There's nothing like having a stash of your own home-grown waiting in the pantry. No, I'm not talking about illegal herbal substances. I'm talking about jars of produce that you put up yourself.
On Sunday I made 21 jars of strawberry and rhubarb jams. In this case,
it wasn't stuff I grew myself (sadly, not even the rhubarb). However, it was
all locally grown produce that I bought at the Richfield Farmer's Market on Saturday.
I made three types of jam: Plain old Strawberry (from the Sure-Jell package), Spiced Strawberry, (the Sure-Jell recipe plus some ground cloves, cinnamon and allspice) and Rhubarb, Strawberry and Ginger. I haven't tried the last one yet, but the combination of rhubarb, strawberries and crystalized ginger has got to be good.
I'm not sure why people don't can like they used to. I just finished re-reading From the Ground Up: The Story of a First Garden by Amy Stewart, and she mentions that most of us only know about canning from our grandmothers.
In my case, my mother also canned - crabapple jelly, tomatoes, peaches - so I grew up with a very basic understanding of what is involved. It's not difficult at all, and it really doesn't take as much time as you would think. On Sunday, I spent about 6 hours making 21 jars of jams from three recipes. Probably 1/3 of the time was spent coring the strawberries.
Through the summer, I'll get the canning equipment out of the basement a few more times. I'll make more jams - peach, blueberry, something with apples. I also want to do pickles this year. I haven't done them before, but I planted enough cucumbers that I should be able to do quite a few jars. Depending on the tomato crop, I also may try either salsa, tomato sauce, or both.
The wonderful thing about canning is that you can bring out a taste of summer in the middle of winter. Plus, the extras make great housewarming or thank you gifts, or holiday presents for the aunts and cousins.
On Saturday I finally planted out a 40 square foot area that is the beginning of the Rock Garden. This border, which starts out sunny but quickly transitions to areas of partial or full shade, will be about 40-50 feet long once done. Given how quickly I work, this will probably take a few years. But, now that it's started I will have a lot more inspiration to continue. Below is the close-up view.
What was planted: Hydrangea 'Limelight', campanula carpatica 'Pearl Deep Blue', geranium cinereum 'Ballerina', helleborous orientalis (Lenten Rose), peony lactiflora 'Sarah Bernhardt', peony lactiflora 'Nippon Beauty', peony lactiflora 'Longfellow', dicentra spectabilis (pink bleeding heart), Eupatorium 'Chocolate', phlox paniculata 'Sandra', monarda didyma 'Gardenview Scarlet', and heuchera sanquinea 'Plum Pudding.'
Here is the somewhat longer view. The bit I planted looks very small in this picture.
The name Rock Garden is pretty self-explanatory. The rocks came from a variety of sources, mostly left over from building the vegetable gardens. However, some came from right under our feet. We live in a glacial till area, an area where retreating glaciers left a lot of debris, including granite boulders. (The exciting geologic history of Minnesota can be found here.)
The largest rock and the second-largest rock (partially obscured by the as-yet-unplanted Joe Pye Weed) were both found in our yard when the city replaced all the sewer and water mains last year. The guys who were doing the backhoe work were nice enough to offer to move the rocks to anywhere they could drive the machine. If I could do it again I would place the tallest rock differently, but since I don't have a backhoe, that's that.
I hope to use all the rocks to my gardening advantage. For example, I really like the combination of this grey-white granite with the campanula I just planted. I put the bleeding heart directly behind the rock, so that should look very pretty when it blooms next spring.
Spinach was a huge disappointment for me this year. I don't even have a picture - I took just one cutting, then it all bolted. I had two varieties: Space, from Cook's Garden, and Baby's Leaf, from Burpee. I only harvested about 1 cup - enough to mix in with some garden lettuce for a few salads.
I will try the spinach later this summer, since Minnesota's late summer/early autumn period tends to be "mellower" than spring. The plants will have the advantage of germinating while it's still hot, then growing as the temperatures gradually become cooler.
For 2007, I may want to consider planting only lettuce varieties. It doesn't bolt as quickly, it comes up faster, and the rabbits don't eat it (at least not yet). I like spinach, but I'm not going to work that hard for it.
I haven't updated on the overall status of the vegetable garden recently, so here goes. Below is the lower garden last Sunday. Spouse is on the deck, enjoying a cigar while watching the US Open. The cucumbers are starting to climb the bamboo tepees. All the herbs are doing very well (in the beds behind the cukes). At the very front of the picture you can see the evening primrose in all it's glory. It's a spreader, but I wouldn't consider it invasive because it's so easy to pull and/or replant to another part of the garden.
The upper garden is looking very lush (below). The front left bed is fingerling potatoes with beans along the side. The potatoes are amazing this year. I would not have thought that fingerlings would get that large. I just wonder when I can start grubbing around for some early spuds?
Front right is the legume bed. I already posted
about cutting down the shelling peas. Tonight I'll harvest another 2-3
pounds of snap peas - I know what we'll be eating all weekend! Pole beans are in the center, and tomatoes are in the back left bed. Both are doing well.
The back right bed has roots and greens. The lettuce and carrots are doing great. The chard is finally starting to grow a bit. The biggest disappointment is the beets -they've hardly grown at all. It looks like I might take those out this weekend and put in some more carrots for a late fall harvest.
Below are the container tomatoes, with peppers at the end of the row. I've started seeing blossoms on just about all the tomato varieties, and the Sweet Baby Girl cherries have a few small fruits. It won't be long until we're in tomato heaven. The Hungarian Hot Wax peppers have fruits that are about to turn yellow, and the Mariachis are just setting fruit. I haven't seen any flowers on the Peruvian Purples, but they look healthy and lush.
Knock on wood, pests have not yet been a problem. However, as you can see below, something has been trying to get into the legume bed. I found the beginnings of a hole in the window screening after I cut down the shelling peas and moved the leaning snap peas aside. I have a feeling it's rabbits trying to get to the goodies inside. Luckily, they only got through the first layer of screening - the second is still hole-free.
I'm pretty sure the culprit wasn't this guy! (Gratuitous cute chipmunk picture)
We have chipmunks everywhere. I know a lot of people hate them because they get into the house or garage and then wreak havoc on the foundations. Luckily for us, they've stayed out of the human structures and kept to the stone walls around the garden.
This weekend I will finally start the new flower bed for the front yard. As a teaser, I'll leave with a picture of what it looks like right now . . . . By Monday, this area should have a whole new look.
Rice Creek Gardens is closing, a true loss for the Twin Cities gardening community. According to the article in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, one of the primary reasons because of a $200,000 assessment in the widening of Highway 65.
This is a real downer, as the gardens at Rice Creek are absolutely beautiful.
I suppose that time marches on and all things must change, especially when the nursery owner is 70, her partner is moving to Spring Grove (southeastern MN), and 16 acres will sell for about $5 million. However, as owner Betty Ann Addison says, "My customers say this is the only interesting thing in Blaine." How very, very true.
The question of the week is, "Are peas worth it in Minnesota?" Although one would think that chilly Minnesota would be the perfect place to grow cool-weather crops, it actually ain't so. The ice went out on our pond on April 6th, and we started a week-long stretch of upper-80's just five weeks later. Summer in the Upper Midwest just comes too fast for peas, I guess.
Below is this year's second harvest of peas. The container on the left holds shelling peas (Spring), and the container on the right holds snap peas (Super Sugar Snap).
This is the last harvest of 2006 for the shelling peas - I cut down the plants after picking. There were no more blossoms, and the stems were starting to shrivel near the ground. I planted two varieties - Spring (from Burpee) and Ellen's Delight (from Cook's Garden). Ellen's Delight was a complete bust. The shells grew to full size, but were yellowish. The peas themselves were tiny and inedible.
The total on the shelled peas - once shelled - will probably be a scant cup. So, no matter now delicious they are (and they are relevatory to someone who doesn't normally like peas), they are officially not the best use of my precious garden space. I would much rather have more greens, carrots, or some early bush beans.
I'm having a more difficult time deciding on the snap peas. This is the first year I've been successful with them, both because I kept the rabbits away and I planted them thickly. And they are sooooo good.
But: Look at the photo on the right. This is after I cut down the shelling peas, which were in the front of the bed. I've harvested about 3 cups of snap peas, and will harvest about 2-3 more cups before I'm done. However, as you can see, the snap peas are barely holding onto the twine on the trellis. Plus, the harvest period for the snap peas will be no more than 2 weeks - there are no more blossoms left. And, to add insult to injury, I planted pole beans with the snap peas, but (I think) because of the space the snap peas take, the pole beans hardly germinated. And beans are one of the must-have's in our garden.
So, this post will serve as a reminder to me for 2007, when I'm looking through catalogs and starry-eyed about spring vegetables. NO shelling peas, no matter how romantic they seem. Get them at the farmer's market. And THINK about the snap peas - maybe there's a way to grow them more efficiently, or maybe (and it hurts to think about it) just don't grow them at all.
It's been a busy week around here, so I don't have much garden-related news to report. So, I figured I would chime in on the "plants I hate" debate - what the heck. This will be the first in a series, I would assume, and I reserve the right to change my mind at any time, just like any good gardener. And, of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder,
Have you ever noticed that tulips are always photographed in such a way so that you don't really see the entire plant? Or if you do, the area has been so carefully mulched that you know it's not a home garden. The reason is, a tulip - in its entirety - is an unattractive plant. The foliage always looks ratty and sparse. The flower itself reaches its peak and then the petals all start falling off - one by one. Or, more likely, a spring thunderstorm either knocks off half the petals or batters the entire stem down to the ground.
Part of the problem is that most gardeners don't plant tulips correctly (i.e., in a way that hides their shortcomings). The first big mistake people make is to plant them alone - without something pretty and leafy to cover their "legs." Plant them with some early-spring wildflowers or ferns - anything to hide the hideous foliage.
The second mistake people make is that they plant them singly, or in groups of no more than five. If you have to have tulips, then by all means plant tulips - lots and lots of them, all massed together for maximum impact. If they're not in great big masses, they just look like left-over lollipops that some neighborhood kid stuck in the garden.
To me, there is also a big difference between species tulips and cultivated tulips. Species tulips look like the spring wildflowers they are. Cultivated tulips look like an experiment in gigantism gone bad - a wildly unproportionate cup of petals sitting on top of a spindly stem with two lonely leaves. They just don't look like they belong anywhere in nature. Oddly, I like tulips in a vase, but that's probably for the same reason: They have been taken out of a natural setting and isolated in a vase, inside the house.
The wonderful thing about gardening for yourself, though, is that you can do whatever you damn well please. So, if you like to plant tulips, one by one, in a bed with no groundcover - well, then, do it. It's your garden!
Mmmmm . . . . The first peas from the garden (not a great picture, I know, but the lighting in our kitchen is pretty poor). I mixed them into a salad of greens and radishes from the garden with a light raspberry vinaigrette. For the recipe, see below.
The shelling peas are Spring, and the snap peas are Super Sugar Snap. The peas were wonderful, but I'm beginning to wonder if they are worth the trouble. They take up a lot of space which could be devoted to things like beans. Also, because we went right from cool to hot this spring, the plants are already showing signs of tapering off. Maybe Minnesota just doesn't have the right climate for these cool-season crops.
Along with our garden salad, we had grilled T-bones and bakery bread. It was the perfect summer meal. I'll give the instructions for how I make steak on the grill, because I think it's the best there is.
Raspberry Vinaigrette for Two All measurements are approximate - use the proportions you like.
Scant 1 tsp. Dijon mustard 3 tbsp. raspberry vinegar 3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil (the good stuff) 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper 1/4-1/2 tsp sugar.
Whisk all together until emulsified. Adjust ingredients to taste. Enough for two good-sized side salads.
Balsamic Marinated Steak Steaks - we use T-bones or rib eyes Balsamic vinegar - NOT the cheapest at the store, but also not the most expensive Kosher salt Freshly ground black pepper Grated horseradish (optional) - the real thing, not a "sauce"
About 30 minutes before you plan to grill the steak, place steaks in a shallow pan. Rub first side of each steak with 1-2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with salt and pepper (I'm liberal with the pepper). Turn over and repeat on other side of steaks. Let sit at room temperature until ready to grill. Serve with grated horseradish on the side.
Last weekend I bought some plants for a new bed. I didn't have time to start digging last weekend, so the potted plants are sitting under a tree in the front. Two days ago, I took my usual pre-work walk-around, and this is what I found:
This is the new Limelight Hydrangea. I can tell it's deer damage because all the nipped branches are at the
top of the plant - much too high off the ground for a rabbit.
Several people in our neighborhood have hydrangeas with no apparent deer damage, so I figured it was safe to plant. Right now, the plant is sitting just a few feet away from where I had planned to plant it, but I may need to reevaluate my plan.
Several other potted perennials were sitting in the area, but only two were also eaten: Joe Pye weed and tall garden phlox. I was also surprised that the deer ate the phlox, as we have a lot of native woodland phlox growing wild in our neighborhood. Not eaten: Campanula, hardy geranium, peonies, white snakeroot, hellebore and monarda.
And, something else I didn't know - rabbits will eat morning glories. I had started a few seedlings for ends of the pea/bean trellis (which is rabbit-proofed) and had some extras. I put up a bamboo tepee, planted the seedlings, and the next morning everything was gone.
Tonight: I think I'll be able to harvest my first shelling peas!