Thanksgiving’s winter weather is just around the corner and Detroit is busy preparing for cold temperatures, ice and snow. If you are a local grower, local food enthusiast, or anyone who values in-season flavor, fall often means harvesting, planting cold-tolerant crops, tucking root crops in for the winter and cleaning up dead foliage.
Many gardens, homesteads and farms grow garlic, carrots, radishes, broccoli, kale, brussel sprouts, beets, turnips, onions, lettuce, spinach and more in the cool fall months and late winter. Much of this growing is made possible thanks to outdoor growing season extension technology.
The two main forms of frost protection and season extension for local growers are high tunnels (5ft and taller) and low tunnels (4ft and lower) otherwise known as hoop houses. These structures consist of a skeletal framework of PVC, wood, or curved metal to support a polyurethane cover or light fabric winter blanket to cover plants. As a result of extension technology, powered by sunshine alone, the growing season in Detroit can be extended well into December and begin again around February.
If you don’t have a hoop house yet, a popular cash crop to grow over the winter is garlic. Not only is homegrown garlic highly effective at getting rid of the deep chesty cough that many get during Detroit’s harsh, crippling winters, garlic is also easy to grow, store all year long, and use as a stepping stone towards self-sufficiency, health and culinary superiority. Detroit grown garlic is a tried and true favorite because it is a low-maintenance crop and has noticeably better flavor then all of the other garlic available in Michigan, most of which comes from China and is 6+ months old from the trip across the ocean and chemical laden to preserve it.
There are not many crops as rewarding and easy for an aspiring grower to try as garlic. To grow garlic, you prepare a garden bed (weed barrier or tilling), dig 4-5in deep holes in a straight line from one side of the bed to another, plant one clove in each hole (pointy part of the clove facing up) and cover with dirt, then an inch or two of leaves or straw. Then you let the garlic bed rest until it is time to check for growth in April, weed in June and harvest in August. Once the bottom 3 leaves of garlic turn brown, usually in August, your garlic is ready to harvest. Simply pull it out of the ground and let it dry for 4-6 weeks in a cool, shady spot. After drying, trim the top of the bulb off and your garlic will now last until next year’s harvest and remain delicious if kept in a cool, dry, dark space.
One final ritual growers across Detroit participate in is cleaning up summer’s old, dead growth and directing natural resources to set up for solid growth in the spring. Dead stems, leaves, and plants are pruned back and composted or used to insulate root crops in the winter. Now is the time for cutting outdoor plants back and organizing the remnants of summer to set up for a strong spring start.
Many growers use biodynamic growing principals in their gardens.
This means that everything works together to be self-sustaining nutritionally and results in minimal waste, no chemical use, and maximum nutrition for plant growth and yield. With Detroit’s strengths of colorful foliage and cool weather, autumn’s leafy deaths lay the compostable, nutrient-rich ground cover for spring seedlings growth and unwanted weed suppression. Other biodynamic forms of weed barrier to lay in the fall are grass clippings, straw, hay, dried up flower stems and plant debris. Traditional weed barrier is newspaper, cardboard, black tarps, and of course the weed barrier available for purchase at many local hardware stores.
These seasonal, outdoor, accessible activities create community, healthy culture and comforting ritual for many Detroiters, regardless of all our differences. Hopefully with the transition of fall to winter in Detroit, we can let our differences rest with the leaves and sow seeds of celebrating success for every neighbor doing what they know, best.
Happy Thanksgiving Detroit!