Saturday, February 14, 2015

Growing Garlic in the Backyard is Easy

We have been growing garlic in our backyard for 3 years. We purchased bulbs once and will never need to purchase them again. We just hold back 5 or 6 bulbs each year for replanting.

This is "Music" garlic. It's a hard neck variety and a very popular seller for growing garlic in colder climates like mine. We plant right after the first frost in the fall, mulch the bed with about 8 inches of mulch and water occasionally. It will begin to sprout when the spring temperatures rise into the 40's.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Frost Protection in May?

Believe it or not, on Friday we had a frost warning here in Southeastern Michigan. We have lettuce, radishes, cucumbers, tomato plants, squash and zucchini growing very well. We have some in above ground beds and others in Earthboxes.

While watching the news on Friday afternoon, I was surprised to hear the frost warning.
Linda and I scrambled to find some suitable items to protect the Earthboxes.
We settled on a few sheets and a cardboard box leftover from a recent patio umbrella purchase.

There are two Earthboxes hiding under the table that is draped with a sheet.
The folding table and sheet technique worked very well.

The rabbits were getting into our veggies, so we added the fence.
The sheet is draped over two blackberry bushes and provided good protection
for lettuce and a lot of baby Swisschard that is starting to produce very well.

I don't think we ended up with frost in the end, but last year we lost a lot of veggies with frost on May 15th. Frost on May 24th (Memorial Day Weekend) would have been a big bummer, but we were prepared just in case.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Spring Planting Update

Here are a few pictures from our backyard urban gardening efforts:

We planted garlic in a bed around the perimeter of our deck in late-October 2012.
At this point we ahve 29 shoots of garlic well established and a few more developing.

The bulbs were covered with 4 inches of mulch.
We had lots of snow, but the garlic is doing well.

Strawberries in containers.
The stawberries were mulched for over-wintering.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Gathering Earthbox Supplies on a Rainy Day

It was cloudy and rainy this morning, so our goal of preparing more of our above ground beds and setting up our Earthboxes today had to be put on hold. We decided to pick up the rest of the garden lime, organic plant food, and potting soil instead.

The rain turned out to be a blessing. It turned out to be our lucky day after all.

We headed out to our favorite locally owned gardening shop and quickly obtained our Epsoma Garden Lime and Fox Farm Organic Fertilizer. The shop did not have any of the Pro Mix Organic Potting Soil that worked so well for us last year, but worked in our favor big time today.

I asked one of the employees if they had any Pro Mix Organic in the back somewhere. The answer was a quick, "No." But he did say that they had some Miracle-Gro Organic Choice Potting Mix (OMRI certified).

I said, "I was hoping for some Pro Mix."

He replied, "How does $3.99 a bag sound for 1 cubic foot bags?"


We picked up 22 bags. (I'll bet he's wishing he'd have asked how many bags we wanted first.) :-)

An early picture from last year's set-up taken in late May 2012.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Spring Planting Day

Burpee Organic and Heirloom Seeds

The weather here in S.E. Michigan is warming up as we wrap up first Sunday of April today.  We decided to plant some cool weather vegetables today.

We planted a row each of Georgia Collards (actually not organic or heirloom), Swiss Chard, Lettuce, Radishes today. We also planted 3 small rows of Red Onions.

Growing Watermelon in Compost Bags

I wrote a blog post last year about my attempts to emulate a You Tube video demonstrating how to grow watermelons by direct sowing seed into a a bag of compost.

I planted three Carolina Cross seeds purchased from the Burpee display rack at the local big box home supply store and crossed my fingers. If you are not familar with Carolina Cross, they are capable of producing 200 lb watermelons under the right conditions.

We had several days with temps above 100 degrees in my backyard last year. Apparently, the heat was not good for my watermelon-growing-in-a-bag-of-compost attempt. There were days when the watermelon could have benefitted from some additional water throughout the day.

It took two months for the water melon to form the first idications of fruit and another month to reach softball size. In mid-September I picked two or three very small melons with high hopes, but when they were cut open it was evident that my attempt was a failure. They were nearly 1/2 rotten. I think the lack of water must have contributed to the poor results. I watered through the slits cut into the top of the bag by inserting a water hose for about 3 minutes, but some days the soil was completely dried out by mid-afternoon.

I don't have space to plant the melons the traditional way - in hills. The plant-in-a-bag technique sounded perfect. Maybe I'll try it again this year (or maybe not).

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Permaculture Information and Inspiration

"When you're inspired by passion, nothing is too hard." - Valerie Herman, permaculturist

I am not knowledgeable about permaculture, but I do find it fascinating. While do some reading about it online today I discovered this video of Eli and Val's Garden near Jacksonville, FL.

Most of us can't embrace all of the practices Val and Eli have employed at their home, but as explained in the video they started with three small kale plants and kept adding on. What you see in the video is the culmination of 3 years work.

Caution: Before you decide to go whole hog with permaculture, please consider how your neighbors and township might react. In some areas of the country this type of urban agriculture is more accepted that in other areas.

I don't know for sure, but I suspect that Val and Eli have included their neighbors in their plans by being open about their vision for permaculture. Involving the local community and educating them about your plans can save you headaches and possible legal problems later on.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Vemicomposting and Vermiculture

I have been gearing up for a return to serious vermicomposting and vermiculture.  I live in an urban subdivision, so serious efforts in growing my red wiggler population take some creativity. But before our relocation to Michigan 2 years ago we had grown 1 lb of worms into 25 lbs within a couple of years.

The difficulty in growing a worm population is providing appropriate food and bedding sources for them. In a household of 2 people, like ours, kitchen scraps alone will probably not provide enough food for more than a few pounds of worms.

But thanks for the power of the internet, finding additional sources is not very difficult. In the past, I have turned to Craigslist for help. A "wanted" posting for rabbit manure or horse manure will probably yield good results in more areas of the country. I was able to obtain 250 lbs of aged rabbit manure for $25 several years ago. A recent posting has not turned up an immediate renewed source of rabbit manure in my current community, but my search continues. I if you have the inside track on some rabbit manure, I would be willing to trade some red wigglers for it if you are interested. Please contact me via the comment button below.

The worm squirm
Homemade worm bin (left) and vertical commercial version (right)

Raising worms to compost your refuse is not rocket science. Please don't do as I did and waste $70 on a commercially purchased worm bin. A quick You Tube search for "home made worm bin" will provide you many ideas for how to make your own. If you spend more than $10-$12 to make a basic worm bin, you've spent too much money.

And if you're like I am, you might like to do things on a larger scale than most folks. If a little is good then a lot must be even better right?

Update from 5/8/13: I found a local source that will provide all the rabbit manure I want for $7 per 50 lb feed sack full.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Spring Gardening Peparations

It's Easter weekend and temperatures are in the mid-50's. Here in Michigan we're not out of the woods yet for an occasional morning frost, so we will have to hold off on planting anything significant that is frost sensitive. But I couldn't resist doing some garden prepping today anyway.

We added an additional above ground bed today.

These modular kits were purchased at Home Depot. They are economical and readily available, but the best part is that as your gardening efforts expand your gardening can easily expand also.

We also prepared our Earthbox gardening area with some additional leveling pedestals. These were actually recycled from our backyard. The previous owners used the pavers in the backyard, so re-purposing them was pretty easy.

In the next couple of weeks we will finish leveling the pavers and prepare our Earthboxes. The backyard deck works well because our vegetables have a practical place to "climb".

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Growing Garlic in an Urban Backyard

Our backyard gardening efforts are winding down for 2012.  Today I harvested the last 50 - 60 jalapenos, 20-25 cubanelle peppers, 10 small to medium sized bell peppers, and 5 smallish butternut squash. We emptied, cleaned, and stored 5 of our 10 Earthboxes along with cleaning out pepper, mint, and spinach plants in half of the in-ground bed we have in the backyard. But lest you think our gardening for the year has ended, sit tight for additional details.

Several weeks ago we visited the Plymouth Farmer's Market and purchased some garlic scapes from Michigan Garlic Farm. My wife loves garlic and we cook with it a lot (although she did not particularly like the scapes). After talking with Les and Donna for 15 - 20 minutes at the farmer's market, my excitement for growing garlic was ignited. The Abel Family talks about garlic with so much energy and vitality that it's contagious. We purchased a few varieties from them for planting, although I forgot to ask specifics, and I also purchased another 1 lb from another source a little later on.

With some of the Earthboxes moved out of the normal "flower" beds that the previous homeowner installed, we now have room to plant some garlic! I planted most of our beds with the Music garlic variety and the remainder with the garlic we purchased from Michigan Garlic Farm.

Here are a few pictures (please excuse the picture quality from my cell phone):

It's my first attempt at garlic, so I am not really expecting spectacular results. If we have a few small successes, I'll be happy. The soil is supposed to be worked 18", but for my backyard I couldn't achieve that without some type of mechanical tiller (I don't own one), so I had to settle for a 7-8" base of worked soil, and another 4 inches of mulch on top. I planted to garlic about 5" inches deep.

We also have a second bed on the opposite side of the deck that was planted and mulched also.

For any of the garlic pro's that might read this post later, I apologize if I have violated any written or unwritten laws of growing garlic successfully. Sometimes when conditions are less than perfect, I employe the Nike strategy and go into Larry Cable Guy mode of just getting it done. Most of the time, I achieve some level of success in spite of myself. I've got my fingers crossed! :-)

Is anyone else growing garlic this fall?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Chili Verde

Looking for ideas to use my current abundant supply of jalapenos I decided to make some "green" chili today. is the home page for the International Chili Society's (ICS) competition information. In ICS competition, beans are not allowed so my chili would be something a little different than the typical "home-style" chili I'm used to eating this time of year.

My attempt at chili verde was loosely based on Gambler's Chili as published on the ICS website.

1. I started with 2 lbs of pork loin chops purchased at Meijer that I cut up into small 3/8 inch sized pieces. I browned it in skillet with a small amount of olice oil for 10 minutes and then drained the liquid.

2. I added 1/2 a jar of Green Salsa, 2 cups of chicken broth, 1 cup of finely chopped onion, and 1 cup of finely diced green pepper to the pork and continue cooking for 1 hour.

3. I added the spice mix (see below) and continued simmering.

Spice Mix

1 medium sized clove of minced garlic
2 ½ Tbsp Watkins chicken base
1 tsp celery salt
1 Tsp Arrowroot
2 tsp Mexican oregano
1 Tbsp cumin
1 Tbsp jalapeno pepper - diced
1 Tbsp dried cilantro

4. Then I added 14 oz of canned chopped green chili's and simmered for another 30 minutes.

Green chili made with pork loin aka chili verde

For my personal tastes, the results were pretty good. Some might like a little more heat or salt, but that's easy to regulate by adding a dash here and there for your personal tastes.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

My Backyard Earthbox Garden - Jalapenos

The jalapeno harvest was tremendous this year. I planted 12 seeds in an Earthbox and ended up culling several to make room for 6 jalapeno plants.

I attribute the bountiful amount of peppers this year to the dry weather we experienced from early June to mid-August. The picture below was taken after the weekly harvests started to decline as the weather cooled here in the early fall. These covered about 1/3 of the large collander I use for harvesting. Throughout the year I lost count of how many overflowing collanders of jalapenos I actually harvested, but but it was at least 3 1/2 amounting to hundreds of peppers.

Jalapenos grown my backyard Earthbox garden
Jalapenos halved and ready for drying in the oven
We had a unique problem...what to do wtih all those jalapenos? A few Google searches later and we decided to dry them and grind them in a coffee grinder to make jalapeno powder.
It's a simple 4 step process:
  •  Halve them
  • Pop them on a cookie sheet
  • With the oven on the lowest setting, dry them for 4 hours or so
  • If they are not dry, put them back in the oven for another hour or so

These are not "exact" times. You would do best to keep an eye on them and pull them out early if they begin to develop a "burnt" look.

Homemade jalapeno powder
Caution: If you are going to handle jalapenos with your bare hands, be careful. Don't rub your eyes. Don't touch your lips, face, or other "sensitive areas". Surgical gloves make handling hot peppers much easier.

My Backyard Earthbox Garden - Cantaloupes

Cantaloupes grown in backyard Earthbox
Based on cantaloupes grown in my parents' and grandmothers' gardens growing up, these didn't look ripe enough to me. I was wrong. I harvested 5, but 2 of them were too ripe to eat.

I didn't know how the melons would turn out in the Earthbox, but the results were actually o.k. These were planted as part of the Earthbox "second season" in late July. During the last few weeks here in Southeast Michigan it's been on the cooler side and sun has been scarce. Next year I think I'll try them in the spring season and hopefully attain a little better results.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


We planted these radishes three weeks ago and harvest the first handful today.

Red Radishes
These babies have a "kick" that sneaks up on you. We like eating them for snacks instead of the typical potato chips and dip.

Backyard Farming (Gardening)

Whether you call it farming or gardening makes no difference to me. I rather like the sound of farming, but based on overall scale it's really probably closer to gardening than farming. Nonetheless I am growing food in my small urban backyard.

I have neighbors on all four sides and some of them are a little on the "particular" side (some might call it "picky" even). A few of them mow their yards twice per week and I have no doubt if it rained a little bit more one of them would probably go to mowing three times a week.

With that as a backdrop, I wanted to share some pictures of our small backyard food production strategy which includes 10 Earthboxes, a 4' x 4' above ground bed, a 4' x 20' in ground bed, 4 miscellaneous containers, and a canvas bag hanging from a metal pole made for holding bird feeders.

Strawberrie in a repurposed flower pot

A hanging bag laying horizontal

A "hanging" bag

An Earthbox growing peas

Above ground bed with onions, radishes, carrots, and two blackberry bushes.
 Folks in states located south of Michigan are probably harvesting produce in large quantities at this point of May, but we had two nights of hard frost no less than 2 weeks ago. I grow impatient at this point of the northern growing season, but you know what they say, "good things come to those who wait".