The New Home Economics


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Garden update

Here’s my garden now, during our Minnesota daylight bonanza.  From top to bottom: garlic, parsnips (at least half of which are dead from some unknown insect), banana peppers + herbs + 2 cauliflower, cabbages + cukes (to the right in cage), beans, peas climbing on the fence, and finally tomatoes on this side of the fence.  Nothing is perfect here, but things are definitely growing fast.  Especially those beans.  I had to thin the cabbages out a bit tonight.

I was warned about growing tomatoes in the same place twice.  Compare and contrast:

I planted these pots as an experiment, using half compost and half potting soil.  I wasn’t sure if they’d get enough light in this spot.  WOW.  They are more than twice the size of the pathetic little guys in the ground.  I might do all my tomatoes this way next year.  It is working great.

Peas on the fenceline: good idea or not?  Some of them got badly chewed up, but the ones that survived are producing peas and rabbits have lost interest now.  This could be done right, if care was taken to make sure that most of the leaves & stems stayed inside the fence until the plants reached a certain height.  Rabbits don’t seem to eat many plants over a foot tall.


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Community Gardening

This year, as part of the University of Minnesota Hennepin County Master Gardener Program (say that 10 times fast), I’ve been caring for a community garden plot at Sabathani community center here in south Minneapolis.  Here’s what our plot looks like (click to enlarge):

The Sabathani community garden is absolutely huge.  I think it might be one entire square block.  We planted our little section of it in May for a demo class on gardening, and now I’ve been maintaining it and donating the produce to the food shelf at Sabathani.

We consulted with the food shelf when we came up with the design for the garden back in April — we are trying to grow mostly vegetables that are in high demand there.  One cool thing is I get to learn how to grow some vegetables that I’ve never tried before, including collard greens, lacinato kale, and okra.  Collard greens and kale are neat because you can keep picking leaves off them and the plant just keeps coming back bigger and bushier than before.  A “continuous harvest” sort of plant is always nice when space is limited.

This is the weediest garden spot I’ve ever had, so we put down landscape fabric extensively to try and keep a handle on it.  It’s working quite well, I must say.


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Garden update

A bumper raspberry crop is on its way!

Also, we’ve been harvesting a small bowl of strawberries every day, a nice addition to our breakfasts this past week.  If you’ve ever wondered how many strawberry plants you’d need to feed a small family (but not have any leftover for preserving), here’s a good indication:

I think it’s around 15 plants?  I didn’t actually count them.  It’s a pretty small area, maybe 6 feet by 2 feet, curved.  It’s big enough for me right now: my daily battle with rabbits includes spraying these with garlic/pepper spray.  Every day.  Having a small area like this makes it a bit more manageable.

I pulled the remaining radishes and re-arranged the parsnips to spread them out — they were all in one big clump in the middle.  Transplanting root vegetables is ill-advised, as they can develop forked roots as a result.  This happened to me last year (but there were a couple of factors that could have caused the forked, stunted growth).  I needed to spread these out or I would basically get none.  We’ll see what happens.

My peppers are doing fine; they’ve really grown.  They have more insect damage this year than in years past but I’m not sure what’s causing it.  The two wee cauliflowers have taken off, too.  The basil looks bad, but the sage at the back looks great!  The flat-leafed parsley looks fine.

The cabbages have all grown quite a bit too.  I will need to thin these out again.

Cuke cage: inside the cage, the plants are getting quite big.  I have both radishes and cukes inside the cage, since radishes (supposedly) repel cucumber beetles.  I also planted them all along the outside of the cage but slugs ate about half of them (the blue lid is a beer slug trap).

Finally, the peas and beans.  Peas along the fence was a bad idea, in hindsight.  The rabbits can easily nibble the tops of the peas right through the fence, and they have done so.  They’ve taken probably half the peas.  This mistake seems really obvious to me now, but for some reason it didn’t when I planted the seeds inside the fenceline.  Lesson learned.

All this reminds me: time for my nightly spraydown of the yard with pepper/garlic spray.


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BUGS

This is turning out to be the summer of pests in my garden.  I had cabbage worms two weeks ago, and I’ve had LOTS of rabbit damage.  Just about every night, I go out and spray… oh, I don’t know… the ENTIRE YARD with garlic/pepper spray to try and stop them eating my plants.  It’s kinda tiresome.  We also added some more rabbit-proof fence to the garden, but we left the smallest of gaps and the varmint got back in:

This area used to be full of healthy, lovely peas.  Now it has a couple of peas and some stubs.  And now it has this lovely board (far right) blocking the small remaining gap we had left.  My favorite part was how the baby rabbit actually sat on the deck watching us block the hole, totally nonchalant.

Moving on, I lost several baby cucumber plants to slugs.  Not a huge loss, since I planted way too many of them, but… I tried the trick of putting a little container of beer to trap the slugs.  It worked pretty well!  I used these two little plastic lids, each with just a couple of tablespoons of beer.  I’ve caught 4-5 slugs each night for the past two nights, and then dumped them out on the sidewalk the next day and let the kids stomp on them.  Apparently, slugs really like Summit beer.  I’ll keep doing this for a few more days at least.

Here’s one I find a little more distressing.  My currant bush (new this year) has little globby nodules on its leaves.  I’d say they’re affecting around 25% of the leaves right now.  They are only on the top, and I can’t see any insects around.  Any ideas what this might be?  (UPDATE: I think this might be the currant blister aphid, though I did not see any aphids hanging around on or near the plants.  Apparently they are not fatal.)

I also have these random wild sunflowers in my yard.  I don’t know exactly what they are called, but they are now also covered with tiny red insects.  The insects are not on any other plants but these.  Here’s a close-up:

I don’t know what these are.  I’m going to do some research.  (UPDATE: U of M Extension to the rescue on this one.  Looks like these aphids, yes?)


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New bike (apparently I am a hipster now)

My purple Gitane is not doing so well, so Adam put together a fixed-gear bike from the frame of the Schwinn road bike I was riding for a good year or so:

(click to enlarge)

Yep, it’s got a pink chain!  A friend pointed out that I’ve now reached “The Williamsburg” level on the evolution of hipster-ness, so apparently the only thing I can aspire to now is becoming a meta-nerd.  I like how my new bike looks almost exactly like the one in the picture.  NOT planned.  Plus, I don’t have any tattoos so I don’t know that I’ll ever reach meta-nerd level.

I’m going to ride the fixie for a while and see how I like it — Adam used a flip-flop hub so if I change my mind I can easily go back to a standard free-wheel single speed like I’ve been riding for about a year.   Two cool things that I’ve noticed about riding fixie so far: it works more/different muscles in my legs, and more importantly, it forces me to be a little more cautious in my riding.  I guess I’ll have to quit zoning out/crying/whistling/doing anything but paying attention to the road while I’m biking…


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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…