Tag Archives: detroit

massive update

i haven’t written anything since november.

and yet i welcome several new subscribers – surprising given the infrequency.  welcome new subscribers – i hope you enjoy and will provide feedback.

it’s not because nothing has been happening, quite the contrary.  we have been going full steam for the last few months – and it’s only this last weekend that we reached a point at which we could take anything resembling a break.  considering that s threw her back out and have been having to do child care and adult care for the last day or so it’s not really much of a break.

we have been steady working on this house and the yard since we bought the house, but have really stepped up our efforts once we learned that our son had elevated lead levels.

nothing drastic, but cause for alarm. things appear to be under control now, but we have had to take major measures to get them under control.  i’ll likely write more about lead, testing, and dealing with it, later, but in the meantime i’m just gonna update ya’ll on what projects we have done in order to get lead under control.

first was the stripping of paint in areas where encapsulation wouldn’t work.  namely the threshold of the front door.  next was encapsulation – woodwork in the pantry and kitchen had to be encapsulated and then painted to match the other woodwork.  i also encapsulated a couple of walls in the pantry.  they still haven’t been painted yet as i still have some plaster work to do on other walls before we paint the whole pantry.  the hallway leading down to the basement needed to be encapsulated as well, and then painted.

speaking of the basement, as though lead weren’t an issue enough we found out that we had fraying asbestos tile on the floor of the basement.  we paid some one certified to remove it.


my lungs just seemed worth the cost.  what i didn’t think about was all the glue aka mastic that would be left over.  it was a huge pain to get off – taking me weeks of weekends and nights to get it up.  i’m thankful to the following podcast for getting me though it: serial, 99% invisible, radiolab, snap judgement, the champs, and invisibilia.

at least as much time has been spent moving things around the basement, as we had to clear everything out when they removed the tile, and then we had to move it to remove the mastic.  i think that’s what made s throw out her back.

we are now putting the basement back together, and i’m really happy with the way it’s turning out.  it’s making more sense and taking into account how we need to access and use the space.  my favorite part is that we have moved the chest freezer and canning supplies closer to the stairs so when cooking you can quickly pop down to the basement and grab some items out of the larder. larder

in addition to encapsulation and stripping, another strategy for dealing with the lead has been removal.  the back door casing was covered in chipping lead paint, and the door was super drafty so we replaced it.  i could have replaced it myself – but i knew it was going to be serious pain – and i had plenty of other projects to work on, so i also paid someone certified to do that as well.  he told me it would take him a morning.  as expected – it was a bigger pain than expected – it took him until 6 at night.  no more draft! i still need to replace the molding – and since the original was cover in lead paint i bought new stuff – but couldn’t find anything that would match the original, but i think it still looks ok.  door1door2

in the process of replacing the door and molding, we damaged some plaster and realized that much of it was pulling away for the lath.  we wanted to save as much as we could, but some was just to far gone to repair. s and i spent new years eve watching youtube videos on plaster repair and new years day doing plaster repair – we know how to party.  we were really impressed with the ease of use of big wally’s plaster magic – as well as the youtube videos they have to learn how to use the product.  door3

the other major repair project was to put a floating floor down in one of the bedrooms.  it had been painted with lead paint on the floor, and rather than try and remove the paint, we decide the simplest thing would be put a new floating floor over top of it.  i’m impressed with how quickly it went together.  one long day plus a couple hours the next day and we were done, and s is very happy with the result.  super big thanks to my brother in law david for his help. floor

at the farm, the biggest event of the fall for me was starting mushrooms.  i’ve been missing growing mushrooms since i left the farm i trained at over 12 years ago.  i’ve tried to convince folks a number of times to take on the task of growing mushrooms – but it’s never really caught on.  this fall we had a crew from radical mycology come out and lead a beginners workshop on mushroom growing. radicalmycology

we caught the bug pretty hard and harvested all fall and will be starting up a crop of oyster mushrooms again in the spring.  mushrooms

a bit simpler – but equally exciting to those of us obsessed with cycling nutrients – we built new compost sifters.  this is the third iteration of sifters we have been working on – and the big improvement is using slit steel rather than chicken wire.  sifter1

the steel comes from one of my favorite places in detroit: federal pipe and steel. this place is a museum of a hardware store, full of oddball items i can’t find anywhere else.  the staff know just about everything – though they don’t really let on unless you ask.  and the cashiers all seem to be punx.  if you visit you shouldn’t miss out on marcus burger.  it’s the real detroit deal.


this new sifter can accommodate two, count em, two wheelbarrows at once.  i think the slit steel will last a lot longer than the chicken wire – but only time will tell.  i’m happy with them.

on the homegrown front, we have been eating out of the hoop house all winter- at first mostly arugula, but for the last month only spinach and kale.  the big lesson is to plant more kale next fall.  i love having it, but it grows really slow in the winter.  spinach continues to be the workhorse of the winter hoop house – cold, dry, doesn’t seem to faze it, we have had great harvests all winter.harvest

i was hoping for a milder winter, and the temps have been slightly warmer, and snow a little lighter, but we still have been dumped on, almost 20 inches last week alone.


still we prepare for the growing season.  we have already started tomatoes (perhaps a post about them soon)  and sweet potatoes are started on the window sill.


likely way too early, but we all have our methods of trying to stave off cabin fever, mine is starting plants for the next season.

what’s going on with you?


hoop house planting

we have been eating out of the hoop house for at least a month – mostly arugula, swiss chard and mustard greens for salad.  rather than purchase new seeds i just sowed heavily what old seed we had.  i had pretty poor results, and plenty of spots were left blank.  later i went and bought some new seed and seeded two beds in spinach and one in arugula. spinachandarugulathis photo was taken a few weeks ago – and these plantings are actually further along now, i’m expecting that they will be ready to harvest in a couple more weeks – and since it’s more spinach and arugula than we can eat i’m planning on selling a little to help offset the cost of building the hoop.  plantingwe also planted a mid october planting in those blank spaces left over from the poorly germinating seed- which should be ready quite late if at all this year – it may be the first harvest of next year.

garden update

i’ve had a surprisingly large number of new followers given the fact that i’ve written close to nothing in months.  i’m not promising that new followers is gonna change anything – in fact i’ve given serious thought to packing in this blog and calling it a good run.  i’m not quite at that point yet – but the reality is that reality is really in need of my time.  having a kid certainly is taking up a large amount of what little free time i have, plus lots of work around the house, working, and supporting s with her business and  art.  i’ve been thinking about switching to some sort of print type thing likely in the form of a zine, but if i can’t get my act together to post something on the interweb, am i likely to do a zine? not likely.

it’s been months since i’ve done an update on the garden, so here is a quick one, i’ll try to get images of the hoop house up soon.

the strawberries and asparagus are doing well.  the strawberries in particular seem to have taken to their new home like champs.  they are spreading in every which a away making it look like one big carpet of plants not three beds.  one of the  difficulties of growing strawberries is the need to pick off the flowers in the first year so that plants can focus on root development.  while i was diligent in my flower removal i did miss few, and i can say that these are some of the best strawberries i’ve consumed. i’m looking forward to next summer.  my son will also be old enough to enjoy strawberries (strawberries can be a big trigger for food allergies so are off limits until age one) which i’m looking forward to.


i’ve done a good job of keeping the asparagus plants weed free – but the asparagus has been attacked by asparagus beetle.  i wasn’t expecting the asparagus beetle to attack so quickly as my patch at work took a couple of years for the beetles to discover.  i still need to finish filling in the trench that i set the plants down into – and get the plastic out of the way that surrounds them.  i’d hope it would keep the weeds at bay, but not really done so.  asparagus

we planted a couple fruit trees, a peach and a cherry tree.  both i would never plant were it not for my love of these two fruits.  these trees are too much work to keep pest free using organic methods – but i also want to have plenty of these lovely fruits – and my lovely s requested these.  what we do for love…cherry

we also planted hardy kiwis – a male and a female.  what do hardy kiwis taste like you ask?  yr guess is a good as mine, but at 50 pounds of fruit a year and a flavor somewhat like the not so hardy kiwi, it seemed like a good choice to plant.  plus the variety we selected was bred at michigan state university – so i figure it will do well.  kiwi

finally the fig.  you might remember that last fall we planted her after she had been tended in a pot for years.  we sheltered her with plenty of straw and yet after last years crazy cold winter, she showed no signs of life in the spring.  i wasn’t sure anything would come of her, and s had pretty much written her off but after a couple of warm months she sent up a shoot and by the end of summer took off with a vengeance.  she is gonna be a lot more work now that she is so much bigger to cover – but i’m looking forward to figs in the years to come.



what’s happening in your garden?  what projects have you been up to?

hazelnuts for sale

hey folks this fall i’m digging up some of my hazelnuts to offer for sale – these were planted back in 2011 so they are almost 4 year old plants and most stand at two and half feet tall.  vigorous and healthy they should start producing for youin three to four years.  these are hybrid hazels grown from seeds selected from mark shepard‘s breeding program at new forest farm in wisconsin.  if you haven’t heard of mark he has written a book called restoration agriculture.  i haven’t read it, but i’ve heard it’s good.  maybe this winter.  hazels

plants will be potted up and priced at 10 dollars a piece – highly recommended that you buy a pair so they pollinate each other.  they should be available the first weekend of october.  locals i’ll let you know pickup location and details once i receive orders from you.  mail order is a minimum of five plants.  send email to dirtysabot (at) gmail dot com to reserve your plants.

asparagus planting

sorry for the delay in posts it’s not that i haven’t been doing anything, and welcome new readers – i look forward to yr comments.  now on to the post.

i’ve planted asparagus patches on several occasions, but none of them have been for myself or my family.  i’ve planted vegetable gardens at pretty much any house i have lived at, but the expense and effort of planting asparagus at a rental just seems like too much.  this year with a piece of property of my own, i actually felt like i could justify planting asparagus.

s and i made a large scale map and planned where our main veggie beds would go, our hoop house, future critters, and perennials.

i happen to think that asparagus makes a lovely backdrop and many people comment on how lovely it’s foliage is.  with that in mind we decided to put it in the front yard.   there were literal obstacles to this plan, namely the 15 foot tall bradford pear that was growing right in the middle of where i wanted to plant.  i had contemplated grafting good scion wood to the rootstock, but i got talked out of it, and there is a very productive pear in the lot behind us.


with a shovel and mattock and a couple of hours of hard work the tree was a goner.

my neighbor inquired as to what i was doing and seemed skeptical when i explained my plans for asparagus.

as if digging up a tree wasn’t enough of a challenge for the day, asparagus is usually grown by digging a trench eight to twelve inches deep. s and i spent a couple of hours digging out our trench, and since i love digging i had to keep reminding myself not to dig so deep.  in places the trench got well over twelve inches deep and i had to fill it back in, s didn’t have the same problem.

as i dug up my front yard and reflected back on my neighbor’s inquiry, i couldn’t help but think about the british television show, the good life.  if you’ve not seen it, i recommend it – though its really better viewing for the winter.

forktrenchthe trench dug, i used a spading fork to loosen the soil at the bottom of the trench and then we put the crowns down and covered them with a couple inches of soil.  asparagus looks to me like some sort of alien parasite.  as i plant it i worry of it jumping up and sucking onto my face.   this variety is jersey supreme from fedco trees.  as the crowns sprout and grow up we will fill the trench in, with soil and compost.  we gave them a nice watering and them the next day we had a nice gentle rain.  how perfect.

crownintrenchcoveri really wish we had done more to prepare the soil in the fall, but we were struggling with a newborn at the time, and i figure that even poorly planted asparagus is better than no asparagus.

what are you working on this spring?

eastside garden tour

welcome new viewers – several folks have subscribed to the blog in the last month, which is surprising given the fact that i’ve been posting so little.

this is an old topic, but if you want posts you are gonna have to deal with my backlog – i’ve been busy, out of town visiting family and then in an epic painting project around the house.  we spent five days caulking, insulating, and painting two rooms in the house, bringing our total rooms painted to eight and only two left to go (three if you count the pantry as a third).  the painting looks rad, and the house feels super cozy, we have been able to hang some pictures, and even though we have been here for almost a year, it’s just now feeling like home.

we ordered our first perennial crops this last week as well, strawberries, asparagus, hardy kiwi’s and a peach and cherry tree.  peaches and sweet cherries are both a pain to grow organically, but we want them so very, very much, and you make sacrifices for the things you want.

but back to the post: the  eastside garden tour – i led a tour of gardens for the great lakes bioneers gathering back in october – which feels like last week, but my perception of time is all out of wack – it feels like three weeks ago i was coaching though almost 40 hours of labor and meeting my son for the first time- and that was well over 3 months ago.

this tour was of some of the gardens that i don’t feel get as much attention as i feel they deserve, gardens that are tended by my heroes,  that are my inspiration.

our first stop was to visit edith floyd and her garden growing joy.  i’ve written about edith before – here and here.  i’d not visited edith in some time, she had been very sick and lost her voice and her husband had passed.  she had scaled back, as she wasn’t able to keep up, but was already planning for next year.

edith'sit was mostly high school youth on this tour and i was very impressed with how quiet and attentive they were to listen to edith despite her low recovering voice.

next stop was mark covington and his project the georgia street community garden.  to call it a garden is somewhat of a disservice – it’s much more than that – they have a community center with a computer lab and meeting space, a menagerie of animals, community gardens and orchards, and a community film screening area. georgia1georgia2georgia3georgia4georgia5mark is a brilliant host, and amazingly warm.  for many of the students this was the first time to be around farm animals and it was so fun to watch them transform from fear to curiosity to delight.  they all seemed really interested in mark’s story.  i know i certainly am, and it was nice to be able to share with these young people.

last stop was feedom freedom growers.  i love, love, love what feedom freedom does – enough to have written this article, and this blog post.

much as i love feedom freedom they have a lot on their plate, and i was worried that they might not remember our plan to visit.  that happened to be the case, but wayne, the cofounder rose to the occasion.  ffg2wayne focused a lot on the importance of soil & spent a good amount of time showing off the compost pile.  not all the students were all that interested but i think for a few the ideas were exciting.  since the last time i visited feedom freedom, they have added a earth oven for outdoor cooking.  they didn’t have it fired up, but it was fun to see it.  i’ve been wanting to build a earth over for some time – and seeing another one built made me feel more inspired to build one.
ffg1if you haven’t had a chance to go to great lakes bioneers, i highly recommend going, it’s one of the few “conferences” i really enjoy.


the fig finds a home.

you may remember our fig plant – from such post as this or this.  i’m not really sure why i purchased this fig in the first place – i’m certain it was something of a whim, and that i thought i would find a place to plant it sooner or later.  it ended up being more later.  i ‘ve been carting it in and out of the house for the about six years now.  after six years i can finally stop carting it in and out, as it has a home.  my mother was kind enough to plant this guy out while she was visiting us.  
fig plantthis variety is chicago hardy, rumored to be able to make it though the winter weather of chicago.  if it can make it in chicago it should be able to make it in detroit.  while it is supposed to be able to make it, i don’t know any fig growers in the area that don’t take steps to protect their figs.  some folks dig a pit, bend the fig down and bury it.  other wrap it in burlap.  i chose to build a cage around it and stuff straw around it.  mulchhopefully this will be enough to keep it well protected and we will have lovely figs in the years to come. 

anyone have experience growing figs in zone 6 or colder?