The New Home Economics


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Garden Plan 2017

Taking a small break from the absolute dumpster fire that is America’s national politics (I feel so very fortunate to live in this city and state), I spent some time last week putting together a garden plan for 2017.

Planning a garden right now feels different than it ever has, I suppose because I feel different than I ever have. Of course, I’ve felt sad and anxious about American politics many times during my adult life, but (foolishly, perhaps?) I never felt raw fear. I realize this places me firmly in a position of privilege.

But at the end of the day, a garden is a garden, and even though I am changed, my garden is very similar to what I’ve grown in the past. Comfort in the familiar, perhaps? Without further ado:

gardenlayout17

Left to right, also west to east, in the main garden we’ve got:

Bed #1: collard greens, parsnips, and onions, with snap peas and cucumbers climbing up the trellis at the back. A single row of garlic is already in the ground on the right edge.

Bed #2: garlic, beets, and bush beans. Bed #2 is my widest garden bed; as usual I’m pushing it to the limit.

Bed #3: tomatoes. I’m giving up on interplanting tomatoes with anything this year. They just get so huge. Additionally, I may create a new squirrel-proof enclosure to grow them in, which will surely take up the whole area with no room for anything else.

Bed #4: something new! I’m going to try okra this year. I love eating okra, and it would be nice to be able to teach my Sabathani students how to grow it in our climate. Okra is a wonderful plant for mixing in your sunny flower beds—the flowers are large and tropical, similar to hibiscus in appearance. I’ll also put eggplant, runner beans, and shallots in bed #4.

At my Sabathani community garden plot, I’m going to be slightly more ambitious than in previous years. I want to grow quite a bit of lavender, so I’m planting a “hedge” of it all the way around the edge. I also hope this will help establish a neat border for my garden, resulting in fewer people walking through it.

I’ll still plant potatoes and squash there, but fewer, two hills each of summer squash—Pattison Panache, and winter squash—Turk’s Turban.

What’s new for 2017? I’m giving up on radishes after so many disappointing harvests. I’m also going to try carrots in a pot this year, having had less than stellar luck in the carrot division as well.

I’ve got several expanded flower beds at home to fill up with new plants this spring. I am going to try blueberries again, but this time in a half-barrel with acidified soil. I’ll also plant ground cherries. The rest of the open areas will be filled in with flowers, including these:

Blanket Flower — these are petite, make a great flower bed edge plant, and last year they bloomed from Late June-November. Seriously, November. I saw bees on them all the time, too.
Goldenrod — so important for late-season pollinators, gorgeous winter interest, and there are cultivars in various shapes and sizes.
Prairie Smoke — a tiny plant to put right along a path in a sunny spot. Beautiful, very early flowers followed by cool, smoky seedheads.
Little Bluestem — I first fell in love with Little Bluestem as a landscape plant for a very practical reason: it’s easy to identify because it looks so different from the various grassy weeds that plague my garden beds. But it’s also gorgeous in the winter, and provides food for skippers and birds. Here’s a great overview.
Solomon’s Seal — my favorite native shade plant. It’s gorgeous. It’s well-behaved. It’s easy to identify. It tolerates the dry shade under a very large maple tree. I’ve never tried making medicines with it, but the medicinal uses sound fascinating.

Why do I love these plants? They’re all natives, they all support pollinators, and they’re all gorgeous in the landscape, as well as relatively well-behaved. I’ve heard goldenrod can get weedy but I’ve not experienced that first-hand, perhaps because I have it planted in part-shade.

In making this list, I’ve just realized something. I was going to add Purple Pasque Flower to the list; I planted it in 2015 and its bloom in ’16 was gorgeous. I could have sworn I had found it in the native plants section, but I’ve just realized it is NOT native. There is a native purple pasque flower and a non-native purple pasque flower. You see, even master gardeners make mistakes all the time.

So, if I add more pasque flowers I’ll know which ones are correct, next time.

I also have BIG plans at Sabathani Community Garden this year—and I hope they translate into increased access to healthy, fresh food for the people who garden there. I will write a separate post about this after presenting the plan next week and hopefully getting the green light from garden leaders.

It’s time to translate my anxiety into action. Gardening is where I shine, so that’s where I need to put my energy.

Another upcoming post: I took a seed starting class recently where I learned some new things, enough that I’m going to give it a try again this year. In the next few weeks I’ll be sharing my new strategies as well as a schedule for getting everything in. Spring is truly right around the corner.

 


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Farewell to 2014

Wow, I haven’t posted since early November. Hello again, friends. Our holiday season was full of the usual ups and downs. Here is a brief overview:

Knitting a scarfWe spent the better part of November evenings and weekends listening to Harry Potter on audio and knitting; here Anneke and I are finishing a wool scarf for her.

Goldenrod seedhead in winterHere’s a goldenrod seed head catching the low winter sun. We have not gotten a very heavy snowfall yet this winter, so my front yard still looks either really messy or really beautiful, depending on your point of view. I don’t clean up any of my perennials in the fall; the seed heads feed the birds and the foliage provides shelter for various overwintering insects. Whatever’s left in the spring can go in the compost at that point.

Long Island Cheese PumpkinWe’ve eaten no small amount of pumpkin this fall. I’ve been using this method to bake my Long Island Cheese pumpkins: cut in half, turn upside down, brush the skin with olive oil, bake at 350 until done (usually at least an hour). These have so much moisture in them that I ended up having to skim liquid out of the cookie sheets lest they overflow. The end result is a nice concentrated pumpkin flavor; this was truly a delicious variety. We still have quite a bit of it left in the freezer, so the pumpkin breads/pies/muffins/everything can continue unabated for a while yet.

Mark it 8We had a fun Christmas, which included what might become a yearly bowling tradition. Mark it 8, Anneke.

Minnehaha CreekWe live in such a beautiful area. At the bottom of our favorite nearby sledding hill is beautiful Minnehaha Creek. When it freezes over the kids try to slide all the way to it and land on it. It’s neat that many of my fondest memories from my country childhood are possible for my kids to experience right here in the city. Love ya, Minneapolis!

I hope to be back with the start of some 2015 gardening plans in January, but in the meantime, snuggle up and stay warm. Happy New Year!


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North Shore Inspiration

We went on a camping trip during the second half of July. Our campsite was spectacular: on a cliff above Lake Superior with a view of Split Rock Light House.

Split Rock Lighthouse at sunriseThe view, with my morning coffee. It’s worth it to pack the french press in.

Wildflowers of MinnesotaI also took along a book that I picked up earlier this year, Wildflowers of Minnesota Field Guide by Stan Tekiela. This pocket-size guide slowed down our hikes and made them much more interesting. For one, it helped us identify the not-so-native-yet-gorgeous garden lupines blooming along the highway.

But naturally not everything is in the book, and one flower that I really loved was not included:

 

Northbush HoneysuckleThe naturalist at Tettegouche State Park helped me identify this small bush as a North Bush Honeysuckle, a native honeysuckle not related to the large tropical ones you usually see in gardens, but somewhat similar in appearance. A very nice compact little shrub that was blooming all over Tettegouche State Park when we were there, in shade to part-shade situations.

Here was another landscape design inspiration that I saw:

Tall ferns with leafy green plants underneathI am not great at fern identification, but I think this is some type of wood fern.  But I really thought this general look—tall ferns with leafy green groundcover like wild ginger underneath—could look really nice in a deeply shaded city lot. I have not had great luck with ferns in my particular yard; 70% of the ones I planted back in 2012 have perished. The one exception is my ostrich ferns, which are thriving. I think my shady areas are simply too dry.

Wild roseThe wild roses were also in bloom. Gorgeous. Now that my older hybrid rose bush is dying out, I might replace it with an old-fashioned or wild rose variety which would provide us with rosehips. They make amazing herbal tea.

HarebellsHarebells growing out of rock crevices.

Hunting crayfishSure, the waterfall is gorgeous, but there are crayfish in here, Mom!

All this inspiration is going to serve me well, because we’re removing our apple trees this week! The crab apple in front is already gone, and the larger apple tree in back is going as soon as we can get it set up with the power company, which has lines are running through it.

I’m starting my 2015 garden plan already, and there’s going to be two major expansions, one in front and one in back. Exciting times!


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This year, let’s plant for bees

It seems like the Save the Bees Movement has really gained traction this winter, doesn’t it? And thank God. I’ve had so many people ask me about what they should plant to attract bees and butterflies to their yard!

So, let’s start with some basics… First, what are bees and what are wasps? This one’s easy. Bees are fuzzy, wasps are shiny. Both are beneficial, but only one is a “pollinator.” Here are some images that should help:

Wasp on milkweed in MinnesotaHere is a wasp on some milkweed in my back yard. Notice that it’s shiny. Wasps may not pollinate our fruit and vegetable plants, but they do eat the insects that eat our fruits and vegetables. I once killed a nest of yellowjackets in my yard, but not until after my kids suffered several stings each. You have to use your best judgement on what you’re willing to tolerate as far as wasps are concerned, and be sure of what you have before you whip out the pesticide. Also, follow the label instructions to the letter. If you don’t, you’re not only breaking the law, but you could cause undue pain to a local honeybee keeper. In short, try a little tolerance.

Bee on Anise HyssopHere is a bee on some anise hyssop in my back yard. Sorry this picture is less than ideal, but you can see that it’s fuzzy. If you look from a different angle you’d also notice that its hairy legs are covered with yellow pollen. Bees eat pollen, and in the process they give us fruit, vegetables, tree nuts and honey.

Minnesota has more than 350 native bee species, and most of them live in the ground or in hollow stems of trees. So one thing you could do to help bees would be to make a bee hotel. Click here for 1 million + ideas.

But more importantly, we need to diversify our monoculture landscapes. Lawns=monoculture. Corn and soybeans=monoculture. And putting in non-native sterile nursery plants like tulips, marigolds, and daylilies (I’m guilty of having tulips) does not help, since they don’t provide pollen. Buying plants from big box stores is even worse, since many of these are treated with neonicotinoids, a pesticide that stays in the plant for… the U of M is currently embarking on research to find out how long. Neonics kill every insect that partakes of the plant, beneficial or not. Read local food writer Dara Grumdahl’s excellent Panic in Bloom for more on neonicotinoids.

Good news: it is now getting easier to find nursery plants that are neonic-free. The Friends School Plant Sale is 100% neonic-free. Bachmann’s recently announced that they are going neonic-free. The Hennepin Master Gardeners plant sale is neonic-free by design, since the plants are dug up from our own yards. Mother Earth Gardens in south and NE Minneapolis is also neonic-free. If none of these places are near you, go to a nursery. ASK QUESTIONS. If they are unable to tell you whether the plant is neonic-free, do not buy. I can’t say enough about the importance of avoiding big box stores for your plants (and not just because of pesticides; the plants are lower quality). Real nurseries will know what they have and be able to talk about it. Here is a helpful index of bee-friendly plant retailers in the Twin Cities.

So, now that we’ve covered all those topics, we get to the fun one: what should you plant? In a nutshell, go native. Most every wildflower that is native to our area will have some benefit for pollinators. Many non-natives do as well; I can think of several including dandelions, clover, dill, fennel, and the various vegetable plants that bees love to visit. Seed clover in your lawn! It will feed your grass (clover fixes nitrogen in the soil, which feeds grass) AND benefit bees.

If you’re really a gardening newbie, you could consider buying a butterfly or pollinator package, such as this delightful one from the Friends Sale. It’s a great place to start, since most plants that are beneficial to butterflies are also beneficial to bees. I would recommend buying and planting actual seedlings over one of those ubiquitous, cheap “butterfly garden in a can”-type seed packages. If you are newer to gardening it will be difficult to tell, especially with native seedlings, what is a weed.

The University of Minnesota Bee Lab also has a really nice list of native plants that help bees, and the required site conditions for each. Here’s another PDF from The Xerces Society that talks about both native and non-native plants for bees.

Great St. Jon's WortMany native flowers are stunningly beautiful as well as beneficial, such as this Great St. John’s Wort, also in my back yard.

If you’re adding pollinator plants for the first time, start small and simple. You don’t have to tear out your whole yard. But try a little plot with, say, some milkweed, bee balm, a couple of sunflowers, anise hyssop, and maybe an early spring ephemeral such as bloodroot. Note this spot must be full sun to part shade for these to thrive. And THRIVE they will; they are all very easy to grow. There’s a reason why milkweed has the word weed in its name. But I like easy, quite honestly, and I like this even more:

Anneke with MonarchQuestions? Ideas? Let’s save some bees! (Well, and let’s save the monarchs too, but that’s a whole ‘nother post.)

 


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Happy Birthday NHE!

I just realized I’ve been writing this blog for two whole years now!  In case you haven’t been reading this since the beginning, this blog was inspired by a project that I did with some other people who are a lot smarter than I am, The New Liberal ArtsCheck it out!  A great, thought-provoking little read.

Just for fun, here are my top posts of all time:
Recipe: fermented salsa
Recipe: Easy, no-knead whole wheat bread
Cooking with lard
Welcome (my first post!)
Buyer-beware: ultra-pasteurized milk

Shoot, those are all food-related posts.  My personal favorite posts are all garden-related.  Anyway, thanks for reading!  Any requests?  More recipes?  Less gardening?  (Fat chance, if so!)


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A home improvement project

Our kitchen has a cute little breakfast nook that unfortunately featured somewhat dysfunctional fluorescent lights with cheesy 80s-style plastic diffusers.  They have bugged Adam since we moved in.  We’ve had an old “booth” style table in the nook since we moved in, that Adam’s parents gave us (later we added two Ikea chairs):

It worked pretty well, but the whole thing was getting very rickety and it was never really the style we intended for our house.  So, a couple weeks ago the table went to a grateful family from the craigslist free site, and the diffusers went out to the curb.

Adam framed up the hole in the ceiling and installed a couple of light fixtures.  Then our neighbor helped him lift a large piece of sheetrock into place:

A couple smaller pieces and it was ready for what seemed like two full weeks of constant mudding and sanding.

In the meantime, we also found a table and 4 chairs for $80 on craigslist that was the perfect size and style for our spot.  The only problem was that the chairs were in pretty bad shape — the one shown in the picture was one of the better ones:

So Adam decided to further complicate the project by trying his hand at upholstery.  A 50% off coupon and $40-some later he had some sparkly red vinyl from Jo-Ann Fabrics, and away he went.  They turned out great!

As soon as all the taping/mudding/painting was done and dry, Adam installed two new light fixtures (they’re Martha Stewart schoolhouse-style ones).  And project =  complete!  Well almost.  The fourth chair is still in limbo because it needed to be glued together and Adam has not yet found a glue that works well for this.  We might end up having to buy a replacement for the fourth chair.  But other than that, we are done.  And pretty cheaply too, I might add.

This seems like a relatively small project compared with what we used to do before we had kids, but at this point, after having done almost no home improvement for nearly 3 years, it feels great just to get something done: the first of many projects that we can finally check off the list.