Small Space Gardening: Another Garden Visit, Harvesting Beets, Potatoes, And Nadapeno Peppers

Renae Essenmacher, a Spooner woman who's worked at the Wisconsin DNR for 20 years, takes the truly organic approach to gardening.

Small Space Gardening: Another Garden Visit, Harvesting Beets, Potatoes, And Nadapeno Peppers

Note: Small Space Gardening by Diane Dryden is a series of garden articles that will run the entire summer with information for both new and experienced gardeners. Every two weeks the articles will update as the gardening year progresses; from picking out a site up to harvest in the fall.

WASHBURN COUNTY -- No matter how and where you've planted your vegetable seeds, it's getting to be full harvest time. At this point in your garden year, you've probably already decided what you will, or will not, plant again next year.

Our soil does well with onions, and this year we harvested another 200. That seems to be the ideal number that holds our family until next year's harvest. We cut the tops off the freshly pulled onions leaving an inch of stem, trim the roots, and then let them dry inside a building.

Within a week, I'll shred newspapers and layer the onions and the paper in a bushel basket, which I slide into the back of a cool closet.

On the other hand, my second crop of radishes has been a complete disappointment. But then, my first crop was nothing to write home about, so I'm thinking I'll forget radishes next year and save the spot for something that did well.

Beets come to mind. We had room in front of the pinto bean fence, so we put in an entire package of beets. They were spectacular, and we spent a long morning pulling, preparing, and turning them into 10 pints of what in other parts of the country are called Harvard Beets. Here in northern Wisconsin, they're called pickled beets, and the recipe is below.

Ten pints of beets are ideal for our family, so it's down on my postmortem list as a yes, plant another package next year.

The end of our 120 days wait for our potato harvest is complete and couldn't be happier with the results.

Seeing I paid only 40 cents for three seed potatoes, and we got almost 11 pounds of spuds, I'd say that was a good investment. I also recycled three cat food bags. If you grew potatoes this year, remember to keep them out of the sun after harvesting, so they don't turn green. Green is deadly. Store them for the winter in a warm, dry spot, like a closet next to the onions.

In the middle of all this harvesting, I took time to visit a unique garden in Spooner.

The most exciting thing I think gardening has to offer is not the ability to grow odd-ball plants or maybe grow nine-foot corn in a container, but it's the wide variety of ways people create their growing space that's exciting.

Renae Essenmacher, a Spooner woman who's worked at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for 20 years, takes the truly organic approach to gardening. She's filled her entire one-third-acre yard in town with plants. Front and back. There is no lawn. It's magical!

Ten years ago, when she moved in, there were a few bushes in front of the house. She decided a small flower bed near the bushes would look nice.

Ten years later, she's filled the rest of the front yard with not only flowers but blueberry plants and apple trees. Five apple trees, to be exact. Not to mention lots and lots of flowers, especially sunflowers.

Her backyard is like something out of a wonderful book where every inch is taken up with vegetables, herbs, silver cucumbers, and white strawberries. But there aren't any well-defined rows anywhere. Sunflowers tower everything in the plot, and an abundance of milkweed that attracts pollinators by the hundreds, especially the Monarchs.

You and I would call the planting hap-hazard. We would, that is, until we've taken the tour. Then it makes an abundance of sense.

She and her daughters, Clare and Lily, have constructed an archway of wire covered with runner beans, their pink blossoms broadcast from top to bottom of the arch.

Another small arch features their Silver Slicers cucumbers.

There are red raspberries and also gold raspberries. A planting of dill, fennel, sage, and cilantro line the walkway and tucked in between whatever are cabbages, peppers, carrots, onions, peas, and peppers.

White strawberries are tucked in here, and there are four kinds of potatoes.

A raised bed near the patio is overflowing with lettuce, basil, and kale.

There is little rhyme or reason to the placement of things, and all the plants just get on with the situation and thrive. Weeding means plants are pulled and left beside the rows to turn into compost.

Behind the garage in the very back of the property are two old and used 400-gallon DNR tanks that were used for raising fish at the hatchery, and they catch rainwater from off the roof.

Thanks to the Baker Seed catalog, among others, Renea starts all her seeds each spring with the use of 2 cold frames. She sets them outside the front of the garage,  between the south-facing sun and her secret of plugging a crock pot full of water on high in each frame and placing it among the seeds for heat and humidity. Her seeds thrive.

Daughter Clare prefers standard flowers like zinnias, but adventuresome Lily, who wasn't home for this interview, prefers to plant pink dandelion and toothache plants.

Oddly enough, the toothache plants really work if you rub the tiny yellow flower in your mouth. It deadens everything.

The garden is like a grocery store. Whatever they want to eat is probably growing a few feet away, and all they have to do is pick it and enjoy it. This family never has to wonder what's for dinner.

Speaking of what's for dinner, I can add the anxiously awaited crop of Nadapeno peppers to my list of 'nope' for next year. When I ordered the seeds, I realized they were nada (not) hot. But they taste so much like a green pepper that they're not worth the space they take up. Plant and learn.

Also, my Three Sister's garden looks to be a major disappointment. On reflection, a week after I planted the corn, I should have planted the squash, then the beans a few weeks later. For some reason, the traditional story said corn first, then beans, then squash. So far I've got 9-feet corn, beans that have decided to climb up each other instead of the corn, and squash that is pretty much non-existent because of the corn-induced dense shade. Obviously, something has been omitted from the original planting guide by our Native Americans, who did this yearly and had it down to a science.

I'll plant the corn again next year, and there will be beans this year, but I think I'll put the beans and squash somewhere else next year.

I'll have to wait another month before harvesting the dried Indian corn ears, but I'm anxious to see the 'glass gem' pastel colors.

Here's the recipe if you'd like to try making Harvard Beets.

Preferably outside, because beets are very dirty, cut the leaves and stems off each beet leaving an inch of stems and half the root. Take them inside, wash them and cover them with water in a large pot. Simmer covered for an hour. Let cool until the beets can be handled. Slip off the skins with your hands and trim the tops and the bottoms. Fill clean jars with beets and cover with 2 cups of beet liquid siphoned off the top, 2 2/3 cups sugar, 2 cups vinegar, and 1 ½ t. salt that you've brought to a boil.

Cap. Place the jars in a pan large enough to cover the jars with water. Turn it down when the water comes to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove right away, or leave in the pot until the water cools. That's all there is to it.

Meanwhile, the dark of the moon will be August 27, so weeding will be easy to do 4 days before and after that date.

Be wary of buying trees this time of year. Not that fall isn't a good time to plant; it is as long as you water, water, water. But read the tags. Many local stores are selling zone 5  trees. Remember, we are zone 3, maybe 4 if you have a location in the sun and protected from those bitter northwest winds.

That's all for this week, and next time I'll make another garden visit with a grower whose containers are on steroids. We'll be talking about green fertilizer, taking care of your containers, harvesting tomatoes, and a recipe or two.

As always, I'd love to hear how your garden did this year and if you'd grow the same stuff again next year. All your comments, suggestions, and wisdom are always welcome.

Previous Small Space Gardening Articles:

  1. Sun Patterns And Soil Types
  2. How To Read Seed Catalogs, Packets And Difference Between Perennials And Annuals
  3. Plot Planning, Bulb Starting, Crop Rotation, And Saving Toilet Paper Tubes
  4. Seed Starting Using Grow Lights, Heat Pads, And Toilet Paper Tubes
  5. Seed Starting, Determining How Much Of Each You'll Need, Soil Types
  6. Growing Herbs And Starting Potatoes
  7. Early Crops, Container Tips, And Creating A Successful Compost Pile
  8. 3 Sisters, Watching The Moon, And Finally, Planting Your Garden
  9. Garden Update, Berry Bugs, Annuals Vs. Perennials, And Trees
  10. Ponds And Water Features, Wild Flowers, And Garden Update
  11. Blight, Mildew, And Mulch. No, They're Not Lawyers, But Just As Intrusive
  12. Second Cropping, Seed Saving, A Garden Visit, And A Few Summer Recipes
  13. A Garden Visit, Drying Herbs, Carrots No-No's, Chocolate Zucchini Bread, Pruning Tomatoes And Say Good Bye To Wasps

Last Update: Aug 21, 2022 12:14 pm CDT

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