Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Raspberry Jam

2011 has been a productive year for our raspberry bushes.  In fact, it is the most consistent producer we have each year.  This makes me wonder if I should add more bushes next year.  If anyone grows brambles that work well in the Chicago area, let me know.  I'll probably add at least one variety to our garden next year.

This year we made three raspberry crisps, eight half pint jars of jam, and ate countless more right off the canes.  We also had an Oktoberfest party last week, and the bushes kept a dozen kids occupied for about three hours.  When they went home, I bet they pooped a raspberry.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Raspberry Crisp

We've been picking about three cups of these every two days.  It's more than enough to make about three raspberry crisps every week.  I don't know what eating that many crisps is going to do for my health, but I have sure been enjoying this years harvest.

About 7 years ago, I bought one heritage raspberry bush for $12.95 from our local garden center.  Since then, I have split it numerous times and let it spread to two 8 foot long and 3 foot wide hedges.  Most years, we have gathered about 15-18 pounds of fruit.  If you live where raspberries grow wild, you might be able to pick a handful here and there.  But nothing beats the production and enjoyment of these!

Monday, August 15, 2011


Winner of the crazy tomato contest!

Same tomato.  A lot more pain.  Doesn't it look like it hurts?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Going Lawnless and the 4th of July

I am tempted to go lawn-less.  Or at the very least, to have a low maintenance lawn.

Ideally, I would much rather grow our micro-farm and eliminate a lawn entirely.  But it's hard when you have a 4 year old.  I feel obligated to create some space for her (and her sister to be in two weeks) to run around and play.  I suppose we could go to the park one block away and run around.  But it's nice to be able to do that in the backyard.  For some reason, having a lawn as the center piece of both our front and back yards seems as American as the 4th of July.  Besides, what would the neighbors think if I dug up my front yard and planted a vineyard?

Yet, wouldn't it also be nice to be able to do this:

I can think of a lot of educational benefits to using our space in this sense.  It would also be a giant step toward self-sufficiency.  And any time our kids wanted to "run around", well, they could do so a block away.

The other issue is time.  I have other priorities right now.  So the time is not now.  But as each spring comes and goes, we have less and less grass.  I am able to carve out another garden bed out of our sod or raise one right on top of it.

For now, I haven't touched our front lawn.  In fact, in some cities, there are laws that prevent one from having a vegetable garden in the front.  But if we are eventually going to sell our current home, I hesitate to start excavating the street side of our house.

Don't get me wrong.  I don't think having a lawn is evil.  Though, why is it so hard to get rid of it?  Why is it so important?  Why does it seem as essential as celebrating the 4th of July?  Why do I mow it, water it, then mow it again the next week?  This cycle seems senseless.

Friday, August 12, 2011


I know it's only August, but I can't wait for fall.  We grew sugar pumpkins last year and harvested over a dozen.  I think we still have some pumpkin soup in our chest freezer.  It tasted yummy, but there was only one problem.  Lot's of fiber. :\

We added another variety this year.  Hercules.  I'm hoping to grow The Great Pumpkin.  I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Butterfly Weed

We planted butterfly weed this year.  We have had butterfly bushes for more than five years.  But caterpillars are not attracted to them.  We needed a host plant.  Viola!  A butterfly weed.  So far, I haven't seen a Monarch on our weed - only on our bush.   Anyway, I will keep you posted on our journey.

Morning Sun Flower

This poor lady is leaning.  She leans toward the morning sun and her weight is causing stress on her stem.  I hope she doesn't snap.

Harvest 2011

Heirloom tomatoes and Boston pickling cucumbers are popping.  The scarlet tomatoes pictured are Marglobe.  Very tasty.  The other ones are an Old German Heirloom tomato.  Kind of strange looking.  I have to pick them a day early so they don't crack.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Mammoth Organic Sunflower.  It's an heirloom, so I'll save a few seeds for next year.   I'll roast the rest and spit the shells.  Yum.


Today began my journey in making pickles.  Made from Boston Pickling Cucumbers, I don't think these will last through September.  They need to "rest" (?) for 4-6 weeks before we can sample.  I should be able to make 12-15 more jars next month.

I will probably pickle our banana and carmen peppers too.

Admittedly, I used a jar of spice made by Ball.  Next year, I may just grow my own dill and garlic and forgo the processed spices.  Otherwise, all you need is water and vinegar.

Currant Wine

Last month, I started making my own wine from home grown currant berries.  I measured the yeast's progress today.  It's almost fermented out.  Of course, I tasted it.  It definitely needs to mellow.  But wow!  Three more months and I'll bottle it.  Then maybe six more months before it's drinkable.

I have two Red Lake currant bushes in our garden.  Each produces about 15 lbs of fruit each year.  They have been in the ground about 5 years now.  I do have a aphid problem, but they only suck the sap out of new leaves.  I don't notice any adverse affects on the berries or the bushes.  In fact, I my lady bug population has been growing - probably a result of the the aphids.

I have also seen raccoon scat around the bushes this year.  I can't tell if it's eating my berries or the mulberry trees in our area.  The seeds look the same.  Ahem.


Every year, I try something new.  Last year, we grew watermelons.  They tasted great, but they took over large sections of our garden.  Besides, how many watermelons can you actually eat?

This year, I'm growing a Chicago Hardy fig.  That's right!  Figs!  And the cool thing about this fig is that it dies back at the end of the season and comes back next year.  Imagine home made wine and figs on the back patio this fall.

Heritage Raspberries

I planted these over seven years ago and they never fail to produce.  One plant has turned into six crowns.  I think this year may be the most prolific.

My First Post

Welcome to my new blog!  Consider it my personal urban farmers almanac.  I will mainly publish notes about my garden.  I am not sure how helpful the blog will be for myself or others.  But I am proud of what we grow and how we grow it.

I am also writing about my journey in (or to) Urban Homesteading.  The other day, I was talking with a friend about all the stuff I have growing in my garden.  And I guess if you add that I do some canning and home beer brewing and home wine making, that I'm on a path to urban homesteading.  Google it if you want.  In short, urban homesteading is the act of transforming a city or suburban home into a property that produces some or all of its residents own food and other subsistence needs.

I am not necessarily on a path to self-sufficiency.  Though, each year, I appear to be taking a step in that direction.  So enjoy the blog and let me know what you think.