The New Home Economics


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Spring happenings

Planting onion starts, via The New Home Economics

It’s all starting. I planted my snow peas last weekend, but that was about it. I had to take time off work this week to stay home with my spring break kids, so I accomplished a lot in the garden. Today, I put in my onion starts—I buy them at Mother Earth Gardens. Yes, planting the thread-like baby onions is a little tedious, but on a glorious partly-cloudy 60 degree morning, well, I guess it depends on your level of tolerance. I was just happy to be out planting and it was soon done.

I also planted some radishes—they weren’t part of my garden plan for this year because for the last several years they’ve performed so dismally for me. But I was staring at the garden on Thursday (true story), and I realized that I have a month (at least) before I could plant tomatoes. Radishes are supposed to take around 30 days, so I decided to try them once again, but this time at least two weeks earlier than I’ve ever planted them before. They like cool, rainy weather, so fingers crossed that this time I’ll see radish success. I planted them precisely where I plan to plant tomatoes. Will this work? We’ll see.

Sprouting serviceberry branches, via The New Home Economics

Anneke and I also attempted some propagation this past month or two. Here are several branches I trimmed from our serviceberry. Adam is keen on adding all kinds of native shrubs to his family’s hunting land, for deer, turkeys, and other game animals to munch on. After starting this experiment, however, I read that in order to propagate shrubs like this you need to trim off an actual sucker with roots, not just a branch. More details on propagating serviceberries can be found here. I’m going to try starting some from seed this summer! So even though this was a fail, we learned and we are now attempting to propagate one sucker that I was able to find.

In other disappointing news, our Sabathani community garden is in trouble. Plans to build a new senior housing complex right next to it mean that, best-case scenario, our garden will be closed for an entire year starting this fall and re-opening in spring 2019. Worst-case scenario, the space will only be available on a very limited basis to residents of that complex. Everything is very much in flux right now and I won’t be able to move forward with my food forest idea for at least a couple of years, if ever. Maybe that’s OK though. I do take on more than I ought.

First bloodroot of 2017, via The New Home Economics

The first bloodroots of 2017 opened up in my yard today. Aren’t they sweet! That’s my thumbnail for size reference. They do sometimes get bigger than this, but not much. I will be interested to see if I can spot any pollinators on them. I’ve seen a couple wasps and quite a few boxelder bugs flying around, but that’s it so far.

Red Lake Currant in early spring, via The New Home Economics

Ben Sarek black currant in early spring, via The New Home Economics

As of today, my Red Lake currant bushes (one of them pictured, top) are barely doing anything while my Ben Sarek black currant bush (pictured, bottom) is almost leafed out. It’s fascinating how different varieties of the same plant will behave.

Soil sprouted radishes, via The New Home Economics

We’ve been eating soil sprouts all winter long, and I really don’t see any reason to stop growing them now that spring is here. I want to try mixing things up, and growing 5 trays of pea shoots, for example, and stir frying them. I really enjoy doing this and highly recommend the book—Year-Round Indoor Salad Gardening. Pictured are some radish sprouts; we used them as a topping on black bean and sausage soup.

What’s happening in your garden so far? I can’t remember ever getting going as early as I have this year, partially due to having such a mild winter.


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Gardening Calendar

Last year I created a month-by-month gardening calendar for myself, because of the amount of work I wanted to accomplish. We also had an early spring, so that gave me ample opportunity to do some things early. I anticipate another early spring this year.

Please keep in mind two things: these dates are for the Twin Cities of Minnesota–USDA hardiness zone 4. If you live south or north of there, adjust by a week or more. Every spring is different, so I may have to adjust these dates depending on many factors including snow depth, temperature, and long-range forecast.

Feb 15-28
Now is a great time to prune shrubs. I pruned my currant, viburnum and serviceberry shrubs yesterday. It’s easy to see the shape of the branches when they don’t have leaves, and the plant is dormant right now anyway.

Now is also a great time to think about whether you want to start seeds indoors. Some will need to be started around the end of this month, including celery, onion, lettuce, and brassicas like cabbage and broccoli. I plan to start lettuce the weekend of 2/25. Here’s a great guide from the University of MN outlining when to start seed and when to plant outdoors. Go to your favorite garden store and pick up seeds, seed-starting soil, etc.

Hoop house on a stock tank for early spring greens, via The New Home Economics

Mar 1-15
The first half of March, I get the hoop house in place on my tank. In the middle of the month (depending on the weather) I’ll transplant lettuce seedlings into this protected spot and also sow some lettuce seed. We can still get snow into April, so this cover protects the tiny seedlings from heavy, crushing snow.

I’ll also finish up any planning, making lists about which new perennials I’m going to invest in, how many I need, and where I’m going to buy them. My goal this year is to visit at least one of the local nurseries that specialize in native plants, such as Prairie Restorations.

Chives, via the New Home Economics

Mar 15-31
The second half of March, things really start to happen. Last year I harvested chives and parsley before March 31! Chives are a perennial; parsley is a self-seeding biennial. We have enough parsley going in various places that we can reliably find some every year.

Parsley, via The New Home Economics

More seeds to start indoors during the second half of March: peppers, tomatoes, okra, and eggplant.

Apr 1-15
I plant my snow peas the first half of April. I soak the seed for 24-48 hours (change the water every 24 hours) to speed germination. You can see some of them growing their first root in this picture from last year:

Planting snow peas, via The New Home Economics

If we have a warm, early spring, you can also start looking for wildflowers in early April. Last year my bloodroot was blooming on April 13!

Bloodroot, via The New Home Economics

April 15-30
Mid-April through the end of May is the most intense time for gardening in Minnesota. I set aside several hours each weekend during this time. Most of this list depends on frost being out of the ground, so make sure your soil is workable before you start. Most years, you can depend on this by the end of April.

Amend your garden soil with whatever yearly amendments you usually add. I will be adding compost from my bin as well as blood meal, a great organic source of nitrogen, to my primary and community vegetable gardens.

Place your soaker hoses or whatever watering system you like.

Plant onions, radishes, more lettuce, any brassica family vegetable, hardy herbs, carrots, beets and other cool season crops that you plan to grow this year.

Divide and transplant any hardy perennials that are overgrown. Examples include hosta, rhubarb, wild columbine, comfrey.

If you grow hops, now is a good time to put up support for the vines, which will really start to take off. I use twine.

Rain barrels, outside furniture and decor can all be brought out now. Fill up pots with potting soil so they’re ready to plant. Some hardy annual flowers can easily be set out now, too, such as violas.

May 1-15
Last year I harvested both rhubarb and lettuce in early May!

Lettuce, via the New Home Economics

The weather should be nice enough now to remove the hoop house from lettuce. I always keep it put together for a few more weeks though in case I need to protect some tomatoes or peppers from a late frost.

You can *cautiously* start to plant out your warm season vegetables and herbs depending on: the long-range forecast, if you’re no farther north than the Twin Cities, and the microclimate of your garden area. You can *definitely* plant things like potatoes, all herbs except basil (unless you can bring it in at night), and all perennial flowers and shrubs.

May 15-31
With an eye on the long-term forecast, you can now safely plant the rest of your garden: tomato and pepper seedlings, bush and vine beans, cucumber (seeds or seedlings), pumpkins and squash, basil. Take a look at the nighttime low temperatures: are they generally at or above 50 for the entire long-range forecast? If so, you’re good to go.

I usually put down straw mulch at this time too, but that can also wait until early June.

When June arrives, harvest season gets into full swing starting with strawberries and radishes.

I hope you find this calendar helpful! I will be adding more specific dates for myself because I will also have a very large project to coordinate at Sabathani–more on that VERY soon.

 


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Garden Plan 2017

Taking a small break from the absolute dumpster fire that is America’s national politics (I feel so very fortunate to live in this city and state), I spent some time last week putting together a garden plan for 2017.

Planning a garden right now feels different than it ever has, I suppose because I feel different than I ever have. Of course, I’ve felt sad and anxious about American politics many times during my adult life, but (foolishly, perhaps?) I never felt raw fear. I realize this places me firmly in a position of privilege.

But at the end of the day, a garden is a garden, and even though I am changed, my garden is very similar to what I’ve grown in the past. Comfort in the familiar, perhaps? Without further ado:

gardenlayout17

Left to right, also west to east, in the main garden we’ve got:

Bed #1: collard greens, parsnips, and onions, with snap peas and cucumbers climbing up the trellis at the back. A single row of garlic is already in the ground on the right edge.

Bed #2: garlic, beets, and bush beans. Bed #2 is my widest garden bed; as usual I’m pushing it to the limit.

Bed #3: tomatoes. I’m giving up on interplanting tomatoes with anything this year. They just get so huge. Additionally, I may create a new squirrel-proof enclosure to grow them in, which will surely take up the whole area with no room for anything else.

Bed #4: something new! I’m going to try okra this year. I love eating okra, and it would be nice to be able to teach my Sabathani students how to grow it in our climate. Okra is a wonderful plant for mixing in your sunny flower beds—the flowers are large and tropical, similar to hibiscus in appearance. I’ll also put eggplant, runner beans, and shallots in bed #4.

At my Sabathani community garden plot, I’m going to be slightly more ambitious than in previous years. I want to grow quite a bit of lavender, so I’m planting a “hedge” of it all the way around the edge. I also hope this will help establish a neat border for my garden, resulting in fewer people walking through it.

I’ll still plant potatoes and squash there, but fewer, two hills each of summer squash—Pattison Panache, and winter squash—Turk’s Turban.

What’s new for 2017? I’m giving up on radishes after so many disappointing harvests. I’m also going to try carrots in a pot this year, having had less than stellar luck in the carrot division as well.

I’ve got several expanded flower beds at home to fill up with new plants this spring. I am going to try blueberries again, but this time in a half-barrel with acidified soil. I’ll also plant ground cherries. The rest of the open areas will be filled in with flowers, including these:

Blanket Flower — these are petite, make a great flower bed edge plant, and last year they bloomed from Late June-November. Seriously, November. I saw bees on them all the time, too.
Goldenrod — so important for late-season pollinators, gorgeous winter interest, and there are cultivars in various shapes and sizes.
Prairie Smoke — a tiny plant to put right along a path in a sunny spot. Beautiful, very early flowers followed by cool, smoky seedheads.
Little Bluestem — I first fell in love with Little Bluestem as a landscape plant for a very practical reason: it’s easy to identify because it looks so different from the various grassy weeds that plague my garden beds. But it’s also gorgeous in the winter, and provides food for skippers and birds. Here’s a great overview.
Solomon’s Seal — my favorite native shade plant. It’s gorgeous. It’s well-behaved. It’s easy to identify. It tolerates the dry shade under a very large maple tree. I’ve never tried making medicines with it, but the medicinal uses sound fascinating.

Why do I love these plants? They’re all natives, they all support pollinators, and they’re all gorgeous in the landscape, as well as relatively well-behaved. I’ve heard goldenrod can get weedy but I’ve not experienced that first-hand, perhaps because I have it planted in part-shade.

In making this list, I’ve just realized something. I was going to add Purple Pasque Flower to the list; I planted it in 2015 and its bloom in ’16 was gorgeous. I could have sworn I had found it in the native plants section, but I’ve just realized it is NOT native. There is a native purple pasque flower and a non-native purple pasque flower. You see, even master gardeners make mistakes all the time.

So, if I add more pasque flowers I’ll know which ones are correct, next time.

I also have BIG plans at Sabathani Community Garden this year—and I hope they translate into increased access to healthy, fresh food for the people who garden there. I will write a separate post about this after presenting the plan next week and hopefully getting the green light from garden leaders.

It’s time to translate my anxiety into action. Gardening is where I shine, so that’s where I need to put my energy.

Another upcoming post: I took a seed starting class recently where I learned some new things, enough that I’m going to give it a try again this year. In the next few weeks I’ll be sharing my new strategies as well as a schedule for getting everything in. Spring is truly right around the corner.

 


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Marianna’s Garden

I have a gardener friend named Marianna. She gave me permission to photograph her beautiful garden last summer and I’ve been saving the photos to share during the bleak midwinter. Without further ado:

Poppies, via The New Home Economics

Poppies are a unifying theme in Marianna’s garden. She lets them reseed every year, and they wander around. She also harvests the seeds each fall! One year she harvested a full quart of poppy seeds. Impressive.

garden arch, via The New Home Economics

Another theme is doorways or arches. She uses them to great effect to transition between different rooms or areas in her yard. This one borders the front sidewalk.

Garden arch, via The New Home Economics

Here’s another on the south side of her house. Many of the arches support clematis vines.

Garden arch, via The New Home Economics

They lend a sense of mystery and wonder as you transition from one space of the yard to another.

Bird bath, via The New Home Economics

A beautiful birdbath adds light and interest to shady hosta-filled area.

Bird bath, via The New Home Economics

The paths and small patios are a mixture of flagstone and landscaping bricks.

Side yard greens, via The New Home Economics

She has a few small vegetable and herb beds scattered in sunny spots of the front and side yards, including this one for chard and kale. Each one is fenced for rabbit protection, and all her beds are mulched deeply with leaves.

Rhubarb, via The New Home Economics

Edible perennials such as rhubarb are also included.

Walking onions, via The New Home Economics

I love this solution for containing a small bed of Egyptian walking onions (which are edible but spread aggressively). This little patio in the front is bordered by an herb garden on the left and a clematis-covered trellis at the back. The path on the right leads to the neighbors’ yard.

Clothesline, via The New Home Economics

Practical features like a clothesline are not forgotten in the design.

Main vegetable patch, via The New Home Economics

Her back yard features a large sunny vegetable patch, with poppies running through it and around its edge.

Deck and trellis, via The New Home Economics

She can look out on her vegetables from her back deck, which is attached to the house and deeply shaded by vining plants.

Raspberries, via The New Home Economics

Leaving no space unused, she grows raspberries along the north side of her house. I’ve also had success with raspberries on the north side. They are somewhat shade-tolerant, and they get plenty sun at just the time they need it in early summer. In the fall and winter, they are in total shade, but at a time when sunlight isn’t as critical for them to thrive.

Potted citrus plants, via The New Home Economics

Another way that Marianna has inspired me: she scatters potted citrus plants around the sunny areas of her yard. I keep expanding my potted citrus universe to the point where we had a hard time finding spots inside for everything last fall when it was time to bring them in.

Bee balm, via The New Home Economics

Monarda (bee balm)

Globe basil, via The New Home EconomicsGlobe basil

Astilbe, via The New Home EconomicsAstilbe

I love Marianna’s garden, and it has inspired me so much. Some takeaways that anyone could apply to their landscape:

First, think about your hardscapes. By careful planning, Marianna has beautiful hardscapes that function very well for her, even beautifully framing something as practical as a clothesline.

Secondly, think about rooms, and transitions between rooms. With doorways between different areas of the landscape, Marianna’s garden has a sense of mystery and movement—you are drawn through it, wondering what’s around the next corner.

Thirdly, all of this was achieved in a tiny Minneapolis yard. You truly don’t need a ton of space to create something magical.

I would love to add some arches to my garden in 2017. We’ll see how much I can get to… that probably is the final lesson here. It takes time to achieve a landscape at this level, especially if you’re doing it yourself. She’s been at it for 20+ years, and her time investment shows. I’ve only been gardening in my yard for ten years, so imagine how much I’ll have done in ten more. It’s definitely a journey.

Thank you for letting me photograph your garden, Marianna!


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Recipe: Nog Hot Toddy

Ingredients for Nog Hot Toddy, via New Home Economics

We go through at least 2-3 pots of herbal tea every single day during the winter. Perhaps it’s because we keep our house quite cool, but I’ve become totally disinterested in drinking anything cold this time of year.

I’ve been experimenting with hot toddy recipes. I really don’t like the taste of most hard liquors—I *ahem* indulged a little too much in my youth. But (at the risk of sounding twee) I really like liqueurs with interesting flavors and histories. My favorites right now are Drambuie and B&B. Neither is particularly strong (I’m a lightweight when it comes to booze). B&B is a mixture of Benedictine and Brandy.

nog_toddy2

Anyway! Here is my current favorite way to make a toddy. This one is perfect for trimming the tree, and my kids loved the alcohol-free version too.

Nog Hot Toddy

Ingredients for a single large mug:

Brewed tea — any of the nutty or cinnamon flavored ones. My favorite is Yogi Tea Tahitian Vanilla Hazelnut. I also like Tazo Sweet Cinnamon Spice. Anything nutty and or warming-spicey.

Eggnog — about 1/4 cup (adjust to taste). My favorite is Kalona SuperNatural.

B&B or another type of brandy that you like — 1 shot (optional)

Mix in a cup and enjoy!

Note: I would not use Drambuie in this recipe. It’s more suited to traditional hot toddy recipes, with lemon. Maybe I’ll work on developing a good reliable Drambuie toddy for January, when the co-op stops stocking eggnog.


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Growing soil sprouts indoors

I heard about Peter Burke’s book for the first time last spring. I had already started lettuce outside, so I figured I’d wait until fall to give it a read. I requested it from the library in late October, and honestly: this one’s a game-changer. I don’t say that lightly!

Year-Round Indoor Salad Gardening by Peter Burke

Book: Year-Round Indoor Salad Gardening: How to Grow Nutrient-Dense, Soil-Sprouted Greens in Less Than 10 Days, by Peter Burke.

What really excited me about Burke’s process is that is has a low start-up cost. He doesn’t use grow lights, and he grows his sprouts in reusable foil half-loaf pans, wonderful for people short on money, time, and space.

I read the whole book and it seemed silly not to give it a try. My initial investment was around $40—and even if it completely failed, I would be able to use everything I bought in my regular garden next summer.

Soil Sprouts - getting started, via The New Home Economics

It was a gorgeous fall day so I worked outside this first time. The seeds I sprouted, from left to right: radish, sunflower, buckwheat, pea, and broccoli. After soaking the seeds overnight and preparing some seed starting mix (you add compost and liquid kelp to it), spread the seeds out on the surface and cover with soaked, folded up newspaper. Place in a dark, warm cupboard–warmth is important to get them to sprout quickly and without rotting.

Newly sprouted soil sprouts, via The New Home Economics

Here’s what mine looked like after several days. My buckwheat (left) did not germinate very well at all this first round; I think it was because the furnace was not running very much that week, so the cupboard was not at an ideal temperature. At this point, they did not look appetizing at all. The kids said “EW!”

Soil Sprouts, ready to eat

After placing them in a bright window for a few days, they started to look much better!

Soil Sprout Salad, via The New Home Economics

Here they are all cut up and ready to eat. I was still very skeptical at this point. Would the kids even be willing to try them? Happily, the kids tried AND liked them very much. We ate our third sprout harvest last night. Next week, I’m going to increase my production from one to two meals per week. Burke grows enough to eat these every day… will I get to that level some day? Perhaps.

I did have to order more seeds already and soon I will have to order more seed-sprouting mix. But my total cost per meal is less than what I’d pay for California lettuce, and tastes fresher. Also, because these are the “seed leaf” of the plant and not the true leaves, the nutrition levels are higher than normal lettuce. They taste so good that Anneke has been sneaking sprouts before we even harvest them.

Soil Sprouts at Seward Co-op, via The New Home Economics

At the Seward Co-op the other day, I saw that I’m not the only one experimenting with these. The prices don’t seem too terrible, but suffice to say it’s still cheaper to DIY this one.

My favorites are the sunflower and pea shoots. The buckwheat shoots taste delicious but continue to be the poorest in germination rates, though I’ve seen improvement since that first round.

This book is now on my DEFINTELY BUY list. I highly recommend giving this a try.


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Progress and change

We’re going through lots of changes here in south Minneapolis. Some are seasonal—it’s going to freeze tomorrow. Others feel more substantial.

Blake the dog

We said goodbye to our old friend Blake on Saturday, September 10. Adam and I adopted him as a puppy in May of 2001; he was 15 years old. Rowan and Anneke have never experienced life without him until now—I caught Rowan sitting quietly with him several times in the week leading up to his final vet appointment. We’ll get another dog someday. But I don’t know that I’ll ever love another animal as much as I loved Blake—my dog baby before I had human babies.

All I do is laundry

Our other major life change is that Adam went back to full-time employment this fall after years of being part-time. As a result, our weekends have become something of a race to do ALL the laundry, housework, gardening, shopping, and everything else. We’re not ready to give up yet, though—with several major household appliances and a car all over the age of 15, we need to build savings.

Garden Shed, 2016

Here’s a more pleasant “life” update, or what feels like a life update, anyway. The garden shed that Adam started building five—yes, FIVE—years ago is finally complete. He nearly finished in 2011, but ran out of cedar shakes around halfway up the sides. It took 5 years of diligent Craigslist searching to find someone willing to sell such a small number of shakes needed to finish the job. I’ve been using the garden shed these 5 years, but it’s nice that it finally also looks done on the outside.

Garden shed, 2011

For comparison purposes, here are Adam and the kids working on it in 2011, when they were four. I think Rowan has more than doubled in height. His hair’s a bit longer too. Ah, tweens.

Pollinators of Native Plants

I’ve been making progress on my reading list this year. I recently finished Pollinators of Native Plants: Attract, Observe and Identify Pollinators and Beneficial Insects with Native Plants, by Twin Cities author Heather Holm. As a graphic designer, I found the layout of the book to be a little bit distracting, but in the end the content overcame the layout. This is a fantastic resource; I bought it so that I can have it on hand every time the kids see some new bug in the garden.

I’ve read so much about native plants, but so little about insects, and what a world there is to discover. For example, I never knew how tiny most native bees are—I thought they were all variations on bumblebees, but most are so tiny you most likely never even notice them unless you’re really looking. The other surprising thing was the great variety in shapes and sizes of the various wasps, syrphid flies, and other pollinators native to the midwest.

Thread waist wasp on goldenrod, via The New Home Economics

I was immediately able to identify the wasp on the left as a thread-waist wasp on my goldenrod thanks to this book. On the right, most likely a bumblebee, but it could also be one of several bumblebee mimics. I’m no longer certain!

Learning about our great variety of pollinators drives home the realization that the number of native midwestern insects that we fear because of stinging is such a very small part of the whole population. I have killed nests of yellowjackets in my yard before, but to lump all bees and wasps together with them really does the larger number of them a major disservice. It’s truly becoming one of my life’s missions to help people understand the difference between bees and wasps, and now also between different types of wasps! Because let’s face it: wasps are beneficial, too. How could they not be, when they evolved with our ecosystem right alongside bees, flowers, and everything else?

Trees and Shrubs of Minnesota

I also just finished Trees and Shrubs of Minnesota, by Welby R. Smith. This is also a wonderful resource—especially if you own land or live in the country and want to try and identify the plants growing on your property. It contains general information, distribution, and specific identifying characteristics to help you distinguish even between different types of, for example, currants. I had no idea how many different types of wild currants we have in our state. With four distinct biomes, there’s a lot to cover. This book would not be appropriate for bringing along on a hike; it’s way too big and heavy. This is on my official Christmas list for 2016.

Elephants Ears

With the frost coming tomorrow, several important chores needed to happen this past weekend. Chief on Anneke’s mind was potting up her elephant’s ears and bringing them in for the winter. I’m not sure how this happened, but my kid has become obsessed with tropical plants. And the elephants ears keep multiplying—this started as one plant only 3 years ago. I composted a few of them when she wasn’t looking. She now has a large plant shelf in her room supporting new roommates for the winter, most of which she started from seed on her own: 5 elephants ears, 1 avocado tree, 4 grapefruit trees, and a venus fly trap. She “let” me keep my Meyer lemon in the living room. It’s a silly plant zoo around here.

Musquee de Provence pumpkins, via The New Home Economics

Our Musquee de Provence pumpkins also got hauled in from the community garden plot at Sabathani. There should be four more of these; we lost two to rotting and two to thievery. I was surprised at the thievery—this is the first time my garden has ever been hit. I just hope those thieves cook them up and eat them, because they are DELICIOUS. We made one into a pie on Sunday and it was brightest-orange colored pumpkin pie I’ve ever seen.

Milkweed bugs

Winter is coming. Quick, let’s have a milkweed bug swarm! I could spend all day, every day in my garden observing all the crazy things that go on there. As a proud Minnesotan I do appreciate the winter, though. Enjoy autumn, everyone.