The New Home Economics


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A harvest supper

Stuffed butternut squashWe harvested the tiny butternut squashes from our community garden plot this weekend. I also wanted to use up some of the kale that’s still in the garden, so we made plans to have squash, greens and bacon, and wild rice, but when the squash came out of the oven, we thought: why not combine them all and make stuffed squash?  Alas that, in my eagerness to eat, I only took this low-quality cellphone picture.

Recreate this ultimate October in Minnesota meal:

Find some small squashes. Whatever kind you like. While they’re baking, start some wild rice cooking on the stove. Fry some bacon, chop it up, set it aside. Then saute some onion and whatever greens you have on hand in the bacon fat. Toss in a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and a few hot pepper flakes. (See full recipe for bacon and greens.) When the wild rice is done cooking, toss with some olive oil, salt and pepper. When the squash are done, stuff the hole of each with a generous spoonful of wild rice, then top with the greens, then the bacon. Drizzle a small amount of maple syrup over the whole thing.

Wow. Even Miss Ultra Picky 6YO Who Will Basically Only Eat Venison At This Point ate this enthusiastically. Well, she didn’t throw a tantrum anyway.

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The humble parsley

Dried and fresh curly parsley, via The New Home EconomicsCurly parsley. “Why would anyone ever grow that?” asked a curmudgeonly master gardener with whom I was paired on a project, several years ago. “Flat leaf, Italian parsley tastes so much better.”

Worried that I was committing a master gardener faux pas with my curly parsley enthusiasm, I dutifully planted flat leaf parsley the following spring. It was good, but was it better? Not necessarily. Here’s why: curly parsley has become a perennial (technically: a self-sowing annual) in a partly-shaded area of my front flower garden. Flat leaf parsley needs more sun, and doesn’t survive the winter here in Minnesota.

Here’s the part of my front-yard garden where curly parsley grows:

Autumn parsley patch, via The New Home Economics

This was after a major picking; still plenty left. We’ll keep picking it fresh until it’s covered with snow, as it is cold tolerant. It always starts slow, and every year I wonder whether I’ll get any, but it’s come back consistently without replanting, every year for at least 5 years. My front yard flower and herb garden supplies me with many little things that end up having a major impact on our cooking: parsley, dill, chives, oregano, thyme, fennel seeds, even cilantro/coriander. And it all comes back year after year with little effort on my part.

Last winter was the first time I tried drying any parsley; initially it didn’t seem worth it since it has less flavor when dried. But Adam fell in love with its subtle flavor—particularly for soups and egg dishes—and ran out by the end of 2012. This year, I’m drying a much bigger supply for him.

Added bonus: curly parsley is one of the favorite foods of the black swallowtail caterpillar. Plant some, and you are virtually guaranteed to attract some swallowtails to your yard. Our kids have raised a handful of them every summer for several years.

Do you grow parsley? Would you ever use dried parsley for anything?


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Putting by

Adam always makes fun of me when I use the phrase “putting food by”—as if it’s 1932. But I like it; it reminds me of both my grandmas. I’m not sure what happened this fall but we’ve put by way more than we ever have before. Take a look at this freezer!

A freezer full of food for the winter, via The New Home Economics

On the left we have 1/2 a hog (including the fat), a whole deer, 1/4 beef, and a bunch of sliced apples. On the right: lard, a few containers of tomato sauce, strawberry jam, pesto, and hops. All set.

Stock tank garden, via The New Home EconomicsOver in my fall greens garden, our wild arugula has gone completely mental. These plants (cascading over the front) have kept going all spring and summer, and the flowers do not seem to have any real negative effect on the taste. I had wild arugula last year as well that went to seed, and I’m noticing volunteers popping up everywhere. I’m considering letting it naturalize around this tank. It is so delicious. The rest of the greens are doing well, although once again the lettuce underperformed. It simply doesn’t grow very fast this time of year. The chard is doing really well though, so we have plenty to eat in here.

Tiny carrot, via The New Home EconomicsThe row of carrots that I planted near the end of July, however, is pretty underwhelming. They’re still very tiny, and I don’t know how much more they’re really going to grow at this point with the tiny amount of sunlight they’re getting. Well, now I know beyond the shadow of a doubt: I need to just stick with leafy greens in this part-shade situation.

Lacinato kale, via The New Home EconomicsLacinato kale still going strong in the main garden. Just because tomato and cucumber season is over does NOT mean fresh food season is over, not by a long shot.

Dried herbs for tea, via The New Home Economics

I’ve dried lots of herbs for tea this year. We ran out quickly last year of our favorites—anise hyssop and chocolate mint. I’m hoping to be able to give away samples of my Evening in Minneapolis blend for Christmas this year. Since we have not yet had a frost, herb picking and drying season is still in progress.

New compost bin

Finally, the most exciting development around here lately: we have a new compost bin! It’s a Mantis ComposTwin, which we were fortunate enough to find gently used, for a great price, on craigslist. Our old open compost bin was getting rickety, and we had complaints from some neighbors about squirrels and other rodents dining there, so I’m hoping to increase neighborhood harmony as well as produce compost faster. Plus now I don’t have to manually turn my pile. Excellent!


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Cover cropping

A first for me, in 2013: I am using cover crops both at my home garden and at the Sabathani community garden plot that I manage. Here’s Sabathani:

Cover crop of buckwheat and annual rye, via New Home EconomicsI planted this nearly a month ago, on September 16. Over the last two years at least, our plot at Sabathani has been riddled with disease. I’ve got the weeds under control now, but the insects and diseases translated to a less-than-average crop last year and a poor one this year.

Since the plot was producing next to nothing in early September anyway, I ripped out all the plants and put in buckwheat and annual rye. It might take a few years of doing this and other measures, but I’m hoping that by increasing soil fertility, I can improve my yield at this plot.

So, cover crops. How do they help? Mostly, they are about suppressing new weeds and creating a bunch of organic matter that is easily turned over into the soil in spring. On-site composting! There are a number of different options depending on your needs. I chose buckwheat and annual rye because they will both be killed by a frost, so in the spring I’ll simply have to turn the dead plant material over and start anew. Also, Southside Farm Supply (my new favorite neighborhood store) had both in stock, so that was also frankly a big point in their favor.

I was so impressed by how this went at Sabathani, that I decided to rip out most of my home garden yesterday, too (except the kale, Christmas lima beans, and rosemary).

Garden almost put to bed for winter, via The New Home EconomicsI hemmed and hawed about this for a couple of weeks, but as we are now nearly a full month past the first average frost date, it was now or never. Hopefully the seeds will have time to sprout and grow an inch or two before we get a killing frost.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about short-term vs. long-term gain. The plants that I removed yesterday were still very much alive and producing, albeit very little. But this year, anyway, I decided that the long-term health of my soil was more important than another handful of tomatoes and (maybe) one more quart of pickles. We’ll see if my strategy pays off.

It seems like I have fewer pest and disease problems every year at my house. 2012 and 2013 were VERY different years, weather-wise; yet I had what I would deem a mostly successful garden both years, with few problems. Could it be that I’m getting better with practice? Well, I wouldn’t want to brag.

I found a couple of University of Minnesota Extension resources on cover crops that I thought were quite useful:

Cover Crop Options (table of crops, when to plant, benefits of each, etc.)

Why you should consider using cover crops in 2012 (I’d add, “or any year”)

Both of the above links are written for farmers, but they are completely applicable to home gardeners interested in improving their soil.

The hard part about Minnesota, of course, is that our growing season is so short, and our winter so harsh—it can be hard to fit a few weeks in for growing a cover crop. In milder climates, cover crops are planted in the fall and grow all winter. Not so here in the north land, where NOTHING grows all winter. Uh oh, here comes another “I’m annoyed by permaculture people whose ideas/advice are all based on living in milder climates” moment. Well, at any rate, you have to try and make the most of where you live, and a Minnesota winter has its charms, too.

What do you think? Was it even worth it to plant a cover crop at my home garden this late in the game?


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Two books

I managed to read two gardening-related books this summer (and a healthy dose of fiction, don’t worry).

How to Move Like a Gardener - Book Review via The New Home EconomicsHow to Move Like a Gardener: Planting and Preparing Medicines from Plants
by Deb Soule of Avena Botanicals

I first heard of this book through SouleMama, a parenting/gardening/homesteading blog I’ve been reading for several years. The author of that blog is a fan of Avena Botanicals products, and one thing that this book is very successful at is making me want to try one of their tinctures, teas, or lotions.

However, I am more interested in making medicines from plants myself, and this book fell a little short for me. The title was a little misleading for me; most of the book is a vivid, interesting description of how the Avena Botanicals farm is run and their philosophy of agriculture, spirituality, and even tools. They follow biodynamic agriculture principles, and this was my first introduction to it.

Biodynamic agriculture goes far beyond organic. For example, one of the “biodynamic preparations” that Soule describes involves packing a cow’s horn with manure, burying it for several months, unearthing it, then stirring the now-composted manure into fresh rainwater for an entire hour, then spraying it on crops. All these things must be done at specific times of day AND specific times of year. There are several other biodynamic preparations described in much greater detail in the book.

Honestly, I don’t think that this or strategies like moon-cycle planting are whack, I’ve just never personally tried them. Maybe I ought to. At the very least, by combining meditation with farming, Soule is able to achieve a level of harmony and inner peace with her land and her work on it that must make it a very special place indeed.

The last third of the book is devoted to descriptions of medicinal plants, with advice about cultivating and collecting for each, as well as indications, preparation and dosage. I wished the “preparation” part would have been a bit more detailed—I wanted recipes for tinctures, lotions and the like. She uses many herbs I had never previously heard of, such as gotu kola, ashwaganda, and schisandra, while also providing detail on more common plants such as lavender, rosemary, dandelion and nettle.

A few North American native plants are represented, including Solomon’s Seal and Echinacea.

Beyond excessive wintertime herbal tea drinking, I don’t know how far down the herbal medicine route I’m going to go, but I find it all fascinating. This book was not exactly what I thought it would be, but it was interesting, and a good reminder to me of the importance of intimately knowing your piece of land and all its microclimates—and how valuable that knowledge can be.

The Secrets of Wildflowers, a book review via The New Home EconomicsThe Secrets of Wildflowers
A Delightful Feast of Little-Known Facts, Folklore, and History
by Jack Sanders

I bought this book at the 2013 Wild Ones conference in February after paging through my neighbor’s copy. Unlike Soule, Sanders almost exclusively covers North American native wildflowers, including a handful of non-natives that have spread so excessively through our continent that they are here to stay; for example, Coltsfoot, Dandelion, Bindweed, and Chicory.

Each plant is given what can only be described as a short story, comprised of a great variety of details including botanical descriptions, historical medicinal uses, names and naming controversies, modern medicinal uses, and poems.

I found this book entertaining because so many of the plants I’ve recently added to my landscape are included, such as monardas, St. Johnsworts, asclepias (millkweeds), wild geraniums, celandine poppies, and wild columbine. It also made me very curious about some plants that I’ve never seen but will now seek out in the woods, including may apples, jewelweed and indian pipes. After reading this book, I identified a handful of plants while hiking, including jack-in-the-pulpits and baneberries.

The writing is entertaining and accessible, if you have interest in native plants. I enjoyed it, and will be picking it back up as I choose new landscape plants for next year. Reading a story about each plant is so much more memorable and interesting than simply scanning a table of characteristics.


The other day, we were on a hike and Rowan picked up some seeds off the ground. “What plant did these come from, mom?” I had to admit I didn’t know. Then Anneke piped up. “Those are totally from a basswood tree. See? There it is!”  My kids have a much more highly-developed sense of place than I did at their age. I spent time on the edges of cornfields and cow pastures, but I never learned the names of plants or observed at the level that my kids do. Learning about where I live—the plants, animals, and insects that are native to my corner of the earth—enriches my life in so many ways beyond merely gardening.

One of my favorite blogs lately has been Ben Hewitt’s account of his family’s very successful homesteading adventure. Recently, he said:

Stop thinking of yourself as a steward of the land. That’s the same old, tired story of humans over nature.

Instead, think of the land as the steward of you. And treat it with the respect your caregiver deserves, dammit.

Just think about that. Isn’t it wonderful?