Thursday, April 30, 2015

Spring Flowers–The Edibles are Blooming!


I was excited to come home from work today and find a multitude of plants blooming that weren’t doing so yesterday. Spring is such a fun time because the plants are changing and growing so much! It is a joy to find new things emerging or blooming each day.

Yea, ok, the above photo isn’t an edible perennial; it is the part of the bulb gardens I planted late last fall with a friend. The crocus already bloomed, and now we appear to be in hyacinth season. They are quite pretty. I love the strong purple color. I also planted some white ones, but those haven’t come up yet. On to the edibles!


Truly the most exciting thing tonight was to see my northstar cherry tree blooming! I hope the bees do their thing and pollinate it. My new honeybees won’t be here for another week or two.

plum tree

The pear tree next to the cherry also started blooming today which is amazing since it has almost no leaves. It only had a few blossoms where the cherry has at least a hundred. 

josta berry

The next surprise is the jostaberry peeking out a few little flowers. Exciting!

black currant

The new black currant I planted is also starting to bloom.

choke berry

The chokeberries have flower buds, but no flowers yet. Soon.

sand cherry

The little sand cherries also have a couple buds.


The serviceberry I planted last weekend is also blooming. It’s not quite a full bloom, it is quite pretty covered in white buds.

siberian bugloss

While not an edible, this siberian bugloss is blooming with the pretty little blue flowers.


I have dozens of tulips, but only this one is blooming so far. It great to look at during the day when it opens up all the way.


Ok, so this isn’t a flower, and it’s kinda blurry, but it’s one of the new sunchokes I planted not even two weeks ago! The honeyberries are also still blooming. I’m having a lot of fun each day wandering around the yard looking at all the changes.

What’s blooming in your yard?

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

INHABIT–New Permaculture Documentary

This film looks really good, and I plan on watching it soon. It’s only $5 to rent. Check out the link below if the player above doesn’t work. Here is the excerpt from the website:


“Humanity is more than ever threatened by its own actions; we hear a lot about the need to minimize footprints and to reduce our impact. But what if our footprints were beneficial? What if we could meet human needs while increasing the health and well-being of our planet? This is the premise behind permaculture: a design process based on the replication of patterns found in nature. INHABIT explores the many environmental issues facing us today and examines solutions that are being applied using the ecological design lens of permaculture. Focused mostly on the Northeastern and Midwestern regions of the United States, Inhabit provides an intimate look at permaculture peoples and practices ranging from rural, suburban, and urban landscapes.”

Check out INHABIT here:

Sunday, April 26, 2015

New Plants!

New Plants!

Today, I bought some new plants for the garden/yard. It was such a beautiful spring day, I thought I should put some new plants into the ground.

My first stop was Home Depot. I had noticed they had more edible perennials this year than previous years. I hoped to get some cheap stuff. I found they had some nice blueberries two for $10. I really wanted them until I saw the little “protected by neonicotinoids” I put them back. Yuck! Neonicotinoids are a new class of insecticide built into the plants. It has been implicated in honeybee deaths. I moved on. I found some gooseberries, boysenberry, and purple asparagus instead.

Next stop was Egg|Plant, a local homesteading store, with a good selection of edible perennials. I have had my eye on several items for a few weeks now. I bought a lot of plants from them last year as well.

This trip I bought a hazelnut bush, josta berry, service berry, and a black currant. I can’t wait to get them all in the ground and producing food!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens in Rockford, IL

A few weeks ago while on our roadtrip, we had some time to kill before Pig Mind’s Brewery opened, so we looked up what was available in Rockford, IL. I found out about them at the hotel lobby brochure. We were interested. I really enjoy conservatories. They are the closest I can get to the tropics without getting a plane ticket. I love how they smell fresh and clean; the humid, heavy air is also a treat.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Garden Update

planting sunchokes

The sunchokes I ordered online and planted a few posts ago didn’t seem to be viable. I pulled them out and they were soggy. I bought some new ones from a local source. This time I actually got the tubers I was expecting instead of the plant crowns.

planting sunchokes

The plan was to buy 1lb for $8. When I got to the house to buy them, the looked at my bucket and offered me 2lbs for $10. Deal! We had a nice time chatting about plants and permaculture too. I was very jealous of his well developed yard and garden. He had over 25 fruit trees and many garden beds.

planting sunchokes

One of the sunchokes planted into my new raised beds.


Since it has slowly been getting warmer, I’ve been bringing some of my house plants and seedling outside to toughen them up and get them ready to live outside during the summer. In the photo above from the right,  have the pineapple plant I started a while back. In the middle is my banana tree which badly needs to be repotted, and my three-way citrus tree on the left which also needs to be replanted. It had two small flower blooms on it right now. I hope a friendly bee stops by and pollinates it.

sedum seedlings

These are the sedums I started late last fall from cuttings. They also need to be repotted and then planted somewhere in the yard. I’m excited they are so easy to propagate.

seed starting

With Laura’s help, I started about 60 more soil blocks. About half the ones I previously started failed. I think they failed because I was being overly miserly putting one seed into each one. The germination rates seemed low for some seeds. The second is some neglect with watering while we were out of town. I will try harder with this new bunch. We put at least two seeds in each block this time.

Strawberry Seedlings

A successful soil block with a tiny strawberry seedling.

Strawberry Seedlings

A bigger strawberry seedling I started very late last fall in a yogurt container as an experiment. It worked! Time to get it outside to flourish.

Strawberry Seedlings

Another strawberry propagation experiment above which went very well. They are even blooming and trying to grow berries. I should get it into the ground to really get growing.

How is your garden coming along? Successes? Failures?

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Honeyberries are Blooming

Honeyberry Blooms

I am excited to see that my Honeyberry bushes are in full bloom right now! The thought of getting some of the fruit later this year is very exciting. I have only ever had one berry in my entire life. There was one small berry on the plant when I bought it. I planted it two years ago in the summer. Last year, we had such a messy spring with a very late, heavy snow fall which destroyed a lot of the flowers and buds. The plants struggled to get a second start. This spring is looking good!

Honeyberries are a native of Siberia. They are cold hardy down to –40F. The berries are shaped like a blackberry, but the skin is solid more like a blueberry. The flavor is somewhere in between the two if I remember right. It has been two years. I hope to be able to report on harvesting berries later this year.

Hopefully, the native pollinators, like bumblebees, are hard at work. My honeybees are officially dead; they appear to have starved through the winter. I have a new package on order and they should be in here in a couple weeks.

Honeyberry Blooms

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Garden Update

The days are getting warmer and longer. Things are growing and starting to bloom in the garden! The crocus I planted with a friend last fall are starting to pop up and bloom. I am enjoying looking at them. There are yellow and white flowers. They are so small and delicate. We made three different bulb beds and planted them with dozens of bulbs and several different kinds. I’m excited to see what will appear next.

Just a few feet away the rhubarb is starting to peak out from underneath the mulch. I’m excited to see it appear. I am hoping for a good harvest this year. Last year’s Spring was such a mess it really made the plants struggle.

Finally some purple cabbage has graduated from the seedling area in the basement to life outside. I hope it enjoys its new raised bed home full of finished compost. The darker cabbage is great as kraut, and I’m guessing it would be good as kimchee too. We will have to experiment.

Next to the cabbage, I planted some kale, cilantro, cosmos, and collards. When it gets a bit warmer I will plant some basil and a couple more flowers. Mixing the plants up helps avoid a pest plague from taking over. Each plant attracts different insects and diseases; they should be able to work together to keep the pest problems at a reasonable level.

How is your garden doing?

Monday, April 13, 2015

Planting Sunchokes aka Jerusalem Artichokes

Planting Sunchokes

I recently purchased some Sunchokes also known as Jerusalem Artichokes. I first had them a few years ago when I was a CSA member. They came in early spring along with some parsnips. The recipe suggested making a hash out of them. I really enjoyed eating them. I’m not sure why I didn’t think to plant some myself. Well, that is all changing this year.

I was inspired after watching a gardening video over the winter of a guy in Chicago showing how he grew them. His got almost 13 feet high! He harvested dozens and dozens of sunchokes. They grow as a perennial with an edible tuber similar to a potato. I love growing perennials, so I bought some.

Planting Sunchokes

I have a sunny spot picked out and a fresh new bed full of finish compost for them to grow in. I ordered three pounds and ended up with four plants shown below. I was expecting tubers, so I’m a tad confused. A couple of them rotted while waiting in a paper bag in the garage. I hope these are viable.

Planting Sunchokes

To give them the best spot possible, I planted them in the sunniest spot of the bed along with a handful of finished worm castings (below). I left a couple worms and their cocoons in the castings, so they could help populate the new bed.

Planting Sunchokes

There wasn’t planting instructions with these like I have seen for the tubers. I just put what appeared to be the root side down and covered them with some dirt after putting them in the hole with the worm castings. I hope they will start to grow soon.

Planting Sunchokes

The finished compost should make it easy for the plants to grow tubers and make harvesting easy since the soil is so loose. Once they start growing, I plan to mulch them with some wood chips. Wish me luck for a good harvest!

Do you have any experience with Jerusalem Artichokes?

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Getting Free Woodchips

Getting Woodchips

The same place I get free compost from also has free wood chips. I have been hauling them home by the bucket load several times a week. The buckets work great because they are easy to haul around the yard to where they need to be. Filling them is also very easy. I typically walk up the pile and use the fork to just push the chips into the bucket. Each one takes about 10 seconds to fill. Much faster than scooping into a trailer.

Getting Woodchips

I have two uses planned for the wood chips. The first is to replace the paths in my garden. I put some new cardboard down and then the wood chips on top. The cardboard should prevent weeds from growing up under the wood chips for a while. It is starting to look nice in the backyard.

Getting Woodchips

The second use is mulch. I re-mulched most of my flower beds, fruit trees, and bushes. I will also mulch the raised beds in the photo above once the plants are in and a bit more mature. The mulch really cuts down on the amount of water I need to use to keep my plants alive since the wood acts as little sponges. They also do a great job suppressing weeds. A little work now hopefully means I will have less to do later.

I am also thinking of experimenting with composting the wood chips with used coffee grounds to make my own hot compost pile.

Do you use wood chips in your garden?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Getting Free Compost

Getting Compost

Since the municipal compost site opened two weeks ago, I have made several trips to collect the free finished compost. I have built some new raised beds and want to fill it with nutrient rich compost. The price is right as well since the local big box stores are about a dollar for a 40lb bag of compost.

I have my own compost piles in the backyard, but I am not able to produce as much as I need to complete the bed build outs right now. It is a short drive to the compost site, so I’m not using much gas. I am trying to keep it as efficient as possible by filling up nearly every space possible including the trunk, passenger seat, and back seat.

Getting Compost

Hauling it in buckets seems to work really nice right now for several reasons. I think a trailer would be faster, but it would be harder to deal with once I get it home. The free compost is decent quality, but it needs to be screened first. I am using 1/2” hardware cloth to screen mine. There are twigs, rocks, plastic, and other things that don’t compost well mixed in. I even found swimming goggles and a large log last week!

Getting Compost

The buckets make it easy to screen and to haul around the yard once I get home. I’ve filled up my first raised bed, and am now working on my second.

Getting Compost

Check with your local city or county to see if they have finished compost available for pickup.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Kale and Cabbage in Soil Blocks

Seedligns in Soil Blocks

My seedlings are coming along nicely in the soil blocks. The purple cabbage and kale are quite happy in them. Some of the other plants are doing well, but growing slower like the strawberries and cosmos.

I was excited to see some of the Comfrey and catnip poking up from their blocks. They are really tiny right now, but I am excited to see they are growing. I plan on using the comfrey for a nutrient rich green mulch. The catnip is for the cats of course. If they knew, I think they’d be excited like me.

Two of the indigo seeds finally sprouted, so I planted them in blocks today as well. They took a LONG time! I started them back on March 10.

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