Volunteers: Keep a list of volunteers who have expressed an interest in contributing to the Real Dirt. Solicit volunteers in the MG Trainee Class and at MGANM Monthly meetings.
The Process: The Real Dirt is published 6 times per year, January, March, May, July, September, and November.
Draft an email on the first of the month before the next edition to solicit contributors. I often brainstormed topics that might be of interest in the upcoming 2 months. For Example, On December 1 I might suggest: indoor plant care, growing herbs on the window sill, house plant dividing or fertilizing, Poinsettia or Christmas cactus care, good books to read on gardening, and the like. Contributors could grab a topic of interest to them or suggest what they might want to learn about… such as growing sprouts or plant lights. Decide whether to invite outsiders to contribute. Occasionally, we have had contributions from Brian Zimmerman, Duke Elsner, Emily Cook, and the like.
The first draft due date is on the 15th of the month. Nudges and reminders begin then. Second call for content, if needed. Share all articles for editing by others. Remind President of the letter to be included and the Coordinator of an article.
Begin reading contributed articles and suggesting wording changes. Discuss with the writer via email or phone call. Send to Bethany for grammatical review.
By the 20th, begin cutting and pasting articles into the Real Dirt format.
Write article intros. Final content assembly. Often pictures are sent separately to Whitney. Send content to all committee members for a final edit to catch any glaring errors. Sent Final, FINAL to Whitney. Ideally allowing 5-7 days for her to load.
Whitney will test the email. I check every link to ensure that each one goes where it is intended. We discuss final issues on spacing, color, pictures, etc.
Whitney schedules the finished product email blast for 12:01 am on the 1st.
I have been very proud of the quality of the information made available through the Real Dirt. As we are all volunteers, there are never any problems. If we can’t blast on the 1st, we get to it as soon as possible. If a regular contributor needs a break, they take it. If we are short on content (really only happened once), I write more. We do not judge or rate contributors writing, we only work together to improve the readability and accuracy. Accuracy of the content is very important as it is with all we do as Master Gardeners. We have not published the recipe for weed killing with vinegar because it has not been verified through research. That may be the most important job of the editor. Knowing enough about the content to know when it is accurate…. or being willing to look into topics before approving the content.
It has been lovely working with all of the contributors and I have enjoyed it very much.
by Barbara Fasulo-Emmott, Advanced Extension Master Gardener
My 35-foot spruce tree was diagnosed at the Michigan State Cooperative Extension office on Front Street with both needle cast disease and canker disease in late summer. She was a magnificent specimen that provided some 34 years of calming, serene beauty at a home I call “my sanctuary.” I transplanted her from our downstate residence as a sapling over 30 years ago, and she flourished in our wooded setting next to a state forest. I questioned our MGANM Director/Coordinator, Nate Walton about the feasibility of bringing her indoors for the Christmas season. I was assured that her diseases would not negatively impact my houseplants or anybody living in our home.
My 7-year-old grandson and I started pruning off the lower 10 feet of branches and burning them in our fire pit. Thanksgiving weekend I decided to cut her down. I notched it and cut it with my chain saw about ¾ through when I realized if it didn’t fall where I expected, it could possibly take out the back deck on my house. Consequently, I went to Ace Hardware to purchase a weighted rope tool like I’ve seen the professionals use. Ace only had rope, and when I explained to the sales clerk what I needed, he insisted he’d come out the next morning to help and make sure I would be safe. He insisted there would be no charge and totally free. I kept saying “no, that’s not necessary…I can do it.” By the time I left the store, I had given him my phone number and he promised to call for directions after work and would be at my home at 8 a.m. the next morning before he returned to work.
To my surprise, he really did call for directions and sounded serious about coming out to help, so I baked date nut bread and chocolate cookies for him. At 7:45 a.m. I was outside, attaching my new rope to a round, orange extension cord holder and proceeded to repeatedly toss it in the air till I was able to get it over a branch midway up the tree. Then, attached it to a large neighboring tree at the edge of the woods. He arrived shortly after and adjusted the rope tighter for me. He said, “I think I’ll stand behind this other tree while you cut that one down”. I got my chain saw and finished cutting her down. She fell exactly where I planned. (Hurrah!) He then attached the rope from the tree to the undercarriage of his vehicle and pulled the tree up the hill to my driveway, where I dragged it to the bottom step of my porch. I was so grateful for his kindness and unsolicited help and I gave him the baked goods and a very sincere thank-you in return.
My three sons arrived for another grandson’s first birthday party the following week and all contributed to the tree being brought into the house. Michael brought the tree stand up out of storage, moved the sofa, love seat and two tables. Matt and David pulled it through the front door and put it in the stand. Matt cut a couple feet off the top where it was bending over at the vaulted ceiling. It was a family effort with help from a concerned stranger. Such a perfect ending for our dying tree to become a beautiful Christmas gift for the whole family.
Engage with Trees
by Nancy Denison Advanced Extension Master Gardener
I love the shapes of trees- -the gnarly trunks, branches stretched, standing straight or old and bent over. They are works of art. In the woods behind my house where I grew up were trees with metal labels with the name of the tree. I thought that was the coolest thing. Fortunately, in the past few years, the labels have been replaced, so those now walking through can begin to identify those towering beauties. Even with a basic knowledge of types of bark, leaves, seeds, and tree shape one can identify those unique or unfamiliar trees.
Let’s begin with a little bit of history. The first known land plant, Cooksonia, evolved around 430 million years ago. It was erect, with a green stem and a simple underground root system. Sixty million years later Archaeopteryx arrived. It was the first real tree with a root system, branches which produced buds and grew year after year- -possibly as long as 50 years. We now have over 80,000 different species of trees all over the world.
We know trees need water, minerals, nutrients, sunlight and warmth. Depending on the environment,
the tree will grow year round with periods of rest. Colder climes equal a longer rest or dormant period.
Location, shape, height, or leaves are just a few of the ways to determine the name or type of tree.
Trees can be spherical/round (White Oak), oval (Sugar Maple), conical (Spruce), columnar (Lombardy
Poplar), pyramidal (Pin Oak), V shaped (Hackberry), weeping (Willow), spreading deciduous or
coniferous (Japanese Maple, Yew).
source: “Trees-An Illustrated Identifier and Encyclopedia”
Bud leaves or scales are small, toughened leaves that remain on the branches after others have fallen.
Trees can be identified by the size, shape, color and arrangement of twig buds. They can be
Source: “Trees-An Illustrated Identifier and Encyclopedia”
Each leaf on a tree is like a mini power center which makes food (energy) the tree needs for living and growing. The smallest leaf is from an Arctic willow (Salix nivalis) which is about ¼”/5mm long. The largest is from the Raphis regalis, from the palm family Arecacae, which can be 82’/25.11m long by 10’/3m wide.
Leaves are classified as either simple, meaning one continuous shape, or compound, which are made up of many leaflets connected to one stem. Simple leaves may come in many shapes; round, heart shaped, oval, serrated, lobed or palmate. All leaves fall at about the same time from deciduous trees. Evergreen trees have leaves/needles all year long though they can fall throughout the year. The average evergreen keeps its leaves for three to five years. Needles are compact versions of simple leaves and also make food for the tree. They lose much less water than deciduous trees and can survive where water is limited, such as in the north where the ground is frozen for many months of the year.
Source: Familiar Trees of Michigan
Flowers are produced by most trees in the spring though some tropical trees can flower year round. It is easier to identify a tree with its flower. Species specific identification can be done by looking at color, number of petals (single or double), flower stalk length, flowers at the leaf axis or end of twig, and individual flowers or clusters.
Seeds/fruit help to identify trees best in the late summer or early fall. Some are well known from childhood such as the acorn or horse chestnut but the main types are the pod (honey locust), the nut/seed/burr (acorn, walnut) and the key/winged (maple, sycamore). Individual conifer seeds are encased in a cone which can be held for many years waiting for the right time to allow their release.
Source: Familiar Trees of Michigan
Bark is the tree’s skin. Its corky outer layer can protect the tree from humans and animals, disease, and forest fires. Below the outer bark is the phloem, a spongey layer of living cells. The cambium, just one layer of cells below the phloem, has living cells which constantly divide. When the cells are deprived of water, they die and as they die, they become the outer bark. As each layer is produced it pushes the previous year’s bark outward. The bark may start off smooth but will develop cracks, fissures and darken as it ages. Tree bark can be green, grey, brown, white, smooth, flakey, with deep or shallow ridges (vertical crests divided by intervening furrows), furrows (vertical grooves divided by narrow or wide ridges0, or fissures (regular or irregular, vertical or horizontal cracks or crevices).
Source: americanforest.org/The Language of Bark
I’m sure you’ll agree being able to recognize and identify trees as you travel, hike, or tour botanic gardens is a worthwhile goal. I was stunned by the camouflage colors of the rainbow eucalyptus trees I saw in Maui a few years back. So much so I have a large professionally photographed print of them hanging in my bedroom. What’s your favorite?
Burnie, David. Tree. London: Alfred Knopf Inc., 1988.
Neal, James. Familiar Trees of Michigan. MSU Cooperative Extension Service, 1982.
Russell, Tony and Cutler, Catherine. Trees, An Illustrated Identifier and Encyclopedia. Leicestershire: Hermes House, 2012.
Smith, Norman F. Michigan Trees Worth Knowing. Hillsdale, Michigan: Hillsdale Educational Publishers,
Symonds, George WD. The Tree Identification Book. New York: Quill, 1958.
Jay C Hayek, (2015). Identifying Trees by Bark and Bud (online). Department of Natural Resources and
Environmental Science, University of Illinois-Urbana. HayektreeID.pdf.
Michael Wojtech, (1-23-2013). The Language of Bark (online). www.americanforest.org.
by Cheryl Gross Advanced Extension Master Gardener
You have read the headlines about performance enhancing drugs in baseball and cycling. The improvements to performance are temporary and the dangers are significant. Well, homeowners have been engaged in “doping’” their lawns and gardens for years and don’t even realize it. Most lawn “care’” products- – fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides- -act a lot like performance enhancing drugs. They may make your lawn “look” better, but the results are temporary and the side effects are serious.
Any plant, whether a lawn or landscape bed, needs nutritious soil and the appropriate amount of sunlight and moisture to thrive. The soil is the “diet” of the plant. It needs good food. The nutritious soil comes from organic material. When we fertilize, we give it a vitamin at best and a steroid at worst. We do not really “feed” the plant for strength and vitality. A healthy lawn can compete fairly with the weeds and, for the most part, choke them out. A lawn on “steroids” can only compete as long as the grass plant has the chemical in its system.
Herbicides kill plants. Used selectively they can be very useful in eradicating nuisance or harmful plants, such as poison ivy, from our lawns or environment. Used broadly, they may miss the target and leave harmful chemicals in our yards to be spread to our kids, pets and tracked into our houses. We don’t fully know the affect these chemicals have on us, but there is plenty of research looking into it.
Pesticides kill insects and animals. Again, there may be a place for selective pesticide use. However, broad use of pesticides may result in harming or killing beneficial insects and animals. How soon after application is it “safe” for a child to play or an animal to lie on a treated lawn? No one really knows.
While it is your decision to use lawn care services or do it yourself and follow a manufacturer’s step plan, have you considered where these chemicals go once applied to your lawn? They can both float on the breeze and runoff into our watershed. You and your neighbors breathe the chemical residue. The creeks, rivers, and lakes receive the excess. The plants and animals in the water are affected by the runoff. Before you invest in any lawn or garden chemical, stop and think about it. Does your lawn really need to have artificial vitality? Do a few weeds really cause such offense? Is killing a few insects worth the risk?
Instead, look into ways to improve your lawn and garden diet. Add composted organic material to feed your plants. Strengthen the entire ecosystem to encourage the plants you desire and discourage weeds. Use only targeted herbicides and pesticides and be sure they are worth the effort and expense. Finally, seek out organically friendly products that address your needs without contributing to problems downstream.
Help is out there. Contact your local conservation district, Master Gardeners, organic gardening center, or garden club. Learn more about weaning your yard from chemical dependency and protecting our environment.
Biochar is a natural high-carbon soil builder. As the name implies, “bio” represents a biological coating on a “char” particle produced in a low oxygen burn (pyrolysis). Biochar (Fig. 1) is much like charcoal but rather than purposed for fuel, it is created for use as an agricultural soil amendment. Biochar’s unique electrochemical properties and high surface area (Fig. 2) adsorbs nutrients and greenhouse gases, increases nutrient and water holding capacities, and provides habitat for a diversity of beneficial soil microbes. Biochar can be processed from many types of organic wastes.
While the name “biochar” was only coined in 2005, this material was used by Amazonian Indians as far back as 2500 years ago.
Figure 2: A microscopic view of biochar (deeproot.com)
A Spanish expedition In 1542 a Spanish expedition seeking gold and cinnamon put into the headwaters of the Amazon with a young Conquistador named Francisco de Orellana. On the way to the Pacific ocean, Orellana’s scribe, Friar Gaspar de Carvajal, recorded that the party encountered extensive and grand villages with ornate plazas, lush green fields, roads, and warehouses of stored exotic foods, corrals of turtles and manatees, ferocious warrior women, and tall warrior men painted black.
So remote was the Amazon, that by the time researchers of the late 19th century returned to the area there were no such villages. Carvajal’s writings were considered to be myth. Modern studies indicate that European-introduced diseases decimated the ancient civilizations by about 95 percent.
Since then geologists and archaeologists passed through the area in the 19th and 20th Centuries, found buried beneath the Amazon rain forest a soil called “Terra Preta” — Portuguese for “dark earth”. In 1874 a geology report by a Dr. Charles Hartt of Cornell described the terra preta soils as a “kitchen middens, created by 1000 kitchens over 1000 years”, indicating a loop of carbon recycling that returned refuse – cooking char, pottery shards, and bones– back into the soil to grow crops. Everything but the kitchen sink…
It wasn’t until after the advent of “soil science” in the 20th Century that more specific chemical and physical properties of terra preta were analyzed. In 1996, William Sombroek, a soil scientist from the Netherlands completed the first PhD thesis on terra preta, offering to the world the classic side by side photo of soil profiles (Figure 3.) with the dark, Anthropogenic or human-made terra preta next to the native tropical soil. The key ingredient Sombroek identified was the char, along with a host of diverse microbes that comprised the fertile, well-structured soil.
By contrast, the native tropical soils are highly weathered red clays, acidic, and lacking in organic matter and nutrients. The dark earth profile at over 15% organic matter enabled the cultivation of food crops that would not have been possible in the native soils. So while these civilizations that supported millions of Amazonian people disappeared, they may have left behind a soil solution to the carbon balance we now need for a sustainable future.
Northwest Michigan’s upland topsoils cleared for agriculture are typically 1-2 percent organic matter. They could easily become 3 to 5 percent with changes in management, including the addition of biochar.
Today, a high tech 21st Century worldwide biochar effort to improve the pyrolysis procedures, environmental monitoring, process engineering, marketing, and economics is underway. Education and public awareness remain a big factor for successful implementation of a future with appropriate biochar applications. Nearly 125 institutions worldwide are studying biochar, including 15 colleges and universities in the United States.
Figure 3: Native tropical soil on the left; terra preta on the right. (Dr. Wm Sombroek)
The International Biochar Initiative has successfully advocated for the inclusion of biochar into the proposed United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and at least 20 countries have supported the inclusion of biochar as a high-potential climate change mitigation and adaptation tool.
In 2018, Cool Terra, a U.S. company financed by Google, Exxon Mobil, JR Simplot, USDA, and others, are rolling out a high carbon, microbially inoculated, enhanced biochar. This product is the result of several years of filing 35 patents, field trials though Colorado State University and a California research firm. The granular product will provide farms, orchards, turf growers, and greenhouses with an incremental, high return soil amendment, that will help shift farms from the chemical treadmill to a more ecologically sustainable, set of soil building practices. This is just the beginning of biochar moving into the mainstream.
Other uses of biochar such as wastewater treatment, electrical cells, and hazardous material cleanup are being researched.
With our NW Michigan excess woody debris, a small fire, and a water source to douse the flames before the fire burns to ash, we can make biochar and make a difference in the carbon cycle and our local food. Figures 4 and 5 show results in my Northport garden in 2017 with biochar additions to 30 inches of depth.
There will be a two hour Biochar Workshop at Grow Benzie November 3, 2018 to introduce the process for NW Michigan gardeners and growers.
Biochar: be the change!
Figure 4: early leaf out on tomato transplants in biochar treated soil in Northport. (Started indoors and given to me by a Master Gardener here!)
As the shadows lengthen and days get shorter, we start to see some six-legged friends sneaking around our windows, eaves, and soffits. This seems like a good time for a reminder about just who some of these insects are, and how you can tell them apart.
The fall invaders are all just following their natural inclination to seek an out of the way resting place to spend the winter. Unfortunately for all parties involved, what happens next is anything but natural.
The exterior side walls of our structures provide a very attractive array of nooks and crannies for these critters. The problem is that these nooks and crannies often lead into the interiors of our human dwellings. Three of the most common insects that we find doing this in Michigan are Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, Box Elder Bug, and Western Conifer Seed Bug, and are all closely related insects in the insect order Hemiptera (true bugs).
Of these three, the newest to our area and most problematic by far is the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (BMSB). A great deal of information on identification and management of BMSB can be found on the website www.stopbmsb.org.
Keeping all three of these insects out of our structures can be a real challenge, but essentially consists of maintaining good seals around the exterior. Once they are in your house there is not much that you can do, other than remove them. Like many of the other insects in the order Hemiptera (True Bugs) these bugs have a piercing sucking mouthpart and they are capable of using it in self-defense. In other words, handle them with caution. They can be knocked into a bucket of soapy water, vacuumed up, or just left alone. Of these three insects, BMSB is the only one that is a garden or agricultural pest.
In case you are unsure whether the insects in your home are BMSB, I have prepared the following table and photo guide to help you tell them apart. The shape of their hind legs, overall body shape, and color can be used to differentiate these three fall invaders.
Brian has a captive audience during our pruning workshop at Four Seasons Nursery, 9/2/14. (photo by MG W. Miller)
Landscaping with Native Plants for Fall Color
by Nancy Denison, Advanced Extension Master Gardener
October 2 brought the energetic Brian Zimmerman from Four Season Nursery back for a run through colorful, native (mostly) plantings. He shared photos of trees, grasses, shrubs and some perennials and ferns that will add interest and color throughout the year. Larch, sugar maple, tulip tree, and black gum are a few of the trees mentioned. Shrubs included witch hazel, bearberry, ‘Gro-Low’ sumac (my personal favorite) and snowberry. Little and big bluestem grass, which I just saw at the Botanic Garden, looks awesome near the Gift Shop and I sure wish I could find a place for some in my own gardens!
I love how Brian reminds us of landscape design fundamentals such as function, pathways, water drainage, symmetry (or not), size and shape. Remember you are the artist, the landscape is always in flux and “nature is semi-controlled chaos”!
I think I can say we all love whenever and wherever Brian does a presentation- – we know we are going to get an ear full!
All native green roof located at the Boardman River Nature Center. Photo by Bob Grzesiak
State of the Green Roof
by Whitney Miller, Advanced Extension Master Gardener
This summer was a rough one for gardeners. Drought plagued us in June and July along with soaring temperatures. It was during this time that the MGANM green roof at the Boardman River Nature Center in Traverse City was put to the test.
Knowing that the roof had an average of 4” of growing media, and was fully exposed to the sun, we had selected for it native plants with shallow roots and drought tolerance. All were Michigan native plants that are quite drought tolerant.
But did it work?
Even in the best of circumstances, all gardens, even native ones, occasionally need a human to give them a drink when experiencing extreme drought. This summer I stretched that to the limit. There was a period of four weeks in the midst of this summer’s drought that I was not able to visit the roof and provide supplemental water. Yikes! When I visited in July, I had to apologize to the plants. Everything looked dead. The hairy beardtongue turned into dust when I looked at it. The coreopsis, which usually is blooming at that time, had turned brown and retreated into itself. There was no wild lupine to be seen, whereas there were at least 30 of them last year (I still can’t wrap my head around that one).
The only plant that was bright and happy was bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi). And I’ll be darned if that wasn’t the one plant that we struggled to get to take root last year. Oh, how the garden can give you surprises!
Fast forward to August. I waited another three weeks before watering the roof again (yikes again!). Things were looking roughly the same. The bearberry was holding strong, though I noted that the size of the plant has not grown since last year.
Finally, at the end of the summer, we got rain consistent enough that I didn’t have to worry about the roof. I visited in early September and noticed that the prairie smoke was looking a little more perky. Everything else looked like it was holding on.
The last week in September I visited again and this time had plans to spread a light, organic fertilizer as well as a light layer of mulch. I gave most of the plants a gentle tug to see if the roots were still holding. All but one was holding on tight! Much to my happiness, when I got on top of the roof I noticed that some of the coreopsis had sprouted new greenery. The New England asters also had new growth. And the prairie dropseed looked quite nice and fluffy. It seems native plants truly can handle some tough situations!
My plans for spring include removing the Pennsylvania sedge from the roof. Its performance on our roof has been lackluster and tends to look patchy- – almost like the scalp of a man’s head who just can’t let go of those last three hairs. I also intend to incorporate some wild petunia (Ruellia humilis), which looked quite happy in other gardens during the drought. If anyone has any extras, I’ll gladly accept!
Master Gardener Association of Northwest Michigan members make our world more beautiful by participating in gardening projects, educational programs, activities and CONNECTING A COMMUNITY OF GARDENERS THROUGH LEARNING!
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