They Make It Easy!

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After being somewhat inactive for the last two years, due to illness, I am very happy to be back writing about life, experiences and things that mean a lot to me.  Hopefully, you all enjoy my musings and if I can use the number of visitors to my sites even during my absence, many of you do.  Today I would like to talk about one of my favorite subjects…Keep Growing Detroit!  There is something about this time of year (mid-April) where I am acutely aware of their existence and all of the good things they have done and continue to do after all of these years.  It’s kind of like Memorial Day or Independence Day where just before the holidays you might feel a little more patriotic than other days.  It’s a great feeling and where there are a lot of reasons why, there is one primary reason that validates their existence…their being…their worth, they make it easy!

Yes, they make it easy for anybody to garden.  Anybody with a dream…a desire…a plan, whatever, they make it easy!  I was at the cold-crop distribution last Thursday and I happened to witness a Keep Growing Detroit volunteer take a “senior” gardener by the hand and help her navigate the gathering of shoots and seeds.  It was obvious it was her first time and I was impressed and moved by the patience and guidance this particular volunteer gave this elderly lady.  Maybe she has had some gardening experience but her uncertainty was just enough to warrant the care and attention she received.  She couldn’t buy that type of customer service.

 

That’s not the only way they make it easy.  As a member of Keep Growing Detroit I can participate in…

 

  • Community Garden Workdays
  • Learn & Earn Workshops
  • Gardening/Cooking Classes & Tours
  • Exclusive Grown In Detroit Events & Programs
  • Garden Resource Program Events and Plant Distribution (Seeds; Cold Weather Crops; Hot Weather Crops; Fall Crops)

 

What does it cost to partake in all of this fun?  An easy $10 for a family garden or $20 for a community or school garden.  To be a full participating member you must live in Detroit, Hamtramck or Highland Park.  Even if you don’t live in Detroit you can use Keep Growing Detroit as your vehicle for volunteering in Detroit.  People come from all over the metro area to help make Detroit’s urban farming initiative into one of the most recognized programs in the country. And that’s not easy to do since there are hundreds of communities and programs nationwide that foster urban agriculture activities.  Don’t have time to volunteer?  Donations are always welcome!!!

 

There are over 1400 gardens in the tri-cities area and I think that the people at Keep Growing Detroit know each and every one of us.  I would love to see their LinkedIn page…talk about a network.  These guys are so involved…so in touch with the city, their efforts make it easy (there’s that phrase again) for us to just be gardeners.  They are on the side of urban agriculturists who include beekeepers, chicken farmers, and goat or sheepherders.  From teaching to selling Keep Growing Detroit has been making it easy for over a decade and it looks like it will keep going and growing in Detroit for a long time.

 

For more information on Keep Growing Detroit contact them at (313) 757-2635 or keepgrowingdetroit@gmail.com.

July 5th

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It’s Saturday, July 5th and for some reason I feel compelled to see the garden at the school. I usually take a (sometime) leisurely 2-mile walk with my pet, Joe Dawg, but feeling I guess a little fleet of foot and bored with the same old walking routine, I set out for Nolan Elementary-Middle School. Part of my walk is very familiar still as it is the path that I used to walk, morning and evening, on my way to accumulating 10 miles a day. Joe made this trip with me one time last year, so it was like his first time all over again. We stopped at nearly every telephone pole, flower bed, shrub and weed on the way there. Fortunately, no other dogs were out at the time we were walking, so there were no conflicts encouraged by Joe Dawg’s aggressiveness.

Arriving at the school, with the sun peeking over the tree tops, the garden kind of had the look of the opening scenes from the movie Camelot…it was so lush looking, so green, so rich and deeply hued. I was a good 50 yards away and like a movie camera my gaze fell on all of the beds in order from left to right. Even at that distance I could see activity in each bed. As I neared I could see a watermelon vine was trailing along the top of one bed. There was kale that we had already started to harvest. The strawberries were doing well, but unfortunately, we didn’t get every ground cherry that dropped from the stalk last year. The kids liked them, but I don’t think Ms. Bonnie (Bonnie Odom-Brown/B.E. Culturally Exposed) will be too happy to see them. The potato bed, which is the bed that most captures your attention from afar, is magnificent. It is full of leaves and flowers that let us know that there is a lot going on underground. A close visual second, right now, are the squash plants. They dominate the bed and are bearing fruit that are ready to be picked. In total we are growing a very wide variety of plants.

The Nolan Elementary-Middle School 2014 “Planting the Seeds” garden includes…
• Green Cabbage
• Red Cabbage
• Collard Greens
• Mustard Greens
• GRP Greens Mix
• Broccoli
• Dinosaur Kale
• Curly Kale
• Garlic (3 varieties)
• Onions (2 varieties)
• Potatoes (3 varieties…Red, White and Yellow)
• Sweet Potatoes
• Green Beans
• Yellow Wax Beans
• Sugar Snap Peas
• Watermelon
• Strawberries
• Eggplant
• Tomatoes (8 varieties)
• Romaine Lettuce
• Salad Bowl Lettuce
• GRP Lettuce Mix (Mesclun)
• Spinach
• Beets
• Radishes
• Carrots
• Ground Cherries
• Green Peppers
• Yellow Sweet Peppers
• Red Sweet Peppers
• Hot Banana Peppers
• Habenero` Peppers
• Jalapeno Peppers
• Rosemary
• Parsley
• Basil
• Sunflowers (2 varieties)
• Wildflower Mix
That’s a total of 40 vegetables (includes squash and zucchini) and flowering plants in 13 beds that students from the 3rd grade up to the 8th grade are managing. If everything grows as planned it will be a wonderful year. We do have to thank our friends at Keep Growing Detroit for the majority of the seeds and plants.

One thing that this year’s garden has had going for it has been the weather. It has been perfect since the month of May. We’ve had plenty of sunshine and just enough rain for everything to grow well. The moderate weather has been a boon to us as so far as we have had neither extreme heat nor continuous days of rain.

We have also had great support from our annual sponsors, Maura Ryan-Kaiser of Snelling Staffing Services and Mark Guimond from Michigan First Credit Union. Snelling employees are out there every week lending their assistance, doing whatever is needed. They are great role models for the kids.

So this is where we are as of the July 4th weekend. We are not growing corn (knee high by the fourth of July) but many of our sunflower plants are about 18 inches. Everything is green in our world and it’s fabulous!

Evening Pictures (I had to come back without the dawg)
Click on each picture to enlarge.

 

Camelot?

Camelot?

The closer we get, the better it will look!

The closer we get, the better it will look!

Watermelon and Zuchinni

Watermelon and Zucchini

Beets, Tomatoes and Spinach

Beets, Tomatoes and Spinach

Spinach and Tomatoes

Spinach and Tomatoes

Ground Cherries and Strawberries

Ground Cherries and Strawberries

Tomatoes

Tomatoes

Potatoes

Potatoes

Green and Red Cabbage

Green and Red Cabbage

Broccoli

Broccoli and Collard Greens

Big Lot at ground level

Big Lot at ground level

Potatoes...another look!

Potatoes…another look!

Squash

Squash

 

Black History Month “They Call Me Mister Tibbs”

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As some of you may know, as a young lad, my world was very small and insulated…“Neverland”.  There was so much  happening right around me, but as a child, rightfully so, I was so unaware.  I still think that’s a good thing.  A child should be able to be to look at the world…his or her world, through their own eyes and also through the filtered eyes of their parents.  So you can imagine how big my eyes grew when I saw the movie “Blackboard Jungle” which was shown on TV one special Friday night.

What was so special about this Friday was that a few weeks prior to its showing, two events drew the attention of the media and so-called concerns of citizens in Detroit.  One event happened at my junior high school, Nolan, and the second event took place exactly one week later at the neighborhood high school, Pershing.

The Nolan event was a fight where one student had a knife.  It was a table knife that he had stolen from the school cafeteria.  I was right there when the knife was pulled and at the same time cops pulled up.  We ran like the proverbial roaches from light in all directions.  It was a fight between two black boys…you know the situation, friends for life, before and after.  The incident, so you know, was small potatoes in the hood but it became a big deal even in a city as big as Detroit was then…because of the knife.

The fight at Pershing again was between two black kids and this time it was a switchblade, as I recall.  The “establishment” went absolutely crazy!!!  There was a media explosion…editorials, exposé’s, re-hashes of past times and there were meetings and panels trying to figure out what had suddenly gone wrong with our kids and society.

And that is why on that special night the local television station showed the movie.  It was supposed to show what it is like in classrooms across America.  Blackboard Jungle wasn’t the only cautionary tale about high school life.  But it had one thing that most of the “ripped from the headlines” movies didn’t have…a great cast.  It featured Glenn Ford (Teacher) a young Vic Morrow (Bad Kid), Ann Francis (Wife), Richard Kiley (Music Teacher), Jamie Farr (Kid) and of course…Sydney Poitier!  It also featured the song that “marked the rock and roll revolution”, Bill Haley and His Comets “Rock Around the Clock”.  It was Number One on Billboard for 8 weeks, not bad for a boy from Highland Park, MI.

The first time I saw this movie I was still a child, eleven years old, with my insulated brain.  My world wasn’t like this and as enlightening as it was on a social level it was also kind of scary.  It felt so good that Detroit as I knew it, was not like the schools portrayed in this movie or any other.

So here I was watching a movie where blacks were in an integrated environment and were more than a backdrop.  I wasn’t crazy about the stereotype of blacks singing gospel songs at the drop of the hat, but he was an intelligent young man that in more ways than one I could relate to.

After that I paid more attention to the actor, Sydney Poitier.  I couldn’t help but notice that his roles and movies were pretty reflective of what was happening at the time.  Hollywood had a foil that they could use as an embraceable voice to society and he was good, make that very good at doing just that.  Most of his major roles were exercises on civil rights.  And he had many firsts in roles, billings and awards. Here’s a short list of his socially trailblazing movies…

·        Blackboard Jungle 1955

·        Edge of the City 1957

·        The Defiant Ones (with Tony Curtis) 1958

·        All the Young Men 1960

·        A Raisin In the Sun 1961

·        Pressure Point (with Bobby Darin) 1962

·        Lilies of the Field (Best Actor Oscar) 1963

·        A Patch of Blue 1965

·        To Sir With Love 1967

·        In the Heat of the Night 1967

·        Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? 1967

Sydney was the consummate actor and he could stand his ground with any actor and this list of movies notwithstanding, his range as an actor was incredible.  I am sure some roles were his by default, especially since he, as most actors of his generation, worked constantly.

So, in a retro-fitted way Sydney Poitier became that role model that a lot of people, including myself and probably a few people in my immediate family bought in to.  “Blackboard Jungle” did demonstrate in a raw kind of way that an “intelligent, savvy, street-wise, mentally strong black man, whether or not he was always socially correct”, could deal with white society (the establishment) at any level.  Many a time you would hear parents/adults admonish a black child or young adult saying “you should be like that a… SIT-NEE POE-TEE-AIR”.  That stopped around the time he married Johanna Shimkus, of course.

His accurate portrayals, of young black men at different emotional stages, like the role as Walter Lee Younger, in the film “A Raisin in the Sun” were impressive!  Walter Lee, who really wanted to be in charge of his own destiny, was hustled out of his money by actor Roy Glenn and so went his dream of getting out of the ghetto.  This film is loaded with great actors too.  Ruby Dee, Claudia McNeil, Diana Sands and Lou Gossett, Jr., were the featured performers.  I was 11 also when this movie came out and because it wasn’t “Godzilla or War of the Worlds”, I missed it.  But I saw this and another flick “Nothing Like a Man” starring Ivan Dixon, 3 times each in high school…Pershing High, knife fight, Pershing High.

I was really seeing more of what the world was really like through his movies.  Some fit right in with my little insulated world, like “A Patch of Blue”, the interracial love story, for one.  With the diversity surrounding us, just on the three blocks we lived on, we had a unique, yet special view of the world. Not special like we were the only ones to have such an existence, but like if we could have it why couldn’t everybody else live in harmony like we did.

The world changed as I got more mobile and uniquely so did Sydney’s roles.  First there was “To Sir With Love!”  This was a movie I totally resisted seeing at first.  I thought it was wimpy.  I knew the theme “black man raises the level of life and expectations of working-class kids and families”…another savior film.  This was not a movie that could have been distributed everywhere in the states so it was a little daring.

If you are old enough to remember the fashion and look of the times, Mary Quant cosmetics, etc., then you know how the look in film transferred to the kids walking the streets between Woodward and Van Dyke Streets between 7 and 8 Mile Rds.

My friend, Tessie Green, dragged me to see it one snowy Saturday afternoon. It was playing at the Palms Theatre.  The place was packed…there was such a mix of young and old, white and black, men and mostly women theatergoers.  It was good…admittedly; it was a great story and very well acted by all.  With just the right amount of sentiment and racial/social references.  What a success for the middle-class!

I remember when my buddy, future brother-in-law, Rickey and I went to see “In the Heat of the Night”.  Even in “Neverland”, it was hard not to know what was going on across the south and ghettos everywhere.  You saw “Burn Baby Burn” scrawled or posted everywhere as cities were burning down.  Racial tensions were high and here comes a movie that hangs it all out there in living color.

The opening scenes of the movie show us a man sitting at a lonely train station unaware that his life was going to change in a blink of an eye.  A black man, all alone, when a murder happens?  This is not a good thing, even if he wasn’t black, so this sets the stage for a journey that two men take as they learn about race relations, dignity and pride, two words that you always think about when you think of Sydney Poitier.

It was a fascinating movie, with great performances by Rod Steiger, Warren Oates, Lee Grant, William Schallert and the great Beah Richards.  It had a lot of plot twists and devices that showed the good and bad of the old south.  Bad traditions and social stereotypes were displayed to the naked eye.  The movie manifested everything I had feared about the south.  Nobody I knew at this time was singing, “Oh I wish I was in the land of cotton”.

In this movie, a man is briefly stripped and denied everything he stands for.  The words I had heard many times before, “I don’t know why you try so hard…you’re still a nigga to dem,” were marching through my mind.  As it is in most movies the good guy does win out, but you had some doubt as to how until Sydney’s Virgil exclaimed, “They Call Me Mister Tibbs!”  No more “boy” stuff as many a black man has heard and not just in the south.  Women had R-E-S-P-E-C-T!  Men now had D-I-G-N-I-T-Y!

Powerful words, said at the right time.  That single line has been recognized by the American Film Institute also.  It is ranked #16 on the institute’s 100 Years…100 Movie Quotes, a list of top film quotes.  And an untold amount of black mens backbones got a little firmer and straighter and they sought to take back or hold onto the two things that they were born with.

I never saw “Guess Who’s Coming Over for Dinner”.  That was too much like life in Neverland.  Only, we had breakfast and lunch thrown in there for good measure.  Integrated families, neighborhoods and schools were part of the existence.  Socially, I thought I was already past it.  But what was good theatre of polite chatter in a sophisticated world, totally different words and attitudes were being used and displayed in the real world.  I was personally surprised when I found this out. My naiveté was exposed once again and though they were merely speed bumps on the road of life, lessons that needed to be learned were learned.  Nonetheless, social consciousness was again raised and attitudes were again exposed, by a Sydney Poitier movie where people had to ask themselves “what if”?

Subsequent to the start of this project, I discussed its status with my brother Isaac and he had a few more suggestions, like

  • No Way Out 1950
  • The Edge of the City 1957
  • For the Love of Ivy 1968
  • A Warm December (directed by S. P.) 1974

I didn’t initially remember “No Way Out”, but after hearing his re-telling of the movie outline, I definitely remember it now.

So that’s my story for Black History Month.  I hope that it as enhanced your appreciation for a noteworthy black artist…a black artistic historical figure, whose impact on society and my life via his movies/roles is undeniable.  Ladies and Gentlemen…SIT-NEE POE-TEE-AIR!

My Garden Life – July 2013

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My Garden Life  – July 2013

The Old Farmers Prayer (abridged)

 

Time just keeps moving on

Many years have come and gone

But I grow older without regret

My hopes are in what may come yet

 

On the farm I work each day

This is where I wish to stay

I watch the seeds, each season sprout

From the soil as the plants rise out

 

I study Nature and I learn

To know the earth and feel her turn

I love her dearly and all the seasons

For I have learned her secret reasons

 

All that will live is in the bosom of earth

She is the loving mother of all birth

But all that lives must pass away

And go back to her someday!

 By Malcolm Beck & Robert Tate

 

Those of you that are regular readers on this site know what a difficult year 2012 was for me at my home garden and for my associates that worked with me at Nolan Elementary-Middle School (Nolan’s Fierce Gardeners).  Between the vandalism at the school garden that literally forced us to start over [1] and the oppressing heat that definitely affected farm and garden production across the country (record heat waves in the Midwest), 2012 was nearly a devastating year.  But through all that, my friends and I, fellow gardeners and kids survived and conquered our enemies, natural and man-made, to have productive yields at both gardens.[2] .[3] . [4].  So as the year ended I was feeling pretty doggone good!

One of the last things we did with the kids was a garlic-seeding lesson coordinated by what was then the Garden Resource Program.  We all met at a community garden in Hamtramck to do some clean-up work, drink some fresh pressed apple cider and learn how to plant garlic.  I’ve got to tell you…that cider was damn good…it was cold and tart and natural and cold and sweet and cold…it was fabulous.  One small cup was all I dared to consume.  One small cup…the nectar was addicting!  One cup more would have led to a jug and then just hanging out at the cider press.  This stuff was that good.  Of course we couldn’t keep the kids away from it, but we did manage to get them to focus at what was at hand.  It was a fun day and even I learned something because I was out there.

So I got some garlic from my good BUDDY John Adams and planted it on Nov. 4th along the back row of the garden.  Starting from the West/South end heading north I planted: Music (14); Japanese (13); Kilarney Red (27) and Chesnok Red (30).  Also buried pumpkin shells to add material to the soil.  I was ecstatic because I had a lot of momentum at behind me and I was feeling good about 2013’s prospects.

Two reasons I was feeling good were John R. King Academic and Performing Arts Academy[5] and Law Academy.  They both became members in the Project Sweet Tomato program.  They both had so much too work with, greenhouse (!!!), a more than cooperative attitude and importantly, the correct vision.  The teacher/coordinator, the newly retired Ms. Gwen Bouler was excellent to work with and when you see her garden you will know why [6].  Another reason for heightened expectations was the development of a fine relationship with the staff of Nolan Elementary-Middle School.  Nolan is an EAA (Educational Achievement Authority) project school and in this new environment there has been considerable growth and improvement in literally all aspects of the program…from administrative staff to the CEO Ms. Angela Underwood (principal) and her Parent & Community Involvement Specialist, Ms. DeAndrea “DeDe” Rogers to the teachers and most importantly the kids and their grade scores.  Wonderful things are going on over there and I am excited about its future.

There’s another garden-related program in the city that initially I was pretty high on.  The Detroit School Garden Collaborative, when I first heard about it I was ecstatic.  Six-raised bed with all the fixins’ would be given to Detroit Public Schools that applied for them.  There would be new jobs for students (paid-internships) and for adult assistants.  The gardens would grow vegetables that would be used in the school’s cafeterias.  There would be classroom programs, horticultural and agricultural education, nutrition, and community outreach.  Unfortunately they have had some problems getting it off the ground.  It is going to be a work in progress, and for it to succeed it will need help from a lot of organizations.

As the New Year started, when I am typically checking out my gear and determining what I want to grow (my seed catalogs were coming in almost daily), I found myself not counting the days, but procrastinating about what I was going to do and when I was going to do it.  The first thing off of my “bucket list” was germinating seeds indoors.  My excuse was I didn’t want to take on the process of converting my dining into a plant laboratory.  So to be sure, I cleaned up the dining area, got it looking regal and all that, but slowly but surely it got loaded up with seed packets and garden paraphernalia anyway.

Then came the cold weather crops distribution courtesy of my friends and mentors of Keep Growing Detroit (a spin-off from the Garden Resource Program) in April.  I thought I was going to regain my mojo but “po’ pitiful” me couldn’t get any traction.  The weather didn’t exactly help either (at this date a token excuse), but I did get out and plant carrots and for the first time since I began gardening here, I will be a carrot eating fool!!!  Yum, Yum Eat ‘Em Up!  That sound you hear is not thunder…nor a earthquake…neither a sonic boom, no that’s me taking a bite from a carrot pulled fresh from the garden.  I planted several varieties like:

  • Nelson
  • Danvers
  • Royal Chantenay

They are all doing very well, the stems, a parsley-like green…tall and flowing.  But, as exciting as the carrots are, I’m still not quite there.

The month of May kind of shot by for me and before I knew it, warm-weather crop distribution, courtesy of Keep Growing Detroit, was upon me.  I was picking up for my home garden and the Nolan School garden too!  I got there and instead of being excited seeing old friends and making new ones, I meandered from distributor to distributor and gathered my plants and split.  It was no big deal…it didn’t register on me then but upon reflection I should known then that there was a different feeling this year.

I shared my thoughts/feelings with several of my gardening friends and surprisingly was told the same thing.  Almost everybody I know, that is into gardening, considers this year to be an off year as for interest and effort.  They will get what they get but they don’t intend to work too hard to get it.  This behavior probably explains the lack of gardening conversations between my friends and I.  Everybody claims a lack of focus this year too.  They’ve got a lot of major projects going on elsewhere and something’s got to give if they are going to get them done in a reasonable space of time.  Something had to give and for many it was gardening.

I think that for myself, I have spent a considerable amount of time assisting the effort to get the gardens going at Nolan and John R. King.  Both of these school gardens got in before mine.  I was fortunate that some veggies that over-wintered in the garden gave me some of my earliest taste experiences.  I had lettuce and scallions in May and June, plus the garlic I planted last November has been harvested as I write this.  I didn’t really get anything in the ground until June 2nd.  I spent the entire day and the two days that followed (between rain storms) putting every plant I had in and planting seeds also.  So in spite of my laxity of energy and desire I have happily managed to get the following crops in:

  • Greens (All Greens Mix)
  • Arugula
  • Nelson Carrots
  • Napoli Carrots (Fall)
  • Lettuce (Mesclun Mix)
  • Spinach, Space
  • Yankee Bell Pepper
  • Early Jalapeno Pepper
  • Italia Sweet Pepper
  • Big Beef Tomato
  • Brandywine Tomato
  • Cherokee Purple Tomato
  • Black Cherry Tomato
  • Green Zebra Tomato
  • Paste Tomato
  • Marketmore Cucumber
  • Georgia Collard Greens
  • Broccoli
  • Belstar Broccoli (Fall)
  • White/Green Cabbage
  • Red Cabbage
  • Tenderbush Green Beans
  • Goldmine Yellow Wax Beans

For a guy that’s supposed to be experiencing an overwhelming feeling malaise this is no small undertaking.  There are 3-20 ft. rows of each bean type…17 tomato plants, 6 varieties14 pepper plants, 3 varieties24 cucumber plants (trellised)4 of each cabbage…6 collard greens…6 broccoli (plus 6 to be planted).  This year I didn’t plant two of my standards, yellow squash and zucchini, as well as a host of peppers (long/short cayenne, ancho/poblano, hot/sweet banana).  I also skipped on the tomatillos.  I guess the several containers of frozen Salsa Verde in my freezer should serve as a reminder of what I should not grow in the immediate future. 

Maybe I am slightly disaffected because there have not been the usual challenges as per seasons before.  I used to get so much fun looking out my office window, keeping watch on the squirrel population as they devastated my garden.  My BB gun has been in the closet now for two years.  Or the times when 50 to 100 birds, black ones with black beaks and iridescent chests, would land in my yard and walk from one side to the other eating and destroying (breaking) everything in their path.  They got a lot of insects but there was a toll to pay.  They would use the garden as a giant dust bath, just flipping and flapping…sometimes fighting around the garden.  Breaking whatever they could…collateral damage, right?  Of course there were the rabbits…my hip-hop friends that nibbled exclusively on young, tender shoots.  All of this has stopped.  Stopped virtually completely!  And I think I know why…my inflatable snakes.  The inflatable snakes from last year.  I haven’t had to put them out this year because no animal…bird or rodent…has come into my yard.  They stopped coming in last year and with the exception of one rabbit and one squirrel hopping quickly across the yard I have not see any pest/varmint in my garden this year.  Maybe they think that the snakes are still out there somewhere…lol.  I do miss the birds, especially the wide variety I did see, but I don’t miss the rest of them that’s for sure.

I ultimately think that I am slowed more than just a little because of the unpredictability of the weather, here and across the nation.  Last year, we were experiencing extreme heat and violent outbursts of weather.  A combination that was not conducive to high output at any level.  This year, with the somewhat mild winter, we were hit by a spring that was somewhat reminiscent of past springs (not as moderate as last year) and a summer that to me was kind of slow to take off.  Last year we had the heat and this year, so far, we’ve got rain…Rain…RAIN and plenty of it.  We have had more than enough rain.  Last year from June 1 through July 30, I hand watered each and every plant on almost an every other day basis.  Because of the heat, unfortunately I over-watered.  So far, this year, I have physically watered my garden only 3 times.  Imagine that…only 3 times (and one of those times it rained afterward).  Between June 1st and July 21st, 61 days…it has rained 29 times!  That’s almost every other day!  Perhaps, I and many others are feeling like we have no control…no control of the weather (how much rain can be too much rain)…no control over the care of the vegetables…no control of the overall outcomes.  All we can do is plants them…put them in that damn ground and nurture them to health and productivity.

Is this what our forefather’s faced?  The Scott’s brand or Miiracle-Gro didn’t exist!  Technology for them was a well that was not more than 10 steps from the garden.  Man, Woman, child, family and friends against the elements.  You didn’t get fancy or waste a space with something that wasn’t going to come close to expectations or needs.  It was about land management.  You had to seasonally rotate and manage crops so that you could eat all year.  Frigidaire?  What was that?  Kenmore?  Come On!  You better get your crops down into that “root cellar”[7] and let them set for keepin’!  Back then, you gardened/farmed with an ongoing desperation and frustration, so maybe that’s what I am feeling now.  As much as I would like to have it, that magically charged green thumb, it’s not going to happen.  I will have to adjust, think smart and adapt to whatever the elements and the environment give me. It looks like in several ways this year will be as good as last year and better too in specific areas.  My bean production should be up, while I am sure my tomato output will be down.  I will take a good bean yield any day! My cabbages are off to a slow start but the collard greens are doing quite rightly so.  Hot banana peppers are looking good and plentiful, jalapeno peppers are at standard and bell pepper plants are flowering.  I will have a good yield from my cucumbers; the plants right now look vigorous and strong.  I will need 101 different ways to prepare this vegetable if they hold to form. 

2013 photo 1

Cucumbers and plum tomatoes

2013 photo 3

All my little bean soldiers standing in a row!

2013 photo 4

2013 photo 5

A row of carrots planted between two rows of garlic

2013 photo 7

2013 photo 8

2013 photo 9

All of the garden scaffolding…can’t wait till the tomato plants fill them out.

2013 photo 10

These pictures were actually taken about 3 weeks ago and a lot has happened since they were taken.  I’ve got beans on the plants and tomato development and growth is improving.  Fall crops will get in next week.  I have come to like this garden.  It’s different…it’s practical…it’s creative.  Like most experienced gardeners and farmers, I will learn from this year, put it in my toolkit, and get ready for 2014.

World’s Turning…Keep Growing Detroit

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If you are as behind on somethings as I am, then you might not have heard about the changes that have taken place within the Detroit Agriculture program/organization aka The Greening of Detroit.  The 2013 Garden Resource Program is now being coordinated and directed by a new group, Keep Growing Detroit (KGD).  The good thing is that KGD is made up of most of the same people we were working when it was called the Garden Resource Program (GRP).  Yes, Lindsay, Eitan and “Tee” (Tepfirah) are still around but it looks like there are several new faces that are mixed with the old.

Why the change?  I really can’t say.  It is hard to ignore how political urban gardening has become so maybe this was brought about because there was a need to have one group focus solely on the political issues while the second focused exclusively on gardening.  I would have to say that out of the gate the KGD is doing a fine job.  There are a few things that are not the same but those I believe are cosmetic issues and it won’t be too long before they find their stride again, internally and externally.

I don’t make it habit to do financial appeals on my site but in this case I will make an exception.  If you are looking for a worthy non-profit to donate to, become a member of the Keep Growing Detroit organization.  You do not have to live in Detroit to be involved in their efforts to support urban gardening.  All it takes is a $10 donation.  If you would like to give more I am sure that they would accept it.  They are a great group of dedicated people that work real hard to improve the resources and lives of Detroiter’s, young and old.

The Garden Resource Program coordinated by Keep Growing Detroit, supports over 1,400 gardens and farms across our community and is made possible through the collaboration of hundreds of community-based organizations and residents.  And, though, you may support some of their collaborators and support organizations, there is nothing wrong with contributing directly to this group.  All it takes is a phone call to (313) 757-2635 or email to: keepgrowingdetroit@gmail.com.  Your donation may make it possible for them to continue their seed/crop distribution program, field trips, horticultural/agriculture education series, Grown in Detroit, while they continue to provide garden-related resources and materials to their members throughout the city.

Keep Growing Detroit is one of the few programs where you can actually see your dollars of support hard at work.  It is hard to drive anywhere in Detroit, Hamtramck and Highland Park and find a garden (school, community or family) that has not benefited from having an association with the program.  They have my support…can you give them yours?

Please send your checks to…

Keep Growing Detroit 76 E. Forest Ave.  Detroit, MI 48201

Keep up the good work, folks!

 

All Good (?) Things Come To An End!

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It’s Tuesday, October 30, 2012 and I am enjoying fresh vegetables from my organic garden.  Just yesterday I cooked collard greens, boiled potatoes, cornbread with a side of slice tomatoes for my mom.  The greens and the tomatoes were from my garden.  After that super hot and drought-like summer, I am totally amazed that there is anything out there, let alone it being edible.  In addition to the greens and tomatoes, I’ve got yellow squash, peppers, and tomatillos “on the bush” too, so to speak.  This is in spite of the pronounced chill in the air that we’ve had since the middle of September, with a few exceptions.

I know I said I wasn’t going to keep track of what I harvested but I decided to do it anyway.  I am a fool in love when it comes to gardening and it didn’t make sense to abandon the process for one year just because this summer didn’t turn out as well as the year before.  But all things considered, it wasn’t a bad year…it was a good year and if things had been slightly different I would have had a great yield.  At the end of the day my yield was off nearly 45% from the previous year

Vegetable                                                 2011                2012                Diff +/-

 

Cabbage/Greens/Lettuces/               31.5 lbs.        21.3 lbs.          -10.2 

Broccoli

 

Beans (all varieties)                            16.3 lbs.         2 .4 lbs.          -13.9

 

Peppers (all varieties)                        19.75 lbs.      12.53 lbs.      -7.22

 

Tomatoes (all varieties)                      121.47 lbs.   66.54 lbs.     -54.93

 

Tomatillos                                                9.01 lbs          4.84 lbs.         -4.17

 

Zucchini/Squash/Cucumber               22.5 lbs        22.63 lbs.     +0.13

 

Onions/Shallots                                      9.0 lbs.        .25 lbs.             -7.75

 

Herbs                                                        1.0 lbs           0.625              -0.375

 

Totals                                                      230.53 lbs       132.16 lbs.      -98.37

 

Surprised?  Yeah, so am I!  I am surprised that it did so well. There are some very unique things going on which I should explain so that the numbers make more sense to you.  For example…

  1. I didn’t plant as many tomatillo (2 vs. 4), pepper (24 vs. 51) or tomato plants (34 vs. 34, of which only 14 were not cherry/small tomatoes vs. 5 in 2011) as I did in 2011.
  2. I didn’t plant onions.
  3. My zucchini yield was off this year but the yellow squash made up the difference.  Cucumber yield was about the same or slightly more.
  4. Cabbage production was down significantly (small heads) whereas the greens and broccoli were up.  I did not plant any head lettuces just the leafy varieties.
  5. The bean output was just pitiful.  More plantings than in 2011 and far less yield, the worst ever in 6 years.
  6. 2011, I literally went crazy…planting and cramming as much into the garden as I could.  And when I ran out of room I bought pots and bins.  The goal was to not have to work as hard in my garden this year as I did in the previous year.  I think that there is a happy medium and I am confident I will find it in 2013.
  7. I hand-watered the garden. I didn’t want to water the weeds (which, thankfully I didn’t have many)!   I hand-watered in 2011 too, but it got to a point that I had to use the hose.  2012, though I had fewer plants they needed just as much attention.  Look at the number of plants (see point #1) I had in both years.  Hand watering takes time!  I felt like I was working myself like my mother likes to work my “government mule” ass.  I overworked myself in 2011 and wasn’t going to make the same mistake in 2012…and yet I watered AND WATERED!  I was averaging between 90 – 100 minutes every 2 or 3 days through the middle of August.  Hot days took longer.  The plants looked like they were doing great even with the heatwave, but with the notable exception of the tomatillo plants, which unexpectedly grew to nearly seven feet tall, they were all rather spindly and ultimately kind of weak looking.  But like I said, the numbers were there but the size and weight wasn’t.

In spite of the overall low production, I did have a spell there, for a while, where my dining room table was loaded with vegetables of all kinds. There was more room out of the refrigerator than in so anything that didn’t have to be refrigerated right away stayed out.  My plan was to can and freeze as usual, but there was an insufficient amount of the tomatoes I wanted to can and not enough beans to do a proper freezing project with.  When I did manage to freeze something it actually seemed like it was a lot but in reality I spent only three days in the kitchen, which I intentionally spread out over the days.

I did eat more of the veggies this time.  Since preserving them wasn’t going to work, I took the time to enjoy my garden in the moment…most of the time the veggies were picked that very day.  I had something substantial from the garden every two to three days.  I highly recommend the GRP (Garden Resource Program) Salad Mix of lettuces and their All Greens Mix (great for stir-frys).  I got compliments from everybody that I shared produce with and in spite of my low yield I still shared a lot.  Rotating at the top of the popularity list were the Purple Cherokee Tomatoes, Collard Greens, and the Cubanelle, Sweet Banana and Yellow Hot Peppers.  I had never tried to grow the Cherokee tomato variety nor had I ever had a Cubanelle pepper.  The peppers grew to a very nice size and the tomatoes had a very unique and sweet taste.  Anybody living in Detroit that owns or plans to start a garden should check out the Garden Resource Program at www.detroitagriculture.net.  It’s a great program and resource.

Another pleasant surprise was the shallots!  I didn’t think that I grew that many (20 oz.) but I have been using them about once a week since they were harvested at the end of July.  This was also the first year that my green bell peppers grew to size.  I only had 6 (out of 8) plants that actually grew some and they were beautiful.  I ate these while I froze the Cubanelle and the Sweet Banana peppers.  I was afraid to attempt to let them mature to red because I thought I was pushing my luck with the squirrels.  But, ultimately, I had nothing to worry about.

I had fewer problems with the squirrels due to the inflatable snakes I had in the garden.  In fact, I didn’t lose one pepper to the squirrels and at the worst I probably lost only about 4…maybe 5 tomatoes before the “I didn’t care” mentality took hold (October 20th).  Even now, the squirrels avoid going into the garden…hahahaha!  The garden was also fenced all around, so I didn’t have problems with rabbits either.  The sad thing was that my birds didn’t stop by and visit.  I always thought that the birds came from miles and miles away and I really enjoyed the different colors they brought to my window throughout the day.  But the snakes kept them away too.  Oh well, I guess it was the appropriate trade off, because there is a particular type of black bird that would come into my garden en masse and they would be as destructive as the squirrels.  They loved to attack any green shoot coming out of the ground and fight amongst the squashes.  But this, the year of the snakes, meant no birds…ces’t la vie!

So all in all, I enjoyed this year’s garden very much and I am sorry to see it end.  As I conclude this blog on Monday, Nov. 5th, I am proud to say that I got the most out of it I could.  Imagine picking hot and sweet peppers and tomatillos as late as Nov. 4th.  I had tomatoes out there were still ripening too!  They were small but not much smaller than the heat stricken tomatoes I had in the summer.  And I will concede that they didn’t taste as good either, but still…man…it’s “freakin” November and I was pulling healthy productive plants out of the ground.  What a summer (climate change and all) and what a fall…all good things (?) do come to an end!

P.S. I can’t wait until next year!  I have already planted nearly 60 cloves of garlic of four different varieties (Music, Japanese, Kilarney Red and Chesnok Red) in two 20 ft. long rows.

Thanks to John Adams, Jenni Littsey, and the Garden Resource Program for helping to make this year’s garden fun!

What Was It Really Like This Summer?

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If you read my blog, “Green Thumb?  Maybe…Maybe Not!” you know that I described on a personal level, as well as a regional and national level, how hot it was this summer and how the heat affected my garden and anybody else that took the time to put seeds in the soil.  Well how hot was it really?  Here’s a breakdown from the month of May thru August (courtesy of the National Weather Service)…

May

Despite a near normal month of April, we experienced the third warmest month of May in the history of weather record keeping.  The average spring temperature (March, April, May) was 55.2, which was a full two degrees warmer than the previous record of 53.1.  May was characterized by persistent warm temperatures along with episodes of record or near record temperatures.  Only three days in the entire month (the 10th, 17th and the 31st) featured below normal temperatures, as the remaining 28 days saw daily average temperatures rise to at least 10 degrees above normal on 10 occasions, including 2 days of 90 degrees.  Those two 90 degree days happened a month early than the average date (June 19th) for Detroit’s first 90 degree temperatures.  The highest temperature for the month was registered on May 28th at 95 degrees.  The average temperature for the entire month was 65.3 degrees.  The normal average was 59.7, so May 2012 was 5.6 degrees higher than the norm, tying it with May 1896 for the third warmest May in history.

# Days 70+ Degrees          # Days 80+ Degrees          # Days 90+ Degrees

13                                            8                                              2

Rain/Precipitation: 1.72 inches

June

June started with unseasonably low temperatures.  May 31st the temperature was a lowly 65 degrees and June 1st followed at only 62 degrees.  After recording 13 straight months of above normal temperatures, it did seem like a change might be in the air to start the season.  I took advantage of the cooler weather to aggressively put seeds and plants in the ground.  After June 1st we had only one other day (June 5th) that was below 70 degrees (6/5 was 69 degrees) as the hovered in the 80’s and 90’s most of the month.  In fact, there were only 6 days in the 70’s (6/2: 75; 6/4: 72; 6/6: 79; 6/11: 77; 6/13: 74; 6/25: 76).  This was the first real sign of the drought-like conditions that was to affect the entire Midwest and other parts of the country.

The first 90-degree temperature of June and the third of the year occurred on June 9th and by the time the month ended; we hit 90 degrees 8 more times.  This meant that in two months (May and June) we had already hit 90+ degrees eleven times which is amazing since Detroit only averages eleven 90+ degree days a year.  With June being as warm as it was it resulted in an average temperature of 50.3 degrees for the first six months (Jan.1 thru June 30) of the year also…another record.  The previous record for the first six months of the year was 1998, the “Super Nino” year, with 49.1.  As I have pointed out in previous posts, the warm weather had to have an affect on the crops.  Consecutive hot days and warm nights probably impacted on the growth cycle of the plants.    The average low was only 60.6 with 13 days above the 60-degree mark.  The hottest day of the month was June 28th when it hit 99 degrees.

# Days 70+ Degrees         # Days 80+ Degrees           # Days 90+ Degrees

6                                              13                                            9

Rain/Precipitation: 1.31 inches

July

If anybody thought that June was hot (and it was), July was hotter and I do mean HOTTER!  July, the warmest month on record nationally, was the second warmest month ever recorded in Detroit.  The average temperature of 79.0 fell just –0.3 degrees short of the all-time hottest month, which occurred exactly one year ago (July 2011).  The heat also prolonged the streak of warmer-than-normal months for Detroit to 15, dating back to May 2011.  In similar fashion to last summer, extreme heat quickly built across the southern plains and Midwest early in the warm season.  However, very dry conditions allowed the heat to expand northward much more aggressively than in the year prior.  The result was prolonged near-record or record heat across all of southeast Michigan that lasted not only through June, but July as well.  By the end of the month, record heat and dry air had resulted widespread severe drought conditions across southeast Michigan.  Because thunderstorms are relatively inefficient at alleviating drought conditions, the multiple episodes of extreme weather that occurred did little to ease drought concerns.  But the storms did do some damage…

Taken July 5, 2012 by Jenni Littsey

These pictures were taken on July 5th after a major thunderstorm hit my mother’s neighborhood.  Fortunately, nobody was hurt!

The extreme heat resulted in the high temperature reaching 90 degrees or higher on 13 days in July, raising the total for 2012 to 24 days for the year at that point.  More than doubling the annual average of 11.  At that pace it was possible to beat the all-time record of 39 90+ days, which was set in 1988.  Additionally, the 100 degree threshold was crossed 3 times (July 4th, 7th and 17th), marking only the 3rd time in Detroit’s historical record that 100 degrees has been reached more than 3 times in a calendar year.  The hottest days were July 4th and the 17th when the temperature hit 102 degrees.  The record warm start to the year was also prolonged through July.  The average temperature of 54.5 degrees exceeded the previous record of 52.9 (Jan. thru July 1921) by 1.6 degrees.  Overall the average temperature for the month was 89.6 degrees or +6.2 degrees above the 83.4 degree monthly normal, and the second warmest month on record.

# Days 70+ Degrees                # Days 80+ Degrees       # Days 90+ Degrees

1 (July 19th)                              17                                            13*

*Includes 3 100+ degree days

Rain/Precipitation: 3.67 inches

The extremely dry weather conditions left me wondering how the neighborhood wildlife survived during these times.  It had to be pretty hard for the birds, as they need plenty of water.  That probably explains why I didn’t see as many as usual except for the days after a big rain.  I watered the plants in my garden by hand so as to not waste any and as a result there was absolutely no standing water anywhere.  The squirrels, however, probably got through it all by eating more vegetation (leaves, etc.).  One would think that my garden, which was full of succulent plants and all, would be an ideal target, but I strategically placed inflatable snakes in the garden and that has kept them at bay, even now.  The weather probably affected the amount of babies the squirrels had (giving birth in July) so there weren’t as many needy mouths to fill.  Still, when I look up at the trees, they don’t have as many leaves on them as usual.  C`est la vie!

August

What can I say about the month of August?  One thing we do know is that it was still hot…very, very hot!  August continued the record-setting trend of higher than normal temperatures (average temperature 83.4, which was +2 degrees over the norm, 81.4) for 16 consecutive months.  The higher than average temperatures in August also extended the record high temperature average from January thru August.  I am totally convinced now that there is such a thing as global warming (as if there was any doubt).

August started out with 8 straight days of 80+ degree weather, picking up where July left off (12 consecutive days of 80+ degree weather).  The average temperature for those 8 days was a whopping 89.2 degrees.  There were 6 more days that were 90+ degrees increasing the total for the year to 30 days.  The hottest day was Aug. 31st when the temperature hit 95 degrees and the coolest day of the month was Aug. 11th when the thermometer registered only 71 degrees.  For the first time since June (69 degrees on June 5th) we had temperatures below 74 degrees.  So that means we had 64 days in row where the temperature got no lower than 74 degrees, during which time the average temperature was 88.3 degrees.  Now that’s HOT!  The 4-month average (May – August) was 83.3 degrees, 5 whole degrees difference.  It’s no surprise that no matter whom I spoke to, people’s gardens suffered quite a bit.  With the scant amount of rain we got through that stretch (4.9 inches =  .07 per day or just slightly more than ½ inch per week), the problems I had with watering (just enough or too much) now appear to be understandable (Green Thumb?  Maybe…Maybe Not!).  But, what I still don’t get is how well the community garden at Nolan Elementary-Middle School did.  Planted where it got full sun for the entire day and subject to the non-focused watering technique of young girls and boys (some times they missed entire rows of plants) AND to also have to deal with a limited supply of water, the garden did more than just survive…it THRIVED!  Plus, it had to go through hurricane like damage from vandals.  Am I jealous?  You bet I am…lol!  You can’t beat results and Nolan’s Fierce Gardeners ultimately had a fantastic year. Look for their upcoming success story on their blog, “Planting The Seeds.”

# Days 70+ Degrees         # Days 80+ Degrees            # Days 90+ Degrees

9                                              16                                            6

Rain/Precipitation: 2.25 inches

Is This The End?

Is this the end?  Well, we will just have to wait and see.  So far this the temps have stayed pretty consistent with the rest of the summer: Sept. 1 = 84; Sept. 2 = 81; Sept. 3 = 89; Sept. 4 = 81; Sept. 5 = 89; Sept. 6 = 86; Sept. 7 = 79.

Last year (2011) the month started out strong too: Sept. 1 = 92; Sept. 2 = 98; Sept. 3 = 95; Sept. 4 = 78; Sept. 5 = 64; Sept. 6 = 67; Sept. 7 = 63

But once the temperature dropped on Sept. 5th it mainly stayed that way for the rest of the month and for the remainder of the year.  The warmest day was Sept. 12 when it hit 84.  The coldest day was the last day of the month, Sept. 30 when it dropped to 55 degrees.  There were 16 days when it was 70 degrees or below.  The average temperature for the entire month was 72.5, which actually isn’t all that bad.  But, that would be considered to be a “spring-like month” compared to the temperatures we have experienced this year.

Do we have anymore 90+ degree weather on the horizon and will we break the aforementioned record of 39 days, set in 1988?  Only time will tell.  One thing is for sure, this was one helluva summer…definitely one for the books!

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