After a week of thawing and carefully biking to work on puddles frozen overnight, then biking home through what were practically small ponds, we’ve achieved 55F/13C! It feels so warm that I have a quilt hanging out on the line to dry instead of indoors on a drying rack. And it feels so warm James and I went out coatless this morning and did some apple tree pruning. Yesterday I did some cherry tree and elderberry pruning. All of them have swelling buds already! The Dashwoods are wandering the garden scratching in the mud looking for seeds and bugs. And my squirrelfriend is sunbathing on the deck. The snow has been melting so fast that by Friday I had a pounding allergy headache, stuffy nose, and puffy, burning eyes. I am now taking my allergy medication daily until October. Yay spring!
My indoor seed starting is going pretty well. I have two tiny ground cherry sprouts. I say encouraging words to them daily when I give them a spritz of water. No arnica sprouts. I don’t know if they are going to sprout or are just slow about their business, but I spritz them daily too. If nothing has popped up by the end of March, their toilet paper tubes will be used to start something else.
Today I added to the TP tube count with cabbage and French marigolds. I did 5 tubes for cabbage and 15 for marigolds because a person can never have too many marigolds in the garden. These marigold flowers are singles and are deep burgundy red and gold. Once they start blooming in summer they just go and go and go right on until frost kills them. We love them and I have no idea why I have never taken a photo. Must do that this summer! It’s super easy to save marigold seeds and start them indoors. They are pretty forgiving plants. Interestingly, the plants are native to Mexico and Guatemala. 16th century Portuguese explorers took seeds with them back to Europe and the flowers eventually became really popular in France.
I thought I was all done buying seeds but I got an email from a small and growing Minnesota seed company I bought some bean seeds from last year reminding me there is still time to buy seeds. I am also currently re-reading Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer and had just finished reading about the three sisters. I have so many pole beans this year I was facing the prospect of having to build a lot of trellising. Plus I have two kinds of pumpkin and always zucchini. I decided I did not want the squash and beans to be lonely and miss their sister, so bought blue corn seed.
The blue corn seed is extra special because North Circle Seeds has been working with my CSA farmer, Eduardo, at Sin Fronteras Farm to adapt the seed to grow in Minnesota. So now I will have all three sisters in my garden, which makes me happy. And we will have two ways to enjoy the corn. First, in summer when the kernels are fat and juicy, we will make our own vegan version of elote. I can hardly wait for that! What we don’t eat we will dry and grind into flour to attempt making our own tortillas. I’ve had Eduardo’s tortillas and they are amazing, I only hope ours turn out half as good.
And while I was buying the corn seed I also bought some cherry bell radish seed. I love radishes and can never have too much! And should I get a big harvest and can’t keep up with eating them fresh, I am going to try fermenting them. We got a lot of cabbages in our winter CSA and have been turning them into sauerkraut. I have never been a fan of sauerkraut until we made it at home. Instead of being the sad, stringy stuff from a can, it is crisp and zingy and lately I can’t get enough sandwiches with the sauerkraut piled on. So I am interested in fermenting other veg too, radishes especially. When the time comes, I will be relying heavily on our Wild Fermentation “cookbook” for help. I keep thinking that maybe we should invest in some proper fermentation crocks, but we seem to be doing okay without them so far.
Here is something I recently learned about sunflowers that has changed my entire garden plan: they are allelopathic. That means they produce chemicals that are toxic to other plants. It explains why, several years ago, when I tried to do a three sisters type planting with sunflowers instead of corn, nothing really grew but the sunflowers.
And it isn’t just sunflowers, it is other plants in the sunflower family as well like Jerusalem artichokes. I have a big patch of chokes and I noticed last year that the pumpkin I planted near them sprouted, but remained stunted and never flowered. It also explains why I never have to pull weeds in the choke bed. I was wondering for years what was up with that, now I know!
After doing some research, I have decided to create a small buffer between the chokes and the rest of the garden with pollinator plants that are not bothered by the chokes. I have noticed that milkweed is not bothered so I plan to let the milkweed go crazy over there and not feel bad about keeping it from growing in the rest of the garden. Coneflowers are also compatible and there is actually a coneflower growing in the choke patch that I planted before the chokes took over the whole bed. So a few more coneflowers. Grasses are unaffected as well and I am considering trying a clump or two of wild rye grass, which along with being a host plant for the Zabulon Skipper, and a great source of nesting material for birds, I can also harvest the seeds and make flour (seeds are much smaller than annual rye).
Mint is also allegedly compatible. I have a wild native mint I would like to move and now I know where it’s going to go! I am also going to see if other plants in the mint family will work and will divide up some overgrown wild bergamot and plant that in the buffer zone.
So suddenly I have gone from not having any experiments in the garden other than new varieties of beans, to having blue corn and a Jerusalem artichoke buffer zone. How exciting!
I am still a little less than two months (if I am lucky) from being able to actually plant anything outside, but the plans are piling up!