Saturday, April 16, 2016

What a Difference a Week Makes!

By Mike Davis

Twenty-two degrees in NW Lower Michigan on a morning just a week ago, so the previous day’s snow melt had lost its momentum. There was some sun peeking through, though, so I took a quick walk in the back yard. A few things were awakening from their cozy winter slumber under white blankets including...

Those sweet, versatile Egyptian onions, then:
Egyptian 4-9-16.jpg

And here they were this morning:
Onions 4-16-16.jpg

The sweet, mild Spontaneo porcelain hardneck garlic then:
Garlic 4-9-16.jpg
The garlic plant in the foreground is growing from a clove harvested in August 2015, while the three smaller ones near the stake are from half-inch-diameter first-year “rounds” I grew from bulbils planted in 2014. (The green plastic pin to the right is holding an irrigation line in place.)

And now:
Garlic 4-16-16.jpg
Note especially the rapid growth of the plants grown from rounds (around and behind the stake). For photos of the rounds and bulbils, please see my 8-1-2015 post below. The tiny bulbils planted last October are also up and growing now:

And the tasty, vigorous sylvetta (wild arugula) then:
Sylvetta 4-9-16.jpg

And now (well, not so much different, but then I snipped some in the interim; it was OK but not quite as tasty as it will become):
Sylvetta 4-16-16.jpg

Oh, and by the way, it’s 48 degrees warmer than the time when the May 9 photos were taken. Spring is finally here in Northwest Lower Michigan!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

First Harvest in the New Back Yard

By Mike Davis

OK, it isn’t much. But it was a morale boost to savor my first small taste of a vegetable grown in our new garden-to-be location.

During the latter part of October 2015, I harvested the last of the larger bulblets from my Michigan crop of Egyptian walking onions. We didn’t use them all prior to purchasing our new Ohio home, so when we were there with a trailer load of household goods in the latter part of January, on a day barely above freezing, I scratched a couple dozen bulblets into a small area along the back (east) if the house and gave them what little protection I could with a few crushed oak leaves.  The “soil” there was heavy clay, with pieces of broken brick and mortar from an old landscaping job gone bad, a few tufts of persistent lawn grass, and a few nondescript weeds. These poor onions never had a chance, I thought, as they were already quite dry when planted, and days of 20-30 degrees with drying winds did them no favors.

But earlier this week, on April 3, there they were in the cracked clay, plenty to flavor a couple salads.  The taste is similar to that of chives, but somewhat sweeter and juicier.
Onions 4-3-16.jpg
I’ll leave most of these resilient treasures in place for now, moving them into a more favorable location as time permits after we complete our move from the Traverse City area to Beavercreek, Ohio, and begin transforming our new back yard.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Resuming the Blog

by Mike Davis

The "foodgardensnorth" blog was created mainly to serve as a reference and learning aid on home and educational food gardening, much of it youth-oriented, in the northern tier of the US. Since the blog's inception, we've lost one of its two originators (and a great friend), Kirsten Gerbatsch, then a FoodCorps member and Master Gardener Volunteer especially active in school garden development, now embarking on a new adventure in the political arena.  There have been no new posts since August 1, 2015.

Recent family considerations have resulted in my decision to move from my Northwest Lower Michigan home of the last decade to a location just east of Dayton, Ohio, about 5 degrees of latitude farther south. The prospect of the move led me to consider abandoning the blog.  After all, folks from Southwestern Ohio generally don't consider themselves Northerners. But consider that my Michigan home at ~45 degrees N latitude is in Plant Hardiness Zone 5b (average low winter temperature -15 to -10), and my new Ohio location at 40 degrees N latitude is just one zone warmer, 6a (-10 to -5).

Perhaps more meaningful is the sunlight-determined growing season.  In his highly recommended 2009 book, The Winter Harvest Handbook, Eliot Coleman discussed the cessation of plant growth that occurs in winter in regions with widely varying day lengths.  Greek mythology gives us the fable of the Persephone, goddess of the underworld, whose mother, Demeter, wife of Zeus, supposedly caused plant growth to cease during the portion of the year Persephone spent in the underworld with her husband, Hades. Coleman's research showed that little growth occurs when sunrise-to-sunset times fall below about 10 hours, and he coined the term "Persephone Months" to signify those annual periods. By coincidence, my Grand Traverse area in Michigan has the same number of "Persephone Days," the 92 from November 5 to February 5, as Coleman's food-growing farm in Maine. My new home in Ohio has 73 such days, November 15 to January 27. The number of annual Persephone Days drops to zero below about 32 degrees north latitude.

With the above and many other considerations in mind, I was still undecided on whether to resume posting articles in this blog. However, support and offers of participation from friends and family have been very encouraging, so we will give it a whirl once my wife and I get established in our new Ohio home. I'll assume that "north" has a rather broad definition.  In fact, we would be very interested in receiving contributions for posting from accomplished food gardeners representing a large area of the Northern US within a quite expanded definition: territory within USDA Zone 6 or lower (0 degrees F or lower minimum winter temperatures), or areas with at least a couple months of annual “Persephone days.”

We'll be comparatively late in getting a start on a backyard garden in Ohio this year, and even later in beginning the hoped-for relocation of my retirement "career" as a volunteer from Michigan’s Master Gardener program to Ohio’s. For starters, here's the central part of our new back yard where I intend to develop a small vegetable and small-fruit garden:

Back yard Dec17 930am.jpg
The photo was taken about 9:30 AM; the neighbors' small shed (right of center) is about straight east from the camera. Obviously, our garden will be somewhat "sun-challenged,” and the north-facing slope means a slower spring warm-up. Also, with an average slope of about 7 degrees down from a lawn to the south where various chemical lawn treatments may be used, possible contamination from runoff and spray drift may be of concern. Initially, I'll have comprehensive soil testing done; I collected soil samples earlier this week. The soil is heavy, but the presence of numerous earthworms was a hopeful sign. Beginning in mid-April, I'll plot the areas of the yard with various sun exposure times, plan a garden style and layout with thought to appearance as well as safety and productivity, and report on that process here.  As always, reader comments and suggestions will be very much appreciated.

Happy April Fool’s Day to everyone! I'm claiming this as my own special holiday!