Eat, drink, (garden, knit, quilt, think, fix, read) & be merry


Hi friends!  Classes are over and finals start on Monday.  Blogging is such a great way to avoid studying.  ha!

The garden is going gangbusters after a very early spring.  So it’s time for the annual spring-has-sprung update, complete with loads of photos.  This is the first year I’ve had a perennial garden that has “leaped” and it’s so fun to watch.

Lupine.  The flowers on this are pretty, but I really love the palmate leaves.  They look so exotic and tropical in my midwestern garden.

I’ve been trying to establish low-growing Dutch clover in our lawn to help smother annual weeds like crabgrass and to provide a nitrogen-fixing service.  It’s finally coming in thick in several places.  I know some people consider clover a weed, but I don’t.  It’s pretty, soft to walk on, and it means I don’t need to fertilize my lawn as much! 

Our shittake logs have been fruiting like crazy with all the rain.  We harvested 1+ pounds already and they’re ready to pop again.  SO YUMMY!

Forget-me-nots.  These are one of my favorite spring ephemerals.  I let them go to seed every year and they always pop up for a bright splash of spring color.

Japanese Painted Ferns.  These have been oh-so-slow to establish but they’re finally looking robust and beautiful.  Love these plants so much.

I know they can be overplayed and boring, but I do love hostas, especially the varieties with hints of blue-green.

A very early spring brings with it the near certain promise of late frost damage.  Here’s a strawberry flower (with black center) that suffered from a spring frost.  Fortunately, most of my strawberries are blooming now, so I hope we’re in the clear.  

My violas came back!  How I love these sweet, edible flowers.

I’ve always had terrible luck with spinach.  This year I bought new seed, put down some pelleted compost, and have been occasionally foliar feeding with fish emulsion.  Look at those lush leaves!  The rabbits have been sharing in the harvest, but at least I am, too!

Speaking of rabbits, Here’s the set-up to protect the peas and brassicas from rabbits and cut-worms.  So far, so good.


Braising Mix.  YUM!

Look at that pergola!  P built it last year and this year I get to plant it.  A few divides have already gone in, but I’ve got a nice list for purchases from plant sale fundraisers to fill this out.  Corkscrew willow, russian sage, scented geraniums are on the list.  P put in some hops along the back that will be trellised up to the top.  It’s going to make a lovely space for summer dining.

And I can’t post without some knitting, can I?  Of course not!  This alpaca, woodland shawl is hot-off-the-needles and will be my graduation shawl.  I thought the leaves were fitting for a horticulture major.  😉

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Finding Room For Beauty

When I planted my first community garden plot several years ago, the garden organizer suggested I plant flowers, too.  I couldn’t imagine planting flowers – what a waste of space.  If I couldn’t eat it, I wasn’t interested.

This year I planted my veggie garden with all the usuals – potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, beets… But I spent most of my early spring gardening busting sod for new beds of… flowers.

In went daisies and coneflower, cosmos and lobelia, oenothera and columbine.  I planted sedum and lamb’s ears, two varieties of baby’s breath, lupine, delphinum, and foxglove.  I started violas, bachelor’s buttons, and calendula from seed in my precious, limited seed starting space.  And that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

They’re beautiful and I love watching them bloom.  Previously I couldn’t imagine taking garden space from plants with physical purpose, plants that help me survive.  Beauty was a luxury I didn’t dare afford.

But this year’s obsession with flowers has visually demonstrated a major shift in my thinking.  Beauty, comfort, and enjoyment are important, and I can make room for them in my life.  It’s not just the flowers, but a way of thinking that embraces intangible benefits.  It’s the willingness to feed my soul instead of just my body.  It’s an acknowledgement that I don’t need to simply survive…

…I can thrive.

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Heavens, I’ve brought home too many plants lately!  That’s the “problem” with running on plant sale, volunteering at another, working on a farm, and having friends with perennials!  I’ve been busy in the garden and here’s a little peek at what’s been going on:

A few volunteer Forget-Me-Nots have been blooming.  How I love these sweet little flowers.

Blue fescue

Garcia the (tiny) cherry tree

The lilacs are blooming heavily after a good prune last year.

Lungwort – one my favorite new foliage perennials.  Look at those lovely sliver splotches!  It reminds me “splatter painting” which I loved when I was a kid.

Asiatic or oriental lily?  I can never remember the difference.

I have hopes we’re going to have a nice strawberry harvest this year!

I picked up this rhododendron on a whim, not realizing how big they would get!  Heavens, where am I going to put it??

Pardon the interruption, but this is the enormous log mess in the middle of the yard!  The log pieces are so big it’s going to take the better part of the summer to break them down into stackable pieces.

This is the witchhazel that promptly defoliated after I planted it last year.  It looked dead this spring so I bought another.  And then, of course, the old one sprung back into action!  Now I need to find a home for both of them since I didn’t realize they’d get to be more than 20×20′.  Yikes!

One of the many hostas I’ve collected this spring.

Ok, I know I say this about a lot of plants but Lamb’s Ears are one of my very favorite plants.  I can’t wait until this little guy is big enough that I can pick leaves and carry them around with me.  They’re so fuzzy!

One of my teeny apple trees that I started from scion wood and rootstock last year.  Doesn’t it look healthy and happy?

I have a “thing” with starting lavender from seed.  This little guy was started a few months ago and is now 1.5″ tall.  It’s a silly thing to do here in the north where lavender doesn’t reliably winter.  But still, I’ve twice wintered lavender I’ve started from seed but have never had much success with lavender from commercial transplants.  I have big dreams of someday having a robust, perennial lavender patch! 

The few beds the previous owners left were weedy and out of control.  I’ve slowly been trying to remake them.  Here’s the front (full shade) garden.  I wish I had a before shot!

All three of our blueberries made the winter and one is flowering quite heavily.  I’m looking forward to a few of these lovely treats!

The peas were slow this spring because it was so cold.  They’re finally getting a move on.

I’m hoping this funny little plant will be the star of this year’s garden.  It’s an artichoke!  I’ve got five of them and, with the cold spring, I’m hoping they’re properly “vernalized” so they’ll flower the first year.  Here’s to hoping!

I love zone four hardy succulents. 

Ellen (named after my grandma) the peach tree is flowering!  I realize some might find it strange to name plants, but I’ve always named most things in my life so it feels perfectly logical to me.

“Banana cream” shasta daisies.  I’m not sure if I like these yet but they were free so I’m trying them out.  (Side note: Daisies are one of my favorite flowers, but I’m a little ambivalent about yellow ones.)

Last but not least, last year’s shittake logs are fruiting!  The mushrooms are so much better than the store varieties.  I’ve been enjoying them with pasta and in omelette.  Delicious!

Whew!  That does it for the garden tour this time around.  Hope you all are enjoying the warm(er) weather.

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A sweet surprise

Early this morning I got a call from the post office.  The bees had landed!  But I had a full day at school and wasn’t able to pick up my charges until almost 5pm.  By then the post office had left four messages on the phone.  The workers seemed pretty excited, it’s not too often something this cool comes through the Saint Paul post office!

That is the same box the bees were mailed in.  When I picked them up the box was warm, humming with activity.  I was smitten.  Ellie was… curious.  But kept a safe distance.

Despite the snow flurries, P and I drove up to the farm to install the hive.  I was so nervous, but I had watched enough you*tube videos, read enough beekeeping manuals, and it went like clockwork.  

Opening the package.

The Queen!  (and a few workers)

Just pour them out.  Just like that.

That is the last time the hive will look that clean.

I survived with no stings… until I walked away and took of my veil.  When I was in the nearby garage a bee escaped my clothing and stung me on the neck.  OUCH!  Tomorrow I drive back out to make sure they’re eating the sugar syrup.  They need to be fed until the nectar flow is in full swing – sometime in June.  P and I are both excited to get our own hive next year.  So cool!

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The Flip Side

Lest you think that all that goes on around here is sorrowful introspection, let’s take a peak at all the other stuff that gets done in a day.  Spring is in full swing with buds breaking on the lilacs, the hardy kiwi, the blueberries, the hazelnuts, the peach (the PEACH!), and just about everything else.  The perennials are poking up, the bulbs are blooming and the seedlings are splitting their time between the kitchen floor and the deck.  I had them under lights but now they spend the bulk of their time outdoors.

These are the artichokes!  I’m growing them from seed as an experiment this year.  They need a vernalization period of 250 hours between freezing and 50F to flower.  So they’re getting shuffled around a lot, but I’m hoping it all pays off come August!

The potatoes are chitting, waiting for the soil to warm so they can be cut and planted.

Last year I grew endive and stored the roots in the fridge over the winter.  Now I’m forcing them in darkness (a plastic bag in my closet) in an attempt to get endive hearts.  The roots have colonized the tupperware and above ground small shoots are emerging.  I’m doubtful the roots have enough stored carbohydrates to create decent hearts, but you never know.  At least now I know how to do it and I’ll do it again this year (and will hopefully get bigger roots!)

Continuing with the garden theme (it is spring, after all, even if it snowed this morning), I sowed 50 square feet of hard red spring wheat in our yard this year.  I have no idea if it’ll work, but I love little experiments.  Wouldn’t it be great to bake some bread with my homegrown wheat?!

I’ve nearly finished (just needs buttons and final finishing) a baby surprise jacket (Ravelry link) in 100% silk.  It’s for some friends who are having a baby in August.  There are so many babies due in August this year I needed to get a jump-start on the knitting.

At the beginning of the year I started a cable sampler blanket (Ravelry link).  I’m just over 1/5th done.  This is likely to be a two year project.  Lately, though, I’ve been pondering the appropriateness of making a cable sampler blanket at this point in my life.  Many different twisting cables weave into individual block which will be sewn together into a warm, coherent whole.  It’s mirroring what’s happening in my life.  Each stitch, each moment, each mistake, each frustration, each victory is part of the bigger picture.  It’s a big project but I’ll finish it.  I’ll finish both of them.

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Tapping the Norway Maple

We tapped our Norway maple the other day.  Red, sugar, and silver maples are all much better for syrup but we’ve got a Norway so that’s what we’re tapping.  We tapped it last year and didn’t get much, but this year we did a better job and have gotten much more sap.  I still doubt we’ll get any more than a half-pint of syrup when it’s all boiled down but it’s still fun.

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Winter break gave me a little time to spend at the sewing machine.  I was really hoping to make some curtains and learn to insert zippers, but that’s not what actually got done.  Here’s what did:

Borris the bear.  Isn’t he adorable?  He’s made from corduroy and bits of cotton from my stash.  The pattern is from One Yard Wonders.

I forgot to sew the eyes (buttons) on before I stuffed him and stitched up the opening.  Turns out you can’t sew buttons on when the inside of the fabric is inaccessible.  Believe me, I tried.  But I actually like him this way.  What do you think?  Is it weird that he has no eyes?

He makes the perfect pillow, especially for airplane rides.

Cute little tail

He’s a little wonky in the way amature homemade stuffed animals are, but that adds to his charm.

I also stitched up a new cloth shopping bag.  The pattern is based on an actual plastic shopping bag (yes, you make the pattern!).  It’s fully lined and very sturdy.  It’s gusseted and roomy.  I love it!  Although I cut the bamboo fabric wrong and it’s upside down.  You may not be able to tell, but as a plant geek it drives me crazy having the leaves point in the wrong direction.

The tutorial is here and is very easy to follow.

A few years ago, when P and I were dating, I scavenged an almost brand-new down comforter out of the dumpster behind P’s apartment.  It had a badly soiled corner, so I simply cut open the comforter and took out 3 garbage bags of clean down.  I’ve moved the down twice and finally did something with it!  With some down ticking (tightly woven fabric so the little pokey ends don’t come out) I sewed up a cylindrical pillow and then made a washable cover out of some stashed quilting cottons.

Here you can see the actual pillow under the cover.  I used the snap press to finish the cover.  It makes a wonderful reading pillow.  It’s long enough I can have my head on one side and use the other to prop up a book.  I stuffed it firmly so it’s very supportive.  Considering I totally made up the pattern, I am very happy with how it came out.  Don’t look too closely, though, I had to do some serious patchworking to make the cover fit!

That was fun, although it’s probably the last sewing I’ll do until summer.  Too bad, those curtains are just going to have to wait.


What’s Up?

I love summer, even if it doesn’t include much blogging time.  I have managed to snap a few photos of what’s happening around here.

My ten year high school reunion!  Here is P and I all ready to get drunk at noon on a Saturday.  I was hung over by 10pm, and felt like a million bucks by 6:30am Sunday morning.  Sure glad we don’t do that every weekend.

Homemade caramelized onion, beet, and goat cheese pizza.  We grew the onions and beets!  But not the goats, unfortunately.

P has been up to his eyeballs in house projects.  Most recently he’s replacing our 80+ year old windows.  We’re sad to see them go, as they’re gorgeous, but they just don’t hold in enough heat during our brutal winters.  They’re also going to get new (homemade) curtains – one day.

The garlic has been grown, harvested, and now cleaned and stored.  We got over 80 heads when all was said and done.  I put away 15 heads for planting this fall and we’ve been steadily eating the rest.  It’s our first crop in our new house, and it was a bountiful one.  I think that bodes well.

We went to a potluck BBQ this past weekend and I, thanks to Cook’s Country, made these super fun hostess cupcake knockoffs.  They’re filled and everything!  Someone even thought I bought cupcakes, unwrapped them, and served them.  haha.  The most remarkable part – they tasted very similar, in both flavor and texture, to the originals.  But they had real ingredients, which counts for something, right?

I’ve been drying all kinds of herbs from the garden.  Here a bunch of mint is drying out for tea.  There is also sage, thyme, oregano, and basil hanging from hooks in the kitchen.

We harvested potatoes the other day – about 13 pounds of them!  Aren’t they beautiful?  There are Purple Viking, All Blues, and Carola (I think?).  We still have about 2/3rds of the patch to dig up, so I’m hoping for a 40 pound harvest from our little 20 square foot potato plot.

This one was so fun to find – a 1 pound purple potato!!  You’d never find this in a store.  Too much fun.

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Genuis, I tell you, pure genius.

Can  you imagine growing greens this gorgeous in the depths of a MN winter? (Zone 3-4)

In quantities big enough to provide for 18 families?

In a greenhouse that uses almost no supplemental heat?

and that is small enough to fit on the back of a garage? (18′ x 24′)

Well, that’s what the fine folks out at Garden Goddess in Milan, MN are doing.  (they’ve just finished their 5th winter season).  And they’ve written a book with all the details.  And they were kind enough to let P and I come out to see “winter’s tastiest miracle” for ourselves.

Through “passive solar” technology, the greenhouse is heated  from the bottom up.  The sun passes through the poly, heats the air, the hot air rises and is collected in stove pipe that is blown 4′ down into perforated drain tile in a bed of gravel.  The air rises through the gravel and the heat is collected in the rocks, providing the thermal mass that radiates heat back upwards when the greenhouse cools down at night or in cloudy weather.

Not only is it genius in theory, it actually works.  By growing cool weather crops that can tolerate dips down into the 40s,  they’re able to provide a winter CSA, even when outside temperatures drop below -30F.  Although, during a string of sunny days in January, when snow is piled in huge drifts and the wind hollows outside, it can be 85F in the greenhouse!

I couldn’t believe it, so yesterday we drove 3 hours away to see it ourselves.  I’m convinced.  And if we can work out the financing, we’re hoping to build one of these in our backyard this summer to provide enough for ourselves and  a small CSA.

Take that, winter!

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Spring Hath Arrived (at least for now)

The lilacs are thinking of blooming

While the snow drops are busy actually blooming.

And some very special bulbs I worked hard to save have survived.  I almost cried from joy.

The garlic is emerging.

A small flat of lettuce has been seeded (and barricaded from marauding squirrels, rabbits, and gophers)

Alas, we’re continuing to clean up the massive tree mess

And that tree is, sadly, trying desperately to send vast amounts of water up to the shoots that are no longer there.  It’s all weeping out where we girdled it.  It makes me sad.  😦

But the birds are loving the brush piles around the yard.  Too bad we can’t keep them.

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