The New Home Economics


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Fall

The time for spookiness and voting has arrived. I assumed this spider was dead until I picked it up to show it to the kids and got a very chilling surprise. (Yes, I shrieked.)

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It’s an orb weaver spider, and I’ve never seen one this large before. It was moving pretty slowly but still too fast for me.

I gave the kids my old D-SLR camera and got myself a newer (used) one; they’ve been going crazy with photography ever since. Here’s a spooky spider picture from Anneke that was not quite what any of us expected to see when we uploaded it to the computer.

She also snapped these lovely purple asters, one of the only flowers still blooming here at the end of October. Our mid-October frosts and brief snowfall mean there are no bees around anymore to pollinate them.

Over at my Sabathani Community Garden plot, cover crops are up and running, although I don’t expect them to grow a whole lot more. My new goal is to do this every year–it’s so important for soil health. We’ll be ready to harvest our horseradish (large bushy plants in the center and left) soon. Generally mid-November is a good time, after a couple of hard freezes but before the ground is frozen.

This year was my first successful attempt at growing leeks. I never did get around to hilling them up, so they’re a little green, but just fine for our purposes. They were actually quite easy to grow and the entire family (except me) is now tired of potato leek soup. I don’t think I’ll be all the way through these or my kale until the end of November.

October means time to bring in all our tropical plants from outside. We managed to find spots for our Meyer lemon, an avocado tree, and three grapefruits. The kids have gone a little crazy for houseplants and I don’t discourage them from any botany pursuits, so our house is getting a little over-run. They’re going to bring us some much-needed green in the coming months.

The weirder a plant looks, the weaker our resistance to it.

I killed a Christmas Cactus two years ago, so I’m trying again.

Anneke’s been asking for a fiddle leaf fig for ages now, and I finally saw a tiny, inexpensive one at Mother Earth Gardens yesterday and gave my consent. Then we came home and read about how quickly they grow. We’ll see, I guess!

Fort Snelling State Park is very close to our house, so it’s a frequent getaway when we just need some nature time. Shown is the Highway 55 bridge over Picnic Island. The kids have been learning about the tragic history of this area, giving all of it new significance when we visit. I’m glad that bdote has been preserved in at least a semi-natural state. Photo by Anneke.

Stay warm, friends.


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Not professional landscapers

“We’re not professional landscapers,” said the sewer line contractor who tore up my yard 10 days ago.

“No shit,” I thought to myself, but I tried to keep it cool.

It took three days and by day two I realized it would be healthier if I didn’t watch. After it was over, however, I quickly moved from horrified to excited about redesigning this area of the yard. It’s an opportunity, right?

Last weekend I laid out the edging bricks for a redesigned path in the area that was dug. This path used to curve from the house to the street, but since we already have two paths that do that in the front, I wondered if we really needed a third (I’ve always wondered this, though it did look nice). The new path starts by the house but will end with a circular mini-patio, big enough for our bird bath to sit in its center as a focal point. It will allow me easy access to all the flower beds around it, and be just a little bit different from other areas of the yard. I’m excited to see it take shape.

When laying out new hardscape features, it helps to take pictures from different angles like this, to help you see if you have your scale and positioning correct before you start permanently installing bricks. This may change a bit before all is said and done.

I’ve got the area about 1/3 replanted, but the rest will have to wait until next spring when there is more selection at area nurseries. In the meantime I’m going to see about getting some chopped up leaf mulch this fall to help enrich the soil a bit.

Even though my front yard is looking shabby, interesting things are happening out back. For example, my second wine grape harvest:

Ten pounds of Marquette grapes. Both grapes that we grow are University of Minnesota hybrids.

16 pounds of Frontenac Gris grapes! These were in much better shape than the Marquettes. They didn’t get hit quite as hard by Japanese beetles, and they were at their peak of ripeness when we picked them on August 26; the Marquettes were slightly over ripe and quite a few had to be tossed.

We spent some time with a very patient and helpful employee of Northern Brewer talking about what went wrong last year and getting some great advice about what to do differently.

We tasted both wines at every stage this time, trying to understand better how the flavors develop. We also purchased a bottle of Frontenac Gris from the local wine shop so we could compare. The professional wine is on the right, our cloudier version on the left. Honestly, I didn’t care for the flavor of the professional version—it was way too sweet. Yet ours was so sour that it tasted like really strong kombucha. The professionals must have added sugar.

Anyway, we added the bottle of professional wine to our gallon of amateur wine to just cut down the sour flavor a tiny bit, and we liked the result, so we bottled it. And now we wait.

Over in the vegetable garden, my cover crop looks beautiful! It’s a mixture of rye grass and field peas, and my intent is not to turn it in until next spring. We’ll see if it survives the winter, as promised by the seed company where I purchased it.

Over at our Sabathani community garden, we’re finally harvesting some Waltham Butternut Squash. I’ve never seen such slow-growing squash plants. After looking unhappy the entire summer, they finally started spreading out and flowering in mid-August. I have read that Walthams are slow, but I think there’s more going on here than that. We’ve got soil fertility issues at Sabathani as well. Before September is out I am going to harvest what I can, rip everything out, and plant a cover crop there too.

Speaking of squash… Here’s a picture of our neighbor’s yard. Our house is the white one in the background behind the fence. In this spot used to be a very large crimson king maple tree that cast deep shade over this area and a good bit of our back yard too. Shortly after it was cut down in June, a pumpkin or squash of some sort sprouted from a bit of dropped compost next to our bin.

Fast forward just a handful of weeks and it started invading our neighbor’s yard through the fence. He was delighted, so he let it grow. It is now the largest pumpkin plant I’ve ever seen, and as far as I can tell it’s just one plant! This area is at least 30 feet wide by 15 feet deep and it’s still going. It’s occupying some of our yard and driveway too.

It’s got several strange-looking pumpkins or squash that I can’t identify, though the leaves look exactly like the leaves of musquee de provence pumpkins, which we grew two years ago. We’ll see what happens.

Last but not least, I recently read The Complete Gardener, by British gardener/TV personality Monty Don. I watched his Netflix show Big Dreams, Small Spaces earlier this year and liked his attitude, so put myself on a waiting list from the library to read some of his books. (He must be gaining popularity here as well.)

I went through my usual range of emotions when reading a gardening book from somewhere very different from Minnesota. First, jealousy: his snowdrops bloom IN JANUARY. Second, relief: slugs are a huge issue there, and they have two different types of cabbage butterflies.

I picked up a handful of ideas to try in my own garden, including spreading wood ash from our fireplace around our currants and gooseberries. He also grows significantly more comfrey than I do and uses the leaves as a mulch around some of his garden vegetables. It’s an excellent idea that I’ve tried before, but ought to do more.

His style is more formal than mine; yet it’s completely appropriate for the place where he gardens. The book is full of gorgeous pictures and good general advice—especially for people who are new to concepts in organic gardening.

We’re running headlong into fall—it is 43 degrees F here as I write this and my husband is sitting in a deer stand up north. I feel ready, though. I have a lot of open spots to fill in spring 2019 so my winter garden planning process is going to be more involved than usual. I’m looking forward to it.

 


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Late Summer

I received 2 free packets of zinnia seeds last winter, and decided on a whim to try sprouting them. They were so easy. I didn’t have a plan for the plants so I just put them in groups of 5 all over the yard to see how they’d do in different light conditions. I’ve found them to be pretty flexible but a bit less floppy when they get plenty of sun. Pollinators love them! Here’s another non-native plant that gets my stamp of approval.

This little skipper spent several minutes nectaring.

 

I dig all the variations in color and form on the zinnias.

Walking around the yard, this scene caught my eye from some distance. How weird! It appears that a cicada decided to shed its exoskeleton while posing on a flower. The cicadas were almost as loud as the airplanes last night. (I live near the airport. You get used to it.)

Want to attract pollinators to your garden? Plant joe-pye weed. It comes in a few different heights. The original wild variety gets quite tall—perhaps 5 feet—and can get a little floppy. It was meant to be mixed in with other tall-grass prairie plants such as big bluestem. I plan to create a little tallgrass prairie oasis next to my garage next year. It will include divisions of this joe pye plant, plus big bluestem, prairie blazing star, Jerusalem artichokes, and (of course) milkweed. Can’t wait to get started on that project.

I also started nasturtiums from seed this spring. I ended up with so many plants that I scattered them all over the yard in pots, hanging baskets, and this window box on my garden shed. Little did I know: nasturtiums attract hummingbirds! We’ve always hoped to attract a hummingbird to our garden and Anneke has been dutifully filling, cleaning, and refilling a hummingbird feeder for two years in hopes of seeing one. A male ruby-throat has been stopping by several times a day now, but he skips the feeder and goes for the nasturtiums. Figures.

Everything is just OK in the garden. Honestly the annual vegetable garden is the most challenging part of my yard, between the pests, the diseases, the soil amendments, the weeding, etc. My permaculture fruit guilds by comparison are much easier to maintain. I’m really going to rethink my vegetable garden design for 2019 to see what I can do about improving soil health—even if it means the short-term cost of going a summer without certain vegetables.

Can you help me identify this mystery pepper? It’s not “Tangerine Dream”—the pepper I thought I’d bought. I am afraid to try it because it’s really hot—Adam said it reminded him of a habanero. I think it might be a hot lemon pepper.

Here’s another mis-labeled pepper from the Friends’ School Plant Sale. (This is not the first time this has happened to me with that sale.) I think these are likely cayenne. Well, at any rate the squirrels are not touching them. I am a big wimp when it comes to peppers, but we’ll pickle these all the same.

This year I tried interplanting my shallots into my strawberry bed, and I’m happy with the results. Some of them are very large and impressive. Most are average, and a few are tiny. A decent harvest.

Here’s an illustration of why you really do need a certain number of plants for this whole eating from the garden thing to work out right. I have 5 okra plants in part-shade so they’re not hyper-productive. I get 3-4 pods, every 3-4 days. It’s just not ever quite enough to cook with. Next year I’m going to try 10 plants, and put them in full sun. Then we’ll get good and tired of okra. Okra is a great edible landscaping plant—the flowers look like hibiscus.

Here’s a little nostalgia for today. My Rowan, age 4, left and age 11, right. Still helping me in the garden.

Here’s a garden friend that I spotted on my hydrangea this morning: a goldenrod soldier beetle. They feed on other insects including cucumber beetles. I don’t know if goldenrod is necessary to attract this beetle. The name might simply refer to its color. I usually see it on calendula flowers.

And here’s evidence of a garden foe that I’ve been battling for over a month now: the dreaded Japanese beetle. After last year’s near defoliation of my grapevine, I was hyper-vigilant this year. At least twice a day since around July 4 we’ve been out there killing as many as we can, but they are seemingly unstoppable. My best guess is that our grapevine is about 30-40% defoliated. Next year we will most likely resort to spraying neem oil, earlier in the season. We’re almost ready to harvest now so it’s too late for this year.

You can see there is also some Japanese beetle damage on my large cherry tree. However, in this case it’s only 5-10% of the leaves that are affected, so I’m willing to tolerate it. It won’t harm the plant at all. Generally if 10% or fewer of leaves on a tree like this are affected, you have nothing to worry about. Trees in the Prunus genus (cherry, chokecherry, plum) support a wide variety of insect larvae—especially butterflies and moths—so if you can tolerate a little damage, you’ll be giving your area birds a huge boost. Insect larvae are the primary food they feed to their young in the nest.

My back yard is going through a major transformation, due to a large tree being removed. I’m starting to get used to how bare it feels, and starting to come up with all kinds of ideas for what I want to plant next year in my three new full-sun spots. Formerly they were two very deep shade and one part-shade spot, so my options have changed considerably. For now we put in zinnias and sunflowers, just to hold us over until certain other projects are done. It probably won’t get fully planted until next spring, and that’s OK.

We only have two weeks left of summer and then my three people—who have been helping me in the garden every single day—will all go back to school. Sigh.


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June / Solstice

Hello! Summer is in full swing, and we have garden challenges galore—from four-lined plant bugs to weeds, weeds, weeds, to the impending doom of a complete main line sewer replacement in August. On the other hand, we ate a kohlrabi from our garden yesterday and it was delicious. Here’s what we’ve been up to the past few weeks.

I spent 4 crazy days in Grand Marais with 80 or so 5th graders (including my two). We endured a severe thunderstorm, one and a half days of cold rain, and then on the final day, damp cold to wrap it up—we were eating cold cereal outside at 40 degrees. On the other hand, we hiked 8 miles of the Superior Hiking Trail during one glorious, mostly rain-free day and I had the privilege of seeing trillium in bloom along the Brule River.

The trail was a bit muddy!

We came home to find that our 40 or so monarch caterpillars had grown a bit under Adam’s care while we were gone.

We released most of them yesterday, in a butterfly bonanza.

This one kindly posed on a milkweed with long-horned milkweed beetle just long enough for me to take some iconic monarch pictures.

Last year, squash vine borers hit my community garden plot hard, so during a rainy period in early June I put down beneficial nematodes. They’ve worked great for me in the past; it’s been about 5 years since I last did this and it was time to refresh the population. You can buy them on a sponge from a garden store (I bought mine at Mother Earth Gardens in Minneapolis). You soak the sponge in water for at least several minutes (rain water is preferable here)—I used a 1/2 gallon jar. Then you can dilute it quite a bit. I split mine into 8 cups and diluted each with 2 gallons of water to water in to my squash hills (background, behind the weeds).

Nematodes can be beneficial for Japanese Beetle control—but only at certain times of the year. I found this article from University of Minnesota’s Jeff Hahn to be very helpful and I plan to try and put some nematodes down in late July if the weather cooperates. They survive better if it’s rainy and a little cooler.

On the home front, I watered in my comfrey compost tea on my vegetables and raspberries yesterday. I’ve seen differing advice about how long to brew this concoction, but I hardly ever brew it for more than 2-3 weeks. I checked it Friday night and saw that it was full of mosquito larvae, so it was time to get rid of it, lest they hatch and make us miserable. I dilute this about 1:3, but again opinions differ on how much you should dilute it as well. Err on the side of caution, I say. It’s powerful. (And STINKY.)

We went to the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden two weeks ago to see the Showy Lady’s Slippers in bloom—unfortunately none of my pictures of them turned out very well. But I caught this bumble on some wild indigo. I recently realized wild indigo (also called blue false indigo) is *not* native to North America.

However, it’s a beautiful plant that supports pollinators, so maybe it’s… not so bad? I was surprised at how much it dominated the prairie area of Eloise Butler. It’s such a unique plant, perfect when you want something shrub-like, such as along a path. It dies all the way to the ground in the winter, so there’s none of the normal winter shrub care needed.

The kids continue to obsess over their fairy gardens; yesterday they added patios to them with some old leftover slate tiles we had lying around.

Anneke made this new fairy house out of clay over the winter, and added a few accessories from Mother Earth Gardens this spring.

I felt that a good cleansing fire was in order for solstice on Thursday night—we borrowed a neighbor’s fire pit and now I don’t want to give it back. We are having a string of gorgeous weather and I just want to be out in it as much as possible. Think I’ll head out there right now.


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Memorial Day 2018

I like to photograph my garden every year on Memorial Day to track where we’re at from a phenology perspective. From the plants’ point of view, we look roughly average, but from a human point of view it’s been anything but.

I swam in a lake in 95 degree heat yesterday; just under 4 weeks ago that lake had ice on it. It’s been a wild swing from winter to summer, seemingly overnight.

We got some bad news this week. Our main line sewer needs to be replaced and pretty much everything in the foreground of this picture will need to go. I’ll know more next week. I was very upset at first but I’m now trying to look at it as an opportunity.

It was such a weird week. This also happened: a red-tailed hawk caught a squirrel in our yard and landed with it on our deck for a minute or two. I was astounded at its size. And not terribly sorry to lose a squirrel, honestly—the hawk dispatched it quickly and efficiently.

Did you know that wild sarsparilla get flowers? They’re hidden under the leaves. I found these on the plants that get a little bit of sunlight each day—in deep shade, I couldn’t find any flowers.

I love the way the gooseberries, wild columbine, and serviceberries are intermingling in our back yard.

My interplanting of shallots and strawberries is coming along swimmingly. The strawberries are thriving in their new raised bed (new in summer 2017). It’s wise to periodically (every 3-5 years) dig up all your strawberry plants, amend the soil, weed thoroughly, and replant them. They get so overrun with weeds over time. Raising them up like this has kept the rabbits from them and made it easier to keep them weeded.

They’re currently covered with blossoms and tiny green strawberries. I’ve been watering them daily to keep them going strong through this heat wave.

One plant that is LOVING the heat is my Meyer Lemon tree. It spends winters inside and generally looks unhappy the whole time, but the second we bring it out in the spring, it starts to revive.

Peppers are also off to a good start with their ollas for water. I’m curious to see how this experiment works out.

My community garden plot is all planted—it’s double in size for this year as my good friend who gardens next to me is taking a year off from her plot. Crossing my fingers that we’ll have a veritable squash kingdom come August, if we can keep the vine borers away.

Last but not least, monarch season has begun! I’ve only seen one, but Anneke found 40 eggs in our yard two nights ago. If all these survive, we’ll have a household record number of releases, in the first round of the migration.

How are you surviving the heat?

 


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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.