Real Dirt

President’s Letter – January 2021

by Michele Worden, AEMG, MGANM PresidentHappy New Year

I am writing this letter to you during a snowstorm on Christmas Eve.  The snow is falling heavily outside my window and it will be a white Christmas.  

It is an opportune time to look back over the past year at the challenges we faced and the accomplishments we achieved.  It is also an ideal vantage point to look forward to things to come in 2021.  

In 2020, we started the year in-person, and we had some interesting and informative programs on herbs and plant diagnostics.  When the pandemic struck, we moved our events to Zoom and continued our Schedule.  (A review of 2020 can be found in the event video for the November 8th Volunteer Recognition Event (see meeting minutes article and video) We found that online, our attendance at events actually increased.  I believe that is because, like our tagline, we actually are “Connecting gardeners through Learning”.  During the pandemic, it is even more important to connect Master Gardeners with each other. 

 Furthering both the Association’s mission of both sharing MSUE scientifically based horticultural knowledge, AS WELL AS connecting Master Gardeners together through learning, we have a quality line-up of speakers for 2021.  We do need your help to make it happen though.

As the Association’s portfolio of responsibilities has grown over the years, we find that we need additional help outside of the board.  For example, we need members to step forward and join our programming committee.  Please get in touch with me. 

Many thanks to Molly Bacon who is our new Real Dirt Editor!  She is shepherding an enthusiastic group of talented gardeners, cum writers, to produce this e-Newsletter that features local content. 

Another activity I am excited about is our new Master Gardener Book Club.  What a great way to connect through the winter months and during the pandemic!  I am excited to start reading the first book, Uprooted: A Gardener Reflects on Beginning Again by Page Dickey, over break.  You can join by logging into the membership portal (Wild Apricot) from our website, going to your profile settings, and selecting the Committee “Garden Book Club”.  This will allow you to get emails about the book club. 

Fun fact – if you want to connect to your fellow MGANM members, you can find a directory of members in the portal.  You can even download the Wild apricot membership app to your phone and have the events and directory at your fingertips.  What could be more convenient? 

We have projects that the Association would like to pursue in 2021 and we need volunteers to make them happen.  For example, we would like to do an update of our website content and a committee to review the website and propose updates would be most welcome. Remember, volunteering for the Association qualifies for Volunteer Hours. 

As we close upon 2020, I look back and feel very grateful for all of you, and what you contribute to the community. Your spirit of giving back through service, sharing your knowledge, and contributing through horticulture makes the world a better place.  Thank you. 

I look forward to serving with you in 2021, on Zoom, in the garden, fields, and streams of Northwest lower Michigan.

Carpe Diem! And Happy New Year

Coordinator Corner – January 2021

by Nate Walton, MSU Extension Master Gardener Coordinator/Consumer Horticulture Program Instructor

MSU Extension hires new staff to support consumer horticulture programming in Northwest Lower Michigan!  MSU Extension Master Gardeners and residents of Michigan’s Northwest Lower Peninsula can look forward to additional support from MSU Extension next year, in the form of recently hired Consumer Horticulture Program Assistant, Wendy Bell. Wendy will be working part time to support the efforts of the local MSU Extension consumer horticulture program, which includes administration of the MSU Extension Master Gardener Program®.
A resident of Traverse City, Wendy was hired late in 2020, to assist with the Volunteer Selection Process (VSP) for certified MSU Extension Master Gardeners. Going forward, in 2021, her responsibilities will be expanded to include administrative support for the entire Leelanau/Benzie/Grand Traverse MSU Extension Master Gardener Volunteer roster. In addition, Wendy will be developing new educational program offerings from MSU Extension Consumer Horticulture, featuring MSU Extension Specialists, Extension Educators, as well as local educators. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for announcements from Wendy regarding these unique educational opportunities via your Volunteer Management System (VMS), program emails, and social media postings, in 2021.
At MSU Extension Consumer Horticulture, we are always open to suggestions, so if you have a topic that you would like to hear more about from MSU Extension, please let us know by email to Similarly, if you have a topic that you would like to develop into an educational program as part of your MSU Extension Master Gardener Volunteer service, please reach out to Wendy.
As we enter the New Year, many of you will have the opportunity to greet Wendy as she helps you navigate your annual re-certification for MSU Extension Master Gardener Volunteers beginning this month! When that opportunity arises, please join me in offering Wendy a warm welcome to MSU Extension!  Thank you as always for volunteering with MSU Extension, and I look forward to working with all of you in 2021 and for many years to come.

Hello From Your New The Real Dirt Editor

by Molly Bacon, EMG Trainee

Molly Bacon

For those of you that read the “call for contributors” email, you will know that I am a recent Master Gardener trainee having finished my training in Nate’s first virtual Master Gardener class in November.

Since I have other volunteer newsletter experience, your need for an editor and my need for volunteer hours was a perfect fit.  So, here I am. Though not living where most of you do in Northwest Michigan, I have some indirect long-standing roots in your area. Since my grandparents bought a home in Empire over 100 years ago there has been at least one and usually more of the Bacon family in residence.  My home is on a small, rural, 24-acre lake in the northwest corner of Gladwin County, south of Houghton Lake. We have been here full-time for over three years but purchased it 11 years ago for retirement. I grew up in Michigan, but my family moved to Southern California when I was 16. I loved gardening in California since it is almost non-stop. The time there contributed to my current love of growing citrus and a prior long stint of orchid growing. After 20 years in California, my job transferred me to Georgia. They have a long growing season, but that red Georgia clay is terrible for most in-ground gardening except for Azaleas, Camellias, and Holly, which grew beautifully. I ended up growing my veggies in large nursery pots. I did continue orchid and citrus growing in a 10’ x 12’ heated greenhouse. After 25 years of living in the South, I knew I had to retire “back home” in Michigan and am so glad I did though I am having to re-learn how to garden in the North.

I am married to Chris Brown, who is a lot of help with the “heavy” gardening chores I prefer not to do myself. This summer he did some great landscaping on his own and keeps the compost barrel turned. He also helped me with the pots of veggies. The rain that caused the dam failures a bit further east of us dumped 7” of rain in our small lake in 24 hours and flooded the lot where I’ve had my raised beds for the past three years. Fortunately, I brought those nursery pots from my Georgia gardening and had not transplanted any seedlings yet so I made a quick change in how I would be gardening for 2020. Fortunately, it worked out well.

I have a bachelor’s degree in Computer Information Science/Business Administration and spent most of my working career in IT, with the last 20-some years in IT Business Process Systems Analysis. Even though I am retired, I still spend a lot of time on computers.

Besides gardening, my other interests include our vintage motorhome and some other vintage cars, plus cooking and baking (my first 4-H blue ribbon), weather (National Weather Service Severe Weather Spotter and CoCoRHS volunteer measuring and mapping precipitation; rain, hail, and snow) finally rounding off with counting birds for Cornell University’s Winter Feeder Watch. Gee, what a crazy wild spectrum of interests. I also volunteer on the board of directors for the vintage motorhome and vehicle clubs, publish both organization’s newsletter and recently created and continue to maintain the website for the motorhome club.

Even with all this IT background, I would still love to have another “techie” comrade to work in collaboration with for the newsletter and website. Remember, “two heads are always better than one.” Whitney has done a great job, but it is time for her to focus on some other things in her life. If you have some computer knowledge and are interested, please let me know.

Please also consider joining the writing group.  The Real Dirt is a bi-monthly publication and you do not need to write for every issue.  

Contact me anytime at


Beautify – January 2021

Contents (Click on a title or scroll)


Finding happiness one bloom at a time

Keep your amaryllis growing for years

10 Things Nobody Tells You About Poinsettias

Botanic Garden Update


Finding happiness one bloom at a time

Reprinted with permission from Dixie SandbornMichigan State University Extension – originally published, December 8, 2020

Stuck at home? Bring a little bit of happiness to your life with flowers this Winter.

Many of us have been safe at home for many months. One way to make your homestay a little cheerier is to add flowers. A recent study published by Jeannette Haviland-Jones, PhD, reports that research now proves flowers have an immediate impact on happiness. A professor of psychology at Rutgers University, Haviland’s study reported participants felt less depressed, anxious, and agitated around flowers. This confirms a long–held belief about flowers, as Haviland noted, “Common sense tells us that flowers make us happy.” In other studies, it is also noted that workspace is positively affected when flowers are present, to which Haviland commented, “Flowers bring about positive feelings in those who enter a room.”

So how can you bring a little bit of happiness to your life with flowers this Winter? Cut flowers are always great, but there are also many flowering plant options available for gardeners as well. Flowering plants tend to be a better value as they last longer, some for many years.

Amaryllis are a great addition to any holiday décor.

During Winter months, forcing bulbs indoors is a great way to do some cold weather gardening. Easy Winter favorites that are readily available now include are Paperwhites (narcissus sp.) and Amaryllis. Paperwhites and Amaryllis are tropical bulbs and do not require a cold period. Both types are a great addition to any holiday décor.

African violets are another all-time favorite that does well indoors and can be easily propagated by leaf cuttings. The stem of the violet can be placed in water or in soil for easy rooting and many violets can be started from just one stem cutting. Start several at a time and pass the happiness around by sharing with friends and family!

Orchids are another great indoor plant that has become very popular in recent years. Orchids are a very affordable option, these flowers last weeks at a time, re-flower, require little care and come in a variety of interesting colors, shapes and sizes. As a result, orchids have become an all-around “go to” plant for all occasions.

These recommendations are not the only plants that will flourish inside this Winter. Potted miniature roses, holiday cactus, kalanchoes, periwinkles and primroses are also good options and can be transplanted to a semi-shady outdoor location this Spring. In addition, there are always interesting options at local grocery stores and box stores. Head to a retail location near you to see what new plants and varieties are available, as well as old favorites.

Michigan State University Extension encourages you to let the inner gardener in you nurture a plant during these Winter months. It will lift your spirits and bring happiness to those you live and work with!


Keep your amaryllis growing for years

By:  Dawn Chalker, AEMG

The amaryllis plant, originally from South Africa, produces beautiful, showy flowers to cheer up the Winter gloom.  Select a large, firm bulb.  Choose a pot that will be large enough to allow roots to grow and tall enough to provide support for a large bloom.  Plant it with one third of the bulb above the soil line, water it enough so that the roots are wet but not soggy and put it in a place with bright light.  If it dries out, give it a little more water.

It may seem slow to get started, but eventually it will produce a leaf or a bloom stalk. Each bulb seems to be different about which comes first.  Don’t worry, as it will eventually produce both.  When you see growth, the plant will enjoy Winter sun but doesn’t require it to bloom.  Water the bulb so it doesn’t dry out, but don’t keep it too wet so that the bulb rots.  When the flower blooms, it may require staking as blooms can be tall and heavy. 

Once your amaryllis has bloomed, it would be a shame to give up on it.  Just cut back the stalk of the bloom and treat it like a houseplant.  Some of the leaves will probably die back, but new ones will take their place and by Spring it will look green and healthy.

What your plant will prefer is for the pot to be put outside for the Summer in a sunny spot protected by the wind.  During a hot spell it may prefer partial shade.  Water it when it seems dry.  A key factor is to fertilize it regularly, biweekly works well, with an all-purpose plant food such as Miracle Gro.  Occasionally, one of the bulbs will decide to bloom again in the Summer.

Bring it inside before frost and stop watering and feeding it.  Let the foliage die back as you would Spring bulbs outside.  Some of bulbs are quite stubborn and seem to refuse to die back.  After the leaves have mostly died back, pull off the dead leaves, take the bulb out of the pot, shake off the dirt, and let it dry out.  Put it in an open sack or box and leave it in a basement or other cool place where it won’t freeze.  Check on it occasionally. (Michele Worden’s comments on what to check, “possibly a desiccated or moldy bulb.  Those are the two issues.  That is why I just leave them in the pot and put them in a paper bag and put them in a dark corner.  3 months later they will be growing.  If you are late checking on them, they will look like ghost plants – all white.  But they green up soon enough in the light)

Let the bulb rest for at least six weeks.  Repot it in a pot that gives the roots enough room to spread out a bit.  If the roots seem long, you can trim off the ends of some of them.  Once you have planted it, put it back in the place where it grew before. The length of time letting it rest can be coordinated with when you want it to bloom again, but if you wait too long to replant it, leaves may start shooting up without your help.

Often over the Summer, some bulbs will produce bulblets along the side.  If you want to create more plants, pull them off gently and plant them again when you replant their parents.  They get bigger quickly, but it may take a year or more before they bloom.  I have shared five over the years with friends and family and still have three from the original bulb. I traded one bulb with a neighbor, who also had started a bulblet, and now have two of another color.

Amaryllis are wonderful plants, forgiving of a bit of neglect and will continue to delight you year after year.  Using brief instructions from Downtown Home and Garden, a retailer in Ann Arbor, MI, I experimented to see what would work.  The above are guidelines, but your amaryllis will be in a different location than mine and you may have to adjust.  One advantage of keeping the same plant year after year is that you will become familiar with what it prefers.



10 Things Nobody Tells You About Poinsettias

Written By Michelle Slatalla  Published: December 21, 2020 on the Gardenista website

Shared by Molly Bacon, EMG Trainee

Michele Worden, our president, forwarded an email with a link to this article. I learned new information about the Poinsettia, to include the ‘i’ is not silent; I have always pronounced it incorrectly.  The one fact I did know and had experience with is their growth habits in nature. While living in Southern California, we had a Poinsettia growing on the side of the house. Every year, it would grow up to the roofline and have some spindly red and green leaves. Though many years ago, I still find this fascinating.   

Another informative article can be found at


Botanic Garden Update

By:  Karen Schmidt, Botanic Garden Coordinator

2020 was such a challenging year for our country – a terrible pandemic, divisive political issues, extreme storms, and other weather conditions.  With the stress of all these factors, the public found comfort, peace, and inspiration in the Botanic Garden.  Record nursery sales highlighted a renewed interest in home gardening, and that was reflected in visitors to the Botanic Garden as well.  People flocked to the Garden to walk the labyrinth, hike the trails, stroll around flower beds, practice yoga or tai chi on the lawns, picnic on the pavilion, meditate in the Secret Garden, read on a shady bench, or visit with friends.  The Garden was a safe outdoor place where visitors could maintain distance from others while enjoying the park.  Masks were a common sight.  2020 reinforced for us how important and how valuable public gardens are for a region.

There was a great deal of construction going on this Summer as well. The Sugar Maple Allée, with its tall native maple trees and 14’ wide beds and 10’ wide walkway, was extended all the way down to the new labyrinth.  A 150’ long circular garden was planted around the labyrinth, featuring Gingko biloba trees and medicinal perennials and shrubs as a component of the Healing Garden.  A beautiful new steel pergola was constructed over the Secret Garden and subtle landscape lighting installed in both the Stable Garden and Secret Garden, making it a magical place after dark.  A new Fairy House Trail was constructed in the Garden’s woodland and hundreds of native woodland flowers were planted along the trail. Thousands of Spring-blooming bulbs were planted this Fall in several of the gardens, and 28 trees and shrubs were installed. 

The largest project this Summer and Fall was the construction of new paved roads and parking lots throughout the park.  Old gravel roads were harvested and replaced with topsoil, seeded, and mulched, adding almost two and a half acres of new planting areas for the Botanic Garden.  The design of the new paved roads, along with berms, water retention swales and underground pipes allow for the capture of storm water run-off, redirecting it to the wetlands and preventing erosion and stream damage.   Thanks to the Traverse City Garfield Township Recreational Authority, the roads project has been transformational for the park!  If you haven’t seen it yet, you will be amazed and delighted. 

Although the Visitor Center is closed for the Winter and COVID keeps us from offering in-person classes and workshops, our Program Committee is working on a series of on-line classes.  November’s Make-And-Take Winter Porch Pot class was a real hit and there are more online offerings to come.  Check out our website,, and our Facebook Page for additional information.  A new feature on our website, under the ‘visit’ button, is our self-guided audio tour.  Whether you listen to it at home or on your phone as you walk the Garden, this audio tour will explain both the history of the site and the various features of each garden. 

2020 was a dark and challenging year for all of us, but there were rays of sunshine as well, and we have exciting new plans for the future.  Here is to a new year, where gardening and gardens continue to enrich our lives.


Nourish – January 2021

Contents (Click on a title or scroll)


Food of the Month:
Butternut Squash (Cucurbita moschata)

Roasted Butternut Squash, Onion and Apple Pizza

Will you be ready for seed starting?

Book Review

MGANM Garden Book Club


Food of the Month:
Butternut Squash (Cucurbita moschata)

By:  Jane Denay, EMG Trainee

Squash have a long relationship with human civilization, with seeds dating back 12,000 years ago found in Ecuadorian caves. In the Americas, squash was one of three primary crops, the other two being maize and beans. Known as the “Three Sisters” by the Iroquois, these crops worked symbiotically. The corn provided a growing structure for the climbing beans and the bean vines better rooted the corn to ground so the stalks were not as easily blown over or washed out. The beans fixed nitrogen in the soil to fertilize the corn and squash, especially since corn uses a lot of nitrates out of the soil. The squash vi

Butternut squash blossom

nes acted as living mulch to shade out weed plants and retain moisture in the soil, while the prickly stems deterred pests from “helping” with the harvest. When the three crops were eaten together, they provided a nutritional balance of carbohydrates, protein, healthy fats, and vitamins. The word “squash “comes from the Narragansett Native American word askutasquash, which mean “eaten raw or uncooked.”


The Cucurbit

Butternut squash grown vertically saves a lot of garden space and the vine has no difficulty supporting large fruit.

a moschata are the Winter squash. They are botanically distinct from the Summer squash. The moschata take longer to mature, have hard skins and their stems are round. Picking does not begin until after the vine decline. Allow them to cure in garden for two to three weeks before storing. Butternut squash will keep longer than other moschata, Winter squash, so use the others first. Store in a dry and dark place where the temperature is between 50 and 55°F. For prolonged storage, do not pile the squash more than two fruit deep. It is preferable, where space allows, to place the fruits in a single layer so that they do not touch each other. This arrangement minimizes the potential spread of rots. With proper storage they can keep 3-6 months.


For specific information on planting refer to your Extension Master Gardener Training Manual.

Squash Bee information:

Additional reference information:


Roasted Butternut Squash, Onion and Apple Pizza

By:  Jane Denay, EMG Trainee

You will likely not find this pizza on a restaurant menu, but you will find it in your garden or at this time in your root cellar. You will not find specific measurements as the construction is rather organic and up to you.

½ Butternut squash (or other Winter squash) peeled and chopped into ¼-½ inch cubes

1 small to medium onion coarsely chopped

1 apple large chopped (no need to peel as the peel adds nice color)

Gorgonzola cheese crumbled

Mozzarella cheese grated

Olive oil

Pizza dough for one pizza

Several handfuls of Arugula for serving

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  • On a cookie sheet, lightly drizzle olive oil over chopped butternut squash and onions
  • Roast at 400 degrees for 30-45 minutes stirring occasionally until squash is tender.
  • Put your pizza stone in the oven during roasting.
  • When squash and onions are tender, remove them and the pizza stone from the oven.
  • Turn heat up to 425 degrees.
  • Sprinkle cornmeal on hot pizza stone putting pizza dough on top of it.
  • Brush pizza dough with olive oil and sprinkle roasted butternut squash and onion over the crust, then apples, gorgonzola, and mozzarella cheeses.
  • Bake for 15-17 minutes
  • Sprinkle arugula on top of pizza for serving

Bon Appetit!

Will you be ready for seed starting?

By:  Molly Bacon, EMG Trainee

Along with the MGANM February presentation on seed starting, it would be a good idea to start preparing the items needed so you are ready to have fun, without scrambling around locating supplies, with seed starting. This is especially important if some items will need to be ordered and slower shipping times may happen. This year it appears that many more people became enthused about home gardening and I imagine they will try their hand at seed starting. Planning early is best so you do not get caught short.

Picture only for representation. No brands are being recommended.

The categories include:

Location: Your seedlings will take up some space for several weeks and moving them is not usually a good idea.

Containers: There are so many possibilities from formal seedling trays to Styrofoam cups and egg cartons.

Growing Medium: Appropriate seed starting mixes are critical and it is best to not reuse last year’s mixture.

Temperature: Since most seeds germinate quicker when the soil is consistently 70 degrees or higher (some need 80 to 85 degrees) you need to decide how to keep the seeds warm. Heat mats are a simple way to ensure the proper temperature but be careful since some are not temperature controlled and this can be a problem.

Moisture: Mini greenhouses can be accomplished with plastic wrap or a fancier dome over the containers. A spray bottle works well to not harm the seedlings.

Light: Once the seeds sprout the proper lighting will make the difference between sturdy seedlings and leggy/spindly seedlings. A shop-light fixture on a chain that can be raised/lowered is an inexpensive way to provide the correct light.

Fertilizer: Once your seedlings start to grow a quality, water-soluble fertilizer will give them the necessary nutrients.

Transplanting: Think about what containers should be the next step and what tools might be needed to move the seedlings without harm to them.

Seeds: This is the most fun since soon the various seed companies will start to send their catalogs. Going online is also a great way to start making choices. Making the selections and ordering early is a good idea, especially if there is a larger than usual amount of people ordering seeds this year.

Speaking of seeds, a good article from Joe Gardener, The Informed Seed Shopper: What to Know Before You Buy


Book Review

The Well-Gardened MIND: The Restorative Power of Nature

Author: Sue Stuart-Smith, Copyright: 2020, Published by: Scribner

Reviewed by:  Jane Denay, EMG Trainee

What brought you to gardening, what keeps you gardening, what inspires you to share your passion for gardening? In Sue Stewart-Smith’s The Well Gardened MIND: The Restorative Power of Nature you may frequently find yourself on her garden paths.

Stewart-Smith is a psychiatrist, gardener and student of literature who brings together life experiences with research exploring the relationship between our evolutionary brain, mental health, and gardening. She offers cultivation as an inward and outward activity that can make us whole. Prisoners given both opportunity and training to garden are less apt to reoffend. At risk youth, who are able to get their hands in soil, are more likely to stay in school. For the elderly, gardening provides a source of existential contemplation of the seasons of life and hope that a seed or bulb can provide. Through the eons, there is evidence that soldiers have been found to engage in gardening activities in conflict zones.  Thus, not surprisingly, those healing from illness, trauma and burn-out are able, transform their lives through the restorative power of gardening.

In reading The Well-Gardened MIND, you will be renewed in your own knowing that gardening is an activity in which “we can experience a different kind of knowing, one that is sensory and physical, and which stimulates the emotional, spiritual, and cognitive aspects of our being.” Master Gardeners will be validated in their projects that serve their communities through the generative power of gardening.

Stewart-Smith lives in Hertfordshire, England with her husband Tom Stuart-Smith, a celebrated garden designer, where they have created their phenomenal Barn Garden.

“To make some sense of life.

We’re neither pure, nor wise, nor good

We’ll do the best we know

We’ll build our house and chop our wood

And make our garden grow…

And make our garden grow.”

~ By Leonard Bernstein from Candide



MGANM Garden Book Club

We are excited to announce the beginning of the MGANM Garden Book Club beginning January 1, 2021.  The first selection is a wonderful book titled Uprooted:  A Gardener Reflects on Beginning Again by Page Dickey.  There will be a Zoom meeting near the end of January to discuss the book and have a little fun. 

 If you are interested, please log into and enter the Member’s Area.  Update your profi

le by selecting “Garden Book Club” under Committees”.  You will then start receiving 

emails and links to the Zoom discussion.  In the meantime, please get a copy of uprooted and start reading.  





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