The New Home Economics


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Gardening Calendar

Last year I created a month-by-month gardening calendar for myself, because of the amount of work I wanted to accomplish. We also had an early spring, so that gave me ample opportunity to do some things early. I anticipate another early spring this year.

Please keep in mind two things: these dates are for the Twin Cities of Minnesota–USDA hardiness zone 4. If you live south or north of there, adjust by a week or more. Every spring is different, so I may have to adjust these dates depending on many factors including snow depth, temperature, and long-range forecast.

Feb 15-28
Now is a great time to prune shrubs. I pruned my currant, viburnum and serviceberry shrubs yesterday. It’s easy to see the shape of the branches when they don’t have leaves, and the plant is dormant right now anyway.

Now is also a great time to think about whether you want to start seeds indoors. Some will need to be started around the end of this month, including celery, onion, lettuce, and brassicas like cabbage and broccoli. I plan to start lettuce the weekend of 2/25. Here’s a great guide from the University of MN outlining when to start seed and when to plant outdoors. Go to your favorite garden store and pick up seeds, seed-starting soil, etc.

Hoop house on a stock tank for early spring greens, via The New Home Economics

Mar 1-15
The first half of March, I get the hoop house in place on my tank. In the middle of the month (depending on the weather) I’ll transplant lettuce seedlings into this protected spot and also sow some lettuce seed. We can still get snow into April, so this cover protects the tiny seedlings from heavy, crushing snow.

I’ll also finish up any planning, making lists about which new perennials I’m going to invest in, how many I need, and where I’m going to buy them. My goal this year is to visit at least one of the local nurseries that specialize in native plants, such as Prairie Restorations.

Chives, via the New Home Economics

Mar 15-31
The second half of March, things really start to happen. Last year I harvested chives and parsley before March 31! Chives are a perennial; parsley is a self-seeding biennial. We have enough parsley going in various places that we can reliably find some every year.

Parsley, via The New Home Economics

More seeds to start indoors during the second half of March: peppers, tomatoes, okra, and eggplant.

Apr 1-15
I plant my snow peas the first half of April. I soak the seed for 24-48 hours (change the water every 24 hours) to speed germination. You can see some of them growing their first root in this picture from last year:

Planting snow peas, via The New Home Economics

If we have a warm, early spring, you can also start looking for wildflowers in early April. Last year my bloodroot was blooming on April 13!

Bloodroot, via The New Home Economics

April 15-30
Mid-April through the end of May is the most intense time for gardening in Minnesota. I set aside several hours each weekend during this time. Most of this list depends on frost being out of the ground, so make sure your soil is workable before you start. Most years, you can depend on this by the end of April.

Amend your garden soil with whatever yearly amendments you usually add. I will be adding compost from my bin as well as blood meal, a great organic source of nitrogen, to my primary and community vegetable gardens.

Place your soaker hoses or whatever watering system you like.

Plant onions, radishes, more lettuce, any brassica family vegetable, hardy herbs, carrots, beets and other cool season crops that you plan to grow this year.

Divide and transplant any hardy perennials that are overgrown. Examples include hosta, rhubarb, wild columbine, comfrey.

If you grow hops, now is a good time to put up support for the vines, which will really start to take off. I use twine.

Rain barrels, outside furniture and decor can all be brought out now. Fill up pots with potting soil so they’re ready to plant. Some hardy annual flowers can easily be set out now, too, such as violas.

May 1-15
Last year I harvested both rhubarb and lettuce in early May!

Lettuce, via the New Home Economics

The weather should be nice enough now to remove the hoop house from lettuce. I always keep it put together for a few more weeks though in case I need to protect some tomatoes or peppers from a late frost.

You can *cautiously* start to plant out your warm season vegetables and herbs depending on: the long-range forecast, if you’re no farther north than the Twin Cities, and the microclimate of your garden area. You can *definitely* plant things like potatoes, all herbs except basil (unless you can bring it in at night), and all perennial flowers and shrubs.

May 15-31
With an eye on the long-term forecast, you can now safely plant the rest of your garden: tomato and pepper seedlings, bush and vine beans, cucumber (seeds or seedlings), pumpkins and squash, basil. Take a look at the nighttime low temperatures: are they generally at or above 50 for the entire long-range forecast? If so, you’re good to go.

I usually put down straw mulch at this time too, but that can also wait until early June.

When June arrives, harvest season gets into full swing starting with strawberries and radishes.

I hope you find this calendar helpful! I will be adding more specific dates for myself because I will also have a very large project to coordinate at Sabathani–more on that VERY soon.

 


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Mega Garden Update: Memorial Day

Hello! Now that my garden is almost completely planted…wait, is it ever completely planted? No, but I’ve planted many things since my last post. Here’s a small slice of what’s been going on here this month.
Making comfrey compost tea

Permaculture achievement unlocked: my first batch of comfrey tea is brewing right now. I’m following the instructions from Rodale.

Pagoda Dogwood

I’ve had this Pagoda Dogwood for several years, but due to rabbit damage it was growing sideways. So I trimmed it up and made it stand up straight with some twine. A year or two of maintaining that and it should straighten out just fine.

Gooseberry sawfly damage

We’ve learned about a new garden pest this spring: the currant sawfly. It attacks white currants, red currants, and gooseberries. We have 5 bushes from this group, and one got almost completely defoliated a few weeks ago. As you can see in the picture above, it’s got some new leaves now, but that’s only after diligent hand-picking every other day or so.

sawflies

Here’s what the little critter looks like up close. They’re tiny and we had a hard time spotting them at first. Then I promised the 8-year-olds 5 minutes of iPad time for every caterpillar they found. They sprang into action. Anneke found more than 100 of these just yesterday, leading to intense political negotiations about caps on total screen time available per day.

Gooseberries

Happily, only one bush has been majorly affected. I stripped the fruit off that one so that it could put its energy into recovering. This gooseberry, which is right next door to the defoliated one, has only had minor damage, and is loaded with fruit.

Grapes

The two new grapevines that I planted last year came roaring back this spring and are going exactly in the direction I want: UP! I won’t need these strings forever; they’re just to help the grapevines grow in a pleasing spiral up these columns. Once they reach the top and get established, I’ll cut the strings off. Pictured is Marquette; on the opposite corner of our arbor is a Frontenac Gris—it will be another year or two at least before we can actually make wine from them. Both are University of Minnesota hybrid wine grapes.

Lettuce

We’ve been eating lettuce since late April.

Virginia Bluebells

Virginia Bluebells in my raingarden have been full of bees. They’ve proved elusive to photograph so far.

Raspberry flowers

Raspberry or blackberry flowers (I have a few random blackberries mixed in with my raspberries).

Milkweed

Milkweed is almost blooming but no monarch eggs yet. I checked underneath the leaves of every single plant last night. We saw two monarchs north of here at William O’Brien state park yesterday, so hopefully we’ll see some in our neighborhood soon.

Bearded Iris

Bearded iris. Yes, I still have a few non-natives. They’re from when I first started gardening and hadn’t yet realized the importance of native plants. But they’re pretty, and I only have a few, and I’m keeping them.

Pasque Flowers

Pasque flowers, done blooming a few weeks ago but still very cool to look at.

Lemon tree and irises

The little Meyer lemon tree that I bought last fall on a whim survived the winter and is now flourishing next to the irises.

Garden visitor

Can you spot the little garden visitor? Why must they be so cute when they’re babies? He’s not the most brilliant rabbit I’ve ever seen; he is not very cautious at all. I’m hoping the neighborhood bald eagle (yes, we have one!) scoops him up some morning, preferably when the kids have already left for school.

The thing about rabbits is: if you learn how to protect the things they really like to eat (your vegetables), and plant some clover in your grass for them, they do very little damage during high summer. It’s just during the winter that they will nibble every shrub on your property to the ground. So, this time of year I get a little more tolerant. Note the garlic next to the herb spiral. They have no interest in that; it’s placed there strategically.

Currants

My Red Lake currant bush is once again loaded, but we’ve already picked several of the currant sawflies off, so we’re going to need to be vigilant in order to keep it healthy.

Cherry tree garden

My cherry tree garden, newly planted one year ago, is starting to fill in. In the foreground, left to right, we have wild columbine, garlic, and another Red Lake currant. I have three pots of hot peppers and the lemon tree occupying the remaining open spots around the tree.

Strawberries

We’ve already harvested a handful of strawberries. Everything’s happening early this year.

Cabbage worm

The pests are also a little early this year. Here is an imported cabbageworm feasting on my collard greens (he was killed 2 seconds after this photo was taken). My management strategy for pests like this is to hand pick and then let the plant recover. My vegetable garden is small enough that it only takes a few minutes to look it over every day and remove these guys. When you get good at recognizing the signs (see all that frass dotting the leaf?), you can spot these easily.

Tomato flowers

This spring, I followed my own advice and got a soil sample from my vegetable garden tested at the University of Minnesota. It revealed that my garden had an imbalance in NPK nutrients (what does NPK stand for?)—I had high levels of phosphorous and potassium but very low nitrogen. Not really surprising, given the intensive gardening I do there. So this spring I put down a very generous feeding of bloodmeal, one of the highest organic sources of nitrogen. My tomatoes are really showing this; they’re twice the size now that they were last year at this time.

Beans eaten by what?

My green beans, on the other hand, are struggling. Something is eating them before they can leaf out. I’m not sure these will even survive; they’ve looked like this over a week now. I will most likely buy new seeds and replant these today.

Backyard

Overview of our backyard. I feel like we still have so much grass. I’d like to get rid of it all eventually; but on the other hand we do use our lawn for family fun.

outdoormovie

Speaking of which, Adam rigged up the swingset for double duty as a home theater, bought a used projector off eBay, and we watched our very first outdoor movie last weekend. That swingset now supports swings, a grapevine, hookups for a clothesline that we hang each weekend, and now also holds our movie screen. This is the permaculture concept of stacking functions—getting the maximum benefit out of every plant and/or structure that you add to your landscape.
Backyard movie

Welcome summer! Here are the kids watching the Sandlot and finally understanding why Adam and I always say, “You’re killing me, Smalls!”


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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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Harvest time

It’s time for me to come clean. After last week’s native plants manifesto, I realized I’m a giant hypocrite because I plant an entire garden of non-native annuals every single year. Yep, that would be my vegetable gardens. And I’m not giving them up. So, now that my confession is over and you’ve forgiven me (right?), let’s talk about something positive: the harvest.

Long Island Cheese PumpkinsWe have more Long Island Cheese pumpkins than we know what to do with. My decision to grow them this year (at our community garden plot) was 100% fueled by this post and accompanying recipe. We made the soup last night and it was good. Subtle, but good. Once cured, these pumpkins do have a pretty great flavor. I’ll bake them up one at a time (because I can literally only fit one at a time in my oven) and freeze the flesh for pies, breads, pancakes, etc.  I’ve also given a few away to friends and family. So fun to have a big success!

Romanesco Broccolli failNo year is complete without a few fails: my Romanesco Broccolli still has not formed heads and I don’t see how it will now, since the sun has now dipped behind my neighbor’s roofline for most of the day. I also crowded too many plants in this little space. The broccoli and cauliflower really shaded the purple kohlrabi. There are one or two edible kohlrabis in there, but the rest are mostly greens. I’ll still cook them up—all are edible. I think we ran out of the large amounts of sunlight the Romanescos need, just at the time they need them. This particular spot is truly a short-season garden.

HopsSpeaking of fails, here’s another one that only recently came to light.  We started talking to a fellow home-brewer at National Night Out, and realized that we are not growing the right kind of hops (he informed us with his nose in the air). We have Golden Hops; apparently they’re not really recommended for brewing. No wonder the homebrew we made with them last year didn’t taste quite right! We were planning on removing this vine anyway next year. It has gotten too big for this little garden spot, and we might just let it die and replace it with Cascade, or another traditional brewing hops plant. Even Master Gardeners can make big mistakes!

Blueberry preservesEnough of the fails, in a year where we have SO MUCH for which to be thankful. One of those things was the opportunity for me to take a Friday off work in August so that the family could go pick blueberries in eastern Wisconsin. We made quite a few (18?) half-pints of this simply amazing blueberry preserves recipe, and have been enjoying it weekly since.

TomatoesI never grow enough tomatoes for canning, so as usual I purchased 40 lbs of canning tomatoes from Gardens of Eagan—the best value I’ve been able to find at $1/lb. I had grand plans, and my best friend and I thought we could drink wine and can tomatoes at the same time. You can imagine how much we actually got done!  We processed 1/3 of them raw, while another 1/3 of them baked in the oven using Trout Caviar‘s roasted tomato recipe. We intended to can the roasted tomatoes in these half pints (we use them as a pizza sauce base), but ended up freezing them because my patience for the canning process is wearing thin, in general.

Tomato PasteLater that week I still had 1/3 of the tomatoes to use up, so Adam and I tried our hands at tomato paste, using this recipe. It was easy! I’ll definitely do that again. We froze the resulting paste in ice cube trays and I have a feeling it will be gone before the new year.

tomatopaste2Frozen cubes of tomato paste, ready to be used.

La Ratte fingerling potatoesWe dug up three final hills of “La Ratte” fingerling potatoes the first weekend of September, from our community garden plot. They seem to be storing pretty well so far, but we’ll use them up before we really test how long they can last.

Chamomile flowersI didn’t dry quite as much mint as I usually do, but I doubled my usual amount of dried chamomile flowers for tea this winter. Good thing too; we’ve already run through one minor illness in the first month of school.

Little Bluestem grass in the fallOver in the prairie boulevard, Little Bluestem is turning absolutely gorgeous.

Aromatic AsterIn the backyard woodland garden, this wee little aromatic aster (mixed in with some lemon balm) is adding a nice little splash of color.

We have two remaining harvests in our community garden plot, too: our brussels sprouts and Anneke’s strawberry popcorn, which is close to being ready. Part of me wishes we would have a freeze to sweeten up those brussels. We’re living on borrowed time right now here in the Twin Cities; the average first frost date is September 21.

I hope this post has illustrated that every year in the garden, you have some successes and some failures. This blog is part of how I keep track of mine. It’s all part of the process, right?!


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Landscape plan: closer to reality

We moved into this house 8 years ago this weekend, looking at the blank canvas of a yard and dreaming of the possibilities. We worked at things really slowly at first (because, hello, TWIN babies). Two years ago, I drew up a landscape plan for my back yard.  We made big strides that year and in 2013, and this year, we came close to finishing it and then some (with some design changes of course).Cutting down a crabapple treeLet’s start in the front yard, where Adam cut down our old, crooked, witches-broom-looking crabapple tree. I was not terribly fond of it outside of the 4 days that it bloomed in the spring.

Cherry tree guild in progressIn its place (a few feet behind the stump) we put in a new Mesabi Cherry tree. You can see the lasagna mulching in progress here. The tree will eventually be surrounded by several shrubs and some other perennials; we’ll divide a bunch from other areas of the yard in the spring. I hope to plant the shrubs this fall, including another currant and a (maybe) a snowberry closer to the front sidewalk.

Bird bathAlso new in our front yard, Adam and the kids made this gorgeous birdbath this summer. It’s cast concrete with a stained-glass mosaic. I didn’t have any (non-plant) focal points in the garden, so this adds a nice touch.

Cutting down an apple treeIn the back, our huge old apple tree finally came down. We spent a few years trying to save it, but the fireblight was decidedly worse this spring, so we decided to just get it over with. We had to hire this out due to the power lines. Removing this tree also removed a major food source for neighborhood squirrels, and we felt their retaliation when, days later, they ate EVERY SINGLE TOMATO in our garden. Our total tomato harvest this year ended up being ONE (ONE!) standard size tomato and a few handfuls of Sungolds.

ServiceberryHappily, the removal of the apple tree opened up an opportunity for more landscaping changes in the back (we also removed the sandbox earlier this summer). So I finally had a spot for my long-coveted Serviceberry (aka Juneberry, Amalanchier Canadensis). It looks rather small now, but apparently they grow fast. Also, we finally planted the area between the fence and the driveway, starting with two Chokeberry bushes (Aronia arbutifolia) and a handful of miscellaneous divided perennials from elsewhere. We’ll also add a few more shrubs here with the Serviceberry; likely a gooseberry or three.

ArborLast but DEFINITELY not least, I finally got my arbor. And, WOW, is this thing ever gorgeous! Adam built it the week the kids were at horse camp, with me staying home from work to help him for one day. Next year, we get to plant grapevines and hops on it. It ties the house and the yard together so beautifully.

Bird houseWith all the leftover wood, Rowan and Anneke felt inspired to build a birdhouse in the image of our house (with Dad’s help). Grampy Junior, aka Rowan, insisted on real asphalt shingles for it, too. The hole’s kinda huge, so I’m not entirely certain what kind of birds we’ll get, but it’s been installed on a tall pole next to the Serviceberry and looks neat.

What a busy summer. No wonder it flew by! We still have some harvesting and preserving to do. My pumpkin harvest is looking spectacular (fingers crossed). I don’t feel ready for fall, but ready or not…


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Eight tips for new Minnesota gardeners

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

1. Light

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

2. Timing

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

3. Rows

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

4. Spacing

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

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

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

5. Water

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

6. Compost

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

5. Biodiversity

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

6. Edible landscaping

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

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

7. Plant herbs

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

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

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

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


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Here we go!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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