Garden to table Autumn 2016


Sometimes having a garden is a lot like having a cat: who’s really in charge? Late summer and early fall are a time of overlapping harvest as the summer vegetables aren’t always done before some of the fall ones are ready. It can be hard to keep up! My food garden is heading for even lower maintenance next year: berries, new asparagus (planted this year, but no harvest for 2-3 more years), garlic, herbs, and kale.

Kale is a gardener’s dream: it’s not much bothered by weather and, if left to its own devices, can self-seed. I had cabbage moths flitting prettily around my yard. They decimated the broccoli in its container, but the kale only suffered a few holes. Finches frequently landed in the kale, sometimes as many as a half-dozen birds at a time, and pecked enthusiastically, so I think I can give them credit for natural bug control.

A garden of raised beds and containers worked great for our needs. It certainly makes the weeding easier and reduces critter problems. My daughter had great success with beans and carrots in containers. The carrots were a nice surprise since carrots never grow well in our heavy soil when we plant them straight in the ground. Our three sisters garden got a late start, so we’ll try again next year. We may even try to use the cold frame (which got a mention in a recent Mother Earth News article) to get a much earlier start on the corn.

The rest of my garden was a mixed success. The tomatoes grew very large and tipped their support cages over, but many of the fruit were diseased. The cherry tomatoes were healthy and non-stop, hurrah! We grew enough green beans to freeze a few, and the jalapeños were roasted and frozen for later use also.

As Megan Cain reminds readers in her book, Super Easy Food Preserving, we don’t have to grow all the produce we want to preserve. A lot of days there’s not time to both garden and cook. I miss  food preserving and want to do more cooking from scratch year-round…


So I’ve been planning to do more preserving from the farmer’s market. That’s assuming I can manage to not use up every bit of the goodness I get there!

img_3828 My upgraded landscaping has taken more time than I expected and has more weeds. Some of the volunteers are edible (like purslane and lambs quarters), and one is a dye plant (pokeweed). Many of the weeds are outgrowing the perennials I’m starting. Some volunteer sunflowers are always welcome. Morning glories went nuts, climbed everything, pulled some sunflowers to ground, and nearly toppled the new clematis trellises. Since I have morning glories elsewhere in the yard, I have tried to remove them from the clematis, which would have been a better idea in spring. The thing about gardening, though, is that there’s always next year.

What’s sparking joy?

img_3782  Before we pitched the tents in the backyard for practice, heck, even before August started, I had some moments of reckoning. Apparently I am a thick-headed student of the creative life. I’ve written several times about finding creative space in life, but I lost track again of my top ten (would this be on my top ten list of how I should be spending my time?) this summer. It was time to stare out into summer evenings and think about why I was feeling stressed and grumpy because when mama ain’t happy…well, you know how that goes.

I blamed my feelings of being rushed on the constant shuffling of family schedules and driving kids around and the sense of not getting things done on mosquitoes and the rain that fed a million weeds. Let’s be real. Leaky faucets, uncooperative caulk, drainage problems during heavy rains: the Yarnstead home has as many of those things as most 50-year-old houses. Aiming for balance requires constant adjustment. I get big plans, push myself to do more than is possible, and then bleh, stress becomes a more constant companion than creativity.

I didn’t think about how I’d felt that way in the past and what I’d done to feel better. Blaming is a waste of time; it keeps you from noticing all that you got done, gratitude, and  the therapeutic power of weeding (really! visible accomplishments, hands in the dirt, breeze on your face). So, how to get back to that top ten, how to recapture the focus I came back from Alaska with last year?

Think about what’s sparking joy. Yes, that reference is from from a KonMari-ing friend (thanks, J!),  but for me it’s not just about decluttering stuff. I will not be so busy. Do less, and don’t get stuck doing things because I’ve always done it that way or haven’t found time to think through what I really want to spend time on. Notice that you often do have enough time. Then follow it up with 4-5 days away from home, preferably away from electronics and out in the woods or at the shore. Soak up the restorative power of nature, and come home recommitted to your goals.



Garden to Table August 2016: tech support for food & yarn lovers

IMG_0120The long days of summer with a chaotic mix of heat and rain make everything grow like crazy! August is a time of great abundance in the Midwestern garden, and the farmers’ market tables are loaded with so many choices that we forget how hard it was to wait for tomatoes. Maybe you’ve picked up some yarn at the farmers’ market too…after all, fall is coming in a couple months.

Some times you might want a little help figuring out what to do with all that goodness. Here are a few of my favorites that you can use for free on your computer, smartphone, or tablet (or some combo of those):

Evernote – Great for saving online articles, blog posts, and recipes. Free to join on up to two platforms. Syncs between platforms so your notes are always read t0 go. Also great for writing draft blog posts and note taking!

Google Keep – While I can keep lists in Evernote, I like to use Google Keep for lists instead. This no-frills and easy-to-use app loads quickly, syncs between platforms, and allows quick and easy sharing of lists and notes with others.

feedly – Great for reading blog posts. Subscribe to your favorite blogs. feedly checks them regularly and compiles the new posts in your account. You can organize them by category (I have Assorted, Food, Fiber Arts, Gardening, Science) or just enjoy them any which way.

Ravelry – Love yarn? Then super-fun and useful Ravelry is for you. So easy to use, it has a database of yarns and patterns (so helpful to see what that pattern you’re considering looks like in different colors and yarns), online forums for many topics, online pattern shop, and sections to keep track of your projects, yarns, needles/hooks, and library! I love using Ravelry to search through my library from the comfort of the living room (“Hmm, I know I have a pattern somewhere in the house for a worsted weight scarf. Which book is it in?”). Want to access Ravelry on your phone or tablet? Try Stash2go for iOS or Android, or use the Ravelry mobile site.

E-books – Not everyone loves to read or work this way, but I’ve been able to get a lot of books for very little money this way! E-book publishers have short-term sales (and you can always check the Kindle bestsellers list in categories of interest on Amazon), so follow them on Twitter or subscribe to their lists (Storey Fresh Picks is one of my favorites for cooking, gardening and craft books) to find out about them. The picture above shows some of my favorite Kindle books and PDFs.

NYTimes recipes – A good iOS app and a really good website to get you access to the many recipes the Times has published over the years.

PDF reader – Really handy to be able to “mark up” a PDF of a recipe or pattern. I like GoodReader (iOS) and save a copy of both the original and my marked-up PDF knitting patterns that way.

Craftsy has online classes for crafts but also cooking and gardening! They have a number of free ones to get you started, and if you sign up to watch some, you can get notifications of sales on classes.
What did I miss? I look forward to reading about your favorites in the comments.

Ground cherries: grow your own for salsa!

IMG_3688Ground cherries are in season right now, and some lucky readers may find them at their local farmers’ market. This hardy fruit has a thin husk and looks a lot like a tomatillo as it ripens. Ground cherries are sometimes called cape gooseberries, but they are in a different genus from the round, slightly fuzzy gooseberries that grow on thorned bushes.IMG_3686Ground cherry plants have no thorns and, while slow to start from seed or last year’s fallen fruit outdoors, grow quickly once the weather warms up. In southern Wisconsin, they are more like self-seeding annuals than perennials, and you can speed up your growing a bit by purchasing seedlings at farmers’ markets or from Seed SaversIMG_3687The fruits often fall to the ground before they are fully ripe, but the fruit stays clean inside the husk. I like to mulch my plants with straw so I don’t need to pick the fruits out of the mud anyway. Later in the summer I will push a few fruits into the ground somewhere in my garden to get started on next year’s plants.

To me, ground cherries taste a little like pineapple; others suggest something between a pineapple and a strawberry. They have a somewhat grainy texture from their many tiny seeds. You can eat them plain. They are also good on salads. Try this: spinach, Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese, your favorite nuts and/or thinly sliced chicken, ground cherries, and some vinaigrette.
Other uses? Vicki has a chutney recipe on her blog that I’m looking forward to trying. I think they’d make a fun jam or fruit sauce. But my favorite use is either on salad or in salsa. When your family loves to cook, sometimes you find buried treasure tucked into a cookbook. Here’s a favorite treasure from my garden & kitchen to yours.
Dennis’s Ground Cherry Salsa
makes a little over 1 pint

1 pint ground cherries in husk (1 cup or slightly more after husks removed)
1/4 cup minced shallots
1/4 cup minced garlic chives (substitute 1 clove minced garlic if you don’t have these fun perennial herbs)
1 medium-sized, medium hot pepper. Red looks best. (Adjust to your own preference.)
2 TBSP. fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp. salt

Combine all ingredients. Chop by hand or using food processor.
Cover & chill at least 2 hours before eating.

Garden to Table July 2016: the Speed of Summer

Every year I think I know what’s coming, and every year it takes me by surprise. Yes, I remember that the berries in the garden will come one on the heels of the next, with cherries and currants overlapping the end of the strawberries and the beginning of the summer raspberries. About that time, the blueberries start to gradually turn from green to deep blue. Although summer break means some school-age helpers available to help pick, those big kids come to summer with their own plans. Frequently those plans require a chauffeur.

I feel so clever remembering to have extra sugar on hand to make jam, but then I find I am out of pectin. And…so are all the stores in my area, and for a few days, I look forlornly at the prepared fruit in the refrigerator and even more forlornly at the weeds. Every year they get ahead of me for some reason or another, and I wonder if I’m still doing too much. I was sure I would not have time to pick the white currants (a bush that appeared in my front flower bed a few years back as a volunteer) as well as the red. An unexpected free evening and a lingonberry rake (a.k.a. Swedish berry rake) made it quick work to do both bushes. The currants went into the freezer to be made later into some sort of sauce or chutney. The small cherry harvest made three delicious mini-pies. The strawberries from the market went into freezer jam! The ones from our patch got eaten fresh. The best ways I’ve found to cut down on weeding are mulching and gardening in raised beds and containers. I was relieved to find that the weeding went much faster than usual. It’s not realistic to think there will ever be a moment without them somewhere, so I “power weed” by taking the biggest out and working toward the smaller ones as time allows. This is surprisingly effective at clearing out and improving the look of the garden, helping the plants I intend to grow, and boosting the mood of the gardener. Once the first burst of growth is past, there is usually time for weeding to become more zen. A few moments here and there stolen during mornings and evenings means the weeds and I start to balance each other’s efforts.

In the fiber world, this is also the time for the much-anticipated Tour de Fleece. It’s a handspinning event that is organized on Ravelry and follows the schedule of the Tour de France. I’ve only done it three times but am always envious of the amazing yarn created in the years I haven’t participated. It’s the perfect social media event, with loads of eye candy on Ravelry and Instagram and online teams for support and trouble-shooting.

The Tour, like the berries and the weeds, arrives at the speed of summer. The creative life so often offers lessons on letting go, being patient, sticking with things, but apparently the lesson summer has for me is all about being in the moment before it rushes on.


Garden to Table May 2016: salad days

May 2016 is well underway. At the farmer’s market, there are plenty of salad greens and a few early veggies. My market share CSA started, and over the last two weeks, I’ve chosen spring turnips, spinach, spring greens, and bok choy. Having managed to get the freezer down to some freezer pickles and jam, I defrosted it ahead of the main garden/CSA/market season.

Preparing turnips with a recipe from A Girl and Her Greens by April Bloomfield (wow, she has the perfect chef name for springtime!)

What’s ready in my own garden? Spinach, asparagus, rhubarb, kale, and green onions. I didn’t get the cover off the cold frame one warm day, so my spinach is looking a bit overheated.

Sad spinach

Most garden work at the Yarnstead in spring is weeding, planting, mulching, and fertilizing. The raised beds and containers need some fertilizer before planting; some people change out the soil mix in their containers every year but not me.

The biggest garden work this year has been the landscaping work I hired out: redoing a section of our backyard with paths and permaculture beds! They did all the prep and mulching, and I get to do the planting. Oh, and all the maintenance, but there will be almost no weeding in this area this year.

After: mulch is your friend.

I want pollinator-friendly and low-maintenance plantings, so I’ve been thinking about lots of perennial plants. The thing that looks like a giant brush pile will be a hugelkultur bed eventually.

So far I’ve planted two new rhubarb next to the giant one that’s already out there. I’ve also made a new raised bed for asparagus out of old bricks and planted 10 crowns of Mary Washington. Blackberry bushes are scheduled to arrive in about two weeks.

I bought two bags of butterfly garden plants from Costco although I am not sure the varieties are native to Wisconsin, oops. Those I’ll be planting by the end of May. Last year I planted a wildflower mix that I brought back from Alaska and tossed in the (dried and squashed) milkweed pods I got from my neighbor. Those plants are growing in nicely.

Apparently I decided to go ahead with the dye garden right away without even realizing it. I found myself buying three coreopsis plants (we’ll see if they are unappealing to rabbits before adding more) for the permaculture area and seeding hollyhocks in the raised bed currently growing garlic and walking onions. I was also able to rescue a few of last year’s hollyhocks from the creeping bellflower. Next week I’ll be picking up some plants from the high school fundraiser including a flat of marigolds, and I’m paging through every one of my natural dye books.

Our remodeled yard will be a mix of edibles, dye plants, herbs, sunflowers, and pollinator plants. Most of these will come back each year on their own! There are a few areas adjacent to the professional work that I’ll be handling myself with my amateur ways (gulp). One is by the spruce peeking out of the right-hand side of the After picture above. I did a less intensive version of what the landscaper did but used straw for mulch since the area shouldn’t be very visible once the other plants grow in.

I worked around some existing flowers and decided to put the compost bin back where it used to be. There’s a buried phone line along the back of the property so am leaving that area to the wild violets. It’s a favorite corner of weeds and other surprises.

It’ll be fun to see how much it changes in a few months, so I’ll do a garden tour post in the middle of summer.

I’ve tarped over the property’s original garden area which is most of the area affected by creeping bellflower. That won’t be enough to kill it but I hope to knock it back and smother all the other weeds; that should make it easier to dig out some of the bellflower next year. To do a thorough job of it, I had to cover the old asparagus bed and part of the summer raspberries, but it’ll be worth it if it helps contain that invasive plant. Keep your fingers crossed.