Friday, October 5, 2012

Drip Irrigation

This past Monday, October 1st, Cultivating Community had a workshop on drip irrigation. We disassembled our current system for the winter. Winterization is really important in places where there is, well, winter. Imagine leaving plastic tubing filled with water in your garden then dropping the temperature and dumping snow on top of it. Not a good idea. It's like freezing snakes and expecting them to come back to life during the spring thaw. I know it worked for Austin Powers. It doesn't work for plastic.

We also removed our rain barrels and turned them upside-down to avoid them filling with water. We wrapped the plastic drip tubing and stored it carefully in the shed. It's on my wish-list to put up some kind of shelving system so we can organize things more neatly.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Plant Identification the Artistict Way

I am not a scientist and have limited scientific experience with horticulture and botany. I do know a lot about plants, though, and what makes them happy. I also know a lot about the power of art as a means of honing observational skills, and the role observation plays in learning.

The Canadian Oxford Dictionary defines science specifically as “a branch of knowledge conducted on objective principles involving the systemized observation of and experiments with phenomena, especially concerned with the material and functions of the physical universe."

A lot of the student volunteers have questions about which plants are which. It's confusing at first because all the plants look like a sea of green. We spend very little time in educational settings or otherwise just sitting and staring at plants. Observation is an educational skill often elbowed out in curricula trying to meet standardized benchmarks. I think it's one of the more critical learning methods. As children we learn to walk by watching the bigger people around us before stumbling about on our own unsteady feet. I learned to make Greek yogurt by watching my YiaYia strain the whey with an old pillowcase. We can similarly learn the differences between plants by observing the details that distinguish them from others.

Garnet, Pat and Harry at work observing in the garden.

Garnet is excited about Zebra tomatoes!
For our workshop on plant identification each volunteer drew a plant with which they were unfamiliar. Braeden had the excellent idea of drawing two plants he had a difficult time telling apart. The results were impressive and we plan on making some greeting cards with the fabulous results.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Composting 101

Happy fall and welcome back, gardeners!

The second work day went swimmingly. Volunteers learned about composting, which was great since our compost needed a little love. We moved all the almost-finished compost that looks pretty much like dirt into the bin on the far right. The new compost will be in the far left bin. Help us out by dumping your foods scraps in the left bin and layering on top with some dead leaves found in the middle bin. A special shout-out to Pat and Garnet who shoveled compost for over an hour!

Some volunteer questions:

  • Q: Will cabbage continue to produce leaves over time, even if it's ripe?

  • A: Here's what I found. The 9th and final stage in cabbage growth is called the mature stage. The cabbage head reaches a diameter of approximated 15-30 cm. There is no visible leaf production after the head has reached the maximum size and hardness. The cabbage head should be harvested soon otherwise it may split.

  • Q: How much carbon or nitrogen is in each food scrap?

  • A: I have uploaded a useful chart from composting 101 onto this website so everyone can use it as a reference.

Estimated Carbon-to-Nitrogen Ratios

Browns = High Carbon


Ashes, wood


Cardboard, shredded


Corn stalks


Fruit waste




Newspaper, shredded


Peanut shells


Pine needles






Wood chips


Greens = High Nitrogen






Coffee grounds


Food waste


Garden waste


Grass clippings








Vegetable scraps




Some volunteer suggestions for future workshops:

  • How does drip irrigation work?

We have a rain barrel and drip irrigation system set up already, so we can definitely go over how and why that works.

Again, thanks Hannah, Patrick, Braeden, Garnet, Harry, Kristen, Rebecca, Dan and Diana for all your help!!! Look forward to seeing you again.

Volunteer work days this fall:

Monday, 3-5 pm

Thursday, 2-4 pm

Upcoming workshops:

Thursday, September 20th: How to eat seasonally

Monday, September 24th: Plant ID game

Thursday, September 27th: Natural pesticides

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The harvest is plenty, but the recipes are few... (okay, that's not true)

The Ginsberg Garden is full of tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and cucumbers awaiting hungry stomachs. It's up to you, our trusty volunteers and supporters, to give that produce a good home before the squirrels start nibbling on them! If you're just not sure what you would do with the produce, we've got some suggestions:

-Use the recipes from our Garden Bites party!! We've finally got them typed up for you :)
-Stir fry! All you need is a pan, olive oil, some veggies, and salt and pepper. Dig up some garlic, throw in any veggies you can find, toss in some fresh herbs at the last minute, and salt and pepper to taste. Crack in an egg or two for some protein!
-Salad. Yes, salad. Not quite so boring if you add some arugula (check the hoophouse!), baby kale, and fresh herbs! The green onions are ready to be eaten, too! Those blue flowers dotting the garden are also quite lovely in a salad (both to look at and to eat!). More about borage here.
-Herb bread! Make some bread, chop up whatever herbs you can find in the herb spiral, and either mix the herbs into the bread or mix them in with an eggwash on the crust!
-Herb sugar...because cookies with specs of mysterious green things will really impress your friends! Wash, dry, and crush some herbs (lavender and mint are great!). In a jar or tupperware, layer sugar and crushed herbs until the container is full. Put the lid on and store it somewhere cool and dry for a while (two weeks is usually a good time period to really get some flavor mixed with the sugar, but a few days will do it, too). Open your jar and stir your sugar concoction every few days to spread the flavor. Use this sugar just like you would use plain old sugar in baked goods! If you're scared your friends won't eat your earthy looking cookies, you can remove the specs of herbs before baking :)
-Herbal sun tea! Make it while the sun is still showing its face here in Michigan! All you need to do is put some herbs (sage, mint, even raspberry long as they are not yellow) in a jar with some water and find a sunny spot for it to bask for a few hours. Chill and enjoy! Add some stevia leaves (in the pots by the gate) for sweet tea!

What else do you guys like to do with garden produce? Share your creativity! And share your produce with fellow food lovers :)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Gardening with the band...

Once upon a time, Dérive was on tour in Ann Arbor and needed something to do for an hour. While most bands would kill time by rehearsing, or drinking beer, or playing cards,  Dérive band members decided to work in the Ginsberg Garden! Check out their blog and music at:

Salsa in the City!


Adding garden herbs to the salsa


Marissa in the Focused Hands Garden

Thanks to Focus HopeSummer in the City, and all the residents of the Ford LaSalle neighborhood for a great summer in Detroit!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Gandhi's Favorite Food

 Purslane: weed or superfood?

Purslane in Ginsberg Garden

Popularly known as Mahatma Gandhi's favorite food, Purslane is a succulent, low growing plant that grows as a weed all over the world. This year, purslane has invaded the Ginsberg Garden and is in the running for the most populous weed in our garden.

These sour, juicy leaves have the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids found on earth, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. In the U.S. it is commonly thought that the ocean, specifically seafood and fish oil are the only sources of Omega-3 fatty acids, but purslane is eaten commonly in other parts of the world. Omega-3 fatty acids aid in many bodily functions, reduce inflammation, help out the heart, and boost the immune system! In addition to fatty acids, purslane is also pumped up with a slew of antioxidants and vitamins.

According to the New York Times, purslane is popular among fancy NYC chefs, who prepare it with various vinaigrettes and serve it with goat cheese, nectarines, heirloom tomatoes, pates, and other salads. 
If you are not a five-star NYC chef, then check out the recipes below, learn how to prepare this nutritious weed, and impress your friends!

Try adding a crunch to your normal salads and sandwhiches with some fresh purslane. It can also be sauteed lightly in olive oil or butter.

Pickled Green Purslane

 2-3 cups purslane, leaves and stems
 250ml water
 250ml white vinegar
 2 cloves garlic
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp kalonji seeds (look in an Indian grocery, can be substituted with caraway seeds)

Put the water, vinegar, salt and cloves garlic in a small pot and bring to a boil.
Pack the purslane in two jars.
Pour the vinegar mixture over the purslane, add the black mustard and kalonji seeds, then close the jars.
Store the jars in the refrigerator for one week before eating the pickled purslane.

Link to Recipe 

Tomato, Cucumber, Purslane Salad 
 Especially good served with grilled seafood.

1 large cucumber, peeled, quartered lengthwise, seeds removed and discarded, then chopped
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 bunch purslane, thick stems removed, leaves chopped, resulting in about 1/2 cup chopped purslane
1 minced seeded jalapeno chile pepper
2-3 Tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
Salt to taste

Combine all ingredients in a serving bowl. Salt to taste.

Check out this link for a delicious sounding vegan soup with purslane: Chilled Zucchini Soup with Purslane

Come by the Ginsberg Garden and try some purslane today! Its fun to help weed when you can snack at the same time!

Garden Bites Dinner Party!

Our Garden Bites end-of-summer celebration was a delicious success! Cultivating Community volunteers, friends, and other friendly food enthusiasts gathered at the Ginsberg Garden to sample some garden treats and enjoy some great live tunes! 

Check out the harvest that we turned into dishes for the party. We were excited about the bounty of Rosa Biana eggplants, zucchini, garlic, onions, sweet peppers, poblano peppers, fish peppers, tomatoes, cuccumbers, cabbage, kale, raspberries, and herbs that the Ginsberg Garden produced this year!

Party preparations:

Allyson and Marissa checking on bread dough. We baked all of the bread with organic Michigan flour from the Westwind Milling Company!

Bread dough ready to rise.


Kitchen party preparing for the garden party!

Garden Bites:

The blueberry pie and eggplant relish were the stars of the show. We picked all of the blueberries at the nearby Dexter Blueberry Farm! Special thanks to the Ann Arbor Tortilla Factory and Mindo Chocolate for donating their local delicious goods!

Music in the garden:

Thanks to all of the musicians for sharing their talents, the music sounded great echoing off our eggplants and other veggies!


Thanks to everyone who came out to support Cultivating Community!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Learning bread basics at Westwind Milling Company!

Cultivating Community members clearly love food: we grow and eat a lot of it together. While fruits and vegetables are great, we also enjoy the occasional (or more than occasional) baked good...especially if it includes herbs or fruits from the garden! Unfortunately, flour is one of those essential ingredients that we just can't really get from our garden (yet...?), and it turns out that we really don't even know how exactly flour gets from the fields to our focaccia breads. Lucky for us, Linda and Lee Purdy, owners and operators of Westwind Milling Company, were willing to take us through the milling process step by step. We emerged from their mill tour as more educated bakers, and came home with some Westwind Milling organic flour to test out our newly acquired baking knowledge!

Linda demonstrated how milling works on a small scale, giving us each handfuls of different kinds of wheat kernels and flours that came out from the mill. We peeled apart wheat grains to see the bran, the germ, and the endosperm, comparing the hard red spring wheat to a winter wheat and to spelt. She also enlightened us on which kinds of flours are best for certain kinds of baking. Hopefully we can come back and join Linda for one of her baking classes during the school year so we can further refine our flour knowledge and baking skills!

After the science lesson with Linda, Lee took us into the mill for our history and engineering lessons, highlighting the original structures and techniques still in place since the mill was built in 1836. While some things have changed since then, including the source of power that runs the mill, the history in that place is as rich as the chocolate mint brownies for sale in the bake shop!

We came home from Westwind Milling with bellies full of homemade sourdough bread and cherry dessert bars, 50lbs of flour for baked good to serve at our Garden Bites party, and perhaps at least a small dream of becoming the Purdy's miller and baker apprentices (maybe just for a few of us!). It's clear that Linda and Lee care about quality products, which means they take the time to care for the grains they grow on their own farm, for the farmers they are working with to source grains and other ingredients, and for the people and the planet they are serving through their work.

Here are a few flour tidbits we walked away with:
  • Whole wheat flour we typically eat is not actually "whole wheat" -- it's missing the outer bran part of the kernel! If you want to truly eat "whole" wheat, go for graham flour.
  • Bread flour has a higher protein content and is great for light, fluffy breads.
  • Pastry flour has a lower protein content... but makes delicious cookies :)
  • Looking to eat a bit of history? Kamut grains are now being commercialized, compliments of an ancient Egyptian tomb that stored the grain perfectly for thousands of years until it was dug up and sown in the ground once again (or so the story goes...).

Sol Food Mobile Farm comes to Ann Arbor!

If your lifelong dream is to travel the country in a vegetable oil bus, bringing joy and plants to each community you pass through, then you may want to take some inspiration from the folks at Sol Food Mobile Farm! They brought their big red bus to Ann Arbor last week and spent an evening harvesting produce, staking tomatoes, and making room for fall crops at the UM campus farm pilot garden.

Before getting to work, volunteers from the Friends of the Campus Farm and Cultivating Community got to peak inside the bus which also serves as a greenhouse, education center, and living space for Eliza, Reid, Ellen, and Dylan who will be making this 10,000 mile journey of service, learning, and teaching together for the next few months.

It was great to have some extra hands to help us out... and some extra hungry people to take home the cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers before the hungry groundhogs beat us to them!

The Sol Food folks shared tips on fall crops, and Jessie shared some delicious purslane with them!

While looking for an illusive tomatoe hornworm, Dara came across our praying mantis friend enjoying a meal :)

Happy trails and travels to the Sol Food Mobile Farm! Thanks for lending a hand and spreading some farming inspiration!