The New Home Economics


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End of summer

Fall is right around the corner, but my gardens are lush thanks to an unusually wet August. Soldier Beetle // via The New Home EconomicsSoldier beetle—a beneficial insect that preys on aphids. I usually see these on orange or yellow flowers, an excellent choice for camouflage.

Newly-hatched Monarch butterfly caterpillar, via The New Home Economics

After a very slow start, we’ve now released more monarchs this year than we did in 2015—the current count is 20. They are so tiny when they first hatch!

Black Swallowtail butterfly, via the New Home Economics

We also raised three black swallowtail butterfly caterpillars, but unfortunately one of them hatched out of its chrysalis with a deformed wing. We ended up mercy-killing it and will donate its body to the STEM classroom at school. Pictured: one of the lucky two that came out perfectly.

Lord of the Rings Kubb, via The New Home Economics

Adam and the kids made a Lord of the Rings-themed kubb set for our family a few weeks ago. With three artists and two months off school, the arts and crafts production reaches a fever pitch during the summer.

Community garden pumpkins, via the New Home Economics

I received an email from our community garden coordinator yesterday mentioning that my pumpkins are now blocking the paths on both sides of my plot. Oops! Going to cut them back later today. These are Musquee de Provence pumpkins; they started slowly but have quadrupled in size the past four weeks.

Harvesting potatoes, via The New Home Economics

We’ve been harvesting potatoes for over a month now. Instead of buying seed potatoes this year, I simply cut up some old sprouty potatoes we had on hand from the co-op. Result: our best potato harvest yet.

Moon rise over Minneapolis, via The New Home Economics

By this time next year, my deck arbor should look how I originally envisioned it: covered in vines, cool and shady even during the middle of the day. This is only year two, so I’m pleased with how far it’s come along.

Rudbeckia, via the New Home Economics

These rudbeckia laciniatas (green-headed coneflower) were taking over my boulevard in 2015. At 6+ feet tall, they were way too big for that spot—and spreading fast. We transplanted all of them to family hunting land this spring and most of them survived! They look much better in their natural meadow environment.

Goldenrod, via The New Home Economics

That meadow is also full of goldenrod. I picked a nice large bunch to dry for tea this winter; apparently goldenrod tea is full of health benefits. I’ve never tried it—I will report back on both flavor and miraculous changes to my well-being.

Lavendar, via The New Home Economics

I tried lavender again this year, in a pot on my steps. It’s grown quite a bit but it just… will… not… bloom. It’s running out of time, too. Lavender: I have never successfully grown it. I’m thinking this is a sun issue—very few areas in my home yard are very sunny. I may try it at my extremely sunny community garden plot next year.

Herb spiral, via The New Home Economics

My herb spiral, in its overgrown end-of-summer state. The sorrel (right) really took off, to the point where we don’t use nearly enough of it to keep up. I like the flavor of it, but no one else in the family does so it’s not getting much use.

Brown eyed susans, via The New Home Economics

A former co-worker divided many of her brown-eyed susan plants mid-summer last year and gave me several. They are thriving. In general, brown-eyed susan plants are easy to grow but individual plants are relatively short-lived, so it pays to let them spread a little by seed. Same goes for purple coneflowers.

This is one of MANY reasons why organic materials are the only mulch to choose if you’re going to plant natives. Put them in, mulch them with old leaves or woodchips, then let them spread and move around a little bit. You’ll be rewarded with volunteers to share with family and friends and spread around your own garden. It’s much more difficult to do that with plastic or rock mulch—you’re tied to the very first placement of the plant, and forced to replace it entirely when it dies.

Zucchini, via The New Home Economics

This used to be a garden path! Now it is an overgrown zucchini plant. Aah, August.

Ostrich ferns, via The New Home Economics

Ostrich ferns and chocolate mint have been waging war on each other for several years in this north-side foundation planting. It’s a pretty contained spot—there’s only one direction for them to escape and it’s narrow (to the east/left side of the photo). The mint started so strong that I was afraid it would completely eradicate the ostrich ferns, but this year thanks to plentiful rain, the ostrich ferns really took off. Will 2017 be the year I FINALLY have enough fiddleheads to actually harvest and cook some? We’ll see.

Spider, via the New Home Economics

August is also officially the season of the big bugs, especially given our tropical weather. Out in the country, literal clouds of mosquitoes are helping to create literal clouds of dragonflies. This spider built a web between our fence and our nannyberry. By the end of summer, the prey-predator balance in the insect world of my yard means I worry more about saving butterfly caterpillars than eliminating aphids or cabbage worms.

I’m all for edible landscaping, but mixing in as many natives as possible creates habitat that brings your yard to life. And it is amazing.

 


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Beetles, zucchinis and french tomatoes

Hello! Here’s what’s been happening this week.

Millkweed BeetleWe’ve got a handful of milkweed beetles chomping away right next to our deck. They’re not causing any major damage, and they are kinda cute (it’s the antennae, I think), so we’re just having fun observing them. Anneke has spent many hours watching them, has named them all, and claims she can tell them each apart. Who needs summer school? Just add milkweed to your yard and you’ll be amazed how many different insects you’ll learn about.

CalendulaAnneke’s calendula is also in full, bright, glorious bloom right now. She is so proud, having raised these from seed.

Stock tank gardens and flower tunnelAll three of our stock tank gardens are looking great. Rowan’s filled in nicely with the dragon wing begonia, Anneke’s got her calendula, and between them is something new for this year: a tunnel! We planted two cup and saucer vines in Anneke’s tank, and have been tucking them in almost daily to get them to grow down the other side. They started blooming this week too. My lettuce is staying surprisingly nice in the largest (back of this picture) tank, considering how hot it’s been. Having it in part-shade definitely helps.

Jaune Flamee tomatoesOver in the main garden, another banner tomato year is taking shape. In particular, this Jaune Flamee heirloom is loaded with fruit.

zucchiniZucchini is almost ready to pick! I am excited to make my Grandma Rensenbrink’s zucchini cake again soon, among other things. We saw a squash vine borer adult flitting about yesterday, so I immediately ran to Mother Earth Gardens and picked up some nematodes. I put them around our zucchini and kale (since I’ve also seen a lot of cabbage butterflies around). I also took some to Sabathani for my squash garden there.

A 10x20 squash gardenSpeaking of Sabathani, my squash garden is doing well. The pumpkins (left) are looking the best, but in general everything is staying healthy so far. (Yes, I’m aware there’s a piece of garbage that I somehow missed. This is a community garden after all!)

communitygardeningThe master gardener plot that I manage there has also yielded a couple of harvests of greens and cilantro for the Sabathani food shelf already. The peppers and tomatoes have so far been looking rather uninspiring, so I gave them a top dressing of aged horse manure yesterday. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that if you live in the city you will never have the very important psychological experience of shoveling manure, because it’s simply not true.

soakerFinally, now that the weather is heating up and drying out, I am once again giving thanks for soaker hoses. If you are going to have a garden, there is no reason not to invest in them. Standing around with a hose is for amateurs. Word.

We’re eating our first green bean harvest tonight. Hurray for high season!


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High Season

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

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

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

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

starting seeds for fall planting

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

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

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

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

banana peppers with disease

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

Thanks, city of Minneapolis

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

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

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

Christmas Lima Beans

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

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

What’s happening in your garden right now?


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Recipe: Zucchini Hashbrowns

Here’s one I missed out on—Adam sent me a text with a picture of the kids inhaling it for lunch the other day. So this recipe is all his.

Zucchini Hashbrowns
2-3 med. zucchini, grated
1 med. onion, grated
3/4 c. bread crumbs
1 egg
4 T. butter
salt and pepper

Sprinkle the zucchini with salt and let it sit in a sieve for about 15 minutes. Squeeze as much liquid out as you can.

Mix with all other ingredients in a bowl. We used Ezekiel bread crumbs.

Melt 2 T. butter in a 9- or 10-inch cast-iron or heavy-bottomed frying pan over medium heat. Add the mixture, place a few more pats of butter on top, and cover. Cook until the butter on top has melted, then cut into four pieces and flip.  Put a couple more pats of butter on, cover again, and cook until those have melted.  You’re done!

Adam served it with some fresh cucumber salsa (like this). The kids had ketchup on theirs. So sad I missed out on this!


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Garden update (the dead and dying edition)

September is here.  The end is near.  A little over a week ago it started getting down into the low 50s every single night.  Fall has arrived, a bit early, and after a very cool summer.  Let’s assess the damage, and note the encroaching zucchini in nearly every picture:

beets0903My attempt at late-season beets gets a big ole FAIL.  I’m guessing there’s just not enough light between two two-story buildings anymore at this point to get something going from seed like this.  Note to self for next year: July 4 is probably about as late as I can plant anything.  These were planted right around July 15 I think.

brussels2-0903

Brussels sprouts: are these a FAIL or not?  I can’t decide.  Do those look like sprouts to you?  They’re not very well-formed sprouts.  But they definitely like the cooler weather.

polebeans0903Pole beans: almost ready to harvest, yay!  I picked a couple already that were all dried up and yellow.  Look what I found inside:

hidatsabeansThis is why they’re called “Hidatsa Shield Figure” — it’s like a little bean holding a shield.  Well, sorta.

cucumbers0903Cukes are not long for this world.

peppers0903Couple more banana peppers on.  I’m hoping that I have enough to make another batch of fermented banana peppers.  They are by far the most delicious fermented thing I’ve made yet.  You can just barely see to the right, the baby kale.  Another “mid-season” attempt.  These at least got to a micro size; and we might be able to get one meal out of them.

parsnips0903One good thing about the fall: it’s almost parsnip time!  They are ready and waiting for a frost.

tomatoes0903Tomatoes are also dying off.  They sure hate the cold nights.  I don’t know if we’re going to get any more, although there are still quite a few green ones on there.  Might be time for some fried green tomatoes one of these nights.

Well that’s it.  Garden is winding down for 2009 already.  I’m both relieved and sad at the same time.


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Garden update, mid-August(!) edition

This happens every year.  OK this is really only my second year with a real garden but it happened last year too.  I get to mid-August, and I walk past the garden, and I see 2 ft tall weeds, and I think “meh.”  My sense of urgency is completely gone.  Except I do still have a decent amount of food out there to eat yet.  Let’s take it section-by-section:

beets081509What’s this, you might ask.  It used to be green beans, but they are done now.  Now it’s some weeds, but it’s also three rows of beets.  They’re kinda hard to make out right now because they are teensy.  This is my first time experimenting with so-called “late season” veggies.  Supposedly you can plant some things in mid-summer and they have a short enough growing season (and cold tolerance) that you will still be able to harvest them before the winter sets in.  So I’m trying some beets and some kale (coming up a couple pics down from here).

My biggest challenge with this whole concept is that I garden in a narrow space between two two-story houses.  The sun’s angle is definitely on the down-swing now and every day my garden is getting less sunlight.  So we’ll see if this works or not.  At least I can say I tried!

beans081509Here’s the complete mess that you could call my pole beans.  Newsflash: pole beans get really, really tall.  I should have built my little twig teepees about 7 feet tall instead of 4 feet tall.  Now I have a twining, vining mess.  But it’s covered with beans.  I’m not really sure what to do now.  I think I’m supposed to just let them completely dry out on the vine, and not harvest them until the plants are completely dead.  Most people (most normal people that is) do not raise beans for drying like this because dried beans are insanely cheap, so why grow them?  I got excited about these particular beans, called “Hidatsa Shield Figure” after reading a book about heirloom plants.  No store that I know of sells these beans, so I will have something very unique to put in soups, etc. this winter.

brussels081509My brussels disaster.  This will be my second and final attempt at brussels sprouts.  I’ve been nursing these things since February, and my dreams of a brussels feast have been all but dashed.  They have a few really loose, pathetic looking sprouts on them, but my harvest will be very small if I get any at all.  On the bright side, the lettuce underneath them re-seeded itself and I may actually get to harvest some soon!

pepperskale081519Here are my loverly banana peppers.  I picked a first round of them last week and made some pickled banana peppers.  They are freakin’ delicious!  A couple more are coming in so I may try to do another pint or two.  You can also just barely see the tiny little kale plants coming in on either side of the peppers.  We’ll what happens with those.

parsnips081509Parsnips are looking good.  Once you get past the initial anxiety of making sure the seeds sprout, these things pretty much grow themselves.

onionsandweedsI can’t believe I’m showing you this, but just look at my beautiful red onions!  Surrounded by tons and tons of weeds!  😦

cuke081509On a more positive note, here is a ripening cucumber.  Growing an heirloom variety called “Boothby Blonde” cucumbers.  They are hands-down the most delicious cucumbers I’ve ever eaten.  They are SUBLIME.  Seriously.

brandywinesEven more exciting than that, MY FIRST TOMATOES of 2009!!!  Boy howdy was the wait long and excruciating.  I did three heirloom Brandywine tomato plants this year.  I really love Brandywines, even though they do have a slightly longer growing season.  And yeah, I’m fully aware of the LOTR connection and the fact that I might love them all the more, precisely because of it.

tomatojungleHere’s my tomato jungle as it looks right now outside.

3sistersFAILOh, and here’s my awesome “3 sisters” garden.  Good grief, biggest FAIL of 2009.  Reasons why it failed:

1. For the “groundcover” plant, I should have done a vining plant like pumpkins or squash.  Just because zucchini are sorta related doesn’t mean they’ll do the same thing.

2. I should have stuck with one bean vine per corn stalk.  I tried to use one stalk of corn to support 3 bean vines.  They got too heavy (and a strong wind didn’t help either) and now the corn is pretty much bent in half.  Even after Adam tried staking it up.

overgrownmessAnd here’s the whole beautiful, overgrown mess!  We’ve been vacationing a lot the past few weeks, and our drought has suddenly lifted, and everything is going CRAZY!  It’s pouring rain right now as a matter of fact.  Tomato season has finally begun, and I couldn’t be happier about it.


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New use for zucchinis

Well, I was warned.  But I really thought that 3 zucchini plants would be manageable.  WRONG.  I had zucchini for breakfast, lunch, and dinner one day this week.  I’ve made two zucchini cakes in the last week.  Tonight Adam came up with yet another creative way to use some up:

newuseforzukes

He made some homemade spaghetti, and also cut up zucchini into long noodle-like strips and threw it right in with the noodles.  It was tasty!

How to replace some of your noodles with zucchini:

1. Buy or make fatter noodles so you don’t have to kill yourself cutting the zucchini matchstick size.

2. Cut your zucchini into long thin noodle-like strips.

3. When you’re boiling your noodles, add the zucchini strips right in with them  (at the beginning for fresh noodles, about half-way through for dried/storebought noodles).

Voila, you’ve just reduced the carbs in your spaghetti dinner and used up some excess zucchini at the same time!