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.