Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Bringing the farm to school

Yesterday the other interns and I went to the Agrarian Adventure, which is a program based at Tappan Middle School. They have a really cool operation that tries to integrate the garden into almost every academic subject for the students. The math classes measure out the garden beds, and make sure they are parallel to each other. History classes take food from the three sisters’ garden to make a colonial American meal. Science teachers instruct students on the greenhouse effect, and basic botany. These are a few examples of how the garden is part of school life. They have a large strawberry patch, several garden beds, and a huge green house. Tappan students constructed the green house with help from the MSU student organic farm, which leads the state in investigating season extension possibilities.

Link to MSU student organic farm:

Beds in the green house are filled with healthy kale, chard, sunflowers, tomatoes, and lettuce greens that were started at the beginning of January! The program is expanding with discussion of starting an orchard nearby the garden. Those interested in getting their hands dirty more than two days a week with us can help out at the Adventure Tuesday evenings from 5 to 7 pm at Tappan Middle School. Elissa (email:, the program director, told me that they will be doing Tuesday evening work from now until October! Google map (or Mapquest, etc) this address to find the sweetest route that works for you to get gardening!
Tappan Middle School
2251 E Stadium Blvd, Ann Arbor, MI 48104
(The garden is behind the school on the soccer field.)

Note: AA has an ongoing fundraiser, where they are selling tickets for a garden tour that happens on June 13. More details can be found here:

Jeremy, one of the managers of the MSU student organic farm, was at the workday yesterday and he mentioned that the Sustainable Agriculture and Education Association ( is having a national conference July 15-17 in Ames, Iowa. Student farms as well as other groups/farms around the country that promote sustainable agriculture will come together to discuss their successes, failures, and how best to move forward collectively. Deadline for early registration is July 1 so if interested look into it now!

I went by Ginsberg yesterday and the potatoes, spinach and radishes are doing really well. The warm weather vegetables seem like they are still recovering from their transplanting, but these recent rains are a definite help.

Nifty Trick for Starting Seeds

At, Andrea found a cool way to start seeds:

Instructions are here. The egg carton is biodegradable, so you can cut apart the compartments and plant them directly in the ground.

Also, Alex says that his housemate uses toilet paper tubes cut in half (also biodegradable) to start his seeds. Try it!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Out, out brief candle

I have some bad news to report. Three of the tomato plants, all of the basil and all of the bean plants in the Ginsberg Garden died. We have many more replacements in the greenhouses at the gardens and plan on replacing the lost plants. We investigated the dead plants and the garden at large to try and determine the cause of their untimely end. From inspecting the dead plants, it appears frost killed them. Frost burn is a condition that plants exhibit when damaged by frost with the “burned” portions of the plant looking reddish orange and very dry.

Image of frost burn (not taken at Ginsberg)

Frost burn does not necessarily mean the plant is doomed. If the burned part of the plant is cut from the plant, it has a chance to recover. In our case, however, the plants were very small and completely burned. Although we transplanted these plants after the USDA frost date, that date is a guideline and not iron clad in their certainty about climatic conditions year to year. For this reason it is good to check weather forecasts to assess frost risk and take steps to protect frost intolerant plants. A common tactic would be to cover the vulnerable plants with a sheet or tarp at night to trap the heat collected by the soil during the day. If the plants are in containers simply moving them inside before the frost hits should be fine.

We are having drop in hours today from three to four this afternoon. We are going to install PVC piping underground that we are going to put the water barrel hose through so it can reach the garden while being out of the way of the U of M grounds lawn mowers. Also we are going to replace the lost plants by transplanting. I plan on making a dent on the garlic mustard patch that is on the grounds because it appears that the patch is sending seeds into the garden plots and the herb spiral. Garlic mustard is a very prolific invasive species that produces allelochemcials that harm mycorrhizal fungi which are vital for many plants to fix nitrogen into the soil thereby inhibiting other plants’ growth. When weeding garlic mustard be sure to not place the plants in the compost because it is known to seed even if uprooted and also be sure to introduce a diverse mix of native species into the newly cleared area to fill the niche that was vacated.

Garlic Mustard

Hope everyone has a great weekend!


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

It's getting hot in here....

We had another Ginsberg Garden workday on the 15th because that is the USDA frost free date for southeastern Michigan and we had a lot of plants that needed transplanting. The plants we planted were:
Around eight volunteers helped with the workday. They watered, planted, and aided in the installation of a bean teepee.

Bean teepees are supportive structures that allow bean plants to vine upwards. The teepee we used is four wooden posts tied together at the top with string. The string was then tied around the teepee in a trellising pattern to give the plants more opportunites to vine. I have seen instructions on how to make a bean teepee so large that people can go inside it when the beans are at their peak of growth. Bean leaves are large and numerous so the teepee is very well shaded.

We mulched all of the plants with straw that we found on site. There are a myriad of reasons to mulch such as to prevent weeds, and to retain moisture in the soil for longer periods. Straw is an organic mulch so over time the straw will decompose which improves the quality of the soil. Also the mulch acts as a windbreak for the tiny new transplants keeping them warmer than if they were more exposed. The volunteers then watered the plants with buckets because we forgot to bring the hoses (we will bring them next time, promise!).
Tips about watering:
Be sure to water in gentle streams and have the water temperature be lukewarm to warm to not shock the plants. Another thing about watering is that you would want to focus on watering the plants low near the roots to prevent the water you are using from evaporating into the air. In order to avoid daily waterings make sure that when you water it is a deep soaking. Soil that contains a large amount of organic matter is like a sponge in that it can absorb large quantities of water at once without washing out. The soil will stay moist for longer so the plants can be watered less often.
We have an upcoming field trip to Agrarian Adventure, this is their website:

It is a great program that has tons of youth and community involvement in the Ann Arbor area. Also the garden they manage at Tappan Middle School has a huge strawberry patch! I hope the strawberries will have fruited by the time we head out there on May 26th.
Happy gardening!
References: Rodale's Complete Guide to Organic Gardening

Friday, May 15, 2009

First post of summer 2009!

I have been really excited with all the activity the Cultivating Community team have been up these past two weeks. We have already had the first Ginsberg workday of the summer and three volunteers showed up!

The volunteers and interns roused the garden from its winter slumber by removing the Rye Grass cover crop and weeding out several maple saplings that had taken root in the garden beds and herb spiral. The purpose of the cover crop is to prevent soil erosion as the beds overwinter, to prevent the establishment of hardy weeds, and to provide nutrient rich plants that can be composted when the summer begins. Rye grass is a very good choice as a cover crop because it is regularly used for erosion control programs.

Through clearing of the straw and rye grass we discovered several plants from last year: dill, Russian kale, turnip, cilantro, and parsley. Many of the perennials planted last year are coming back as well like the raspberries, chives, mint, and flowers.

In late April, we planted potatoes, spinach, onions, radishes, and carrots. They have all started to sprout especially the radishes which needed to be thinned on the workday.
The healthy cover crop of Rye grass that we pulled went straight into our compost bins. We turned the newly formed piles and watered them down to aid in the establishment of the microbial community that will break down the plant matter into humus-rich compost.

Composting closes the loop between growth and decay. The remains of dead and unwanted plants decompose into a black soil that serves as a great growth medium for future plants. There are many sources on how to compost online and in print. Some sources: The Rodale Book of Composting, Compost Guide (