Category Archives: Gardening

Should you have a garden to support local food or just buy local food

I have been into the local food thing for a few years now.

It feels good, but I have to wonder if my efforts are making a difference or if they are largely symbolic.

Is there a better way to go about it?

My thoughts take me to my garden this year. I had a huge garden, which unlike other years produced a small yield for the space/time spent.

Most years, I grow so much that I cannot eat it all nor do I have the time to cook what I can eat. I have tried to grow foods that stores longer as a result.

But I end up giving a lot away if I can. I never plan for the excess, so my donation effort is pretty random and not very efficent.

In recent years, I find that I am growing more flowers instead of food to avoid the excess. At least the bees are happy, which is kind of a big deal too.

This year however, the hot weather destroyed my Spring crops. The grass burried my smaller crops regardless of long hours weeding. And the late start of the garden left me with no yield for my sweet potatoes.

With that said, I discovered that even extremely split cabbage still tastes good and flowering arugula tastes great too, which I had figured it to be done for. So maybe my yield was a little better then I thought.

I did not do the farmers market with my sprouts and bake goods this year, so I found myself as a shopper instead of vendor.

As a shopper, I noticed that I found that my garden competed with the market vendors. Instead of buying their produce, I had my own in my garden (sort of).

I never thought about it until this year, but did having my own garden make sense on a local food movement level?

Would both I, and the vendors (and the local food movement) be better served if I did not grow a garden, but instead bought from a local farmer instead?

I don’t have the exact numbers, but a garden can be a costly endeavor. There is the community garden rental, the cost of adding nutrition to the soil and then there are the plants and seeds, equipment/tools, plant supports (tomato cages) and fencing, not to mention the garden time.

I am not sure how much I spend in a given year, but it must be a few hundred dollars unless I found crazy good deals or started my own seedlings.

If you are willing to get your plants in late, you can find great end of seedling season deals at the farmers market.

Which again begs the questions, do farmers selling seedlings at the farmers market compete against themselves by promoting home gardens?

I figure that gardeners are the same customers who shop at the market, and they end up buying less because they bought seedlings.

I guess it ends up being a matter of timing because farmers end up having seasonal produce available before the gardener has theirs, but eventually they catch up with each other.

All of this has me second guessing my garden.

Of course, not all gardeners grow enough and many farmers market shoppers do not gardener at all.

Part of me thinks that at least on a local food movement level that I should still grow a garden, but I am starting to think about growing a high yield, low labor, low cost donation garden if I want to push local food to donate.

And that buying from a local farmer would make more sense.

Is the local food movement about growing more local food as efficently as possible and getting that food to more local mouths?

Are we simply playing a numbers game?

To a large extent, I think it is.

When I go to the farmers market, I still see tables of produce left at the end of the day.

If the local food movement is so big and growing, wouldn’t there be a run on local food with every vendor selling out?

After all only a small presentage of the food produced and consumed in any given area is local.

So it stands to reason that if the local food movement is so big given the huge amount of media dedicated to it, we would hear about fights over the last cartoon of eggs and shoving matches at farmers markets over a bunch of kale.

I could be wrong here, but it looks like the local food movement is having a hard time creating a demand for the current yield of food that is being produced let alone pushing for larger growth.

At least that is what it looks like at the farmers market.

The local food movement needs more mouths I figure reagrdless if I have a garden or not.

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Extend the Harvest

Ann Arbor Food End of Year Garden

End of Year Garden: Extend the Harvest

The garden is looking pretty spars for the most part, but not my collards. My Collards are huge, look great and taste great.

I wish I had the foresight to grown my whole green in Collards.

There is a garden concept to extend the Harvest. This does not mean extending the growing season.

To extend the harvest in places like Michigan that means growing winter hearty crops in late summer and early fall like broccoli, cabbage, mustard, kale and collards.

While the plants will slow or stop growing at this point, they stay tasty and fresh into winter. Even with snow on top, these veggies keep going and can be harvested long after the garden is usually packed up for the year.

Ann Arbor Food Collard's and Tofu with garden roasted potatoes

Collard’s and Tofu with garden roasted potatoes

Ann Arbor Food Arugula Flowers

Arugula Flowers

Ann Arbor Food Garden Spider

Garden Spider: It looks scary, but it is a beneficial insect

 

Ann Arbor Project Grow Community Gardens 40th Anniversary Bash

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Ann Arbor’s Project Grow Community Gardens caped off another season with their 40th Anniversary Bash for over 100 follow gardeners.

Like always, the p0tluck featured some great eats with lots of fresh veggies from the garden and cuisine that reflected the diversity of gardeners in our community.

Notable favorites of mine was the veggies pakora, lentils with mixed greens, my foccacia bread, dueling quinoa dishes, ginger top pickles and hot blueberry and apple crisp and more and more. And did I mention we had a whole roasted pig and crispy duck.

Thanks everyone for a great party and a great year.

Check out the pics.

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Vegetable Adventure

Ann Arbor is now in Zone 6A

Check out the latest plant zones Here (USDA Plant Zones)

Ann Arbor is now in zone 6a, which is one zone up from our last rating. (yes it is getting warming)

It is still freakin over 100 degrees. Ugh! which makes me think this zone hardiness thing should be redone every year.

On my own garden front, I realized that I was not growing a “New” vegetable this year.

Every year I try to grow at least one vegetable that I have not eaten before, so I can expand my veggie horizons.

I guess, I am growing “salad” potatoes, which I have never had before, so that is my experiment.

But this got me thinking about my gardening and how far I have come as a veggie eater. My last post mentioned Tatsoi, an Asian stir fry green, which I added to my veggie vocabulary five years ago.

The question is where do I go from here?

Have I reach some kind of veggie peak, at least the veggies that I can grow and eat locally?

It kind of feels that way.

My garden does not represent every vegetable I can grow in South East Michigan, but it is a good sampling especially for an annual Plot.

If I had a year round garden, there would be a list of things I would love to grow.

Grapes
Berries (blue, black, raspberry, strawberry, currents, wine berries)
Fruit Trees (plum, apple, peach, apricot, pear, quince, cherry)
Nut trees (especially hazelnut)
Rhubarb
Garlic
Artichoke

Potato Update 2012

(Pictures coming soon.)

I was watering today (like everyday…where is the rain?), and I n0ticed some roque potatoes in my garden. Now this is a new garden spot, which was lawn for years before it was turned over.

The deal is that they ran out of seed potatoes at Downtown Home and Garden, so I figured I try buying organic potatoes and let them spout and plant them.

Well a few weeks go by and nothing, so being eager to use the real estate, I planted green beans in half of that space and ended up finding some seed potatoes at Colemans.

Well it turns out that I might have jumped the gun because I am seeing potatoes come up in my green bean patch, which creates an issue of how to mound up the potatoes without affect my now nicely growing beans?

And I also now have 2X the amount the potatoes growing in the other half of the potato bed.

Maybe it will work.

Garden Season: At 100 degrees

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Chard

Man. It has been a crazy hot year for gardening.

I got in late this year, but it worked out because I was able to get a two garden plots at the new Project Grow Gardens on Platt Rd.

This week’s Harvest will be kale, chard, collards, arugula, radish and basil. It will be my first official harvest of the season.

I am looking forward to green beans and spinach if it does not bolt.

Ann Arbor Food

Radish

Below is a close up of my garden set up. I tend to favor a simple design of slightly raise beds 2-3 feet wide. I plant in 1, 2,  or 3 rows per bed depending on the plants.

When planting seeds, I use chop sticks to mark my rows.

A basic rule is that a seed package will provide enough seed for a 1, 2, or 3 rows the length of one of my arms span for a good seeding.

For bigger plants like cabbage, broccoli, kale and tomatoes, I plant in two rows with each plant places off center from from the row over. (see the Kale pictures, which might be hard to see because they are now bushy.

Sometimes I use straw in my rows, but most of the time I don’t and hoe the weeds (It has been, so hot that I am a little behind as you can see.)

Row by Row: Turnip, Mustard, Arugula

For those who have read about my potato fiasco last year, I am back to the traditional method of digging a trench and hill up with dirt.

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Potatoes beds and seeds

Happy Hill-ed Potatoes

I will be posting other garden designs from follow community gardeners soon.

So What am I growing?

Green beans
5 kinds of Kale
Collards
4 Kinds of Potato (Salad, Fingerling, yukons
Sweet Potato
Watermelon (baby and large)
Cantaloupe
Cucumbers (Pickling, standard, english and Armenian
Mustard Greens (Mizuna and Purple)
Arugula
Spinach (If it does not bolt)
Onions
Eggplant (Japanese and Large Purple)
Peppers (Red sweet, Cayenne
tomatoes (Not sure, I inherited some of Project Grows plants…20 plants)
Radish Three Kinds (breakfast, red ball, diakon)
Turnips (Big and white Japanese)
Kohlrabi
Broccoli
Cabbage
Winter Squash (Butternut, Buttercup, acorn)
Flowers (Mix)
Herbs (Parsley, rosemary, thyme, hyssop, basil,
Giant Snow Peas (If they grow in this heat)
Beets
Corn
Chard
Celeriac
Radicchio
Carrot

My Garden. It goes all the way up the hill 25 x 60

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Kale: Dino, White, Red Russian, Green, and Curly,

Planting Time: Reflections on Last Year

OK. I have high hopes for my garden last year and I even experimented with some “Time saving” strategies for growing potatoes, my main crop. The idea was to grow potatoes and sell them at my booth at the farmers market.

There were a few issues with the idea. The first was that I used only straw to cover my potatoes, which resulted in a disaster.

(see my enthusiastic before the fact post on horizontal potato growing method.)

The second was that I was planning to sell potatoes, a commodity crop, and most other farmers at the market were selling them and many customers at the market told me that they had a sack of potatoes in their kitchen already

What happened is that along with potato beetles, that ate the leaves , I discovered a centipede bug that ate the tubers.

Potato Beetle not full grown, without distinctive yellow strips

I was really good at picking off the potato beetles and they did not actually kill too many plants, so I figured that I would still get a nice harvest of potatoes.

Centipede bug that ate my potatoes especially my yukon golds

But the real damage were these guys above, a centipede like bug that ate the potatoes.

I was told that my straw mounding method, instead of mounding with soil, is what did me in.

Apparently, what happened is that these centipedes have a hard time getting around under soil, but my nice and moist and loose straw created a perfect home for them and they ate 75% of my potatoes especially my Yukon Golds.

I harvested over 10o pounds, but I should have had 300-500 pounds or more.

Potato harvest

Also my second experiment, potato bags where a total wash.

The plants look great, but yielded no potatoes.

 I literally had less tubers than the seed potatoes I planted. Potato bags are really hit or miss and for me, this being the second time I have tried, it was a complete MISS. Both times, I had no potatoes.
The lesson here is to grow potatoes the traditional way.
That means digging a trench, planting and covering them and mounding them up with soil as they grow.
Then forking them up. 
This takes some effort, but I have found all of the experiments to not be worth it.
As a side note, I used to work for a garden catalog company that sold a potato bin that boosted 50 pounds of potato yields. The company had to issue refunds and was doing a test of 200 of the bins to see if the product worked.
I opted to use good old soil and planted my potatoes in a 3 x 3 foot space giving them a square foot per plant for a total of nine plants. I am pretty sure I out grew any potato bins.