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.

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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!

Green Thumb? Maybe…Maybe Not!

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This year has proven to be a real challenge for gardeners and farmers around the world.  Though there are a lot of people (mainly politicians) that want to discredit all notions of global warming there are a lot of signs or indications, whether it be heavy snowfalls, severe rainstorms or the consistent high heat  and drought-like conditions, that point in that direction.  You’d have to live on another planet not to be aware of the impact the climate has had on cost of living now and perhaps into the future.  Fruits and vegetables are going to cost more this year.  Our feed crops for animal consumption have been hit pretty hard too.  Creating a domino effect that virtually ensures that the meat we eat, beef, poultry and pork, will cost more.

If you have been watching our local and national newscast, you have seen how the high temperatures of this summer have affected the crop production in many of our key states.  The corn in Indiana is about half the size it should be.  Wheat production in many of the plain states is way off.  High heat and the lack of rain has been a recipe for disaster.  And what is truly amazing is that despite or inspite of the extreme weather conditions, weeds…and I do mean WEEDS,  continue to grow and do very well.  The lack of rain or watering has not stop the weeds from “uglying” up our lawns, gardens or indoubtedly our farms.   Maybe weeds will be the crop of the future.

Many of my friends have asked how I and my garden are dealing with the summer of 2012, so I have quite a few pictures I would like to share with you all that show how I am handling things.  I must admit my green thumb feels like it’s only a green pinky.  I do not believe I will have the same production from my 2012 garden that I got from the 2011 effort.  Tomatoes are smaller, bean production is off and some things like carrots never sprouted.  Afraid that my zucchini and squashes were parched, I probably over watered them.  Even plants, like peppers, that typically enjoy hot weather conditions are undersized.  My expectations are so low as of now, I am seriously considering putting away my scale (courtesy of the Garden Resource Program) for the summer.  Gardening is a lot of fun, but it is a lot of work too.  I have worked harder to have fun  this year than any previous year.  And even with all of my whining and complaining I still believe it will be worth it.

Stage One – June

I am off to a good start…

Check out that soil!

New fencing to keep out the rabbits and the squirrels…hahaha!

So much promise…so much to look forward to!

Stage Two – The Beginning of July

The first week of July…Nice!

After this, virtually no rain for the rest of the month!

Stage Three-The End of July

Cucumbers…looking good!

Yellow Wax Beans

Now, I know you are all looking at this and saying what in the H*** is he talking about?  Well, there are times when even I look at it and ask myself the same thing.  But don’t let the green grass fool you.  It is brutal out there…absolutely brutal.  Some plants are doing very well and some are well below normal expectations.  I have re-planted beans three times.  My pole beans are a total disaster.  The yield from my zucchini and squash, as previously mentioned, is so low it is almost disgraceful.  I do have to accept the fact that somethings, especially the weather, are totally out of my control.  Oh, but I will more than make do though.  Again, as previously noted, my lettuces and greens are doing exceptionally well.  It still looks like I will get a lot from my Yellow Wax Beans.  All varieties of my tomatoes will ultimately do well…they just won’t be as large or as plentiful as they have been in the past.  My peppers, all types, will have a banner year.  So I will survive, but the price for surviving has gone up…way up.  Because to get what I have, I have had to work twice as hard this year to get even close to the output of previous years.  That’s right…twice as hard!

Is it worth it?  Easy answer…”Yes it is!”  Since I preserve a lot of what I grow, I will appreciate my efforts whenever I go to my freezer and pull something out that I grew this summer.  Plus, the most significant benefit will be the money saved.  A quick visit to my local supermarket has already proven that too.  Prices are already starting to rise while the quality, unfortunately, is going down.  Growing my own is still the best way…the most cost efficient way to eat fresh, quality food on a daily basis.  Without a doubt it has been a struggle this year…a real test of my green thumb (and the rest of my fingers).   But guess what?  I can’t wait until next year.

Related articles on this site…

  1. Compost Tea…A Most Beneficial Brew!
  2. I Thought That All Dandelions Were Good For Was Making Wine!
  3. 10 Things That Successful Gardeners Know or Do!

Are you having problems with your garden this year?  Drop me a line…misery loves company!  Also, the people at the Greening of Detroit are a good resource for dealing with problems you might have with your garden.  Contact Lindsay Pielack (313) 285-2300 or go to www.detroitagriculture.net.

It’s A Bloomin’ Garden!

9 Comments

Going Home

Are you familiar with this piece of music?  It is probably the most recognized theme in classical music.  The theme is called “Largo” and it is a movement in The Symphony No. 9 in E Minor “From the New World” by Anton Dvorak.  Most musicians know that it was composed during his visit to the United States back in 1893.  It is often used to evoke the splendor of farmlands throughout our country and is one that I think of when I gaze out my office window to look at my garden almost every morning.

As they say, nothing could be finer than to look out my window and see what is happening in the garden.  It’s not quite the middle of summer and round about now there are plenty of people, home-gardeners, community gardeners and farmers that are taking stock as to where they are and what they have to do to have a successful gardening effort.  2011 has brought forth a few challenges and as gardeners or as farmers we have just had to deal with it…deal with whatever good old Mother Nature has thrown our way.  The strong do survive!  And to throw another cliché your way…”that what doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger” or in this case “smarter” will be a fact of life for us “sodbusters” committed to a productive harvest from our gardens.

With the wet spring we had, farmers/gardeners across the Midwest, experienced considerable delays in getting their seeds in and their crops started.   As noted on this site, in a previous blog, I was able to get my peas in the ground in mid-April and plants (courtesy of the Greening of Detroit) like lettuces, cabbages, greens and broccoli in by the second week of May.  I wasn’t able to get everything else in the ground until after the Memorial Day weekend.  With the timing off for everybody, there was considerable doubt here and everywhere that “corn would be knee-high by the fourth of July”.

  Pac Choi/Collared Greens/Cabbage

I then had to establish an effective regimen that would at the very least position me to have a decent yield.  So I weeded (easy work), I composted (heavy work) and I planted, re-planted and planted again (3 succession plantings of bush and pole beans) until everything was in.

 Contender Beans

Provider Beans and Romaine Lettuce

Pole Beans

All I needed at the point of getting the garden completely in was a little cooperation in the weather department.  Now that we were definitely in the warm to hot cycle of the calendar, I needed rain and plenty of it.  If only it would continue to rain somewhat like it had throughout the spring I would be all right, but alack and alas it did not.  Now I am sure that if you were to look it up, our rain days were not too far off from last year or as I recall one of the TV weathercasters state, “we are down just a few inches from the near record amounts of the previous months”.  But the reality is that, although we may have gotten rain, it didn’t happen when and as often as it was projected, wanted or needed.

All along, my plan was to water the garden by hand as often as possible and with my rain projections (fueled by daily weather reports) I didn’t think I would have to do too much of that.  What I was saving by growing my own produce, I didn’t want to “water” away.  Plus, hand watering is no walk in the park.  Especially with a garden as big as mine and with the number of plants that have been planted.  In addition to what is in the ground I have a variety of plants in pots.

Peppers and Basil in pots

Potted Roma Tomatoes

Beyond what you see in the pictures above, I have a total of 21 plants in pots.  Ranging from Ancho/Poblano Peppers, Wisconsin Hot Peppers, Cayenne Peppers, Jalapeno Peppers, two types of Basil, Chives, Sage, Tarragon and several varieties of Tomatoes (including Brandywine, German and Italian Heirlooms).

I still hand water but it takes a little more than 1 hour to directly water these many plants (in-ground/pots) by hand.  So far this year, I have turned the hose on only three times to water the full garden.

 Peas and Onions

 Tomatillos and Peppers

 Row of Tomato Plants

As it stands now, this is what I have in my garden:

(p = pots)

 

(26)  Tomato Plants

  • Giant Delicious
  • Italian Beefsteak
  • Big Beef
  • Moskvich
  • Green Zebra
  • June Flame (Jaune Slamme)
  • Brandywine (p)
  • German Heirloom (p)
  • Italian Heirloom (p)
  • Round Roma (p)
  • Black Cherry

 

(4)  Toma Verde Tomatillos

 

(27)  Pepper Plants

  • Bonnie Green Bell Peppers
  • Bonnie Sweet Red Bell Peppers
  • Bonnie Sweet Yellow Bell Peppers
  • Generic Large Yellow Bell Peppers
  • Yankee Bell Peppers
  • Black Hungarian Peppers (p)
  • Early Jalapeno Peppers (p)
  • Marconi Sweet Red Peppers
  • Long Red Narrow Cayenne Peppers (p)
  • Wisconsin Peppers (p)
  • Ancho/Poblano Peppers (p)

 

(242) Bean Plants

  • Kentucky Wonder Pole Beans
  • Contender Bush Beans
  • Provider Bush Beans
  • Cherokee Yellow Wax Beans

 

(66)  Pea Plants

  • “Spring” Sugar Snap Peas
  • “Cascadia” Snap Peas

 

(150) Onion Sets

  • Bonnie Dry Yellow Onions
  • Bonnie Sweet Yellow Onions
  • Bonnie Red Onions

 

(48)  Carrots

  • 2 x 4 Giant (p)
  • Danvers Half Long (p)
  • Solar Yellow (p)

 

(16)  Squash/Zucchini Plants

  • Cocozelle Zucchini
  • Round Zucchini
  • “Saffron” Yellow Squash

 

(14)  Marketmore Cucumber Plants

 

(15)  Heads of Lettuce

  • Romaine
  • Black Seeded Simpson
  • Mesclun Lettuce Mix (p)

 

(13)  Heads of Cabbage

  • Red Express Cabbage
  • “Shuko” Pac Choi
  • “Lascinato OG” Kale

 

(3)  Heads of Champion Collard Greens

 

(5)  Broccoli Plants

  • Arcadia

 

(6)  Herb Plants

  • Genovese Basil (p)
  • Chives (p)
  • Tarragon (p)
  • Thyme (p)
  • Sage (p)
  • Gigante d’Italia Parsley (p)

 “Provider” Bush Beans (front), Peppers and Tomatoes

 

 Full Garden South View

Lookin’ Good…don’t you think!  

I would love to know how your gardens are doing.  If you would like to tell your story or post some pictures, feel free to contact me here or by email at littsey.arthur@sbcglobal.net.

 

 

Life Is Like A Box Of Chocolates…

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Forrest Gump

“Life is like a box of chocolates,” Yes indeed, and it is because you don’t really know what to expect.  When I put out the call to businesses and friends to support the Project Sweet Tomato program, I had no real expectations as to who would step up and embark with me in an effort that could impact and influence the lives of our children by demonstrating how to have a healthy lifestyle in a fun, yet educational way.  A broad effort that included social outreaches and not just to the children/students, but to their families and their community, also.  Relevant, inspirational and motivational outreach to many was the intended outcome goal of the program but to witness it, as I have, has been a totally pleasurable experience.  An experience that I believe has been shared by my partners in the program, so far.  Many have embraced Project Sweet Tomato and a lot of people have shown their support for the program in unexpected but highly valued and much appreciated ways.  One such supporter is Maura Ryan-Kaiser.

One day, last summer, over a lovely dinner with Maura, her husband Jack and a friend, we had a fun conversation about Farmville one of the games on Facebook and a game that Maura had totally embraced.  I chided her for playing the game when to my surprise she told me about her container gardening efforts and the landscaping effort that was now their backyard.  I have to tell you that looking out over their yard with the colors so natural, rich and vibrant was like viewing a frame of an early Disney movie…like living in a Technicolor world.  Further testament to her love of actual gardening was that we had tomatoes from her container garden in the salad.  Not bad!!!

I don’t know if it was at that moment that I thought that the Kaiser’s would be interested in getting involved with Project Sweet Tomato, which at the time was still a concept.  One thing I did know was that if they were to get involved it would be in a most sincere and significant way.

 

The Kaiser Family

I was very happy when I got the call that the Kaiser’s and their family business, Snelling Staffing Services were joining the program.  We shared several emails discussing the finer points of the program and throughout the entire process it was clear that there was a vision, that, like my other sponsors went beyond giving a bunch of kids some seeds to plant in the ground.  Maura had shared the concept with her staff and she came to the table with a volunteer group of 13 strong, and that included her two sons.

 

In addition to the volunteers, she detailed other elements of her vision or more appropriately her mission now that she was engaged in the program.  She saw an opportunity to use her client base to create an ongoing series of career fairs.  Real world…in real time, frank discussions on what it will take to be employed in the present and the future.  Another element was establishing a mentoring program.  This would be something she would like to get her clients involved in also.  The plus side is that everybody that gets involved in the effort gains…it is a win at all levels.

Project Sweet Tomato

+

Snelling Staffing Services

+

Business Partners/Clients

+

Public School

=

Relevant Business Outreach + Positive Community Engagement

WIN!

 

It was during the first week of April that I got the call from the Detroit Public School Foundation/Detroit Regional Chamber representative, Brooke Franklin of Business Corps, to discuss a school for Snelling Staffing Services.  We discussed two schools and due to the nature of the resources that Snelling intended to provide it was determined that the complex of schools known as Cody High would be the ideal partner for Snelling in the Project Sweet Tomato program.  Cody is made up of five schools that address different education disciplines and their names reflect their individual and independent curriculums.

 Cody - Detroit Institute of Technology at Cody

For Project Sweet Tomato, Snelling Staffing Services has been partnered with Detroit Institute of Technology.  The principal of DIT is Ms. Mary Kovari.  There are two teachers that have been assigned to work with us, and they are Ms. Forchatta Scott and Ms. C. Ramona Gligor.  We held our first meeting on Friday, April 29th, where we were introduced to another Cody/DIT sponsor, East Michigan Environmental Action Council (EMEAC, www.emeac.org), which was represented by Ms. Lizzy Baskerville.  EMEAC has a project that they call the “Greener Schools Program.”  The school has a lot of projects and goals it wants to accomplish over the next few years and Snelling uniquely provides the ways and means for some of them to be achieved

Arthur Littsey (l.), Maura Ryan-Kaiser (c.), Mary Kovari (r.)

 

Facing camera...Lizzy Baskerville (l.), Ramona Gligor (c.), Forchatta Scott (r.)

So when I look at this box of chocolates that I call Project Sweet Tomato, I can’t help but wonder with great anticipation what flavor will I get the next time?  What combination of business and school will I get that will produce another sweet outcome?

Inspired?  Want to get on the bandwagon?  Want to know how you can help?  Contact Arthur Littsey/Nine Below Zero at (313) 369-1710 or email at littsey.arthur@sbcglobal.net.

To learn more about the Detroit Public Schools Volunteer Business Corps/B.O.L.D. (Business/Organizations Optimizing Learning in Detroit) partnership between the Detroit Public Schools, Detroit Regional Chamber and the Skillman Foundation        click here

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