Stacking Functions Garden


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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Marianna’s Garden

I have a gardener friend named Marianna. She gave me permission to photograph her beautiful garden last summer and I’ve been saving the photos to share during the bleak midwinter. Without further ado:

Poppies, via The New Home Economics

Poppies are a unifying theme in Marianna’s garden. She lets them reseed every year, and they wander around. She also harvests the seeds each fall! One year she harvested a full quart of poppy seeds. Impressive.

garden arch, via The New Home Economics

Another theme is doorways or arches. She uses them to great effect to transition between different rooms or areas in her yard. This one borders the front sidewalk.

Garden arch, via The New Home Economics

Here’s another on the south side of her house. Many of the arches support clematis vines.

Garden arch, via The New Home Economics

They lend a sense of mystery and wonder as you transition from one space of the yard to another.

Bird bath, via The New Home Economics

A beautiful birdbath adds light and interest to shady hosta-filled area.

Bird bath, via The New Home Economics

The paths and small patios are a mixture of flagstone and landscaping bricks.

Side yard greens, via The New Home Economics

She has a few small vegetable and herb beds scattered in sunny spots of the front and side yards, including this one for chard and kale. Each one is fenced for rabbit protection, and all her beds are mulched deeply with leaves.

Rhubarb, via The New Home Economics

Edible perennials such as rhubarb are also included.

Walking onions, via The New Home Economics

I love this solution for containing a small bed of Egyptian walking onions (which are edible but spread aggressively). This little patio in the front is bordered by an herb garden on the left and a clematis-covered trellis at the back. The path on the right leads to the neighbors’ yard.

Clothesline, via The New Home Economics

Practical features like a clothesline are not forgotten in the design.

Main vegetable patch, via The New Home Economics

Her back yard features a large sunny vegetable patch, with poppies running through it and around its edge.

Deck and trellis, via The New Home Economics

She can look out on her vegetables from her back deck, which is attached to the house and deeply shaded by vining plants.

Raspberries, via The New Home Economics

Leaving no space unused, she grows raspberries along the north side of her house. I’ve also had success with raspberries on the north side. They are somewhat shade-tolerant, and they get plenty sun at just the time they need it in early summer. In the fall and winter, they are in total shade, but at a time when sunlight isn’t as critical for them to thrive.

Potted citrus plants, via The New Home Economics

Another way that Marianna has inspired me: she scatters potted citrus plants around the sunny areas of her yard. I keep expanding my potted citrus universe to the point where we had a hard time finding spots inside for everything last fall when it was time to bring them in.

Bee balm, via The New Home Economics

Monarda (bee balm)

Globe basil, via The New Home EconomicsGlobe basil

Astilbe, via The New Home EconomicsAstilbe

I love Marianna’s garden, and it has inspired me so much. Some takeaways that anyone could apply to their landscape:

First, think about your hardscapes. By careful planning, Marianna has beautiful hardscapes that function very well for her, even beautifully framing something as practical as a clothesline.

Secondly, think about rooms, and transitions between rooms. With doorways between different areas of the landscape, Marianna’s garden has a sense of mystery and movement—you are drawn through it, wondering what’s around the next corner.

Thirdly, all of this was achieved in a tiny Minneapolis yard. You truly don’t need a ton of space to create something magical.

I would love to add some arches to my garden in 2017. We’ll see how much I can get to… that probably is the final lesson here. It takes time to achieve a landscape at this level, especially if you’re doing it yourself. She’s been at it for 20+ years, and her time investment shows. I’ve only been gardening in my yard for ten years, so imagine how much I’ll have done in ten more. It’s definitely a journey.

Thank you for letting me photograph your garden, Marianna!


Garden mania

Time for an epic garden update! We’ve been very busy the last two months, but we have much to show for it.

Ramp pestoWe’ve been having a very nice spring this year, neither too cold nor too warm, and it made for some early harvests of various wild things that grow in and near our yard. I pull out the entire patch of stinging nettle that grows under our old maple tree every spring, roots and all, and yet every year it comes back bigger. Hmm. This year we had enough to make pesto–we simply steamed the nettles briefly, then processed them with olive oil, lemon juice, some garlic, and whatever nuts we had on hand. I’m not a purist about pesto recipes; my favorite nutty addition is actually sunflower seeds.

Herb spiral in progressAnother April project was our herb spiral. First, we moved out all the coneflowers and other various perennials that were crowding this area—most ended up filling in our two new gardens. We priced different options for the stone; I originally wanted natural stone but we couldn’t afford it. So we went with these bricks. Shown in the photo is the bit of hugelkultur we used to help fill in. Bottom layer was sticks and logs, then went a whole bunch of last year’s leaves, then a whole bunch of compost, and finally topped with a few bags of topsoil. Saved us a bunch of money to not have to have a whole cubic yard or two of topsoil delivered; we just filled it in with what we had laying around. Read more about hugelkultur; it’s awesome.

Hugelkultur herb spiralAnd here’s the spiral, complete with planted herbs. We planted: cilantro, dill, two kinds of parsley, lemon balm, lemon verbena, sage, two kinds of chamomile, feverfew, stevia, two kinds of thyme, oregano, rosemary, and basil. I’m also growing catnip in a pot out back. We use many of these for herbal tea. Several are new to me for this year, so I’m very excited to try them.

Serviceberry in bloomSpeaking of our new gardens, our yard has supplied endless blooms this spring thanks to all our new shrubs. It started with the magnolia, then cherry, serviceberry (shown here), and this week we should see chokeberry, nannyberry and highbush cranberry blossoms. Our currants and gooseberries also bloomed somewhere in there, but they’re not terribly showy so I’m guessing nobody except me noticed. (I squealed with glee.)

New plantsFriday morning I made my annual pilgrimage to the Friends School Plant Sale. Is it me, or is that event getting completely out of control? I had to wait 2 hours just to get in. I picked up: two more currants (Ben Sarek and Red Lake), two more gooseberries (Pixwell and Hinnomaki Red), Dutchman’s pipe (an important larval food for butterflies), two grapevines for my new arbor (Frontenac Gris and Marquette), two cascade hops plants (also for the arbor), one prairie rose, one snowberry, and all my veggies. Phew. Good thing I had and stuck to a list.

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is, if you want to get into edible landscaping, to expand your mind beyond typical grocery store fruit. Currants, serviceberries and gooseberries can handle some shade and need little to no care, and they have wonderful flavor. Raspberries are pretty easy, too. I can’t say I’m too crazy about the flavor of my highbush cranberries or chokeberries (the name is appropos) but I could do *something* with them if I added sugar. Strawberries? A pain to keep weeded, plus the rabbits eat them. Blueberries? Require acidic soil.

Rhubarb PieSpeaking of fruit that I grow that’s easy–we harvested enough rhubarb yesterday to make a pie (shown here just before we applied the crumb topping). Rhubarb does need quite a bit of sun, but other than that, it’s easy. Just don’t get overzealous and pick more than half the stems of any one plant at one time.

Chiots Run Carrot MethodOver in the vegetable garden, which I also planted this weekend, I’m trying something new: the Chiot’s Run carrot method. Adam made me two different square foot templates; one with 9 holes and one with 16 holes. I used the 9-hole one to perfectly space out my parsnips and beets, and the 16-hole one for carrots. Read more about her method here; I followed it pretty much exactly. She doesn’t mention parsnips or beets, but I see no reason why the method wouldn’t work fine for them as well–they are planted slightly deeper than carrots, so I sprinkled fine soil over them first.

The only area I differed from Suzy’s plan is that I used brown rice hulls instead of vermiculite. My garden store doesn’t sell vermiculite and it seemed like the brown rice would probably accomplish the same thing. So stay tuned on that.

Carrots, doneI laid burlap over the carrots and parsnips until they start sprouting. This greatly reduces the number of times you have to water. Also, the burlap (along with the brown rice hulls) holds the seeds in place better, in the event of a hard rain.

Haricot VertsI’m also planting these Haricot Verts again this year. I planted them two or three years ago with great success–they were the most prolific and best-tasting bush bean I ever grew. And no, I have no idea what the correct pronunciation of their name is, having never taken French.

Vegetables: plantedA panorama of the complete vegetable garden after planting. The big shadow cast by my neighbor’s house is really one of my biggest gardening challenges in this northern latitude. My garden is full-sun, yes, but only from approximately May 15-July 30. So I try to be mindful of the “days to maturity” part of seed packets.

White trilliumLast but definitely not least, I am going to implore you, if you live anywhere near the Twin Cities, to visit the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden in Theodore Wirth Park. If you have any interest in learning how to garden with native plants, this is a great place to take a walk. Many of the plants are labelled, so you can learn their names. Yesterday the trilliums were in their full glory in the woodland.

Also: observe how beautiful and natural that dead, rotting log and all those leaves on the ground look. Leaving some wood and leaves to rot on the ground provides all the fertilizer native plants need while saving you time on maintaining your landscape.

Thanks for sticking with me this long! Hope your spring gardening is bringing you as much happiness as it brings me.

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Eight tips for new Minnesota gardeners

I’m not trying to create link bait or anything here; I know SO many people that are vegetable gardening for the first time this year, so I wanted to create a resource for them. So here you go, Lisa, Jon and Nick!

1. Light

As a master gardener, I hear this question all the time. “Why did my tomato plant not produce any tomatoes?” More often than not, it was because the plant simply did not get enough light. Most vegetables need AT LEAST 8 hours of sunlight per day. I would not go less than 10 for most vegetables, including favorites like tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini. The only vegetables that really tolerate shade (and actually benefit from a bit of it) are the ones that you eat as leaves: lettuce, kale, chard, most herbs. I have seen many Pinterest boards that list root vegetables like carrots and beets as being shade tolerant, but in my experience they still need a good 8 hours of sun. When you consider that a MN summer day can be as long as 15 hours around solstice time, 8 hours does technically qualify as part-shade, I guess.

2. Timing

Most of our favorite garden plants—including tomatoes, basil, cucumbers—are tropical by nature. They will not tolerate frost in the least. They don’t even like nighttime temperatures less than 50 degrees. So we have to be VERY patient in late April in early May. Watch the forecast and make an educated decision when you plant—in general the last frost occurs in the Twin Cities by May 10-15. Happily, many plants can be put in as soon as the snow clears away and the ground is soft enough to work. Radishes, peas, cabbage-family veggies: these can all be planted earlier and don’t mind the cold.

3. Rows

When I was a new gardener, I read lots of books about permaculture and alternative planting methods, and I really wanted to scatter-plant my seeds in order to maximize the space that I had. The problem with this was that, when the seeds sprouted, I couldn’t differentiate between what I had planted and what was a weed. If you plant in rows or at least in a grid pattern (if you’re trying square foot gardening), it will be much easier to identify your plants, since mother nature never plants weeds in straight lines.

4. Spacing

Another mistake I still make all the time is assuming I can cram one more broccoli plant here, or one more row of radishes there. What usually ends up happening is that they don’t end up getting enough sunlight or water and I get nothing at all. When you are a new gardener, especially, mind the spacing recommendations on the plant tag or seed packet. I have an illustration of tomato spacing for you:

Tomatoes, recently plantedHere are six heirloom tomatoes, recently planted, getting tied up with twine.

Tomatoes in high seasonHere they are in August. The trellis is about 6 feet tall, 6 feet long, and two feet wide. It *barely* fits six tomato plants, and only because I prune most of the suckers out.

5. Water

At the master gardener vegetable classes, we like to say “water infrequently and deeply”—and this is true for most of the season. However, the first few weeks you will want to water frequently and lightly until all your seeds are sprouted and your seedlings established. Then you can back off to once or twice a week (or less if we get plenty of rain).

6. Compost

Start a compost pile! It’s not rocket science; even if you’re a lazy composter you will, eventually, get compost. It’s free fertilizer for your garden, and reduces household waste.

5. Biodiversity

Most of my garden pest problems have disappeared since I started adding large numbers of native plants to the rest of my yard. We now have an abundance of beneficial insects, spiders, birds, and yes, wasps around who help us control all the crawly things that eat our cabbage and other vegetables. As an added benefit, you’re helping bees.

6. Edible landscaping

While we’re on the subject, why limit yourself to planting edibles in one area, and flowers in another? Small fruit trees and shrubs give you food year after year without having to be replanted. I love my currant bushes, alpine strawberries and raspberry hedge. I don’t like to think of my gardens just in terms of monetary value, but if that appeals to you, here it is: fruits are the very best return on investment you can get. Also, many native plants, such as my favorite anise hyssop, can be dried and made into herbal teas.

CurrantRed Lake currants are a beautiful landscape plant, aren’t they?

7. Plant herbs

This sort of goes along with edible landscaping, but herbs are also a great investment, in terms of money. They’re also more shade tolerant than standard garden produce, so they’re great to fill in other areas. My front flower garden has become an overgrown (yet somehow beautiful) mix of wild columbine, purple coneflowers, parsley, dill, cilantro, chives and fennel which all re-seed themselves each year. Added bonus: we now get black swallowtail butterflies every year, whose larvae love parsley. Herbs are some of the first things to come back in the spring, too, when you’re just dying for something fresh and green. I picked my first chives in April this year, and that was after a very late spring.

dill and herbsThis is pretty, right? It’s not a mess at all, in my mind.
8. Mulch

When it gets to be early June and everything is up and out of the ground, why not add a layer of mulch? It will help keep the ground from drying out and also simultaneously help keep weeds down. I’ve been using straw in the vegetable garden for a few years now and really like it. It also keeps things cleaner, which enables even more eating straight out of the garden. For my regular flower/herb/native plant beds, I use wood chips, which are FREE and also a little more acceptable for keeping my front-of-house yard attractive to normal people.

Since there are plenty of experienced gardeners who read this blog, what am I forgetting? Surely something? Post a comment!


Garden update

I usually do a photo shoot in the garden over Memorial Day weekend, so I can measure my little yard’s phenology from year to year. This year everything is SO late, and Memorial Day weekend was so rainy, that it just didn’t happen. I got out there a few times this week, though.

Inner city garden, Spring 2013

We’ve been getting plenty of rain, and I’ve had no trouble sprouting seeds, but it’s been very cool. The cucumbers in particular (too small to see here, by the chimney) cannot seem to progress into their true leaves, and their baby leaves are covered with white spots. I may not get many cucumbers this year.

Everything else is hanging in there, though, including the rhubarb (foreground) that a fellow master gardener divided for me last weekend. I’m so excited to have finally figured out where I wanted to put it!

A pagoda dogwood recovers from rabbit damage.

In the darkest, shadiest area of my yard, my new-in-2012 woodland garden is thriving. This pagoda dogwood, which the rabbits nibbled down to one bare branch, is on its way to a full recovery. This fall, my shrubs are getting the full hardware cloth treatment, not the cheap version. Note the ferns coming in behind it, too! It took them so long to sprout that I thought none had made it. Happy to be wrong on that.

Nannyberry in bloom (viburnum lentago)In my drier, dappled-shade woodland garden, my nannyberry (viburnum lentago) is in full bloom. Gorgeous! This plant is looking fantastic. The two highbush cranberries (viburnum trilobum) also survived the winter and should bloom very soon.

Turtlehead, chelone glabra

Happy to see that my turtlehead (chelone glabra) is getting larger. It’s never bloomed, but this is its third summer so maybe this will be my year. The foliage of one of my new garden favorites, bloodroot (sanguineria), is in the background.

ferns, mint, and raspberries

The best news of all is that, after being mowed to the ground by rabbits this winter, the raspberries (right) appear to be making a full recovery. I don’t know how many we’ll get this year, but if we can protect them this winter, we’ll be back in action for 2014. Also notice the crazy chocolate mint taking over on the left. In this very shady spot on the north side of the house, we planted 6 different kinds of mint several years ago. The chocolate mint was the only one to survive, and now it’s taking over. Fine by me! Ostrich ferns are along the foundation. We just planted them last year and they weren’t quite established enough for me to feel comfortable taking fiddleheads this spring. Next year, hopefully.

A pop-up garden

Finally, I ended up with this little pop-up garden on the deck, when I discovered that I had no place for basil, cilantro, four homeless broccoli plants, and some lemon balm. We are supposed to get some sun this week, so I expect my cool weather vegetables to really go crazy. And hopefully my warm-weather ones will hang in there.

Bonus points if you can guess why these pots are raised up on landscape bricks.

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Raspberry jam with extras

A bit strange that with a 4 by 46 foot raspberry  hedge, I’ve never made jam. My mother-in-law makes so much jam that she supplies us year-round. Our dependency is so acute that Rowan once started crying inconsolably because we ran out and he didn’t know we could buy jam at the local grocery store.

Anyway, we’re in high raspberry season so I thought I’d give it a shot. Result: easy and delicious. I mostly followed this recipe, but cut back on the sugar and added the fresh herbs.

Raspberry jam with mint and/or basil
10 c. raspberries
7 c. sugar
~ 1 1/2 c. fresh basil or mint leaves

The ratio of sugar to berries here is roughly 3:4 so adjust your amounts according to how many fresh berries you pick. Next time I make this I am going to try for even less sugar, maybe more like 1:2.

Bring the berries to a boil in a large stock pot over medium-high heat, stirring frequently and mashing them as you go. Boil one minute, then add sugar. Return to the boil, turn down the heat a bit, and continue to boil, stirring relatively frequently.

Now. The recipe I was following said to heat up the sugar in the oven. I disagree; the sugar got really hard and difficult to handle.  The recipe also said that the jam would reach “gel” stage after 5 minutes of boiling. For me it was just shy of 20 minutes. I assume this was due to the lowered sugar amount.

While your jam is boiling away, chop your herbs.  I used a healthy 3/4 c. each of chocolate mint and basil.

When the jam reached gel stage — I followed the original recipe’s advice on how to tell — I poured half into each of the above bowls, gave it a stir, and ladled/poured it into clean, sterilized half-pint jars.

I found this to be easier with the mixing bowl that has a handle and spout, but a ladle works OK too.  I canned them in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.

There you have it. It set up even better after having a chance to sit out overnight. I’ve sampled both and can’t decide which I like better.  I will only say that the raspberry-mint seems like a good ice cream or chocolate zucchini cake topping while the raspberry-basil is going on either toast or polenta porridge.  Either way, good stuff and I’m glad I tried it!

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Blanching leeks

When you buy a leek at the grocery store it usually has a beautiful, long white stem. That’s achieved through a process called “blanching” and there are several different methods—most involve hilling up soil around the plant as it grows. Some people put a 3- or 4-inch pipe around the leek to shade it as it grows upward.

Eliot Coleman suggests digging out the leeks when they get to a certain size, making a 10-inch hole, then dropping in the leek. He lets the leek grow to maturity from there. So, we tried it:

They were getting quite large—borderline too big for this. Also quite floppy, so it was definitely time to do something.

Adam marked a line on an old piece of leftover conduit pipe. It pulled out a plug of soil to make a beautiful little 10 inch hole for each leek.

We did not fill in the holes, per Coleman’s instructions. They will kinda fill in over time anyway. They needed a bit of extra water those first few days, but seem to be fine now. I also did this with another row of smaller leeks in the main garden. They seemed like they handled the transition better.  The time is supposedly right when the leeks are about pencil width. These stock tank ones were a bit bigger than that — you can see how far they still stick up after transplanting them 10 inches deeper!

We were out of town all last week, so we missed the start of high season by just a couple days.  Fortunately we found a cousin who was eager to take us up on our offer of free pick-your-own berries. When we got back we immediately headed into the garden and picked a couple gallons of haricot verts. They are absolutely gorgeous, and magically delicious. Green beans and raspberries have been in just about every meal for 5 days now.

Even more amazing are the banana peppers and one tiny cherry tomato. Never before have I harvested those in June. Yes, this was June 30, but still! What a year.

Now as we head into the hot hot heat of summer, cukes (trellis to the right) and tomatoes (big structure at the back) are taking off.

Our hops plant (on trellis on chimney) has reached the stage of total ridiculousness. There is no way Adam will use this many hops in his home brewing. Garlic is just about ready to harvest. The grape plant on the rabbit fence is also a bit out of control—I want to move that next year, even though it will be a pain. Even Master Gardeners definitely make mistakes with plant placement!

Here’s a close-up view of my tomato trellis. I’m on track to have my best tomato season ever (knock on wood). Maintaining it has been easier than I expected. Make sure you check on your plants about 2 times per week to remove suckers and make sure the string is wrapped around new growth.  I’ve also added a few more pieces of twine for branches that seem to need it.

Whew, busy times! And hot.



A few final garden chores for the year

We’ve had such a long, warm, glorious fall here in Minnesota that time got away from me. Suddenly I realized that it was nearly the end of October. Time to get to work!

Here was one small accomplishment for early October: my raspberries needed a little TLC. Our raspberry harvest this year was 1/4 of what it was in 2010. This was partially due to the weather — we had a horrendous July in which the weather was evenly split between torrential rains and tropical heat/humidity levels. But I also haven’t amended the soil underneath the raspberries at all since Adam planted them in back in 2007 (I was 32 weeks pregnant with twins, so it was all him).

So to give them a little bit of care and feeding, I bought a bag of blood meal and topped it with 4 bags of compost. This was enough for approximately half of my raspberries.  I spread out the blood meal as best I could — that stuff’s expensive — and got compost out of my own compost bin for the other half.  There’s a little more square footage there than I always think.

Anyway here’s how it looked, completely composted:

raspberry plants with compost

I then gave them several good waterings over the next couple weeks — as you can see our lawn was (and still is) completely dead. It is very dry here right now.  Now this week our maple tree unleashed all its leaves, so we are piling them at least a foot deep on the raspberries.  Leaves are mother nature’s free mulch — don’t waste your time and energy bagging them when they could be protecting and nourishing your plants!  Hopefully 2012 will be a better raspberry year.

It wouldn’t be fall in our kitchen without a couple bags of pumpkin in the freezer. Here’s how we do that.

I am also brewing my very first batch of kombucha! I’ll let you know how that goes — should be ready around Thanksgiving.

The other day I went out to see if there were any carrots left in the garden, found a whole soup pot’s worth, plus a bonus turnip.

I finally got around to planting my garlic yesterday. Unlike last year, I have not the faintest idea yet how I want to structure my garden for next year, so I just threw these in on the far east (right) side, three rows all in a row.  I am definitely going to regret not giving this more thought, but at least they’re in.

Final task: getting our third stock tank into place for our back yard garden. I received two of them as birthday presents this spring from my parents, and a few months later I found a really nice third one to add for next year. Aesthetically, we really needed three of them to complete the landscape I am envisioning.  Poor Adam had to shovel most of the dirt out of Rowan’s tank to move the new one into place — since it’s larger, it looks better in this larger area of the garden. But it didn’t take that long in the end.

There you have it, two small and one large tank in place and ready for next year. The middle one (Anneke’s) is still FULL of swiss chard, going strong. That along with parsley and kale in the regular garden means we might have a couple more weeks yet of from-the-yard food. In November! Amazing.

We’re also going to build a hoop-house (something like this) this winter to put on top the largest of the three tanks — it creates a mini-greenhouse and means we could be eating lettuce and baby greens in April or May instead of June.  Yes, please!

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Recipe: buckwheat crepes

Who knew that I, a cook of few skills, could have success with crepes, of all things! Very exciting, this new breakfast development. I adapted this recipe from The Art of German Cooking, a very random old book I had out of the library earlier this year.

Buckwheat Crepes
1/2 c. buckwheat flour (I used freshly-ground)
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 T. maple syrup
1 c. whole milk
2 eggs, beaten
2-3 T. butter

Combine flours in a bowl. Make a well in the center and add combined eggs, maple syrup, and milk. Beat until the batter is smooth and runny in consistency– you want it runnier than regular pancake batter.

Melt butter in a 8-10 inch frying pan over low-med heat. When the pan is hot, lift it by the handle with your left hand while pouring a bit of batter in it with your right. Swirl it around so that the batter covers the whole bottom of the pan, making a very thin pancake. Set it back on the burner and wait for couple minutes. Test a corner with your flipper — if it does not stick, it is ready to flip. Flip it and fry for another minute, and it’s done.

Makes around eight 8-inch crepes or 5-6 10-inch crepes. I highly recommend topping them with fresh raspberries, cut-up peaches, and a dollop of plain whole-milk yogurt or creme fraiche. Roll it up and eat it like a burrito — bigger ones work slightly better in that regard.

Variation: the German way to do these is to slice up two tart apples and fry them in some butter until soft. Also very good.


High season

IT’S HERE!  Raspberry Season 2011!

Oh those first few pickings are always the best — huge berries, plumped up even bigger by a nice rainfall this morning. We’ve now arrived at the time of the year where if you go into the garden, you  might as well bring a basket along. Here’s a picking from earlier this week:

Some small turnips, tiny beets, and three stupice tomatoes, which Anneke immediately ate after I snapped this. See the impatient smile on her face? That girl LOVES baby tomatoes.  We cooked and ate the turnip and beet greens, too.  There was also this:

After picking off MANY slugs, we turned this into cole slaw, which even the kids ate enthusiastically.  Now considering renaming this blog “cute kids with garden produce.”