Stacking Functions Garden

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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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Happy Memorial Day

Time for my annual Memorial Day garden photo shoot. What a gorgeous day, my goodness.

Apple blossomsThis is the last bloom for our fire blight-afflicted apple tree; we’re cutting it down in a few weeks. It sure does look gorgeous against our neighbor’s purple leaf maple though!

Giant Solomon's SealMy Solomon’s Seal is finally really starting to look like something! I think it will even bloom this year—note the tiny buds hanging delicately, like green pearls, from the stems.

The delicate flowers of Jacob's LadderI can’t get over the delicate blue flowers of Jacob’s Ladder.

Wild ColumbineNext spring, I will need to give away some wild columbine. It’s taking over our entire yard!

Chives and tulipsChives are almost blooming, tulips are just about finished. I don’t remember a year when tulips bloomed this late. It was a challenging spring.

Prairie SmokePrairie smoke blooming in my boulevard. This plant is really tiny!

Grape vineThe rabbits left us a 3 foot section of grape vine this year!

TomatilloThis year I’m trying a tomatillo for the first time. It’s got a blossom on it already!

Strawberry bloomStrawberries are in full bloom, but unfortunately rabbits have eaten a lot of the plants.

Crab apple blossomMy neighbor’s crab apple tree in full bloom. Have a wonderful end to your 3-day weekend!

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A Minnesota Solstice Salad

A backyard-foraged salad: ‘winter density’ lettuce, arugula, dill blossoms, nasturtiums, scallions, a mix of alpine and regular strawberries. The ultra-local theme fell apart when I dressed it with a bit of balsamic vinegar, but, wow. Delicious, especially with a Summit EPA. Happy Solstice!


Garden update, mid-June

It’s the middle of June already! Time to check in on the edibles around the yard.

my urban garden

Things are coming along swimmingly in the garden. Dare I say it? Best garden year ever?! It might be a bit soon, I better not jinx myself. Look at the pumpkin, squash, and potato tower in the foreground! Happy to report that rabbits do not seem interested in pumpkin or squash plants. [phew]

The Tom Thumb peas that the kids planted back in April (see picture at the top of the page) are finally just about ready. They are in a part-shade spot, and I don’t think they get *quite* enough sunshine to have reached their full potential. But we’ll get one solid meal, anyway.

Rowan’s garden, with a couple of radishes left and some rather pathetic-looking “Gourmet Lettuce Mix” from High Mowing Organic Seeds. We had a couple of hot days.  Also, I should have thinned a bit more. I am going to give this another 7-10 days and if things don’t look better, I’m ripping it all out and planting some quick-growers that we could harvest before fall: turnips, radishes, and maybe some kale.

mesclun mix

Anneke’s garden, on the other hand, is looking spectacular. We planted it with a 50/50 mixture of Burpee Organic Mesclun mix and rainbow chard. I’ve thinned it quite a few times, adding the baby greens to our salad bowl as we go. I don’t know if this mix is more heat tolerant than the other, but I think it has a greater variety of lettuce types. The arugula we thinned out and ate early on; it’s gone now. All that remains are the hardier greens and lots of chard, filling in nicely.

bee pollinating a raspberry plantBees are hard at work to give us raspberries in a few weeks.

Alpine strawberries are loaded with fruit. Picking and eating immediately, every single day for about a week now.

Regular strawberries are just getting going — picked the first actual bowl full tonight.

comparing alpine strawberries with regular

Anneke was kind enough to stop eating strawberries long enough for me to shoot a quick comparison shot — alpine strawberries are tiny! The strawberry on the right is a standard size, like what you’d get at a pick-you-own farm (note: still smaller than grocery store strawberries). If making jam is your thing, you’d better plant 500 alpine strawberry plants and plan to spend your entire day picking.  Rather, alpines are great for eating fresh, especially when you have a part-shade situation. Regular strawberries will not produce much at all in part-shade, but alpines will.

Blueberries! I pinched off most of the flowers on this plant, because it’s still so young, but I had to keep at least a small handful of berries for my efforts.

Tomatoes. Absolutely mental. Could this be the year when I finally have a good tomato crop? Could it? Pretty please?

Cabbage area. Lots of things going on here: two cabbages, chamomile, rosemary, kale, carrots, garlic on either side, a sage in the back, and chrismas lima beans climbing the trellis to the right. Didn’t have great carrot sprouting rates, hence the couple of semi-bare areas. Look at how free of insect damage my cabbages are. Unbelievable, considering the cabbage worms I dealt with last summer. Could it be that surrounding my cabbages with herbs and garlic confounded them? Hard to say for sure.

This area looks like total chaos but it’s actually quite nicely ordered according to my plan. It includes: golden beets, red beets, turnips, celeriac, parsley, rosemary, and some nice green pole beans climbing the trellis in the back to the right.

Finally, the peppers and eggplant, with cuke plants finally reaching up toward their trellis at the back. Everything is kinda slow-moving in this area so far, so I hope growth rates pick up.

OK, that’s it! Lots going on here!


What can we eat NOW?

Last weekend I did my annual Memorial Day phenology photo shoot in the garden. Phenology is the science of tracking when, for example, the daffodils first bloom in a certain location.  It’s becoming a very important science for documenting climate change.

Beginning gardeners are often disappointed by how long it takes to finally have something to eat — tomatoes and peppers don’t produce much until late July, if you’re lucky.  So what are some things we can grow that will give us early eats?  Look to edible perennials in the landscape, my friends.  Let’s take a tour of some of the goodness we’re already enjoying in late May in Minnesota.

Asparagus and strawberries. The asparagus seeded out a couple weeks ago — the plants are finally mature enough that next year we should be able to harvest some. Boy, it’s been a long wait. Strawberries should be ripe in 7-10 days, and new anti-rabbit netting seems to be helping.

Dill. It’s needed thinning several times anyway, so I’ve been adding the tiny plants to salads and dressings.  Dill is not technically a perennial, but it re-seeds itself.  In great numbers.  Plant it once and you’ll always have it.  Everywhere.

Lettuce and radishes! YES! We need to eat these up as fast as we can because the forecast for this week is hot.

Left to right: oregano, garlic, and chives (dying tulips in the background). Chives were one of the first things that came up when the snow cleared out — we’ve been eating them since late April.  I’ve also dried some oregano. Garlic scapes will pop up in the next two weeks.

Chive flowers, which are also an interesting addition to salads. I prefer to eat them before they open, though.  It’s a texture issue.

The kids with their first harvest of lettuce and radishes from their gardens (in the background). I’ve read that involving kids with gardening can encourage them to eat more vegetables, but seeing it with my own eyes has been freaking awesome.  My almost-4-year-olds, picking radishes, brushing off the dirt, and eating them while jumping on their trampolines.  Strange but fun.


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Two posts for the price of one

I’m doing two posts tonight, that’s right.  This first one is my summary, mostly in pictures, of what we’ve been up to lately.  Harvest season has really begun and we’re up to our eyeballs in green beans and up to our, well, ankles in raspberries (they only just started).  No complaints, really.  Anyway after this I have a great recipe I’d like to share, but I’ll do that as a separate post so I can, like, keep my recipe posts pure or something.



So far no preserving of raspberries has been necessary.  Having a hard time keeping the kids out of the raspberry hedge.  They each had several timeouts tonight for picking underripe berries.

morebeansAnother day, another basket o’ beans.

blanchebeansI blanched them for a couple minutes (Adam said “you nimrod 90 seconds is more than enough” but I like them a little softer).  I was able to freeze 2 quart size bags, bringing my grand total of bean preservation to 3 quarts.  Plus we’ve eaten some too.

byebyelettuceAdam ripped out all of our bolted lettuce today.  We’re trying to find the energy to plant something else there; most likely some kale.  Not anymore tonight though.

strippeddownbrusselsHe also stripped off the leaves from the bottom 5-6 inches of each brussel sprout stalk.  The teeny tiny buds have appeared and apparently stripping off the leaves will help the plant put its energy into those buds now.  We’ll see.  (This is what one of our gardening books said to do.)

tomatoesFINALLY.  We have tomatoes.  Over the past few weeks I’ve watched the plants getting bigger and bigger (they’re about 5 ft tall now) and they had so few blossoms.  This week they finally started setting fruit.  Going to be a couple more weeks but at least I know that it will happen now.  We can probably make fried green tomatoes one of these days too.

wholegardenHere’s the whole garden.  Shoot, this was almost a week ago now.  See how behind I am?  The zucchini have thankfully stopped getting bigger and now are setting to fruit.  We will be giving away zucchini soon, I fear.  Those things are massive.

steppingstonesFinally, I used a box of old slate tiles from an old project in our old house to make some little paths through the strawberries and asparagus, and to the rain barrel (we used to have the time and money to do things like remodel our bathroom with slate tile, imagine that).  I didn’t do a super fantastic bang-up job and there might be some re-positioning of tiles every spring, but it works for me!

So yeah, we’re keeping busy.

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Today we went “up north” to my husband’s parents’ house.  My mother-in-law is an avid gardener and she had a rather large patch of strawberries that she wanted to thin out.  Yay!  I was hoping to get some strawberry plants in this year yet.  It doesn’t get much better than free:

gradientgardenergirlHere I am digging them up. (And seriously look how big her onions are.  I am totally jealous, though I got to take some of those home, too.)

strawberryflatWe packed up a flat and brought them home and planted them in my failed-rhubarb spot from earlier this spring.  I like strawberries better than rhubarb anyway.

strawberriesplantedI am always doing this work in half-light which really impedes my photography, but oh well you get the point.  This is the east side of the garden, at the front of the house (SE corner).  My plan for this spot is asparagus along the back, then a little walking path (yet to be installed) and then strawberries in front.  As you can see I have an unplanned hollyhock.  A HUGE unplanned hollyhock.  I planted it from seed last year and it never really did anything so I had counted it as a loss.

I love hollyhocks but this is a little bit too big; I don’t want it interfering with my asparagus.  Next year I will divide it and keep a smaller version here and move the rest…. somewhere else.

I leave you with a sweet picture of my son Rowan picking (and eating) strawberries from his grandma’s strawberry patch:

rowanstrawberrypickerComing later this week: homemade kimchi!