Saturday, February 28, 2009

Seed Starting for a Head Start

Organic Gardening published this great little seed starting chart that should help you figure out how to get a head start on this year's garden. They also have some useful tips on seed starting basics, and lots of information to help you get through the season.

For real life versus virtual help and advice, don't forget about these great Project Grow classes and events, too!

2009 Heirloom Seed Swap
Saturday, March 21st
10am - 12pm
Leslie Science Center

Enjoying and Preserving Heirloom Vegetable Varieties in Your Garden
Saturday, March 7th
Leslie Science Center

Potato Seeds and Sweet Potato Slips
Saturday, March 21st
10am - 11am
Leslie Science Center

Tomatoes and Pepper from Seed to Shinging Seed
Saturday, April 4th
10am - 11am
Leslie Science Center

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Michelle Obama on Community Gardens

Check out this great quote from Michelle Obama about community gardens from 

Inspired? We are! Come join us in the garden or check out a class

"I'm a big believer in community gardens ... both because of their beauty and for providing access to fresh fruits and vegetables to so many communities across the nation and the world."

-- Michelle Obama, speaking at USDA headquarters

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

USDA Imitates Project Grow

Thankfully, the USDA, like Project Grow, is creating garden space where none existed before. On the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birthday, Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture "broke pavement" on the first of many community gardens at  USDA sites around the country. 

The People's Garden honors Lincoln and his creation of the Department of Agriculture, which he called The People's Department in his last address to Congress. 

"The garden will showcase conservation practices that all Americans can implement in their own backyards and green spaces. As a component of the garden, pollinator-friendly plantings will not only provide important habitat for bees and butterflies, but can serve as an educational opportunity to help people understand the vital role pollinators play in our food, forage and all agriculture."

To find a garden space near you, check out the assortment of Project Grow Gardens around town and put your own signature on a pollinator friendly space!

And we've got some great upcoming classes to keep the momentum going!

Introduction to Organic Gardening
Thursday, February 26th
Washtenaw Community College
(Part of the Organic Gardening Certification Course. You can take classes singly, if you like.)

Container Gardening and Raised Beds - From Vegetables to Flowers
Saturday, February 28th
10 am 
Leslie Science Center
(Just in case you don't have quite as much room as the USDA does.)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

New Community Garden Site Available in Ann Arbor

Hunt Park is home to a new Project Grow Community Garden site available this summer to gardeners. Strong support of the neighbors and the Ann Arbor Parks and Recreation Department helped make this new site possible.

Julie Roth, the Hunt Park Steward who had already worked with Natural Area Preservation (NAP) and neighbors on work days to plant some new trees and perennials helped bring the issue to neighbors who responded enthusiastically. According to Roth, “I think the gardens will bring a stronger sense of community, more neighborhood sense of investment in and ownership of the park, and of course even more visual interest.  They are being placed in a very underutilized, flat and open area behind the tennis courts.”

“We have worked long and hard with the Parks Department to get gardens open in park areas, especially where the neighbors have approached us about opening a garden like they did at Hunt Park,” said Melissa Kesterson, Executive Director of Project Grow. Other parks where community garden sites exist include Buhr Park, Greenview Park, and County Farm Park.

The addition of this site brings the total number of community garden locations up to thirteen throughout Ann Arbor. Gardeners come in all shapes and sizes, but space can be at a premium. Project Grow through its sliding-scale fees, classes, and supportive network of experienced gardeners – staff and volunteers – makes it possible for families and individuals to foster their green thumbs.

Plots vary in size while water, tools, and a notice board are available at each site. A site coordinator manages each garden site and answers questions and offers help when needed. To see the garden sites, maps, and download an application visit our website and click on Community Gardens. Hard copy applications are available in the Project Grow newsletter or by contacting the office directly at 734-996-3169.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Eat Green for Grow!

Whether you garden or not our bet is that you like food, and good food at that.

Project Grow and Seva Vegetarian Restaurant are teaming up again this year to offer the most spectacular St. Patrick's Day Celebration you may yet encounter! Munch on Seva's most delicious and tantalizing fare while perusing silent auction items and chatting with other Project Grow supporters. A generous 20% of the afternoon's sales will be donated to Project Grow, so come join us with as many of your friends and family you can muster, and put some community in community gardening.

Event Details
Eat Green for Grow!
Sunday, March 15th
3pm - 7pm
(Silent Auction 4pm - 6pm - stay tuned for details of items!)
Seva Vegetarian Restaurant
314 East Liberty

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Few Seeds and a Little Good Dirt

A recent editorial by Verlyn Klinkenborg in the NewYork Times asks readers to consider that we might be on the verge of a new gardening movement. Like the Victory Gardens that filled available space during World War II, Klinkenborg suggests that while this new garden movement may not solve every problem they could offer a much needed salve. 

The empowerment one can find in growing the food that later graces your table and is given to friends and family is priceless. The satisfaction of preserving it for the winter months could perhaps be calculated, but only in part. 

And perhaps best of all, is the community that gardening can create. The shared produce and the shared experience - new gardeners seeking out the wisdom of the experienced as they green their thumbs or simply bumble their way to bushels of zuchini -  could, as Klinkenborg posits, alleviate the alienation that plagues so many.

Just a few seeds, a little good dirt, sprinkled regularly with good advice throughout the season yields more than a good potluck dish. A feeling of accomplishment and connectedness come with the frozen pesto stored up for chilly evening pasta. Come on out, and we'll help get you started.

Introduction to Organic Gardening
Saturday, February 21 
Leslie Science Center

Enjoying and Preserving Heirloom Vegetable Varieties in Your Garden
Saturday, March 7th
Leslie Science Center

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Seeds and More Seeds!

You know Spring is just around the corner when you start hearing news about Seed Swaps! Join Project Grow on Saturday, March 21st for our Annual Heirloom Seed Swap. 

Gathered from our Heirloom Garden, these seeds will inspire you from the moment you read their names to the last harvest. Find your favorite variety of tomato, and try a new variety of melon. Bring some of your own seeds and take away some a fellow gardener simply raves about, and have more fun than you thought could ever be possible in two hours.

2009 Heirloom Seed Swap
Saturday, March 21st
10am - 12pm
Leslie Science Center
1800 Traver Road
Ann Arbor, MI 

Monday, February 16, 2009

Some Buzz About Urban Beekeeping

A handful of cities are allowing their citizens to keep bees to ensure that the little pollinators are around to help with the fruits and vegetables we love to eat. An exciting prospect for those who might not be interested in chickens - sweet versus savory perhaps - or for those who have chickens and want to add to their urban ranch or homestead.

And then you can attend this upcoming Project Grow class to get started with your own bees!

Introduction to Beekeeping
Saturday, March 14th
1pm - 2pm
Leslie Science Center

Friday, February 13, 2009

Five Ways to Say I Love You (and that Garden!)

Here are five nifty gardening ways to tell someone how much you care about them, or to give yourself a little hit of love!

1. Purchase seed packets of flowers you'd like to give that person.
Bouquets are beautiful, there is not a speck of doubt about that, but a packet of seeds ensures a full season of showing your affection. Everything from sunflower seeds to cosmos to daisies will make a bright spot in the garden for months to come. How about Grandpa Ott's Morning Glories or some edible flowers?

2. Offer a pot of forced spring bulbs like daffodils, tulips, crocuses or hyacinths.
While February is a beautiful month, it's also nice to see that spot of color on the desk or table to greet each day. Lots of local stores, like Downtown Home and Garden or Chelsea Flower Shop, have a terrific selection. And the bulbs can be planted outside to bloom again and again for years to come!

3. Take a gardening class together!
Project Grow offers a bundle of great classes covering everything from keeping your own bees in the backyard to the basics of organic gardening to landscaping with native plants. Local experts share their knowledge to get you and your garden off to a solid start.

4. Nothing says love like an heirloom tomato.
Ok, maybe that's just us, but those heirloom veggies are brilliant in color and taste. Imagine a Green Zebra or Hungarian Heart Valentine - unique coloring and so tasty you won't believe it! (Email us to find out about the Project Grow seed collection or take a class on heirloom vegetables!)

5. Garden together.
Imagine spending beautiful summer evenings working together in your Project Grow garden. Birds sing their final songs of the day while snacking on mosquitoes before they get to you, and the sky is a brilliant show of orange and purple as you pull the last weeds and load up on the harvest for dinner. Now, that sounds romantic...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Go! Garden

Editors Note: Jacqueline Venner Senske is the coordinator for Project Grow’s Go! Gardening program. Jacqueline has a B.S. in Horticulture from Iowa State University and a M.S. in Public Horticulture through the Longwood Graduate Program at the University of Delaware. Her experience with Project Grow is diverse, having served in the Newsletter Committee, assisting Executive Director Melissa Kesterson as the Community Garden Supervisor, and working with Go! Gardening for the last two years. Born and raised on an Iowa farm, Jacqueline is passionate about providing opportunities for everyone to learn about growing food and connecting with the planet, as well as each other, through gardening.)

For the past few years, Project Grow has worked with Mitchell Elementary, part of the Ann Arbor Public Schools system, to create Go! Gardening. Go! operates at the Project Grow community garden at Mitchell Elementary in conjunction with a Title One summer school program. During the six-week long session, students spend 30 to 60 minutes in the garden each week, participating in activities like planting seeds, pulling weeds, pruning and staking tomato plants, fertilizing the soil, and best of all, harvesting and tasting the produce.

Integrating gardening into the classroom provided new opportunities for learning and having fun. To connect the garden to other summer school activities, the Mitchell teachers did a great job of integrating garden themes with their lesson plans. The garden contributed much to the classroom, not only for science and math, but also reading, writing, history, and other areas of study. Last summer, one class combined their reading, writing, and drawing skills with what they learned in the garden to write a book about gardening. Garden activities, like writing plant labels and measuring sunflower height, reinforced classroom lessons. The garden became an engaging learning environment with the added benefit of physical activity through caring for the space-- a great outlet for kids restless after several hours at their seats. To balance the “work,” the kids also sang songs and made craft projects.

Perhaps best of all, spending time in Project Grow’s Go! Garden exposes students to a side of food that is often new to them: its source. When they first come into the garden, many kids don’t know that many ingredients for their favorite foods –everything from salad to pizza and tacos-- grow in a garden. Sometimes foods from the garden are new or unfamiliar, which might otherwise scare off the kids. However, after planting, growing, and caring for the plants, the new little gardeners are eager to taste the food and often want to take it home to their families.

The program’s growth over the last year has made for better garden experiences for both students and teachers. Now, we’re ready to take it a step further.

I am already meeting with teachers from Mitchell Elementary to plan this year’s program. We are laying the foundation for a garden that will eventually integrate into every classroom at the school, engaging even more students and teachers, plus parents, other school staffers, neighbors in the community, and other community gardeners.

We would love to engage even more Project Grow supporters. If you want to join the team, or just want to chat about our Go! Garden vision over a cup of coffee sometime, contact me through or by calling the Project Grow office.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Hoophouse Growing

Editor's Note: Richard and Joan Bailey presented Growing in a Hoophouse at Project Grow on Saturday, February 7th. Avid amateur gardeners, Joan and Richard shared their first experience with a hooophouse growing vegetables.

We are working on getting the documents up from Saturday's class, Growing in a Hoophouse. (We're experiencing some technical difficulties, but they will hopefully be remedied shortly.) Drop us a note at Project Grow and we'll find a way to get you the information you want.

The Resource List offers links to various websites, recommended reading, and a short list of blogs. Suggested additions to this Resource List would be more than welcome. One great idea from an attendee on Saturday for those who don't wish to fool around with creating their own was, I believe, Greenhouse Mega Store.

The actual presentation offers mostly pointers, guidelines, and some lessons learned. Questions on Saturday centered mostly around ventilating - how long and at what temperature; building materials - pvc or no pvc; site selection and ordinances on building such a structure.

Ventilating the hoophouse is pivotal. Built to help retain heat and protect plants inside from cold weather, temperatures inside can easily and quickly run high. Left unattended a little too long in the early days of having one, our temperatures reached into the low hundreds. The transition from hot to cold could prove a bit much for plants - cooking then freezing which would wilt me, I must confess - and needs to be mediated a bit. A good rule to follow would be that if interior temperatures run above 90 degrees it's time to ventilate. To keep some of that great heat it's best to close it up again an hour or so before sunset.

Some suggestions about heat included having barrels of water inside painted black. These would act as a heat sink during the day and slowly release their accumulated warmth through the night. They could also be used as a water source for plants. Others suggested building the hoophouse against another structure with a south-facing wall such as a garage, shed, or fence.

Building Materials
We used PVC pipes and translucent plastic, but not without some trepidation. As we learn more about how such plastic is not the best for us, some attendees asked about alternative materials such as electric conduit. Our neighbors at Frog Holler made theirs out of cedar milled from their land to create one of the prettiest hoophouses one could imagine. (Theirs also succumbed, unfortunately, to the snows this winter.) No structure is infallible, but it pays to research the design as well as the design materials to see what you think will work best for what you want.

Our criteria were that it be relatively easy (we're not handy people), inexpensive (the whole point of building this was to keep eating our own food as much as possible), and temporary (we wanted to switch it to other beds or take it completely out as desired.)

Site Selection and Ornery Ordinances
We built ours on existing garden beds with relatively established crops we wanted to keep growing and that were cold tolerant, i.e. kale, broccoli, parsley, beets, swiss chard, etc. The spot already received a fair amount of sun and would continue to do so over the coming chilly months. Remember the sun swings lower in the sky, so trees or buildings that might not cause a shade issue in the summer may as winter approaches.

We also live in the country so we have relative freedom to do what we like despite the opinions of our neighbors. Folks in the city may not have this luxury, and it might be a good idea to chat with your neighbor who shares the view of your backyard. (An offer of vegetables, soup or other meals might prove the winning ticket in this instance. Maybe even space to grow something!) You may also run up again rules of neighborhood associations or the city itself. As someone at the recent Local Food Summit suggested, a touch of green civil disobedience may be interesting and generate interesting conversation for these long winter months.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Bees Help Foil the Caterpillar Buffet

A recent study shows that honeybees not only pollinate but also help protect plants from hungry caterpillars. Caterpillars detect the bees, stop munching or simply panic and drop from the plant, which also means they stop munching on your tomatoes, cabbage, peppers, etc.

Good plants to attract pollinators abound and range from the annual alyssum to perennial natives like Bee Balm. If space in the garden is tight, try containers for natives and annuals, or create a specific bed for them.

For other ideas and to learn more about attracting pollinators and other beneficials here are a few handy resources to get you going:

Enhancing Beneficial Insects with Native Plants - An MSU study outlining a recent study using native plants for more sustainable agriculture. It includes a great list of plants and their ratings in terms of pollinator attractiveness.

Great Garden Companions by Sally Jean Cunningham, Rodale Press, 2000 - An absolutely terrific book for learning and thinking about organizing your garden to attract beneficial insects. Includes lists of plants, design ideas, and terrific diagrams.

Introduction to Beekeeping - An upcoming Project Grow class on Saturday, March 14th that offers the full scoop on housing those little fuzzy buzzers yourself.

Landscaping with Native Plants - Learn how to incorporate native plants into your current landscape and garden in this Project Grow class that is also part of the Organic Gardening Certification course.