Soon, I will begin sharing a series of blog posts about our recent trip to the Czech Republic and Croatia. I am currently winnowing the photo count down from somewhere in the upper 800’s, so it will be a few more days before I begin posting about that excellent adventure. For now I will share what we’ve been up to days since we’ve been home, other than eating Hoagies at Davanni’s.
It can be a little bit of a hard landing to return to reality and normal life after a trip to a far-away place. Every day of our trip was filled with complete freedom and enjoyment of our friends and new sights and experiences. We dove into days of complete leisure with reckless abandon. When I faced the reality of coming home and returning to work, knowing it would be time to plant the garden was my saving grace. This is my third year planting veggies in raised beds using the square foot gardening method, and I love it more every year. In 2010 Bjorn constructed 3 raised beds. From the start I had a great experience raising vegetables following this method. It is low maintenance and great for a relative novice. I knew from minute-one that 48 square feet of veggies was just the beginning. Last year, Bjorn constructed three more 4 foot x 4 foot beds which brought our veggie gardens area up to 96 square feet. We found that was the perfect amount of space for a veggie garden for two people.
Even though I cleaned and prepped the beds in anticipation of our return, about a million weeds managed to spring up with remarkable speed. Pictured above is a stinging nettle that came up in a few beds. I know that I could have used it in a soup or this interesting Nettle Pasta, but frankly, I haven’t completely recovered from my experiences with stinging nettles from childhood, so I’m not finding that soup or pasta idea too enticing.
I weeded the beds and mixed in a healthy heap of organic compost. Already up in two squares are chives, a perennial herb I transplanted from my Mother’s garden that comes up in early spring and has already appeared on our plates in scrambled eggs, on baked potatoes and in salad dressings. I am planning to dig up the grass and earth around the edge of each bed and bury bricks at ground level this year. It helps to have at least a few inches of space around the edge of each bed where nothing will grow because it is difficult to mow grass right up to the edge of the bed once plants grow up. I have considered expanding the plant-free edging further using crushed rock or paving bricks. I haven’t had the ultimate design idea come to me yet, so for the meantime, the bricks sit on top of the soil.
I was surprised to find a crop of some sort of mushroom sprung up in the grass when I cleaned up the beds for planting. It might have had something to do with the fact that it rained a lot while we were away, and the grass went a few weeks without mowing. For the record, I am not having all of the fun in the backyard. When we bought our house, I wanted a vegetable garden, and Bjorn wanted to build a patio, or “partio” as my neighbours have called it, affectionately, we hope! (Oops, sorry neighbours. We think you are great!). We both had our back yard wish come true in the first few months of the first spring in our house. Thank you Bjorn [and some of our friends for help on the patio] for getting it all done. Now, we live in the back yard during the free moments of our waking hours from May-October. It just keeps getting better and better.I had great intentions of starting tomatoes, peppers and maybe other plants in the house in the late winter this year, but I didn’t get that undertaking off of the ground. Instead, I bought seedlings at the Saint Paul Farmer’s Market which was a huge improvement in selection and in price over seedlings I have purchased from local greenhouses in previous years. I bought most of my seedlings from an older man and his wife who filled several paper bags with plants, gave me a ton of gardening tips, threw in a few extras herbs and flowers and only charged me $20. I might try starting seeds in the house next year, or, I might go find the guy and his wife at the Farmer’s Market who gave me more encouragement, healthy little seedlings and advice than $20 can typically buy. My cousin Alice (above), inhaled a deep whiff of fresh herb fragrance and exclaimed for about 3 minutes straight. That is how great our herb seedlings smell.
Bjorn is adept at building climbing structures and critter protection for our raised beds using electrical conduit, rebar, chicken wire and zip ties. The design of the climbing structures is based on the book All New Square Foot Gardening with our own improvements (chicken wire, zip ties) that we arrived at as our best strategy last year, after some trial and error using string and lighter-duty netting. The 4 x 4 beds are spaced 3 feet apart and are surrounded by chicken wire with a tall climbing structure at the back. They give our yard some organization and symmetry– these characteristics don’t come naturally to gardens I plant.
I have gotten smarter with experience. Alice has been helping with the garden since the first year it was planted, but this year when she offered to help plant the garden. It made planting way more fun to work together on our own little community garden. As the saying goes, many hands make light work.
The square-foot beds are a visual contrast to the mishmash of my planting methods I employ throughout the rest of the yard. I thought about switching the grid lines from screwed-together lathe to string, but at the end of last season the lathe grids folded up into a neat, compact fan so I decided to keep them.
In total, planting was a two-day affair. The second day involved planting all things that come from seed packets.
Now, all we have to do is keep things weeded, watered and pick whatever is fresh and ready to eat. While we wait for things to grow there is no end of outdoor summer fun to enjoy in the Twin Cities. After a long sunny day of planting, we drove to the Minnesota Zoo to see Feist.
The last time we saw Feist live was in 2006 or so, before The Reminder came out when she performed at the Fine Line in Minneapolis. Here, Feist is performing Cicadas And Gulls with Mountain Man who are touring as her backup singers and includes a Minnesotan among them (Alexandra Sauser-Monnig, to the right of Leslie Feist).
Getting the garden planted followed by a great outdoor show? I couldn’t have asked for much more beautiful summer Saturday. Life is good.