixture of hairy vetch and winter rye from High Mowing Seeds. This mix is formulated to survive a Minnesota winter and start growing vigorously again right away in the spring. It worked (!) so we turned it over the first weekend in May and planted 3 weeks later.

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*This* is how bushy and happy tomato plants can be when they get 14+ hours of intense sunlight a day. I’m going against my usual community garden strategy this year, because of wanting to mix things up in the home garden and at Sabathani in an effort to reduce built-up bacteria in the soil.

This means Adam and I have to bike or drive over to Sabath at least twice per week to tend it, but so far we’ve been keeping up. It helps that our kids are now middle schoolers and have completely lost interest in us. Well, it gives us something to do anyway.

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One of the herbs I’m growing in my hugelkultur herb project at Sabathani is papalo, an herb from central and South America. It’s used similarly to cilantro–as a garnish on tacos, etc. Its flavor is more intense, though. It’s also much more tolerant of heat. The leaves are sturdier, more like collard greens in texture, but with a very unique flavor that is a strange but wonderful combination of cilantro and parsley. I love it, and I’m so grateful to the gardeners who introduced it to me.

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Herb drying season has commenced at home—here’s a mixed basket of chamomile, sage, dill, lemon verbena, mint, tarragon, and clary sage. I don’t know what I’m going to do with the clary sage yet—it was an impulse buy.

Between the bug fighting and harvest season commencing, I’ve accepted the fact that I’m not going to get much more done with my perennial gardens this year. I’m not ready to call them done, but the front definitely looks a lot better than it did last September when it got torn up by a backhoe.


Adam finished the path and put out the bird bath, and there are actually quite a number of very small plants in here already—I did a lot of planting this spring. By this time next year we should be much more filled in, as I used all tough natives that should spread quickly—including Jacob’s Ladder, wild geranium, Solomon’s Seal, wild ginger, and…


…three red-twig dogwoods! I’ve always wanted to try growing these; we need some winter interest in the front yard. So far they’re doing great. This area is going to look very natural, shady, and lush in just a few short years, if the elm tree that shades all of it hangs on. Fingers crossed.


This may not look exciting, but to me it is everything right now. Our neighbors took down their chain link fence—which happened to have been installed at the same time as ours and matched perfectly. We used the opportunity to obtain a free matching gate, and finally added a gate on the garden side of the house. My number of steps from kitchen to garden has gone from more than 40 to less than 10. Yay!

It’s time to gear up for fruit season, and I feel ready. I really do. Our sour cherries are getting close:


A happy and lovely solstice to you and yours.

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My favorite weed

This wasn’t an easy decision, given all the wild flowers I grow for tea, but I’ve decided that my favorite plant with weed as part of its common name is… dill weed.

First, a bit about dill weed, or Anethum graveolens. It grows as a self-seeding annual here in the north land. Ask any experienced gardener, and they’ll likely say “plant it once and you’ll always have it.” It’s true. I bought Grandma Einck’s dill seed from Seed Savers at least five years ago and have never bought it since. Every spring I worry a little, waiting to see if any will come up, and every year it does.

Sprinkling dill seed heads in the gardenLast year, I used so much of it in pickles and I realized, in a moment of panic, that only a handful of seed heads were left out in the garden. I had seen a bunch of it at the community garden, so I grabbed several handfuls and distributed them in the yard, one day in November. You might say it was a success:

baby dills

My entire front yard looked like this about a month ago!

One of the greatest things about dill is its many and varied uses. Starting in the early spring, as soon as it’s big enough for positive identification, I start thinning it out a little and adding the baby plants to salads.

Dill saladLettuce, dill and arugula from my garden, Wisconsin blue cheese, some sunflower seeds. Didn’t even need dressing. When the dill got a little bigger, say 5 or 6 inches tall, I thinned it even further and dried some:

Dried dillTo dry it, I pulled whole plants, hung them upside down for about two weeks, then snipped them up with the kitchen shears. Have you ever had dill on popcorn? I am newly addicted. (Thanks for the tip, SouleMama.)

And really, even on an aesthetic level, dill brings a lot to the garden:

Baby dill among other plants

Here the little dills have started to show up, among the wild columbine, milkweed, purple coneflowers and some old Russian Sage. A couple weeks later:

Dill, Russian Sage, and Wild Columbine co-exist in a planting

I’ve thinned the dill out a little bit now, but it adds a nice accent. Also: this is one square foot of my front yard garden. The entire garden looks like this, all along the front sidewalk and path along the house. So, I’ve got plenty of dill.

And the uses go on and on. So far this year, it’s been fresh salad eating and a bit of drying. But when the dill plants get flowers, I’ll use the flower heads to flavor dill pickles. Did I mention that, when in bloom, dill attracts beneficial insects to your garden? The seeds can even be used and have a flavor similar to caraway, but more, well, dill-like. Just be sure you leave a few seed heads in the garden for next year’s crop.

Dill is among a few annuals that self-sow here, including curly-leaf parsley, cilantro (not quite as readily, but you’ll get a few), fennel, and German chamomile. I’m sure there are others, too.  Am I missing any? What’s your favorite “weed”?

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Drying herbs

This weekend I finished processing all of the herbs that I put up to dry in September.  They were definitely dry now, and we had just run out of rosemary, so timing was good.  A quick how-to:

Here’s what my rosemary looked like when I picked it in September.  I washed the herbs, let them air dry for a couple hours, then hung them upside down inside paper bags from the liquor store.  The paper bag is nice because it keeps the dust off in case you don’t, uh, get around to processing the herbs right away.  It also catches any leaves that might fall off.

With most herbs, you just manually pull the leaves off the stalks, but thyme is slightly trickier because the leaves are so tiny.  So here’s what I do:

Roll it around in your hands over the top of a bowl with a mesh strainer in it.

Shake the strainer to get the leaves out.  You may have to still pull some of the tiniest twigs out by hand.

There you have it, my herb harvest for 2010.  Left to right: thyme, oregano, rosemary, sage x2, tarragon, and raspberry leaves (for tea).  Herbs are super easy to grow, and both thyme and oregano are perennials here in Minnesota.  Not sure about tarragon or sage.  Rosemary is most definitely NOT perennial.  I only planted one plant each of tarragon, sage, and rosemary, but the sage got absolutely huge.  And, as if all this wasn’t exciting enough: oregano attracts beneficial predator insects to your garden.

Adam was the most excited to see this entire PINT JAR of thyme, his favorite herb.  Think it will last until next year?  We’ll see.  It really only has to last until spring when the 14 thyme plants in our flower bed get going again.

Rosemary is my personal favorite herb, and my rosemary pint was only slightly more than half full.  To do for 2011: two rosemary plants.