Planning the Vegetable Garden

The snow has melted enough to uncover part of the vegetable garden, and we’re only thirty days away from the last Minneapolis frost-free date. I’ve written out my to-do lists to prep the yard, charted out where I will expand planting areas outside the veggie plot and of course, researched. Because of two amazing books (Grow Great Grub, Gayla Trail and Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook, Kujawski), there are three new things about the vegetable garden this year: 1) expanding to fruits, some of the onion family and potatoes; 2) plant cold weather and fall/winter crops; 3) plant what I can to preserve through winter.

If you’re going to grow a vegetable garden, and get it right, get these two books. I can’t believe how helpful they have been and make reading about slugs and soil temperatures fun:

So, expanding the garden to fruits, some of the onion family and potatoes. Fruits will include strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries. The strawberries are prone to slug damage (and we’ve got some, despite the beer traps) so I will plant starters in a hanging basket. Raspberries didn’t go so well in my lame attempt of a flower garden, so I’m pulling that out and thinking about planting in a large container…I’m going to consult my mother on that one. And blueberries. Blueberries love partial shade and acidic soil which make them the best candidate to plant under the evergreen tree in my front yard, where good plants have, in years past, gone to die. To pretty up the area, I’m also going to plant Lemon Balm, which spreads like a weed but is an herb. I’m going to geek out on you a little bit, because lemon balm is from the mint family but with (duh) lemon taste and scent. Not only can you use this in fish dishes, to make your own lip balm, or flavor ice cream, you can rub it on your skin and it will repel mosquitoes. Now that is something a Minnesota girl can really appreciate. From the onion family I will plant onions, garlic and leeks. I couldn’t be more excited to plant these things right this year, and have less to say about it. Moving on to potatoes: My grandpa Gene was and still is a potato farmer. He loves watching his potato plants become potato dinners, and I have a total weak spot for the little spuds myself. Potato plants take a ton of space, so I’ve resigned myself from being too persnickety about having a giant plot of dirt that won’t look like much of anything.

Planting cold weather and fall crops is going to take some mental effort, and good planning. Peas, rhubarb, asparagus, arugula, onions, leeks and potatoes all go in early. Peas, rhubarb, arugula and asparagus come in quickly and are harvested before planting summer veggies that need warm temperatures (above 65 at least), so you can take those plants out of garden, and plant others in their place, like tomatoes, peppers, pole beans and eggplant. The onion, leek, and potatoes take up to five months to grow, so those won’t be harvested until mid-fall…around October here. Then for late planting when the pole beans, eggplant and tomatoes are done, you can plant arugula and peas for another month of harvesting before consistent frost sets in. Multiple maps will be needed to make sure I get this right (oh, and add on top of that, certain veggies cannot be near other veggies, like potatoes cannot be near tomatoes or cucumbers, so that will need to be figured out too).

And preserving. Most everything I’ll be planting will need to be preserved throughout the harvest season. Tomatoes can be blanched to freeze or canned; herbs can be dried or if fresh, chopped up and placed in ice trays with a little water on top to freeze (and then you just add the cubes one at a time to dishes through the winter; jalapenos and peppers can be blanched to freeze, canned or made into a ristra; onions and potatoes can be stored in dark, dry places; cucumbers pickled; beans and peas blanched to freeze. I haven’t done any of this before, so I’ll need to get some books and do more research. When the time comes late summer and fall, I’ll be sure to post.

For now, I just keep working on the to-do lists and take advantage of every nice day we’re given here. Are you planting a vegetable garden? Potting veggies? Planning to can? Would love to hear. Also, for you northern climate folks specifically wanting help around Minnesota vegetable climate, check out the U of M’s page (it’s been really helpful for me so far on the little things a book can’t specifically cover).

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