The New Home Economics


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High Season

Now that raspberries are done, I have a moment to catch my breath. Let’s take a look around:

I was hoping for jaw-dropping before-and-after pictures of our back yard landscape project by now, but I honestly don’t think it’s going to look all that impressive before next year. As you can see, the grass is quite unhappy right now—and honestly, it’s so hard to keep grass looking nice this time of year that I’m not even trying. I have plans for it this fall; fall is a great time to seed and do general turf up-keep.

The new plants (in the now-woodchipped areas of the lawn) are all surviving, but are still quite small. I am really excited to see what this will look like when the viburnums along the fence get to their full size.

Closer to the house, the stock tanks are coming along fine. Red Russian Kale (on the left) is unstoppable. We have cut nearly all the leaves off those plants many times this summer, and it just keeps coming back. I had thought about re-planting more of it in August, but this appears to be fine for the rest of the season.

starting seeds for fall planting

Speaking of which, I’m starting some new lettuces and greens for late summer hoop house/stock tank planting. I’ve never tried this before. Will be moving them outside as soon as this heat wave breaks.  It WILL break.

The tropical parts of my garden, naturally, are loving this summer. My one hill of zucchini is enormous, and we’ve been picking approximately one standard-size and a handful of cherry tomatoes every day for about a week.

My green beans (‘Maxibel Haricot Verts’) have been taking a short break from producing beans to double in size and put out new flowers. Round two, coming right up!

My garlic-to-parsnips succession plan did not work out. Only a handful of parsnips sprouted, so I sowed some turnip seeds in the open spots. They sprouted almost overnight, so I’m hopeful I’ll be able to get a few small ones (center top of picture). I’m also exhorting my 4 rosemary plants to get bigger; they have been uninspiring this year. Getting plenty of chamomile for this winter’s permaculture tea, though!

banana peppers with disease

Not everything is rosy, of course. This banana pepper plant has had strange growth habits and some leaf curling all summer. I thought about ripping it out a few weeks ago, but then suddenly it started to grow like crazy. Still no blooms, though. At this point I may as well see it through.

Thanks, city of Minneapolis

In other sad news, the city decided that we needed a new sidewalk, since our very old boulevard elm tree had pushed up the old one. I understand that a concrete professional’s main job is to lay straight, square concrete, but in order to do so, the crew removed at least 70% of this tree’s most important roots. Then they helpfully made this cut-out, as if the tree would be here for years to come. It will likely be dead by this time next year, thanks to their work. Adam saw the tree roots on the lawn that night and said “That’s it. We’re moving to the country.” (An empty threat, since I work downtown and refuse to be a long-haul commuter.)

OK, let’s get back to more positive updates. All six of the ostrich ferns that I added this spring looked dead, until a week or two ago suddenly they all had new life. I’m sensing fiddleheads in our kitchen next spring!

Also, the one heirloom melon seed (‘Sakata Sweet’) that sprouted has turned into quite the impressive plant, covered with blooms. This particular melon is supposed to reach softball size, so trellising it shouldn’t be a problem.

Christmas Lima Beans

Finally, I had all but finished my garden plan when I realized I had forgotten Christmas Lima Beans. Since the kids have declared them a yearly holiday tradition, I decided to just try throwing them into this corner, which rarely sees much action. Result: wow! This year is going much better than last, for all beans.

I’ve made two quarts of pickles so far, but judging by my cucumber plants, I have many more pickles in my near future:

What’s happening in your garden right now?


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Recipe: Zucchini Hashbrowns

Here’s one I missed out on—Adam sent me a text with a picture of the kids inhaling it for lunch the other day. So this recipe is all his.

Zucchini Hashbrowns
2-3 med. zucchini, grated
1 med. onion, grated
3/4 c. bread crumbs
1 egg
4 T. butter
salt and pepper

Sprinkle the zucchini with salt and let it sit in a sieve for about 15 minutes. Squeeze as much liquid out as you can.

Mix with all other ingredients in a bowl. We used Ezekiel bread crumbs.

Melt 2 T. butter in a 9- or 10-inch cast-iron or heavy-bottomed frying pan over medium heat. Add the mixture, place a few more pats of butter on top, and cover. Cook until the butter on top has melted, then cut into four pieces and flip.  Put a couple more pats of butter on, cover again, and cook until those have melted.  You’re done!

Adam served it with some fresh cucumber salsa (like this). The kids had ketchup on theirs. So sad I missed out on this!


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Curing and storing hard-neck garlic

I harvested my garlic one week ago:

hard neck garlic freshly harvested

It was less than half my 2011 harvest. I simply planted less of it last fall, having had no plan and no time to come up with one. Last September-October was a crazy time at work for me (it settled down, thank goodness).

This is fun: I can now say, with confidence, that I know how much garlic is required to feed a family of 4 who really likes to cook with garlic. It is the precise amount that I planted in fall 2010 (~six 6-ft rows) and harvested in July 2011, one year ago. How do I know?  I had plenty on hand to plant for seed last October, gave some away as Christmas gifts, and had so much besides that it lasted until yesterday.

Last night we took the last handful of bulbs and roasted them in foil on the grill for a few minutes, then spread them on slices of baguette. A heavenly end to the 2011 garlic harvest.

Today I took the now-cured 2012 garlic harvest out of the garage and prepped it for long-term storage:

You know it’s ready when the tops have turned completely brown and the smell has diminished somewhat.

trimming hard neck garlic

With a sharp scissors, cut the stem down to 3-4 inches. Cut off the roots, and brush the dry dirt off. Try to remove as few of the papery layers as possible. Cut yourself some longish lengths of string and tie each bulb to it as you finish cleaning it.

There you have it, our garlic harvest for 2012 (layed out neatly on the trampoline). The string on the top of the picture has all the damaged bulbs. We will use them first—they don’t last quite as long. At least half of each damaged bulb is definitely still usable, though. We hang them in a warm, dry place right in our kitchen, and we’ve now proven that they last a good year this way.

No doubt, this fall I will have to buy seed garlic, but that’s OK. 2012 is going to be the year of the crazy shallot harvest, you heard it here first. (I can’t wait!)


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Raspberry jam with extras

A bit strange that with a 4 by 46 foot raspberry  hedge, I’ve never made jam. My mother-in-law makes so much jam that she supplies us year-round. Our dependency is so acute that Rowan once started crying inconsolably because we ran out and he didn’t know we could buy jam at the local grocery store.

Anyway, we’re in high raspberry season so I thought I’d give it a shot. Result: easy and delicious. I mostly followed this recipe, but cut back on the sugar and added the fresh herbs.

Raspberry jam with mint and/or basil
10 c. raspberries
7 c. sugar
~ 1 1/2 c. fresh basil or mint leaves

The ratio of sugar to berries here is roughly 3:4 so adjust your amounts according to how many fresh berries you pick. Next time I make this I am going to try for even less sugar, maybe more like 1:2.

Bring the berries to a boil in a large stock pot over medium-high heat, stirring frequently and mashing them as you go. Boil one minute, then add sugar. Return to the boil, turn down the heat a bit, and continue to boil, stirring relatively frequently.

Now. The recipe I was following said to heat up the sugar in the oven. I disagree; the sugar got really hard and difficult to handle.  The recipe also said that the jam would reach “gel” stage after 5 minutes of boiling. For me it was just shy of 20 minutes. I assume this was due to the lowered sugar amount.

While your jam is boiling away, chop your herbs.  I used a healthy 3/4 c. each of chocolate mint and basil.

When the jam reached gel stage — I followed the original recipe’s advice on how to tell — I poured half into each of the above bowls, gave it a stir, and ladled/poured it into clean, sterilized half-pint jars.

I found this to be easier with the mixing bowl that has a handle and spout, but a ladle works OK too.  I canned them in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.

There you have it. It set up even better after having a chance to sit out overnight. I’ve sampled both and can’t decide which I like better.  I will only say that the raspberry-mint seems like a good ice cream or chocolate zucchini cake topping while the raspberry-basil is going on either toast or polenta porridge.  Either way, good stuff and I’m glad I tried it!


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Blanching leeks

When you buy a leek at the grocery store it usually has a beautiful, long white stem. That’s achieved through a process called “blanching” and there are several different methods—most involve hilling up soil around the plant as it grows. Some people put a 3- or 4-inch pipe around the leek to shade it as it grows upward.

Eliot Coleman suggests digging out the leeks when they get to a certain size, making a 10-inch hole, then dropping in the leek. He lets the leek grow to maturity from there. So, we tried it:

They were getting quite large—borderline too big for this. Also quite floppy, so it was definitely time to do something.

Adam marked a line on an old piece of leftover conduit pipe. It pulled out a plug of soil to make a beautiful little 10 inch hole for each leek.

We did not fill in the holes, per Coleman’s instructions. They will kinda fill in over time anyway. They needed a bit of extra water those first few days, but seem to be fine now. I also did this with another row of smaller leeks in the main garden. They seemed like they handled the transition better.  The time is supposedly right when the leeks are about pencil width. These stock tank ones were a bit bigger than that — you can see how far they still stick up after transplanting them 10 inches deeper!

We were out of town all last week, so we missed the start of high season by just a couple days.  Fortunately we found a cousin who was eager to take us up on our offer of free pick-your-own berries. When we got back we immediately headed into the garden and picked a couple gallons of haricot verts. They are absolutely gorgeous, and magically delicious. Green beans and raspberries have been in just about every meal for 5 days now.

Even more amazing are the banana peppers and one tiny cherry tomato. Never before have I harvested those in June. Yes, this was June 30, but still! What a year.

Now as we head into the hot hot heat of summer, cukes (trellis to the right) and tomatoes (big structure at the back) are taking off.

Our hops plant (on trellis on chimney) has reached the stage of total ridiculousness. There is no way Adam will use this many hops in his home brewing. Garlic is just about ready to harvest. The grape plant on the rabbit fence is also a bit out of control—I want to move that next year, even though it will be a pain. Even Master Gardeners definitely make mistakes with plant placement!

Here’s a close-up view of my tomato trellis. I’m on track to have my best tomato season ever (knock on wood). Maintaining it has been easier than I expected. Make sure you check on your plants about 2 times per week to remove suckers and make sure the string is wrapped around new growth.  I’ve also added a few more pieces of twine for branches that seem to need it.

Whew, busy times! And hot.