Stacking Functions Garden


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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Out of control radish

I saw this flower sticking out above the canopy of my tomato jungle yesterday.


Thinking it was a weed, I started pulling on it, and kept pulling, and pulled out a 5 foot tall radish!

radish2That thing was huge.  I had forgotten about the couple of radish seeds that I planted next to my tomatoes in May.  I’d read a book about companion planting that mentioned that radishes repel a certain bug that eats tomatoes (don’t remember which bug now).  Anyway, who knew radishes could get that big?!

We’re also getting quite a haul now from the aforementioned tomato jungle:


Sensing impending doom, the plants are putting everything they’ve got into fruiting.  I’m trying to pick the tomatoes before they are fully ripe because if I let them get too ripe the squirrels get them.  That misfit purple one in the upper left corner is from last week’s CSA, but it’s going to go into the same batch of salsa as these.  Hopefully will get to that tomorrow night.

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CSA Week 3

csaweek3Our CSA box from Food 4 Thought arrived again today.  Suddenly my grocery shopping trips have gotten faster and cheaper.  Today’s box included:

2 heads Romaine lettuce
2 bunches collard greens
12 heads baby Bok Choi
1 bunch green kale
1 bunch purple kale
1 pint box strawberries
1 bunch dill
1 bunch French breakfast radishes

A good haul this week!  We kept both bunches of kale because we’re making this massaged kale salad for our (new) weekly CSA dinner that we’re starting with our neighbors.  We gave them all the radishes because I’ve eaten myself silly on those things.  We also gave them all the dill because we have plenty of our own.  Everything else we split in half.  Here’s our half after splitting:

csaweek3ourshareOK, I’m off to bed now.  If you want to follow our CSA progress week by week, click here.  If you’re still new to the concept of CSA, here’s a wikipedia entry on it.  I really think this will save us money as well as just being an overall cool concept.  Adam would like to add that it also helps us expand our veggie palettes.  Well said, man.


Garden update: solstice edition

Happy Summer Solstice!  Gardening in my narrow spot between two two-story buildings has really made me keenly aware of the sun’s angle.  Sad but true: in only a month part of my garden will be shaded by the neighbor’s house for part of the day.  So I hope these guys are soaking up the sun while they can.

beans62009These beans are really confusing me.  It said “bush habit” on the package, and they’re sorta bushy.  But they’re sorta vine-y too.  So vine-y that they started wrapping around themselves and the garlic over on the right of them.  So today I constructed some little teepees to give them a little bit of support.  These are “Black Valentine” beans, an heirloom variety.  Anyone else grown this type before?

peas062009Adam also added more support to our pea/pole bean structure this week.  The whole thing was on the verge of collapse, then clutsy Jennifer fell onto it and collapsed it for good.  I think my head has been elsewhere lately because I didn’t notice until today that WE HAVE PEAS:

peasLike, ready-to-pick peas!  Going to try to hold out another day or two so there’s enough for an actual meal.

brussels62009Brussels sprouts guild: It looks like my guild plan here might not work out after all.  The brussels sprouts have gotten so huge that the lettuce, green onions, and dill that I interplanted with them are now completely shaded.  I will probably still eat that lettuce as “micro lettuce” when all my other lettuce is done, but I don’t expect to get much dill or green onions.  But that’s OK because the main point was that those plants benefit the brussels by repelling insects that eat brussels sprouts (supposedly).

lettucepeppers62009Lettuce/peppers: My lettuce is ready to be picked.  NOW.  It will bolt soon.  But I have two heads of lettuce from my CSA in the fridge.  I am overwhelmed with lettuce right now.  It’s even kinda crowding my peppers right now, poor things.  If you live in or near Minneapolis and want some lettuce, send me an e-mail at jrensenbrink [at] hotmail [.] com and you can totally come and pick some up.  In return would you have coffee and talk about sustainability with me for 1/2 hour?

radishesparsnipsRadishes/Parsnips: Once again not much to see here, except the fact that the radishes are completely gone, and now the parsnips are really starting to take off.  I had a parsnip anxiety moment last week when I was afraid that only 2 or 3 of them had sprouted in the left-hand row.  Without mercy, I pulled every single remaining radish.  Shortly thereafter we got a nice rain, and a bunch of parsnips suddenly popped up.  Thank goodness.  Parsnips are my favorite garden vegetable so I’d be very sad to get a less-than-optimum harvest.  Note to self for next year: when doing companion planting of radishes/parsnips, plant the parsnip seeds rather thickly to make sure you get enough of them to germinate in the shade of the radish leaves.

tomaters062009Tomatoes: OK, this is the lamest animation of the bunch.  I cannot seem to get two pictures from exactly the same angle.  Hopefully you get the idea.  My tomatoes are freakin’ huge!  And covered with blossoms!  Yippeee!

Another thing to note about the garden:  last weekend I put down some mulch that I concocted out of:

A pile of leaves that didn’t fit into the compost pile last fall
Two bags of manure compost
A couple shovel-fuls of semi-composted compost from my bin

I put this around all the plants in my garden, to help hold in the precious little moisture we’ve been getting (we’re in a drought here in central MN) and to give them a little nutritional boost from the manure.  Here’s a picture of the entire garden, about a week ago, with the mulch just added (little to no bare ground showing anymore; that was my goal):


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CSA: week 1


Yesterday our first CSA box arrived!  We decided to split a share of Food 4 Thought CSA with our next-door neighbors.

Things that are cool about Food 4 Thought:
1. They deliver to your door (only in Mpls)
2. They get produce from 3 different farms, minimizing your risk
3. Fruit is included!  (YAY!)

For those of you who are new to this stuff, CSA stands for either Community Sponsored Agriculture or Community Supported Agriculture.  I’ve seen it both ways.  But the basic gist is: you pay a fee to own a “share” of a farm’s crop for a season.  You take on a small risk of crop failure.  In return, you get fresh produce, directly from the farmer, right when it’s at its peak.  Google Community Supported Agriculture and you can read for hours about it if you like.  Or Wikipedia’s entry is pretty good too.

I will post every week to report what we got in our box.  It should be a great primer on seasonal eating.  So without further ado, our box for June 11, 2009 consisted of:

csa61109B3 heads of lettuce (different varieties), 2 bunches of spinach, 1 large bunch of savoy, 2 bunches of radishes, 2 bok choys, and some (!) parsnips.  I am really curious to know how those parsnips came to be… are they from last year, over-wintered?  I know its been done.  Or did they start them inside from seed in like January and plant them in March?  I may have to do a “farm visit” to get these burning parsnip questions answered.

Here’s what our share looked like (after giving half to the neighbors):

csa61109CI am really glad we decided to do the halfsies thing.  With our garden and everything, we would be overwhelmed by that much produce.  I do still work a 9-5 job, ya know.

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Garden update, now with animation!

I try to keep my inner nerd at bay, but I love good old-fashioned animated gifs.  So today we present an animated garden update.

Guild #1: Beans & garlic (when the beans are done I will plant kale in their spot)


Guild #2: peas and pole beans (since only a handful of the peas came up, I threw some pole beans in there too)


Guild #3: Brussels sprouts (interplanted with a couple handfuls of green onions and dill) & lettuce


Guild #4: Lettuce & peppers


Guild #5: Radishes/parsnips.  This one is the strangest to look at because we ate most of our radishes in the past couple of weeks.  The small plants that are just coming in are the parsnips.  Parsnip seeds take forever to germinate.  There are also quite a few onions to the left right along the fence (you can sorta make out a little row in the more recent pic).


You all will have to wait (with baited breath I’m sure) for my tomato animation because I took today’s picture from the wrong angle and now it’s dark outside so too late to re-shoot.  And tomorrow my twins turn 2 (TWO!) so there won’t be any posting tomorrow (many celebrations are planned).

But here are some other bonus pics.  First, my three sisters guild.  I have two of these, on either side of the window wells in the very back of the garden:

3sisters060809This is the one behind the brussels sprouts.  Corn/beans to the right, zucchini to the left.  Yes, the zucchini is the plant that looks so lush and healthy.  A moron could grow zucchini.  I may regret planting two hills…

Now for some fennel:


I planted them in with my rose bush and some other perennial plants.  One shows signs of rabbit breakfasting, but otherwise all five or so of them are looking great.  I planted some more in another area of the perennial garden; we’ll see what the rabbits get.  I guess I’m using 2009 as a test year to see what they really have a taste for, because I put all sorts of herbs around in the open in my flower gardens: thyme, basil, cilantro, fennel, parsley, and oregano.

Here’s my parsley, happily sheltering under a dogwood:


So there it is, garden update for early June.  It’s going great so far!  I did a major weed-pull session today so I’m feeling pretty zen right now.  We also got a ton of much-needed rain this weekend so I shouldn’t have to water until next weekend at the earliest (esp. now that everything’s sprouted).

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Recipe: radish salsa

Radishes are in season, oh joy!  I’ve been putting them on just about everything for the last couple days.  Now we’ve used up our whole first row and have to take a break for a week or two while the second row matures.  Adam made this Wednesday night.  The recipe is his own:

Radish salsa
A handful of radishes
1/4 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
juice of 1/2 lime
Some cilantro
Salt & pepper to taste

Mix, let sit for a little while to blend the flavors, and eat.  We fried up some perch (Adam’s dad ice fishes all winter so we have a steady supply), topped it with this salsa and a little plain yogurt, and wrapped it up in tortillas for fish tacos.  YUM!

I also imagine this salsa would be good on eggs.  I’ve been slicing radishes onto my fried eggs all week per my friend Jaime’s suggestion.  Any other great uses for radishes out there?