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 am a certified aromatherapist, herbalist, organic gardener, photographer, writer, designer, artist, nature lover, whole foods maker, and mother of two unschooled boys in south central Wisconsin.