Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Video: Beginner Lecture on Top Bar Hives

I’ve been wanting to get some honey bees for a while now. I read several books on the subject over the summer (especially top bar hives), and have been watching a lot of videos on YouTube. I like this channel and presenter a lot “OutOfABlueSky”. He puts out regularly videos about beekeeping, and I feel like I am always learning something watching them.

Video: Beginner Lecture on Top Bar Hives by McCartney

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Mulching Trees

I spent part of this past weekend mulching the grass and the leaves with the lawn mower and bagging attachment. I wanted to put a deep layer of mulch around some of the new trees and shrubs to help them get through the winter and also to add some fertility to the soil. When mulching around trees, make sure to pull the mulch back slightly from the trunk to avoid rot.

The two apple trees, the honeyberry bushes, and the cherry bushes all got some mulch. When the rest of the leaves fall off the maples, the blue berries, kiwis, and raspberries will get some too. I also had a little extra to put into the compost heap which should hopefully be ready by spring. It is a large pile (4’x4’x4’) that should be able to keep itself warm through the winter.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Moving Plants Inside

House Plants

We recently had our first frost, so it was time to move plants back inside the house. Pictured above you can see the combination citrus tree I started earlier this year. It is a combination super dwarf lemon, orange, and tangerine. It should make fruit in a few years. In the back you should recognize the pineapple I started from a cutting. It’s doing quite well, and it has more than doubled its new leaves.

You can read starting a pineapple here: Grow A Pineapple From a Cutting

Right now, they are all sitting in a south facing window while I decide where to put them and the grow light. It’ll soon be getting very close to eight hours of sunlight a day here, and that isn’t enough for these two.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Jack Dog Farms Harvest Fest

Jack Dog Farms Harvest Fest

This past weekend my friend Corrine had their end of season celebration at their urban farm, Jack Dog Farms. The farm is located on a rented lot in SE Minneapolis. They only started this past may, and it is impressive what they’ve been able to accomplish. They grew so many different veggies and a dozen CSA shares sold.

The most striking thing I saw growing there was the purple tomatoes shown above. I had no idea they came in purple as well. I kind of have a thing for purple veggies, so I might have to try growing these myself next year along side my purple beans, purple potatoes, and purple carrots.


Besides showing off the awesome job on the farm, they bought some apples from a local farmer and borrowed a cider press. I’d had never made apple cider before, so I was excited. I brought a pile of my own apples too.

Jack Dog Farms Harvest Fest

It’s a relatively simple two step process. First put the apples in the red hopper on the top while spinning the big red wheel. After the wooden bucket is nearly full, then put on the pressing cover and start spinning the wooden handle on top to squeeze out every last bit of delicious cider. It was a fun time!

You can find Jack Dog Farms on Facebook here:

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Expanding the Compost Bin


I have two compost bins in my outdoor composting rotation. The one on the right is an expandable one. I originally set it up at a small size since I was having a hard time keeping it full. Now that fall is here, I have lots of extra organic matter to put into the heap. I took out the plastic bolts and enlarged it to the biggest size which is about four foot across which doubled the amount I could put into it. I think I will have enough room now for all the extra green mulch, garden plants, and leaves to keep things tidy. The pile should be large enough that it make heat as well and continues into the winter. I wonder if I will get to see it steam or if I’ll have to rotate it. 


Monday, October 14, 2013



It’s apple season right now in Minnesota, but our apple trees aren’t producing yet. They are still quite small. I expect it will take them another couple years. Luckily, some of our friends have apple trees and they produce more apples than they know what to do with (or have time to deal with).


They’ve very generously given us several grocery bags full of apples. We’ve been making apple pies, apple leather, apple butter, dried apple chips, and apple sauce. The house smells delicious.

What have you been doing with apples?

Friday, October 11, 2013

Processing Walnuts

We don’t have any walnut trees on our property, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get walnuts. A friend has a walnut tree, and I had expressed interest in getting some earlier in the year. This past week we received a five gallon bucket with the ones that had fallen on the ground so far.

Processing Walnuts

I’ve never processed walnuts, so I checked it out on the Internet first. I did know ahead of time that contact with the husks will stain things. I have a friend who processes walnuts and her hands turned black when her gloves leaked. I use nitrile exam gloves to protect my hands. They almost worked flawlessly until the thumb broke. Now the tip of my thumb is brownish/black. lol. It doesn’t look nice. Next time I will wear two pairs or some heavy duty kitchen gloves. The rotten ones got tossed into the compost bucket along with the husks. Yes, you can compost them just like the forest naturally does.

The process is pretty simple. The husks come right off by hand to reveal the walnut inside. Removing the husks is required before drying and storing. It was recommended to use a wire screen to dry them. I didn’t have that, so I’m using some old boxes and rotating them. They should dry in a couple weeks.

Processing Walnuts

Some useful links I found when learning about walnuts:

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Walking Onions Sets to Plant

Walking Onion Sets

I just received my order of perennial onions (Allium cepa proliferum) to plant. The “seeds” are actually called sets and are tiny little onions that grow above ground on the end of the stalk. A bulb keeps them going through the winter. They are also known as “Tree Onions” and “Egyptian Walking Onions” because of how they grown and reproduce. The entire plant is edible from the bulb, to the stalk, and including the sets on top. The stalks grow up two to three feet tall and fall over in autumn putting the sets in contact with the ground. New plants sprout up in the spring as the plant “walks” across the garden.

Fall is a good time to plant bulbs, so I need to get these little guys in the ground. They are quite small with the largest at just over 1/4” in diameter. I’m going to plant several patches to give them a better chance to get going. Wish me luck!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

How to Make a Fruit Fly Trap the Easy Way

This simple and cheap fruit fly trap will only take a two minutes to make and will kill many fruit flies over several days.

Making Fruit Fly Trap

Each summer we get a few fruit flies in the kitchen. It doesn’t seem to matter how clean we keep it. They always show up on some of the fruit we buy from the store. Bananas seem to be the main culprit.

I made this trap after some reading online. Many of the suggestions were overly complicated, so I began experimenting. This trap only uses three ingredients: soap, water, vinegar.

After some experimentation, I learned that apple cider vinegar works better than white vinegar.

Making Fruit Fly Trap Making Fruit Fly Trap

I also prefer using a coffee cup to a bowl. The color of the bowl or cup doesn’t seem to matter either.

Making Fruit Fly Trap Making Fruit Fly Trap

How to Make the Fruit Fly Trap
  1. I suggest using a coffee cup. Pour about 1/3 cup water into the cup. I don’t actually measure anymore as the exact measurement doesn’t mater. We aren’t making a cake here. :)
  2. Pour about 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar into the cup. Again, this isn’t an exact measurement. It’s worth going to get some apple cider vinegar as it attracts many more fruit flies than white vinegar which also works, but not as well.
  3. Add one drop of liquid soap and swish it around.
  4. Leave it in an infected area and don’t disturb it.
  5. Remove any fruit or vegetables from the area by eating them, putting them in the fridge, or composting them.
I usually leave my trap out for a week or two. It’ll keep working the entire time. The fruit flies are attracted by the smell of the vinegar. When the flies go in for a taste, the soap disturbs the surface tension and they fall in and drown. Easy, cheap, and very effective.

Making Fruit Fly Trap

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Bees on Flowers

I’ve been really enjoying watching the bees on the late summer flowers. On a summer morning there are hundreds of bees all over the yard feasting on the flowers. The garlic chives are still the favorite with the lavender and sedum a close second.

Bee on the sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Fire’

Bees on Flowers

Bee on the garlic chives

Bees on Flowers

Bee on lavender

Bees on Flowers

Bee on lavender

Bees on Flowers

Bee on lavender

Bees on Flowers

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Rude Flower–Red Amaranth

Flowering Red Amaranth

Maybe it’s just me, but I think my red amaranth plants are the rudest in the garden. They always seem to be flicking everyone off with a giant middle finger. It’s probably their revenge for eating their leaves all summer. Yum.  They do look nice though.

Flowering Red Amaranth

Thursday, September 26, 2013

How To Make and Use Compost Tea

What is Compost Tea?
Compost Tea is a liquid made from compost which contains beneficial microorganisms and helpful plant compounds. It is used to replace chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and fungicides. Compost Tea is more than simply a suspension of compost material in water. The tea is a good overall plant health booster. Healthy plants are better able to resist pests and diseases.

Compost Tea is made one of two ways: with aeration and without. Take some finished compost material from either an outside bin or finished vermicompost and soak it in water for several days. I like to use an aquarium bubbler to make the aerated variety because I think it helps the aerobic microorganisms grow faster. There seem to be as many recipes out there as people making it, but I like to keep mine relatively simple by using things I already have onsite.

Making Compost Tea

How I make Compost Tea:
  1. Put some water into a bucket. If you are using chlorinated tap water, it is best to let the water sit for a day first to let the chlorine dissipate. I filled a five gallon bucket about half full. Since I have a small one gallon sprayer, I don’t like to make large batches. 
  2. Fill an old sock with a few handfuls of finished compost. In this case, I used a handful of finished vermicompost from my worm bin and a handful of finished compost from the regular compost bin outside. Making Compost Tea
  3. Tie the sock to a stick, so it doesn’t fall all the way in. Then add the aquarium bubbler. Making Compost Tea
  4. I held my aquarium bubbler down with a small rock since it wanted to float. Let it sit for several days. I like to wait about a week, and just leave it bubbling away in the basement laundry room. It doesn’t smell bad at any time in the process. Making Compost Tea
  5. A week later, you can see the color has gotten much darker. Some of the compost has dissolved into the water, and microorganisms are thriving in the oxygen rich environment. Use it immediately after turning off the bubbler for maximum benefit. Making Compost Tea

How do you use Compost Tea?
Compost Tea can be used two ways: spraying and as a soil drench. I use mine both ways. I fill my sprayer up first. I use a small one gallon sprayer since my yard isn’t very big. This sprayer has only been used for compost tea, so there shouldn’t be any harmful chemical residue behind to interfere with the compost tea.

Making Compost Tea

I spray it on the non-edible parts of the plant. In the photo below, I am spraying one of my small blueberry plants. It should be applied very early in the morning or later in the evening to minimize the effects of UV rays on the microorganisms.

Making Compost Tea

After I am done spraying the leaves of plants. I pour the remainder out into the root zone as a soil drench. This helps to build up the soil microbial populations. Healthy soil leads to healthy plants.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Tomato Fruit on my Potato Plant?

Walking through the backyard garden inspecting the different plants I was very surprised to find what looked like small tomatoes laying on the ground especially since I didn’t plant any. They were about an inch across and green just like an unripe cherry tomato. How did they get here?  I was stumped.

Tomatoes on my Potato Plant

Then I found some more. Hmm. These were attached to a plant. Did a bird or a squirrel bring in some seeds? Then I brushed the leaves aside further and discovered they were growing out of the end of my potato plants. The more I looked, the more I found. Did I create some weird tomato-potato hybrid? Potatoes are from the nightshade family (Solanaceae) like tomatoes and peppers, so maybe it was possible. I’ve grown potatoes before, but I’ve never seen this fruit. Time to ask google.

Tomatoes on my Potato Plant

After some quick searching, I found that no, I had not created a mutant plant. In fact potato fruit is common on the yukon gold potatoes I planted. The previous years plantings were a different variety, so no fruit.

Tomatoes on my Potato Plant

The potato fruit is not edible just like the potato plant itself. Both contain large amounts of a poisonous alkaloid called solanine which is what makes some of the nightshade family poisonous. I also learned that the Internet recommends against saving the seeds as they won’t grown true to form. Instead, seed potatoes should be used which is what I had planted.

I love how the garden is always teaching me something new.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Growing a Pineapple Part 2

Earlier, I had posted about how to start growing a pineapple from a cutting of the top: Growing a Pineapple Part1. This post picks up where the other left off two months ago.

Pineapple Growing Part2

The pineapple plant is much bigger now and has grown almost a dozen new leaves. I can tell which are the new leaves since I snipped the tips of the original leaves.

Pineapple Growing Part2

A healthy root mass has also developed. I was changing the water every other day or so for the last two months. I think I could have planted it sooner, but it still seems healthy enough.

Pineapple Growing Part2

The pineapple plant potted in the dirt. It has grown more than double in size from before. I’ve been leaving it outside, so it can get maximum sunlight. Once the weather starts getting cooler, I will bring it inside for the winter.

Related Posts:

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Geese Eat My Weeds

Yard Geese

Many times this year I’ve had some wild geese in the yard eating my weeds. They leave some fertilizer behind as well. When we first saw them, my wife was concerned they would eat our cultivated vegetables. They didn’t, but they did eat the weeds growing in between along with the weeds in the yard.

Yard Geese

I’d read in my Permaculture books and learned in my PDC class how useful poultry could be in a garden. It was nice to get a first-hand demonstration with these wild geese since we won’t be getting any livestock anytime soon.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Garlic Chives Blooming


The backyard is buzzing with activity with all the flowers blooming. All the white flowers are the garlic chives. They are a very hardy perennial, and they keep coming back year after year. Garlic chives are also known as Chinese chives. They have a milder chive flavor than regular chives. The entire plant is edible including the bulb, stalk, flowers, and seeds. I like eating the stalk, but the main reason I keep them around are the flowers.

They bloom in September, and attract an amazing amount of insects. When I took these photos, there were over 100 bumblebees and many other pollinators enjoying the feast. The extra attention our yard is getting from the bees means our raspberries and squash continue to get pollinated as well. A win-win.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Permaculture Design Course at Center for Deep Ecology


This past week, I finished a Permaculture Design Course (PDC) at the Center for Deep Ecology. The class was taught by Wayne Weiseman who has taught over 120 other PDC classes. The class of 18 spent eight days together camping and learning. The days were long, but filled with lots of information. It was very relaxing not to have to worry about food, time, or money during the class. It created a positive environment to focus on learning without many other distractions.


Well, besides the near non-stop shower of acorns from the mature oak trees. The only thing to worry about was if I was going to get hit in the head with an acorn falling out of the trees. It only took two days for the first one to connect. lol.


Permaculture is a design system with ethics for creating sustainable human settlements and agriculture by following natural patterns. I had not heard of permaculture until earlier this year, but have been interested in some of the components for years (organic food production, energy efficiency, green building, etc).


I plan on using the training to continue to transform our yard from primarily growing grass into a productive, sustainable system.


One of my favorite days of the class was visiting Kinstone Academy of Applied Permaculture in Fountain City, Wisconsin. We were able to participate in building a cob cabin and expanding some sheet mulching beds. There were also numerous other permaculture systems in progress. I’m looking forward to going back to see more. It is a very beautiful property.

Kinstone also posted some photos of our work day on their facebook page here.

The local media came to visit one day during class. You can see the video here.

Wayne posted some photos on his site from the class on his website here.

It was a great class, and well worth the money. I learned a lot and had fun while doing it. I’m looking forward to drawing out some designs for our property.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Early Crookneck Summer Squash

A week ago there were only hints of squash to come with dozens of orange flowers. Today, I find this guy at almost two pounds hiding under the leaves. Looking forward to tasting it. I am going to broil the first one.

The seed packet claims this variety was cultivated by the natives before the Europeans showed up.

UPDATE: I posted a recipe on my food blog: Baked Summer Squash

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Harvesting Garden Goodies

Our shiitake kits are fruiting beautifully. We harvested almost a pound for dinner last night. Yum! We expect to get a couple more like this over the next few weeks/months.

Our purple string beans are starting to produce as well. They taste similar to regular green beans, and upon cooking switch from purple to green. Its an easy way to tell they are cooked because they change colors. Neat.

The radishes I planted a couple weeks ago are also ready to harvest. We sauted them with some soy sauce. Very tasty, and I prefered it over the usual raw method.