Stacking Functions Garden

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Landscape plan: closer to reality

We moved into this house 8 years ago this weekend, looking at the blank canvas of a yard and dreaming of the possibilities. We worked at things really slowly at first (because, hello, TWIN babies). Two years ago, I drew up a landscape plan for my back yard.  We made big strides that year and in 2013, and this year, we came close to finishing it and then some (with some design changes of course).Cutting down a crabapple treeLet’s start in the front yard, where Adam cut down our old, crooked, witches-broom-looking crabapple tree. I was not terribly fond of it outside of the 4 days that it bloomed in the spring.

Cherry tree guild in progressIn its place (a few feet behind the stump) we put in a new Mesabi Cherry tree. You can see the lasagna mulching in progress here. The tree will eventually be surrounded by several shrubs and some other perennials; we’ll divide a bunch from other areas of the yard in the spring. I hope to plant the shrubs this fall, including another currant and a (maybe) a snowberry closer to the front sidewalk.

Bird bathAlso new in our front yard, Adam and the kids made this gorgeous birdbath this summer. It’s cast concrete with a stained-glass mosaic. I didn’t have any (non-plant) focal points in the garden, so this adds a nice touch.

Cutting down an apple treeIn the back, our huge old apple tree finally came down. We spent a few years trying to save it, but the fireblight was decidedly worse this spring, so we decided to just get it over with. We had to hire this out due to the power lines. Removing this tree also removed a major food source for neighborhood squirrels, and we felt their retaliation when, days later, they ate EVERY SINGLE TOMATO in our garden. Our total tomato harvest this year ended up being ONE (ONE!) standard size tomato and a few handfuls of Sungolds.

ServiceberryHappily, the removal of the apple tree opened up an opportunity for more landscaping changes in the back (we also removed the sandbox earlier this summer). So I finally had a spot for my long-coveted Serviceberry (aka Juneberry, Amalanchier Canadensis). It looks rather small now, but apparently they grow fast. Also, we finally planted the area between the fence and the driveway, starting with two Chokeberry bushes (Aronia arbutifolia) and a handful of miscellaneous divided perennials from elsewhere. We’ll also add a few more shrubs here with the Serviceberry; likely a gooseberry or three.

ArborLast but DEFINITELY not least, I finally got my arbor. And, WOW, is this thing ever gorgeous! Adam built it the week the kids were at horse camp, with me staying home from work to help him for one day. Next year, we get to plant grapevines and hops on it. It ties the house and the yard together so beautifully.

Bird houseWith all the leftover wood, Rowan and Anneke felt inspired to build a birdhouse in the image of our house (with Dad’s help). Grampy Junior, aka Rowan, insisted on real asphalt shingles for it, too. The hole’s kinda huge, so I’m not entirely certain what kind of birds we’ll get, but it’s been installed on a tall pole next to the Serviceberry and looks neat.

What a busy summer. No wonder it flew by! We still have some harvesting and preserving to do. My pumpkin harvest is looking spectacular (fingers crossed). I don’t feel ready for fall, but ready or not…

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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!


Here we go!

Gardening season is a go! A slow go, but it’s started. We even ate some pea shoots out of the garden this weekend, and they were tasty:

Thinned out pea shootsI’m going to have to thin these one more time in order to make room; I plan to interplant them with cucumbers on one trellis and small pie pumpkins on the other. A friend tried this last year and reported great success.

Community garden plot, before prepping and plantingHere’s our community garden plot at Sabathani. Yikes. We grew pumpkins here rather successfully last year, but towards the fall the weeds really got away from us, especially around the edges. Here I’m measuring to see where my paths should go. Next we worked it up with a fork, pulled up LOTS of quackgrass and worked in some composted manure.

Community garden plot, planted!After! At the very back is Anneke’s popcorn—she received a packet of Strawberry Popcorn seeds in her Easter basket. Then a burlap walking path, then 6 small brussels sprouts plants and 5 hills of potatoes—they’re actually small craters right now until the plants come up. We also interplanted anise hyssop with the brussels and horseradish with the potatoes, after consulting a companion planting book. There are LOTS of pests at Sabathani, so I’m willing to try just about anything. Up front are three hills of Long Island Cheese pumpkins interplanted with several extra cauliflower plants; why did I buy a 6-pack for my home garden when I only needed two? Anyway, it’s worth a try to see if we can get those cauliflowers done and eaten before the pumpkin plants completely take over. On the left-hand side of the plot are volunteer strawberries.

Carrots with burlap sack protectionI also manage a Master Gardener demonstration plot at Sabathani—we use it for teaching and donate all the produce to the food shelf. Since this garden is very open and windy, I have never had much luck sprouting carrots there. I’m going to try this little burlap tent to keep them dark and hopefully prevent them from drying out too much. The tricky thing about carrot seeds is that they don’t want to be buried too deeply, yet they need to be kept dark and moist, and oh did I mention they take up to 20 days to sprout!? I’ll report back on whether this works or not.

My home gardenBack at home, where weeds are few and pests are fewer. The newly-thinned peas are stretching up to to the trellises, onions, cauliflower, broccolli, kohlrabi, carrots, and radishes are in. And… tomatoes. I planted tomatoes, even after seeing the forecast lows in the upper 30s! I love experimenting way too much and it may prove to be fatal for these young plants. They’re under the hoop house in my very sheltered garden, so my gamble is at least an educated one. In general, it’s best to wait until nighttime lows are in the 50s to plant warm season crops like tomatoes. But we’re almost there! Next week, I promise!

lettuce in a raised planterMy lettuce and other greens are also coming along nicely; we’ve had several harvests. That’s part of the reason why the biggest plants have not really changed size much: I keep picking leaves. The other two tanks are the kids’ fairy gardens, which Anneke incongruously decided must have elephant ears this year. Should be an interesting experience for those fairies, anyway.

Fire blight on an apple treeThis final picture is from upstairs, looking out over our back yard, with dog damage along the path. Our grass needs some help—this week we worked up those areas and added some seed in hopes of filling it in a bit. But the main thing I want to show you is the apple tree to the left, in front of the car. Even from this distance, you can see the blackened areas of the trunk and branches. The fire blight has spread. This tree will have to be cut down this year. Our harvests the last two years have been next to nothing, anyway. Instead of being sad, I’m actually a little excited. Since we’re also getting rid of the sandbox, it’s going to open up a whole new space for a small tree or large shrub (along with some underplantings, of course). WHAT SHOULD I PUT THERE!? A new dwarf apple? A serviceberry? Oh the possibilities are endless. And thus begins 2015 planning season!


Season of bounty

Late summer inner city vegetable garden, via The New Home EconomicsWe are in the thick of harvest season, which is going to come to an abrupt end in too short of a time. A sampling of what’s going on:

Pumpkins and white acorn squash, via The New Home EconomicsMy best friend and I harvested most of our pie pumpkins from our community garden plot at Sabathani Community Center. Aren’t they cute? We only got 4 of these little white acorn squashes, and we have so far gotten zero butternut squashes. The butternuts looked yellow and unenthusiastic for most of the summer, then suddenly in the last couple weeks got really big and bushy as the pumpkin and acorn squash plants started to die down. They now have tiny butternut squashes on them, but I’m not hopeful they’ll have time to get big before we get a freeze. Only time will tell! In the meantime, I’ll be baking up some of these guys.

Blue Lake bush beans, via The New Home EconomicsMy Blue Lake bush beans are still producing, even as the plants are starting to look rather shabby. We’ve found this variety to be extremely prolific, though maybe slightly less tasty than the haricot verts we grew last year.

Tomato harvesting, via The New Home EconomicsWe ended up with a great tomato year, despite the late start. We’ve been eating all the fresh tomatoes we can hold and even made a batch of roasted tomatoes, which we froze in half pints for pizza sauce starters this winter.

Picking hops flowers, via The New Home EconomicsWe also harvested 3 gallon-size bags of hops flowers yesterday, and promptly made a batch of beer with them. Can’t wait to taste it!

Parsley, via The New Home EconomicsI’ve also been picking lots of herbs for drying; I’ve got several quart-size jars full of various herbal tea plants. Dried parsley is not nearly as wonderful as fresh, but it’s still nice to have on hand in the dead of winter.

Early sunflower, via The New Home EconomicsOver in my brand-new boulevard butterfly garden, my early sunflowers are prolific bloomers already in their first year! Love them.

Little bluestem in a boulevard prairie garden, via The New Home EconomicsThis grouping of Little Bluestem also performed spectacularly for its first year.

Checking deer stands and cameras, via The New Home EconomicsI also went out with Adam and his dad in central MN this weekend to check their trail cameras; bow hunting fever has hit full force (the season opens 9/14). I was mostly along for goldenrod picking, but I’m also excited at the prospect of processing part or maybe all of a deer. We’ll see if he gets one or not.

One morning's picking, via The New Home EconomicsThe fruits of my labor day morning gardening. Not too shabby. What’s happening in your garden?

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A weird season

But really, what year is not weird in Minnesota? Last year we had an early spring and a hot, dry summer. This year, it was a late spring. We had a little bit of heat in mid-July, nothing record-breaking, and lately a string of absolute perfection: puffy white clouds, 70s and low 80s during the day, lows in the 50s at night. Perfect summer weather, in my opinion.

Cucumbers on trellis, via the New Home EconomicsPickling season has finally arrived! I have not fermented any yet, but have made a couple of batches of the Trout Caviar refrigerator pickles (recipe). I hope to start fermenting my first sour dills this week.

Tomatoes, via The New Home EconomicsOver on the tomato trellis, it’s still slow. We’ve gotten a couple handfuls of the smaller tomatoes so far. We picked our first blushing Brandywine. My strategy of picking the tomatoes just as soon as they start to turn color seems to be working fairly well: squirrels have only taken two or three.

Sorrel in August, via The New Home EconomicsHere’s a strange happening for this year. My sorrel looked puny and terrible all spring, bolted suddenly in July, then after flowering developed all this gorgeous new foliage. If the weather is cool enough this week, we’ll make some sorrel soup.

Canada darner dragonfly, via the New Home EconomicsAnother odd thing about this year: we have significantly more dragonflies around than usual. This huge Canada darner was resting on the cucumber trellis this afternoon. We also have had fewer wasps and a greater variety of wild bees this year, but the wasps could be running later, since everything else is so late.

Hollyhocks, via The New Home EconomicsAfter nearly destroying my raspberry patch and causing major damage all over the neighborhood, the bunnies were apparently so fat and happy that they left my hollyhocks alone for once this spring and we have a nice patch of them by the back door. Bumble bees adore these; it’s hilarious to watch them literally rolling around in glee on this flower. Can a bee look gleeful? I think so!

Tunnel of flowers, via The New Home EconomicsThe kids’ tunnel of flowers turned out great as well. Anneke’s calendula is to the right, Rowan’s dragonwing begonias are to the left, and the tunnel (some cattle fencing formed into an archway between their two gardens) has cup and saucer vine growing up over it. It’s required some regular tucking and redirecting, but it’s looking great!

Hops flowers just startingAnd finally, the hops vine is just starting to flower. Last year we harvested our hops on September 1; not sure if they’ll be ready that quickly this year. So, onward we go into the pickling and canning part of summer. Happy August to you!


2012, my best garden year yet

Time to start on a wrap-up of 2012’s garden. It’s not over yet, but we’ve just passed the average first frost date for Minneapolis, so it’s nearly time. What a year it’s been!

tomatoes on trellis

Trellising my tomatoes rocked. I had a great tomato year. One reason could be the chicken manure/bedding mixture I spread on the garden last fall—by this spring it looked like black gold. Another reason certainly was our early spring. The soil was so well-warmed by early May that the tomatoes experienced almost no transplant shock. They were growing within a day or two. I also added an additional layer of compost on them in mid-July and they really took off again after that. I might try to move that up a bit next year.

large heirloom tomato

One of the biggest tomatoes I’ve ever gotten! A brandywine, picked just a bit early in fear of squirrels stealing it. It ripened nicely a day or two later on the counter.

stock tank gardens

My stock tank gardens did well too. After this year I now have a better idea of how much light each one gets. The one on the left is quite shady; next year I’ll dedicate it to nasturtiums and arugula, which both did well in there this summer. In the middle, some fall lettuce and radishes are coming along nicely. On the right, the same kale and chard plants I first started in mid-February! They just keep coming back.

My first lettuce harvest this year was on April 11. In the next week or so as temperatures start to drop we’re going to get the hoop house on the right stock tank and quickly whip out a new one for the middle stock tank. I’m hoping to continue to have fresh greens through the end of November; I don’t think I planned well enough to hope for anything beyond that.

As a master gardener, I can’t let any learning opportunities pass me by, so I felt compelled to research the aster yellows that affected my echinacea. Apparently this was quite common in the Twin Cities this year due to the mild winter and early spring.

My first time growing shallots yielded a pretty nice-looking braid. I LOVE having these so handy in the kitchen.

My first-ever grape harvest made for some delicious jelly.

Our first substantial hops harvest, drying in the sun. Homebrew, ahoy!

If you’ve never grown Sun Gold cherry tomatoes, well, I am going to insist that you do so next year. They’re like candy. And one plant yields a LOT of fruit. I usually go heirloom, but this is one hybrid that I probably will include every year.

The garden still has harvests ahead, including the now-drying Christmas lima beans.

Rosemary and sage on the left, parsnips and turnips on the top/right. I filled in the empty spaces between the disappointing few parsnips that sprouted with some turnips on July 15, but I think they will not get very substantial. I was foiled again by the peak of my neighbor’s house, which likes to get in the way of the sunlight in all but the highest summer weeks for my main vegetable garden.

Let’s review some of the things that made 2012 a great garden year:

1. I amended the soil with chicken manure/bedding last fall. It composted over the winter and really enriched the soil. Never put on manure right when you’re planting, as it could burn the plants with its high nitrogen levels.

2. We had an early spring and the soil temperature was nice and toasty when I planted everything out in late April and early May.

3. Hoop houses on my stock tank gardens helped me get a jump start in March and hopefully will help me extend into November or so.

4. Quite simply, I got out there. I made sure to walk through my garden at least 2-3 times per week. This helped me keep up with pinching back my basil (resulting in multiple harvests), pruning my tomatoes as they climbed up their trellis, and general weeding and upkeep. My kids are 5 now, and I’m really starting to notice a change in how hurried I have to be in the garden. It’s nice to be able to get out there.

It’s far from over, really. We still have fall lettuce, radishes, and parsnips ahead of us! We’ll also be doing some initial planning for 2013 when we plant garlic in a few weeks.

Really, gardening is turning into more than a 3-months-out-of-the-year hobby. Having started seeds in mid-February 2012, I’m heading towards more of a 10-11 month cycle. Love it!



August so far

fishing off the dock

We finished off July with a weekend “up north,” where the kids caught some impressive sunnies right off the dock. They are such good little Minnesotans.

Not bad, eh?

When we got back from the lake, our cucumbers had gotten out of control. I shredded up the biggest ones for some relish. It’s still fermenting, but as soon as it’s done I’ll post a recipe.

The few apples that our tree produced are starting to ripen. Squirrels are taking most of them; I doubt we’ll get more than a few.

I canned 20 lbs of raw tomatoes with Tattler lids. Yay for BPA-free canned tomatoes! Gardens of Eagan has 20 pound boxes of canning tomatoes for $16—naturally I bought two. My garden’s not quite big enough for canning quantities.

The next day, Adam and I were too tired to do it all over again, so the kids helped with the second box of tomatoes. They were great at peeling and de-seeding.

Why roast a mere 5 lbs of tomatoes when you can roast 20 lbs?

The most beautiful caprese salad I’ve ever put together. Not that it’s super hard. But I had doubts as to whether my neighbors deserved a salad of this caliber for National Night Out.

Herbs from a neglected community garden. If I take on any more charity projects my own garden is going to be swallowed up in weeds and giant cucumbers. Also: I now have enough sage for ten Thanksgivings.

Coming this weekend: finally, putting in the last plants so that I can call my back yard landscape project complete! (More details to come.)


High Season

Now that raspberries are done, I have a moment to catch my breath. Let’s take a look around:

I was hoping for jaw-dropping before-and-after pictures of our back yard landscape project by now, but I honestly don’t think it’s going to look all that impressive before next year. As you can see, the grass is quite unhappy right now—and honestly, it’s so hard to keep grass looking nice this time of year that I’m not even trying. I have plans for it this fall; fall is a great time to seed and do general turf up-keep.

The new plants (in the now-woodchipped areas of the lawn) are all surviving, but are still quite small. I am really excited to see what this will look like when the viburnums along the fence get to their full size.

Closer to the house, the stock tanks are coming along fine. Red Russian Kale (on the left) is unstoppable. We have cut nearly all the leaves off those plants many times this summer, and it just keeps coming back. I had thought about re-planting more of it in August, but this appears to be fine for the rest of the season.

starting seeds for fall planting

Speaking of which, I’m starting some new lettuces and greens for late summer hoop house/stock tank planting. I’ve never tried this before. Will be moving them outside as soon as this heat wave breaks.  It WILL break.

The tropical parts of my garden, naturally, are loving this summer. My one hill of zucchini is enormous, and we’ve been picking approximately one standard-size and a handful of cherry tomatoes every day for about a week.

My green beans (‘Maxibel Haricot Verts’) have been taking a short break from producing beans to double in size and put out new flowers. Round two, coming right up!

My garlic-to-parsnips succession plan did not work out. Only a handful of parsnips sprouted, so I sowed some turnip seeds in the open spots. They sprouted almost overnight, so I’m hopeful I’ll be able to get a few small ones (center top of picture). I’m also exhorting my 4 rosemary plants to get bigger; they have been uninspiring this year. Getting plenty of chamomile for this winter’s permaculture tea, though!

banana peppers with disease

Not everything is rosy, of course. This banana pepper plant has had strange growth habits and some leaf curling all summer. I thought about ripping it out a few weeks ago, but then suddenly it started to grow like crazy. Still no blooms, though. At this point I may as well see it through.

Thanks, city of Minneapolis

In other sad news, the city decided that we needed a new sidewalk, since our very old boulevard elm tree had pushed up the old one. I understand that a concrete professional’s main job is to lay straight, square concrete, but in order to do so, the crew removed at least 70% of this tree’s most important roots. Then they helpfully made this cut-out, as if the tree would be here for years to come. It will likely be dead by this time next year, thanks to their work. Adam saw the tree roots on the lawn that night and said “That’s it. We’re moving to the country.” (An empty threat, since I work downtown and refuse to be a long-haul commuter.)

OK, let’s get back to more positive updates. All six of the ostrich ferns that I added this spring looked dead, until a week or two ago suddenly they all had new life. I’m sensing fiddleheads in our kitchen next spring!

Also, the one heirloom melon seed (‘Sakata Sweet’) that sprouted has turned into quite the impressive plant, covered with blooms. This particular melon is supposed to reach softball size, so trellising it shouldn’t be a problem.

Christmas Lima Beans

Finally, I had all but finished my garden plan when I realized I had forgotten Christmas Lima Beans. Since the kids have declared them a yearly holiday tradition, I decided to just try throwing them into this corner, which rarely sees much action. Result: wow! This year is going much better than last, for all beans.

I’ve made two quarts of pickles so far, but judging by my cucumber plants, I have many more pickles in my near future:

What’s happening in your garden right now?

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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.



Growing tomatoes on a trellis system

Here’s something new we’re trying this year: a tomato trellis!

tomatoes growing up a trellis

We bought six 8-ft cedar 2×2’s, cut 24 inches off of two of them and about a foot off the other two, then fastened it all together with screws to make a 7 foot tall x 6 foot long x 2 foot wide structure. Adam pounded it in with a mallet to about 1 foot deep.  It is very sturdy — I hope we can get it out in the fall so that we can rotate crops next year!

Twine is strung from the top bar, tied near the base of the plant, and wound around the central stem once a week or so.  I’m also pruning out all suckers — I’ve never pruned tomatoes this drastically before so we’ll see how it goes! (Here’s a great video tutorial.)  I can’t believe how big these plants are for early June.  And look:

Cherokee Purple heirloom tomatoes already!

Sungold tomatoes

Sungold cherry tomatoes: we’ll be eating these in just a few weeks. Never in my life have I been able to produce tomatoes before July. This is a strange, warm year.

How about the rest of the garden? Well things are just looking amazingly large and healthy. Maybe we’ll make up for 2011’s shortcomings this year.

Milkweed will be flowering soon. I want to make the pickled milkweed capers recipe from Trout Caviar, but I’m not really sure when they’re going to be ready to pick. It says 1/2″ pods, so we’re not there yet — I’m thinking it’s the post-flower seed pod he’s referring to.

Insane hops, herbs, disappointing nothing on the left trellis (heirloom melons never sprouted), de-scaped garlic. I made a small batch of garlic scape pesto this morning. Substituted sunflower seeds for pine nuts and omitted the parmesan; I didn’t feel like going to the grocery store. Result: excellent.

green beans and bok choi

Two more things I’ve never tried before: four heads of bok choi flanked by two rows of haricot verts green beans (cucumbers approaching the trellis in the background). The bok choi seems ready to start harvesting the outer leaves. I sense a stir-fry in my near future.

The whole garden, as seen from the deck (standing on a chair).  Anneke found a whole handful of snow peas that I had missed and ate them perched precariously by the rain barrel.  The zucchini and watermelon are in the foreground, this side of the fence.  I’m going to add some beneficial nematodes this week in hopes of avoiding the issues I had last year with squash vine borers. Fingers are crossed! How’s your garden growing?