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!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Celebrate Earth Day with Project Grow!

What better way to celebrate Spring and our community than by coming out on Earth Day to toast Project Grow?

The good folks over at Arbor Brewing are even now puting the finishing touches on a fine concoction - Spruce Ale - in honor of Earth Day and their namesake. Join us at Arbor Brewing on Wednesday, April 22nd to enjoy tasty treats made from locally grown and seasonal products, and raise a pint for Project Grow. Arbor Brewing will generously donate $1.00 from each pint of Spruce Ale sold to Project Grow, so bring along your friends, family, and friends for lunch, dinner or just snacks!

Contact Elizabeth Cain-Toth, Arbor Brewing's Event Manager with any questions, and we'll see you there!

Earth Day Celebration for Project Grow
Wednesday, April 22nd
Arbor Brewing
11:30am - Close
114 East Washington Street
Ann Arbor, MI

Monday, April 6, 2009

Edible Landscaping Ideas

We've talked before about edible landscaping, and with Spring fast-aproaching we thought we'd throw out a few more ideas to turn your yard into a veritable Garden of Eatin'.

This nice little article from Gardener's Supply offers some excellent ideas and tips for adding edible perennials like asparagus, blueberries, and raspberries to your yard. Strawberries, both the native cultivar and the straight-up eating kind, make a tasty ground cover for you and your wildlife friends. Organic Gardening offers a nice little list of other fruits that could be incorporated quite easily into your yard - apples to kiwis to grapes - for an edible landscape.

Perhaps the key thing to remember when choosing plants, trees, or shrubs to increase the "edibility" of your landscape is local. Look around at the Farmer's Market to see what's on offer to get ideas, and don't forget native varieties - Serviceberry and American Plum - offer tasty treats, too.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Food Through the Roof

Uncommon Ground, an innovative restaurant in Chicago, took their innovation with food to a new level - the roof. The nation's first organically certified rooftop farm it offers vegetables, beehives, and solar panels. Throw in an educational outreach component to a local school and the community at large, and you want to climb up on your own roof to see what the possibilities might be.

For more information on how they did it - from materials to contractors - check out the Uncommon Ground Green Fact Sheet. You can also follow the progress of things at the farm at their blog - Eat This, Grow That - and get loads of other tips and ideas for your own urban farm or garden.

Rooftop gardens, whether for growing vegetables or simply having a green roof, offer numerous benefits. Lower temperatures, better air quality, and sometimes the roof is the best place to grow those sun-loving varieties that otherwise might not be an option. It is also a great place to create green space when surrounded by city.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Seed Starting Thoughts

Spring is when those seed packets are the most irresistible. Even if one of those last snow showers obscures the view outside the window, the picture on the packet is enough to draw me in and on to summer's warmer shores. If you've got a bundle of seed packets and need to get them started on their way to the garden, here are some useful resources to help you both get there.

Seed to Shining Seed
How could we not start this list with a class led by our very own Royer Held and Tom Sheper? Two experienced gardeners will take you from start to finish sharing how they achieve success growing tomatoes and peppers from seed as well as harvesting. Join us Saturday, April 4th for this treasure trove of fun and information.

Seedstarting Made Easy
This comprehensive article from Gardener's Supply covers containers, different kinds of potting mixes along with what they are made of, good seeds for beginners, troubleshooting tips, and so much more.

Starting Seeds Indoors
Another good article from covers many of the same basics, but also has two handy charts covering seeds that need special attention like soaking or scarification. It also offers a handy list of those that prefer to germinate with or without light.

Ten Seed Starting Tips
Fine Gardening offers a nicely detailed article for starting seeds as well as saving them, too. An extra feature offered here are a series of videos as well as a reading list.

Jump-Start Your Garden Today
This blog post from Get Rich Slowly about seed starting is, again, comprehensive, but also offers lots of good photos illustrating different techniques. Check out their list of other useful posts for more gardening tips, too.

Local and Not Electronic Resources, Too!
Downtown Home and Garden offers a wide variety of seeds and seed starting materials, not to mention a friendly and knowledgeable staff.

The Ann Arbor Farmer's Market is simply chock full of folks who together comprise a veritable encyclopedia of gardening information. Plus, if your seeds don't quite pan out you could probably find a lovely seedling of your favorite tomato at one of their stalls along with sympathy and empathy for your plight!

Got other ideas? Send them along!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Urban Gardening Can Be Done!

This recent article on new urban gardeners in Chicago offers some excellent insight and advice on starting that first garden.

Don't hesitate to contact us about a garden plot, either! We do have a few plots left and a waiting list underway, so don't give up hope.