Monday, March 30, 2009

Kitchen Garden Tips

Starting a garden can feel like quite a daunting task - where to put it, how to build it, what to grow, and how much work it might be - that even the thought of all those great vegetables can pale in comparison. To help alleviate some of that concern, we've put together a list of helpful tools and resources that will get you through the process and on the way to those great fresh vegetables and herbs for your summer table.

  • Give some serious thought to lasagne gardening. Lasagne gardening uses layers of organic materials that let you take advantage of the soil structure already in your yard. It's also an excellent way to build raised beds without having to do lots of digging. It is ideal to install your lasagne garden in the fall so the materials break down over the course of the winter to some of the most beautiful soil ever come Spring; however, you can plant seedlings directly if you decide to go for it now.

  • Make a list of things you like to eat - tomatoes, greens, radishes, beets, sweet peppers, hot peppers, basil, cilantro, potatoes, sweet corn, popcorn, peas, beans - and see what of that is feasible to grow in your space. You can use some handy electronic garden mapping tools to see how the garden might shape up and be organized, or you also consider succession planting. This allows you to put something else in the space recently vacated by the radishes you just pulled, washed, and ate for lunch. Or for the peas that died back once the weather got too warm.

  • Remember the garden can (and probably should) contain some flowers. Flowers, like cosmos and zinnias, make not only terrific bouquets all summer long, but also attract pollinators and house predators that will help control unwanted critters. And flowers like violas (a.k.a. Johnny-Jump-Ups), nasturtiums, and calendula are edible, too. Toss them in with your assortment of homegrown lettuces and arugula, and you've got one of the prettiest dishes going.

  • Companion planting can be part of your kitchen garden, too. Many flowers and herbs, as mentioned above, attract pollinators as well as house predators, but they also can repel some bad guys. Marigolds help defer some unwanted vistors by their strong smell, as do onions and garlic. A great book to help you start thinking about this concept is Great Garden Companions by Sally Jean Cunningham.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember as you begin thinking about your garden is to enjoy it. Grow things you like to eat in a space you feel is manageable for a first time and for your schedule. Then, at the end of the season, you can join the legions of gardeners plotting ever larger and larger spaces with a greater variety of plants for the next season! You'll love it.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Organic Fruit Growing Made Easy

A recent Slow Food gathering in Wisconsin focused on antique apple breeds and how to bring the variety back to America's tables and, perhaps most importantly, our pie plates. This gathering of apple enthusiasts was,

" the Forgotten Fruits Summit organized by the Renewing America’s Food Traditions alliance became the first full gathering of America’s most accomplished back-country fruit explorers, veteran orchard-keepers, horticultural historians, pomological propagators, natural-born nurserymen and hard cider-makers concerned with the destiny of Malus X domestica, the single fruit most imbedded in the American identity.  Their task was to determine the best means of restoring apple diversity to our farms, roadhouses, backyards and kitchens, and to revive “apple culture” in all its dimensions on this continent."

For a summary of the event, check out this SlowFood  USA blog post. And then come check out the class on Organic Fruit Growing where instructor Mike Levine will help you find ways to fill your own pie plate with tasty treats for years to come.

Organic Fruit Growing Made Easy
Monday, March 30th
6:30pm - 8:30pm
Washtenaw Community College
(An elective in the Organic Certification Course.)

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Flavor of the Garden

The seed catalog is well-thumbed and a diagram is done of what will be growing this season in the garden patch. The next question is how will it taste? Everyone from Michelle Obama to Slow Food says that organically grown and heirloom varieties are the tastiest things going, and super good for you, too. But what does that really mean? What if it's a rainy summer? What if a friend shares a bumper load of composted sheep manure with you? Does it matter if you do lasagne gardening and your neighbor doesn't? What happens if those fruits and veggies get canned or frozen? Does that postively or negatively impact their flavor?

To answer all of these questions (and possibly more!) comes Mark Baerwolf, manager of Cornman Farms. Over at Cornman, Mark raises some of the vegetables (many from the Ark of Taste) used at Zingerman's Roadhouse by Chef Alex and crew to create some superb local dishes. The first seedlings went into the ground in the Spring of 2007, and the farm has been going strong ever since. 

Join us this Saturday to glean from Mark's experience to enhance the flavor of your own garden!

Cultivating Flavor
Saturday, March 28th
10am - 11am
Leslie Science and Nature Center
1831 Traver Road

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Not Just a Rose Garden Any More

The White House is preparing to put in an organic garden to supply vegetables, herbs, and berries for use in their meals. According to the New York Times article, Michelle Obama decided to move forward with the garden when her pediatrician expressed concern over her daughter's eating habits.

“A real delicious heirloom tomato is one of the sweetest things that you’ll ever eat,” she said. “And my children know the difference, and that’s how I’ve been able to get them to try different things.

“I wanted to be able to bring what I learned to a broader base of people. And what better way to do it than to plant a vegetable garden in the South Lawn of the White House?”

For urban dwellers who have no backyards, the country’s one million community gardens can also play an important role, Mrs. Obama said.

Feel inspired to transform your own house lawn into a garden? Check out some of our upcoming classes and don't forget you can find a selection of amazing seeds from our heirloom collection for sale at People's Food Coop

Friday, March 20, 2009

Electronic Garden Planning Tools

As spring wends its way the time to start garden planning is upon us! (Especially with that seed swap coming up on Saturday!)

Two sites offer some good electronic tools for planning a garden that let you play around with the arrangement of your flowers and vegetables and figure out when to start seeds, and when you should be able to harvest. 

The first is a tool offered at Eat Close to Home  - a good blog offering information on gardening, cooking, and other fun stuff. There you can drag and drop an assortment of vegetables into place. While the selection of things to grow is a bit limited, perhaps the best feature of this tool is the ability to click on a month and see how things will look at that time. This allows you to see how things expand or disappear (assuming you've harvested it to eat yourself versus a rabbit coming in to harvest for you) over the course of a season. 

The second tool is a Kitchen Garden Planner offered by Gardener's Supply. This planner has options for pre-planned gardens with titles like Cook's Choice and Salsa and Tomato Sauce as well as a design your own feature. You choose the plants from a limited list and plunk them in place. A nice feature here is that the plants are listed below with seed-starting information and instructions for general care. You can also email it to yourself to keep track of different ideas. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Eat Green for Grow Event a Hit!

Thanks to everyone who came out to join us this past Sunday at Seva for our Eat Green for Grow event! A bundle of folks came out to eat tasty fare, bid on some most amazing Silent Auction items, and enjoy themselves all in the name of Project Grow. We can't thank you enough for taking the time to join us on Sunday and throughout the year!

Special thanks go out to Seva Vegetarian Restaurant for hosting us, and helping to make this event a fantastic culinary reality! (We think our favorite dish of the day was ....) We recommend them anytime!

And thanks, too, to our Silent Auction donors from around the community. A delightful array of items made this year's auction one of the best ever!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

More Tantalizing Auction Items!

Our Eat Green for Grow event on Sunday, March 15th promises to be an absolute delight. Good fun to support community gardens seems like the perfect way to kick start your spring! Here are a few more generously donated auction items to whet your appetite!

One hour of design consultation from Nature and Nuture
Garden design can be a bit daunting at times, and the professionals at Nature and Nurture can help bring your vision to life. Focusing on organic, sustainable landscapes Erica Kempter and Mike Levine will bring their more than twenty years of combined experience right to your doorstep!

A gift certificate from Schakolad
Small packages hold great things, and this little envelope with a gift certificate from Schakolad is no different. Schakolad is home to an amazing array of chocolates that come in a variety of mouth-watering flavors, shapes, and sizes.

Jewelry from Falling Water
Any trip to downtown Ann Arbor can hardly be had without stopping into this great little store that has a little bit of everything, including a terrific selection of jewelry. Come see for yourself on Sunday which piece is up on the block!

Dogma Catmantoo Gift Basket
Any gardener knows that the canine or feline of the house is a garden friend. Whether they watch contentedly from the window or roam the paths, they are indispensable aids. This gift basket is a great way to reward that furry little helper whether large or small!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Eat Green for Grow Auction Items Preview!

We thought we'd tantalize you with a few items that will be part of our Silent Auction at Eat Green for Grow. Thanks to our good friends in the community, we've got a little bit of everything to tempt everyone!

Family Pass to Matthaei Botanical Gardens and a Goody Basket
Enjoy one of the loveliest places in Ann Arbor any time of the year! Roam the paths to enjoy spring blossoms, herb gardens, or any of the special displays or demonstration gardens on site. Check out the bloom calendar and start planning your visit!

Garden Buddha Statue from Downtown Home and Garden
A good fit for any corner of the yard or garden, this little fellow is a reminder of all the joy the garden brings and gives.

Four weeks of fresh cut flowers from Good Scents
A touch of color brought directly to your door in this four week subscription is an exciting thought as we sit on the cusp of Spring. To see what might be in store for you, visit their gallery of bouquets and feel inspired!

Be sure to check back here to see other items in our Silent Auction, and we look forward to seeing you on Sunday, March 15th!

Eat Green for Grow
Sunday, March 15th
3pm - 9pm
Seva Vegetarian Restaurant
314 East Liberty
Ann Arbor