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).


The final version of the Edible Landscape plan. A few things changed as we planted, but for the most part, the garden is planted as drawn! (Click on the image to see it full-size.)

visualizing the edible landscape

In addition to drawing garden plans, sketches of groups of plants based on average plant shapes and heights can help to visualize how the garden will look when mature.

getting started

It was mid-January when discussions began about designing an edible landscape for the garden beds outside the University of Minnesota Plant Growth Facility in St. Paul. The beds were buried by a few inches of snow, but talk was swirling about a garden that would include vegetables, flowers, fruit, herbs...all planted together in a design that would demonstrate how edibles can be incorporated into the landscape rather than being confined to the traditional garden rows. There were ideas on companion planting, flowers to attract beneficial insects throughout the season, various mulches for weed control and moisture retention, and which edibles might be easiest for a home gardener to add to their landscape. So as the snow was flying, plans were made, designs were drawn and seeds were ordered.