DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!

Search: gardening for squares

Apr 4 2012

Gardening for squares

by Dea Anne M

I’ve posted here before about gardening and particularly food gardening for small or unusual spaces.  You might have decided by now that I’m a little fanatical on the subject and all I can say to that is…you might be right. This year, we’ve expanded our gardening ambitions around my place a bit and have put in some raised beds at the side of the house and in the back yard. The strawberry pyramid measures 6ft. X 6ft.at the base, 4ft. X 4ft. in the middle, and 2 ft. X 2 ft. at the top.  The rectangular beds measure 4 ft. X 8 ft. I have great hopes for this project and I’ve already planted potatoes, peas, radishes, beets, carrots, lettuce, spinach, chard, and tomatoes. Strawberries are coming out now, and we’ll soon be putting in tomatillos, eggplant, beans, melons, and corn (notoriously difficult to grow so we’ll see). Here’s a picture…

You might notice the grid pattern laid across two of the beds. Allow me to explain. We’ve taken our planting  inspiration from Mel Bartholomew’s All-New Square Foot Gardening. The idea is that you measure your raised bed out into square feet and plant a specific number of vegetables in  each. There’s much more to it than that, but suffice it to say that  Bartholomew’s technique promises to produce healthy, densely planted beds that are easier to tend than the traditional row garden set-up. He provides clear instructions on plant spacing as well as various tips on vertical gardening. More vegetables and fruit in less space…who doesn’t love that? I highly recommend this book, even to those who are new to vegetable gardening. It’s well-illustrated and very user friendly.

Are you interested in small space gardening? Be sure to check out these titles as well:  Lasagna Gardening for Small Spaces by Patricia Lanza,  The Edible Container Garden by Michael Guerra, and The Vegetable Gardener’s Container Bible by Edward C. Smith.

Finally, let me brag a little and show you my beloved Top Hat blueberry bush. I’ve had it in a pot on my deck for 4 years now and it’s still going strong. It’s a “dwarf” variety but it’s put out an increasingly larger crop each year of deep blue, intensely flavored fruit. Let me tell you, there’s nothing quite like the taste of a muffin filled with berries you’ve grown yourself. Tri it and see!

{ 1 comment }

May 15 2015

(Not So Still) Life with Soil

by Dea Anne M

So yesterday morning I walked out my back door to head off to work only to find a squirrel rooting through my strawberry bed. I yelled at it, and it hopped away–but before he disappeared, he turned around, sat up on his hind legs and showed me the fat strawberry he was holding in his mouth. “Time to buy some netting,” I thought. The berries are coming in buckets right now and are proving irresistible to the birds as well. While I think of myself as a friend to wildlife, I am a selfish creature when it comes to strawberries and I’m not growing them to share with the non-human citizens of the backyard. Regular readers of this blog know that I have gardened for years. Despite limited success with such experiments as square foot gardening and ongoing battles with–yes–squirrels, growing fruits and vegetables remains a passion…in spite of smug furry animals thumbing their small noses at me.

Are you interested in testing the gardening waters for yourself? Have you experimented with gardening and now hope to broaden your skills? Maybe you would like to explore the experiences of others. If so, DCPL has the resources that you want.

Just getting started? Check out Grow Cook Eat: A Food Lover’s Guide to Kitchen Gardening, including 50 Recipes, plus Harvesting and Storage Tips by Willi Galloway. Not only will you find here a wealth of information grow cookto help you begin your gardening adventure, you’ll also find tips on storing your harvest and recipes with which to cook it. And if you want to start small, Jane Courtier’s Fast, Fresh Garden Edibles: Quick Crops for Small Spaces will tell you everything you need to know about growing an effective garden in containers and window boxes. My very first garden was a pepper and two tomato plants in large pots on my back deck. There was no going back after that.

If you’ve been gardening for a while and you’re interested in expanding the scope of what you grow, then Brett L. Markham’s The Mini Farming Guide to Vegetable Growing: Self-Sufficiency from Asparagus to Zucchini might be just what you’re looking for, wildlifeespecially if you have ambitions at self-sufficiency. If you’re anything like the kind of gardener I am, then just the title of Tammi Hartung’s The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener: How to Grow Food in Harmony with Nature is enough to make you break into snorting laughter. My first act on discovering that rabbits were decimating my lettuce plants would certainly not be to plant parsley, just for them, to graze on instead. It makes sense though. Overall, Hartung makes an excellent case for living in harmony with the fauna in our gardens, and I would expect that she speaks from deep experience since she runs a successful (and large) organic herb and vegetable farm in Colorado.

Gardening is, all in all, a rewarding pastime and pleasure for me and for so many others who have embraced it.

…and then, there’s farming. Many people farm, of course, because farming has been a part of their family for generations. There’s another type of farmer, though, who becomes such by making a radical change in a lifestyle (often urban) that has lost its charm. Sometimes, these people write books about the experience. Her are three good ones available at DCPL.

One of my favorite accounts is The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love by Kristan Kimball. Kimball was a dirty lifejournalist living in New York City who encountered a young farmer named Mark for a story that she was working on. Soon enough, she found herself married to him and part-owner of Essex Farm in upstate New York. Kimball doesn’t sugarcoat the hardships of farm life. She and her husband use horses instead of tractors and for years they hand milked their dairy herd instead of using machines. Yet, the ongoing satisfaction and pleasures of building a successful farm and the joy of falling deeply in love–both with her husband and the beautiful land–comes shining through on every page. Highly recommended. You can read a story about Kimball that ran on NPR in 2010, as well as an excerpt from the book here.

dirtKimberly Schaye and Christopher Losee’s Stronger Than Dirt: How One Urban Couple Grew a Business, a Family, and a New Way of Life from the Ground Up is an account of the couple’s journey from busy, yet increasingly unsatisfying, urban lives to owning a 30-acre farm in upstate NY. Schaye and Losee alternate chapters. Each is an engaging writer, and the result is a vivid tale of their difficult–and ultimately successful–struggle to start Silverpetals Farm, which now sells flowers and vegetables at greenmarkets throughout the Northeast. True optimists, these two never give in or give up. Schaye breaks her leg at a certain point but the couple soldiers on. Inspiring.

Seattle restauranteur Kurt Timmermeister was only looking for an affordable growinghome when he found himself purchasing four acres of land on Vashon Island. Since then, Kurtwood Farms has grown into a profitable 13-acre farm that produces not only fruits and vegetables, but also meat, cheese and honey. In his book Growing a Farmer: How I Learned to Live Off the Land, Timmermeister comes across as humble yet determined, and he certainly doesn’t gloss over how difficult–sometimes almost impossible seeming–farming can be. Here’s an article on Timmermeister that the New York Times ran in December of 2013.

In The Dirty Life, author Kimball tells of a man she met who spoke of his dream to have a farm someday and really get away from things and relax. Kimball thought to herself, “You don’t want a farm. What you want is a garden.” Well, I for one, recognize my limitations as well as my desires. I have an ongoing dream to live in the country (though not too far out in the country) and have not only a larger garden, but chickens and goats as well. I certainly harbor no ambitions for farming myself, although I admire those who do it. Anyway, for now, my modest raised beds give me all that my gardening heart desires.

Do you dream of gardening someday? Do you already garden? Do you use raised beds, containers, or do you garden in the ground?

{ 1 comment }

Oct 18 2013

Earthly pleasures…all year long

by Dea Anne M

As regular readers of this blog know, I am an enthusiastic, if still inexpert, gardener. I’ve posted here before about the four raised beds in my yard and I have to say that in the year-plus since that post I’ve learned a lot about the proper use of compost, the importance of weeding (even in raised beds), and what vegetables grow best in our climate. Over the weekend, I took out the last of the summer plants—tomatoes, pole beans, and spent tomatillos and went ahead with my plans for a fall/winter garden. The traditional view of gardening is that after the early fall harvest and clean-up, vegetable gardens sit fallow, usually under a blanket of pristine snow. Well, according to the USDA’s Plant Hardiness Zone Map my zip code corresponds with Zone 8a which means that, with care, I should be able to grow something all year round. For the fall, I’m growing lettuces, radish, carrots, mustards, bok choy, turnips, and two varieties each of broccoli and spinach. I’m growing everything from seed so it will be awhile before I’ll start to see the results of my planting but I’m holding out hope for success. I’m especially curious to see what “Red Velvet” lettuce looks like as well as an heirloom variety of spinach called “Monstrueux de Viroflay” which I suppose translates as “monster of Viroflay.” It was developed in France in the 1800’s and the plants can supposedly grow to be up to two feet wide. We will see.

Are you interested in trying some year-round gardening? If so, you’ll find help with these resources from DCPL.

Eliot Coleman has long been acknowledged as a guru of year-round vegetable gardening and his book  The New Organic Grower’s Four Season Harvest: how to harvest fresh organic vegetables from your home garden all year long is considered a classic. The book came out in 1992 so it’s hardly new today but you’ll still find plenty of useful information within.

starterI’ve mentioned Barbara Pleasant’s Starter Vegetable Gardens: 24 no-fail plans for small organic gardens on this blog before. This book remains an absolute gem for any gardener, new or veteran. I mention it again in the four season gardening context because many of the garden plans that Pleasant presents are tailored to specific climate patterns, such as our long, hot summers, with ideas of what to plant during the traditional “non-growing” season. Highly recommended.

idiotsThe Complete Idiot’s Guide to Year-Round Gardening by Delilah Smittle and Sheri Ann Richerson includes information on growing flowers as well as fruits and vegetables. Topics include greenhouse gardening as well as traditional gardening and the authors even cover how to garden in your root cellar (not that many folks I know here in the Southeast have those). One element that I particularly appreciate about the authors’ approach is that they emphasize over and over the importance of soil quality. I have found through my years of gardening that starting with the best soil is the surest guarantee of quality results. Smittle and Richerson also provide expert guidance on starting seeds indoors—invaluable advice for any gardener who wants to grow a wider variety of vegetables for less money than one pays for starter plants or anyone who wants to experiment with heirloom varieties that are only available as seeds.

Finally, allow me to suggest two books that could very well provide you withtender the inspiration to grow your own. Both are cookbooks and both are penned by British authors. The first, Tender: a cook and his vegetable patch comes from Nigel Slater who wrote the wonderful memoir Toast: the story of a boy’s hunger. The second is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg: 200 inspired vegetable recipes. Fearnley-Whittingstall is a leading champion of the sustainable food movement in Britain whose books also include The River Cottage Fish Book. Both Fearnley-Whittingstall’s book and Slater’s feature wonderful writing, straight-forward recipes, and beautiful photography. Slater’s recipes are not necessarily vegetarian (though Fearnley-Whittingstall’s are) but either book will show you the stunning variety of delicious dishes that revolve around vegetables—whether you grow your own or not.

{ 0 comments }

Jun 12 2013

Happy at home…any problems with that?

by Dea Anne M

In recent years there’s been a movement growing in this country and elsewhere that centers around ideas of self-sufficiency, re-learning traditional skills, and reducing one’s “footprint” so to speak. Long time readers of this blog know that this is an area of special interest to me for example this post and this one. If these topics interest you too than DCPL has plenty of resources to aid you in your pursuit. Want to learn about urban farming? Check out  Your Farm In the City: an urban dweller’s guide to growing food and raising livestock by Lisa Taylor. Are you interested in homesteading and old skills? Don’t miss Jenna Woginrich’s fine memoir Made From Scratch: discovering the pleasures of a handmade life. Maybe you’re fascinated with the “tiny house” movement. If so, you might want to start with the book that many people agree launched the phenomenon, The Not So Big House: a blueprint for the way we really live by Sarah Susanka.

Realistically, my own pursuits are hobbies that I spend time on with pleasure. Becoming completely self-sufficient involves a commitment of time and energy that I homeward prefer to spend elsewhere. Some people though are making that commitment and an interesting new book explores this rising phenomenon. Emily Matchar’s Homeward Bound: why women are embracing the new domesticity delves deeply into what Matchar does indeed call the “New Domesticity” and presents a balanced view of both its appeal and some of its dangers. This is domesticity as rebellion – young women (and some men as well) are taking up knitting, sewing, gardening and baking. Some are even leaving careers and fully embracing a life centered on the home. They are homeschooling, homesteading, and starting their own businesses on Etsy. Matchar interviewed many of these people and the  book is filled with these well-educated women and men explaining their passion for this style of life. It is very easy to fall sway to the romance and appeal of these life choices but Matchar is an exceptionally clear-eyed writer and thinker. She points out, throughout the book that it’s only in recent history that this way of life has been a “choice” for most people – it was the way you had to live if you and your family were going to survive. Matchar does a good job too in analysing some tenets of the movement that are dubious or just plain wrong. For example she very smartly refutes the popular idea that feminism is what drove women out of the kitchen and into the work force leaving them no time or inclination to cook proper meals. In fact, it was post World War II market forces that shaped and drove the success of the processed food industry along with the overwhelming popularity of such cookbooks as Peg Bracken’s legendary The Compleat I Hate to Cook Book. That volume, by the way, was an enormous hit with, you guess it, stay-at-home wives and mothers. This linking of feminism with the rise of the fast and processed food industry has been promoted by everyone from controversial lightning-rod Caitlin Flanagan to Slow Food advocate Michael Pollan who really ought to know better (and I’m one of his many fans!). Finally, I appreciated Matchar’s thoughtful exploration of some of the potential dangers involved in some of the passionately held and promoted beliefs in the movement. What effect on “herd immunity” does a wide spread choice of parents not to have their children vaccinated? What happens to social ideals such as affordable day care and quality public schools if more and more people opt out of the culture?

shop classWhat do you think? Regardless of where you stand on these questions or even if you’ve not considered them at all I think that you’ll find a lot to interest you in Matcher’s provocative book.

For a masculine focus on some of the same questions, check out Shop Class As Soulcraft: an inquiry into the value of work by Matthew B. Crawford.

{ 0 comments }

Jun 27 2012

A fine pickle

by Dea Anne M

For me, every gardening season brings its own unique excitment and pleasures, and right now I’m re-experiencing the joys of the first summer produce. Ripe tomatoes, snappy beans, tart tomatillos—I love them all. This year, with the increased yields due to our raised bed garden, I’m eager to really dive in and start canning, pickling, and otherwise preserving the fruits of my labor. In the meantime, I’ve been discovering inspiration at the farmers market. While shopping a few weeks back, I selected a bag of Kirby cucumbers. These are the cute, chubby cukes (I think of them as the Golden Retriever puppy of the vegetable world) and they are meant for pickles. I wanted to start out with something easy and refrigerator pickles fill that bill. I’d been casting around for a good recipe/technique. One was too sweet. Another rendered my crisp little cukes into tasteless mini-blimps hued an unappetizing grayish green. Finally, I tried Ted Allen’s recipe from his fun new cookbook In My Kitchen: 100 recipes for food-lovers, passionate cooks, and enthusiastic eaters. This was it! An abundance of whole spices like coriander and mustard seeds along with plenty of garlic and chile peppers make for the crispy savory pickle of my dreams. I was planning to include a photo of my latest batch but I’m a little embarrassed to say that the jar already looks pretty picked over since, at my house, we can’t seem to stay away from it. Here’s an image of the recipe from the Food Network website. You’ll see that Ted’s pickles include cauliflower and carrot. I have used only cukes so far – with great results – but now that I have the technique more or less mastered I am looking forward to trying it with other types of produce.

Pretty much anyone who knows me knows that I love kitchen oriented “projects.” Does that describe you too? If so, DCPL has resources to help. I’m amused to look back and see that I posted on this exact topic just a little over a year ago, but I suppose that’s a testament to my seasonal enthusiasm. Here are some new books that will be of interest to those just coming to canning and preserving as well as those more experienced in the art of putting food by.

Food in jars: preserving in small batches year-round by Marisa McClellan

Can It, Bottle It, Smoke It: and other kitchen projects by Karen Solomon

Canning and Preserving All-In-One for Dummies by Eve Adamson

The Preservation Kitchen: the craft of making and cooking with pickles, preserves, and aigre-doux by Paul Virant

As an aside, one of my ongoing kitchen projects has been making a batch of yogurt every week. The technique involves no exotic equipment—just a saucepan, a bowl, a strainer, and some porous cloth—and the only ingredients are milk and a spoonful of the current batch of yogurt. It’s so easy to do and makes an absolutely delicious quart of  Greek style yogurt. I learned how from Jennifer Reese’s wonderful book Make the Bread, Buy the Butter: what you should and shouldn’t cook from scratch – over 120 recipes for the best homemade foods. This book is very entertaining, often hilarious, and it truly does tell you what costs less or tastes better to make and what you’ll do better to buy. Highly recommended!

{ 1 comment }

May 16 2012

Squirrel Wars!!!

by Dea Anne M

I posted here last month about my adventures this year in raised bed gardening. I can report a lot of satisfaction with the way the garden is progressing. Here’s a picture:

Well you can imagine my dismay when I looked out my kitchen window a week or so ago and saw two squirrels whooping it up in the beds. Their tails were going like propellers and they were leaping about with the sort of lusty glee appropriate to a couple of forty-niners finally hitting gold or a pair of Visigoths deep into the Sack of Rome. A few angry shouts sent them fleeing, but when I went down to the beds to check out the damage my suspicions were confirmed. Every one of the baby lettuces that I had recently planted  from seed were gone.

image from thejacksack.com

When I was a kid, I loved the story of Beatrix Potter’s Squirrel Nutkin. I mean, I thought squirrels were the cutest thing going. These days…not so much. The sorts of furry herbivores that I once considered a delight to witness: squirrels, deer, rabbits look like destruction on four legs now. There’s a real danger when you become a dedicated gardener of developing an us against them view of the animal kingdom and that’s not really where I want my mind to go. After all, squirrels have to eat. On the other hand, I’m not in this gardening thing as a way of providing backyard denizens with a 24/7 salad bar. Measures have to be taken, though I strongly favor those methods that do the least harm. Cayenne pepper tea, made by steeping the chopped peppers in boiling water then straining, has so far been very effective. The trouble with this method is that you have reapply the spray after each rain. Then again, gardening isn’t meant to be without effort. My friend Ray, recommends putting cat hair on the beds as a squirrel deterrent and I have heard this from other folks as well. As my own cats shed hair in quantities that rival the amount of pollen coating the surface of my car on any given day this spring, I’m guessing that I will be experimenting with this method  too.

If you too need to figure out how to deal with unwanted garden incursions and raids, then DCPL has resources to help.

Dead Snails Leave No Trails: natural pest control for home and garden by Loren Nancarrow and Janet Hogan Taylor emphasizes an organic, humane approach to controlling all sorts of garden pests without poisoning the garden in the process. This compendium of useful information includes tips on identifying garden-helpful insects that you might otherwise think to repel.

Bugs, Slugs & Other Thugs: controlling garden pests organically by Rhonda Massingham Hart includes a lot of great information on how to attract “beneficials” (i.e. birds and insects that naturally help control garden pests). Special features include tips on gently repelling pesky garden intruders when they have started helping themselves to more than their fair share. For example: “Clippings of cat or dog hair might be enough to ward off rodents and other pests.” Homespun wisdom is the best!

Outwitting Critters: a surefire manual for confronting devious animals and winning by Bill Adler, Jr. extends its reach beyond the garden to include other areas of animal driven trouble. Here you’ll find information on how to safely and humanely deal with everything from the ant parade in your kitchen, to the coyotes roaming your property, to that annoying alligator who has chosen your front lawn as her favorite sunbathing spot.

Finally there’s Squirrel Wars: backyard wildlife battles and how to win them by George H. Harrison from which I, quite shamelessly I confess, stole the title of this blog post. Harrison approaches critter problems with a sense of humor and documents actual, often off-beat, methods that real homeowners have used to cope. In the interest of understanding the “enemy” Harrison spends a significant portion of the book providing a natural history of squirrels, rabbits, wasps and other potentially problematic fauna.

How do you keep critters at bay?

{ 3 comments }