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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 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?!


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This year, let’s plant for bees

It seems like the Save the Bees Movement has really gained traction this winter, doesn’t it? And thank God. I’ve had so many people ask me about what they should plant to attract bees and butterflies to their yard!

So, let’s start with some basics… First, what are bees and what are wasps? This one’s easy. Bees are fuzzy, wasps are shiny. Both are beneficial, but only one is a “pollinator.” Here are some images that should help:

Wasp on milkweed in MinnesotaHere is a wasp on some milkweed in my back yard. Notice that it’s shiny. Wasps may not pollinate our fruit and vegetable plants, but they do eat the insects that eat our fruits and vegetables. I once killed a nest of yellowjackets in my yard, but not until after my kids suffered several stings each. You have to use your best judgement on what you’re willing to tolerate as far as wasps are concerned, and be sure of what you have before you whip out the pesticide. Also, follow the label instructions to the letter. If you don’t, you’re not only breaking the law, but you could cause undue pain to a local honeybee keeper. In short, try a little tolerance.

Bee on Anise HyssopHere is a bee on some anise hyssop in my back yard. Sorry this picture is less than ideal, but you can see that it’s fuzzy. If you look from a different angle you’d also notice that its hairy legs are covered with yellow pollen. Bees eat pollen, and in the process they give us fruit, vegetables, tree nuts and honey.

Minnesota has more than 350 native bee species, and most of them live in the ground or in hollow stems of trees. So one thing you could do to help bees would be to make a bee hotel. Click here for 1 million + ideas.

But more importantly, we need to diversify our monoculture landscapes. Lawns=monoculture. Corn and soybeans=monoculture. And putting in non-native sterile nursery plants like tulips, marigolds, and daylilies (I’m guilty of having tulips) does not help, since they don’t provide pollen. Buying plants from big box stores is even worse, since many of these are treated with neonicotinoids, a pesticide that stays in the plant for… the U of M is currently embarking on research to find out how long. Neonics kill every insect that partakes of the plant, beneficial or not. Read local food writer Dara Grumdahl’s excellent Panic in Bloom for more on neonicotinoids.

Good news: it is now getting easier to find nursery plants that are neonic-free. The Friends School Plant Sale is 100% neonic-free. Bachmann’s recently announced that they are going neonic-free. The Hennepin Master Gardeners plant sale is neonic-free by design, since the plants are dug up from our own yards. Mother Earth Gardens in south and NE Minneapolis is also neonic-free. If none of these places are near you, go to a nursery. ASK QUESTIONS. If they are unable to tell you whether the plant is neonic-free, do not buy. I can’t say enough about the importance of avoiding big box stores for your plants (and not just because of pesticides; the plants are lower quality). Real nurseries will know what they have and be able to talk about it. Here is a helpful index of bee-friendly plant retailers in the Twin Cities.

So, now that we’ve covered all those topics, we get to the fun one: what should you plant? In a nutshell, go native. Most every wildflower that is native to our area will have some benefit for pollinators. Many non-natives do as well; I can think of several including dandelions, clover, dill, fennel, and the various vegetable plants that bees love to visit. Seed clover in your lawn! It will feed your grass (clover fixes nitrogen in the soil, which feeds grass) AND benefit bees.

If you’re really a gardening newbie, you could consider buying a butterfly or pollinator package, such as this delightful one from the Friends Sale. It’s a great place to start, since most plants that are beneficial to butterflies are also beneficial to bees. I would recommend buying and planting actual seedlings over one of those ubiquitous, cheap “butterfly garden in a can”-type seed packages. If you are newer to gardening it will be difficult to tell, especially with native seedlings, what is a weed.

The University of Minnesota Bee Lab also has a really nice list of native plants that help bees, and the required site conditions for each. Here’s another PDF from The Xerces Society that talks about both native and non-native plants for bees.

Great St. Jon's WortMany native flowers are stunningly beautiful as well as beneficial, such as this Great St. John’s Wort, also in my back yard.

If you’re adding pollinator plants for the first time, start small and simple. You don’t have to tear out your whole yard. But try a little plot with, say, some milkweed, bee balm, a couple of sunflowers, anise hyssop, and maybe an early spring ephemeral such as bloodroot. Note this spot must be full sun to part shade for these to thrive. And THRIVE they will; they are all very easy to grow. There’s a reason why milkweed has the word weed in its name. But I like easy, quite honestly, and I like this even more:

Anneke with MonarchQuestions? Ideas? Let’s save some bees! (Well, and let’s save the monarchs too, but that’s a whole ‘nother post.)

 


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Cover cropping

A first for me, in 2013: I am using cover crops both at my home garden and at the Sabathani community garden plot that I manage. Here’s Sabathani:

Cover crop of buckwheat and annual rye, via New Home EconomicsI planted this nearly a month ago, on September 16. Over the last two years at least, our plot at Sabathani has been riddled with disease. I’ve got the weeds under control now, but the insects and diseases translated to a less-than-average crop last year and a poor one this year.

Since the plot was producing next to nothing in early September anyway, I ripped out all the plants and put in buckwheat and annual rye. It might take a few years of doing this and other measures, but I’m hoping that by increasing soil fertility, I can improve my yield at this plot.

So, cover crops. How do they help? Mostly, they are about suppressing new weeds and creating a bunch of organic matter that is easily turned over into the soil in spring. On-site composting! There are a number of different options depending on your needs. I chose buckwheat and annual rye because they will both be killed by a frost, so in the spring I’ll simply have to turn the dead plant material over and start anew. Also, Southside Farm Supply (my new favorite neighborhood store) had both in stock, so that was also frankly a big point in their favor.

I was so impressed by how this went at Sabathani, that I decided to rip out most of my home garden yesterday, too (except the kale, Christmas lima beans, and rosemary).

Garden almost put to bed for winter, via The New Home EconomicsI hemmed and hawed about this for a couple of weeks, but as we are now nearly a full month past the first average frost date, it was now or never. Hopefully the seeds will have time to sprout and grow an inch or two before we get a killing frost.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about short-term vs. long-term gain. The plants that I removed yesterday were still very much alive and producing, albeit very little. But this year, anyway, I decided that the long-term health of my soil was more important than another handful of tomatoes and (maybe) one more quart of pickles. We’ll see if my strategy pays off.

It seems like I have fewer pest and disease problems every year at my house. 2012 and 2013 were VERY different years, weather-wise; yet I had what I would deem a mostly successful garden both years, with few problems. Could it be that I’m getting better with practice? Well, I wouldn’t want to brag.

I found a couple of University of Minnesota Extension resources on cover crops that I thought were quite useful:

Cover Crop Options (table of crops, when to plant, benefits of each, etc.)

Why you should consider using cover crops in 2012 (I’d add, “or any year”)

Both of the above links are written for farmers, but they are completely applicable to home gardeners interested in improving their soil.

The hard part about Minnesota, of course, is that our growing season is so short, and our winter so harsh—it can be hard to fit a few weeks in for growing a cover crop. In milder climates, cover crops are planted in the fall and grow all winter. Not so here in the north land, where NOTHING grows all winter. Uh oh, here comes another “I’m annoyed by permaculture people whose ideas/advice are all based on living in milder climates” moment. Well, at any rate, you have to try and make the most of where you live, and a Minnesota winter has its charms, too.

What do you think? Was it even worth it to plant a cover crop at my home garden this late in the game?


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2012, my best garden year yet

Time to start on a wrap-up of 2012’s garden. It’s not over yet, but we’ve just passed the average first frost date for Minneapolis, so it’s nearly time. What a year it’s been!

tomatoes on trellis

Trellising my tomatoes rocked. I had a great tomato year. One reason could be the chicken manure/bedding mixture I spread on the garden last fall—by this spring it looked like black gold. Another reason certainly was our early spring. The soil was so well-warmed by early May that the tomatoes experienced almost no transplant shock. They were growing within a day or two. I also added an additional layer of compost on them in mid-July and they really took off again after that. I might try to move that up a bit next year.

large heirloom tomato

One of the biggest tomatoes I’ve ever gotten! A brandywine, picked just a bit early in fear of squirrels stealing it. It ripened nicely a day or two later on the counter.

stock tank gardens

My stock tank gardens did well too. After this year I now have a better idea of how much light each one gets. The one on the left is quite shady; next year I’ll dedicate it to nasturtiums and arugula, which both did well in there this summer. In the middle, some fall lettuce and radishes are coming along nicely. On the right, the same kale and chard plants I first started in mid-February! They just keep coming back.

My first lettuce harvest this year was on April 11. In the next week or so as temperatures start to drop we’re going to get the hoop house on the right stock tank and quickly whip out a new one for the middle stock tank. I’m hoping to continue to have fresh greens through the end of November; I don’t think I planned well enough to hope for anything beyond that.

As a master gardener, I can’t let any learning opportunities pass me by, so I felt compelled to research the aster yellows that affected my echinacea. Apparently this was quite common in the Twin Cities this year due to the mild winter and early spring.

My first time growing shallots yielded a pretty nice-looking braid. I LOVE having these so handy in the kitchen.

My first-ever grape harvest made for some delicious jelly.

Our first substantial hops harvest, drying in the sun. Homebrew, ahoy!

If you’ve never grown Sun Gold cherry tomatoes, well, I am going to insist that you do so next year. They’re like candy. And one plant yields a LOT of fruit. I usually go heirloom, but this is one hybrid that I probably will include every year.

The garden still has harvests ahead, including the now-drying Christmas lima beans.

Rosemary and sage on the left, parsnips and turnips on the top/right. I filled in the empty spaces between the disappointing few parsnips that sprouted with some turnips on July 15, but I think they will not get very substantial. I was foiled again by the peak of my neighbor’s house, which likes to get in the way of the sunlight in all but the highest summer weeks for my main vegetable garden.

Let’s review some of the things that made 2012 a great garden year:

1. I amended the soil with chicken manure/bedding last fall. It composted over the winter and really enriched the soil. Never put on manure right when you’re planting, as it could burn the plants with its high nitrogen levels.

2. We had an early spring and the soil temperature was nice and toasty when I planted everything out in late April and early May.

3. Hoop houses on my stock tank gardens helped me get a jump start in March and hopefully will help me extend into November or so.

4. Quite simply, I got out there. I made sure to walk through my garden at least 2-3 times per week. This helped me keep up with pinching back my basil (resulting in multiple harvests), pruning my tomatoes as they climbed up their trellis, and general weeding and upkeep. My kids are 5 now, and I’m really starting to notice a change in how hurried I have to be in the garden. It’s nice to be able to get out there.

It’s far from over, really. We still have fall lettuce, radishes, and parsnips ahead of us! We’ll also be doing some initial planning for 2013 when we plant garlic in a few weeks.

Really, gardening is turning into more than a 3-months-out-of-the-year hobby. Having started seeds in mid-February 2012, I’m heading towards more of a 10-11 month cycle. Love it!

 


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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