Stacking Functions Garden

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Garden update

First ripe tomato of the year.  Too bad I didn’t notice the blossom end rot until I picked it.  I checked the plants carefully and removed every affected tomato, and am now watering the potted tomatoes every day so hopefully that will be the end of it.

I put these small, basic cages around the blueberry bushes.  It won’t completely keep the rabbits out, but hopefully will discourage them.

Our garlic finished curing in the garage, so Adam cleaned it up a bit further, trimming up the tops and roots a bit and brushing the dried dirt off.  Then he hung them with string in the kitchen.  Here in USDA zone 4, we have to grow hardneck garlic, so it’s not possible to create the attractive garlic braids that you often see from softneck garlic.

We have a LOT of flat-leaf parsley right now so I tried the freezer method: loosely pack fresh herbs into an ice cube tray, cover with water and freeze.  Should be really easy to throw one of these cubes in a pot of soup this winter.

Other garden happenings:
– raspberries have another week or two to go yet, but have slowed down considerably
– lots of cucumbers and banana peppers — we are pickling just about every night
– green beans are also probably more than half done
– cabbages are starting to form heads!
– cilantro, curly parsley and dill are totally seeded out
– drying some chamomile flowers and peppermint leaves to attempt making my own “sleepytime” tea
– alpine strawberries are in continuous bloom; I expect to get several handfuls yet this year

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Garlic harvest

We harvested our garlic tonight.  The kids even helped.

It was a little bit of a surgical maneuver to get them out without harming the parsnips which are right next to them.  Adam got underneath them with the fork and I dug through the loosened mud (it rained today) with my fingers and pulled them out.  Then the kids stacked them up on the grass for us.

We got some big ones!  (Rowan’s and my hands)

Here’s our whole haul, drying on a piece of cardboard in the garage.  It will cure there in the garage for two weeks, and then I’ll clean it up a little further and bring it in to the house.  There is absolutely no way this will last us the winter, but we’re probably good for a couple months.  We grew some of it out in our flower beds as an experiment this year.  It looked really  nice and — most importantly — the rabbits had no interest in eating it.  I plan to expand next year.  Well, really, I plan to expand everything every year.

In other news, I lost a good 1/4 of the tomatoes on each of my potted tomato plants to blossom end rot.  My own fault for not remembering to water them daily.  Potted tomato plants dry out so much faster.  We’ve been getting a lot of rain but apparently not enough for the potted plants.

Finally, I tried making raspberry freezer jam today.  Boy howdy was that easy.  Mix some crushed up berries, sugar, and pectin, let it sit for 30 minutes, put it into containers and freeze.  It was a very productive day; we also made yogurt,  butter, and 4 batches of pesto which are also cooling in the freezer now.  Coming later this week: PICKLES!

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Knee deep on the 4th of July

I’ve been neglecting the blog a bit lately, so here’s a mega-update (click pictures to enlarge):

The alpine strawberries that I planted this spring are producing some fruit already.  They do taste pretty amazing — a very full, sweet strawberry flavor in a tiny size.  What I’ve read elsewhere is definitely true: they are shade-tolerant, but the more sun they get the more fruit they produce.  So, I wouldn’t bother with them in heavy shade.  Part shade is just fine.

Raspberry season has officially started.  This was our first picking, last week.

This was our picking today.  We are getting a ton of berries & green beans are ready now too.  We’ve frozen five quarts of raspberries so far, and are eating a good quart of them every day too.

I took this picture of the underside of our raspberry hedge to illustrate how raspberries (the old-fashioned cane variety, anyway) work: the darker woody canes are the ones that sprouted last year.  Right now they are fruiting, and then they will die.  The green canes will overwinter and produce fruit next year.  I remove the woody canes shortly after the fruit is gone.

A handful of our raspberry plants are actually black raspberries.  They start out small and red and then get darker as the fruit swells (standard red ones start out light pink).  Wow, these are absolutely delicious, a little bit sweeter than the reds.

My efforts at acidifying the soil around my Endless Summer hydrangea (in order to make the flowers blue) have given me a plant with some pink flowers and some purple.  It’s kinda pretty actually: like a natural gradient.

My new red lake currant bush also has some berries.

Here’s my sad apple tree.  It has so many diseases/infestations at this point that I’m having trouble figuring out which one is afflicting it most.  I don’t think last year’s pruning solved the fire blight problem.  We will most likely have to remove this tree next year, but we want to at least see how it does this year.  It’s got quite a few apples on.

Moving on to the vegetables, 2 inches of rain last week plus lots of sunshine this week made for some very happy veggies.  Everything is around two weeks ahead of schedule.

Garlic will be ready to harvest soon.  I will pull one later this week and see how it looks.

Banana peppers, italian flat-leaf parsley, cauliflower and a small creeping charlie weed (whoops) all co-existing peacefully.

My mistake cilantro looks quite nice next to the cabbages, and it’s attracting a lot of bees to the garden.  I’m leaving it in for now.

Cucumbers!  The plants are full of blossoms and a couple of baby pickles.  I can’t wait to start pickling.

Lots of wee roma tomatoes on the vine.  I planted all romas this year in the hopes of having enough to can some of my own.  I doubt I’ll get that many, but I can add these to the ones I plan to buy (I bought a 20 lb crate of romas last year through our CSA and plan to do so again).

We FINALLY came up with a plan for the backyard garden!  We were going to put one in this spring, but we got overwhelmed with other things, and we just never came up with a solid plan that we both like — we have a tentative plan now which I will post about soon.  We’re getting started on some of the preliminaries now, even though we won’t actually plant it until next spring.  First up: getting rid of the landscape rock next to the foundation.

And a preview of an upcoming post: why am I grating soap?  Inspired by my friend Christina, I tried my hand at making my own laundry detergent and deodorant.  Since they called for a lot of the same ingredients, I made them both at the same time.  I really like the laundry detergent so far, but haven’t made up my mind about the deodorant.  I’ll post both recipes in the near future.  (Oh, and also: HUP HUP HOLLAND!)

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Garden update, Memorial Day weekend

Here’s how it’s looking out there in the vegetable garden.

First, the whole garden, an overview.  Adam thought my cardboard aisles looked ghetto so he offered to put down landscape fabric instead.  Fine by me.  The garlic (foreground) is huge.  We harvested some scapes last weekend.

Scapes are the bloom of the garlic plant.  Basically, you pick them as soon as you see them.  If you let the garlic plant go into full bloom, your final bulb in the fall will be much smaller because the plant will put energy into flowering instead of growing a bulb.  The scapes can be used like green onions/scallions and taste like (surprise) garlicky green onions.

Moving on, here is the radish/parsnip area.  What a mess.  I let the kids help me broadcast plant this area, and even after I tried to fix things, everything still came up in clumps.  I can definitely see some parsnip plants, so as soon as the radishes are all done — which will be very soon — I will re-arrange the parsnips and then possibly fill in with something else.

Peppers, herbs, and cauliflower.  A baby rabbit was getting past my rabbit-proof fence and ate 3 pepper plants and several peas before I figured out what was going on — I actually caught him in there one night.  (Boy was he cute.)  So I went to a local nursery this weekend and picked up four new pepper plants and put them in.  It’s easy to tell which are the new ones if you enlarge the picture — they’re the ones with no insect damage.  All these plants are doing well, though, and the cauliflower has already doubled in size from this picture (bonus points if you can pinpoint the tiny cauliflower plants in this pic).

Cabbages/celeriac area.  Well, I’ve finally determined that only TWO celeriac seeds sprouted.  I think it would have been better to start both of these plants inside.  Then I could have laid this out a little nicer, instead of re-arranging plants twice.  Right now I have about 20 cabbages —  I will need to thin a bit more since the variety I chose is supposed to get quite large.  But we can always eat a few of them small, right?  Right?  There have been absolutely no signs of cabbage worms now for a few days, so hopefully that was an isolated incident.

Finally, the odd west corner of the garden with its angled fence-line.  This year I’ve got peas along the fence and beans in the middle.  It’s ok, but it’s really hard to weed next to the peas, since I can’t quite reach everything.  If you enlarge the picture, you’ll also see the additional rabbit deterrant that Adam added to the bottom of the chain-link fence, and the three tomato plants and our neighbor’s dog beyond that.  I’d like to see that baby bunny TRY to get in there now.  In the immediate foreground is our cuke cage.  I started some cukes inside from seed but did not harden them off gradually and all but one died when I set them out in the hot sun a couple weeks ago.  So now I’m trying to just direct sow the cucumber seeds.  Should be OK.

And… here’s my final confession: against all advice and gardening wisdom, I am planting my tomatoes in the same spot as last year.  It is an absolutely ideal tomato spot — close to the kitchen, in prime rabbit area (rabbits don’t eat tomato plants), and along the fence so it makes staking/caging super easy.  My companion planting book says that tomatoes actually like being in the same spot each year, as long as the soil is well-amended (and I amended mine with lots of compost), but every other website, blog, publication, and master gardener I’ve ever consulted has said it’s a bad idea.  Well, all I can do is see what happens…

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My top-o’-the-fridge seed starting system is working great!  The tomatoes and beets sprouted in about 4 days, and the peppers in about 7-8.  A couple of the peppers might end up being duds, but other pots have 2 seedlings in them so I could always transfer the extras in the next week or two.

Absolutely nothing happening outside, except I am having to occasionally water when they get a bit dried out.  What a warm crazy early spring.  I’m planning on putting my early garden plants in two weekends from now, April 17-18.  Between now and then will be Easter celebrations, Master Gardener activities, and learning my new job.  So yeah, I’ll be keeping busy.

I am also reading about 4 different library books right now — I am inundated.  I put too many requests in at the same time.  I already know I’m not going to be able to write up full reviews of each book, but I will at least do some mini-reviews in the next couple of weeks.

Other upcoming stuff:

– Adam’s gone crazy making salad dressing.  His ranch dressing was so good I secretly licked the container in my cubicle, glancing over my shoulder the whole time.

– We’re also in the middle of a wee home improvement project that involves taping, mudding, light installation, and upholstery.  Pictures to come!

– The weekend that we put in our garden, we’re also going to put a trellis together, so we’ll see how that goes.

– Adam also has a really cool vintage 3-speed cruiser project in progress for me.  Of all the hobbies he’s ever undertaken (and there have been MANY), I think this whole “building bikes” one is my favorite.


Garden plan 2010: letting go of rows

My “big idea” with the vegetable garden this year is that I am finally going to let ye olde row system die.  It’s fine for people with acres, but for small spaces, you’re just wasting valuable growing space by putting a walkway between each single line of plants.  So here’s my tentative layout for 2010 (click to enlarge):

As you can see, I have four areas, and plants will be scattered throughout each area to maximize numbers.  I plan to make each area slightly “raised” by scooping a good inch or two off of each aisle, and also by adding extra compost.

So, here are my big plans, from left to right:

1. Bush beans and peas. This irregular-shaped area has had heavy feeders for a few years now (tomatoes in 2008, parsnips in 2009) so it deserves a little legume-love.  Added bonus: the peas will [theoretically] climb on the chain-link fence.  And then they will die, before my tomatoes get big enough to want that area’s light.

2. Celeriac/Cabbage/mint. We tried celeriac for the first time last year and loved it, so this year I am planting it.  It was not easy to find the seed.  We’ll see how it goes.  I’ve never grown cabbage, either.  I’ve been reading my Companion Planting book again and it talks about the benefits of planting various herbs near cabbage, so I might actually spread the celeriac out to several different locations to make room for a little mint in here, which apparently repels white cabbage moths.

3. Banana Peppers/herbs/celeriac (?).  I want to grow a few more banana peppers this year, so we can pickle them.  We have become a pickled pepper addicts.  I am going to mix in some oregano and maybe another herb or two.  Oregano is a very beneficial herb to have in your garden, according to the book.  (It doesn’t really say why, though?!)

4. Radishes/parsnips.  Doing the same combination that I did last year, but this year I’m not doing them in rows.  I will “broadcast plant” this area with the seed, crossing my fingers all the while.  This is the spot where I grew beans in 2009, so I’m hoping that extra N in the soil will give me a better parsnip harvest this year.

What’s new and different this year?
1. No more rows
2. I’m starting both tomatoes and peppers from seed, which I’ve never done before.  My seed-starting experiments of a year ago had mixed results, so I’m going to need to improve my set-up a bit this year.
3. I’m growing determinate tomatoes for the first time ever (determinate means all the fruit is ripe at the same time).  We canned 25 lbs of tomatoes last August and we just ran out about a week ago.  This year I want to can 50 lbs.  I don’t want to have to buy them all, so I’m growing some of my own to can as well.
4.  All of my planning has been done with CSA in mind.  We’ll be getting a CSA box again this year, so I am planting things that we do not get enough of in our box (such as green beans), and things that I can preserve/pickle (such as cabbage, banana peppers, dried beans).
5. Fresh from my Master Gardener training, I tried to choose mostly varieties of vegetables that are recommended by the University of Minnesota because of their known resistance to various diseases.
6. I ordered seeds from Victory Seed Company, who I’ve never used before.  It’s still very early so if they don’t work out I should still have time to get what I need locally.

Are you as nerdy as I am and want to read a whole list of the varieties I’m planting?  I thought so.  Here you go!

Seeds I ordered last night from Victory Seeds:
– Tomato, Roma VF
– Pepper, Hungarian Sweet
– Celeriac, Giant Prague
– Pea, Oregon Sugar Pod
– Bush Bean, Contender
– Parsnip, All American
– Radish, French Breakfast
– Cabbage, Glory of Enkhuizen (A Dutch cabbage!  Be still my beating heart.)

Still need:
– Another pole bean for dried beans
– Cucumbers?  (not sure where I’d put them)
– Mint
– Basil

Seeds I have on hand or am ordering that I’m not sure where I’m going to put them:
– English Sorrel
– Fennel (Florence)
– Dill
– Kale
– Beet
– Parsley
– Chives
– Thyme
– Oregano

Seeds I have that I will likely not use:
– Mesclun lettuce salad  (relatives/friends: holler if you want these)

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Out of control radish

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


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

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

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


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

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Garden update, beans and rage edition

I was in the garden trying to do a little bit of harvesting/weeding/etc. and got overwhelmed with anti-zucchini lust and pulled out two of our four plants.  They were completely taking over the garden, and all summer long I kept surgically removing leaves so that they wouldn’t crowd out my other plants.  Today I was sick of it so into the compost bin they went.  I really hope this will be the last baseball bat-sized zucchini I get this year:

gardenupdate1I also picked all the remaining banana peppers so I could make a batch of pickled peppers.  My last cucumber, and a couple tomatoes that are just about ripe.  I don’t know if I’ll get any more tomatoes or not… the plants seem to really be dying off fast now.  I have lots of green fruits on so I’m hopeful for a few more.


My Hidatsa Shield Figure beans are just about ready!  I picked a basketful today, but there are lots more on the plants that aren’t dried out yet.  From what I’ve read, dried beans are ready when the pod is all dried out like this and the beans rattle around in there.

littlehelpersThe kids had a blast helping me pull apart the pods and placing the beans in a jar.

beanscloseupAren’t they neat-looking?  Dried beans are insanely easy.  I have done very little with them since I put them in the ground back in May.  If I had planned a better climbing structure for them (plans are already forming for next year), I wouldn’t have had to touch them.  Plus, these are an unusual heirloom variety that you would never find at a grocery store.

Check out the Seed Savers’ Exchange list of available bean seed packets!  I’m going to have a hard time deciding what to plant next year…

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Garden update (the dead and dying edition)

September is here.  The end is near.  A little over a week ago it started getting down into the low 50s every single night.  Fall has arrived, a bit early, and after a very cool summer.  Let’s assess the damage, and note the encroaching zucchini in nearly every picture:

beets0903My attempt at late-season beets gets a big ole FAIL.  I’m guessing there’s just not enough light between two two-story buildings anymore at this point to get something going from seed like this.  Note to self for next year: July 4 is probably about as late as I can plant anything.  These were planted right around July 15 I think.


Brussels sprouts: are these a FAIL or not?  I can’t decide.  Do those look like sprouts to you?  They’re not very well-formed sprouts.  But they definitely like the cooler weather.

polebeans0903Pole beans: almost ready to harvest, yay!  I picked a couple already that were all dried up and yellow.  Look what I found inside:

hidatsabeansThis is why they’re called “Hidatsa Shield Figure” — it’s like a little bean holding a shield.  Well, sorta.

cucumbers0903Cukes are not long for this world.

peppers0903Couple more banana peppers on.  I’m hoping that I have enough to make another batch of fermented banana peppers.  They are by far the most delicious fermented thing I’ve made yet.  You can just barely see to the right, the baby kale.  Another “mid-season” attempt.  These at least got to a micro size; and we might be able to get one meal out of them.

parsnips0903One good thing about the fall: it’s almost parsnip time!  They are ready and waiting for a frost.

tomatoes0903Tomatoes are also dying off.  They sure hate the cold nights.  I don’t know if we’re going to get any more, although there are still quite a few green ones on there.  Might be time for some fried green tomatoes one of these nights.

Well that’s it.  Garden is winding down for 2009 already.  I’m both relieved and sad at the same time.