Tuesday, April 30, 2013

planting asparagus

On our way out of the nursery this week, we noticed asparagus crowns in a cooler behind the counter. On a whim, we purchased 10 of them and a little book on how to grow them. This is definitely one of the more unusual impulse buys I have ever made. We didn't have a clue what we were getting ourselves into! Asparagus is one of those rare vegetables that I have never seen growing and have never known anything about - except that it's delicious and often hard to come by.

A few things I learned, once I did a little research... Asparagus is a member of the lily family. It is recommended that asparagus be grown in a dedicated bed that is free of weeds and any other competition, and undisturbed by usual annual garden activities. Asparagus does not do well with competition and one should plan to have it around for a long while. A healthy asparagus patch can live up to 30 years. Amazing! Also surprising to me was that it grows tall, feathery, frond-like foliage in the summer - 4-7 feet tall - and the females will produce red berries (though they are toxic). It's a beautiful plant.

Well, we didn't have an empty bed available for them, and they weren't going into the veggie garden, so we had to get with it. The crowns didn't look all that happy to me (though I don't really know what they are supposed to look like), but I felt like we shouldn't let them sit around any longer than absolutely necessary.
We chose a spot beside the hoop house, where there still remains a pile of soil left over from the hoop house project last year. We have been wanting to move that pile of soil, and would need some of it for the asparagus bed. We have also intended that the area around the hoop house become the beginnings of more garden space, so it made the most sense to put our asparagus bed there. This location would also be relatively easy to fence from deer, and during this whirlwind project we also installed the first few fence posts.

 While Steven located and cut the lumber for our planter box, I moved dirt,  gathered cardboard and removed all the tape from it.

We sheet mulched the area with the cardboard. This creates an effective weed barrier that will eventually biodegrade. Grass (at least our grass) has an amazing ability to grow through anything, no matter how deep, so a barrier is necessary until it and other perennial weeds have completely died off.

Once our box was built, we filled it with a mix of soil and compost.

I dug a trench down the center, mounded a mix of compost and organic fertilizer in the middle of it, and set the crowns on the mounds, draping their rhizomes down the sides. There are a few methods people use for planting asparagus, but this is the one I chose.

We then backfilled with a mix of soil and compost, covering the crowns just a couple inches, and watered well. We should see asparagus shoots in a week or so, but won't be able to start a small amount of harvesting until next year. This will be a practice of patience! In the meantime, we will get to enjoy their fern-like foliage, and anticipate the years ahead of our simple, rewarding investment.

In hindsight, I would have made the box a little bigger, and had this decision been pre-planned, I would have made sure of the health and freshness of our crowns. This was so spontaneous! I am pretty pleased with how quickly we were able to pull this together, and all with materials we had on hand

Have you grown asparagus? Any tips? Did you see any blatant errors? Do deer eat it? :)

A few resources:

Monday, April 29, 2013

the end of april

pussy willow spring blooms

Well, here are those pretty spring blooms I promised a few weeks ago. In the final few days of April, we are starting to see major signs of spring. Leaves have started unfurling, the grass is greening up and dandelions are popping up here and there. As a studying herbalist, I have a soft spot in my heart for dandelions.

 dandelion dandelion greens

 As we worked to prepare our beds this weekend, I dug up all of the dandelions to use in the kitchen.

 first spring salad

The dandelion greens made it into our first spring salad of the year along with mixed lettuces from the local market, slivered almonds, and a few overwintered carrots that looked a little pale but still tasted fine.

 wild garlic

We also foraged some wild garlic to add to the salad. It's easy to find this time of year. Please note that if you're not familiar with wild foods, you should always have someone in the know help you ID the plant. Believe it or not, there are poisonous wild garlic look-a-likes, though they don't smell of garlic.

Dandelion greens are bitter, and this is good for the body, particularly in spring after eating heavy food all winter. Bitters are great for your digestion and easy to consume when added to a salad that is mixed with sweet lettuces. I also mixed up a sweet vinaigrette to temper the bitter greens a little.

A Spring Salad Dressing for Bitter Greens:

2-3 TB olive oil
1 TB raw, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar
1 heaping Tsp dijon mustard
1 spoonful of raw honey (Thank you, honeybees!)
1 small tsp. of fennel seeds (also good for digestion)


Our heirloom tomato seedlings are looking good, and that's spilanthes in the front right of the frame.


 Two kinds of peas have been soaked, inoculated and planted: Cascadian snap pea and Laxton's Progress #9. I always like to have both snap and shell peas on hand. We like to freeze the shell peas and reserve the pods for making stock.

 brassicas in the field garden

Our brassicas (broccoli, variegated collards, Red Russian kale, Lacinato kale, green and red cabbage) are planted and protected with their little cutworm collars. We are looking for ideas of something we can interplant between them other than lettuce. If you have any thoughts, do let me know in the comments.

Friday, April 26, 2013

small scale gardening

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the time has come when the inside of my home begins to feel a bit neglected and abandoned. dust accumulates on every surface, the floors are in desperate need of a mopping and simple meals of sandwiches and popcorn are made to allow every waking moment to be spent out in the garden.

 i have been teaching a few backyard classes this spring including small scale gardening which i taught this past monday evening. i focused on creative solutions and ideas for those who have limited space. i talked about maximizing space by inter-planting vegetables, fruit, and herbs with ornamentals, incorporating them into pots and planters, growing on top of a roof and even on the strip between the street and the sidewalk. i discussed edible flowers,  edibles that do well in planters, how to make your own potting mix and compost tea and edibles that grow well in part shade (don't worry, i will be focusing on all of these topics in the upcoming weeks).

 i also shared many ideas which i am excited to try myself both at the farm where i work as well as at home. straw bale gardening is something i have always wanted to try and this week i plan to make a vertical garden. I will write a post about making one for next week.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

building a trellis & planting peas!

we spent a lot of time in the garden this past weekend, and it was just what i needed. we (luke) are adding double-dug, biointensive beds to our backyard so it has been a fairly slow start for us. 

below is luke's go-to book on the topic. (luke was able to participate in a biointensive workshop with john jeavons last november! i'm pretty sure it's a tie between jeavons & katz for luke's personal hero!):


on sunday, we finally got around to planting our sugar snap peas. luke started our sugar snaps early in soil blocks so we could have a head start when planting.

we made our trellis with dried bamboo, chicken wire & string. a very simple structure with supplies from our garage. there are several different ways to make a trellis. you can look at my gardening pinterest boards for more ideas!

we measured the bamboo so it was evenly spaced & pressed the sticks into the soil until they were all secure & sturdy. 

we measured out the chicken wire, wrapped it around the bamboo on both ends & tied. we did this twice to make an extra tall trellis.

we tied the chicken wire together to make sure it was secure.

using four inch spacing, we planted our sugar snap pea starts.

a satisfying & easy project. i am looking forward to a harvest or two of sugar snaps for fresh eating in salads!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

deer resistant gardening

Young bucks, in the wildflowers last summer
 When we first moved to our home, we felt pretty lucky to have deer frequent our yard. They are beautiful, peaceful creatures and we love to observe their antics, and behaviors amongst each other. As soon as we started to think about gardening though, and particularly landscaping, we realized we were in for  quite a challenge. Our dream landscape, which would be somewhat of an unending, textured garden; with fruit trees, berries, and a diverse array of edible and medicinal herbs and plants.... vs reality.... Oh my. Where to begin.

Lavender is distasteful to deer but so useful, fragrant and beautiful to us
 One of our very first projects here was to fence in a small veggie garden, and then to fence in a few fruit trees. Fencing was a relatively easy solution, even though not ideal. The greater landscape has posed a much bigger challenge, and one we have been slowly trying to learn how to overcome. A lot of the things we like to eat, deer like to eat as well.

Dwarf Greek Oregano and other small leaf varieties are left alone by deer
Now that we have lived here for nearly 4 years we have learned some things, and finally, I am starting to feel like it is actually going to be possible to achieve a full, lush, beautiful, and even edible landscape.

Rosemary in bloom. The bees sure love it but the deer do not.
 We started out knowing of very few plants we could successfully grow unprotected (we planted lots of lavender and rosemary that first year!). Some of the things that are said to be deer resistant aren't necessarily, and there were some tough lessons involved there. And sometimes plants that are typically pretty resistant, will suddenly get eaten for a short period of time, though in these cases, it usually passes and the plants will fully recover (some recent surprises included lemon balm and catnip). With time, observation and experimentation, we have a growing list of plants we can grow and enjoy here.

Rhubarb has toxic leaves. They are occasionally tasted, but nothing more.

Dill and fennel grow big and bushy and show no pressure from deer
 Following, is a list of edible and/or medicinal plants that have proven to us to be truly deer resistant. This doesn't mean the deer don't taste some of these things now and then (and keep in mind, a taste can mean a whole plant if you only have a small amount), but these plants have stood the test of time, and are thriving and look beautiful - or in the case of annual edibles, are able to produce a harvest.

oregano and marjoram (smaller leaf varieties)
lemon balm
chives (sometimes!)
jerusalem artichoke

Calendula has been of no interest to the deer. This one still surprises me.

 Part of my goal for this post was to offer some of our experience to those of you who have similar challenges, but also to see if there might be some of you that have learned some things about deer resistant gardening that you could share.

We will be working on adding to this list this year. If you have anything to add, I would love to hear! With what I've learned so far, I have a better sense of what deer like and what they don't, and am looking forward to experimenting with some new herbs this spring and summer.

Monday, April 22, 2013

On Heirlooms

My husband and I tend to favor heirloom vegetables over hybrids in our garden for many reasons. Here are a few:

1. You can save the seeds. If you have the time and know how, you will be able to save some seeds from this year's crop to use in next year's garden. A nice perk is the fact that you will be saving a little money. If you save the seeds of a hybrid plant and plant them in your garden, you never know what you will end up with as it won't grow true to type.

2. Heirlooms seeds have stories that have been passed down from year to year, generation after generation. This fascinates me. I love the names of all of my heirloom tomatoes and am curious to know more about their origin. I recently read Janisse Ray's book, The Seed Underground. It's a great place to learn more about heirlooms and the people in this country who are ensuring that they still exist in the world.

3. Taste. You'll hear this over and over again. Heirlooms still exist because people like how they taste. They were never bred to look beautiful (though some still are) or to be shipped long distances. The main reason for their existence is that they are delicious.

A few places to find heirloom seeds:
Seed Savers Exchange
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Maybe there's even a seed company in your town that sells heirloom seeds, and you just don't know about them yet. My tiny town has a seed company with wonderful heirloom varieties. Do some research! Join a seed saving group. Start a seed saving group. Host an heirloom seed swap. Help preserve seed diversity by planting many heirlooms in your own garden.

Do you grow heirloom vegetables? Do you save seeds? Do you have any seeds that have been saved by your family members and passed down to you? I'd love to hear about it.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

dehydrated kale smoothies

april 18

well friends, still not much in the way of spring updates here in minneapolis. currently we are being barraged with more and more snow...but i'll stop with the depressing weather reports already! in fact, i did discover some perennials trying their hardest to peek out from under the bits of remaining snow and their thick winter blanket of leaf mulch. so far i've spotted some borage, french sorrel, garlic chives, tulips, and just the teeniest bit of rhubarb showing their defiance against this cruel joke of a spring we're having.

but onward, right? this is essentially a post that i never got around to writing and sharing here last summer, so i'm revisiting it now. i'm talking about dehydrated kale. while natalie's post of her first harvest of greens left my mouth watering, i know i'm months away from that bounty here (i haven't even started my kale seeds yet! for shame!) so i'm savoring my dehydrated kale from last season.

dehydrated kale

maybe some of you, even those kale enthusiasts out there (of which i'm sure there are many) are thinking dehydrated kale? i thought the same thing until last summer when i was drowning in my abundant kale harvest and was looking for some other ways to preserve it all in addition to the standard blanching and freezing that i've always done. i was chatting with the master gardeners at my local farmers market (a wonderful resource that i'd highly recommend seeking out for any and all gardening questions if you have them in your area) and one of them suggested dehydrating. i could easily rehydrate later to put in soups, stews, smoothies and more. which is exactly what i've been doing all winter long.

first, a few tips on dehydrating kale.
  • cut out the stems since they hold much more moisture than the leaves and it will not dehydrate evenly if you try to do it all together (you can compost the stems, or i used them in vegetable juices!).
  • once you've removed the stems, chop the leaves into small pieces, but don't worry about the pieces being too big; you can crumble them into smaller flakes once they're dehydrated.
  • i used a dehydrator (set at 125 degrees for about 9 hours) but you could also use your oven on a very low temp if you don't have one (sorry, i don't have experience dehydrating in an oven, but i'm sure you can find tips on this on the internet)
  • once the leaves are fully dehydrated, crumble them into whatever size flakes you want (you could even grind them into a powder!) and store in a glass jar or other container until you're ready to use them.
and now...for the delicious smoothie! you could pretty much just add a handful of these flakes to whatever your favorite smoothie recipe is (you can really barely taste the kale so don't worry about messing with the flavor), but here's what i did. one other quick note: we don't buy a lot of juice in our house, so i usually just use whatever i have on hand. in this case, it was a mixed berry, but really orange, apple, or even mango would be delicious too!

dehydrated kale

banana blueberry kale smoothie
makes two 1.5 cup smoothies

1 ripe banana
1/2 cup frozen blueberries
1 cup frozen peaches
1/4 cup dehydrated kale flakes
1 cup mixed berry juice
1/2 cup oat milk (or whatever nondairy/dairy milk you have on hand. plain yogurt would work too)

put all ingredients in a blender and go to town! enjoy your smoothie and dream of summer.

banana blueberry kale smoothies

ps: i HATE plastic and would normally not be using these straws, but someone gifted us a big bag of them, so we work our way through them slowly. once they're gone, i'd really like to get a couple of these.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

leafy greens harvest & a recipe

this week we harvested our first bunch of kale & swiss chard of the season! there isn't anything much better than homegrown greens freshly harvested from the garden right after a long winter season.

harvesting fresh vegetables from our garden allows me to get a little more creative in the kitchen & with our meal plan. on tuesday evening, i meal planned a brussels sprouts side dish to accompany our mushroom & tomato stew. with a bounty of leafy greens right outside our door, i decided to add a mix of kale & swiss chard to the sprouts.

 with a pinch of salt, a drizzle of olive oil & a helping of minced garlic, my bit of experimenting in the kitchen turned out delicious. i want to share my recipe with you for a healthy green dish!

leafy greens & brussels sprouts saute
serves 4
 1 1/2 cups brussels sprouts, chopped in half
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 cup kale, chopped & tightly packed
1 cup swiss chard, chopped & tightly packed
olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

in a cast iron skillet or nonstick pan, drizzle olive oil. allow to warm up just a bit until the oil starts to sizzle. add onions & brussels sprouts. cook on medium high heat for 8 to 10 minutes until brussels sprouts are tender. add swiss chard & kale. cook for an additional 4 minutes or so on medium heat until leaves are slightly wilted. add minced garlic & cook for another minute. salt & pepper to taste.
enjoy as a side dish or with beans as a main dish.

as we enter into the season of bountiful leafy greens, i would love to hear your recipes for creatively adding greens to your meals! please share your ideas with us!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

easy patio herbs

I wanted to share a simple project we started last spring, in case you might like to try something similar while it's still early in the season.

We had a few empty strawberry pots that our parents had given us, and last spring my partner had the idea of creating a little herbal table out of one of them. He loves to propagate plants, and it seemed like the perfect situation to create an easy, tiny, functional herb garden. We didn't yet realize at the time just how much we would enjoy this living table.

We started at the top by planting some lemon thyme, and then worked down from there. We filled each of the smaller chambers with cuttings of established herbs we have growing around our home, including a couple varieties of thyme and oregano, marjoram, savory, and chives. Thyme, savory, marjoram and especially oregano, propagate quite easily if the soil is kept moist. The chives were divided off of a larger cluster.

The pot is beautifully full now, (and chives are about to burst into bloom!) but even last summer - just a few months from the time of starting - there were plenty of herbs filling out the planting vessels.

For the table top, Steven nestled 3 long stones into the soil, and then set a piece of salvaged stone tile on them. The triangular arrangement of the stones makes it easy to keep the top level, with a simple push or pull of a high or low side.

We eat a lot of meals out on the patio during the warmer months, and it's a real treat to be able to pick fresh herbs right at the table.

What are some of your favorite fresh herbs? We have been working on expanding our choices. I love to pile fresh herbs on my plate, adding healing properties, and a complexity of flavors to my food. Herbs can bring the simplest of meals to the next level.