This is the time of year when it seems we are all looking for new things to do with zucchini. Here is a super simple recipe I unearthed from the old 1975 Better Home and Gardens Heritage Cookbook. It comes from the Italian chapter, which highlights the delicious contributions that Italian immigrants have added to the American table. Some of you veggie growing readers might be able to pick nearly all the ingredients right outof your garden!
Zucchini con Patate
1 medium onion, sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups sliced zucchini
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
1 medium tomato, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
½ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon pepper
Grated Parmesan cheese
In skillet, cook onion in oil until tender but not brown.Stir in vegetables, oregano, salt and ⅛ teaspoon pepper. Cook, covered, till potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese. Serves 4.
On the Radar – July & AugustWater, weed, harvest, repeat.Our peas are coming in fast now at the end of June.Pick one day… and more are ready the very next.Summer squash is notorious for doubling in size over night to become baseball bat-like.Lettuce will be bolting soon, so harvest, eat and share all that you can.It is the curse of the vegetable gardener who plants energetically in spring and to be overwhelmed with produce in August!
byAnnette Kleinschmidt, Leelanau County MSU Extension Office Manager
The Leelanau Christian Neighbor’s (LCN) with the help of numerous Master Gardeners has constructed and planted 23 raised vegetable garden beds at their new location near Lake Leelanau. These gardens were planted by dedicated volunteers to grow food for their food pantry patrons, which they call “Neighbors.” The gardens look FANTASTIC! They are looking for a committed volunteer to oversee its growing and harvesting season. We have a great committee of folks and other MG volunteers to help weed and harvest (still need more!) but need someone to organize everyone. The only ‘criteria’ is that they have a knowledge, or at least passion, for vegetable gardening and can be organized. This isn’t a difficult role, just need a go-to person.
Are you the kind of person that likes to get your hands in rich soil – grow healthy produce – meet people with your interests – then join in the fun! They definitely need YOU!
On a related note, the LCN Garden will have TWO weekly work bees on Monday mornings from 9am – noon, and on Thursday evenings from 4pm – 7pm from now until the end of harvest in fall. They could always use more MG volunteers! This is a great opportunity to educate LCN volunteers on proper vegetable garden maintenance. If you can help during those times, you can just show up, or let myself (email@example.com), or Nate know, (firstname.lastname@example.org) – until we get a lead person, we’ll try to help in the interim! Even if you can only come for an hour, that helps! There are some gardening tools in the garage there, but bring your own gloves and hand tools if you can. The LCN garden is located at 7322 E Duck Lake Rd, Lake Leelanau, MI 49653.
Photo by Vegkitchen.com
Grow Your Own Nutritious and Healthy Wild Rice
by Sally Perkins, contributor
When did you last try wild rice? If the answer is either “never” or “not sure,” then it is high time you gave it a go. Not only does it have a far more interesting flavor than conventional white or brown rice, it is also vastly superior in terms of nutritional content. And what’s more, you could even try growing it yourself, right here in Michigan.
Looks and even names can be deceptive – wild rice is actually a type of grass, and is a completely different crop to ordinary rice, although it can be used and cooked in more or less the same way. Let’s take a closer look at the nutritional gains of eating wild rice, and why it is the ideal ingredient to include in family meals and snacks.
Boosts your immune system
One of the reasons that health experts get so enthusiastic about wild rice is that it is one of the best sources of antioxidants around, containing as much in one spoonful as you would get from an entire portion of white rice. This means it is great for keeping your heart, skin and general immune system in tip top condition.
Furthermore, it is high in phytonutrients, which have even been shown to guard against certain forms of cancer!
A great source of protein
Wild rice also has a higher protein content than other types of rice. And as it is suitable for people on grain free as well as gluten free diets, that can be great news for those who can find it hard to come up with foodstuffs that tick the boxes for both taste and nutrition.
Grow your own
You do not need acres of paddy fields to have a go at growing your own wild rice, but you do need a pond or some wetland space. The seed has to go through a cold dormancy period before it can germinate, so the best time to plant is in the fall.
The growing season is April to August, and your crop needs to be in mildly acidic water throughout. Wild rice will grow in a depth of anything between four inches and five feet, but around 18 inches is ideal. Distribute your seeds at a rate of around an ounce of seed for every five square yards.
If the seeds germinate, you will start to see leaves on the surface of the water, during which time all the real action is taking place beneath the surface while the root system develops. Once it has done so, the plant will start shooting up to a mature height of six to nine feet, and you are ready to harvest your crop.
Once sown, wild rice will reseed itself for the following year, leaving you nothing more to do but sit back and enjoy. Good luck!
Photo by mnn.com
More Rhubarb Fun
by Nancy Denison, Advanced EMG
My remodeled garden has fewer rhubarb plants but they are producing well, so I am always on the outlook for unique rhubarb recipes. I found this one last year from Taste of Home where the recipe is also available online under rhubarb scones. It is easy, freezable and tasty. Enjoy!
1 ¼ C whole wheat flour
1 ¼ C all-purpose flour
½ C sugar
1 TBSP baking powder
1 tsp cardamom (I have not used this)
½ tsp salt
½ C cold, unsalted butter, cubed
1 ½ C finely chopped fresh or frozen rhubarb (if using frozen, drain in colander but do not express liquid)
½ C heavy whipping cream
¼ C fat free milk
1 tsp vanilla
Preheat oven to 400. In large bowl, whisk the first six ingredients. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add rhubarb, toss to coat.
In another bowl, whisk cream, milk and vanilla; stir into crumb mixture just until moistened.
Turn mixture onto a floured surface; knead gently 4-5 times. Divide dough in half; pat into two round circles. Cut each into eight wedges. Place wedges on parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with coarse sugar. Bake 18-20 minutes until golden brown.Makes 16 scones.
Cheryl Gross, Advanced Master Gardener, Vice President MGANM, President Plant It Wild
BEGIN seed starting indoors the first week!In northern Michigan, delicate vegetable plants should be ready for the garden by Memorial Day.Get a jump on the season with seed starting NOW.
Some vegetables are best started by seed and like the cool spring temperatures. Direct sow peas, carrots, lettuce, spinach, and such outdoors before warm-weather sensitive plants.
Later in the month, purchase your bedding vegetable plants that are easily added to the garden as started plants.Tomatoes, eggplants, and the like do best when the season is extended and they are planted with a head start.
Photo by MG Bethany Thies
Pets with Benefits
Bethany Thies, Master Gardener
I love my chickens!I mean, I knew I would love the daily fresh eggs which, in my opinion, taste 1,000 times better than store-bought eggs.But after keeping chickens for the past three years, I have come to discover so many other reasons to appreciate and love these funny little creatures…especially if one is a gardener.
Chickens are composting machines!First, they eat almost all of our fruit and vegetable scraps, as well as stale bread, leftover grains and pastas, and some meats (no cannibalism please).Although they don’t live on these scraps, they do come running every evening when we bring out the day’s leftovers.Chickens also love to dig and scratch, which is great for breaking down leaves and plant materials.In fact, we don’t even bag our leaves in the fall.Our spring and fall cleanups go directly into the chicken yard for the girls to tear up.Every couple of days we rake it all back into a pile and the chickens rip through it, again and again, until all that’s left is rich dirt.
Chicken poop.Need I say more?All kidding aside, we all know that chicken manure is a terrific fertilizer.It is extremely high in nitrogen but also contains a good amount of potassium and phosphorus. But, because of its high nitrogen levels, it is considered a “hot” manure that will burn plants if spread directly onto beds.It needs to be aged or composted first.Depending on the composting method, most chicken manure needs to age between two and four months. This not only brings the nitrogen down to safe levels but also allows for the natural death of any bacteria found in the manure.For an in-depth description on how to compost chicken manure, see the University of Idaho Extension’s publication, “Composting and Using Backyard Poultry Waste in the Home Garden” (https://www.cals.uidaho.edu/edcomm/pdf/CIS/CIS1194.pdf).For a quick primer on the subject, try the Dummies website (as in Gardening with Free-Range Chickens For Dummies) at http://www.dummies.com/home-garden/hobby-farming/raising-chickens/chicken-manure-management-recycling-and-composting/.
Chickens eat bugs.All the digging and scratching that chickens do is for one purpose, to find insects, worms and other bugs to eat.While they won’t rid a yard of all pests, they are especially good at taking care of insects that overwinter in the soil as larvae or eggs, as well as any slugs or snails.
Chickens are fun to watch in the garden.Like plants, chickens come in many wonderful colors and patterns.I currently have two different varieties, Ameraucanas and Australorps.The Ameraucanas have variegated feathers of shades of brown and gold, cream and rust.The Australorps are the complete opposite, all black with a shiny iridescence of purple and green. They are truly beautiful.Add that to their constant activity and variety of vocalizations (my chickens are always talking, from chirps to honks, beeps to purrs) and you have a creature that provides constant entertainment in a garden.
Bonus:The eggs are divine!And I’m not talking about just the taste.There is nothing like going out to your garden chicken coop on a cool spring morning and finding these wonderful little presents in the nesting box.Mocha, olive and aqua eggs, hefty and still warm in your hand…it’s like Easter every day!
After a long dark winter northern Michiganders don’t usually have to be convinced to get outdoors.Many of us are eager to get outside to work in our gardens, and clean them up after they have been buried under the snow for so long.I too desire to get outside, but my desire to get outside is usually fueled by other desires; the free and abundant wild food that surrounds us.
In the spring in northern Michigan many people are aware of wild leeks (Allium Tricoccum) andmorels (Morchella spp.), but there are many more delicious spring greens and roots available this time of year.The choices are limited only by how much time we want to put into foraging. Following are some of the options:
Wild Watercress (Nasturtium officionale) is abundant in our area, to say the least.We have the great fortune to be surrounded by water; creeks, streams, rivers, and lakes.These places are typically suitable habitat for watercress. The best places to look for this nutritional powerhouse are in the slower moving creeks and streams that feed larger bodies of water.Often times the plant is so dense that I have gathered no less than 2 pounds in five minutes.Watercress is actually a non-native species so one should feel no concern about taking too much.
A word of caution is in order, however. I strongly urge you to cook your watercress, because many waterborne bacteria that we do not want to ingest can be on your collected greens.A simple steaming or a quick boil is all you need to rid the plants of anything harmful.With all of this in mind, finding and collecting watercress for spring soups and stir fries should be an easy challenge.It is a highly nutritious plant and one that I consider to be a spring staple of my diet.
Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is a nuisance plant to say the least, and to some represents pure evil in plant form. However you view this plant, one thing is certain; it is edible, and dare I say, delicious!With such an absurd amount of garlic mustard in the area, and the great desire to rid the woods ofthis pesky plant, you could store away an ample supply and share wild nutrition with all of your interested friends.Garlic mustard was brought to the U.S. from Europe as an edible garden plant, and yet its edibility is never mentioned as a means of control.As a proponent of using our mouths to control the invaders, I say go to the woods this spring and turn your attention toward this wonderful and strong flavored spring green.Over the years I haveusedit in pesto, stir-fries, soups, salads, and last year I even fermented a batch like sauerkraut.The possibilities are endless, much like the supply.If you are in need of a spot to harvest I suggest just asking around, someone will know a place that has been overrun.
The previous sources of food are from the “non-native, invasive” clan.The next wild edible that I love to talk about in spring is the ever spreading and native Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus).This sunflower relative is a spreader, but this one does not usually spread by seed, it spreads by its edible tubers.In the spring you can find a patch and dig up the tubers before they have had a chance to sprout into new plants.An added benefit of loosening the soil and “thinning the herd” as it were, allows the next season’s tubers to be larger. Jerusalem artichoke, or Sunchoke, as some like to call it, is a plant that is capable of creating an enormous amount of edible food per year.It is not uncommon to dig 10-15 pounds of tubers in a half an hour’s time. Sunchokes like to grow in a very particular niche in the wild.Their preferred habitat is right above the water table near the water.Not too far away, but not too close either.They seem to adore soil that is very damp, but not soggy.
It is my experience that harvesting Sunchokes actually increases their spread, and not the other way around.I have witnessed patches double in size over years of harvest, leading me to believe that they benefit from humans digging up some of their edible tubers.Locating a patch of Sunchokes is easier done in the summer and fall when they have living stems and flowers for identification, but once you have found a patch, you can bet that you will have years of free food ahead.
A spring wild edibles list would not be complete without mentioning the amazing leaves of the Basswood tree (Tilia americana).Basswood leaves taste amazing.Some people even refer to the Basswood tree jokingly as the salad tree.In the spring you can eat the leaves from the time they emerge until the time when the leaves are no longer translucent. Basswood produces some of the most superb greens available in the spring.Such mild and delicious delicacies are normally only mentioned in the lore of fairy tales.The Basswood tree is present throughout our area, it is a native plant, and it offers us rather large window of collection time in the spring.With some wild plants, there requires a bit of “getting used to the flavor”, not so with Basswood.This spring green is an instant hit with all that venture to try it.Look for the emergence of its heart shaped leaves this spring and I promise you won’t regret it.
The foraging activities mentioned above should always be done with permission from the landowner and care taken to not harm the environment. Finding locations to pick your wild edibles is an easy task, but it is a task that should be done with the proper precautions and mindset to care for the place from which you are harvesting.Even places that are harboring great quantities of invasive species should be carefully walked, so as to not stamp down the soil.I highly suggest getting a few books on the identification of wild edibles and taking a class if you are indeed interested in learning more.
I recommend two books by Sam Thayer, ”The Foragers Harvest” and “Natures Garden”. I also offer classes multiple times a year for any and all interested in learning how to identify wild plants.You can find out more information at www.nomiforager.com
Incorporating wild foods into your diet is a great way to connect more deeply with nature!Enjoy!
Wild Foraging meeting with Clay Bowers, 4/4/17
Meeting Notes- April 4, Wild Food Foraging
Nancy Denison, Advanced Master Gardener
Clay Bowers of NoMi Foraging was our guest speaker on April 4th at BRNC. The large gathering was very interested in Clay’s experiences and vast knowledge of local wild edibles. His first encounter with plants was meeting up with a stinging nettle. Apparently it was love at first bite(?) as it is still a favorite plant and he named his son Nettle!
Knowledge of wild edible plants; their identifying characteristics, nutritional value and growing habits are obviously the first steps in becoming a forager. Lambs Quarters, Wild Amaranth, Wild Rice, and Wild Parsnips are just some of the plants readily available in our area. Clay suggests using berries from the Autumn Olive, greens from Garlic Mustard and shoots form Japanese Knotweed as a way to diminish the invasiveness of these pesky plants. Participants had many questions about Wild Rice- where to find it, how to harvest, etc.
Clay offers monthly classes, foraging hikes and lots of information from his website; nomiforager.com or email him at email@example.com.Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm and knowledge with us Clay!
Image by Advanced MG Cheryl Gross, MGANM Vice President
Life Below Our Feet
by Brian Zimmerman, owner of Four Season Nursery
My wife and I raised a family on the west side of Traverse City a stone’s throw from where I grew up as a kid. I walked my children to grade school through the same forest I walked as a child. It is a maple – beech – hemlock forest and I showed them how to identify a tree by the type of bark. We would talk of where all the leaves seem to go between autumn drop, when we would kick through deep piles, and spring when the path was dirt again. I would tell them of “little creatures” hard at work in the ground that used the leaves for food. I explained how worms would get cold in the winter, how they pull leaves down to wrap themselves in a leafy sleeping bag. Yes, this is a stretch of the imagination, but the kids were young and giving them a visual was meant to help them understand that there is life below our feet.
It does seem that year after year the forest should be choked with leaves. Instead, as if by magic, the fallen leaves “disappear” and are turned into soil.
The process is an amazing one. Leaves work all summer pulling CO2 and water from the atmosphere, sucking up nutrients from the roots, making carbohydrates, fats and proteins to build new plant parts and fruit. Some of what the leaves manufacture is kept in reserve. Come autumn the leaves fall to the ground with their package of carbon. There are billions of bacteria and fungi, many thousands of protozoa, nematodes, worms, and other creatures living in the soils of the forest floor. These “little creatures” – some microscopic, some visible to the human eye – love to eat and their favorite food is carbon. As the tree goes dormant in the winter the microbes continue eating, multiplying and re-cycling the forest litter into nutrients that the tree will use the next summer.
While today most of us don’t live in a forest, we still grow plants that cycle through the seasons much like they do in a forest. Whether they are the trees on our property, the lawns we mow, or all the dead plant parts from our gardens, it’s all mostly carbon and food to the microbes. If we left all this potential food where it fell in the autumn, the cycle of life and death would make compost and a healthy soil/plant environment would continue.
But we just can’t leave it. We rake up our leafy litter and garden waste. We keep our grass cut short and remove clippings after mowing because we like it tidy. We remove the thatch that builds up and rototill our gardens every spring because it really does look nice. However, in the process of doing all this we are killing many microbes we desperately need. Our gardens, trees and lawns are creating the carbon to feed the soil microbes … but we remove it. Then, in an attempt to return this lost food back to the soils, we apply organic fertilizers, compost and wood mulch. These are not bad things. All three feed the microbes in the soil, which in turn release nutrients to the plants. But, could we accept a less tidy garden space and let nature take its own natural course?
Nitrogen is also a critical part of the soil and plant cycle; it’s the building block for making proteins. The atmosphere is 79% nitrogen. But unlike carbon that is taken in by the leaves during the summer, atmospheric nitrogen is not available. This nitrogen can only become available after entering the soil and, as you may have guessed by now, microbes are front and center in this process as well. Atmospheric nitrogen enters the soil, is re-combined with other elements and is consumed by microbes. Microbes use most of the nitrogen for their own metabolism; the remainder is excreted as waste, making it available for roots to take up.
So now we have a picture of carbon coming into the soil as fallen leaves and lawn waste, and nitrogen coming into the soil from the atmosphere, where both are consumed by the microbes making their waste available as plant nutrients. This explains why so much life in the soil happens around the root zone. Plant roots can’t move around the soil searching for food so they secrete exudates (plant waste excreted through the roots) to attract microbes. Most of the exudate is carbon-based sugars and microbes love carbon. There are more species of bacteria, fungi, and others microbes than we can count and many yet still undiscovered. Most are beneficial and live right around the root zone: some even grow into the roots. This allows for a bartering between roots and microbes
Think of a root as a long dinner table with many chairs and all microbes are guest who bring a dish to pass. The root wants all the chairs filled with friendly guests sharing the feast, leaving no room for unfriendly guests (non-beneficial microbes & pathogens). When we add good compost to soils we ensure the table is filled with friendly guests. Organic fertilizer ensures there is enough food to go around and mulch serves as central heating – cooling in the summer and insulation in the winter.
I have mentioned using organic fertilizers. The key ingredient in organic fertilizers is carbon – the very food the microbes love. The nutrients need to be consumed by microbes before the roots can take them in. There are many other more popular fertilizer on the market that are called synthetic fertilizers, which are salt based. The reason for their popularity is two-fold: they are water soluble and less expensive. When the fertilizer pellets come in contact with water they immediately go into solution and the nutrients are available to the plants. Any excess leaches away. The nutrients fed to the plants are not bad but the salts are. With repeated use the salts kill the microbes and most of the worms and other larger soil animals. Without soil life the ground becomes compacted, causing further depletion of the oxygen necessary to feed the remaining good microbes. This allows for the multiplying of anaerobic microbes and pathogens (these microbes don’t need oxygen and cause plant diseases). Remember the table filled with friendly guests? Now the only guests are bad. Plants become dependent on synthetic fertilizers, insecticides, bacteria and fungicides, and this chemical dependency destroys the balance nature put in place.
How do we bring the right guests to the table in our own gardens? Be generous with compost as a top dressing. If your lawn is in poor shape, a light compost top dress over the lawn will work wonders. If you have a sick tree or shrub in the lawn, remove the grass growing around the base and use 1”-2” of compost. The suggestion that compost can fix everything does seem overly simplified. In reality, soil science is very complicated with much going on between roots, soil and the little creatures. It is very rare that something that complicated can be boiled down to a simple message. That said, well-made compost delivers to your plants literally billions of beneficial microbes per handful and that is exactly what the roots of all plants want. Once your garden soil reaches a balance it will need less water and additional nutrients, your plants will thrive, your vegetables will taste better, making gardening more enjoyable.
For many millions of years,’ plants, soils and the “little creatures” below our feet have been composting together and it works. When we compost we are giving back to our soil so it will, in turn, give back to us healthy plants.
A footnote: This article takes on many subjects; soil science, plant science, fertilizer technology, composting, and attempts to synthesize all into a simple message. If this subject is of interest to you following are a few books that I have read, and re-read.
Secrets of the Soil, New Solutions for Restoring our Planet, Peter Tompkins & Christopher Bird
Teaming with Microbes, The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web, Jeff Lowenfels & Wayne Lewis
Building Soils Naturally, Innovative Methods of Organic Gardeners, Phil Nauta
Dirt, The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth, William Bryant Logan
Let’s Get Glowing and Growing
by Bethany Thies, Master Gardener
Starting seeds indoors is an efficient way to save money and get a jump on the summer growing season. The requirements are pretty simple. All you need are seeds…check. Pots or trays and planting medium…check and check. And, of course, water and light.
Well, here in Northern Michigan, we have an abundant supply of fresh water so that isn’t a problem. But light, that wonderful element that actually makes plants grow, that is something that can be a little harder to come by Up North.
Michigan, it seems, doesn’t get a lot of sun.
According to the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information’s website (https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/ghcn/comparative-climatic-data), Northern Michigan ranks only a little better than Seattle, Washington and Nome, Alaska, in the average percentage of possible sunshine per year. This percentage is calculated by looking at the total time sunshine reaches the ground in a certain city over the course of a year as compared to how many hours of sunshine are possible from sunrise to sunset.
Grand Rapids, the closest city to Traverse City on the list, has sunshine only an average of 46% of the time during daylight hours. Alpena, the next closest city, only sees the sun 48% of the time. Seattle and Nome, both known for their grey weather, are at 43% and 42% respectively. And while the Midwest isn’t the sunniest of regions, other cities in the area still see the sun more than Northern Michigan: Chicago and Green Bay at 54%, Minneapolis-St. Paul at 58% and Fort Wayne, IN, at 59%. (In case you were wondering, the sunniest spot in the United States is Yuma, AZ, with an average of 90% sunshine!)
So while many books and websites may talk about placing freshly planted seeds next to a sunny window, in all honesty, in Northern Michigan that probably isn’t going to get you the best results. Most vegetable and annual flower seedlings need 14 to 18 hours of light a day to really do their best. Our Michigan winter-to-spring sun just can’t provide that kind of light. You will get plants from setting seed trays in a windowsill here, but they will probably be thin and leggy rather than the preferred strong and compact plants that make good transplants.
The solution? Set up a grow light system. This can be as simple or as elaborate as you want to go. The goal is to give your seedlings the best type and amount of light possible in a way that best suits your space and pocketbook.
Here are some of the key terms you should know before buying:
Lumens — Don’t look at the wattage of a bulb; look at its lumens. Wattage measures how much electricity a light source uses. Lumens, on the other hand, indicate how much light is being produced by the bulb. This is usually listed on the bulb’s packaging. When it comes to grow lights, the higher the lumens, the better. This is because seedlings need a lot of light to produce the energy needed to grow more leaves. (Note: Ordinary incandescent and halogen bulbs emit high heat along with lumens They simply put off too much heat for the amount of lumens provided. And this heat can scorch delicate seedlings).
Light spectrum — You also need to look at the light color or spectrum being produced by the bulb. Obviously, plants need light for photosynthesis, the process where they create the energy they need to survive. However, the light color needed changes from plant to plant and from developmental stage to developmental stage. For example, foliage is usually produced by blue shades of light, while the red and orange end of the spectrum helps spur fruit and flower production. In nature, sunlight provides a full spectrum of colors, from infrared (red) to ultraviolet (blue), so a plant’s needs are always covered. Ordinary household bulbs, on the other hand, give off more yellow and orange light which can actually starve leafy plants.
Kelvins – The numerical value of the color emitted by a light source is typically measured in degrees of Kelvin (K) or Kelvins for short. Like wattage and lumens, a light bulb’s Kelvin value is also listed on its packaging. Colors above 5000K are considered cool colors in the blue end of the spectrum and most closely resemble natural sunlight. Colors below 3,000K are in the red end of the spectrum and are considered to be a warm light. Again, this measurement is important because each spectrum triggers different responses from a plant—blue light induces vegetative growth while red light promotes flowering.
So what’s the best light to use for starting seeds? While there are several options available if you are a commercial grower (including high intensity discharge or HID lights), the two main grow lights for the home gardener are LED (light emitting diodes) or fluorescent bulbs. Both LEDs and fluorescent bulbs are offered in sunlight-mimicking full spectrum light or in isolated red or blue color ranges, depending on your plant needs.
Most experts consider fluorescent bulbs, however, to be the winner for now. That’s partly because LEDs tend to be more expensive to purchase. Fluorescent lights, whether the long T-5 shop light-type bulb or a compact florescent bulb, are inexpensive and readily available, emit very little heat so you can hang them close to plants and have a very long life expectancy.
Using pallets to grow a variety of squash; photo by Advanced MG Cheryl Gross, MGANM Vice President
by Cheryl Gross, Advanced Master Gardener, Vice President MGANM
Several years ago I read about square-foot gardens and built a couple for my husband’s vegetable gardening. When we moved from Frankfort to Traverse City, we found some under the snow in the back too; a pleasant surprise! A square-foot garden allows access to plants for planting, weeding and harvesting without requiring any compaction of the soil. It is a method to raise food crops densely yielding greater volume at harvest in a small space. We have had great success with tomatoes, sugar snap peas, carrots, and green beans in our square-foot gardens. I like their tidiness too. Check out the following site for Square-foot gardening. http://www.squarefootgardening.com.
Last year, we removed a significant part of our front lawn. I am a serious less-lawn proponent. The new beds are landscaped with Michigan native plants to promote pollinators and wildlife habitat. In the process of transforming a lot of lawn, one bed was thinly planted with young tree and shrub specimens. This bed left us with a large, open chipped bed.
Wanting to use the space temporarily for growing ‘attractive’ food gardens, and because our good sun was limited elsewhere, my husband planted squash mounds and I assembled a pallet garden for lettuces and chard. The process is very straightforward.
Locate a free clean pallet and drag it home.
Cut a piece of landscape cloth to wrap around the bottom and sides of the pallet and staple into place.
Move your pallet into your desired location. If in front of your home, stand back and examine the pallet placement for aesthetics. Once set in location…
Fill the lower portion (about half) with good top soil. Fill the remainder with compost or a blend of other nutritious growing medium.
Then, plant spinach, lettuce, chard, herbs or other seeds in the rows. Remember to stagger seeding to allow for harvesting through-out the season. Water the pallet garden regularly for germination. Because of the landscape cloth, the moisture will stay in place a bit longer.
Throughout the growing season, I could harvest fresh lettuce that arrived in the kitchen pretty clean. By fall, the pumpkins were orange, the acorn squash deep green and the butternut squash nicely tanned. We heard no complaints from neighbors as the big-leafed squash plants filled the open chipped bed with a lovely, green ground cover. I believe the neighbor children delighted at the bright orange pumpkins in our yard in October waiting for carving.
Looking out the window is a beautiful sight if you like snow. It may be difficult to remember how the world outside appeared during greener times but even though now is not the right time to plant herbs in the garden area, it is a perfect time to plant some types of herb indoors.
First, a couple of tips to think about before digging in. Make sure your herbs will be exposed to enough sunlight by placing them in a south facing window. If a south facing window isn’t possible, consider some grow lights or a combination of cool and warm bulbs set on timers to recreate a sunny day instead. Also, it is a good idea to make sure that the seedlings are planted to the proper depth in a well-drained soilless mix. Cover with plastic after planting to create a humid environment but be sure to remove the plastic after the seedlings emerge to allow for air movement and allow them room to grow. Be sure to keep moisture and temperature at the required levels to encourage seed germination as well. Be aware that temperatures near windows may vary.
After seeds germinate and seedlings emerge, be sure to keep the soil moist but allow for drainage and move containers apart to discourage fungal growth. Once the seedlings reach six inches, you can begin to harvest the leaves but be sure to leave some if you would like the plant to continue to grow. Also, keep in mind that if plants get leggy, they can be pinched back to just above a leaf to encourage a bushier growth.
Following is a list of herbs that do well grown indoors:
Basil – Fast germinator that may appear in as little as four days.
Bay – This plant will do well in an east or west facing window and likes lots of air circulation.
Oregano – Needs patience. Oregano may take weeks to germinate.
Parsley – It will grow faster in south facing window and slower in an east or west facing one.
Chives – Can germinate in about ten days.
Cilantro – Germinates in about seven to ten days. Cilantro doesn’t like being transplanted so in the spring keep it in the container it was planted in.
Dill – Germinates in one to two weeks’ time.
Sage – Slow to germinate and could take up to three weeks.
Thyme – Two to three weeks’ germination time. The seeds are very small so overplanting is common.
A white blanket of snow outside the window can be a beautiful sight to behold but adding some green indoors can be a great visual enhancement and has the benefit of the addition of delicious home grown herbs to recipes all year round.
Master Gardener Association of Northwest Michigan members make our world more beautiful by participating in gardening projects, educational programs, activities and CONNECTING A COMMUNITY OF GARDENERS THROUGH LEARNING!
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