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Showing posts from November, 2008

Hoophouse Update - Maturing Manure

So far, so good. The smell is not overwhelming when one enters, and there is a pleasant sort of humid feel in there when you enter. The overall draftiness of it is still slightly problematic in terms of keeping the temperature high enough for the plants. They are starting to show a bit of wear and tear from the low night temperatures we've been having. I think we need another load. I'm giving serious thought to bringing in some tires, stacking them, and filling them with fresh manure. It would be an easy way to contain the manure, and still get the benefit of its decomposition.

The Power of Poop

We're hopeful it's powerful, anyway. Things are a wee bit chilly in the hoophouse these days since winter started really moving in, and a neighbor suggested manure for a bit of a heater. The relatively fresh and therefore "hot" manure will give off heat as it decomposes. It will nourish the soil (depleted by our lovely tomatoes and eggplants this summer) at the same time it helps keep our swiss chard, broccoli, kale, and parsley cozy during these long winter nights. Since this is an experiment, I mixed some in with the soil and some I left only lightly mixed in to the soil. Some we plopped in a corner. And since it's horse manure there's plenty of straw still...well, that may help with composting/decomposition. Horse manure is not the ideal choice for your garden it should be said. Word has it that since many things (i.e. seeds and grains) simply make their way through the horse and out again that you end up with lots of extra weeds. I do battle

In their gardens, they are home.

The Earth Knows My Name: Food, Culture, and Sustainability in the Gardens of Ethnic Americans by Patricia Klindienst (2006), Beacon Press . "In their gardens, they are home." are the final words of The Earth Knows My Name and sums up in a few words the richly told stories of ethnic peoples - first-generation immigrants along with Native Americans and Gullahs - and the meaning they and their families harvest from their gardens. Compelled to write this book and search out the stories that fill its pages by her own family's migration to this country and subsequent assimilation, Klindienst presents a book so full of passion and life told so powerfully that it will be difficult for me to give this back to the library. (I'm at my renewal limit so back it must go.) Eloquent thoughtful writing surrounded by the words of mostly first-generation Americans bring these people and their gardens to vivid life. It is nearly impossible to not be transported to each garden and feel

Food Saves Town

This article about a small town cooperating to revive itself around food production actually appeared in early October in the New York Times , but I kept a copy of it around. It appealed to my community development side along with my hungry gardener side. It just feels so darn hopeful and sounds like so much fun, that it provides (my new favorite phrase) literal and figurative food for thought. These days we are all thinking probably a bit more about where and how we spend our hard-earned money, about a lack of jobs, about our homes, our neighbors, and our towns. Stories like this one coming out of Hardwick, Vermont further encourage me to give my money to my neighbors for their vegetables, meat, cheese, and eggs. It encourages me to eat not at that chain restaurant, but at a locally owned place that might be a little more expensive. My dollars go further in my local economy than if I give them up to a big chain to save a bit. That seems worth it when I can look my neighbor in the e

Gardeners Save the World

Ok, that's a bit over the top, but this little piece about choosing heirloom and organic seeds that I heard this morning on The Environment Report on Michigan Radio makes me feel like I should wear a cape and a leotard with a big G emblazoned on the front whenever I head to the hoophouse.

Outwitting the Potato

I'll confess that I have a love-hate relationship with potatoes . I enjoy eating them, but not very often. I even like growing them, but I don't enjoy harvesting them. How the heck can you ensure that you get every last one?!? They are so well camouflaged in their dirty little coats (especially the blue ones), and those tasty little ones are so hard to distinguish even by feel from little clumps of dirt. Let me just say I ended up growing potatoes in the same bed two years running, and not on purpose. And the ones I harvested I put in a picturesque bushel basket in the basement. And promptly forgot about them. They sprouted, of course. Doing what every potato wants to do come spring, they sent up spectacular roots in an effort to carry on their legacy of potatodom and world domination. (Ok, maybe not world domination as corn seems to have achieved, but we can't deny that they must have colonialist visions since they effectively left South America.) What could I do when p

A Few Reviews of Food Preservation Books - Gift Recommendations

I've been trying to explore a few different books about preserving and storing fruits and vegetables even though the harvest season is winding down and snow is beginning to fly outside my window. I'm hoping to have a stable of reference materials I can rely on for next season, and a bundle of new recipes to try out. The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest by Carol W. Costenbader, 1997, Storey Communications, Inc. Recipes for drying, canning, and freezing vegetables, fruits, and herbs harvested throughout the season. Simple drawings illustrate some procedures and accompany step-by-step instructions that the first-time as well as the experienced preserver will find handy. This would make a good gift for someone just embarking on the food preservation adventure, but check before purchasing it for someone more experienced. Preserving Summer's Bounty: A Quick and Easy Guide to Freezing, Canning, Preserving and Drying What You Grow edited by Susan McClure, 1998, Rodale Press .

Hitting the Sauce

We came home tonight after a good afternoon of working over at Ambry Farms in search of something hot and tasty. Some of our first snow fell today along with icy rain and our hands were nearly numb as we left the barns and farm. I whipped out a jar of Barbara Kingsolver's Family Secret Sauce and popped it in a pan thinking the spicy tomato sauce would be an excellent soup to go with some bread I baked earlier in the day. Tasty and spicy it was. So spicy it nearly blew our tastebuds off. There was a batch that I overshot the pepper on, and this may be one of those. Warmer we were by the time we got to the bottom of our respective bowls, and we know that next time we will cut it with a bit of our straight-up tomato sauce in the future. Yikes!

Jot it Down!

William Moss of Moss in the City - a fantastic little e-newsletter I get from the National Gardening Association about urban and small space gardening - had a great article about reviewing your year in gardening . It's a great suggestion, and I confess that geek that I am I keep a garden journal - complete with diagrams, thank you very much - that catalogs what I plant and roughly when, how it goes throughout the season, and an end of the season wrap-up. It's nothing fancy - just a notebook with graph paper marked pages for easy diagramming - but it helps me keep track of what's happening. It's also fun to look back and see what worked, what didn't quite go as planned, and just remember. I've done this since my first garden at the first place we lived here in Michigan, and it has helped me rotate crops (or at least know when I have NOT rotated crops), remember what I grew that I liked, how it did in a particular location, and what pairs I created.

Bok Choi in the House!

In the hoophouse, that is. I suspected two days ago that I saw little sprouts, but yesterday I spied a sweet little row of those first leaves - the cotyledon - that begin the process of photosynthesis . (Hope you don't have to squint too much to see them in the photo!) The unseasonably warm weather the past few days, I am sure, was quite helpful in getting things going. Things are meant to become a bit more wintry now, so we'll see how the remaining seeds do.

Monty the Praying Mantis

Monty, our Praying Mantis , is enjoying the hoophouse. My hope is that he's snacking on all those dastardly cabbage worms that we are currently sharing our kale and broccoli raab with. He (only my assumption that this is a male) is tricky to see due to his clever natural camouflaging. The photo at the left illustrates this fairly well, I think. A praying mantis is a good sign for any garden as it is a natural predator for some of those nasties that you don't wish to share your harvest with, i.e. cabbage worms, aphids, tomato hornworms, etc., and saves me the gross job of picking them off and then feeding them to the chickens. I also thought it was a good sign that I found a praying mantis egg case (see photo at left) on the bottom of one of the pallets we used for garden paths. Come spring the little ones will emerge bearing a striking resemblance to their parents, and their first meal may well be one of their siblings. Yikes.

Planting and Transplanting in the Hoophouse

Seeds of corn salad , russian kale, spinach, and two kinds of heirloom peas, along with two broccoli plants from the summer are snugly settled in the hoophouse even as I type. Aimee and I put down pavers left over from our patio reconstruction and at her suggestion I made a straight path. This means that both beds got expanded - one in a much needed way - and that compost and composted manure got hauled in to do so. No sign of the bok choi sprouting yet, but my fingers are still crossed.


I look up from my reading to look out the window of our dining room door. Golden yellow leaves of the sugar maple by the lower woodshed contrast with the dark green of the spruce planted by the previous owners. The tops of the grassy field south of the house that we have let grow up wave a bit, but what really catches my eye and my fancy are the goldenrod . True to their name miniature golden blossoms lined the stems of these tall plants this fall. Bees swarmed them cheerfully, and the praying mantis in the backyard walked the canopy they made. Leaf-tying caterpillars wove their way through their leaves as it ate. They appear to be the first to move in if one chooses not to mow. Encroaching from the fenceline, they dot our yard everywhere much to my delight. The variety of goldenrod is tremendous - shaped like actual rods, clumps, or branching like tree tops - they grow in shade, sun, woods, prairie, wet, and dry. Their leaves vary along with their blossom shapes, and their height r