Steward – Sep 2017

Worm Bin (also called vermicompost), photo by MG Trina Ball


by Kellie Parks, MG Trainee

OK, I confess.  I am a worm cheerleader.  When I see them whilst working in the garden, I encourage them, thank them, and bury them back in the dark.  Worms are free labor in the garden working with microorganism to make nutrient rich humus.

Many gardeners are backyard composters in the summer months, turning years of kitchen waste into a valuable, organic, soil amendment.  However, in our northern climate, microbe activity comes to a screeching halt when the thermometer drops.  And so too does composting.  On the other hand, we still generate kitchen waste and many simply toss it into the trash during the winter months.  What if, we in the North could compost kitchen waste all year long?

Vermicomposting, or composting with worms, can be accomplished inside in any season.  The basic ingredients are simple: a container, bedding, water, worms, and kitchen scraps.

    • The container can be a plastic or wooden bin.  An old dresser drawer can be a great site or dimension.  Keep indoors or in a heated garage in winter months.
    • Bedding is a recyclable itself; shredded newspapers.  Beware of too much office or junk mail as some of the inks can be toxic to worms.
    • Moisture content is similar to your outdoor compost pile, like a well wrung-out washcloth.
    • Worms should be red wigglers, Eisenia foetida, and can be sourced on-line, at a bait shop, or from a vermicomposting friend.  Volume of worms will depend upon your kitchen waste. Figure approximately one pound of worms for each half pound of food scraps per day.

Worms do best on a diet of fruit and vegetable peels and trimmings, crushed egg shells, coffee grounds, and tea bags.  Avoid onion, garlic, citrus, cruciferous, dairy, fats, oils, and meats.

Castings can be dried or steeped into tea and used on indoor and outdoor plants or mixed into potting soil.  While nutritious, castings are mild and will not burn or over- fertilize.

Be sure to keep the red wigglers contained as they can become aggressive in the soil.

For additional information, see Mary Appelhof’s book, “Worms Eat My Garbage, and the MSUE article:  http//

Master Gardener Coordinator’s Corner – Sep 2017

Contents (Click on a title or scroll)

Plant Identification

Powdery Mildews and Powdery Mil-Don’ts

Plant Identification

by Nate Walton, MSUE Master Gardener Coordinator, MSU Extension – Leelanau County

Epipactis helleborine. Photo from Minnesota Wildflowers

Have you seen this plant?  This is Epipactis helleborine, or helleborine, a terrestrial orchid that was introduced to Michigan from Europe sometime towards the end of the nineteenth century.  It has recently been reported as a problem weed in Michigan lawns and gardens.  It is quite a difficult weed to manage, so if it is in unwanted areas around your home you might want to take some measures to control it.

Removing the flower heads before they go to seed is a key control measure for this plant, so you’ll want to take care of it right away.  At my house in Traverse City, the helleborine started to bloom in July.  If you’d like to eradicate the plant altogether, digging it up roots and all is the recommended method.  However, the roots go deep and it will re-sprout from the rhizome if any pieces are left behind, so you will want to be thorough.

Photo by BerndH via Wikimedia Commons

For more information on identification and control of helleborine, read the MSUE article “Homeowners battling a weedy orchid invading lawns and flowerbeds,” which can be found at:


Powdery Mildews and Powdery Mil-Don’ts

Click on photo for enlarged image. Photo by Nate Walton

The high humidity this summer has made it a really good year for powdery mildew.  You have probably noticed a white coating with a powdery appearance on a variety of annuals and perennials this summer.  The powdery mildew pathogen is a fungus, so it’s related to mushroom producing fungi such as the Morchella spp. that produce morel mushrooms.  Unlike morels, however, the mycelia of powdery mildews do not grow in a network under the soil.  Instead, they grow over the upper surface of the plant leaves.

In the summer, this mycelium produces tiny spores (conidia) that give the leaf its white powdery appearance.  The spores can be spread from leaf to leaf or plant to plant by wind or splashing water.  Lucky for us, most powdery mildews are very host specific, so they will not spread from, for example, your rosebush to your lilac.

When powdery mildew is found on adjacent plants that are not closely related, it just means that both species are susceptible and that the conditions are right for mildew in that location.  Choosing resistant varieties or growing susceptible varieties in locations with good air circulation and plenty of sunlight are some ways to prevent powdery mildew from gaining a foothold in your garden.  Also, avoid overhead irrigation and growing susceptible varieties (e.g. Monarda spp.) in crowded and/or shady areas.

Beginning in late summer, the powdery mildew pathogen starts to get ready for winter.  To do this, it forms a tiny black structure called a chasmothecium.  Chasmothecia show up as tiny black spots on the leaves infected with powdery mildew (see photo).  It is these chasmothecia that will produce fresh spores next year to reinfect the green foliage in the spring.  Removing and destroying the leaf litter under infested plants will help reduce the amount of powdery mildew attacking your garden next year.

If you would like more information on how to manage powdery mildew, read the MSUE article “P is for powdery mildew on ornamentals”, contact your local extension office, or call the MSUE garden hotline Monday through Friday from 9am to noon, and 1pm to 4pm.  The phone number for the hotline is 1-888-MSUE-4-MI (1-888-678-3464).  Thanks, and happy gardening!

Nourish – Sep 2017

Zucchini con Patate Recipe

by Kellie Parks, MG Trainee

This is the time of year when it seems we are all looking for new things to do with zucchini. Here is a super simple recipe I unearthed from the old 1975 Better Home and Gardens Heritage Cookbook. It comes from the Italian chapter, which highlights the delicious contributions that Italian immigrants have added to the American table. Some of you veggie growing readers might be able to pick nearly all the ingredients right out of your garden!

Zucchini con Patate

1 medium onion, sliced

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cups sliced zucchini

2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced

1 medium tomato, peeled and chopped

1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed

½ teaspoon salt

⅛ teaspoon pepper

Grated Parmesan cheese

In skillet, cook onion in oil until tender but not brown.  Stir in vegetables, oregano, salt and ⅛ teaspoon pepper. Cook, covered, till potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese. Serves 4.

Beautify – Sep 2017


The Beautiful Dahlia

by Kellie Parks, MG Trainee

Tenille Enger of Traverse City is an avid seed saver/collector, vegetable gardener and ornamental and cut flower grower. This year, her dahlias are absolutely stunning. The variation in shape, structure, and color are just fantastic. Her newest beds have been filled with well-composted horse manure, and she gives the tubers a handful of bone meal when planting. Her ‘girls’ are fertilized with fish emulsion a few times during the growing season.

Tenille has sourced her dahlias from a nearly a dozen places and has gleaned some growing/breed information from Steve McClaren, a secondgeneration dahlia grower/breeder whose father Bill McClaren wrote the book, “Encyclopedia of Dahlias’.

Tenille’s care for her plants is consistent and careful. You’ll find her out most evenings with her terrier, Clover, close by, looking for newly bloomed ‘friends’, checking for pests, and debudding the plants vigilantly to encourage long stems conducive to cut flowers. The joy found in the beauty of these flowers is evident and contagious!

Serve – Sep 2017

May Farm of Benzie County, MI. Photo by same

The May Farm Pollinator Project

Cheryl Gross, Advanced Master Gardener, Vice President MGANM, President Plant It Wild

The May Farm in Benzie County raises cattle, sheep and chickens on a rather small plot of rented land near the corners of Lobb and Graves roads in Frankfort, MI.  Farmer Paul May rents the pasture and installed electric fencing eight years ago.  The land was fallow and degraded.  Beginning slowly, animals were put on the land and moved section by section following a rotational grazing pattern.  Cattle and sheep graze the pasture and are moved daily to ‘fresh’ ground.  Broiler chickens follow helping to process the ruminant leavings and add their own.

Visiting Paul on the pasture requires a bit of time, especially if you catch him and he begins talking about the ‘result’ of rotational grazing. He is passionate about the web of life created between the soil, the plants, and the animals.  He is observing dramatic changes in the plants in the pasture.  The soil is improving, the plants are improving, the animals are growing better with the better nutrition, and the pasture is becoming more resilient.  As a result, the pasture can support more animals in smaller spaces.  The more compact the daily space, the greater impact on the plants and soil and the longer plant recovery time.

“Today’s “cute puppy” photo. Just after the daily afternoon move, everyone joyfully noshing on the “ice cream”. The forage is at it’s best in the afternoon, unless it’s nasty hot, and I try to size the paddocks so that they’re ready to eat, but not lacking. It’s not weight-loss camp, after all. And, with the beautiful timely rains we’ve had, there is plenty of feed. So, seriously, if you’re within reach, catch me for the afternoon move. It really is cool!”

-Paul May of May Farm via Facebook. Photo by same

I recently visited the pasture at the end of the day when it was time to move the animals.  The 20 cattle and 28 sheep begin to get in line when Paul shows up. They watch him carefully as he moves fencing, refills water barrels, and opens the ‘door’ to fresh clean pasture into which the animals rush.  Behind, they leave cow pies that are already being broken down by dung beetles and grazed plants ready to be nourished and regrow. 

The May Farm receives some funding from the USDA / NRCS for Paul’s farming practices.  A recent grant includes a requirement for establishing a pollinator garden outside of the pasture.  For the size of his pasture, the garden must be .3 of an acre or 13,068 square feet.  Because Paul’s head is into ruminate feed and soil building and animal raising, he asked Plant It Wild to help with the May Farm Pasture Pollinator Project.

A committee of three, two Master Gardeners and a third Plant It Wild member volunteered.  To date, we have researched and accumulated the information summarized below:

  • site evaluation for invasive plant species
  • site measurements for garden location between the pasture fence and road easement to capture 13,000 square feet
  • list of canopy, understory, shrub, forb, and grass plants best suited to dry, upland conditions
  • information on plant value to pollinators, larval hosts, birds, and the like
  • plant/seed sourcing possibilities and estimated costs
  • planting and seeding design
  • seeding method
  • pollinator shelter suggestions

We are aided in our work through the following sources:

  • Attracting Native Pollinators, The Xerces Society Guide, c 2011
  • Pollinators of Native Plants, Heather Holm, c 2014
  • Landscaping with Native Plants of Michigan, Lynn M. Steiner, c 2006
  • NRCS Lists of plants suitable for pollinator habitat (link)
  • Bringing Nature Home, Douglas Tallamy, c 2007

Paul May will have received a completed report from us by the end of August which will outline selected plants, a planting plan, optional plant sourcing, and more.  On October 14, the May Farm will host a Pasture Walk from 10am – 2pm.  All are welcome.  Paul will be educating the public on his farming practices and engaging his customers in his rotational grazing and environmentally beneficial farming practices.  Locally sourced food and May Farm meats will be served.   Plant It Wild and Master Gardeners will have an opportunity to present information on the pollinator project planned for the pasture edge to meet USDA and NRCS requirements.   

While our role is informational and advisory, gardeners cannot help but want to get dirty.  I suspect that Phyllis Robinson, MG, Joy Kennedy, and I will be on hand for at least part of the garden installation in September of 2018. 

Reversing the trend in pollinator and migratory bird decline is something everyone can do.  There are tremendous, timely resources available through bookstores, MSU, USDA and other on-line sources.  The most recent data shows that using straight native plant species is the MOST beneficial to the insects and birds we are trying to feed.  Plants from other continents and cultivars are not recommended for pollinator gardens.  Click here to see the May Farm Pollinator Report including the dry-upland plant list.


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