Sunday, May 17, 2009


How much do you know about sprouts? Yes, the lingo is microgreens. Have you ever tried sunflower sprouts? They are high in Vitamin B complex, and E and has 25% protein. Along with sunflower sprouts are pea shoots. These types of sprouts are called microgreens. This is a quick crop that you can grow well in a tray with light soil and nutrients. In this case, Growing Power creates their soil from compost and adds the worm castings to the tray along with coconut fiber that has been ground into smaller pieces called coir.

There are a number of different types of crops that can be grown as microgreens. Wheatgrass, mustard and shisho are a few. All require darkness for the seed to germinate. The germination can take from 3 to 5 days. Then it takes 5 to 10 days before harvest. Germination and harvest are dependent upon weather. If the weather is cloudy and cool, both germination and harvest will take longer. The cooler it is outside, the the cooler it is in the greenhouse.

You can grow in containers a winter salad mix and/or a summer salad mix. In the winter, you can grow spinach, collards, kale, mustard, radish, cabbage and wheatgrass. For the summer, you can remove the spinach and cool season crops and add lettuce, arugla and swiss chard. Because they make their own soil from compost and then add the vermicompost portion, they have a rich nutrient soil. They use this in their pots and leave the lettuce, arugla and swiss chard in one pot for several cuttings and then reseed the pot again.

There is quite a niche here in Milwaukee. They even grow pots of nasturiums and dandelion greens. The local chefs buy the nasturiums. Dandelion greens go in the salad or can be packaged separately.

Any of these products can be marketed at the Farmers Markets, grocery store or local restaurants. There is a license that you need for processing these salads and greens on a wholesale level and a license you need for weighing.

It can be a fascinating business for a local market.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Growing Power Workshop

Master Gardener, Lisa Brewer and myself met 100 people today who came for these workshops. Everyone seemed concerned with being able to develop food on a local level and sustaining that development. People came from Tanzania, Georgia, Texas, Oregon, Kentucky, New York, Idaho, Missouri, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida, Alabama, California, Ontario, Cairo and Mexico. Today demonstrated that this is a global issue to be able to have local sustainable food systems.

Lisa attended the aquaponics workshop and I attended the vermicomposting workshop. Everything that is used has been recycled from one place or another. The burlap bags that cover the worm bins because they like being in the dark are from a local coffee company. The wood used for different projects in the greenhouse is all recycled. All of the pieces to the hoop houses are recycled. The compost bins outside are made from pallets from different companies. Nothing in the entire operation goes to waste. The food waste is used in the compost.

In the vermicomposting workshop, we were split in teams and in the first ten minutes given a challenge of how to solve a community dilemna in Detroit. We were asked to create an organization. And in this organization we would have one product -- compost. How would we be able to engage the community in our vermicomposting project? We had to find ways to reduce the unemployment now at thirty-percent, utilize juvenile delinqents, work with gangs, reduce health issues in the community and find a location. We decided to become integrated which has two boards. One board oversees the non-profit and one board oversees the profit making portion and a liasion as a go-between. We named our integrated organization, Garbage to Gold. We decided we would partner with other organizations to help us get our product out in the community. We felt it important to engage the City Council and any other political leaders in the community and get them on board. We would use community service and exchange programs to get volunteers. The board members who were good at doing community outreach with youth development would do afterschool activities to get families involved. If the land was contaminated by heavy metals, we would do a Brownfield's Grant. So in ten minutes, we did a business plan. Then we began a step-by-step process of composting and vermicomposting. Basically, it does not take that long to develop a conceptual plan for the business and then begin to implement that plan.

In aquaponics, Lisa learned start small and do not get too ambitous. Give your system at least 12 months to go through the perch or tilipia lifecycle before adding onto the system. First and foremost, you must have a processing system in place and check into licensing for fish farming in order to sell the product. Keep in mind, not everyone wants to clean their own fish. It requires special training to clean tilipia. Tilipa also require that the water temperature remain around 70 degrees. Perch are a cold water fish that like 40 degrees maximum. Tilipia are vegetarian and Perch are carnivorous. Do not be afraid to tweak things and experiment. These fish are a great source of protein. The warm water of the tilipia can also keep the greenhouse warm in the winter. The fish water can be recycled to feed the plants.

More tomorrow.........

More on Loess Soil

Topsoils developed on top of these loess hills and a different ecological community developed.

Two features unique of this soil are: 1) the cross sections are almost uniformly loess and 2) if you removed the topsoil from a loess hill, the exposed loess will erode like sugar when saturated. Locally, this loess soil is named "sugar clay" because of this erosion. Oddly enough when loess is covered with topsoil, loess can slump. It slumps in a uniform manner across a slope creating a characteristic "cat step" ledges seen on grassy hills. Even beyond this, cut a Loess Hill vertically and its wall can stand for decades due to the interlocking characteristics of the loess soil particles.

Pictures coming soon. For more information on this soil, you can read "Fragile Giants" by Cornelia Mutel. There is an annual Loess Hills Seminar conducted by the Northwest Area Education Agency call 800-352-9040 ext. 6080.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Gone to School in Milwaukee

Here we are in downtown Milwaukee. Pictures coming soon. Tomorrow we are taking the hands- on classes in aquaculture and vermiculture.

We have seen black soil in Wisconsin through all their farms.

We learned about the Loess Hills in Iowa. They are hills made almost entirely of windblown soils. Toward the end of the ice age, winds picked soil up ground fine like flour and formed dunes along the ancient waterway that today is the Missouri River. Today, the Loess Hill is a hill made of loess that is more than 60 feet in height. So 640,000 acres of land in western Iowa constitute the Loess Hills landform. Loess deposits are found around the world. Only in China are these deposits higher than in Iowa.

More on loess --- tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

New Carpet Rose for 2009

If you have never heard of a carpet rose and want lots of color in your garden, carpet roses can provide this with little care. Amber is the newest carpet rose. After twenty years of breeding this rose is improved heat and humidity tolerance as well as disease resistance. So what's the worry? With my experience with carpet roses, they need to be pruned in later spring to about 1/3 their size. If you do not prune them, they will tend to be less prolific. Truely, they are easy to care for and maintain. These carpet roses are a groundcover that gets 2 1/2 feet tall and 2 1/2 feet wide. One drawback is the weeds can grow underneath the canes as the canes grow up and spread. Plenty of light can get below for weed seeds to germinate.

If you love roses, these carpet roses provide stunning, prolific color. This new Amber has orange, yellow blooms, blushed with tones of soft pink overlaid with peach. The foliage is glossy deep green. Again, it is a compact bush 2 1/2 wide by 2 1/2 high. It is disease resistant and early flowering. It is hardy in zone 5 and can survive in zone 4. It is suggested that in zone 4 and 5, the carpet rose has some winter protection. This will depend on where it is placed in your landscape. Remember, Colorado can have microclimates with our landscapes. An old rule of thumb is watch for where the snow melts first in the winter. This will be the warmer spot for your rose in the winter and warmer in the summer.

Further cultural care on this easy to maintain rose, is it can thrive in many soil conditions. However, well-drained soil is important. These roses do not like to sit in wet soil. Once the carpet rose is established it can tolerate dry conditions. These carpet roses do best in full sun, but it can tolerate partial shade in hot, dry places. Just remember, the more sun, the more flowers.

This carpet rose, Amber as well as any of the others bloom in spring and then continue to bloom through late fall. Just remember the initial flush of bloom is in spring.

So if you love roses, try out Flower Carpet Amber. My experience with these carpet roses was back east when they first came out. They are much improved from 20 years ago. However, they like well-drained soils and they do better with organic matter added to the soil, if not every year every couple of years. And lastly, they open up in the center letting the air and light down to the ground underneath those canes, so you will be pulling some weeds from time to time.

Planting these in mass, makes for a spectacular show of color in a large space. Flower Carpet Amber has a light sweet fragrance. Enjoy the roses!

Yuccas of all Yuccas!

In the south and southwest, Yuccas are native. They are prolific in our Colorado and Kansas prairies. So big deal - a yucca.

However, plantsman Sean Hogan of Cistus Nursery is passionate about yuccas. He selected a blue seedling and named it 'Sapphire Skies'. It has a stunning powder blue foliage. It is the hardiest of all yuccas. The latin name for this yucca is Yucca rostrata.

It prefers full sun and well-drained soil like other yuccas. It gets to be three-by-four feet. As it ages, it will develop a stout trunk to a height of four feet or more.

'Sapphire Skies' is drought resistant like other yuccas. The best feature is that it will tolerate cold, wet winters.

If you are passionate about yuccas like Sean Hogan, and purchase this yucca, you need to wait a few years after it grows out of its juvenile form to take on that stunning powder blue foliage. It goes from the ugly duckling to the beautiful swan as yuccas go.