Real Dirt

Steward – November 2017

Contents (Click on a title or scroll)

National Protecting Pollinators in Urban Landscapes Conference

May Farm Pasture Walk

It's a flurry of activity here at the Boardman River Nature Center today. Multiple species of bees are loving on the Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale)!

Posted by Master Gardener Association of Northwest Michigan on Sunday, September 10, 2017

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.

Nourish – November 2017

Contents (Click on a title or scroll)

Green Tomato Recipes

Alice Waters — A Revolutionary in Chef’s Clothing

Hudōr Ponos

Root Vegetable Storage


Green Tomato Recipes

Green Tomato Pie

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

Edible Schoolyard

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

A direct off-shoot of Edible Schoolyard is the Farm to School movement  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.

Local Roots and Connections

Some fun facts.  Groundworks has been bringing Farm to School to northern Michigan through a series of several programs since 2001.  Retired MSUE person and farmer Jim Bardenhagen has been active in this.

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.

Groundworks started Taste the Local Difference 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.

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

Hudōr Ponos

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.

Aeroponic System

Raft Style System

Photo by Einarspetz via Wikimedia Commons

Root Vegetable Storage

Bethany Thies, Master Gardener

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 (  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.

The beauty of root vegetables, though, is that with the right preparation they can be stored for months without any additional processing.  Here are some tips from the National Gardening Association ( and Mother Earth News (

Storage basics

  • 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.
  • If you have an unheated basement and some building skills, you can make a root cellar by partitioning off one corner, installing some insulation and a good, sound door.  This space should be adjacent to an outside wall so that it can be ventilated with fresh, cold air (you are basically creating a walk-in refrigerator).  For plans and how-to tips for building a full-size root cellar, see and
  • 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.

Beautify – November 2017

Bulb Planting 

Bulb Planting

Cheryl Gross, Advanced Master Gardener, Vice President MGANM

Before a gardener hangs up the trowel for the season, there is time to do one more task for spring blooming… plant bulbs!  Spring bulbs can offer a flower in melting snow or cheery color before perennials are up and budding.  November is the perfect time to add bulbs to the garden.

Design-wise, cluster bulbs for masses of color.  Remember that while we like rainbows in the sky, on the ground a mass of one color has greater impact and visual appeal.  Bulbs also come in a wide variety of blossom and bloom time.  Look for some early and late bloomers to keep flowers from early into late spring.  Because bulbs bloom earlier than perennials you may plant them very close to other plants or add annuals above them when they are spent.  The bulb blossoms will be finished just as other plants move to center stage.  Remember to retain the bulb greens as they nourish the bulb before doing dormant.  Cut back only as they begin to yellow.

As a general rule, large bulbs should be planted 8 inches deep; smaller bulbs 5 inches.  Bulbs require well-drained soil.  They tend to rot if planted in wet soil.  Squirrels also prefer some bulbs (such as tulips) over daffodils.  The same with deer.  Before you add bulbs to your garden give consideration to the moisture level and check out which rodent or mammal finds bulbs and blossoms tasty and which are dominate in your yard.

Give it a go.  Plant some bulbs.  Sit back and wait for a spring reward.  Like many plants in our gardens, they can be re-arranged and expanded NEXT fall after you evaluate the spring show!

Serve – November 2017

Suttons Bay Rain Garden workers, 2017. Photo by Village of Suttons Bay

Suttons Bay Rain Gardens Prepared for Winter

Ruth Steele-Walker, Advanced Master Gardener

Area Master Gardeners helped educate a group of about 40 community volunteers from the Montessori School “The Children’s House” at an October 20 clean-up of the rain gardens located throughout the Village of Suttons Bay.

The event gave those in attendance an opportunity to learn from MSU Extension Master Gardeners, who moved among the gardens offering weed identification, garden maintenance guidance and education on the many environmental benefits of rain gardens.  In addition, participants learned about the importance of flowering plants and native grasses for providing soil retention, support for pollinator populations, as well as food and habitat for songbirds.

The rain gardens were established in Suttons Bay in 2013 to help eliminate direct runoff from the village’s storm water system into Grand Traverse Bay.  Each year the village has 15-20 volunteers who are trained to and regularly care for the rain gardens.

Before this year’s fall clean-up and mulching began, volunteers from The Children’s House and the volunteer garden caretakers were treated to an educational presentation by Suttons Bay Village Manager Wally Delamater.  The presentation highlighted the history of the rain garden project and use of Michigan native plants.

While the ability to do a water quality testing follow-up has been hampered by budget constraints, since the gardens were installed Suttons Bay officials have seen noticeable changes in the water at the storm drains that empty into the bay.  Prior to the gardens’ installation plumes of debris and pollutant-filled run-off used to be seen entering the bay off the village’s marina park beach.

Black plumes of sediment running into Suttons Bay after a rain event. Photo by Village of Suttons Bay

In the photo taken in 2011 prior to installing the gardens, you can see a black plume spreading into the swimming area from the first flush of storm water.  Since the installation of the rain gardens and storm drain improvements there has not been a reoccurrence of those plumes, reports Delamater.   “In fact,” he says, “during routine storm events no storm water entering the system reaches the bay.”

So, not only are the gardens a beautiful additions to Suttons Bay’s downtown, they’re having a significant effect on the quality of the bay.  Thank you to all the volunteers who have helped to make this project such a success!

Working in the rain gardens, 2017. Photo by Village of Suttons Bay

Sidebar: Computer modeling done by The Watershed Center estimates that the rain gardens annually prevent one ton of sediment, six pounds of phosphorus and 42 pounds of nitrogen from entering Grand Traverse Bay.

To learn more about the Suttons Bay storm water project and rain gardens you can visit

News & Events – November 2017

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.


MGANM Volunteer Recognition Dinner

Sunday, November 5th, 2017, 1:00pm, Gilbert Lodge at Twin Lakes Park6800 North Long Lake Road, Traverse City, MI 49685. Join MSU Extension and MGANM as we celebrate another year of gardening. This event will encompass an speakers Dr. Duke Elsner and MG Coordinator Nate Walton, silent auction, light lunch, awards, and camaraderie.  Reservations required, $20 fee for members.

Boardman River Nature Center

DNR Wildlife Habitat Grant Public Work Bee

Wednesday, November 1, 9am – 4:30pm, East Creek Reserve, Mayfield Road, Traverse City, MI 49686

The Botanic Garden at Historic Barns Park

Gardens of England Tour

Sunday, November 12, 1pm – 3pm at the Visitor Center

Preparing Home Remedies & Teas

Saturday, November 18th from 1pm – 3pm at the Visitor Center

Winter Porch Pots Make-And-Take Class

Saturday, December 2nd, from 10am – 12pm

Register for free/fee classes on the BG website,,  through EventBrite.


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