The New Home Economics


Wrapping up the garden for 2011

Wow, am I happy to be back here. I’ve been buried in a work project for over a month. My neglected garden is winding its way down for this year, but that’s OK. Some final pictures and thoughts:


One of the bigger celeriacs I pulled. We planted 6 of these, and ended up getting about 10 total bites of food from the whole business. They were 1/4 the size of the ones we received in our CSA. I had this one really great crop of parsnips the first year I had a real garden (2008), but since then my root vegetable crops have been very uninspiring.

The collard greens and tabasco pepper plants that I put in on July 4 did very well in their little tub. We’ve had several collard greens meals just from that one plant. The fall radishes in Rowan’s garden (foreground) never got thinned, so they didn’t amount to much due to overcrowding.  Rainbow chard in Anneke’s garden is still going, too. Thank goodness for greens — the only great success I had this year.

The kids helped me separate some dried beans from their shells, a tiny harvest. Apparently many people in Minnesota had bad luck with beans this year — just as they were blooming, we hit a perfect storm of intense heat (which makes bees stay home) and torrential rains (which knock off blossoms). So a reduced bean harvest was had by all, not just me.

2 c. of Cherokee Trail of Tears black beans, and about 3/4 c. of Christmas lima beans. We will likely get a few more of each.

Here’s what sticky traps look like when you remove them from your apple tree in the fall. GROSS! What’s that, you say, you want to see a close-up? OK:

flies on sticky trapThe insects are a lot harder to identify than I thought they would be. I guess many of them have been stuck on there for a long time.

potato tower harvest

We harvested our potato bin this weekend. It looked promising at first!

Baseball’s in there for size reference. We ended up with mostly tiny potatoes, maybe 5 lbs of them total. You may recall last spring, we planted about 5 lbs of potatoes. Huh. If I do this again I would not use any leaves as filler — they clumped together in huge chunks that no potato could grow in. I think I’d need more straight-up garden soil between each layer of seed potatoes.

A final view of the garden. Lacinato kale is still going strong. Everything else is dying off. A couple other notes from this year:

– Purple “cosmic” heirloom carrots are very hard to pull out of the ground. They’re cool looking, but only if you can manage to pull them in the first place! Perhaps they should be dug more like parsnips.

– Don’t bother with fennel or chamomile in part-shade. The chamomile will get few to no blooms, and the fennel will get very leafy but produce no bulb.

– We’ve cut up and frozen at least 12 gallons of apples for pies, crisps, and apple oatmeal this winter. Yay apple tree!

So there you have it: if you plant a great variety, you’re guaranteed at least some successes.


Operation save our apple tree

We are finally starting to (literally) harvest the fruits of our two-year effort at saving our apple tree. Two years ago, we had it professionally pruned, removing some diseased branches that the arborist thought might be infected with fire blight. The tree then went into shock and produced almost no apples in 2010.

This spring, however, it looked healthier than ever. The air was practically snowing with apple blossoms in late May.  So, with hope in our hearts we tried a couple different methods of apple pest control.

My first thought was to bag a couple hundred apples. Bagging apples prevents a few different harmful flying insects — like apple maggots — from landing on the apple to lay their eggs. Apparently it’s a common practice in Japan, and it’s gaining popularity here. After bagging about 25, I gave up. Our tree is so tall, I would have needed to rent a cherry picker to be able to do this properly.

Plan B: sticky sphere traps. I bought six of them (two kits) and got them in place the last week of June.  They are now covered with dead, stuck flies.  When I get the traps down in a few weeks I will look carefully at them to see if I can identify any of them.

I’m still not 100% sure what we have — from looking at the various U of M Extension diagnostic tools, I think we may have ALL of the following: codling moth, obliquebanded leafroller, apple maggot. These are some of the most common apple pests in Minnesota, so it’s not surprising.

However, I’m trying to look at this tree project as a multi-year process. The first few years we lived here, we had hardly any usable apples from the tree. This year? We’ve already frozen 5 gallon-sized bags of cut up apples for pies, canned 5 quarts of apple sauce, and look at these beauties that I picked today that we’ll just eat:

They are far from perfect, but those minor flaws are only skin deep.  It’s hard to estimate numbers, because the squirrels take SO many of our apples.  But here’s a rough guess of where we’ll end up for 2011:

25% totally unusable
50% suitable for sauce or pies once wormy/gross part is removed
25% absolutely perfect (well, I guess that means only skin-deep minor flaws)

This is a HUGE improvement over the first few years we lived here. And with the measures we’re taking this year, I hope to improve those numbers even more.  I’m not aiming for anything near perfection — you need pesticide for that.  Here’s some photographic evidence of what bagging can do for you:

bagged apple

Although I’ve had a few unbagged apples that looked this perfect, too.  Here was this afternoon’s picking:

A five-gallon pail of sauce apples, and a nice crisper-drawer full of eating apples. Not too bad, considering the relatively small effort I’ve put in.

If you have a pest-ridden apple tree, here are some steps you can take. Again, it helps to look at this as a multi-year process.

1. If the tree itself seems sick: yellowing or spotted leaves, whole dead branches, or other problems listed here, get it professionally pruned.

2. Try to determine what pests you have. The University of Minnesota Extension website has several different diagnostic tools you can try. This one walks you through step-by-step, and this one just lists common pests and how to identify them. (I prefer the second one.)

3. Follow IPM (integrated pest management) guidelines for the pests you know you have.  Since I am not 100% sure yet which pests I have (I do know that I have more than one kind), I’m following a couple of general helpful IPM guidelines:

General IPM for apples:
– Clear away all fallen fruit and leaves and throw them in the garbage, not the compost pile. This prevents a few different pests from overwintering in fallen fruit/leaves.
– Sticky sphere traps are great for apple maggot, a very common pest in MN. I found a kit easily in the organic pest control section of a local garden store.
– Thin out apples in early July (squirrels take care of this part for me).
– Bag as many apples as you possibly can. Simply cut the bottom two corners off a sandwich bag (for drainage) then staple them over the tiny apple as soon as it forms on the tree (usually late June here in Minnesota). Be sure to leave room in the bag for the apple to grow!

So there you have it, progress. Thank goodness something worked out fairly well in what has otherwise been a very challenging year in the garden.