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".

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Selling Worms for Profit in 4 Hours Per Week

If you've been to a book store, browsed the best selling books on, or watched the morning news talk shows in the past few years, then you've probably seen or heard about Tim Ferriss and his book titled The 4-Hour Work Week.

It certainly sounds too good to be true, but it depends on your viewpoint. Some people see the title and immediately dismiss the idea, but they are most likely missing the point. The title and idea of a 4 hour work week is really more of a marketing ploy than a realistic idea. Most any successful business owner knows that during the start-up stages you will probably spend more than 4 hours and more like 80 hours, but depends on the business and how you plan to scale it.

And let's not forget the definition of work. If you enjoy what you're doing, is it work? If you would do what you're doing whether someone paid you a single penny is it work?

To demonstrate some of my points above please consider this....

If you take a micro business idea like growing herbs and vegetables in unused space in your backyard or raising red wigglers in a spare room in your basement or garage, you might be surprised how little actual work it is and how much "return on investment" you receive.

If you are composting with red wigglers to reduce your household waste stream or growing vegetables for your family to eat, what's to stop you from selling the extras for a few dollars? Does it take a lot of extra work on top of the work you're already doing? If you're already doing it for fun, then is it actually work if you sell the extras to your friends and neighbors? You can place ads on Craigslist to sell red wigglers and I know from personal experience that you will soon have people e-mailing you at all hours of the night asking to buy them from you.

Earning what you consider significant income may take a while, but based on your upfront investment the ROI can be significant.

Here's my pesonal testimonial provided as motivation for you:

In 2008 I purchased 1 lb of red wigglers for $29 from a local supplier and had them delivered to my door via the United States Postal Service.  I put them in a typcial home style vermicomposting system and was off and running. Within a few months, it became a challenge to see how fast I could multiple my worms into greater numbers.

I added a few additional items to my composting efforts including a Rubbermaid plastic tub, a 12 gallon Utility Mixing Tray, six 5 gallon buckets, and several inexpensive 2 gallon plastic storage bins. I purchased several feed sacks full of rabbit manure from a local farmer for $5 a bag and posted an add on Craigslist offering worms for sale. Commercial worms farmers laughed at my efforts I'm sure, but from my original $29 investment I earned several hundred dollars enjoying a hobby turned micro business opportunity doing something I enjoyed immensely and I helped spread the knowledge regarding how to turn household kitchen waste into a desireable soil amendment. And...I spent much less time than 4 hours per week doing it. I used a free website to promote it online, a free service to advertise it online, and I received numerous referrals from local gardening and hydroponics businesses for local customers wanting to purchase red wigglers. My ROI for this whole project was probably in the vincinity of 500-600% or maybe even more (I didn't keep track of every single solitary expense).

You might be wondering if I am still pursuing this business or not and why I would want to share these details on this website.

I relocated across the country for my "job" and abandoned the business for a while since I couldn't realistically move 20 lbs of red wigglers in trunk of my car and drive them 1,500 miles in 100 degree heat. But, now that I'm settled in I have every intention of resuming my micro entrepreneurial efforts. And this time, I will also avoid a few of the pitfalls I experienced the first time like buying worm composting containers from commercial sources. I'll simply use stuff I've already got laying around the house and garage.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Commercial Aquaponics Business Plan

I am a subscriber to the commercial aquaponics newsletter published by Friendly Aquaponics.  A recent issue provided a detailed breakdown of the earnings possibilities provided when you couple an experienced business person with a powerful low input - high output business model: aquaponics farming. Based on the actual results of an aquaponics operator using the Friendly Aquaponics system, one of their most successful students is earning a six figure income with aquaponics. From the newsletter:
Based on our experience, these [expenses] should  average $12,400-25,500 a year for a farm of his size, leaving him with a $121,500-134,500 net profit.
Their student is generating 75 cents per net pot hole, which equates to roughly $2,000 - $3,000 per week in his system. As in most endeavors, profitability increases with size and volume. It also helps that their student has performed a large part of the labor and maintenance without needing to hire it done during the start-up stages.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Michigan Rhubarb Update

We planted our rhubarb a couple of weeks ago. So far so good.

I wasn't sure this rhubarb was going to make it, but it seems to be thriving.
We've had a few nights in the mid-30's, but the rhubarb is no worse for wear.

Tulip Time in Holland Michigan

We visited Holland Michigan this weekend.  Holland is famous for tulips. I snapped a few pictures.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

15 Reasons to Grow Your Own Food

It's probably not possible to grow everything you eat. Even if you grow an organic garden in your backyard, grow your own chickens, rabbits, and goats, it might prove difficult to swear off processed foods completely.  This article from provides some pretty good reasons why it's important to understand the food we are eating: The 15 Grossest Things You Are Eating.

Growing your own food doesn't need to be expensive.
This above ground bed was purchased for $30 from Home Depot.
It's hard to see because we just planted it, but this 4' x 4' bed
contains 3 rows of onions, a row of carrots, a row of radishes,
3 collard greens, and 2 blackberry bushes. Eventually the bushes will
take over, but in the meantime I'm taking advantage of every
square inch of growing space.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Monday, April 16, 2012

Earthboxes in the Backyard

We tried our first Earthbox last year and had such good results I purchased 9 more.  This weekend we planted 5 of them in the back yard. Next weekend the plan is prepare the other 5 in the side yard.

Earthbox gardening
The white cover sticks out like a sore thumb, but I was so enthusiastic about getting things planted that I already planted the cucumber seeds before making the final decision to go with black.  In Florida it's so hot we use the white covers, but it's still occasionally "nippy" during spring time in Michigan so black it is.

Tulips in the Front Yard

Tulips in the front yard
 I picked up a "new to me" lens for my camera a couple of weeks ago and the first sunny day we had since I picked it up I couldn't wait to go outside and try it out. The tulips have been blooming like crazy lately. What better way to launch into spring time?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Distilling Water

I took this picture last year at a winery in Florida.  They use old wine bottles to distill water by using the heat of the sun. I wish I'd taken better notes so I knew how this actually works, but ran across it tonight and wanted to share.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

My Order From Johnny's Selected Seeds

It's been in the 60's for temperatures this week and I've got Spring Fever! 

We placed our seed order for the upcoming season a couple of nights ago and today Johnny's sent confirmation that it's been shipped.

2903.11Olympian (F1)-Packet
Vegetables > Cucumbers > American Slicing
566G.11Yankee Bell (OG)-Packet
Vegetables > Peppers > Sweet Bell > Green-to-Red Bells
568.11Biscayne (F1)-Packet
Vegetables > Peppers > Sweet Specialty Peppers
586G.11Early Jalapeno (OG)-Packet
Vegetables > Peppers > Hot Southwestern Peppers > JalapeƱos
2437.11Red Malabar Spinach-Packet
Vegetables > Greens > Specialty
Vegetables > Beans > Beans, Pole
2664.11Cashflow (F1)-Packet
Vegetables > Squash > Summer > Zucchini > Dark Green
88G.11Black Cherry (OG)-Packet
Vegetables > Tomatoes > Cherry > Red Cherry
2845.11Brandywine (OG)-Packet
Vegetables > Tomatoes > Heirloom
2450.11Yellow Crookneck (OG)-Packet
Vegetables > Squash > Summer > Yellow
459.11Sweet Granite (OG)-Packet
Vegetables > Melons > Cantaloupe > Open Pollinated
477.11Sweet Favorite (F1)-Packet
Vegetables > Watermelon > Red Flesh

We've got 10 Earthboxes and an above ground bed to plant, so we'll likely purchase a few more seed varieties locally. This year I plan to attempt growing water melons and cantaloupe in bags of store bought compost. I've seen others do it so I'm going to try it also.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Homebased Food Products - Jam by Hand

This morning I tagged along with my wife to a craft fair sponsored by the High School Band Booster Club.  The craft fair was pretty typical with a mixture of handmade, handsewn, and bake sale items combined with some items that appeared to be mass produced crafts that pushed the borders of what I personally consider "craft". 

While walking through the cafeteria we ran across a booth selling homemade jam.  I tried a sample of the Strawberry Lemon Poppyseed Jam that was spread on a Ritz cracker. The jam was excellent, so I purchased some.

I have written previous articles about Cottage Food Laws, so my discovery later on that the jam was made in a home kitchen that has not been inspected by the Michigan Department of Agriculture was an interesting surprise. Just as the law requires, the container had a label explaining the details.

It's good see entrepreneurs taking advantage of the rules and regulations that have helped many wannabe food producers get started. Many small businesses grew into medium sized businesses by starting small and growing by word-of-mouth.

Later on I learned that Jam by Hand is made with Michigan Made Pioneer brand sugar, which is an additional bonus for us because we firmly believe in buying products that are produced as close to home as possible. 

You can read more about Jam by Hand on Facebook and on the Jam by Hand blog on Blogger. To read more about Michigan's cottage food laws visit this page on

I found this How to Make Small Batch Strawberry Jam video on You Tube:

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

What Does Organic Really Mean?

During the past few years, Linda and I have become much more knowledgeable and informed about our food choices. I feel confident that we have a better understanding of what it means when food is "organic" versus "natural".

We joined a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm and purchased food at farmers markets from "real" farmers who actually grow what they are selling. Many roadside "farm stands" are actually selling food imported from other states and countries that didn't grow themselves. Curious? The next time you make a purchase from a "farm stand" ask a few open ended questions and pay close attention to the body language and answer that you receive. I think you might be surprised.

Regardless of what I thought I knew, tonight I learned that there is still much, much more I can learn about the different types of "organic" food.

According to an article I read tonight on here are few definitions:
  • 100% Organic: All content is certified organic.
  • Organic: At least 95% of content, excluding water and salt, is organic.
  • Made With Organic Ingredients: At least 70% of content is organic.
  • Ingredient Panel Only: Less than 70% organic.
But if you think organic certification automatically ensures food is without pesticides you probably need to read this article from UC-Berkley.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Nutritional Supplements

My wife and I made a decision several years ago to start growing some of our own food.  We live in suburbia, so we can't grow a lot but it's made us better consumers. We don't buy imported vegetables from foreign countries if we can avoid it. I'd rather buy an orange from California than a nectarine from Spain. Likewise I'd rather buy from actual farmers at the farmer's market than from vendors who purchased food from a wholesale supplier and brought it to the farmer's market.

We've benefitted from an increased awareness of where our food comes from, how it's grown, and the nutritional value it contains (or doesn't contain). To supplement this healthier lifestyle, I've been taking nutritional products from Sisel International for several months. I was introduced to this company from an internet friend of mine from St. Louis who happens to be married to a doctor, so her endorsement of the products played a key role in my decision to try the products.

I've been taking the weight loss product called SiseLean - a powdered supplement - that I mix with water and drink for breakfast. It's also been an occasional effective meal replacement for me and others who want to supercharge weightloss.  It's interesting that on days I drink the SiseLean, I feel a little better and have more energy compared to days when I skip it. These shakes are loaded with protein and provide a lot of supplemental vitamins that I might get from my regular meals. I can't promise the same results for everyone, but it's working for me.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Hi Tech Rabbit Farming

Raising rabbits has come a long since my uncle raised about 25 rabbits for a 4-H project 30 years ago.  I'm sure those farmers approaching it from a commercial perspective have been using some of these techniques for many, many years, but the video provides an overview of the the possibilities to raise rabbits in an urban area.

Farming & Breeding Fresh Rabbits for NYC Restaurants *food curated* from SkeeterNYC on Vimeo.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Growing Watermelon in Compost Bags

While looking for varieties of grow bags available for above ground gardening, I ran across a video on You Tube posted by a gentlemen from Georgia that has grown more than 100 pounds of watermelons from a single bag of compost. One of the melons even grew to 28 pounds. He plants watermelon directly into the bag.

Here's a video demonstration:

I'm going to try a bag for watermelon and a bag for canteloupe this.

Canada Red Rhubarb and Cheyenne Blackberries

Photo from
We purchased two rhubarb starts today.  The Canada Red variety is cold weather resistant and suitable for our location in Michigan.  It will be a while before the ground warms enough for planting, but I couldn't resist the purchase because some suppliers are already out of supply for the 2012 growing season.   

My grandmother had a lot of rhubarb in her garden and used it in pie making.  As I recall she would freeze it and then make pies from it later in the year when apples, blackberries, gooseberries, and strawberries were out of season.

I purchased the rhubarb from De Groot Inc. out of Coloma, Michigan.  They have a large display at the local Meijer store. Contact information for the company is included below:

De Groot, Inc.
P.O. Box 934
Coloma, Michigan 49038

Phone:  1-800-253-2876

Fax:  1-269-468-6717

The rhubarb description at explains that one rhubarb plant is enough for several pies.  When we lived in Florida we had to settle for pies made from frozen rhubarb, since it doesn't grow well in extreme heat.  Linda has purchased it locally at the grocery store and the clerk didn't even know what it was.  I am looking foward to growing my own.  A fresh baked rhubarb pie coupled with a few scoops of vanilla ice cream is hard to beat.

Photo from
We also picked up some Cheyenne variety blackberry shrubs. The Cheyenne variety are not thornless, but they are more resistant to the colder temperatures we get here in Southeastern Michigan.  Blackberries are another fruit that are excellent for pie baking, but I like them fresh from the vine too.

I tried to grow blackberries in containers when we lived in Florida. I went through five different plants before I finally had to throw in the towel on the effort.  This time I'll plant them directly in the ground and top dress with compost on a regular basis.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Preparing for Gardening Season

Cucumbers in my Earthbox last season
We just ordered 4 more Earthboxes in preparation for gardening season. has a free shipping promotion right now. They are $29.95 when you order 2 or more, which is cheaper than local stores.

That makes 10 total Earthboxes, a hanging planter, 5 hydroponics tubs, and pretty soon a new 4 ft x 4 ft aquaponics system. I'm also planning to add some rhubarb, blackberry bushes, and a new type of apple tree pretty soon.

My wife thinks we might be going overboard [:-)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Is Imported Food a Good Idea?

The country is still exporting more food than it imports overall, but after a few recent visits to the grocery store I have become more and more concerned about the amount of vegetables and fruit that is imported into the country and sold at my local grocery store.

How much of the food you eat every day is imported?  The next time you visit the store for vegetables and fruit purchases, try to limit your purchases to U.S. vegetables and fruit only. It sounds easy, but the results might surprise you.

In our household, we stopped purchasing food that is imported from outside the U.S. It takes more effort than I originally thought, which is somewhat concerning.  You can read more about imported food dangers in this article from MSNBC.

And according to the video from ABC2News, the World Trade Organization is considering relaxing the food labeling requirements that currently help protect consumers.

How to Get Out of the Food Desert

An above ground garden bed behind our house
There has been a lot reported in the news media this past week about the Food Desert. I won't pretend to understand the political side of these issues - because I don't - but I do have some suggestions for how to provide more food to more people at the lowest possible cost.

What solution do I propose? Teach people to grow their own food. It's not difficult. It doesn't take a lot of space. And it doesn't cost a lot of money.

When I was growing up in Mid-Missouri every neighbor and every relative had a garden patch behind their house. They grew green beans, peas, corn, strawberries, potatoes, okra, squash, lettuce, kale, spinach, and much more.  They ate fresh vegetables and canned the extras to eat during the winter months. There was always plenty to eat. Growing food was a skill grandparents and parents taught their children.

During the past 20 years there have been fewer and fewer gardens grown in patches behind houses. Fewer people know how to grow food and I can only guess that fewer parents and grandparents are teaching those skills to their children. I can't understand why.

Education and finding a job are important, but there is no better skill a child can learn than how to provide food for themselves and for their future families. If families do not pass these skills down from one generation to the next, who is going to teach it? Schools? Churches?  I think everyone bears this responsibility.

And finally, instead of reporting on the Food Desert I'd like to see more reporting on practical stories and articles that promote hands on food production. It would promote more independence, less dependence, and I am sure it would reduce the cost of public assistance provided by taxpayers to those who simply haven't been taught about possible alternatives.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Urban Farming - Rabbits

I've been brainstorming for ideas to allow me to grow a protein source sustainably in an urban setting. I found a few videos on You Tube today that explain all the in's and out's for raising rabbits. Rabbits provide a source of protein and rabbit manure provides a source of natural fertilizer for vegetable gardening. The manure can be easily composted with red wiggler worms to produce a valuable soil amendment.

The gentleman in the videos provides an excellent source of information about raising rabbits for food and with the videos it should be possible for almost anyone to emulate his efforts and raise Florida Whites, a small rabbit that provides a dense source of meat, that can be raised in a small area.

His videos have inspired me to seriously consider raising rabbits in my garage. If you live in a typical urban subdivision that prevents you from raising chickens, goats, or other small livestock, rabbits may provide you a viable alternative.

I'd also like to provide a little head's up about Video demonstrates a humane way to butcher rabbits for meat. If you are uncomfortable watching livestock being prepared as a food source, then please think twice about watching the video. I personally think the methods used in the video are as humane as I could ever imagine them being. As a young person, I helped my grandmother butcher chickens many, many times. Compared to methods she used, the method demonstrated in the video is very humane.

If butchering your own meat makes you personally uncomfortable, then perhaps you have a friend or relative who can do it for you.

As another alternative, you can raise rabbits for wool instead of for meat. An angora rabbit produces about 15 ounces of wool annually. The wool can be spun into yarn and knitted into clothing, or the wool can be sold.

For additional information about urban rabbit farming, here are a few websites:

The New Urban Chickens

Urban Self Sufficientist

Farm Tina Butchering Rabbits

Farm Tina Raising Rabbits

Bob McCarty Writes

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Backyard Swimming Pool Aquaponics

I watched a little NATGEOTV this afternoon.  I really enjoyed seeing the aquaponics system in this video episode:  Too bad I don't have a swimming pool. :-) Catching supper in the pool every night would be pretty cool, but I don't think I could eat the duckweek shakes like they are doing. Read more at

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Concerns About Imported Food

According to Tony Corbo, a columnist for Huffington Post, U.S. food imports are rising dramatically.

"U.S. food imports grew from $41 billion in 1998 to $78 billion in 2007. The growth has come in consumer-ready foods, such as fruit and vegetables, seafood and processed food products. It has been estimated that as much as 85% of the seafood we now consume is imported, and depending on the time of the year, upwards of 60% of the fresh produce we consume is now imported. Officials from the FDA have stated that about 15% of the average American diet is made of imported food products." Read more at Huffington Post.

I first became aware of imported beef from Canada, but more recently seafood, fruits, and vegetables. I think this is a very dangerous proposition since most of it is untested. The volume simply prohibits it.

An online acquaintance of mine and publisher of a popular bbq forum posted an item last week regarding his experience with canned fruit from a Midwestern grocery store. The respondents were generally apathetic about it (except for a very small minority).

Has it come to this? Does the prospect of eating dangerous and harmful imported food that is not inspected for contaminants not concern the average American? It definitely should.

Here are some of the measures we have taken to reduce the amount of imported food we eat:

1) joined a local CSA for purchasing vegetables
2) support a local food buying club to purchase locally raised eggs, pork, beef, and bison
3) planted a backyard garden to begin growing our own squash, cauliflower, broccoli, peppers, and collard greens
4) joined a Meet-up Group to learn more about locally grown food
5) exploring online information about farming at
We plan to add more as we learn about them. If you'd like to learn more about sources of local food to help avoid food imports, please visit

Cottage Food Law

I wanted to share some research I've been doing regarding the cottage food laws that provide some possibilities to prepare certains types of food products from a homebased kitchen. Not all states offer this possibility, but certain states do. Here's a list. Farmer's Market Coalition has a nice article that offers sources for further research as well.

It's important to understand that all states are different and what's allowed in Illinois might not be allowed in Florida, for example. While jams and jellies are allowed in many states, canning pickles from home is rarely allowed. As with any regulation, they are subject to change. If you decide to pursue this, it's important to stay current with changes to the rules that affect homebased operators.

As with any other business endeavor there are certain rules and regulations that govern the industry. These rules and regulations are set by the individuals states and cover the types of items that can be sold, where vendors can sell, how products must be packaged and labeled and much more. There are currently 31 states that allow citizens to bake from home for profit in some form.
Most of the states have a cap on how much revenue you can earn from a homebased food business. In my state, Michigan, it's $15,000. In other states it's $25,000, or somewhere inbetween.

Many local Michigan micropreneurs have used the cottage food law to launch their business with low costs and then once established transitioned to a larger commercial operation once the $15,000 cap is reached.  Here's an article about a cupcake baker.

The farmer's market near my home is packed with small farmers and urban gardeners taking advantage of these new regulations to launch their own small businesses. Here's a link to the specific rules in Michigan.

I applaud the states who have crafted regulations to losen the reins on some of the food safety regulations. I've read many other accounts online where the unemployed and under-employed have launched small businesses to help them overcome their current financial struggles.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

More Hydroponics in the Basement Garden

Hydroponic kale

Hydroponic lettuce

Hydroponic spinach
Hydroponic collards
It's been two weeks since the last harvest of homegrown vegetables from our basement hydroponics system.  These are not quite what most people think of as "party foods" so we probably eat them before the big game tomorrow, but we'll be eating they in the next few days.  Linda has a good collards recipe with vinegar and bacon that is delicious.

IBC Tote Aquaponic System

If you've always wanted to build an IBC Tote Aquaponnic System, but don't know how the Aquaponic Store provides you an alternative.  They have a 1 grow bed or 3 grow bed option. If I could grow outdoors in Michigan year round, I'd purchase one of these myself.

Friday, February 3, 2012

World Water Day

March 22, 2012 is World Water Day and what better way to celebrate than by building a basement aquaponics system?  During the course of the next several weeks, I'll be posting ideas, suggestions and links to plans for building an aquaponics system.  I will be building my own basement aquaponics system too.

My plans include a 100 gallon fish tank and approximately 3 x 6 feet grow bed.  The system I will be building can be scaled larger or smaller based on the amount of space that's available.

I could use a 150 gallon fish tank and two grow beds, or three grow beds and a 200 gallon fish tank.  Aquaponics offers flexibility and affordability because with a little pre-planning and creativity, it's an easy do-it-yourself project. Stay tuned for updates.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Using Worm Castings in Hydroponics

I've been using vermicastings (i.e. castings from worms) in my deep water culture bubbler system for a couple of weeks. The 2 lbs of castings are stored in a paint strainer bag and submerged in 9 gallons of water. The castings are generated by 1 lb of European Nightcrawler worms that compost my kitchen scraps and a large amount of coconut coir used as bedding material. The "bubbling" comes from aquarium air stones and an inexpensive aquarium air pump that aerates the water.

Today while removing the old castings and replacing them with fresh ones, I noticed something very interesting and somewhat surprising. Live worms! I counted 5 or 6 without really looking too hard. The worms weren't just living in the top of the castings, but there were several submerged deeply under water.

I've been keeping worms for 3 years.  Based on my experience, too much water in a worm bin is not healthy for the inhabitants.  When things get too wet in the worm bin, I often find "drowned" worms.  It's rare that I get that kind of water in my bins these days, but as a worm keeping newby it happened more often when I would overfeed them.

I can only guess that the worms were able to survive in the deep water culture bins because of the aeration being provided by the air pump. If worms can survive in that environment, then the plants must like it even more than I thought. :-)

Deep Water Culture Update

I took a few recent pictures of my basement hydroponics gardening project.

 The collards are thriving in my deep water culture bubbling resevoirs, but they took longer to get started than the lettuce and spinach.  I am sure the low intensity light generated by the T8 bulbs is a factor, but we've already had one harvest and judging from the health of the roots, we should get several more.

  Similar to the collards, the kale was a slow starter. We've had one harvest so far and it looks like we're due for another soon.

  We've had about 15 servings of salad from the hydroponic lettuce since I planted in in early November. One of the plants has slowed down, but the other 5 are still growing well.

  The spinach is really doing well in the deep water culture. Some people told me that I would have trouble growing spinach in hydroponics, but so far I've had great success.

Spinach growing in vermicastings deep water culture
 This tub of spinach is being grown in a much diluted hydroponic nutrient resevoir.  Instead of 18 ounces of nutrient per 10 gallons of water this nutrient is being grown in 12 ounces of nutrient and about 2 lbs of worm castings in a paint strainer bag.It's an experiment to see if I can stretch the hydroponic nutrient farther and reduce costs. This the second week since I planted the seedlings and they are picking up speed.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Vermicastings for Deep Water Culture

In my basement gardening project I've been going through 1 quart of nutrient every 3 - 4 weeks. Because I am a regular customer, the local hydroponic store gives me a 10% discount, but it still costs me $19 and change. As a way to help offset some of that $19, I am experimenting with vermicastings in one of my deep water culture bins.

I've been using red wigglers and European nightcrawlers to compost my kitchen scraps, newspapers, and cardboard. I've used the castings successfully in my ornamental plants and backyard garden, so I put a couple of pounds of vermicast in a paint strainer bag and suspended it in one of my hydroponic bins.

It's only been a week so far, but I've got my fingers crossed.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Winter Kale and Spinach Harvest

Today we received our first significant snowfall of more than an inch accompanied by some of the coldest temperatures of the year for the Metro Detroit area.  But the cold temperatures didn't stop me from harvesting fresh kale and spinach for a dish my wife calls Easy Greens Bake from the Geraldson's Community Farm Farm to Table Cookbook.

It was 19 degrees outside when I harvested this collander full of hydroponic vegetables. Growing fresh vegetables outside in Michigan this time of year is impossible, but with hydroponics, efficient lighting, controlled temperature, and effective nutrients veggies these can be grown year round. I grew these in a spare room in my basement garden.

Hydroponic spinach and kale
It was 19 degrees when I harvested this collander full of kale and spinach today.  Growing fresh vegetables outside in Michigan this time of year is impossible, but with hydroponics, efficient lighting, controlled temperatures, and effective nutrients; veggies like these can be grown year round. I grew these in a spare room in my basement garden.

Kale, spinach, onions, tomatoes, and eggs = Easy Bake Greens for supper

It's a rewarding feeling to grow food, harvest it, and eat it within 30 minutes. Now that's fresh!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Malabar Spinach

I'm always on the look out for ways to maximize yield in the smallest foot print possible. As far as spinach goes, the Malabar variety seems to fit the profile perfectly.  I've seen many pictures on the web suggesting that this type of spinach grows like a bush and reaches 6 feet tall. It sounds perfect for an Earthbox. has a detailed review of this spinach. Based on his impressions, it kind of sounds like most other types of greens. It's probably an aquired taste, but for me most greens are. The older I get, the more I like them.

Spinach is normally a cool season vegetable, but this variety reaches maturity in 50 - 60 days and will grow in warmer weather. Now if I can just find some seeds....


My brother-in-law has been keeping bees for more than a decade.  We usually buy at least a 6 pack of 2 lb jars of honey each year.  The availability of honey from my private source has declined these past couple of years due to increased work duties cutting into his part-time beekeeping endeavors.

I know very little about beekeeping, but I do know it can be pretty difficult to manage honey production realiably year-in and year-out. As is the case with most types of agriculture, some years are simply better than others. Several thousand honey bees do most of the work, but there are environmental concerns and pests that must be managed.

I have never really lived in close proximity to my brother-in-law, so I haven't had the opportunity to learn any of his beekeeping secrets.  I've performed a few "beekeeping" searches on the Internet and have learned a little bit about beekeeping as a hobby and/or part-time business. People keep bees for the honey, making candles, skin care products, soaps, lotions, potions, and some even harvest queens to market to other beekeepers.  There are thousands of resource websites, retailers, blogs, wholesales, education courses, etc. on beekeeping.

Linda's Bees is one of my favorite blogs about keeping bees in the Atlanta Area. She has provide a detailed list of equipment needed to get started. There are many local beekeeping associations and there is a website that lists hundreds of beekeeping links. There's also many, many sites that provide quality beekeeping equipment.

Will there be a bee hive or two in my backyard this spring? Time will tell I guess, but the benefits for my other gardening endeavors are plentiful. They might also help cure my sweet tooth :-) I have may hobbies already, so my first task will be convincing my wife that I need to add another.