Archive for ‘Organic Gardening’

April 23, 2017

Revamp, Renew, Revive (a.k.a. – What The Cats Left Behind)

Sometimes we can dream, make plans and see our dreams come to fruition, but then a couple of cats come along and sabotage our dreams in a flash.

As a landscape designer, I’ve been trained to try and plan for everything when designing a site; accessibility, location, exposure, sight lines, potential hazards, storage, screening, water, fire, gardens, pets, allergies… the list goes on.  Somehow, in the years I’ve been doing this, I was never trained to envision that new cats will move into the neighborhood 4 or 5 years down the road and use your dream project as a toilet.

Unfortunately, it happens and it has happened.  I’ve been gardening for many years and have had rabbits destroy plants, squirrels steal fruits and veggies to take a bite out of them and leave them behind and deer do pruning for me. While all of those things are annoying, it is nothing like finding your neighbor’s cats’ waste in the space that you grow food in. It is infuriating, disgusting, repulsing and when you have a young child, dangerous to their health.

When I discovered the cat mess in my garden, I knew immediately I needed to stop this from happening again, but in the back of my mind I also knew the damage had already been done and can’t be fixed so I would need to come up with a new plan. I know for a fact these cats kill birds and rodents on a regular basis so the likelihood of the cats having toxoplasmosis is pretty high, meaning it’s also in their poo and likely in our garden now.

So what am I going to do about it? Revamp, renew and revive.

I’ll be honest, when I first started thinking about how to handle this, my first thought was to gather the poo and deliver it to my neighbor’s doorstep, but I didn’t think that would be appropriate or make for a very good neighbor relationship. It could be argued that neither is moving into a new neighborhood behind a nature center, feeding the birds and then letting your cats out to kill the birds, spray your neighbor’s house and use their garden as a litter box, but I digress. Poo delivery is out.

I also thought about fencing, but we already have a privacy fence around the back yard and since we live on a corner, we are restricted on both the height and location of the fence, not to mention fences can be costly.  Plus, a fence in front of a fence wouldn’t look so hot and… cats can jump. Fencing is out.

I thought about putting a deterrent spray or powder around the garden, but I would have to be diligent about applying it in order to (hopefully) keep them out.  Not what I want to spend my summer doing. Spraying is out.

I thought about getting a motion activated sprinkler, but I know myself.  I would sit there smugly thinking I’ve got them, evil laugh to myself envisioning the cats being startled, hair standing on end and getting sprayed and then promptly forget that the sprinkler is on and end up being the recipient of the cold blast of water instead of my neighbor’s cats.  Sprinkler is out.

Finally, I settled on the plan I was really dragging my feet on… move the garden.  It’s hard to say goodbye to 5 years of planning, planting and work, but it really seems like the best option. It’s time to revamp the front garden and move the food to the back yard.

So the new plan for the front is to leave the honey berry, currants and perennials where they are and turn the veggie space into a cutting flower garden. This will allow the space to be utilized for something attractive and still stay in line with my chemical-free “bee safe” yard and better yet, turn it into a pollinators paradise.  My loss turns into a win for the pollinators.  I call that a win-win.

On to the renewal and revival!  The back yard garden was all but abandoned over the past few years with my energy being focused on the front yard garden, pregnancy, new baby and lack of time. Now that I’m past the initial anger of the situation, and our newest is old enough to hang out with me in the garden, I’m really embracing the revival of our back yard.

Here’s a little peak as to what I’m doing with the raised beds. Any guesses?


More on that in the near future!

Happy spring, happy planting and cheers to an abundant season!


May 11, 2016

Custard and Pawpaw Trees

When we first got chickens I couldn’t wait for our hens to lay eggs, not because I love eggs and toast but because I LOVE custard! I couldn’t wait to make a custard pie with fresh eggs. Writing those words (custard pie) makes me drool. Mmmm… I can smell it baking, I can practically taste the rich, creamy, vanilla goodness layered in that flaky crust…

So imagine the excitement I felt while reading one of my favorite geeky plant lover books, Paradise Lot by Eric Toensmeier, (which is a great read, by the way), I discovered that custard grows on trees! That’s right. Custard grows on trees, people! You can imagine how stinking excited I was about this! O.M.G.! I had to look into this. If custard grows on trees, then I most definitely need this tree!

That was 3 years ago. Since then, I’ve been on a semi-serious hunt for Pawpaw trees.  The first year I started looking I found them online, but too late. Sold out. Everywhere. Obviously others have heard about custard growing on trees too and felt compelled to have one of their own. I couldn’t blame them. They beat me to the punch. Okay, try again next year.

It’s a spring morning in 2015. I’m sitting at my dining room table, sipping coffee, flipping through the Friends School Plant Sale catalog, which had come in the mail weeks ago but I’d just taken the time to sit down and look through. The Friends School Plant Sale is one of the largest in our area, so large they need to hold it in the Grand Stand at the Minnesota State Fair grounds. This is one that people flock to, arrive early to get wristbands and then come back a couple hours later to enter. They have over 2,500 varieties of plants, which requires a large catalog. They have it in an electronic form, but I still get mine mailed to me because there is something wonderful about flipping through, circling, highlighting and dreaming of the possibilities to come. The catalog comes in the form of a small, thick newspaper full of plants, descriptions and prices. I look from section to section… Actually, no I don’t. I cut to the chase. I go straight for the Fruit section, followed by the Unusual & Rare Plants section, then Vegetables and finally Herbs. I’m all about edibles, folks. It was while I was breezing through the Fruit section that I nearly choked on my coffee and spit it out. There it was… Pawpaw! No way! Here. In Minnesota. At the plant sale. One small problem. I wasn’t going to be able to make the sale because it would be just too much to tote a 5 month old baby to… but, one of my dear friends goes every year, so hope wasn’t lost. I asked her to pick one up for me. She agreed without hesitation. Yes! The plant sale day came and I got a text… “No Pawpaws. Crop failure.” Bummer.

May 2016, an afternoon days before the Friends School Plant Sale begins, I spread the newspaper- style catalog on my kitchen island in hopes of being able to catch a glimpse between, “Up?”, “Milk?” and games with my sweet toddler. She eats. I have a second. I flip to the Fruit section and scan the page. There it is. Pawpaw. Custard on a stick, so to speak. I wrack my brain trying to figure out how I could get to the sale on the first day to have a chance at getting them (assuming no crop failure again). The reality is that it wouldn’t be ideal, or very feasible to wait for 2 hours to get in and haul a toddler through the sale.  No Pawpaws this year. But wait! I got a text, “Need anything rare or unusual at the sale?” Ahhhhh!!! Yes! My friend is a doll. I ask her to pick-up 2 Pawpaw trees if they have them and if she has room. They had them. She got them! I am now the proud owner of two Pawpaw trees!!! 


They are little guys. I’m not sure they will survive our winters. I’m trying to research how far North they have been successfully grown. They are a Zone 5 – Zone 8 plant. I’ve managed to push the envelope before, so maybe I can make this happen too! Imna little gun shy though, it took me 3 years to get these guys so i dont want to lose them during their first winter so I might pot them up in a large pot now and bring them inside for the winter. We’ll see. For now I’m just excited to have my very own custard on a stick… in 4 – 8 years.
Cheers to all of your gardening dreams!
Until next time,

May 10, 2016

Where is Walnuts n Pears? (Writing and Rhubarb)

Have you ever taken an unplanned vacation?  Just dropped everything and took off?  Me neither.  That’s what it feels like having left this blog behind though.  Maybe vacation is the wrong word for it. Life got a little crazy.  Amazing how a new little one can cause a hiccup in how things operate, isn’t it?  And while I usually mean baby chicks, cats, dogs or the like, this time I mean a little person.

So what’s going on?  How are you?  What have you been up to?

I’ve been contemplating or maybe finally starting to feel like I’m in a place where I can start writing again.  At first I wasn’t sure what I would write about.  It’s been a while, so I kind of forgot how to do this writing thing. But as all good things seem to come for me, it’s usually by getting a sign. In this case it was a meme on Facebook that basically said “write”.  So I thought about it and realized that, yeah, maybe now is a good time to get back to writing.

For the past 16 months I’ve been a full-time Mom to my baby girl and son (after he gets home from school). For a few months each spring I’ve also been teaching “Learn to Grow a Straw Bale Garden” classes in the Twin Cities metro and out state area at night. I’m wrapping up the teaching season now and simultaneously getting my own straw bale garden rolling for my 4th season, which I am very excited about!

I love gardening and love growing food in straw bales even more. With very few exceptions there aren’t many things I haven’t tried growing in my straw bales and pretty much everything has been amazingly abundant!

Another thing that has been abundant this year is rhubarb! It would probably be an understatement to say that I am a little obsessed about making things with rhubarb right now. My wonderful Mother baked a rhubarb pie for Mother’s Day and since then I’ve made Rhubarb Compote, rhubarb vanilla bean simple syrup and am trying my hand at Rhubodka with a twist: I added the rhubarb vanilla bean simple syrup with the rhubarb still in it (not strained yet), additional fresh rhubarb, a piece of vanilla bean and added a few strawberries.

I haven’t played around with infusing alcohol before so I’m pretty excited about it! One thing I know about it already is that it’s really hard to just look at it, give it a little shake each day and not sample it. Today is day 2. I can’t imagine it’s going to get any easier as time goes by and I have to wait a month!

Over the past year or two I’ve had a lot of fun experimenting with preserving fruits and veggies. Freezing, canning, jams (tomato vanilla bean is to die for), sauces, simple syrups, you name it. I plan on playing with dehydrating this season too.

My hope for this blog going forward is to share as many of my gardening/urban farming and food preservation experiments with you as I can. I’m excited to start writing again and hope you enjoy the adventures with me!

See you in the garden… (or kitchen).

May 13, 2015

Before you spray…

A Scott’s sales rep came to the door yesterday telling me he could spray to kill all of the dandelions and other weeds in our yard, fertilize the lawn and spray to get rid of all of the mosquitoes. I politely told him, “No thank you. I don’t mind them and am actually growing plants to attract insects and pollinators instead of kill them.” He then offered to use their organic line and estimated that it would be $56 to “take care of” our yard. Again, I smiled and said, “No, thank you. We’re not interested.” at which point he offered me his business card, told me he was also a realtor and offered to do a property value estimate if I’m ever interested.

We have no plans of moving.  Part of why we bought this house is because it’s just behind the nature center which has a lake. Mosquitoes, whether we like it or not, come with the territory.

Don’t get me wrong, I hate mosquitoes just as much as the next person, but the SPRAYS they use ARE NOT SELECTIVE. That means they don’t just kill mosquitoes, they also kill everything else including bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects.

I realize a lot of people don’t like insects, but we NEED these insects. Our food system relies on them. I don’t think most people know or understand the impact that spraying their yard for mosquitoes has on our food system.

Yes, I’m a gardener and every year I hope for an abundant harvest from my garden, but this isn’t about my garden. This is effecting food on a much larger scale. This is about the food on everyone’s table.

Our pollinators are disappearing at alarming rates and our food is going to follow. This isn’t something we can ignore or pretend isn’t happening. It’s not going to be okay or correct itself on its own.

This time of the year, when everything is in bloom, my yard is typically abuzz with bees and other insects feeding on the nectar and pollen from dandelions, creeping charlie, flowering crabs and dogwoods. This year I have seen a couple of wasps pass through and a handful of flies. That’s it.

It would be so easy to blow it off and try to reason our way out of why I don’t see them in my yard, but the truth of the matter is that I work to create a bee, butterfly and insect friendly yard and they are not here. My yard is a minute sample of the greater picture. Looking at my yard is like looking through a sample under a microscope. If the insects aren’t in my yard, that means they aren’t around.

Am I worried that the fruits and vegetables in my yard won’t get pollinated and will produce less fruit? Of course. But what really bothers me is that the fruits and vegetables on a greater scale aren’t getting pollinated,  which is a much larger problem.

All of this makes me so sad. They are making it so fast, cheap and easy to kill-off the insects that we think are a nuisance but fail to tell people that they are also killing off insects  that pollinate the plants that give us our food.

We have smoking policies in place to protect people who don’t smoke from breathing in second hand smoke.

Spraying our yards doesn’t work the same way. If we spray, we are not just impacting our yard and our neighbors, we are impacting life on the larger scale.

We need to stop pretending that what we do in our yard is our choice and that it doesn’t impact anyone else, because it does. It impacts EVERYONE else.

The next time you go to buy groceries, look at the produce section and imagine it empty or sparce with extremely expensive produce. Imagine coffee so expensive that it becomes a luxury. Do you hate spending so much money on groceries? It’s going to continue to get more and more expensive and we will have less and less available if we don’t change what we are doing.

We need to fix our system, fast. Some states are banning neonicotinoide pesticides. A couple of cities in the Twin Cities metro area have also banned them. But until they are fully non-existent we need to be our own advocates.

That’s not to mention the detrimental effects directly on people. Pesticides are also hormone – altering (endocrine disruptors) which alter the natural function of our bodies in many, many dangerous ways.

If our world were balanced, it should be ungodly expensive to spray both herbicides and pesticides because the effects are damaging on a global level. Damaging to our health, damaging to our food system, not to mention damaging to the soil, water and air we breathe.

It shouldn’t cost $59 to kill everything that lives in a 1/3 of an acre lot, it should cost at lot more than that because in reality, it does.