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Posted on Sat, Sep 18, 2010 : 2:28 p.m.

Backyard gardening on Ann Arbor's west side: it's all about timing

By Kevin Dorn



Kevin Dorn | Contributor

Gardening is a lot about timing. There is a sense of connectedness to the natural cycles that is very different from non-seasonal food consumption. I shop at the grocery store along with everyone else, but I find a certain satisfaction in eating food out of my own backyard that can only be described as beauty.

Take raspberries for example. My raspberry plants were a gift from a friend who was gifted them from her mother. As an aside, raspberry plants are easy to transplant and gift in the spring by digging up new shoots growing from root suckers. Right now my plants are on their second fruiting this year; the first harvest was in early summer.



Kevin Dorn | Contributor

I love the variety of flavors from my backyard raspberries! The darker berries are sweeter, while the lighter berries are more sour. I am reminded to be slow and gentle as I pick delectable fruit by the thorny canes. The red berries contrast beautifully with the green leaves.

Now take corn. I grew popcorn this year for the first time and got an excellent harvest. I am grateful that the raccoons did not take the ears of corn! If they had, so be it. I would have chalked the corn up as one of the many things that did not do well this year. However, the corn did great and is now drying in our home. I picked the corn on a dry, sunny day, bunched it and brought it inside to finish drying. When it is completely dry, I will shuck the kernels and store it for popping! Homegrown popcorn might make great holiday gifts … hmm ...

All summer I’ve been saving seeds. So far I have cilantro, dill, mizuna, sunflower and pepper seeds. I’ve had good luck saving seeds from these varieties. On the contrary, squash, cucumbers and melons cross-pollinate and do not usually produce true fruits from saved seeds. I plan to save seeds from my potatoes and beans when they are harvested later this year.



Kevin Dorn | Contributor

So, what to do now. Have weeds taken over your garden? By sure to dig up the weeds and compost them before they drop seeds, or else you will have an abundant crop of weeds in your garden next year. I pulled some eight-feet-high lambs quarter plants last week. 

Also, think about adding compost to your beds for next year. I swear by compost and manure. Of course, there are still fall crops to harvest. I still have potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans, kale, cilantro, celery root and rutabaga in the backyard garden.

There is so much happening in the garden that cannot be put in to words or captured in a picture. I hope you find joy, peace and inspiration in your garden pursuits! I leave you with a few pictures from my garden:


Bitter gourd

Kevin Dorn | Contributor


Heirloom tomatoes

Kevin Dorn | Contributor


Broom corn

Kevin Dorn | Contributor



Kevin Dorn | Contributor

Updates to the garden blog have become irregular, but I aim to post at least once per month. Please feel free to comment and create backyard gardening discussion. Garlic planting time is near. All the best! Kevin Dorn.


Kevin Dorn

Sun, Oct 3, 2010 : 5:12 p.m.

@lukn2lrn: Right on! Thanks for sharing your info and experiences. As for sweet potatoes: This is my second year growing them in my backyard here on the west side. Both years I've grown the variety "Beauregard." I order the starts through the mail via Johnny's Select Seeds. Last year I tried growing white yams, but they didn't fare well in our cool climate. I've heard that Michigan is as far north as sweet potatoes will grow due to the length of the growing season. So, I just picked some sweet potatoes today that were large, healthy and delicious (I like to cut them into strips or chunks, coat them with olive oil and coarse salt and bake them at 425 for ~15mins--delicious!). My soil temperature just measured at 58 degrees F. I recall from a caving experience that the temperature underground hovers around 50 degrees so I think you should be fine to leave your sweet potatoes in the ground until we get a freeze settling in. I've been harvesting for the past few weeks as I want to eat the sweet potatoes :). I did not do well with curing last year. My sweet potatoes didn't make it to February; I was hoping to grow my own starts, but the sweet potatoes were too moldy already. Anyways, here is the verbatim on harvesting and storing sweet potatoes that I was sent along with my starts from Johnny's: "Use care in "digging" your potatoes being careful not to cut or bruise them. A shovel or large pronged fork is ideal to use. With a loose row just pull the dirt away with the hands and gently place your beautiful potatoes in your storage basket or crate and start selecting your favorite recipes. Place your ventilated crates or baskets of freshly dug potatoes inside a building. Let the potatoes "dry out" or "air" 8 to 10 days. this helps to heal cuts and the bruises that may have occurred and toughens the skin for winter storage. The rich, black soil of some gardens may cause discoloration on the outside skin of some potatoes. Do not be alarmed, storage life and taste have not been affected. After the potatoes are dried out place them in a permanent storage area where the temperature ranges from 50 to 60 degrees F. At this time your potato crop is made..just do not let a sudden drop in the temperature "chill" the potatoes in your best storage area. While your potatoes are in storage, avoid unnecessary handling...just cook the potatoes as you come to them from the top of the storage container to the bottom...and make plans for more plants next year." Here is what I've learned about harvesting melons: There is a curly tendril that grows opposite the melon on the vine. It is only 2-3 inches long usually. When that tendril is dry and stiff it is time to pick the melon that is growing opposite it. Use clippers to snip the melon at the stem being careful to not disturb the vine--melons can be sensitive. I hear ya' on the grape tomatoes. I just picked a load from the garden today (frost is predicted tonight) and am already lamenting their disappearance until next spring. Homegrown tomatoes are a totally different fruit than ones from the grocery store. Talk about flavor! Thanks for the encouragement with the blog; I appreciate your comments. Thank you for sharing. Keep on growing! -Kevin


Fri, Oct 1, 2010 : 1:55 p.m.

Kevin, I found your blog when I was looking for information on sweet potatoes in Ann Arbor area. This is my second year growing sweet potatoes. I have info on sweet potatoes [] that informed me that soil temperatures below 50 degrees can result in internal decay to the potatoes. I'm not sure where we are at, as far as soil temperatures go, in our area. Have you grown sweet potatotes before? When do you plan on harvesting yours? I'm also debating on how best to "cure" the sweet potatoes. In particular, how to keep 85-90 % humidity for 10 days while they cure. Do you have experience with this? My garden did much better this year than last year. Last year the cucumbers and melons were hit by a fungus late in the season. This year, I especially love the grape tomatoes - they are as sweet as grapes! I'm definitely planting more of those next year. This was my first year harvesting melons, and I'm still not sure how to pick them at the correct time, but for the most part I was successful. Thanks for sharing... you've got a great garden blog going!

Kevin Dorn

Sun, Sep 19, 2010 : 5:23 p.m.

@Vivienne-Thanks for the interest and information. I really appreciate your critical thinking! Sorry to hear about your pepper-loving deer. I had a voracious woodchuck in my garden this year that LOVED broccoli, so I think I can relate to you on that note. @Armena-Thank you for contributing to this discussion. I agree with you about the deliciousness and nutritiousness of lamb's quarter. Sometimes I call them, "wild spinach."

Armena Marderosian

Sun, Sep 19, 2010 : 7:25 a.m.

Lamb's quarters are good food - among Nature's gifts to us. Eat 'em raw raw raw fresh, right from the garden as you stand outside in daylight, moonlight, starlight or dark. Why do you pull them out? The word "weed" means only that which the speaker doesn't see a need for. Nature gives leaves and fruits for our food. We can recognize them + preserve them plant them and nurture them. If we plant fruit trees everywhere we use way less land, enrich the earth and feed more people. Trees grow upward + downward,thus take way less space than grainfields + cattle farms, clean our air, + give us their fruitgifts.

Vivienne Armentrout

Sat, Sep 18, 2010 : 6:24 p.m.

Kevin, congratulations on the popcorn! That is inspiring. Please, please don't save potato seeds. Do you mean from the fruit? You know that doesn't breed true, right? But if you mean you are going to save your old potatoes and use them for seed, that is very dangerous. Downtown Home and Garden (and some other local garden stores) sell potato seed from certified sources in the spring. Using saved starts increases the chance of potato viruses. But even more, these are a possible source of late blight. We've been lucky this year, but this fungus disease was a major problem for area gardeners in 2009. As long as we can get certified seed, that is the best way to go. My #1 pest problem on the West Side: deer. They just ate the tops off all my pepper plants for the second time.