Category: Garden How To (page 1 of 2)

From the ground up. Digging into garden basics and beyond.

Garden Dreams ⇒ Garden Goals

I know you’ve felt it too, even though its still cold- the days are longer, the sun is stronger and the birds have started singing again! Time to dig in and start turning our garden dreams into garden goals. Now is the time to ensure those mouth watering harvests!

There are as many goals for a garden as there are gardeners. There are also as many ways to plan a garden as there are gardeners.

Think about what you want from a garden and go from there.

Peppers, Tomatoes, Beans and Pak Choi

  • Fresh herbs- most herbs do well in containers
  • Salsa garden- that will take some space and extra happy soil
  • Root crops-  to grow and store through the winter a cold frame might be worthwhile
  • Child’s Learning Garden- a raised bed will help in keeping little feet off seeds
  • Space to Relax– Seating and scents, gain privacy with vertical gardening structures

And those of us that like to spend a majority of our Summer’s free time in the garden; honestly assessing what worked and didn’t work from last year’s efforts will go a long way to make this season even better.

Goals for my garden this year include:
Learning how to play more with Mother Nature ~ Grow first successful celery and cauliflower crops ~  Harvest + Preserve healthy food.

Plan to Enjoy

I grew more food than I knew what to do with that year, with this simple plan.

Garden Plans can be as simple as you want them to be.  Back in 2014  I  filled a 30′ x 80′ garden plot with so much food we ate mostly homegrown that year! And as you can see, it wasn’t much of a technical plan. Disclaimer *This was a newly tilled space on great soil.

Whatever the garden, turning your ideas into reality starts with a plan. Be honest about how much you want to put into your garden. While there are tons of shortcuts and time-saving tips, but in general the bigger the garden, the more time it requires to be productive.

One of my goals with Forks in the Dirt is to inspire people to make small changes that add up over time. On that note, dreaming big and starting small is smart if gardening is new to you. I pinky swear to keep you up to date with all the best Farmers Markets and CSA’s if you’d rather support our local growers than grow your own!

Here are a few Ground Rules and terms that get tossed around the garden:

Crop Rotation

Crop Rotation is the most important habit to get into for organic gardeners. This practice of moving plants to different locations each year will help keep bugs and soil born issues at bay. There are two main ways of rotating; by family or by nutrient demands. This can get very involved; for more information here’s a great Old Farmer’s Almanac article and video. I use Niki Jabbour’s rotation by nutrient demand which is roughly roots (carrots, beets) -> beans/peas -> Fruiting (tomatoes, squash) and potatoes -> leafy greens and the brassica family.

Companion Planting

“Jewel” Nasturtium

This practice uses the fact that every plant has its own growing habits, and finds ways to use those differences to grow more and better crops. This could mean planting deep root plants next to shallow roots, or a plant that repels pests or attracts beneficial insects next to a vulnerable neighbor. This is about creating one big happy neighborhood. Rodale’s Organic covers it in depth HERE. I started by adding nasturtium and calendula flowers to entice more pollinators and beneficial bugs.

Succession Planting

My Garden boy helping plant greens after the midsummer harvests

This mean getting rid of the plants that are done producing so you can plant new crops to keep producing. Certain crops mature more quickly than others; the fast-growing ones (radishes, greens, peas are typical) can be removed after harvest and then that same space can be replanted with a variety of fall loving vegetables (kale, root crops, greens). Our own University of MN does a bang up job as usual giving practical info on their WEBSITE.  The plants that did best for me in last season’s second planting (early July) were Pak Choi, Arugula, Kale and Broccoli.

Nothing like bright green turnip tops in the Fall garden

Basic Garden Planning Steps

  1. Make a list of all the plants you want to grow in your vegetable garden.
  2. Draw an outline of your garden on a piece of paper, include fences + fixed garden beds.
  3. Draw  where you want to plant crops and where the paths will be.
  4. Revise! Once on paper you’ll be able to better ‘see’ the garden in August.
  5. Keep in mind crop rotation practices.
  6. Add in companion planting ideas.
  7. Add in succession planting ideas.

I used some form of this process through many years of garden planning and it served me well. My plants may not have all been in the perfect spot, but they had all the compost they could dream of. Or if I forgot to follow best practices for crop rotation, I had grown select flowers to entice in enough beneficial bugs to balance it all out. Gardens are our wonderfully imperfect attempts at working with Mother Nature, and remember- Mother Nature WANTS to grow!

“Anyone who thinks gardening begins in the Spring and ends in the Fall is missing the best part of the year… for gardening begins in January, with the DREAM.
Josephine Nuese

This year we are going to attempt more in our yard’s gardens than ever before, and I can hardly wait!

Last Fall after the new beds were layered with compost, leaves and soil.

There’s nothing like the clean slate of a new garden bed, and I have FOUR new 4’x8′ raised beds! Last Fall we more than doubled our vegetable growing space.  And yes, I went overboard with my seed order despite my best efforts. But there is something magical about this time of year, with dreaming in full swing and the whole growing season ahead of us!

But, I felt a little overwhelmed trying to figure out my much larger garden plans using the same techniques that have served me well in the past.

An earlier version of most of my back veggie patch.

Because of my doubled space and previous years of growing in the same beds this Winter I’m diving into something that I *think* will help me keep my sanity and increase harvests; I subscribed to an online graphic garden planner. There are a few versions out there. Please don’t waste your time with any of the free versions, better to draw your own than get frustrated with those. After looking around, I chose the version, it has A LOT of really specific settings that overwhelmed me until I remembered: that I didn’t have to use them all, along with that “Mother Nature Want to Grow” quote from above. It does not have an app that works on my android phone, iPhones are OK.

With the GrowVeg online planner, you start by adding your exact location, and you can switch from ‘Square Foot Gardening’ to ‘row planting’, put in dates for succession planting – and, this was what made it worth the annual fee for me: Crop Rotation assistance! It does this by keeping track of what you planted where so when you plan next year’s garden it alerts you so you can avoid planting a vegetable in a place where the soil needs amending before it can best grow that plant. It also shows a list of best companion plants. It even generates a master plant list for purchasing. Genius!

It’s pretty intuitive, and totally worth checking out- PLUS they give you a FREE one-week trial, and you can print your plan to plant off without paying anything. Click on the Garden Planner link in the top navigation bar HERE.

Planting nectar + pollen sources makes everything happier!

SO Fun, and SO addicting! And, no, I’m not getting anything in return for mentioning them- I just wanted to share! Let me know what you think if you find time to play with the online planner! 

The best part of planning your garden early is being able to start your own seeds; we’ll cover starting seeds indoors with the next blog post.

I’d love to hear your tricks to help plan great gardens, or what you still have questions about for future blog post ideas 🙂

Looking forward to digging in the DIRT!




Seed Saving Starts Now!

Saving Seeds means Saving Life.

I know that sounds dramatic, but saving seeds is a big part of why humans hunkered down into communities and began our long march towards civilization (we’ve still got on our marching boots though, right!?). Variations of those seeds still sustain us today. 

Until a few generations ago, most people planted what they had saved from the last harvest. With a few additions now and then from neighbors or travelers.

But for me and many home gardeners, saving seeds had fallen off our radars. It is making a bit of a comeback and I am encouraging as many people as I can to jump on this bandwagon with me!

To start saving seeds please remember:
Not all seeds are suited for saving!

There’s a simple trick to buying the right seeds so you can save + grow again.

Grow Heirloom varieties, or open pollinated varieties.  Hybrid seeds will not produce the same vegetable that you took the seed from.

Garden Planning, my Favorite!

I love getting those seeds catalogs and will have larger than anticipated bills at a few seed companies once I finalize my orders, but I am proud to be able to skip over a few seed sections because I’ve saved my own seed stock from what I grew last year.

Saving seed is intuitive- if we stop to see the plants we nurture as part of Mother Nature. Everything has a cycle, and the whole reason tomatoes exists is to grow more tomatoes so they make it easy for us. Or as Michael Pollan suggests in a few books, like The Botany of Desire and TED talks, the plants have us working for them.

Back to the real world application of all of this-

We’re half way through one of the coldest Januaries on record across the northern US, so most of us are looking forward to those lazy days of summer even more than normal. Oh Summertime; being surrounded by lush green growth, the sounds of birds chirping and bees buzzing, smelling flowers, picking strawberries warmed by the sun… (the weeding, mosquitoes, heat and humidity have conveniently faded into the back of our memories.)

And this is the moment the seed catalogs begin storming in, right when they know we’re at our weakest, most desperate state. Well played seed companies, well played.

The colorful pages of these catalogs offer escape from the winter weather and promise sunny days filled with so much growth it overwhelms our senses, often including our common sense.

A sample of saved seeds from my garden. Picked, dried, stored and ready to plant.

As much as I still revel in these catalogs and all they promise I’m able to skip over a few sections now because I’ve been saving seeds of plants grown in last year’s garden.

There is something so empowering about growing your own food AND saving your own seeds so that you can grow more food again next season- without the help of anyone except Mother Nature.

The simple act of bringing in a seed connects you to a 10,000 year-old heritage of saving the best seeds to better the food we eat. It also makes sense to this frugal mama because you save cold hard cash on your next seed. With both reasons, you get to play with Mother Nature and see what happens.

Luckily for us (and our ancestors), the process is pretty intuitive with most seeds. You pick a seed and save it. But like all the things worth doing, seed saving is worth doing well.

And I’ve found just the local lady to help us ALL learn to do it well!

Pam talking with visitors at the WBL Winter Market.

I’d like to introduce Pam Larson Frink .

Pam started the White Bear Lake Seed Library in April of 2016 and has been gaining steam and seed stock ever since. She also holds a Masters in Environmental Education and a Horticultural degree, so she knows her stuff inside and out. For those of you that were able to attend the White Bear Lake Winter Farmers Market, Pam was there representing the seed library.

The Seed Library at the White Bear Lake Library.

She also thinks a lot like me, “I think saving seeds connects you to the food you eat. It’s so easy to buy produce at the grocery store that you don’t understand that it’s more than just food. It’s soil and insects pollinating the plant and clean water and sun to grow the plant. And if you don’t take care of the soil and the water and the insects you soon will not have food.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself!

Easy Peasy

The following are all Pam’s suggestions to starting to save seeds. These produce seed the same season as planted and are mostly self-pollinating, minimizing the need to be mindful of preventing cross-pollination.

4th Generation of my Blue Lake Pole Beans!

Beans and Peas- Both of these are some of the most widely (and easiest) grown garden veggies. You can let them ripen and then dry on the vine. Wait until the pods are yellow or brown and dry to the touch. Then pick them and shell them if you want. I tend to leave my pole beans in their pods for easy sorting. And my kids are more likely to help me plant if they get to pop them out of their pods as we go 🙂

Lettuces- Let the lettuce ‘bolt’ or send up its main flower stalk and wait for the flowers to fall and seeds to form on the heads. Gently knock the seeds into a paper bag. You’ll want to go out a few days in a row to get all the seeds as they ripen but before they fall off.

Sweet/Bell Peppers Harvest when ripe, pull out seeds, careful not to break the seed coating and dry on a paper towel for a few days, store in a paper envelope once dry.

Tomatoes- Harvest when ripe, scoop seeds and pulp into a glass with water, let sit for couple days, seeds that float to the top aren’t viable and you can toss. The seeds that stay at the bottom are the best seeds. Strain, then dry on paper towels. Store in paper envelope once dry.

Pam also teaches classes on seed saving techniques that dive a little deeper than we’re getting into here.

Pam’s Next Local Seed Saving & Starting Events:

Seed Packing & Demo: Mon, January 29th from 4:30-8pm
@ the White Bear Lake library.

Class: Sat, March 3 @ the Maplewood Library, 10:30-11:30am

Class: Sat, March 3 @ the White Bear Lake Library, 1-2pm


I’d tried reading the highly regarded book, Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth, but felt overwhelmed by ALL THE INFO! Another book recommended that is on my library wait list is Seed Sowing And Saving by Carole Turner.  But, after talking with Pam, I feel like I’m more than ready to save a few more varieties this fall.

And here’s where the planning comes in!  It is easy to forget when you’re looking at all the glorious varieties in the seed catalogs that…

If you want to start saving seeds, you have to start with save-able seeds.

Look for seeds labeled ‘open pollinated seeds’. This also means NO HYBRIDS, often labeled as F1! These are NOT good options for seed saving. They will not ‘come true’ if the seeds are planted, they will often revert.


Johnnys Potomac Custom Mix (F1) Snapdragon Seed, which I still order even though the colors will never stick, now I know why!

Pam had a perfect story from her early days of gardening that explains this “reverting”… She had grown a beautiful rainbow of colored snapdragon flowers. So she decided to save the seed to enjoy the color burst another season. Pam planted the next Spring, getting sturdy snapdragon plants. But every single flower bloomed pale yellow. This is nature saying nice try 😉 The seed of a hybridized plant most often does not “come true” and reverts to one of the gene pools it was hybridized from. In the case of the snapdragon seeds, this meant pale yellow.

Swinging Squash

Things get a bit more complicated with certain groups that cross pollinate; squash are the notorious for cross pollinating with each other. Some open pollinating plants will cross pollinate. Seed growers have tricks like growing inside greenhouses, growing miles apart or bagging seed heads to avoid cross pollination. I might try to bag a favorite zucchini after she’s pollinated this summer!

Before I understood that squash were ‘swingers’  I had already saved and dried a few butternut and acorn squash seeds. So, after talking it over with Pam, I’m going to do my own squash experiment, I might grow something delicious, or something horrible. Either way, I’ll be playing with Mother Nature which is a win for me!

The Seed Stacks

Seed Libraries are places where people can ‘check out’ seeds to grow on their own.  The hope is that you can save some seed and replenish the seed stock the following Fall/Winter. They’re usually housed inside public libraries, but also co-ops and community centers. Checking out the seeds are free, but some ask for  membership info or volunteer commitments.

Our WBL Seed Library asks for membership info, but as Pam quipped, “There are no seed Nazis around”.  Started in April of 2016, the WBL branch is serving the community well, going through over 1,000 seed packets in 2017!  They take both home saved and purchased seed. With a few necessary caveats.

Donating to the seed library? Please keep in mind:
Heirloom or open pollinated varieties only. If they are home saved seeds, a few choice vegetable varieties; Beans, Peas, Lettuce, Sweet Peppers and Tomatoes, and native flowers.

This year the White Bear Lake See Library is especially looking for some native pollinator plants like Milkweed, Liatrus/Blazing Star and Monarda /Bee Balm– but only the native non-hybridized varieties.

To save seeds of native flowering plants, wait until the flower forms a seed head, knock off seeds (or cut seed head) and bag.

I just went and ‘harvested some more bee balm and milk weed today, Jan 17th for the Seed Library once I knew they were low. Quite a few of the seeds had been knocked down by the wind or eaten by birds, but there were enough to make it worth my efforts.

So far, I’ve only ever saved enough seeds to use the following year, and keeping them in paper bags inside paper envelopes has worked well for me. But if you want to save for multiple years you’ll be better off storing in an airtight container- like a mason jar. Just make sure they are completely dry before you seal that jar!

Seeds make tasty treats too!

I want to give a shout out to the people who have worked to secure our right to save and share our own seed, with a Minnesota bill being signed in May of 2015. The business of seeds is BIG business, and without the efforts of many groups working together to protect our rights to save and share seeds, thank you!
Do It Green! 
Gardening Matters
HomeGrown Minneapolis

A few more online resources that Pam suggested include:

  • Seed Savers Exchange– One of the best nationwide sources for heirloom seeds, they have a stunning selection of seeds for sale (but don’t get sucked too far in!)
  • They also have their actual “Exchange” program, outlined HERE
  • The University of Minnesota, as always has gathered simple, accessible practicle information about saving Vegetable seeds grown in MN. 
  • If you’d like another online read about seed saving, The International Seed Saving Institute has some easy to read info as well.
  • White Bear Lake area residents, be sure to check out the WBL Seed Library’s Blog site and sign up for their emails, its a great way to connect with other local gardeners!

There’s literally endless information out there. Like all things gardening, saving seeds is less daunting and way more fun when you get to talk to someone else who either knows what they’re doing, or is making the same mistakes as you are 🙂

I hope you can join one of the White Bear Lake Seed Library packing events, I’ll be there on January 29th at the WBL Library.  It would be a fun and fruitful way to meet more of you in person!

A special thanks to Pam for taking her deep plant knowledge and vision to help the community and creating our local Seed Library- the ONE THOUSAND packets of seeds shared in 2017 is just the beginning!!

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”
― Robert Louis Stevenson

Will you try to save any seeds this year? Which ones? I’m determined to save my tomato and peppers this year!

Can’t wait to Dig into the Dirt again with all this talk of seeds!




New Year, New Growth

Happy New Year to you all!

Thanks for being a part of the inaugural year of Forks in the Dirt!
I hope you had as much fun as I did!

Writing from the frozen tundra of Minnesota this first morning of 2018 (a brisk -13° F) I know the temperature means no gardening for even the toughest Midwest gals; for example our chickens have also decided to stay inside today. And yet, I appreciate the way our extreme seasons keep me tethered to the cycles of our planet. My love for this earth grows deeper every year I grow food with its help.

The best way for me to use these frozen months is to dream big for the coming year. Being able to cozy up with seed catalogs, look back through garden pictures from the previous summer, think about what we ate and what we wanted to eat more of… Having time to regroup for the upcoming season is a gift; I remind myself as I look longingly at the snow drifted garden beds.

The best way to get my imagination rolling have always been books, and now and online research too.

There is an overwhelming amount of information out there. I’ve gotten lost for hours ending up on the farthest ‘out there’ branches of my original quest… ( succession planting, rotational gardening, clean food recipes, etc) but those times have let me weed out the useless sites and pick the ripest, juiciest sites truly worth our time.

Here are a few of my favorite Links:

Savvy Gardening: regular contributor Niki Jabbour is queen of season extension and one of my gardening heroes. Real Info for real gardeners

100 Days of Real Food: This was where I first went for recipe inspiration using real, clean food- and still refer to it often.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle:  One of the first books I read about growing more of your own food and the impact eating  local can make. Now a website with info and recipes. Plus, Barbara Kingsolver is a favorite author of mine 🙂

Civil Eats: So much information about food systems and environment, all broken down in bite size pieces. If you’re ready to dig deeper they recently listed their favorite food and farming books of 2017 .

I’ll stop there, but if there’s a foodie, farmer or gardening topic you’re curious about, I probably have a link for that. I do have more info links on my Do Good Page.

My personal goals for 2018 include:
*Planning for and planting our doubled vegetable garden space,
*Preserving more of my own food (dehydrating, freezing, fermenting and canning),
*Finding a local sustainable source for organic oats and chicken meat,
*Becoming a better Chicken + Boy Mom
*Finding more of that elusive “Balance”

My 2018 goals for Forks in the Dirt include:
*Meeting and writing about more local farmers,
*Inspiring awareness in the food choices we make,
*Expanding the White Bear Lake Winter Farmers Market.

What are your gardening and food goals for 2018??
Let me know and we can work on them together!

Wishing you many chances to dig in and grow in new ways in 2018.



Second Chance for Old Jack

My front stoop this year- laden with pumpkins and squash

I love pumpkins!
Carving pumpkins.
Pumpkin treats.
Pumpkin soup.
Pumpkin seeds.
And I am not alone.

Trick or treating with my neighborhood crew last night reminded me carving pumpkins is a big deal, and it made me wonder…just how many are there?

So I spent the remainder of my Halloween night- after my kids finally fell into their post sugar coma sleep- researching all about pumpkins.
PS- times have changed from my costumed college days 😉 

I found that even NPR’s ‘the salt’ had the same pumpkin conundrum. I felt less freaky after that find.

You guys, bottom line: we really love pumpkins.
By best estimates in a article:  150,007,000 Americans planned on carving pumpkins in 2017! Whoa, that’s a lot of fruits on front stoops. Yes, pumpkin is technically a fruit! Continue reading

Raising Pollinator Lovers

Raising monarchs was one of the highlights of my kids’ summer- and the last butterfly emerged from her chrysalis right before the back to school rush, so it felt like we got to mark that last thing off our bucket list just in time. 

There is something magical about watching life transform before your eyes, and that magic gets magnified when you share the experience with children and their innocent, impressionable eyes… These memories are here to stay!

Like most of how my life happens, we were in the right place at the right time and stumbled upon a chance to adopt and raise these butterflies.

I love it when serendipity takes center stage!

My mom spotted this one in her gardens!

Continue reading

Hive Mind.ed

The passions that bind this blog together: gardening, cooking, local farmers and food shelves all rely on one thing to exist:


We need those busy bees, butterflies, wasps, ants, moths etc..

Now they need us.

…has ended, thanks for all who participated 🙂

WIN 4 Passes to the Polli*Nation Festival Sept 10
Live Music* Food Trucks* Craft Beers*Bee Science*Art
Contest Ends Tuesday Sept 5 at 7pm
Like us on Facebook to enter:

Unless you’ve been hiding under a garden paver, you know that bees are in trouble. Honeybees in particular have received lots of coverage in the news- topics like Colony Collapse Disorder, Varroa Mites destroying hives, and pesticide kills after a windy day. Honey Bees get most of the news coverage because they are the easiest of the pollinators to observe, being raised in a controlled area rather than being so spread out like the other wild and native pollinators. But there are signs that ALL the pollinators are in trouble. Continue reading

Forks’ Weekend Spread: August

Oh August, I’m in awe…

This summer is growing by fast. Even with Fall right around the corner, if you’re like our family we plan on squeezing every last drop of summer out of the rest of this Summer. And this weekend is ripe with opportunity to do just that, by exploring local farms, flavors and vineyards and learning more about our pollinators. Let’s jump right in, the sun is set to shine just in time for these weekend farm and foodie events!

Friday August 18th

Great Table Dinner at the Dancing Dragonfly Winery

Enjoy the vineyard like never before with a unique and memorable al fresco dining experience, while mingling with fellow wine lovers at our large, family-style table. A 3-course dinner, featuring locally sourced foods from the St. Croix Valley region. The menu includes: Wilted Spinach Salad with Bacon, Top Sirloin with Garlic Crusted Portobello Mushrooms, Champagne Chicken Breast, Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Vegetables, and dessert. The website also mentioned dressing in layers, which was the first time I got legitimately excited for Fall. You can also add on wine pairings (a glass chosen for each of the three courses) for $20. Our regular lineup of wine also available. Simply put this sounds like heaven.

Details: Friday, 6pm-8pm. $55 in advance Registration Link.
Dancing Dragonfly Winery 2013 120th Avenue, Saint Croix Falls, WI 54024 Continue reading

How To Relish Zucchini Season

Anyone with a garden- or a neighbor who gardens- or a co-worker who gardens probably knows that zucchinis basically bombard your garden in late July. One day your looking at these stunning flowers, Male (Left) Female (Right)

and the next you’ve got baseball bat sized fruits (yes, fruits). Botanically, zucchinis are fruits, a type of botanical berry called a “pepo”,  the swollen ovary of the zucchini flower.

Everyone grows zucchini because it is so easy to grow, and they’re truly versatile and a great addition to many of my healthy recipes…

I love grilling it (with onions, peppers, olive oil and Italian spices), shredding and freezing for adding it to pretty much anything) making zucchini fritters (best GF recipe HERE) or baking the beloved loaf of zucchini bread. I also have neighbors who gladly take a few- at first…

But no matter how creative I get, its tough to keep ahead of the zucchini harvest.

I know, I did it to myself; not only do I plant too many of the huge plants, I can’t help but help nature along and hand pollinate when I see flowers, which makes a huge difference for how much they produce… Just think lots of zucchini, lots and lots of zucchini…

Relish the Fields

So, when I found a recipe a few years back for zucchini sweet relish I was more than intrigued. When I read that it used 12 cups of shredded zucchini at once, I was sold. I made my first batch and, YOU GUYS- it was amazing! And I have to say after years of tweaking it is down right zen.

Sweet Relish is not really something most people get all jazzed about, I get it- but there is something magical about taking the lowly zucchini and making it shape shift into this tangy/sweet/saucy condiment.

My Hombre Zucchini Freshness chart; starting with a same day pick in front. Lighter green, shiny but not waxed skins means fresher when you shop.

The best part is the recipe works just as well with those stealth zucchini (the ones that hide on you and become ginormous overnight) as with regular size. Just be sure to remove the seeds and you are good to go.

Canning Curious?

Yes this is a Boiling Water Canning recipe. If you are new to canning; you can SO do this! Just pretend I’m there holding your hand. And also – READ THIS, I wish I would have known a few of those things before I dove into canning and wasted a good amount of time and produce.

And, if you really Can’t Can (see what I did there) go ahead and keep the relish in the fridge without processing it- it will keep for at least 3 months.

Since I have more zucchini waiting for me to shred I’ll get right down to it:

Zucchini Sweet Relish

12 Cups Shredded zucchini (seeded but not peeled)
4 Cups finely chopped onion
4 T Canning Salt


1 ½ C Chopped Peppers (colorful variety of bell or sweet minis)
3 ½ C White Sugar (I tried raw sugar and honey and it did not work!)
2 ½ C White Vinegar 1 T Cornstarch
½ t Nutmeg
2t Turmeric
2t Celery Seed ½ t Black pepper



Mix first 3 ingredients with hands into a large glass bowl, hopefully with a tight fitting lid (so the onion smell is contained) and let sit in refrigerator at least 6 hours or overnight.

Sterilize 8 -10 pint sized canning jars

Drain zucchini/onion mixture and rinse with water to wash away some of the salt.

Chop peppers and add the rest of the ingredients into a large stock pot, then add drained and squeezed zucchini. Really squeeze the juice out of shreds! I make monster size zucchini balls (its the little things).

Simmer for 30 minutes.

Pack relish into jars, fill to top.
(try to do this part pretty quickly so the relish stays hot).

Carefully lower jars into a large stock pot of boiling water, trying to keep 2 inches between them, and make sure water is at least 2 inches above the lids- process (boil) for 30 minutes.

Carefully remove and place onto a surface that take some serious heat, and leave to cool 24 hours.

There is nothing better than hearing that ping of the canning lid popping into place so you know that it sealed properly!

The results. The two white topped jars are for the fridge, they will be gone soon enough 😉

What we don’t eat here, I give away to family and friends, they make easy holiday and hostess gifts too.

This stuff tastes amazing, it goes on the obvious brat and hamburger, brings a ham sammy to another level, and kicks up tuna salad. I’ve used it as a ‘dip’ for cucumbers, carrots and pita chips too…

Harness the power of the prolific zucchini and preserve its awesomeness for next spring’s first burger on the grill.

Go ahead and Dig Into Canning!




Veggies from the Burbs

I did a double take when Don Heinel told me where his land was – Little Canada you say? But it turns out, not knowing the farm was there was the just the tip of the iceberg (lettuce).

Don has been doing this a while- like his whole life. Being out in the fields has given him plenty of time to think things through. And his willingness to share (but not preach about) what he’s come up with so far is refreshing and contagious!

Don with some happy sweet corn

At first glance Don may seem a bit gruff, he’s admittedly “not a big smiler”, but don’t let that fool you. He’s one big ‘Veggie Bear’, (favorite nickname I’ve come up with so far) who is a passionate steward of his land, dedicated to bringing lovingly grown food to market for you to enjoy.

He’s found his own balance of ‘common sense’ farming techniques that bring him high yields without much chemical application. He uses Neem oil and other organic applications when needed, but finds that prevention is the best medicine. He practices crop rotation, letting land lie fallow (not planting anything on it) and pays close attention to water drainage issues (standing water weakens plants and harbors bugs, dry land stresses plants and lowers yields).

While Don was walking me around his farm I saw lady bugs, dragon flies and weeds- not in abundance but enough to know there are no herbicides being sprayed on the row crops, or pesticides taking out the insects. Birds were flying in to grab some snacks of their own too.

No, he’s not Certified Organic.

Don doesn’t care to be certified organic, especially with selling directly to his customers at market. Selling direct gives him a chance to talk with you all and explain the nuances of organic, conventional, sustainable, and where he falls with best practices. For him, the certification is just a lot more paperwork and red tape without the payoff.

Don urges us all to find out more about the way food is grown, starting with the simple fact that, yes- organic pesticides do exist! I learned about the “OMRI” because of him. The OMRI, the Organic Materials Review Institute, “supports organic integrity by developing clear information and guidance about materials, so that producers know which products are appropriate for organic operations,” directly from the OMRI Website. Cool Beans.

The Way Back Story

Don’s a 4th generation farmer whose family has been farming for over 100 years and working this same land since 1939, and farmed in Roseville prior to that. Keeping that same 17 acres in the family for all those years means that Don’s farm is a lot closer to the metro area than most new farmers could hope for; not in today’s real estate market. It also means he knows his land like the back of his hand. He showed me ‘the hill’; a barely visible rise in one section of field and explained how just that rise makes it too dry to plant. He also explained when and where he recently changed row direction from E/W to N/S and just how that will affect water drainage, and how he wait until just after the dirt stops clumping (into what he calls dirt ‘potatoes’) after a tilling to plant.

It’s obvious he paid attention to his chores as a kid on the farm, and spoke to making a conscious decision to stay and farm because of the freedom of choice it allowed him. What and where to plant, who to sell it to, how much is a fair price; these choices and the time outside are a good fit for Don.

Don has sold produce under the Heinel Farm name since 1988 at the fall White Bear Lake Farmer’s Market, the first year it started. He also used to sell wholesale but gave that up after witnessing the increasing hoops farmers had to go through, and the increasing liability insurances etc. they had to take on to continue selling that way. Markets might take a little more work, but they are proving more rewarding too.

Farming Today

His wife, Shari, while following her own career path, helps where she can and is his technical support, answering emails and posting to their Facebook page and all the other tasks that keep the company running. They make a great team and can be seen together at different Farmer’s Markets throughout the week.

Don at the White Bear Lake Farmer’s Market

Don’s father was his main mentor and business partner until he became ill. He passed away in 2015. His father was also the one who suggested Don start taking it easy, helping Don make the decision towards ‘semi-retirement’. Although, once I understood his schedule a little, there’s no way the average person would call that being ‘semi-retired’! He still gets up early, works in the fields most mornings and is at market 3 times a week. Logistically this meant quitting the Minneapolis market so he didn’t have markets on the weekends. (whew!)

Heinel Farm Summer 2017 Market Schedule

Mondays: Little Canada Farmer’s Market: 2:30-6pm

Tuesdays: Shoreview Farmer’s Market: 3-7pm

Fridays: White Bear Lake Farmer’s Market: 8-12pm


Nothing like a few green beans to munch while we walked!

In Don’s words “Weather and Critters are the two biggest issues for farmers.” And this year he’s dealt with both. Although his farm was lucky enough to escape damage from the hail storm on June 11 he was still catching up from what he referred to as the “7 days of death” the cold rainy yuck that hung around the Twin Cities in early May. His critter problems include the typical racoons, deer and rabbits along with a crow that has been bugging him for years on end.

Don shared one of his favorite quotes with me, and now I’m sharing it with you…

Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.   -Dwight D Eisenhower

Don checking tomatoes in the High Tunnel.

Critters are one of the reasons he invested in a high tunnel. He uses that for tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers; and low tunnels for cucumbers and zucchini. He also starts a *few* plants; 20 flats that each have 162 cells each – that’s 3,240 seedlings to transplant. And with those seedlings and direct sowing he fills the 17 acres (except what he lets lie fallow) with all kinds of beets, squash, sweet corn, tomatoes, peppers, fennel, bush beans, broccoli, lettuces, kale, cauliflower, zucchini and cucumbers. Yum.

He likes going it alone, and stated, “There’s a certain something to doing it all on my own.” I think he enjoys the peace and solitude of the farm just as much as he enjoys seeing his customers on market days.

Another one of the choices he’s glad he gets to make is being able to give extra produce to the food shelves in the area. In 2016 the farm donated 2,662 pounds of beautiful, Minnesota Grown veggies to the White Bear Area Emergency Food Shelf, and a similar amount to the Ralph Reeder Food Shelf of New Brighton. That’s a few heads of fresh and local broccoli that went to our neighbors in need! Thank you Don and Shari!

If you’re interested in seeing a vegetable farm up close and personal, Don has shown others around for a nominal fee based on availability. He showed me how to wrap a cauliflower (below) so I can try to grow my own next year 🙂 and I still have things to look up from our time together.

I mean, this is the guy who gets spinach to winter over so it shoots out of the ground before anything else, I’m going to listen to his tips! Of course, like all smart businessmen, Don won’t tell a soul how he gets the spinach to grow or which seed variety he uses. And I have to say; good for you Don, I think you’ve earned this one!

My youngest, picking out his cucumber from Farmer Don, aka “The Veggie Bear”

After visiting Heinel Farm and seeing all the flourishing veggies, it gave me a little push to figure out ways to grow happier veggies in my own garden- and to know which ones I’ll leave to the experts.

Either way, I can’t wait to dig into the summer surplus flooding our farmer’s markets from farms just like Don and Shari’s!


Ode to Asparagus

Delicious spears

I’ll admit it, I’ve been obsessing over asparagus. One of the first veggies to appear in Minnesota each year, these delicacies have a unique flavor that stand alone + plays well with others. These beauties are also packed with powerful nutrition and their season is short, so let’s get right down to business.

Buy or Grow?

The cute little bundles of asparagus hanging out in their wading pools of water in the supermarkets can be hit or miss when it comes to taste and texture.

Tip: Always look for tight buds at the top; once the flowers start unfurling, a chemical to strengthen the plants gets released and makes for woody stalks.


It Comes from Where?

Recently there’s been a big shift in supermarket asparagus, so it more than likely comes from outside the U.S., namely Mexico and Peru. Between NAFTA and the California drought, it has been tough for U.S. growers. (I am not wading into political waters, just sharing what I’ve been reading.) “It is, you see, a uniquely labor-intensive crop to grow,” according to Cherie Watte, executive director of the California Asparagus Commission, in this interesting article, “75 percent of the production cost of asparagus derives from labor.”

A few days too far gone.

These tender little treats are 5X more perishable than lettuces, making timing important when you’re adding in shipping around the globe.

Add that asparagus really does rocket out of the ground, from under the dirt to full-grown in one day during peak growing conditions. That means skilled pickers have to be constantly picking asparagus stalks for the 6-8 week season. (I wonder what those skilled laborers do the other 44 to 46 weeks of the year?)

The spears are then sorted by size; Swiss folks like the fattest stalks (they know their stuff!) with lessening sizes sorted for different countries. Americans prefer the slimmest stalks. We only see the uniform skinniest spears of the harvest. Which makes me feel so much better about my asparagus patch. I get all shapes and sizes there, all tender and delicious. Wondering what was wrong with my asparagus because of its variations in size is like wondering what’s wrong with ourselves if we don’t all look like the models in magazine…but I digress.

Large scale growers who export internationally require expensive automated machinery to make it profitable, right down to a huge cutter that gets them all the same length for shipping and according to this article, “The boxes are then loaded into a hydrocooler, which bathes them for five minutes in cold, chlorinated water containing food-grade citric acid. This is done to kill any pathogens the asparagus may have picked up in the field or during handling.” Well, hmmm, I’d rather just wash them at home thank you very much. Then those boxes put on THOUSANDS of miles in an airplane. There must be a simpler way, like… Continue reading

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