Stacking Functions Garden


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Garden Plans for 2020

I usually plan my gardens in January and February. This year, I was waiting during those months to find out whether my community garden would be available or not this year. Just days after I found out that we would be able to garden there this year (yay!) a … global pandemic hit.

Uncertainty has got to be the word of the year for 2020, yes? My anxiety over the community garden seems laughable now in hindsight.

I’ve decided to plan my garden for the best case scenario—the scenario in which my favorite local garden store is able to supply me with things like onion starts, leek starts, and various other seedlings that I usually buy each spring. My seed starting setup is rather small, but I’m also trying to strategically max that out, just in case. Anyway, here’s my plan. Click to enlarge:

Layout for an urban garden

LOTS going on here. First, I need to tell you something sad about my home garden. Reader, I sorta ruined my own home garden plot. How did I do this? Here’s some photographic evidence:

grape and hops growing on an arbor

This is my wine grapes and hops arbor—my “booze bower” that was featured in Northern Gardener magazine last August. Behind all that lush, green, tall foliage, to the right, is my vegetable garden. You can see the tomato cage just peeking out at the very far right of the picture near the bottom. What I’ve done here: I created a beautiful, shady, just lovely place to sit in the summer. The unintended consequence: I took away a few hours of late afternoon and evening sunlight from my vegetable garden, especially the west side of it.

As you know, vegetables NEED a lot of sun. I’ve had to do some rethinking of this garden. The plot at the far west is really only good for greens now. Kale and collards grew marvelously in that spot last year and I’m going to try them again—is this best practice? No. I simply can’t rotate other types of vegetables into that spot (except for lettuce, I suppose). I’m going to experiment and try some Hungarian breadseed poppies mixed in with the greens, to see how different types of annual flowers do here.

Last year, even further east in the garden, my beans were all foliage and no fruit:

pole beans out of control

Now, pole beans always take a long time to get going, and last year was a very late spring. But plants that are very leafy might be trying to tell you something: they’re not getting enough sun.

I had some other fails last year too, one of which is pictured above. I tried to grow Christmas lima beans inside the tomato cage. Here’s the thing about my squirrel-proof tomato fortress: we realized that it is nearly impossible to move, for a variety of reasons. So in late 2018 I decided it was going to stay in the same spot and I’d just rotate different crops into and out of it. I can always grow a tomato in a pot if I’m desperate. Anyway, this year I have the fortress slated for 1/2 tomatoes and 1/2 zucchini. I’m going to attempt to stake the zucchini following this interesting tutorial.

Over at Sabathani Community Garden, here’s where we stand. A high rise building for elderly folks will be built starting in September or October of this year (pending global pandemic easing up, I suppose). This is great news for the community, truly.

We will be kicked out of the garden as soon as mid-September and have no access to it for at least a year. When it reopens it will be a different configuration, the soil will be compacted from having construction equipment on it for 12+ months, and half the garden will now be a parking lot. Again, this was slightly more upsetting before I knew the other things that were coming our way for 2020.

But I’m glad I get to garden there this year. I’m going to refrain from planting pumpkins, since they might not be done in time. I’m moving all leek activity to the home garden since I usually harvest those late August-late October. Even planting brussels sprouts is taking a bit of a chance, but then again I started harvesting sprouts in August of 2019 so hopefully that will be true again this year. Check out this bounty from my community garden plot last August:

Community garden harvest

The tomatoes were a little uninspiring—diseases are unfortunately rampant in the community garden and our cool wet spring did not help. But I had a banner year of many things, including runner beans:

runner beans

If you’ve never grown these, I cannot recommend them enough. They are SO easy to grow. They are a vine plant so they need some support, but they get gorgeous flowers, and produce bucketloads of large edible green beans. If you don’t get to them in time and they get very large, no worries! You can simply shell them and eat the seeds like lima beans, or let them dry and use them as dried beans. This plant is amazingly versatile.

So I’ve got my “plan” for 2020 but I don’t feel very certain about it; so much will depend on… so many things. UNCERTAINTY, folks, get used to it, I guess? I’ve never been more thankful for my edible perennial plants. I’ve already got a protective bunny-proof cage around my French sorrel, and keep watching for my lovage to pop up. I can’t wait for some of the wild edibles that I know I’ll see, like garlic mustard and stinging nettle. I can count on raspberries, cherries, and hopefully some apples. I’ve never been a prepper on the scale of the types of people you see on the news, but the little bit of prepping that I have done here is helping to ease some of this uncertainty.

a tiny tall grass prairie

A big area of uncertainty is my teeny tallgrass prairie in my backyard. I had hoped to at least triple its size this year with the addition of 40-50 new plants, but I don’t know what stores will be open / what will be available. I can divide some of what I have and expand it slowly year by year, so it’s not a terrible thing. I am going to need to learn patience. That’s for sure.

Be well, friends. Take care of each other. Call me if you’re local and need divisions or volunteers of wildflowers.

 


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Community Gardening strategy

I live in the inner city. For an inner city lot, mine is good-sized. Yet, my full-sun area—and thus my ability to grow large numbers of vegetables—is actually quite small. I’ve had an additional plot at a community garden for several years now, and in 2018 we doubled the size of it, to 20 feet x 20 feet.

I have a philosophy about my community garden plot, and it stems from the permaculture concept of zones. The basic gist is that your home is ground zero. If you have plants that need daily tending, put them as close to the house as possible. The zones go all the way to five, which is supposed to be a wild and natural area.

Realistically, for city dwellers like me, zone five is where I travel to be on vacation—I don’t own a property big enough to contain a wild area. My yard realistically includes zones zero through two. This stock tank of lettuce is easily accessed from my back door. It’s in zone one, precisely where you’d want something that you pick daily.

Just outside my front door, and easily accessed while wearing slippers, is my herb spiral (pictured in late summer with wildflowers threatening to take over). I’ve placed the foods that I harvest daily during the growing season as close as possible to my home. This makes it far more likely that I’ll use them.

Even my strawberries and my primary vegetable garden can now be accessed in slippers, thanks to the beautiful brick paths my husband has been diligently working on each summer.

My community garden plot, however, is a different story. It’s approximately two miles away. It’s a little further than I really have time to walk on a daily basis (unfortunately). I try to bike there as often as possible, but it’s generally not realistic to plan on going more than once per week. Hence, I only grow vegetables that need less daily attention at the community plot.

My early years of gardening at Sabathani, I did try to do more. Here’s my 2014 garden with pumpkins, onions, potatoes, brussels sprouts, and strawberry popcorn. The brussels sprouts never amounted to much, and the onions got overrun by the pumpkins. The strawberry popcorn was fun though! The plot is not terribly large, so most years I try to keep it simple. My best year was the year I grew Musquee de Provence pumpkins:

They outgrew the plot and started spreading into the walkways. A fellow gardener actually trimmed them back with a gas-powered weed trimmer at one point. Pumpkins and squash are fun to grow, but when you live in the city it’s hard to justify the space they require. This is where my community garden strategy shines. It’s just a little extra room, with a slightly lower time commitment, to try something fun.

Here are my Musquee de Provence pumpkins after harvest. Suffice to say we ate a lot of pumpkin that year.

In 2017 I was really craving zucchini, another vegetable that gets a little too big in my petite home garden. So I grew this variety of patty pans (a type of zucchini) at Sabathani. Once again, I proved myself right and was unable to get there often enough to harvest them at an ideal size. Pictured are several that are a bit too large. We still ate them, but generally you want to pick them while smaller (like the green ones pictured).

It’s been so fun growing large numbers of squash and pumpkins each year. Here are my 2014 Long Island Cheese Pumpkins—these were excellent for baking.

I’ve tried to rotate crops as best I can at my plot, moving potato and pumpkin hills around my now-doubled (as of 2018) 20 foot x 20 foot plot. This year, I’m going to break my rule again and try to grow some tomatoes and cucumbers there, due to a buildup of disease at my home garden. I will have to commit to going there mid-week to pick during July and August, but there does happen to be a Dairy Queen on the way, so it’s usually easy to convince the kids to go for a bike ride.

Do you garden in zones? What strategies have you tried for time management in the garden?


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End of summer

Fall is right around the corner, but my gardens are lush thanks to an unusually wet August. Soldier Beetle // via The New Home EconomicsSoldier beetle—a beneficial insect that preys on aphids. I usually see these on orange or yellow flowers, an excellent choice for camouflage.

Newly-hatched Monarch butterfly caterpillar, via The New Home Economics

After a very slow start, we’ve now released more monarchs this year than we did in 2015—the current count is 20. They are so tiny when they first hatch!

Black Swallowtail butterfly, via the New Home Economics

We also raised three black swallowtail butterfly caterpillars, but unfortunately one of them hatched out of its chrysalis with a deformed wing. We ended up mercy-killing it and will donate its body to the STEM classroom at school. Pictured: one of the lucky two that came out perfectly.

Lord of the Rings Kubb, via The New Home Economics

Adam and the kids made a Lord of the Rings-themed kubb set for our family a few weeks ago. With three artists and two months off school, the arts and crafts production reaches a fever pitch during the summer.

Community garden pumpkins, via the New Home Economics

I received an email from our community garden coordinator yesterday mentioning that my pumpkins are now blocking the paths on both sides of my plot. Oops! Going to cut them back later today. These are Musquee de Provence pumpkins; they started slowly but have quadrupled in size the past four weeks.

Harvesting potatoes, via The New Home Economics

We’ve been harvesting potatoes for over a month now. Instead of buying seed potatoes this year, I simply cut up some old sprouty potatoes we had on hand from the co-op. Result: our best potato harvest yet.

Moon rise over Minneapolis, via The New Home Economics

By this time next year, my deck arbor should look how I originally envisioned it: covered in vines, cool and shady even during the middle of the day. This is only year two, so I’m pleased with how far it’s come along.

Rudbeckia, via the New Home Economics

These rudbeckia laciniatas (green-headed coneflower) were taking over my boulevard in 2015. At 6+ feet tall, they were way too big for that spot—and spreading fast. We transplanted all of them to family hunting land this spring and most of them survived! They look much better in their natural meadow environment.

Goldenrod, via The New Home Economics

That meadow is also full of goldenrod. I picked a nice large bunch to dry for tea this winter; apparently goldenrod tea is full of health benefits. I’ve never tried it—I will report back on both flavor and miraculous changes to my well-being.

Lavendar, via The New Home Economics

I tried lavender again this year, in a pot on my steps. It’s grown quite a bit but it just… will… not… bloom. It’s running out of time, too. Lavender: I have never successfully grown it. I’m thinking this is a sun issue—very few areas in my home yard are very sunny. I may try it at my extremely sunny community garden plot next year.

Herb spiral, via The New Home Economics

My herb spiral, in its overgrown end-of-summer state. The sorrel (right) really took off, to the point where we don’t use nearly enough of it to keep up. I like the flavor of it, but no one else in the family does so it’s not getting much use.

Brown eyed susans, via The New Home Economics

A former co-worker divided many of her brown-eyed susan plants mid-summer last year and gave me several. They are thriving. In general, brown-eyed susan plants are easy to grow but individual plants are relatively short-lived, so it pays to let them spread a little by seed. Same goes for purple coneflowers.

This is one of MANY reasons why organic materials are the only mulch to choose if you’re going to plant natives. Put them in, mulch them with old leaves or woodchips, then let them spread and move around a little bit. You’ll be rewarded with volunteers to share with family and friends and spread around your own garden. It’s much more difficult to do that with plastic or rock mulch—you’re tied to the very first placement of the plant, and forced to replace it entirely when it dies.

Zucchini, via The New Home Economics

This used to be a garden path! Now it is an overgrown zucchini plant. Aah, August.

Ostrich ferns, via The New Home Economics

Ostrich ferns and chocolate mint have been waging war on each other for several years in this north-side foundation planting. It’s a pretty contained spot—there’s only one direction for them to escape and it’s narrow (to the east/left side of the photo). The mint started so strong that I was afraid it would completely eradicate the ostrich ferns, but this year thanks to plentiful rain, the ostrich ferns really took off. Will 2017 be the year I FINALLY have enough fiddleheads to actually harvest and cook some? We’ll see.

Spider, via the New Home Economics

August is also officially the season of the big bugs, especially given our tropical weather. Out in the country, literal clouds of mosquitoes are helping to create literal clouds of dragonflies. This spider built a web between our fence and our nannyberry. By the end of summer, the prey-predator balance in the insect world of my yard means I worry more about saving butterfly caterpillars than eliminating aphids or cabbage worms.

I’m all for edible landscaping, but mixing in as many natives as possible creates habitat that brings your yard to life. And it is amazing.

 


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Beetles, zucchinis and french tomatoes

Hello! Here’s what’s been happening this week.

Millkweed BeetleWe’ve got a handful of milkweed beetles chomping away right next to our deck. They’re not causing any major damage, and they are kinda cute (it’s the antennae, I think), so we’re just having fun observing them. Anneke has spent many hours watching them, has named them all, and claims she can tell them each apart. Who needs summer school? Just add milkweed to your yard and you’ll be amazed how many different insects you’ll learn about.

CalendulaAnneke’s calendula is also in full, bright, glorious bloom right now. She is so proud, having raised these from seed.

Stock tank gardens and flower tunnelAll three of our stock tank gardens are looking great. Rowan’s filled in nicely with the dragon wing begonia, Anneke’s got her calendula, and between them is something new for this year: a tunnel! We planted two cup and saucer vines in Anneke’s tank, and have been tucking them in almost daily to get them to grow down the other side. They started blooming this week too. My lettuce is staying surprisingly nice in the largest (back of this picture) tank, considering how hot it’s been. Having it in part-shade definitely helps.

Jaune Flamee tomatoesOver in the main garden, another banner tomato year is taking shape. In particular, this Jaune Flamee heirloom is loaded with fruit.

zucchiniZucchini is almost ready to pick! I am excited to make my Grandma Rensenbrink’s zucchini cake again soon, among other things. We saw a squash vine borer adult flitting about yesterday, so I immediately ran to Mother Earth Gardens and picked up some nematodes. I put them around our zucchini and kale (since I’ve also seen a lot of cabbage butterflies around). I also took some to Sabathani for my squash garden there.

A 10x20 squash gardenSpeaking of Sabathani, my squash garden is doing well. The pumpkins (left) are looking the best, but in general everything is staying healthy so far. (Yes, I’m aware there’s a piece of garbage that I somehow missed. This is a community garden after all!)

communitygardeningThe master gardener plot that I manage there has also yielded a couple of harvests of greens and cilantro for the Sabathani food shelf already. The peppers and tomatoes have so far been looking rather uninspiring, so I gave them a top dressing of aged horse manure yesterday. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that if you live in the city you will never have the very important psychological experience of shoveling manure, because it’s simply not true.

soakerFinally, now that the weather is heating up and drying out, I am once again giving thanks for soaker hoses. If you are going to have a garden, there is no reason not to invest in them. Standing around with a hose is for amateurs. Word.

We’re eating our first green bean harvest tonight. Hurray for high season!


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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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Recipe: Zucchini Hashbrowns

Here’s one I missed out on—Adam sent me a text with a picture of the kids inhaling it for lunch the other day. So this recipe is all his.

Zucchini Hashbrowns
2-3 med. zucchini, grated
1 med. onion, grated
3/4 c. bread crumbs
1 egg
4 T. butter
salt and pepper

Sprinkle the zucchini with salt and let it sit in a sieve for about 15 minutes. Squeeze as much liquid out as you can.

Mix with all other ingredients in a bowl. We used Ezekiel bread crumbs.

Melt 2 T. butter in a 9- or 10-inch cast-iron or heavy-bottomed frying pan over medium heat. Add the mixture, place a few more pats of butter on top, and cover. Cook until the butter on top has melted, then cut into four pieces and flip.  Put a couple more pats of butter on, cover again, and cook until those have melted.  You’re done!

Adam served it with some fresh cucumber salsa (like this). The kids had ketchup on theirs. So sad I missed out on this!


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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.

brussels2-0903

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.