Thursday, September 18, 2008

Carrots and bean plants and leeks! Oh MY!

Here is the sweet potato bed (with leeks on one side and the volunteer beans in the back).  Haven't yet dug any of the White Triumph sweets yet--probably not til a hard frost is predicted.  I want to give them every day possible to grow larger. 
Leeks fight with the sweet potatoes for space! 

Here are some of the blue shackamaxon beans that volunteered in my foursquare (from last year).  You can see in the pod the beans beginning to gain their blue color; the ones on the table show their lovely characteristic sapphire blue.  Eventually, they will dry black.  I got about 7 lbs of fresh green beans so far from the plant, and many more remain on there now, making the dried blue beans for the winter.   I made a second planting, too, elsewhere in the garden, following my pea harvest.   
Some of the harvest from my second foursquare.  Notice the very hilarious St. Valery carrots!  I've seen forked carrots before , but this is ridiculous!  Several that I've pulled have had 3, 4, and even 5 roots.  We had the carrots last night grated with a vinaigrette of lemon juice, wine vinegar, mint, olive oil, salt & pepper.  

Here is the state of the carrot/beet bed in mid-September.  I've noticed that the St. Valery carrots have enormous top growth.  The gorgeous beets continue to have lovely tops but the beets themselves remain rather small.  
Shackamaxons reach to the top of the porch!  And a closer look at the contents of the foursquare:   

Bull's Blood beets, with their gorgeous tops. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

From Four-Sqaure Gardener Lise

Lise asked me to post this for her. Enjoy! -Meg

Hello fellow 4 Square Society members,
I want to tell you about a sweet experience the other night. I was watering in back of my 1924 bungalow on A2's Southwest side when I heard some little voices coming from out front.
"What happened to the lettuces?" said a little voice.
I put down the hose and went around to catch a glimpse of the two teensy children and their parents examining my 3x8' raised bed. We built it along the sidewalk from old lumber we found behind the house along the sidewalk.

"My son asks every day to go see the lettuce," said his mother almost apologetically. Suddenly I remembered my own mother and how she would share the delight of any small child by blowing feathery seeds off dandelion heads or playing "he loves me he loves me not..." I was so excited to share my little garden! (I started it after reading about the 4 Square Society!) "Here, these are carrots. Let's see if they are ready..." I tugged at the greens and up came a perfect three inch carrot. I gave them each one (the first I had tried harvesting.) The kids were thrilled, holding them out like candles at Christmas. And so was their Mom. My garden was her destination, a stopping point on her daily walk around the neighborhood. Thanks Growing Hope!


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Hello Four Square Gardeners!

I’m just writing to let everyone know that my internship at Growing Hope will be ending this week and I will no longer be running the Four Square Society. Other Growing Hope staff will be in contact with you about tracking and other updates as the season continues. Please continue to send your tracking sheets and other email correspondence to It has been a pleasure working with all of you who have participated in the Four Square Society blog. We appreciate all the data you’ve sent us, and we enjoy seeing your photos and hearing about your gardens. Best of luck through the rest of the season and in future years!

Growing Hope Research Intern

Abby's Garden

Here's a post on behalf of Abby, another Four Square Gardener:

"The first picture is the “before” picture from early June after I first planted everything, and the rest of the pictures were taken today. I have zucchinis coming in on one side, cucumbers on the other, oregano, thyme, arugula and cantaloupe in the front, as well as peppers and watermelon in the middle (they are getting buried in the squash & probably won’t make it). The cucumber is shooting up along the pole to the sky and is running out of pole to hold on to--not sure where it will go next.

I had never seen a squash plant before and had trouble picturing what everything would be like in three dimensions. Next time I will plant fewer vegetables and divvy up the space a bit better.

I am eating my first cucumber now. I also grilled one zucchini last week and have two ready to grill tonight (on a mini inside kitchen grill that is a nice complement with the garden). That’s not to mention the chamomile for tea growing in front of the house and the tomatoes and cherry tomatoes that I eat everyday from containers."

Monday, August 4, 2008

Confessions of a Couple of First Time Gardeners

"Sal and Lacea's Jardin"
plot, located at West Middle School's Community Garden, is our first shot at growing a garden. It sure has been a roller coaster ride!

Planted our seeds in peat pods in the house: corn, tomatoes (beefsteak & romas), jalopeno peppers, cucumbers, peas, basil, cilantro, onions, green/yellow peppers, broccoli and lettuce. They went crazy! We think we planted them too early for the May 17th opening of our garden, since they grew big, plateaued, and started to look brown.

Both Lacea and Sal grew up with gardeners in the family, but weeding was no fun as a kid! We dragged Mom along to the first work party for her expertise in planting a garden. Met the other gardeners (thanks for the bucket, Mark!). Turns out Jen E. from the garden is also in Lacea's lifelong learning Spanish Class at WCC--small world! Planted our garden into the ground. We got lucky with our little plot--we have a raised bed, which means less weeds.

About a week after we planted, our plot died due to the frost. So we bought little plants (sans the broccoli, add tomatillo this time) and replanted the garden, this time with marigolds. We planted the extra marigolds in the Plant a Row for the Hungry plot, since all the space for veggies had been taken. Oh No! ANOTHER frost at the end of May?! This time we covered the plants with sheets, and they survived with minimal burn damage.

We think we have a knack for gardening, and are equipped with natural green thumbs. Other gardeners ask us, "What's your secret?" and "Are you sure it's organic?" We only had to weed once and our garden looked amazing! Started harvesting lettuce and basil, and joined the Four Square Society. Had a mishap harvesting the lettuce-Sal chopped the heads down to nothing. Lacea thought he had killed them completely, but they survived and came back in July better than ever. It's amazing how fresh and tasty organic veggies are out of the garden!

Played hookey the day of the walking tour to get our plot in tip-top shape. So excited to share our amazing tomatillo plant with the rest of the world! Weeding was minimal, but we obviously over-planted our plot. We had to rip out a cucumber plant and a few tomato plants that were overshadowed by taller plants. Harvested more lettuce, and transplanted the jalopeno peppers to the space left open by the pulled cucumber plant. They really seemed to enjoy their new home.

We're feeling great about the garden! So great, we started giving away our extra produce to anyone interested. Watering is fun at night, except for those awful mosquitoes! We helped with the garden work party, pulling weeds in the common paths and putting down straw in their place. Our tools and the bucket Mark gave us flew out the back of Sal's truck in an unfortunate tailgate incident. So, Jen loans us her Garden Weasel. It may be "as seen on TV" but we love it and we love gardening!

End of July: OH NO! We got too cocky. Watering every other day or every third day does not work anymore!!! Our plants keeled over and now we aren't sure if they'll make it. At least we got one red tomato out of the bunch!

The saga continues...

Monday, July 21, 2008

Come check out our new FAQs page!

We've been updating content on the Growing Hope FAQs page. Included now on the site are tips for dealing with garden pests, and we hope to add more information as soon as we can.

If you have any suggestions for what you'd like to see on the site, leave us a comment here!

The photos you see here are but a few of the miracles happening in Recreation Park's Community Garden's four squares...

Sunday, July 20, 2008

End of Month Number Two in a Four Square

These images were taken last week. You can see the carrots starting to really tower over the surrounding beets. When I water them, they completely flop over the beets on the west side of the bed.

In this photo, you can see the beautiful color of the Bull's Blood leaves. I think the beets are about an inch in diameter after 9 weeks. (They were planted on May 3.) That's one tiny carrot on the edge -- about an index finger-size. I've since pulled three more -- each getting to be a respectable size of about 6", although still a small carrot.

Here you can see the state of the leeks -- still pretty tiny. I have leeks planted about two weeks earlier in the ground at the community garden and they are about the size of a scallion now.

In this one, you can see the White Triumphs beginning to vine after just about 4 weeks in the ground.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Garden Resources

Hello Four Square Gardeners! In case you're in need of garden supplies, here are some quick tips on where to go in Washtenaw County to get what you need for your square foot garden... Any tips of your own? Post a comment and share them with us!

Garden Questions?

Call the Master Gardener Hotline: Washtenaw County Master Gardeners, with support from the Extension Horticulturist, staff a Garden Hotline from April through October. Advice on general gardening questions and household pest problems can be received by calling (734) 997-1819, Monday through Friday, 9am-12pm and 1pm-4pm.


There are a number of places in Washtenaw County with free or inexpensive compost if you don't have space to make your own. Check these out, and let us know of any others!

Ypsilanti Township Compost Site, 2600 East Clark Road
(Between Ford Blvd. and Ridge Road)
Phone: 734-482-6681
Mixed quality compost
Free to Ypsilanti Township residents-
3 yard limit- load your own pickup
9-3 Mon-Fri

City of Ann Arbor
4150 Platt Rd, Ann Arbor, MI 48108
Phone: 734-971-8600
$17/yard- bring open-top pickup truck and tarp
8-4 Mon-Fri, 8-12 Sat
High quality, tested compost- test results available on-site

Other Composting Facilities in Washtenaw County:

Compost calculator:

You need to decide how much area (in square feet) you want to cover, and then the depth of coverage you want to achieve. We suggest one to three inches for vegetable gardens and fall cover crops, between a quarter and half an inch for lawns and raised flower beds. With these numbers, you can either (1) use our handy online Compost Calculator, or (2) you can calculate your needs using the following equation:

Area * Depth * 0.0031 = Compost

(square feet) (inches) (cubic yards)


Growing Hope has blue or white 55 gallon barrels, fully assembled, with lid. Cost: $65

If you would like to construct your own, we have rain barrel parts kits for $35- you supply the barrel!

Growing Hope has tools available for lending to the public, so e-mail us at, or come into our office, and specify what you need, and we will work with you to accommodate your needs.


Building a new raised bed? Got a garden project or two? We recommend any wood that is chemical free or untreated. Here's where you'll find it:

Recycle Ann Arbor Reuse Center
2420 South Industrial Highway
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
(734) 662-6288

Carter Lumber
2800 E Michigan Ave, Ypsilanti 48198
(734) 484-3923

Fingerle Lumber Co.
617 S. Fifth Ave., P.O. Box 1167
Ann Arbor, MI 48106-1167
(734) 663-0581 (800) 365-0700

Fax: (734) 663-0137
Mon-Thurs: 7:30-5:30 SAT: 8:00-4:30 (ET)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

First Harvest!

A week later, carrots are thinned. You can kind of see the spacing in this picture. OK -- who likes thinning carrots, by a show of hands...? Anyone? Anyone? Heartless thinning of strong little sprouts is one of the hardest chores of the gardener.

The first cuttings of the Bull's Blood beets. They are the most beautiful silvery red--the photo really doesn't do them justice. Although they are still tiny, I took one leaf from each beet for a salad.

Happy sweet potatoes, about a week later. You can kind of see four volunteer beans near the fence if you look hard. These are blue Shackamaxon beans, from the Lenape Indians of the Delaware watershed, where I grew up. I grew them last year, on the trellis that we replaced with this fence. I didn't really have a place to squeeze them in this year, but I guess I'll string up something for them to climb on. They are an exceptionally beautiful sapphire blue as shelly beans, which darkens to black when they dry.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Planting the sweets

This is the east bed, soil being loosened. Note around the edges a bunch of potsherds that somehow made their way into this bed! This soil is amended every year with about 4" of City of Ypsi compost.

Meet the White Triumphs. These came in a dessicated bunch wrapped in formerly damp moss in tissue paper. I didn't have time to put them in on Saturday when they arrived, so I stuck them in a glass of water overnight. Seems to have done them good. (The first year I ordered sweet potatoes and received those dessicated stems, I stuck them directly in the ground, tho they barely had a root on them. I was positive they would yield nothing--but I dug up about 15 lbs or so of potatoes in the fall.)

These were much better rooted. In fact, I managed to break up some of the rooted stems in such a way that I ended up with a few extra plants. These are planted 6" deep on 9" centers, according to Jeavon's charts for double-dug soil.

Here's the bed with 19 plants in place, all watered in.

And here's the bed with about 20 leeks squeezing in beside the sweets. The variety is Lancelot. This is the suggested method of planting from Johnny's Select Seeds: make a 6" deep hole, drop in the leek seedling and do not firm up the soil. Rain and wind will slowly fill in the hole, allowing the leek to blanch. Seems to have worked the past few years.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

More fancy Four-Squares!

Lisa, here. I'm the garden steward at Recreation Park Community Garden and have an 8'x16' plot there, plus I have an herb garden, native medicinals, edible landscaping, and a lot of containers at home.
I've designated two of my roughly 4'x4' containers as my Four Square beds. This one is my west bed, containing St. Valery carrots and Bull's Blood beets, both heirlooms from Seed Savers.
I admit, I've gotten a little obsessive with this bed. As you can see on the right, germination was spotty the closer you got to the fence. So I spent many damp days gently prying out carrots from the soil and moving them, evening out the spacing.

There's about 180 carrots in this bed on 2" spacing. The beets had better germination on 3" centers around the edge.

The east bed is being planted in White Triumph sweet potatoes and leeks. The leeks were started from seed in lil greenhouses made of plastic blueberry containers. (I still have quite a few leek starts remaining, if anyone wants some.) The sweet potatoes are from Pinetree Garden Seeds and they are an ancient east coast variety that's actually a close relative of a morning glory!

This is my first blogger post ever, so please forgive clunkyness. More pix of the sweet potato planting next time!

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Four square is helping me "garden within the lines"

Amanda here, Growing Hope Executive Director-- and a proud member of the Four Square Society as well! (True, that I thought it up-- with help from Murph & Lisa & Mark last year...) ready to eatIn my own garden, I converted what had been mounded raised beds (using tons of compost) to 4 x 4 foot wooden raised beds. I've never been good at-- or interested in, really-- "coloring within the lines." This year, though, I am excited to be "gardening within the lines," and the square foot garden method is helping me do that. I've tried square foot gardening before-- but more so in a rough way, measuring the blocks in the beginning, but not sticking to them. This year, in my raised beds, I've used old measuring tape (and then supplemented that when I ran out with new ones from the dollar store) to affix a permanent grid. It looks so nice and orderly! finished the square foot guidelines! I've already harvested a lot of mixed lettuce & arugula, had multiple run-ins with multiple woodchucks who keep mowing certain things down, and experimented with a little hoophouse structure to extend the season (which is why I had so much early lettuce.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Welcome to the Four Square Society!

Hello Everyone! My name is Rachel Long, and I'm the summer research intern this year at Growing Hope. We are very excited to have you all on board for the Four Square Society, and we hope that this blog will become a showcase of all the wonderful things happening in planters, pots, raised beds and backyards across Michigan. We encourage you to post "before" shots of your garden, now when it's early in the season, so we can all see how much they will have grown at the end of the summer. Feel free to post questions and respond with comments to others' posts, too; this interactive blog can serve as a forum for garden advice.

We look forward to hearing stories and seeing pictures from you- the gardeners who are making positive, sustainable, healthy change in their homes and communities!

Happy Growing!