Stacking Functions Garden


Garlic and squirrel war

Here’s the garlic, all cleaned up and tied into a nice, neat (huge) bunch:

Thank goodness the garlic turned out, because everything else has been rather uninspiring. Here’s yesterday’s harvest:

Those turnips were rather small and woody. I did not thin them out enough. Turnips: easy to grow but need a lot of room. Then there’s this:

My biggest, most beautiful “Big Rainbow” heirloom tomato, only days from being picked: attacked by squirrels. This is war. Adam was looking at wrist rockets and blow guns online today. How do you combat squirrels?

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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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Garlic harvest 2011

We harvested our garlic today! A pretty decent haul; by far the most I’ve ever grown. How do you know when garlic is ready to harvest?  My rule of thumb is when approximately 1/4-1/3 of the leaves are brown, but other people have other rules. This morning I heard “three dead leaves down four green leaves up” — that probably applied to a fair number of mine.  I wasn’t going to go through each one counting leaves though; I needed to get this done today.

To harvest hard-neck garlic (the only kind hardy to Minnesota’s USDA zone 4), you’ll want to loosen the ground around the plant with a fork, then gently dig out the bulb. We have had so much rain lately that our soil is completely saturated, so I basically just had to slightly loosen, then pull the plants right out. Another reason to harvest today: considering how wet it is, I don’t want to risk the bulbs rotting underground.

So I let them dry in the sun for an hour or two, then moved them into shallow cardboard boxes, laid out mostly in a single layer, in the garage.  They will cure in there for a week or two depending on the weather.  At that point we can then clean them up a little better and trim off most of the leaves and roots.  Hope we get an OK cure in this hot, humid weather.  Seriously, it feels like a jungle out there.

Feeling inspired to grow garlic? Fall’s the time to plant it, so you have plenty of time to scope out a spot. This is one of the easiest edibles to grow.


Recipe: Garlic scape pesto with fresh herbs

Adam and I came up with this recipe to use up this year’s considerable garlic scape harvest:

Parsley, basil, and scapes ready to go.

Garlic scape parsley basil pesto
1/2-1 c. basil
1/2-1 c. parsley
1-2 c. garlic scapes
2-3 T. pine nuts
1 tsp. salt (or more to taste)
pepper to taste
extra-virgin olive oil, at least 1/2 c.
1/3-1/2 c. parmesan cheese, grated

Amounts are approximate, because we used a ratio: 1 handful basil, 1 handful parsley, 2 handfuls scapes. We went light on the pine nuts and parmesan. Put the scapes, herbs, pine nuts, salt, and pepper in a food processor.  Process, adding the oil a bit at a time, until desired consistency.  Stir in parmesan cheese.  Taste and adjust seasoning accordingly.  Makes about 1 1/2 c. pesto.

Naturally, we quadrupled the recipe. Should keep in the freezer up to 6-8 months. No worries that it will last that long.


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!


What can we eat NOW?

Last weekend I did my annual Memorial Day phenology photo shoot in the garden. Phenology is the science of tracking when, for example, the daffodils first bloom in a certain location.  It’s becoming a very important science for documenting climate change.

Beginning gardeners are often disappointed by how long it takes to finally have something to eat — tomatoes and peppers don’t produce much until late July, if you’re lucky.  So what are some things we can grow that will give us early eats?  Look to edible perennials in the landscape, my friends.  Let’s take a tour of some of the goodness we’re already enjoying in late May in Minnesota.

Asparagus and strawberries. The asparagus seeded out a couple weeks ago — the plants are finally mature enough that next year we should be able to harvest some. Boy, it’s been a long wait. Strawberries should be ripe in 7-10 days, and new anti-rabbit netting seems to be helping.

Dill. It’s needed thinning several times anyway, so I’ve been adding the tiny plants to salads and dressings.  Dill is not technically a perennial, but it re-seeds itself.  In great numbers.  Plant it once and you’ll always have it.  Everywhere.

Lettuce and radishes! YES! We need to eat these up as fast as we can because the forecast for this week is hot.

Left to right: oregano, garlic, and chives (dying tulips in the background). Chives were one of the first things that came up when the snow cleared out — we’ve been eating them since late April.  I’ve also dried some oregano. Garlic scapes will pop up in the next two weeks.

Chive flowers, which are also an interesting addition to salads. I prefer to eat them before they open, though.  It’s a texture issue.

The kids with their first harvest of lettuce and radishes from their gardens (in the background). I’ve read that involving kids with gardening can encourage them to eat more vegetables, but seeing it with my own eyes has been freaking awesome.  My almost-4-year-olds, picking radishes, brushing off the dirt, and eating them while jumping on their trampolines.  Strange but fun.


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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).


Garden 2011

Kinda crazy, but I’m already starting to form plans for next year’s garden.  We planted our garlic this weekend, which involved a little planning.  Here’s the plan so far:

I don’t have my 4 beds planned out yet, but I have now lined my three walking spaces with rows of garlic.  I have a great mental picture of how this will look, but will it work out?  I will leave open the space where I had garlic in ’09 and ’10.  The kids helped with the planting:

Parsley on the left behind Anneke and parsnips behind Rowan on the right are the only thing still going on in the garden.  Here’s the garlic we planted:

We picked it up at Kingfield Farmers Market last weekend from Swede Hollow Farms, who are apparently now famous.  (The market is open one more weekend!)  I also tucked a few more plantings here and there in the front yard flower bed.  Should be a big garlic year in 2011.

Here’s a question: anyone ever save pumpkin seeds?  We got a really nice pie pumpkin from our CSA so I thought I might try saving the seeds and planting them next spring.  They are currently drying out on the countertop.  Since I’ll only plant one or two hills at the most, it seems prudent to just save some seeds and save myself a few dollars.

Finally, I think we might take a break from parsnips in 2011.  We still have not had a hard freeze here this year.  But since we’ve had plenty of nights where it got really close to freezing, I started harvesting them this weekend. For the second year in a row, I dug up a bunch of mis-shapen, stunted, many-legged beasts.  It’s my own fault: I let the kids scatter-plant them, they came up in clumps, and I tried to spread them out.  Parsnips HATE to be transplanted.  For two years I’ve tried to ignore that fact, and I can ignore it no longer.

Here’s a little less than half of my total harvest.  A couple of them were perfect. Will I be able to resist the lure of the parsnip next spring?  We made mashed parsnips with these today and they were sublime.


Recipe: pickled cucumbers or banana peppers

Here it is, our Nourishing Traditions-inspired pickle recipe (by request from several people).

This isn’t a recipe so much as a method — because really it could be varied quite a bit and it would still turn out great.  I like to use smallish whole, unsliced cucumbers for pickles — they stay crisper that way.  These are dill pickles, but with a more nuanced, subtle flavor than store-bought dills — imagine a dill pickle without that strong vinegar taste.

Here are your ingredients, per quart:

6-8 smallish cucumbers or banana peppers (seed and slice the peppers)
1 T. mustard seeds
1 T. whole peppercorns
1 T. whole cloves
3-4 sprigs fresh dill (the more the merrier)
2-4 cloves garlic, sliced or roughly chopped
Approx. 2 c. brine (2 T. sea salt + 2 c. water)
2-3 T. whey (optional, but highly recommended)

Sprinkle some mustard seeds, garlic, dill, and cloves at the bottom of a quart-size jar.  Fill the jar half full with cucumbers or sliced peppers.  Layer in more of the spices, dill, garlic.  Fill the jar the rest of the way with the cukes or peppers, leaving about 2 inches room at the top.  Throw in whatever’s left of spices.  Pour in the whey then top off the jar with brine until the pickles/peppers are covered.  Cover tightly and leave on the counter for 2-3 days.  Taste a pickle or pepper.  Does it taste really great?  It’s done.  Is it a bit salty?  Leave it for another day then try it again.  When they’re done, transfer to the fridge.  They will keep several months, at least.

How to easily obtain some whey

Variation: when you hit the height of pickle season, and you’ve made a few batches of these already, you will have a half-full jar or two in your refrigerator.  Instead of messing around with making more whey every time, we use a good cup or so of the liquid from the half-eaten pickle jar as an “innoculant” to get the new batch started.  Sorta like a sourdough mother, except with pickles.

Lazy woman’s variation: OK, to be perfectly honest, I leave out a lot of the spices when I make these.  And they still turn out great.  For banana peppers in particular, I like to keep it very simple and just add garlic and peppercorns to the mix.

Adam made some pints of the peppers, as well, because we have several requests for samples.