The New Home Economics


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Summer!

Monarch release

Most of our monarchs were born on the same day, and lucky me that it happened to be a Saturday. All 14 have now been released into the world with much ceremony and fanfare.

Milkweed beetleRed milkweed beetle season is upon us, and Anneke has once again named several of the many milkweed beetles currently calling our yard home. They are really cute. She holds them and pets them and generally loves them to death, but we have quite a few to spare so I don’t worry about it.

Milkweed flowerWho says milkweed isn’t beautiful? I’m pretty sure this is Asclepias Speciosa, or showy milkweed, planted before I was good about making plant maps of my yard. (Brett Laidlaw: this was the one I was thinking of when I was mixed up on twitter; the leaves are so similar to asclepias syriaca, common milkweed.)

GooseberriesOur gooseberry bush is so laden with fruit that it’s sagging to the ground. Crossing my fingers we get these before the critters.

Red Lake currantsCurrant pie is in my near future.

Bee on coneflowerThe bees and butterflies are both very happy about the now-blooming purple coneflowers.

Blanket flowerSo, is blanket flower native to MN or not? It’s definitely native to North America, but the Friends’ Plant Sale had it under “garden perennials” not “natives.” Well, I planted it anyway and it’s pretty! Blooming in its first year.

Food shelf harvestWe got a nice haul from my sometimes-neglected volunteer-managed food shelf garden at Sabathani community garden this week.

Happy 4th of JulyHappy Independence Day!


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Solstice Garden update

It’s been about six week since I planted my vegetable gardens, and things are coming along nicely.

Hops taking over!Our hops plant, is, well, you can see here how it’s doing. And I cut it back to the ground every fall! Crazy.

Snow peas on trellisI’ve never had taller snow peas. They are approaching 6 feet tall, and just finally starting to really produce. You can see the sugar pie pumpkins coming in at the bottom too. To the right, happy happy tomatoes, which survived my early-planting experiment and are now thriving.

Snow peas interplanted with cucumbersSo far, inter-planting snow peas and cucumbers (as well as snow peas and pumpkins on the previous trellis picture) is turning out really great! The cucumbers, in particular, are climbing up the snow pea plants almost unassisted. I am very interested to see if this works out well, because it means doubling my yield of vegetables on the exact same square footage for these trellises.

RaspberriesWe’ve had a VERY rainy few weeks, and the raspberries don’t even look like the same plants that they did 6 weeks ago. They are huge and bushy and covered with flowers and little white fruits. After such a disappointing year last year (I think it was about 10 raspberries total) we are due for a bumper crop! Crossing my fingers.

Anise HyssopSince I’ve been promoting anise hyssop on here so much this year, I should let you know: IT SPREADS. This was once three plants. And it’s been thinned out and cut back a bit!

Monarch on silkweedI don’t know if it’s because I added so much more milkweed to our landscape last year, but we have seen TONS of monarchs this year. At least quadruple the number we usually see. Some of them we just left out in nature, because I felt that 14—the number of eggs we found and brought in—was enough. But then again, after a thunderstorm I checked on these guys outside and couldn’t find them. I hope they found a nice safe place to make their chrysalises.

Monarch chrysalisInside, all but one of our 14 caterpillars are now in chrysalis. And No. 14 will join his or her comrades any minute now. For a day or two, they were eating so much milkweed that I feared we might run out!

Purple cauliflowerFinally, a pic from our community garden plot at Sabathani. Adam took this when he and the kids stopped there this week to weed and pick strawberries. Because that plot gets a little more sun than my plot at home, things seem to grow more quickly there. My cauliflowers at home are not nearly this far along, although we’ve also been battling cabbage worms at home.

So far everything is coming along nicely in the garden except for one miss: my radishes suddenly bolted this week! I don’t know how I managed to miss the right moment to pick them, but I did, and as a result all but 4 or 5 were in flower when I went to check on them last night. Pretty disappointing, but I do have a few more that I planted a week or two later, so I’m going to try and be vigilant and catch those in the next few days/week.

How’s your garden growing so far?


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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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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!


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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!


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Planting season

Planting season is at hand. I had big plans for soil prep and planting things like radishes and potatoes this weekend, but I had forgotten about May Day and a few other things, so we’ll see. Fortunately, I am taking a working vacation later this week (don’t ask) so I will have two kid-free days to prep and plant away! Meanwhile, there’s a lot happening out in the yard.

Baby Anise Hyssop plantsAnise hyssop is living up to its reputation and is now filling in a few niches around the back yard. Quite a few niches. I can’t say I mind, though. It has beautiful purple flowers, is great for bees, and makes one of my favorite herbal teas. Did I mention it’s shade tolerant and native?

I’ve also been taking stock of our rabbit damage situation. Did I mention that rabbits don’t eat anise hyssop? Really, I can’t say too many good things about that plant.

Dogwood with rabbit damageHere is the red twig dogwood next to our front steps. Apparently, they brazenly perched themselves on the step in order to nibble away at it. Fortunately for us and the rabbits, this plant is misplaced: it’s too big for this spot and we have to trim it every year anyway.

Currant bush with rabbit damageHow do you tell if you have rabbit damage? Look at the ends of the twigs of my Red Lake Currant bush. They look like they’ve been snipped off with pruning sheers. I did not prune this bush over the winter. It’s definitely rabbits. They chewed this down a little further than usual this winter. This fall I’m going to try and work harder at protecting some of my fruit bushes from them.

Tulips with anti-rabbit measuresSeveral things going on here. First: I planted tulips before native plant mania took hold in my brain. They are not native, nor do they provide any value to wildlife, except squirrels who eat the bulbs in the fall and rabbits who eat the foliage when it first pops up in the spring. No value whatsoever to bees, butterflies, or birds. But, being Dutch, well, you know. Anyway: see that reddish stuff that looks like… oh dear is that hair? Yes, it is. Adam saves his beard trimmings all winter long, and it works great for rabbit deterrant. I spread it around the new tulips and strawberry plants every couple days or so until they get big enough to no longer be appealing to rabbits (right around bud stage). You have to re-apply because the smell wears off. Also, it biodegrades quickly, which is a good thing, because… gross.

Chives in early springChives are back, and fantastic-tasting right now. I’ve been putting them on EVERYTHING. Also rabbits don’t eat them.

Shitake mushroom logOur shitake mushroom log (purchased from these folks) also appears to be fruiting. This cold rainy week was good for something!

TINY snow peasMy snow peas, planted Easter weekend, are also poking through. I’m so excited for snow peas.

Rhubarb in early springRhubarb is really funny-looking when it first comes up! Rowan, inspired by my last photo, demonstrated scale for this one. With temporary tattoos.

First harvest of 2014!Here we have our very first back yard salad of 2014, harvested April 26. A small one, to be sure, but you have to start somewhere. Welcome to planting and back yard foraging season!


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This year, let’s plant for bees

It seems like the Save the Bees Movement has really gained traction this winter, doesn’t it? And thank God. I’ve had so many people ask me about what they should plant to attract bees and butterflies to their yard!

So, let’s start with some basics… First, what are bees and what are wasps? This one’s easy. Bees are fuzzy, wasps are shiny. Both are beneficial, but only one is a “pollinator.” Here are some images that should help:

Wasp on milkweed in MinnesotaHere is a wasp on some milkweed in my back yard. Notice that it’s shiny. Wasps may not pollinate our fruit and vegetable plants, but they do eat the insects that eat our fruits and vegetables. I once killed a nest of yellowjackets in my yard, but not until after my kids suffered several stings each. You have to use your best judgement on what you’re willing to tolerate as far as wasps are concerned, and be sure of what you have before you whip out the pesticide. Also, follow the label instructions to the letter. If you don’t, you’re not only breaking the law, but you could cause undue pain to a local honeybee keeper. In short, try a little tolerance.

Bee on Anise HyssopHere is a bee on some anise hyssop in my back yard. Sorry this picture is less than ideal, but you can see that it’s fuzzy. If you look from a different angle you’d also notice that its hairy legs are covered with yellow pollen. Bees eat pollen, and in the process they give us fruit, vegetables, tree nuts and honey.

Minnesota has more than 350 native bee species, and most of them live in the ground or in hollow stems of trees. So one thing you could do to help bees would be to make a bee hotel. Click here for 1 million + ideas.

But more importantly, we need to diversify our monoculture landscapes. Lawns=monoculture. Corn and soybeans=monoculture. And putting in non-native sterile nursery plants like tulips, marigolds, and daylilies (I’m guilty of having tulips) does not help, since they don’t provide pollen. Buying plants from big box stores is even worse, since many of these are treated with neonicotinoids, a pesticide that stays in the plant for… the U of M is currently embarking on research to find out how long. Neonics kill every insect that partakes of the plant, beneficial or not. Read local food writer Dara Grumdahl’s excellent Panic in Bloom for more on neonicotinoids.

Good news: it is now getting easier to find nursery plants that are neonic-free. The Friends School Plant Sale is 100% neonic-free. Bachmann’s recently announced that they are going neonic-free. The Hennepin Master Gardeners plant sale is neonic-free by design, since the plants are dug up from our own yards. Mother Earth Gardens in south and NE Minneapolis is also neonic-free. If none of these places are near you, go to a nursery. ASK QUESTIONS. If they are unable to tell you whether the plant is neonic-free, do not buy. I can’t say enough about the importance of avoiding big box stores for your plants (and not just because of pesticides; the plants are lower quality). Real nurseries will know what they have and be able to talk about it. Here is a helpful index of bee-friendly plant retailers in the Twin Cities.

So, now that we’ve covered all those topics, we get to the fun one: what should you plant? In a nutshell, go native. Most every wildflower that is native to our area will have some benefit for pollinators. Many non-natives do as well; I can think of several including dandelions, clover, dill, fennel, and the various vegetable plants that bees love to visit. Seed clover in your lawn! It will feed your grass (clover fixes nitrogen in the soil, which feeds grass) AND benefit bees.

If you’re really a gardening newbie, you could consider buying a butterfly or pollinator package, such as this delightful one from the Friends Sale. It’s a great place to start, since most plants that are beneficial to butterflies are also beneficial to bees. I would recommend buying and planting actual seedlings over one of those ubiquitous, cheap “butterfly garden in a can”-type seed packages. If you are newer to gardening it will be difficult to tell, especially with native seedlings, what is a weed.

The University of Minnesota Bee Lab also has a really nice list of native plants that help bees, and the required site conditions for each. Here’s another PDF from The Xerces Society that talks about both native and non-native plants for bees.

Great St. Jon's WortMany native flowers are stunningly beautiful as well as beneficial, such as this Great St. John’s Wort, also in my back yard.

If you’re adding pollinator plants for the first time, start small and simple. You don’t have to tear out your whole yard. But try a little plot with, say, some milkweed, bee balm, a couple of sunflowers, anise hyssop, and maybe an early spring ephemeral such as bloodroot. Note this spot must be full sun to part shade for these to thrive. And THRIVE they will; they are all very easy to grow. There’s a reason why milkweed has the word weed in its name. But I like easy, quite honestly, and I like this even more:

Anneke with MonarchQuestions? Ideas? Let’s save some bees! (Well, and let’s save the monarchs too, but that’s a whole ‘nother post.)

 

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