The Volunteer Selection Process (VSP) for EMGs and a new location for this spring’s EMG training program!
By, Nate Walton MSUE Master Gardener Coordinator and Consumer Horticulture Program Instructor
I am happy to announce that this year’s (2020) MSU Extension Master Gardener training program is moving to be a little bit closer to Traverse City. We distributed an online survey this fall to find out where our pool of prospective trainees would prefer to hold the class this year and there was overwhelming support for a Traverse City location. I was able to reserve an event space at the Grand Traverse Regional Arts Campus (Leelanau Studios), which is located just north of TC at the intersection of Cherry Bend Rd. and M-22 in Elmwood Township. The classes will begin on Thursday March 5th and will continue every Thursday from 4 – 8 pm through June 14th.
Registration is open for this spring’s training program so please help to spread the word! The deadline to pay by check is February 11th and the volunteer application must be completed by February 21st so there is no time to waste. As you may be aware, the process to become an MSU Extension Master Gardener volunteer has changed in the last few years and these changes mean that prospective trainees have to begin the application process earlier than ever. When talking to potential applicants, I would recommend emphasizing that the program is first and foremost a volunteer service program. Extension Master Gardeners are trained to be out in Michigan’s communities, leading, teaching, and gardening alongside Michigan residents of all ages and all walks of life. Sometimes, this means working with vulnerable populations. To protect these people we serve, it is extremely important that all our MSU Extension Master Gardener Volunteers pass through a vetting or screening process. For Extension Master Gardener volunteers, the screening or Volunteer Selection Process (VSP) consists of 3 main components:
An electronic application, which is completed on a secure MSU Extension website. The application will include consent to background checks (national and state) and Sex Offender Registry checks.
References. The online application requires that you provide the names of 5 references (friends, EMGs, co-workers, etc.).
A face-to-face interview with a trained MSU Extension staff member (most likely with yours truly, Nate Walton). The volunteer interview is an opportunity, in a casual setting, for you and your EMG coordinator to learn more about you, your volunteer interests, and expectations of the program.
Starting in 2020, all currently certified EMG volunteers will be asked to complete the VSP as well. For certified EMGs who have not already completed the VSP, the process will be an abbreviated version of the process described above, but is essentially the same. The exact timeline for EMGs to begin the process is not yet determined, but you will be invited by email when it is time for you to begin the VSP. Let me know if you have any questions about the training program or the VSP. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 231-256-9888 (x323). We know how important your volunteer work is and we hope this process will improve the impact of that work. Your feedback and participation as always, is greatly appreciated!
By Whitney Miller, Advanced Extension Master Gardener
My husband and I had the pleasure of vacationing in Saint Lucia this October and were excited to experience the southern Caribbean and its lush foliage. What surprised me most was that nearly everything on the island is edible: cocoa, coconut, nutmeg, bananas, mango, papaya, ginger, breadnut, vanilla, and more. While most of these are not native, the variation of topography includes a volcano, rainforest, and beaches, which creates several soil types and ideal growing areas for the abundance of plants brought to the island via ship over the centuries. Imagine being a hungry sailor shipwrecked in Saint Lucia, and having success growing food!
According to www.plants.usda.gov, bananas fall under the genus Musa. There are several varieties, including “plantain bananas” and “dessert bananas”, among others, which are believed to have originated in the Southeast Asia. In the United States, we are mostly familiar with the Cavendish variety (dessert bananas). Some sites list bananas botanically as a berry, but https://www.bananalink.org.uk/all-about-bananas/ classifies them as an herb. This site clarifies things further:
“Banana plants are often mistaken for trees or palms – they are actually herbs. The banana is a perennial plant that replaces itself. Bananas do not grow from a seed but from a bulb or rhizome, and it takes 9 to 12 months from sowing a banana bulb to harvesting the fruit. The banana flower appears in the sixth or seventh month. Unlike other fruit like apples which have a growing season, bananas are available all year round.
Banana plants thrive in tropical regions where the average temperature is 80° F (27° C) and the yearly rainfall is between 78 and 98 inches. Most bananas exported are grown within 30 degrees either side of the equator. The plants need rich, dark and fertile soils with steady moisture in the air and ground and good drainage.”
In Saint Lucia, bananas grow very quickly thanks to the fertile soil and near perfect rainfall amounts. It takes exactly nine months for an immature plant to produce ripened fruit. The fruit grows in an upward direction, not downward like many may think. The main trunk is then cut to about 6 inches above the ground. The plant will then create a sucker which is allowed to grow and will produce again. Thus, the pattern is repeated for every plant every 9 months. After about 10 years, or when the space becomes full, the entire plant will be dug up and made into hog feed, and a new one planted (from a cutting). Some of the banana plants in the gardens are believed to be direct descendants of the first bananas on the island.
Once harvested, they are exported to several areas of the world via ship. Primarily, Saint Lucia provides bananas to England. According to https://www.bananalink.org.uk/all-about-bananas/, “The fruit is then transported to ports to be packed in refrigerated ships called reefers (bananas take between six and twelve days to get to the UK/Europe). In order to increase shelf life, they are transported at a temperature of 13.3°C, and require careful handling in order to prevent damage. Humidity, ventilation and temperature conditions are also carefully monitored in order to maintain quality.” Thus the bananas make it to grocery stores and into homes.
While vacationing is often a time of rest and relaxation, trips to new locations can introduce gardeners to new plants and growing cultures. Be sure to “go bananas” and discover new foods when you next travel.
Bananas in Saint Lucia, Photo by W. Miller
By Tamara Premo, EMG Trainee
Yesterday I received two seed catalogs and today my garden planning begins for next spring. Looking at all the new vegetables and perennials makes me antsy to start gardening again, but spring is months away. Not to worry….five years ago I learned how to start my gardening during the winter. It’s called Winter Sowing and gives me a head start on my planting by 3 or 4 weeks.
Winter Sowing is a cost-effective and low-maintenance way of starting plants for the garden. Creator of the winter-sowing method, Trudi Davidoff puts it in simple terms: starting plants outdoors, in winter. “Winter-sowing works with nature to prepare seeds for growth by providing the proper conditions to begin germination. While this may sound complicated, the only supplies needed are a recycled container that allows light through, soil, and seeds,” says Nicole Flowers-Kimmerle, horticulture educator with the University of Illinois Extension.
To begin, create your miniature greenhouse from recycled plastic containers. Milk jugs that allow light to penetrate work well. Experiment with the recyclable containers you have on hand.
Because the containers will collect snow and rain, add drainage holes in your mini-greenhouse. With a drill or utility knife, cut several holes into the bottom of the container. Cut around the milk jug below the bottom of the handle, without cutting the top of the container all the way off. Leave about a half an inch intact just below the handle. This section acts as a hinge to hold the container together.
Next, fill the bottom of the miniature greenhousewith potting soil. Moisten the soil and allow it to drain. The soil should have a moisture level like a damp sponge. Light and fluffy soil that drains well works best.
Fill the bottom with about 3″ of potting soil and plant seeds as directed on the packet, but you may plant closer together as you will be transplanting them as soon as they are large enough and the weather warms.
The container is now ready for seeds. Small seeds can be left on top of the soil, however larger seeds require more attention. Follow the instructions on the seed packet for planting depths of larger seeds. Make sure there is good contact between the seed and the soil. Replace the lid and secure with duct tape. Label the container with the date and the type of seed planted. Your small greenhouse container is ready to go outdoors. While the mini-greenhouses should receive sunlight and have exposure to rain and snow, they should be placed in an area that is safe from strong winds.
Remember to leave the cap off so snow and rain can get to your seedlings.
The temperature variation prepares the seeds for germination at the proper time. When the days begin to warm, seedlings will emerge. After emergence, open the container on sunny days, but close it at dusk to protect the seedlings from cold night temperatures. The seedlings naturally harden off and can be transplanted when soil temperatures reach proper levels. Cut flaps along the side of the miniature greenhouse to slide seedlings out. Divide the clump into pieces and plant as you would a store variety.
Wait to begin winter-sowing until January or February. If there is a warm spell, the seeds can germinate, but won’t be hardy enough to survive when temperatures fall. “Do your homework when choosing seeds,” Flowers-Kimmerle says. “Frost-tolerant flowers and vegetables such as petunias, cosmos, kale, broccoli, spinach, and Brussels sprouts successfully withstand the cold temperatures of early winter. Frost-sensitive species such as zinnias, tomatoes, and squash need to wait until the warmer temperatures of March or April before sowing using this method.” Winter sown seedlings grow into healthy, sturdy plants. Plants will be ready to thrive in the garden when spring arrives.
For more information about this topic, there is a very active Facebook group called “Winter Sowers” and a website at wintersown.org. Both have lists of annuals, perennials, native plants, and vegetables that are good candidates for this process.
I encourage you to give this method a try, it’s inexpensive and you’ll get a jump start on planting next season.
Native Grasses and General Update: MGANM September Meeting Notes
By, Nancy Larson, Extension Master Gardener
We had a friendly educational meeting September 3rd with five public guests and over thirty Master Gardeners present. Michele Worden, MGANM President, welcomed everyone and answered the question, “What do master gardeners do?” for our public guests. We educate; we beautify and improve our community; we work with youth in schools and fields; we assist MSU in their diagnostic clinic; we promote food security with assisting in food gardens, and we do volunteer management of various projects. Find out more about MG’s on-line at MGANM.org.
Michele introduced Lisa Hagerty our new newsletter editor. Lisa encouraged the MG’s to write articles to share with others about their science-based growing experiences.Michele also appealed to the group for nominations for the upcoming board election. In addition, Michelle told us there is a survey coming out soon that will help the board determine events and guests to schedule in the upcoming year. The survey will be asking members what they would like to see/hear about so our monthly meetings can be interesting and engaging. Michele indicated our record breaking event attendance in 2019 is because we asked for members interests.
Nate Walton, MSU Entomologist, announced that there are still plenty of volunteer project hours available. He advised us to check the VMS page daily for updates
Cheryl Gross, Plant It Wild President, introduced our guest speaker, Vern Stephens, owner of Designs By Nature in Laingsburg, MI, to talk about native grasses. Vern said he has a 30 year working history with native plants and specializes in MI eco-types. He has developed outreach programs to the north, south, east and west areas of the state; has created an on-line site for purchases of perennial garden starters; is looking forward to expanding his searching for native plants into the Detroit area; and has encouraged “NO USE” of neonic pesticides, as it stays in the plants for 2 years. Recommended Books: 1) “Bringing Nature Home” by Douglas Tallamy, 2) “Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide” by Lawrence Newcomb, 3) “The Tallgrass Restoration Handbook” by Stephen Packard & Cornelia Matee.
So, why use native grasses? Because of their roots. They have a deep root system, don’t need irrigation, once established, or fertilizer, attract insects & birds, make good nesting areas, and are good for grazing fields. Native grasses are wind pollinated so if you don’t want them to spread, remove their seed heads. Normal grass lawns have to be watered and fertilized, have short root systems, and have to be cut. Vern discussed ten different types of native grasses and provided live examples of them: Dunes grass, Prairie Drop Seed, Little Blue Stem, Big Blue Stem, Indian Grass, Bottle Brush grass, Side Oats, Grama Grass, Purple Love Grass, and Canada Rye Grass. He then talked about sedges. What’s the difference between grasses and sedges? Grass stems are round or flat while sedge stems are triangular. Sedges are solid, while grasses are hollow. Sedges are usually 3-ranked where they lie in three vertical planes along the stem. They both reproduce by seeds, can form clumps, and have a bloom season. Vern discussed and shared examples of five types of Sedges: Wood Sedge, Fox Sedge, Brown Sedge, Pennsylvania Sedge, and Plantain Leaved Sedge.
The program ended with Vern answering many questions. He also brought a large variety of native plants for us to “happily” purchase because we all know how we love to get into the dirt.
Landscaping for Our Friends the Bees, Butterflies and Beneficial Insects
By Nancy Popa, Extension Master Gardener
As lawns and hardscapes have increased, sources of nectar, pollen and shelter for bees, butterflies and beneficial insects (BBBI) have decreased, causing stress on these important insects (our friends). Our own yards can be an important source of nectar, pollen and shelter for BBBI if their needs are taken into account.
We have all seen entire neighborhoods of perfectly manicured lawns. Even if this landscape is aesthetic, it is unnatural and it does not support a healthy ecosystem. Your neighbors may object, depending upon where you live, but consider adding plants to your lawn like clover, black medic and even dandelions to provide nectar and pollen for BBBI. An even better idea is to shrink the lawn and add flowering annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees, which provide many benefits beyond what a lawn provides such as decreased use of fertilizer and herbicides, shade for home cooling, deep roots with filtration capabilities and of course, beauty. When you do this, make sure that you select plants that provide the nutrition and pollen needed by BBBI. Native plants are a great way to assure that the plants you have planted will provide the nutrition need by our native BBBI. When selecting plants always go by the scientific name, as common names are often confusing. For instance red salvia, the popular annual bedding plant, is not highly attractive to bees but blue salvia (Salvia farinacea), and several types of perennial salvia (Salvia nemorosa) have allure. Useful information about native plants can be found at Michigan State University Native Plants and Beneficial Insects website: www.nativeplants.msu.edu.
It is important to provide nectar and pollen throughout the year. Observe your yard and add plants that flower in the months when you have no flowers. If you were to plant Golden Alexander (Aizia aurea), Shrubby Cinquefoil (Potentilla fructose), Cup Plant (Silphium perfolatium) and Riddel’s Goldenrod (Salidago ridellii), you would be providing rich sources of nectar and pollen for BBBI in the months of June, July, August and September, respectively. When garden beds are designed, color, height and bloom time are usually considered. Think about adding a fourth dimension to your design criteria—importance to BBBI health.
Maintaining a healthy landscape will minimize the need for pesticides that have detrimental effects on BBBI. Planting the “right plant in the right place” is the first step to keeping a plant strong and resistant to infestation. The soil pH, soil type, sunlight and moisture are critical to strong plants. When selecting plants and trees, choose species that are not susceptible to disease and pests that will require control with insecticides and fungicides in order to remain healthy. Ash, elm, spruce and euonymus and examples of problem species.
It is never too late to get rid of bad performers and replace them with plants that the BBBIs will love.
Protecting and Enhancing Pollinators in Urban Landscapes for the US North Central Region. MSU Extension Bulletin E3314.
By Lisa Hagerty, MG Trainee and “The Real Dirt” Editor
When I think of spring, I think of new life and vibrant colors. Everything comes alive when temperatures rise and the snow finally melts. It is springtime when we begin to see our gardens and landscapes filled with beautiful flowers. Some people may not realize that some of those plants with earliest spring blossoms are planted the previous fall.
Now, here we are; temperatures have slowly creeped downward and fall is finally upon us. Although I am less eager to get my hands dirty in the fall, there is still work to do to prepare for the spring.
Of all the things we do in fall, planting bulbs is one of the most rewarding. Early spring blossoms bring a visual pleasure that warms the heart. For that matter, the bulbs we plant in the fall could give us that flowering warmth at springtime and into early summer. If you like to plant bulbs, you can even plant some types in the spring for a late summer bloom. Of course, this depends on the bulbs you choose to plant.
There are a few important things to consider when selecting the right flower bulbs such as bloom time, location, and soil condition. For the earliest blooms, you might choose Crocus, Snowdrops or Winter Aconite. They seem anxious to bust through the soil because as soon as the ground thaws, they begin flowering. If Iris is a flower you enjoy, be sure to select Iris Reticulata for an early spring bloom. Although you could also plant the Dutch Iris for blooms in the late spring if you love to have more Irises. Additional varieties of the Iris can even be planted for early and mid-summer blooms.
Selecting different bulbs for their different bloom seasons allows you to have flowers in your landscape from early spring into late summer. For instance, Daffodils and Tulips both have bulbs that will bloom in early spring and different bulbs that will bloom mid-spring. There is even a Tulip bulb that blooms late spring. Like the Iris, if you love Tulips, you could virtually plant all varieties to achieve staggering blooms, at least through the end of spring.
By late spring, trees are filling in with new leaves that might begin to create shade in your yard and inhibit some flowers from growing, due to lack of sun. You want to keep this in mind, as the early and mid-spring blooms will get different sunlight from late spring and early summer blooms that are in the same location. When selecting the right spot, you should also consider the condition of the soil. Bulbs will rot if planted in soggy soil that does not drain well. They thrive in rich, organic soil.
Now that your bulb selection is made and the location is decided, weeds should be removed and the soil should be loosened. According to Farmers Almanac, “when you are ready to plant, the general rule of thumb is to plant a bulb three times as deep as the bulb is tall, making sure the pointy part is facing upwards”.
Although the MSU article I found by Charles Schwartzkopf titled, The Power of Flowers—Maybe They’ve Got Something There is old, the helpful tips Schwarzkopf provides in his article still stand true. For instance, taking care to ensure the soil is not soggy, it “should be moist when the bulbs are planted or the roots may not initiate growth”. For fall planting, the best time is when the night temperature is between 40 and 50 degrees. No need to fertilize at the time of planting because the bulbs will go dormant in the winter. However, Schwartzkopf suggests you “fertilize in the spring when the leaves are growing”. The first sign of shoots appearing, indicates the roots are also growing and they need nutrients to thrive. Be sure to stop applying fertilizer once blooming begins because bulb growth will be inhibited otherwise. Once blooming begins, all that’s left to do is enjoy!
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!