Bountiful Strawberries & Canning Tactics Prevail At Dandelion Haven

Germaine and Michelle Miller from the Buffalo-based urban farm tell us about overcoming soil issues and taking control of your own food supply.

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by Phillip MlynarJune 30, 2022
PHOTO: Dandelion Haven

“The strawberry harvest was incredible this year,” says Germaine Miller, who runs the Dandelion Haven urban homestead in Buffalo, New York, alongside Michelle Miller. “We harvested over 42 pounds of fruit in two 24 square-foot beds—our largest harvest ever!”

Miller adds that the strawberry bounty came in despite the little issue of a rabbit nest in one of the beds. A bunch of baby bunnies emerged during the harvest.

Running with an ethos of living simple and taking a do-it-yourself approach to growing food, the Dandelion Haven homestead also puts a healthy emphasis on incorporating canning and preservation techniques into the mix.

Taking time out from homestead duties, we spoke to Miller about the roots of Dandelion Haven. He discussed how they overcame soil issues stemming from an old house that was torn down on their land. We also got into the best ways to use strawberry crops.

From Small Hobby Garden to Urban Farm

 

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Recapping the origin story of Dandelion Haven, Miller says that he and Michelle had always been keen to grow things on their apartment patio. But coming across a work share program at a local farm during the 2009 recession elevated their interest to a new level.

“At the end of the season, we moved from New Jersey to upstate New York and carried the passion with us,” says Miller. “When we moved into our current home with a spacious yard we had mostly grass but experimented with various beds and containers to grow a few herbs and vegetables.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, the Millers focused even more on taking control of their own food supply.

“While unemployed and quarantined, we calculated what we needed to grow in order to eat for a year,” says Miller. “We used the funds we had to purchase lumber, a couple truckloads of composted horse manure and seeds. We built several raised beds, planted trees, ordered chickens and quail. For years we had read books and magazines like Hobby Farms long before we had a homestead. Now we could finally make practical application of what we learned.”

Overcoming Soil Issues

 

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When it comes to issues specific to farming in an urban environment, Miller says that the biggest early challenge was the soil.

“According to property records, our garden is where a house was torn down decades ago and backfilled,” he explains. “We never felt comfortable growing food directly in the ground and when we did, soil compaction or debris limited growth. We tried growing in kiddie pools, grow bags and buckets.”

These days, Dandelion Haven is based around a combination of raised beds, garden tables and trellises. “We fill our beds with soil that we make using the compost from our chickens and quail,” says Miller. “The plants thrive in it.”


Read more: Soil fertility management gets your soil in shape.


Spotlight on Strawberries

 

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Focusing on this year’s bountiful strawberries, Miller says their favorite ways to use the harvest is to make jams, shrubs, syrups and flavored kombucha. They add them to pancakes and baked goods, along with freezing a bunch of them.

“Since we only eat our own homegrown strawberries and have to wait 12 months for them, having them fresh while still warm from the sunshine can’t be beat,” says Miller. “It’s also a special crop because they usually appear right around our wedding anniversary in June.”

Get into Canning

 

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Preserving the farm’s produce is a key part of running Dandelion Haven, even if canning might sometimes seem overwhelming at first.

“To first-time canners I would say try not to be intimidated by what looks like a complicated process,” says Michelle Miller. “Canning books, websites and experienced teachers on YouTube provide you with everything you need to get started and be a successful canner.”

Along with canning beans and corn, Miller also pinpoints tomatoes as a prime canning crop. “Tomatoes are a favorite. We use them to can sauce, salsa, soup, barbecue sauce and the most delicious ketchup.”


Read more: Learn the basics of pressure canning to preserve food.


The Value of Knowing Where Your Food Comes From

 

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When asked about the most satisfying part of running their own farm, the Millers say that it’s a mix of being able grow produce that might be difficult to find (or is overpriced) in grocery stores along with the reassurance of knowing exactly what is going into their meals.

“Reading, deciphering and trusting labels is exhausting. So growing our own food allows us to know where our food comes from. That is comforting. The return on our investment of time and money is unmatched because we are provided with enough to feed ourselves and share with friends and family!”

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