Friday, September 18, 2009

I used to have lawn.... Now I have dinner!!

We are now nearing the end of our first season with a "lawn-less" front and side yard, where we have planted an edible landscape. The preliminary results are in- success! I have been up to my elbows in tomatoes and have so far canned salsas, pasta sauces, pizza sauce, and whole tomatoes to enjoy when winter creeps in. We have also enjoyed lettuce, fresh strawberries and raspberries, watermelon, eggplant, green beans, kidney beans, and black beans, cucumbers (and pickles), swiss chard, zucchini, red peppers, hot peppers, rhubarb, potatoes and a variety of herbs.

This was not a small undertaking. When we planned to get rid of the lawn, I pretty much knew I would be devoting my summer to the garden. But happily. Sean and I both hate to mow, and we never got much satisfaction from are perpetually half-dead lawn. We found no joy in walking around clumsily in our spiked aerating sandals or in spreading the (albeit organic) weed-n-feed fertilizer concoction each spring.

The alternative, for us, is a labor of love. Well, and of sustenance. We have cut our grocery bill at least in half, and we are feeling really good about eating fresh, local, chemical-free food. I have no idea what this does to our carbon foot-print, but when I learned that a single head of lettuce that travels from California to my table has something like 50 times the carbon footprint of that grown in my own backyard, it was hard not to take note.

We have, of course, supplemented our harvest with meats, dairy, and other things we can't find in our backyard (although much of it has come from the local co-op, which is conveniently a half-mile down the road.) We have also become more aware of nutritional values of different foods, more creative cooks, and less reliant on processed food.

Next year's garden plan will be tweaked a bit. (I've learned I DON'T need 75 tomato plants, for instance.) Soil will be amended, bed locations changed a bit to maximize sun... and, yes, there will likely be even more garden and LESS lawn as we add even more edible space.

Visit the Blue Planet Garden Blog to see how others are changing their landscapes. Lawn Reform, a collaboration of nine bloggers from around the US, is trying to reshape how we all think about lawns and their roles in gardens.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A "Pix-zee" peach

At half-price day at the Friends School plant sale, there were some "Pix Zee" peach trees left. We decided to give it a try. The description notes that "Pix Zee" has "...delicious yellow fleshed, freestone peach with red over orange skin. It is a vigorous tree to 6’. Ripens late June. 500 hours chilling. Self-fruitful." It is genetically dwarfed, so it's great for our small yard. The master gardeners at the sale said they have heard folks in Minnesota who have had fruit from their Pix-zee. We will do some winter protection and see how it goes! I am hoping for fruit, although even if it's just ornamental, it's a cool little tree. (Note the first pic is NOT our tree, but another I found of the tree with fruit!)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Three baby apple trees...

We have our apple trees!
Thanks to Steve at Cummins Nursery, we were able to get three 1-year-old dwarf "whips" that we just put in the ground. It will take 2-3 years for them to fruit, but now is the time to start training them. We have Honeycrisp, Elstar, and Zestar apple trees to work with. For anyone loooking to espalier apple trees in their small spaces, I highly recommend Cummins Nursery- they responded to my email right away, walked me through what I needed on the phone, and then shipped the trees within a week. They are able to accommodate small orders like this and were so reasonable!
And they really know their apples. I may get one more... We'll see how these 3 work. They only grow 6-8 feet tall and can be spaced pretty close together, so there may be room for one more tree. They are all starting to bud!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

"Like my Uncle Joe in Oklahoma needs the rain..."

We talk a lot about the weather in Minnesota. It's an especially popular topic in the office, where the building I work in is the only one that isn't connected to the others by some sort of tunnel or skyway system. The constant question when anyone walks through the door is, "How's the weather?"

Today, when I came in from lunch, my co-worker and I had a familiar exchange:
She: "So, how is it out there?"
Me: "A little chilly still... I wish it would warm up."
She: "Well, at least it isn't raining!"

Hmmm. At least it isn't raining. But wait. I needed that rain yesterday. Or, more accurately, the newly planted strawberries needed it. And chilly... well, the zucchini doesn't like the chill. It needs to warm up darn it! So I can get those tomatoes in the ground. And the cukes... they sure didn't like that wind....
My point: I think I have a new lens on weather.

I think about what the plants like. I wish for what the plants need. Sun? Rain? To hell with my beach plans... what do those beans want? I'm feeling a new bond with the farmers of the world.... "Like Uncle Joe in Oklahoma needs the rain" (from a Faith Hill song called "I Need You" for those non-country fans out there.) Maybe it's a new realization on the importance of the weather on our food. Sure, we all know grapefruits in Florida don't like cold. But I think I'm starting to feel a lot of empathy for those grapefruit farmers. Warm up, damnit! But not too much... it'll fry the lettuce.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Another garden thing

I have a new garden thing. I mean, another thing I want to add to the garden this year. Espalier apple trees. Yes, I had to look it up to see how to pronounce it (es-pah-lee-ay, in case you're wondering) That's basically a fancy way to say: train baby apple trees to grow in two dimensions in a very small space, say along the wall of our garage. You still get lots of good fruit, but it doesn't take up the space of a tree! (How to do it here.)

When I asked Sean about it, he asked, appropriately, "Are you really sure you want to take another thing on in the garden this year?"
To which I replied, "No. But If we don't do it this year, it'll be a whole 'nother year before we have apples!!"

Apparently, you must get apple trees that are only a year or two old (know as "whips"). They have to be young, so you can begin to train them onto the wires in two dimensions. In about three years, you have apples on them!

Which means... yes. I am going to be doing another garden thing.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Seedlings to Plants

The seedlings have officially taken over... our house has gone from greenhouse to virtual jungle in the past weeks. The tomatoes (all 100+ of them!) had to be re-potted and are over a foot tall, and the cucumbers are getting ready to vine! I need sustained warm weather, stat, so I can get these plants in the ground! I've started hardening them off on the porch, as you can see. Hopefully by this weekend I can plant. I'm solidly in Zone 4, so our official last frost date isn't until May 15th, but I have row covers if needed. I've also been monitoring soil temp., and we have been approaching 65 degrees, which is warm enough for most of my "crops", provided we don't get a frost!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Soil Testing

With the preparation of so much new garden space, I learned that soil testing is a good idea. In the past, I have tested my soil with the do-it-yourself kits you can get at a hardware store. It is unclear how accurate these tests are, so this time, I am going to get the soil sampled at a professional lab... with my University Extension service.

If you are in MN, you can find all the information you need for a soil test at here. Each sample costs $15, and you get a reading on phosphorus, potassium, pH and lime requirement, percent organic matter and estimated texture category. They will also recommend which "crops" will grow well in your soil, or recommended amendments for what you plan to plant. Seems like a good deal to me!

Our results came back pretty much as expected: We have alkaline soil, with a pH of about 7.0. We have a decent amount of organic matter in it, but it is recommended that we add phospate. (Phospate is the middle number in the plant nutrient breakdown you see on packages.) We also need to grow our blueberries in pots. To get our soil acidic enough to grow blueberries would require "heroic measures" in the terms of the Extension office. But, in pots, a few bags of peat moss should do the trick!

Friday, March 27, 2009

We *heart* Natural Built Home

If you are looking for green building materials or resources, look no further. Natural Built Home is like a one-stop shop for the best green building materials out there. We discovered them at the Living Green Expo (which is May 2-3 this year btw) a couple of years ago, but we didn't have any projects that could utilize their products right away. So we just drooled. Me, over the mosaic recycled glass tile, Sean over the reclaimed hardwood flooring.

They will work with you if you don't live in the Twin Cities, as they used to be just an e-shop. Although if you live nearby and you haven't been, you really need to go take a look.

From the Natural Built Home website:

"Natural Built Home was founded in October of 2005. Our mission was to create a one-stop shop for the safest and most sustainable building supplies. We initially provided these products to our customers on the world wide web through our e-commerce website. Our first brick and mortar showroom opened in Minneapolis on Earth Day in 2006."

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Is the house sinking?

We have noticed some disturbing signs around the house in the past year that indicate something is amiss with the foundation or support beams. When we bought the house 2 years ago, there were normal signs of a 100-year-old house "settling" but nothing that alarmed us. Still, this last year, we have found changes... shifts... cracks where there weren't cracks before.
The front door is hanging more cock-eyed.
The dog's ball rolls toward the dining room when we set it in place in the kitchen.
The newly painted ceiling in the master bedroom reveals new, wider cracks along the edges of the walls, where old ones were patched and fixed.
There are now noticeable humps in two places where the limestone foundation holds up the house... where no sinking has occurred.
The laser level that Sean is so fond of indicates that there has indeed been a more dramatic shift in floor levels... it seems that the center of the house is sinking, and at a more rapid pace than anything we expected.
We live in an area where there is a lot of peat, so it's possible that a post has actually sunk. It just happened to one of our new fence posts- we dug it down 4 ft deep (below the frost line here), and yet it has sunk about three inches since we set it in place last year.
The other possibility is that the post is rotting. Apparently, this would, in fact, be better, since the footing would theoretically still be sound and we would just have to replace the post. But to really know, we have to do some basement floor destruction and dig.
The carpenter of the family (not me!) assures me that we can fix this. And I believe him. He knows how to do it, and he has consulted with several other carpenters who have actually done it themselves. But it's still unsettling (pun intended) to think about. I've started my reading on house-jacking, but any success stories ya'll have would make me feel a lot better!

Seeds, Seeds, and More Seeds!!

I have officially gone overboard on the seed starting. I'm not sure when my madness drifted from the garden-variety seed starter to the seedling-crazed garden fiend, but I'm guessing it was somewhere between 30 and 144 tomato seedlings ago. This year, the whole yard becomes garden. (Ok, with the exception of the backyard where the doggies will continue to do their business.) We are planning a mixed edible/perennial garden in the back, front, and side yards, plus a huge swath of boulevard. Not bad for an urban city lot, eh? As I've been planning, I've found lots of help along the way. Turns out, there a ton of folks who are doing urban gardening. Yay! Here are some of my favs...

Metro Blooms
Gardening Matters
Cold Climate Permatculture Research Institute
Urban Harvest

I also checked out a lot of books, including Edible Estates, Gaia's Garden, and Landscaping with Fruits and Vegetables.

As for the plants, I have started: 3 kinds of tomatoes, 2 kinds of cucumbers, zucchini, broccoli, 4 kinds of peppers, oregano, 2 kinds of basil, chives, garlic chives, stevia

Flowers: Marigolds, Alyssum, Bee Balm, Blue Butterfly Delphinum, Shasta Daisies, Lavender, and Dahlias

In all, I have 7 trays of seedlings, with about 72 plants each. That's a whole lotta plants. But I figure what I don't have room for myself, I'll trade for other plants, or give away to neighbors to help them grow their harvest. I have used Jiffy Peat pellets , which I used last year with great success. I also used seed-starting medium in 6-pack cells in trays (when I ran out of pellets!).

We already have 2 raspberry plants and 2 blueberry plants, and I have more on the way. I also am expecting about 50 strawberry plants, 6 ligonberry bushes, and a few hops plants. (Can you say oranic beer?!) These I had to order bareroot and will come at approximately the last frost date. Which, for those not from sunny Minnesota, is May 15th. WAYYYYYY too long from now! My madness may be dangerous by then!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Brick Path Pic, finally

I finally have a new digital camera (which I love) so I can again post pics! Here is a belated one of the new brick path. The snow finally melted enough to get a decent pic.