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?

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More on that in the near future!

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

Kate

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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!!! 

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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,
Kate

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.
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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).
Kate

November 23, 2015

Chicken Drama

Somewhere between the sleepless nights and way-too-early mornings, thoughts pass through my foggy consciousness and call me to write. Then the moment slips away, baby’s brief nap ends and I’m back to being that little girl’s everything.
If I had a minute to write, I’d tell you about our chicken, Jolene, who died last fall. I’d tell you that in a moment of weakness for little fuzzy creatures, I agreed to get a baby chick this spring. I’d tell you that the baby chick lived in my son’s closet with a light on 24/7 through much of the summer and that my hot-blooded kid couldn’t sleep with his ceiling fan on because his chick could get chilled. I’d tell you that she moved from his closet to a dog kennel in the coop with the other girls and finally officially became one of the girls and moved in “for real”.

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Berry – The New Girl

I’d also tell you about how some days, being a chicken mom stinks because your son comes in from the coop crying because his new chick’s head is bloody from being pecked by one of the other hens. I’d tell you how much fun it is to coordinate moving a chicken out of the coop into her vacation home in the compost bin.

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Find Billina

And I’d tell you how easy it is to chase a chicken around with blue hair spray that’s supposed to protect her head and help her heal, but instead you end up spraying the wrong chicken, the chicken swing, the door and her face, making her look like she has a blue beard. I’d tell you that Billina (a.k.a. Bully-na) is currently looking to find a more permanent residence than her vacation home in the compost bin, she would really like to downsize into a small retirement home. And I’d tell you that the girls had a visit from a couple wild turkeys a few days ago. But alas, I’ve got to run, the baby is crying and needs to be fed, so I’ll have to save those stories for next time.

All my best,
Kate 😉