This warm weather has me busy with outside chores–which is why I haven’t gotten around to posting about our first harvests of the season until now! No, they weren’t from the garden, but just as satisfying as if they were! We had a cabin work weekend planned for the last weekend in April. Friends were coming up to help with some tree planting, fire wood cutting, and garden prepping but the blanket of snow still covering the ground ruined that plan. Scott was worried the snow would upset his chances at filling his turkey tag but went out anyway Friday morning in search of turkeys. He gave me a call Friday morning around 9 to let me know that the “Hunting Gods” had smiled upon both him and his dad–they both filled their turkey tags with some nice gobblers the first morning they went out!
Turns out the weather was finally working in our favor! The long-anticipated warm up seemed to have the same effect on the animals in the woods as it does on people because all the animals were out that weekend!! I sat out in the turkey blind with Scott as the sun was rising the next day just to see if we could hear any and maybe call a bird in with the turkey calls. We did hear some gobbling–which was exciting. Scott answered back with his best hen impression. The two of them chatted for a bit before the gobbler moved on. It was so invigorating to just sit there together on a long-awaited beautiful sunny spring morning, not talking, just listening to the chatter of the birds and watching the sun rise.
Our second harvest of the season came from our friend’s land where we tapped a few maple trees. In total we ended up with around 5 and a half quarts of syrup.
Next on the harvest schedule for “nature’s garden” is wild ramps, morel mushrooms (my Dad who lives in southern MN keeps us supplied), and spring Blue Gills. Ahhhh nothing is better than the smell of wild ramps in the woods. Except maybe smelling them sauteing in a pan with morel mushrooms and Blue Gills.
Last night I was lulled to sleep by the sight of gently falling snow outside my window. A beautiful sight…for January!!! Finally a warm up is in the forecast–the sixties this weekend! Maybe there is hope that my plants, (tomatoes and brassicas) that I planted a little earlier than I should have, won’t be stunted by the lack of soil for their roots to soak up nutrients from, and the lack of space under the lights for these increasingly sizable plants.
Today I potted up my tomatoes for the second time. They are now in 3 inch pots.
They take up most of the “hanging garden” my husband set up for me. My flat of brassicas (broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, and kale) need to be potted up too.
Tomorrow I plan to fill up my earth box and distribute the plants evenly throughout. This will be easier than using individual pots and take up less space. (Brassicas can handle the inter-mingling of root hairs better than some other plants can). I can place it on the table under my “hanging garden” and set up some lights. This will also allow me to easily move these plants outside on days when it warms up (like this weekend!) Once they “harden off” and get used to the cooler outdoor temperatures I’m going to set up a mini green house next to the south-facing wall of my house that they can live in until I get them in the ground.
These strange conditions will also make it the perfect year to try out this “straw bale gardening” idea! I heard this fellow, Joel Karsten speak on WPR about how he grows his entire garden in straw bales! The idea came from growing up on a farm and noticing how the bales that got discarded because they didn’t get securely baled grew the most incredible weeds in them. So this horticulturalist started experimenting with growing vegetables in a bale of straw. He’s had great success, wrote a book about it, tours around the country and world sharing what he’s learned.
The idea is that the vegetable plants will get their nutrients from the decomposing straw. To begin the decomposition process you need to thoroughly soak the bale and add some form of nitrogen about 2 weeks before planting. You plant your plants (seeding is possible too) and keep the bale moist. You have minimal weeds, you can plant earlier since the bales warm up before the soil does, you can start a garden without digging, and at the end of the season your bales of straw will have transformed into sumptuous compost! It’s worth a try. I will be documenting the experiment so stay tuned!
So here I am on April 11 and there’s a snow storm raging outside my window! I am almost always up for a good snowstorm but not-so-much this time. I am soooo looking forward to the time when I can spend all afternoon outside with the kids in the sun digging in the dirt. I am absolutely a winter lover and have definitely enjoyed the snow we’ve gotten this season. But this spring, due to circumstances I’ve written about in previous blogs and will not go into again (see the “spring fever” post), I have an ACUTE case of spring fever and this snow is raising my blood pressure.
In the meantime, until the snow melts, I will calmly keep watering my seedlings, drawing maps of my gardens, and making lists of chores I will do once spring finally arrives. My daughter and I thinned my flat of brassica seedlings and ate the thinnings last week, which I will now record on my garden log as the first harvest of the season!
Last week I thickly planted a flat of lettuce that I will cut as micro-greens as soon as the flat fills in and looks like a green carpet of lettuce leaves. I guess subconsciously I’ve been attempting to ensure an early harvest–even if it’s from my living room instead of the garden.
I also thought I would share the nifty set up my husband constructed for our early seedlings. It’s great because it doesn’t take up any space on our table and it’s out of the reach of the kids. It’s in a southern-facing window but just sunlight is not enough to prevent tall, spindly, light-deficient seedlings so we have two flourescent fixtures (four all-spectrum tubes from the hardware store).
This morning me and the kids planted our first seeds of the season. It’s a little earlier than I usually plant but I am just soooo excited for gardening this season that I couldn’t wait any longer. I think my over-excitement is a result of how I wasn’t really able to fully wrap up my gardening season last year due to the birth of my son in mid-August. I didn’t do nearly the amount of preserving I usually do and only the absolute minimal amount of fall garden chores.
So what did we plant? Brassicas: brussel sprouts, cabbage, and kale. Giving them the standard 4 to 6 weeks of grow time in the house, puts me at the beginning of May for transplanting them outside. In our neck of the woods, I realize that’s pretty early. My plan? I’ll create a warm micro-climate on my south-facing deck where I can “hold” them until the temps warm up to a consistent 60 degree average. I remember touring Gardens of Eagan a number of years ago–they’re an organic vegetable farm down in the cities known for their large, delectable brassicas. They would put out their kale and then plant the extras really close together (with room for only limited growth) in a bed so that if they lost any plants due to pests or whatever, they could then transplant one of the extras into the kale patch (where things were spaced so they would have plenty of room to grow). This tells me that brassicas aren’t as sensitive about getting their roots handled and tossled about during the transplanting process (unlike cucumbers and squash). So I’m going to experiment and plant my transplants outside in the beginning of May in a container that I can make a little mini-greenhouse over until my garden soil warms up enough. We’ll see how much of a jump on the season these plants get.
One of my garden goals this year is to get better results with my brassicas. My brussel sprouts and broccoli have never sized up that well and my cabbage always gets munched on by the worms. But I want to have success with them because they are well-adapted to our cooler climate. They’re also very preservable: I plan on freezing broccoli, kale, and brussel sprouts and fermenting cabbage. Anyone have any brassica growing tips?
Yes, I’ve got it: spring fever. That doesn’t mean I want a March like we had last year–the early spring really threw me off. Mostly I have spring fever because I’m the mother of an almost-three-year-old and a 6-month old. The longer days have got my toddler bouncing off of the walls and my life will become exponentially more enjoyable when we can put away the winter coats, etc., and I can just open the door and walk out side with my crew. So this case of spring fever I’ve got has really got me thinking about my garden. And boy do I have plans!!
I love this time of year because the visions I have of my gardens are so grandiose and luscious! I see beds overflowing with a variety of veggies, flowers, and herbs, all symbiotically working together to harness the most optimal amount of fertility and beauty! Man is it fun to dream!
Once I land back on the planet Earth, I acknowledge how much work it will be to make that vision a reality. I wonder if I’ll really have the time and the motivation. I wonder if I have the know-how. Either way, the vision propels me forward to get dirty and experiment with different ideas, network with my fellow gardeners, and move one step closer to unlocking all of the mysteries buried in my gardens. The mysteries–that’s what makes gardening such a satisfying pursuit. There is so much going on that we can’t see and don’t understand. But every year we run our experiments and uncover another truth. Not the type of truths that are written about in scientific journals or the newspaper. Not big T “Truths,” but little t “truths” that are specific to our own little patch of land that we garden. These truths are what make us feel rooted. This is vital in this world where more and more of “life” is happening “in the cloud.”
Late October and we’re finally getting to Strawberry Hill to harvest the rest of our veggies. Sunday we dug potatoes, carrots, and beets. This was a very exciting endeavor for Sylva, our 2 1/2 year old. How magical to dig a fork in the ground and discover a pile of big, gorgeous, yummy potatoes just sitting there, buried in the dirt! I could see the wheels turning in her head; How did I know they’d be there? How did they get there in the first place? And then the carrots. She’s experienced carrot harvest before but we’ve never had a crop quite as spectacular as this crop! They were huge! And they contorted around each other in the most interesting of ways!
Since we harvested them so late, and we’ve had some good frosts, they are so sweet, juicy, and refreshing. Guess my procrastination has paid off this time!
What I know about harvesting roots I learned while working at Rock Spring Farm in Iowa. They harvested beets after a light frost and kept carrots in the ground all the way up until late October, early November. Carrots apparently can handle a harder frost than beets and of course sweeten up quite a bit as a result. I think I discovered this season why it’s recommended that beets are harvested earlier in the fall than carrots: the beets I harvested on Sunday (after quite a few nights in the 20s) had a lot of root hairs growing on them. Not an issue for me but for a commercial grower, they might not be as pretty on the shelf. Anyone have insight on this?
Stay tuned for a final update of my garden log and my end of season evaluation (to find, click on the tabs on the home page of this blog). It sure has been beneficial to me to track this stuff this season and I hope it’s been useful to others as well! I know I will find it to be a great tool to look back on next season.
Last Sunday I spent the day sheet mulching my front yard. I am completely sold on this method of establishing a new garden bed. Since moving to my house 6 years ago I’ve added more garden beds to my yard five times using this method and I’ve loved the results! So what is sheet mulching? It’s like creating a really fast-reacting compost pile (except that it’s more of a sheet than a pile) right where you want your new bed to be. Instead of removing green material from your garden bed and throwing them in your compost pile, and then hauling the finished compost from you pile back onto your bed, you’re making the process happen more quickly, right in the bed. There is definitely no one right way to do this (and I’d love to hear about how others do this), but I’ll share my method:
The first step is to gather materials. This is really the most time-consuming part of the process. The more different layers of organic materials you have, the richer the end-product will be. Here’s a list of materials that I’ve used in the past: grass clippings, shredded leaves, sawdust (from untreated wood), ash from a wood stove, cardboard, cotton t-shirts, wood chips, pine needles, worm castings, burlap, newspaper, hay, straw, spent grains from brewing beer, coffee chaff from coffee roasters, fruit and veggie scraps, manure, and compost. You can go hog wild gathering many different layers of materials, but it’s not necessary. At a minimum I’d recommend a weed barrier (like cardboard, newspaper, or cotton clothing), a nitrogen layer (like table scraps, manure, or grass clippings), a thick, weed-free carbon layer (like straw or woodchips), and a layer of compost. Like a compost pile, you want that 70 to 30 ratio of carbon (brown) to nitrogen (green). I like to sheet mulch in the fall because that’s when I have a lot of green and brown materials that I’m pulling out of my beds to deal with, leaves are falling from the trees, and my compost bin is full. Also, that gives the bed more time to decompose.
Step two: prepping the ground. I cut down any vegetation at the site and use my potato fork to poke some holes in the ground. I might sprinkle some soil amendments at this point like greensand or lime. Then I’ll put down any of my materials that have weed seeds in them like hay or horse manure. For this particular project I didn’t put anything down underneath my weed barrier. That works fine too.
Step three: laying out the bed and putting down the weed barrier. I used big pieces of cardboard (gathered from an appliance store) a box cutter and sidewalk chalk to do this. I laid out the cardboard where I wanted my bed to be (overlapping the pieces by about 1 foot), delineated the border of the bed on the cardboard with the sidewalk chalk, and cut the excess cardboard with my box cutter.
Step four: layering the materials. On top of the cardboard I sprinkled some greensand (lots of micronutrients), and some granulated organic chicken-poo fertilizer. Then my daughter and I emptied out our compost bin and put that down as our next layer. This always gets some funny looks and comments from the neighbors since it appears that I’m spreading my garbage out on the lawn (and basically I am). You might be concerned that this would attract animals but the layer is thin enough (around two or three inches) and is covered by a thick layer of straw (8-12 inches) so that it really doesn’t smell.
On top of the straw a put down a 2-3 inch layer of WLSSD compost. I watered every layer thoroughly as I went. Wow the straws needs a lot of watering before a 12 inch layer is wet all the way through! Watering is essential if you are in a hurry to plant in the bed. But I’ve done it in the fall and had success without watering one year when winter did in fact arrive in the Twin Ports and we had enough snow to ensure the entire sheet got enough water to make decomposition happen before planting time in the spring.
Ahhh . . . how satisfying it is to look out at my front yard and see the ratio of garden space to lawn moving more and more in favor of garden space. And I did it without digging or spending money on a load of fertile dirt. For the lazy composter (like me), this is a great way to empty the not-quite-finished compost from the compost bin and make room in the bin for the table scraps my family will acquire over the winter. Does anyone else have sheet mulching experiences to share?
I’m still here! My gardens may not show much evidence of my existence in the last month but I’m still here. “Life” has happened to me since mid-August brought the birth of my son, Milo. He’s a great little guy that we have all fallen in love with. Our gardens have moved down one notch on our list of priorities as we adjust to life with our newest family member.
Nonetheless, thanks to a little help from family, friends, and fellow community gardeners, we have managed to make use of most of what our gardens have produced. At my community garden, ripening tomatoes were noticed by my fellow gardeners and I got a few generous offers to pick and deliver a load of tomatoes to my doorstep! I was happy to have fellow gardeners to offer some of my surplus basil to so it didn’t go to waste. Visits from our parents the first few weeks after Milo’s birth proved to be good for a little help in the gardens. With child care help from my mother-in-law I managed to get two batches of salsa canned. Another great option for getting some high-volume canning done would have been to attend the community canning session organized by DCGP at Peace Church. Had we not had a wedding that weekend I would have definitely attended. Canning with others in an institutional kitchen makes the event double as a social gathering (which is a big selling point for a stay-at-home mom like me). The use of the appliances of an institutional kitchen (the big dishwasher and 8-burner gas stove) makes the process run a lot smoother.
The end of my gardening season this year does a good job of demonstrating the positive impact being a part of a community of gardeners can have when “life” happens (as it inevitably will). It feels good to be connected. Does anyone have a story to share about being a part of a community of gardeners?
Sure enough sure, mid/late July until frost and beyond is the time of abundance for the Twin Ports gardener. As guest blogger while Katie is caring for her new baby, I will host this blog through what I like to call the party portion of the season. Hi, I’m Jamie, welcome to the party!
Last week I spent Tuesday and Thursday evenings with small groups of folks wanting to learn the art and science of home canning. Tuesday evening was all about water bath canning, Thursday was for pressure canning. It was fun to demonstrate the methods to an eager audience and to also facilitate the knowledge within the group.
See these websites for tutorials and tested canning, freezing and dehydrating recipes for your home kitchen.
http://www.freshpreserving.com – Ball-Kerr website
www1.extension.umn.edu/food-safety/preserving/ – UofM-extension
http://www.foodsafety.wisc.edu – UW-extension
http://www.uga.edu/nchfp – National Center for Home Food Preservation
Also, tune in to Channel 8, WDSE-PBS on Thursday, September 20, 7pm, Great Gardening program, to see me giving a demonstration of water bath canning “Fresh Vegetable Salsa”.
The garlic harvest at the cabin garden took place a couple of weeks ago. We got 37 succulent bulbs—a number that seems to get my garlic-loving family through the year while providing enough for fall planting for the next year too. I pulled the garlic after the top third (or so)of the leaves had died off. I divided my pile by three and wrapped each clump with twine to hang in the garage while they cure. You want to cure them somewhere dry where there is plenty of circulating air. I’m not sure what the official rule is (anyone?), but I just leave them in the garage to cure until it gets too cold. I pick off bulbs as needed and let the rest sit. Eventually I store them for the winter in a mesh bag in our food-storage closet.
With my due date less than a week away I find myself scurrying around the garden to harvest and put in the freezer as much produce as I can! I have 2 gallons of beans in the fridge and a bed full of beautiful chard and kale leaves ready to blanch and freeze. Oh—and I can’t forget the amazing basil patch that is just begging me to pluck off a layer for pesto. But whether we’re talking about ripening veggies or babies, mother nature gets things done on her own time. And I’m content right now to follow her lead.
While I take a month off after our new addition arrives, community gardener and DCGP garden mentor Jamie Zak, will be sharing some of her gardening experiences and expertise on this blog.