Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Easy freezing garden goodies for later

It’s the time of year, when gardeners are harvesting more than they can consume. One solution is to take those big zucchinis to work and place them in unlocked cars in the parking lot. Another solution, is to sell the over-abundance at a vegetable stand. Or, growers can be smart squirrels and store their harvest to enjoy in winter. With a small amount of work, gardeners can preserve their garden treasures for later.
Whether to can, freeze or dry the produce, depends on what vegetable and how much effort and time a person wants to devote. Freezing vegetables is the fastest. Canning takes longer, but is better for maintaining vegetable texture. Canning is definitely best for salsa and pickles. Drying might be the easiest, but it has limited use, such as for herbs, mushrooms and fruit.

Easy freezing
It’s easy to freeze vegetables and fruits. Some don't require cooking or blanching. For celery and rhubarb, just wash, chop, bag in serving sizes and freeze. To freeze zucchini for making bread: shred or grate and freeze without blanching. For peppers, just cut out the seeds, wash and let dry, then freeze in bags.The quality and texture is reduced after freezing, but they still have that garden fresh taste when used in cooking.

Blueberries can be put in the freezer with very little preparation. Remove stems and bad berries, wash in cold water, drain, pack in freezer bags. Label and freeze.

For apples wash, peel and core apples. Slice, cut into chunks or quarter. As you prepare apples, dip the cut pieces in a solution of 1 tablespoon each salt and vineqar to 2 quarts of water, to prevent darkening. Drain well, rinse and drain again. Then you can either pack plain, with sugar or with syrup. Leave a ½ inch headspace for pint containers and 1 inch for quarts. When using liquid, place a piece of crumpled paper or plastic wrap on top to keep fruit under the liquid. For syrup, mix 1/14 cup sugar and 5-1/2 cup water top yield cups. Thaw fruit in refrigerator or bowl of cool water. If cooking, thaw only enough to separate.

Most other vegetables and fruits require blanching, which is pretty easy. To blanch vegetables, you need a large porcelain or stainless steel pan with basket strainer and lid, 2/3 full of water, a large bowl in the sink filled with ice water and a colander. Also need bags or plastic containers and a permanent marker.
Bring the water in the saucepan to boiling. Meanwhile, wash and trim the veggies. Place the veggies in boiling water, close lid and time. See chart below. Then remove from the pan and drain quickly. Next, place in ice water for the same amount of time as boiled. When the time is up, remove and drain well in a colander. To remove more moisture, place clean towels on the counter and lay the veggies out for a few minutes before bagging in labeled freezer bags and placing in the freezer. Here are blanching and cooling times for vegetables:

Vegetable blanching times - equal time in boiling water, then ice water, (Except for corn on the cob, most vegetables should be blanced 2 to 3 minutes).

Asparagus, 2 to 3 minutes
Broccoli, 3 minutes
Cabbage, 3 minutes (cut into wedges)
Corn on the cob, 6 to 10 minutes
Green beans, 3 minutes
Peas, 1 to 2 minutes
Swiss chard and other tender greens, 1-1/2 to 2 minutes (avoid matting leaves)
Zucchini slice, blanch 3 minutes

Tomatoes taste better when sliced in half, and baked or roasted on a cookie sheet, (350 degrees for 30 minutes for large tomatoes).

Do not freeze too much at one time in your freezer. It could raise the interior temperature. Leave space between packages so air can circulate freely until frozen.

Can if you can
Canning takes some time. It’s more fun when you can with friends or family, plus it’s less work. You will have the sweet, or sour rewards all winter long, so much better than store-bought. You will thank yourself and your canning buddies. Hot water bath canning is good for high acid foods, like tomatoes, pickles and relishes. It’s also good for sugary spreads, jams and jellies. You need to buy jars, lids and a big stockpot with wire canning rack. The pan needs to be 3-5 inches deeper than your canning jars. For other foods, like green beans, a pressure canner is needed.
For further information, get the Ball Blue Book Guide to Home Canning, Freezing & Dehydration. It is a very good, easy-to-reference guide, and it under $10. It is available at Meijer in the home canning section and online at

Blake’s Fresh Salsa
Combine the following and chill covered for 1/2 hour.
2-3 cups chopped Roma tomatoes (when canning salsa, its best to blanch and de-skin the tomatoes. This is not necessary for fresh salsa.)
½ cup red onion
½ cup green pepper
1 Jalapeno, 1 green chili and 1 Poblano or whatever you can find, (Use one Jalapeno pepper per two tomatoes, more or less.)
1 tsp. minced garlic
1/2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. ground black pepper
¾ tsp. salt
1 Tbs. white vinegar or lime or lemon juice
2 pinches finely chopped cilantro

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Gardening is a family tradition

I recently went to Kansas because my Mother, Grace, passed away. Her and her family were the inspiration for this blog. Her parents and uncle ran a truck garden in south central Kansas from 1920 to 1980, thereabouts. I don't know how many generations of our family have been farmers.
My Mom worked in her garden everyday, in spite of her illness and the extreme heat, with temperatures above 100 for an entire month this summer.
She would go out early in the morning and then water.
After her funeral, my brother and sisters and I went to the house and one by one, we all ended up out back in the garden, amazed at the watermelon and okra, which were now ready to pick and wondering why there weren't many weeds. It was a well-kept garden. She worked hard to take care of it and enjoyed the productivity and peace of mind from working in the garden. Her freezer had packages of her favorite vegetable - asparagus.
When I returned home to Michigan, I went to my own garden and although it doesn't measure up to my Mother's garden, it was a great place to start healing after losing her. God bless her.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Time to start fall garden

If you have any room left in your garden, now is a good time to plant again. You can plant peas, spinach, lettuce parsley, onions and leeks and cabbage. Also cilantro for making salsa in September. The seedlings will need some extra care; cover with shade cloth or plant them near taller plants. Be sure to water frequently.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Picking herbs is good for them

This is great weather for tomatoes, sunny and hot just how they like it. We should get a bumper crop of very red tomatoes, packed with flavor. But herbs are taking the heat. Watering is very important now. Picking herbs and greens helps prevent them from forming seeds. The best way to pick parsley, and many herbs and leafy vegetables, is to snip the whole leaf and stem from the stock. Sometimes you can twist them off, when you pick parsley and Swiss chard.
Basil's a little different. You should cut the stock or branch, just above leaves, well below the leaves you want to harvest. Picking in late morning is the best time of day, especially for greens and herbs.
Pick leaves often to prevent the plants from going to seed. Because once they go to seed, many of the plants lose their herbiness flavor.
For Rosemary and sage, cut 5 inch branches and hang to air dry or chop and freeze in herb ice cubes or clumps in a freezer bag.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

When life gives you parsley, make Tabouleh

What do you do with all that fresh parsley?  Well you can garnish everybody's plates with it, including breakfast. I don't recommend it for cereal though. Or you can make tabouleh. Here's my garden fresh recipe for it. I had to buy the tomatoes and cucumbers.  At the bottom is a link to a hummus recipe, because they go together well.

1/2 c bulgar, cover with boiling water for 30 minutes, then strain very well.
1 1/2 cup of chopped parsley, maybe more
1/2 cup diced green onion
1/2 cup diced cucumber
1 cup diced tomatoes
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
1 Tablespoon fresh mint, optional
Mix ingredients and serve or refrigerate.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Thai basil eggplant recipe

Here's a good easy recipe, that is different and delicious. It's great with fresh eggplant and basil. I have fresh basil because I bought a plant. Unfortunately I had to buy the eggplant at  the grocery store. If there was a farmers' market nearby, I might have found eggplant there. There's a list of area farmers' markets on the upper right side of this blog.

Fried Thai basil eggplant
1 tablespoon oil
2 -3 garlic cloves, minced
1 big  or 2 small eggplant cut irregular
1 tablespoon sugar
1 bunch basil, washed and stems removed
2 chile peppers finely chopped or other hot peppers
2 tablespoons soy sauce
Cut eggplant into uniform irregular shapes. Heat oil in pan and cook garlic until lightly browned. Add eggplant, 1/2 cup water cover and simmer 5 minutes, until eggplant becomes translucent. Add more water as needed. Stir in sugar and fish or soy sauce. Turn off the heat and add the basil, stirring gently. Serve with rice.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Swiss chard heaven

What a strange spring it has been. Most of our garden is doing well, but the peas never came up, even after planting the second time. One word, moles. I picked our first batch of Swiss chard, young leaves. It was so tender and delicious, just heated with a bit of water and salt and pepper. Here's my favorite Swiss chard recipe.

Swiss Chard
olive oil
1/4 red onion, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/8 tsp. dried crushed red pepper, to taste
1 bunch of Swiss chard, washed and chopped

2 Tablespoons water
salt and pepper, to taste

Saute the onion, garlic and red pepper. Then add the rest of the ingredients and heat on medium heat for 10 minutes. As a variation, add substitute 1 tablespoon of water for vinegar and add smoked turkey or ham pieces.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Asparagus aplenty

Last year, Ken planted peas in March and then planted a second batch in April so started picking them about this time. This year, after 2 plantings, nothing, nada. Something is eating the seeds, possibly moles. Anybody have any mole evacuation techniques?
We've been picking asparagus for 3 weeks. My favorite way to prepare it is to roll the spears in olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and grill it. Here's another tasty treat with asparagus:

Ham and Swiss, asparagus spirals. Pre-fry spears in olive oil, lay on a slice of ham and cheese, dollop with Dijon mustard and roll up with the asparagus in the middle. Slice into spirals 1-1/2 inches wide. Dip in seasoned bread crumbs, insert toothpick to hold each spiral together, and fry.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Farmers' markets are opening!

There's a bunch of farmers' markets that are open now. I would like to list all the farms that sell to the public. If you know of a farm or market not listed, please comment or send an email to me at

Macomb County farmers markets
Gibraltar Trade Center, 237 North River Road, Mount Clemens, open noon to 9 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, 586-465-6440.
Mount Clemens Farmers Market, 141 N. River Road, Mount Clemens, open 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 586-493-7600.
New Baltimore Farmers Market, on Washington at Main, New Baltimore, opens in July, 586-557-4841,
Shelby Township Farmers Market, 49965 Van Dyke, 586-943-5785.
Warren Farmers Market, on City Center Drive in Warren, 586-943-5785.

Oakland County farmers markets
Auburn Hills Farmers Market, 3308 Auburn Road, open 3-7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 248-504-8102,
Birmingham Farmers Market, 660 N. Old Woodward Ave., Lot No. 6 N. Old Woodward Ave., north of Harmon, open 9 a.m.-2 p.m., Sundays, 248-530-1200,
Clarkston Farmers Market, downtown Clarkston, across from Depot Park. Opening June 18,
Clawson Farmers Market, 1080 N Custer Ave., Clawson, opening July 17, 248-435-6500,
Farmington Farmers and Artisans Market, at Walter E. Sundquist Pavilion, 33113 Grand River Ave., at Grove St., open 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturdays. Call 248-473-7276 ext. 13,
Lake Orion Farmers Market at Howarth United Methodist Church, 550 E. Silver Bell, east of M-24, open Wednesdays, beginning June 15,
Lake Orion Farmers Market, S. Anderson St., two blocks south of Flint Street and one block east of Broadway, near Children’s Park, 248-693-9742, Opening 2-7 p.m. Wednesday, June 1.
Milford Farmers Market, on Liberty Street between S. Main St. and Union St. Open 3-8 p.m.,
Novi Farmers Market & International Street Fair, 46100 Grand River Ave., Novi, 248-504-8102,, open 9 a.m.-1 p.m., Saturdays, beginning June 18.
Orion Farmers Market at Canterbury Village on Joslyn Road north of I-75, open 2 p.m.-dusk, Tuesdays and 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays beginning June 14.
Oakland County Farmers Market, 2350 Pontiac Lake Road, Waterford Township. Open 6:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Sundays, 248-858-5495.
Ortonville’s Beets, Beats and Eats, Crossman Park, downtown Ortonville 6-9 p.m., beginning June 17, 248-240-0907,
Oxford Farmers Market, open 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Thursdays, May 26 through Sept. 1, northwest corner of Burdick St., behind the Funky Monkey toy store, 248-693-7067,
Rochester Farmers Market, E. Third and Water St., open 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays, 248-656-0060,
Beaumont Hospital Royal Oak Farmers Market, 3601 W. 13 Mile Road, Royal Oak, 248-898-3031.
Royal Oak Farmers Market, 316 E. 11 Mile, open 7 a.m.-1 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 248-246-3276,
Southfield Farmers Market, on Greenfield Road, south of J.L. Hudson Drive, open 3-7 p.m., Thursdays, June 2 through Oct. 13, 248-796-5196,
South Lyon Farmers Market, at Pontiac Trail and Liberty St., South Lyon, open 2-7 p.m. Wednesdays, 248-437-1735,
Springfield Farmers Market, 1200 Davisburg Road, Davisburg, open 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sundays beginning June 19, 248-846-6558.
Walled Lake Farmers Market, 1499 E. W. Maple, Walled Lake, open 7 a.m.-1 p.m. Wednesdays, 248-624-4847.
Wixom Farmers Market, 49399 Pontiac Trail, Wixom, 3-7 p.m. Thursdays, 248-624-2850.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Roses are red, yellow, pink, orange, white, etc...

I received the following inquiry and wanted to share the answers.

To Kathy,
I am looking to have some rose bushes and other flowers planted for the summer.
Is this something you do?
When is an appropriate time to start due to the weather?

 Dear H.H.
Sorry but I can't help with the planting. Maybe you can find a high school student to help.

Roses should be planted in early Spring, so I hope you can get them planted soon.
All flowers and summer plants can be planted now. It might frost again,
but probably won't. The next 10 day forecast calls for lows in the 50's in northern
Oakland County.

Here's a good link for planting roses.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Auburn Hills Perennial exchange

Auburn Hills 19th annual Perennial Exchange is 11a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, May 21, at River Woods Park Pavillion, just south of M-59 and Squirrel Road. Those attending should bring perennials in pots. The event features complimentary baked goods, raffle and a presentation on gardening.
Call 248-364-6946.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How to Prevent Back Pain When Gardening and Playing Sports

Here's a real backsaver from Dr. David Wang, a specialist in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at The Kaplan Center for Integrative Medicine (

 MCLEAN, VIRGINIA – (May 16, 2011) – With the weather getting warmer, millions of people will be playing sports or getting out in the garden. However, some may find their efforts thwarted by back pain, which can develop if they jump into things and exert themselves too quickly. The good news is that whether you are gardening or engaging in sports, there are ways you can minimize the chances of getting back pain, and ways to manage back pain if it does develop. “Over 80% of people will have low back pain at some point during life, although most of them fortunately recover on their own.” explains Dr. David Wang, a specialist in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at The Kaplan Center for Integrative Medicine (, located in McLean, VA.  “When it comes to gardening and back pain, your body may need a few weeks after the long winter to become accustomed again to the physical stresses of gardening, such as squatting, twisting, lifting and digging.” 
Precautions you can take to limit back pain when gardening include:
  • Begin slowly, rather than trying to do too much in one session.  Split larger gardening projects into several shorter sessions while you build your stamina.
  • Think of it like other forms of physical activity, and always warm up before you begin with 10-20 repetitions of gentle exercises like standing hip circles, toe touches, back bends, and leg lifts.  Again, gentle is the key! 
  • Pay attention to your body position when lifting heavy objects, such as planters and bags of fertilizer.  Keep the item close to your body, and bend your knees (squat) so that you can keep your back as vertical as possible when you pick up the object, allowing you to lift with the leg muscles rather than straining the back muscles.
  • Be sure to take breaks and to change your position every 15 minutes or so, especially if you are kneeling, squatting, or sitting in a bent or twisted position.
  • Invest in good, long-handled gardening tools, which will help minimize the amount of back bending that you need to do.
  • If back pain is a consistent problem, consider creating raised garden beds, which will also help to reduce the amount of bending that is needed.
When it comes to minimizing back pain when playing sports, much of the same advice holds true.
  • It is important to always warm up, avoid over-exerting muscles, use proper equipment, , and take breaks to give your body time to rest.
  • If your muscles are not very flexible, it is also important to stretch after activity, holding each stretch for 30 seconds, to gradually improve your flexibility and reduce your risk of injury.
  • Consider working with a physical therapist or highly-qualified and experienced personal trainer for several weeks before starting the sports season.  This will allow you to properly prepare and condition your body for sports-specific activities.
Although most episodes of back pain get better on their own, there are certain situations where you should see a physician.  These include pain that is progressively worsening or lasts longer than three weeks, back pain accompanied by problems with your balance or bladder/bowel function, or back pain accompanied by leg pain, numbness and/or weakness.  If you do end up requiring medical care, it is important to realize that not all back pain is the same, and it can actually be quite complex.  “Several different factors may be contributing to your symptoms, including ligaments, tendons and mechanical alignment, and not just the discs, joints and nerves which are sometimes inappropriately blamed for back and leg pain,” states Dr. Wang.  “As such, be sure to see a specialist who has knowledge about a wide range of diagnoses and treatments, both surgical and non-surgical, and who focuses on treating the whole person and not just the symptoms.”
About The Kaplan Center for Integrative Medicine and Dr. David C. Wang, DO
The Kaplan Center for Integrative Medicine, located in McLean, Va., was founded by Dr. Gary Kaplan, a board-certified doctor of family medicine, pain medicine and medical acupuncture. The center is lead by a team of board-certified physicians with over 25 years of experience. Dr. Wang, who completed his training as Chief Resident at Harvard Medical School, has expertise in hands-on osteopathic manual treatment, medical acupuncture, musculoskeletal ultrasound, and prolotherapy/platelet-rich plasma injections, which are powerful regenerative treatments that encourage natural healing of injured joints, ligaments and tendons.  The specialists at The Kaplan Center also incorporate physical therapy, craniosacral therapy, chiropractic, and the sophisticated McKenzie Method of spine rehabilitation, among others, as part of a truly integrative approach to healing and health maintenance.  To learn more about The Kaplan Center for Integrative Medicine, visit the website at

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Rhubarb recipes that you'll love

The rhubarb is coming up now and here are my favorite rhubarb recipes. Rhubarb and asparagus are our first garden products. I don't think they'd taste good in a dish together, but we've had a few meals which included both. We've grilled asparagus, rubbing the spears with olive oil and sprinkling with salt and pepper. Enjoy! Spring is really here!

Cream cheese rhubarb pie
¼ cup corn starch
1 cup sugar
½ tsp salt
½ cup water
2-1/2 cups rhubarb, cut in ½ inch pieces
1 unbaked pie crust, regular or graham cracker

1 package 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar

In a saucepan, combine 1rst 3 ingredients, then the water and rhubarb.  Bring to boil, stirring often until mixture thickens.  Pour into pie shell and bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes.  Protect edges of crust with aluminum foil.  Remove from oven and allow to cool.  Turn oven down to 325 degrees.
Meanwhile beat topping ingredients until smooth.  Pour on top of pie.  Bake for 35 minutes in 325 oven or until set.  Chill and garnish with whipped cream, and sliced almonds or strawberries.

Rhubarb Bars
3 cups rhubarb, chopped
1 ½ cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 ¼ cup water
3 Tablespoons corn starch
1 ½ cup rolled oats
1 ½ cup rolled flour
1 cup brown sugar
½ tsp. baking soda
1 cup butter
½ cup nuts

Combine rhubarb, sugar, vanilla, cornstarch and water. Cook on stove until thick, cool  slightly. Combine oats, flour, brown sugar, soda, butter and nuts. Mix until crumbly. Put ¾ of mixture into 15 1/3 x 10 ½  jelly roll pan.  Spread rhubarb mixture on top. Cover with remaining crumbs. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Time to plant if you can

The weather forecast for the next 10 days is well above freezing. The lowest of the lows is 43 degrees tomorrow. The highs during the 10 days are in the 50's and 60's. The downside is rain is predicted for every day except Saturday, May 21.
So the ground is muddy and it's raining off and on. Oh well, this is Michigan, we're tough, we can do it. If we don't plant seeds now, the weeds will take over and at the end of this time period, we will have to start over getting the ground ready to plant. Best of luck to all you gardeners for a fruitful season.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Plant and Seed Swap in Farmington Hills

Annual Plant and Seed Swap and Perennial Plant Sale is Saturday, May 14 at Heritage Park
Get your garden ready for spring with the Farmington Hills Beautification Commission’s Eleventh Annual Spring Plant and Seed Swap is 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. Saturday, May 14, rain or shine, at the Heritage Park Visitor’s Center, located off Farmington Road between Ten and Eleven Mile Roads.
Trade in your extra daisies or daylilies and swap them for something new and different! Every year, both amateur and Master Gardeners come armed with plants from their gardens, eager to swap them for new and sometimes exotic species.  So come prepared, bright and early, with gloves, wagons, and your favorite plants and seeds to exchange.

Monday, May 2, 2011

School sells annual flowers in Wixom

The 39th annual garden-center sale has begun at the Oakland Schools Technical Campus Southwest campus, 1000 Beck Road, Wixom. Annual flowers are offered for walk-in and pre-order sales during regular class hours: 8 to 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Monday through Friday and special weekend sale hours: 9 a.m. to noon May 7-8 and May 14-15 and 1 to 4 p.m. Friday, May 20. Pre-orders must be made by Friday, April 29. Call 248-668-5634.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Has spring sprung yet?

It's been so cold, it's been hard to think about planting. It seems that when it's as cold as it has been, the seeds don't germinate well anyway. I've learned that you just can't rush growth. However, the parsley and onions are coming up from last year. We still haven't planted Swiss chard.
 The weather forecast for the next 10 days, calls for lows in the 40's and the highs are pushing 60, with rain throughout the week.

Ken gathered worms off our gravel driveway the other morning after the saturating rain. Unfortunately, he didn't put them in the worm farm, he took them fishing.
I am saving coffee grounds for the worm farm, everyday in a container, it's amazing how fast they accumulate.  Pretty soon, it will be warm enough to start a worm farm outside.

Here's the worm composting link again. I made a previous post with basic instructions.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Lasagna gardening is easy as spaghetti

Lasagna (or sheet) gardening is an easy way to start a garden in a new spot or enrich an existing garden. Not to be confused with the Italian dish, this method eliminates the need to work the soil with shovel or rototiller. The reason for the name is because it requires layering of newspapers and compost.
My neighbors used a form of this method for their garden 10 years ago. They mulched with lake seaweed and decomposed chicken manure... it worked well. There were still weeds though and I don't see how you can completely eliminate the need to weed. One of my coworkers uses a weed eater when her garden gets really overgrown. Here's the steps to start a lasagna garden, minus the pasta and weed eater.

1. If you are starting a new garden, pick a spot that will get sunlight most of the day and that will drain well. You don't want your garden in the low spot or the high spot in the yard. Outline the area where you want the garden and mow the grass short.

2. Cover with a thick layer of newspapers, 5 pages thick. Then saturate with water.

3. Next layer with 2 inches of peat moss or other brown organic material such as: leaves, pine needles, straw, rotting hay, composted horse manure or other compost, humus, sawdust, grass clippings, barn litter, coffee grounds, seaweed, paper, cardboard and wood ashes. (whatever you have available).

4. Next layer with 1 inch of green material such as grass clippings, vegetable peelings, coffee grounds, unwanted plants or weeds-that haven't gone to seed. (Fresh grass clippings are high in nitrogen, so don't use very much). It is ideal to use twice as much brown material as green.

5. Continue layering 2 parts brown and 1 part green, as deep as the roots of the plants prior to planting, (usually 8 to 10 inches).

6.  Plant the plants, covering around the roots with organic matter. Or... let the raised beds sit and decompose before planting. Either way, give the bed a good saturated watering right away. After planting, continue mulching around the plants as they grow.

In an existing garden, stomp the weeds down or use a weed eater. Then follow steps 2-6 above.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Michigan Backyard Farms brings fresh to 'your backyard'

Jerry Holcomb

Jerry Holcomb started his Michigan Backyard Farms business to serve a growing demand for fresh and local produce. Drawing from the idea of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), where farmers sell shares of their projected garden harvest, Holcomb has taken the concept to a new place, the shareholders’ own backyards.
Over the last 20 years, CSA’s have become a popular way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer. Typically the share consists of a box of seasonal produce each week throughout the growing season. Some farmers offer the share owners the opportunity to work on the farm and pick their own produce.
“I have wanted to start my own CSA for some time now. But finding the right piece of property and then the recent rough financial times put the idea on the back burner. So, I just continued to dig up more and more of my own yard to add more garden space. What a simple idea! Put the CSA right in the customers own backyard,” said Holcomb.
Local CSA's charge between $320 to $600 per share for about a 15-week growing season with an average of about 200 pounds of fresh produce per year, according to Holcomb.
“My pricing will be competitive for the same produce. Additionally, the customer will either have an existing garden section that may need updated or a section of the yard will need to be converted to a mini-farm. This cost will be evaluated in person on a backyard by backyard basis,” said Holcomb.
Jerry and his wife Robyn also own Yukon Construction, LLC. Jerry grew up in Farmington Hills, then moved out to White Lake in the mid 1980s.
“I have had a passion for gardening since I was a boy here in Michigan,” Jerry said. He is a licensed builder and contractor.When the construction business slowed down, he went to work for Walled Lake Cosolidated Schools as a bus driver and paraprofessional for special needs students.
Jerry is able to create a garden in someone’s backyard or by a business. He is also able to help a school start a garden. He offers whatever services are needed: starting the garden, maintenance, consulting and assisting. He helps homeowners and businesses convert unused/wasted sections of their yards into sustainable, food producing mini-farms. Each mini-farm is customized to meet shareholders' preferences.
“Nothing can compare to freshly picked vegetables. When you work with Michigan Backyard Farms, you're forming a direct relationship between yourself and the food you consume. You'll be there to see your food grown. You will have the enjoyment, the knowledge and the nutritional advantages of eating the freshest vegetables,” said Jerry.
Most of the gardening is done by hand. Jerry uses the “Lasagna Gardening” method, which eliminates the traditional digging and tilling normally associated with vegetable gardening. He first cuts the grass really short, then creates a weed barrier with a layer of wet thin cardboard or newspapers, then pine needles and hay. Then he builds it up with newspapers and whatever organic material is available: rotted hay, composted horse manure and leaves. He then layers with more wet newspapers, lasagna style.
Jerry uses organic methods of farming, including pest control, composting, natural fertilizers and organic heirloom seeds. “I will be at your mini-farm at least once per week: weeding, fertilizing, pest control, checking watering system, harvesting, composting and re-planting,” he said.
If someone wants to work the garden themselves, Jerry encourages it. He is happy to teach people about gardening. He has five children ages 7 to 17. He said they help out some with the family garden and recently went to their place in the Upper Peninsula where they tapped Maple syrup. He and Robyn get everybody in the family involved in sustainable living projects. “The kids love eating out of the garden,” Jerry said.

Holcomb family
For information, call Jerry Holcomb of Michigan Backyard Farms at 248-529-3830 or visit on facebook.Michigan-Backyard-Farms

 by Kathy Blake, For Journal Register Newspapers

Monday, April 18, 2011

Worm farming is easy dirty work

1. To start a worm farm, get a wooden container that has holes. Small holes can be drilled into the container, not big enough for escapees. Plastic containers aren't a good choice because they keep the farm too wet. You also need a lid to keep the rain out.

2. Add bedding material like dead plants, leaves and/or newspaper clippings and some soil.

3. Add green material like household fruit and vegetable scraps and egg shells.

4. Just add worms. You can dig them up in your yard. (A great place to find worms is under dead wood in moist areas. Don't dig them up from the garden though, leave those there and don't name them. You can also buy them at various places. I saw Gurney's is selling them in their garden catalog.

5. Periodically, add more bedding material and scraps.

The article below tells all about worm composting.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Garden Design 1-2-3 Workshop

Garden Design 1-2-3 Workshop
9 a.m. to 1 p.m.Saturday, April 30, May 7, 14 and 21, 2011
Oakland County Executive
Office Conference Center
2100 Pontiac Lake Road, 41W
Waterford, MI 48328

$160 fee: includes light morning refreshments each day and instructional handouts. Along with a variety of design exercises there will be a recommended garden design book list and web site list. Participants will be responsible for buying their own drafting supplies. Kits are available online for $50 including delivery.

Enclose your $160 check made payable to Oakland County by April 24, 2011
Mail this registration form by April 24, 2011 to:
MSU Extension – Dept. 416, 1200 North Telegraph Road, Pontiac, MI 48341
Include name, address, city, zip code, daytime phone number, email address.
One person per registration form.
Confirmation letters will be mailed upon receipt of registration and payment.

For questions, call Linda Smith at 248-858-0887 or email

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Lawn Care class in Waterford

Michigan State University Extension - Oakland County Lawn care class is 6 to 8:30 p.m. May 19, 2011 at Oakland County Executive Office Building Conference Center, 2100 Pontiac Lake Road, Waterford.
Do you want to improve the appearance of your lawn but don’t know how? Introductory course designed for the beginning or non-gardener or new homeowner who would like to improve the appearance of their lawn. Professor Kevin Frank Ph.D of the MSU Crop & Soil Science department
will cover assessing your lawn, soil testing, rejuvenation, starting a new lawn, lawn maintenance, and
lawn equipment. Dr. Frank is a dynamic speaker and this will be a very enjoyable class.
Cost is $20 per person which includes light refreshments.
Phone: 248-858-0887
Fax: 248-858-1477

Registration Deadline is May 13
Mail check for $20 with name, address and telephone number to:
MSU Extension –Horticulture 1200 N. Telegraph Rd Pontiac, MI 48341
Phone: 248-858-0887
Fax: 248-858-1477

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Time to plant peas

It's been fun doing this blog, but the best part is coming to fruition. Looking back at old posts, keeps me on schedule. (My Mom writes planting events on her calendar and then keeps the old calendars).
Let's see, we planted peas April 8. Oops, It's April 9. The weather is supposed to be nice, so today's the day to plant peas, potatoes, lettuce, onions and parsley. Spinach too if there's room although it doesn't produce much.
 In two weeks, we can plant broccoli, cabbage, celery, Brussels spouts and cauliflower plants outside. We wait until mid-May to plant beans and squash seeds and we wait until the end of May to plant egg plant, pepper and tomato plants.
My indoor seedlings are not doing very well. They are spindly and falling over, except for the lettuce, which I could put outside now.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Soil testing through MSU Extension

The annual Don't Guess…Soil Test! program, co-sponsored by Michigan State University Extension, Michigan Water Stewardship Program, Southeastern Oakland County Water Authority and local retailers is Saturday, April 2  through Sunday, May 1.

Through this special program, gardeners can obtain a soil nutrient and organic matter analysis through the Michigan State University Soil and Plant Nutrient Lab for the special price of $19 per sample.  The price includes delivery of the soil sample to the MSU laboratory as well as a customized fertilizer recommendation.
With the test, gardeners can identify nutrients already in the soil and identify appropriate fertilizer options.  Over-application of fertilizers can pollute local lakes and rivers, reduce plant quality, and waste money. Visit for instructions on how to take a sample.

Pick up a soil testing kit at the following retailers:
  • MSU Extension office, 2nd floor of the North Office Building - 26East- Pontiac
  • Auburn Oaks- Rochester Hills
  • Bordine Nursery- Rochester Hills & Clarkston
  • English Gardens- West Bloomfield & Royal Oak
  • Glenda’s Garden Center- Novi,
  • Goldner Walsh- Pontiac
  •  Hamilton’s of Ortonville
  •  Wojo’s Greenhouse- Ortonville and Lake Orion
  •  Mulligan’s Landscape and Garden Center-White Lake
  •  Oxford Farm and Garden-Oxford
  •  Shades of Green- Rochester Hills
For additional soil testing information or to find out about plant and pest diagnostic services available, contact the MSU Extension Oakland County Plant & Pest Hotline, 248-858-0902. Or, visit

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

6 steps to start growing indoors

With freezing drizzle and the other six forms of precipitation pounding us, it's a little hard to think about gardening. But this soon shall pass, so I am starting some plants indoors this weekend. 
Here's 6 steps to growing indoors:
1. For containers, use plastic cell containers with covers or egg cartons with holes poked in the bottom and saran wrap on top. You can also use wood pulp pots or peat pellets. Whatever you use, make sure it has drainage.
2. Fill with potting soil, preferably a mix with sphagnum peat moss, but any potting soil is good. Moisten the soil. 
3.Plant a few seeds, not many, about 1/8 inch deep and pat the soil lightly. Then cover with plastic and place in a very warm place, out of direct sunlight.
4. Keep watered. Once the seeds sprout, move the pots to a bright spot, a south-facing window is best. Water often, but not too much or too fast. The plants are fragile. If they get too big for their containers, move them to bigger pots. 
5. When it gets close to planting time, it's time to harden them by placing them outside during the day, to get used to it, but not in direct sunlight at first. Bring them in every night.
6. When its warm enough at night, transplant to the garden. Dig a hole slightly deeper than the pot and put the plant in, supporting it with your fingers. Firm the soil gently around the stem. Water carefully.

For tomatoes, it takes 6-8 weeks before they'll be ready to transplant outside. We always wait until Memorial Day to put tomatoes and peppers out, because the plants do much better when it's warmer at night, and I don't like covering plants in the garden every time there's a frost warning.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Working the soil

It sure is cold to be working in the garden. But the ground is no longer frozen tundra, so Ken was out there with his trusty rototiller and just completed the entire garden. I wisely hid out in the house until he was finished and that's me in the photo, taking credit for his hard work.
We have a front tine tiller, which is hard to keep going in a straight line. I recommend getting a rear tine tiller if you can afford it. The latter costs several hundred dollars more.
Ken rototilled the asparagus patch too. He said he kept watch out for roots and didn't see anything coming up yet. Then he spread fertilizer over it. We definitely need to invest in some compost and good old horse manure black dirt for the entire garden.
I didn't plant my basil and lettuce last week, so I did it today. It is so nice to have open dirt to look at for a change.
 I am going to for Swiss chard and other seeds. Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit organization of gardeners dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom seeds.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Michigan Gardener magazine celebrates 15 years

Michigan Gardener magazine is celebrating its 15th year. The first issue of 2011 will be in stores in late March. Visit

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Organic gardening can be shared

There are a number of organic farms in the area. Some of them sell shares to allow gardeners to come in and help with the work, plus reap the harvest.

Pdc Llamas & Produce, Davisburg,,  248-634-2674 
Rocky Garden, Davisburg,, 248-634-2291
Fresh Source Farm, Ortonville,, 248/793-3075
Sunshine Meadows Farm, Ortonville,, 248-464-1825.
Davis’s Family Farms, Highland,
Wannafarm, Holly, 248 634 7219
Upland Hills, Oxford,, 248-628-1611
Royal Oak Community Farm, Royal Oak, 
One Acre Farm, West Bloomfield,, 248-760-8531
Michigan Backyard Farms, White Lake,  248-444-6215

Sunday, March 13, 2011

What to plant and when?

I have been looking at my Gurneys catalog. A coworker borrowed my Heirloom seed catalog a month ago, I need to get it back.

Draw a plan
I am drawing a garden plan today. Ken and I will plant Swiss chard, peas, parsley and green onions before the end of March. Other greens like spinach and kale can be planted as soon as the ground is workable too.
Here's an interesting site on planning a garden.

Herbs indoors
I am starting herbs indoors in a round container today for fun. My favorites are parsley, basil, Rosemary and sage. I won't plant the smelly herbs indoors, (dill and cilantro). I am also planting lettuce in a pot. I haven't ever done this but these plants will do alright in a pot. When it's warm, I can put the pots outside by the door and be able to snip off leaves when preparing dinner, like a coworker does.
I have burned many dinners by darting out to the garden to pick something and then getting involved in weeding or harvesting.

Sprouts are quick
I have been growing sprouts in my kitchen. They grow so fast and easy and its such a green thumb ego boost.
All you need is a jar, a strainer and sprouting seeds. For bean sprouts, you rinse the seeds in a jar of lukewarm water twice a day for several days, straining after rinsing. I have a plastic sprouter that has a strainer in it. I purchased it from You can order sprouting seeds online at  Mountain Rose Herbs or purchase at Whole Foods.Markets.
Here's video on growing sprouts.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Spring is in the air, regardless of white stuff

Spring is in the air. Never mind that we just got dumped with 2 to 7 inches of snow. I will be planning my garden this weekend. With paper and pen, I will list the veggies we want and then plot out both the big garden and the raised bed. I always put the herbs, lettuce and green onions in the raised bed.
We will plant greens like Swiss chard, spinach and parsley soon. Later in the month, we will plant peas and start tomatoes and peppers indoors.
My husband, Ken is the real gardener of our household. I start helping him and then say, "You're doing great honey, I better go blog about this." That worked last year a few times, but this year, he's wise to my work avoidance scheme and will probably figure out how to keep me working.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Home & Garden show opens Friday

The Michigan Home & Garden Show will be open next weekend, from March 11 through March 13, at the Pontiac Silverdome featuring something for everyone looking for inspiration for their home and garden improvement projects.
“We are looking forward to an exciting show where attendees will discover the latest ideas and trends in home improvement, landscaping and gardening,” said Mike Wilbraham, show producer of ShowSpan, Inc. of Grand Rapids.
Chefs Angus Campbell and Robert Garlough from the Secchia Institute for Culinary Arts at Grand Rapids Community College will cook up “Sweet Party Treats” and Chef Debra from Debra’s Delectable Delights will prepare a “Spring Vegetarian Meal” on the Food Stage.America’s Master Handyman and WJR radio host Glenn Haege, Leslie Hart-Davidson of Hart-Davidson Designs, SEMCOG, Porter & Heckman and The Inside Outside Guys will cover interior design, home improvement, clean water and home energy on the Home Stage.
The Detroit newspaper columnist and author Nancy Szerlag will talk about vegetable gardening, the Union of Concerned Scientists will focus on environmentally sensitive garden practices and Dan Riddle of Lodi Farms will concentrate on trees during their seminars on the Garden Stage.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Master Composter Program offered in Birmingham

The SE Oakland County Water Authority (SOCWA) Master Composter Program offers training for environmental gardeners who are willing to learn and then share their time and talents with the community. Six classes are in the program, plus field trips and demonstrations. Classes cover subjects such as making compost, using compost for vegetables and flowers, soil health, soil nutrient testing, healthy lawn care, tree mulching, and education outreach.
The first class is Composting Basics: “Go Decomposers!” is 6:45 p.m., Thursday, March 17 at the Birmingham Unitarian Church, 38651 Woodward Ave., Bloomfield Hills. Enrollees must fulfill the following class requirements: attend six classes; build a working compost pile; complete written assignments and take home exam and volunteer 12 hours of time between March and October 2011.
Class size limited to 25. Registration is due by March 7. To register, send a $30 check to SOCWA Master Composter Program, 3910 W. Webster Road, Royal Oak, MI 48073. Include name, mailing address, telephone and e-mail address. For information, call Karen Bever at SOCWA  office at 248-288-5150 or e-mail Lillian Dean at or visit