The New Home Economics


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Finally, spring

Prince was right: sometimes it does snow in April. It snowed quite a bit this April, so I’m squeezing all my garden work into May—I’ve done some all-day marathon weeding, dividing, and replanting sessions and I’m about halfway done, optimistically.

But my cherry tree is blooming:

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Last year, Adam increased the size of several of my garden beds when he did his paver path project. He also created a new berm in front, which I started planting last August. Then I went to a Wild Ones conference in February and decided I must add another garden bed to the back yard. We now will only have one very small patch of grass.

All of this is to say that I have many spaces to fill in, and nearly all of them are shady. Fortunately, I watched all available episodes of Big Dreams, Small Spaces on Netflix this winter, and it’s making me look at my gardens with new eyes. Monty Don has come to America and I am now a fan.

My biggest takeaway from the show is that you don’t need hundreds of different kinds of plants in your garden. In more than one episode Don asserts that a garden really only needs ten types of plants. TEN!? I’ve always known repetition is a key element of design, but this made me think about it in a new way—I have easily 45 different varieties of plants, counting vegetables and fruits.

The show made me realize why I love my garden best in July. Could it be because coneflowers—a repeating element that ties every area of my yard together—are in full bloom?

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(photo from last year)

This time of year is when my lack of repetition makes my front yard garden less appealing than it could be. I have only one small patch of tulips that are pretty. It’s time to take Monty Don’s advice.

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Since my bloodroot in the back yard were spreading quite a bit, I divided them and planted them all over my front yard gardens. Step one.

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My Jacob’s Ladder, another pretty and easy-to-grow woodland plant, also had spread quite a bit. So this patch has been divided and moved around, too. (Photo from last year.)

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I’m also dividing and replanting Solomon’s Seal. It’s a gorgeous native woodland perennial, and easy to maintain. I first planted it in the dry shade under a silver maple and it’s thriving there. This will be another unifying theme in my shade gardens.

All of this dividing and replanting is also saving me a little money, which is nice. Things are moving along in the vegetable gardening realm as well:

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I put my lettuce out very late. I was putting together the hoop house and realized I actually didn’t need it, so instead I put some chicken wire on the frame to keep squirrels out—they LOVE digging up freshly planted seedlings. The wire did not keep Buckles the black lab from lying on the lettuce one night, but the lettuce recovered nicely and we’re now starting to pick some. I should be able to remove the wire this weekend.

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Another idea I read about over the winter was interplanting strawberries and shallots. I’m curious to see how it will turn out. I’m putting my husband’s saved beard hair trimmings on the strawberries every other day or so until the plants get big enough that the rabbits lose interest.

I’ve got onions, carrots, and leeks planted in the garden, but that’s it. Everything was so late that I didn’t bother with peas or radishes this year. I don’t plan on putting in tomatoes or peppers until next weekend, the 19th or 20th. The weather has been a little too volatile this spring.

Happy spring to you; I hope to be back with my annual Memorial Day phenology photo shoot at the end of the month.

 

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Garden Plan 2018

Happy Superb Owl Sunday! I actually saw three great horned owls this week while running along Minnehaha Creek; I can only assume they were here for the “event.” As for me, I think it will be a fire in the fireplace and board games tonight.

I did some careful sketching and reading through my journal the past few weeks to come up with my garden design for this year. I’m incorporating several things I’ve read about, and some insights from 2017. Without further ado:

Sample garden layout for 6 foot by 20 foot garden, via The New Home Economics

From left to right, here are my plans and my inspiration for them all:

Tomatoes. Last year I debuted my new squirrel-proof tomato cage and it was well-worth the effort of building it. We had an abundance of tomatoes, and are still enjoying frozen tomato sauce (I use the oven-roasted tomatoes recipe from this book and then freeze it in half-pints).

I also finally had radish success last year by planting them earlier than I EVER have, I believe the second week of April. They were just about done by the time I planted my tomatoes, so it worked out beautifully. I plan to repeat that this year. I’m also planting two tomatillos. I love tomatillo salsa—I don’t really use a recipe but my method is something like this one from Epicurious.

I’ve tried tomatillos before and was disappointed by how few I got, but then I was reading the Seed Savers 2018 catalog and they recommend planting at least two tomatillos for best pollination. Maybe that explains my puny harvests before! I’m giving two plants a try this year.

Next, I’m going to try an interplanting of onions, carrots, and leeks. I tried leeks once before, and they turned out only OK, but I’ve learned a lot since then. I’ll sow carrot seed (I’m going to try soaking it overnight this year), onion starts, and leek seedlings. This bed can be planted early as well—probably around the end of April or very early May.

Next, I’m going to try moving my chamomile plants back into my garden after a few very uninspiring years in the herb spiral. They really need the fullest sun possible to get a profusion of flowers, and attracting a few more bees to the garden couldn’t hurt for my vegetables either. I’m also planting fennel and kohlrabi here. All three will have to be planted as seedlings.

My haricot verts will go in the last garden bed near the chimney. They’re one of the few non-heirloom seeds I grow—they are spectacular and prolific and I can’t find an heirloom that is their match. I’m also growing runner beans, though, so I might change my mind and put a hill of zucchini in this spot.

You’ll note the big question mark in my Sabathani community garden plot. We’ve been unable to find out whether we can garden there in 2018 or not. Sabathani community center [apparently] is building a senior housing complex in an empty lot next door. The garden is featured prominently in the designs, but they’ll need a year of parking their construction equipment on it before we can have it back (GROAN). It’s very much a wait-and-see situation there, and I may not have the chance to do my large plot of pumpkins and potatoes.

Over in the herb spiral I’m trying two new things: caraway and chervil. Apparently the entire caraway plant can be used—not just the seeds. My husband (our primary cook) loves his French herbs, so he’s getting lots of tarragon, chervil, thyme, and parsley.

Finally, I’m going to try and do a little more edible landscaping this year. I transplanted a huge piece of horseradish root from Sabathani so I’m hoping that survives and thrives in an open area of my front yard flower garden. Next to that I’m going to plant okra seedlings—I’ll start it indoors and transplant the seedlings, probably into large pots since okra is so finicky about soil temperature. The plants will also require some protection from rabbits and squirrels at first.

I’m also adding shallots to my strawberry bed, per a recommendation in the Encyclopedia book that I reviewed in my previous post. I’ll continue to grow hot peppers in pots, just like the okra.

Finally, I’m going to start collards and kale indoors in May so that I can plant them out in my lettuce tank in early July when my lettuce is done. I’m really hoping that replacing the bulb on my grow light results in much stronger seedlings this year.

Last of all—I’m thinking a lot about squirrels and how to keep them off my cucumbers. They took revenge on me last year for depriving them of tomatoes and ate EVERY SINGLE ONE of my cucumbers. I will need to build some sort of structure over the cucumber trellis.

I’m also bringing back another old favorite—Christmas Lima Beans! The primary reason I’m bringing them back is to have an excuse to make my favorite soup recipe, Christmas Lima Bean Stew from 101 Cookbooks. I made it with some other beans from the co-op last week, and it was fine, but it didn’t reach quite the same level of magic.

What are you planting this year? What did you learn last year that you’re putting into practice?


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Early Winter Reading

What else is winter good for if not reading gardening books? Well, it’s also good for cross country skiing, baking, and movie marathons with my kids and 75 pound lap dog. I’ve gotten through three books so far this winter; my review of each is below.

Book Review: Gardening with Less Water, by David A. Bainbridge

This is a quick read—it’s a basic overview of various techniques, many of which are old, to garden in arid conditions or simply to reduce your water usage. I’m interested in these techniques because my gardens are reaching a scope where keeping everything well-watered is unrealistic given my time constraints; also I want to conserve precious groundwater and rain water.

The book is divided into two major parts. First, Bainbridge reviews several types of efficient irrigation systems, including buried clay pots (also called ollas), porous capsules and hoses, deep pipes, wicks, buried clay pipes, and tree shelters.

I’ve used porous/soaker hoses for watering large parts of my fruit- and vegetable-producing gardens for years. I’ve often been frustrated with attempting to get the water pressure just right—especially when hooking up to rain barrels. In 2016, I even drilled holes every 6-10 inches in my vegetable garden hoses, to try and make them work better with the barrels. I used these for irrigating my raspberries and viburnums in 2017 from one of my rain barrels and was generally happy with how it worked out.

Bainbridge suggests burying your porous hose 6 inches deep in order to maximize efficiency. I like this idea and may try it in 2018. It will require much more manual checking during watering to make sure all is well, though. I purchased a new soaker hose system in 2017 that I am not real happy with, so I have some thinking to do here. I cannot say at this point that I highly recommend the Snip N Drip soaker hose system.

What intrigued me most in this book was Bainbridge’s description of ollas, or buried clay pots. They are thought to have been invented in China, a thousand or more years ago. The basic idea of an olla is illustrated on the cover of the book, shown above. You fill a porous reservoir with water, and it seeps out gradually right next to the roots of the plants. The book shows photos of ollas at the end of the season, covered with plant roots.

I asked my art teacher husband if he would consider making me a few of these—he taught several sections of pottery this semester. I was half-joking, but look what I opened up on Christmas morning:

He made six of them! They are pretty small—my plan is to use them in pots. I’ve been growing hot weather plants such as peppers in pots for the last two seasons. It’s great for cold climates because you can get a head start on them—soil in pots warms quickly. In the fall, I extend their life a bit by moving them next to my garage (and inside it overnight). Next year, I will bury one olla per pot almost to the rim when I’m adding and amending soil, then plant peppers, eggplants, nasturtiums, etc around the opening. Then I just have to fill the reservoir with water. I don’t know how often I’ll have to fill the reservoirs, but as of now I’m watering my pots every single day in high summer, so even every other day would be an improvement.

In arid areas, large versions of these are buried in vegetable gardens. It’s such a cool idea! Bainbridge also outlines how to accomplish basically the same thing with standard terra cotta pots, if you don’t have a pottery teacher for a spouse and/or don’t want to shell out $50 for an olla from a store.

This does bring me to my only criticism of this book, though—Bainbridge shows a sample garden layout that is a bit unrealistic.

Um, this is a 3′ by 6′ garden bed and he’s somehow fit eight buried clay pots, four tomato plants, four pepper plants, a row of radishes, and various herbs including large ones like garlic. I regularly stretch the University of MN’s plant spacing rules, but breaking the rules to this extent is setting yourself up for failure.

For comparison purposes, I usually CROWD six tomato plants into a bed approximately this same size. I have to prune them regularly, and there is no room for anything else in that bed. I’ve tried lots of different companion planting scenarios with my tomatoes. Sure, I could plant a bunch of onions and herbs with them (and I have). I’d get some, but the tomatoes would crowd and shade them so much they’d be puny at best. Last year I managed to get a crop of radishes out of the same bed, but that was because I planted them 4-6 weeks before the tomatoes, and harvested them all by the end of May.

This was one small low point in an otherwise excellent little book. The second part of the book covers various methods of rainwater harvesting and landscaping to maximize rainfall catchment. Many of the methods in the book are hardly new—they developed as agriculture did in various arid regions of the world.

I’ll report back next summer on how my ollas perform.

Book Review: Making More Plants by Ken Druse

Confession time: I did not read this entire book. It’s definitely next-level for me, so I skipped around only to parts that realistically apply to how I garden. I would love to make hundreds or thousands more plants from what I already have—and this book outlines exactly how. BUT, my time constraints and lack of a greenhouse limit what I’m able to do.

However, I did pick up a few nuggets in here that I will put into practice. Firstly, for seed starting, light bulbs need to be replaced every 3-4 years. This might be the explanation of why my seed starting efforts have been such a failure the past 3-4 years, despite adding a heat mat and trying some other things to improve my odds. My grow light bulb is now almost 10 years old! Time for a new one.

Also, taking cuttings of shrubs and sprouting them is more complex than I thought. I tried to sprout some cuttings from my serviceberry last year and now I understand why I failed. There’s a lot more to it than just cutting off a branch and sticking it in water. Only a very few plants (such as willows) can be propagated this way.

I may check this out of the library again in the spring, when dividing, sprouting, and propagating are top-of-mind.

Book Review: The New Vegetables, Herbs & Fruit, An Illustrated Encyclopedia by Matthew Biggs et al

This book was great fun to page through while sipping nog toddies next to the Christmas tree this month. I read snippets of it aloud to the family—there are a surprising number of herbs that were once prescribed to help you see, or not see fairies, elves, and other magical beings. Biggs et al also provide funny commentary for some entries. In the culinary section for the plant Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) is the comment, “It has been eaten as a substitute for asparagus, but I do not recommend it unless you are stuck on a desert island and there is no other food available.”

I took quite a few notes while reading this, including notes on new-to-me plants I’d like to try such as Hamburg parsley, fava beans, Gotu Kola, caraway and Mexican tarragon.

I also learned some great tips about things that always give me trouble, such as summertime lettuce. The authors claim that it’s better to sow lettuce seeds in the evening, as the first few hours are the most critical time for the seed to not be exposed to heat. Also, lettuce that is too crowded bolts more quickly.

I was also disappointed to read that avocados rarely bloom or set fruit in northern climates—our daylight hours are too short for too many months, and the sunlight is not intense enough. My daughter’s avocado tree that she started from a pit two years ago is impressively large, but perhaps it will only ever be a pretty and interesting houseplant.

This book is HUGE and just chock full of simple, great advice and funny anecdotes. This book, along with the Making More Plants one, really gave me a fever for having my own greenhouse. I’m just not sure I have the right site for one at my current home. However, if we ever rebuild our garage (something we’re keen to do someday), we could conceivably build a second level on it that included a greenhouse.

This time of year truly is the best time to dream all kinds of unrealistic dreams about what I might accomplish next year in my yard, garden, and, heck even my life. So, there you have it. I won’t say “Happy 2018” because I think it will be another challenging year. But I wish you peace and success in your garden.


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It Might Be Over Soon

Bon Iver at Rock the Garden, via The New Home Economics

I finally got a chance to see one of my favorite bands live a few weeks ago—Bon Iver played an incredible set on a beautiful evening at the Walker Art Center. It took me a long time to warm up to the newest album; but it’s now indelibly in my heart along with the first two. So as I’m reading awful news headlines, or working in my August garden, I sometimes find that first track running through my head—It Might Be Over Soon. But not necessarily in a bad way, I guess? Everything has a season.

Japanese beetle damage, via The New Home Economics

Even Japanese beetles have a season, and it will be over soon. Apparently I’m not the only one suffering—our cool (but not cold), wet spring meant a bumper crop of beetles for Minnesotans. So, if you have foliage that looks like my poor grapevine above, there’s a good chance you have these bugs (look on the under side the leaf). My whole family has been hunting them every morning and evening. We simply carry around little containers of soapy water and brush them off the leaf and into the water. It’s not hard or even gross; they die pretty quickly.

Japanese beetles and two grapevine beetles, via The New Home Economics

Here you have a collection of dead Japanese beetles along with two of the last grapevine beetles. Our grapevines had a hard year. Please, if you see Japanese beetles try and get over the gross out factor and TAKE THEM OUT. You will thank yourself next year.

Heirloom tomatoes, via The New Home Economics

My tomatoes were a bit late this year—partially because I grew only large ones. I didn’t harvest my first until July 29 or 30. Depending on when we get our first frost, this is going to be a very short tomato season. But they’re coming so fast now that I made a big batch of sauce to use them up—I use a recipe from Trout Caviar’s excellent cookbook for oven-roasted tomatoes, then I just blend them up with the immersion blender and freeze in half-pints. This becomes pizza or pasta sauce base in the winter.

Squirrel proof tomato cage, via The New Home Economics

The reason for my big tomato harvest: my squirrel proof tomato fortress, installed in May. This thing is wonderful. When Adam built it, we had a small debate over whether to make something just for the tomatoes or whether to make something bigger for the entire garden, and I am not sure we chose correctly. I have beautiful cucumber vines climbing the trellis just to the left of the tomato cage, and I have harvested precisely 2 tiny cucumbers from it—squirrels have eaten nearly 100% of my cucumber harvest. I have some leftover chicken wire and I’m going to see what I can do with it this afternoon.

Raised strawberry bed, via The New Home Ecnomics

Summer vacation for my teacher husband and kids will also be over soon. Adam’s been very productive; he’s almost finished with a massive landscaping project of brick paths all over the yard. Walking out to the garden in my slippers can now legitimately be a thing. He also made this raised strawberry bed. Our strawberries were overrun with weeds, and the size and shape of the bed made it annoyingly difficult to maintain. We carefully dug up the strawberry plants, built this, filled the bottom half with compost, then added soil and replanted the strawberries. A week or two later we had pumpkins sprouting, from the compost. I decided to let three of them grow, just to see what happens. If we have a late frost I could end up getting a pumpkin or two!

Brick paths, via The New Home Economics

Here’s another angle. I love all the curved intersections on these paths.

Garden shed, via The New Home Economics

This view hints as to what he has in the works for 2018: a gate! He’s going to complete this path to the door of my garden shed, then replace this chain link fence with a wood fence and gate. The garden will be 10 steps from the kitchen instead of 60. I may never walk around the north end of my house again. He is also going to add a few arches at certain intersections, based on what I found in my friend Marianna’s garden. Arches give such a nice effect.

Jalapeno peppers, via The New Home Economics

My peppers also got going a little late and are now making up for it with great quantities. Trying to pickle as many as I can, but everyone’s eating them as fast as I pickle them.

Drying herbs, via The New Home Economics

I’m also drying some herbs. Of course basil (right) and parsley (middle left) are not as good dried as fresh, but I have tons and they’ll just go to waste otherwise.

Ground cherries, via The New Home Economics

I should get a few ground cherries for the first time this year, but less than I hoped for because the spot is shadier than I first realized when I planted them early this spring.

Brown eyed susans and bachelors buttons, via The New Home Economics

I love the contrast that these blue bachelors’ buttons give to my brown-eyed susans. They were some orphan plants that I got for free and just planted very randomly with little thought, so what a happy surprise that they’re thriving. Hopefully they’ll reseed and come back next year.

Tall bellflower, via The New Home Economics

Over in the boulevard, several of these suddenly popped up last year out of nowhere. I suspect their seeds were in some purchased wood mulch. Last year I thought they were weeds and just pulled them all—they do look a bit like creeping bellflower. After I pulled them I figured it out. They’re in the same family—Campanulaceae (Bellflower) but these are American Bellflower, Campanula Americana, a native! And they seem to be just as, erm, vigorous as their invasive cousin—they came back readily this year despite my pulling nearly all of them last year. I’m keeping an eye on them for now.

Bee on anise hyssop, via The New Home Economics

Here’s a bumble on my anise hyssop. For several years I had a wonderful anise hyssop patch in the back yard, and suddenly early this spring they all got eaten to the ground by some bug. I moved in some volunteers from elsewhere in the yard, and those got eaten too. So I dug up even more volunteers (are you sensing a theme with anise hyssop?) from my community garden plot and added them in a completely different area of the yard, and they’re doing fine. I’m going to wait another year or two before planting them again in the back. Fortunately they’re very versatile in their soil and light requirements—and they are absolutely covered with bees right now. I also dry these leaves/flowers for tea.

Early Sunflowers, via The New Home Economics

That was three blue or purple flowers in a row, but the reality is the majority of my flowers are yellow this time of year. These early sunflowers are VERY vigorous and are taking over much of my prairie boulevard.

Summer might be over soon, so it’s time to get out there and enjoy it while we can.

 


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In the mid-summer garden

If you’re going to have a garden, and you’re going to have kids, I highly recommend marrying a teacher. Adam has been busy all summer long working on landscaping projects, and by the time he’s done our gardens are going to be at a new level. Meanwhile, the kids and dog are … REALLY taking it easy:

Hammock reading time, via The New Home Economics

Here’s a sneak peek of Adam’s big project:

A new brick path, via The New Home Economics

He’s edging all of our primary flower, fruit, and vegetable gardens and putting in pretty brick paths to tie everything together. He’s going to rent a wet saw this week for all the half-bricks that he needs here.

Snip N Drip hose system, via The New Home Economics

Another new thing I’m trying this year: I purchased a “Snip N Drip” soaker hose system for the main vegetable garden, because my old soaker hoses basically fell apart (they lasted 10+ years so that’s not too bad). So far, so good except for one factor: there is not nearly enough pressure from the rain barrel to be able to use it with this system. So when I need to water the garden I’m using tap water. The rain barrel water is hardly going to waste though; I’m using it on my fruit trees and bushes.

Interplanted onions and parsnips, via The New Home Economics

My vegetable garden is looking very lush right now. Here we have interplanted onions and parsnips, which seems to be working quite nicely. At the back, two collard green plants. (One of which, oddly, is blue? Hmm.)

Squirrel proof tomato cage, via The New Home Economics

My new squirrel-proof tomato cage is great. The plants are suckering a little more than usual because it’s not super easy to get in there and prune them, but I’m fine with it.

Tomatoes, via The New Home Economics

I cannot wait for fresh tomatoes!

Wine grapes, via The New Home Economics

I think we’ll get a wine grape harvest this year, for the first time! These are Marquette grapes, a University of Minnesota hybrid. I’m not growing these in a 100% conventional way. If I were farming grapes with “maximum harvest” as my only goal, I’d grow them more like this. But since this is my home garden, I’m trying to accomplish several things here—I’m stacking up functions of plants and structures, to put it in permaculture words. So these grapevines also provide shade and beauty in the yard in addition to fruit. I’m just crossing my fingers that squirrels won’t eat all the grapes before I get to them.

Grapevine and hops arbor, via The New Home Economics

Here’s a view of the arbor from further away. The grape is on the right nearest corner, in the middle on both sides are hops (climbing up twine). We got a nice hops harvest last year.

Gooseberries, via The New Home Economics

We had a minor infestation of currant/gooseberry sawflies in May but an hour or two of hand-picking took care of it, and they haven’t been back. There is supposed to be a second generation of them in June or July but I’ve never seen one. My [somewhat educated] guess is that this is due to the high number of wasps, ladybugs, and other predators that fill my yard by mid-June. Having lots of wildflowers surrounding my fruits creates a healthier ecosystem and less work for me.

Raspberries, via The New Home Economics

It’s almost raspberry season, hurray! The kids have already eaten a handful of them.

Red currants, via The New Home Economics

My original red currant bush is now at least 8 years old. I’m not really sure when I planted it. The bush doesn’t look so great anymore. I gave it a good pruning this spring and now it looks worse (yet it’s still fruiting like crazy). I am strongly considering doing a “renewal pruning” and just cutting it to the ground next spring, so it can get a fresh start. We added a second red currant bush two years ago, so we’d still get a small harvest.

Front yard cherry tree garden, via The New Home Economics

Our front yard cherry tree garden is filling in nicely, now in its third or fourth year. (I’m losing track of time.) The maximum size of this tree was supposed to be 10-15 feet and it’s already at least 10 feet and not showing any signs of slowing down. We finally had a large enough cherry harvest this year for a pie AND some delicious sour cherry muffins.

Garbage cans, before, via The New Home Economics

Wait, why am I showing you my ugly alley garbage can area?! I “upgraded” to a smaller garbage cart this year, and now this area looks better:

Garbage cans, after, via The New Home Economics

When I saw just how small the new garbage cart was, I got a little nervous. But we’re now several weeks in and it hasn’t gotten filled to overflowing even one time, despite Adam having some construction waste from his various projects. My only gripe about it is this: this garbage can is less than half the size of the previous one, but the discount per month is only $5. Doesn’t…quite…compute. But I do understand that a huge part of the cost of garbage removal is operating the trucks and paying the humans, so I will [try not to] complain.

A huge pile of soil, via The New Home Economics

All of this edging and path-making has left us with a very large pile of sod and soil. Instead of getting rid of it, I had a brainstorm: why not make a berm!? So… we’re making a berm garden in the front, under the shade of a large elm. Since it will become such a major focal point in the front yard, I want it to be very pretty but still use all native plants. I think the biggest plant will be a pagoda dogwood. I’ll surround it with pretty woodland plants like solomon’s seal, bloodroot, and wild ginger.

Asiatic lily, via The New Home Economics

Look, I’m not a purist. Eleven years ago when we first bought this house, I was not yet turned on to native plants and I planted these beautiful Asiatic lilies. If they ever die, I’ll definitely replace them with natives, but for now… they are very pretty, yes?

I hope you have a peaceful Fourth of July.


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Memorial Day Garden Update

2017 Strawberries, via The New Home Economics

Spring is finally underway, after an abundance of cold and wet weather. From a phenology perspective, we’re all over the place. Some things are 2+ weeks later than last year; other things are early. We’ve already got 20 monarch caterpillars in our living room—Anneke spotted eggs on the milkweed leaves from 6 feet away! This is the earliest I’ve ever found monarch eggs.

American Highbush Cranberry flowers (Viburnum Trilobum), via The New Home Economics

American Highbush Cranberry flowers (Viburnum Trilobum), via The New Home Economics

My American Highbush Cranberries are looking great—their blooms are so unique. They have really taken off recently, and are now about 7 feet tall. I appreciate a shrub that can thrive and look this great in the dry shade under a mature silver maple tree. Our understory layer is coming along.

Raspberries in need of TLC, via the New Home Economics

My raspberries (left), on the other hand, are looking less lush than they have in previous years. In talking with a fellow master gardener about it yesterday, I realized that I haven’t fed them in at least 2 years. I picked up a bag of blood meal and sprinkled it on the ground at their feet, then watered it in; I’ll also add some compost in the next week or two. I’ve not always given these the best of care, but they are forgiving plants and keep on going. Hopefully the blood meal will perk them up and we’ll still have a good harvest.

Blueberries in a half barrel, via The New Home Economics

Here’s something new I’m trying: two very small blueberry bushes in a half barrel. My soil is not right for blueberries, so by growing them in a barrel I have more control over soil composition. I mixed half potting soil, half peat moss for this and so far they are thriving. They’re in a pretty shady spot so they may not ever get really big, but that’s fine.

Currant or Gooseberry Sawflies, via The New Home Economics

Over on my currant and gooseberry bushes, we’re fighting another sawfly invasion. I pulled hundreds off today; we pulled nearly that many off a few evenings ago. If I can stay on top of them we should still be able to salvage a great berry harvest. I pull the caterpillars off and drop them into a container of soapy water, which is my general method for all garden pests that I deal with. The “EW” factor is high with these guys.

Radishes, via The New Home Economics

I am happy to report that FINALLY, I have had a successful radish year. I’ve not had the greatest of luck with them, for several years now. This year I planted them around April 12—a few weeks earlier than usual. My thinking was that I could put them where I intended to grow tomatoes and eggplant, and that the radishes would be done by the time I could plant those warm season crops. They weren’t quite, but very close, so I just put the soil amendments and plants around my rows of radishes. We’ve harvested nearly all of them now, and I’m calling this radish year a success.

Some people replant radishes every two weeks and harvest all summer. Growing them in the heat of summer has never worked for my particular microclimate. You have to keep experimenting until you hit on the right timing and right soil amendments for your situation.

Tomato fortress in progress, via The New Home Economics

More solutions to our particular problems: pictured here is a new squirrel-proof tomato fortress that we are building. It’s nearly done, just needs a little more chicken wire. It has a door on each side so that I can reach in and harvest. In celebration of this, I’m growing lots of big tomatoes this year—no cherry tomatoes, which I’ve grown in the past in hopes of sacrificing some to the beasts. On the trellis to the right, snow peas are doing quite well (no blossoms yet).

Garlic, beets, and beans, via The New Home Economics

Left to right, garlic, poorly-sprouted beets, and well-sprouted haricot vert green beans. Under the cage/trellis: cucumber seeds not yet sprouted. I had a beautiful line of cucumber seedlings and a squirrel ate all of them. I had to replant. Some day I would like to build a squirrel proof GARDEN enclosure, not just one for tomatoes.

Garlic, beets, and beans, via The New Home Economics

On the west end of the garden, some nice rows of onions, and between them rows of parsnips, which also sprouted nicely. I soaked my parsnip seed this year, and I also planted them very early—we had a very rainy April so I think that was a good strategy as well. They can be finicky to sprout and this was the most successful I’ve ever been. We’ve also got more snow peas and some no-longer-homeless collard greens at the back; finally, a sad dog who wishes he could be right at my side at all times on the deck.

Sunchokes spreading, via The New Home Economics

The warnings about planting Jerusalem Artichokes, aka Sunchokes, are apparently not ill-founded. This was three seedlings, last year. They never looked great, and I thought my experiment was a failure….then they turned into more than 15 seedlings this year. I will be sure to harvest at least half of these this fall so that they don’t get out of control. But to get a harvest, really, was the whole point—so I’m pleased.

Fairy garden, via The New Home Economics

The kids have spent many hours on their fairy gardens already this year. Anneke’s fairy even has a greenhouse (with the blue plastic). When the elephant’s ears get bigger we won’t be able to see much of this, so it’s fun to get a peek now. Our resident squirrels drink out of her fairy’s pond every day, while the cat watches from the kitchen window in irritation.

Bumblebee on Virginia Waterleaf, via The New Home Economics

We planted a shady rain garden several years ago, and one of the recommended plants was Virginia Waterleaf. This is not the most popular of native landscaping plants due to its aggressive nature. We started with one or two and now they’re all over our back yard. But most of them are growing in places that would otherwise be populated with some noxious weed like garlic mustard, which this is out-competing in a couple places. I’d much rather have Virginia Waterleaf—it’s pretty and it helps pollinators. The rain garden was buzzing with bees today, in between rain showers.

How does your garden grow, this year?

 


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Spring happenings

Planting onion starts, via The New Home Economics

It’s all starting. I planted my snow peas last weekend, but that was about it. I had to take time off work this week to stay home with my spring break kids, so I accomplished a lot in the garden. Today, I put in my onion starts—I buy them at Mother Earth Gardens. Yes, planting the thread-like baby onions is a little tedious, but on a glorious partly-cloudy 60 degree morning, well, I guess it depends on your level of tolerance. I was just happy to be out planting and it was soon done.

I also planted some radishes—they weren’t part of my garden plan for this year because for the last several years they’ve performed so dismally for me. But I was staring at the garden on Thursday (true story), and I realized that I have a month (at least) before I could plant tomatoes. Radishes are supposed to take around 30 days, so I decided to try them once again, but this time at least two weeks earlier than I’ve ever planted them before. They like cool, rainy weather, so fingers crossed that this time I’ll see radish success. I planted them precisely where I plan to plant tomatoes. Will this work? We’ll see.

Sprouting serviceberry branches, via The New Home Economics

Anneke and I also attempted some propagation this past month or two. Here are several branches I trimmed from our serviceberry. Adam is keen on adding all kinds of native shrubs to his family’s hunting land, for deer, turkeys, and other game animals to munch on. After starting this experiment, however, I read that in order to propagate shrubs like this you need to trim off an actual sucker with roots, not just a branch. More details on propagating serviceberries can be found here. I’m going to try starting some from seed this summer! So even though this was a fail, we learned and we are now attempting to propagate one sucker that I was able to find.

In other disappointing news, our Sabathani community garden is in trouble. Plans to build a new senior housing complex right next to it mean that, best-case scenario, our garden will be closed for an entire year starting this fall and re-opening in spring 2019. Worst-case scenario, the space will only be available on a very limited basis to residents of that complex. Everything is very much in flux right now and I won’t be able to move forward with my food forest idea for at least a couple of years, if ever. Maybe that’s OK though. I do take on more than I ought.

First bloodroot of 2017, via The New Home Economics

The first bloodroots of 2017 opened up in my yard today. Aren’t they sweet! That’s my thumbnail for size reference. They do sometimes get bigger than this, but not much. I will be interested to see if I can spot any pollinators on them. I’ve seen a couple wasps and quite a few boxelder bugs flying around, but that’s it so far.

Red Lake Currant in early spring, via The New Home Economics

Ben Sarek black currant in early spring, via The New Home Economics

As of today, my Red Lake currant bushes (one of them pictured, top) are barely doing anything while my Ben Sarek black currant bush (pictured, bottom) is almost leafed out. It’s fascinating how different varieties of the same plant will behave.

Soil sprouted radishes, via The New Home Economics

We’ve been eating soil sprouts all winter long, and I really don’t see any reason to stop growing them now that spring is here. I want to try mixing things up, and growing 5 trays of pea shoots, for example, and stir frying them. I really enjoy doing this and highly recommend the book—Year-Round Indoor Salad Gardening. Pictured are some radish sprouts; we used them as a topping on black bean and sausage soup.

What’s happening in your garden so far? I can’t remember ever getting going as early as I have this year, partially due to having such a mild winter.