Sunday, June 29, 2014

June Garden Update

The garden is going strong! Take a walk through with me!

Hops grow FAST and TALL!

The companion planting plan has been successful so far.  The peas are growing on the outside of the trellis, sunflowers are holding down each corner, cucumbers are growing in the middle of the inside area surrounded by lettuce, arugula, spinach and radishes.  There are a few volunteer soybean plants mixed in there, too.  So far nobody is too crowded, everyone is getting the light they need and the weeds are being kept to a minimum.

I am hoping the sunflowers will mature enough that I can harvest the seeds for sprouting over the winter.  If not, they will at least be pretty when they bloom.

The purple pole beans are also ambitious, twirly climbers.

Here is another angle on the companion trellis arrangement.

This area is packed!  We have brussels sprouts, mustard greens, broccoli, 2 kinds of kale and chard tucked into the annex area.  The broccoli really grew strangely this year, producing a head before the plant had really grown in size.  Hmm.  Not sure why that happened but it looks like we'll need to plant a second round of broccoli to get a substantial harvest.

The tomatoes and nasturtiums are happy in their spot by the deck.  So far the chickens have left them alone. The basil in the Earthbox is appropriately and predictably packed in there.  A batch of pesto is in our future, for sure.  The mint will eventually find its way into a raised bed by the chicken coop.

It is shaping up to be a good year for raspberries.  My patch is PACKED with green berries.  I have no problem with that.  No problem at all.

We have a pretty good crop of radishes this year.  So plentiful that I think I am going to try this Sweet Herb Radish Saute recipe.

Speaking of herbs, I made an excellent green sauce by modifying this recipe for Garlic Scape Chimichurri. I substituted garlic chives for the scapes, basil for the parsley and skipped the red pepper flakes.  I was inexact in my measurements of the other ingredients but think I used a little more vinegar and a little less oil than it calls for. It turned out wonderfully and has been a great salad dressing, especially when you top your salad with a poached egg or sliced avocado.  We also ate it drizzled over a breakfast hash.  I'd describe it as tangy and so very green in flavor.  Yes, I know green is not a flavor, but I think it is a good way to describe how fresh it tastes.

We transplanted some oregano from my dad's garden this year. It is pretty easy to see how much different his soil is.  His garden is so sandy that the little hairs on the oregano still haven't let go of their sandy bits.  His sandy soil makes for great root crops but it is a pain to wash off of everything else!

I have been attempting to grow nasturtiums each year.  I think this year I might have gotten them into the ground in a timely enough fashion as well as found a spot that they like.  They are keeping tomato plants company.  I need to remember to pick a few of the leaves for our next salad.  Did you know the flowers, seeds and the leaves of the nasturtium plant are edible?

I love growing our own hearty greens.  We eat a lot of them and they are so economical to grow.  The seeds that I started inside transplanted well and the seeds sown directly into the grown are well on their way to catching up.

Last year, Paul's mustard green plants flowered and dropped seed so we have a few volunteers coming up around the garden.  Here they are competing with the collard greens.

Thanks for visiting!  Now, I think it is time for me to go soak in a bit of sunshine before this lovely Sunday comes to a close.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


Well, hello!  I have been fully enjoying summer so far. I keep meaning to share some stories and pictures, but the sun is out for so long that I keep go-go-going and then, when the sun sets, it is time to take care of a few things inside and go to bed.  Until I find a bigger time slot for sitting, processing photos and conjuring some more words, here is a quick summary of my summer so far. 

There has been strawberry picking and processing...20 pounds turned into strawberry rhubarb jam (recipe from Gourmet Preserves Chez Madelaine ), dehydrated strawberries and frozen strawberries.

Tons of bike rides!  I am bike commuting this year and trying to run as many errands and turn as many friend dates into bike rides as I can.  The Trek bike my dad gave me for a high school graduation gift is still going strong!

Chickens!  They live in a coop now!  Paul did an amazing job building their home.  We are still working on the interior decorating, fine tuning the food/water arrangement and finishing the last bits of the project, but it is fully functional and they love it!

They also love clover.  It is their favorite.

Speaking of favorites...I have one.

My garden is going strong. We have been eating salads and mustard greens and will soon have peas!  I also enjoy a cup of fresh mint tea from time to time.

I have been doing lots of fun things with friends like a backyard tea party, dinner on the back deck, walks to the local cafe for ice cream cones, bike rides and dinner at the beach, rooftop craft parties, chicken meet and greets and long walks through parks filled with great conversation.  Ah, summer, you are awesome.

I just passed the 1 year anniversary of the health drama and I am so utterly happy to share that things are going well on that front.  I have been conservative when it comes to what I allow myself to be exposed to and it is paying off!  Three cheers for that!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Hosting Mary

We were really excited to have arranged a sleepover with our niece Mary last weekend.  We had just over 24 hours together during which time we packed in as much summery stuff as we could.

The first order of business was to jump on our bikes and take a Friday evening ride to Minnehaha Falls.  It was a hot day, so submerging our feet in the cool creek water was a nice reward.  Mary hadn't biked on a road before, so we were extra cautious and set up a Mary sandwich, having her bike between us. She did a great job recognizing stop signs and keeping her cool when cars passed her.

photo by Paul

After exploring the roaring falls and the rushing creek below, we raced the sun home to spend the last bit of daylight with the chickens while Paul started up a bonfire.  After a little night cap of smores and roasted marshmallows, we headed indoors to wind down.

The next morning, Mary and Paul were kind enough to let me sleep in a little.  By the time I woke up at 7:30, they had already toured the garden and started a game of Monopoly.  Luckily, they were willing to abandon Monopoly in favor of making popovers.  While the popovers were in the oven, we also made cinnamon ginger applesauce and raspberry vanilla sauce to serve atop the popovers.  

Photo by Paul

While the sauces cooked down and the popovers baked, we introduced Mary to Pass the Pigs, a family favorite on my side of the family.  Some of the math was a bit challenging for Mary, but she still came out the strong winner of the game!

And then...DING! Breakfast!

Soon after, we were out the door and wandering Johnstock, a neighborhood art festival in Northeast Minneapolis.  The magician we saw perform was aimed at a slightly younger audience, but it was still worth checking out the festival.  Plus, a stop at Crafty Planet  yielded some necessary supplies for a project I had planned for Mary and I.

Before we left the festival, we took a look at the inside of The Hollywood Theater.  This beautiful building is on the National Register of Historic Places yet has been sitting vacant for years.  I've always been curious about the inside, so it was really neat to be allowed inside for a look around.

If you love peeling paint, this is the place to have a photo shoot.  So many layers and contrasting colors up against the art deco details.  It was gorgeous while also being in need of major repairs.  It is in the process of being sold, so hopefully it will see some brighter days ahead.

After all of that, we were hungry again and Mary was requesting another bike ride.  We couldn't say no to that, so we went home to get our bikes and rode them to Mosaic Cafe for lunch on their patio.  On the way home from lunch, it started to rain on us but we decided that was just fine and kept on going!  I mapped the rides we did and found the total distance to be just over 8 miles, which is pretty impressive for Mary and her small-tired, single gear kid's bike.  Go, Mary!

I knew we couldn't have a sleepover without doing something crafty since Mary is always interested in checking out my projects at family events.  We made felted flower headbands together following directions I found online.  I've owned a glue gun for years and have never used it!  This project was a good reason to take it out of its wrapper!  Here you can see us in our exquisite headband modeling poses.  We would like to thank our photographer Paul for always making us look so good ;)

photo by Paul

After a quick dinner and another round of chicken (manhandling) time, our short time together was done!  I think it was a pretty fun visit for all involved so I hope we can do it again this summer.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

May Gardening - Back Yard

Thanks to a rainy day, I am taking the time to write about my garden instead of being out in it!  May was a fabulous month for gardening.  I took a smattering of vacation days many of which were host to very summery weather, so I had more time than usual to plant.  Paul and I started the month off with a visit to the Friend's School Plant Sale, where we got a lot of the starter plants we wanted for this year's garden.

Combine that with the plants I grew from seeds indoors, the seeds we planned to start directly in the ground and a few extras from Mother Earth Gardens and we were all set to get things in the ground.

Except for some time spent weeding, there are a few parts of the yard that take care of themselves.  Like our shaded rock garden.  The vinca I planted last year is thriving.

A few plants the previous owner planted are maturing and blending nicely.

Most of the transplants I have acquired from the yards of friends and family have taken to their new locations nicely, like these coral bells.

And these peonies!  I finally have peonies!  I have two bushes from my grandma's yard via my Aunt Audrey that were transplanted last fall.  They weren't sure what colors they dug for me, so I am really excited for them to bloom this year.  It'll be my version of the red carpet at an awards show.  "Oh!  What is she wearing?  That color is beautiful!  Just look at those petals!"

I am not sure if I mentioned it here yet, but we had the huge silver maple tree in our yard taken down over the winter.  It was damaged during the storm last summer and had become too much of a liability.  We had thought we would be able to use the base of the tree for the coop, but zoning wouldn't allow it.  So, now we have this oozing maple stump that the bugs love.  We are going to have to do something about it, but we aren't sure what we'll do yet.

The raspberry patch will likely be even happier now that the tree is no longer throwing shade over part of the patch.  I've finally gotten my pruning strategy worked out for the patch and I put a dose of turkey manure fertilizer on it, so I am expecting a good raspberry crop this year.

The apple trees will also benefit from a bit more sun.  I had hoped to prune them this spring but upon doing some research, I learned it is best to prune them in the winter.  So, I will let them go this year and plan to do a big pruning job next winter.

We also purchased a new, enclosed, outdoor compost container from the city in preparation for the chicken manure we will be composting.  I have a lot to learn when it comes to effective composting. I've got the indooor vermi-composting down, but our existing outdoor compost pile is a  poorly maintained heap.  I'll have to add "creating properly balanced compost piles" to my list of things to read up on.  Feel free to share any great resources or knowledge you have in the comments.  I hear a mixture of greens and browns is in order as is proper moisture levels and frequent aeration.  Do you really have to do that or is dumping compostables as you have them and neglecting it a viable strategy?  

The sweet woodruff I planted inside a ring around the apple trees is thriving.  The 3 starter plants I placed inside each ring has nearly filled the space and flowered after just one year.

As for our main vegetable garden space, we are trying some different strategies this year.  Leading into the season, we drew up plans that took advantage of companion planting.

We combined the trellises that used to lean against the fence into the configuration they were originally intended to be used (A frame) and planned rows of peas along the outside, a cucumber hill in the middle, quick growing greens (arugula, spinach, radish) beside the center mound and sunflowers at each corner.  We have 2 sets of that configuration with a different type of cucumber in the center of each one.  We also paired rosemary with bush beans and carrot seeds with tomato plants.  Stand alone arrangements happened for purple tomatillos, purple pole beans, hops, and collard greens in this part of the garden.

In this shot of the same area of the garden, you can see the rings that Paul planted his hops in.  So far squirrels have destroyed 2 of the 3 plants so this year might have to be called a learning experience.  We will have to come up with some ways to protect the buried rhizomes and sprouts next year.

After reducing my rhubarb patch, it is still too crowded!  I will have to be more aggressive when it comes to dividing the plants next year.  I am also trying a new plant in a space next to the rhubarb: horseradish!  I hear it can be quite a spreader, so I just put in one bare root to start the area out.

In addition to a different configuration for planting, we also skipping tilling this year in favor of broadforking the soil in the areas we planted.  It seemed pretty effective, so we might be investing in this tool.  We have been renting a tiller but the place we rent from went out of business.  We found a different place to rent a broadfork and are using this year as a test run for that technique.  It definitely felt good to turn the soil without killing so many worms!  And, even though the broadfork is a manual tool, it felt a lot easier on our bodies than the gas tiller does.

The annex area of the garden beyond the rain garden/flower area is being put to heavy use this year.  We have broccoli, brussels sprouts, mustard greens, tuscan kale, blue curled scotch kale and red chard planted in that area.  I planted it pretty tightly so we will have to access the broccoli and brussels from outside the fence and the greens from the walking path and a few strategically placed bricks.

I am a really big fan of the straw/hay mulch.  Too bad the straw bale gardening trend caused the price of a bale to double this year!  I still bought it, though because it really does cut down the weeds and reduces the need for watering as often.  A nice bonus is that the dirt from your garden stays in your garden instead of gluing itself to the bottom of your shoes.

The spring onion patch close to the house has been replenishing itself each year.  I am usually pretty forgetful about using them but this year I have been trying hard to get more use out of it.  It is the first crop I get each year, followed closely by chives and rhubarb. I also planted a few nasturtium plants between the tomato plants.  I hear they are a good companion for tomatoes.  I haven't had the greatest luck with nasturtiums the past two years, so I am hoping this year they fare better.  If they do really, really well, I might pickle some of the seeds.  They are like capers when pickled.

Since we don't have any dogs in our backyard this year, we expanded our growing spaces a little.  There are a few tomato plants and nasturtiums in the wooden frames near the deck and a few things in pots on the benches (basil, 3 kinds of mint that will eventually go in a raised bed and 4 shiso plants).

I started a few basil plants inside and then put a bunch of seeds in the earth box.  Paul said he really wanted a huge basil crop, so I packed the earth box full of seeds.  In fact, I think that is sort of our theme this year: crowding!  I hope the strategy pays off.  If it does, it means easier watering, less weeding and a plentiful harvest.  I never did like thinning anyway :)

After I get a few more things done in the front yard, I'll share some photos of that, too.   Thanks for spending some time with me in my garden.
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