Category Archives: urban farming

planting garlic in spring

conventional wisdom says that it’s best to plant garlic in the fall in northern climates like michigan.  while i’ve always planted my garlic in the fall, the fact is that you can plant it in the spring – and generally get good results, though not as high a yield.

with the knowledge that we were looking for a new place to stay, i didn’t bother planting a fall crop of garlic as i didn’t want to have to come back and dig it up.  but i also didn’t want to lose my crop of seed garlic – and the best solution seemed to be to keep it safe and sound in paper bags in the darkest coolest spot i could find in the house, and plant in the spring at our new place.

bagsogaliceven in a cool, dark spot the garlic was still wanting to get in the ground, putting up plenty of sprouts.  garlicsproutingthe previous owners of our house kindly built raised beds in the back yard.  i’m hoping that’s not because the soil tested with a high degree of contamination, but just cause they thought they would look good.  we still haven’t done soil tests – that’s still to come.  raisedbedthere are two little ones and one big raised beds.  one of the little ones seemed like the perfect place to plant at least enough garlic to use as seed garlic for the fall, even if i don’t have enough to eat.  the soil seemed high enough quality, and so i didn’t bother adding any compost or feather meal as i usually do, i mostly just wanted to get the garlic in the ground.  i’ll top dress with a little compost when i prepare other beds, in a few weeks.

garlicplantedi managed to make pretty good use of the space and get 12 rows of garlic in – two each of ohio amish, german red, bogatyr, samarkand, siberian, and georgia fire.

i can’t help but pause to stop and think about the origins of these garlics, so far away from here – such a world away – the name samarkand gives hints of garlic’s origins in central asia, samarkand being a city in uzbekistan.  i admit to being painfully ignoroant of central asia – but it seems to be the cradle to so many of our most imporatant foods – apples being an obvious one.  gary nabhan wrote the excellent book “where our food comes from” in which he retraces the footsteps of famed russian plant breeder nikolay vavilov’s explorations to collect genetic material to improve plants resilience, and help to end famines.  much of vavilov’s explorations take place in central asia, because so many of the wild predecessor of our food plants survive their.  he talks of literally forests of wild apples.  it certainly sparks the imagination.

whenever i plant seeds i spend some time thinking about my ansesters, those that went before me and saved these seeds.  i think about why these varities were imporant to them, how did these seeds connect to their culture.  i feel the need to honor them, thank them, pause and  be grateful to them that i may hold these seeds in my hands at that moment.

my little bed of garlic ends up being a miss mash of cultures – full of varties developed from around the world – but i appreciate them all, and look forward to the green sprouts emerge in a few weeks, the heads that will develop in mid summer, and the fiery hot flavors to enjoy in late summer.

i have some extra garlic that i’m not going to plant, and is sprouted too much to eat.  i’d love to share it with folks that would enjoy it.  shoot me an email if you want to get some garlic – dirtysabot (at) gmail (dot) com

tips for using the six row seeder

i can’t sing the praises of the six row seeder enough – though it wasn’t always like that.  for the first couple of years i spent more time cursing at it than praising it.  it’s a tricky little device with adjustments of seed size, brushes for letting more seed in an out, depth regulator, and multiple drive ratios.  certainly there are changes i would like seen made to the design, but it works better than anything else i have seen.

the first few uses of the seeder yielded nothing.  then all the sudden we stumbled upon good results, and then couldn’t figure out how to replicate them.  finally we have it down to where we feel it works well most of the time.  at some point i’m going to do a video post where i explain how to use the six row seeder in detail but right now i’m just giving a few helpful tips.

1. prepare your soil well – spend the extra time getting all the weeds and trash out of the beds.  make sure to break up any soil clods, and get the soil very smooth and even.  if this all seems to be taking a long time, the savings will more than be made up with the speed of the seeder.  out in the fields, a rototiller or rotovator set on the a very shallow setting to just fluff the soil works well for this, then going over with a rake or harrow to smooth everything out.

2. soil moisture is important, two wet and the soil sticks to the baskets and clogs the shoots where the seed comes out.  too dry and it can be hard to push the seeder though.  aim for somewhere in between, but closer to the dry side.

3. before you seed anything set the depth regulators at their highest settings, and then roll it over the seed bed allowing the basket rollers to help smooth out the seed bed even more.

4. if trying to decide between a smaller and large hole, i usually pick the larger hole, and figure i can thin later, but will be really frustrated if i have to reseed due to spotty germination and seeding.  same thing goes for the brushes, if you are trying to decide between two brush settings, go for the higher one, but don’t over due it, you will end up wasting seed and having to do a lot a lot of thinning.

5. watch the middle of the seed hoppers, as you seed, you should see a small depression forming as you go, letting you know that seed is dropping, if you don’t see that after about five feet of seeding, check your settings.

6. watch the collars that lock the spindle into place as you go and make sure that they are rotating, sometimes they get loose and stop spinning and then you have no seed coming out.

7. if the seeder get caught up on something, trash, rock, etc, just pick it up and set it on the other side of the obstacle, dont’ try to push though it.

8. make sure to water very well when you have finished to break open that seed coat, and keep the soil moist until germination happens.

if everything goes right it should look something like this!

while getting the hang of the seeder is certainly difficult, it has also been worth it. these are recent plantings in the hoophouse.   we can plant much faster, much more precisely, and much tighter than we could with other seeders.  it also is a pretty big investment, but it has now more than paid off with increased yield, and time saved in seeding.  for those wanting to learn more about the seeder – check out johnny’s selected seeds.   it doesn’t work well for everything, but for small seeds or tightly spaced crops it works great.

the failure of thinning beets

no matter the amount of care and time one always seem to come up with a situation in which their beet (beta vulgaris)  seed germinates much too close together.  that was the case in the hoop house where we planted beets a couple of weeks ago.

what gives?  we carefully used the precision seeder to make it so we wouldn’t have to thin, but when they sprouted there were three or four seedlings per spot.

while it might seem like failure, it’s just the way beets are.  what we see as a seed is actually multiple seeds – a seed cluster.  i’ve often heard it referred to as like a dried up berry – with multiple seeds in each one.   even though you put one “seed” per spot, often you get 3 or 4 plants spouting up from the seed cluster.

much as you might not want to, you have to thin these, or else you will end up with no good beets.  don’t think of it as a bad thing – in fact don’t even call it thinning, call it harvesting.  i harvest once to get a bit more space between the beets; collecting the tiny beet seedlings and using them as micro greens in salad.  a few weeks later when they are much bigger i harvest again to give them enough space to make full size roots.  the thinnings i harvest used in salad mix, or stemmed briefly for the most tender beet greens.  i get at least three harvests out of one seeding!

enjoy the beets!

garlic harvest 2012 video

harvested all the garlic this last weekend at the farm with help from the kids track at the allied media conference.  i had a really good time harvesting garlic, and at the amc in general.  it’s the first one i have been to in several years, and i had forgotten how much fun it could be.  i made a quick video of the harvest, hope you enjoy.

blocking workshop at detroit farm and garden

hey detroit folks, i’m teaching a workshop on soil blocks  for growing transplants at detroit farm and garden and its free!

why would you want to start making soil blocks instead of planting in pots for transplants?

  1. reduces the number of pots hanging around taking up space
  2. reduces yr carbon footprint by using less plastic
  3. grows healthier transplants which establish quicker and grow faster
  4. be the envy of all your friends and neighbors with your amazing skills and talents.
  5. have fun

making soil blocks is easy too – its just like making mudpies

the details – sunday may 20th from 1pm-3pm at detroit farm and garden located at 1759 20th st detroit (the entrance is on 21st).  we will cover the benfits and drawbacks of using soil blocks, the materials used in the mix, how to mix the blocking mix, making blocks, seeding, potting up, and pricking out into blocks.

if you get the blocking bug, soil mix will be available to purchase and limited numbers of soil blockers will be for sale.  call them asap at 313-655-2344 if you want one and you can walk out the store ready to start yr fall transplants in soil blocks.

look forward to seeing you there.

photos from the first week in may 2012

most recent installment of photos from around the farm.  tomatoes planted into kalemustard greenscarrots in the hoopcurrantspuckering and color change on the currant leaves caused by aphid feedinggooseberries apple flowersflowers on some collards that overwinteredpepper transplantsgarlicoverwintered onionsspring kale poking out of the row coverpaw paw planted in the woody area that managed to avoid trampling.  about four years old new bees pulling in pollen spring anemone.  that’s it.  what’s happening in yr garden?

urban roots movie screening this thursday

as if i’m not busy enough with all the things i have going on, i also serve on the board of a new school which will be opening in the fall (fingers crossed, we have applications in for charters) the boggs educational center.   this thursday there will be a screening of the film urban roots at the detroit film theatre, and proceeds will go to benefit the school.   more detail can be found here.

this movie is about urban agriculture in detroit, and features many of my heroes, the urban farmers of detroit.

hope to see you there.