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.

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.

The Most Important Lesson Learned From This Year’s Garden Is…

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Frequent readers of this blog may recall that this year presented real challenges to gardeners and farmers across the country.  The months of April and May were rainy and wet.  June and July brought record highs due to searing national heat waves.  August was almost fall-like with the temperatures going up and down. September, well it was September, and a true “Indian Summer” never really manifested in October, as many local baseball fans would attest.  The mantra I am sure that came from everybody lips was “Deal With It…Just Deal With It!  You really had no other choice but to deal with whatever Mother Nature threw down.  Our fathers…our father’s fathers…and their fathers before them all understood what we all now know…“that which doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger”…DEAL WITH IT!

So deal with I did.  I posted pictures in a previous blog that showed what my garden looked like at a couple of stages this year.  At the time the pictures were taken, I was hopeful but I really wasn’t expecting much, not like last year.  Last year was fantastic…an exceptional year.  What made me more than a little concerned was that I had signed up for a program with the Garden Resource Program (The Greening of Detroit) to weigh my harvested produce.  When I signed up for this initiative I did so because of last year’s success.  But with the way things had started this year I was having some regrets and doubts very early on.

Every day I worked out in the garden, I thought of myself as a “sodbuster”, in the traditional sense.  On the rainy days I got soaked to the bone!  On the hot days I sweated like a pig!  Either way I looked like someone had thrown buckets of water on me.  One day my mother said, “Arthur, what have you been doing…you’re BLACK”!  I had to laugh for maybe my mom didn’t know that black folks tanned.  But there I was with a farmer’s tan…neck, shoulders, arms and the bottom half of my legs (I usually wore shorts when working in the garden).  My long hours working in the garden, in the sun, evoked memories and images in my mind of cotton fields and cabbage patches worked by sharecroppers back in the day.  The things I read about in history books or works of fiction were what I was living presently…day in and day out.

Lest you think that I am being overly dramatic, there is a real connection to the past here…the way we all used to live.  Being a post-war baby…a baby boomer…I can recall the days when everybody had a garden in his or her yard.  You lived off of your efforts to grow things.  If you grew tomatoes…you canned them!   If you grew beans…you pickled them!  If you had fruit trees…you made jams or pies!  We had cabbage plants, carrots, peas, cucumbers; you name it…you grew things because you had to…everybody lived off of the land.  Black, White, Asian…Martian or Venutian…you worked your garden because it was in your DNA.  History compelled you to do so.  And now 50 some odd years later, I was carrying on the tradition.  I never thought about it…never thought I would…but I was out there.  Watering plants by hand, not with a hose hooked to a faucet, to save money and resources.  Pulling and hoeing weeds…gardening organically, without the use of pesticides.  Fighting off the varmints…squirrels, birds and rabbits, fending off the damage they could and would do on a daily basis.  There were a lot of moments where I thought, “How did they handle all of these negative factors…the rain, the heat, weeds, the insects, the varmints?”  How did they survive these daily, weekly or season-long challenges?  How did they do it?  They would Deal With It…that’s all they could do…deal with it.  And so did I!

Around the beginning of July, several of the plants started to show signs of bearing fruit and I harvested my first vegetable from the garden.  It was Romaine Lettuce.  We had it as part of our Fourth of July celebratory meal.  Not too long after that, my onions were ready.  I was kind of surprised that the onions were ready so soon, but I guess because of the extreme heat we had in June, a lot of vegetables matured at an accelerated pace.  We had a big storm around July 11th and several of my tomato plants were knocked over.  The bush beans were flooded and potted plants were blown away.  But you know what I did, don’t you?

Around July 14th things started to come around.  The beans came back from the storm damage and though it looked some of the plants growth (cucumbers, zucchini and squash) was stunted due to the excessive heat, there were signs that things would be okay.  On July 19th I harvested my first batch of bush beans and the garden took off from there.  Before the end of the month I was picking beans, cucumbers, lettuces and tomatoes and at the beginning of the month of August, I was adding all types peppers and squash to the list.

I kept planting beans throughout the summer and ultimately those efforts paid off.  Before that garden was done, I had planted four successions of Contender and Provider bush beans along with Cherokee Yellow Wax Beans.  My pole beans were a victim of the summer heat as they flowered quickly and then just died without producing anything.  But everything else just flourished.  It seemed that every day it didn’t rain I was picking stuff from the garden.  My “yard of plenty” was giving me plenty to share with family, friends and neighbors.  Some of the biggest tomatoes I have ever grown.  The fleshiest and tastiest beans, the sweetest cucumbers and peppers that were both hot and sweet.  Even my first year test of growing tomatillos was showing signs of success.  Since I was weighing everything I harvested, I was surprised to see at the end of the month that I had harvested 60 pounds of produce.  WOW!

September was even better!  This time last year I was fighting a losing battle with the squirrels that lived in the trees around my yard.  I was talking to a friend about the garden and pest control when he asked me how much had I lost to the squirrels this year.  I thought about it for a minute and said that I had lost between 1 to 2% of this year’s yield up to then.  It sounded so insignificant when compared to last year when I spent hours every day chasing the varmints from my yard and was unable to stop them from feeding two or three times a day.  His remark was to SHUT THE F**K UP!  I wasn’t just getting by…I was getting over!  And he was right.  September was even better than August when it came time for me to audit what I harvested for the month.  On September 15 I had harvested a total of 117.66 pounds (August/September combined) and the final tally for the month showed that I had harvested 166.84 pounds.  I had harvested over 100 pounds during the month of September.  The breakdown was:

Category

 

  • Leaf/Greens            10.6 lbs.
  • Cabbage/Broccoli            8.4 lbs.
  • Beans              16.4 lbs.
  • Squash/Zucchini/Cucumbers            20.06 lbs.
  • Tomatoes            82.09 lbs.
  • Tomatillos            7.13 lbs.
  • Peppers            12.55 lbs.
  • Onions            9.0 lbs
  • Herbs              1.0 lbs

 

Total                           166.84 lbs.

 

For October, though the numbers are incomplete, to date I have harvested 63.31 pounds of produce.  I have harvested everything I can but still have quite a few tomatoes and tomatillos on the vine, along with broccoli, which has several shoots on each remaining plant.  So by my count I am well over 200 pounds and I just might, if I don’t get hit by a hard frost before the end of next week, reach 250 pounds.

So in spite of all my worrying…hand wringing…cries of despair, I have had a truly remarkable year.  What an effort…what a great yield!  I learned a lot form gardening this year but the most important lesson I learned was…no matter what comes up…meet it head on…and just Deal With It.  You may be real surprised as to way things turn out!

 

 

Ode To The End Of Summer

 

 

Summer, adieu

Adieu gregarious season

Goodby, ‘revoir, farewell

Now day, comes late; now chiller blows the breeze on

Forsaken beach and boarded-up hotel

Now wild geese fly together in thin lines

And Tourist Homes take down their lettered signs

 

It fades—this green this lavish interval

This time of flowers and fruits,

Of melon ripe along the orchard wall,

Of sun and sails and wrinkled linen suits;

Time when the world seems rather plus than minus

And pollen tickles the allergic sinus

 

Now fugitives to farm and shore and highland

Cancel their brief escape.

The Ferris wheel is quiet at Coney Island

And quaintness trades no longer on the Cape;

While meek-eyed parents hasten down the ramps

To greet their offspring, terrible from camps.

 

Turn up the steam.  The year is growing older.

The maple boughs are red.

Summer, farewell.  Farewell the sunburnt shoulder

Farewell the peasant kerchief on the head,

Farewell the thunderstorm, complete with lightning,

And the white shoe that ever needth whitening

 

Farewell, vacation friendships, sweet but tenuous

Ditto to slacks and shorts,

Farewell, O strange compulsion to be strenuous

Which sends us forth to death on tennis courts. 

Farewell, Mosquito, horror of our nights;

Clambakes, iced tea, and transatlantic flights.

 

The zinnia withers, mortal as the tulip

Now from the dripping glass

I’ll sip no more the amateur mint julep

Nor dine al fresco on the alien grass;

Nor scale the height nor breast the truculent billow

Nor lay my head on any weekend pillow.

 

Unstintingly I yield myself to Autumn

And Equinoctial sloth.

I hide my swim suit in the bureau’s bottom

Nor fear the fury of the after-moth

Forswearing porch and pool and beetled garden,

My heart shall rest, my arteries shall harden.

 

Welcome, kind Fall, and every month with ‘r’ in

Whereto my mind is bent.

Come, sedentary season that I star in,

O fire-lit Winter of my deep content!

Amid the snow, the sleet, the blizzard’s raw gust

I shall be cozier than I was in August.

 

Safe from the picnic sleeps the unlittered dell,

The last Good Humor sounds its final bell

And all is silence.

Summer, farewell, farewell.

 

By Phyllis McGinley

 

Lastly, a special thanks to all of the people of the Garden Resource Program.  Lindsay, Kido, Carmen, Tepfirah, Eitan and all of the rest…thank you for your kind and generous support.  See Y’all Next Year!

 

The Front In The War Against Cancer…The Home Garden

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Tomato

Image via Wikipedia

It is said that no one food can reduce your risk of cancer, but the right combination of foods may help make a difference.  You have the ability, by growing your own fruits and vegetables, to create perhaps the most potent tool in the fight against cancer.  The following highlights “what and why” you should have in your home “Cancer Victory Garden”.  You will not only be rewarded by the produce grown, but you may also reap the benefit of a cancer-free existence as you make vegetables and fruits a part of your daily life.

Fruits and vegetables are rich in cancer-fighting nutrients and the more color, the more nutrients they contain.  These foods can lower your risk in another way, also, when they help you reach and maintain a healthy body weight.  Extra pounds will increase the risk of multiple cancers, including colon, esophagus and kidney cancers.  You should try to have at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day (one serving = ½ cup)…prepared in a healthy way.

Folate is an important B vitamin that may help protect against cancers of the colon, rectum and breast.  To get folate try growing melons (honey dew, musk, cantaloupe), strawberries and asparagus.  Other folate rich foods you can grow are leafy green vegetables like spinach and romaine lettuce and beans and sunflowers (use the seeds).

Tomatoes are another cancer-fighting agent.  Whether it’s the lycophene – the pigment that gives tomatoes their red color – or something else isn’t clear.  But some studies have linked eating tomatoes to reduced risk of several types of cancer, including prostate cancer.

Dried beans are especially good for you.  Therefore, it should not be a surprise they may fight cancer too.  They contain several potent phytochemicals that may protect the body’s cells against damage that can lead to cancer.  In the lab these substances slowed tumor growth and prevented tumors from releasing substances that damage nearby cells.

Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, bok choy and kale.  Components in these vegetables may help your body defend against cancers such as colon, breast, lung and cervix.

Dark green leafy vegetables such as mustard greens, lettuce, kale, chicory, spinach and chard have an abundance of fiber, folate and carotenoids.  These nutrients may help protect against cancer of the mouth, larynx, pancreas, lung, skin and stomach.

The potent antioxidants in blueberries may have wide value in supporting the fight against cancer too.  Antioxidants fight cancer by ridding the body of free radicals before they can do damage to cells.  The three major antioxidant vitamins are beta-carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E.  Other antioxidant vegetables and fruits are (by category):

Beta-carotene and other carotenoids

  • Asparagus
  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Cantaloupe
  • Carrots
  • Corn
  • Green Peppers
  • Kale
  • Turnip/Collard Greens
  • Pumpkin
  • Squash
  • Spinach
  • Sweet Potato
  • Tomato
  • Watermelon

 Vitamin C

  • Berries (all types)
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cauliflower
  • Honeydew
  • Kale
  • Red, Green or Yellow Peppers
  • Snow Peas
  • Sweet Potato
  • Strawberries
  • Tomato

 Vitamin E

  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Chard
  • Mustard/Turnip Greens
  • Pumpkin
  • Red Peppers
  • Spinach
  • Sunflower Seeds

So get your vitamins naturally from the food you grow.  Both the American Cancer Society and the American Institute of Cancer Research emphasize that getting cancer-fighting nutrients from foods like nuts, fruits and green leafy vegetables is vastly superior to getting them from supplements and eating a healthy diet is best.  So come on everybody…start digging!

Primary Source: WebMD