Tag Archives: urban farming

winter update 2015

it’s something of a wonder that anyone reads this blog or that i have had new subscribers in the last 6 months as i’ve been so neglectful in posting.  i’m not promising anything like i’ll post more often, but i did tell myself i’d get one more post in this year.

if you would like to stay up to date – you might want to follow on twitter or instagram – my handle on both of those services is @dirtysabot – and i post much more frequently.

thanks to those new readers, and now on to the post.

the main reason i’ve not been posting, is that i’m busy doing the stuff i could be posting about, instead of posting about it.  also my kid is really demanding of my attention these days, and i’ve been getting some freelance work.  all this is to say that i’ve not had a lot of free time.

so a few highlights of summer/fall.

out in the garden we install nine 4×8 raised beds.   while our soil is generally good quality and the lead levels not very high, because of the kid’s elevated blood lead levels we decided to take no chances and installed the raised beds. i didn’t take any shots that give a good perspective, but this gives you a little bit of an idea.  raisedbeds

we also installed rain water totes – which gets us off the grid for outdoor water use – at some point i’ll post about the pump we are using and irrigation systems.  raintotes

successes in the garden – strawberries planted last year (that was only last year?) gave us a great harvest – i ended up with 8 gallons of berries in the freezer plus lots of fresh eating.  the kid loves strawberries – so we only have one bag left.  i’m thinking we will need to put in more beds this coming year.  maybe next year, we have a lot going on. strawberriesour peach tree – which really shouldn’t be bearing yet, gave us a nice little crop of sweet fruit. peachesi successfully grew sweet corn for the first time in years – though by the last picking the squirrels had noticed – i’m not sure i will be as lucky next year.  still it was worth the effort and i enjoyed these ears of silver queen. cornwe had a huge harvest of cantaloupe, more than i could eat – so i ended up freezing it.  makes a pretty good base for smoothies, even the stuff that is not nearly so ripe.  melonsthe fig tree survived another  record breaking winter and even provide us with a bit of tasty fruit.  figsthis years break away winner for most exciting new variety to grow in the garden – pink princess – the most amazing cherry tomato i think i have had.  pinkprincesseven alice waters said it might be better than sun gold.  speaking of – alice waters and will allen came to visit – that’s pretty cool right?  willandaliceother big new variety highlight for me was stocky red roaster pepper- a frank morton selection – anytime i see his name associated with a variety i’m willing to give it go.  these are prolific, delicious peppers that kept going well into november in the hoop house.  i’d be ok with only growing this variety.

my folks came to visit and they were kind enough to help put in this flower bed. it’s right outside my dining room window – so i can stare at the flowers while i eat breakfast.  flowerson an east coast visit i collected paw paws from the banks of the tuckahoe river – i saved seeds from the best ones – and perhaps in another 15 years i can be saving seeds from michigan maryland paw paw crosses.  pawpawfinally the project that has been taking up most of my free time this fall has been enclosing my back porch and making it into a mudroom.  this has many major advantages  – storage for coats and muddy shoes – but also added security and warmth.  it also helps keep the house cleaner – and soil from being tracked in – we are still working to get the kids lead levels lower and soil from outside is a possible source for higher levels.

before porchbeforecurrent mudroominclosedi still need to finish the siding – but that may wait until spring – inside is insulated – but still need to be drywalled, and painted – but now that it is inclosed we can work on that even on cold days.  thanks to s for looking after the kid so much so we could work on this project and to my friend j for all the help framing and installing door and windows.

what have been yr big projects of the summer/fall?


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.

hoop house build part 2: driving the ground posts

in our last episode i stressed the importance of spending time making sure everything was carefully laid out, and we even used math to check our work.  if you have done all that correctly, you shouldn’t have to think all that hard for the next part; driving the rest of the ground posts.

while there is less thinking, it’s important to still take yr time and make everything square and level.  it is about finesse more than brute force (though you do need some brute force from time to time).  for this operation you are gonna need the following

1. post driver 2. post level 3. pounder 4. ear protection 5. marker 6. spacing jig 7. four foot or longer level (recommended but not required)

if you are not sure of what any of these is, see the last post for more info, with the exception of the spacing jig, which will be explained soon.

ground posts for hoop houses are almost always placed four feet apart.  i’m told that in warmer climates where they don’t get nearly as much snow that they can be placed five feet apart.  you can measure them, but you often find the post drifting about as you drive it, and it helps to make a spacing jig.  this is simply a 2×4 that has square cuts in it four feet apart that are the size of the pipe you are using.  it is especially helpful if you are trying to drive posts by yrself.  ideally it would have three cuts in it to help make sure you are staying in a straight line – as you may recall from geometry class, three points make a straight line, but i didn’t have that long of a 2×4.

mark all the posts to correspond to yr level line – in my case i made marks two feet from the top of my posts.

using the measuring jig place one of your corner posts in a notch and use it to measure where the next post will be positioned.


slide post level over the post, put the pounder on and slide the post driver over it. put it in the notch of the jig that is empty and then work to get it so it is close to the level line as possible without pushing it out, and is square in both directions.  put your ear protection on, and drive it a couple of times.  check to make sure it is square in both directions again and close to the line and keep driving until you reach the line you marked on your post.  if you are using the four foot plus level it’s great to rest it between your post that is at the proper level and the post you have just driven to make sure they are driven to the same level.  this is more of an issue when you are building a long house than it is when you are building a short house like ours, as the line level can sag over a long length and give you a bad read.

life is not always so beautiful as you want it to be, and when driving ground posts you often come across problems such as rocks and foundation.  it’s pretty well impossible to drive though these materials so they must be tackled.  two basic methods can be be employed, removal and post cutting.

of these two post cutting is the easier.  if you hit an obstacle and you have over two feet of post in the ground but have yet to reach your level mark you can simply cut off the excess.  use a hacksaw, cut off wheel on a angle grinder, or a pipe cutter.  i prefer the pipe cutter as it’s slow but often provides the best cut.

in many situations you hit obstacles before you have driven two feet worth of post in the ground.  you have little choice but to remove that which is in your way.  commonly this required digging with a shovel what is in the way.  you can find some pretty large items if they are large enough you might have to use a sledgehammer or jack hammer to break them apart.  i’ve even heard of folks boring though foundation in order to put in ground posts.

hopefully you won’t hit anything – i repeated the process of driving posts with only a couple of incidents, having to cut two pipes, and digging out a huge piece of concrete on the very last post i drove.


in our next episode we install bottom boards.


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?

mixing box redux plus potting bench!

11 years ago, when i was in my first season of transplant production in detroit, i didn’t have a lot of time to build equipment, we just needed to start transplants.

we decided to make our soil mix from all raw parts, purchasing peat and perlite and other materials and then combining them together.  the previous farm where i worked we had a cement mixer that was used for mixing soil, but without that luxury we tried other methods, including filling a barrel with materials and then rolling it all the way down the greenhouse and back.  this proved to be a lot of work and to not work very well.  we settled on a simple “mixing box”, little more than a platform with three sides you can see the original here.  i slapped it together from what was laying around and didn’t really give much thought to design.  one very silly aspect of it’s design included mounting support “L” brackets on the inside which would catch on the shovel as you mixed.  i swore for years that i would put a fix to this and rebuild the box in such a way that it would not be nearly so frustrating, and yet i never did.  until this year.

since i was making improvements, i figured why not make more.  one thing that i had noticed is that people liked the platform to be raised off the ground, sticking milk crates under it to raise it up.  i also noticed that we often were slowed down by the fact that we filled trays/made soil blocks out of the same mixing box, what if we had a separate potting bench just for filling trays and making blocks?

after making the improvements i can’t believe it’s taken me so long to do them.  i need to be more proactive about making these improvements in the future.

to put together the box i worked with what i had, some 4×4’s and 2×6’s, and purchased two sheets of 3/4 inch plywood, and some metal corner brackets.  i think i over built it, the whole thing could have been made with 1/2 plywood and 2×4’s but i figure the last box was used for 10 years might as well make it sturdy.  the boxes are both 4×4 feet, the mixing box is 10 inches off the ground the potting bench 2’8″ off the ground.

framefinishedthe boxes are not attached to each other so if you need to move them you can do so easily, or if you want to arrange them in a different format you can switch them up.  we increased the height of the sides to 12 inches so that you don’t have soil coming over the edges as easily and sloped the left side of the potting bench so that when you shovel soil from the mixing box to the potting bench you don’t have to lift the shovel as high.

inuseso far i’ve been pretty pleased, at this point the only change i might make is to make the boxes a little less deep so you don’t have to reach so far to the back.