Stacking Functions Garden

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Garden update

I’m a little embarrassed to show these pictures — my garden has A LOT of weeds.  But this is for posterity, so…

On the far right, garlic.  I expect to see the flowers (scapes) any day now.  In the middle, radishes.  Parsnips have not sprouted yet, but that’s not shocking.  They always take forever.  So far, I am really underwhelmed by how “broadcast planting” is working out for me.  All the radishes seem to be coming up in clumps.

Not much to see here, but there are tiny cabbage plants all over the place.  They will need to be thinned out.  I think the celeriac is sprouting now too.  Has anyone ever grown that?  I’m having trouble right now determining what is a weed and what is my actual plants…  At the back and left of this area are some kale and lettuce that over-wintered so I decided to save them and will use them soon.

Finally, my peas!  They came up quite nicely.  This is a big improvement over last year, so soaking them before planting must have helped.  They are all along the fence, and I will also be filling in here with bush beans.

The rest of the garden is going in this coming weekend, so there will be more pictures then.  I’m going to end this on an exciting note:

Strawberry blossoms!  In my very own yard!  Oh the excitement.

PS Adam has the news on right now and they just said something about lows in the 30s this weekend.  Guess I may have to hold off on putting my tomatoes in.  Shoot.


Garden update

Aah, the first official garden update for 2010.  It’s great to be back at it.  We are having such a warm spring that I really could have planted my early crops a week or even maybe two weeks ago.

Here’s the garden, freshly worked up with a half bin of compost.  You can see there are four “beds” within the garden and three aisles.  I am trying to do two things here:

1) minimize the amount of space dedicated to walking
2) grow greater quantities of fewer varieties

The last two years I grew just a few plants of many different veggies and we just ate them as we went.  That doesn’t work as well when you also get a CSA box every week, so this year I’m trying to grow greater quantities of some things that I like to preserve.

In that vein, I’m growing cabbage (kraut), green beans (freeze), and banana peppers (pickled).  I’m also growing celeriac and parsnips, both of which keep well either in the ground or in a root cellar.  I also planted radishes and I plan to put some cukes in our cucumber cage as usual.

So today I planted: peas, cabbage, celeriac, radishes, and parsnips, all from seed.  The package instructions for both the celeriac and the cabbage say to start them indoors and transplant later, so I’m kind-of taking a bit of a gamble here.  My method for all was to scatter seeds over the entire area, then sprinkle with dirt, then water.  I will have to do some thinning when they come up — especially the cabbage.

Last year I had really bad luck with my peas: only about 2 of the 20 or 30 seeds that I planted actually came up.  So this year, I soaked them in a wet paper towel for a full 48 hours before planting:

Oops, some of them are already sprouting!  They’re in the ground now so hopefully I didn’t soak them too long.

Finally, my garlic is all coming up!  Check it out!

It seems quite high for only the second week in April, but I’m not complaining.

One last thing: I’m going to be re-acquainted with the Friends School Plant Sale this year.  I looked at the catalog online and immediately started estimating exactly how much of the lawn I can talk Adam into ripping out…  They have a lot of unusual plants that are difficult to find anywhere else.


Garden plan 2010: letting go of rows

My “big idea” with the vegetable garden this year is that I am finally going to let ye olde row system die.  It’s fine for people with acres, but for small spaces, you’re just wasting valuable growing space by putting a walkway between each single line of plants.  So here’s my tentative layout for 2010 (click to enlarge):

As you can see, I have four areas, and plants will be scattered throughout each area to maximize numbers.  I plan to make each area slightly “raised” by scooping a good inch or two off of each aisle, and also by adding extra compost.

So, here are my big plans, from left to right:

1. Bush beans and peas. This irregular-shaped area has had heavy feeders for a few years now (tomatoes in 2008, parsnips in 2009) so it deserves a little legume-love.  Added bonus: the peas will [theoretically] climb on the chain-link fence.  And then they will die, before my tomatoes get big enough to want that area’s light.

2. Celeriac/Cabbage/mint. We tried celeriac for the first time last year and loved it, so this year I am planting it.  It was not easy to find the seed.  We’ll see how it goes.  I’ve never grown cabbage, either.  I’ve been reading my Companion Planting book again and it talks about the benefits of planting various herbs near cabbage, so I might actually spread the celeriac out to several different locations to make room for a little mint in here, which apparently repels white cabbage moths.

3. Banana Peppers/herbs/celeriac (?).  I want to grow a few more banana peppers this year, so we can pickle them.  We have become a pickled pepper addicts.  I am going to mix in some oregano and maybe another herb or two.  Oregano is a very beneficial herb to have in your garden, according to the book.  (It doesn’t really say why, though?!)

4. Radishes/parsnips.  Doing the same combination that I did last year, but this year I’m not doing them in rows.  I will “broadcast plant” this area with the seed, crossing my fingers all the while.  This is the spot where I grew beans in 2009, so I’m hoping that extra N in the soil will give me a better parsnip harvest this year.

What’s new and different this year?
1. No more rows
2. I’m starting both tomatoes and peppers from seed, which I’ve never done before.  My seed-starting experiments of a year ago had mixed results, so I’m going to need to improve my set-up a bit this year.
3. I’m growing determinate tomatoes for the first time ever (determinate means all the fruit is ripe at the same time).  We canned 25 lbs of tomatoes last August and we just ran out about a week ago.  This year I want to can 50 lbs.  I don’t want to have to buy them all, so I’m growing some of my own to can as well.
4.  All of my planning has been done with CSA in mind.  We’ll be getting a CSA box again this year, so I am planting things that we do not get enough of in our box (such as green beans), and things that I can preserve/pickle (such as cabbage, banana peppers, dried beans).
5. Fresh from my Master Gardener training, I tried to choose mostly varieties of vegetables that are recommended by the University of Minnesota because of their known resistance to various diseases.
6. I ordered seeds from Victory Seed Company, who I’ve never used before.  It’s still very early so if they don’t work out I should still have time to get what I need locally.

Are you as nerdy as I am and want to read a whole list of the varieties I’m planting?  I thought so.  Here you go!

Seeds I ordered last night from Victory Seeds:
– Tomato, Roma VF
– Pepper, Hungarian Sweet
– Celeriac, Giant Prague
– Pea, Oregon Sugar Pod
– Bush Bean, Contender
– Parsnip, All American
– Radish, French Breakfast
– Cabbage, Glory of Enkhuizen (A Dutch cabbage!  Be still my beating heart.)

Still need:
– Another pole bean for dried beans
– Cucumbers?  (not sure where I’d put them)
– Mint
– Basil

Seeds I have on hand or am ordering that I’m not sure where I’m going to put them:
– English Sorrel
– Fennel (Florence)
– Dill
– Kale
– Beet
– Parsley
– Chives
– Thyme
– Oregano

Seeds I have that I will likely not use:
– Mesclun lettuce salad  (relatives/friends: holler if you want these)

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Putting the garden to bed

Yesterday, I harvested the 2nd and last row of parsnips.  These were slightly better than the first:

Some of them were even almost perfect.  They were all tasty.  This was my final harvest for 2009 so the whole family got involved with putting a leaf blanket on the soil for the winter:

Rowan and Anneke used buckets; Dad used a wheelbarrow.

I spread the leaves out on the garden.  I’ve read that if you mix the leaves into the soil right away, they actually cause a deficiency in the soil as the microorganisms work to break them down.  However, leaving them on top means the decomposing happens on top of the soil.  I will look at them in the spring, and if there are still quite a few that haven’t decomposed I’ll actually pull those off before getting my soil ready for spring planting.  I might be creating more work than necessary here, but I hate to leave the ground bare and exposed all winter long.

(That orange power cord is for our Christmas lights, so we’ll have to pull that out later.)



Parsnip harvest time today, and a beautiful 60 degree day it was, with sunshine.


You can’t pull parsnips out like you do with carrots; they are so big that the top would break off before you could pull the whole thing out.  Instead you must loosen the soil around the parsnip with a fork, then pull it out.


I ended up pulling a whole row.


I’m disappointed.  They are significantly smaller this year than they were last year.  Last year we had at least 6 meals out of our two rows, and this year it will probably only be two.  I’m not sure what went wrong.  I planted them in a different location in the garden, and I’m wondering if this location gets a tiny bit less sunlight than where I had them last year.  It’s also possible that they suffered (like all garden plants) from our very strange cool and dry summer.  Not sure.  Here they are all cleaned up:


Three of them were nice, about the size I expected.  The rest were more like large radishes in size, with lots of strings and “legs.”  Anyone have any ideas how this might have happened?  I’m at a loss.

We cooked them up and made mashed parsnips.  Really delicious.

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What to do with celeriac?

We got celeriac in our CSA last week.  It’s a kind of celery, but it’s grown as a root vegetable (from Wikipedia).  I’d never had it before.  Here’s what it looked like, raw:

celeriac2You can use the root just as you’d use any root vegetable, and the leaves can be used like parsley.  Adam cut up the root, and mixed it together with some cut up potatoes, then put them in a foil packet with some butter on the grill for 30 minutes over med-low heat.  Here’s how it came out:

celeriac1You can see the pieces of celeriac, they are more square, with yellowy edges, whereas the potatoes have round edges.  He also put in some red onions.  The verdict:  absolutely delicious.  I am going to add this to my garden wish-list for 2010 and I’ll do some investigating on how to grow it.

It sort of has the taste and texture of a celery-infused potato, but it’s creamier than a potato.  It’s not terribly unlike the flavor of parsnips, actually, but it’s more delicate.

Later in the week we used the leaves in a soup.  Also very good.

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CSA Week 14


Today’s full-share CSA box included:

1 head Romanesco broccoli (they look like little christmas trees!)
1 bag of salad mix
1 bag of grapes
7 or 8 parsnips
3 gorgeous heirloom tomatoes of unknown variety
5 heirloom roma tomatoes
2 bell peppers
Sweet corn (enough for two meals)
2 heads kohlrabi
1 bunch French breakfast radishes
4 zucchinis

I couldn’t care less about the zucchinis, but everything else in the box was quite nice indeed.  The radishes must be from a second, later planting.  It’s been sufficiently long now since my radish-eating marathon of early June that I’m excited to eat them again.

I’m curious to see what the parsnips taste like.  I always wait until after the frost to pick mine, since the freezing makes them sweeter.  I don’t expect these to be bitter though, just maybe not quite as sweet.

Standard CSA info:
What is a CSA?
Where do we get our CSA from? Food 4 Thought.
See all of my CSA posts

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Garden update (the dead and dying edition)

September is here.  The end is near.  A little over a week ago it started getting down into the low 50s every single night.  Fall has arrived, a bit early, and after a very cool summer.  Let’s assess the damage, and note the encroaching zucchini in nearly every picture:

beets0903My attempt at late-season beets gets a big ole FAIL.  I’m guessing there’s just not enough light between two two-story buildings anymore at this point to get something going from seed like this.  Note to self for next year: July 4 is probably about as late as I can plant anything.  These were planted right around July 15 I think.


Brussels sprouts: are these a FAIL or not?  I can’t decide.  Do those look like sprouts to you?  They’re not very well-formed sprouts.  But they definitely like the cooler weather.

polebeans0903Pole beans: almost ready to harvest, yay!  I picked a couple already that were all dried up and yellow.  Look what I found inside:

hidatsabeansThis is why they’re called “Hidatsa Shield Figure” — it’s like a little bean holding a shield.  Well, sorta.

cucumbers0903Cukes are not long for this world.

peppers0903Couple more banana peppers on.  I’m hoping that I have enough to make another batch of fermented banana peppers.  They are by far the most delicious fermented thing I’ve made yet.  You can just barely see to the right, the baby kale.  Another “mid-season” attempt.  These at least got to a micro size; and we might be able to get one meal out of them.

parsnips0903One good thing about the fall: it’s almost parsnip time!  They are ready and waiting for a frost.

tomatoes0903Tomatoes are also dying off.  They sure hate the cold nights.  I don’t know if we’re going to get any more, although there are still quite a few green ones on there.  Might be time for some fried green tomatoes one of these nights.

Well that’s it.  Garden is winding down for 2009 already.  I’m both relieved and sad at the same time.

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Garden update, mid-August(!) edition

This happens every year.  OK this is really only my second year with a real garden but it happened last year too.  I get to mid-August, and I walk past the garden, and I see 2 ft tall weeds, and I think “meh.”  My sense of urgency is completely gone.  Except I do still have a decent amount of food out there to eat yet.  Let’s take it section-by-section:

beets081509What’s this, you might ask.  It used to be green beans, but they are done now.  Now it’s some weeds, but it’s also three rows of beets.  They’re kinda hard to make out right now because they are teensy.  This is my first time experimenting with so-called “late season” veggies.  Supposedly you can plant some things in mid-summer and they have a short enough growing season (and cold tolerance) that you will still be able to harvest them before the winter sets in.  So I’m trying some beets and some kale (coming up a couple pics down from here).

My biggest challenge with this whole concept is that I garden in a narrow space between two two-story houses.  The sun’s angle is definitely on the down-swing now and every day my garden is getting less sunlight.  So we’ll see if this works or not.  At least I can say I tried!

beans081509Here’s the complete mess that you could call my pole beans.  Newsflash: pole beans get really, really tall.  I should have built my little twig teepees about 7 feet tall instead of 4 feet tall.  Now I have a twining, vining mess.  But it’s covered with beans.  I’m not really sure what to do now.  I think I’m supposed to just let them completely dry out on the vine, and not harvest them until the plants are completely dead.  Most people (most normal people that is) do not raise beans for drying like this because dried beans are insanely cheap, so why grow them?  I got excited about these particular beans, called “Hidatsa Shield Figure” after reading a book about heirloom plants.  No store that I know of sells these beans, so I will have something very unique to put in soups, etc. this winter.

brussels081509My brussels disaster.  This will be my second and final attempt at brussels sprouts.  I’ve been nursing these things since February, and my dreams of a brussels feast have been all but dashed.  They have a few really loose, pathetic looking sprouts on them, but my harvest will be very small if I get any at all.  On the bright side, the lettuce underneath them re-seeded itself and I may actually get to harvest some soon!

pepperskale081519Here are my loverly banana peppers.  I picked a first round of them last week and made some pickled banana peppers.  They are freakin’ delicious!  A couple more are coming in so I may try to do another pint or two.  You can also just barely see the tiny little kale plants coming in on either side of the peppers.  We’ll what happens with those.

parsnips081509Parsnips are looking good.  Once you get past the initial anxiety of making sure the seeds sprout, these things pretty much grow themselves.

onionsandweedsI can’t believe I’m showing you this, but just look at my beautiful red onions!  Surrounded by tons and tons of weeds!  😦

cuke081509On a more positive note, here is a ripening cucumber.  Growing an heirloom variety called “Boothby Blonde” cucumbers.  They are hands-down the most delicious cucumbers I’ve ever eaten.  They are SUBLIME.  Seriously.

brandywinesEven more exciting than that, MY FIRST TOMATOES of 2009!!!  Boy howdy was the wait long and excruciating.  I did three heirloom Brandywine tomato plants this year.  I really love Brandywines, even though they do have a slightly longer growing season.  And yeah, I’m fully aware of the LOTR connection and the fact that I might love them all the more, precisely because of it.

tomatojungleHere’s my tomato jungle as it looks right now outside.

3sistersFAILOh, and here’s my awesome “3 sisters” garden.  Good grief, biggest FAIL of 2009.  Reasons why it failed:

1. For the “groundcover” plant, I should have done a vining plant like pumpkins or squash.  Just because zucchini are sorta related doesn’t mean they’ll do the same thing.

2. I should have stuck with one bean vine per corn stalk.  I tried to use one stalk of corn to support 3 bean vines.  They got too heavy (and a strong wind didn’t help either) and now the corn is pretty much bent in half.  Even after Adam tried staking it up.

overgrownmessAnd here’s the whole beautiful, overgrown mess!  We’ve been vacationing a lot the past few weeks, and our drought has suddenly lifted, and everything is going CRAZY!  It’s pouring rain right now as a matter of fact.  Tomato season has finally begun, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

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Garden update, animated

These animated garden gifs are getting HUGE, but they are still kinda fun, so here goes.

beans071809The green beans aren’t changing much anymore at this point.  We are harvesting beans every 2-3 days.  We aren’t getting as huge a crop as I hoped; last year we had beans coming out of our ears.  I think we may have planted more than 2 rows last year though.  Can’t quite remember (and didn’t document it as well).

peas071809The peas are now done, and the pole beans are taking over.  This is not a sufficiently tall structure for pole beans.  I hope they can hold out until my bush beans are done and then I will move those little stick teepees over and try and train the pole beans onto those.

brussels071809Adam  broke the bottom leaves off the brussels sprouts plants to encourage them to develop some “sprouts.”  I think it is working.  The sprouts are looking slightly bigger now.  All the lettuce that I planted in the middle there bolted, so we never ate any of it.  There are some tiny scallions in there, not sure if they are ever going to get enough sun to go anywhere.  The brussels got too big for any of the “companions” to really do much other than keep the brussels company.

lettucepeppers71809Lettuce/Peppers: Adam pulled out all the bolted lettuce and a couple days ago I planted two rows of kale in its place, one on each side of the peppers.  We ate one of our anaheim peppers last week, yummy!

radishesparsnips071809Not much to see here; parsnips are coming along nicely but we are still months from harvest on those.

Click to enlarge this one of the tomatoes. I gave up on my tomato animations. Next year I need to mark a spot with an X or something to stand on when I take pictures.

Here are two more that can also be enlarged:

garden from west

Above, the garden as viewed from the west (back yard, on deck).  Below, the garden as viewed from the east (front yard).

garden from east

Here you can see my little strawberry/asparagus area with the huge hollyhocks that will have to be moved next year.  Seriously they are 12 feet tall!  My corn is standing back up but that’s only because Adam staked it.  OK, gotta go; starting a double batch of kimchi during today’s kid nap time.