The New Home Economics


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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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Garden Plan 2015

It doesn’t seem like that long since we planned and mostly executed Crazy Garden 2014. I’m afraid I don’t have a name for our 2015 garden; the closest thing I have to a concept is to call it “keeping it simple 2015,” because we have A LOT to plant this year.

Let’s start with the vegetable garden and what’s new or different there:

Garden Layout 2015For starters, is that an herb spiral? Why yes it is. I’ll talk a little more about that later.

For our home vegetable garden, I haven’t marked out specific varieties of vegetables I want to grow; this year I’m going to use up a bunch of leftover seed. I’ve also got a huge network of gardening friends now–I end up getting phone calls in May about finding a home for large flats of onions and the like, which benefits me if I’m not too picky.

I’ve reduced the amount of space allocated to each pepper plant this year. It may just be that we’ve had two cool, not-good-for-pepper-growing summers in a row, but they’ve seemed like they had plenty of extra room. I’m also planning on more onions. We’ve come to love having fresh ones around all summer. The only other real change I’m planning this year in this garden is that I’m not going to plant any of my beloved large-size heirloom tomatoes. It’s not worth the heartache when you have a plant that only produces a handful of tomatoes and 3/4 of them are taken by squirrels (who eat one bite). I’m going to grow mostly cherry tomatoes, some tomatillos, and maybe something else very small.

The purple lines on here represent where I *think* I planted garlic last October. I didn’t draw a diagram at the time, and I’ve completely forgotten. So, onion rows may move around a bit depending on where I actually see garlic in the spring.

Parsnips are also making a glorious return to my 2015 garden after being absent a few years. I do love them so. Notice the strategic layout of my “root vegetable area” on the right side of the garden. Carrots are in front, where the will-be-8-year-olds can easily dig them up and eat them. Behind them are the slower-growing beets, and in the very back, hard-to-reach area are the parsnips, which we won’t harvest until everything else is done anyway. Small space gardening requires strategy.

At Sabathani, we’ll be focusing on volume again, probably dedicating most of the garden to potatoes and squash or pumpkins. Rowan got a free packet of broom corn, so that’s being added as well for fun.

Now for our perennial/landscaping plans for 2015, which are extensive:

Location for herb spiralHere’s a panorama of the garden in front of our living room picture window. It’s a little overgrown–can you even see the flagstone path that’s supposed to be going through there? The mail carrier has certainly given up on using it. On the right side of that path, which is currently occupied by an old Autumn Joy Sedum that desperately needs to be divided, I’ll add a currant bush.

On the left side of the stone path (right side of the main sidewalk) is where I want to put my herb spiral. I hope it will give a slightly more formal look to this area while also giving easier access to herbs. We love growing herbs, and when we first got started we used to mix them in with all of our perennial flowers here in the front yard. Well, the thing is, when you plant natives they tend to move around and fill in open spaces. Our little thyme, oregano, cilantro, and parsley patches didn’t really stand much of a chance (dill’s holding its own though).

So, that big group of coneflowers, along with some sedum and a Russian Sage that is not even visible, will be dug up to make room for a more formal herb garden. And happily, I have a nice new big open spot to move them all to:

Cherry Tree gardenOur new Cherry Tree garden, which we sheet mulched last fall. Should be in perfect condition for planting by the time May rolls around. In addition to divided perennials from around the yard, I’d like to add another currant bush (bringing our total to 3), an old-fashioned rose bush (so that I can make rosehip tea) and another non-fruit bearing native shrub closer to the boulevard. With the number of dogs walking by on our sidewalk, I’d rather not eat fruit that grows *right* next to it.

TrellisMoving to the back yard, we put up a beautiful new arbor over our deck last August. This spring I’d like to plant two grapevines to climb up over it, and I’m also going to add some hops on a wire system on the north side. I’m hoping this gives us a little bit of privacy on the deck. These echinacea and milkweed can probably stay as well.

Serviceberry gardenFinally, the barest-looking spot in the garden: the area formerly occupied by our very large, fire blight-infested apple tree that we had to cut down in the fall (stump still visible). We quickly planted a Serviceberry bush. They’re supposed to get quite large, but we will want to fill in a little bit around it too. I’m thinking 2 more gooseberry bushes (bringing our total to 3) and something on the corner by the gate… I have not decided what, yet. Part of me would really like to add an evergreen somewhere on the yard–perhaps a juniper?  That decision is yet unmade.

Two small columnar Chokeberry bushes are on the other side of the fence by the car.  I’d rather not add any more shrubs over there because the area gets really piled up with snow during normal winters, and shrubs do not take kindly to having large amounts of shoveled snow thrown on them.

So there you have it: 2015 garden plans, ambitious as usual. But it’s so nice to have a stock of native volunteers in other areas of the yard to help fill these spaces in. What are your big plans/changes for 2015?


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High Season

Now that raspberries are done, I have a moment to catch my breath. Let’s take a look around:

I was hoping for jaw-dropping before-and-after pictures of our back yard landscape project by now, but I honestly don’t think it’s going to look all that impressive before next year. As you can see, the grass is quite unhappy right now—and honestly, it’s so hard to keep grass looking nice this time of year that I’m not even trying. I have plans for it this fall; fall is a great time to seed and do general turf up-keep.

The new plants (in the now-woodchipped areas of the lawn) are all surviving, but are still quite small. I am really excited to see what this will look like when the viburnums along the fence get to their full size.

Closer to the house, the stock tanks are coming along fine. Red Russian Kale (on the left) is unstoppable. We have cut nearly all the leaves off those plants many times this summer, and it just keeps coming back. I had thought about re-planting more of it in August, but this appears to be fine for the rest of the season.

starting seeds for fall planting

Speaking of which, I’m starting some new lettuces and greens for late summer hoop house/stock tank planting. I’ve never tried this before. Will be moving them outside as soon as this heat wave breaks.  It WILL break.

The tropical parts of my garden, naturally, are loving this summer. My one hill of zucchini is enormous, and we’ve been picking approximately one standard-size and a handful of cherry tomatoes every day for about a week.

My green beans (‘Maxibel Haricot Verts’) have been taking a short break from producing beans to double in size and put out new flowers. Round two, coming right up!

My garlic-to-parsnips succession plan did not work out. Only a handful of parsnips sprouted, so I sowed some turnip seeds in the open spots. They sprouted almost overnight, so I’m hopeful I’ll be able to get a few small ones (center top of picture). I’m also exhorting my 4 rosemary plants to get bigger; they have been uninspiring this year. Getting plenty of chamomile for this winter’s permaculture tea, though!

banana peppers with disease

Not everything is rosy, of course. This banana pepper plant has had strange growth habits and some leaf curling all summer. I thought about ripping it out a few weeks ago, but then suddenly it started to grow like crazy. Still no blooms, though. At this point I may as well see it through.

Thanks, city of Minneapolis

In other sad news, the city decided that we needed a new sidewalk, since our very old boulevard elm tree had pushed up the old one. I understand that a concrete professional’s main job is to lay straight, square concrete, but in order to do so, the crew removed at least 70% of this tree’s most important roots. Then they helpfully made this cut-out, as if the tree would be here for years to come. It will likely be dead by this time next year, thanks to their work. Adam saw the tree roots on the lawn that night and said “That’s it. We’re moving to the country.” (An empty threat, since I work downtown and refuse to be a long-haul commuter.)

OK, let’s get back to more positive updates. All six of the ostrich ferns that I added this spring looked dead, until a week or two ago suddenly they all had new life. I’m sensing fiddleheads in our kitchen next spring!

Also, the one heirloom melon seed (‘Sakata Sweet’) that sprouted has turned into quite the impressive plant, covered with blooms. This particular melon is supposed to reach softball size, so trellising it shouldn’t be a problem.

Christmas Lima Beans

Finally, I had all but finished my garden plan when I realized I had forgotten Christmas Lima Beans. Since the kids have declared them a yearly holiday tradition, I decided to just try throwing them into this corner, which rarely sees much action. Result: wow! This year is going much better than last, for all beans.

I’ve made two quarts of pickles so far, but judging by my cucumber plants, I have many more pickles in my near future:

What’s happening in your garden right now?


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Garden Plan 2012

Time for my favorite post of the year: my garden plan is complete! Check it out:

garden layout for 6ft by 20ft garden plot

DETAILS (let’s start with the stock tanks, shall we?):

Stock tanks
Inspired by Eliot Coleman, I’m going to try and get multiple harvests out of 2 of my 3 tanks this year.  I’ll start some lettuce and greens seeds indoors in a few weeks, then plant them out in March or early April in some (brand new not yet built) hoop houses. Then I will probably just grow more heat-tolerant greens during the hot part of summer, followed by a fall planting of spinach and carrots in high hopes of a Christmastime harvest.  We shall see!  The stock tank in the top of the plan that lists herbs is in a shadier spot than the other two, so I’ll plant accordingly there.

Deck area
I want to possibly try Feverfew, an herb with medicinal use that has cute flowers. I’ve heard it repels bees (?!) so the deck would be a perfect spot. I’m also bringing back zucchini after a 2-year absence (check out my summer 2009 gardening posts for zucchini ridiculousness). Just one hill this time! Also a hill of watermelon using seeds that we saved from a really cool orange-fleshed watermelon last summer.

Tomatoes
I’m going to try something new with tomatoes this year, too. Also inspired by Eliot Coleman’s book as well as a couple of friends’ gardens, I’m going to try training tomatoes up on twine hanging down from a structure like so:

tomato trellis system

This is my friend Brian’s tomato jungle. A fellow master gardener that I know also has a system along these lines.  I’m hoping to get a higher yield this way — more plants, pruned down to their central stem.  No more bushy tomatoes in giant, tipsy cages.

Cabbage/green beans/fennel
I didn’t plan enough room for cabbage last year, so I’ve tried to be more realistic this year (note that the circles are significantly larger). We’re going to try Napa cabbage this year. Also, moving fennel back into the garden because it simply does not grow well in part-shade, no matter how hard I wish for it.

Leeks/basil/banana peppers/shallots
I’ve never grown leeks or shallots before, and Adam requested both. Really, this year is all about satisfying Mr. Gourmet Cook. I will always grow sweet banana peppers because they are hands-down my favorite pickled food.

Garlic/parsnips/bunch o’ herbs
I struggled to come up with something to plant in between my rows of garlic, which will be harvested by mid-July. It had to be something that started *VERY* slowly — why, parsnips of course! Parsnips and I are back together for 2012.

Trellises
I found some softball-size heirloom melons that are supposed to be trellis-able, so I’m trying those as well as cucumbers and peas.

Garden planning and seed starting information

My garden plans for 2009, 2010, and 2011
Starting seeds without peat or plastic
U of M Extension seed starting guide
U of M Extension: planting dates for vegetables (highly recommended)
U of M Extension: a whole bunch more information about vegetables


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Overwintering parsnips

Look what I found in my garden! Our first freeze of the fall was quite late (around Halloween), so my window for harvesting parsnips after the freeze and before significant snow fell (early December) was actually rather short.  There were a couple left that I never got around to harvesting.

They chilled out under several feet of snow all winter, but their foliage looked bright green and healthy when the snow was finally gone.

They’re just as knobbly and misshapen as the ones I picked last fall, but they tasted great mashed.  So how do you overwinter parsnips?  Simple: just forget about them, leave them in the ground, and then pull them out in the spring.  If you don’t have any snow I suppose you might pile some leaves on top.

I made a dramatic announcement to the family that these would be our last parsnips for over a year, since we’re not growing them this year.  The family pointed out I could theoretically buy some at the co-op.  They would probably look nicer, too.


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Garden plan 2011: a CSA replacement

Last year, we had a CSA box every week from June-October.  As a result, my 2010 garden focus was growing larger amounts of only a few vegetables in my garden, with the idea that we would eat the CSA produce and preserve the garden produce.  It worked pretty well– we’re still stocked with kraut, pickles, and pickled peppers.  But I get bored easily, so new year, new plan.  We’re cancelling our CSA this year, and we’ll grow a greater variety.  I also have a bunch of old seeds that I’d like to use up.  (Yes, you can re-use old seeds.)

Here’s the tentative plan (click to enlarge):

Once again, I’m hoping to get some trellises built this spring.  We actually have a plan and materials on hand this time, so it shouldn’t be a problem.

Also: I’m adding some raised beds/very large containers in the backyard that will likely hold a few more veggies such as chard, radishes, and lettuce, and I also plan to construct a potato tower back there somewhere.  I will post more about the backyard plans later, as they take shape.

New for 2011:

  • I’ve never grown carrots before.  Weird, huh?  The kids will really get a kick out of them.
  • Trying a “garlic border” around each of my plant areas.  Hoping it will keep the cabbage worms away.  (Ha!)
  • Expanding the number of herbal tea plants I grow.  I’ve become really addicted to peppermint, chamomile, and raspberry leaf teas from my yard.
  • The aforementioned potato tower!
  • I will not be growing parsnips.  We’re officially on a break.  (Shocking, yes?)
  • I saved seeds from a promising-looking pumpkin and squash that I picked up at the farmer’s market last fall to use for my one small hill of each.  We’ll see how that goes…
  • I’m starting my few cabbage and celeriac plants indoors.  I tried to do a “scatter planting” of them very early last spring and it didn’t work well at all.  It took them forever to sprout, and by that time the bed was full of weeds.  Just a mess in general, and I never did see a celeriac.  I’d rather set out plants and know what I’m dealing with.  I also had to move the cabbages around a lot as they got bigger.  The whole thing was really kinda dumb — fortunately I did get several nice heads of cabbage out of it in the end.
  • I’ll start a couple of peppers and tomatoes, but I’m going to buy the rest at the annual Friends School Plant sale, since they usually have a really great selection of both and I’m going to it anyway.
  • Speaking of the Friends Sale, I’m hoping to pick up some native plants and start my evil master plan of converting the boulevard on my entire city block to native grasses and wildflowers instead of boring old grass.  Watch out, neighbors.  More on that in a future post as well!

Update, Feb. 4, 2011: Forgot to note that I’m moving my tomato plants to a new spot this year.  I put tomatoes in the same spot for ’09 and ’10, and it was not a good idea.  I got very few tomatoes in ’10.  So I’m trying the pumpkins and winter squash and crossing my fingers that the rabbits will not be interested in them (that area is outside the fence).


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Garden 2011

Kinda crazy, but I’m already starting to form plans for next year’s garden.  We planted our garlic this weekend, which involved a little planning.  Here’s the plan so far:

I don’t have my 4 beds planned out yet, but I have now lined my three walking spaces with rows of garlic.  I have a great mental picture of how this will look, but will it work out?  I will leave open the space where I had garlic in ’09 and ’10.  The kids helped with the planting:

Parsley on the left behind Anneke and parsnips behind Rowan on the right are the only thing still going on in the garden.  Here’s the garlic we planted:

We picked it up at Kingfield Farmers Market last weekend from Swede Hollow Farms, who are apparently now famous.  (The market is open one more weekend!)  I also tucked a few more plantings here and there in the front yard flower bed.  Should be a big garlic year in 2011.

Here’s a question: anyone ever save pumpkin seeds?  We got a really nice pie pumpkin from our CSA so I thought I might try saving the seeds and planting them next spring.  They are currently drying out on the countertop.  Since I’ll only plant one or two hills at the most, it seems prudent to just save some seeds and save myself a few dollars.

Finally, I think we might take a break from parsnips in 2011.  We still have not had a hard freeze here this year.  But since we’ve had plenty of nights where it got really close to freezing, I started harvesting them this weekend. For the second year in a row, I dug up a bunch of mis-shapen, stunted, many-legged beasts.  It’s my own fault: I let the kids scatter-plant them, they came up in clumps, and I tried to spread them out.  Parsnips HATE to be transplanted.  For two years I’ve tried to ignore that fact, and I can ignore it no longer.

Here’s a little less than half of my total harvest.  A couple of them were perfect. Will I be able to resist the lure of the parsnip next spring?  We made mashed parsnips with these today and they were sublime.