The New Home Economics


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In the summer kitchen

Here’s what’s been happening in our kitchen this summer:

KefirTowards the end of May, I realized that one of the other bus stop moms is a fellow real/whole foods enthusiast, AND she had kefir grains to share! We’ve made 3-4 batches now, and we are still adjusting to the taste. Co-op kefir must have A LOT of sugar in it, because even after adding various sweeteners, this stuff is SOUR. I may use my next batch in place of buttermilk in a recipe and see how that goes.

CucumbersWe’ve only managed to make two quarts of pickles so far, because we’ve been slicing them up, tossing them with a bit of salt and pepper, and just eating them fresh.

Mulberry ice creamEarlier this spring, we tried a new ice cream recipe.  We’re now sold on this new method.  For a few years, we’d been stuck on Mark Bittman’s ice cream method, which is a little, well, involved. You make a custard that involves at least 3 but up to 6 egg yolks, then chill it, then finally put it in the ice cream maker.

I don’t have anything against custard ice cream. It’s delicious. But with the price of eggs and our busy daily schedule, we just weren’t making it all that often. Now that we’ve switched to this new basic recipe we make it all the time. The basic recipe is: 2 cups cream, 2 cups whole milk, ~1 cup sugar, and then whatever flavoring you want. Whisk briskly, put it in the ice cream maker, 20 minutes later: done.

Above, we added some mulberry juice (probably about 1/2 c.) that was still leftover from last summer.

La Ratte French Fingerling potatoWe’ve now eaten two hills of our French fingerling potatoes (La Ratte). These things are like buttah. Even the kids went on and on about how delicious they were, just boiled with a little butter, salt, pepper, and fresh parsley.

Garden produceHere is a quick fry-up of one of our purple cauliflowers, zucchini from the market (didn’t have room this year), onions and purple/green beans from the garden. They grow purple, but turn green when cooked.

Pickling & canning season is really getting underway!


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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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Summer!

Monarch release

Most of our monarchs were born on the same day, and lucky me that it happened to be a Saturday. All 14 have now been released into the world with much ceremony and fanfare.

Milkweed beetleRed milkweed beetle season is upon us, and Anneke has once again named several of the many milkweed beetles currently calling our yard home. They are really cute. She holds them and pets them and generally loves them to death, but we have quite a few to spare so I don’t worry about it.

Milkweed flowerWho says milkweed isn’t beautiful? I’m pretty sure this is Asclepias Speciosa, or showy milkweed, planted before I was good about making plant maps of my yard. (Brett Laidlaw: this was the one I was thinking of when I was mixed up on twitter; the leaves are so similar to asclepias syriaca, common milkweed.)

GooseberriesOur gooseberry bush is so laden with fruit that it’s sagging to the ground. Crossing my fingers we get these before the critters.

Red Lake currantsCurrant pie is in my near future.

Bee on coneflowerThe bees and butterflies are both very happy about the now-blooming purple coneflowers.

Blanket flowerSo, is blanket flower native to MN or not? It’s definitely native to North America, but the Friends’ Plant Sale had it under “garden perennials” not “natives.” Well, I planted it anyway and it’s pretty! Blooming in its first year.

Food shelf harvestWe got a nice haul from my sometimes-neglected volunteer-managed food shelf garden at Sabathani community garden this week.

Happy 4th of JulyHappy Independence Day!


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Solstice Garden update

It’s been about six week since I planted my vegetable gardens, and things are coming along nicely.

Hops taking over!Our hops plant, is, well, you can see here how it’s doing. And I cut it back to the ground every fall! Crazy.

Snow peas on trellisI’ve never had taller snow peas. They are approaching 6 feet tall, and just finally starting to really produce. You can see the sugar pie pumpkins coming in at the bottom too. To the right, happy happy tomatoes, which survived my early-planting experiment and are now thriving.

Snow peas interplanted with cucumbersSo far, inter-planting snow peas and cucumbers (as well as snow peas and pumpkins on the previous trellis picture) is turning out really great! The cucumbers, in particular, are climbing up the snow pea plants almost unassisted. I am very interested to see if this works out well, because it means doubling my yield of vegetables on the exact same square footage for these trellises.

RaspberriesWe’ve had a VERY rainy few weeks, and the raspberries don’t even look like the same plants that they did 6 weeks ago. They are huge and bushy and covered with flowers and little white fruits. After such a disappointing year last year (I think it was about 10 raspberries total) we are due for a bumper crop! Crossing my fingers.

Anise HyssopSince I’ve been promoting anise hyssop on here so much this year, I should let you know: IT SPREADS. This was once three plants. And it’s been thinned out and cut back a bit!

Monarch on silkweedI don’t know if it’s because I added so much more milkweed to our landscape last year, but we have seen TONS of monarchs this year. At least quadruple the number we usually see. Some of them we just left out in nature, because I felt that 14—the number of eggs we found and brought in—was enough. But then again, after a thunderstorm I checked on these guys outside and couldn’t find them. I hope they found a nice safe place to make their chrysalises.

Monarch chrysalisInside, all but one of our 14 caterpillars are now in chrysalis. And No. 14 will join his or her comrades any minute now. For a day or two, they were eating so much milkweed that I feared we might run out!

Purple cauliflowerFinally, a pic from our community garden plot at Sabathani. Adam took this when he and the kids stopped there this week to weed and pick strawberries. Because that plot gets a little more sun than my plot at home, things seem to grow more quickly there. My cauliflowers at home are not nearly this far along, although we’ve also been battling cabbage worms at home.

So far everything is coming along nicely in the garden except for one miss: my radishes suddenly bolted this week! I don’t know how I managed to miss the right moment to pick them, but I did, and as a result all but 4 or 5 were in flower when I went to check on them last night. Pretty disappointing, but I do have a few more that I planted a week or two later, so I’m going to try and be vigilant and catch those in the next few days/week.

How’s your garden growing so far?


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Happy Memorial Day

Time for my annual Memorial Day garden photo shoot. What a gorgeous day, my goodness.

Apple blossomsThis is the last bloom for our fire blight-afflicted apple tree; we’re cutting it down in a few weeks. It sure does look gorgeous against our neighbor’s purple leaf maple though!

Giant Solomon's SealMy Solomon’s Seal is finally really starting to look like something! I think it will even bloom this year—note the tiny buds hanging delicately, like green pearls, from the stems.

The delicate flowers of Jacob's LadderI can’t get over the delicate blue flowers of Jacob’s Ladder.

Wild ColumbineNext spring, I will need to give away some wild columbine. It’s taking over our entire yard!

Chives and tulipsChives are almost blooming, tulips are just about finished. I don’t remember a year when tulips bloomed this late. It was a challenging spring.

Prairie SmokePrairie smoke blooming in my boulevard. This plant is really tiny!

Grape vineThe rabbits left us a 3 foot section of grape vine this year!

TomatilloThis year I’m trying a tomatillo for the first time. It’s got a blossom on it already!

Strawberry bloomStrawberries are in full bloom, but unfortunately rabbits have eaten a lot of the plants.

Crab apple blossomMy neighbor’s crab apple tree in full bloom. Have a wonderful end to your 3-day weekend!


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Eight tips for new Minnesota gardeners

I’m not trying to create link bait or anything here; I know SO many people that are vegetable gardening for the first time this year, so I wanted to create a resource for them. So here you go, Lisa, Jon and Nick!

1. Light

As a master gardener, I hear this question all the time. “Why did my tomato plant not produce any tomatoes?” More often than not, it was because the plant simply did not get enough light. Most vegetables need AT LEAST 8 hours of sunlight per day. I would not go less than 10 for most vegetables, including favorites like tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini. The only vegetables that really tolerate shade (and actually benefit from a bit of it) are the ones that you eat as leaves: lettuce, kale, chard, most herbs. I have seen many Pinterest boards that list root vegetables like carrots and beets as being shade tolerant, but in my experience they still need a good 8 hours of sun. When you consider that a MN summer day can be as long as 15 hours around solstice time, 8 hours does technically qualify as part-shade, I guess.

2. Timing

Most of our favorite garden plants—including tomatoes, basil, cucumbers—are tropical by nature. They will not tolerate frost in the least. They don’t even like nighttime temperatures less than 50 degrees. So we have to be VERY patient in late April in early May. Watch the forecast and make an educated decision when you plant—in general the last frost occurs in the Twin Cities by May 10-15. Happily, many plants can be put in as soon as the snow clears away and the ground is soft enough to work. Radishes, peas, cabbage-family veggies: these can all be planted earlier and don’t mind the cold.

3. Rows

When I was a new gardener, I read lots of books about permaculture and alternative planting methods, and I really wanted to scatter-plant my seeds in order to maximize the space that I had. The problem with this was that, when the seeds sprouted, I couldn’t differentiate between what I had planted and what was a weed. If you plant in rows or at least in a grid pattern (if you’re trying square foot gardening), it will be much easier to identify your plants, since mother nature never plants weeds in straight lines.

4. Spacing

Another mistake I still make all the time is assuming I can cram one more broccoli plant here, or one more row of radishes there. What usually ends up happening is that they don’t end up getting enough sunlight or water and I get nothing at all. When you are a new gardener, especially, mind the spacing recommendations on the plant tag or seed packet. I have an illustration of tomato spacing for you:

Tomatoes, recently plantedHere are six heirloom tomatoes, recently planted, getting tied up with twine.

Tomatoes in high seasonHere they are in August. The trellis is about 6 feet tall, 6 feet long, and two feet wide. It *barely* fits six tomato plants, and only because I prune most of the suckers out.

5. Water

At the master gardener vegetable classes, we like to say “water infrequently and deeply”—and this is true for most of the season. However, the first few weeks you will want to water frequently and lightly until all your seeds are sprouted and your seedlings established. Then you can back off to once or twice a week (or less if we get plenty of rain).

6. Compost

Start a compost pile! It’s not rocket science; even if you’re a lazy composter you will, eventually, get compost. It’s free fertilizer for your garden, and reduces household waste.

5. Biodiversity

Most of my garden pest problems have disappeared since I started adding large numbers of native plants to the rest of my yard. We now have an abundance of beneficial insects, spiders, birds, and yes, wasps around who help us control all the crawly things that eat our cabbage and other vegetables. As an added benefit, you’re helping bees.

6. Edible landscaping

While we’re on the subject, why limit yourself to planting edibles in one area, and flowers in another? Small fruit trees and shrubs give you food year after year without having to be replanted. I love my currant bushes, alpine strawberries and raspberry hedge. I don’t like to think of my gardens just in terms of monetary value, but if that appeals to you, here it is: fruits are the very best return on investment you can get. Also, many native plants, such as my favorite anise hyssop, can be dried and made into herbal teas.

CurrantRed Lake currants are a beautiful landscape plant, aren’t they?

7. Plant herbs

This sort of goes along with edible landscaping, but herbs are also a great investment, in terms of money. They’re also more shade tolerant than standard garden produce, so they’re great to fill in other areas. My front flower garden has become an overgrown (yet somehow beautiful) mix of wild columbine, purple coneflowers, parsley, dill, cilantro, chives and fennel which all re-seed themselves each year. Added bonus: we now get black swallowtail butterflies every year, whose larvae love parsley. Herbs are some of the first things to come back in the spring, too, when you’re just dying for something fresh and green. I picked my first chives in April this year, and that was after a very late spring.

dill and herbsThis is pretty, right? It’s not a mess at all, in my mind.
8. Mulch

When it gets to be early June and everything is up and out of the ground, why not add a layer of mulch? It will help keep the ground from drying out and also simultaneously help keep weeds down. I’ve been using straw in the vegetable garden for a few years now and really like it. It also keeps things cleaner, which enables even more eating straight out of the garden. For my regular flower/herb/native plant beds, I use wood chips, which are FREE and also a little more acceptable for keeping my front-of-house yard attractive to normal people.

Since there are plenty of experienced gardeners who read this blog, what am I forgetting? Surely something? Post a comment!


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Here we go!

Gardening season is a go! A slow go, but it’s started. We even ate some pea shoots out of the garden this weekend, and they were tasty:

Thinned out pea shootsI’m going to have to thin these one more time in order to make room; I plan to interplant them with cucumbers on one trellis and small pie pumpkins on the other. A friend tried this last year and reported great success.

Community garden plot, before prepping and plantingHere’s our community garden plot at Sabathani. Yikes. We grew pumpkins here rather successfully last year, but towards the fall the weeds really got away from us, especially around the edges. Here I’m measuring to see where my paths should go. Next we worked it up with a fork, pulled up LOTS of quackgrass and worked in some composted manure.

Community garden plot, planted!After! At the very back is Anneke’s popcorn—she received a packet of Strawberry Popcorn seeds in her Easter basket. Then a burlap walking path, then 6 small brussels sprouts plants and 5 hills of potatoes—they’re actually small craters right now until the plants come up. We also interplanted anise hyssop with the brussels and horseradish with the potatoes, after consulting a companion planting book. There are LOTS of pests at Sabathani, so I’m willing to try just about anything. Up front are three hills of Long Island Cheese pumpkins interplanted with several extra cauliflower plants; why did I buy a 6-pack for my home garden when I only needed two? Anyway, it’s worth a try to see if we can get those cauliflowers done and eaten before the pumpkin plants completely take over. On the left-hand side of the plot are volunteer strawberries.

Carrots with burlap sack protectionI also manage a Master Gardener demonstration plot at Sabathani—we use it for teaching and donate all the produce to the food shelf. Since this garden is very open and windy, I have never had much luck sprouting carrots there. I’m going to try this little burlap tent to keep them dark and hopefully prevent them from drying out too much. The tricky thing about carrot seeds is that they don’t want to be buried too deeply, yet they need to be kept dark and moist, and oh did I mention they take up to 20 days to sprout!? I’ll report back on whether this works or not.

My home gardenBack at home, where weeds are few and pests are fewer. The newly-thinned peas are stretching up to to the trellises, onions, cauliflower, broccolli, kohlrabi, carrots, and radishes are in. And… tomatoes. I planted tomatoes, even after seeing the forecast lows in the upper 30s! I love experimenting way too much and it may prove to be fatal for these young plants. They’re under the hoop house in my very sheltered garden, so my gamble is at least an educated one. In general, it’s best to wait until nighttime lows are in the 50s to plant warm season crops like tomatoes. But we’re almost there! Next week, I promise!

lettuce in a raised planterMy lettuce and other greens are also coming along nicely; we’ve had several harvests. That’s part of the reason why the biggest plants have not really changed size much: I keep picking leaves. The other two tanks are the kids’ fairy gardens, which Anneke incongruously decided must have elephant ears this year. Should be an interesting experience for those fairies, anyway.

Fire blight on an apple treeThis final picture is from upstairs, looking out over our back yard, with dog damage along the path. Our grass needs some help—this week we worked up those areas and added some seed in hopes of filling it in a bit. But the main thing I want to show you is the apple tree to the left, in front of the car. Even from this distance, you can see the blackened areas of the trunk and branches. The fire blight has spread. This tree will have to be cut down this year. Our harvests the last two years have been next to nothing, anyway. Instead of being sad, I’m actually a little excited. Since we’re also getting rid of the sandbox, it’s going to open up a whole new space for a small tree or large shrub (along with some underplantings, of course). WHAT SHOULD I PUT THERE!? A new dwarf apple? A serviceberry? Oh the possibilities are endless. And thus begins 2015 planning season!

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