Suttons Bay Rain Garden workers, 2017. Photo by Village of Suttons Bay
Get the Most Value Out of Your Time: Garden More!
by Nate Walton, Consumer Horticulture Program Instructor, MSUE-Leelanau County
Increasing technology in the workplace has its benefits…and its costs. One of the greatest costs, as I see it, is the devaluing of time. Technology allows us to accomplish more in a shorter period of time, which also means that more is expected of us for the same rate of pay. In many modern jobs, employees are paid based on the time spent at work rather than the value of their output. In addition, there is also an implicit (or even explicit) expectation that you should be “available” outside of normal work hours as well. The result of this combination is a perceived (or real) reduction in the value of our time. But do not despair! There is a solution.
Michigan’s Extension Master Gardener volunteer program is undergoing some changes in 2018 in order to meet the standards set by the Extension Master Gardener National Committee. Since its inception in 1972, the Extension Master Gardener (EMG) program has grown from a small volunteer program in a single state, to a program with over 90,000 volunteers in 49 states and 10 Canadian provinces. With this growth has arisen a need for the national entity to set standards that ensure the sustained growth and effectiveness of all state and county programs as they work to fulfill the EMG mission. Our Michigan EMG program meets or exceeds the majority of those standards with one exception: our annual hours required for re-certification.
In order to bring our state program in line with the minimum national standards, the Michigan EMG committee, with input from individual EMGs, EMG groups and EMG associations, will be increasing the annual volunteer and continuing education hours needed to re-certify by five hours each, effective January 1, 2018. This means that in order to re-certify next January (2019) all Michigan EMGs will need to complete and report in the VMS by Dec. 31, 2018, a minimum of 20 volunteer hours and 10 continuing education hours. MSUE staff and VMS Ambassadors will do our best to help you be successful in meeting these standards in 2018.
As you can see, your time spent gardening is still perceived as extremely valuable, so valuable in fact that we are asking for more of it! Gardening is an activity that, thankfully, has escaped many of the costs of modern technology. So this spring you can rejoice as you turn off your electronic devices and spend some valuable hours gardening and educating your community as a Master Gardener Volunteer!
2017 newly certified Master Gardeners
Master Gardener Coordinator’s Corner
Nate Walton, Consumer Horticulture Program Instructor, MSUE-Leelanau County
Looking back on 2017, for me it was a year of firsts. I had my first day on the job as your Master Gardener Coordinator on June 12th, my first visit to a biodynamic tea farm (Light of Day Organics) and the first MSU Extension Plant Diagnostic Clinic staffed by Master Gardeners in Benzie County! The list could go on and on, especially if I included some of the new EMG projects started this year. With a combined workforce of 123 certified EMGs and trainees, you all have really been working hard for positive change in our northern Lower Peninsula communities this year.
In recognition of all that you have accomplished, I also had the great pleasure of hosting my first EMG awards luncheon this year in partnership with MGANM. Highlights of the luncheon included the wonderful decorations by the MGANM decorations committee (chaired by Evelyn Laman), the silent auction with many unique items donated by local businesses and artisans and the deeelicious lunch catered by 9 Bean Rows of Suttons Bay.
During the awards ceremony, honors were bestowed upon Kelly Dillan, Sue Soderberg and Sue Warren, all of whom received their 500 hour pins this year!
-We also welcomed the newly certified EMGs Paula Ciccone, Sandy Coobac, Victor Dinsmore, Christine Koubek, Julia Page, Nancy Popa, Michael O’brien, Lori Piggot and Amy Tongue to our ranks.
-In addition, Joanne Johnsen, Becky Johnson and Glynis Waycaster were all recognized for achieving Advanced Master Gardener status.
– We also delivered well-deserved 250 hour pins to Sandra Clark, Michele Buday, Nancy Larson, Kathy Pilon, Lori Oberson, Judith Reich, Cynthia Sack, Steve Stephens and Marvin Walter.
-Ann McInnis was also recognized for the remarkable achievement of topping the 2500 hours mark this year!
-Our Master Gardeners of the Year this year were Tom Patton for Leelanau County, Sue Warren for Benzie County and Rebecca Mang for Grand Traverse County.
Let these happily hard-working EMGs be an inspiration to all of us as we move into the New Year!
Speaking of the New Year, 2018 is shaping up to be another great year for our local EMG program. We will be hosting an EMG training program at the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Center (March 8th – June 14th) on Thursday evenings (5:30 – 9:30 pm). Enrollment is open and can be accessed by following this link. Please tell your friends, family and neighbors about this exciting opportunity to join the Master Gardener Volunteer program! Also, let me know if you would be interested in helping out with the course in any way and/or if you would be interested in serving as a Mentor to a new trainee. Stay tuned for more ways to volunteer this winter/spring and in the meantime, have a great 2018!
by Michele Worden, Advanced Master Gardener, MGANM President
As I write this, the snow is falling so heavily that my dog was completely coated in a few moments when I let him outside. I can watch it accumulate with the naked eye. The temperature is dropping, and lake effect snow is making us homebound and humble. Winter is here. Time to light the fire,make some hot chocolate and read gardening books. Time to hibernate.
This is a good time to reflect on all we have accomplished this year. I am grateful to see all the wonderful and impactful work Master Gardeners have done to support their communities. I am so happy that we have a new coordinator in Nate Walton to support us. I am appreciative of the MGANM board that has worked so hard for the past two years, and very thankful for the incoming board members Peg Burman, Sue Newman and Whitney Miller. And please say thanks to Cheryl Gross when you see her for serving as Vice President for the past two years. But don’t worry, she is not going away. Cheryl will continueto serve as the editor of The Real Dirt. (We still have an open Director position on the board. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in serving.)
In addition,I am grateful to Ruth Steele-Walker and the board of the Michigan Master Gardener Association for walking us through the convoluted affiliation process. You can see a welcome letter and more information in this newsletter from Ruth. Last, I am very, very grateful to the volunteers who threw such a great party at the Volunteer Recognition Luncheon! Good food, good company and great prizes – both silent auction and door prizes! And the decorations were fabulous Evelyn!
This is a good time to map our future. There are changes on the horizon in 2018. MSU Extension is increasing the Master Gardener volunteer and education hour requirements raising our certification requirements to be consistent with other states. The Michigan Master Gardener Association will also be undergoing a strategic planning process this year. What input would you like to give them? What are your concerns and issues as Master Gardeners? Who are we as diverse individuals of this group called MGANM? How can MGANM best meet your needs? How can we grow and thrive? In 2018, we will be asking you these, and other questions. If you have a burning question you would like to ask, please email it email@example.com.
Marketing is important for impact. I know I have mentioned this before, but it’s worth mentioning again. We are hoping to improve Master Gardener visibility in the community by having everyone wear logo wear when they volunteer. Being visible means the public feels comfortable asking you questions (helps outreach), positively influences county governments that fund the MSUE MG program, and helps attract new trainees to the program by showing that we exist. You are our best advertising!
Logo wear can be purchased at the Oakland county website https://www.mgsocstore.com/. MGANM also has organized a one-size fits all cobbler apron order. We will have the ordering information at the January meeting. We need a minimum of 20 to order and they must be prepaid. The aprons go over the head with side ties and have handy pockets, with both MGANM and MSUE Master Gardener Volunteer logos. If you are interested in ordering, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stay warm; and enjoy a happy and healthy new year.
MMGA Welcome Letter
Dear Members of the Master Gardener Association of Northwest Michigan,
On behalf of the board of directors of the Michigan Master Gardener Association, I’d like to welcome the entire chapter to the MMGA. We’re delighted that MGANM members have chosen to become an affiliate chapter!
For those of you who don’t know the MMGA history, our organization was created in 2012 to assist Master Gardeners around the state. MMGA exists to provide a collective voice for Master Gardeners as we work collaboratively with Michigan State University to help us further the Master Gardener goal of educating others and to provide the peace of mind that comes with having liability insurance to cover any accidental injury you do to others while working at a Master Gardener project site or when giving advice.
We look forward to having MGANM as one of our affiliate chapters as we head into 2018. Thank you for joining the MMGA. Together we can continue to beautify our lovely state through volunteering and education.
Ruth Steele Walker
President, Michigan Master Gardener Association
Celebrating in Style
Michele Worden, Advanced Master Gardener, MGANM President
On November 5th we had record turnout at the Master Gardener Volunteer Recognition luncheon and the crowd was not disappointed. The decorations were superb. Twinkling light strings lent a festive air. A stunning table was set with bronze chargers and garlands sprinkled with walnuts and leaves. The table theme was native plants and several made lovely centerpieces. As always Eveyln Laman’s decorations create a party!
For the shopper there was a great selection. Denise Brown from the Oakland County society brought an enormous amount of logo wear as well as other fun logo items to purchase. My favorite was the water proof garden journal. She had fleece jackets and vests, all styles of shirts, totes, water bottles – you name it. Their store is online also.
We also had an amazing selection of items for the silent auction – everything from a Yen Yoga basket to a tour and tasting at the Grand Traverse Distillery plus succulent pots created by Master Gardeners and more. There was furious bidding and many happy customers. We raised over a thousand dollars for the scholarship fund from the silent auction. Many thanks to Lori Piggot for organizing this!
Before we settled down to listen to Duke and Nate talk about climate change and insects, we enjoyed a delicious lunch. Samuel, the chef from 9 bean Rows, did a great job. Everyone raved about the food. We enjoyed a rolled chicken dish with mushrooms, a harvest pasta dish, roasted vegetables in balsamic glaze, and a new greens salad from their hoop house. But the dessert as to die for – pumpkin cheesecake drizzled with caramel and sprinkled with candied walnuts and pomegranate seeds.
Of course, the highlight of the event was honoring our Master Gardener friends for their service. Welcome new trainees! And thank you all for your dedication and service to our communities! Pictures of everything can be found on our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/mganm.org/.
Below are some of the upcoming events offered in our area through our Association, the Boardman River Nature Center, Plant It Wild, and The Botanic Gardens at Historic Barns Park. Check each of their websites for even more summer fun. Most, if not all, of these events earn either education or volunteer hours.
National Protecting Pollinators in Urban Landscapes Conference
Cheryl Gross, Advanced Master Gardener, Vice President MGANM
The second conference on protecting pollinators in urban areas was held in Traverse City October 9-11, 2017. The conference is a joint project hosted by Michigan State University and North Carolina State University. In our current social climate, which demeans science and education, the conference was a breath of fresh air with a wealth of presenters explaining the latest research being conducted on pollinators and environmental health in urban areas.
Conference presentations included:
The importance of diversity in the pollinator population. Most of us can recognize the non-native honey bee which works hard commercially for large scale pollination. Many of also recognize the bumble bee. However, there are hundreds of bee species, almost 500 in Michigan alone. Some are specialist bees that are needed to pollinate specific plants; others are generalists. Keeping every species population at a robust level is crucial for pollinator survival.
How humans have changed the landscape with no consideration of the pollinator. Socially, culturally, and politically we have neglected all of these insects. Habitat loss is believed to be the number one negative effect on pollinators. What we think of insects and ‘bugs’ affect how we treat them and has a direct impact on their wellbeing. Butterflies and moths participate in pollination to a much lesser degree than bees, but remain important to discussions on habitat and ecosystem restoration in the urban landscape. Bees have been found to create creative and unusual nesting sites when a preferred area is lost.
Pesticides and IPM (integrated pest management) and their role in urban landscapes and pollinators. While this topic seemed strange and out of place in a pollinator conference, researchers and chemical company representatives explained how they see the role of pesticides in the urban landscape. Some attendees may have disagreed or been uncomfortable with the topic being presented and even the presenters may have recognized that they were speaking to a possibly hostile crowd. However, the presentations reflected that our culture demands that certain plants look a certain way, bugs be damned. If the line being walked is fine, the lesson is to read all labels very carefully and follow mixing and application instructions seriously. In turn, a minimal amount of product can be applied for the desired result.
Using vacant urban land to support pollinator diversity. As our urban areas grow, decline, and are reborn, there is always vacant land. Researchers are studying planting methods to support pollinators in all locations. Given the short distances that most pollinators are able to travel, creating corridors wherever possible may be a solution for robust population support. Habitat matters and having as much of it that can be imagined in urban areas can help. Also considered, was the warming of urban areas. Giving the change in the climate, urban areas warm faster than the countryside. Studying the effects of this urban warming trend may be able to help us define better methods of pollinator care.
The role of citizen scientists in pollinator protection. It was noted that there may be many things in our lives today: hurricanes, wildfires, political upheaval, and the like, over which we have no control. Supporting pollinators is not one of those things. Individually, we can have significant impact on protecting pollinators. If habitat loss is the number one threat, each and every one of us can improve insect habitat where we live. First, do no harm. Second, plant pollen and nectar plants in containers on a balcony or throughout a yard. Choose plants known to be beneficial, mostly those native to your area. Include plants that bloom across the season from very early in spring to late in the fall. Throughout the United States and Europe (a speaker from Paris), researchers are engaging young and old, school children and communities to observe the bees and wasps in their yards and on their plants. Count them. Learn to identify general species distinctions.
The conference was heavy on speakers and fast paced. As an attendee, I came away refreshed and hopeful that so many young scientists were all working to solve a critical problem of our time. Fully one-to-two thirds of the food we eat requires insect pollination and those pollinators are in serious decline. Yet, help is easily provided in the way in which each and every one of us gardens. Sure, the devil is in the details but in the end all we need are flowers.
May Farm of Benzie County, MI. Photo by same
May Farm Pasture Walk
Cheryl Gross, Advanced Master Gardener, Vice President MGANM
October 14 dawned gray and breezy with rain threatening. Yet, by 10am about 60 people had arrived at the May Farm Pasture at the corner of Lobb and Graves Roads in Frankfort to walk the pasture and hear from a half a dozen speakers. It was the May Farm Pasture Walk required by a USDA/NRCS grant.
Farmer Paul May practices rotational grazing with cattle, sheep and chickens on rented acreage. After eight years on the land, the changes in the soil quality, plant quality, insect presence, drought resistance, animal health and growth patterns, and ecosystem support is measurable. During the Walk, several speakers addressed the farming ecosystem.
Scott Hughey is the NRCS grant administrator. It is his job to work with farmers to improve farming practices. He spoke about the crisis in farming and the loss of small farms and farmers. The May Farm is an example of a ‘start-up’ farm. Further he talked about the soil and the value being built beneath our feet by May’s rotational grazing practices. Plants, manure, insects, rain fall, time…. repeat is a formula for building healthy soil.
Plant It Wild presented the design and seeding plan for a 13,000 square foot pollinator and wildlife habitat garden to be installed in 2018, another grant requirement.
MSUE’s Nate Walton talked about the insects, especially dung beetles and their role in cow pie decomposition and soil building.
Saving Bird’s Thru Habitat’s Kay Charter shared the value of rotational grazing and no-mowing practices to bird habitat. Each of us, especially farmers, can create swaths of habitat for migratory birds. A plaque of recognition was presented to Farmer May.
The Citizen’s Climate Lobby’s Kelly Lively spoke about the importance of supporting the work of farmers and others who are working to sequester carbon and reduce the harm of ‘traditional’ farming practices. She encouraged all of us to participate in supporting bi-lateral climate talks in our communities, our State and nationally.
Finally, Doug Carmichael, Farm Manager of the Savory Institute, MSU/Lake City Research Center, talked about farming practices that forgo the use of fertilizers to work with the plants and soil for best environmental practices to support clean water and environmental health.
The May Farm operates as a CSA. As they say, ‘you buy the animal; we do the chores’. Both Paul and Sharron May believe in living in ‘community’. Paul’s pasture walk was a clear demonstration of that. In addition to the diversity of speakers, chili lunch was served. That chili was made with locally sourced ingredients by a volunteer chef in the Trinity Lutheran Church kitchen and served by church friends and the Benzie Conservation District.
The rain held off so these interesting group of speakers who share a similar message could have their say. How we behave matters. The decisions we make every day can have a positive or negative effect. Our environment and the food we eat can work in concert for a healthier world.
Other farms are also required to host such events as a condition of grant funding so if you hear of one, head on over.
Recipe courtesy of Diana Rattray at The Spruce submitted by Kellie Parkes, Extension Master Gardener Trainee
6 to 8 medium green tomatoes
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon butter
Pastry for a 9-inch 2-crust pie
Mash the green tomatoes well; peel and slice.
In a saucepan, combine tomatoes with lemon juice, lemon zest, salt, and cinnamon. Cook the spiced tomato mixture over low heat, stirring frequently.
Combine sugar and cornstarch; stir into tomato mixture. Cook mixture until clear, stirring constantly. Add butter, remove from heat, and let stand until slightly cooled.
Line a 9-inch pie plate with pastry; pour in tomato mixture. Cover with top pastry, seal edges, crimp, and cut several small slits in crust to allow steam to escape.
Bake at 425 F for 35 to 45 minutes or until nicely browned. Serve warm or cooled
Green Tomato Soup
From the September 2004 issue of Gourmet magazine, submitted by Kellie Parks, Extension Master Gardener Trainee
Yield: Makes 4-6 servings
Active time: 25 min
Total Time: 45 min
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 oz thinly sliced Black Forest ham, chopped (1/2 cup)
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced scallions (from 1 bunch)
1 tablespoon chopped garlic (2 cloves)
1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf
2 lb green unripe tomatoes, chopped
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Garnish: sour cream (optional)
Heat oil in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat until hot but not smoking. Cook ham in oil, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Add scallions, garlic, and bay leaf and cook, stirring occasionally, until scallions are tender and lightly browned, 6 to 8 minutes.
Add tomatoes, broth, water, salt, and pepper and simmer, partially covered, until tomatoes are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Discard bay leaf and season soup with salt and pepper.
Alice Waters on stage with local chefs Jen & Eric
Alice Waters — A Revolutionary in Chef’s Clothing
Michele Worden, Advanced Master Gardener, MGANM President
I was very excited when I learned that Alice Waters, one of my heroes, was coming to town. She had a memoir out Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook and was going to be interviewed at the National Writer Series at the Opera House on September 24th.
Alice Waters has influenced us all, even if we might be unaware of it. Alice Waters’ work is closely tied with what Master Gardeners do and the mission of MSU Extension – educating the public about food, horticulture and sustainable agriculture. Alice is also personally tied to our region, even though she lives in California, because her sister lives in Leelanau county. Alice started a restaurant called Chef Panisse in Berkeley, CA in 1971. That was just the beginning….
When I heard she was coming I also thought ‘what a great way to spread the word about MGANM and the Master Gardener program’ by connecting with this event. Judy Reich, Nate Walton and myself manned an information table in the lobby of the Alice Waters event. (A big thanks to Ann Stanton who made this possible!) We were a small sponsor alongside larger sponsors Groundworks and Cherry Capital Foods. Pictures of the event can be found on our Facebook page.
I was lucky to have some time to chat with Alice. Waters has received numerous accolades, including Harvard Medical School’s Global Environmental Citizen Award. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and inductee of the French Legion of Honor. In 2015, President Obama awarded her the National Humanities Medal. Michelle Obama created a garden at the White House influenced by her. And the Dalai Lama eats at her restaurant…
My favorite quote of the evening was “Eating is a political act”. What we choose to eat means we are buying into the values that created that food. Food for thought.
MGANM secretary (2016-2017) Judy Reich at the Alice Waters event
I first became aware of Alice Waters when I agreed to take over my children’s Montessori elementary school garden and greenhouse. They handed me a set of books called “Edible Schoolyard”, and said they were trying to implement that program. I was fascinated.
It turns out Alice had first trained as a Montessori guide, which is a philosophy and worldview that seems pervasive in all her work. The Edible Schoolyard connects the cycle of food (growing, preparing food) with ethnobotany (cultural origin and uses of plants), and academic subjects such as math and science. It has become a national movement. Alice started a garden and a cooking program at a nearby underserved middle school in Berkley California over 20 years ago. She created something new and wonderful. This work continues through the Chef Panisse foundation and the EdibleSchoolyard.org.
A direct off-shoot of Edible Schoolyard is the Farm to School movement http://www.farmtoschool.org/and FoodCorps. Many, many children today have been positively impacted by her work. Alice was the keynote speaker at the American Horticultural Society Children and Youth Gardening Symposium in California a few years ago.
Nate Walton of MSUExtension and Judy Reich of MGANM
Slow Food Movement and Seasonal Eating
Alice is also very famous for her world renowned restaurant, Chef Panisse. Alice and Chef Panisse started so many trends with huge economic and health implications that I will mention just a few. Alice never trained as a chef but after living in France, she wanted to bring to her small restaurant what she remembered from France. In France, only the freshest ingredients were used. There was a wondrous variety of greens for salads, and produce fresh from the farmer, each season. Chez Panisse is famous for cooking local food seasonally. The menu changes daily based upon what is available. The cooking is simple, letting the quality of the ingredients speak. The Cooks House in Traverse City is modeled on Chez Panisse. This is why the owners of The Cooks House, Jennifer Blakeslee and Eric Patterson, were Waters’ interviewees at the Opera house.
Alice started her restaurant in the era of iceberg lettuce. She made salad greens sexy. She made the variety of greens for salads we see today possible. Unhappy with iceberg lettuce, Alice ordered greens seeds from France and asked her local farmers to grow things like arugula and other unheard of greens for her restaurant. Soon other restaurants in the San Francisco bay area copied her. Gourmet greens became a huge food fashion trend and thus the organic greens industry was born. Local Farmer Nic Welty says he makes more money selling gourmet greens than his heirloom tomatoes. They are a high value crop.
Alice’s desire to have the freshest ingredients led her to buy directly from farmers and list them in her restaurant. Does this sound familiar? Alice has written several books, one being “Slow Food” and “Simple Foods”. She is the architect of the Slow Food Movement, eating seasonally, and knowing where your food comes from – knowing your farmers. She is a big advocate for Sustainable Agriculture and the inspiration for the Foodie movement which is so much a part of Traverse Area. Think of her next time you eat a farm to table meal in an area restaurant. She is one of the sparks that ignited the Farm Markets trends.
Children in Benzie, Leelanau and Grand Traverse have had FoodCorp service members and Master Gardeners teaching students gardening and nutrition off and on since 2009. Currently they are working in Traverse Heights and Boyne Falls. Staff from Boyne Falls were trained at Edible Schoolyard in California this past summer. TBAISD has a Farm to School curriculum developed by FoodCorps and Master Gardeners on their website as a resource for teachers. http://farmtoschool.tbaisd.org/
Groundworks started Taste the Local Difference http://www.localdifference.org/ to promote access to local farmers produce at the farmers market, in schools and institutions, restaurants and grocery stores. Look for their signs in groceries stores to indicate local produce for sale. It’s hard to remember that not that long ago, local food was not in our grocery stores. The only apples we could get came from Washington State. All local food was sold to large industrial distributors.
Alice Waters encouraged and mentored her brother-in-law to make only organic bread from the best quality ingredients. Artisan bread. She told him people would buy it if he put in the quality. It was a new concept at the time. Thus was born Stone House bread in Traverse City. http://www.stonehousebread.com/
This is just a short list of some of Alice’s influence. The ripple of effect of her work continues to still expand and grow. Alice is not attention-seeking, but the next time you enjoy Butternut Squash soup and a spring greens salad, think about where it came from. Alice will be proud.
Hydroponics, photo by Michael O’Brien
Michael O’Brien, Extension Master Gardener Trainee
Ever put a plant cutting in a glass of water to root? Congratulations! That’s the first step towards creating a hydroponic garden. Hudōr ponos, in its Greek origin, means water-labor or working with water. Here in the U.S., Hudōr ponos was translated in 1937 to hydroponics. Although somewhat new to our country, the practice has been around for centuries.
In fact, legend has it hydroponics started as a labor of love. According to legend, in 600 B.C., King Nebuchadnezzar II built the Hanging Gardens of Babylon for his wife Queen Amytis because he knew how much she missed the valleys and green hills of her homeland in Media.
Throughout history, there have been many attempts to grow plants year round in an environment that protects them from the elements. For example, it is believed that the ancient Romans grew off-season cucumbers under transparent stones. Around the first century A.D. the Romans were building their form of a greenhouse to grow fresh vegetables and salads year round for the emperors. In the 1600s, urban farmers built fruit walls as one technique to grow Mediterranean fruits and vegetables as far north as England and the Netherlands. These massive walls would collect heat from the sun during the day and radiate the heat at night. In Europe during the 17th century, John Woodward was working with spearmint. The focus of his experiment was to grow the plant without soil. He discovered that the plants grew bigger and stronger without soil than conventionally. By the 1700’s the first “glass house” was built. These early greenhouses only had glass on one side of a sloping roof. Later in that same century glass was used on both sides. The glass house was used for fruit crops such as melons, grapes, peaches, strawberries; rarely for vegetable production.
In the United States, it was the government that became one of the early proponents of hydroponics. During WWII, the Pentagon was faced with the challenge of supplying food to the servicemen stationed in the Pacific. It was difficult to send food and many of the Islands were too rocky to grow food. They solved this problem by using hydroponic systems to produce the food needed to feed these soldiers and sailors.
The first time polyethylene was used to cover a greenhouse was in 1948 by Professor Emery Myers Emmert at the University of Kentucky. This was a big leap for hydroponics because plastic is less expensive than glass. The next hurdle that needed to be accomplished was creating a good growing medium and a quality nutrient solution for growing plants in water.
In many respects growing plants in a hydroponic system is similar to putting a plant cutting in a glass of water, and it can be that simple. It’s exciting to see seedlings growing into large robust plants. I enjoy hydroponics because I can make a system simple or as complicated as I want. An example of a simple system would be using a disposable aluminum roasting pan, plastic containers for the plants to sit in or net pots and a growing medium. An air-stone and an aquarium air pump can be used, though it’s optional. That would cost about fifteen dollars and last for a year or more.
Raft style system. Photo by Michael O’Brien
One-month old Bok Choy Brassica rapa subsp. chinensis. Photo by Michael O’Brien
Hydroponics at home
The three types of hydroponic systems that I am familiar with are the raft, ebb & flow, and aeroponic systems. The raft system, shown above, allows the plants to float in a container with just enough nutrient solution to wet the roots. This allows a nice balance between air and liquid.
In the ebb & flow system the plants are placed in a tube and the tube is on a slight angle. This allows the nutrients to flow past the roots and drain out of the lower end of the tube. Generally this cycling is set on a timer which creates the balance between the air and the solution. A similar system called flood & drain works on the same principles but is designed so an entire tank, rather than just a tube, fills with nutrient solution to a set level, and once the level has been achieved the entire tank empties.
What’s interesting about this system is that the drain tube is triggered by using physics. There is an automatic air bubble that is created in the drain tube when the tank is filling. That air bubble will continue to rise in the drain tube until it reaches what is called the “breaking point.” When the breaking point is reached gravity takes over and the drain tube creates a siphon which will drain all the water out of the tank. The solution is continuously drained out of the tank and by doing so it insures that the roots don’t drown.
It is important to keep in mind that even though the plants are in water, the water must have air added to it in some way to keep the water fresh and alive. Using a splashing effect when the solution returns to the reservoir will add air into the solution. An air bubbler is another way.
Another method that can be used would be the aeroponic system. This is an amazing system that I really enjoy working with. It is also used at the Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center in Florida. This technique uses the principle of spraying nutrient solution on the roots for a short period of time. The roots of the plants dangle in the air which creates the balance of air and solution water.
Through the advancement of technology there are many options available to use as a growing medium. There are special clay balls, peat moss cubes, coconut coir cubes, and all them will work quite well. People have even worked with old towels. It really boils down to a person’s preference and what works best. For more information on growing mediums click here.
A tomato seedling growing in a peat moss cube. Photo by Michael O’Brien
The food or nutrient that is added to your water is much more specific. Yes, plant food that is used for plants planted in soil will work for a very short time, but it is inappropriate and the plants will die off quickly. The nutrients used in hydroponics must mimic the qualities found in perfect soil. It includes micro-organisms and macro-organisms which are needed to keep the organic matter balanced.
The nutrient solution can also affect the pH of the water, so it is important to have a pH meter. For a good inexpensive pH meter, click here. The most common pH range is 5.8 to 6.8. This will allow the roots to absorb all of the nutrients needed to keep the plants healthy and strong. For more information on the relationship between pH and nutrients, click here.
When there’s a good balance between air and nutrient solution, plants will have lots of white roots, which means they’re healthy and strong. Plants grown in water have a different type of root than plants grown in soil. Plants grown in soil have very fine roots like hairs, whereas plants grown in water have thicker, more brittle roots. Also plants grown in a nutrient solution generally grow faster and bigger.
An example of healthy white roots from a plant growing in an aeroponic system. Photo by Michael O’Brien
Most hydroponic systems are indoors so it is also important to understand lighting and the effects it has on plants. There are many different types of lights available. Again, simple lighting will work or more specific requirements may be needed. The spectrum of light is a key factor to understand. Each spectrum triggers different responses from the plants—blue light induces vegetative growth, red light induces flowering.
In addition, light intensity – measured in degrees Kelvin — must also be considered. An example of this is the light intensity outdoors in June. The light is much different than in November. Growing plants in lighting that mimics June’s sunlight would create a lot of plant growth. The opposite is also true. If I wanted to get Poinsettias, Euphorbia pulcherrima, to bloom for December I would greatly reduce the time the plants receive light and the spectrum would be in the red range. I would choose a light spectrum in the range of 2500k to 3500k (k=kelvin), and I would lower the temperature in the room.
With improvements in fluorescent lighting, these systems can be economical and effective. Another positive point for fluorescent lighting is that they only give off a small amount of heat, so the lights can be placed closer to the plants. I use fluorescent lights, one blue and one red spectrum bulb, with good results.
In this article I am only touching on some of the important elements when working with hydroponics. If this sounds interesting to you, one book I would recommend is How-To Hydroponics by Keith Roberto. The internet is also a good source for information.
Below are links to an aeroponic system at the Epcot Center in Florida and one located in New Orleans. The other video is a demonstration on a raft style system.
Fall is harvest time and that is especially true for our cool-weather loving root vegetables. Although many root vegetables can be harvested throughout the growing season, autumn is the peak time for pulling such mealtime staples as carrots, rutabagas, turnips, potatoes, beets and onions. And while it can be very rewarding to harvest basket after basket of potatoes and onions, the question does arise this time of year: What am I going to do with all this produce?
Luckily for us, root vegetables can have a long shelf life if stored properly. In fact, fall’s cooler temperatures actually encourage root vegetables like beets, carrots and parsnips to store more sugars and less water, which in turn not only make them sweeter but also better keepers.
Of course, root vegetables can be preserved through traditional techniques such as canning, pickling, freezing, and dehydrating. The Michigan State University Extension website has numerous articles on the subject as well as a great online Home Food Preservation course (msue.anr.msu.edu/program/info/foodpreservation). This self-paced program covers such topics as “Preservation—The Basics,” “Jams and Jellies,” “Pickling,” “Preserving High-Acid Foods,” “Preserving Low-Acid Foods,” “Blanching and Freezing” and “Dehydrating.” Cost of the course is $10 and you can print a certificate upon completion.
It’s best to dig up root vegetables after two or three days of dry weather. While this might be a little difficult for us in Northern Michigan as of late, waiting until sunny skies has several benefits. First, the root crops will be dry and less likely to develop mold during storage. Also, by leaving them in the sun for a few hours after pulling, you’ll kill the root hairs, making the plant both dormant and allowing the soil on the roots to fall off more easily.
Never wash roots before you store them. Simply shake or brush off what dirt you can and cut any tops to about an inch. Wash the roots just before using them.
Only store the best roots. Those that are damaged by insects or harvesting should be eaten fresh. In addition, don’t ever clip off the bottom end of the root before you put it in storage. Any breaches in the root’s protective outer layer, either from injuries or clipping, will open the plant up to rot.
Certain root vegetables must be cured in order to keep well. For example, garlic and onions should be spread out in a dry, protected area and exposed to the sun for a week. Freshly harvested sweet potatoes should be cured in a warm, damp place—aim for 80–85°F and 90% humidity—to toughen their skins and encourage healing of small scratches. Curing white potatoes isn’t as essential as it is with sweet potatoes, but it’s a good idea to spread the spuds out in a shady, sheltered spot for a two-week skin-toughening period before storing. Remember sunlight will turn potatoes green and toxic.
Root cellar know-how
To stay crisp and fresh, root crops just need cool, moist, dark surroundings. Temperatures slightly above freezing are optimal. Traditionally, this has been accomplished with a root cellar. And as the name implies, the technique focused on storing root crops in an underground storage room or cellar. Many times these rooms were simply holes, with dirt walls and floors, dug under a building.
Today, most gardeners can approximate such conditions in an unheated corner of a basement or garage. The most important element is keeping an even, cold temperature. Variations up or down of even five degrees can cause new growth to sprout or rotting. So a bit of insulation can be key. Ventilation is also important to help keep mold from forming. The goal is cold and moist, not freezing and wet.
For those of us not willing or able to take on a construction project, there are other ways to create root cellar-like storage. For example, cured potatoes and other root vegetables can be placed in a burlap bag and tucked into a plastic storage bin left slightly open and stored in an unheated basement. Other suggestions include using an old dresser with the drawers partially open for ventilation for root veggie storage in a cool room, basement or unheated garage. Similarly, plastic laundry baskets lined with newspapers and the roots arranged in layers between more newspapers and then covered can also be used. Another technique often suggested is the insulated box method, where you start with a large box lined on the bottom, sides and top with several inches of sawdust or peat moss. Pack the roots in the sawdust and store the box in a cold place–your garage, back porch or an unheated spare room. Whenever you need some vegetables, just take them out and repack the sawdust around the rest.
When you do go to get your vegetables from storage be sure to check for any roots that may not be keeping as well others and cull them. Don’t worry if a few start to deteriorate; it happens. As long as you remove them, the rest will be all right.
And finally, if your vegetables freeze in storage, don’t panic, you can still use them. Once they’ve thawed, though, they won’t keep for more than a day or so.
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