Stacking Functions Garden


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Managing my expectations for 2021

It drove my 22-year-old idealist self crazy when my first manager at my first full-time job used to say, “You’re going to need to manage your expectations on this, Jennifer.” High expectations have hammered me again and again, in this first large chunk of adulthood that I’ve now completed. And that was before the pandemic.

As I face middle age and this new year, I’m feeling the need to manage my expectations and be aware that things can and will change, but often not in the ways or at the pace that I want.

Gardening is full of constant unexpected change–large trees getting cut down, hailstorms, late frosts, early frosts, heat and humidity at the wrong times, you name it. The opportunity to roll with those changes has been good for me, mentally.

(Harvesting ALL my leeks in early October due to unseasonably cold weather.)

But this past year other things have become more precarious, too. And those changes are requiring a little more from me, mentally. I am trying not to plan too much or expect too much from 2021. But. I can make some garden plans.

(The small fairy garden tanks in their new location. I will put some short perennials around them this spring. There is a very sharp contrast between my out-of-control tallgrass prairie on the left, and my last bit of lawn on the right. I sort of love it.)

My teenagers have lost interest in gardening for now. Last September I moved their old fairy garden stock tanks to the edge of my main backyard path, where they’ll (hopefully) get nice full sun in the spring and fall. I’m planning some strategic quick-growing cool season veggies that will take advantage of this—radishes, green onions, maybe some radicchio, what else should I try?

I will most likely not have a community garden plot this year. I’m thinking of it as an experiment in scaling back. More bike rides? More time for beers with friends when we finally get vaccinated? I hope so. Without further ado, my garden layout for 2021:

My garden layout is becoming less an artsy arrangement of vegetables, and more a schedule for me to follow so I know roughly when to start seeds, when to sow them outside, etc. Drawing it out like this every year also helps me keep better track of crop rotations. I don’t always follow it with absolute precision, but I usually come pretty close.

(I’ll be growing dragon tongue beans at home this year after a spectacular harvest of them at my community garden plot in 2020. They can be purchased from Seed Savers Exchange, among other places.)

I have precious little full sun to work with, so I plan plenty of leafy greens–collards, lettuce, mustard greens, bok choy–in my part-shade areas. I’m also trying a new vine on one of my garden trellises–passionflower vine, passiflora incarnata. It’s a north American native plant that can be made into a tea with medicinal properties and it supposedly thrives in part-shade. We’ll see!

I’ll continue to grow plenty of things in pots. I have found over the past several years that both sweet and hot peppers perform much better in pots. They really dislike cold soil, so if you plant them in May when the ground is usually still pretty cool / cold (here in the Twin Cities), they will go into a bit of a shock and take many extra weeks to recover and start producing. Planting in pots means the soil is nice and warm and they can start growing immediately. I do not have raised beds but I imagine they would be almost as good as pots in this respect.

(Carrots also grow surprisingly well in a pot–just be sure to thin them properly.)

Another change for me this year is that I’m expanding my seed-starting setup. This is partially for my mental health; it will give me a bunch of gardening to do starting in February. Here’s my tentative seed starting schedule:

February:
Lavender (start in late Jan and stratify in refrigerator for a couple weeks)
Onions
Leeks

March:
Cilantro
Lettuce
Holy basil
Chamomile
Peppers (sweet and hot)
Tomatoes
Parsley
Thyme
Rosemary
Oregano
Lemon balm

April:
Tithonia (aka Mexican sunflower)
Cucumbers
Basil

May (everything started in May is for late summer / fall harvest):
Onions
Radicchio
Lettuce (heat tolerant varieties)

That is an awful lot for March, so some of those things will probably spill out into early April. I only need 3 or 4 of most of those plants, so I should theoretically have room. I also have a couple of temporary greenhouse options for outside so many seedlings will be moved outside for finishing in early April (depending, of course, on our wild Minnesota spring weather).

(A tiny temporary greenhouse that Adam made for me last April using old bicycle tires.)

The Friends School Plant Sale is ON for 2021, and I am looking forward to it so much. I plan to get several new perennials and shrubs, too. Those plans are still in progress, but they are hopefully going to include an elderberry bush. I have become keenly interested in plants with immune-boosting and/or medicinal properties, and both the flowers and the berries of elderberry can be used for different purposes.

Just writing up this little plan has brought me so much joy on a gray winter day. I hope you are well and, like me, dreaming of warmer and more colorful days to come.


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DIY potato tower

Last fall I came across this idea for a way to grow lots of potatoes in a very small space.  This year I’m trying it in my yard.  I made a couple of improvements on Stefan’s design, after eavesdropping (so to speak) on a conversation on his Facebook page.  Without further ado, here’s how I did it:

1. Bend some steel fencing into a 36-inch diameter circle and fasten. Ours is nearly 5 ft. tall, but it does NOT need to be… 3-4 feet tall would be plenty.

2. Make a nest of straw in the bottom, and fill it with a 50-50 mixture of compost and old leaves.  Nestle 5-7 seed potatoes, with eyes pointing to the outside, all the way around the circle.

3. Get a soaker hose in there, too.  Continue layering up: straw, compost/leaves, seed potatoes, soaker hose, repeat until you run out of seed potatoes.  Put a final topping of compost and straw on top, and you’re done.  Here’s another view:

Here’s the completed potato tower:

It needs to be in a sunny location. Stefan of Growing Lots claims that people have gotten upwards of 25 lbs of potatoes from 5 lbs of seed potatoes in towers like these.  The two main changes that we made from his design are putting in the layers of straw, adding the dry leaves, and the soaker hose.  He pointed out that it’s really difficult to water the lowest layers, without it.

And here’s what it looked like about 3 weeks later (about a week ago). The plants are even bigger now.  There aren’t quite as many sticking out of the bottom as I would have thought, but it seems like the majority of the seed potatoes sprouted.  Now we wait!

See the post from Fall 2011 when we harvested our potatoes.


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Growing lots of potatoes in a small space

Well, isn’t this a clever idea?!  Fill a wire frame with layers of dirt, straw, and seed potatoes, water thoroughly, and a “potato medusa” is born.  Come harvest time, simply tip it over and dig them out.  This blogger says you can grow upwards of 25 lbs of tomatoes in one of these clever towers.

Just found this blog today, from an urban farming pioneer right here in Minneapolis.  He’s starting a CSA program on his urban farm, and the whole project looks very promising.  I am definitely trying a potato tower next year.  Here are the instructions.

Update, June 14 2011: the tower experiment has officially begun!