The New Home Economics


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Back yard project: update

It’s now been a full year since we “finished” our back yard project. Click here for the project plan, here for the detailed plant list, and here for a couple fun pictures of my kids helping with landscaping. So how are things looking, 3/4 of the way through 2013’s growing season?

Raingarden, relocatedFirst of all, we re-located the rain garden about 3 feet away from the garage, and properly tested it this time for overflow. Crossing our fingers that we will have better luck with flooding next spring.

A dry shade garden, via The New Home EconomicsUnder the large silver maple tree on the north side of the back yard, our three viburnums are all doing wonderfully. We planted two American Highbush Cranberries (viburnum trilobum) and one large Nannyberry (viburnum lentago). Two of the three flowered, but no berries have been seen. I’ve read that berries are fewer in deep shade.

Map of dry shade garden, via The New Home EconomicsI cannot tell you how valuable a resource these maps have been to me this year, as I anxiously checked for new growth this spring, and also tried to figure out which plant was which. As you can see, we lost some plants. Most notably, we lost ALL of our bunchberries (Cornus canadensis) and all of our cardinal flowers (lobelia cardinalis). My hypotheses: I read somewhere last winter that bunchberries prefer acid soil. Mystery solved. Ours is very alkaline. As for the cardinal flowers, I had originally intended to put them in the rain garden, but they ended up in this dry shade garden in a VERY dry year (2012). Cardinal flowers are usually found in low-lying, swampy areas, so that mystery is also likely solved.

I thought I had lost many of my ferns, but it turns out that they’ve been victimized repeatedly all spring and summer long by rabbits.

Tiny maidenhair fern, via The New Home EconomicsThis maidenhair fern is less than 3 inches across, and was hiding under some wild columbine leaves, probably the only reason it’s hanging in there! I’m hoping that if these ferns can get a little bigger and more established, that they’ll be able to withstand the nibbling a little better.

Lady Fern, via The New Home EconomicsLady ferns seem to withstand the nibbling easier.

Another dry shade garden, via The New Home EconomicsBecause this garden on the south side of our yard (and under a different maple tree) is closer to the rabbits’ hideout, it’s received the brunt of their damage. On the left side, several virginia waterleaf plants came up this spring, but they got eaten so many times I think they gave it up. Fortunately the celandine poppies, Christmas ferns, and lady ferns are hanging in there along with the pagoda dogwood, which has made a very impressive comeback indeed.

So, progress is slow, but everything is staying alive and getting established. I’ve noticed that native plants can sometimes take a bit longer to get established, so I’m trying to be patient. We’re now planning phase II of the project for this fall, which will involve building a grape arbor over the deck and eventually putting in a flagstone or paver patio (and thus eliminating a rabbit habitat). Next year, grape vines. 2015: my own wine?

Apples, via The New Home EconomicsI picked a handful (or rather a shirtful) of apples tonight. They’re starting to turn red, but a little tart still. Hoping that the squirrels don’t take our whole harvest; they’ve already thinned out at least 2/3 of them. The kids were sitting outside with their toy bows this week, shooting (nerf-tipped) arrows at the squirrels in a last-ditch effort to get some applesauce. We’ll see!

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A weird season

But really, what year is not weird in Minnesota? Last year we had an early spring and a hot, dry summer. This year, it was a late spring. We had a little bit of heat in mid-July, nothing record-breaking, and lately a string of absolute perfection: puffy white clouds, 70s and low 80s during the day, lows in the 50s at night. Perfect summer weather, in my opinion.

Cucumbers on trellis, via the New Home EconomicsPickling season has finally arrived! I have not fermented any yet, but have made a couple of batches of the Trout Caviar refrigerator pickles (recipe). I hope to start fermenting my first sour dills this week.

Tomatoes, via The New Home EconomicsOver on the tomato trellis, it’s still slow. We’ve gotten a couple handfuls of the smaller tomatoes so far. We picked our first blushing Brandywine. My strategy of picking the tomatoes just as soon as they start to turn color seems to be working fairly well: squirrels have only taken two or three.

Sorrel in August, via The New Home EconomicsHere’s a strange happening for this year. My sorrel looked puny and terrible all spring, bolted suddenly in July, then after flowering developed all this gorgeous new foliage. If the weather is cool enough this week, we’ll make some sorrel soup.

Canada darner dragonfly, via the New Home EconomicsAnother odd thing about this year: we have significantly more dragonflies around than usual. This huge Canada darner was resting on the cucumber trellis this afternoon. We also have had fewer wasps and a greater variety of wild bees this year, but the wasps could be running later, since everything else is so late.

Hollyhocks, via The New Home EconomicsAfter nearly destroying my raspberry patch and causing major damage all over the neighborhood, the bunnies were apparently so fat and happy that they left my hollyhocks alone for once this spring and we have a nice patch of them by the back door. Bumble bees adore these; it’s hilarious to watch them literally rolling around in glee on this flower. Can a bee look gleeful? I think so!

Tunnel of flowers, via The New Home EconomicsThe kids’ tunnel of flowers turned out great as well. Anneke’s calendula is to the right, Rowan’s dragonwing begonias are to the left, and the tunnel (some cattle fencing formed into an archway between their two gardens) has cup and saucer vine growing up over it. It’s required some regular tucking and redirecting, but it’s looking great!

Hops flowers just startingAnd finally, the hops vine is just starting to flower. Last year we harvested our hops on September 1; not sure if they’ll be ready that quickly this year. So, onward we go into the pickling and canning part of summer. Happy August to you!