Monthly Archives: April 2010

U Bee the Gardener: Grow a Row for the Honey Bees

OK. If I have not already staked a claim on your garden by asking gardeners to grow sugar beets this year(see Ann Arbor Sugar Beet Project), I have yet  another request for your garden space. That request is to Grow of a row (of flowers) for the Bees. Some may know about Colony Collapse. This is when worker bees from a bee hive disappear. This has been happening at an alarming rate for many years, and has had a negative effect on honey bee populations worldwide. There is still no definitive cause, but of the factors suggested was a decline in basic bee nutrition.

Basically, a healthier bee has a better immune system to fight off disease, and that health comes from a mixed diet of flowers. The decline of basic bee nutrition can be caused by the loss of habitat from development, and the wide spread increase of nonflowering mono crops like corn, wheat, and even the suburban grass lawn. Bees, like humans require a varied diet, which is usually not a problem in the naturally ecologically diverse environment like a wild flower meadow.

So what do bees eat, and how can we help?:

Bees eat nectar, which is the liquid sugary substance found in flowers. So in order to feed the bees we need more flowers. And because we human also love flowers, I see growing some extra as a win, win.

Why should we care about the humble honey bee?:

For starters they make honey, but their main job is to pollinate. Pollination is the transfer of pollen from the anther to the stigma of a plant. It is basically plant sexual reproduction, and it requires in many cases a pollinating insect like a bee to make reproduction possible. The result of this reproduction is fruit. And the bees do there job well. I remember when I worked on an organic farm for a season. The bees would be so caked with orange pollen dust from pollinating squash flowers in the squash patch that they looked like flying cheese puffs.

The loss of pollinating insect means a loss of fruiting plant crop yields. If there was no pollinators, there will be no crop at all, and that would mean a massive loss in world food supply for humans, and animals alike.

The loss of pollinators would mean that we humans would have to hand pollinate each plant one at a time with a q-tip, a next to impossible task.

Without pollinators, we will be reduced to a diet of grains, fish, a handful of other plants that open pollinate, or reproduce with asexually reproduction, and grass fed animals. Say good by to most of the foods we love, and need to survive.

So how can we help the bees/pollinators?:

Grow a row of flowers in your garden for the bees. If you do not have space to grow flowers, you can always let a section of your lawn go wild. Native wild flowers will eventually seed the place you do not mow, and those flowers will feed the bees.

I would go as far as to say that we should give up our lawns entirely, and say farewell to the lawn care chemical industry, and gas powered mowers altogether. Just think of all of the bees we can feed with a naturalized wildflower meadow instead of a lawn we rarely use? Insert naive optimism, a vision of a wild flower meadow with a rainbow over head, and soothing music in the background.(chuckles)

I do not see every suburban home owner, municipality, or institutional campus giving up their lawn mover anytime soon, so we bee loving gardeners will have to do our part.

What flowers are best to grow for our friends, the honeybee?:

Listed below are seed companies that sell a honey bee flower mix. I have used the Territorial Seed mix with good result.

Territorial Seed

Seed Land

American Meadow , Midwest Seed Mix


The Beet Goes On: Ann Arbor Sugar Beet Project 2010

Some may recall my posts about Michigan Sugar Beets. They were about being excited about living in a region that produced its own sugar (beet sugar), but also about being concerned that, that same sugar was grown using GMO sugar beets. I realized that sugar making from beets was a Michigan food wise tradition. Home gardeners used to grow their own sugar beets, and process them into sugar on a small scale like home canning. I figure we local enthusiasts, and home gardeners could take back the tradition.

And thats where the Ann Arbor Sugar Beet Project 2010 comes in.

I am growing a large garden of sugar beets this year, and will process them into sugar.

I am also calling for other gardeners, local food enthusiasts, home canners, and food activists to take up the call and grow their own sugar beets too. I will be offering sugar beet seed, and sugar beet plant starts at my Inchworm Microgreens Farm stand at the Westside Farmers Market this summer, starting on June 3, on Thursdays from 3:00-7:00PM. The idea is to restart a home sugar making tradition in Washtenaw County.

So how much sugar can you expect to get?

I have read various estimates, but having never done it before, so I am not sure. The rule seems to be about one ounce of sugar per pound of beets, or 6.25%. But the industry standard is 15%.  Each beet will weigh 3-5 pounds. After processing, a small plot of say 5 x 5, or 25 beets, you yield about 5-10 pounds of white sugar, with a good amount of leftover molasses. I figure I use about 10 pounds of sugar a year for a family of four with canning and home baking.

The leftover beets can be composted or be used as farm animal feed for some very happy goats, and pigs.

How to I participate in the Ann Arbor Sugar Project?

Pick up some beet starts, or order some seed from me and plant them in your garden. To official be apart of the Ann Arbor Sugar Project, participants are asked to weigh their final beets crop, report the square footage used, and of course the final yield of white sugar, and molasses. The result will then be tallied.

I have enough seed to plant an acre, which we will be able to plant if enough of us join the project.

How much sugar will we have if we grow an acre, and achieve the industry desired yield of 40 tons per acre? Yes, 40 tons per acre.

At 15% sugar, our humble one acre can produce 12,000LBs of non-gmo, organically grown (could not find organic seed) white sugar. Of course we need to process all of those beets, and find farmers with animals to feed 40 tons of processed sugar beet.

How do I make sugar from sugar beets?

Here is a great video on the process.

Please contact me with any question.

New York Style Pizza Class April 25 at Hollanders

April 25, Sunday: 1:00-200PM at Hollanders, upstairs in the Kerrytown shops

New York Style Pizza at Home with Brian Steinberg. Making your own pizza from scratch is easy, including a no flinging method of producing a classic New York style thin crust. A tasty, yet simple pizza sauce and two styles of pizzas, including pepperoni and vegetarian will be made and sampled today. Class Fee: $15

Register today

Wheatgrass: Inchworm Microgreens Farm

I have been posting this week about dandelion greens, and nettles tea. Both are a Spring perennials that impart health benefits and nutrition. And they are local to many regions in the US. Part of the eating local food conversation for me is to figure out ways to provide our basic nutritional needs, and that includes herbs and supplements. One such possible locally available supplement is wheatgrass. It can be grown in trays like shown above for fresh juicing. A special wheatgrass juicer is needed to make juice. A home blender will not work (trust me). The standard serving is a one ounce (shot) of juice. Some people drink it everyday or even three times a day during a cleansing program.

The price for an ounce of juice in a juice bar can range from $2.00-3.00. A standard size tray of wheatgrass will provide 8-12 ounces, and even more if you let the trays grow again for a second cutting. A third cutting can be tried, but that in my opinion is pushing it.

Why consume wheatgrass juice?

Long time raw foods health advocate Ann Wigmore claimed that wheatgrass juice cleanses and builds our blood:

  • improves skin and hair,
  • builds muscle and endurance
  • fights infections,
  • lowers blood pressure,
  • dissolves tumors,
  • acts as an appetite suppressant.

From wikipedia: Wheatgrass

None of these claims has been substantiated in the scientific literature, though there is some evidence in support of the beneficial effects of chlorophyll in the human diet.

As the chlorophyll molecule is structurally similar to hemoglobin, it has been argued that wheatgrass helps blood flow, digestion and general detoxification of the body. These claims have not been substantiated. However, some research exists that relates diets high in chlorophyll, present in higher concentrations in green leafy vegetables, to lower rates of colon cancer.

Where can you get wheatgrass?

It can be found in small trays at the health food store or sometimes at your local farmers market. If your Co-op or health food store does not carry it, request they do. You can also make arrangements to get trays through a local grower.

Inchworm Microgreens Farms offers full and half tray for $12/$6, locally in Ann Arbor, Michigan. If you are interest in reserving a tray contact me:

Nettles Tea Recipe

I am a big fan of fresh nettles tea. I first heard about nettles while I was attending a natural food weekend in Tennessee. They made a vinegar from adding raw nettles to apple cider vinegar. I had some and felt great. My mind was clearer. My digestion worked better, and my skin looked great too.

Nettles and other wild greens and herbs were more common place in the American diet. I mentioned like dandelions in a post last week. These seasonal plants provide nutritional and medicinal benefits. They are good for us, and they prepare us for the new season. Namely they can provide cleansing, and much needed nutrition. Taking advantage of natures local cleansing herbs and nutrition is another benefit of eating more locally and seasonally.

Whatever was in nettles seemed to agree with me, so knew I try to get some and make a tea from the fresh leaves when ever it was available. Nettles season is usually in the early to late spring. They are called Stinging nettles for good reason. The leaves have stinging burs on them that sting and lodge themselves into the skin like impossibly small splinters.I have found that washing with vegetable oil helps to remove the burs splinters.  My bag of nettles came with a warning to use gloves when handling. I use tongs not gloves, but I am careful.

It is because of nettles defenses that I do not grow them myself. I am afraid that they will spread in my garden, which will result in stinging weeds. Not a happy thought. I purchased mine the Ann Arbor Food co-op.

They can be cooked and eaten. The sting disappears with cooking, but I use mine for tea. Nettles are also popular with chefs as a coloring agent for pasta. Nettles have one of the largest amount of chlorophyl than any plant, which provides its deep green color, which probably why they are so good for us. The leafs are juiced and mixed with pasta like a spinach pasta for color.

Here are some health benefits of nettles I found, which I am not sure what they all mean:

Nettle contains a great number of amino acids, glucidic substances, amines, sterols, cetones as methyl heptenone, acetophenone, volatile oil, fatty substances, sitosterols, formic and acetic acid, panthotenic acid, folic acid, chlorophyl 0.3 – 0.8, protoporphyrine and coproporphynine. It also contains vitamins C, B2 and K, beta-carotene, Ca, Mg, Fe and Si salts, phosphates etc. Because of these compounds, the plant has anti-anemic, anti-diabetic, haemostatic and diuretic properties.


Recipe for Fresh Nettles Tea:

2-3 oz of nettles (about 2 big handfuls of leaves) or more for a stronger tea
16 oz of water
raw honey (optional)

Bring water to a boil, add leaves, stir in to cover and steep for 10 minutes. Drain, and drink immediately, or refrigerate. I drink some and refrigerate some.

Personal note: I go easy on nettles tea and drink only a glass a day. I found that when I drank a lot of tea, I would get dehydrated, which seems weird because I was drinking so much liquid.

Plush Food #5

More of Plush Food. I try to mix it up between savory and sweet. If I have time, and my craftsmanship is up to pair, I may start making a few plush food items myself. Here is some inspiration of some artist that I like on

Tax Day Holiday Food

OK. I am just going to say it.

Tax Day should be a happily celebrated holiday, and not a stressed out, last minute, angry rant at the government for taking our money.

And yes, it is the government’s money not our money. Just because we do not directly see what we are paying for with our taxes does not mean that it is ours.

Taxes are used to pay for stuff like roads, bridges, libraries, universities, grants for college, police, fire, schools, the FBI, our court system, the military and 1000’s of employees who work for us. And they pay taxes too. Below is a listing of where the money goes.

No one wants to pay taxes…but at the same time no one wants to give up their government services either.

So are you all with me with celebrating Tax Day?

Probably not, but we all still have to eat, and I figure Tax Day is good as any to create a traditional meal.

What should be our national meal and desert to go along with that celebration?

Good question. Most families just handed over a big check to the government, or they are waiting for a refund, so the idea of a big expensive meal with a huge portion of protein is probably out.

So I am thinking pasta. Specifically a jazzed up mac and cheese dinner, with say a salad on the side.

For desert, I am thinking pie because it represents the portion of the pie you just paid in taxes. We get to eat the whole pie including the portion we paid in taxes which is ours because we get to benefit from our government.(At least that is one way to look at it.)

What kind of pie? Not sure. Maybe an apple pie because taxes are as american as…Or maybe we can go with a chocolate cream pie. Chocolate makes people feel better.

Here is a quick view of where our taxes go:

Mandatory spending: $2.184 trillion (+15.6%)

$695 billion (+4.9%) – Social Security

$453 billion (+6.6%) – Medicare

$290 billion (+12.0%) – Medicaid

$0 billion (−100%) – Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP)

$0 billion (−100%) – Financial stabilization efforts

$11 billion (+275%) – Potential disaster costs

$571 billion (−15.2%) – Other mandatory programs

$164 billion (+18.0%) – Interest on National Debt

US receipt and expenditure estimates for fiscal year 2010.

Discretionary spending: $1.368 trillion (+13.1%)

$663.7 billion (+12.7%) – Department of Defense (including Overseas Contingency Operations)

$78.7 billion (−1.7%) – Department of Health and Human Services

$72.5 billion (+2.8%) – Department of Transportation

$52.5 billion (+10.3%) – Department of Veterans Affairs

$51.7 billion (+40.9%) – Department of State and Other International Programs

$47.5 billion (+18.5%) – Department of Housing and Urban Development

$46.7 billion (+12.8%) – Department of Education

$42.7 billion (+1.2%) – Department of Homeland Security

$26.3 billion (−0.4%) – Department of Energy

$26.0 billion (+8.8%) – Department of Agriculture

$23.9 billion (−6.3%) – Department of Justice

$18.7 billion (+5.1%) – National Aeronautics and Space Administration

$13.8 billion (+48.4%) – Department of Commerce

$13.3 billion (+4.7%) – Department of Labor

$13.3 billion (+4.7%) – Department of the Treasury

$12.0 billion (+6.2%) – Department of the Interior

$10.5 billion (+34.6%) – Environmental Protection Agency

$9.7 billion (+10.2%) – Social Security Administration

$7.0 billion (+1.4%) – National Science Foundation

$5.1 billion (−3.8%) – Corps of Engineers

$5.0 billion (+100%) – National Infrastructure Bank

$1.1 billion (+22.2%) – Corporation for National and Community Service

$0.7 billion (0.0%) – Small Business Administration

$0.6 billion (−14.3%) – General Services Administration

$19.8 billion (+3.7%) – Other Agencies

$105 billion – Other

Weekly Menu Planning

Do you have a plan for dinner for the week? For a long time I just kind of winged it for dinner. I bought what looked nice, added a few staples, and then made dinner. The problem with my approach is that sometime it worked and other times it did not. There was also extra effort in trying to figure out what to do with all of the ingredients all of the time like I was on a TV food challenge show. So eventually, I started creating the weekly menu. The idea is to create meals with balanced plates of protein, starch/carbs, and a vegetable element which includes a green vegetable. Now I know some popular diets philosophies tend to favor one food group over the other like for example high protein and little too no carbs, but speaking for myself, I find that omitting one group from a meal leaves me feeling like there was something missing in the meal. And unfortunately veggies tend to be the third wheel in our Meat and Potatoes culture. The slogan is “Where’s the beef?”, but how about “Where are the Vegetables?”

Once the weekly menu is created, the family weighs in. Are their too many baked items? Is the menu too heavy on meat and not enough on vegetables. Am I falling back on the same thing week after week? Ideas, suggestions, and preferences start to take shape. For example broccoli is always a crowd pleaser, so I know to fit that in. I like to mix up the menu with various cuisines like Asian, Mexican, Italian, Comfort American, and others.

Suggestions are noted and a final menu is drafted. The family gets excited about the week’s meals and preferences are met. This strategy can be a good way too bring kids into eating healthier. If they have a say, they are probably going to eat it.

The other great thing about weekly menu planning is leftovers. I usually make a little extra for dinner which then becomes a quick reheat lunch the next day. Dinners do not have to be fancy, or entirely made from scratch. I run to can beans, the occasional frozen veggie like peas, and sometime center a meal around jazzed up ramen noodles.

Here is this weeks menu:

Baked Chicken with roasted potatoes and greens (saute kale and onions)

Beans with cornbread and salad w/dressing

Brown Rice Risotto w/seafood and peas

Turkey burgers w/salad and baked sweet potato fries

Vegetable Stir fry with rice

please feel free to share your weekly dinner menu.


Michigan Lemongrass

I have been using Lemongrass for years. It imparts an complex citrus flavor to soups, curries, and meat dishes. It comes in the market as a long fibrous grass full stalk more than a foot long, or sold in the fresh herb section with the bottom root end. Most recipes call for using the bottom part of the lemongrass stalks, but when I went to The Spice Merchants in Kerry Town, they were selling the green grassy tops in dried form for marinades, and teas. As best as I can tell, lemon grass is not eaten, but use like an infused herb like say bay leaf.

Emily has become a big fan of chewing on the fresh intense lemon flavored grasses. When I starter thinking about eating more locally, I thought lemongrass, a plant from India, and use in my favorite Thai Coconut soup was out. But you never know what can be grown in Michigan until you try. So I bought a few lemon grass plant at the farmers market, and grew them last season. It is a tropical plant, and would have done better in a green house, but I managed to get a good crop. The stalks were not as thick as what you see in the store, but they still worked well in soups.

Here a link on where you can get the seed. I got my plant at the Ann Arbor, Michigan Farmers Market which was a lucky find.

Thai Coconut Soup: serves 4-6


2 Cans of Coconut Milk
2 Cups of chicken stock
2 five inch stalks from the bottom of the lemon grass, brushed,
1 pound of chicken breast, small strips
1/4 fresh shiitake mushrooms sliced into strips
2 inch piece of ginger (or Galangal) slice thin
5 kefer Lime Leaves
Juice of 6 limes
6 tablespoons of fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon Thai curry paste
garnish with cilantro

1 1/2 cups of white jasmine rice (cooked)


Add the chicken stock, one can of coconut milk, the ginger or galangal, and the lemongrass to a pot. Bring to a gentle boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Strain out the lemon grass and the ginger/galangal. Add the other can of coconut milk, the chicken, fish sauce, lime leaves, and mushrooms. Cook for 5-10 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. Crush the chili paste with some of the soup liquid to make a thin paste and stir into the soup. Add the lime juice and taste. Adjust the soup with more lime, chili paste or fish taste as desired.


Place a scoop of rice in a bowl, ladle soup over the rice and garnish with cilantro leaves.

Ann Arbor Farmers Market: Sat April 10

Organic Popcorn and Wheat

It is still pretty early in the season. There seemed to be more people selling crafts and plants than actual food to eat. A quick list of what I noticed: Spinach, shittake mushrooms, salad greens, eggs, beef/buffalo, wheat, popcorn, cider, potatoes, and jams.

Frog Holler Plant Starts

Frog Holler Plant Starts

Red Velvet Cupcakes Minis

Lemongrass Starts