Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Slow Food Huron Valley Ark of Taste Dinner

We've talked about scrumptious fungus, heirloom potatoes, and classes to help decide what to grow in the garden, but here's a chance to try some of those great local foods for yourself. Think of it as research for the garden or next trip to the Farmer's Market!

The Ark of Taste Dinner is a five course meal (plan for an elastic waistband!) that will knock your socks off. By promoting these foods to your taste buds, the Ark of Taste and Slow Food (check out the Huron Valley chapter, too!) raises the chances of keeping them growing for future generations. Wander over to the Grange Kitchen and Bar to sample some of this amazing fare and see what your taste buds would plant!

Ark of Taste Dinner
Thursday, April 22nd
7pm - 10pm
118 West Liberty
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
$65/per person
Reservations required so sign up now!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

FDA Wants Your Opinion

The FDA is looking for feedback on a proposed regulation to reduce food-borne illness on fresh produce. Hoping to forge a new way ahead after the food troubles of 2009, the organization is seeking public comment electronically as well as in public meetings before issuing a rule. The organization hopes to hear from a variety of people - growers, producers, and packagers - about this topic and what concerns them most. (It's recommended reading for consumers, too, to find out what a favorite grower or local grocer might need to do to get those favorite greens to the table.)

The deadline to share with the FDA your concerns and thoughts about this important food safety issue is May 24, 2010. These handy instructions will let you see what others are saying and make your voice heard on this important issue.

Comments may also be mailed to:
Division of Dockets Management,
HFA-305, FDA,
5630 Fishers Lane, Room 1061,
Rockville, MD, 20852

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Dirt + Seed Dispensing Gumball Machines = Garden

Everyone knows about the transformative power of seeds, but here's a new twist on the idea - old gumball machines turned into a seed dispenser. Created by Greenaid, these contraptions make gardening easier than ever!

While you're thinking about seeds, check out Dirt! The Movie to see what's under your feet and why it matters so much. Screened at Sundance and Environmental Film Festival in Washington D.C. this year, the film will also air on PBS the week of April 20th. Garden adventures await!

Get ready to get your hands in that dirt, too, with these upcoming classes!

Heirloom Tomatoes and Peppers
Saturday, April 17
10am - 11:30am
Leslie House
Leslie Science and Nature Center
1831 Traver Road, Ann Arbor
Instructors: Royer Held and Tom Scheper
Learn how to select, start, and grow tomatoes and hot peppers using organic cultivation methods.

Introduction to Composting
Saturday, April 24
10am - 12pm
Leslie House
Leslie Science and Nature Center
1831 Traver Road, Ann Arbor
Instructor: Geoffrey Kroepel
Explore composting basics perfect for any gardener as well as alternative methods and creative bins.

(Image courtesy of Greenaid.)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Oldies but Goodies - Growing Heirloom Tomatoes and Peppers

Join Royer Held and Tom Scheper for Heirloom Tomatoes and Peppers this Saturday, April 17th! These two heirloom vegetable and gardening enthusiasts will be at the ready to impart some of their tried and true methods for growing organic tomatoes and peppers. Experienced trowels at the ready, Royer and Tom will share their favorite cultivars as well as tips for a beautiful and bountiful harvest. Don't miss it!

Heirloom Tomatoes and Peppers
Saturday, April 17th
10 - 11:30am
Leslie House,
Leslie Science and Nature Center

Can't make this one? Check out these upcoming classes and get them on the calendar!

Introduction to Composting
Saturday, April 24
10am - 12pm
Leslie House at Leslie Science and Nature Center

Join Geoffrey Kroepel to learn composting methods that suit the needs of every gardener. Basic composting principles will be discussed as well as different methods for making it.

Bees Up Close and Personal!
Saturday, May 1
1pm - 3pm
Dawn Farms
6633 Stoney Creek Drive
Ypsilanti, MI 48197
$7.50/per person

Lora Kadwell will lead a hands-on introductory class and honey extraction. Meet the bees, see the equipment, and give this sweetest of endeavours a try.
*Participants should plan to wear jeans, long-sleeve shirts, and shoes.
** Class size is limited to 15 members, so don't wait to register.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Royer Held on saving potato seeds and seed potatoes

Seeds are a gardeners pleasure, and saving seeds from year to year an invaluable skill. Here in the third part of our discussion with Royer Held we talk about saving potato seeds as well as some of his recommended reading about potatoes. Read about how he got started growing his own and a few tricks of the trade in preparation for his class - Potato Seeds, Seed Potatoes, and Sweet Potato Slips - this Saturday, April 10th. And then take the Project Grow Potato Pledge!

PG: Do you save your own potato seed or seed potatoes or slips? How do you do that?

RH: Potatoes produce fruit that looks like small green tomatoes. Most people don't realize that this happens because the fruit is well hidden on the plants. If you know to look for it, you will find it. I pick the fruit when it is ripe and extract the seed. The seed is about the size of a pin head and it is in a slimy gel. I spread it on paper to dry and package it up like tomato seed for storage.

I have always ordered sweet potato slips and have never bothered to try to produce my own for planting out. I have had sweet potatoes produce slips, but they have done that in the dead of winter when I can't make use of them. I have not tried all of the sweet potato varieties that will grow in Michigan, so I'm still looking over the catalogs for new ones to try.

PG: What's the most important thing to remember when saving seed potatoes?

RH: Keep an eye on them. Don't let them dry out and don't let them rot. Also, don't allow them to freeze. My solution has been to keep them in my fireplace. The fireplace damper lets in just enough cool air to keep temperatures low but above freezing. This isn't ideal, but it works for me.

PG: How long do seed potatoes keep?

RH: Seed potatoes are only good for the following season unless you do tissue culture, which is something growers are doing but is not something a home grower would typically try.

PG: Are there some varieties that are better for saving than others? Some varieties that are more difficult but worth the effort?

RH: I haven't noticed any difference in shelf life for different potato varieties.

PG: What's different about saving seed potatoes than other kinds of seeds?

RH: When you save seeds the seed will remain viable for many years if it is properly processed and stored. Seed potatoes will only make it to the next planting season. They are perishable.

PG: Any recommended reading or a favorite reference?

RH: Michael Pollan's Botany of Desire goes into great detail about the potato and how it is grown in the US. The book is alot of fun in general. It inspired me to contact the USDA regarding Bolivian potato seed.

There is a wealth of information on the internet. My favorite website is that of PROINPA, an organization located in Cochabamba, Bolivia dedicated to the promotion of Andean crop varieties. The website is in Spanish, but that just makes it more exotic. Their pdf featuring photographs of 100 potato varieties indigenous to Bolivia is a gem.

Irish Eyes is a great website for potatoes, and Sandhill Preservation website can't be beat for sweet potatoes.

PG: Does the class talk mainly about heirloom varieties of potatoes and sweet potatoes or all varieties?

RH: The class deals with growing potatoes and sweet potatoes in general, but I do make the point that there are a considerable range of varieties that can be grown and illustrate the point with photos. I also talk about my experience with Bolivian potatoes, which are perhaps the most venerable of the heirlooms.

PG: Is there anything I haven't asked you that you want to be sure to mention?

RH: Bolivian potatoes have been selected to cook quickly, because they are grown at a high elevation where water boils at a lower temperature. They only need to boil for five minutes at our lower elevation. Whoever would have thought there would be Energy Star potatoes?

Potato Seeds, Seed Potatoes, and Sweet Potato Slips
Saturday, April 10th
10am - 11:30am
Leslie Science and Nature Center
1831 Traver Road
Ann Arbor

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Grow Your Own Scrumptious Fungus

Matt Demmon over at Little House Farm is once again offering his most-fascinating mushroom class. Learn how to grow and get tips on preserving and cooking up your own delicious fungi, and enter a world of tasty beauty with Matt as your guide.

To whet your appetite, read my interview with Matt from last year and then check out his mouth-watering recipe below!

Backyard Mushrooming
Sunday, April 11th
12pm - 3pm
Little House Farm
$50 for class; $70 to take home your own log
Call Matt at 734-255-2783 or email to register
Hurry! Class size is limited.

Quick and Easy Mushrooms with Cream Sauce ala Little House Farm

8 oz. fresh mushrooms or 2 oz. dried mushrooms (reconstituted in water first)
1/2 of a small onion
3 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of flour (can be a combination of millet, amaranth, buckwheat and/or teff for those hankering after gluten-free)
1 cup milk or half and half
Salt and pepper to taste
Pasta of your choice

Saute the mushrooms in the butter for about five minutes, and then add the onion. Continue sauteing until the onion is golden brown. Stir in the flour and continue stirring until the flour smells roasted and changes color. Add the milk or half and half while stirring constantly until it comes to a simmer and begins to thicken. Salt and pepper to taste and serve over a pasta of your choice.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Pondering Potato Varieties with Royer Held

Gardening can be tremendously satisfying, especially when growing vegetables and herbs for your own table. Recently, Project Grow talked with Royer Held, an heirloom enthusiast, about potatoes and sweet potatoes. In the first part of our conversation, Royer shared what got him started growing tubers and why he's kept on growing them. Here in the second part, he offers advice for the grower on choosing a variety that's right for you and your garden.

PG: Are some varieties better for storing, eating, baking, or eating immediately?

RH: Potato varieties differ in starch content and this is what makes them appropriate for different uses. Baking potatoes have a high starch content while my Bolivians and fingerling potatoes have a lower starch content, which make them better for boiling. There is nothing better to eat than a "new" potato: one freshly dug or one snuck out from under a growing plant before the main harvest.

PG: What do you advise a grower when looking for a variety?

RH: Consider how you like to cook your potatoes. Many of the garden catalogs that sell potatoes make suggestions for types that are suitable for particular types of cooking.

In addition to starch content, I would consider early, mid and late season potato varieties. My Bolivian potatoes are late season. That means they tie up garden space until frost. You could grow early season potatoes and follow that crop with greens, daikon, or a cool growing crop to get more out of your garden. A first time grower should select any variety that is commonly grown in your part of the country.

PG: Why are sweet potatoes often grown using slips?

RH: I suspect that growing sweet potatoes from slips is a matter of convenience and a way to reduce cost. It is truly amazing how quickly a slip without roots gets established in the garden. Sweet potatoes root along their stems quite easily, and most of the time the slips have roots already started. Sweet potatoes seldom flower at this lattitude so we don't see seed. If you were to grow sweet potatoes from seed you would have a new variety just like you do when you grow potatoes from seed. This happens quite often in tropical lattitudes, which helps account for the large number of commercial varieties available.

PG: What's the difference broadly speaking (I don't want to give away your whole class!) between using potato seeds, seed potatoes, and slips?

RH: When you use seed potatoes or slips you are growing exactly the same plant and genetic material that produced the seed potato or slip. This assures that you are growing exactly the same thing you grew the year before, or that you are growing exactly the variety that you want. When you grow any plant from seed, you are getting a brand new genetic combination that may or may not reflect the characteristics of its parents. This is where new varieties come from. To me, growing things from seed is far more exciting than simply accepting someone else's idea about what I should be growing!

PG: Is there a particular trick to successfully growing potatoes and sweet potatoes? Is there something you do to always ensure success?

RH: Both of these plants (the potato and the sweet potato) are quite tough. If they weren't, they wouldn't be as widely cultivated as they are. Like any garden vegetable, the key to success lies in the quality of the soil in which the plants are grown. All gardeners should be paying attention to developing and maintaining a healthy soil. As long as you do that, you can grow anything.

That said, sweet potatoes and potatoes should not be supplied with extra nitrogen. That will cause both types of plants to produce foliage rather than tubers. Potatoes and sweet potatoes also benefit from mulch. They both like even soil moisture and do not like to dry out until the end of the season.

When harvesting both regular and sweet potatoes take care not to injure the potatoes. Sweet potatoes that have been bruised, scraped, or otherwise injured are more likely to rot in storage. The same is true to a lesser degree with potatoes.

Want to find out more? Check back here for the third and final installment about saving potato seeds, and don't forget to read how it all began. Sign up for Potato Seeds, Seed Potatoes, and Sweet Potato Slips to talk to Royer in person, and take the Project Grow Potato Pledge!

Potato Seeds, Seed Potatoes, and Sweet Potato Slips
Saturday, April 10th
10am - 11:30am
Leslie Science and Nature Center
1831 Traver Road
Ann Arbor, MI

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Pondering the Potato

An unsung hero of the vegetable world is the potato. Often berated as a carb carrying fiend, the potato is really a source of great culinary delights and nutrition. Not to mention, it's got a fascinating history. Project Grow (PG) interviewed Royer Held (RH) about his passion for the potato, and his upcoming class on growing potatoes in the garden. Read this first part of the interview where we talk about the potatoes he grows and the spark that got him to grow his first tuber.

PG: I was aware of your interest in heirloom tomatoes and peppers, but not potatoes and sweet potatoes. What sparked your interest in this group?

RH: I first started growing my own potatoes about twenty years ago. I was eager to try some of the varieties offered by a mail order business that had close to 100 different kinds. I ended up growing a number of fingerlings and some other varieties that sounded interesting.

I grew them off and on, but my interest took off twelve years ago when my daughter went to Bolivia as an exchange student. She came back talking about all the different kinds of potatoes that were available in Bolivia. She said some tasted like bananas, and some were orange. I started looking for a way that I could try some.

About eight years ago I found that the USDA Seed Bank had hundreds of Bolivian potato varieties in their collection. I submitted an application and received ten different varieties that I've been growing ever since.

PG: What appeals to you about potatoes and sweet potatoes? Do you like both crops for the same or for different reasons?

RH: Both potatoes and sweet potatoes are highly nutritious and easily grown in your garden. If you grow them yourself, you have access to hundreds if not thousands of varieties you can't get in the grocery store. Potatoes are easier to grow and better suited to Michigan's cooler summers.

Ever since I received the Bolivian potato seed I have been growing Bolivian potatoes in my garden. I would have to say that I have a fondness for them that is somewhat irrational. Since each potato you grow from seed is unique, each time you raise a potato from seed (as opposed to from a tuber or seed potato) you get a new variety. I have been growing potatoes from seed ever since I got the first batch of seed from the USDA. At this point, I don't know how many different varieties I currently have. Each year I collect seed from plants that produce fruit, so theoretically I could produce 1,000's of new potato varieties if I had enough space to grow them.

I got inspired to try sweet potatoes reading about them in the Sandhill Preservation Catalogproduced by Glen Drowns. Glen grows sweet potatoes in Iowa. I figured if it can be done in Iowa, we should be able to do it here. If you choose early season sweet potatoes you can get a decent crop. It's fun to try an assortment because they have different flavors and textures, just like potatoes.

PG: What's special about heirloom potatoes?

RH: Variety is the spice of life. Commercial growers are not growing heirloom potato varieties in large quantities. Since potato varieties must be grown from tubers each year this makes it hard to keep them going. Will Bonsal who is the curator of the potato collection maintained by Seed Savers Exchange is having a tough time keeping all of the potatoes in his collection from going extinct. Home gardeners should step up and take on this responsibility because they are the ultimate beneficiaries of the preservation of these varieties.

Hungry for more information? Check back for the next installment where we talk with Royer about the varieties he grows, and some specifics about growing potatoes and sweet potatoes. Better yet, register for his class, and take the Project Grow Potato Pledge and get yourself growing!

Potato Seeds, Seed Potatoes, and Sweet Potato Slips
Saturday, April 10th
10am - 11:30am
Leslie Science and Nature Center
1831 Traver Road
Ann Arbor, MI