Category Archives: Edible Landscaping

Planting Strawberries

Strawberry Plant

Strawberry Plant

The first week of May this year, we brought home some strawberry plants to join us by the patio. I haven’t grown strawberries before, but I’m excited to see how it goes.

These plants weren’t just an impulse buy. To prepare for our new arrivals:
* I prepared the bed and enriched the soil last year. See Clearing the Way for Strawberries by the Patio.
* I read about strawberries in a number of books. One recent book was: The Backyard Berry Book.
* I waited for spring to come. Although the books indicated that I could have planted sooner, it didn’t feel right until May came.

I decided to plant two varieties of strawberries: June-bearing and everbearing. I am hoping that the June-bearing crop (Allstar) allows us to have a nice harvest all at once, while the everbearing fruits (Ozark Beauty) will be fun for the kids to snack on when we’re playing outside. Since this is the first year, I’ll need to remove the flower buds from the June-bearing strawberries to encourage the roots to be established well. For the everbearing strawberries, I read that I could remove the flower buds until July 1st and then allow the plants to flower and produce fruit after that.

Here are some other strawberry growing tips that I’ve read:
* When planting the new strawberry plants, choose a cool, cloudy day.
* Planting depth is important for the strawberry’s crown. Not too deep, not too high.
* Add a light mulch, such as straw.
* Make sure the plants get one inch of water per week. If the rain isn’t coming, watering in the morning is best.
* Keep the beds well weeded.
* After harvest is finished for June-bearing plants, mow off the foliage (don’t damage the crown) to prevent leaf diseases and encourage strong plant growth.
* Berries appear ripe one month after blossoms have started to appear.
* Pick strawberries with the stems and caps on and place them in a shallow container (3-4 layers deep). Morning is the best time to pick strawberries.
* Refrigerate strawberries as soon as possible after picking and don’t wash them or remove the caps until use.
* Strawberries are ok for 4-5 days in the refrigerator.
* If there are moldy or rotted strawberries, dispose of them away from the strawberry plants.

Patio bed after planting strawberries

Patio bed after planting strawberries

I am hopeful that we will have a nice crop of strawberries next year.

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Updates in the Vegetable Garden (September 27, 2013)

The vegetable garden in August.

The vegetable garden in August.

As autumn arrives, the gardens are still producing. Much has grown in the last two months of the garden!

There weren’t many problems to report. Leaf miners returned to visit the swiss chard, but didn’t do much damage. A white powder appeared on the topside of some plants leaves, but didn’t seem to harm the plants. Squirrels and rabbits enjoyed fallen apples and pears and didn’t bother the ones on the trees much. The rabbits also noticed the ground cherries at some point, but we still managed to find more on the ground each day. Yes, there are many weeds in the garden, but I haven’t felt a need to go after them.

My daughter's zinnia plants kept offering purple flowers for her to pick and bring in the house.

My daughter’s zinnia plants kept offering purple flowers for her to pick and bring in the house.

There were many joyful surprises in the garden. I’m not usually crazy about flowers (perhaps you remember my rant about rose bushes) unless the plant offers a practical benefit (something edible or deterring pests), but zinnias have found a place in my heart. My daughter received the seeds at a children’s garden party and she loves to go out and pick the flowers. Watching her put them in a vase on the kitchen table brings joy to our home. They have continued to produce new flowers with determination, so they seem to be a hardy sort of plant. We’ll have to buy some more seeds next year.

Late additions to the garden in the last two months included some wheat grass in a tray and more carrots and peas in my kids’ container garden. We were having plenty to pick and eat so I didn’t worry much about succession planting. Summer gets to be a busy time of year.

Here are more vegetable- and fruit-specific updates:

Zucchini soup was a wonderful evening meal with grated zucchini, carrots, celery, onion, potato, and parsley.

Zucchini soup was a wonderful evening meal with grated zucchini, carrots, celery, onion, potato, and parsley.

Zucchini: Wow. The first one I found was a monster that surely must have grown overnight. And they just kept coming. We made zucchini bread, many bowls of zucchini soup, and enjoyed slicing them up to eat right out of the garden. They taste best when they are small and tender, about 4 or 5 inches long.

Broccoli: The heads were small, but the taste and texture was delicious. It was a nice snack to just chop off a piece to eat with the kids in the afternoon.

Peas: The ‘Tom Thumb’ variety of peas wasn’t too impressive. Little growth, small pods, and then they were done. We’ll go with a different variety next year.

Shells and dry beans.

Shells and dry beans.

Hidatsa Beans: We watched the beans go from being skinny and green to swollen and brown. The dried shells cracked open and revealed maroon-colored beans inside. It was interesting seeing where dry beans come from. I knew it would happen but seeing it with my own eyes was quite the learning experience. The kids enjoyed helping to thresh and pull out the beans. Some of the beans dried right in the garden and sometimes we let a vine hang upside-down in the kitchen to finish drying. If the beans were a little soft, we just left them on the counter to dry out more. Now we just need to try to cook them!

Carrots: These were fun for the kids. The ‘Short n’ Sweet’ variety worked well in the kids’ container garden and were good to eat. With new seeds planted in early September, I hope we can pick more yet this year.

Swiss Chard: We got tired of swiss chard after about a month. The taste seemed to get more bitter over time when eaten raw (our preferred way of eating things). They were pretty in the gardens and a sauté with broccoli and turnips early in the summer was delicious, but I don’t think I’ll plant them again next year.

The cucumbers were cute hanging on the bamboo trellis, despite the spiky exterior.

The cucumbers were cute hanging on the bamboo trellis, despite the spiky exterior.

Cucumber: Another good afternoon snack! Picking a cucumber to slice up and eat warm out of the garden was great. After rubbing off the prickly spikes on the outside, the skin was so soft and edible (unlike the tough skins on large grocery store cucumbers which we often peel off).

Red Peppers: It took a while for the green peppers to take on a bright red, but it was worth the wait. They were beautiful and delicious! We sliced them up to eat raw and warm from the garden.

Tomatillos: Hanging like green lanterns, these were a fun experiment in our garden. We hadn’t had tomatillos before, so of course, we just sliced them up to try them raw. We weren’t a fan of them raw. After a failed attempt at salsa verde (I accidentally made it too spicy to consume without burns to mouth and nose), these became a good donation to the food pantry. Hopefully someone with a knack for salsa-making can enjoy the harvest from this plant until I’m willing to make another attempt. My husband found recipes for strawberry-tomatillo pie and fried tomatillos, so that would be some other fun things to try in the future.

Plain yogurt, milk, strawberries, blueberries, and wheat grass.

Plain yogurt, milk, strawberries, blueberries, and wheat grass.

Wheat Grass: After getting some free seeds from the Madison Children’s Museum at the opening of the Urb Garden, we planted them in a shallow tray of compost and set them on the patio. The grass grew and we cut some off to add to a smoothie. It was ok. Our blender shredded the grass pretty well, but there were still a few strings. And it tasted a bit like grass. But hopefully the health benefits made it worth it.

Ground Cherries: These plants keep them coming slow and steady! It has been nice to pick these little fruits off the ground each day to nibble on. My son especially loves to go outside and look for them.

Large Tomatoes from church seedlings: Despite a late planting, no cage, and some storms that threw the plants to the ground, tomato seedlings from our church’s food pantry garden brought us a pleasant surprise. We were never crazy about large tomatoes from the grocery store, with their tough skin, watery inside, and bland taste. But we figured we ought to try the large tomatoes that grew from these seedlings. Wow! The taste and meaty texture was exceptional. Someone at church thought they might be an heirloom variety. We will definitely be planting more next year and further exploring the world of home-grown tomatoes.

The nasturtium seedling thrived and brought happiness to the garden.

The nasturtium seedling thrived and brought happiness to the garden.

Nasturtium: Although the spicy nasturtium leaves and flowers weren’t a hit at our house, we enjoyed the beautiful flowers in the garden. The nasturtium planted from seed didn’t get nearly as large as the purchased seedling.

Apples: Our red and green apple trees have brought us much joy this apple season. I’ve made a number of batches of applesauce and we have been eating them right off the tree and sharing them with friends. The red apples have quite a few blemishes from pests, but the green apples are mostly perfect. Both are delicious. I’ve been debating trying to prune these trees to keep them short and healthy, but I don’t want to jeopardize the harvest in future years.

Pears: Our pear tree produced about 25 pears this year. I read online that pears don’t ripen on the tree, so I picked the pears green and put them in the refrigerator for about a week or so. Then I placed them on the kitchen counter to ripen for another two weeks. They slowly turned yellow and became soft, at which point, I returned them to the refrigerator. We’ve been eating them raw and enjoying their sweetness. One of the pears had a worm crawling out of it (coddling moth?) which was a little creepy, but generally, they’re mostly blemish- and pest-free. I have debated trying out a recipe with them, such as pear butter, but we’ll probably have them all eaten before I find some time.

A woodpecker pecking at the bamboo trellis over the mostly-finished beans.

A woodpecker pecking at the bamboo trellis over the mostly-finished beans.

As you can see from the harvest totals, much has been picked since my last update:
* Swiss Chard: 338 g
* Carrots: 180 g
* Nasturtium: 9 g
* Peas: 54 g
* Wheat Grass: 18 g
* Zucchini: 2509 g
* Broccoli: 250 g
* Cucumber: 682 g
* Cilantro: 9 g (not all weighed)
* Basil: ? (not weighed)
* Hidatsa Beans (dry): 79 g
* Red Peppers: 276 g
* Sun Gold Tomatoes: 500 g
* Red Sweetie Tomatoes: 545 g
* Ground Cherries: 352 g
* Cherry Tomatoes from church seedlings: 463 g
* Large Tomatoes from church seedlings: 496 g
* Tomatillos: 246 g (more haven’t been picked)
* Green apples: 1014 g (many more to pick and some eaten without being weighed!)
* Red apples: 8396 g
* Pears: 3044 g

This brings the harvest total up to 7075 g (16 lb) for vegetables and 12,454 g (27 lb) for fruit so far. Not bad for our first year with a backyard garden! It’s a minor chore to weigh all the vegetables and fruits as they come in the house and write down the numbers, but it certainly is interesting to see how our gardening efforts are paying off. In the future, it will also be nice to look back and see how our garden has changed from year to year.

Clearing the Way for Strawberries by the Patio

Just off of our kitchen through a patio door sits our 16’ x 16’ patio. This area has a turtle sandbox and a container on wheels with my kids’ swiss chard and carrots. In the mulched area surrounding the concrete, the previous owners had planted two variegated dogwoods, two daylilies, a rhododendron, and four rose bushes. There are also a few small variegated hostas beneath the dogwoods. The patio is a pleasant area, but not the most practical use of space.

When I gaze across the yard to our vegetable garden, I often think how nice it would be if it could change places with the patio garden: the perennials could be across the yard and the fresh fruits and vegetables could be right outside our door (if only our patio had full sun). Not only would it be more convenient, but the rhododendron and roses weren’t looking so good. When we moved in last summer during a drought, the rhododendron leaves turned a reddish-brown color and curled up into claw-like hands. The roses may have been chewed down by rabbits, and all that remained were thick sticks poking out of the ground with sharp thorns.

Some of the former rose bushes along the west side of our patio, as seen last summer.

Some of the former rose bushes along the west side of our patio, as seen last summer.

I’ve never been a fan of roses (more on this later), but when my son accidentally stepped on one with his bare feet early in the spring, I started mentally dreaming about replacing the rhododendron and roses with something edible. As the weather continued to warm, the rhododendron started to grow new leaves on one side and I appreciated it’s fight to survive. A couple of the rose bushes grew a few paltry leaves, but during strawberry season, I knew I would much rather have berries in that garden space than roses. Should I need a rose, the previous owner of our house had planted plenty more in the front yard.

It was gratifying ripping out those four rose bushes. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve never been a fan of roses. For the 10 minutes that I pulled up those patio rose bushes, I almost felt like a superhero, fighting the malicious desires of society for superficial beauty. Roses, with their bright colors and large perfect swirls, are flamboyant, showy, ostentatious… luring people in with lustful desire. And then what is beneath those flowers? The rose’s true self: devil-tinted leaves, sharp pruned-back sticks, and poking thorns. Pushing a shovel into the ground and torqueing out the rose bushes, roots and all, I was on a crusade to replace evil with edibles.

The area that the four rose bushes occupied is on the west side of our patio and is about 2 feet by 18 feet, bordered by landscape timbers. It receives only partial sun, being shaded occasionally throughout the day by a large honey locust tree in the middle of our backyard. I read that it’s good to prepare the soil a year ahead of time for berries, so I intend to loosen the soil and work in some manure or compost this summer. Then I’ll have some time to research which variety of strawberries to select. My hope is that next spring, some young strawberry plants will enjoy making their home here.

Picking fresh strawberries at Appleberry Farm, just outside of Madison, WI.

Picking fresh strawberries at Appleberry Farm, just outside of Madison, WI.

It makes sense to grow strawberries at home. Strawberries are a good source of antioxidants, but they last only a couple days in the refrigerator. Buying organic strawberries at the grocery store can be expensive and non-organic strawberries have high pesticide residue. We enjoy going to local u-pick farms (like Appleberry Farm) to buy strawberries, but then we need to process them all in the same short timeframe. It would be nice to have some available right in our backyard, to be even closer to our food and to pick them when we want to eat them.

If you have any advice about preparing soil for strawberries or a good variety for partial sun, I look forward to reading your comments!

Photos from the People’s Garden

FPL People's Garden SignLast Saturday, after attending the Fitchburg Fields Garden Fair, I stopped over at the People’s Food Forest Garden next to Forest Products Laboratory for their work day. This garden is an effort that is part of the USDA People’s Garden Initiative. According to the fact sheet, “this unique garden was designed to provide a sampling of the USDA’s efforts to teach others how to nurture, maintain, and protect a healthy landscape.”

USDA People's Food Forest Garden

USDA People’s Food Forest Garden

I enjoyed seeing permaculture practices up close. Being on a hillside, erosion and runoff were problems prior to the addition of swales and berms that slow and absorb rainwater. The garden is centered around a hawthorn and three crabapple trees, with additional plantings to create guilds that support these trees. There are fruiting plants such as currants, highbush cranberries, elderberries, bush cherries, and strawberries. Yarrow and bergamot attract beneficial insects. There are nitrogen-fixing plants like lupines, and nutrient accumulators like comfrey. Chives and daylilies along an edge help keep back the grass and weeds.

Creeping Charlie

Creeping Charlie

During Saturday’s work day, I helped pull up Creeping Charlie along the edge of the garden. Other volunteers spread new mulch, investigated the swales, and pruned bushes and trees. The day was windy with some brief sprinkles and hail, but it was relaxing and enjoyable, sitting under a crabapple tree with wonderful plant smells in the air, focused on that Creeping Charlie with little purple flowers.

On Thursday evening, the Madison Area Permaculture Guild toured the gardens for our monthly meeting. Below are some photos I took of the plants.

Hawthorn tree

Hawthorn tree


Crabapple tree with an edible apple graft

Crabapple tree with an edible apple graft


Comfrey

Comfrey


Yarrow

Yarrow


Lupine

Lupine


Bayberry

Bayberry


Virginia Blue Bells

Virginia Blue Bells


Lavender

Lavender


Prairie Indigo

Prairie Indigo


Currant

Currant


Clove Currant

Clove Currant


Elderberry/Sambucus

Elderberry/Sambucus


Bush Cherry

Bush Cherry


Strawberry

Strawberry


Daylilies

Daylilies


Chives

Chives

If you would like to visit the garden, it is located by the westside of the University of Wisconsin campus off Observatory Drive. The address is 1 Gifford Pinchot Drive and the garden sits between the Forest Products Laboratory building and their Research Demonstration House.

Making Urban Permaculture Happen

I’m very impressed by a recent project undertaken by Joshua Feyen, also known as the Urbane Farmer (http://blog.joshuafeyen.com/). A city homeowner right here in Madison, WI at 1933 E. Mifflin, he planned and coordinated a work day to plant a fruit forest in his 30’x30′ front yard. He sketched out a plan, had two trees removed, collected a huge amount of materials, and coordinated many volunteers to come and help for four hours. They made berms and swales, laid down sheet mulch, planted fruit trees and shrubs, and throughout the whole project, made a time-lapse video!

That orchard planting is what permaculture is all about. What was once a useless plot of grass was transformed into a productive and healthy area. Permaculture design principles were mindfully considered to create a plan. Resources not typically utilized by many city dwellers were gathered together to revitalize the land. People worked together in the spirit of progress. I’m sure there were many details to plan, research to do, challenges to overcome, and perhaps some doubts along the way, but that’s what we all need to face to save our planet, one project at a time.

As my husband and I go about planning projects around our house, we often find ourselves getting stuck. Part of it is finding time since we have two little kids, but part of it is also identifying the best techniques and resources. We want to remove the landscaping timbers on one side of the house, but an axe and wrecking bar barely make a dent. We want to add soil on the south corner of the house, but where can we get good soil at a good price? I want our vegetable garden to be a success, but which obstacles should we tackle first? How do we plant around a large fruit tree without disturbing its roots and where can I get some comfrey? There are many questions along the way for each project and it’s not easy to put together all the puzzle pieces to make a project happen quickly and successfully. But we must try to keep moving forward.

Thank you to Joshua Feyen for this inspiring project and for documenting the process so that others can learn from it!