You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Sat, May 22, 2010 : 12:15 p.m.

Backyard gardening on Ann Arbor's West Side: tomato time!

By Kevin Dorn


Tomato plants Thursday 5/20/10

Kevin Dorn | Contributor

There is a tremendous amount of information available about gardening. However helpful this may be, it can also become overwhelming and stressful. Gardening to me is a joyful process of trial and error. Yes, I do heed advice and respect wisdom; but above all I enjoy myself. 

The past two weeks have been very exciting. The weather has warmed up and the warm season crops are going in. Tomatoes, basil, peppers and sweet potatoes are all in the ground outside. The cool season crops have been producing, so we’ve pretty much stopped buying vegetables from the store.


Mizuna harvest May 2010

Kevin Dorn | Contributor

We have been harvesting spinach, kale, cilantro, dill, radishes and mizuna. All of these cool season crops were planted as soon as the soil could be worked back in March. Spinach is so sensitive to heat that I just pick the whole plant when I want to eat it. I’ll plant another crop for the fall. Actually, a trick to getting early spring spinach is planting a late fall crop that will grow again in the spring.

I stopped picking my asparagus as it is only the third year for the crowns and I want them to develop strong roots for a bumper harvest next year.

I’ve also been transplanting as I’ve been reshaping the garden beds. My second crops of radishes, carrots and spinach didn’t germinate well so I moved volunteer dill, Chinese celery and cilantro into the space. Just a note on terminology: “Volunteers” are plants that spontaneously grow in your garden.

Lemongrass was divided and planted outside. My wife uses lemongrass in many Thai dishes, including tum yum goong (hot and sour shrimp soup). Two years ago I rooted store-bought lemongrass and planted it. It is sensitive to cold so I take it in over the winter in a pot, and divide and replant it in the spring.

The pickles from last year have been delicious. I canned lots of dill pickles and spicy tomato salsa. The Ball Blue Book offers safe and easy canning guidelines. Yes, you can can.

Backyard gardening is quite beneficial as I can grow many foods that aren’t readily available in quantity or freshness. Gardening to me is also a way to replenish and reconnect. It is very grounding. Just remember: whatever you do, enjoy yourself!

I hope your garden is going well, and that this blog is helpful with your pursuits. Let me know if you have a subject you’d like me to explore.

This is the third entry of the garden blog. Look for updates every two weeks. I appreciate you taking the time to read this post and comment if you like. Happy planting!


Lettuce and Kale May 2010

Kevin Dorn | Contributor


Pea flowers May 2010

Kevin Dorn | Contributor


Kevin Dorn

Thu, May 27, 2010 : 4:21 p.m.

Hi Babarossa: I found the lemon grass at Hua Xin Asian market on Washtenaw. It is on the right side if your traveling from A2 to Ypsi and has a large glass facade with a blue top. The name is in red. It is next to the Asia City restaurant.


Thu, May 27, 2010 : 3:15 p.m.

Hey Kevin, where did you find Lemongrass locally??

Kevin Dorn

Tue, May 25, 2010 : 8:04 p.m.

krc: I don't have a recipe on hand that I've used and can recommend. I did find one online here: I cannot vouch for the recipe, but it does sound intriguing.


Mon, May 24, 2010 : 9:25 a.m.

Do you (or anyone) know where I can get a recipe for Tomato Preserves? My grandmother gave it to me as part of a shower gift 40 years ago and it got lost in the shuffle of time. They are delicious, for those of you who wonder.

Kevin Dorn

Sun, May 23, 2010 : 8:13 p.m.

Hi Neal, Thanks for the comment and question. This is a tricky subject. Plants have their natural growth habits and we guide them in our gardens to suit our wants. Tomatoes natural form seems to be vining along the ground in an unruly manner. If this is allowed to happen a lot of space is needed. For most of us, space is limited. I've tried staking tomatoes and tying the plants to the stakes as they grow. I've also used the wire grates that go around the tomatoes. Whatever I do the tomatoes seem to get huge and out of control. So the only tip I really have here is: give the plants space. I think 12-18" between plants is adequate. Tomatoes are also very tough; it seems like no matter what you do you are going to get tomatoes. Sorry I can't be of more help on this subject. I invite others to share their tips, please. Cukes are a different story. The cucumber vines are very sensitive and are easily damaged if they are moved, unlike the tough tomato. Different cukes have different growth forms. I like the ones that grow like a bush or climb up a trellis. I've had good luck growing the burpless cukes that climb up a trellis. The variety I like is called Japanese Soyu Burpless. Peppers seem to grow upright just fine on their own. They do require a lot of space, however. I'd say 12-18" like tomatoes between plants should suffice. I don't do much with my peppers except pick the ripe ones. Sorry I'm not more help on this subject. I thought about the topic all day trying to figure out some tricks. Again, I invite others to join this topic as a threaded discussion. Hopefully as a community we can hash out some good tips. Thanks.

Neal Elyakin

Sun, May 23, 2010 : 6:40 a.m.

Hey Kevin, I'll bet folks would want to know about vines (I surely struggle with it every year); tomatoes, cukes, peppers, etc.; how to maximize product without letting the plant go too crazy. Are there pointers in keeping these plants under control? Thanks neighbor!!

Kevin Dorn

Sun, May 23, 2010 : 4:21 a.m.

Hi Dogwalker: Thanks for reading and commenting. The original mizuna seeds were bought three years ago from Seeds of Change. Two years ago the plants bolted and I saved a lot of seeds; these saved seeds are what this years crop is from. Mizuna is in the cabbage family, can be eaten raw and has a mild flavor. It is a common component of mesclun salad mixes. It grows really well in the cool spring and is a nice early salad green.


Sat, May 22, 2010 : 8:40 p.m.

Where did you get the mizuna seeds? not something I have seen or eaten, or maybe I have but just didn't know.