Compost, drought-tolerant edibles and booze

This, gardening friends, is another one my potpourri columns wherein I get to touch on more than one topic that’s on my mind, and maybe yours too. First, I know I just wrote about compost in my last column, and I do plan to write more. But for now, I just want to make clear that despite some of the complicated questions surrounding compost, buying compost that’s safe for use on edibles isn’t rocket science.

Yes, knowing a product has passed muster with the Organic Materials Review Institute OMRI is helpful, but many good products don’t carry such labels, often due to the costs and bureaucracy involved.

What’s important, says Peter Kern of Kern Landscape Resources in St. Paul, is that the compost and other soil amendments you choose to use pass “the smell test.” In other words — trust your gut. If a product doesn’t have an OMRI label or isn’t certified for use on organic farms by the National Organics Program (NOP), talk to the farmer who is selling the composted manure you want to buy. Ask what goes into the manure and how he processes it. Look around the farm. If you’re comfortable, OK. If not, go elsewhere. The same goes for compost made from yard waste and kitchen scraps. If you’re buying in bulk, know that some suppliers run better tests to catch contaminants, such as herbicides and pesticides, than others. We’re in luck locally because Specialized Environmental Technologies (SET), the composting facility that processes all of the stuff Linden Hills residents put out as part of the curbside organics recycling program, runs a comprehensive bioassay on their finished compost to make sure it meets state standards for unrestricted use. To date, none of their compost has failed the test.

As I said a couple of weeks back, compost from COWSMO and Purple Cow Organics both got high marks from local organic growers. Since then I’ve also heard good things about Mississippi Topsoil and Kern Landscape Resources. After doing my homework, I decided to go with Kern. They don’t have OMRI or NOP approval, but their products can be used safely on organic farms providing that growers follow the guidelines for allowing a certain amount of days between application and harvest time. Basically, I went with my gut on this one. And I’ll probably pick up some COWSMO soon too. I’ll let you know how things go this season. And I would really appreciate hearing from you about the composts you like and trust.

Drought-tolerant edibles 

Our climate is changing and as it does, gardeners need to adjust what we plant in order to cope with the drought, winds and other weather troubles that climatologists predict are on the way. This is especially true for us because our climate is already extreme. I recently wrote about this for Northern Gardener. The story doesn’t touch on edibles, so here are some recommendations from Eric Green, greenhouse manager at Gardens of Eagan in Northfield. Green has been growing these drought- and wind-tolerant edibles for 30 years on his farm in northern Michigan, which is also Zone 4. (If no specific variety is listed, any type is fine.)

Apricot: Moongold

Asparagus: Martha Washington

Bush beans: Royal Burgundy, Roma II

Cherries (tart): Nanking

Cherry tomatoes: Sun Gold, Yellow Pear and Juliet


Eggplant: Orient Express

Grapes: Concord

Kale: Red Russian, Lacinato

Lettuce: Red Oakleaf, Salad Bowl


New Zealand spinach

Onion: Egyptian Walking

Plum: Stanley

Potatoes: Purple Peruvian, Peanut fingerlings, Austrian Crescent


Radish: Parat


Spinach: Tyee, Space

Squash: Delicata


If you like plants and booze even close to as much as I do, you’ve just got to check out Amy Stewart’s new book, “The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks.” This is Stewart’s sixth book, and she spent years researching how we humans have tried our darndest to turn just about any plant into a cocktail of some sort. I saw Stewart speak when she was in Minneapolis last month and one of the most important things I took away was Mojito mint.

If you’re going to make mojitos, you need spearmint not peppermint. Specifically, you need Mojito mint, a variety out of Cuba. (The story of how it got to the U.S. is in the book.) It’s a bit tricky to find and worse yet, it seems like people who do carry it can’t ship it to Minnesota. Hmm? I’ll look into this and see if there’s a workaround. Cheers!

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