The New Home Economics


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Garden Plan 2012

Time for my favorite post of the year: my garden plan is complete! Check it out:

garden layout for 6ft by 20ft garden plot

DETAILS (let’s start with the stock tanks, shall we?):

Stock tanks
Inspired by Eliot Coleman, I’m going to try and get multiple harvests out of 2 of my 3 tanks this year.  I’ll start some lettuce and greens seeds indoors in a few weeks, then plant them out in March or early April in some (brand new not yet built) hoop houses. Then I will probably just grow more heat-tolerant greens during the hot part of summer, followed by a fall planting of spinach and carrots in high hopes of a Christmastime harvest.  We shall see!  The stock tank in the top of the plan that lists herbs is in a shadier spot than the other two, so I’ll plant accordingly there.

Deck area
I want to possibly try Feverfew, an herb with medicinal use that has cute flowers. I’ve heard it repels bees (?!) so the deck would be a perfect spot. I’m also bringing back zucchini after a 2-year absence (check out my summer 2009 gardening posts for zucchini ridiculousness). Just one hill this time! Also a hill of watermelon using seeds that we saved from a really cool orange-fleshed watermelon last summer.

Tomatoes
I’m going to try something new with tomatoes this year, too. Also inspired by Eliot Coleman’s book as well as a couple of friends’ gardens, I’m going to try training tomatoes up on twine hanging down from a structure like so:

tomato trellis system

This is my friend Brian’s tomato jungle. A fellow master gardener that I know also has a system along these lines.  I’m hoping to get a higher yield this way — more plants, pruned down to their central stem.  No more bushy tomatoes in giant, tipsy cages.

Cabbage/green beans/fennel
I didn’t plan enough room for cabbage last year, so I’ve tried to be more realistic this year (note that the circles are significantly larger). We’re going to try Napa cabbage this year. Also, moving fennel back into the garden because it simply does not grow well in part-shade, no matter how hard I wish for it.

Leeks/basil/banana peppers/shallots
I’ve never grown leeks or shallots before, and Adam requested both. Really, this year is all about satisfying Mr. Gourmet Cook. I will always grow sweet banana peppers because they are hands-down my favorite pickled food.

Garlic/parsnips/bunch o’ herbs
I struggled to come up with something to plant in between my rows of garlic, which will be harvested by mid-July. It had to be something that started *VERY* slowly — why, parsnips of course! Parsnips and I are back together for 2012.

Trellises
I found some softball-size heirloom melons that are supposed to be trellis-able, so I’m trying those as well as cucumbers and peas.

Garden planning and seed starting information

My garden plans for 2009, 2010, and 2011
Starting seeds without peat or plastic
U of M Extension seed starting guide
U of M Extension: planting dates for vegetables (highly recommended)
U of M Extension: a whole bunch more information about vegetables

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Book Review: The Winter Harvest Handbook

The Winter Harvest Handbook
Year-Round Vegetable Production Using Deep-Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses
by Eliot Coleman

This book has been on my list for a very long time. Glad I bought it, because I absolutely loved it and plan to start using it this year.

Mr. Coleman and his family run a CSA farm in Maine (USDA hardiness zone 5a, only one tick warmer than where I live in Minnesota), and they are able to deliver certain crops to their customers all year round with some pretty amazing techniques.

We’re not talking about tomatoes here, but certain cold-hardy vegetables — greens, carrots, turnips — are actually superior in flavor during cold weather.  Coleman breaks it down: the history of winter vegetable production, the maximum-yield yearly schedule, “cold” vs “cool” greenhouses, the basics of how he handles soil prep and pests, plus the very best cold weather vegetable varieties.

This book is written with the small farmer in mind, not the home gardener. If I bought a farm tomorrow, I would use this book as a guide. But most if not all of his ideas are totally adaptable to the home garden, and actually will end up being more fun for me to experiment with since my livelihood will not be dependent on the results.

Coleman’s major discovery that has revolutionized his winter greenhouse gardening is simply this: he creates two microclimates by doubling the layers of insulation over plants.  The first microclimate is the unheated greenhouse. But the second, equally important one, is a layer of thin fabric, draped over the crops inside the greenhouse, like this:

(From Amazon.com customer image gallery, click image for source)

On average, the temperature under the inner covers is up to 30 degrees warmer than the outside temp.  This means if it gets to -15 degrees F outside, it’s still +15 degrees F under the covers. So obviously you have to have hardy vegetables, but still: a huge difference!  (And this was the first part of the book where I squealed like a little girl.)

He also talks a bit about cold frames, which are very popular for small-scale winter vegetable production. They were not practical for his farm because of the volume of food they need to produce, but he got me thinking about where I might fit one in my yard.

I can’t stress enough how useful this book would be, to me anyway, if I was starting a small CSA farm.  He talks about tools, marketing, and growing vegetables that give you the most yield per square foot, and what’s worth your time or not, in terms of how successful he’s been in the past at selling various items.

Several things that I’m going to try that I learned from this book, in no particular order:

1. I’m going to build wee hoop houses for my new stock tank gardens in the back yard and try for a late fall/early winter harvest of carrots and greens, using Coleman’s schedule and methodology.

2. I’m going to try his method for planting leeks. Most people hill up soil around their leeks as they grow, in order to get that nice blanched stem. Coleman starts his leek in large 3-inch deep seed flats.  He lets them grow until they are at least 10 inches tall. To transplant into the ground, he first digs 9-inch deep, narrow holes with a tool he calls a “dibble,” then drops the leeks in so only 1 inch of the plant is above the surface of the soil. Then there’s no mounding necessary, and he gets beautiful leeks.

3. I’m going to start a gardening calendar here on the blog in the next few days. My plan: record the dates of every garden-related event for the entire year. I hope to experiment with planting and harvest dates year-over-year and develop a better system to maximize my yield from my wee 1/4 acre.  I hope you find it [marginally] interesting!

4. I’m going to work on convincing Adam that we absolutely must add at least 4 cold frames. This will probably be about as successful as my work in convincing him that we should get chickens.

This book goes on the HIGHLY RECOMMENDED and inspirational list, for sure!


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Recipe: coconut manna muffins

coconut manna muffinsLast week at the co-op Adam accidentally grabbed Coconut Manna instead of coconut oil.  It’s made of dried coconut flesh, and it is… heaven on earth on a spoon. But I wasn’t really sure what to cook with it.  I decided to make some simple modifications to the banana muffin recipe from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman (still my favorite cookbook, even though I’m now a former vegetarian).

Here’s another thing to know about the manna — it would be much easier to deal with during the summer.  We keep our thermostat at 66 degrees, almost 10 degrees colder than “ideal spreading temperature” for the manna.  So I had to heat it gently in some hot water, for quite a little while before it reached spreadable consistency:

Coconut Manna Muffins

3 T. melted butter
1 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. whole wheat flour
1/4-1/3 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
3 tsp. baking powder
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 1/2 c. whole milk
3/4 c. coconut manna

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Grease a 12-cup standard muffin tin.

Mix together dry ingredients in a medium size bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together milk, manna, egg, and melted butter.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until combined.

One thing that made me nervous was the batter got quite thick — thicker than standard muffin batter — due to the manna thickening when it cooled in the cold milk. But not to worry. Spoon into muffin tins and bake at 400 for about 20 minutes.  Makes 12 good sized muffins.

These turned out great. Moist, just coconutty enough without being overwhelming.  With the amount of whole wheat flour in them, I was really happy with how moist they were.

And wow, just stumbled upon a whole collection of delicious coconut manna recipes.


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Happy New Year (budgeting time)

Happy 2012 everyone! I’ve just completed my yearly review of grocery expenses (2009 and 2010 editions), and you’ll probably be shocked (shocked!) to know that I did not stick to my resolution to hold the line on the amount of money we spent on groceries. We spent about $500 more in 2011 than 2010. But rather than promise to do better next time, I’m just going to say “OH WELL” and dish up some more foie gras.

Just kidding! We did enjoy an amazingly good soup this week, made out of more humble but delicious ingredients:

Christmas Lima Bean StewChristmas Lima Bean Stew recipe, which I followed verbatim from 101 Cookbooks. She’s right: don’t skip the toppings.

If there’s no financial apocalypse (I am skeptical at best), our finances should improve quite a bit when our kids go to Kindergarten in the fall and our daycare expenses evaporate (or at least go down substantially). So to prepare for that joyous (or scary) day and budget for groceries AND everything else, I’ve decided to start a Mint.com account. Will let you know how that goes…

My only other real resolution for this year is to bike even more — specifically to make at least half of all my grocery store trips by bike — this means I’ll have to bike more than half the time during the summer months to make up for the winter.  We have a cargo bike; time to use it for something besides hauling kids! If this winter continues as it has been, I’ll be able to start this week.

What about you? Any resolutions?