Friday, December 18, 2009

Never fear! Garden gifts if the garden is all closed up

Now, before you say to yourself, "I've already done the end-of-the-year chores, AND it's snowing!" there are some options if you can't get gifts from your own garden this year.

Head over to the Farmer's Market to check out the selection of herbs still on hand. These may already be dried and prettily packaged to boot! Without a doubt, lots of other terrific gift items will be available for perusal, too.

According to the Farmer's Marketer (check out What's at the Market This Week on the left), it looks like apples galore can still be found. Why not whip up a batch or two of applesauce, can or freeze it and give it away? Talk about a refreshing taste of sunshine when the temperatures drop!

Create a tea blend from the great selection of herbs at a bulk grocery store section like the one at the People's Food Coop or Arbor Farms.

Make a super top secret hot cocoa mix for friends and family. Just think of how much fun you'll have "testing" the different recipes! (This could also be done while catching up on garden reading...and ok, you can't grow cocoa ingredients in your garden, but it's still homemade and still yummy.)

Amaryllis make a great gift for everyone from the non-gardener to the novice gardener to the botanist on your list. The thrill of watching the leaves emerge and the final trumpets of color move even the most curmudgeonly.

Give a selection of herbs for the windowsill. Fresh herbs are even better than dried ones, and the cheerful green leaves will be a welcome sight in anyone's home. Tailor the herb selection (seeds or seedlings) to the person in question, along with a cute pot or two. How much fun is that?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Review of New Gardening Books

Just in time as a follow-up to a recent post on gardening books comes this review from the New York Times. Reviewed are a total of 10 new books covering a range of topics - landscape gardening in Japan, historic gardens in England and America, parks and urban landscaping, bulbs, and good old fashioned garden reference - to match the whims and interests of any gardener.

And for those wanting a list of more recent vegetable-focused books, check out this terrific compilation/review from Spring. Reviewing and summarizing 12 books in total, this list would make a wonderful check list for building a gardening library.

And finally, for the whipper-snapper's on your list who might be shy (or even those who are not!) about gardening, The Curious Garden by Peter Brown, is sure to inspire everyone.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Gifts from the garden

As gift-giving season fast approaches, the stress of remembering who's on the list, what they like or don't like, not to mention the cost of many items can make the season more stressful than might be ideal. Here are a few ideas for this year (or to keep in mind for next year!) to ease the situation.

Dried herbs.
Dried herbs make fantastic presents! Whether it's a sprig of rosemary, a sweet little jar of oregano, dried mint and lemon balm for tea, or lavender sachets for a drawer or for a plunge in the bath, these are sure to delight. Drying herbs is easy as hanging them up to dry in the house or popping them in a low, low oven spread out on a cookie sheet.

Garden preserves.
If you've got a nice bundle of goodies canned, dried, or frozen consider dolling up the packaging a bit and giving them as gifts. Dried tomatoes (or tomato chips!) make a fantastic present that could probably be given multiple years in a row without any complaints, not too mention some of that pesto in the freezer!

Garden crafts.
How about a wreath from the wild grapevine growing along the back fence? Or a bouquet of dried flowers? How about some seeds saved from a garden favorite? Here's a good list of ideas and how to do them, or check out this upcoming movie about handmade gifts and crafts to release that crafty gene just lurking in your veins!

More Ideas?
Send along some of your favorite garden gift ideas. We'd love to hear how you share the bounty of the garden during the holidays.

Friday, December 4, 2009

A garden reading list

A great joy of northern gardening is the off-season. While the cold winds blow and the last of the leftover turkey simmers in the soup on the stove it's a great time to do a little reading. The following list of a few good new, old, and revised gardening classics should be a great start.

Growing Great Garlic: The Definitive Guide for Organic Gardeners and Small Farmers by Ron L. Engeland.
Filaree Productions, 1995.
Considered a classic and must-have for anyone growing garlic, Engeland offers detailed information on more than 200 varieties of garlic along with instructions on how to go about growing a terrific harvest.

The Compleat Squash: A Passionate Grower's Guide to Pumpkins, Squashes, and Gourds by Amy Goldman.
Artisan, 2004.
The second of Goldman's three books on gardening and heirloom varieties, The Compleat Squash is a must-read for anyone wanting to meet other members of the Cucurbita family. Recipes, growing information, and other fascinating tidbits about these New World vegetables abound in this beautiful and informative book.

The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener (Revised Edition) by Eliot Coleman.
Chelsea Green, 1995.
Another definitive work from the author who brought us the Four Season Harvest and The Winter Harvest Handbook, Coleman in this revised edition of offers even more detailed instruction and advice for those growing organically in smaller spaces.

The Organic Gardener's Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control: A Complete Problem-Solving Guide to Keeping Your Garden and Yard Healthy Without Chemicals edited by Barbara Ellis and Fern Marshall Bradley.
Rodale Press, 1996.
Pests and disease can visit any garden and wreak a bit of havoc. This book, edited by two extremely experienced, knowledgeable, and engaging gardeners and garden writers, offers time-tested solutions for maintaining an organic garden while identifying and managing a few troublemakers.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Tucking away the garden

Fall is, at least in Michigan, when the garden gets tucked away for the season. Unless a hoophouse or other structure for a little winter gardening is underway here's a small list of things to do at the end of the season.

Jot it down.
Before doing a single one of the following things head out to the garden with pen and paper in hand (or camera!) and make some quick notes on what was where, how it worked, how it tasted, what to remember to do again, and what to remember to never do again. The ideal is a garden journal, but even a quick map is great to avoid planting members of the same family in the same space next year or to help remember where that new rhubarb plant went.

Plant garlic.
Ok, so it's time to tuck the garden away, but it is such a pleasure to plant bulbs for that dash of spring color so why not plant some garlic for a dash of flavor? It's not too late to tuck some in, and add the site of those little tasty green shoots to your winter daydreams. Some good, basic information on growing garlic is helpful whether this is the first time you've planted them or the hundreth as is a list of varieties available. Never done it before? Never fear! With garlic, there is nothing to lose. The scapes (flowerheads that need to be snipped) are tasty, and the there really a question?

Compost everything.
A bittersweet but satisfying task for the fall is cleaning up the beds. Frost bitten basil, tomatoes, and other plants need to be moved out, cages brought in, and plant tags found. Unless your garden was struck with tomato blight or some other disease plan to pop everything in the compost bin. Add a those last grass clippings and leaves, and savor the thought of the fantastic growing material that will soon be created.

Feeling really motivated about composting? Check out this great little article on deep composting. Reminiscent of lasagna gardening deep composting makes use of the woody debris that can accumulate in fall while creating a new growing space that can be put to use almost immediately.

Build up soil.
Fall is a great time to give the garden soil a boost of healthy snacks for recharging the soil as well as continuing to build a solid soil foundation for future growing. Mix in shredded leaves (just run them over with the lawnmower), although it is important to consider what kind of leaves get thrown on the garden or into the compost bin. Walnut leaves are less than ideal, and maple leaves need to be well-shredded. Maple leaves tend to be nitrogen-fixing (holding onto the nitrogen while they break down rather than giving it out to the plants growing in the garden) although eventually they contribute.

A nice recipe for building up soil (literally and figuratively) can be found here (again reminiscent of lasagna gardening) is feasible for old and new beds alike.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Gardening in a pot

The weather is chilly and the gardens are finishing up for the season. Feeling forlorn about fresh vegetables without room for a hoophouse?

Well, despair no more! While the title of the article sounds a wee bit unfortunate - Grow Food Scraps Indoors - the article does offer some good ideas for growing food in pots, including green onions. A good list of vegetables and some nice details about how to manage the indoor container garden can also be found here.

And just as a little extra, this blog post focuses mostly on growing in containers outdoors, but it offers sound advice on selecting containers and the unique needs of such plants. Enjoy!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Gardening in Flint: Tasty Greens and a Whole Lot More

Any gardener will attest to the hope and joy one finds working the soil for food or for flowers. The miracle of seeds turning to tiny plants turning to a full grown plant is a joy in itself. The vegetables served to a gathering of family and friends or the bouquet on the table at the end of the day offer a satisfaction that fills the heart and soul.

A recent article in The New York Times about gardens in Flint that serve up plates of food along with healthy doses of community pride and innovation offers a reminder of what is best in gardens and all of us.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

If Life Hands You Apples...

...make applesauce! At least that's our philosophy at Project Grow, and the upcoming class will show folks just how to do that.

Join us Saturday, November 7th at the Leslie Science Center and learn how to make a batch of two of this tasty treat to savor through the winter months. Good for you, and satisfying to whip together, applesauce is one of those simple pleasures that is about as simple to make. Come join the fun and your taste buds will thank you for the sweet, fruity treat come January!

Need more inspiration? Check out this terrific article linking apples and taste of place AND that includes a delicious sounding recipe for (you guessed it!) applesauce!

Let's Make Applesauce!
Saturday, November 7th
10am - 11:30am
Leslie Science Center

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

If You Want to be Happy Forever, Make a Garden

Written by a friend of Project Grow, the following piece tells the story of some of the gardens and gardeners to be found at our Clague site. Transplants themselves, the gardeners have found a taste and feeling of their former homes and histories in their new country.

They aren't called "community gardens" for nothing. Large shared plots are little communities, enclaves where friendship and social harmony flourish as surely as fresh, nutritious food. And Project Grow's Clague Community Garden is one of the best: a mini-Eden of health and happiness, though non-Asians might not recognize most of the produce.

"This is a luffa gourd," said Xianfang Xu, 77, gently reaching into a six-foot tangle of gargantuan vines and leaves to cradle a shiny baby fruit. "It looks like a zucchini, but it's spongy inside," Xianfang said. "We use it for soup. We like Chinese food because it's good for health." (Mature luffa - or luffah - fruit can be dried to make kitchen and bath sponges.)

Like many communities, the Clague gardening community has changed over the years as old “residents” have left and newcomers have taken their places. Located at Clague Middle School, on the city’s northeast side, the garden was first planted in 2005 by three families. Then two years later, Quansheng Xu, a resident of the nearby Parkway Meadows Senior Apartments, was out walking and spotted his dream garden.

“I saw this beautiful garden at the entrance to Divine Shepherd Lutheran Church,” said Quansheng, 74, a retired engineering leader at a textile factory. “The plots were much larger than the plots at Parkway Meadows, where I had planted a small garden for four years. So I entered the church and asked about it and they told me about Project Grow.”

He defected to Clague and by the 2008 growing season had recruited a small contingent of other Chinese seniors, including his wife, Bing Xian Zhang, 72.

“In 2007, there was one Chinese man -- me,” said Quansheng, smiling. “Now, there are seven Chinese families and four American families here.” The garden has become a “cultural exchange between America and China,” Xianfang added.

“The families share vegetables and gardening knowledge. We enjoy each other. We see each other and we see what we’re each growing.”

What the American families see is a parallel universe of exotic produce: Chinese celery, which is leafier and has skinner stalks than the more familiar European variety; Chinese long beans, the freaks of the bean world, which make “normal” green beans look like haricot verts; Chinese lettuce, which grows high instead of low to the ground and is topped with seeds; Chinese amaranth, a purple-and-green plant so pretty it could be a houseplant, whose tender leaves are sautéed in oil, like spinach. There are Chinese varieties of chives and garlic as well as Chinese eggplant, Chinese cabbage and Chinese “hollow vegetable,” a lushly tall, dense grass with hollow stems whose long, narrow leaves are eaten raw, in salad, or steamed and wilted.

Everything is organic, which is a big hit with the Chinese gardeners children, who emigrated earlier than their parents, most of whom left China or Taiwan after they retired and speak very little English.

“My children like to eat the fresh, organic vegetables,” said Bing Xian, speaking through an interpreter, Helen Bucklin, the daughter of fellow gardener Hsien-Wen Fang, 81.

But their parents have embraced organic produce, too, reading up on the nutritive content of various vegetables and fruits and treating the garden with near reverence, as if it were growing traditional Chinese medicines.

“This cauliflower started as only a tiny seed!” said Hsien-Wen, whose scientist’s curiosity serves him well in the garden. Born in China, Hsien-Wen moved to Taiwan in 1949, when he was 21, after the Chinese Civil War. In 1963, he moved to Ann Arbor and earned a PhD in biochemistry, returned to Taiwan to teach, then moved back to Ann Arbor in 1982 to become a UM researcher.

“Now, the cauliflower is huge!” he said in early August, when the compact plants were still weeks away from being ready to harvest. “I started them in my home garden, and transplanted them one by one here. Now, I eat the leaves. I found in the literature that the leaves have even more nutrients than the cauliflower, different kinds of nutrients. Previously, I steamed them, but the literature said you lose many nutrients that way. So I’m eating the leaves raw now. I put them in salad with vinegar, sometimes even yogurt, and salt and olive oil.”

All the Chinese seniors are thin and seem extremely fit and limber for their age, bending over to care for their plants and crawling around on their hands and knees to pull weeds.

“This is physical labor!” said Xianfang. “We all use a lot of mental energy, so this helps us balance (the body and mind). For example, I have high blood pressure. If I work in the garden, my blood pressure goes down. I come here to relax.”

As if she were at a party, Fang offered a visitor a container of homemade Chinese canapés: fried slices of Chinese eggplant; chunks of a Chinese chive omelet; Chinese zucchini pancakes; Chinese bean noodle buns and tomato-and-cucumber salad. They were delicious, balancing an American visitor’s physical and mental energies by transporting her back to China and her own memorable stay there in 1985.

The Clague garden is so devotedly tended and explosively green that it’s hard to imagine any failed experiments. But there have been a few.

“In Southeast China, we have a longer growing season because it’s warmer there,” said Zhikun Zhou, 75, a retired elementary school and piano teacher.

Zhikun is the group’s master gardener, credited with knowing the most about how to water plants, dig ditches and ventilate soil. Like several of the other gardeners, he’s from Wuxi, near Shanghai. Like all of them, he learned to garden as a child out of necessity.

“The first year here, I failed -- I planted seeds in March and April, and they all died of frost!”

At Clague, an old Chinese proverb seems to hold true: “If you want to be happy forever, make a garden.” The Chinese gardeners can’t seem to spend enough time there, walking over daily from their apartments just a short block way.

“I come here every day, at least twice, sometimes three times,” said Guishan Wang, 76, a retired medical school professor. His wife, Guiqin Jiang, 79, wears pearls with her gardening clothes!

“I like the soil and the land,” she said.

Guiqin and the others have reaped so much more from the garden than just produce: deepened feelings of independence and belonging in their adopted country; pride, improved health, peace.

“I like to garden because first, I have nothing else to enjoy,” said Zhixian Jiang, 70, who moved to Ann Arbor because her son had settled there. “Second because watching the vegetables grow every day makes me happy, gives me a sense of accomplishment.

"From the end of June to the end of November, we don’t need to go to the store to buy vegetables,” added Quansheng.

Perhaps Xianfang expressed the group’s attachment to the garden best: “We think of these vegetables like our kids and grandkids. We watch them grow up.”

Friday, October 2, 2009

Seed Saver Extraordinaire

Check out this great piece on Royer Held, Project Grow's Heirloom Guy, that appeared recently in the Ann Arbor Chronicle.

Inspired? Keep an eye out for upcoming classes led by Royer Held and other local seed savers who share plenty of tips for saving seeds and choosing heirloom varieties.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Tomato Blight Update

Tomato blight, as mentioned previously here, is troublesome to say the least, and devastating for farmers and home gardeners, to say the most. Royer Held, a.k.a. Project Grow's Heirloom Enthusiast, sent along the following helpful links about tomato blight and how to contend with it.

NPR's Science Friday recently aired an interview with Chad Nusbaum, a scientist who mapped the genome. Along with some genetic science, Nusbaum offers insight into how the disease spreads and what gardeners should do if they discover it. (The transcript of the interview is also quite helpful.)

Additionally, Science Friday's Flora Lichtbaum visited a farm afflicted with late blight, and created a video vividly portraying the plight caused by the disease as well as illustrating its effect on the plant.

What to do with infected plants?
If a plant is suspect, remove it immediately including any fallen leaves. DO NOT COMPOST IT. Bag it up and put it our with the trash. Other options are detailed in this document, along with more links to properly identify late blight and how to monitor for it.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Winter Gardening

With the Equinox upon us, it is surely time to be thinking of winter gardening. Not just packing up the garden for a nice winter's rest (although that's not a bad thing), but giving some thought to what can be grown in the cooler part of the year.

Whether or not a hoophouse is on the horizon, there are a fair number of vegetables and smaller structures that could make for a lovely harvest nearly into winter. Some favorites of the cool weather gardener are kale, cabbage, broccoli, and lettuce, but surely beets, leeks, and an assortment of other tasty treats could be added here and there. This article is a good primer for planning and planting. This article from Mother Earth News is also quite comprehensive with nice associated links.

If a hoophouse is a bit of a scary proposition, Coldframes are usually short, small, and often easy to build and maintain. They are a nice way to gently break into the realm of winter gardening without breaking your back or your bank account. That said, Elliott Coleman pops a few into his hoophouses to grow an even greater variety of vegetables throughout the winter months.

Local garden centers may also have cool weather crop seedlings for sale, too, along with the usual offerings of garlic and spring bulbs. Treat yourself to a tour and come home with a mini feast!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Tomato Tasting at HomeGrown Festival

Don't forget to come on out to the HomeGrown Festival this Saturday, September 12th. Not only will there be a myriad of tasty local foods there (including Project Grow's brilliant tomato tasting table!), including Michigan wines and beers, but a wide variety of other activities. A chef's demonstration, a Made-in-Michigan store, and a bundle of farmer and fiber producer's will also be on hand.

Stop by our table and sample a fantastic variety of organically grown heirloom varieites of tomatoes to begin planning next year's garden as well as give your tastebuds something to celebrate!

Kerrytown Farmer's Market
5pm - 10pm
Ticket's $4

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Hoophouse Planning and Construction

Ok, it's August and your thinking as you look at this headline, "Hoophouse? Good grief. Who needs a hoophouse?" Well, you just might, and now while the weather is less formiddable than it is in late October or November, might just be a good time to start planning and plotting for one.

Last year's class, Growing in a Hoophouse, brought in a standing room only crowd, and this year it seems like it will be no less a popular topic. Lessons learned from that first experiment inspired many, and with good cause. Fresh garden vegetables not trucked long distances can be hard to come by in the winter months (although there are some new farms offering tasty green treats throughout the season), and growing your own is a good solution. As most gardeners know, a little bit of growing room can give a whole lot of harvest. (Imagine how delighted folks will be with a big bunch of homegrown kale for a present come December!)

Quite possibly more information than a homegrower might want, this MSU page detailing hoophouse construction offers invaluable information in text, video, and photos. The associated blog also offers notes from a gardener experimenting with her own hoophouse construction and harvesting. And another associated blog offers notes from the farmer working in the hoophouse! Both are great reading.

And don't forget Elliott Coleman's classics - Four Season Harvest and The Winter Harvest Handbook - for hoophouse plans, diagrams, plant lists, and planting schedules.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Reveling in the Season's Bounty

As tomato season approaches, we thought this article from Grist about what to do with the season's bounty worth checking out.

And if you'd like to taste more than a few different varieties of heirloom tomatoes join us for our Eighth (can you believe it's EIGHT?) Annual Tomato Tasting. Bring your tastebuds out for an morning of exercise and fun!

Eighth Annual Tomato Tasting Extravaganza
Saturday, August 22nd
9am - 12pm
Ann Arbor Farmer's Market

For more information on the event or to find out how to get your tomatoes in the mix just drop us a note or call 734-996-3169.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Tomato Tasting Extravaganza: Adventures in Flavor

Heirloom tomatoes are, thankfully, one of the great (and delicious) rediscoveries of our time. Writers like Barbara Kingsolver and Michael Pollan along with local growers like Frog Holler and Wilson's Farm have helped bring these beauties back to our plates and tummies. And local seedsavers like Royer Held have shown us how to preserve them for the future, and shared their enthusiasm for growing these storied varieties. As Wendell Berry says, "Food with a story tastes better."

In celebration of these great folks near and far (and the tomato itself!) we'd like to remind you that this Saturday - August 22nd - is the Eighth Annual Tomato Tasting Extravaganza at the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market. Sample a wide variety of tomatoes - large, small, red, yellow, and green - to find a new favorite and make notes about which one to grow for next year. We'll have folks on hand to talk you through the tasting, and share information about the tomatoes present.

Tomato Tasting Extravaganza
Saturday, August 22nd
Ann Arbor's Famer's Market
8am - 1pm

Interested in volunteering? Drop Leigh Ann a note or give her a ring at 734-996-3169 to come on along!

Interested in volunteering tomatoes? Bring 'em on down to the market labeled and washed (but not cut up, please!) after 8:30am, and we'll add them to the mix.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Tomato Blight Watch

Tomato growers in the Northeast are deeply concerned, and rightly so, about late blight. An airborne disease that can quickly ravage tomatoes and potatoes, gardeners also need to be on the lookout for signs of this deadly disease. (No cases have been reported so far in Michigan.)

MSU Extension Diagnostic Services offers some great information on plant troubles, and is the place to contact if a plant looks a bit dodgy.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Work the Counter with Project Grow!

Learn the Secrets of the Market and volunteer with Project Grow at these two fantastic upcoming events! (Ok, we won't make you get up at 4:30am, but you'll still have a terrific time.)

Project Grow's Heirloom Tomato Tasting Extravaganza
Saturday, August 22nd, 8am to 1pm
Ann Arbor Farmer's Market
Join us at the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market to share the joy's of organic heirloom tomatoes. Volunteers will help tasters find the tomato of their dreams, share their enthusiasm for these tasty jewels, and probably find a new favorite to grow for next year.

HomeGrown Festival
Saturday, September 12, 5pm - 10pm
Ann Arbor Farmer's Market
The Second Annual HomeGrown Festival promises to be even more fun than the last, and volunteers are needed to help work the Project Grow table, help with fun food-focused activities for kids, and assist in a second tomato tasting. Come on down and be part of some good old-fashioned local action!

Interested? Drop Leigh Ann a line or give her a call at 734-996-3169, and she'll get you squared away.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Preserving Garden Bounty

Rightly so, the Organic Gardening e-newsletter recently ran a great series of articles on harvesting and preserving foods from the garden. Covering everything from when to harvest, to canning, to freezing, this issue offers some great ideas that should not be missed.

Local food preservation resources include:

Preserving Traditions - A local group that gets together to can, make pies (that alone should get you out the door, for heaven's sake!), and figure out ways to keep the harvest while having fun.

Eat Close to Home - Emily has a great series of posts about preserving food that offer practical solutions and ideas that are also fun and innovative. Here's a list of the posts tagged with food preservation, but her whole blog is worth a gander. (BTW, she also heads up Preserving Traditions, mentioned above.)

Ann Arbor Home Canning Group - A group, existing both electronically and literally, in Ann Arbor to learn and talk about home canning and food preservation. The page also includes a good list of resources along with interesting conversation.

Good reads include:

The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest by Carol W. Costenbader
Recipes for drying, freezing, and canning with simple diagrams and easy to follow instructions.

Preserving Summer's Bounty: A Quick and Easy Guide to Freezing, Canning, Drying and Preserving What You Grow edited by Susan McClure, 1998. Rodale Press.
Step-by-step instructions for preserving fruits, herbs, and vegetables in a variety of ways. Another great book for beginners.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Old Dodge, New Tricks or a Different Take on Container Gardening

This new short film about a slightly different take on a truck garden is brilliant and brings a smile to the face of any gardener. The farm travels about Brooklyn visiting CSA customers who can literally pick and choose straight from the soil. Visit Wicked Delicate to follow the farm's progress through the summer, and prepare to be delighted and inspired.

While we hope folks on our wait lists don't necessarily have to resort to this, we still love it!

(Image courtesy of Curt and Ian - the same folks who brought us King Corn, by the way - over at Wicked Delicate.)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Part Two on Pests

As mentioned earlier, pests are inevitable in any garden. For organic gardeners, there are a few good tricks of the trade.

Get to know the bugs in the garden, too. While some bugs see the garden as a buffet created for their enjoyment and nutrition others are helpful and considerably less destructive. (Check out this nifty page of photos from a UK gardener. Some are different, some the same, but it's well done.)

Other simple ideas to ward off pests or just stop them are listed below, and this list of recipesalso looked handy.
Cutoworm Collars
This absolutely classic remedy for cutworm is perhaps the simplest one yet. Simply fold newspaper or a sturdy piece of thin cardboard (from a cereal box, etc.) into a strip about four inches wide and perhaps six inches long. Fashion it into a circle or collar around the stem of the seedling, and push it into the ground about an inch. The cutworm operates below the surface of the soil usually, and this will simply detour it around your plants. This page offers some good additional information on cutworms, too.

Slug Beer and Boards
Another classic solution to pesky slugs that snack on cabbage plants is a shallow pan of beer in the garden. Just set it out the night before and in the morning the slugs are swimming. Chickens love this now marinated appetizer when they first run out of the coop, too! A board placed in the garden near the affected plants can also do the trick. Set it out at night, and turn it over in the morning to pluck off the little guys. Check out this list for even more ideas!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Plotting for Pests

Pests, like weeds, are one of the things every gardener knows is lurking somewhere out there. Organic gardeners tend to think of the soil first, which means plants are that much more resilient and healthy in the face of assorted troubles. For those pests and critters that do attempt to make a move on the garden, this article from Fine Gardening offers a wide variety of home remedies for many of the most common troubles.

Recipes, photos, (she is NOT blending up the Japanese beetles, by the way, but rather a REMEDY for them), step by step instructions and helpful commentary make this one worth hanging onto for future seasons.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Salve for the Soul

A favorite edible flower for summer salads is without a doubt calendula. Those blazing petals sprinkled on the verdant green of lettuce, chard, and kale is one of the prettiest sights going this time of year. Yet, like basil, there can be a wee bit too much as the season kicks into high gear. Caryn Simon, local doula, will be teaching a class on how to make a handy salve out of that excess.

Caryn took the time to talk a bit with Project Grow about the class, the importance of learning about herbs, and the value of working with herbs.

How long have you been making salves?
Since 2001. I had just moved back from New Mexico, and was working as a postpartum doula for Dr. Beth Barclay. She supported my brainstorms to come up with an all-purpose salve and hand out samples at Liberty Pediatrics where I worked.

Why did you start?
I wanted to make money doing something I loved. I think it is very important that we as consumers can identify all the ingredients in the products we use on our bodies and our babies bodies, too.

Did someone teach you how to work with herbs or did you also take a class?
I've mostly apprenticed with various elder women, and read lots of books and experimented slowly on my own.

If someone is a first-timer at something like this, what would you recommend as a starting point?
Making your own herbal tea is very simple, and a great way to connect with plants in our area and get to know them. My first was a tea made out of lemon balm. I was studying with anayurvedic herbalist in Cazadero, California, and she taught me how to make tea in a mason jar. Lemon balm was the herb I connected with first because it was growing in abundance on her land. A few herbs that grow around Ann Arbor that would be great are raspberry leaf, nettle, red clover and such.

Clearly, your class is a good start, but if someone is looking at, say, an abundance of lavender, what might you suggest?
Making herbal baths with lavender would a great use. Adding the lavender to some nice sea salt and taking a dip - this kind of bath would be great as a stress reliever before bed-time or for headaches or cranky babies.

Do you need alot of special equipment or ingredients?
Not at all. A double boiler is essential, some beeswax, a cutting board and knife, a Pyrex pitcher helps, little jars...a May Erlwine CD...

If I was interested in doing this sort of thing, what kinds of plants would you recommend growing?
For salve, I'd recommend calendula, comfrey, nettle, plantain, yarrow, and lavender. Many of these grow on their own in ABUNDANCE.

Are there any books or other resources you might recommend for folks interested in learning more about making their own salves or lotions?
Yes! There is an excellent book by Dina Falconi called Earthly Bodies, Heavenly Hair: Natural and Healthy Personal Care for Every Body. I would also highly recommend any of Rosemary Gladstars books. She is a living goddess.

What other products do you make out of natural ingredients?
Where to begin? Shampoo, breath freshener, mosquito spray, herbal tea, tinctures, bit and sting paste, powder....the list goes on!

What's your favorite thing to make and why?
I love developing new products and playing with recipe ideas. Right now, I'm working on a product that is going to have mica in it! Fun, fun for little fairy girls!!

What do you find the most satisfying about creating these products?
The packaging. I almost studied graphic design at Madison. No really, it slows me down. It helps me feel grounded and womanly.

Why do you think it's important to teach others about how to make this kind of thing?
There are so many reasons. To connect with the earth and slow down, consume less, protect and honor the plants, empower our abilities to heal ourselves gently, gather communally.

Do you think making these products is a good match with being a doula? Why?
Oh yes, indeed. My line of products is expanding, but it was originally focused on mothers and babies. Because I am around new families so much, I get ideas about what they might need and come up with natural, simple, herbal ways to fill that need. I feel my two passions fit really well together. Both are very grounded paths - being around birth and playing with herbal medicine - and both are really calming to me. I feel my herbal knowledge benefits the families I work with, and my love for babies and children in turn inspires alot of my herbal ideas. Maybe soon I will teach a class with little ones!

Is there anything I haven't asked you that you want to make sure people know or find out?
My last salve-making class this year will meet August 8th and 22nd. If someone is interested in attending they should call me up (734-646-1341) or send me an email. As of today (Sunday, July 20th) I have three spaces left. I also host a bi-monthly tea gathering at Little House Farm, too! Come make tea with other women and their pregnant bellies!

(Still hankering for more about herbs? You can also read another interview with Caryn over at the Ann Arbor Chronicle.)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Big Community Harvest Tour

What better way to spend a Wednesday evening than wandering from one great garden to another?

Well, as luck would have it the first round of the Big Community Harvest Tour starts rolling this Wednesday. Download a map, tour the sites - including the Edible Avalon gardens - and learn what great work is happening right here in town!

Big Community Harvest Tour
Wednesday, July 22nd 6pm - 9pm
Saturday, August 1st 10am - 1pm

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Big "But" about Basil

Basil is really coming on now, and most gardeners find they have more than enough to go around, especially if it is planted in companionship with tomatoes and eggplants. It effectively repels the bad guys, and gives the gardener something good to eat.

But, like zucchini, it can be a bit overwhelming to harvest, eat, process, and store. Organic Gardening offers some good tips on preserving basil - from drying to freezing - and this pesto recipe is an easy one. (The pesto can also be frozen in ice cube trays, popped out and bagged for single shots later in the year.) And remember, pesto and dried basil make great gifts!!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Grab Your Trowel and Tighten Your Laces!

Running Fit, a local running store extraordinaire, is hosting the Third Annual Big House Big Heart Run on Sunday, October 4th. This fun and friendly event is a great way to get outside after a busy morning in the garden, and run around (literally) in support of Project Grow.

Interested in running and organizing support for community gardens? Then grab a trowel and sign up!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

From the Front Yard to the Farm

Edible landscaping is all over the news (and this blog), and this article about Will Allen and Milwaukee's Growing Power Farm should offer even more motivation. Allen and Growing PowerFarm have won awards and garnered national attention for growing good food locally and intensively, and making it - the food along with the knowledge of how to grow it - available to local people.

Want to see what kind of farming is happening locally? You're in luck! Come along to the Big Community Harvest Tour and see what good stuff is growing here in Ann Arbor, including Project Grow's work with Avalon Housing at Edible Avalon. Download the map and take these self-guided tours, and we also recommend bringing a notebook to plot your own little farm once you get back home!

Wednesday, July 22nd, 6pm - 9pm
Saturday, August 1st, 10am - 1pm

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Calendula - Not Just for Salad!

The bright petals of calendula often grace the garden, and subsequently make a summer salad tempting even to the most vegetable wary nibbler. The stickiness of calendula also makes it a great ingredient for salves and lotions.

Caryn Simon, local doula, is offering two classes on turning those bright blossoms into soothing salves for garden weary hands.

Fresh Calendula Salve Making Class
Saturday, July 11th and Saturday, July 25th
Saturday, August 8th and Saturday, August 22nd

Register by email or call Caryn at 734.646.1351 quick! Space is limited.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Bountiful Garden Volunteer Opportunities

The growing season is in full swing at Project Grow, and opportunities (like weeds but better!) absolutely abound at this busy time. A sampling of possibilities are listed below, and we can tell you even more at our upcoming Volunteer Orientation. Leigh Ann Phillips-Knope, Assistant Director for Project Grow offers a short, sweet, and action-packed hour to let you know how you can get involved and be part of the fun this season!

Project Grow Volunteer Orientation
Tuesday, July 14th 6pm - 7pm
The Nature House,
Leslie Science and Nature Center
1831 Traver Road

RSVP Leigh Ann by email or call 734-996-3169. See you there!

Food Bank Coordinators
Help gather and share the abundant harvest from Project Grow! Volunteers are needed to collect vegetables from our 15 scattered sites throughout Washtenaw County for Food Gatherers to then distribute.

Garden Site Coordinators for Edible Avalon
A partnership between Project Grow and Avalon Housing, Edible Avalon offers a unique opportunity for low-income tenants to learn gardening skills, build community, and gain greater access to nutritious food. Site coordinators offer hands-on gardening assistance, cooking/food preservation ideas, and support at a garden site 1-2 hours a week. (Extensive gardening background not required.)

Go! Gardening Program
Enrich the lives of elementary school students through a dynamic experiential gardening program at Mitchell Elementary! Gardeners are needed to help maintain the gardens throughout the season. (No experience necessary.) Camp counselors are also needed to assist the Program Coordinator in facilitating lessons on Wednesdays from 9am until 12pm. (Read about this great program and come on out!)

Discovery Gardens
Are you community minded and enjoy working with seniors, children, and gardeners with disabilities? Volunteers are always welcome in our gardens serving these special populations. Join this inspiring gardening community and help raise some good food and have some fun, too!

Gathering Stories/Testimonials
Visit our community gardens and unearth (pun intended!) some of the awed-inspiring stories integral to any good garden. Use your creativity - write a short story or blog post, make a video, create a photo album - to share them with the community.

Design and Technology Support
Are you a computer, website, or design expert looking for ways to put some green in your work? Project Grow is always looking for technological and creative design support to showcase our programs!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Herb Garden in a Pot!

This time of year finds most gardeners out tending rows of vegetables, flowers, and herbs that are adjusting to a new life outdoors. Not every gardener, though, works a plot of land. Some work a series of pots and containers containing favorite herbs and vegetables, and beginning gardeners often begin greening their thumbs with a pot of basil on the porch. This great little Q&A in the New York Times offering tips on growing herbs in pots is invaluable. Covering annual and perennial herbs for a variety of uses and suggesting new ones for experimentation, the novice and the experienced gardener alike will find useful information to explore a whole new realm of gardening.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Garden Maintenance Tips

Gardeners are perhaps the most enthusiastic (or pleasantly nervous!) in the spring. Seed packets and plant tags litter nearly every surface, and it is nearly impossible to pass any display of seedlings without stopping "just to look." As the season carries on though, the gardener may find themselves wilting in the heat and humidity, and interest waning. 

It may be in the best interests of those seeds and seedlings to think about some simple tactics for reducing maintenance in the garden. Suggestions range from switching to shrubs from perennials (although caution should be used when choosing non-native species) to using mulch. 

Mulch is maybe the easiest way to take care of two garden maintenance issues - watering and weeds - while simultaneously building soil  health for years to come. A nice layer of mulch (three inches or so) in the garden can see even young plants through an unexpected drought. And if water is a particular challenge for the garden, this book (suggested by one of the gardeners over at the Hunt Park site) offers insightful ideas for gardening where water is in short supply.

So clear a little space among the seed packets or just have a seat out on the edge of the garden (you know you want to!), and start plotting a little more how to do a little less.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

More Ideas for Bringing in the Beneficials

National Gardening Association ran this nice article on attracting beneficials in a recent e-newsletter, and it is well worth sharing. The only thing to keep in mind while perusing the list is that some ornamental grasses, flowers, and herbs can be quite invasive. (Think of the mint or Bishop's Mantle marching undaunted through garden beds and yards and stopping only short of the living room door, and you'll get the idea.) 

One thought for those that could be invasive - either because of seeds literally being thrown to the wind or burrowing rhizomes or both - is to perhaps look for a native species that is similar or put that mint in a pot. Things like garlic mustard wreak havoc everywhere, and there are some good local efforts to eradicate it. If perennial plants are not an option, a good annual can do quite a bit to help out. (Alyssum is mentioned in the article, and it is well worth it as an attractor, a dense ground cover or living mulch, and a darn pretty plant, too.)

(And you're right if you seem to recall that we've mentioned this before. Like a good pile of compost, attracting and supporting beneficials - like bees - is pivotal to the success of any garden and especially to an organic one.)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Affordable Organic Eats

The organic food movement is sweeping the nation, but sometimes it feels like it might be sweeping out wallets, too. Some good advice on how to eat organic and inexpensively came from Seattle chef Maria Hines, this year's winner of the James Beard Award

"I would definitely say cook food from scratch, using whole, organic foods; that will be cheaper than going out and purchasing it. And grow an organic garden," said Hines in an interview with Grist

Couldn't have said it better ourselves! We've got some great ideas about starting an organic garden, and you can find some of our seeds over at People's Food Coop, too. (It's not too late to start seeds of some of your favorites. Check out these seed starting tips and start the adventure.) We still have a few garden spaces available this year, so we'd be glad to hear from you and help as we can!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Thanks for the Good Words

Thanks to everyone who came out to put in a good word for Project Grow with the City Council. We can't thank you enough for the efforts you made. We've got seeds for a few ideas (pun completely intended), and we will keep you posted on their progress.

Meanwhile, we look forward to seeing you around the gardens around town! Thanks for helping Project Grow!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Weeds are on the Way

Not the most uplifting title for a post, but with the dawning of spring in the garden come both the plants we love and those we feel, well, less positive about - weeds. Of course, one gardener's weed is another's favorite flower, but that's another story. Despite this relative status, weeds need to be dealt with sooner rather than later. 

This little video from Fine Gardening offers some good commonsense tips that will help control weeds in the garden. Two of the five main points - mulching and spacing plants close together - also help with water conservation!

Need plants to fill in those gaps that a weed could grow in? Don't forget our second plant sale date!

Saturday, May 16th
8am - 2pm
Spend time perusing the seedlings, talking with some of our experienced gardeners and growers, and start making your way to a garden full of things you love!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Think Outside the Box

Gardening isn't just for squares...or rectanagles or any other specific shape, for that matter. The shape the garden takes is really limited only by the space available and the gardener's imagination. As you plan for where to put all those lovely seeds and seedlings this spring, try thinking beyond the usual rows and rectangles. Incorporate perennials as well as annuals - edible and flowering both - to attract pollinators and encourage visitors to stay for a moment. A beautiful nasturtium blossom in the cool of the evening while snacking on a just-picked cherry raspberry sounds like a perfect dessert!

Looking for some plants to put in that new bed? Don't forget about the upcoming Project Grow plant sales!

Friday, May 8th through Sunday, May 10th
Join us for three days of fun, learning, and great plants!

Saturday, May 16th
Grab a cup of coffee, talk to us about your garden, and see what great heirlooms we have to tempt you!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Thanks for the Good Word

We'd like to thank everyone who attended the City Council meeting on Monday evening or put in a good word to their representative before the meeting. While we still await a final decision, we encourage anyone who would still like to offer their two-cents to contact their Council person. This funding is pivotal and allows us to continue the work we do with you to keep the community in the garden!

Looking for other ways to show support, too?

Don't forget our upcoming plant sales! 

Join us Friday, May 8th through Sunday, May 19th at Mattheai Botanical Gardens for a three day extravaganza of events, plants, and fun!

We'll also be out on Saturday, May 16th in front of the People's Food Coop with some of your favorite heirloom varieties. Stop by to say hello and talk about your garden plans!

Check out the list of plant varieties here, and we look forward to seeing you soon.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Spruce Ale a Hit! Thanks to You...

We checked in with Arbor Brewing to see how their Spruce Ale went over, and it was a hit! Thanks to all of you they sold nearly 200 pints of the tasty brew on Earth Day, and word around the garden has it that it was good to the last drop. (Unconfirmed rumour has it that some folks plan to head back to sample again, too!)

If you were able to make it out for a taste, we'd love to hear your impressions of the ale, the evening, and see any photos you took, too! You can email us directly or send along comments to this post.

Thanks to all of you for coming out and especially to Arbor Brewing for concocting such a tasty way to support Project Grow and celebrate Earth Day!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Shout Out for Project Grow

Dear Gardening Friends, 
We are writing to request your support on an urgent issue.  As you may have heard, the City of Ann Arbor is proposing to make drastic cuts to its 2010 and 2011 budgets.  Many local programs, including Project Grow, are slated to lose funding.  While we receive a modest amount of money from our local government - $7000 annually - this financial contribution comprises 15% of our annual budget.  The loss of this support will have a major impact on our ability to deliver the accessible and inclusive organic gardening activities that Project Grow is known to offer.  
You can help make a difference! If you believe in building community, living sustainably, and growing organic vegetables here in Ann Arbor, then we urge you to contact your city councilperson and the mayor, and ask them to continue supporting Project Grow.  Below, please follow the link to locate your councilperson's and the mayor's contact information.  Please be sure to share with them a personal story and request that they continue to support Project Grow.  Also, please feel free to share this information with your family and friends.
The Project Grow Board of Directors has identified the following important issues to address with City Council, so feel free to use them in your communication:
         ::currently, sustainability and local food are in the limelight

         ::locally and throughout the country more people are gardening in this poor economy 

         ::the demand for Project Grow garden plots is so high that we have had to turn away over
                forty applicants this year 

         ::Project Grow's garden activities provide opportunities for all, regardless of income or

         ::Project Grow is reaching out and fostering new relationships with other area nonprofits,
                 including Food Gathers and Avalon Housing, to ensure all members from our
                 community have the opportunity to eat fresh, organic foods 
We thank you in advance for your continued support.  Together, we can make an impact on our community!
The Project Grow Board

Friday, April 24, 2009

Feeling Feverish

Marianne Rzpecka, long-time columnist for the Ann Arbor News and Detroit Free Press, wrote a wonderful piece in the Ann Arbor Chronicle on gardening fever and how to channel all that energy wisely. Plant some cold weather tolerant vegetables, and search for those first spring flowers - crocuses and bloodroot - sending their shoots determinedly upward. We thought it was good advice!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Pint-Sized Opportunity!

Just a quick reminder that Arbor Brewing is brewing up a special something for Earth Day this Wednesday, April 22nd. Their super scrumptious Spruce Ale will be on tap for the first time ever, and for each pint purchased they'll donate $1.00 to Project Grow. 

Just imagine as you settle at your table with a bundle of your friends and family for a pint or two and a mouthwatering seasonal, local, organic-whenever-possible meal that you'll be continuing our nearly 40-year-old tradition of offering the space for gardeners from all across our community the literal and figurative space to grow in. 

So this Earth Day, join us in a toast to organic gardening and our community!

Earth Day at Arbor Brewing
Wednesday, April 22nd
11am - Close

Monday, April 20, 2009

Raised Bed Materials Raise Questions

Building a raised bed or rebuilding a raised bed? This little post from Umbra over at Grist offers insight into which materials to consider.

Natural materials are the best bet, although they might be a little more expensive and perhaps a little harder to find. Reusing has obvious benefits as well, but is not without some cons. Be sure you know which materials are safe and what the reused materials are made from. Pressure treated lumber for vegetables may be a bit controversial.

A good basic plan for building the raised bed can also make all the difference, too. This video offers some interesting ideas and techniques, plus his dogs are pretty entertaining. Garden Girl offers a good video on building a raised bed and a ton of information on urban sustainable living. Inspiring stuff!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Brewing Up Some Fun!

This Earth Day Arbor Brewing is offerng a little special something - a brand new Spruce Ale - to celebrate! According to brewer Logan Shaedig, the ale (coming along nicely but still in process) is "Like a breath of fresh woodland bounty with an underlying spiced fruit character (from the rye) and a well-rounded hopped character."

Made with 20 pounds (seriously!) of real spruce tips, centennial and hallatau hops, rye malt, and then infused with spruce tea, this ale is Shaedig's creation. "We've never made a beer with spruce before, or with trees or bark for that matter. We felt like it was the perfect beer to tie together Earth Day and Arbor Day. We are splitting the batch in half to serve on each day," according to Elizabeth Cain-Toth, Event Manager for Arbor Brewing. (Check out the photo at left, courtesy of Arbor Brewing, to see the spruce tips getting stirred in!)

On Earth Day - Wednesday, April 22nd - $1.00 from each pint of the celebratory Spruce Ale will go to Project Grow. This is the first year Arbor Brewing plans to host an in-house event. According to Cain-Toth, it felt like the right time.

"We strive to use natural (often organic) ingredients, which are locally or sustainably sourced whenever possible. Partnering with Project Grow and helping to educate our customers on their available resources seemed a natural fit."

The move to a more local foods based menu means partnering with local growers and producers whenever possible, and also jump-started the switch to ecologically sound containers. To-go containers made from sugarcane replaced their styrofoam predecessors about a year ago, and souffle cups are now made from cornstarch rather than plastic. Reusable shopping bags may also be on the horizon to phase out the paper bags currently in use.

"This was purely a necessary switch. It is more expensive, and it took some time for us to find a viable supplier, but it was a change we feel is important to the environment, our staff and customers," said Cain-Toth.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Grow Your Own Mushrooms!

There's a great little class coming up this Saturday, April 18th, that should be good fun and really interesting. Matt Demmon of Little House Farm will be sharing some of the fun he's had growing his own mushrooms - shiitakes and winecaps to name a few - and show folks how to do it, too! Following is an interview with Matt (MD) about mushrooming and his experience. Read on and then register for the class!

Backyard Mushrooming
Saturday, April 18th
1pm - 4pm
Little House Farm
$40 for the class; $60 to take a log home
Limited to the first 8 people
Call Matt at 734-255-2783 or email at mdemmon(at) to register
(Herbal tea and a tasty, healthy snack included!)

PG: How long have you been growing your own mushrooms?
MD: Six years.

PG: How did you get started? Did someone teach you or you just forged ahead on your own?
MD: I worked for a local landscaping company owned by Mike Levine and Erica Kempter that also has a shiitake growing operating in Mike's backyard. I helped them inoculate logs for two years, and then I read a bunch of books and started off on my own.

PG: Why did you get started?
MD: Once I had eaten homegrown shiitakes, I was hooked. I also think fungi are really fascinating, understudied and underutilized by humans. I'd like to know more about them, and I think they can help us alot - with healthy food, medicine, creating great soil, and helping other plants we grow through mycorrhizal associations.

PG: Do you have a favorite mushroom to grow?
MD: Well, I thought it was shiitakes, which is probably still my favorite, but I soon realized that it is growing them in your own backyard and on logs that makes mushrooms so good. Oyster mushrooms that are grown on logs are firmer, more flavorful, and have less water content than what you'd buy in the store. Mass-cultivated mushrooms are generally grown on sawdust or straw or some sort of bullk substrate, which is easier to handle in large operations and faster, but with less tasty results.

PG: How long have you been teaching other people (formally and informally) about growing mushrooms?
MD: I taught one class last spring, and I've been explaining it to my friends for several years. I have 3 classes and a free demonstration lined up this year. There's alot of interest in it, and not many people who know much about it and are willing to teach a class!

PG: What do you like about growing your own mushrooms?
MD: Just like gardening, you get delicious healthy food which is often less expensive than what you can buy. I also love using under-utilized wood species which might get chipped or just left because they're not good for firewood or lumber. I'm also just fascinated by fungi in general, and really excited about growing them in situations like a vegetable garden, where you might be able to get a crop of mushrooms in the same space without decreasing your vegetable harvest and possibly even increasing it.

PG: What are some techniques and methods you will be discussing during the class?
MD: The main technique is growing mushrooms on logs. There are several ways you can inoculate the logs, but the one I concentrate on is drilling holes in the logs and inserting dowel spawn, which are are impregnated with mushroom mycelium. We'll also be creating a bed using sawdust spawn mixed with wood chips and a little earth for another species of mushroom that prefers to grow in the ground. I'll also talk about totem inoculation, and growing mushrooms on strawbales and compost or manure.

PG: Do different mushrooms require different techniques and methods? Can you give me a couple examples?
MD: Yes! In a natural setting or an outdoor growing method, shiitakes only grow on logs, and it is best to use dowel spawn. Oyster mushrooms are very cosmopolitan and can grow on logs, wood chips, straw, and even coffee grounds inoculated with a variety of methods. Wine Caps prefer to grow in a shady moist bed on the ground and need fresh wood chips mixed into the soil. Inky caps grow best in compost or manure beds on the ground.

PG: How long does it take before you have mushrooms you can eat?
MD: The shortest time I've gotten mushrooms was 4 months for oysters and wine caps started in the spring. Shiitakes usually take 12-18 months. A log can last anywhere from 3-10 years, depending on the type of wood and species of mushroom. A bed of wine caps can last probably forever, as long as you feed it fresh wood chips every year. So it is a long-term investment, but you can results pretty quickly.

PG: Do you have to protect mushrooms from any kind of predator. Rabbits eat lettuce, but does anyone come along to forage your mushrooms?
MD: I haven't had too many problems. Squirrels seem to like some mushrooms, but if you keep an eye on them and harvest at the right point, it's fine. They seem to prefer mature or over-mature mushrooms. Insects are the main problem, just like if you don't harvest your tomatoes at the proper time, you'll find a big soggy insect laden monster!

PG: Is it a special kind of log for inserting the dowels? What's a dowel, by the way?
MD: Not a special log, but some mushrooms will only grow on certain types of trees. The only requirements are that the log is more than 3 inches in diameter, is freshly cut from a living tree, and is a manageable size for you. Holes are drilled into the log in a pattern, and the dowels (little wooden pegs) are pounded in.

PG: Can you grow mushrooms only during a certain time of year? Is Spring best or are there fall mushrooms to be started, too?
MD: Outdoors, in a northern climate like ours, spring and fall are the best time to start most mushrooms, although you can start some in the summer. It's too cold in winter for most of them to grow at all. Indoors, you can start and fruit mushrooms year round. And outdoors, most mushrooms fruit in the fall in our climate, but there are species that fruit from spring to late fall, as long as the weather is right. Humidity and temperature are the key!

PG: What sort of atmosphere do mushrooms require? Should you have a shady spot in your backyard or is a musty basement good?
MD: I've never tried growing mushrooms in a basement, but it would probably be a good environment for mushrooms. Most of them require humidity and moderate temperatures to fruit. Some need some light to form as well, or may be oddly deformed if in the dark, so you may need to supplement your basement with light. Each species has it's own needs for temperature, humidity, light, and some may need cold resting periods simulating winter.

PG: Do the mushrooms you'll be teaching folks to grow exist in the wild in Michigan?
MD: Oyster mushrooms and wine caps do grow wild in Michigan; however, these are cultivated strains. I would like to grow more 'local genotype' mushrooms, but the spawning process requires technical knowledge and special equipment. there are some local Michigan companies starting to grow their own spawn, and I would like to work with some of them to get some more local genotypes and species that are not commonly available. There's alot of different kinds of mushrooms out there, and growing mushrooms for food is really in it's infancy.

PG: I could ask a million more questions, but I should probably stop. Anything I haven't asked that you want to tell me?
MD: Growing your own mushrooms is really fun and different! And shiitakes are really SOOOOO good and good for you.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Garden Games

A new video game called Gardening Mama brings the garden to electronic life. Unlike the electronic garden planners, this one lets you just putter away attempting to grow a variety of flowers, vegetables, and fruits.

If you decide you eventually want to really get outside to try your hand at 3D gardening, consider coming along to our upcoming plant sales:

Friday, May 8th through Sunday, May 10th at Matthaei Botanical Gardens
Saturday, May 16th in front of the People's Food Coop

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Slow Food Talks Tomatoes with Royer Held!

The most recent edition of the Slow Food Huron Valley newsletter features Royer Held, a wonderful and knowledgeable gardener, who also just happens to be a Project Grow volunteer! Royer leads a number of classes for Project Grow, and helps make our heirloom gardening and seed collection possible. (You can see some of Royer's and our other volunteers handywork at our upcoming plant sales - Friday, May 8th through Sunday, May 10th at Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Saturday, May 16th in front of the People's Food Coop.) 

Heirlooms: A Journey in Taste

by KT Tomey

According to Royer Held, the ideal tomato texture should be creamy to slightly succulent. A creamy tomato, in his opinion, is one that you don’t have to bite into. You can just press it against the top of your mouth and it squishes. Succulent, on the other hand, is more firm than creamy, with more substance. The worst possible texture scenario is crunchy, a dire situation Held refers to as “a grocery store tomato in winter.” Software developer by day, Held has become something of an heirloom plant authority in Ann Arbor, and he absolutely loves tomatoes. Especially heirlooms. So what exactly are heirloom fruits and vegetables? The term “heirloom” refers to plants that are "open-pollinated," i.e., by insects, birds, wind, or other natural mechanisms (sometimes heirlooms are hand-pollinated to preserve the purity of the variety). While the definition can get a bit complex when it comes to fruit trees because they are reproduced by grafting (instead of through pollination), basically, heirlooms exclude hybrids and genetically modified organisms.

Take two tomato varieties: Olga’s Yellow Round Chicken, a Russian heirloom variety, vs. the Celebrity Supreme hybrid tomato. Whereas a bucket of the “Chickens” will each have a slightly unique shape, size, texture and color, the “Celebrities” are bred to look like a Hollywood tomato—uniformly shaped, smooth and red. But aesthetics are not the defining feature of a Hollywood tomato. Hybrids are specifically bred to withstand mechanical picking, the anticipated long journey from industrial farm to fork, as well as drought, frost, and pesticides.

One thing the “grocery store in winter” hybrids are not known for: taste. Mark Wilson of Wilson’s Farm has been specializing in heirlooms since 2001, and his preference for these varieties can be summed up in two words: “better flavor.” Wilson, who got into farming about ten years ago when he discovered it was easier to sell his extra garden produce rather than give it away, hangs a shingle at the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market all summer. He sells melons, tomatoes, peppers, onions, summer squashes, grapes, and beans, but is most known for delicious tomatoes. His most popular are pink, yellow and red Brandywines. He also recommends trying the Charentais French melon, celebrated for its heady, perfumey aroma and deep, sweet flavor. (The French traditionally serve Charentais with prosciutto, but also feature them as an hors d'oeuvre by cutting them in half, scooping out the seeds and filling them with a sweet wine such as Barsac, Marsala, Port or Madiera.)

Wilson’s Farm’s heirlooms are considered a specialty item today, but 100 years ago there was no such thing as commercially bred hybrid plants. The plots of farmers and gardeners across the country each had their own personality. Saving and replanting seeds from each generation of plants allowed varieties like the Cherokee Moon and Stars Watermelon and the Elephant Heart Plum to adapt to their climate, and the selection of crop varieties reflected a farmer’s unique tastes. The transition to the less interesting and flavorful hybrids started around 1900 and today, many traditional heirlooms are at risk of falling off the nation’s radar—and plates.

Erica Kempter, co-owner of Nature and Nurture LLC and organic gardening teacher, worries that the disappearance of heritage foods will create a loss of genetic and cultural diversity. According to Kempter, who is particularly fond of a purple carrot named the “Dragon,” “we’re losing genetic diversity because farmers are not growing open pollinated varieties.” This concern, shared by farmers, gardeners, environmentalists, foodies, and chefs across the country and, in fact world, was the inspiration for The Ark of Taste. Launched by Slow Food just over ten years ago, it aims to preserve and celebrate traditional foods at risk of being forever forgotten—and never tasted. The Ark is essentially a catalog of endangered foods, and includes foods with names as unique as their personalities. Heirlooms such as Aunt Ruby’s German Green tomato can be found on the Ark, along with other traditional foods of all kinds.

Preserving these varieties, according to Kempter, is also important in keeping seeds and crops in the hands of the people, not corporations (we are facing a conglomeration of seed companies since Monsanto has been buying up seed companies of late).

Thinking you might give heirlooms a try this season? A good place to start is the Seed Savers Exchange catalog, “in person” seed savers exchanges, or by contacting Project Grow for information about seed and seedling sales. Look for seeds that originate from the Detroit area’s latitude and climate (e.g., Rome). Once you start growing them, you can save your own seeds, an act Royer Held refers to as “getting in touch with your inner peasant.” Of course, you can also have a great time tasting these varieties, many of which show up at events like the September Ann Arbor tomato tasting and competition in which the medal is awarded to the tomato rather than person who grew it. Bon appetit!