The New Home Economics


3 Comments

Spring happenings

Planting onion starts, via The New Home Economics

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

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

Sprouting serviceberry branches, via The New Home Economics

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

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

First bloodroot of 2017, via The New Home Economics

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

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

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

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

Soil sprouted radishes, via The New Home Economics

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

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

Advertisements


2 Comments

Onions and integrity

A northern vegetable garden, prepped

I can’t remember the last time I’ve had the garden prepped and partially planted this early. The soil has been amended, the soaker hoses are in place, and cool season crops are planted.

Cool and warm season crops are a major topic at the Master Gardener classes I teach. In a nutshell, cool season crops are any edible that you can plant while there is still a chance of frost. We still have about a month until our “average last frost” date in Minneapolis, but many plants can withstand and even thrive in cool temperatures.

With that in mind, I planted collard greens, swiss chard (from seed), two types of radishes, onions, and carrots. I planted my peas two weeks ago; they’re about two inches tall now. Lettuce was sown in February, in my mini hoop house. This turned out to be a little bit premature. It took three full weeks to sprout, and then grew so slowly that it is now approximately the same size as the lettuce I started in the house a few weeks later. I do like experimenting.

Drilling holes in soaker hose

Speaking of experimenting, I have spent the last few years pondering how to make my soaker hoses work better when hooked up to rain barrels, which have very low pressure. The hoses are designed to be hooked up to a regular outdoor faucet, so when using the rain barrel there was never enough pressure to push water through the hose walls and empty the barrel completely.

Drilling tiny holes in these was a risk, no doubt, but I’ve grown annoyed enough with these things that I was willing to try it. Adam drilled holes every 6-12 inches, then we hooked them up to the barrel to test. It worked pretty much how I hoped it would. There is no doubt that the plants closer to the barrel will get more of the rainwater, but overall it will be a more efficient use of this precious resource.

Planting onion starts

Rowan and I spent Sunday afternoon planting onion starts. It’s a tedious process. My method is to dig a little trench, lay out 6-10 onions in a row, then carefully fill in around each one. I plant them fairly close together—around 1-2 inches—because we thin and eat them as scallions all summer long. The few that remain until late summer will actually form bulbs, but few ever make it that long. Green onions from the garden are just too much of a treat.

Rowan planting onions

We bought our onion starts at Mother Earth Gardens. Rowan heard me comment about garden stores with integrity, and asked what that word meant. Here’s how I explained it. It was WARM this weekend, unseasonably hot. It felt like the right weather to plant tomatoes. Many big box stores are probably already selling tomatoes. Mother Earth probably could have sold some this weekend, but they didn’t have any out. Why? Because anyone who plants a tomato this early in Minnesota is at risk of failure if we get a frost (which we might). They want their customers to be successful gardeners, even though it might mean lower profits. Integrity. He totally gets it. (Obviously, since he’s helping his mom plant onions on a Sunday.)

Trout Lilies at Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

We also made a quick visit to Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. The spring ephemerals are nearly at peak, with thousands of trout lilies (above) in full bloom and trillium about to open.

The forecast is looking great for cool season crop starting this week—cooler and a little bit rainy. Perfect! I can taste the radishes already…


1 Comment

Garden Plan 2016

Hello again friends! I hope you had a wonderful holiday season. Now that my yard and gardens are buried in snow, it’s time to start planning for next season. Here’s the layout I came up with for this year. Click to enlarge:

Layout of garden // via The New Home Economics

Not terribly different from the last 2-3 years, honestly. Just a couple of new things I’m trying:

Peppers: I’m not growing peppers in the main vegetable garden this year. Rather, I’m going to plant 3-4 of them each in 3-4 big containers which I’ll spread around the sunniest parts of the front yard flower beds. I have some extra space in my cherry tree garden while I wait for the tree and surrounding shrubs to get bigger (I got tired of weeding this in 2015). I’ve not had good yields of peppers the past 2 years, so I want to give the garden a break from at least one nightshade vegetable.

Spacing: each year I have to re-learn the spacing lesson. I’m going to try once again to control myself when it comes to how many plants I try to cram into each area (exception: I’ve gotten good at crowding onions). It’s hard when you have a tiny garden!

Sabathani Community Garden: after two years of growing only pumpkins and potatoes there, we’re going to add just a couple of other things: namely kohlrabi and (maybe) some radishes and/or onions if I end up with extra.

Other than that, we’re just continuing to try and rotate things through. I’m growing two trellis’ worth of cucumbers, in hopes that I’ll produce enough for the squirrels AND me (rather than just enough for them). I also doubled the number of onions, because onions fresh from the garden are SO good. We plant onion “starts” quite close together go down the row, picking every other green onion to allow the remaining onions to get bigger. Last year, only a handful ever got close to full size.

I’m trying two new-to-me varieties of vegetables this year:

Watermelon Radish, via Seed Savers Exchange

First is the Watermelon Radish. It’s not just for looks either; these are seriously delicious. We first tried them at the farmers’ market last summer but have purchased them from the co-op several times since. I may try to squeeze a row of these in at my community garden plot. I ordered this (and all my seeds) from Seed Savers Exchange in Iowa.

Musquee de Provence pumpkin

Next up is the gorgeous Musquee de Provence pumpkin. I love Long Island Cheese pumpkins, but after two years in a row it’s time to try something new. Crossing my fingers for a long enough growing season–these need 110 days!

It might be useful to review some of my past garden plans. I keep making the same mistakes!

2015 Garden Plan

Garden Layout for 2015

The biggest problem with the 2015 garden plan was that I did not leave enough space for the beets (top right). The parsnips got shaded by the grapevine, leaned over the beets, which leaned over the carrots, and NONE of them sprouted very well. (It sure looked good when I planted it in May, though!) I also continue to have poor results with radishes (yet continue to not give up). My peppers also did not do well–I picked them up at the Friends Plant Sale as I often do, and many of them were spindly and weak. A dose of too-strong compost tea (oops) then killed some of them.

BUT! But. We had great crops of peas and beans. We *would* have had great crops of tomatoes and cucumbers had the ___ ___ squirrels not eaten so many. I was on the right track with planting smaller-sized tomatoes last year, but this year I might plant all F1 hybrid tomatoes and skip the heirlooms. When squirrels take so many, I need a plant that seriously produces.

2014 Garden Plan

2014 Garden Plan

Aaah, 2014: the Crazy Garden. The main thing I remember: this was *way* too many plants for the center-left spot. Even though that is the biggest spot of the garden, to think I could do carrots, kohlrabi, beets, chard, broccolli AND cauliflower was way too much. At most, 3 broccoli or cauliflower plants would have fit this area, along with maybe two rows of something smaller like chard or carrots. Kohlrabi plants also get pretty big. The other issue with the broccolli, kohlrabi, AND cauliflower was that they took too long to get to maturity–by the time the plants got ready to make heads, they stopped getting enough sunlight to do so–I didn’t get anything from those plants.

The longer I garden in this spot the more I’m checking the “days to maturity” on the seed packets / plant labels. The season of full sun is short between two 2-story buildings. Although brussels sprouts also did not do a whole lot at Sabathani (which gets plenty of sun for a very long season)–perhaps insufficient soil fertility? They just never amounted to much. This was part of the reason why I abandoned pretty much all cruciferous vegetables in 2015–I’d had it from the previous year.

2013 Garden Plan

2013 Garden Layout

For 2013, I remember the zucchini taking over the whole left section of the garden, and basil never getting tall enough because the garlic was so huge. You’ll notice I do not have garlic in my garden for 2016. I’ve been thinking a lot about rabbits and squirrels. And I can’t afford to use space in this rabbit-proof enclosure for plants that rabbits don’t eat. So I planted garlic all over my flower beds in front of the house this fall. I can identify garlic plants easily enough that I’m not worried about finding them.

Rabbits don’t eat tomatoes, either, but I have the tomato trellis here and very little sunny space elsewhere. So here they remain.

2012 Garden Plan

2012 Garden Plan

Oh boy, we are heading into the deep recesses of my memory: 2012. And clearly I didn’t learn from my mistakes in 2012 when planning my 2014 garden, because I crammed to many large cruciferous veggies in that left-middle spot again. Looking at these old plans makes me very grateful for my new herb spiral garden, which frees up the space I used to dedicate to them. My garden plans get more simple each year.

2011 Garden Plan

Garden layout 2011

Speaking of complicated garden plans, wow. This one sure looks neat as designed. This was before I built my tomato trellis, so it was the last year we used tomato cages. It was also the year we installed our four wall trellises. I really upped my garden game in 2011! But this plan was so complex. It took me a very long time to plan each section, and once again I crammed too many things into the center-left section (story of my gardening life). The celeriacs never amounted to anything and the cabbages took over and crushed everything around them. See the size of the “tomato” circles? My cabbage circles should have been the same size, in this design.

The thing I like about this design though is the biodiversity in each plot–meant to thwart garden pests that I struggled with my first few years of gardening. But since I started adding more and more native plants to my yard in 2012, the number of pests I have to deal with has plummeted. My biggest challenge now is maintaining fertility in this intensely-gardened soil, and continuing to tweak the varieties that I choose to take advantage of the intense but short period of full sun between two houses.

What am I going to do about fertility this year? Last year I added a large amount of Happy Frog Soil Conditioner to each of the beds, but the results were not as spectacular as I hoped. Disappointing, because I have great luck with that in my container gardens each year. I thought about trying lime this year, but our soil is alkaline so that might do more harm than good. Readers, can you comment on that? This was an interesting read about lime.

Any other advice for me? Is it time to finally take my own Master Gardener advice and just get a dang soil test?!


5 Comments

Crazy Garden 2014

We reached a point in this past year where the kids simultaneously became more interested in gardening and less interested in trying new foods. We haven’t eaten mushrooms in ages! Oh, I miss them so. Last fall, in an attempt to tempt them into something new, I started buying only the crazy-colored vegetables at the farmers market. Orange cauliflower. Purple broccoli. Golden beets. Then we all got an idea: what if we planned our next year’s garden around crazy vegetables?! I give you our 2014 garden plan:

A kid-friendly garden for 2014(click to enlarge)

We still have some standards in there, like bush beans, tomatoes, peppers, and onions. But we’re really going to try and mix things up this year. Here are some of the new things we’re trying:

Romanesco Broccoli

Romanesco Broccoli (click image for source)

Cheddar cauliflower

Cheddar cauliflower (click image for source)

Purple Kohlrabi

Purple Kohlrabi (click image for source)

Golden beets

Golden beets (click image for source)

Rainbow chard

Rainbow chard (click image for source)

Dragon carrots

Dragon carrots (click image for source)

Easter egg radishes

Easter egg radishes (click image for source)

Red noodle bean / yard long bean

Red noodle bean, aka yard long bean.

I’ve grown some of these before, including the easter egg radishes, rainbow chard, and dragon carrots, but never a whole garden full. You’ll also notice on the plan that I’ve included a 10’x20′ plot at Sabathani with Long Island Cheese pumpkins, potatoes, and brussels sprouts. I’m applying for a permanent plot there this year—last year my friend CJ and I filled a spare 10’x20′ plot full of pumpkins and squash, and our relative success has me inspired to make this a permanent thing. I can’t get there every day, so I have to choose plants that can survive a few days without weeding/watering/harvesting. I’m very excited about this development!

Our three stock tank gardens in the back won’t change significantly this year, although Anneke really wants to try elephants’ ears in hers. I’m letting the kids pick out their plants for their tanks when we get the Friends School catalog in a few weeks. Of course I’d love it if they planted edibles, but I’m not going to force them. My large stock tank will be planted in greens hopefully in very early April. (Or late March? Dare I hope?)

So there you have it! Our edible garden plans for 2014. Of course I have “landscape” garden plans too, as always. My prairie garden in my boulevard still has about a 10’x6′ space to fill, and I may add another currant bush somewhere. When there’s this much snow on the ground it’s easy to get carried away. Happy garden planning season, everyone!


1 Comment

Solstice garden update

The first days of summer were marked by terrible weather–three nights in a row of severe thunderstorms that left much of the city (including us, for about 18 hours) without power. Trees are down everywhere. We were very lucky that we only lost a few branches. Despite that, the weather was nice during the day we were able to spend much of the weekend outside.

Eating snow peas in the garden

We were sitting on the deck watching a monarch laying eggs on our milkweed Thursday night when suddenly, something in the letttuce/pea tank caught my eye. SNOW PEAS are ready! The kids have barely let us have any. I already know none will make it to the kitchen. I’ve eaten 3 or 4 of them, and only by sneaking. The flimsy twine support I made for them was completely insufficient and they are now laying on top of the lettuce, but no mind. Everything is still growing and very much edible.

Broccoli and basil in pots

Things are going swimmingly in my deck container garden, too. I hope the broccoli doesn’t get a whole lot bigger… I may have crowded that a bit closer than is ideal. I will also have to thin out the basil soon.

Overview of vegetable garden on June 21, 2013

Here’s the whole garden. Rhubarb at the bottom. I added a fresh layer of straw last week, and there’s not much to do right now in here except harvest scallions, check the radishes and implore everything to grow faster. We also harvested our garlic scapes on 6/21.

Peppers in garden

Taking it piece by piece, here are the peppers (mixed sweet and hot). I hope they get bigger soon; they have barely grown in the 6 weeks since I planted them. Behind them, as usual, the hops attempt to take over the house. At the trellis to the rear left, cucumbers are looking much healthier but still very small.

Bush beans and Christmas Lima beans

Bush beans (we had a bit of spotty germination), flanked by scallions. Cucumbers on trellis to the right, Christmas Limas on trellis to the left. I didn’t think about it until after I planted, but since both varieties of beans are open-pollinated, am I going to get cross-breeds? Maybe not. The bush beans are Blue Lake.

Tomato trellis

Continuing on to the tomato and garlic area. The garlic will be ready relatively soon, and I’ll be happy to get it out of the way. The tomatoes are growing rapidly right now, putting out blooms and tiny green tomatoes. I also *tried* to plant some radishes in here, between the garlic and tomatoes, but I think they are not getting quite enough direct sunlight. They just do not seem to want to produce a good-sized radish. Such a bummer; I should have planted them in with the beans, which were tiny for a very long time. I’m growing the following six varieties of heirloom tomatoes this year: Costoluto Genovese, Jaune Flamee, Moonglow, Nyagous, Brandywine, and Black Cherry.

Kale, herbs, zucchini, acorn squash

Finally in the last, odd-shaped west end of the garden, we have kale, some herbs (including a lot of chamomile), one hill of zucchini, some acorn squash at the trellis, and a row of shallots in the front.

Corner of the house and garden

Here’s a view from further out. In the very front between the chimney and the rain barrel, I’ve been attempting to grow both asparagus and strawberries for several years. I’ve recently come to realize this is not working well. It’s simply not enough space to get a decent amount of either one. Especially the asparagus; we end up with about 5 spears every spring. And maintaining the strawberries means maintaining a constant war with the rabbits.

Meanwhile on the other side of the rain barrel, my currant bush just keeps putting out fruit, with less light, little care, and no rabbit damage.

Now that I’m a more experienced gardener, the very first portions of my garden are truly ripe for a bit of editing. Perhaps even a full redesign if I can get Adam to cut down an ugly (and completely non-beneficial) crab apple tree. I want to put in plants that are more native to Minnesota and less likely to be taken out by rabbits or to need constant attention with things like acidified mulch (I’m looking at you, tiny blueberries that have never given me fruit). So, stay tuned on that.High season for greens is in full swing, and everything else is soon to follow, if we can prevent trees from falling on us…


7 Comments

Garden Plan 2013

Here we are, my favorite post of the year! My detailed garden plan for 2013, click to enlarge:

Sample garden layout for 6 foot x 20 foot garden, via New Home Economics blog

Oh, how my plans have evolved over the years (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012).

I’ve been very focused, the past two years, on trying to grow a GREAT variety of things in my garden, but now that I’m a more experienced gardener, I want a nice-sized crop. I’m no longer excited about having grown one single eggplant fruit. Give me at least 15 of something or forget it.

With that in mind, I’m taking 2013 off from all brassicas and root vegetables in the main garden. I have had bad luck with both—brassicas due to their long growing season and root vegetables due to my very rocky soil. My main vegetable garden has a very short season due to the peak of my neighbor’s house. It blocks the sun in all but the highest summer weeks.

I’ve also learned a lot about hoop house gardening, and this year will try to take my mini stock tank hoop house to the next level. With that in mind, I’m planting only very early spring things in March (weather permitting). These things will definitely be done by July 1 or so, when I will look to the fall and get greens and other such things started for fall harvests. My biggest lesson from 2012 in the stock tank was that I need to start the fall plantings earlier, giving them a chance to get good-sized before the cold and dark set in.

I grew both shallots and green onions from Mother Earth Gardens “starts” last year, and loved them. I plan to do that again. Garlic is already in the ground. I wish it had some insulating snow on top to protect it from the -20 degree F winds blowing over our area today, but… well hopefully it will be fine.

After pickling jalapeno peppers last summer and LOVING the result, I plan to grow quite a few more hot peppers this year. I’ve made room for 12 plants, and will get a variety of peppers when I make my annual pilgrimage. As for tomatoes, I’ll grow six plants again on the trellis, but will decide which varieties when the catalog arrives.

I actually have quite a bit of seed leftover from last year when I apparently went completely insane with seed, so I’m going to re-use wherever possible (yes, many seeds are still viable after a year or two). This means we’ll be enjoying “Maxibel Haricot Verts” again this summer–they are a spectacular bush green bean.

I’m also letting go of trying to grow vegetables in Rowan and Anneke’s stock tanks. They simply don’t get enough sun for anything beyond nasturtiums. I’m going to let them each pick out a variety of shade-loving annual flowers this year, and I think some fairy gardens may sprout.

My question for you: do you think acorn squash will work on a completely vertical trellis? Or am I dreaming too big?

Garden planning and seed starting information

My garden plans for 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012
My 2012 garden calendar (2013 planning dates, coming soon)
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


Leave a comment

Garden update

A bumper raspberry crop is on its way!

Also, we’ve been harvesting a small bowl of strawberries every day, a nice addition to our breakfasts this past week.  If you’ve ever wondered how many strawberry plants you’d need to feed a small family (but not have any leftover for preserving), here’s a good indication:

I think it’s around 15 plants?  I didn’t actually count them.  It’s a pretty small area, maybe 6 feet by 2 feet, curved.  It’s big enough for me right now: my daily battle with rabbits includes spraying these with garlic/pepper spray.  Every day.  Having a small area like this makes it a bit more manageable.

I pulled the remaining radishes and re-arranged the parsnips to spread them out — they were all in one big clump in the middle.  Transplanting root vegetables is ill-advised, as they can develop forked roots as a result.  This happened to me last year (but there were a couple of factors that could have caused the forked, stunted growth).  I needed to spread these out or I would basically get none.  We’ll see what happens.

My peppers are doing fine; they’ve really grown.  They have more insect damage this year than in years past but I’m not sure what’s causing it.  The two wee cauliflowers have taken off, too.  The basil looks bad, but the sage at the back looks great!  The flat-leafed parsley looks fine.

The cabbages have all grown quite a bit too.  I will need to thin these out again.

Cuke cage: inside the cage, the plants are getting quite big.  I have both radishes and cukes inside the cage, since radishes (supposedly) repel cucumber beetles.  I also planted them all along the outside of the cage but slugs ate about half of them (the blue lid is a beer slug trap).

Finally, the peas and beans.  Peas along the fence was a bad idea, in hindsight.  The rabbits can easily nibble the tops of the peas right through the fence, and they have done so.  They’ve taken probably half the peas.  This mistake seems really obvious to me now, but for some reason it didn’t when I planted the seeds inside the fenceline.  Lesson learned.

All this reminds me: time for my nightly spraydown of the yard with pepper/garlic spray.