Thursday, October 1, 2009

thinking about design at the end of the season

Loved this combo of peppers, sage, signet marigolds and deep pink petunias.
First and foremost I am not a landscape designer. Having admitted that I trust you will take the following suggestions with a grain of salt. I have a background in scenery and graphic design, so I have a pretty good sense of design concepts. Many of these apply to most areas of design, from theater to web design, landscapes to interiors (although looking around my office you'd never know it). I don't mean to step on the toes of any landscape designers with this post, so I will tread carefully.

A colorful and 'texture-full' combo of chard, zinnia, dill, thyme, rudbeckia,
snapdragons, and raspberries. All backed by teepees supporting beans
and other climbers. What you see here in the foreground is packed into a
space about 6 feet wide. See what you can fit in a relatively small space?
I approached the design of the Edible Landscape from the position of a homeowner who has some sense of colors, forms and textures and how they work together. But of course it can't stop there when designing with plants. I also spent a lot of time in choosing my plants based on plants I like to eat; their size, color and habit; their required growing conditions; bloom time; and so on. Chances are, if you're planning to plant a few edibles here and there in your garden you're not going to hire a landscape designer. But you will want those plants to look as good as they can. Afterall, that's the whole point of this edible landscaping thing, right? Early on in this blog, I provided a few pointers, and recommended some books for guidelines and inspiration when planning and designing your edible landscape. These will help you if you are starting from scratch, or if you just want to add a few things here and there in your existing landscape. Click on the keywords "design" and "planning" on the right to find these posts.

Peppers and lavender petunias created a
great combo.
Now that we're getting near the end of the season I've been mulling over the choices I made and spending time in the garden determining which choices worked and which didn't work so well. In the next few posts, I'm going to describe some of these along with photos and simple sketches of plant combinations.

To start out, here's a list of some things that worked well in the Edible Landscape this year:
  • Lavender interplanted with garlic chives: textures worked well together (spikes of lavender among the umbels of the garlic chive), great fragrances, nice colors, lots of bees!
  • Lavender on the edge or corner of a bed means that every time you brush past it the air is filled with wonderful fragrance!
  • Alyssum interplanted with thyme: alternating clumps of each made for a fragrant and attractive border.
  • Various basils planted in masses behind chives. This looked really neat, the spikey chives along the edge of the bed were backed by tall and sturdy basil. I liked the contrasting textures.
  • Mint in pots scattered through the garden worked great. Added a little structure and height, and kept the mint from becoming invasive. Pots placed strategically in the garden can add a really nice touch. Look for interesting shapes and colors.
  • Mizuna mustard was great as a border. It's fringy leaves arched over the edge of the bed, softening it with an exotic touch.
  • Peppers, sage, and small-flowered trailing petunias made a great combo. I liked the contrast of the cool silver sage in front of the dark green shiny leaves and fruits of the pepper. The petunias rambled among the sage and peppers, and the coral color I used really popped.
  • Parsley made a great, hearty border interplanted with dark blue petunias. The parsley gets really dense and the petunias pop their blossoms up through, which looks really striking.
  • Strawberries planted under eggplant. The strawberries will be done fruiting by the time the eggplant gets big and bushy. When it's eggplant's time to shine, the strawberry plants send their runners out and create a lush carpet underneath.
A wide variety of color, height and texture packed into a
small space lends a cottage garden feel. 
Now for a few things that didn't work as I used them...
I don't love this combo of nicotiana,
nasturtium and signet marigolds. The leaves
have contrast of shape, texture, but
they don't really help each other pop. Lots of
green but not much else.
  • Nasturtium and peppers. Depending on what type of Nasturtium you plant, it may end up dwarfing the peppers and trying to knock them down. That's what it did here. The plants didn't look that great together either.
  • Borage. Ok, more specifically TONS of borage. I went a little crazy with the borage because it was new to me. I planted it in masses in the center of beds, and didn't thin very much. It was great early in the season. 1-2 foot tall mounds of the fuzzy stems put forth beautiful blue flowers which attracted bees like crazy. But by late-July the plants were so tall and heavy they flopped over all their neighbors. Borage is really nice, but use it in moderation and along with very sturdy plants.
  • Sunflowers should be kept in the back of a planting where they'll be appreciated for their height. I scattered them in masses among squash vines in a star-shaped bed with a giant sculpture in the middle of it. It didn't work so well. Keep 'em in the back where they can peek their showy heads over all the other garden residents.
Maybe a little too much going on here. Not very well planned.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

native plants in the edible landscape

So you've been intrigued by the idea of using edibles in your home landscape. But you're conflicted because you are a savvy, modern gardener and know the benefits of using native plants in the home landscape. (Check out this UM Extension bulletin if you need a refresher.) Well, who's to say you can't do both? Native perennials intermixed with fruits, vegetables and annuals can add a lot to the Edible Landscape:
  • First, of course, they are well-suited to your particular location, if you've chosen plants properly.
  • They have few insect or disease problems.
  • They improve soil organic matter and soil structure.
  • They can help reduce/prevent runoff and erosion.
  • They generally require little maintenance.
  • They attract beneficial insects and provide food and shelter for birds and other small creatures.
  • They provide a reliable, permanent foundation for the garden.
  • They offer long-lasting color.
  • Lots of textures, heights and forms to choose from.
There are a few native plants in the edible landscape including Echinacea, Monarda and Rudbeckia, and I hope to incorporate more as the project progresses.

The Minnesota DNR is a great resource for Minnesota gardeners interested in working native plants into the landscape. There's also a nice book titled Landscaping with Native Plants of Minnesota by Lynn Steiner, in which you may find inspiration and information about many of the species native to the state. Here are a few other UM Extension sites that may be helpful:

Friday, September 18, 2009

navigating the sea of gardening information

The web is a great resource for information on gardening. It can become overwhelming however when you start searching for planting guides, pest and disease information and so on. It is important to remember that just because you find it online doesn't make it true. It is best, when seeking such information online, to look for sites owned by universities and extension services. The information they provide is based on research and is the most reliable. It is also usually best to find information from a university in your region, because climate and zone can make a big difference when it comes to garden advice. A great resource is It is a cooperative extension system, bringing together extension information from land grant universities across the country. One of the great features is that the system will automatically determine which is your closest extension service, and connect you to information relevant to your region. Be sure to check it out.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

the numbers are in

After entering all the harvest data from the last month, here's the grand total to date with a few totals from individual crops.

Total harvest from the Edible Landscape: 485 pounds
Chard: 88 pounds
Zucchini (1 plant): 38 pounds
Lettuces: 33 pounds
Eggplant (7 plants): 64 pounds
Tomato (5 plants): 43 pounds
Cucumber (2 plants): 30 pounds
Carrots: 25 pounds
Peppers (8 plants): 30 pounds

We're still harvesting lots of eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, chard, zucchini, yellow squash and herbs. And as the days grow cooler we'll be harvesting winter squash, kale, radishes, beets and more lettuces.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Raspberries are a great addition to the edible landscape.
Last week I harvested the first of the raspberries...15 to be exact. They were beautiful and delicious! From the looks of the plants there will be a lot more to harvest in the coming days. There are two varieties of raspberries in the Edible Landscape this year, Autumn Britten and Caroline, both primocane bearing raspberries. More about that in a minute. According to U of M variety trials, Autumn Britten is a fairly hardy, early season variety with good productivity. It produces large, attractive, firm fruit with excellent flavor that freezes well. Caroline is a later variety which is also fairly hardy. It is a good producer of large, attractive, relatively firm fruit with very good flavor that freezes well. There are many other varieties that can be grown in Minnesota, and the U of M conducts variety trials on these and many other fruits. The results of these trials, and a wealth of other information can be found on the U of M Commercial Fruit website.

Now, Raspberries 101. There are two main types of raspberry plants: "floricane-bearing" (aka. "summer-bearing") and "primocane-bearing" (aka. "ever-bearing" or "fall-bearing"). Floricane-bearing raspberries have fruit only on the second-year canes. This means the canes grow only vegetatively for the first year. In the second year, these canes produce flowers which then become fruit in the summer. These canes then die. Primocane-bearing raspberries can produce fruit on the first-year canes as well as on second year canes. Fruit on the first year canes will be ready in the fall, after the second-year canes have finished up their summer crop...hence "ever-bearing". Make sense? If not, keep reading and you'll be directed to some helpful links.

You have to be a little careful when growing fall-bearing raspberries in Minnesota because our occasional early frosts can wipe out an entire crop. However, if you prune them correctly, you can get a nice harvest in summer and another in fall, hopefully before the frost hits. Pruning is essential to maintaining a controlled raspberry patch, especially in an edible landscape. Trellising will also help keep raspberries under control. Be creative with trellising and it will even add an ornamental aspect to your landscape. However, if the natural, rambling, thickety raspberry patch is your thing, by no means let me dissuade you. Except for this one might be inclined to pick a lot more if they're easy to access and relatively tidy. With that said, raspberries are a wonderful treat in the edible landscape, offering height, texture and color to your design in addition to all that delicious fruit! Click here to learn How to Grow Raspberries in the Home Garden.

Other helpful tips on growing raspberries and using them in the landscape can be found at the following links:
Raspberries in the Home Garden (Cornell Univ.)
Raspberry Diseases (U of M Extension)
Raspberry Insect Pests (U of M Extension)
Small Fruits for the Home Landscape (Colo. State Univ.)

Monday, August 31, 2009

harvest time

A colorful harvest this week.
This week we will be harvesting lots of good stuff from the Edible Landscape. Here's a list:
  • Eggplant (4 varieties)

  • Zucchini

  • Yellow crookneck squash

  • Peppers (5 varieties)

  • Tomatoes (4 varieties)

  • Chard (tons!)

  • Mizuna mustard greens

  • Raspberries

  • Cucumbers

  • Okra

  • Onions

  • Basil (3 varieties)

  • Mint

  • Chives and garlic chives

  • Sage

  • Thyme

  • Oregano

  • Rosemary

Plus many colorful and fragrant flowers to liven up the kitchen table.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

powdery mildew arrives

Powdery mildew on zucchini.
It has happened. Powdery Mildew (PM) has come to the Edible Landscape. Thankfully we have many resistant varieties in the edible landscape, so plants such as petunias and zinnias (which are commonly susceptible) have gone unharmed. The trouble is primarily with the squash. The winter squash and melons have it the worst. Zucchini is next. I also noticed it on the Red Lake currant. The cucumbers look ok so far, as do the yellow summer squash.

Good cultural practices can help prevent an outbreak. These include:
  • planting resistant varieties (not too helpful if you like to grow heirlooms)

  • locating plants in a sunny area (minimizing shade)

  • maintaining good air circulation around the plants to keep humidity low

  • avoiding excess fertilizing (too much and you'll have so much foliage that air circulation will be reduced)

  • removing infected material to reduce spread (although once powdery mildew is out there, it seems impossible to stop it)

  • using drip irrigation, and avoiding excessive irrigation

Many extension bulletins go on to say that regular applications of fungicide may be necessary, starting at the first sign of infection and every 10 days thereafter. This is rarely necessary in the home garden, and should be avoided. PM generally doesn't arrive until late in the season when plants are declining anyway. It is also very season-dependent, so just because you had it this year, doesn't mean you will next year.

There are some organic home remedies and a couple of commercial products out there that I have not personally tried, but may offer prevention and in some cases control of a powdery mildew infection. As one reader found, a mixture of milk and water is often recommended on various gardening websites. One of the few commercial products for organic control of PM is Green Cure, a product developed by a plant pathologist at Cornell University. It is a potassium bicarbonate-based substance, and the manufacturers claim it can be used as a preventative and also will control existing infections. Be sure to do your homework before applying any type of treatment to your plants.

the late-season shuffle

Another round of lettuce. Seeds were sown
in a little bare spot where previous lettuce
had bolted.
It's getting to that time of year when the edible landscape starts to look a little....tired. The former sea of golden calendula is now a sea of developing seed-heads (keeping up with dead-heading seems futile). The cosmos are leaning and looking a little spindly. The dill has completely gone to seed and is beginning to flop over due to its magnificent height. And while I should perhaps have pulled it out weeks ago and put something else in, I love its height and the copper color it has attained. Besides, the void would be tough to fill. So with the help of Erin (my diligent garden assistant) I stake up the thick, woody stalks to allow the dill to enjoy the rest of the season as the garden's loftiest inhabitant.

Some of the annuals, so vigorous throughout the season, have overgrown their allotted space or simply overgrown their ability to hold themselves up any longer. Take for example the borage. Having grown to about 4 feet, with stems almost 2 inches in diameter, these fleshy plants are so heavy that staking has proved useless...they simply take the stakes down with them. So I've been pulling some, mainly to keep them from smothering some of their neighbors like the yellow squash and various peppers. To fill the voids left behind, I moved a few containers with blueberry and mint from their original spots (which were so filled with kale you could barely see the containers anymore), added a little mulch around them and, voila! This tired, overgrown bed now looks fresh again.
Tucking radish seeds into a late-season
empty spot in the edible landscape.

The Edible Landscape is getting a makeover in other areas too! Mustard greens that have bolted were removed, a few woody and dry summer savory plants were pulled, the chervil and cilantro which both have flowered and become ragged were removed...all to make way for the planting of some autumn vegetables. Stop panicking...yes, I said "autumn". But don't be afraid. Late summer is the perfect time to plant some new crops for fall. And it is strangely satisfying to pull out a few of those tired summer plants to make way for something fresh and new. Adding a little compost and preparing a bed for late-season beets, radishes, lettuces, chard and kale has a rejuvenating effect. And it is heartening to know that when the last of the glorious tomatoes have been harvested, there will be something new to look forward to as the days grow cooler. All these plants appreciate the cooler days to come, and their flavors will be sweetened by the crispness of autumn. And since this is an edible landscape, we can be cheered by the thought that these new additions will offer stunning color and texture long after many flowers have begun to fade. Wouldn't you know it, the University of Minnesota Extension Service has a handy guide for planting vegetables for fall harvest. It's not too late to add something new to your edible landscape! If you're having trouble finding seeds locally, here are a few online sources I've had success with.

Cooks Garden
Seeds of Change
Seed Saver's Exchange

Radishes are ready for harvest just a few short weeks after sowing.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009 minnesota?

Burgundy okra growing along side zinnias. Look at those
colors! And check out that creamy yellow okra flower!
We often think of okra as a southern staple, and rightly so: this plant thrives in hot weather. But it is possible to successfully grow okra up here in the north, because okra a fairly fast grower (60 days for 'Burgundy'). So it works even in our short growing season. Yields may not be as high as in the steamy south, but the plant alone is worth the effort. We have 'Burgundy' okra in the Edible Landscape, and the plant's deep maroon color is a beautiful contrast against the bright green stems and pastel blooms of the adjacent zinnias. Not only that, the okra flower is a sight to behold. A member of the Malvaceae (mallow) family, its relatives are hibiscus and hollyhock. The five-petaled flowers unfurl to reveal a creamy yellow (or pink) blossom, with a purple center. These flowers are replaced by deep burgundy pods within a few days, which should be picked young (4" long, unlike the one in the photo) for best flavor and texture.

The closest information I could find for growing okra in the Midwest was from Iowa State University.

master gardeners visit edible lanscape

 On Saturday August 8, 2009 a group of about 40 Master Gardeners attended a conference session at the Edible Landscape. We talked about the whats and whys of edible landscaping, and (despite the rain) spent some time in the garden exploring a few of the plants one might not often think about using in the landscape, such as kale and chard, as well as others that are more common. Participant groups searched the garden for information cards about their assigned plant which included plant species and family, cultural information, and culinary qualities of the plant. Participants then summarized this information to the rest of the group and offered their ideas on how their assigned plant might be utilized in the landscape. Some of the great ideas included:
  • strawberries as a ground cover
  • kale used to add height to the garden and interplanted with a colorful, low, trailing ground cover
  • chard in mass plantings or as border plants to show off their colorful stems
  • calendula to add structure and color to the garden

One of the questions that arose during the session is where to find information on good uses for things like kale or mizuna mustard in the kitchen. One easy way to find information is to do a Google search. As an example, try typing in "kale recipes". You'll be amazed at what you find. I always try to find a site with recipes that are rated by users, because it saves me time deciding if the recipe is worth trying. A few of my favorites are Epicurious, MyRecipes, Food Network and Eating Well. There are countless others that are either online magazines or collections of recipes posted by users. It's fun to search and try new things. And don't be afraid to substitute new ingredients in recipes you know and love. For example, if a recipe calls for spinach, try chard or kale from your edible landscape. You may be surprised to find you like it even better than the original! Here's an example that I've adapted from a recipe I found on Epicurious. It's a little out of season for right now (the thought of eating soup today, when it is 89 degrees, isn't so appealing), but you'll get the idea.

Fast White Bean Stew (and it is really fast!)
adapted from Epicurious
My adaptations are noted in italics.
  • 2 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/4 cup plus 1/2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 (14- to 15-ounce) can stewed tomatoes
  • 1 3/4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 (19-ounce) cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained (3 cups)
  • 1 (1/2-pound) piece baked ham (1/2 to 3/4 inch thick), cut into 1/2-inch cubes (or cooked bacon broken into pieces, thinly sliced prosciutto, or other flavorful meat)
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 10 cups loosely packed chopped kale or swiss chard
  • 8 (3/4-inch-thick) slices baguette
Cook garlic in 1/4 cup oil in a 3 1/2- to 4 1/2-quart heavy pot over moderately high heat, stirring, until golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Coarsely cut up tomatoes in can with kitchen shears, then add (with juice) to garlic in oil. Stir in broth, beans, ham, and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, 5 minutes. Stir in greens and cook until wilted, about 3 minutes.
While stew is simmering, preheat broiler. Put bread on a baking sheet and drizzle with remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil. Broil 3 to 4 inches from heat until golden, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes.
Serve stew with toasts or with crusty bread torn into pieces.


The internet is a great resource for recipes, so don't be afraid to plant things like broccoli raab, mizuna mustard, pak choy, true siberian kale, okra and tomatillos. Not only will they bring delicious new flavors to your table, they look absolutely stunning in the garden! Of course, if you have any recipe ideas, please feel free to share them here by clicking on the "comment" link at the bottom of this post.

Thanks to all the Master Gardeners who attended the Edible Landscape session at the 2009 MN State Master Gardeners Conference. It was a great morning of sharing ideas!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

the almightly chard

Easy to grow chard looks as good
as it tastes.
And now a little plug for Swiss chard. I'm a little biased because it is one of my very favorite vegetables. It is so much more flavorful than spinach, has a little more body than spinach (keeps its nice texture when cooked), is incredibly versatile in the kitchen (just Google "chard recipes" and you'll see), and if that weren't enough, it looks great in the landscape with its dark glossy leaves and colorful stems. And what's more, you can cut outer leaves all summer long to sautee, steam, stir fry, or bake into delicious tarts, frittatas or lasagnas. The plants will continue to grow and look fabulous all season. Be sure to add this attractive, delicious, nutritious and easy-to-grow variety to your garden next season. Better yet, you could still get it in the ground this year for a late-season crop.
Swiss chard and many other leafy greens are tolerant of cold temperatures. Find an open spot in the garden and sow some seeds. You'll have harvestable leaves in as little as 40 days. Yum! Be sure to rinse it well before cooking as the dimpled leaves really seem to hang onto dust and soil particles. None of us like to eat gritty greens! Here are links to a couple of my favorite recipes for chard from and the Food Network.
Swiss chard tart. Image borrowed from
The University of Minnesota Extension Service has some great resources on their website for growing all kinds of vegetables.

Red and orange stemmed chard add a ton of color to the garden!

bees love borage

One of the many bees dangling from
the borage flowers.
The edible landscape is going strong! Harvests this week include zucchini, yellow summer squash, more and more chard, lettuces, carrots, and a few pole beans. The tomatoes are getting close! The various flowers around the garden are keeping the bees and other pollinators coming. The borage has been especially attractive to bumblebees, honeybees, and various native bees and other pollinators. Stop by the garden to see them in action. It is quite amazing. Just look at the number of bees in these photos!

Borage grows to about 2-4 feet in height. Planted in masses it creates a dense clump of fuzzy foliage topped with dusky blue nodding flowers. The flowers and leaves are edible. Find out more about edible flowers in this U of M Yard and Garden Brief. Borage is also known to repel squash bugs, so it is planted near the zucchini, summer squash, winter squash and melons in the edible landscape.

In other Edible Landscape news, the cucumbers (which were transplanted in the broccoli raab's location after it was finished) are starting to fruit.

This mass of borage is simply buzzing with activity.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

a little break

As you may have noticed, the Edible Landscape blog has been quiet for the past week. I've been in Eastern Idaho doing a little....research on native plants of the Inter-mountain West. Ok, truthfully I was on vacation, but did see a lot of amazing specimens. The hillsides and woods were covered with brilliant colors. So let's take a little break from the Edible Landscape and take a look at a few western wildflowers.
Now that I'm back in Minnesota, the Edible Landscape blog will pick up again. I haven't seen the garden since I've gotten back, but I'm sure a lot has changed in the last week, and there will be a lot to write about and a lot to show you. The Edible Landscape was featured in the U of M Extension Service Mid-July Yard & Garden Newsletter. Check it out. While you're doing that, I'll be thinking about all the 'research' I was doing last week.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

harvest update

After a big harvest this morning, the total yield of chard so far this season is over 33 pounds!

Monday, July 6, 2009

garden of plenty

The harvests from the Edible Landscape are increasing and becoming more diverse. We've been picking lettuces and other salad greens for over a month and they just keep growing! The two varieties of kale have been harvested at least once a week since mid-June. And the chard is growing so quickly it's hard to keep up. Yesterday I harvested the first young, tender zucchini and pulled the first carrots. Summer squash is not far off, peppers are beginning to peek out from under their glossy leaves, the eggplant are blooming, the beans are climbing and the tomato plants are in full flower with a few green tomatoes here and there. Here's a look at some of the numbers so far.

Salad mix (incl. Red Oak and Emerald Oak Leaf lettuce, Little Gem lettuce, Arugula and Mizuna and Osaka Purple mustards) : over 29 pounds.
Dinosaur Kale: 4 pounds
True Siberian Kale: 12 pounds
Broccoli Raab: 6 pounds
Chard: 12 pounds
Zucchini: 1 pound
Carrots: 2 pounds

Along with various herbs the total harvest from the Edible Landscape since June 3 is just about 75 pounds. Part of my interest in this project is to demonstrate just how much food can be produced in a relatively small space. Granted, the Edible Landscape beds add up to about 1500 square feet, but much of that is covered with beneficial flowers. I am working on calculating the square footage of each crop, which will then help to show just how much you can get from a square foot of good soil. Stay tuned.

Friday, June 26, 2009

oh, those beautiful tomato plants

Trying out stainless steel tomato spirals
to see how they work. So far so good.
When the Edible Landscape was first being planned, someone coyly remarked one day, "Good luck making tomato plants look beautiful". It got me thinking, why is a tomato plant not beautiful? Because of its gnarled stem? Its tangled foliage? Its proliferation of bulging fruits cracking their stressed branches? Ok, I guess I can see that. But...what about the grand height to which that gnarled stem reaches? The striking texture of the tangled foliage? And the brilliant hues of the ripe fruits peeking through all that green? If you think about it a little differently, that scraggly tomato plant could actually be a wonderful addition to your garden...not to mention the promise of all those fresh tomatoes! Of course, it helps to have an interesting or unusual trellis to keep your plants under control and looking their best. We have some cool stainless steel tomato spirals that are quite a conversation piece!

Worried about how those lower browning leaves will look in your landscape as summer progresses? Clever planting around the base can hide those, and provide nice contrasts in texture, height and color. Here's an idea that is working well in the Edible Landscape: Instead of planting the common French or African marigolds, which are a mainstay in the garden, try Signet Marigolds, Tagetes tenuifolia. These marigolds have a mounded form with feathery foliage covered with small blooms. They look great planted with basil and parsley around tomatoes.

It's time to rethink how edibles are used in the landscape. They don't have to be banished to a corner at the back of the yard. They can be a part of your ornamental garden, because, depending on how you think about it they're just as beautiful as all those flowers.
Sweet and purple basil hug the base of
this healthy tomato climbing a steel
spiral support.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

some photos...just 'cause they're pretty

Enjoy a few photos from a sunny day in the Edible Landscape.
Buds on a pole bean. 

Golden chard and one of my favorite
ornamentals, scarlet tassel flower. Nice combo!

Water droplet on a kale leaf,
after an early morning watering.

A great combo, peppers and petunias.
Look at those colors! Wow!
Cosmos, another favorite ornamental. So much color,
and those cheery blooms always make me smile.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

things are a'buzz

Syrphid fly on broccoli raab.
Do you ever look closely...really closely at your garden? Do you stop and listen? If so you have seen and heard the wealth of activity that occurs in a garden on a sunny summer day. The Edible Landscape has been very busy with insect activity lately. A wide array of pollinators have been seen on the dill flowers, broccoli raab flowers, many of the ornamentals and especially the baby pak choy that flowered last week. Not only have the pollinators been hanging around the Edible Landscape, a myriad of other beneficial insects have taken up residence among the lettuces and calendula...just to name a few.

It is important to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys when it comes to insects in the garden. If you see a mass of insect eggs on the underside of a leaf, don't immediately smash them assuming you're saving your plants from imminent danger. They may be eggs of a lady beetle, for example, which is a voracious predator of aphids. There are numerous online resources for identifying insects in the garden. The U of MN Extension Service has some info on beneficial insects. Once you learn to recognize the beneficial insects from the pests, you'll be able to more effectively control the pests...most likely with the help of some little insect allies! Check out the Yard and Garden page on the Extension Service website to find lots of great gardening information, advice and tips, including lots of information on garden insects.
A harvestman, also known as daddy longleg, on calendula.
Syrphid fly (aka hover fly) on dill.

Friday, June 19, 2009

broccoli raab

Photo courtesy of
The fine, tender shoots of broccoli raab are delicious steamed, sauteed or stir fried. However, over the last week or so the broccoli raab in the edible landscape has been flowering like crazy, and the shoots have become very long, slender and tough. When sauteed they ended up tough and stringy with the not-so-tantalizing flavor of slightly bitter broccoli. So what to do with the huge bin we've harvested? Broccoli raab pesto! Basil or spinach could be added to the following recipe to sweeten the flavor, but made with only the broccoli raab, it turned out very tasty, and was great on pasta!

Broccoli Raab Pesto
Quantities are up to you, since they're totally dependent on taste.

Lots of broccoli raab shoots (with flowers is ok)
Good quality olive oil
Grated Parmesan cheese
Pine nuts or almonds

Coarsely chop broccoli raab shoots. Blanch in boiling water just until tender. Remove from heat and plunge into cold water. Drain and squeeze all excess water from shoots. In a food processor, pulse shoots with nuts until finely ground. Begin adding olive oil in a stream until mixture is smooth. Add Parmesan cheese to taste and pulse until incorporated. Add salt to taste. Serve on pasta or any way you would use basil pesto.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

compost and fertilizing

Compost burn on young kale plants. They were mature
enough however to endure the damage. Only the lowest
leaves were affected, and the plants outgrew it.
A fresh load of compost was delivered last week, which was used to finish up mulching the remaining beds in the Edible Landscape. The compost was pretty "hot" and burned many of the plants in those beds. In most cases the plants were large enough that only the lowest leaves were affected. A few smaller transplants are still struggling, but for the most part new growth is appearing, and things look a-ok. The compost will slowly add organic material and nutrients throughout the season, and the thick layer (about 3-5 inches) will act as a mulch to help inhibit weeds and hold moisture in the soil. The U of M Extension Service offers a lot of helpful information on composting and mulching in the home landscape.

Compost burn on a young nasturtium plant.
Soil samples were sent in this morning for analysis to start determining a fertilizing plan for the Edible Landscape. A soil test is an important step in fertilizing because it tells you exactly what nutrients are needed, thereby saving money and reducing excessive fertilizing. The U of M Soil Testing Laboratory explains the process and makes it simple to have your soil tested.

Compost burn on Osaka purple mustard.
A soil test and leaf tissue analysis will be performed for our container-grown blueberries. Marginal and interveinal reddening has been present on two of the three plants. The blueberries are potted in a mixture of peat and perlite. An organic acid fertilizer was mixed in at planting. With the results from both analyses, we'll know exactly what steps to take to improve growing conditions for the blueberries. The U of M Research Analytical Lab offers plant tissue testing (only available to University researchers and government agencies at this time), and provides detailed explanations on how to interpret results.

Chlorosis on blueberry leaves. Likely due to high soil pH.

new signs are up

New signs in the demo gardens tell about what's happening
in each area. 
Stop by the Edible Landscape to see the new signs! And while you're there take a walk through the rest of the demonstration and teaching gardens to find more signs detailing the interesting things going on. The Edible Landscape is located in front of the Plant Growth Facility, and the rest of the gardens are across Gortner Ave. Click here for a map.

Friday, June 12, 2009

warming up

Cool temperatures mean a little slower
growth on heat lovers like tomatoes.
The cool temperatures this June have been a little tough on the warm-season vegetables like tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. These plants haven't done much in the past week or so, but with a few warm days things should get going again. On the other hand the lettuces, kales, mustards, pak choy and broccoli raab have been loving the cool weather. The only problem with those are the pesky flea beetles which have selected their favorites: broccoli raab, baby pak choy, Osaka purple mustard, arugula, Mizuna mustard and the True Siberian kale. Damage however has been tolerable, and is really only cosmetic at this scale.

Check out the following links for suggestions on planting dates and information on flea beetles.

Planting the Vegetable Garden
Flea Beetles in the Home Garden

Flea beetle damage shouldn't pose too big a problem.
The plants are healthy and sturdy and should withstand it.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

plant list for 2009

Certain fruit and vegetable plants were selected for several reasons:
  • Easy to grow (chard, kale, lettuces, pole beans, snap peas, herbs, strawberries, tomatoes...)
  • Popular (tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, herbs, zucchini, snap peas, baby lettuces...)
  • Interesting colors and textures (chard, kales, mustards, baby lettuces, summer squash, pak choy, broccoli raab, various sages...)
  • Useful (everything!)
Flowering plants were also selected for various reasons:
  • Long flowering period or overlapping flowering periods
  • Various heights, textures and colors
  • Regarded as good companion plants for many edibles (marigolds, nasturtium, borage, oregano, monarda...)
  • Regarded as good for attracting beneficial insects (monarda, alyssum, bachelor buttons, lavender, echinacea, rudbeckia)
Here's a list of the plants used in the U of M edible landscape (click to enlarge).