Harvesting Asparagus and Making Asparagus Pie

Every spring in the community garden, we look forward to the asparagus. Asparagus is one of the first crops out of the garden. At the community garden, we have an asparagus harvesting schedule: in April and May we sign up in groups of 2-3 for a week of asparagus harvesting. Last week was my week.

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Making a Trellis for Raspberries

Over a week ago, I shared some photos of the raspberry patches at my dad’s house. The raspberries have been allowed to spread all over the lawn in disorganized clumps and patches, growing into walkways, etc, and I was ready to exert some organization into the situation.

The plan was to devote two long rows of a sloped terraced garden area to the raspberries. This was more or less where the raspberries were when my dad bought the house, so it kind of makes sense to corral them back in that location.

There are four terraces in this area. I wanted to have two rows of raspberries, one on the second terrace and one on the third terrace. The first and fourth terraces framing the raspberries have kiwis and grapes. The two rows of raspberries would be back-to-back, divided by the stone terrace wall, and there would be paths on the outsides of the raspberries – between the raspberries and kiwis above and between the raspberries and grapes below. Like this:

The trellises would be posts at ends of the beds with guide wires at two or three different heights to support the canes.

Like this, except much longer, spanning the entire row

We used materials that we already had around the house. For the upper row, we had 8-foot 2″x2″ or 2″x1″ pieces of wood that we secured in the ground by burying them at least a foot in packed down gravel, and supported by concrete cylindrical blocks.

Two poles on the upper terrace in.
The view from the other side

For the lower level, we used 8-foot-long, 1″ or 1.5″-wide PVC pipe stuck in the ground over two-foot pieces of rebar (the rebar was stuck most of the way in the ground, and the PVC pipe slid over the rebar and into the ground part way, if that makes sense).

The first post on the lower terrace in

We drilled holes in the posts at the appropriate heights for the wire. The wire we used was actually cable wires (as in wires for cable TV) that we’d removed from outside of the house. (Who watches cable TV anymore? Do kids these days even know what that is?). We tightened the wires as best we could and anchored them to concrete blocks on either end of the rows.

Repurposed cable wire. We thought this was clever.

Here’s the final result!

Looking North at the upper raspberry terrace and walkway
Looking North
The view South
One more looking south at the lower terrace and walkway.
You can see the grape vines down below (right side of photo).

It doesn’t look like much in these photos, and there is obviously, still some work to. The path on the lower level needs to be more defined – the raspberries in that row need to be moved out of the path. We should also transplant raspberries from other parts of the yard to fill in the ends of the rows, but all that will wait until after raspberry season – no sense in ruining this year’s crop. For now, I’m pretty pleased with how it looks, especially since we used only things we found around the house.

Growing Mint For Tea

Mint grows like a weed. If you put it in the ground it will spread and take over. Once you have it, it will be hard to eradicate. You really need to keep it in a pot to prevent it from spreading. A nearby community garden made the mistake of planting mint in the ground.

So much mint!

But their mistake is my good fortune. I’ve been wanting to try to make my own mint tea, and since the only kind of gardening I’m doing at the moment is container gardening (not counting the community garden, of course), I thought now would be as good a time as ever to try to growing mint.

I pulled up a bit of the peppermint from the patch at the community garden, cut the roots/rhizomes into roughly 2 inch pieces and put them in a pot. I gave them a bit of water and that’s it.

Mint cuttings to plant

There are a million and one recipes for mint tea with fresh mint leaves: The Spruce Eats, Gourmande in the Kitchen, Martha Stewart, Champagne Tastes….

They all say pretty much the same thing:

  1. Get a bunch of fresh mint leaves
  2. Put them in a cup or teapot
  3. (Optional: Muddle the leaves)
  4. Add boiling water
  5. Let steep for 5-10 minutes

I followed those steps, and the results were….

Steps 2 and 3: Mint leaves muddled in a cup
Step 4: Add hot water
Step 5: Steeping for 5-10 minutes

…lackluster.

The tea was weak and bland. I left it steep for longer (30 minutes), which resulted in weak, bland, and lukewarm tea.

I left the concoction sit in the glass overnight, and when I checked on it the next morning, it was much darker in color and finally tasted like mint! I re-heated it and added a tiny bit more boiling water, and it was actually pretty good.

After steeping overnight, mint leaves (mostly) removed

It’s not quite the same as the mint tea bags you’d buy at a store. It has a slight…uh…earthy note. It takes a little getting used to, but after a few sips, it’s just as good as the store bought stuff.

If you like fresh mint tea, I think it would be best to brew up a pitcher of this tea once a week, and keep it in the fridge. Reheat a small cup-fulls as you like, or drink cold as an iced tea. I haven’t tried adding honey or sugar, but I imagine that would be fine.


Marie’s Recipe for Fresh Mint Tea

Serves: 1 (multiply recipe for more portions)

Time: 5 minutes (plus 8 hour steeping time)

  1. Get a bunch of mint leaves (maybe 10? 20?)
  2. Place them in a cup and “muddle” them by mashing them with a wooden spoon for a minute or two
  3. Add boiling water to the cup
  4. Let it sit for at least 8 hours, or longer if you’d like
  5. Strain out mint leaves
  6. Reheat and enjoy! (Or refrigerate until chilled and enjoy!)

We Have A Winner!

Over the past week, not one….not two… but FIVE direct-sown Meyer Lemon seeds have sprouted.

If you missed the first post about the Meyer Lemon seeds, and don’t know what I’m talking about read this first.

I chitted (green-sprouted, paper towel method, whatever you want to call it) three Meyer lemon seeds and direct sowed six seeds to see whether it was really worth the time and fussiness of green-sprouting first before planting. (Note: In my original post, I direct sowed three, but I was super skeptical that they would sprout, so I added three more to the pot a couple days later for good measure.

Well, as you know, two of the chitted Meyer lemon seeds germinated. I planted both chitted seeds in soil (the first on 4/11/20 and the second on 4/24/20). The one planted on 4/11 sprouted out of the dirt on 4/25. The seed planted on 4/24 sprouted out of the dirt on 5/2. In between the first seed sprouting and the second seed sprouting, FIVE of the six direct sown seeds sprouted.

The chitted seed is on the left and the direct sown seeds are on the right

That to me is an obvious vote for direct sowing. Five of six direct sown seeds sprouted in the same time it took 2 of 3 chitted seeds to sprout. Yes, I know it’s an N of 9, but I got better (or at least equal) results with direct sown Meyer lemons, and I didn’t have to bother with scarification or unfolding the paper towel every few days to see if anything had germinated. I just put the seeds in the soil, kept them moist, and waited.

To be fair, though, the chitted seed (in the above photo on the left) is a bit bigger than the other seeds, but I’m sure they’ll catch up quickly.

Another interesting part of this experiment is how long it took to get sprouts. I was almost about to give up. It took almost six weeks to get cotyledons. From what I read online, two weeks is standard. Not sure why my seeds are such slow pokes. My best guess is that they wanted warmer weather. Any other hypotheses?

Let’s just hope I can keep them alive during my upcoming move to California!

A Quick Community Garden Update: Spring Crops

The first crops that we planted at the community garden are growing fast now. Here are some photos I took when I was there last Sunday:

Potatoes
Peas
Onions
Lettuce

Lastly, I wanted to share a photo of the raspberry patch. Other members of the garden spent a lot of time recently weeding, laying down cardboard and bark chips, and replacing some of the polls and wires. It’s looking so good!

Composting on an Apartment Balcony

In honor of International Compost Awareness Week

… Welcome to a new series I’m going to call “Will It Compost?” (Think: “Will It Blend?” but more environmentally friendly).

About a month ago (March 28th, to be exact), Nate and I decided to embark on an experiment: Composting On An Apartment Balcony.

Nate has an apartment with a balcony and lots of hungry potted plants. So, he was game to try to make some compost to feed his plants.

Composting is really just organic matter decomposing. You don’t actually have to do anything to compost; it’s happening all the time. If not for composting we’d have landfills full of twigs, and leaves, and grass clipping. Can you imagine? The fancy gadgetery that is marketed for composting simply helps to speed up the process.

Nate and I don’t have any fancy composting gadgetery, but we’re composting anyway. We gathered our “greens” (kitchen scraps, eggshells, lots of orange peels) and our “browns” (dried leaves, cardboard scraps). The greens provide nitrogen and the browns provide carbon. You are supposed to have more browns than greens (more carbon than nitrogen). (If you want to go into the science of composting, Texas A&M and Cornell University have very comprehensive explanations.) Additionally, we got a little bit of finished compost, which I thought might be helpful as an inoculant, introducing beneficial microbes, and speeding up the process.

We used the biggest pot we had — I’m not sure of the exact measurements of this one, but I’d estimate that it’s about a 25-gallon-sized pot.

And then we layered the greens and browns in the pot along with the finished compost.

Browns (leaves)

Finished Compost

Greens (Kitchen scraps, including orange peels and eggshells)

More Browns (leaves, shredded egg carton)

More Finished Compost

More Greens

Last Layer of Browns

And that’s it. We left it on the balcony.

Nate gives it a stir every 5 days or so and gives it some water if its looking dry. And that’s it.

Here’s how its looking now:

Surprisingly, it seems to be working out well. The orange peels and apple cores have become completely unrecognizable. The eggshells are still identifiable, though. Nate says he doesn’t notice any smell. It almost seems too easy — there must be a catch, right? Any guesses as to how long we’ll have to wait until its ready to use? Or will his balcony be infested by rats and flies first?

A Tidy Raspberry Patch

I love love love raspberries. One of my favorite memories as a kid was eating raspberries straight off the bushes in the backyard, one after another, until I was so full I couldn’t possibly eat another. At our house in Wisconsin, the raspberries grew in a bed along the fence at the back of the property. In my dad’s current house, however, the raspberries have spread…

…all…

…over…

…the yard.

They’ve become a bit of a nuisance, growing where paths should be, and just generally looking untidy. I would love to have a nice neat raspberry patch like this:

Image source: thealaskalife.com

I’m not entirely sure how realistic this is. At the very least, I have my work cut out for myself.

First, some things to know about raspberry bushes:

  1. Each raspberry cane lives two seasons: during the first season, it is called a primocane, and during the second, it is called a floricane.
  2. Some varieties of raspberries are summer-bearing and others are ever-bearing. Ever-bearing varieties produce fruit on both primocanes and floricanes. The fruit on the primocanes comes later in the summer (because they’re have to grow from nothing that season), whereas fruit from floricanes comes earlier in the summer. If you have a summer-bearing variety, only floricanes produce fruit, so you will only get a harvest in early summer. The everbearing varities will give you a floricane harvest in early summer and then a primocane harvest in late summer.
  3. Floricanes should be cut back to ground level after they have fruited.
  4. Lastly, raspberries like to spread. They do this by sending out underground runners from which new shoots sprout up. Fortunately, these new shoots aren’t that fast nor are they hard to pull, so with a little maintenance, raspberry bushes can be contained.

We’re planning to construct a trellis system to corral all of the raspberries in this area. The backyard is pretty sloped, and this area has several terraced beds. This is actually where the raspberries started out, and we don’t really have a better place to put them, so we’ll keep them there.

Check back in a week or so to see how it goes!

Growing Hazelnuts

On Friday, I picked up three hazelnut trees from Burnt Ridge Nursery for my dad’s backyard. Did you know that the hazelnut is the official state nut of Oregon? Now you know. Oregon is the #2 producer of hazelnuts in the world behind Turkey.

A hazelnut farm in Oregon
Image from portraitmagazine.com

Several decades ago, Eastern Filbert Blight killed most of the hazelnut trees in the Eastern U.S., so the Pacific Northwest became the center of hazelnut production in the U.S. Unfortunately, Eastern Filbert Blight eventually spread to Oregon and Washington. Fortunately, Oregon State University developed strains of hazelnuts that are resistant to Eastern Filbert Blight. We planted three such varieties on Saturday: Jefferson, Dorris (with two “r”s), and Eta. These are all varieties of Corylus avellana, or European hazelnut (as opposed to Corylus americana, which is American hazelnut and has smaller nuts).

Dorris
Jefferson
(difficult to photograph a thin tree with so much in the background)
Eta

The trees came bare-root and are each about 5-to-6 feet tall. We planted them 15 feet apart, as per the instructions. I suppose this is to maximize cross-pollination while still allowing them to grow to full height (they should only be about 20 feet tall at maturity).

Hazelnut trees need to be cross-pollinated by another hazelnut tree in order to produce hazelnuts, so it is important to plant more than one hazelnut tree. Pollination of hazelnuts is a bit complicated. A hazelnut tree has both male and female parts, but it is self-infertile (meaning it can’t pollinate itself). So, not only do you need at least two hazelnut trees, you need to have two different varieties of hazelnut trees. A Jefferson hazelnut would not be able to pollinate another Jefferson hazelnut tree.

Another tricky part of hazelnut production is that the process of making the hazelnuts takes nearly two years. The male parts of the hazelnut tree start forming in May the year before you will be able to harvest hazelnuts. They don’t mature until December or January, at which point they can pollinate a female which will then produce nuts the following August.

Catkins (aka the male part)
Image from rogue.com
Flower – the red thing (aka the female part)
Image from rebeccaheisman.com
Nut clusters
image from garden.eco

So, (hypothetically speaking) the earliest we could expect to get hazelnuts from the trees we just planted is August 2021. In actuality, hazelnut trees reportedly take about 6 years before they’ll produce substantial amount of nuts, so check back in with me in 2026.

As a backup, my dad also bought 1 lb of Yamhill seed hazelnuts. In case you’re wondering, 1 pound of seed hazelnuts is about 204 hazelnut seeds. He planted about 40 of them before running out of space to for them. We’re skeptical as to whether these will germinate, but if they do, he’ll have a hazelnut farm on his hands.

The future hazelnut farm
(the mesh is to keep the squirrels and birds out)