I have been writing so much this summer, which has been amazing. My family is working with me to create online courses in permaculture related to herbalism, sustainability, and regenerative practices. It has been wonderful to sit and write for hours at a time. I have almost 600 pages of content written in that we have created the content for the course modules, and then several workbooks to go along with them as well as a draft for a book!
have also been working to include pollinator plantings and sustainable garden information as a part of the Pollinator Steward Certification I have been working on for the past few months. It was wonderful to watch their 10 hour virtual training over the course of planting planning and planting season so that we could review what we are doing and incorporate more pollinator friendly elements in our acres. For that certification, we have been honing our pollinator gardens as well as organizing educational content, working on including more articles and information on growing pollinator plants, and working on educational materials that people can use to make their own gardens pollinator friendly. So many medicinal herbs that we all use are also native plants and pollinator plants, there is not any reason to not include as many pollinator species as possible in our plantings and add habitat, shelter, water, and other pollinator-friendly elements into our designs to support them. Supporting pollinators also increases our yields, reduces pest damage in many cases, and keeps our ecosystems healthier.
With that, I have been writing over on SubStack as a platform that I think is easier to use for folks and is more on demand. So, if you have not subscribed to my Substack, you can do so at:
I will be sharing more of our pollinator tips and sustainable gardening info this summer as we create more content and record our videos!
While I love the clinical education on plants used for aromatherapy and herbalism (I love teaching!), I also love love love just talking to folks about how to grow their own, and demystify growing medicinals for anyone who wants to use herbs in any way.
I started growing medicinal and culinary herbs in pots on our deck when we first moved to Wisconsin. In Chicago I had some window plants, but no outdoor space, so I craved green. We were on the second floor, and had a 6x12 or so small deck. At first I had a few pots, in the second year I had a packed deck with barely enough room to sit. From there we moved to a duplex rental, which was much larger and had a back deck by the kitchen and a small front porch. I had some plants there, but also had a newborn. When I became pregnant with our second (when the first was 11 months old), we moved to our first home. It was a 1400 square foot small home with a new urbanism design. That meant almost no yard. New urbanism works to decrease expanses of lawn and waste of water for lawns. The houses had a 10' or so front yard and no back yard as the garages went out the back to a carriage lane. The yards were only on one side, going from our siding up to the neighbors siding. Our yard was 18 feet wide, and less than 100 feet long. When we moved in, I started by planting food in our landscaping areas. Then I expanded into pots on the deck. And then I started carving out both sides of the yard - over 11 years we ended up with all food plants and only a walking path down the center. Every other space was perennials, annuals, fruit, vegetables, medicinal herbs, flowers.
We moved to have a bigger yard, but quickly realized we needed a community garden plot as well. Our next home had a traditional backyard, but an HOA, so we managed the plantings within landscaping for visual appeal. It was still food and medicine - but the blueberry bush along the front entry sidewalk was next to flowering Echinacea, Black Cohosh, Hyssop, and other beautiful flowerin plants.
The next year we realized we needed more space for our #happyflowerproject, where we grew flowers for the food pantry, so we managed to find someone who bartered for space to grow on her farm. We did that for two summers while still growing on our deck and in landscaping on our home.
After a few years there, we realized we could grow in a larger space and that we wanted acres. My worry was always as a person with RA/SLE and other autoimmune issues combined with getting older, it would be too much to manage. But, gradually scaling up made me realize that as long as you plant perennials as well as annuals, expand a little every year, carefully plan location, water, expansions, and plants, that you can create a low work high yield garden space, no matter how much space you have.
I always tell folks how easy it is for them to grow their own herbs, no matter if it is only pots on a small deck or acres of blank canvas. I know this is true, because I have done it all myself!
This year our plan is to do more sharing on the blog and YouTube to help people grow their own medicinal and aromatic herbs, culinary herbs, and perennial foods using permaculture and organic, regenerative practices. We have some Lunar Hollow Farm online classes in the works, and plan to publish more ebooks, garden plans, and other freebies! We also hope to do mini courses on the things we love to do and we always get questions on - sourdough, smart home systems, smart farm systems, herbs for chickens, seed starting, and so on. This is a whole family endeavor, and we are all excited to share.
Growing herbs is not hard. The more we grow our own the less waste we generate - no plastic baggies in shipping boxes coming from around the world - and the more we appreciate and connect with the plants we are using, as we nurtured them from seeds to tea. We don't have to grow everything, but we can start with a few of our favorites that can grow well in our zones/regions/climates. Growing our own also saves money, and super fresh, carefully harvested at their peak and gently dried herbs, are often more flavorful, colorful, aromatic, and vibrant than bulk herbs. Growing something yourself that you can pull out of a jar in January and drink while sitting by the fire is one of the most rewarding feelings. Can't wait to share more!
It felt so odd typing 2020 into the title. Can you believe we are almost at 2020? That is amazing. I am excited to enter this new decade in our space, expanding and honing our vision for this land.
This is the time of year where any spare time is spent looking throughout seed catalogs, comparing the seeds I purchased last year with my notes on how things did where, seeing what I still have some seeds for, and what I need to purchase. We had so many things do so well last summer, and we had a lot of new things go into the ground we won't see a harvest from for several years. Some of our woodland medicinals fall into that category as they take several years from seed - and we have some from bare root and some from seed. We may not see Goldenseal for awhile, but we know it is there.
The plan for 2020 is to expand all of the garden areas, increase the forest guilds, plant around the whole back garage building, plant more natives and water loving plants in the moist areas, and more drought tolerant natives where it is dry. I love posting my lists to the blog because is it a great thing to have when I look back next year, comparing notes and memories. It also makes me feel more accomplished when working on a few acres, because when you don't plant in rows, sometimes it looks like not a lot is there, when in actuality it is a vast amount of plant materials, but spread out over land as plant do naturally in the wild.
2020 Medicinal Perennials
It feels like we have a small part of the acres planted, but when I look at that list I feel pretty satisfied that we have been working forward in our 15 months living here. One thing we are working towards is creating a botanical sanctuary space where we can give plant walks and where we work to preserve wild plants from our region and county. We are lucky to be very near a large state wildlife area that is several thousand acres with no trails, no parking (other than a few gravel spots on the highway). In studying some of the rare Wisconsin plants found in that area, I am able to focus also look to grow some of these endangered plants that are found within a mile of our land. Our area is a part of the wetland drumlin complex left when the Wisconsin glacier receded, and we have tamarack and mixed deciduous forest, drumlins (our house is along the edge of a drumlin), and the wildlife area even has a tamarack bog. Yes, I am a botany geek. It has so many unique grasses, sedge, and plants such as sensitive fern, marsh ettle, bellwort, bloodroot, blue cohosh, rue-anemone, canada mayflower, and even a rare bog rosemary. Wisconsin even has an orchid species, that has been reported in that area. We know that area also has muskrat, otter, mink, deer, cranes, wood ducks, fish, and many other animals and species that reflect how amazingly diverse this area has always been. If we can plant and diversity even a few acres of land, we will have a pretty spectacular place here. Big goals. One step at a time.
This has been our first growing season at this property. It was a good idea to start smaller, and build a few garden areas first, and see how the wind, water, sun, animals, and insects are. Some things did amazingly well - we still have tomatoes up to our eyeballs in late September - and some things, meh (beans? where are the beans?). The medicinal herbs bed was a good start as well. It was enough to manage 5 different locations of herbs as I went through a summer finding an amazingly wide variety of medicinals growing wild on our land or road.
As we wander towards October, things are winding down and and yet we also still have so much happening. I love the location of the main food bed, and it will be easy to expand along down the side every year, and to slip a greenhouse in that area as well. I can tell what herbs I need to grow more of next year, what I should pull, and where to transplant out some of the bush seed starts that will be ready to upgrade to their own areas next year (St. John's Wort!).
Draper, our dog, and I, have walked miles and miles this summer on the land. My step tracker says I hit 40-50K a week, and that is mostly here. Back and forth, up and down, side to side, all the way around. I am so happy at how many medicinals and natives we have growing here, and am pretty happy with the start of both the front and back orchards. We had one tree seller that had a horrible die rate (and a really ridiculously work-intensive hoop jumping return guarantee), but other plants have all done really well. WE have apple, plum, peach, pear, cherry, elderberry, nannyberry, aronia, goji, raspberry, currants and more - all that will hopefully have fruit by next year.
I am especially happy that I still feel good here, like walking, rarely see another person, haven't had any issues with animals, only minimal insects (deer flies in July - I'm talking about you - and I haven't missed since you disappeared). It still feels right and good. And beautiful and big. The views are still wow, the smell of the air and the wonderful blue skies and light breezes are amazing.
We will now start thinking about prepping the chicken coop and run for winter. I have some ideas that I need to test out - I want some areas sheltered from huge snowdrifts, but also want to still be able to see them so if anything gets in there with them, I know. I want to rig an insulation panel system that uses velcro for panels that go up and down for ease of cleaning (and there is rafter ventilation). The solar light system is good, and we had an outlet put along the back wall so we can run a water de-icer out there and a light for winter. We have great motion sensor lighting system, but want more inside the coop light. My husband wants to move them against the house for winter, but I don't want mice and think they should stay where they are, so we shall see.
I can't wait to pick all our pumpkins we grew, see the leaves change, and pull in for fall and winter. I am in need of a nice winter of fireplaces, baking, and working on my writing projects. Here is to a good first year. xo
Summer has been in full force here. Record breaking heat, storms, winds, sunsets. All spring it was a lot of work, but also a lot of discovery. We first looked at this home last July and moved in September, with only a few hours on the property in between. So, it was a guess about the land, the plants, the soil. We have been really happy to find so many natives and medicinal plants growing here. For awhile it was a daily discover, and now in peak summer, I have identified a lot of what is growing here. We have been very lucky to find (I'm sure I am forgetting a few):
sThere were also many garden plants in ground besides the trees including asparagus, raspberry, and strawberry.
We also have been working to plant a lot of food and medicinals. We started by creating a few beds in one primary area and widening a few existing beds. We got a lot into the ground. We started a beautiful triangle medicinal bed and a strip along the food bed for plants that can be moved out into more of a permaculture guild design ongoing - including wormwood, anise hyssop, tulsi, skullcap, brahmi, calendula, white horehound, dagga, echinacea, milkweed, lemon balm, spearmint, peppermint, St. John's Wort, mugwort, hyssop, clary sage, elecampane, Moldavian dragonhead balm, lavender, agrimony, thyme, sage, evening primrose, and a bunch more. We also got plants such as rose, valerian, solomon's seal, black cohosh, american ginseng and a few others into the ground, but it will take a few years to see anything. We also have about 50 pots with herbs on our deck and stairs in back that includes rosemary, fig, lemon, lime, passionflower, and more culinary goodies that like heat. We installed a few flower cutting beds as well, to have fresh flowers all summer - which is nice. We have also been preserving and pickling away from our food beds.
I feel like there are not enough hours in the day, but that is the nature of working a few acres, homeschooling, volunteering almost full time, having a mentor, volunteering in clinic, taking several classes, and trying to have a life! I am enjoying summer as much as I can, while also starting to look forward to autumn and winter for downtime (ha!).
All of that and I have not even mentioned our dog, chickens, or bees. We not only got a new house, we got a whole new life.
More later. Because one thing I have noticed is that I mess the blogs of the 00's. When we would write, share, read, comment, and have actual conversations. I feel overwhelmed by instagram and facebook a bit. More of a throw everything at the wall and see what sticks endeavor, not conscious thoughts assembled to share connect. I mean, I suppose there are people trying to do that, but the more "popular" one is on social media, the more it is just posting to get everyone to tell you how amazing you are. Not anything that benefits the relationship between the two or the reader/viewer. Mostly a poster ego stroke, and I am just not into that. I feel like I want to get some of the old engagement and conversation back. SO, I will be writing likely to myself, for myself, with only myself to read it, but ... it is time to take back this space. until then.
We have had a few months settling in, getting used to wind, water, slope, drainage. Bugs, animals (lots of animals). We have been working to develop a big plan for planting, but really wanted to get to know things a bit first.
We have been working on the big plan - where the beehives will go, the compost pile, the coop, the cutting garden, the food garden, the fruit trees/orchard, the cane fruit, the nut trees, the medicinal gardens, the greenhouse. I have been working on and tweaking a digital plan (see above). We adopted a dog recently, and so I have been walking the perimeter in sun, rain, and snow, so some of that will change as I have walked the land so much I have a better idea of space and light and drainage.
I am trying to make gradual process in some areas, but I also want to get a lot done (without burning out my family helpers). We laid out some black tarps in the fall, planted some canes and fruit, deer-proofed the small plants - we see a dozen deer a day on our property - and then plotted out where the other beds will go and where we hope to install the high tunnel. We have many bare root and 2nd year plants coming in the spring, so we will plant as we get them! We have our starter beehives and bees will be coming this spring. We have a plan for chickens and geese, but we may ease into that as we recently got a dog and there is much work to be done to get this all started, and more coop and animal care might be too much for everyone. We shall see how we feel once the snow starts to melt!
Our goal is to create not only a permaculture farmette here with food and medicinal plants, but also educational gardens and a space for classes. By working to preserve endangered plants as we can, this space will become a botanical sanctuary, caring for pollinators, plants, and people.
We setup a large seed starting system and I have started seeds. I will share more on that later - but here is our big plan for this year.
2019 Planting Plan
If you follow me on facebook or instagram you likely already know the news. We are moving! We have been in this home for 3 years, but we have always had in the back of our mind that we would move again for the right property. Acres. With high speed internet. Rural, but accessible to the airport for my husband who travels on business. We have always felt uncomfortable with people right there when we are in the garden. We are lucky that we actually have great neighbors that we love to chat with, but it still feels like a fishbowl.
From February to June this year we had constant issues with my older son's health. The mast cells are wreaking havoc and his body is reacting and responding to everything. Over a few months he had a biopsy, 2 MRIs, a few scopes, a dozen blood draws, and an urgent care visit. We have some answers and we have been making changes via foods and herbs to support him ongoing - but all of that pretty much reinforced the idea that we need a place where we can settle in for the long haul and where we can just work together as a family. A home that works for us now, and will work for us with adult child or children still living at home. We found one home that was amazing and after a hectic week we discovered the owner used an open house to push an existing accepted offer - and we just wasted time even trying.
About a week after that we were in a small town 40 minutes east and I half heartedly mentioned a house I saw that was nearby - should we drive by? We drove past and immediately called the realtor for a showing the next day. We have been wary of homes that have been lived in since mu son and I react to everything people have used in the home - cleaners, detergents, plug-ins, air fresheners, you name it. But we were in the house for an hour without any reaction. It was spotless, well maintained (anal retentively, almost, which is good). The only house you can *see* when standing anywhere on the property is almost a mile away (there are closer neighbors, but there is a large wooded area of pines, so we cannot see them). Glorious. We put in an offer before we had even listed our house and it was accepted.
We had a frantic week of packing half of everything we own to stage the house for the realty photographer and an open house. The house was listed on that Thursday and on Sunday the open house happened. On Wednesday we had an offer and our house was sold (we have amazing realtor team too). I am not much of a woo person, but I have always felt if something is too hard it wasn't meant to happen. This came together perfectly because it is what we need at this time.
We had high speed internet tested - and it is indeed high speed. The well was tested and it is deep and clean. We had the house inspected and it is not only beautiful, but in great condition. While I can't wait to update the kitchen cabinets and light fixtures throughout the house (a little country for me), it has real wood floors, floor to ceiling windows in the living room with views for miles (literally). It also has a full lower level that can be used as classroom (!!) and business space now and will be a perfect an A apartment if he needs it in the future.
We only have a month to now pack and move. A month or so is plenty of time to make big plans. We want chickens. Greenhouses. Extensive medicinal herb gardens and integrated layered permaculture systems throughout. There is a forest side - perfect for medicinal woodland plants, and plenty of flat space for serious expansion of growing. The property also already has fruit trees, restored grasses and prairie areas, and it is on a road with only 3 other homes, next door to horses. It is also zoned rural so no HOA. Plenty of room to grow food and herbs and have fresh air and sunshine.
Being in this home for a few years has been a good step for us, but we are ready to make the move to better match our lifestyle and to make a better day to day for all of us. We have been waiting and working for many years wanting big open skies, huge views, green rolling hills, and land of our own. It is time.
I realized that I haven't written about our garden in many months. Once planting season begins it seems that summer rushes by, noted only by how many days has it been since it last rained, and what is ready to pick, always hot and sunny but urgent in the need for constant weeding and tending.
Interestingly, our garden(s) took on a whole new level this summer. I don't usually like to tell people of any of our charitable projects. Doing nice things or donating to help someone get on their feet or working and volunteering to help people is something we should all do without any expectation of attention or praise. Because it is the right thing to do. But when my children are involved on this level, I like to recognize them for their kindness, generosity, and loving hearts. They are amazing humans.
Back in March while we were starting seedlings, my boys had the idea to grow flowers for the food pantry. Our community garden keeps a bin up front for the local food pantry so that any extras in the garden can go right to them. The local food pantry also has an extra large plot there managed by volunteers to grow as much fresh produce as they can as well, so they pick up the extras in the bin when they are there. We have always put our extras in the bin, but growing flowers and making bouquets so that families could have something fresh and colorful on their tables in addition to the food sounded like a fantastic idea. I wrote a letter to our local Badger Prairie Needs Network and asked if they would take flowers if we grew/bunched/delivered them. They said yes! The boys wanted to call it the Happy Flower Project (#happyflowerproject).
After getting the YES from the food pantry, we went into overdrive choosing flower seeds and starting a few hundred extra seedlings. I quickly realized that our very small community garden plot wouldn't hold that much and that our home garden wasn't developed enough yet for that many more plantings. But we really wanted to make our flower project for the food pantry work! Gulp. I kept growing those seedlings, thinking we would find a way. In May, just as I was hardening off hundreds of flowers, a local unschooler mom wrote to ask if I knew Janelle, who had garden space to spare and was looking for some people to fill it. I wrote to her and we went out to see her lovely valley where she organically raises goats and has a large organic garden plot. We were SO LUCKY to get space there, and we planted so.many.flowers. in late May and early June. My husband, as always, jumped into our family project and helped with everything. In addition to all of the flowers, we planted many medicinal herbs and two vines of cucumbers and heirloom pumpkins in that patch. This space is twice the size of the other community garden plot, and the soil is wonderful (and the goats eat our weeds by the bucketful).
We chose to plant only family food like tomatoes, peppers, peas, watermelon, and some herbs at the community garden plot as it has picky soil and isn't very big. We did plant zinnias around the perimeter for extra cutting flowers if we needed them. At home, we expanded our fruit plantings and I added additional many perennial plants in a few new small beds around the house. As we rotated weeding/harvesting/caretaking from garden to garden each week, the goat farm was quickly the favorite place for the boys as there are goats (baby goats!), chickens, and a large trampoline there. Woot! Even with how hot our summer has been, things were growing well. Of course that led to the inevitable garden crash - a few weeks ago we had a few days of torrential rain and our community garden plot was completely submerged. We ended up losing almost 100% of the plants in the community garden plot from the floodwaters and then not long after, to rot. Can you imagine how relieved I am that we had the other plot out at the goat farm? And that most of our flowers and medicinal herbs are there? We are again SO lucky.
Every Friday we go out to the farm garden to pick flowers for a few hours and transport them in buckets of water back to our house (the garden is about 15-20 minutes from home). From there we divide them by type and then create mixed bouquets. We rubberband the ends and put the bunches into fresh buckets of water. After that all that is left is that we load up our car and deliver all of the flowers to the Badger Prairie Needs Network so that they have fresh flowers for busy Saturdays! We have been filling a dozen mason jar vases each week so that the community meal tables have fresh flowers (as well as the registration desk and waiting areas). The garden has been producing more and more each week and we have been able to make dozens of bouquets - filling several buckets - for visitors to choose from each week. We are hoping to increase our bouquet count each week for a few more weeks before they start to slow down for the season.
My kids know all the hard work required in doing these bouquets, but also get to carry buckets of those flowers and a crate of filled vases into the food pantry every Friday, knowing that people have been so happy to see fresh flowers that they can take home for their table. It has been eye-opening for them to see how our local community of individuals, businesses, restaurants and chefs work together to help over 300 families in our school district alone. How chefs donate their time, how local businesses and restaurants donate all of their extra produce and meals, how local stores donate their dents and bakery items. How gardeners bring in giant bags of produce. How many volunteers donate their time to clean, prep, cook, stock, make, and feed so many people in our community. They see how even in our small town we are all a part of something together, and that it is important.
The #happyflowerproject has been a nice experience for all of us this summer, and I am so glad we jumped in head first and that so many things came together for us to make this happen. I hope the weather allows us to keep this going for as long as possible! So I am tooting a horn for my amazing kids with their kind hearts and commitment to our community. And their recognition that flowers can make people smile.
I'll share more about what we ended up growing in our 3 gardens and what we plan to pot to overwinter and which varieties we are growing again next year - but for now, just my boys. <3
Edited to add: I have had several people write to ask how we "do it all" with mast cell disease, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and asthma (etc.) on our plate. And the key is, we pick our own projects, we create our own parameters and expectations, and we deliver based on our own timeline. We accommodate ourselves. We create our own opportunities together as a family, and we do what works for us! (And, my kids are amazing.) ❤️
Once the gardens start producing, it can be a challenge to keep up. My dehydrator is going pretty much full-time, drying herbs, flowers, and veggies for use all winter long. Some herbs, such as basil, don't dry very well, so I make plenty of pesto to freeze. While I love pesto, I don't want my basil options to be so fixed all winter, so freezing more simple combinations means that I not only have plenty of pesto, but also have plenty of options for soup, stew, stir fry, rice and more, all fall/winter/spring. Freezing basil to preserve for winter is easy. I like to make herb pastes, which keep their fresh vibrant flavors and aromas and are super quick and easy to prepare. My husband thinks I missed an opportunity to name this recipe "Frozen Basil Bunnies" - but it isn't just basil that this works for, it is great for any fresh herbs. Although I agree that Fresh Herb Paste isn't *quite* as memorable as Frozen Basil Bunnies. Say that fast 10 times.
Basil is my first frozen paste because it is the herb that needs freezing the most, and I grow a LOT of it. It is so simple. Take 4 cups of freshly picked, packed basil leaves. Put them in the food processor with about 1/4 - 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil and about 1/2 tsp of fresh sea salt. I don't want to add too much salt so I have room for seasoning in recipes, but a little helps keep the vivid color and flavor. Whiz the basil/olive oil/salt in the food processor until fully blended. You may need to scrape the bowl down with a spatula in the middle of it to get all of the leaves. Depending on your type of basil and how packed it is when measuring, it will need as little as 1/4 cup of olive oil. The measurement is flexible just like the recipe. Add just enough oil to get it to fully whiz in the food processor! If you want fresh paste, voila, you are done. Put it into a canning jar in your fridge and use over the next week or so. You can also freeze it for longer storage. The recipe is per 4 cups of herbs because that fits into a food processor, but it whizzes down into a smaller amount, so you can keep going in batches to make as much as you like. I did 5 batches of basil paste and still have more left. Lots. O. Basil.
To freeze, take your paste and spoon it into ice cube trays or silicon molds and put into the freezer until frozen solid, and then pop the cubes into a freezer baggie until you need them. I like freezing in about 1/4 cup quantities as that makes it easier to only defrost what you need, rather than thawing out an entire jar. I like silicon molds because I can do bigger than an ice cube amounts. Mine are all in bunny shapes because while I have personally selected all of my herbs-only molds for my lotion bars and body bars, all of our food use silicon molds have been selected by my 11 year old, who only buys cute animal shapes. ;) So we have a whole bunch of basil bunnies in the freezer.
Fresh Herb Paste
Freezing is a quick and easy way to preserve herbs for winter!
Measure 4 cups of packed fresh herbs (remove stems).
You can do this with mixed herbs as well, of course. I made several batches that included parsley, sage, basil, rosemary, thyme, and cilantro. It is the same recipe, just vary your herbs based on your supply! Try different combos - just be sure to label!
I love growing a lot of herbs, and I love preserving them too. Since our growing season in Wisconsin is fairly short, finding many different ways to preserve things so we feel like we have a wonderful variety the rest of the year is key.
Looking for other ways to preserve your herbs? Try my veggie bouillon recipe - I love making a lot of this in the summer to use all winter long. SUCH an amazing flavor!
Pea season has arrived! I love the fresh green flavor of peas and pea shoots. I love to eat snap peas raw, pickled, sautéed, and steamed. I love to eat pea shoots in salads, wraps, stir fry, and tacos. We get peas and pea shoots from our CSA, but this is one of the things I also grow because...well...we just can't get enough. Pea season is short and sweet, and I like to make the most of it.
This year I am growing a new (to me) variety of pea called Magnolia Blossom Tendril Pea. It makes a lot of tendrils and fewer leaves, allowing more air flow in the peas. The flowers are so beautiful, and the plants are huge producers! My husband has been traveling for business most of the past few weeks, so he is missing out on the peastravaganza. This recipe is quick and easy and super delicious. It takes advantage of those freshly picked peas that are so tender they don't need to be boiled or overcooked at all, and are crispy and perfect with a few minutes in the skillet.
I am also growing Blue Spice Basil this summer and it has quickly become a favorite. It has a rich, exotic, spicy sweet fragrance that is AMAZing (and the bugs don't touch it). It worked so well with the toasted sesame oil and ginger that I am dehydrating a batch to see how it holds up when dried. Most basil doesn't dry well and so we freeze it or make pesto to preserve it. This basil has such a different thick hairy leaf and sublime fragrance that I am curious - I would love to have a lot dried to use all winter. We shall see!
snap pea + pea shoot stir fry
This recipe is perfect for pea season - it combines fresh snap peas and pea shoots with ginger, garlic, soy, and sesame oil to make a quick and easy (and delicious) dish. Serve as a side dish, or over rice for a main vegetarian course.
I am sure I am going to be sharing more pea recipes before our short season is over (peas make the best quick pickles!). Having pea season peak just as all of the herbs are cranking means that there are so many opportunities for different flavors and combinations. Fresh herbs and peas really do go well together as they all have that fresh green garden flavor that can't be beat.
My husband will be gone for a few more days so the pea stir fry today was all mine. He had better hurry though, it has been hot and peas won't last forever!
about the ingredients:
Blue Spice Basil
Magnolia Blossom Tendril Pea
Brown Sesame Seeds
The flu has occupied most of my time for the past few weeks. It worked its way though much of the household, leaving me little time to focus on seedlings or garden planning. Luckily, while an exacting schedule is important for commercial growers, for the home grower we have a lot of flexibility. I appreciate my box system when I don't have a lot of time - I go to the envelope, grab a pre-filled seed tray, and go go go.
Speaking of pre-filled. I like to make my own seed starting mix from local organic seed starting blend, a potting mix with kelp and compost, worm castings, and a sterile type of renewable coir mix. It is important to me that our potting soils, composts, and seed starting mixes don't contain certain our allergens. I am happy that when I can't find the methods or ingredients on a package or website that my local garden/hydroponics store is always happy to call and ask for me. Because of that, I tend to stick with only a few brands that I know have good practices, pay close attention to all that goes into their mix and their sources, and use hot composting methods where things are fully broken down where applicable. I also like local when possible. Because of that I tend to buy all of my soil/compost/fertilizer from just one or two local places where I know exactly what I am getting. You can find recipes for seed starting mixes online that will best suit your climate and seedlings. I start with a large storage bin and mix all of my seed starting medium in that right in my garage. I can store it there and it is easy to step out and fill another tray. To keep everything streamlined I really like pre-filling a bunch of trays so I can grab and go. Less mess and less time. As my big bin of seed starting mix gets low, I make another batch. Right up into plant out time where I use a little different blend to fill my pots and containers.
Most people who garden know how easy it is to start tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, and peas. They have been cultivated to where we can rely on good germination and pretty easy starting. Where I see people get unsure is often when you go into medicinal herbs, prairie or native plants, and more exotic or uncommon flowers and herbs. The packets talk about scarifying, stratification, scarification, and cold dormancy or extended germination. It used to seem confusing, but when I started categorizing my seeds in my box system, categorizing them into the basic types of germination wasn't too hard. I don't like to go overboard, I just like things that work well, simply. These methods may seem picky and delicate and time-consuming, but if you break it down it is pretty simple. And the bonus is you can grow some pretty cool plants you would never find in a garden center. These native plants, herbs, and flowers are also often those which are great for pollinators, attracting beneficials to your garden.
Most general seed packets will tell you to when to plant in ground, or how many weeks before last frost to start your seedlings and when to plant out. Natives, medicinal, prairie, and many more exotic plants may often require a bit more care to get them going. These seeds also often come in packets with very few seeds, meaning you want a high germination rate/success rate. There are a few common techniques specified on these seed packets, and while they may seem like a lot, it really only takes a few minutes to get things rolling.
Cold stratification means the seeds like a feeling of winter before they are ready to go. Putting the seed packs into the refrigerator for a few week gives them a kickstart. The easiest way to do this is by putting them in a baggie and labeling in/out dates for your fridge.
Another cold stratification is the moist type. I put these in a baggie in my fridge for a few weeks as well, but in a moist paper towel in the baggie, not in the packet. Be sure to note the in/out date on the bag. Some of these seeds like to get a scratch on the sandpaper first too.
Some seeds, like lavender, like cold stratification in a medium such as sand or soil. For these, I put them in a baggie in the fridge at the same time as the rest, I just put them in some potting soil in the baggie and note in/out date.
Scarification is when a seed needs to be scratched or penetrated a bit to begin the germination. A cool and moist scarification germination just means rub the seed on sandpaper, plant at the surface and lightly cover with soil, and keep cool and moist for 1-3 weeks until it germinates. Then treat it as you do the other seedlings until planting out.
There can also be warm germinators which needs soaking and scarification to germinate. For these, give a quick nick or rub with sandpaper, soak in warm water overnight, and plant, lightly covered in soil. Keep warm and moist until germination occurs, and then treat as you do other seedlings.
That may seem like a lot to do, but in reality each type only takes a few minutes. The rest of the time is watering or waiting. I like to print out blank monthly calendars from March through June and keep it in my seed box. I note how each week by week number until last frost date, so it coordinates with all of the folders with seeds. I also can easily write down when to pull the baggies out of the fridge and plant them, etc. It makes it pretty foolproof. I like that I have basically a noted calendar of each year that I can look back on next year too.
I'm feeling the effects of March. It is windy and cold, we are cooped up (with one kid after another sick). Everything is muddy over frozen so no hiking or garden work can be done yet. I am definitely stir-crazy. I know seed starting and planning the garden is one of the things that actually gets me through to spring here in Wisconsin. On the one hand I'm starting seeds!!!! On the other hand we still have 3 MONTHS before our CSA even begins. Each little tray of soil and seeds is a lifeline to warm sunny days and green grass and hours spent outside. So even though some of the seeds require a little more care and attention to get going than some of the more common vegetables and herbs, they are worth every moment in potential. I can see bees buzzing, hummingbirds swooping, smell the fragrance as the sun sets and my kids rock in the hammock. It is all good.
Speaking of good, we are picking up our mason bees and beneficial insects this week. Spring really is coming!
More seed starting and greenhouse assembling to come. :)
I also like to keep any printouts about the plants in my garden notebook. Since I grow more uncommon medicinal and tea herbs, it helps me to have detailed information on their planting, growing, and harvesting requirements. Heirloom Organics has growing guides for many medicinal and culinary herbs, vegetables, and fruit. I use their guides every year.
Over the past few weeks we have also been working on getting the seed starting setup going. We have our growing setup in the basement. It is an unfinished space, but we have my art studio, a few couches, craft & art supplies, a treadmill, rugs, a trampoline, and an office down there. With kids running around and a lot of foot traffic, I wanted to tuck the seed starting under the stairs so that it is away from the action but easy to access. We use standard shop lights for our seed starting. I have several types of bulbs, and use warm, cool, and full spectrum grow bulbs so that seedlings get a healthy dose of everything. The nice thing about under the stairs is that it is easy to install hooks to securely hang the lighting, and we have room to put the light timer, a fan, and keep supplies stored safely. We don't have anything fancy, but I can fit over 500 seedlings at a time in here (and I still have several shop lights left over at this point, so plenty of opportunity to expand). I will also have some flats on trays in sunny windows upstairs as we go along, but most seedlings will easily transition from basement to our popup outdoor greenhouses this spring. We have two small popup greenhouses, and then I added a 6'x6'x4' walk in which can hold another 2 dozen or more trays. I should be able to grow a LOT of seedlings in a pretty small amount of space. And my neighbors will only see peeks of the backyard greenhouses for a month and a half or so, before the bigger ones go back in storage.
Growing from seed takes more attention and care than buying plants at a nursery, but you can get SO MUCH MORE variety, grow organic end to end, and save a lot of money when you look at the final output. Seed starting isn't HARD, it just requires organization and a little bit of time and attention. You could easily have just two shop lights with warm and cool bulbs over a few seed trays in your basement or closet and have enough plants for your garden.
So I have my garden notebook setup and ready, my seeds are in their folders, the lights are setup, and I have all of my seed starting medium ready to mix and start. NEXT...seed starting (really)!
I find myself often attempting to describe garden planning from a purely logical DIY perspective, and failing. As much as I like to approach design with an overall organized and cohesive whole, it really is an emotionally driven thing. In our last house it took years, but I achieved the feeling I was searching for in the garden. It was private, lush, green, and vibrant. It felt like walking through a secret garden, dusk was a magical in-between time of twinkly lights and exotic floral fragrance. It was filled with a palette of colors, buzzing with bees and every kind of pollinator. Birds bathed in the the bath, hummingbirds swooped by our heads, mourning doves nested in hanging baskets. Kids played and ran and hid behind bushes or under the hammock, hands full of sticky raspberries. It was like a secret magical wonderland bursting with warm soil, sticky sweet fruit, and climbing vines.
So to this garden, where do you begin. We let it sit last summer other than some basic plantings to get the feel. It isn’t a tucked in moist rich secret garden up here. It is wide open, big sky, windswept, prairie grasses, bald eagles, stunning sunsets, starry nights. It is the singing of toads, the buzzing of grasshoppers. It is views for miles of pines, oaks, corn fields, silos and Epic. It is dry, sunny, windy, and alive. Yet I also know as more homes are built it will morph to more closely resemble mowed lawns, fences and afternoon shadows. So the big plan this year is to get a basic outline into which everything will be planted into over the years. We want rain barrels to help with watering up on this dry windy hilltop. We want fruit trees in the ground so that in a few years they will be there to not only give us apples and cherries, but also to give us some privacy and shade. We want some annuals to fill in all of the areas where the landscape plantings are still small and immature. We want to espalier more caning and vining fruit along the south side of the house. We want raised beds for some easy to water or cover spots for strawberries, greens, and delicate water lovers. We want some shade trees that will rustle and sway in the breeze.
In our last house we had some flowers, but without a lot of full sun, we really didn’t have a huge selection, not to mention our space was very limited. In this house we not only want fruiting trees, bushes and canes - we want herbs that can return every year. And I want a riot of color, fragrance, and color. I want mason bees and native pollinators buzzing. And as the sun goes down, I want my kids in the hammock inhaling the rich, exotic fragrances of thousands of flowers. I want bouquets on all of my tables. Annual flowers, and a LOT of them, is going to fill in the gaps until our garden is more established, giving us a magical, enchanting garden, somewhere to sit and walk and lie and enjoy. So with that in mind, we have a few plans.
The plan Home Garden 2016: 2-4 fruit trees, mason bees, an espalier infrastructure for the grapes/blackberries, 4-5 raised beds on south facing wall (medicinal herbs, tea herbs, cutting flower bed, greens), fruiting shade tree up front, flowering fruit bushes for future privacy as more homes built around us, a larger greenhouse for growing a lot more seedlings (got it last week - will put it together in spring!), 3-4 rain barrels, paths around raised beds, and possibly starting the integrated beds throughout yard for additional herb plantings. An attractive yet functional good sized composting system. This may not all be done this summer, but we have a master plan.
The plan Community Garden 2016: a greater variety of medicinal and tea herbs, bigger variety of flowers for cutting, remove all the duplicates from our CSA, add more unique vegetables to supplement CSA share. The community garden plot is just 20x20, so it is small enough to not be overwhelming, and big enough to grow a good variety of things intensively. It is very sunny and dry, so plants that don't need as much attention can go there, where the plants needing more water or care will be at home.
The big seed list. I decided to grow a nice big variety of cutting flowers, medicinal and tea herbs, culinary herbs, fruit, vegetables and greens this year. With more space in this house I can now grow more seedlings (and I now have 3 popup greenhouses). I figure if I start a lot of everything and have extra, I can sell my extras - it will be more rare or uncommon plants that won't be found at local nurseries, so the time/cost/effort of growing extras will be worth it and that way I know I will have enough for my own needs. I prefer to plant in integrated permaculture beds, and will have a lot of these integrated throughout the yard, but will also have a few raised beds where I can more easily control the climate and soil. Here is my list of seeds that I am growing this year.
2016 Seed List:
We have a CSA share with a local organic farm in the summer, so we don't need the more common vegetables. So for us, we plant the unusual varieties or things we always are short of. Plus of course extensive selection of tea, herbs, and flowers. And I am *excited* to have a big cutting garden this year so we can have bouquets inside and outside all summer long. With fragrance! I also plan to photograph all of the flowers and herbs this summer so that I can make prints. Big plans, I tell ya.
So this is my step 2. It sounds like a lot. So when I say the important thing about planning a garden is to go in small steps, adding a bit at a time, but into an overall grand design scheme, it may seem comical. But a lot of this list is to make the outline and base structure to get it going - and we will likely end up breaking some of that up over more than one season, depending on how it progresses. But this year we will have color, movement, beauty, fragrance, the buzzing of bees, a hammock surrounded by a riot of blooms, and places to walk through and experience, or sit and enjoy. One step at a time.
Next...seed starting time!
I've spent a lot of time over this winter planning the garden and community garden plot for 2016. So I want to write about going from blank slate to the big plan. I'm going to split this into a few posts and end up with the big plan - what I'm planting this year, garden architecture, and seed starting!
If you have known me for awhile, you know that I spent over 10 years working on the garden in our last home. It went from a tiny urban grass plot to a dense and lush integrated urban permaculture garden packed with fruit, vegetables, flowers, herbs, and kids. We outgrew that house years ago, but the garden plus the difficulty of showing a house we all live/work in 24/7 means we stayed and stayed. Last year we finally made the jump and moved into a new green built home about 20 miles from where we used to live. We went from a tiny bowling alley urban garden flanked by 2 houses tucked in at the bottom of a hill to a more suburban garden at one of the highest points in the area, atop a hill, next to prairie and fields. Our "new" yard is still likely smaller than average but we wanted more usable gardening space without really having massive expanses of HOA regulated grass. So, it is about 3 times the size of our previous garden. Woot! We are now in a smaller outlying community with views that seemingly go on forever, a sky full of stars, and never ending amazing sunsets.
We moved in last spring, but it took a few months after that to have concrete poured and have grading/topsoil/initial landscaping done. I wanted to take the "wait and see' approach to see how different the soil, the light, the wind, and the insects are here before I went too far. I'm glad I waited. We may have moved only 19 miles, but the soil here is red and sandy. Atop our hill the winds are very (very!) strong. And after the exciting burst of hundreds of toads into the yard in summer, fall came with thousands of grasshoppers (we are next to prairie and corn fields). We also saw many voles, field mice, bald eagles (squee!), crows, and hawks. I know now where we need shade, where the sunny spots are, what kind of organic controls we will need, and what plants will work best where.
What we focused on last year was our community garden plot and initial yard plantings. We were so happy to find that there is an organic community garden only a few miles from the house. That is where we can plant the bigger more rambling things, install the not-so-attractive cages and trellises and nettings. And it gives us a few hundred extra square feet of space. So last summer most of my seed starting was for the community garden, and then mostly pots here. With that, I started many hundreds of seedlings that we planted out from pots to yard in August when we finally had grass and some initial landscaping beds.
What we planted Summer 2015 yard: a few blueberries, a few blackberries, 2 varieties of grapes, echinacea, lilacs along the deck, a weigela atop a boulder wall, yarrow, hydrangeas, creeping thyme and purslane in rock walls, red maple, some raspberries we brought from the old house, and a bed of mixed herbs for pollinators including bee balm, anise hyssop, mint, and moldavian dragonhead balm. We also planted a lot of sunflowers right along the line of our yard and the field, and we tossed a bunch of prairie flower seeds where the skidsteers ripped up the prairie grading our yard, so we had a bunch of extra flowers along the edge which brought birds all summer and winter.
The 2015 community garden plan was mostly to get all of my seedlings into the ground and see how the soil is in the plot. We built up the soil with compost and worked hard to keep the most insane weeds I've ever seen at bay. It worked, but we have a better idea of what the soil and plot need for next year!
Next ... the big plan for 2016 for both yard and community garden, plotting a grid, and organizing the seed starting calendar!
One of the hardest things about leaving our old (way too small) house was leaving the garden. But we split and collected transplants of several things that could be worked in April, and thought they would be happy enough in pots until they can go in ground. For a full greenhouse of seedlings, we searched for a community garden plot near the new home so we could plant in ground right away, even as the new house had to wait for grading and driveway and landscaping before we could plant a single thing. I was so thrilled to find an organic community garden just 2 miles from home. We reserved our plot when we were still packing boxes at the old house. We went on weekends to hand till and weed and prep before we even moved. In the early days we didn't know anything about the new garden. The people, the soil, the weeds, the sun, the animals. We just knew we needed a plot since we would not have any garden beds until who knows when.
The new house had come together so suddenly that every seedling already started was planned for the old house. I had flats and flats of plants which were primarily for part sun, dense rich soil, and high moisture - we had worked so long on the old garden to get the soil to produce so heavily in a small space. We planted anyway. We discovered early on that the new soil was dense and compact. Not very high in nitrogen. And the weeds!!! The first month or two we went to the community garden the weeds were the conversation starters. Every person would stop, introduce themselves, and talk about the weeds. Last year they almost gave up. Last year they did give up. The weeds and thistles explained all of the interesting contraptions in other plots, the haybales, the large sheets of plastic, and the expensive raised beds. We re-worked half of the plot to cover it in weed barrier and added as much compost as we could. As things came in very yellow, people would stop to chat and tell us all about how this used to be a pond bed, then corn fields, and then just grass and weeds. About the river. About the deer whose tracks we found in all of the holes torn into the weed barrier.
As things were tweaked and supplemented and new things planted, people would stop to chat about different plants and ask what is this, what is that. Gardeners at the next plot over would sit and weed and chat while we watered. We weeded the paths, added more mulch, filled out our sheets for garden hours. We found a turtle nest in the compost and another gardener got a marker while we found a plot marker and string to rope it off so nobody would dig there. Everyone has avoided that spot since then, and the turtle eggs are carefully covered back up after any rain. For months there were spots with stakes and neon pink tape to protect the killdeer nests that were nestled in along the paths.
As the garden has grown we have kept weeding and watering. And every time we are there someone stops to chat. About those purple tomatoes. About how big the squash are. In that time we have organized some tools, re-wrapped hoses, weeded and mulched the paths some more, there has been a shed built, a vegetable washing station was installed, people have weeded and watered plots for people out of town or with health problems. Every time we are there, someone comes up with another gardener we have not met yet, and introduces them. The garden has young families, kids, dinks, chefs, retirees, school groups, volunteer groups, and the local food pantry has raised beds. We are next to a bike path so often cyclists will stop and walk over, read the signs, and walk through the gardens. Sometimes people stop in cars or RVs and walk through, asking questions, chatting about what we are growing. They are from Illinois or Iowa, and are curious.
There will be a picnic for the garden, and I donated a book for a raffle - and a lovely lady came by to the house to pick it up. She has now come over to the plot to chat every time we are there. And we talked about all of the great recipes in the local cookbook and the chefs that created them (she knows most of them). Every time we go to the garden (2-3 times per week) there are many people there. It is never empty. And it is always friendly. There are hellos and compliments and chat about the weather. There are those who know each other well now who heckle each other loudly in good humor over who has the most weeds, or who has the biggest tomatoes. We may not have met the people way over on the other far corner yet. But I assure you they have waved and yelled hi on their way down their path.
This new town we live in is pretty much a suburb of Madison. But it is tucked off on its own a bit and so it has a small town feel. 10,000 people live here. And people are friendly. We have had a community garden before. But it just wasn't a community. I have realized over the past few months that is what this new garden plot is. It is a community. It is our community that we will now be a part of for years to come. Our new house has 3 times the yard size, and we will have room for many integrated plantings, fruiting bushes, canes and trees. But I am now certain that we will keep this community garden plot. Because it is a community garden. And this is our community.
Long ago I found a recipe for bouillon in the River Cottage Preserves Handbook. A lightbulb went off, and I have been making my own version of veggie bouillon ever since. By blending all of the freshest herbs and vegetables in peak summer and preserving them with salt, you save that crisp fresh flavor which is fantastic in winter when making soups and stews.
When you think of bouillon you probably imagine a hard dry cube - but this is more of a thick paste. You use it like you use a cube though, by stirring a spoonful into your recipe when making soups, broth, stews, or even pasta. This is very salty as bouillon should be, and the salt is what preserves the green vibrant flavors – a little goes a long way.
I call my version garden bouillon because I use many things found in my garden. I like to make several batches over the summer so that I have enough to last all winter. Keep a jar in the fridge for using now, and freeze the rest. This has a high level of salt so it will never freeze quite solid, so you can still spoon out some even fresh from the freezer. I like to freeze in 1 cup jars so that I can pull one out at a time throughout the year.
A food processor is the best tool for the job.
Homemade Garden Bouillon
The nice thing about homemade bouillon is that you use what YOU have in your garden. Just think about what flavors go well together. I love adding extras like kale, purslane, nasturtiums (leaves, flowers, capers), coriander heads going to seed, celery root, leeks, and anything else in season at the time that adds a nice punch of flavor plus lots of great vitamins and minerals. I always start with the base aromatics of onion, garlic, carrot, and celery, and then add additional flavors from there. So make your own combo - the main thing to remember is to have a 4:1 ratio of herb/veggies to salt. So for every 400 grams of herbs/veggies/flowers, use approximately 100 grams of good quality sea salt.
This is approximately 780+/- grams of veg/herb, so I blended in just under 200 grams of good quality celtic sea salt.
I will make a few more batches as the summer goes along, using what I have fresh and in season. This is a great way to preserve the fresh, vibrant summer flavors, to use long into the winter!
I love when we move from lettuces and onions into the full onslaught of summer vegetables. Not just one type of flavor anymore, and the possibilities are endless. This week I see caponata, veggie skewers and tzatziki. PIckled fennel and spiralized carrots in a ginger glaze. And fresh herbs on everything.
CSA Week 7: torpedo onions, cucumbers, lettuce, swiss chard, pepper, 2 tomatoes (first of the year!), garlic, fennel, green beans, carrots, zucchini, eggplant.
U-Pick: sage, thyme, mint, basil, dill, parsley, and of course u-pick flowers. This week I went for orange and deep plum colors together. Love it!
This week I had to water the garden (for the first time in months) as it dried out and heated up here. My flowers are all finally blooming, peas are still going strong, herbs are flowering and I've been harvesting and drying them. Squash are growing well (up my tree), tomatoes are big but just not ripe yet. Raspberries are starting to ripen, the blackberries are almost there as well, and my currants are very very ripe (I'm just thinking I might need a mumu with a full body net for mosquito protection after giving up a few days back). My first flying peas have been harvested, and the dwarf sunflowers are close! All good.
What is in season where you live?
Capturing my love of whole foods, combined with the activity of a bustling kitchen.
A weekly collection of photos from the center of my home.
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top to bottom: radish slaw fixin's, mushrooms, scallions from the garden, rat's tail radish (our new garden favorite), peas, margaritas (best when fresh picked ingredients are used!), strawberry ginger syrup in process for homemade soda, crispy sage leaves with coconut aminos, and our home roasted coffee beans.
In the summer there is so much making. So I thought this week I would focus on ingredients and didn't take many meal shots. There has been so much rain rain rain that there are now swarms of mosquitoes. So garden excursions are quick and involve a lot of smacking and waving. But so much is ready every day that it is worth it. I think. This week will involve a lot of weeding and pickling, I think. We are loving the rat's tail radishes this year. With the sudden heat blast not long ago a lot of our other radishes bolted and I let them flower for pollinators. But the rat's tails are perfect no matter the temps and the perfect crisp radish flavor with the pea texture is fantastic. I know they could get a bit bigger, but I was impatient and we are eating even more of them today. I'm definitely planting a lot more of those!
Be sure to visit Heather at Beauty that Moves for all of those in the blog hop this week!
Spring for me is garden. Where I live we have about 6 months on/6 months off garden-wise. Even with some late bloomers or early risers, it really is too cold to call it gardening until April or May. This year has been even colder than normal, so even my peas are just now starting to finally sprout - in MAY. I don't usually plant out things like tomatoes or heat loving herbs until the first weekend in June each year anyway, so starting seeds indoors helps give a boost to a short growing season.
I have a small garden. Now, I know *some* city dwellers may say mine seems big, but really, in the grand scheme of things I have a much smaller than average American yard. I am here to tell those who say they don't have enough room to grow food - yes you can. If you haven't known me for long, you might not know about our garden. When I say small, it is small. We have a side yard stripe in between two houses. It goes from street to alley. Our front yard is only a few feet to sidewalk (so I don't even call it a yard), and there is no back yard, only carriage lane and a short driveway.
And when I say I grow a lot of fruit, vegetables, herbs, and flowers in a small space, I mean it! And I'm not a big fan of rows. The trick with a small garden is to find plants that tolerate your light, your scale, and your climate, and grow UP if you can. I try to experiment with new varieties every year to tweak our space to get the maximum result from our shady half of the day urban garden. And I know my limits. I plant determinate varieties of tomatoes in pots on my front porch because that is the only place it gets hot and sunny enough. I stick fruit canes and bushes in any extra spots. I grow dwarf or columnar of certain types (I have two dwarf columnar apple trees in pots on my deck). I use every inch I can find. And most importantly, I know that since I have a small space in a neighborhood where my garden is visible to all, that appearance matters. I know I need flowers and color and height and interest and smell and continued blooms - not just square areas with things in a line!
Our garden is urban organic permaculture. No chemicals, no pesticides, integrated plantings. My neighborhood is what you would call urban - at the edge of our city. Houses are close together and we have houses and condos and shops and a restaurant and a new grocery store. A city bus passes our house several times a day. But our garden is living. We get frogs, worms, rabbits, dozens of kinds of bees and wasps, ladybugs, birds, you name it. Even a stray hawk or opossum wanders in at times. It is amazing!
So. You will find that once garden season begins, I am a bit obsessed. While we have our wonderful CSA share at a local farm for our primary food source during the growing season, I grow things that we want more of or that are not available via our CSA. Things like fruit, favorite veggies, culinary herbs, herbs for tea, and lots of fresh flowers. I also focus on things that can be dried/preserved. No matter how small your space, you can supplement your groceries and have a great place for kids to wander. All of the kids on our block spend time in my garden each summer. Just about every day. They hide in there, they help me water, they pick, they play. It is a good thing.
Obviously all of these photos are not from my garden right now. But I need them. They are my inspiration. My reminders. Looking at a spring garden each year is a leap of faith, so to speak, the ultimate in optimism. To see blank and imagine full and dynamic and alive. An organic integrated permaculture garden is a big living thing. It becomes bigger than the gardener. We plant and plan and water and supplement and put it all out there, but the seeds do what they are here to do. As do insects, birds, soil microbes, and weather. The key is getting a good foundation, putting everything out there, and just being an observant caretaker from there. I have found one key to success is diversification. I don't grow a lot of any one thing. We are a family of 4. I don't need 400 pounds of squash. But I like variety. And my garden does better with it. When things are planted so close together, it helps keep the good bugs and pollinators here, and helps to keep the bad ones at bay. And when one plant is done for the season and not looking so lush, everything else is good, and something else can take its place. Also, if any one thing fails miserably in my space, there is no gaping hole. And every single year I tear out more grass. We have a green carpet path in the middle, but other than that, who needs it?
What I want to do is post a list of all of my seeds and perennials for this growing season that I have so far (I will add to it throughout the season as well). I like to see what I have. New, tried and true, colors, types. Tracking change from year to year. I also like showing how diverse even a small space can be. Don't be afraid to experiment and combine or plant close together. Find out what works in YOUR space and soil. And don't think you have to use a whole packet to start. Start a few. Save the seeds in a cool dark place to use again later in the season or even next year. Share your leftovers or trade for other varieties with friends! Go in with a group of friends on an order of many types of seeds and split them up between you all! I use all of my greens and radishes each year, but I never plant a whole packet of peppers or tomatoes - I know my space is small, I don't have the heat, and I get plenty from my CSA. So I only grow a few plants of unusual varieties I know I cannot find anywhere.
So, 1. Start small. 2. Diversify. 3. Pick plants that work in your climate so you don't have to do much work to be successful. 4. Share your seeds. That is a great way to learn from other local gardeners, try new things, and experiment!
Here is my 2014 list so far::
So, there is my ever-evolving and changing list from where I start today. I have a few rounds of peas, radishes, and greens in ground. It is just warming up enough to see those sprouting up. My rhubarb is tiny - but growing finally. I have some lovage, valerian, raspberries, currants, blackberries, clary sage, lemon balm, moldavian dragon head balm, strawberries, and more popping up throughout. And my tulips are just starting to bloom, and lilacs don't have buds yet (latest ever!). Can't wait!
Now I have posted too many pictures. I can't get enough! I need green growing things like I need oxygen. Oh, wait.
But seriously. I live somewhere that has extreme winters, so having a green luscious dense fragrant garden full of life and bees and birds and happy kids goes a long way in the summer. My older son says we cannot ever ever ever ever (EVER!!!!!) move or leave this place - who will care for our creatures big and small? What would happen to our sanctuary? Even the smallest garden - whether a few pots or a raised bed - can be a sanctuary. Who will care for our creatures big and small if not us. So go! Plant! Plant things! And if you think you have a black thumb, remember. The sole purpose of these seeds is to live and propagate. If you give them even a somewhat appropriate habitat they will most likely do so. They are fierce warriors, these seeds. They grow through concrete in urban landscapes, in chernobyl where no humans dare to tread. They live. SO don't worry, plant!
Do you have a garden? Do you have a deck? An acre? An urban lot? What do you grow where you live?
I am a certified aromatherapist, clinical herbalist, permaculture designer, organic gardener, plant conservationist, photographer, writer, designer, artist, nature lover, health justice activist, whole foods maker, and mother of two young adults in south central Wisconsin.
©2007-23 Denise Cusack, all photos and text. Feel free to share my posts on FB or Twitter or online media or pin on Pinterest (thank you!), but please keep the links back to my website intact (meaning please do not take or copy my images off of this website and share them unattributed or without linking back here or use them without permission). Thank you! :)
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