First-time Garden Tips

Buying garden plants |

Picking out plants for the garden.

For many years I’ve known when I owned a home I would have a garden. I became a homeowner a year (and one week, but who’s counting?!?) ago, just in time to rake a crazy amount of leaves. As soon as the snow was off the ground this spring, I began to plan my garden and once frost was over, I dug in, but early fall is the perfect time to start planning your garden for next year. Start today by seeing how and when the sun is in your yard to decide what types of plants might work best, and thinking about what you would want to grow to eat this time next year. See the “Gardening Tips” bullet points below for more tips and the USDA website for more info.

Previously I have tried container gardening with no success, as in figuring out the exact moment the basil plant won’t survive and taking off all the leaves to break even on the plant. I know the soil is better in the upper Midwest than it would be in the sandy ground of Florida, but I didn’t know what to expect. What I ended up with is an embarrassment of riches. It’s getting to the point that I keep watching the weather and I know I’m going to run out of time (typical plant hardiness zone 4B issues, I tell ya!) before it starts to frost and I’ll still have green tomatoes and other plants producing.

Garden just planted |

The garden early on.

Garden end of season |

The garden last week, near the end of the season.

Very soon I’ll be picking a lot of green tomatoes and grabbing the potted herbs and bringing them all indoors to salvage what I can. Check back Monday as I give tips on what to do with a large bounty at the end (or anytime) during the season when the produce is coming faster than can be consumed and to preserve for the colder months.

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Gardening Tips


  • Once you figure out what you want to grow, find out how much space to leave and how big the plant will get.
  • See what amount of sunlight each plant needs and if your garden will provide it
  • Once you know these two things, see if what you want to grow is still realistic with the size and location of your garden.


  • Build what you need. Fencing that animals can’t get through is good. Next year I’m going to add a trellis on one side for the yellow pear tomatoes that are up to 10 feet tall.
  • Build your garden in a way that you can still reach the ground to weed and pick produce. I’m going to add a paved path in the middle of my garden next year to walk through the middle.
  • Add dirt, if needed, and till the garden to make it easier to plant and for the roots to grow.
  • Buy any supplies you might need (tools; fencing; watering items; fertilizer; twine, cages or poles for growing; etc.).
  • Plant in pots what can—or should—be kept on its own, especially plants that spread and creep, are made to be hanging plants, or would be better to be oved to more/less sunlight.


  • I was told by a longtime gardener it’s not really worth starting from seedlings because the space/time/items needed aren’t often worth the return.
  • Rotate crops year to year to maintain the soil.
  • Trim back/prune branches as they begin to grow so they don’t get out of control and to get healthy, bountiful produce.
  • Water and drain as recommended for the plant
  • If a plant is on its last leg, give it some love with water and plant food. One tomato plant came back that way.

As mentioned above, my next post will be about what to do with all the harvest.

If you have gardened, what tips would you pass along to first-timers?

If you want to have your first garden, what else would you like to know about?

Recipe: Quick Tofu Scramble

Tofu scramble breakfast |

Tofu scramble with hash browns, apple slices and can’t forget the coffee.

The past few weeks I’ve been eating vegan almost all the time. It started from feeling out of energy and not feeling the best after eating animal products. The only animal products I’ve eaten at home for many years are eggs and cheese, and recently I’ve felt like I’m only eating those put of habit or laziness for easy protein. I used my preparation for a trail run event next week as a final reason to eliminate eggs and cheese from my diet right now.

I have to say it hasn’t been easy at times, but I do feel better. In fact, I ate a bit of cheese one day and felt sluggish and off. I know eating vegan is making me feel better, and I’ve been running crazy fast compared to my normal self.

The hardest part has been when I’m looking for some quick protein, especially for breakfast or a late-night snack. I’ve tried to get ahead of that by having a lot of dips with protein on hand, and even have been experimenting with making vegan cheese.

Breakfast takes a little more work because when I felt I needed some quick protein I would grab some yogurt, so I need to make sure I’m planning ahead. Last week I made a tasty chia banana bread and topped it with nut butter. For more vegan breakfast ideas, check out “What Vegans Eat: Breakfast Edition.”

Tofu scramble |

Quick and simple tofu scramble

Having had some great tofu scrambles at restaurants, I tried my hand at it and was surprised how quickly I could prepare something substantial and tasty. This recipe just calls to brown crumbled tofu that has some seasoning mixed in, and doesn’t really take any more time than scrambled eggs. I paired it with hash browns I pan fried while the tofu scramble was cooking and apple slices.

When you want an animal-free breakfast, what do you eat to keep away hangry moments?

Tofu scramble breakfast |
Quick Tofu Scramble
Print Recipe
Crumbled, seasoned and scrambled tofu makes a quick and simple breakfast with flavor and protein to keep you satisfied.
Prep Time
10 minutes
Cook Time
10 minutes
Prep Time
10 minutes
Cook Time
10 minutes
Tofu scramble breakfast |
Quick Tofu Scramble
Print Recipe
Crumbled, seasoned and scrambled tofu makes a quick and simple breakfast with flavor and protein to keep you satisfied.
Prep Time
10 minutes
Cook Time
10 minutes
Prep Time
10 minutes
Cook Time
10 minutes
Servings: 4
  1. Mix all ingredients except oil in a large bowl, set aside.
  2. Place oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
  3. Once the skillet is warm, add the tofu.
  4. Let tofu brown a few minutes, then flip and let it brown a few more.
  5. Continue to rotate tofu until brown on all sides, about 10 minutes.
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Seasonal Produce: Cooking and Eating Now

So much great and bountiful produce has been in my kitchen from my garden, CSA, markets and other peoples gardens. I have been in my happy place making so much great food. Sadly I haven’t been developing new recipes with all this great food, but it’s so hard to justify being in the kitchen when warm weather is in short supply here in Minnesota and I know our days are numbered.

That hardly means I haven’t been making and eating great food! It’s been the opposite, in fact, so I’ve compiled the season-appropriate recipes for others, like me, who are looking for something new and quick to add to a recipe list when produce is bountiful. Because I want this to be a link-sharing post for all to benefit, please let everyone know your current favorite seasonal recipe in the comments.

I have the best problem possible: too much produce. To take care of that, I’ve been more aggressive in my freezing and am in the stages of canning for the first time. I can’t wait to enjoy the summer bounty this winter!

Late Summer/Early Fall Recipes

What follows is the types of food I’ve been making and recipes I’ve used.

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Corn salad/slaw: I threw this together for Taco Tuesday as a way to use a bunch at once and give the tacos some crunch like many taco trucks do. It consists of corn, beets, turnips, onion, lime and salt.

Zucchini spaghetti: Once I learned how to use the julienne attachment on my mandoline, it was over. The best way to have gluten-free pasta, I threw in some garden tomatoes, herbs and chickpeas for protein.

Eggplant balls: These things are quick and easy to make, and so tasty. Finally a way to not mess up making eggplant at home!

Salsa verde: As I said, I’ve been canning, and this is no exception. I have two tomatillo plants in the garden, so green salsa is a must. I’ve been using the Thug Kitchen recipe, but here’s a similar recipe if for some reason you don’t own this amazing cookbook.

Spaghetti squash “lasagna”: Another gluten-free recipe (using squash and zucchini as pasta is my fave, light and yummy!). For this one I prepared the spaghetti squash as you would, then layered the strands with sliced tomatoes and diced peppers and onions and mozzarella and repeated again, then baked it until heated through and cheese on the top was browned.

Please share with us in the comments what seasonal dishes you have been making.

To see more of what I’ve been getting from the farm, growing and making, follow me on Instagram and “like” the Kale and Ale Facebook page.

Review: Hy-Vee Market Grille

Hy-Vee New Hope exterior |

Hy-Vee is now open in the Twin Cities.

Hy-Vee is now open in the Twin Cities! Welcome to the neighborhood, Hy-Vee, I’m excited to have a grocery store nearby full of helpful smiles.

Hy-Vee Valerie |

This is what 16-year-old Val looks like at 5:30 a.m.

For the uninitiated, Hy-Vee is a large grocery chain based in West Des Moines, Iowa. Pretty much every kid in Iowa gets his or her start there. In fact, this girl did (as evidenced by the 5:30 a.m. first day of work photo above). It was an amazing experience that taught me hard work is rewarded, and since I spent most of my time in customer service, I learned how to work with allllllllll kinds of people (can’t stress that part enough).

The prepared food has long been a fabric of my life. My brother (also a former employee, natch) and I enjoyed the Saturday morning trips to the deli for a breakfast before grocery shopping with our mom. And in college on the weekends where I was, um, “under the weather” I would schlep the three blocks to get a Hy-Vee breakfast.

Last week I was offered a preview of the new-to-me table service restaurant in Hy-Vee, the Market Grille. It was working on a limited menu but I got a sense of what is available beyond the different stations and islands of food many grocery stores are now known for. I didn’t get more than a peek into the store as they were setting up, but I’m going back tonight and will report more soon.

Hy-Vee New Hope wine | KaleAndAle.comHy-Vee New Hope Market Grille bar | KaleAndAle.comWalking in the Market Grille I was impressed right away, and it was nicer than any of the photos I’ve seen. They recently upgraded the Hy-Vee I worked at (a much smaller store by footprint) and updated throughout, so when I return home next I will check it out for comparison. This new Hy-Vee features a host stand, lots of seating which includes high tops in a bar area and TVs throughout, and a large wall of wine. The décor is nice and inviting; you can quickly forget you are in a grocery store.

Hy-Vee New Hope Market Grille bruschetta |

Bruschetta on grilled toast

Hy-Vee New Hope Market Grille salad |

Salad was good, mixed greens would have made it great

We started with bruschetta, which was slices of tomato and mozzarella with a really good balsamic reduction (just the right amount of sticky) on grilled slices of bread. It says it has basil but I really think that is parsley. With the tomato and mozzarella slices, it’s easier to eat than if the tomatoes were diced. Next was the salad, which could come ahead or with our meal. We ordered ahead and it came with a basket of sliced bread. The bread is sandwich bread, but there are different kinds. The salad was good but I would prefer a nicer lettuce or lettuce options other than iceberg, but bonus points for the cabbage on top for crunch.

Hy-Vee New Hope Market Grille mac n cheese |

Mac n cheese

Hy-Vee New Hope Market Grille eggplant parm |

Eggplant parm

Our main courses were mac and cheese and grilled eggplant parmesan with linguine. The mac and cheese was not very warm and the sauce tasted like canned alfredo sauce. In fact, I think it was alfredo after a review of the menu after dinner, but it still tasted like it was from a jar and was salty. However, the eggplant was really good, light and grilled with a little bit of mozzarella and parm, roma tomatoes and linguine, served with a roll that was crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.

Although I found a few things that were a little less than impressive, it’s hard to judge and I understand they had this week before opening to iron out the kinks. The cheese sauce wasn’t great, but I also believe it was the wrong sauce. Maybe they will have more lettuce options when they open; I know they didn’t have all their ingredients just yet since I inquired about a Portobello that is on the full menu and they said they weren’t in yet. There are other things on the menu I’m interested in checking out, including beer and nachos, I know at some point I’ll be back and can judge better. Hy-Vee Market Grille certainly has potential and is on par (both in price and quality) with other restaurants of this caliber in the neighborhood.

Disclaimer: Hy-Vee Market Grille provided me with two free meals ahead of their opening to sample food, but all opinions in this post are my own.

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum garden view |

Beautiful view at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

While at the Minnesota State Fair a few weeks ago I won a coupon good for two admissions for the price is one to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. I didn’t know much about it but it looked interesting, so I took the drive to the far southwest metro Twin Cities area, located in Chaska, to visit.

While eating breakfast I reminded myself to grab the coupon. Remembering again while getting ready for the day, I thought to grab it before leaving. The next time I thought about the coupon was two miles from the entrance to the arboretum. Dangit!

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum butterflies |

Loved watching the butterflies

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum kitchen garden |

First stop: Kitchen garden

Full price admission it was going to have to be that day. Not only was it worth the full $12 a person (something I’m rare to say), I liked that I still have the coupon so I have to go back. (Note: The arboretum is free for children younger than 12 and University of Minnesota students.) With more than 1,200 acres of gardens and tree collections, prairie and woods and miles of trails, I didn’t get anywhere close to seeing everything I would like to see in the three hours I was there. There is a three mile road for cars or a tram (that costs money) with different stops along the way.

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum dahlia |

Convinced this dahlia is a Chihuly.

The arboretum is open year round every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas, and there seems to be something to look at no matter the time of year, since different things will be in bloom. There is prairie, forest, flower gardens, plant and herb gardens, a sculpture garden and more. It is really an incredible place. As I said, maybe it isn’t the worst thing that I forgot the coupon as I have no excuse not to return. I was really in awe driving the road after walking for hours and realizing I scratched the surface of the place and that it would be wonderful to return to experience different seasons. I really enjoyed the herb garden, dahlia garden and wetland. Next time I will have to tackle the maze, return to the wetland to walk more trails, and to see flowers that were past their bloom.

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum kale |

Happy place: Within the kale.

If you haven’t been, I strongly recommend a trip. And right now it’s on Living Social with a two-for-one deal (just don’t forget the voucher when you go)!

If you have been to the arboretum, what is your favorite garden to visit and why? I would love to know in the comments below.