The New Home Economics


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Finally, spring

Prince was right: sometimes it does snow in April. It snowed quite a bit this April, so I’m squeezing all my garden work into May—I’ve done some all-day marathon weeding, dividing, and replanting sessions and I’m about halfway done, optimistically.

But my cherry tree is blooming:

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Last year, Adam increased the size of several of my garden beds when he did his paver path project. He also created a new berm in front, which I started planting last August. Then I went to a Wild Ones conference in February and decided I must add another garden bed to the back yard. We now will only have one very small patch of grass.

All of this is to say that I have many spaces to fill in, and nearly all of them are shady. Fortunately, I watched all available episodes of Big Dreams, Small Spaces on Netflix this winter, and it’s making me look at my gardens with new eyes. Monty Don has come to America and I am now a fan.

My biggest takeaway from the show is that you don’t need hundreds of different kinds of plants in your garden. In more than one episode Don asserts that a garden really only needs ten types of plants. TEN!? I’ve always known repetition is a key element of design, but this made me think about it in a new way—I have easily 45 different varieties of plants, counting vegetables and fruits.

The show made me realize why I love my garden best in July. Could it be because coneflowers—a repeating element that ties every area of my yard together—are in full bloom?

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(photo from last year)

This time of year is when my lack of repetition makes my front yard garden less appealing than it could be. I have only one small patch of tulips that are pretty. It’s time to take Monty Don’s advice.

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Since my bloodroot in the back yard were spreading quite a bit, I divided them and planted them all over my front yard gardens. Step one.

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My Jacob’s Ladder, another pretty and easy-to-grow woodland plant, also had spread quite a bit. So this patch has been divided and moved around, too. (Photo from last year.)

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I’m also dividing and replanting Solomon’s Seal. It’s a gorgeous native woodland perennial, and easy to maintain. I first planted it in the dry shade under a silver maple and it’s thriving there. This will be another unifying theme in my shade gardens.

All of this dividing and replanting is also saving me a little money, which is nice. Things are moving along in the vegetable gardening realm as well:

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I put my lettuce out very late. I was putting together the hoop house and realized I actually didn’t need it, so instead I put some chicken wire on the frame to keep squirrels out—they LOVE digging up freshly planted seedlings. The wire did not keep Buckles the black lab from lying on the lettuce one night, but the lettuce recovered nicely and we’re now starting to pick some. I should be able to remove the wire this weekend.

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Another idea I read about over the winter was interplanting strawberries and shallots. I’m curious to see how it will turn out. I’m putting my husband’s saved beard hair trimmings on the strawberries every other day or so until the plants get big enough that the rabbits lose interest.

I’ve got onions, carrots, and leeks planted in the garden, but that’s it. Everything was so late that I didn’t bother with peas or radishes this year. I don’t plan on putting in tomatoes or peppers until next weekend, the 19th or 20th. The weather has been a little too volatile this spring.

Happy spring to you; I hope to be back with my annual Memorial Day phenology photo shoot at the end of the month.

 

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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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Garlic and squirrel war

Here’s the garlic, all cleaned up and tied into a nice, neat (huge) bunch:

Thank goodness the garlic turned out, because everything else has been rather uninspiring. Here’s yesterday’s harvest:

Those turnips were rather small and woody. I did not thin them out enough. Turnips: easy to grow but need a lot of room. Then there’s this:

My biggest, most beautiful “Big Rainbow” heirloom tomato, only days from being picked: attacked by squirrels. This is war. Adam was looking at wrist rockets and blow guns online today. How do you combat squirrels?