Episode 88: Adam Pruett | Biology Student • Community Garden and Farmer’s Market at Wayne State University | Detroit, MI

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Episode 88: Adam Pruett | Biology Student • Community Garden and Farmer’s Market at Wayne State University | Detroit, MI

Adam is another intelligent student from Wayne State University who uses innovative techniques in their community garden to produce food for their weekly Farmer’s Market in an completely urban setting!  In Episode 81 Tess Byzanski from the Detroit Spore Company talked with us about mushrooms and their school garden in Detroit, Michigan! In today’s episode Adam shares secrets for producing a large amount of food in a small space, growing tomatoes and other plants vertically, creating a passion flower garden roof, and secrets for preventing powdery mildew! You won’t want to miss anything in this great conversation with this passionate gardener and amazing millennial!

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’ll be turning 25 this month. I’m a Biology Student at Wayne State

Focusing my studies on plants, work in a plant molecular evolution lab for over a year. There was a green house there, so it was interesting to work with a botanist and what goes into botanical research. So  that kind of  informs my gardening philosophy now. I’ve been gardening since I can remember.

Tell me about your first gardening experience?

My dad was in the military and my mom worked a full time job so I spent a lot of time with my grandparents who had a large garden. Basically  my earliest memories are of being in the garden, being a kid digging in the dirt. I pretty much grew up in the garden. I think that has stuck with me, when I think back to my childhood some of my best memories are of being in a garden.

I’m from Dearborn, which is right outside of Detroit, suburban. Nobody has a lot of land in the Detroit Metro area, it was a big enough backyard, they probably had a half acre, so the garden was probably a 1/4 acre. It wasn’t large, but it was decent. You can grow a lot of food on a 1/4 acre.

My grandpa prided himself on growing the biggest heirloom tomatoes. he was meticulous about growing the tomatoes! He was into the organic compost, he didn’t spray fertilizers or pesticides or anything like that. He liked to smoke his pipe and sit in the garden. He just spent a lot of time out there and was eating things.  Tomatoes the big thing I remember dominating the garden. It was always a competition in my family who could grow the biggest tomatoes each year.

What does organic gardening/earth friendly mean to you?

So yeah, I kind of thought about that, one of my good friends works in horticulture in the greenhouse we sort of had this argument about what does it mean to be organic and in the laboratory too.

To me organic gardening, when you walk into the garden, it’s kind of a measure,

In my experience anyway, when walking into a garden where someone’s using chemicals, I seem to notice, that there is a different level of coherence in the garden. If you’re spraying a lot of chemical pesticides and fertilizer, watering with miracle grow, or this Jack’s Classic people use around here, you can just kind of tell looking at the soil, looking at the plants, there’s a lack of coherence, i realize it’s kind of an abstract term.  It seems like everything, there’s an overall sense of health and harmony in a small farm or greenhouse or a garden.

To me organic is just a term that is a measure of how harmonious or coherent your ecosystem is, whether it’s a farm, or a forest or what ever it is. I think organic there is definitely a spectrum I would say, you talk to certain people in the green house, they would say using neem oil is not organic, because it’s a concentrated extract, some people say it’s fine it’s totally organic. So to me it’s really just about intention, realizing the consequences of what you’re doing,

Is it acceptable to you, do you feel safe with it, for me I think would you feed your kids that!

One of the biggest things I’ve learned from this show is do you really want to let your toddler crawl on that lawn or let your pet on that lawn that has those chemicals and weed and feed and making sure you have no dandelions, because I guess that’s where one of the biggest toxic things. Because kids and pets are closer to the ground so they breathe in more of those poisons and it’s different for adults.

And they have weaker immune systems and are more susceptible. That’s kind of what I mean about the coherence, when you take the human aspect away it doesn’t make so much sense but when you put a toddler there, is it safe? Is it acceptable? That’s how I kind of measure if the whole ecosystem coherent, not using something synthetic and knocking out that vital quality and making the whole ecosystem incoherent! I would say. That’s where I’m coming from.

I think that’s a great way to explain it and make that human connection.

Who or what inspired you to start using organic techniques?

It would definitely be my grandparents. My brother works in a greenhouse, and my good friend works in the horticulture program at MSU and how inorganic horticulture is. Spraying pesticide is pretty common and it’s pretty conventional, by not spraying preventively they are taking a big risk. The problem with using organic methods in a production world, is that organic based fertilizers are typically not water soluble, so if you have irrigation, if you are growing thousands of plant you need to irrigate them efficiently and you are not able to irrigate really. The  organic fertilizers are typically not water soluble so they will clog your irrigation and that screws up production.

My grandparents, obviously in a small garden you’re not worrying about  production, not necessarily getting high yields, maximum yields. Spending time close to the plants, informs you intuitively what is organic, you’re not gonna spray round up or glyspcopahte and then touching up against your plants.

Being in my grandparent’s garden, so just taking the long clippings, composting, we had lots of worms, throwing them into the compost bin, just little things like that. Seeing what a well connected ecosystem has taught me or shown me what an organic ecosystem looks like.

Tell us about something that grew well this year.

garden

I grew a lot of things this year. I manage the community garden here at Wayne State. Grew quite a bit of things there. I also have my garden at home. I grew a lot. I learned a lot because they were in different spots! The garden at school unfortunately is pretty shaded, so it’s not exactly ideal for growing say tomatoes we don’t get that full sun. Our greens grew really well, Bok Choy in particular. I mean we sell everything at the Market. That kind of informs me, I can look at end of the day. How many people thought this looked good? or didn’t sell well? You can see how everything did over the course of the season and look back on how our sales were. Our greens did amazing. Super simple to grow greens, stay on top of the bolting, do some vertical things,

At home my tomatoes did really well, I grow  them 30 gallons pots, and I make sure I rotate them everyday, make sure they are getting

water and feed them before they look hungry…

Ghost peppers (Bhut Jolokia). First time I actually grew ghost peppers.

What are ghost peppers?

Really hot hot peppers.

So they make you feel like you died and became a ghost?

If you bit into one, you will be regretting it for a couple of hours, it’s good if you are cooking a stew,

you only need a half a pepper for a 10 gallon pot of stew!

Second hot legal

I kind of want to look it up.

Certain ghost peppers are illegal  because they are so hot to sell without a disclaimer because they can induce heart attacks…

A lot of people had a

We had a slow start to our summer, ti was really wet and cold.

Where I planted them, they got a good amount of sun and they took root well despite those conditions. So when summer kicked into full swing they were ready to go! Compared to everything else in the garden they were ready to go!

once they started to fruit they just kept producing

Not a lot of people grow them so it was unique, novel thing to have,

If you want to dare someone who gets on your nerves give em a seed of a ghost pepper.

Make sure you do a little bit  or research, I feel like I have to add that disclaimer.

Who do you hang out with you want to dare?

Othere things I’m curious about how much stuff are you growing at your school that you’re selling things at your market?

 

garden2

Farmer’s Market It’s from 11am to 4pm, it fluctuates how many vendors show up. We get from 8-15 members. It’s a pretty good size market. Idk if people know Detroit.I feel like I should talk a little bit about Detroit and why it’s really unique. Our laws permit agriculture within an urban area. As far as I know is not legal anywhere else. You don’t have to get a permit to grow in Detroit you can just start a farm. That’s unique as far as I know. If it is allowed in other places, in Detroit people are doing it! There is a really large movement for gardening,

Everywhere that you go, there are rooftop gardens, etc

I know a lot of people think of Detroit and industrial wasteland and it’s really nice

Really different to see that contrast

Ghettos and Gardens, you have a 5 square mile downtown, and a 20 mile belt surrounding that, it’s not vacant but sparsely populated. And there is a ton of empty land and people are farming it, it’s great to see how many people people getting into the social aspect of eating local food and social justice and we have a lot of homeless people.

Detroit is pretty spectacular

engaging with people who are growing food.

I want to grow my own food, for me it’s intuitive to grow my own food, it’s a human need that I should grow my own food and cultivate it. Logically it doesn’t make sense to import it from distance places. Detroit is It’s amazing all the markets, there’s at least a dozen markets in the city limits. It’s an opportunity to create a niche, and there’s a green movement industry happening and

a lot of people are working hard to make it something that stays. I want to be a part of that and Tess has a share in that with her mushroom growning. At school for the community garden, that’s why we’re focusing on a production community garden, but we also have an allotment

The garden I am talking about is a demonstration garden to show how much food you can produce in the spot the size that it is. We have seven 4×12 beds, we consistently produce every week, and enough to sell at the market each weekend.

Wayne State Wednesdays Farmer’s Market

Fluctutates every week,

we sell everything for a $1.

We’re practically giving away food, the intention is not necessarily to profit but to get enough money just to maintain the garden. We want to show people how many things can be connected to the garden. What potential industries? For example we have sage that we distilled to make essential oil and now we’re making soap from it.

You can make tinctures. There’s fruits vegetables, there’s soap, lip balm all these other products and items you can make from just a small garden. If you’re industrious. To show the potential that the earth provides.

Mike was just telling me about how he just saw a thing on the news about Detroit. And it’s funny because Linda Kelso was just on the show last week from Pittsburg. And they went through a similar situation when they 

Kudos for being a part of it!

The Rough belt, this Midwest old industrial, manufacturing center. We’re not as relevant as we used to be. You see it in Detroit, Toledo, Pittsburg, all around the great lakes, a lot of people lost a lot of jobs, there’s a lot of empty land,what better to do on it then garden and farm  and grow healthy food! I think it’s a great alternative!

There’s a lot to be said for green jobs, and we don’t have to be stuck with the Fossil Fuel, Coal 

That if we’re innovative options… AEROMT she’s a lawyer and she came out to DEBUNK the myth that green energy and alternatives don’t produce green jobs. They’re a local group in Montana. I love the millennials. I think they’re the greatest generation to come along.

A lot of my generation, common sense, we don’t need such radical changes. There’s so many things that you can do on a daily basis, just grow a garden, how much does that help the planet and everybody and you take a little control over that. It’s immense! 

I’ve seen statistics, shipping bananas from South America isn’t a sustainable model, why do you ship it from another country.

I also had another guest. Bob Quinn talked about all the fruit he grows on his farm, and all the different berries, and fruit he grows. You need to find your local foods.

I’m not saying everyone should not eat a banana.

I think there’s a big problem, I love bananas too!  But there are lots more options then people think.

I do feel, this is something I was saying to my friend, documentation

My friend Marisa’s brother was growing peaches in Missoula too!

My friend had a peach tree, it was just churning them out!

We grew cantaloupes and watermelons, this year we never grew. I also learned about how much variety counts. Robin Kelson down in Whitefish has the Good Seed Company down. 

Dr. Lingneck, the place that’s seen the most change in the US, is the east coast has seen so much rain! Have you noticed it’s been super wet and harder to grow a garden?

WE need to take better notes on the weather patterns, the beginning of the summers are cold and

colder progressing,

I never had the difficulty. I grow tomatoes every year. I’m pretty used to knowing how they do. and it was really just cold, wet, long spring! Most people’s tomatoes and peppers, a lot of people’s dies, and they ended up putting in new transplants, it was not ideal, nobody’s tomatoes and peppers did excellent. They were definitely stunted if you planted early. Lesson for next year at least on the east coast, in my zone, definitely wait to plant tomatoes! Tomatoes and peppers you should be patient. I told everyone at the garden, I don’t want to grow a lot of tomatoes and we ended up with 24 plants and I was like How did this happen?

my initial design was to only grow only 4 tomatoes plants,

we ended up with a whole 4×4 bed! It was a constant struggle to keep them upright!

 Tomatoes are good barometer! Everybody grows tomatoes! You can really compare notes from people from year to year you can keep track

I recommend not growing a whole bunch of tomatoes unless you are up for the challenge. So

cherry tomatoes are a lot easier

They get ripe quicker, they’re fun, you go to the garden, once they’re ready!

I gave some to my neighbor a  little girl to grow some plants, and some basil and verbena! Her tomatoes killed my tomatoes! This little girl! She did amazing with it!

smaller variety of tomatoes

anyone can grow

The larger ones, you need to spend time with to get it to grow correctly.

What tips can you give us.

Tomato Tips

First off, wait till it’s warm, do not rush to plant tomatoes! I think that’s the number one mistake. If you can start a seed indoors, don’t start from seed unless you have a really long season, it’s not gonna work.

2. Ideally start it yourself, in your little micro climate

3. Definitely. Wait to stake it, until it begins to show signs of tipping.

So many different ways to do it. Bamboo stakes. I don’t really like tomatoes cages, the metal cage cuts off the circulation of the plant. The metal cage kind of chokes the plant and you can see the signs of damage.

I like nylon netting, kind of like volleyball net. from the nursery. You can do a couple of different things. You can take a net down the center,

basically  able to open the net and then  tie it back up around the base of the tomato plant. I don’t know if you know about topping plants?

apical meristems

if you prune that off, you will get 2, so you will increase the surface area of your platn,

if you don’t prune the meristem, you will get one long shoot that will branch out, once it starts to front it will produce more branches, if you pinch it off or cut it off with some scissors, you’ll get 2 shoots which will become 4

you can spread that out over a net, you can lay the plant open on the net, you can increase the surface, and the amount of light you can get, with a lot less plants you can grow a lot more that way

also nurseries

more production style,

determininent and inderteminatnet varieties of tomatoes.

variety,

you continue to sucker them, take of the pre-flowers,

they will keep growing vertically, once the tomato sets, before you start to see tomatoes/fruit setting, there’s plant collars, you can just use string, you can tie it up a tall pole, you can suspend it from the top, and then keep moving the rope and moving the collar upwards as it grows vertically.

Imainge it as f you grew some beans, and you didn’t grow it on a trellis you just had one string that you tied to the tip of the plant. And you continually grow it upward, you just suspend it, it’s the opposite of staking it, more like suspension.

That’s indeterminate those can grow very tall, I’ve seen them 7-8 feet tall.

There’s some interesting ways to grow tomatoes

Indeterminate varieties are good for growing a lot of tomatoes

I like nylon net instead of tomato cages, we just put in 4 posts around the bed, you can put the net in before you put the plant in and then guid the plant to grow up through the trellis. I think it’s neat, there are lots of different ways grow.

Determinents do they taste better? or something?

Determinient, its highly subjective, they are grown in a greenhouse. Indetermient   are definitely grown for your yeild, and in a greenohouse,

if you want to show off,

Gonna be a larger tomatoes and will produce more tomatoes throughout the course of the season. If you follow the steps, you will get a larger yield.

Determined have a certain height., once they start to produce fruit they

Indetermineitly they will grow, almost indefinitely, as long as you provide the space

That’s a great way to explain it. Determined have a certain height

Kind of like when you pinch off a basil plant? When my basil plant first starts to grow, if I pinch off two leaves two more stems grow.

Tomatoes don’t grow the same way a basil plant grows.

When you pinch a plant, the hormone, It inhibits lateral growth or side growth

anytime you pinch off those top two, it stops

Is there something you would do different next year or want to try/new?

Not necessarily in terms of plants or in the style of growing them, we’re trying to be productive in a small spcae.

Maybe grow greens underneath vertical spaces. One thing I’m wanting to try to grow passion flower, I grew some this year to make an overhang, provide a shaded area in the center of the glory using just plants. Kind of like a plant roof! I like morning glories and passion flow to grow vertically.  to fill in spaces and provide lots of growth in the garden in spaces that are open.

Tell me about something that didn’t work so well this season.

Probably, it was ok, I was disappointed in how many we had and the struggle to grow so many tomatoes, the number of plants. I’m a perfectionist, it kind of drove me insane all the tomatoes to take care of. Don’t get overzealous about growing any one thing in the garden.

Something that you find is easy to grow and is generally successful every-time.

You gotta find the right variety that suits your growing style and environment. Pretty much be conscienscious of you

IDK how big listeners gardens are? Everyone talks about growing tomatoes in the garden. If you’re not experienced growing tomatoes, grow just a couple of plants. Grow 2 different varieties , grow a couple of different varieties, stick with one that you like, and then save your seeds, that’s bread for your garden.

I went to a seed saving workshop class. We’ve been saving a lot of seeds this year.

Something you would steer new gardeners away from that you find is typically challenging to grow in your climate.

I guess, I don’t want to talk about this too much, but I would just go back to tomatoes! Grow tomatoes, but don’t get over zealous about it. I guess be careful with growing melons, cucumbers, zucchini, definitely susceptible with powdery mildew around here. Pretty much every gardener I talked to, had poswerfy mildew on their leaves. I know they’re really easy to grow, you get nice large melons,

close to the ground, it’s really moist to  a trellis, some way to lift them off the ground, get them lifted off the dirt. don’t grow on the dirt.  I think that increases the powsery mildew and molds and rot.

Is it because of all the rain and moisture you’re getting on the Eastern Side?

We have humid summers in general

Lift your stuff off the ground if you can. I talked about the nylon nets, 

build a couple of posts that are about a foot tall and they will grow in that.

they will grow off the ground! You won’t have as many problems!

You don’t have to do that even, if you have a metal cage beware of rust, make sure it’s galvanized, be aware of what’s in your garden… Is it coated in chemicals?

You can spray your leaves with baking soda. You have to get your ph high, powdery mildew doesn’t like a high alkalinity surface. It will not grow on a high alkaline. I think a ph of 10? If you spray baking soda and milk and spray them before any kind of powdery mildew from starting in the first place. spray them preventatively.

Which activity is your least favorite activity to do in the garden.

Weeding. When you’re starting to grow a large amount of plants

experimenting with weed barriers. It’s harder to start from seed, like for lettuce., weed barrier doesn’t work then,

a cloth breathable material

put the weed barrier right above the top of your base of your plant where your root bulb would be … doesn’t let weeds grow up. Pretty nice, if you cover it back up through the soil.

Weeding I hate. It’s not bad in your home garden depending on the size of your garden. Maybe if you have a large scale maybe look into some weed barrier.

Because we lived for  along time with limited water, if you aim your water at the roots of your plants, but it’s also on the flip side, it takes a long time standing there watering.  We had the opposite of you, it was really dry here.

What is your favorite activity to do in the garden.

Probably eat, harvest and eat! What’s better then pick up some fresh seeds? fruits and put it right in your mouth?

fresh strawberries! Delicious!

I just like working in the exercise!

A couple of my guests said they like gardening crossfit!

The gardener’s crossfit games.

We;ve been thinking about a rodeo, but a gardening completion! How fun!

Gardening competition! wheelbarrows, turn the composter…

What is the best gardening advice you have  ever received?

Be patient. That’s what my grandpa would tell me. Plants don’t grow. You don’t typically see a lot of change overnight. Overwatering, it’s better to underwater then overwater, anything you’re doing in the garden, wait a day if your uncertain.

There is this short little window in the middle of the summer, it seems like the plants grow like 3 inches over night.

Provide that environment for that to happen. Don’t try to force it! You have to provide the right conditions.

A favorite tool that you like to use? If you had to move and could only take one tool with you what would it be.

Probably a shovel… A shovel’s pretty useful in a garden.

Go ahead and give us 2. What would be your other one?

Probably a rake. If you got a lot of garden you can turn soil over then rake out weeds, two pretty common activities that I do. So those are crucial to my garden wellness.

Eating or harvesting vegetables or fruit on time? 

As far as harvesting on time, just you have to eat it, pick it and eat it and see how it tastes! Don’t use visual so much as your mouth, is a better indicator then how it looks. In terms of preservation… Pressure cooker, I don’t do so much canning, I end up just giving my stuff away. I don’t really can very much.

My friend is really big into canning, he has stuff that tastes really good. He has fermented foods, too More of the taste for me. Just canning. If you have a big harvest and you don’t think you’re gonna eat it, info is out there on canning and stuff. It’s not too difficult. I know a lot of people pickle different things.

I have a friend who makes delicious cucumber water. Her blog is simply joesphine. My husband cans a lot of pickles. Holly from the Wisconsin Vegetable Gardener and Theresa Loe is the canning expert from PBS. Megan Cain’s book Super Easy Food Preserving. you can just freeze peppers.

A favorite recipe you like to cook from the garden?

I love fresh tomatoes. My mom’s 100% Italian. My family is extremely tomatoes, little crustini, good olive oil and tomatoes. I love to take some brie and crackers and eat.

A favorite internet resource?

I do like sharetheseeds.me It’s not so much your not necessarily typical vegetable plants, more like exotic plants. And you get karma points if you share more seeds yourself.

There’s a lot of tropical, people give a lot of plants

strange plants and cacti

not so terrible useful for your vegetable garden.

People have all different growing things. One listener talked about house plants, my brother in the suburbs doesn’t grow any vegetables, he talked about growing compost and native plants in his yard on Long Island. 

A favorite reading material-book, mag, blog/website etc you can recommend?

From a biology background I really like James Lovelock he created the Gaia theory a schientific theory that the earth is one living organism. He’s a real biologist, that works for NASA. He’s an atmospheric scientist,  basic planetary physiology looking at planets as self-regulating organisms, the whole thing is one organism not disconnected theories of parts, one entity. Seeing a scientist with peer reviewed research that’s rigorous. I feel like there’s something to it. It’s tough for us to see, because that we’re so small. I think that it’s  really important to realize that the whole planet is alive and what each and everyone of us does affects the whole and we should be aware if nothing else that is going on.

His books are Gaia and the Theory of the Living Planet

GaiaTheoryLivingPlanet

and his new one

GaiaANewLookGaia, A New Look at life on earth.

RoughRideToFuture

A Rough Ride to the Future coming out soon. They’re pretty easy to understand, there’s different levels, some are more complex geared towards people with a science background. I find it pretty easy to get into his stuff. Pretty entertaining, in light of finding water on Mars. James Lovelock is one of my favorite authors!

If you have a business to you have any advice for our listeners about how to sell extra produce or get started in the industry?

In terms of selling at the market, definitely go check out the competition, see what’s there, already. Are you gonna be able to compete? Do you want to compete? Do you want to shove out a farmer? Rather look at it as, is there a niche I can create instead of dominationg the competition? Try to create a friendly atmosphere rather then an adversarial one, that attitude alone will carry you pretty far.

In terms of creating a community garen, it’s about sustained efforts, if you have a good group of people, if you’re starting out from scratch don’t try to start a farm, start a few beds. Grow the garden and grow the community around it. Baby steps, patience. I’ve been schooled on.

Final question- if there was one change you would like to see to create a greener world what would it be? For example is there a charity or organization your passionate about or a project you would like to see put into action. What do you feel is the most crucial issue facing our planet in regards to the environment either in your local area or on a national or global scale?

Well, I would say, climate change is definitely the most relevant issue that people. I believe that your listeners are probably not in denial, it’s still hard to come to terms with it, it’s changes so slowly, but it’s hard to see that on a seasonal basis. I really think the changes are pollution and unnecessary waste.

Just going outside and just planting a garden! Whether yourself or at a community garden, surround yourself with like minded people. If you can even grow for yourslef, even one meal a day you’re taking enormous stress off the envrionment. How many gallons of gasoline get burned to come from South America to Detroit?

I don’t want people to feel guilty because that wont get anyone anywhere, but you need to think rationally about where you are sources your food from.  You are what you eat. I encourage people to go and start a garden and be involved in gardening. The most simple solution that everyone can do!

 I was gonna ask you in the beginning is how come you’re growing your tomatoes at home in pots?

I get bigger yields growing in pots, because they do dry out more, I can water them more and feed them more, so they grow more vigorously. So when it rains, and the ground gets soaked, so I can control the inputs, when Im growing for yield. It’s  a friendly competition, around here for me.  It’s easy to grow uniformally, tomatoes love sun. My background if I left it in the same spot there’s no where that all season long it will get the sun that it needs to get large, as large as I would like.

Those are great tips for people who maybe haven’t grown before.

It’s easier to look at that then a whole garden!

Do u have an inspiration tip or quote to help motivate our listeners to reach into that dirt and start their own garden?

I don’t really have an inspirational quote, my inspiration just comes from being in nature. Just go outside! Be around what is growing! How many living things are around you? The more living things around you the better quality of life.

How do we connect with you?

My organization email: dig.gardenwayne@gmail.com

 

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