Greengirls Helen Yarmoska, Nicole Hvidsten, Martha Buns, Connie Nelson, Kim Palmer and Mary Jane Smetanka are dishin' the dirt from the back-yard garden and beyond. Whether you're a greenthumb or greenhorn, they're eager to learn from your mishaps, mistakes - and most importantly, your sweet successes - all growing season long.
Remember last year's Edible Estate? That was the front yard in Woodbury where an artist/horticulturist tore up the traditional lawn and replaced it with a dense forest of food crops.
So what's going on this growing season, now that the Schoenherr family is on their own, with no donated plants or free expert help?
Pretty much the same as last year -- that was the surprising news when I visited the family last week. They're still growing more than 100 edible crops, covering almost all their large suburban front yard. About half of last year's crops returned or self-seeded. The rest -- about 1,000 plants -- they started from seed in their basement, under grow lights.
Now that they can choose their own crop mix, they're growing fewer eggplants, but they've added some new edibles, including tomatillos and borage.
And their gung-ho neighbors, who dug in last year to help tend the mini-farm in their midst, are still at it, showing up for weekly "garden nights" to help pull weeds and help themselves to some produce.
"We really do have a lot of help," said Catherine Shoenherr. "It wouldn't be very fun to do this by yourself."
How has the family managed to turn their private front yard into a community garden? Find out in next week's Variety Home + Garden.
The woman on the hunt for hosta looked familiar. It was Betsy, my former neighbor. I hadn't seen her since the Greengirls plant swap two years ago, and before that for at least a decade.
It was great to catch up with her, trade notes -- and point out people who had hosta to swap.
That's what's fun about a plant swap, as opposed to browsing for plants at a garden center or even the farmer's market. There's more personal interaction as swappers make the rounds, check out what's available, then circle back to make a trade.
"Where's Helen?" asked a gardener tempted by the seedling tomatoes she spotted in a swapper's labeled stash.
"Who has horseradish?" another swapper asked. "Anyone seen any?"
Swaps bring out interesting people. I met seasoned green thumbs, like the woman who was turning her urban corner lot into a pollinator garden. I met enthusuastic rookies, like the guy who didn't know what plants he was bringing home and didn't care -- he just wanted to start his first garden.
One woman arrived very late, as the swap was winding down and the Greengirls (the Star Tribune's garden bloggers) were gathering up the leftover plants that hadn't found a home. Many of the orphan plants were a bit bedraggled, but the woman was happy to have them -- she tends a garden at a school with disabled children and needs all the plants she can get, she said.
If you didn't make it down to this year's swap, come join us next year. You'll find great plants and great people -- maybe even a familiar face, like a long-lost neighbor.
Oh, Minnesota. You definitely keep things interesting, from a gardener's perspective. Especially in spring.
Just two years ago, it was so hot and balmy in early April that experts had to caution us to resist the temptation to put hot-weather crops like tomatoes into the ground prematurely.
This week, we're looking at a weather forecast with a couple of dips down into the 30s. It'll feel "more like October than May," as meteorologist Paul Douglas noted.
So where does that leave us, in terms of spring planting? The old rule of thumb used to be to wait until Memorial Day. But in recent years, Mother's Day has become sort of the unofficial kick-off to the gardening season.
This year, the old model is probably the safest model, at least for certain plants.
Cold-hardy plants can handle a nippy spring. Cool-weather veggie crops like broccoli and cabbage thrive on it. But it's definitely too soon to plant tomatoes and peppers. If you've already bought those plants or grown them from seed, keep them inside a while longer. It's best to wait until the soil temperature reaches 50 degrees before putting them in the ground.
Tropicals and houseplants that you want to bring outside for the season also should stay indoors a while longer -- until there's nothing lower than 50 in the forecast.
What have you planted so far? And what are you still sheltering indoors?
Last night I got my first look at Edible Estate #15 since its installation over Memorial Day weekend.
A lot has changed. The tiny seedlings have blown up into big, beautiful vegetable plants -- more than 100 different crops, if you count color variations. The Schoenherrs' front yard in Woodbury is already producing so much food that the family of four can't eat it all. They're sharing veggies with their neighbors and bringing bags of lettuce to work to give to co-workers. "I don't want another salad for awhile," admitted Catherine Schoenherr.
She's most excited about the bright-purple cauliflower now peeping from its leaves. "We knew it was cauliflower but we didn't know it was purple," she said.
Her husband, John, is experimenting with pestos and juices, and their grown kids, Aaron and Andrea, are making salsa. And they're all trying to figure out what to do with chamomile, besides make tea.
Catherine has organized several "gardening nights" when neighbors are invited to come, pull a few weeds and bring home a bag of produce. And she'd like to plan a sauerkraut-making party later in the season. "We're going to have a ton of cabbage."
The garden is not open to the public, but the public can get a peek starting Aug. 8 at the Walker Art Museum, when it kicks off its Edible Estates exhibit, part of artist Fritz Haeg's residency. (Haeg is the creator of Edible Estates and the designer of the Schoenherrs' new landscape.) You can learn more about Haeg and his vision at: http://www.walkerart.org/magazine/2013/garden-all-seasons
We'll be featuring the Schoenherrs' new landscape in Home + Garden on Aug. 7. So what do you think? Would you want to grow this much food in your own front yard?
This last weekend, a good friend joined me in a class at the MN Landscape Arboretum. It was put on by Seed Savers Exchange and changed my outlook on vegetables. In the class, we learned about how plants are pollinated and the importance of plant diversity.
Plants produce seeds differently – and important to making the seed is the flower. The showy flowers of an eggplant and squash have evolved because of how the plants need to be pollinated. They need honey bees to share pollen between flowers.
On the other hand, a bean plant’s flower can pollinate itself – so it stays small and somewhat closed.
Tomatoes, for example, self pollinate and you can help increase plant production by shaking the plant a little bit during the flowering stage to "sprinkle" the pollen within the plant!
Learning seed saving techniques and more about the plant botany was great.
Many seeds are easy to save. Some are more difficult. This photo above is one of the more difficult seeds to save over the years. Take a guess at what these seed pods will produce.
Others, like watermelon are much easier to save -- once pollinated correctly. Yes, you can eat the watermelon and spit the seeds
out. What a fun way to save!
I’ll be bringing some seeds to our plant swap on May 18. I invite others who have seeds to join us. I'll be sharing some tof the things I learned at the class. So I hope to see you at 9 AM next week Saturday.
In the mean time -- what will those seeds on my hat produce????
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