Friday, December 12, 2008

Gifts of the Garden - A Different Variety

This time of year the focus is often on gifts to give and receive. Gardeners know all about giving and receiving - giving the soil all you've got to receive a bounty of tomatoes and eggplant to can and then give away; gratefully giving up evenings, early mornings, and clean hands for a bouquet of zinnias or a hearty row of basil to make pesto to share with friends at the next potluck - and most likely don't think about it. It is simply part of the process.

Project Grow gardeners are no different, of course. Over the course of this past summer the gardeners gave and grew as usual, but something other than pesto and bouquets emerged. Project Grow gardeners grew and donated nearly 300 pounds of organic, locally grown produce to Food Gatherers during the 2008 growing season. And that's not including a tally of the food raised and given away by organizations like the Packard Community Clinic and the Beth Israel congregation whose patches are cultivated with the sole purpose of sharing the bounty.

Such news offers a note of relief and joy in these tough economic times where concerns over food security and local economies run high. Donations of fresh food allow local food banks to offer those seeking their services a more nutritious alternative to many canned foods traditionally found on their shelves. And the influx of donations during the summer - often a slow time for food banks - is also welcome.

Project Grow gardeners at all ten sites shared a portion of their harvests with others in the community that are in need. Everything from tomatoes to zucchinis to winter squash landed at Food Gatherers warehouse for immediate distribution to the community. "Good food is meant to be shared, and our gardeners bring that to our community's table," says Melissa Kesterson, Executive Director of Project Grow.

Monday, December 8, 2008

More Gift Ideas

Here are a few more gift ideas for the gardener on your list or those you might like to inspire.

Holiday Plants and Heirloom Seeds
Seeds make a great gift for that gardening friend, and heirloom seeds are some of the best. Unique varieties of tomatoes, popcorn, squash, and even flowers abound. That little packet offers a taste (sometimes literally!) of the past, and increases the diversity of our food sources. Great places to find heirloom seeds include Project Grow, Seed Savers Exchange, or Old House Gardens for nearly forgotten bulbs. You might even get a nice bundle of tasty and beautiful treats come summer! (Hint: A Project Grow garden plot makes an excellent home for those seeds, too.)

And don't forge the traditional Amaryllis and Christmas Cactus that bloom while the snow flies. Both make delightful gifts for the friend who doesn't garden, but likes a bit of color. Both are easy to care for and offer a feast for the eyes.

Tools make great gifts, and can often be found at a local store. Trowels, kneeling mats, dandelion diggers, gloves (especially the colorful Project Grow gloves!), and even plant tags are items any gardener would love to receive. And what better place to learn to use those tools than at a Project Grow class!

Treats from the Garden
Homemade jam, a jar of Grandma’s secret recipe tomato or barbecue sauce, or a pretty bundle of dried herbs from the garden make excellent gifts, too. Pair it with some homemade bread or another baked good, and winter just got a little warmer!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Gardening Books as Gifts

Each year it can be tricky to come up with unique gift ideas that don't get dusty, go out of style, or need batteries. The gift of gardening - a book, a tool, or a sample of summer's harvest - provides long-term joy and happiness. It's a way of sharing the fun of gardening, the tradition of sharing food, and offering some inspiration for new endeavors and adventures. This is the first in a series of posts about simple and relatively inexpensive gifts that can be found locally and are sure to please t he gardener and non-gardener alike.

Now that snow is falling and it's hard to get outside (or get motivated to get outside), the following books offer some inspiration and help justify snuggling into that favorite armchair. Following is a sample of the many terrific gardening books out there. Head off to your favorite local bookstore and see what other resources you can find!

Plant-Driven Design: Creating Gardens That Honor Plants, Place, and Spirit by Ogden and Lauren Springer Ogden, 2008, Timber Press. A new book about garden design that focuses on plants and plant selection, which strangely turns much of garden design around. A promising read!

Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens by Douglas W. Tallamy, 2007, Timber Press. Wildlife in the garden seems like an oxymoron until you read Tallamy's discussion of why it is so deeply integral to the success of our gardens and our very lives. Terrific photos paired with clear and compelling explanations make this a fascinating read and expands the garden almost exponentially with the turning of each page.

Great Garden Companions: A Companion-Planting Systems for a Beautiful, Chemical-Free Vegetable Garden by Sally Jean Cunningham, 1998, Rodale Press. A must-have for any gardener, Cunningham offers an excellent compendium of plant information, gardening techniques, and inspiring photographs.

Early American Gardens "For Meate or Medicine" by Ann Leighton, 1986, University of Massachusetts Press. Just one of the books about historical gardening written by Leighton, this one offers a fascinating look at colonial gardening describing techniques, plants, and philosophies. An inspiring read for anyone interested in American history or gardening.

The Earth Knows My Name: Food, Culture, and Sustainability in the Gardens of Ethnic Americans by Patricia Klindienst, 2006, Beacon Press. Knowing this book won the 2007 American Book Award is no surprise once you dip into these beautifully told stories of eleven gardens and those who tend them. Moving and delightful this book is sure to please any reader on your list.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Greens Fair Today!

Alrighty, folks! Today is the Annual Greens Market sponsored by the Ann Arbor Branch of the Woman's Farm and Garden Association at Mattheai Botanical Gardens. Project Grow is there sharing information, selling seeds and gloves, and enjoying the festive atmosphere.

Head on over to say hello, check out the tasty baked goods, fresh holiday greens, and so much more. (This is a great opportunity to explore the gardens, too!)

The Market is open from 10am to 12pm for Members, and 12pm to 4pm for the general public. See you there!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Greens Fair Volunteer Opportunity

Lend a hand at the Greens Fair this Thursday, December 4th at Mattheai Botanical Gardens from 10am to 4pm and scope out all the fun before jumping in!

Project Grow will have a table at this terrific event, and we could use a couple folks to help out. We'll be selling those great gloves, offering a preview of our 2009 classes, and talking about how much fun gardening is to anyone who stops by. How much fun is that?

Here's a schedule of shifts:
- 9:30am - 11:30am Set-up and the event itself.
- 11:30am - 2pm Event itself.
- 2pm - 4:30pm Event and Closing-up.

If you're interested in helping out, contact Sheri Repucci via email or at 734-996-3169.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Groovy Gloves for Gifts!

Slip a pair of these Project Grow gloves in a gift box this holiday season, and know you’ve given one of the snazziest (yet practical) gifts a gardener could want. Little grippy dots help you hold onto that trowel that usually gets away, and these brightly colored gems won't get lost in the swiss chard. A bargain at $10 a pair and sure to put a smile on any gardener's face, they are currently only available at the Annual Greens Market on Thursday, December 4th at Mattheai Botanical Gardens.

Come find us at this great event put on by the Ann Arbor chapter of the National Woman’s Farm and Garden Association. You’ll find plenty of good stuff here to pair with these terrific gloves – plants, the freshest holiday greens ever, unique gifts, baked goods, and super informative demonstrations – and we hope to see you there!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Gardeners Save Seeds and the World!

The Environment Report on Michigan Radio ran a great little piece recently about the surge of interest in organic and heirloom seed varieties. Choices as simple as this help maintain the diversity of fruits and vegetables and help ensure our food security now and into the future. So, don your superhero cape, sit down with your seed catalog, and carry on!

(Don't forget about Project Grow's great heirloom seed collection, too! And we offer some terrific classes on seed saving and gardening with heirloom vegetables. If seeds aren't your thing, you can always wear that cape to the Spring Plant Sale in May.)

Photo courtesy of Devo(lutio)n. For more pictures, check out Project Grow's photo pool on Flickr.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Full Frontal Gardening with Fritz Haeg

For most of us, the garden (especially the vegetable garden) is behind the house. Tucked in the back away from public view are tomatoes, herbs, squash, and cucumbers. Zucchini surges to the front only as we desperately try to give them away during peak season. The front yard is sacred space for a tree or two, maybe a flowerbed, and most definitely for grass.

Architect Fritz Haeg (with Melissa in photo at left) overturns that notion in Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn (2008). Exploring the perceived sanctity of the front lawn and what that tells us about ourselves, Edible Estates offers literal and figurative food for thought.

Speaking this past Saturday at an event co-hosted by Project Grow and Avalon Housing, Haeg revealed a gardeners dream as grassy front lawns became lush garden spaces. Strawberries bloom on a New Jersey street corner and okra lines a sidewalk in Kansas. Kumquat and lemon trees grow in Los Angeles along with melons, cucumbers, collards, and a bevy of other vegetables.

Haeg writes that “Food grown in our front yards will connect us to the seasons, the organic cycles of the earth, and our neighbors.” (pg. 22, Edible Estates) Each of the photos mentioned above contained not just plants, but people working the gardens together, sharing the joy of getting their hands dirty in the front yard.

Aiming to create a space where everyday people could build something collectively to express unity and cooperation in a time that Haeg desperately felt needed it, the Edible Estates project continues to turn heads while turning the soil. Gardens created in Salina, Kansas; Baltimore, Maryland; Los Angeles, as well as communal gardens in affordable housing complexes in Austin, Texas and London, UK, offer a simple strategy for bringing people together and possibly even changing the world.

Haeg believes turning empty grass into productive garden space creates possibility. From a first tomato plant to the first harvest, sharing seeds and then sharing stories, gardens like those created by Project Grow and Edible Estates create a common ground of cooperation and community – the building blocks of democracy as we often think of it - in a world where so often we only see what divides us. “Full frontal gardening” is a statement about what could be best in our society and unearthing what may be most essential.

“Politicians, architects, developers, urban citizens, we all crave permanent monuments that will give a sense of place and survive as a lasting testament to ourselves and our time. We were here! These monuments have their place, but their capacity to bring about meaningful change in the way we live is quite limited. A small garden of very modest means, humble materials, and a little effort can have a radical effect on the life of a family, how they spend their time and relate to their environment, whom they see, and how they eat. This singular local response to global issues can become a model. It can be enacted by anyone in the world and can have a monumental impact.” (pg. 27, Edible Estates)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Project Grow Harvest Hootenanny

We are pleased to announce the upcoming Harvest Hootenanny, a Project Grow fundraiser! This event will take place Saturday, September 13 from 4-9pm. You can purchase tickets in person at the Zingerman's Roadhouse, at the Project Grow booth at the Homegrown Festival the day of the event, at the door, or from the Project Grow website. This is sure to be a great time with a ton of good, local food, so don't miss out!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Early Blight Attacks!

I don't know about you all, but I'm seeing a lot of early blight around the garden this year. It's turning all my leaves yellow and making them die off! I plan to deal with the problem using a home remedy floating around on many of the organic gardening websites. The recipe is as follows:

1 T Baking soda
2.5 T lightweight horticultural oil
Mix with 1 gallon of water and spray foliage every 2 weeks.

You should also be careful to water your plants from the bottom to avoid getting moisture on the leaves.

I will let you know how this works in my garden. Let us know what remedies you have for this pesky and common disease.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Help Us! (please)

Project Grow Supporters,

We need your help next Monday!

The City of Ann Arbor will be considering restoring Project Grow's funding this Monday at its weekly Council meeting. We would like to have a good show of support before the City Council on Monday, July 7 at 7:00 PM at the Guy Larcom Building on Fifth Avenue.

In the past, Project Grow received only $7,000 per year from the City to support community gardens. This year the City notified Project Grow that the annual amount would be eliminated from the City budget. The small amount helps us to keep our plot fees low and to subsidize low income and elderly gardeners at Project Grow gardens. It is an important source of funding for the organization and we could really use the financial support so that we may continue to provide quality space to garden for years to come. We hope that a good showing from our many gardeners will help convince the City Council that our gardens are a great asset to the community.

The City Council meets at 7:00 PM in the City Hall Council Chamber, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave. If you would like to speak on behalf of Project Grow, public comment is at the beginning of the session and you will need to sign up beforehand.

We encourage you to show your support for Project Grow next Monday.

Thank you!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Guerilla Gardening

Today I was delighted to read about some "guerilla gardeners" in Tokyo. Check it out.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Gardens are Full!

Hi Project Growers,

Believe it or not, our community gardens are full for the 2008 growing season. Since plots sometimes become available during the course of the growing season we invite you to apply online, but make no payment. If a garden plot becomes available you will be notified.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Contributing to Food Banks

Common Dreams posted a story last week, "Food Banks Ask Gardeners to Grow Extra for Hungry", that is a good reminder of how we can use our gardens to help the community. You can donate produce to your local food bank. I don't know about you, but we always have more than we know what to do with, and it's a joy to share fresh, organic vegetables.

In Ann Arbor, we have Food Gatherers, a local non-profit that always welcomes donations of produce from your garden. Check our their donation page for details on how. We frequently have Project Grow volunteers who are willing to collect produce from one of the community gardens on a regular basis to make it easier to contribute. Watch for emails about that during the growing season.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Gardening to Save Money

An interesting article appeared in the New York Times over the weekend, titled: Banking on Gardening. It's about, what else, saving money by growing your own food. Apparently this year saw record numbers of new gardeners purchasing seeds and gardening supplies. At Greenview Gardens, where my husband and I have kept a vegetable garden for the last four years, we are for the first time seeing no vacant spaces.

Are you new to gardening? Do you garden to save money? Tell us about it by commenting on this post!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Join Our Flickr Fun!

Gonzo Tomato
you too can share your funny tomato photos with other Project Growers!

Project Grow is on the popular photosite, Flickr, and we would love for you to contribute your gardening photos to the "photo pool" we have created. Once you have a Flickr account (free), you can join the group and then add your photos. Or feel free to just visit the pool to see what Project Grow gardeners are up to!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Project Grow Plant Sale 2008!

Are you as excited for the Project Grow Plant Sale as we are??? It's coming up soon (May 3 and 4 and the 10th); check out the Project Grow Events page for details.

To get you excited I'm posting all that we plan to sell with descriptions. Enjoy!

  • Applegreen Eggplant (62-70 days)-Productive upright 2-3' plants. Oval fruits are 5" in diameter with pale-green skin and mild white flesh, non-acid flavor, no need to peel.
  • Diamond Eggplant (65-95 days) - Russian variety. Plants grow 20-25" tall and fruits are set in clusters of 4-6. Dark purple fruits are 6-9" long by 2-3" in diameter. Excellent texture and flavor, never bitter.
  • Rosa Bianca Eggplant (80 days)- Italian heirloom, beautiful fruits are prized by chefs. Very meaty 4-6" round fruits, mild flavor and almost never bitter.
Hot Peppers
  • Anaheim Hot (90 days)- Mild to medium-hot pepper popular for roasting, frying and stuffing. Prolific bearers of long, thin, two-celled fruits, 6-8 in. long when fully grown. Can be used green or red -- hotter when red.
  • Bulgarian Chili Pepper- Vibrant orange, 2-3 in. carrot-shaped fruit has consistent heat and fine flavor. Extremely productive variety.
  • Czechoslovakian Black Chile Pepper (90-100 days)- Productive bush yields many 2-3 in. mildly hot fruits, which are such a dark green that they appear black before ripening to red.
  • Early Jalapeño - Heavy-yielding 3-3 1/2” blunt-end fruit can be eaten dark green or allowed to ripen to red. Delicious with that distinctive jalapeño flavor. Medium heat.
  • Fish Pepper- (80 days)- Pendant fruits 2-3" long, ripen from cream with green stripes to orange with brown stripes to all red. Good for salsa. Medium-hot.
  • Hot Portugal Pepper (65-70 days)- Sturdy upright plants, very heavy yields. Large smooth, glossy, bright-scarlet, fiery hot fruits taper to pointed tips, grow 6" or longer.
  • Ring-O-Fire Cayenne Chile (80 days)- Packs even more heat than traditional cayenne. 4-6 in. fruits ripen to flaming red. Fiery flavor is good dried or fresh.
  • Thai Hot Pepper (85 days)- Loaded with little 1⁄2" fruits ripening from green to red, averages 200 fruits per plant.
Sweet Peppers
  • Chocolate Sweet Pepper (70-75 days)- Dark, shiny green fruits ripen to a rich chocolate brown. Excellent sweet flavor when fully ripe, average flavor when green.
  • Hungarian Hot Wax (75 days)- Dependable and productive northern variety -plant sets fruit continuously. Produces upright, hot, yellow fruits.
  • Jimmy Nardello's Sweet Pepper (65-70 days)- Excellent fresh or fried, the sweetest non-bell Pepper when ripe. Red when ripe, these 6-8 in. peppers have shiny, wrinkled skins.
  • King of the North (70 days)- The best red bell for northern gardeners where the seasons are cool and short. Sweet flavor.
  • Klari Baby Cheese (65 days)- Ripens yellow to orange to red. Great for pickling whole. Ripens from white to yellow to red.
  • Pimento Sweet Pepper (74-100 days)- A large, thick-walled pepper with sweet, succulent flesh. An extremely heavy producer of 3 in. long, heart-shaped fruit. Best when ripened to scarlet red.

  • Anna Russian (70 days)- An excellent, gorgeous tomato. Early maturing 1-pound fruit. Superb rich old-fashioned, tomatoey flavors with lots of juice. Indeterminate.
  • Armenian (90 days)- Large flattish yellow and orange flesh with some red marbling. A bi-colored beefsteak with great flavor and unusually strong flavors for a bi-colored. Indeterminate.
  • Aunt Ginny’s Purple (79 days)- A productive beefsteak that yields 1-pound, deep-pink tomatoes that are smooth with little cracking and contain juicy flavors that some people claim are equal to the Brandywine. Indeterminate.
  • Lillian’s Yellow Heirloom (90 days)- Late maturing, large (up to 20 ounce), oblate bright yellow fruit with pale yellow interior and very, very few seeds. Great tasting. Indeterminate.
  • Aunt Ruby’s German Green (80 days)- Beefsteak fruits, 5" by 4" deep, weigh one pound or more. Sweet juicy flesh, refreshing spicy flavor. Pick when soft to the touch. Indeterminate.
  • Bisignano #2 (80 days)- Wonderfully flavored, with medium to large (four ounces to one pound), red, variably shaped fruits - oblate to elongated. Great for canning and sauces. Indeterminate.
  • Black from Tula (80-85 days)- Good yields, 3-4” fruits. Indeterminate.
  • Black Krim (60-90 days)- Slightly flattened 4-5" globes with dark greenish-black shoulders, turns almost black with enough heat and sun. Excellent full flavor. Indeterminate.
  • Black Zebra (85 days)- 1 1/2" round fruit with purple/brown skin with green stripes containing rich tomato flavors with hints of smoke and sweetness
  • Box Car Willie (80 days)- Produces 10 to 16-ounce, smooth, bright-red with an orange tinge. Excellent tasting tomatoes- very juicy. Good resistance to disease and cracking. Indeterminate.
  • Brandywine (90 days)- One of the best tasting tomatoes available to gardeners today. Large pink beefsteak fruits to 2 pounds. Incredibly rich, delightfully intense tomato flavor. Indeterminate.
  • Brown Berry Cherry (75 days)- Warm, earthy brown fruits are a great color addition. Excellent sweet juicy flavor, extremely heavy producer. Indeterminate.
  • Burpee’s Quarter Century (75 days)- A medium sized smooth round red tomato originally offered by Burpee in the late 1800's. Resists cracking. Indeterminate.
  • Caspian Pink (90 days)- One of the best tasting tomatoes available to gardeners today. Large pink beefsteak fruits to 2 pounds. Incredibly rich, delightfully intense tomato flavor. Indeterminate.
  • Cherokee Chocolate (75 days)- Warm, earthy brown fruits are a great color addition. Excellent sweet juicy flavor, extremely heavy producer. Indeterminate.
  • Cherokee Purple (75 days)- A medium sized smooth round red tomato originally offered by Burpee in the late 1800's. Resists cracking. Indeterminate.
  • Cosmonaut Volkov (72 days)- 1-2 pound fruits. Round, slightly flattened fruits have a full, complex flavor and nice acid/sweet balance. Indeterminate.
  • Crnkovic Yugoslavian (80 days)- Prolific, disease resistant heirloom that produces large, 1 lb.+, pink beefsteak fruit that is meaty, juicy, with a robust, complex tomato flavor. Indeterminate.
  • Cuostralee (85 days)- A French beefsteak heirloom that produces heavy quantities of huge (1-2 lbs.), red, blemish-free fruits that have intense, balanced flavors. Fruits are typically 4-inches across. Indeterminate.
  • Dr. Wyche’s Yellow (78 days)- A beefsteak heirloom that produces slightly flattened, smooth, blemish-free, golden-yellow fruit with a meaty interior and few seeds. Rich flavor. Indeterminate.
  • Dunneaux (85-90 days)- Large late season paste tomato that lost its ID tag. It might be Howard German, but I just dunneaux. Good fresh eating, in addition to great sauce.
  • Ethel Watkins’ Best (70 days)- Originally from Australia, this tomato has a unique flavor when eaten slightly under-ripe. When fully ripe, it is sublime! Consistently a winner with Ann Arbor’s tomato tasters.
  • Eva Purple Ball (70 days)- Delicious, round, 2 to 3-inch, blemish-free, pink-purple fruits. Indeterminate.
  • Evergreen (72 days)- Large, up to 2 lb fruit that stay green when ripe. Mild, delicious slightly sweet-spicy flavor. Lime green with yellowish shoulders when totally ripe. Indeterminate.
  • Pete Motza’s Evergreen (80 days)- Good yield of 4-7 oz amber and green fruit, very good flavor. Indeterminate.
  • German Johnson- A popular American heirloom tomato from the South, 'German Johnson' produces large pinkish-red fruits with meaty flesh and few seeds. A good slicing or canning tomato. Very productive and fairly resistant to disease. Indeterminate.
  • Glacier (58 days)- Produces an early crop and continues to bear the entire season. Good flavor. Determinate.
  • Glasnost (75 days)- An open-pollinated variety from Siberia producing 3", smooth, red-orange, dense, meaty fruit. Excellent flavor. Indeterminate.
  • Gold Brooks (70 days)- An accidental cross that won the Ann Arbor tomato tasting held in 2004. This is seed from the F2 generation selected from a plant that had large, yellow beefsteaks with good texture and flavor.
  • Goldie (75 days)- Large deep orange beefsteaks are full of flavor and juice. Indeterminate.
  • Green Zebra (75-80 days)- Green 11⁄2 - 21⁄2" fruits with various shades of yellow to yellowish-green stripes, sweet zingy flavor. Very productive plants. Indeterminate.
  • Hog Heart (86 days)- 2 1/2 to 3-inch long red fruit, shape varies from a banana shape to a heart-shape. Excellent sweet flavors with moderately juicy flesh. A top paste tomato for sauces. Indeterminate.
  • Kellogg’s Breakfast (80-90 days)- Large beefsteak-type fruits are 1-2 pounds, juicy and meaty and truly orange in color. Delicious rich flavor. Indeterminate.
  • Macrocarpum Lutea
  • Olga’s Round Yellow Chicken Egg (70 days)- Very heavy production of 2 1/2" 4-6 oz. round yellow-gold thick-skinned tomato with a slightly tart flavor. Indeterminate.
  • Orange Banana (85 days)- Sprawling plants with good yields of 1 x 2 1/2" 2 oz. plum-shaped orange paste with pointed ends and a good sweet-tart flavor. An all-purpose plum tomato with good disease resistance. Indeterminate.
  • Oaxacan Jewel (85 Days)- Beautiful 1-2 pound, yellow beefsteak tomato with red streaks throughout the fruit. Wonderfully rich, sweet flavors. Indeterminate.
  • Pachino (75-80 days)- A medium-sized mid-season red tomato from Sicily by way of Orvieto, Italy. Fruits have an intense, tangy tomato flavor that makes great sauces and is excellent fresh.
  • Peacevine Cherry (75 days)- So named because of the high amino acid content which has a calming effect on the body. Indeterminate.
  • Pineapple- An heirloom garden favorite that grows to 2 lbs. This bi-colored, slightly flattened, yellow beefsteak has a red blushing and streaks on the outside. Taste is wonderfully mild with tropical fruity-sweet flavors. Indeterminate.
  • Pixie Red Rock (70 days)
  • Rose de Berne (75 days)- Swiss heirloom variety of dark pink tomatoes with soft meaty flesh. Very rich flavor, good acid and sweetness. Indeterminate.
  • Roughwood Golden Plum (76 days)- Beautiful 2-inch, orange paste tomato that is meaty with few seeds and a delicate, sweet flavor. Semi-determinate.
  • Speckled Roman Paste (75 days)- Heavy fruit production of meaty 4-5 oz. oblong fruits until frost. Indeterminate.
  • German Striped Stuffer (78 days)- This German stuffer tomato is red with yellow stripes and has very good flavor for a stuffing tomato. Indeterminate.
  • Stupice (52 days)- Cold-tolerant tomato that bears an abundance of very sweet, flavorful 2 to 3-inch, deep red fruit. Sweet/acid, tomatoey flavor and production. Indeterminate.
  • Yellow Pear Cherry (85 days)- Clusters of small bright-yellow, pear-shaped fruit. Very tasty. Like eating candy. Indeterminate.
  • Zapotec (85 days)- Pink fruits are large, with ruffles like a pleated dress. They can be stuffed and baked like a bell pepper, or served raw. Indeterminate.
  • Jaune Flamme (90 days)- Plant produces heavy yields of 3 oz orange tomatoes. Tomatoes are very sweet. Indeterminate.
  • Bicolor Cherry (80 days)- Small, mostly one-ounce globe-shaped yellow and red bicolor fruits. Size is not consistent ranging from one to two inches in diameter. Excellent flavor - sweet and juicy. Indeterminate.
  • Micado Violettor (80 days)- Rare. 4-6 oz. fruits. Vigorous 18-24 in. vines with 2 in. fruits of excellent quality and flavor. Indeterminate.
  • Chadwick Cherry (70 days)- Flavorful, 1-inch, red fruits borne in vigorous clusters of six. Indeterminate.
  • Green Cage
  • San Marzano Paste (70 days)- A very productive, 1 x 5-inch, red paste tomato. A great addition to tomato sauces and salsas. Indeterminate.
  • Manyel (75 days)- 3-inch, round, clear-yellow fruits look like hanging from the plant. Mildly sweet and juicy. Indeterminate.
  • Santa Clara Canner (79 days)- Rich, complex flavor. Plant produces a great amount of red-orange fruit that is juicy, meaty and flavorful. Just as suitable for eating off the vine as it is for salads, cooking and canning. Indeterminate.
  • Sutton (79 days)- Good yield. Medium-sized 8 oz. white slicer with irregular shapes and sweet fruity taste. Indeterminate.

  • Purple Opal Basil- Beautiful lilac flowers with dark red stems. Excellent contrast with green basil, spectacular as a garnish, in salads, or for adding to basil vinegars.
  • Lemon Basil (60-70 days)- The fragrant, small leaves combine the flavors of lemon and basil in a delightful way making it excellent fresh or dried in salads and dressings or dried in potpourris.
  • Thai Basil (75-80 days)- Intensely sweet, anise-like fragrance. Leaves are green at the base of the plant becoming more purple toward the flowers.
  • Genovese Basil (65-75 days)- Classic Italian basil. High leaf to stem ratio. Uniform, slow to bolt.
  • Chen Basil (65-75 days)- A thinner leafed, profuse Italian large-leaf type basil. Bright green, glossy leaves. A slow bolting variety with a strong aroma and good flavor. Very disease resistant and good for pesto.
  • Tulsey (Holy) Basil (65-75 days)- An excellent tea herb, but more highly valued as a companion plant and ornamental. Aromatic, fuzzy 2-inch leaves have an unusual scent, sometimes described as walnut, ripe bananas, or spice.
  • Cinnamon Basil (75-90 days)- One of the finest tea basils, and also used in flavoring Mediterranean and Mid-Eastern-style dishes, the dark green leaves have a wonderful fragrance and a distinct cinnamon flavor.

Heirlooms, What's Growing On?

What are Heirloom Vegetables?
Heirlooms vegetables are defined as open-pollinated cultivars that were popular and available many generations ago, before large scale hybridizing. Some of these heirlooms are indigenous, some were brought to this country by immigrants, and others were passed down by farmers, families and gardeners.

Our Heritage
Imagine what it used to be like: Farmers and gardeners maintained their own vast seed collections of plant varieties. Over time these plant varieties diverged from the original stock and adapted to local tastes. But, when agriculture became industrialized, the premium on taste and local suitability was replaced by the ability to stand up to mechanical picking, trucking and storage.

It’s not just hype! Heirlooms are highly regarded for their flavors, textures, aromas, colors and other unique qualities. Come to Project Grow’s Fall Tomato Tasting and see what all the excitement is about.

Protecting Diversity
The USDA recognizes the need to recover, protect and sustain seed diversity to maintain the vitality of commercial crops. Each year, a small percentage of the USDA seed bank is planted out and fresh seed is harvested. Individual gardeners contribute too: Nonprofit organizations such as the Seed Savers Exchange have ever expanding seed banks and organized seed swapping. In fact, it’s a worldwide phenomenon!

Project Grow Heirloom Garden, Workshops and Events
  • Located at the Leslie Science & Nature Center, our heirloom garden includes varieties of vegetables.
  • We offer classes in heirlooms, seed saving and plant breeding, plus a Spring seed swap! Check out the Project Grow class calendar.
  • Join us for our annual free Project Grow Tomato Tasting! Over 30 varieties of tomatoes are available for tasting -- vote for your favorite and see the winners online. For this year’s date and location, visit the Project Grow Website.

Be Green by Gardening

Did anybody see Michael Pollen's article in the New York Times: "Why Bother"? In it, he addresses the hopelessness that can occur when we think about making individual changes to benefit the environment. His answer? Gardening! Pollen argues that by growing our own food, we can, not only reduce our carbon footprint, but also reconnect to the earth. Here is an excerpt:

"But there are sweeter reasons to plant that garden, to bother. At least in this one corner of your yard and life, you will have begun to heal the split between what you think and what you do, to commingle your identities as consumer and producer and citizen. Chances are, your garden will re-engage you with your neighbors, for you will have produce to give away and the need to borrow their tools. You will have reduced the power of the cheap-energy mind by personally overcoming its most debilitating weakness: its helplessness and the fact that it can’t do much of anything that doesn’t involve division or subtraction...The single greatest lesson the garden teaches is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum, and that as long as the sun still shines and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world."

In what ways do you feel gardening connects you to environmentalism?

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Natural Lawn Care

by Erica Kempter from Nature and Nurture, LLC
originally appeared in the summer 2006 Project Grow Newsletter
photo by
Selva Morales under Creative Commons License

The goal of natural turf maintenance is to develop and maintain healthy lawn ecosystems. Different organisms occupy varying ecological niches. By keeping most of the niches “filled” with desired organisms, the delicate balance of nature favors a healthy lawn. Disruption of this balance can lead to lawn problems. One type of disruption is the creation of “empty” niches. For example, bare soil is an “empty niche” that invites weeds to enter the lawn. Another example is that of beneficial fungi in the soil. Over 400 species of fungi are known to live in the soil and thatch of lawn. Of these, less then 25% are potentially harmful (Daar; 1992). That means that over 75% of these fungi are occupying a niche that could otherwise by filled by bad fungi. That’s why even one application of lawn pesticides can be harmful to the lawn because it
indiscriminately kills fungi, throwing off the natural fungal balance leaving the lawn wide open for attack. For example, an herbicide is used to kill weeds, lowering the fungi population and creating empty niches. Something as simple as an unusually wet period combined with pest fungi that were previously kept under control by beneficial fungi now have their opportunity to attack the lawn. This can cause significant visual lawn damage. So to control the fungus, a fungicide is applied to the lawn. The additional pesticides make the lawn even more susceptible to problems creating a cycle where the lawn becomes more and more dependent or “addicted” to chemicals for control and prevention of pests and disease. This is what is often called the
chemical treadmill.

Fortunately, due to nature’s incredible ability for regeneration, even the most problem stricken, chemically dependent lawn can recover. The most important thing that you can do for your lawn is to increase the organic matter content of the soil. Organic matter improves drainage, water holding capacity, nutrient holding capacity, encourages earthworms, counters soil compaction and provides food for microorganisms that feed the grass. This is the foundation of a healthy lawn ecosystem. Organic matter can be added as lawn clippings, compost, decomposed manures, and some fertilizers that are high in organic matter. Here are 10 Tips for a healthy lawn:

  1. Mow high. Set lawn mower to 2-3” high. Helps prevent weeds, drought, and grubs.
  2. Mow with sharp mower blades. Sharpen the blades at least once per year. Shredded grass blades are more susceptible to disease.
  3. Mow when dry. Ideally, mow when the soil is dry on the surface. Mowing wet soil can spread disease and using heavy equipment on wet soil compacts the soil causing poor drainage and other problems.
  4. Leave clippings on lawn. They will break down to provide natural fertilizer and organic matter to the lawn.
  5. Water deeply and occasionally. Instead of shallow and often. During droughts, for most lawns (depends on soil type and irrigation type) water 1x–2x per week for 45-60 minutes. This prevents damage to lawn from lack of water, discourages disease by allowing soil surface to dry, and encourages deep root growth.
  6. Fertilize. Apply compost or an organic-based fertilizer 1-2 times per year. This provides essential nutrients and organic matter.
  7. Monitor lawn. Keep an eye out for problems so they can be dealt with before getting out of control. Look for unusually colored patches, mole runs, thin grass, bare soil, and dug up areas. Along with these, a lawn monitoring program includes checking the soil for grub populations and soil compaction.
  8. Weed control. Hand remove weeds. Try the “water weeder” sold by Lee Valley Tools for dandelions and other tap rooted weeds.
  9. Grub control. White grub infestations can be treated with beneficial nematodes. It is best to apply them in the fall. Nematodes have a short shelf life and die in dry soil so follow instructions precisely and only order if planning to apply them soon.
  10. Got a headache? If all of this sounds like a headache, consider reducing your lawn and replacing it with low maintenance native prairie or woodland plants, sedges, moss, or edible plants. The possibilities are endless!

Don't Let Pests Get the Best!

originally appeared in the Project Grow Newsletter, Summer 2006
photo by Ikes under Creative Commons license

In your garden, have the seeds sprouted with a fine rate of germination, only to be nibbled to the ground? Have you babied those cucumbers, only to have the plant destroyed by insects? Or how about the green worms on your broccoli—that you find at the dinner table? Gardening by its very nature includes nature, all of it, including what we think of as “troublesome pests.” In the same manner that plants are always growing and changing, so the pests in your garden may change and adapt year after year as well.

For optimum pest control, identifying the culprit is key. It is not useful or recommended to kill all the insects that you find on a plant, or to even eliminate all the “bad guys.” By removing all of a particular insect you run the risk of eliminating its predator as well, thus, creating a perfect situation for the pest to return in force.

You can also develop garden practices that will contribute to a healthier garden overall and certainly help in the control of unwanted insects. These healthy garden practices include good garden sanitation—removing diseased and infested plants from your garden, promptly getting rid of pest-ridden plant material, and rotating crops. Try companion planting—planting basil among tomatoes helps control hornworms, combining thyme or tomatoes with cabbage plantings controls flea beetles, cabbage maggots, white cabbage butterflies and imported cabbageworms. You can also sow catnip by eggplant to deter flea beetles, grow horseradish with potatoes to repel Colorado potato beetles, set onions in rows with carrots to control rust flies, grow radishes or nasturtiums with your cucumbers for cucumber beetle control. Nasturtiums also deter whiteflies and squash bugs, but they are most often used as a trap for aphids, which prefer them to other crops. Be sure to encourage beneficial insects and animals.

Did you ever consider repelling with smell? In his book “Your Organic Garden,” Jeff Cox writes about how night-flying moths approach flowers by flying upwind. If netting is placed over flowers the moths will still land and feed, indicating that they react to flower odor. If pests can’t smell your plants, maybe they will go elsewhere. Jeff recommends planting scented marigolds as thickly as you can around your garden. Mint is another fragrant plant, but since it quickly grows out of control, set it in pots around your garden. The oil from the leaves of rue can give some people a poison ivy-like rash, but this trait also deters Japanese beetles. Rue can be helpful grown as a border or scatter the leaf clippings if Japanese beetles are a pest. Sweet basil interplanted in the vegetable garden repels aphids, mosquitoes, and mites.

“Your Organic Garden” also lists a few home-brewed pest controls that many of you may already be familiar with. Results from these brews are certainly not guaranteed, so keep an eye on plants to monitor their effectiveness.

  • Bug Juice: ½ cup of specific pest, mash well, mix with 2 cups water and strain. Mix 1/4 cup of this bug juice with a few drops of soap and 2 cups water and spray (wear gloves and always use nonfood utensils)
  • Garlic Oil: Finely chop 10-15 garlic cloves and soak in 1 pint mineral oil for 24 hours. Strain and spray as is or dilute with water and add a few drops of soap.
  • Hot Pepper Spray: Blend 1/2 cup of hot pepper with 2 cups water, strain and spray. Remember hot peppers burn eyes and skin.
  • Killer Cooking Oil: Combine 1 tablespoon of dishwashing liquid with 1 cup of vegetable oil. Add 1 to 2 1/2 teaspoons of the oil/detergent mix to 1 cup of water and spray on infested plants once every seven days.
  • Firewater: Mix two to four jalapeno, Serrano or habanero peppers, three cloves of garlic, and 1 quart water in a blender, or chop the peppers and garlic and let them steep in a quart jar of water set out in the sun for several days. Strain through cheesecloth, spray as needed, reapply after rain.
  • Alcohol spray: Combine 1 to 2 cups of rubbing alcohol with 1 quart of water. Test spray a small area on one plant. Wait a day to check for damage before spraying entire plant. Or add between ½ and 1 cup of rubbing alcohol to 1 quart of insecticidal soap or horticultural oil sprays to increase effectiveness.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Thanks, Ann Arbor

Thanks to all who came out to Seva on Monday night for our fundraiser! We were thrilled with the showing of support from the community and enjoyed good food and the many people we talked to. We also want to extend a thank you to Seva for hosting the event and being patient with our auction items taking up their bar space as well as all the local area businesses and individuals who donated wonderful items for our silent auction.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Sewing Schedules

from Melissa's Corner in the Spring 2007 Newsletter
by Melissa Kesterson
photo by Richard Thomas under Creative Commons License

This time of year, seasoned gardeners are busy planning how to get their crops or flowers in the ground at the optimal time. It’s easy for new gardeners to feel overwhelmed by the amount of available information about getting started—what to grow and when to plant!

Easy-to-read lists are always helpful, and I know I have certainly benefited from them over the years. A few examples from the book Just the Facts, published by Storey Books, may help you as you dream about your gardens this season.

Hardy Crops – plant when ground can be worked, 20-40 days before last frost
  • Broccoli: best started from transplants, seeds usually require 80-100 days to harvest
  • Brussels sprouts: best started from transplants, usually requires 100+ days from seed, pick off lower leaves after sprouts form
  • Cabbage: transplants are best, but, fall harvest cabbage is an option from seed
  • Kale: start from seed or transplant; will survive frost and snow
  • Kohlrabi: best results if seeds are planted directly in ground, and rapid growth is a must with this crop as slow growing plants are tough and the flesh is strong
  • Onion sets: onions prefer rich, fertile, reasonably well-drained soil, dry soil can cause onion bulbs to split forming two small bulbs instead of normal growth
  • Peas: sow early in spring, they don’t like hot weather
  • Radishes: plant with other seeds to mark rows—fast sprouting
  • Spinach: likes cool weather, goes to seed quickly in warm weather
  • Turnip: never cover turnip seeds with more than 1⁄4 inch of soil as they are very small and the tender young plants are easily killed when there is a thick layer of soil on top
Semi-Hardy Crops – plant 10-30 days before last frost
  • Beets: prefer a well drained soil but hot, dry weather can cause beet roots to become stringy and tough, beet greens removed during thinning can be cooked like other greens
  • Carrots: one ounce of carrot seeds will sow 100 feet, the seeds should be sown relatively thick, about a half-a-dozen seeds to the inch, darkest green foliage indicates the largest carrots
  • Cauliflower: start as transplants in spring, seed in early summer for fall crops
  • Lettuce: 3” spacing for leaf lettuce, 8” for head lettuce, cut don’t pull for second and third harvest
  • Swiss chard: can be grown in any good garden soil in which lettuce thrives, plants should be placed 12 inches apart and a 15-25 row is usually sufficient for a family of four and can supply greens from July through frost, cut and serve when plants are 8”-10” tall
Tender Vegetables - plant on the average last frost date
  • Snap Beans: from seed, pick young before individual beans are visible in the pod
  • Cantaloupe: plant 5-6 seeds per hill, later thin to best 3-4 plants
  • Sweet Corn: from seed; pick immediately before serving to prevent natural sugars from turning to starch
  • Cucumber: plant 5-6 seeds per hill later thinning to 3-4 best plants
  • Eggplant: transplants are a good idea
  • Peppers: transplants are a good idea, thrive in poor soil
  • Pumpkins: needs space to sprawl, grow as a barrier to keep raccoons out
  • Summer squash (including zucchini): for extra early crop start some indoors and transplant
  • Squash (winter): same as pumpkin
  • Tomato: transplant well after the danger of frost passes, late May in Michigan

Friday, March 7, 2008


Welcome to the Ann Arbor Project Grow blog! We plan to post gardening resources here---we've already included some from past newsletters---as well as events and announcements.

Here's one upcoming event to let you know about:

Eat Green for Grow, March 17th at Seva

Support Project Grow on St. Patrick's Day! Join us for an evening of friends, food and fund-raising. Eat a hearty meal, enjoy a glass of wine, and top off the evening with a delicious dessert. Seva Restaurant, serving fresh imaginative vegetarian food, will be donating 20% of the evenings sales to Project Grow. So come, join us at Seva, eat green for Project Grow. A silent auction will also be held from 5:00 to 8:00pm: items include artwork, gift certificates, and more.

To find out more, visit our events page.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Tips for Starting Your Garden Right

From the Spring 2001 newsletter
photo by William Billium, used under Creative Commons license

Don’t plant everything on the same day. Cool season veggies like spinach, peas, and lettuce can be planted in May, but sun lovers like tomatoes and beans do better planted after Memorial Day (Southeast Michigan’s average last frost day fall on May 21).

Mulch is your friend. You might like weeding now, but in August it will be less fun. Apply a thick layer of hay, grass clippings etc. to your garden after the soil has warmed up to squash weeds before they get started. If you have questions about mulch, please contact the office at 996-3169

If you’ve grown your own seedlings, remember to “harden them off” before planting them out in the garden. Get your plants used to the great outdoors by gently introducing them to outside conditions—start with a few hours in the shade and gradually increase the amount of time and sunlight that the plants receive.

Transplant seedlings on a cool or cloudy day to reduce shock. Remember to water well after transplanting.

Spring Flowering Bulbs

the Fall 1997 newsletter
photo by Powi under Creative Commons license

Autumn is the time to plant spring flowering bulbs, those wonderful harbingers of the return of the warm weather. Bulbs are easy to grow, and with a little preparation and thought are a great addition to the garden. Before elaborating on the planting of bulbs, let’s take a moment to clear up a few misconceptions.

Many people use the term bulb to connote any plant that grows from bulbous underground material. Botanically speaking, some of those plants are tubers, corms, and rhizomes. A bulb is a miniature plant surrounded by scales containing needed nourishment. Examples of bulbs include tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths.

A corm is a solid mass of storage tissue with several growing tips on top. Roots grow out from the edge of a flat, plate-like bottom. Crocus and gladiolus start their lives as corm.

A tuber, like a corm, is a solid mass of storage tissue; however it lacks the plate-like bottom. Both roots and shoots sprout from the growing points called eyes. Potatoes and dahlias are tubers.

A rhizome is a thickened underground stem. Also a storage tissue type with eyes, roots grow from the lower surface, while leaves and flower stalks emerge from the upper side. Irises and cannas are examples of rhizomes.

With that explanation out of the way, let’s return to bulbs. Spring flowering bulbs are planted from September to November. They need about two months of low temperatures for their roots to grow and for proper bud development.

Bulbs are not very demanding, but do require good drainage. As in all gardening, it is a good idea to spend the time preparing the soil prior to planting. Deep digging and additions of copious quantities of organic matter will make for happy bulbs. Bulbs also require adequate amounts of phosphorous and potash for flower and future bulb development, so test your soil and add appropriate organic amendments.

Now that the bed is prepared we come to the hard part – which side goes up. The upper part is usually more pointed than the lower, and small roots are visible at the bottom part. An old rule of thumb says to plant bulbs at a depth of 3 times the height of the bulb. Crocuses are usually planted at a depth of 3” and 3” apart; tulips are planted at 4 to 6” depth and the same distance apart.

Place bulbs at the appropriate depth, nose end up and cover with topsoil. Gently tamp soil to assure good bulb-soil contact. Lay a thick mulch over the bed after the ground is frozen to prevent heaving.


from the July 1997 newsletter

Mexican Bean Beetles (Epilachna varivestis)

Identification: These beetles resemble lady-bugs but tend to be a bit larger, are copper in color, and have 16 dots on their backs. Look for yellow egg clusters under bean leaves and yellow-orange larvae.
Damage: Both beetle and larvae voraciously devour bean leaves and will nibble on beans as well. They can obliterate a bean crop.
Prevention: Interplant potatoes, garlic, cloves, turnips, marigolds, and radishes. If you have a bean beetle problem, avoid its reoccurance next year by removing all dead bean plant material from the garden at the end of the season. DO NOT compost this material.
Control: It’s always best to keep an eye on your plants and catch pests and diseases early. Hand pick beetles and larvae and crush them or put them in kerosene. Look under leaves for eggs and crush them as well. You can also use floating row covers and beneficial nematodes.
Other possibilities: garlic, onion, and pepper juice spray will slow feeding. Lime and soap spray will irritate the beetles; rotenone (organic but very toxic) will kill them. We do not recommend rotenone until all else has failed- use it sparingly and with caution.

Flea Beetles (Phyllotreta striolata)

Identification: These beetles are small (1/4 inch or less), glossy, dark, and they jump. You may notice tiny holes in your plant leaves before you notice the beetles.
Damage: Flea beetles munch on cabbage, cauliflower, eggplant, potato, turnip, and most other garden crops. They eat tiny holes in young leaves and can cause severe damage to young plants. Larvae eat seeds and roots.
Prevention & Control: Weed and cultivate frequently and remove crop remnants from area. Interplant mint (but for other gardeners’ sake don’t let them spread). Plant susceptible crops near shade giving crops as flea beetles are sometimes deterred by shade. The use of floating row covers is also quite effective. If the problem is acute: Use garlic, onion and pepper spray to repel beetles. Dust wet plants and wet ground around them with lime, lime spray or soap (like Dr. Bronners liquid peppermint diluted with water) with lime as a spray.

Caring for Amaryllis Bulbs

by Ralph Powell
from the Winter 1999 newsletter

After flowering in the spring the plants are allowed to continue growing with as much sunlight as possible either in pots or in the garden. Potted plants and extra bulbs can be planted in the garden when frost danger has passed. The bulbs should be covered with any foliage above ground.

In late summer or early fall when the leaves begin to yellow and frost becomes likely it is time to allow them to become dormant. Stop watering the plants in the pots. You can cut back the foliage, removing the dead leaves, and store them in a cool, dry place. Those in the garden can be dug up. Remove any side bulbs and allow them to dry out later, removing dead leaves and shriveled roots. Store in a cool, dry place until you are ready to repot them. Bulbs can be repotted in containers with good drainage, preferably using a rich, porous potting mixture. Bulbs not potted can be planted outside later.

In potting, at least one third of the bulb should be above the soil level in pots one to two inches larger than the bulb. New growth can be stimulated by “light” watering and a warmer environment. Do not overwater. Watering can be increased when the new flower stalk is growing vigorously.

After blooming the leaves should be encouraged to grow with plenty of sunlight. They and smaller bulbs saved from the previous year can be planted in the garden after frost damage is unlikely. You may want to fertilize the plants depending on the soil.


by Bronwen Gates
Winter 1999 Newsletter

There was a yard I passed every day on my way to school where Calendula grew in profusion, even peeping out from under the gate and growing from cracks in the driveway. The name Calendula, is used both as a common name and as the Latin name. Calendula officinalis is supposedly derived from the fact that it is to be found in bloom on the calends or first day of each month, and it was true that even in the midst of winter there were usually one or two blooms to cheer my heart and warm my journey to or from school. Dried Calendula flowers were sold extensively in seventeenth century Europe to “comfort the heart and spirits,” and Calendula also has a reputation for strengthening the heart and circulatory system at a physical level. Formerly used mainly in broths and soups, Calendula flowers may be used raw in salads or dried in herb teas with other flowers, such as linden and red clover, as a mild tonic for the circulatory system.

But it is the external uses of the pot marigold, Calendula, on which I want to focus in this article. Calendula is one of the best bath herbs because of its mucilaginous qualities and its skin healing powers. You can make an infusion of dried Calendula blossoms (about a handful in a quart or so of boiling wwater), add the orange liquid to your tub, and imagine you’re bathing in liquid sunshine or Mary’s Gold (another of its common names). Calendula is particularly wonderful for the care of the delicate skin of babies; you can add a few drops of Calendula oil or tincture if you don’t have time or opportunity to make an infusion.

Calendula also prevents infection and is one of the first aid herbs I would not be without. Its action is not antibacterial per se, but provides an environment which is inhospitable to bacteria. It can be applied as a salve or in liquid form, either as an infusion or using the diluted tincture. It’s important to dilute the tincture before applying it to a wound, else the alcohol in the tincture will sting horribly. My favorite way of using Calendula for the scrapes and cuts of my children is to put a few drops of the tincture in the bath tub and let them soak in this. Even dirty scrapes heal quickly and without infection with this treatment. Calendula in the bath is also wonderfully soothing and healing for women after childbirth, and it’s good for newborn babies too. It is also very effective in the treatment of burns, reducing the pain and promoting rapid healing with reduced or no scarring. The British physician, Dorothy Shepard, used Calendula extensively in the emergency room and cites its use in cases of severe bleeding; she claimed that a few drops of undiluted tincture stopped the gushing of arterial bleeding instantaneously. I’ve thankfully never had to test this.

You can buy dried Calendula flowers and also high quality tincture and oil at Whole Foods, but it also one of the easiest plants to grow. Scatter its seeds among your veggies, and you will be rewarded with its cheerful profusion, and if you don’t harvest them all, they will seed themselves happily in your yard for ever after. The orange contrasts nicely with the kale and the lettuce too!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Long-Lived Perennials

By Kirk Jones
Community Gardener, Spring 2001

When I first started growing perennials, I thought of them as a sort of garden aristocrat, somehow more solid, important and serious than regular old zinnias and petunias. I was not very knowledgeable at the time and foolishly thought that a perennial, by definition, reappeared season after season, essentially forever. It didn’t take long for me to realize how mistaken I was. The dictionary has several definitions for perennial, and I can see now that in those early days I only knew about the first: “Lasting through the year or many years”, or maybe the second “Lasting an indefinitely long time.” Unfortunately, it is the third, botanical definition that contains the sad reality – “Having a life span of more than two years.”

Perhaps because of my earlier romantic notions about perennials, I am always a little angry and offended when a perennial dies after just a couple years. I mean, they’re supposed to be perennial, right? In my garden, the worst offenders are delphiniums, columbines, and baby’s breath. I have had considerable success with all three, but generally the second season is best. They may stick it out for a third summer, but a fourth year is almost unheard of. If one does survive that long it is often in such a weakened state that I usually just put it out of its misery and start over with a new plant.

It is a further garden irony that many true annuals like poppies, cosmos, and larkspur are such reliable self-sowers that they are essentially perennial. I have had larkspurs and several kinds of poppies and cosmos reappearing at my Country Farm garden now for nearly ten years. If anything, they reappear altogether too reliably, usually in between strawberry plants or irises or any kind of little delicate thing I’m trying to grow. However, as indestructible as they are, I guess I agree with Sarah when she says that field poppies, with their flashy beauty and proflific ways are “the floozies of the garden.” Somehow, annuals like these are just a little cheap, a little common.

Given my frustration with perennials that die out after a couple of years and my mild disdain for annuals that are all too willing to reappear (everywhere) year after year, it’s no surprise that I’m especially attracted to long-lived perennials. These are plants that really do behave like those ideal perennials I imagined when I first started gardening. The clump up steadily, don’t require division, and reappear faithfully year after year after year, no matter how cold the winter or how hot the summer. There are actually quite a number of these long-lived, no fuss perennials, but there are only two I know of, peonies and gas plants, that can settle in and be left undisturbed for decades.

The most well-known, long-lived perennial is the peony ( Paeonae spp). Peony flowers can be single, semi-double or double and come in white, pink, red, and all shades in between. An individual plant will only be in bloom around one week, but by planting early, midseason and late varieties, peony season can begin in May and last for several weeks. Even without the flowers, though, peony foliage remains attractive throughout the season, from the time the burgundy red shoots first appear in spring until the leaves finally yellow in autumn.

I must say at the outset that I am no expert on peonies, but I’ve grown them long enough to have developed some opinions. In particular, I favor older varieties. One advantage of older varieties is price. There are hundreds of peony varieties available, and like most plants, the newer hybrids cost more. However, unlike daylilies and irises, where new varities often possess a wider range of color, higher bud count, or longer bloom season, most peonies are still white, pink, or red and remain in bloom for about a week. To my not very discerning eye, there is little difference between fifty or even hundred year old varieties available from Gilbert Wild & Sons for $7-10, and newer cultivars available from specialty growers like Klehm for five or ten times that price. In addition to price, though, to me there is something romantic about growing varieties that could have been planted by my grandparents or great grandparents. I especially like to imagine that if my grand parents did plant a couple peonies, back before the first World War when they got married, those same plants might still be there. Properly planted and carefully sited, a peony can easily outlive the person who plants it.

Planting Peonies
Peonies are best planted in the fall. If you mail order the plants (see sources), they will arrive as dormant roots in October. Peonies prefer full sun and resent root competition from trees and bushes. As I learned the hard way, they also don’t like being moved, so choose the site carefully. Peonies get large so you need to allow about a three foot diameter per plant. Again, the plant is going to be there a long time, so prepare a big hole, a couple feet across and eighteen inches deep, and enrich it with added compost, well-aged manure, and bone meal. Correct planting depth is critical. The dormant peony root will have little pink nodules or eyes that are the buds for next year’s shoots. These need to be covered with 1 ½ to 2 inches of soil, no more. This should be measured, not estimated, because peonies planted too deep with not bloom.

Peony Care
While the planting instructions my seem kind of fussy, once established, peonies will return year after year with essentially no help at all other than keeping the weeds at bay. If you want to grow the double varieties, peonies do require staking or the flowers will be head first in the mud after the first rain storm. There are special wire hoops made for peonies, or you can just hammer a few sturdy stakes in around the plant and hold it up with twine. The peony foliage will grow through the twine and mostly disguise the stakes. In the fall, the dead stems should be cut down slightly below ground level, taking care not to disturb the eyes.

Moving Peonies – A Cautionary Tale
I had read that peonies resent being moved, but I had hear this about other plants, moved them anyway and gotten away with it. So, when I decided that my five-year-old clump of “Sarah Bernhardt” was in the wrong place, I figured if I took a really big dirt ball, and did it really early in the spring before the plant had even sprouted, old Sarah would never know any better. When the peony sprouted on schedule in the spring and bloomed normally, I preened a bit and thought, “all those garden writers just don’t know how to do it.” However, the following year, the peony didn’t bloom and only grew to half size, and it did the same thing the next year, and the year after htat. I’ve now sold the house so I don’t know if it will recover this year – or ever. So, take it from me, this is one case where those garden writers who say that peonies moved improperly may, “sulk for years,” are telling the truth. The right way to move peonies is to lift the clump in the fall after the foliage has died back. Shake the soil from the clump and then divide the plant into divisions with between 3-5 eyes. Each division then should be planted separately as a new plant.

Gas Plant
Gas plant (Dictamnus) is not nearly as well-known or varied in form and color as the peony. They produce pink or white spikes of flowers in early June. Gas plants have thick, leathery leaves that smell like citrus when rubbed. Dictamnus gets the name gas plant because the flowers exude a volotile oil which will ignite if a match is held near the bloom. I can’t imagine how anyone initially discovered this, and it has never worked for me, but reliable garden writers say it is true, so I will probably keep trying. Gas plants clump up very slowly, and like a peony, are said to survive decades. They have big, fleshy tap roots and, like peonies, are also said to resent being moved. I did successfully move a gas plant, which is part of what made me think I could move that Sarah Bernhardt peony, but don’t blame me if you try it and it doesn’t work.

Dictamnus plants are kind of hard to find. If you are lucky and patient with starting seeds, you can try it, but books say it can take up to a year for the seed to germinate. I know I would never manage to look after a pot holding ungerminated seed for a year, so I’ve never even attempted it. After hunting around for several years, I finally found a tiny and expensive 3-inch plant with about 5 leaves at the Matthaei sale about 7 years ago. The next year it had 7 leaves and was 5 inches tall, and the year after that it maybe had fifteen leaves. At that point I decided it must be in too much shade and moved it to a sunnier spot. Two summers later it finally flowered. Dictamnus are not always so hard to get going however. A couple of years ago Flower Scent Gardens was offering gas plants, and I ordered another one which bloomed the year after I got it.

Start this Year
Ed Resmussen, the owner of The Fragrant Path, has a great line in his catalogue – “One cultural detail is certain – if not planted, they will not grow.” Rasmussen is referring to starting trees and shrubs from seed, but the same can be said for peonies and gas plants. It is sometimes hard to think that it may take a few years to grow a peony or gas plant to maturity when annuals and other perennials offer more immediate gratification. But, try to set aside a spot or two for these slow-starting but long-lived perennials. Like an old friend, they will stay with you forever, and you only come to value them more with each passing year.

Plant Sources
I have always bought peonies by mail order. You can also get them in pots at nurseries and the Farmer’s Market, but after my experience moving a mature plant, I will always want to start with a 3 to 5 eye root planted in the fall. Gilbert Wild & Sons (1-888-553-3715) or Reath’s (906-563-9777).

A couple years ago, Glenn Varner at Flower Scent Gardens (330) 658-5946 was selling gas plants. After moving I don’t have the catalog this year, but send for it anyway, it’s a great catalog. This year I also see that June’s catalog is selling gas plants.