An East Nashville Edible Garden

creating an edible garden in the heart of Tennessee

Author: Susan Enan (page 1 of 4)

Elderflower Sparkling wine 2.0

Last year was my first foray into making home made booze. Elderflower sparkling wine is about as easy as it comes; the only equipment you need is a food grade bucket. I managed to get 35 bottles out of the bush I had only planted the previous year.

This year, after a heavy pruning in winter, the elderflowers were back with a vengeance and even after giving about a third of the crop away to a herbalist friend, I still managed to make 58 bottles!

 

Elderflower 2017

 

I decided to try out a few new flavours this year. The berries are just coming into season so I added about 6 cups of raspberries, blitzed in a food processor to one batch, and six cups of blackberries to another.  To balance the added acidity, I left out two of the lemons I would normally add, and just tasted the mix to make sure the balance of sugar and acid was ok. Apart from the additional fruit, the wine was made in exactly way using water, lemons, sugar and the elderflowers.

 

Elderflower win 2017Elderflower wine, raspberry elderflower wine, and blackberry elderflower wine. Although both berry types look the same by the time they are watered down in the batches, you can really taste the difference in flavours.

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2017 – so far.

How are we nearly halfway through the year already!!! The strawberry season has come and gone, along with the spring salad greens and peas. The blackberries and raspberries are in full swing and the summer squash, tomatoes and peppers are just coming into their own. The beets and beans will survive a little longer, but it’s already time to be thinking about ordering seeds for the next round of sowing in the fall.

 

Blog June 2017

 

There are a few new additions to the garden this year. This is my first year growing zucchini. I’m not a huge fan of summer squash but had the space so wanted to try it.

 

zucchini 2017

 

I also grew some cape gooseberries from seed and they are doing well. Here’s hoping they will pollinate and I’ll get some fruit in the fall. And the flying dragon fruit planted last winter, that will eventually grow into my front edible fence are also growing well.

 

Flying dragon fruit 2017 (a)

 

Another first was celery. I planted some seeds in February and put out three plants in a morning sun spot to see if they would survive throughout the hot TN summer, to give me celery in the fall. So far, they are doing well too. And my biggest success of the year had been parnsips! I planted them last fall, with the carrots, and they were ready to harvest this Spring.

And I’ve  got a few experiments going on too. The Vert Grimpant melons that I grew on the ground last year, are growing up trellises this year to see how they fair. I’ve also got my tomatoes growing up a trellis wall as well, and am growing them single or double stem because of it.

 

Blog June 20172

 

There is nothing quite like figuring out how to grow a new food. You can read all the garden books in the world, but there’s nothing that will teach you like trying. You don’t need a green thumb to be a gardener – you just need to pay attention.

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Pea Hedges.

Over the last few days I’ve planted about 900 peas. To get a decent crop you really do need to plant in large quantities but that doesn’t mean they need to take up huge amounts of space. Last year I designed some pea hedges for the smaller 24″ varieties, and an a-frame version for the larger 6′ ones. Here’s how I did it.

To make an 8′ pea hedge (for just a dollar a foot) – I started with 3 x  2″ x 1″ x 8′ weathershields from Home Depot. Cut one of the lengths into four pieces. Drill the other lengths with holes all the way through, about an inch apart. Then, join those two lengths (with the neatest hole side facing outwards) into a rectangle with 2 shorter lengths of the 24″ pieces. I added an extra piece in the middle so it didn’t warp, but two extra pieces would probably have been better.

 

pea hedges (1)

 

Next you’ll need some fishing line (50lb is a good weight). I got mine from Walmart. Thread the line through the bottom of the first hole and tie it on. Then, thread the wire through the wood and pull it as you go to keep it tight. I stopped halfway along the 8′ sections to tie the line off and start with a new piece, just to keep it tight. Once you’ve got the fishing line threaded through, attach some stakes to each end of the frame.The stakes should be  about 4 inches longer than the fence.

 

pea hedges (2)

 

Next you’ll need some conduit pipe. Again, I got mine in 10′ lengths from home depot, and cut them into three. Hammer them in the ground so the pea fence sits between two pieces of pipe and tie the fences on.

 

pea hedges (3)

 

The a-frame is made in the same way, except with a 6′ x 6′ frame. The conduit pipe (10′ cut into two this time) is hammered into the ground at an angle to match the frames. I used hinges at the top, and there’s no need for stakes here.

 

pea hedges 3(b)

 

HOW TO USE THE FENCES THROUGHOUT THE SEASONS.

The great thing about these hedges is that they are easy to move around, because it’s just the conduit pipe that keeps them in place, which is easy to pull out. I untie and remove the frames when I’m not using them, and they stack away easily. When it’s time to plant, I rake back my mulch, plant the peas and when they are about 3 – 4 inches tall, replace the mulch and sit the fences back on top, tying them to the pipe. By removing the fences when planting, it also makes it much easier to lay down bird netting to protect your precious seedlings. If you get the right size, the netting will fit over the pipe, keeping it in place.

 

pea hedges (4)

 

I love edible hedges. I think they give structure to a garden as well as being amazing space savers. I plant a pea on either side, an inch apart, so with just one 8′ hedge you will be able to plant almost 200 peas.

 

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Lessons from 2016, for 2017 – the winners.

It’s that time of year again when seeds are being ordered, and I look back on previous years. What has done well, and what should I try differently? Here were the big winners of 2016…

LEMON SQUASH (summer squash). These were AMAZING. Firstly, they grow upright which is a huge space saver. (I grew 6 plants in a 8′ x 6′ area). I used conduit pipe 5ft out of the ground but by the end of the season the plants were growing far above that and toppling over a little. From my six plants I got 204 squash!! They are supposed to be the most disease resistant of the summer squash plants but that doesn’t mean you won’t get squash bugs and vine borers. You just have to check the plant every day or two. Funnily enough, I discovered I don’t really like summer squash but it does make a fantastic soup with onions and tarragon which I’ve been enjoying all winter, so I’ll be growing it again.

 

Lemon Squash 2016 round up

 

BUTTERNUT SQUASH (winter squash). These are fantastic keepers over the winter months. I harvested mine early September and they are still holding up well. From three plants I got about a dozen squash and really had to keep on top of the squash bugs, but it was totally worth it. I’ll be planting more this year, simply because they keep so well.

 

Butternut Squash 2016 round up

 

VERT GRIMPANT MELON. My first year growing melon and I chose this variety because the fruits are small (I live alone so perfect for one), and because I’m a sucker for anything old and European. They were grown on the ground but are really perfect for trellising so I might try that this year. From 6 plants I got about a dozen melons.

 

Melon 2016 round up

 

RHUBARB. After failing spectacularly with the rhubarb last year, I bought two more plants and placed them in morning sun, afternoon shade. They loved it! I had enough for jam all year and the plants should get bigger in year two.

 

Rhubarb 2016 round up

 

GINGER. I use a lot of ginger, especially in the winter and had success growing it on a rooftop in Brooklyn, so I wanted to try it here in TN. I bought two plants (not the roots) from Baker Creek, planted it in April and harvested on Dec 1st. I’ll have to wait until the Spring to see if the roots I left in the ground have survived. If not, I still have some I bought inside in pots which I’ll plant out when the weather gets warmer. The rest of the ginger was peeled, cut up and stored in Brandy. The plan is to keep more and more back each year as the harvest gets bigger and bigger.

 

Ginger 2016 round up

 

BUSH BEANS. – So easy to grow!! Got two great harvests but still have to figure out how to freeze them well. Mine went very tough when cooked from the freezer.

 

Bush Beans 2016 round up

 

SUGAR SNAP & SNOW PEAS. – I built an A-Frame trellis and pea hedge trellises for the peas this year and had huge crops! While the regular garden peas freeze very well, like the beans, the sugar snaps and snow peas didn’t. They just got too sickly sweet once defrosted. Amazing straight from the garden though!

 

Peas 2016 round up

 

 ELDERFLOWERS. While I planted the elderberry bushes last year, this was the first year to get elderflowers, and that meant finally having a go at elderflower sparkling wine. Another great addition to the garden.

 

Elderflower 2016 round up

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Brassicas, brassicas, pain in the assicas!

Turns out it was a difficult year to try out the brassicas (which are really hard to grow anyway).  About half of the starts survived the pests once outside, but the summer never seemed to end and we went straight to winter. I think it was just too hot for the plants to grow enough before the cold set in. I tried to start a few again but it was too late.

The brussel sprouts put up a good fight and started to form but once we hit really hard frosts (in the early 20’s) the game was up.

 

Young brussel sprouts

 

So did the cabbage, although they looked so beautiful in the winter weather.

 

winter cabbage

 

The cauliflower, and even the broccoli and kale (which I’ve grown in the past) fared no better this season, but I’m not close to being done with trying to grow these foods here in TN. And before January is up I’ll begin to sow the seeds indoors to try again in the Spring.

 

Brassicas – the final frontier.

It’s a big week here at the East Nashville Edible Garden – it’s time to set out the brassica starts. Brassicas are a group of vegetables that include kale, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and brussel sprouts. I’ve successfully grown kale and broccoli but not the last three, mainly due to the obscene amount of pests they attract who are hell bent on eating them in hours. If you want to grow brassicas, it’s full on war.

I started by growing the seeds outside. No luck – the cabbage butterflies were all over them and in a few days their eggs had hatched and the caterpillars were munching away.

The majority were salvaged and bought back inside to the grow boxes, far away from them pesky critters. They grew and the new leaves were not eaten.

In a few days Nashville will be leaving the insanity that is summer here and the 100 degree real feel temps will start to fall, so it’s time for the young brassicas to be released back into the wild.

 

brassica-seedlings

 

There are three things to consider when trying to keep plants alive and healthy – temperatures, soil and pests. The temps we’ve just covered (even though I bought the plants inside to keep the pests away, I think they would have struggled to get a good start in the heat anyway – oh, for 80 degree summers!)

Next to the earth. Since I mulch my garden, that had be pulled aside to get to the dirt underneath. Then I added a trowel full of good soil (I use a TN brand called Holy Cow, the same dirt I started my seeds in.) I also added a good tablespoon of azomite, for extra minerals and mixed them all together. Then the plants can go in, about 2′ apart.

 

azomite

 

Finally and most importantly – pests. There are two main pests in my garden which do the most damage to the brassicas. The first is the purely evil cutworm. The cutworm wraps itself around young seedlings and squeezes, literally cutting the top of the plant off. Here’s a big fat adult and he’s fat for a reason, as he’s been munching on my carrots for the last few days.

 

cutworm

 

The solution I’m trying, which worked on my bush beans this year, is by putting toothpicks around the stem of the seedling, so it prevents the worm from doing his damage. Fingers crossed.

 

cauliflower-seedling-1

 

If you get past a cutworm attack, prepare yourself for caterpillars. I think the best chance you have of not loosing your crop is to make a physical barrier to stop butterflies from laying their eggs to begin with. This year, I’m covering them with row covers. If I get through this season with any crop left, I’ll build better looking netted cages for next year, with fancy hinged roofs.

 

row-covers-on-cauliflower

 

So that is the brassica saga – episode one. The cauliflower is in and by the beginning of next week so will the kale, cabbage, broccoli and brussel sprouts. If you see me in the next week or two and I look exhausted, it’s because I haven’t gotten any sleep, having nightmares about human sized cutworms and caterpillars.

[UPDATE] After a couple of days under the row covers, the cauliflowers were very overheated, with some of the leaves drying out completely. I thought the covers would keep the heat down but the opposite happened. That means they have to come off until it gets much cooler, and I’ll be out twice a day to check on any butterfly eggs.

 

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Blackberry Jam.

This is my first year for blackberries. Three canes were planted last year and this year the haul has come in! I grow the early thornless ‘kiowa’ and a later ‘primark’ variety to give me fruit over a longer period. Delicious on their own but I wanted to have a go at making jam.

 

Blackberry Bush

 

As a starting point I decided to adapt the strawberry jam recipe from last year and it worked out well, with a few adjustments.

First, place the fruit in a bowl and crush with a potato masher. For every cup of the mashed blackberries, you’ll get a little over an 8oz  jar of jam. (7 cups makes about 9 jars). You’ll also need:

  • 1tbsp pectin
  • approx 1/4 cup honey

If you don’t have enough fruit at the same time, you can freeze it as it ripens, then make the jam when you have a bigger quantity.

Place the mashed fruit in a pan and stir in the pectin. Then, boil for a bout a minute. Take off the heat and stir in  about 3/4 of the honey and taste. Add more honey as you need it to get a sweetness to your liking. If you add too much just adjust with a squeeze of lemon.

Boil the jam for 5 mins and allow to cool a little.

Prepare your jam jars by boiling them for 10 mins. Fill them with the jam, put the lids back on and boil for another 10 mins. Once sealed these jars will keep for a long time. I’m still eating last years strawberry jam 14 months later.

 

Blackberry Jam

 

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My First Home Made Booze – Sparkling Elderflower Wine

I’ve always wanted to have a go at making my own booze but I’m about as far from a scientist as you can get so it always seemed a daunting task. That was, however, until I saw a video from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall from River Cottage making some sparkling elderflower wine. That was a few years ago but I vowed as soon as I had a garden I would plant elderberry bushes and give it a go. You can find them in the wild too, if you don’t have them in your garden.

A couple of side notes before we begin:

  • If you haven’t heard of Hugh and River Cottage, go and google. There are loads of videos and recipes online and if you get the chance to watch ‘Escape to River Cottage’ or ‘Return to River Cottage’, his first two TV shows, binge on them immediately!
  • As the brew continues to ferment after bottling, it can explode but don’t let that put you off. I was very cautious this year and released some of the fizz out of some bottles as an experiment but none of the ones I left blew up so next year, I’m just going to leave them all. Just to be on the safe side though, it is worth placing the bottles in a bin with a towel over the top until they are ready to store.

All you need are elderflowers, water, sugar and lemon juice – that’s it. The elderflowers have a natural yeast in them. You can add additional yeast if fermenting doesn’t start after 3 days but I didn’t need too. You’ll also need some bottles. I used swing top 1 litre bottles from Speciality Bottles since they have a warehouse in Nashville. The bottles are a bit of an investment but I know I’ll be using them for years so well worth it.

For about 10 x 1 litre swing top bottles:

  • 8 cups sugar (1.6kg/3.6lb)
  • 8 lemons (juice and zest)
  • 10 quarts of water
  • About 8-10 hand size heads of elderflowers, or 4 cups without the stems.

 

Champagne ingredients

 

Boil enough of the water to dissolve the sugar in a food grade bucket. I got mine from Lowes. Add in the rest of the water and wait for the liquid to cool down, then add the lemon zest and juice.

Remove most of the stems from the elderflowers (it doesn’t matter about the really smaller ones) and add to the bucket, then cover it with a cloth. Muslin or row covers, which was all I had, work fine too as it’s just to stop dust getting in.

After about 3 days you should see the elderflowers start to ferment but you’ll need to leave the mixture for 6 days altogether stirring once a day for the first 5. Then it’s time to drain and bottle.

 

Champagne fermenting

 

Pour the mixture into a fresh fermenting bucket through a sieve lined with the cloth/muslin etc to remove the lees. Leave it for a few hours to settle then pour into bottles either using a siphon or jug. Don’t use a funnel as it will slosh the liquid around and it will loose some of it’s fizz.

 

Champagne bottled

 

After about another week, the sparkling wine is ready to drink. It stores well too, up to a year or two in a cool dry place. I tried it with some friends over the July 4th weekend and we all decided it’s best served with ice and a couple of ‘crushed with your fingers’ leaves of lemon balm. You could also add vodka for an extra boozy kick.

There are other methods involving fancy equipment for the more serious brewer (demijohns and hydrometers etc) but this was a really fun, quick and cheap way to have a go at home brewing. From one elderberry bush that I planted last year, I was able to get about 35 bottles.

 

Champagne in glass

 

How Bottles Have Saved My Garden.

I have been planting beets since I first started my garden in 2013. But a few young seedlings were being nibbled to the point of loosing all the early leaves. Since all that was left was the stem, they didn’t survive. My guess was that birds were the culprits, but there are other possible explanations including the dreaded cutworm, which wraps itself around the stem and squeezes until the top breaks off. I was loosing too many beets to not try to do anything about it.

This spring, after the latest attack, I resowed seeds and placed small plastic bottles over each one to see if that would protect them. I didn’t loose one plant.

 

Beets bottles

 

I also decided to put bottles over the rainbow chard, and bigger bottles over squash and melons.

 

Bottle blog

 

Once the seedlings grew too large, the bottles were removed and the plants thinned out where necessary.

 

Bottle

 

I’ve discovered there are many other advantages to using bottles. Previously, I would remove the mulch from the beet bed, sow, and then replace the mulch once the seedlings where tall enough. That meant mounds of mulch over the garden in the meantime. But when using the bottles, the mulch can go back on the bed straight away, since the bottles create a safe barrier.

They also provide each plant with it’s own mini greenhouse, whilst allowing ventilation through the top. (Although I haven’t tried it yet, I suppose you could also place the lid back on top if temperatures dropped and you had bottles over plants that were susceptible to that). Also, the condensation that gathers inside, effectively keeps the soil moist so I haven’t had to water them, (with help from the TN rain).

Of, course, this idea isn’t new to gardening, just to me. Farmers have been using glass cloches for centuries, and although I’d much rather have glass bottles in my garden, plastic ones are a good alternative. From now on, I’m going to be planting the beet seeds like this from day one.

 

I Heart Espalier.

Espalier is an ancient way of growing fruit flat against a wall. A description really doesn’t do it justice so please google image it.

I have a two foot space along one side of my house, between the house and driveway. It use to be full of a flowering plant which I can’t remember the name of. It was over grown and took a lot of work to keep it under control so it had to go. Espalier was the perfect choice for this skinny piece of land.

 

side of house before

 

I’m not growing my espalier against a wall per se, but built a trellis to support it. And because that piece of land only gets morning sun, I planted currants and gooseberries. It will be the currants which are trained espalier – all four of them.

 

espalier wall

 

Currants normally grow in bushes, so to begin with, all the bottom shoots were pruned away, except for the main stem. They are now in their second year and as more shoots grow out from the main stem (leader), they are trained to grow horizontally along the wires. Any additional growth is also pruned away. Here’s the story so far…

 

currant espalier

 

Eventually this will create a beautiful edible wall against the house. I’m a huge fan of espalier and edible hedges. No matter how little space you have, it’s possible to grow fruit. I could have planted a fruit tree along that small space by my house, so if you don’t think you have room for one, you probably do. And espalier looks stunning.

 

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