Meet our first 2020 Gardener of the Month -- @forksinthedirt!
Describe your garden.
Our garden is in a constant state of change and growth. Mother Nature really is the best teacher, and I agree 100% with Michael Pollan’s idea that, “The garden suggests there might be a place where we can meet nature halfway.” I also use my garden and the others I work with to grow community, which brings in so many bounties. It’s also a place I never take myself too seriously!
Our gardens are an integral part of the bigger picture of our suburban homestead. We garden, keep chickens, compost A LOT, heat our home partially with a wood stove and tap our maple trees. We keep working towards responsible (and realistic) levels of self-sufficiency without sucking all the fun out of living in the here and now.
Our home(stead) is on the outskirts of the St. Paul suburban landscape. We have a double deep city lot that makes it tricky to practice permaculture zones ??. Our entire backyard is edged in gardens, lots of perennials, some edible landscaping. There’s a shade garden under a line of old spruce and pollinator garden in the back across from the main 24’ X 50‘ vegetable garden. Since we keep chickens in the back half of the yard as well, there’s a good fence surrounding our yard, and the garden. In the main vegetable garden, we grow in seven 4’ X 8’ raised beds and roughly the same amount of square footage in-ground. We also have a few berry patches and a cold frame in the back area.
I enjoy companion planting (both the right veggies together and the right flower/veggie combos) so my vegetable gardens always have lots of blooms bringing in beneficial insects. Visitors to my garden always mention how many insects they see flying around, and how many worms they see when they harvest root crops with us.
An arbor spanning two of the beds creates a focal point and supports lots of climbers. We also use cattle panels to grow beans, tomatoes and cucumbers vertically. I would say in the spring my garden looks well planned and spaced, and by August it is a riot of color and food, with everything from Aronia berries to zucchini overflowing their boundaries. But that’s how I like it! I know all too soon I’ll be cutting the garden back and laying compost for the barren winter stretch. It also helps that I am continually harvesting plants that I’ve interplanted, allowing the big old fall brassicas to expand after the beets or greens have been harvested.
What’s the hardest thing about gardening?
Knowing how easy, rewarding, healthy, soul satisfying, joy bringing it is to grow a garden and not talk to EVERYBODY I meet about gardening! ?? (see swear jar meme)
Also- timing. I am always learning more about succession planting and interplanting. That’s tricky enough to time correctly, but climate change takes that trickiness to a whole new level. It also reminds me how important growing our own and eating locally really is to our future.
If you could have one gardening superpower, what would it be?
Ohhhh, Instant Compost Creation Zapper! (My son read this and wanted to add a ‘heat force field’ so he could eat fresh strawberries all year long.)
We see that you live in Minnesota! Tell us a little bit about your gardening seasons. Do you garden in the spring, summer, and fall? What are some challenges about your zone?
I grew up gardening in Minnesota, so the shorter growing seasons (we average frost free between May 5th – Oct 2nd) are just how we roll. In addition to those five frost-free months I’m able to add on to the shoulder seasons (early spring and late fall) by using a combination of tactics. Choosing the right plant plus the right variety of seed is key to getting good yields in our cool seasons. I also use poly and PVC to create moveable low tunnels, so I can rotate my cold weather crops.
The summers tend to get hot here (often over 100°F) so keeping a good layer of mulch in the garden beds keeps roots happy through those dog days. Keeping up with everything (weed, water, harvest, preserve, plant) in the middle of Summer is one of my biggest challenges. Our Northern growing season follows the sun’s intensity and is compacted into a few short months rather than spread out over the year. Into the Fall it’s just fun to see how far I can push our last harvest.
Saving your harvest must be an important part of living up North. What’s your best tip for canning/preserving food?
With so much happening right at peek harvest time, it is hard to keep up with canning. So, I’ve started freezing my harvests to process in the winter. As I write this in the depths of winter, I have bags of frozen tomatoes, peas, chopped peppers, corn, shredded zucchini, pesto, green beans, broccoli and edamame waiting in the deep freeze. My top freezer tip is to freeze your tomatoes whole or halved and let defrost- the skins just slip right off!
Have you gotten anyone else in your family interested in gardening?
My two boys (7 and 10 years old) grew up gardening with me. They both get how much better the food we grow tastes, so they’re willing to help, especially once the garden starts needing daily harvests. They still need some convincing when it comes to weeding ??. They’re also great at pest control; running around collecting Japanese beetles, cabbage moths and grubs into pots from the garden to feed our chickens.
You look like quite the cook/baker! Do you have a favorite recipe using garden-fresh ingredients?
My most requested recipe during the harvest glut time is my Zucchini Sweet Relish, found on my Forks in the Dirt blog post, How to Relish Zucchini Season. I always make time to can a few big batches of this to give out jars for Christmas gifts each year.
My personal favorite recipe is the simple Dilly Bean. I make both fermented and canned versions. Recipes in my blog post, Crispy Crunchy Dilly Beans.
As a 2020 Gardener of the Year, you’ll receive 2 sample boxes of Burpee Home Gardens’ 2021 new varieties… one for you and one for a friend! Who will you give your second sample box to and why?
I’ll be sharing the extra plants with the Matoska Elementary World School kids and the gardens I help with there. 50% of the food we grow goes to our local food shelves, I love the way the gardens are teaching the next generation about growing their own food and caring about their community. Thank you from all the kids and our community for the plants! I can’t wait to get started… is it Spring yet?