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Posted on Sat, Apr 24, 2010 : 9:22 a.m.

Backyard gardening on the west side of Ann Arbor

By Kevin Dorn


2009 summer garden full of kale, tomatoes, calendula and more!

Kevin Dorn | Contributor

Hi, I’m Kevin Dorn - a regular guy who lives on Ann Arbor's West Side and who loves to garden, so much so that a friend of mine asked me to blog about it for What an honor! 

For the sake of full disclosure: I am not a farmer, nor did I grow up on a farm; I am not a master gardener, but I am a garden enthusiast. You see, I grow just about anything I can - from eggplant to okra. My current enterprises are now directed by my wife’s culinary tastes so I’ve developed a hand for lemon grass, kai lan and shungiku - all of which are delicious.

My basic style of gardening focuses on using organic amendments. Gardening is a passionate connection of mine that is rejuvenating and fruitful. I start my beds by removing the top layer of grass with a spade, double digging the beds with a shovel and garden fork and adding compost and manure for added water-holding capacity and nutrients. All in all, bed preparation is the most labor-intensive aspect of gardening.

You might think, “What garden work can be done now? There’s still three weeks before the frost free date.” Well my friend, this is the perfect time to start seeds indoors. All that you need is a full spectrum lamp, seed-starting tray, heating pads, a timer, power strip, soil, seeds and a place to grow. Here is a picture of my operation:


Indoor seed starting operation with full spectrum lamp, seed-starting tray, heating pads, a timer, power strip, soil, seeds and a place to grow

It is very important to take notes of where you plant what seeds for future reference. Also only plant a few seeds per section so each has ample room and resources to grow. All of the materials pictured above can be purchased at local garden and hardware stores. I’ve been gardening for about seven years and have built up my equipment over time. Don’t feel the need to go out and spend a lot. A simple pot of soil in the window with tomato seeds is a great way to build success at growing seeds indoors.

It is now a great time to order seeds online or buy them at numerous local distributors. An advantage of going to a local store to buy seeds is you can access the local knowledge of the proprietor. Buying your seeds now will give you good selection for the entire upcoming season. Yes, summer is coming! Days are getting longer and brighter. Crops such as English peas, snow peas and sugar snap peas can go in the ground as soon as the earth thaws. Other plants like tomatoes need nights above 50 degrees to flourish so do better off waiting indoors a while yet. Your individual seed packet will list temperature, light, moisture, nutrient and space requirements for each seed.

The most important thing I could say about gardening is: Enjoy yourself! Gardening is a great way to connect with nature, get some exercise and grow beautiful food and flowers. I leave you with some photos from my garden exploits. As this is the first blog entry, please comment on the direction you would like this blog to take. I am open to all gardening suggestions. Good luck!

This is the first entry of the garden blog; thank you for reading it. Look for updates every two weeks. I appreciate your comments. Kevin Dorn: http://facebook/kevin_dorn.



Tue, May 4, 2010 : 5:56 p.m.

I am glad that they gave someone a chance to talk about being a gardener with out being a pro! I have been working on my gardens for years-but not a Master-just love flowers and veggies-Good luck with your blogs-can't wait for a someone who doesn't talk Greek!

Kevin Dorn

Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 2 p.m.

Treetowncartel: Your brussel sprout recipe sounds delicious. Tomato horn worms are quit the creature, aren't they? It's that horn that really gets me. Trial and error is right. I try limit the variables, but nature is hard to predict. I usually plant a lot of stuff and a lot of varieties because some years some stuff works better than others and it doesn't seem to follow year to year. Thanks for the story of your gardening heritage. I look forward to hearing what's happening in your garden.


Wed, Apr 28, 2010 : 12:54 p.m.

Nice article, gardening really is a trial and error event. My mom got me hooked on it when I was a kid and I am tryng to pass that on to my kids. My favorite thing to grow is brussel sprouts, I can usually harvest them a few weeks before Thanksgiving. Its pretty cool to actually have something out of your own garden on the table at that meal. I put enough butter and real bacon bits on them so that even the finickiest of eaters has a hard time saying no to them. oh, and I saw my first tomato worm last year, got a quick scare out of me.

Kevin Dorn

Mon, Apr 26, 2010 : 2:24 p.m.

Teaset: Thanks for reading and commenting; I appreciate your harvesting query. There are definite methods that work better for specific plants. I will include this information with pictures as the season progresses. On the topic of lettuce...I like to think of two genres of lettuce: 1)head and 2)cut and come again. 1)Head lettuce is stuff like romaine, bibb, butter and iceberg. Plants are spaced out in the garden about 12-16". Head lettuce generally needs to be either transplanted from a seedling or heavily thinned. It grows a nice head and you cut the whole head out of the garden with a knife just below the base of the head and just above the soil level. If head lettuce is left in too long it will become bitter, touch and bolt (send up a seed stalk). While bolting is quite beautiful, it is not desireable if you want to eat a nice, crisp, nonbitter head of lettuce. 2)Cut and come again lettuce is typically a mixture of different comes of lettuces and sometimes the mixes are named (ex/ mesclun, spicy mesclun). These mixes are intended to be sprinkled directly in the garden in a rather dense manner. The product will look like the "baby lettuce" that is found at farmer's market and the grocery store. I cut mine with a scissors low on the stem, about an inch above the soil, when the plants are about 4-5 inches high. These nice, baby greens are tender and great for salad. All lettuces can stand a frost, but not a freeze. That means they are fine to plant outside now. Enjoy! Pics to come in later posts. Rork: I like your thinking; both napa and bok choi are in the brassica, or cabbage, family, so they are both susceptible to cabbage moths and flea beatles. Cabbage moths are those smallish white moths with a yellow spot on their wing. They lay eggs on any plant in the cabbage family that devlop into cabbage green caterpillars that love to eat green cabbage foliage. They can really chomp! Flea beatles look like little, dark, bouncing specks. They generally don't eat a whole lot, but leave lots of little holes in the leaves of plants. The best control I've found for both of these plants is to use a product called "row cover". It is a wide sheet of fabric that lets light and moisture through, but not insects. I've bought it at Downtown Home and Garden in the past; it is fairly inexpensive. Basically, you plant your brassicas and then bury the row cover over the bed by tucking in the edges under soil. It helps to either put a support for the row cover (ie. crescent shaped metal or plastic) or leave a bunch in the middle to allow the plants to grow. On this note, I've found direct seeding to work well with brassicas, but get bigger plants faster by starting them indoors and transplanting them. Like you said, many brassicas do not like hot weather, although some do tolerate it. I usually think of doing spring and fall plantings of brassicas. Good on ya; talk to you soon. Good luck!

Rork Kuick

Mon, Apr 26, 2010 : 12:27 p.m.

What garden work can be done now?" is a variation of a question I often get, "have you got your garden in". Some people are so focused on tomatoes, corn, beans, that they don't start spinach, broccoli, lettuce, peas, and other cold-accepting plants early enough. Some are amazed these plants tolerate frosts. Spinach may be my most important crop. That said, I could use any tips on some new experiments: Bok Choi and Napa (both of which have a zillion names). I sowed in the ground, and they germinated fast and easy, but wonder if in our area it helps to start them inside even earlier (to get them bigger before hot weather) or not (do they hate transplanting?). I think they are in genus Brassica and wondered if the insect attacking cabbage likes them too, or not-so-much. I look forward to more posts.


Sun, Apr 25, 2010 : 9:25 p.m.

As the season progresses, I'd like to see harvesting tips and methods. For example, the first year I grew lettuce, I really had no idea how or when to harvest it. Photos are always helpful. Thanks.

Kevin Dorn

Sun, Apr 25, 2010 : 7:29 p.m.

Hi Lisa: Thanks for checking out the garden blog; lemongrass is coming your way. No worries about passing on the seed starting; the gardening social network is strong and takes care of its volunteers. I have many beautiful plants in my garden that were gifted from you and others. I too am surprised that so many vendors are selling warm season starts already...just a word of caution: don't put tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash and melons outside in the ground without protection until after the frost free date-typically around mother's day in Michigan. Hi Pam: You're welcome! It is my pleasure to share what I've learned over the years through trial and error. I definitely try to take a simple approach to gardening...a little compost and manure, some nicely dug beds, well cared for seedlings and a lot of love seem to go a long way. Congratulations on starting seeds again. I find germination to be so hopeful and inspiring. Thanks for reading the blog!

Pam Stout

Sun, Apr 25, 2010 : 3:33 p.m.

Thanks Kevin! I appreciate your straightforward approach--you make it sound so easy. We started some seeds this weekend for the first time in a couple of years, and I'm looking forward to more tips as the season progresses.


Sun, Apr 25, 2010 : 8:59 a.m.

Hey Kevin - glad to see you are doing a garden blog. I'm excited to try the lemongrass too - and looking for other non-typical herbs to add to garden. I decided to pass on the seed starting under lights this year, and was shopping the farmers market this weekend for plants that I could plant outside now (e.g., broccoli, cabbage, parsley). I was really surprised to see so many vendors already selling tomatoes and basil that clearly are too early to plant outdoors. Well, anyway - happy digging!