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Do Good while Doing It Yourself with this Humble Bundle

Cold has returned to the Midwest which has prompted me to blow the dust off my work bench and get busy indoors. If you are searching for do it yourself projects to fill these dark chilly hours, check out this Humble Bundle of books from Make. We at 20MinuteGarden are great fans of both Humble Bundle and Make.

How does Humble Bundle work?
You can pay what you want for digital books. Sure, they got famous for games but we’ve bought mostly their book bundles. You get to decide how much to pay and you also get to decide how much goes to the creators of the content and how much goes to a designated charity. If you pay more than $15, you unlock two more titles and if you pay more than the average, you unlock even more titles. All this content is completely DRM-free, which appeals to my open source soul.

This bundle focuses on titles from Make, one of the great exponents of the Maker movement. Sure, you might already subscribe to Make: magazine or you might already have some of these books. But the joy of these bundles is to get copies of works that I probably didn’t know I wanted. I’ve got my eye on the “Vintage Tomorrows” and the “Lost Knowledge” but I’m also curious about the “Home Forensic Science” and “Bicycle Projects.” Knowing Make, there has got to be at least some tidbit of wonder in each of the books too.

The kicker for me is that this Make-focused Humble Bundle meets my “cheapskate” price for digital books. I really can’t convince myself to pay more that $1 for ebooks… which means I really don’t buy many. With this Bundle, $15 will get you 16 titles with more on the way.

Posted in • Making.

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An Argument for a Home Orchard

Polly White Peach from

Polly White Peach from

We’ve been dreaming and planning about expanding our home orchard for some time. Our three apples trees have done really well, and we are ready to add a few more trees in the 20 Minute Garden. Our goal is to raise more fruit and more kinds of fruit too.

I’ve been researching different varieties of fruit trees and reflecting on what types of fruits would work best for our garden, our growing zone, and our palates. Here are my current choices and the logical and reasoning that went into making these selections. Note that our plants will come from Tree of Antiquity, a nursery specializing in heirloom varieties whose products we’ve been very happy with. Almost all of their trees are certified organic. In addition to great products, their website offers a wonderful resource of history and habits of each of the plants they sell. It is indeed hard to make choices when there are so many good ones!

Pear — I’m leaning toward the Kieffer pear, which originated in Pennsylvania in 1876. This pear is a rare American heirloom variety. It’s good for fresh eating, pear honey (with which I am not yet familiar, but will be as soon as possible!) and preserves. The fruit stores excellently, and the tree is self-fertile, which is a definite plus since we will likely have only one pear tree. In 2 – 4 years, we’ll be harvesting pears.

PeachPolly White (Iowa, 1920) is one of the most winter hardy heirloom peach varieties, which was a major attraction given our weather. While the Michigan winter in our area is milder than further north, we do get some very cold temperatures and we want our peach tree to survive! Moreover, Polly White peaches are described as “sweet, tender and juicy” — a perfect peach!– and also as being freestone peaches, another plus. This tree is also self-fertile, and it will be bearing fruit in 1 – 3 years

CherryMontmorency from France 1600’s. A classic cooking cherry! Good for pies and tarts! The fruit does not get mushy when cooked. This tree is disease resistant and self-fertile. We will get cherries in 1 – 3 years.

AppleWhite Pearmain — England 1200. Okay, I’m completely smitten with an apple variety known for being 800 years old! This apple is good for fresh eating, dessert, pies, cider, and baking — all the things we do with apples! It’s vigorious and self-fertile, but also a great pollinizer of other apple trees. Our tree will bear apples in 2 – 4 years.

As we have noted in our other orchard and fruit tree posts, planting fruit trees is an investment in the future. We are reminded of the need for patience and the hope of looking forward. The descriptions have my mouth watering already, so after I place the order, I’m off to enjoy a big juicy apple!

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First Fruits

Our Hauer Pippin Apples

Our Hauer Pippin Apples

Janice had pointed to a fat one, as large as my fist, its skin blushed red. “That’s the one I want to eat with you.” So this morning, my feet wet with the heavy dew, I watched as Janice plucked from the branch this very apple, the first fruit we’ve officially harvested from this particular tree. Sure, we’ve gathered windfalls, plus a couple salvageable fruits gnawed and discarded by squirrels, ones we’ve collected for sauce and miscellaneous uses. This, however, was the first whole apple we intentionally harvested from this tree, a Hauer Pippin. Janice took a bite and nearly giggled in surprise at the loud crunch. Then she handed it to me, and I took an equally loud bite.

“I like a good hard apple,” Janice said, as she chewed. Firm fruits certainly hold their texture better for baking, and there’s something satisfying about a resounding crunch. The taste was refreshingly tart and the flesh juicy with a hint of sweet.

Back and forth, we traded bites and also our reflections on the tree.

We planted it along with another Pippin, a Newtown Pippin, four years ago. We chose these varieties partially to keep company with our first tree, a Roxbury Russet. Apples produce better when similar trees are in bloom concurrently because they benefit from cross-pollination, and that knowledge also influenced our choices.

This poor little tree has been through special trials, so we are especially pleased to have it reach maturity. When it was still barely a whip sticking out of the ground, I ran into our Hauer Pippin with the car and nearly bent it flat to the ground. The little stalk was resilient enough to straighten out — with a little help from three stakes and some baling twine. This year, all of our apple trees bore fruit.

Last winter, we had our trees pruned by professionals from Nature and Nurture, a local organic landscaping business. These people know the special techniques and tricks required to encourage fruits trees to thrive. For the apples, they chose the strongest, straightest branches at different levels to create tiers of growth and pruned the trees to maximize air circulation. I was rather horrified by the amount of wood they removed, which was roughly a third of each tree, and the sizable mound that created in the yard. I had pruned our trees in years past, but less enthusiastically, I have to admit. We wanted these new folks to get off to a good start, and from this summer’s results, they definitely have.

The apple was larger than either of us expected with only a couple blemishes, so we traded bites for a while. Part of the hesitation in planting fruit trees might be the worry of caring for the trees. Again, professionals are standing by to help when needed and frankly skills can be acquired over time too. Another reason for hesitating in planting fruit trees is the time needed for trees to mature and bare fruit. We thank our past selves for planting when we did and encourage our present selves to order another generation of fruit trees. Time doesn’t stand still. One day we’re planting something very similar to a good-sized stick in the ground and a few quick years later, we are sharing the best part of its first fruits with the ones we love and tossing the core into the “Back Forty” for the squirrels.

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Orchard Dreaming

Imagine an apple tree...

Imagine an apple tree…

I had a couple minutes before work and instead of strolling through the garden, I took steps toward our new orchard. Quite literally.

Janice and I dreamed about filling the “back lot” of the property with fruit trees even before we purchased it. Various obstacles impeded this dream, including several scrub trees and a rather formidable pile of slate left from the path and patio put in by the previous owner. We’ve had many other tasks around the garden but whenever we had a chance, we’d work to make our orchard just a bit more real.

We chopped down the undesirable trees during the first fall — a FAR bigger task than we first imagined. We then spent much of the next year, chopping up the branches and burning them in the rocket stove. This summer, I challenged our son to help remove the stumps… and before I knew it, he’d removed two of them. He also made short work of relocating the pile of stone. I mowed down the weeds and trimmed back the overhanging branches.

This September marks the second fall we’ve been in the “new house,” and the “back lot” finally started to resemble the vision we’d had of it in our dreams. Except for the trees.

But I took steps this morning to make those trees feel a bit more real. The “steps” I took were to pace off the distances appropriate for the size trees we’re planting. Right where the trunk of each dream tree will go, I sunk a fence post. Now we have a visual reminder of where each tree will be. I “knew” that three trees would fit along the back row but it’s gratifying to see them, not too close to the fence and not too close to each other.

When the weather cools off and the constant tasks of harvest subside, I hope to dig a 3′ hole for each intended location and to fill it with compost in anticipation of planting next spring. But even in the meantime, that row of stakes will also allow us to walk around our temporary “dream trunks” to see if we can imagine having a tree there for the rest of our lives.

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The Little Heartbreaks of Harvest Time

20 Minutes of harvesting yielded two buckets of tomatoes and half a bucket of heartache

20 Minutes of harvesting yielded two buckets of tomatoes and half a bucket of heartache

The heartbreaks of harvest time started in mid-August this year, with cool nights prompting the tomatoes to ripen in earnest. Barely ten days separated the pleasure of that first, vine-ripened Brandywine, still warm from the sun, from the brutal onslaught. Perhaps I overstate the “brutality” of such bounty, but this time of year there are days when even twenty minutes of dedicated harvesting focused only on tomatoes still leaves many fruit on the vine.

And therein lies the heartbreak.

Every morning, we find the wreckage of what we’ve left behind: pecked apart by birds, burrowed by worms, the elusive over-ripe and overlooked beauties grown soft and watery with decay. The squirrels — a superstitious species, I think — regularly deposit vegetables in stray locations as if making offerings to stave off some night-time terror. We often find a partially gnawed tomato, propped atop a 7-foot tall trellis that is a popular squirrel run.

Of course, I mock the trauma caused by these losses, but I’ve heard new gardeners sorely vexed by such “waste.” Some cite it as a reason to give up gardening. We prefer to view it more as generosity to the other creatures who abide in our garden. Like every phase of the gardening season, harvest work reminds us that we are not alone.

Be not deceived: harvest is work too, perhaps not as physically demanding as other chores, but gathering the produce, sorting, washing, and storing or preserving all adds up to work.

Today, twenty minutes of diligent effort filled two big buckets with tomatoes. And it nearly filled our slightly smaller compost bucket with specimens too far gone to save. We usually make the most of slightly imperfect tomatoes, that is at least 50% in good shape. Our home-grown standards are different than grocery store ones: these are the fruits of our labors, so we are going to use whatever we can. I often pare away damaged areas and use the salvaged parts in tomato sauce. There’s a big pot of tomatoes simmering on the stove at least one or two times a week.

The bounty is partially our own fault for planting so many tomato plants, I admit, but the wide range of varieties available is seductive. We intentionally are generous with our planting, for ourselves and for the creatures big and small who make up the local ecosystem. We might whine a little about their appetites, but we enjoy the antics of the squirrels. We also appreciate knowing that our crops bring pollinators into the area as well as other insects who consider our garden “good”.

We plant enough to share, even if we view the vegetables and fruits as ours. We live with a little heartbreak, maybe even embrace it, because the good news is there’s more than enough harvest to go around.

Home Grown Tomatoes!

Home Grown Tomatoes!

Posted in • Growing, • Sitting Still.

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