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Think spring!

vegetables food gardenBy Roxanne M. Moore
Special to the Michigan Citizen

The weather we have been experiencing in Detroit has been downright frigid. Snow and ice is covering everything. These months have been hard — leaving us indoors due to the extreme cold and hazardous roadways. This is a prime opportunity to think of warmer, greener days! Spring — when the robins return and the crocuses bloom — is a time to look forward to and envision what those balmier days of our future will produce.

This is the time to plan your garden to be the best so far, or the first of many bountiful seasons. What would you like to see in your kitchen garden? Lettuce, broccoli, greens, cabbage, onions, tomatoes, herbs, flowers, the possibilities are virtually endless. Maybe you want to start a market garden and get a little cash for your investment of time and care. Imagine harvesting and selling fresh produce to your neighbor and community members. It is beneficial to the community to have many people producing food to increase access and availability all around us.

For inspiration you can order catalogs for free from places like Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Seeds of Change, Mountain Rose Herbs and High Mowing Organic Seeds, which have vibrantly colored magazines full of information. You can rest assured if you order from them you are getting safe, untreated seeds, as they have signed the Safe Seed Pledge they do not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered or modified seeds or plants. Look for varieties that will suit your needs. Be sure to take note of how long they take to grow and how much space you will need to properly plan the space you will be using.

When you have an idea of the plants you would like to see in your garden, take some time to doodle. Draw out the space you will be using. Measure the approximate space you will need for each crop. Will the crop be there for the duration for the season? For example, if you plant carrots in spring, once you harvest them you can plant potatoes in that spot. The ground will be loose and prime for the tubers to root and flourish.

Think of aesthetics: How pretty will flowers and herbs be with attracting beneficial insects — beautiful butterflies and pollinating honeybees — as well as pleasing your eyes as you tend your space. Factor in row space and walking areas to get in there to cultivate and weed.

Now devise a schedule. A calendar is useful to mark: the dates you will start cultivating land to prepare garden beds; the dates you will start seeds if you are transplanting; the dates you will plants seeds or plants; and the approximate date you expect your harvest to begin. This is another way to envision what the year will look like and what you can expect to have for holiday gatherings and parties that you will surely want to showcase your homegrown bounty.

God willing, the ground will be warm enough to work in mid to late March. At this time you can get out there and see if your sketches match to actual land scheme. You can get your soil tested a few weeks before planting to be sure it’s safe. Check with Michigan State University’s extension office in Wayne County at 734.721.6576 for a home soil test kit. Don’t fret if the test comes back unfavorable. An easy solution is to build raised beds and import soil and compost for a nominal price and plant away.

Your research will teach you those plants you can grow from seed, and those, like tomatoes, which because of time restraints and plant preference, you will want to start from transplant. A transplant is a young plant that has been given a chance to grow to a moderate size before planting in the ground. You can purchase transplants from the Eastern Market, and home improvement stores when we near planting season. You may also choose to start your own transplants at home. This involves a little more effort, but with the use of household items, a little potting soil, lights and your attention, it can be satisfying and rewarding to know you guided your plants from seed to harvest.

The Garden Resource program, facilitated by Keep Growing Detroit is a valuable opportunity for the novice to experienced gardener. For a low cost, you will receive seeds, and transplants throughout the growing season. The program also offers discounted educational classes to members as well as a quarterly newsletter and much more. Go to detroitagriculture.net for an application or contact them by phone at 313.757.2635 for more information.

There is so much to think about and prepare for in these winter months, let your mind explore the possibilities. It just might give you that warmth you need.

Roxanne Moore works with Earthworks Urban Farm and is a member of the Detroit Food Policy Council.

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