Stacking Functions Garden


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In the Fall Garden

The fall garden: it’s all about greens fading into blues and grays, then contrasting with bright oranges and yellows. Lush, soft textures contrast with dry, brown twigs and leaves. In short: it’s gorgeous. Why “clean it up”? Most of this stuff will stay in place until the spring in order to shelter overwintering insects for next year.

Here’s a photo tour of what’s happening outside my door, right now.

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Okra plants are approximately six feet tall.

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Meyer lemons—I’ve never had any get this big. For some reason the squirrels aren’t interested in them this year. I am trying to come up with a strategy to make the coming winter happier for this plant without breaking the bank.

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Who needs mums, anyway? Fall asters are gorgeous AND beneficial.

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Two thirds of this composition is serendipity. I only planted the purple dome aster; the calendula and brown-eyed susans reseeded from other areas of the garden.

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My showy goldenrod has been covered in bumblebees—during a warm spell last week they were positively frantic.

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Blanketflower—slowly reseeding and reblooming all summer long.

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Who’s this little bug trying to hide in a calendula blossom?

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Zig zag goldenrod, a favorite for shade. Great hosta alternative.

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The spent blossoms of the big-leaved asters are taking on a puffball quality.

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The prairie boulevard in autumn captures that quality I was trying to describe—contrasts of color and texture that are unique to this season.

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Blue false indigo leaves, their black seed pods, and more brown eyed susans in the background.

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Zinnias are a little obviously non-native at this point, but so pretty.

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Magnolia leaves starting to give it up.

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Fall is parsley’s time to shine. It’s very cold-hardy so I’ll keep picking it until it’s covered by snow.

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I love the giant spiders of September. This one’s right outside our dining room window.

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Bull’s Blood beets, grown for their incredibly nutritious and beautiful leaves. They’re also very cold-hardy so I don’t need to rush to get them picked and eaten.

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In order of cold-hardiness: collards, chard and kale. Kale withstands light frosts easily so I’m prioritizing eating up the collards and chard right now. We’re not expecting frost for at least a couple more weeks—early- to mid-October has become the norm now for first frost in the Twin Cities.

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A new-to-me vegetable for 2019: malabar spinach! I’ll definitely grow this again. It was so easy and (unlike so many other things) it thrived in the heat and humidity.

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I have several Autumn Joy Sedums in my yard, one of the few non-natives that I keep. They used to get covered in bees in the fall, but this year very few bees are showing interest, due to the large numbers of goldenrod I now provide. Sedums provide nectar, but lack certain vitamins and minerals that bees need to survive the long winter. Goldenrod > Autumn Joy Sedum. That’s really the bottom line. If these die out, I won’t fuss. For now they’re occupying a space that’s otherwise been difficult to fill in right next to my A/C unit.

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Anneke’s Japanese-style fairy garden had a rough summer, but still has some nice textures going on. I’ll have to bring this jade in for the winter.

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Jalapeños are still going strong.

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Comfrey. Plant comfrey only if you really truly intend to use it—it’s a great compost pile activator, and makes a potent compost tea. I can pull this entire plant out at the root two or three times each summer and it always comes roaring back. I will pull it out a final time in the coming weeks and use it for a winter mulch in the vegetable garden.

Fall is such a busy and stressful time of year, and it was a lovely break for me to spend my morning in the garden, taking these photos to share with you. Thanks for looking.


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Strategies for managing weeds

I’ve been spending a LOT of time weeding this year. I like weeding—or at any rate, I find it very satisfying. Yet, there are lots of other activities that I’d rather pursue, so I am trying to understand WHY my yard is so much weedier this year. Let’s explore.

This was a very sad week. September 2018.

Construction

Anytime you dig in your yard, especially with heavy machinery, you expose thousands of weed seeds to the oxygen and light they need to germinate. Many of those seeds have lain dormant in the soil for years, just waiting for an opportunity like this. In my case, that happened last fall when half of my front yard and boulevard were torn up for a sewer line project.

The newly-sunny area, August 2018. I ended up planting mostly annuals again this year so that I could focus on the front yard.

Changes in growing conditions

When a dramatic change occurs in your yard, expect a flush of new weeds. For example, my southerly neighbor cut down his large crimson king maple about a year ago. It had deeply shaded the southern half of my back yard, to the point where very little grew there at all. But apparently seeds of sun-loving weeds had been collecting in that soil for years because we’ve had flush after flush of new weeds back there.

Weather conditions

We’ve had great growing conditions most of the late spring and summer this year in South Minneapolis. Everything is flourishing! We’ve had plenty of rain, and it’s been warm by day and cool at night. (Until this week’s heat wave. Wow.) Weeds flourish just as much as other plants in these conditions.

So what to do about all this weed madness?

For one thing, and this is especially true if you grow native plants, you need to decide which plants are weeds. Note that deciding is different than simply figuring out. I highly recommend the book Common Backyard Weeds of the Upper Midwest by Teresa Marrone. It will help you identify weeds and understand which ones are edible (you’d be surprised how many you can eat).

Weeds or lovely dill volunteers? You decide.

If you grow natives, many will reseed themselves all over your yard, and most wildflower gardeners find this desirable. But you will need to learn how to identify seedlings of those coneflowers, Wild Columbines, and Black-Eyed Susans. Google is your friend here. If you see a plant and can’t identify it, do a google image search on what you think it might be, e.g. “Wild Columbine seedling.” You will get very skilled, very quickly at identifying certain prolific re-seeding plants, native or non-native. I’m looking at you, dill.

Getting rid of the weeds

So obviously to start with you need to just get rid of these plants that you’ve decided are weeds. I’m not into spraying chemicals on my yard but I issue one plea with those who do: when it comes to herbicides, the label is the law and you should carefully read the instructions of any herbicide before using it. One of the most critical rules is to only spray it at dawn or at dusk when there is little to no wind. Otherwise it blows over to my yard and I get VERY UPSET with you.

It’s also worth noting that even if you Roundup the heck out of your weeds, they will still come back in a few weeks. Roundup does not destroy the weed seed bank in your soil, nor does it prevent new weeds from blowing in via seed or creeping in via underground rhizomes from nearby areas once it has left your soil.

I have poured boiling water on my paver paths and found it to be pretty effective, but if you have a large paver path area you might need to boil several pots’ worth before you can get it all. It takes more than a few drops.

I’ve always hand-pulled weeds. But I heard Larry Weaner, author of the meadow manifesto Garden Revolution, speak this winter, and he made a pretty powerful case for trimming weeds to the ground rather than pulling them out. The idea is that every time you make a disturbance in the soil, you give new weed seeds a chance. This works on a micro-level when you pull weeds, as well as a macro-level when you dig up your sewer line.

So he recommends successive mowing or trimming of weeds—making sure they never get a chance to flower and continually weakening the plant until it just gives up and dies, without ever disturbing the soil and creating conditions for a new weed to grow in its place.

Preventing the weeds in the first place

An ounce of prevention in the native wildflower garden is complex, because you have some process-related and aesthetic decisions to make. The best way to prevent weeds is to have a thick growth of hardy, healthy weed-suppressing perennials (this is true of lawn grass as well). But in order to have that, you’re going to need to overcome this particular American Garden Aesthetic:

I’m sorry for using you as an example of what not to do, random neighbor.

Create a sea of mulch with annuals and perennials tucked here and there, and—congratulations!—you’ve created a maintenance project for yourself. Many people, desperate to maintain this unmaintainable look, turn to plastic sheets of landscape fabric under their wood mulch, hoping they’ll suppress those weeds. (Do not talk to me about rock mulch. That’s a subject for a much longer post, some other time.)

But wood mulch over landscape fabric is also not a good long-term solution because weed seeds will land on top and start growing in the mulch as it decomposes. Furthermore, landscape fabric makes it more difficult for your short-lived but self-seeding native wildflowers (like Wild Columbine) to spread their offspring around. You’re creating conditions that do NOT favor wildflowers.

This prairie boulevard would not have filled in if I didn’t create the conditions favorable for the plants to reseed and spread out.

If you are creating a new garden where there was once turf, sheet mulching is a good choice that will suppress the weed seed bank.

If you are planting into bare ground, mulch with something that you know will break down relatively quickly. Two great choices are lawn clippings (my neighbors are happy to share theirs with me) or fall leaves. Plus one if the fall leaves have been mowed over and collected so that they’re chopped up.

Both of these options break down within a year, allowing your native plants to spread their offspring around, and move around among each other as they please, filling in and creating a thick, lush landscape that weeds eventually will not be able to thrive in.

I use a thick mulch of straw on my vegetable gardens. It takes two years to break down but is easy to move around when you want to harvest or plant something new.

Wood chip mulch is good on a temporary basis while plants get established, because it also breaks down over time. But be wary of cheap bagged mulch from big box stores or gas stations. I get free municipal wood chips from the city of Minneapolis. They’re not as pretty, but they work just fine.

Sheet mulching

Creating a brand new cherry tree garden in our front yard, 2012 or so.

Cherry tree garden earlier this week. It does not get very weedy.

A quick how-to on sheet mulching:

Obtain uncoated cardboard and lay it down in the contours of your new bed—look at it from close-up and from far away to make sure you’ve got your scale and shape right. Cover with at least 2-3 inches of wood chips. Wait at least 6-8 weeks or up to 6-8 months before planting. If you wait weeks, you may need to spade through cardboard and water your new plantings frequently until the cardboard breaks down. If you wait longer, it will be easier.

This is why I like to sheet mulch in the autumn. I can spend my winter researching plants. Come spring, the cardboard has disintegrated and I simply pull back a small circle of wood chips where each plant will go and dig the holes with a trowel.

The chips break down within another year or two, just as the new native plants are ready to start spreading around.

The end goal: mulch with living plants

The eventual goal here is to not need mulch at all. It’s OK to sprinkle some wood chips on a walking path, like this:

This is an area of my back yard that I unintentionally filled with two plants that were far more aggressive than I initially realized. Virginia Waterleaf and Wild Sarsparilla slowly filled this area completely in; the only parts that stay open are the little path where we walk to the garage door, and a little path by the canoe (behind the rain barrel). The rest is completely full of lush green plants, and they suppress weeds better than any mulch ever could. I spend only several minutes per year weeding this area.

Here’s a very weedy little area that also serves as a walkway around my raised strawberry bed (bricks to the left), and also provides access to this end of my vegetable garden. I often place a pot of peppers or two here, but the path has been VERY weedy despite getting walked on. Earlier this year I added a rather invasive plant—peppermint (center right)—to crowd out the weeds and provide a “trap crop” area for four-lined plant bugs. The peppermint doesn’t mind if I step on it occasionally. Eventually it will become a living mulch for this area.

In the foreground, an established perennial garden filled to the brim with a mix of natives and non-natives. It’s easy to maintain. In the background, my new shade garden, planted this year after my sewer line tragedy/opportunity. I’m trying to keep it mulched with grass clippings until the tiny, barely-visible plants have a chance to fill in. It’s required some maintenance weeding, but in a few years it will be as lush and beautiful as the nearer garden.

So there you have it. I set out to explore the world of weed management in my own garden, and I ended up writing a weeding manifesto. How has your weeding been going this summer?

 


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Not professional landscapers

“We’re not professional landscapers,” said the sewer line contractor who tore up my yard 10 days ago.

“No shit,” I thought to myself, but I tried to keep it cool.

It took three days and by day two I realized it would be healthier if I didn’t watch. After it was over, however, I quickly moved from horrified to excited about redesigning this area of the yard. It’s an opportunity, right?

Last weekend I laid out the edging bricks for a redesigned path in the area that was dug. This path used to curve from the house to the street, but since we already have two paths that do that in the front, I wondered if we really needed a third (I’ve always wondered this, though it did look nice). The new path starts by the house but will end with a circular mini-patio, big enough for our bird bath to sit in its center as a focal point. It will allow me easy access to all the flower beds around it, and be just a little bit different from other areas of the yard. I’m excited to see it take shape.

When laying out new hardscape features, it helps to take pictures from different angles like this, to help you see if you have your scale and positioning correct before you start permanently installing bricks. This may change a bit before all is said and done.

I’ve got the area about 1/3 replanted, but the rest will have to wait until next spring when there is more selection at area nurseries. In the meantime I’m going to see about getting some chopped up leaf mulch this fall to help enrich the soil a bit.

Even though my front yard is looking shabby, interesting things are happening out back. For example, my second wine grape harvest:

Ten pounds of Marquette grapes. Both grapes that we grow are University of Minnesota hybrids.

16 pounds of Frontenac Gris grapes! These were in much better shape than the Marquettes. They didn’t get hit quite as hard by Japanese beetles, and they were at their peak of ripeness when we picked them on August 26; the Marquettes were slightly over ripe and quite a few had to be tossed.

We spent some time with a very patient and helpful employee of Northern Brewer talking about what went wrong last year and getting some great advice about what to do differently.

We tasted both wines at every stage this time, trying to understand better how the flavors develop. We also purchased a bottle of Frontenac Gris from the local wine shop so we could compare. The professional wine is on the right, our cloudier version on the left. Honestly, I didn’t care for the flavor of the professional version—it was way too sweet. Yet ours was so sour that it tasted like really strong kombucha. The professionals must have added sugar.

Anyway, we added the bottle of professional wine to our gallon of amateur wine to just cut down the sour flavor a tiny bit, and we liked the result, so we bottled it. And now we wait.

Over in the vegetable garden, my cover crop looks beautiful! It’s a mixture of rye grass and field peas, and my intent is not to turn it in until next spring. We’ll see if it survives the winter, as promised by the seed company where I purchased it.

Over at our Sabathani community garden, we’re finally harvesting some Waltham Butternut Squash. I’ve never seen such slow-growing squash plants. After looking unhappy the entire summer, they finally started spreading out and flowering in mid-August. I have read that Walthams are slow, but I think there’s more going on here than that. We’ve got soil fertility issues at Sabathani as well. Before September is out I am going to harvest what I can, rip everything out, and plant a cover crop there too.

Speaking of squash… Here’s a picture of our neighbor’s yard. Our house is the white one in the background behind the fence. In this spot used to be a very large crimson king maple tree that cast deep shade over this area and a good bit of our back yard too. Shortly after it was cut down in June, a pumpkin or squash of some sort sprouted from a bit of dropped compost next to our bin.

Fast forward just a handful of weeks and it started invading our neighbor’s yard through the fence. He was delighted, so he let it grow. It is now the largest pumpkin plant I’ve ever seen, and as far as I can tell it’s just one plant! This area is at least 30 feet wide by 15 feet deep and it’s still going. It’s occupying some of our yard and driveway too.

It’s got several strange-looking pumpkins or squash that I can’t identify, though the leaves look exactly like the leaves of musquee de provence pumpkins, which we grew two years ago. We’ll see what happens.

Last but not least, I recently read The Complete Gardener, by British gardener/TV personality Monty Don. I watched his Netflix show Big Dreams, Small Spaces earlier this year and liked his attitude, so put myself on a waiting list from the library to read some of his books. (He must be gaining popularity here as well.)

I went through my usual range of emotions when reading a gardening book from somewhere very different from Minnesota. First, jealousy: his snowdrops bloom IN JANUARY. Second, relief: slugs are a huge issue there, and they have two different types of cabbage butterflies.

I picked up a handful of ideas to try in my own garden, including spreading wood ash from our fireplace around our currants and gooseberries. He also grows significantly more comfrey than I do and uses the leaves as a mulch around some of his garden vegetables. It’s an excellent idea that I’ve tried before, but ought to do more.

His style is more formal than mine; yet it’s completely appropriate for the place where he gardens. The book is full of gorgeous pictures and good general advice—especially for people who are new to concepts in organic gardening.

We’re running headlong into fall—it is 43 degrees F here as I write this and my husband is sitting in a deer stand up north. I feel ready, though. I have a lot of open spots to fill in spring 2019 so my winter garden planning process is going to be more involved than usual. I’m looking forward to it.

 


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Late Summer

I received 2 free packets of zinnia seeds last winter, and decided on a whim to try sprouting them. They were so easy. I didn’t have a plan for the plants so I just put them in groups of 5 all over the yard to see how they’d do in different light conditions. I’ve found them to be pretty flexible but a bit less floppy when they get plenty of sun. Pollinators love them! Here’s another non-native plant that gets my stamp of approval.

This little skipper spent several minutes nectaring.

 

I dig all the variations in color and form on the zinnias.

Walking around the yard, this scene caught my eye from some distance. How weird! It appears that a cicada decided to shed its exoskeleton while posing on a flower. The cicadas were almost as loud as the airplanes last night. (I live near the airport. You get used to it.)

Want to attract pollinators to your garden? Plant joe-pye weed. It comes in a few different heights. The original wild variety gets quite tall—perhaps 5 feet—and can get a little floppy. It was meant to be mixed in with other tall-grass prairie plants such as big bluestem. I plan to create a little tallgrass prairie oasis next to my garage next year. It will include divisions of this joe pye plant, plus big bluestem, prairie blazing star, Jerusalem artichokes, and (of course) milkweed. Can’t wait to get started on that project.

I also started nasturtiums from seed this spring. I ended up with so many plants that I scattered them all over the yard in pots, hanging baskets, and this window box on my garden shed. Little did I know: nasturtiums attract hummingbirds! We’ve always hoped to attract a hummingbird to our garden and Anneke has been dutifully filling, cleaning, and refilling a hummingbird feeder for two years in hopes of seeing one. A male ruby-throat has been stopping by several times a day now, but he skips the feeder and goes for the nasturtiums. Figures.

Everything is just OK in the garden. Honestly the annual vegetable garden is the most challenging part of my yard, between the pests, the diseases, the soil amendments, the weeding, etc. My permaculture fruit guilds by comparison are much easier to maintain. I’m really going to rethink my vegetable garden design for 2019 to see what I can do about improving soil health—even if it means the short-term cost of going a summer without certain vegetables.

Can you help me identify this mystery pepper? It’s not “Tangerine Dream”—the pepper I thought I’d bought. I am afraid to try it because it’s really hot—Adam said it reminded him of a habanero. I think it might be a hot lemon pepper.

Here’s another mis-labeled pepper from the Friends’ School Plant Sale. (This is not the first time this has happened to me with that sale.) I think these are likely cayenne. Well, at any rate the squirrels are not touching them. I am a big wimp when it comes to peppers, but we’ll pickle these all the same.

This year I tried interplanting my shallots into my strawberry bed, and I’m happy with the results. Some of them are very large and impressive. Most are average, and a few are tiny. A decent harvest.

Here’s an illustration of why you really do need a certain number of plants for this whole eating from the garden thing to work out right. I have 5 okra plants in part-shade so they’re not hyper-productive. I get 3-4 pods, every 3-4 days. It’s just not ever quite enough to cook with. Next year I’m going to try 10 plants, and put them in full sun. Then we’ll get good and tired of okra. Okra is a great edible landscaping plant—the flowers look like hibiscus.

Here’s a little nostalgia for today. My Rowan, age 4, left and age 11, right. Still helping me in the garden.

Here’s a garden friend that I spotted on my hydrangea this morning: a goldenrod soldier beetle. They feed on other insects including cucumber beetles. I don’t know if goldenrod is necessary to attract this beetle. The name might simply refer to its color. I usually see it on calendula flowers.

And here’s evidence of a garden foe that I’ve been battling for over a month now: the dreaded Japanese beetle. After last year’s near defoliation of my grapevine, I was hyper-vigilant this year. At least twice a day since around July 4 we’ve been out there killing as many as we can, but they are seemingly unstoppable. My best guess is that our grapevine is about 30-40% defoliated. Next year we will most likely resort to spraying neem oil, earlier in the season. We’re almost ready to harvest now so it’s too late for this year.

You can see there is also some Japanese beetle damage on my large cherry tree. However, in this case it’s only 5-10% of the leaves that are affected, so I’m willing to tolerate it. It won’t harm the plant at all. Generally if 10% or fewer of leaves on a tree like this are affected, you have nothing to worry about. Trees in the Prunus genus (cherry, chokecherry, plum) support a wide variety of insect larvae—especially butterflies and moths—so if you can tolerate a little damage, you’ll be giving your area birds a huge boost. Insect larvae are the primary food they feed to their young in the nest.

My back yard is going through a major transformation, due to a large tree being removed. I’m starting to get used to how bare it feels, and starting to come up with all kinds of ideas for what I want to plant next year in my three new full-sun spots. Formerly they were two very deep shade and one part-shade spot, so my options have changed considerably. For now we put in zinnias and sunflowers, just to hold us over until certain other projects are done. It probably won’t get fully planted until next spring, and that’s OK.

We only have two weeks left of summer and then my three people—who have been helping me in the garden every single day—will all go back to school. Sigh.


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Memorial Day 2018

I like to photograph my garden every year on Memorial Day to track where we’re at from a phenology perspective. From the plants’ point of view, we look roughly average, but from a human point of view it’s been anything but.

I swam in a lake in 95 degree heat yesterday; just under 4 weeks ago that lake had ice on it. It’s been a wild swing from winter to summer, seemingly overnight.

We got some bad news this week. Our main line sewer needs to be replaced and pretty much everything in the foreground of this picture will need to go. I’ll know more next week. I was very upset at first but I’m now trying to look at it as an opportunity.

It was such a weird week. This also happened: a red-tailed hawk caught a squirrel in our yard and landed with it on our deck for a minute or two. I was astounded at its size. And not terribly sorry to lose a squirrel, honestly—the hawk dispatched it quickly and efficiently.

Did you know that wild sarsparilla get flowers? They’re hidden under the leaves. I found these on the plants that get a little bit of sunlight each day—in deep shade, I couldn’t find any flowers.

I love the way the gooseberries, wild columbine, and serviceberries are intermingling in our back yard.

My interplanting of shallots and strawberries is coming along swimmingly. The strawberries are thriving in their new raised bed (new in summer 2017). It’s wise to periodically (every 3-5 years) dig up all your strawberry plants, amend the soil, weed thoroughly, and replant them. They get so overrun with weeds over time. Raising them up like this has kept the rabbits from them and made it easier to keep them weeded.

They’re currently covered with blossoms and tiny green strawberries. I’ve been watering them daily to keep them going strong through this heat wave.

One plant that is LOVING the heat is my Meyer Lemon tree. It spends winters inside and generally looks unhappy the whole time, but the second we bring it out in the spring, it starts to revive.

Peppers are also off to a good start with their ollas for water. I’m curious to see how this experiment works out.

My community garden plot is all planted—it’s double in size for this year as my good friend who gardens next to me is taking a year off from her plot. Crossing my fingers that we’ll have a veritable squash kingdom come August, if we can keep the vine borers away.

Last but not least, monarch season has begun! I’ve only seen one, but Anneke found 40 eggs in our yard two nights ago. If all these survive, we’ll have a household record number of releases, in the first round of the migration.

How are you surviving the heat?

 


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In the mid-summer garden

If you’re going to have a garden, and you’re going to have kids, I highly recommend marrying a teacher. Adam has been busy all summer long working on landscaping projects, and by the time he’s done our gardens are going to be at a new level. Meanwhile, the kids and dog are … REALLY taking it easy:

Hammock reading time, via The New Home Economics

Here’s a sneak peek of Adam’s big project:

A new brick path, via The New Home Economics

He’s edging all of our primary flower, fruit, and vegetable gardens and putting in pretty brick paths to tie everything together. He’s going to rent a wet saw this week for all the half-bricks that he needs here.

Snip N Drip hose system, via The New Home Economics

Another new thing I’m trying this year: I purchased a “Snip N Drip” soaker hose system for the main vegetable garden, because my old soaker hoses basically fell apart (they lasted 10+ years so that’s not too bad). So far, so good except for one factor: there is not nearly enough pressure from the rain barrel to be able to use it with this system. So when I need to water the garden I’m using tap water. The rain barrel water is hardly going to waste though; I’m using it on my fruit trees and bushes.

Interplanted onions and parsnips, via The New Home Economics

My vegetable garden is looking very lush right now. Here we have interplanted onions and parsnips, which seems to be working quite nicely. At the back, two collard green plants. (One of which, oddly, is blue? Hmm.)

Squirrel proof tomato cage, via The New Home Economics

My new squirrel-proof tomato cage is great. The plants are suckering a little more than usual because it’s not super easy to get in there and prune them, but I’m fine with it.

Tomatoes, via The New Home Economics

I cannot wait for fresh tomatoes!

Wine grapes, via The New Home Economics

I think we’ll get a wine grape harvest this year, for the first time! These are Marquette grapes, a University of Minnesota hybrid. I’m not growing these in a 100% conventional way. If I were farming grapes with “maximum harvest” as my only goal, I’d grow them more like this. But since this is my home garden, I’m trying to accomplish several things here—I’m stacking up functions of plants and structures, to put it in permaculture words. So these grapevines also provide shade and beauty in the yard in addition to fruit. I’m just crossing my fingers that squirrels won’t eat all the grapes before I get to them.

Grapevine and hops arbor, via The New Home Economics

Here’s a view of the arbor from further away. The grape is on the right nearest corner, in the middle on both sides are hops (climbing up twine). We got a nice hops harvest last year.

Gooseberries, via The New Home Economics

We had a minor infestation of currant/gooseberry sawflies in May but an hour or two of hand-picking took care of it, and they haven’t been back. There is supposed to be a second generation of them in June or July but I’ve never seen one. My [somewhat educated] guess is that this is due to the high number of wasps, ladybugs, and other predators that fill my yard by mid-June. Having lots of wildflowers surrounding my fruits creates a healthier ecosystem and less work for me.

Raspberries, via The New Home Economics

It’s almost raspberry season, hurray! The kids have already eaten a handful of them.

Red currants, via The New Home Economics

My original red currant bush is now at least 8 years old. I’m not really sure when I planted it. The bush doesn’t look so great anymore. I gave it a good pruning this spring and now it looks worse (yet it’s still fruiting like crazy). I am strongly considering doing a “renewal pruning” and just cutting it to the ground next spring, so it can get a fresh start. We added a second red currant bush two years ago, so we’d still get a small harvest.

Front yard cherry tree garden, via The New Home Economics

Our front yard cherry tree garden is filling in nicely, now in its third or fourth year. (I’m losing track of time.) The maximum size of this tree was supposed to be 10-15 feet and it’s already at least 10 feet and not showing any signs of slowing down. We finally had a large enough cherry harvest this year for a pie AND some delicious sour cherry muffins.

Garbage cans, before, via The New Home Economics

Wait, why am I showing you my ugly alley garbage can area?! I “upgraded” to a smaller garbage cart this year, and now this area looks better:

Garbage cans, after, via The New Home Economics

When I saw just how small the new garbage cart was, I got a little nervous. But we’re now several weeks in and it hasn’t gotten filled to overflowing even one time, despite Adam having some construction waste from his various projects. My only gripe about it is this: this garbage can is less than half the size of the previous one, but the discount per month is only $5. Doesn’t…quite…compute. But I do understand that a huge part of the cost of garbage removal is operating the trucks and paying the humans, so I will [try not to] complain.

A huge pile of soil, via The New Home Economics

All of this edging and path-making has left us with a very large pile of sod and soil. Instead of getting rid of it, I had a brainstorm: why not make a berm!? So… we’re making a berm garden in the front, under the shade of a large elm. Since it will become such a major focal point in the front yard, I want it to be very pretty but still use all native plants. I think the biggest plant will be a pagoda dogwood. I’ll surround it with pretty woodland plants like solomon’s seal, bloodroot, and wild ginger.

Asiatic lily, via The New Home Economics

Look, I’m not a purist. Eleven years ago when we first bought this house, I was not yet turned on to native plants and I planted these beautiful Asiatic lilies. If they ever die, I’ll definitely replace them with natives, but for now… they are very pretty, yes?

I hope you have a peaceful Fourth of July.


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Spring happenings

Planting onion starts, via The New Home Economics

It’s all starting. I planted my snow peas last weekend, but that was about it. I had to take time off work this week to stay home with my spring break kids, so I accomplished a lot in the garden. Today, I put in my onion starts—I buy them at Mother Earth Gardens. Yes, planting the thread-like baby onions is a little tedious, but on a glorious partly-cloudy 60 degree morning, well, I guess it depends on your level of tolerance. I was just happy to be out planting and it was soon done.

I also planted some radishes—they weren’t part of my garden plan for this year because for the last several years they’ve performed so dismally for me. But I was staring at the garden on Thursday (true story), and I realized that I have a month (at least) before I could plant tomatoes. Radishes are supposed to take around 30 days, so I decided to try them once again, but this time at least two weeks earlier than I’ve ever planted them before. They like cool, rainy weather, so fingers crossed that this time I’ll see radish success. I planted them precisely where I plan to plant tomatoes. Will this work? We’ll see.

Sprouting serviceberry branches, via The New Home Economics

Anneke and I also attempted some propagation this past month or two. Here are several branches I trimmed from our serviceberry. Adam is keen on adding all kinds of native shrubs to his family’s hunting land, for deer, turkeys, and other game animals to munch on. After starting this experiment, however, I read that in order to propagate shrubs like this you need to trim off an actual sucker with roots, not just a branch. More details on propagating serviceberries can be found here. I’m going to try starting some from seed this summer! So even though this was a fail, we learned and we are now attempting to propagate one sucker that I was able to find.

In other disappointing news, our Sabathani community garden is in trouble. Plans to build a new senior housing complex right next to it mean that, best-case scenario, our garden will be closed for an entire year starting this fall and re-opening in spring 2019. Worst-case scenario, the space will only be available on a very limited basis to residents of that complex. Everything is very much in flux right now and I won’t be able to move forward with my food forest idea for at least a couple of years, if ever. Maybe that’s OK though. I do take on more than I ought.

First bloodroot of 2017, via The New Home Economics

The first bloodroots of 2017 opened up in my yard today. Aren’t they sweet! That’s my thumbnail for size reference. They do sometimes get bigger than this, but not much. I will be interested to see if I can spot any pollinators on them. I’ve seen a couple wasps and quite a few boxelder bugs flying around, but that’s it so far.

Red Lake Currant in early spring, via The New Home Economics

Ben Sarek black currant in early spring, via The New Home Economics

As of today, my Red Lake currant bushes (one of them pictured, top) are barely doing anything while my Ben Sarek black currant bush (pictured, bottom) is almost leafed out. It’s fascinating how different varieties of the same plant will behave.

Soil sprouted radishes, via The New Home Economics

We’ve been eating soil sprouts all winter long, and I really don’t see any reason to stop growing them now that spring is here. I want to try mixing things up, and growing 5 trays of pea shoots, for example, and stir frying them. I really enjoy doing this and highly recommend the book—Year-Round Indoor Salad Gardening. Pictured are some radish sprouts; we used them as a topping on black bean and sausage soup.

What’s happening in your garden so far? I can’t remember ever getting going as early as I have this year, partially due to having such a mild winter.