Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Not Fried Green Tomatoes.

I spent last week in Northern Minnesota at Mantrap Lodge on Mantrap Lake for Bob's family reunion. While there I participated in all sorts of outdoor activities: canoeing, kayaking, boating, swimming, reading and biking. It was wonderful. While away, my fellow Urban Farmer Leah, took care of my garden. When I left, I didn't have any actual tomatoes on the vine nor were my beets ready for harvest. My potatoes were going crazy and have been for about three weeks. They will be so fun to harvest!

I returned home to so many wonderful green tomatoes in the garden and I can now see some potatoes! Plus, some of the beets are ready for harvest...see the photo! Yum. I have also been eating Caprese salads using the basil from my sun porch.

The Star Tribune's variety section has a garden focus on Wednesday's. This summer they are doing a series comparing a seasoned gardened with a rookie gardener. It has been fun to read their stories. Today had the second installment click here.

This is my potatoes...just my potatoes.

Beets, swiss chard, onions. This is one of my raised beds.

Lovely scented full bloom. It's heavenly.

On the horizon: canning tomatoes with my Mom and a trip to Seeds Savers in Decorah, IA, plus a trip to a sheep farm with some other urban farmers.

My Aunt Mary tipped me off to a good garden website that she is a part of in West Bend, WI. Click here for the tips.
This photo gives you a snapshot of the whole garden in the middle of growing season.

Friday, June 4, 2010

First harvest, Last class

For the last ten weeks I have been taking a pottery class at the Northern Clay Center in Minneapolis. After discovering pottery (I'm talking potter's wheel) in high school I have come to love it. Like the garden, pottery is a way to relate to nature by using natural materials and converting them into functional, tangible things. Instead of dirt, a potter uses clay. Instead of the ground, a potter uses the potter's wheel as their canvas. During my ten week course, I reacquainted myself with clay and the potter's wheel after a three year hiatus. I quickly remembered what I loved about clay before. Also like gardening, pottery is a meditative activity. As my pottery professor used to say, before you can center the clay, your self must be centered. This blog entry is a special documentation of my last pottery class and my first harvest. It is the documentation of a primitive firing and the first spinach. Primitive Firing: A firing is the process through which clay is made into what we identify as pottery. It's basically cooking the object at an incredibly high temperature (we're talking 2400 degrees Fahrenheit). After an object is fired, it will literally be in some form for thousands of years. This is how archaeologists can discover things about thousands of years ago....through pieces of vases, carrying vessels, dishes, etc. There are several different types of firings (soda, raku, high fire, low fire, pit fires and many others). Our teacher, Lucy organized a primitive firing for our class. A primitive firing is relatively short and somewhat interactive. One gets to wrap their piece of bisque ware in organic matter, copper wiring and put it in a simple brick kiln. Sticks, grass, newspaper and sawdust were put in our primitive fire for fuel. Here are some photos of loading the kiln with our pieces (they are wrapped in newspaper): After loading the kiln we lit it. As the organic matter burns it creates different colors and flashes on our pieces in the firing. Especially the copper wiring. I took this short video which shows you the colors.

The firing burned all night and was unloaded the next morning. I haven't seen my piece yet, but I will post a photo so you can see the result. Here are some other pieces I've made this class.

Spinach Harvest: My garden has been loving the heat and the rain we have been experiencing here in St Paul. The spinach, potatoes and beets have particularly taken off.
I've even got a baby banana pepper sprouting. My garden has required thus far pretty minimal maintenance. Three-four visits/week include watering and very little weeding. Tomorrow is another garden work day during which we will weed the common areas and likely put more wood chips down.

In the near future I need to get some twine to help cage my tomatoes. I did experience some leaf miners on my spinach, but I have cut all of these leaves off. The rest seem to be coming up strong and without pests.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

'tis the growing season

Since we last met, the outdoor growing season in Minnesota officially began. People say that after Mother's Day it's safe to plant things outside that are intolerant to the cold season. The danger of a hard frost is past. One month ago I planted spinach and beats seeds directly into my garden. These two crops are cold-tolerant. In fact, for both of them I can get a spring crop and a fall crop out of them.

Mother's Day weekend I was in Philadelphia, PA for the National High School Mock Trial Tournament. During a few moments I was able to venture out into the historical neighborhood. I saw where Benjamin Franklin is buried, Betsy Ross' house and Elfreth's Alley. The weather was perfect and it was clear that their growing season began some time ago. I came across these wonderful hostas in Elfreth's Alley and also these plants at a shop.

Upon returning to Minnesota I realized I likely lost my cherry tomatoes and two pepper plants due to lack of water. I had forgotten to ask Bob to water my seedlings while I was gone. The good news is two out of the four plants that were in danger have pulled through. The others are in the compost pile.

On Friday, I checked the forecast for the next three days and it was phenomenal. 70s and sunny for the whole weekend. It was time to plant! I loaded up my car with the seedlings, my trowel, hoe and watering can. The garden was completely deserted on Friday evening which provided a wonderful time for me to focus on getting my planting done. I deviated slightly from my original map of my square foot garden to allow for better drainage for my tomatoes.

To ward off intruders (rabbits) I planted a few marigolds. They are easy to look at and impossible to kill. They're scattered around the garden and make a nice border with a beautiful Gerber daisy plant I bought.

Here's all that's cooking at my plot:

1) Potatoes
2) Beets (eventually for beets & meat)
3) Spinach
4) Lavender (for smelling, not eating in me, I've tried it!)
5) Banana Pepper
6) Heirloom Cherokee Tomatoes
7) Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes
8) Onions (if the neighborhood cats don't dig them all up, I should have plenty)
7) Ancho Gigantea Peppers

This morning I bought some cages for my tomatoes and put them into play. Everything appears to have adjusted just fine to life outside.

Here's what's cooking on my deck:
1) Chives
2) Garlic Chives
3) Basil
4) Mint
5) Cilantro

For the next few weeks my main job will be to keep things watered and eliminate any weeds. As you can see from the photos, I do have some crops not in my raised beds. One observation already is that the raised beds hold moisture much better than the rest of the garden. Here's hoping the growing continues...

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Have box, will garden.

Last weekend, this garden took an integral step: the raised-bed garden box was constructed! Mel Bartholomew's method was not followed to a "t", but much fun was had and now I've got a box in which I will grow my vegetables.

I planned to do the project at my Dad's farm since he has all of the necessary tools and a work shop. The things are not available in my city apartment. Bob, my Dad and I ventured to the New Glarus Lumber Yard. New Glarus is "America's Little Switzerland" and is set in the rolling hills of southern WI. This is the part of WI where the glacier did not go. The lumberman cut the boards and the lathe to size for us. This lumberyard is a traditional lumberyard and is a far-cry from Menard's or Home Depot. The next day we finalized the construction plans and went to work.

We constructed two 4x4 beds out of 1" x 6" boards. The only particular thing about the wood you use is that it must be untreated. If it is treated, you may have chemicals leach into your plants...this you do not want. I got to use a wood chisel for the first time and that was pretty exciting. It was quite satisfying to construct these boxes myself and see the finished product. Next weekend, Bob & I will actually construct the boxes and fill them with dirt. Upon my return to St. Paul I saw the my peppers had sprouted! Now all of my seedlings are in full force. ur plot assignments at the garden have been made and I lucked out with a great plot.

Yesterday was a garden workday. About 12 of us gardeners arrived at the gardens at 9 AM ready to work. Our mission: put woodchips down on the paths in between the gardens. We also raked leaves and readied the garden for the compost to be delivered in the next week or so. Chives were in full force in many of the plots.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Small Package, Small Seeds

Monday morning I had a list of fun things to do on my day off. One of which was visiting the Mother Earth Gardens in the Longfellow neighborhood in Minneapolis. Mother Earth Gardens is a wonderful resource; here's what they say about themselves: "At Mother Earth Gardens we strive to provide you with beautiful plants and products, but a central part of our mission is also to choose plants and products that have been grown, produced and delivered in a sustainable manner."

It was time to get the supplies for starting my seeds indoors when they arrived. I arrived with my shopping list.

I set out to purchase:
1) Seeds for cilantro, basil and chives.
2) Seed starting soil.
3) Starter pots.

In talking with the very knowledgeable staff at Mother Earth Gardens, I learned some key information: I could start my herbs in the same pots I intended to grow them and to get the seeds to germinate and sprout into strong plants they need 16 hours of light. I needed to purchase a grow light. I turned down the offer of the grow light at Mother Earth Gardens and headed to the hardware store. This is where things got interesting. I went to the light aisle seeking a 24" fluorescent light fixture which I could easily hang and install grow-light bulbs in. The saleswoman assured me the fixture she was selling me wasn't that complicated and that I could handle it. I figured that it wasn't anything instructions and a phone call to my Dad couldn't get me through. Yeah, right! The fixture I purchased contained no cord to simply plug in, nor were the light sockets installed. It needed to be directly wired into something or other...this puppy was completely out of my league.

Back to the hardware store to get something less complicated. I found the perfect tool and installed it on the cart in our sun room. It did require me to use a drill, but no problem there.

The "Bergers OM 1" soil I got earlier that day needed to be moistened. I readied the herb pots with the help of my able bodied assistant, Mr. Mabel Boots.
After the herbs were ready to go the mail had come.
Our wonderful Mail person delivered a small padded envelope from Decorah, IA...some place called the "Seed Savers Exchange". At long last my seeds had arrived! The seeds for my tomato plants (two types), peppers and onions have been started in a biodegradable green house kit.
The best thing about that kit is that the starter pots can be placed directly into my Square Foot Garden.

I checked the seeds about every two hours yesterday. Nothing happened. Gardening doesn't lend itself to instant gratification. There should be some sprouts this weekend, though. My Peace Lily is finally blooming and my Christmas Cactus is having another run of blossoms.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Beets, Onion & Peppers- oh my!

My seeds are paid for and are en route from Iowa. I purchased heirloom seeds from the Seed Savers Exchange, a company founded in 1975. Their mission sums up their work like so: "Seed Savers' mission is to save the world's diverse but endangered garden heritage for future generations." Need I say more?

Here's a run down of the goods coming my way:

1) Early Blood Turnip (Beets)
2) Borehanna, Yellow (Onions)
3) Ancho Gigantea (Peppers)
4) Cherokee Purple (Tomatoes)
5) Cherry Roma (Cherry Tomatoes)

Saturday I continued with my reading of the Square Foot Gardening book. I mapped out my plot and now know that I have some extra room. In addition to the crops above, I'll have potatoes and spinach. Maybe one other crop as well.

Here's my square foot garden as I see it:

We are experiencing some beautiful weather here in St. Paul. It was 61 degrees fahrenheit yesterday. 99.5% of the snow is melted. This evening, I walked over to my plot to see how the garden looks not blanketed in snow. I'm happy to report that there is some action! Wood chips have been delivered. These will pave the aisles between the plots. I also discovered that my fellow farmers at the Oxford-Dayton Urban Farm employ the square foot gardening method too!

My seeds should arrive later this week. I intend to have the appropriate seeds started indoors before the Wisconsin Badgers Basketball team makes it to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA tourney. The others will go right in the ground when the time is right...I imagine after the final four sometime.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Garden Planning

As a small child my family always had a vegetable garden, it was huge! It yielded squash, swiss chard, beets, radishes, asparagus, pumpkins, eggplant, onions, peppers, corn, broccoli, cabbage and much more. Every spring my Dad would work on planning the garden by figuring out what he wanted to grow. Sometimes he would start the seeds in the house in wet paper towels until they sprouted and were ready for planting. Life in our household always required everyone to pitch in, life on the farm is that way. The garden was no exception. As the smallest I was elected to plant the onions in one straight row. I always hated it. For whatever reason, as a kid I wanted to be doing something else. Reading my Baby Sitter's Club books, watching "The Cosby Show", riding my bike or talking on the phone. Little did I know that by planting those onions, I was also planting a seed in me. A seed that's about to start blooming.

Last fall I read Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Through this non-fiction work, Kingsolver and her family embark on a one-year journey through which they would eat only what they could grow or buy in-season locally. The story reminded me so much of my childhood when every summer we would tend the garden and then work like dogs in the hot heat of our kitchen (we never had AC) to can what we reaped. Throughout the winter and spring months, we'd eat what we canned.

Two years ago Kim and I did our very own canning. I now have all of the tools (canning kettle and utensils) needed to can 'til my heart's content and my pantry's full. My goals for the 10' x 12' plot: 1) Can enough tomatoes to last throughout the winter until next spring. 2) Get reacquainted with onion planting. 3) Have fun.

In the next couple of weeks I will order seeds and start them for my plot. My plot is part of the Oxford-Dayton Urban Farm in St Paul. It is about 3/4 of a mile from my house. Some of the seeds will germinate in the sunrooms in Bob & I's apartment. (See the photos.) Our deck (currently covered with snow) will host my herb garden in a box. In order to really be ready for the planting season I'm doing research about gardening. Luckily for me, my dear Aunt Mary is a Master Gardener. She has suggested Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. Intend to employ Mel's method of raised bed gardening, likely in a 4' x 8' box that I'll build myself. Until next time...