Garden Planning: Fall Bulbs

Bulb depth planting guide and a couple of our favorite perennial bulbs. 

Bulb depth planting guide and a couple of our favorite perennial bulbs. 

Plant bulbs in cool soil 4-6 weeks prior to a hard frost. A hard frost is a period of at least four consecutive hours of air temperatures that are below 25 degrees Fahrenheit.

Bulbs should be planted immediately after you buy them in a sunny area with well drained nitrogen rich soil (this means avoid a spot that collects a lot of water). 

Plant bulbs at a depth of three times the width of the bulb.
In sandy soil plant bulbs slightly deeper; in clay soils, slightly shallower. 

Cover with compost rich soil and a little mulch or dried leaves.
Water the bulbs after you plant them and then about once a week until the ground totally freezes. 

We also suggest covering the planted area in chicken wire if you have any squirrel gangs near by. 

We also suggest covering the planted area in chicken wire if you have any squirrel gangs near by. 

Preserving: Herb Garland

SUPPLY LIST
String/ twine for hanging herbs
Two small nails or tacks & a hammer
Clothespins
Scissors
Fresh cut herbs

INSTRUCTIONS
Herbs should be dried immediately after clipping from the garden.
To hang your cut herbs, simply tie ends together or use a clothespin to secure them to twine you have hung away from the sun in a well ventilated dry space. 

Give each herb bundle a little space, leaving about an inch between each set.
Many herbs take just 2-3 weeks to dry. Once dry, leaves will be crispy and are easily crushed between your fingers. Dried herbs can be stored and used for a full year after drying. 
 

*To substitute dried herbs in a recipe that calls for fresh herbs, use 1/4 to 1/3 of the amount listed in the recipe.

Six Essential Gardening Tools

Original Illustration by  Rachel Rolseth

Original Illustration by Rachel Rolseth

After a few years of gardening, you start to get a feel for the tools that you can't live without, and the gadgets that looked cool at the garden store but you never really use...

To help you decide on what tools might be right for you, we asked the knowledgable ladies at Egg|Plant Urban Farm Supply to give us their must have gardening tool picks. For a few of us this might just be the first time you realize that the small shovel thing is really called a 'trowel'. 

A basic gardening tool kit should include a hoe, gloves, growl, pruner, trowel, watering can and shovel. Original Illustration by  Rachel Rolseth

A basic gardening tool kit should include a hoe, gloves, growl, pruner, trowel, watering can and shovel. Original Illustration by Rachel Rolseth

When deciding on what to buy, a big consideration is how much to spend. You want your tools to be reliable, but that doesn't mean they need to be the BEST EVER the first time you buy them.

Chances are you'll make some adjustments as you go. Luckily Egg|Plant Urban Farm Supply has you covered for a range of options. From wood to metal, beginner to expert, they have a wide price range of quality tools to choose from. 

GARDEN TOOL ESSENTIALS | WHAT TO SPEND

Shovel: price range, $15-30
Great for moving earth and digging holes, breaking ground on a new plot, planting shrubs or small trees. 
Trowel: price range, $8 to $15
Great for moving smaller amounts of earth, planting and weeding. A must have multifunctional tool for ever gardener. Some even have measurements on the side for plant depth, a handy lil feature. 
Pruner: $15 to $75
Great for trimming woody perennials, trees, shrubs, thicker stocked plants, etc. Also great multifunctional tool for cutting twine, vines, opening packages, etc.
Pro-tip - Keep em sharp and dry when not in use (otherwise they'll rust easier) 
Hoe (hand hoe or long handle): $15 to $75
Great for turning over soil, quick weeding in a large area or for edging. These come in both long and short handle options so find the one best suited for you. 
Gloves: nitrile, range, $5 to $10
Great for keeping hands (somewhat) clean, protecting against thorns and other unpleasant pokey or itchy things, and for general use around the yard. 
Pro-tip - get a few pairs, keep them dry between use (so they don't smell) and buy leather or canvas ones if you're dealing with roses, thinner gloves won't do it
Watering Can: $10 - $40
Great for gently watering your plants, pots and container gardens. This method can take a little longer than a hose or sprinkler but you have more control over the water flow and can use that extra time observing your plants

For more information, call or stop by Egg|Plant Urban Farm Supply. They have everything you need to get started this season, including the most adorable chickens you've ever seen.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Planning: Site Designs

There is certainly not a one size fits all site design for every garden. Maybe you just have a few what you thought were dead spaces between pine trees, or a small plot in the back of your apartment. Don't stress; there is a garden design for you. If you're planning to sow seeds directly into the ground, consider first your hardiness zone and do a couple of soil tests to determine the type of soil you are working with this could effect your site plan.

 

POTAGER (french style kitchen garden)

The Site: Small scale + full sun. Choose an area close to the kitchen since you will often be stepping away while you cook to pull fresh veggies and herbs. Potager gardens are traditionally kept very tidy with cleared mulched or paved lanes for walking and plant cultivation. We encourage laying down Dutch clover for durable soil nourishing walking paths. What the heck is full sun? Full sun means 6-8 hrs. of sunlight exposure each day. 

Plant Suggestions: Plants should be veggies and herbs you use the most often in the kitchen. What do you like to cook with every week? Also consider planting quick or multiple harvest vegetables like lettuces, scallions, radishes, sweet peas, cherry tomatoes, hot peppers and herbs. Save slower growing and larger harvest vegtables like squash and corn for a larger growing area.

  

 

 

CONTAINER GARDEN + COMPANION PLANTING

The Site: Small roof top or patio + full to partial sun. 

Plant Suggestions: We suggest planting small polycultures or companion plants in larger pots and small individual herbs. Basil planted alongside a tomato plant will produce rich tasting fruit, while including some bee balm to attract pollinators. Greens of all varieties love to be planted alongside herbs. We suggest big pots of kale and rosemary and sage, or individual pots of fresh herbs. 


 

 

 

SHADE + ACIDIC GARDEN PATCH

tD_garden_Acidic.jpg

The Site: Acidic soil with shade: perhaps you have a few pine trees dropping pine needles near by adding more acid to your soil. Maybe you thought this area was a dead garden space.
(Most garden plants thrive at a pH between 6 and 7.5, acidic soil has a PH below 7, you can get cheap soil tests at just about any garden center.)

Plant Suggestions: Blueberry bushes or their close sisters serviceberries/Juneberries alongside ostrich ferns (maybe you will get edible fidleheads next year?). Remember they need lots of water. Try planting some onions or leaks and don’t forget the garlic in the fall. Use this area to try to attract your pollinators to benefit the rest of your garden spaces. Try planting coral bells or bleeding hearts. 


 

 

 

KEYHOLE GARDEN

The Site: Works well in most site conditions - full sun, partial sun/partial shade and full shade. The amount of sunlight and shade will dictate the types of edible plants used in the garden bed. This garden bed design is geared towards efficient use of space and as such works well in urban areas where growing space is usually at a premium. Keyhole beds maximize the amount of planting space while minimizing the amount of pathways while using a similar amount of total square feet compared to a conventional rectilinear raised bed or row crops.  

Plant Suggestions: Full sun keyhole beds can contain sun-loving annuals such as tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, and basil while full shade beds can contain shade-loving annuals such as cabbage, kale, and most other leafy greens.

Succulents 101: Growth & Care Guidelines

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Fire Sticks Succulent

Fire Sticks Succulent

Echeveria Rose

Echeveria Rose

Echeveria Neon Breakers

Echeveria Neon Breakers

Kalanchoe flapjack

Kalanchoe flapjack

Sedum Praeltum Cristata + Echeveria Chroma

Sedum Praeltum Cristata + Echeveria Chroma

As we continue to settle in for a long, dark and frigidly cold winter’s nap, we are already craving something warm and green to look after. While the lack of sun may leave many of us feeling helpless and a little blue, we suggest making a new green friend or two–one that has few demands and won’t mind if you split for the week. 

Succulents are a funky group of low maintenance plants we typically associate with the cactus family. Their swollen fleshy leaves come in all shapes, sizes and textures and have one super skill in common–the ability to store and retain water in the most arid of climates. Translation, keep your distance because these plants like to be left alone and have just one wish, full sun. But like all plants, they are willing to share a little light with you. In fact the presence of plants alone is known to lower our systolic blood pressure and improve overall moods all while making our air more humid and breathable.

 

CARE GUIDELINES 

Succulents generally require at least four hours of bright, direct light each day, making a southern facing window the ideal home for these plants. 

Most succulents will tolerate the super low humidity during winter, but avoid the jungle cacti unless you are willing to intervene on your homes humidity levels substantially. 

Overall, succulents can be watered every couple of weeks, or even longer. Always check the moisture levels first by sticking your index finger into the soil. If soil particles don't stick to your finger, it's probably time to water.

All succulents require good drainage (your pots should always have a few drain holes), and the type of soil should be a coarser mix of two parts sand and one part soil mix. 

Photographs by Minneapolis-based photographer Lauren Carpenter.

Winter is Coming: Fall Gardening Projects

Your vegetable garden will continue to produce through a hard frost, which for us in the Midwest usually means November. Maintain your gardens until then by watering and covering fragile plants such as Tomatoes, Peppers, and Eggplants on cold nights (below 40°F).

Do Now   Winterizing your vegetable garden can begin as early as the first Pumpkin Spice Latte is served up. Start by cutting back plants and planting soil enriching ground cover seeds that will prevent erosion, protect soil microbes, outcompete cool-season weeds, and build up the soil fertility. These cover crops are sometimes called Green Manure and should only go in spent vegetable beds. They are legumes, grains or grasses. Some of our favorites are bachelor’s buttons, field pea, and crimson clover, which can be picked up locally at Mother Earth Garden Center. Continue to water up until a late hard frost, a hard frost is a period of at least four consecutive hours of air temperatures that are below 25 degrees Fahrenheit.


Do Soon   After the first frost cut down and compost spent vegetables and plants. Cut back to 6-9inches (still visible) faded or dead foliage on perennials after the first hard frost, and compost. Avoid composting diseased or pest-infested plants.

Do later   You can harvest some root vegetables like carrots until the soil is no longer workable. Hardy plants like collard greens and kale even like a little frost and will get sweeter as the weather gets cold.
Pile leaves or straw around your dormant perennials and throughout the veggie garden after the first hard frost. Make sure and wait this step out until a true hard frost or your plants may rot prematurely with too much moisture.  

Winter is Coming: How to Plant Garlic

One of your last fall gardening projects should be planting Garlic. This should be done a week or two after the first hard frost, aka late October. The garlic cloves will then take a long winter nap before emerging in the spring. 

Garlic seed cloves can be purchased online through Seed Savers and are also available locally at Egg Plant Urban Farm Supply and Mother Earth Gardens. Do not attempt to plant cloves from the grocery store. 

Instructions Select a sunny, well drained area with plenty of organic matter (compost) in the soil. Do not plant garlic where other onion crops have been grown the past two or three years. This area should be large enough to plant two rows of garlic 15 inches apart. 

Break apart the cloves from the bulb but keep the papery sheath on each individual clove. Plant the bigger and healthier individual cloves 4-6 inches apart and 2 inches deep with the pointed end of the clove facing up. Cover cloves with compost rich soil and/or a three to four-inch layer of weed seed-free straw mulch. Garlic shoots will emerge from the ground in late March or early April. 

Check out our Growing 101 on, Picking, Drying and Storing Garlic & Onions.  

Seed Saving: Sunflowers

Sunflower close up, my favorite angle.

Sunflower close up, my favorite angle.

This was the first year I grew sunflowers.

Well who am I kidding, this was the first year I grew any kind of flowers.

I learned that sunflowers are great for bio-remediation, a fancy way to say - this plant sucks up crap in the soil (like lead paint) and makes it better. So when my dad and brother gave me their box full of seeds and it included sunflowers, I decided to give it a try.

These sunflowers were HUGE. Like 6 feet taller than me huge, with 10 lb heads huge. I loved watching them grow and definitely picked favorites (even though I tried not to).

Once the flower petals started to wilt and the heads turned yellow, I found myself oddly attached to these things and decided these too would be perfect candidates for my adventures in amateur seed saving.

So here's what you do:

  1. Wait until the heads droop, lose their petals and start truing yellow
  2. Bag the heads to protect from critters and allow to dry longer - or - (what I did because I'm too impatient to wait and Google said it was OK) cut the heads early and allow them to air dry on their own. Google recommended hanging them from some twine
  3. Once the seeds are dried, use your fingers to massage the seeds out, they should come out fairly easily
  4. Sift seeds from other plant materials and store in an air-tight container for planting next year - or get fancy with it and look up some sunflower seed recipes... which I may do sometime in the near future.

Urban Farm Story: Christina Pearson

Christina is the ultimate urban farmer.

You can take our word for it because we lived next to her in North East Minneapolis for over two years. It was really incredible to witness permaculture practices in action within a small urban setting. Christina and her husband Pete are dedicated to carving out a permaculture like homestead within their entire front, side and backyard with total fearlessness. Every inch of space has a purpose or a plan to contribute to this total food system they are building in the name of self reliance, healthy soil and good food. 

Name: Christina Pearson
Occupation: Multimedia Producer

Choice of unwinding beverage after a full day’s work in the yard
A super-dry hard cider. 

What inspires you?
Good food and watching things grow. 

How did you come up with your site design?
We hired a local company (Ecological Gardens) right after we purchased the property. Our goals have changed a little since then and we’ve made some tweaks, but it’s starting to take shape. For example, we’re adding a passive solar greenhouse that isn’t on the plan to get us growing year round. 

 

What is your overall goal with your urban homestead?
Primary goal is just to be more self sufficient. We’re a long way away from growing all our own produce, so my focus for the next couple years is to grow stuff we can either cellar, can or freeze, so that in the winter when local produce isn’t super available we aren’t having to get EVERYTHING from California or Mexico. Also, experimenting to see what works for us and what we like, so when we get there and are keeping track of a big production we kind of know what we’re doing.  I also want to help close the loop on what we do grow, so we compost and use the chicken litter so we don’t have to rely entirely on buying fertilizer and soil amendments. 

The Frank Lloyd Wright of Chicken Coops. Built entirely by Christina and her husband Pete.

The Frank Lloyd Wright of Chicken Coops. Built entirely by Christina and her husband Pete.

What challenges are you facing this year? 
This year's actually been pretty good for what we HAVE going. We had planned on planting a handful of trees earlier in the year, but it took until now get them. Our site plan has specific varieties recommended that aren’t necessarily what you’re going to find at your big box garden center and the supply just isn’t there right now. So, little change in plans there. 

The latest addition to the homestead is a home built mobile chicken coop that allows Christina to move her chickens around to pasture and manage pests, meanwhile the chickens get a snack and a little vacay from the main coop. Genius. 

What successes have you had or what are you the most proud of?
The chickens are probably what I’m most proud of, although really they take care of themselves, so its ridiculous for me to take credit. But, a year and a half later, we have the same four-day-old chicks I brought home and they’re healthy and they crank out beautiful eggs. We also learned a lot building the coop and it’s easily the coolest house project we’ve taken on. 
 

This looks like a ton of hard work, why do it? 
Both of us had parents that had big gardens growing up, so for me it kind of never seemed like an option to NOT have some sort of garden/food production at home. And permaculture just seems to me like the “right” way to do it. 


Introduce us to your chicken flock
We have four laying hens, all brought home as day-old chicks (from EggPlant) in March 2014.
We have two Buff Orphingtons, one Silver Laced Wyandotte and one Ameraucana. The Buffs are easily the most friendly of the bunch. The Ameraucana was SUPPOSED to lay me charming little blue shelled eggs, but we’ve never gotten a single blue egg. I always planned on naming them, but as it turns out they’re kinda dumb. Never really gave me much personality to go off of for naming. 

What lessons have you learned since starting your backyard chicken flock?
Mostly that chickens are crazy easy, and even though I grew up with chickens I psyched myself out once or twice. The first time one of my hens went broody I was on my way out of town for a long weekend with friends and couldn’t figure out what was going on. She came with me. My friend happened to be towing a trailer that weekend and we stuck her in a dog kennel and took her to Wisconsin with us. I’ve unclenched a bit since then. We mostly let them have free range of the yard now during the day, and are better at recognizing when something is actually up.

What quality do you think it takes to be a farmer?
For me, and for what we’re trying to do, the big one is being flexible. The weather, the god-forsaken-squirrel-beasts, the health of your seedlings and a million things can affect your plants and you gotta roll with it or you’re gonna be miserable. Especially for people like us who aren’t doing this as a matter of subsistence; we both still work 40+ hour day jobs. I try and remind myself that if taking care of the home and the garden was what I did, I’d have more time to see problems coming or plan smarter, etc…

Can you break down how your household sources food during peak growing season?
Peak season maybe 50/50 home and CSA. I try and grow a lot of stuff for preserving so that we don’t have an overload in the summer, because of course when we’re at peak, so is the CSA.  I LOVE our CSA (Harmony Valley), but in a couple years I’d like to be getting 75% of our produce from the yard, and then the CSA probably won’t make sense and we’ll supplement from the food coop. Hopefully, the greenhouse and continued focus on soil building will get us in that range.

Who’s stronger boys or girls?
I mean, I think 'yonce had it right! We run this mother!

Afraid to Ask? Annuals vs. Perennials

Annuals have one growing season and need to be replanted each spring. They include most vegetables like cucumbers and tomatoes, and flowers like Marigolds or Sunflowers.

Perennials are permanent residents in your garden and will return year after year.
Some examples include Asparagus and Strawberries. Plan ahead, because many perennials will spread year after year, but will also take a few years to establish roots and produce fruit. 

Mushroom 101: Grow Your Own

Illustration by  Ashley Barlow.

Illustration by Ashley Barlow.

MUSHROOM BREAKDOWN

First, let's set one thing straight. Mushrooms are not actually plants, but fungi. Fungi eat, or break down dead plants for fuel. Standard mushrooms can easily be identified by the dome or cap shape protruding from the stem. If you look under this smooth dome, you'll see thin gills. Those gills produce the mushroom's spores. Mature mushrooms proliferate in a similar fashion to plants, producing tiny spores that act as seeds and allow for the fungi to spread and grow.

 


START GROWING MUSHROOMS   

METHOD coffee+cardboard
This is one of the easiest ways to grow mushrooms at home. It's also a cool food science project that will require very little active time and is something you can do while you make breakfast and the morning cup of coffee. Simultaneously you are creating a high value compostable material from which the residual caffeine, a mildly toxic herbicide, is largely degraded by the fungus. 


SUPPLIES

  • 20% coffee grounds and 0.5 kg of spawn (we suggest starting with Oyster Mushrooms.) to produce about 1.25 kg of mushrooms.
  • Spent cardboard or paper products without glossy inks. 
  • Container or bucket with lose fitting lid.  
  • A warm and dark place to store your bag/container.
     

Step One  
Freshly brewed coffee grounds from a coffee maker or french press are effectively pasteurized by the brewing process so once it has cooled below -100F you can inoculate it directly with purchased grain/sawdust spawn or cuttings from fresh mushrooms.

Step Two
Cardboard or paper products can be shredded and boiled in water and once excess water is drained or pressed out this too can be inoculated with spawn or cuttings. 

Step Three
 It is best to start with a small amount of both growing media (coffee/paper) and some inoculum (spawn/cuttings). The mycelium is very often visible at the base of mushrooms and will readily "jump off" and begin to "run" into a new food source within its reach. Place these cuttings in direct contact with the cardboard to provide as many jumping off points as possible. Once you've got a half a five gallon bucket or so of colonized cardboard you can turn around and use this cardboard as spawn to inoculate a second bucket started with a few layers of new cardboard, some cardboard spawn, a fresh but cool coffee filters/well drained grounds, more spawn and another couple layers of new cardboard. 
 
Step Four
About three weeks later you should see some mycelium establish itself and the mixture should start to turn completely white. From here on out as you generate coffee waste you can add it to the top layer, add some fresh spawn from the first bucket, and add a little more new cardboard to seal in moisture above the spawn. Repeat until bucket is filled. 

Step Five
Once your mix is completely white move your growing container over to a spot with plenty of fresh air and a little light – a shaded windowsill or countertop is ideal. Drill 1/2'' holes near the top of the bucket for ventilation. Check every couple days to see if the top layer is drying out. If so you can mist it with de-chlorinated, or off-gassed tap water.

Step Six
About a week later you should start to see tiny little mushrooms bursting into life. Over the following 5-7 days they should double in size every day. It's time to harvest when the edges of the caps begin to turn upwards. Remove mushrooms by cutting at the base of the stems.

White mycelium running up onto un-colonized cardboard.

White mycelium running up onto un-colonized cardboard.


Thanks to amateur mycologist and educator Martin Gordon for your contributions to this post! 

Seed Saving: Sweet Grass, Partial Fail

Sweet grass braids drying in the open air.

Sweet grass braids drying in the open air.

This year I took a series on seed saving and learned a lot. 

Mostly that there is a lot to learn about saving seeds. There is wet and dry processing, scratch and burn processing, minimum population sizes and isolation ranges, knowing when and how to harvest seeds and that's just scratching the surface!! (pun intended).

When we were asked to pick our own seed crop to save and study throughout the season, I picked sweet grass. Why didn't I pick something more straight forward? Great question. I should have. But I didn't. Mostly because I was interested in saving a sacred plant that was tied to cultural traditions I didn't fully understand, growing it (I thought) would force me to pay closer attention.

I was half right.

Sweet grass grown in a jug my dad cut in half to prevent it from spreading all over.

Sweet grass grown in a jug my dad cut in half to prevent it from spreading all over.

Somewhere amidst my ambitious summer plans, I didn't notice that my sweet grass had sprouted it's tassels and was freely giving it's seeds to the neighboring ground.

Epic fail. 

The funny thing about both life and gardening is that sometimes you get lessons you didn't ask for. Like this lesson in utilizing what currently exists.

Which for me were three things. Dried beans I didn't get around to picking, sunflower seeds from a few giant heads and of course perfectly beautiful, long strands of sweet grass. What else can I do with this? Learn more basic seed saving from the beans and sunflowers, then make smudge sticks out of the sweet grass. Starting with the sweet grass.

I chose to grow my sweet grass in a big restaurant jug my dad found and cut in half for me, mainly because I had read sweet-grass can spread and I wasn't sure how much so I grew it in a container to be safe. Sweet grass is a perennial and should come back every year.

If you happen to have access to sweet grass (or any kind of pretty grass really) this is what the internet told me to do:

  1. Rubber-band the base of your grass to secure it into bunches.
  2. Separate into three pieces.
  3. Braid, just like you would with hair.
  4. Rubber-band the end.
  5. Cut at the base.
  6. Wait until they dry and enjoy the sweet smell in the process!

And that was pretty much it!

I am already enjoying their sweet smell in the house but will have to wait until they dry out to use for smudging. If that's a totally foreign term to you, here's what the internet has to say about it!

Using a sweet grass braid for smudging:

Tribal cultures and religions around the world often use specific herbs to promote positive intentions, send prayers and cast out unwanted energy. One common ceremony is called smudging or censing (incensing). During this ceremony one or more herbs are burned to produce smoke that is wafted over an object, person or a physical space.

In North America, three commonly used native herbs for smudging are White Sage, Incense Cedar, and Sweetgrass. Sweetgrass is often braided and dried to create long Sweetgrass braids. The smoke from this braid is used to facilitate prayers, encourage healing, and to bestow blessings and honor. Its pleasing aromas create a feeling of well-being, peace and comfort.

Even though I didn't end up harvesting seed, I did use my failure as a lesson, learning more about the the significance of sweet grass braids and the ritual of smudging. I'll take it.

And who knows, maybe next year I'll finally get that seed.