The New Home Economics


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Summertime

We’re keeping pretty busy now that high season has arrived. I haven’t slept this hard in a long time. Not even the heat can keep me awake! Here’s a taste of what’s happening:

Making mulberry syrup

Now that my best friend CJ has moved back to Minneapolis, she’s been roping us into all kinds of adventures, such as gleaning mulberries. I’ve never even tasted a mulberry before, but we found ourselves in the back of CJ’s apartment building, shaking a mulberry tree and getting VERY stained and messy. It was great fun and in the end we had about 6 half-pint jars filled with thick, dark purple mulberry syrup. Mulberries are a bit like blackberries, but more bland. We added some sugar to sweeten them up while they cooked.

Turtlehead, chelone glabra, in full bloom // via New Home Economics

Can you identify this flower? I planted it three years ago; it was labeled turtlehead in the Minnesota natives section at Bachmann’s. It is clearly not turtlehead (chelone glabra). It’s pretty though, and I’ve seen pollinator activity around it, so hopefully it’s at least a native.

UPDATE: My friends at Minnesota Wildflowers helped me identify this as Great St. John’s Wort. Not turtlehead, but still a Minnesota Native, so, I’ll take it.

currant pie via The New Home EconomicsOur currant bush is laden with fruit right now, and our first harvest this week gave us just enough to make currant pie. So good.

Lilies and flowering cilantro // via The New Home Economics

My front yard garden has reached jungle status, but a beautiful jungle of pink lilies, purple coneflowers, white cilantro blossoms and yellow heads of dill everywhere.

TomatoesOver in the vegetable garden we’re still playing a waiting game—we’re now 3 weeks behind last year! We finally picked a couple of tomatoes that had just started to blush yesterday, but it will take them several days to fully ripen on the counter (this is our anti-squirrel strategy). The rest we just have to patiently watch. We have picked a couple of cucumbers and a jalapeno or two now.

blueberry_pickinToday I took the day off so the whole family (including Half Pint) could go blueberry picking in Wisconsin bluff country. Gorgeous day, and we got a really nice haul. Now off to help Adam make a blueberry pie…

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Beetles, zucchinis and french tomatoes

Hello! Here’s what’s been happening this week.

Millkweed BeetleWe’ve got a handful of milkweed beetles chomping away right next to our deck. They’re not causing any major damage, and they are kinda cute (it’s the antennae, I think), so we’re just having fun observing them. Anneke has spent many hours watching them, has named them all, and claims she can tell them each apart. Who needs summer school? Just add milkweed to your yard and you’ll be amazed how many different insects you’ll learn about.

CalendulaAnneke’s calendula is also in full, bright, glorious bloom right now. She is so proud, having raised these from seed.

Stock tank gardens and flower tunnelAll three of our stock tank gardens are looking great. Rowan’s filled in nicely with the dragon wing begonia, Anneke’s got her calendula, and between them is something new for this year: a tunnel! We planted two cup and saucer vines in Anneke’s tank, and have been tucking them in almost daily to get them to grow down the other side. They started blooming this week too. My lettuce is staying surprisingly nice in the largest (back of this picture) tank, considering how hot it’s been. Having it in part-shade definitely helps.

Jaune Flamee tomatoesOver in the main garden, another banner tomato year is taking shape. In particular, this Jaune Flamee heirloom is loaded with fruit.

zucchiniZucchini is almost ready to pick! I am excited to make my Grandma Rensenbrink’s zucchini cake again soon, among other things. We saw a squash vine borer adult flitting about yesterday, so I immediately ran to Mother Earth Gardens and picked up some nematodes. I put them around our zucchini and kale (since I’ve also seen a lot of cabbage butterflies around). I also took some to Sabathani for my squash garden there.

A 10x20 squash gardenSpeaking of Sabathani, my squash garden is doing well. The pumpkins (left) are looking the best, but in general everything is staying healthy so far. (Yes, I’m aware there’s a piece of garbage that I somehow missed. This is a community garden after all!)

communitygardeningThe master gardener plot that I manage there has also yielded a couple of harvests of greens and cilantro for the Sabathani food shelf already. The peppers and tomatoes have so far been looking rather uninspiring, so I gave them a top dressing of aged horse manure yesterday. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that if you live in the city you will never have the very important psychological experience of shoveling manure, because it’s simply not true.

soakerFinally, now that the weather is heating up and drying out, I am once again giving thanks for soaker hoses. If you are going to have a garden, there is no reason not to invest in them. Standing around with a hose is for amateurs. Word.

We’re eating our first green bean harvest tonight. Hurray for high season!


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My favorite weed

This wasn’t an easy decision, given all the wild flowers I grow for tea, but I’ve decided that my favorite plant with weed as part of its common name is… dill weed.

First, a bit about dill weed, or Anethum graveolens. It grows as a self-seeding annual here in the north land. Ask any experienced gardener, and they’ll likely say “plant it once and you’ll always have it.” It’s true. I bought Grandma Einck’s dill seed from Seed Savers at least five years ago and have never bought it since. Every spring I worry a little, waiting to see if any will come up, and every year it does.

Sprinkling dill seed heads in the gardenLast year, I used so much of it in pickles and I realized, in a moment of panic, that only a handful of seed heads were left out in the garden. I had seen a bunch of it at the community garden, so I grabbed several handfuls and distributed them in the yard, one day in November. You might say it was a success:

baby dills

My entire front yard looked like this about a month ago!

One of the greatest things about dill is its many and varied uses. Starting in the early spring, as soon as it’s big enough for positive identification, I start thinning it out a little and adding the baby plants to salads.

Dill saladLettuce, dill and arugula from my garden, Wisconsin blue cheese, some sunflower seeds. Didn’t even need dressing. When the dill got a little bigger, say 5 or 6 inches tall, I thinned it even further and dried some:

Dried dillTo dry it, I pulled whole plants, hung them upside down for about two weeks, then snipped them up with the kitchen shears. Have you ever had dill on popcorn? I am newly addicted. (Thanks for the tip, SouleMama.)

And really, even on an aesthetic level, dill brings a lot to the garden:

Baby dill among other plants

Here the little dills have started to show up, among the wild columbine, milkweed, purple coneflowers and some old Russian Sage. A couple weeks later:

Dill, Russian Sage, and Wild Columbine co-exist in a planting

I’ve thinned the dill out a little bit now, but it adds a nice accent. Also: this is one square foot of my front yard garden. The entire garden looks like this, all along the front sidewalk and path along the house. So, I’ve got plenty of dill.

And the uses go on and on. So far this year, it’s been fresh salad eating and a bit of drying. But when the dill plants get flowers, I’ll use the flower heads to flavor dill pickles. Did I mention that, when in bloom, dill attracts beneficial insects to your garden? The seeds can even be used and have a flavor similar to caraway, but more, well, dill-like. Just be sure you leave a few seed heads in the garden for next year’s crop.

Dill is among a few annuals that self-sow here, including curly-leaf parsley, cilantro (not quite as readily, but you’ll get a few), fennel, and German chamomile. I’m sure there are others, too.  Am I missing any? What’s your favorite “weed”?