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The Winter Gardener

The Cycle

The Winter Gardener

By Jamie Gothard, MG in Training

For those of us who just can’t seem to get enough gardening time here in northern Michigan, the idea of an indoor garden through the winter months is an exciting idea. To come inside from a snowy, blowy day and be able to slice into a ripe crunchy cucumber that actually tastes like one would be wonderful but is it really possible? What would an undertaking like that really involve? Is it affordable? Could it equal the emergence of the winter gardener? What an intriguing notion!

First, what basic requirements need to be met for plants to grow? According to the Michigan State University Extension, “Plant growth can be limited by environmental factors such as light, temperature, water, humidity and nutrition.” So how can a potential indoor farmer create the right conditions?

To provide the right light quality, grow lights are best. They include both blue light, which aids in vegetative or leaf growth, and red light which encourages flowering and fruit set. The duration is also important as different vegetables have different needs (a timer can easily be used with the grow lights). The two classes of plants that an indoor gardener would need to consider are long-day and day-neutral plants. The long-day (such as beets, radish, lettuce and spinach) will form flowers when day lengths exceed 12 hours while day-neutral plants (like cucumbers and peas) will form flowers regardless of day length.

Temperatures affect growth and productivity of plants too. “If temperatures are high and day length is long, cool-season crops such as spinach will flower. Temperatures that are too low may prevent fruit set in warm-season crops such as tomato, pepper and eggplant.” (MSU)

Another factor to consider is the amount of water needed. Since water plays many roles in plant growth and development, it is crucial to provide enough water without overwatering. Too much or too little water could compromise the indoor garden so follow this rule of thumb: supply enough at the right time to prevent drought stress but not enough to saturate the soil and limit the amount of oxygen available to the roots.

Nutrition in the soil plays another important role in plant growth by giving the plant the right ingredients to build tissues and carry out biological processes. A good recommendation from MSU Extension for soil medium is one-third sphagnum peat or clean compost, one-third loamy topsoil or potting soil, and one-third vermiculite, perlite or a mixture of both. Proper depth also needs to be considered as different vegetables have different requirements for that as well.

One more factor to consider is pollination biology. While some plants are self-pollinating like peas and tomatoes, others such as cucumbers and peppers are cross-pollinating. Self-pollinating plants only require a bit of agitation to promote fruit growth. Cross-pollinating plants rely on wind or bees for pollination so an indoor gardener would need to become a stand-in. A good method is to pluck the male flower (which will not have the small beginnings of the plant’s particular vegetable growing behind it), also remove the petals so that the stalk with pollen is exposed. Then touch the pollen to the center of the female flower (which will have the beginning of the plant’s vegetable growing behind it.)

If all of this seems a little daunting, try starting small. Plants that may be easier to grow inside might be cucumbers, peas, or some herbs. A good friend of mine recently asked me about this topic which prompted me to write this article. He discovered a website where a potential indoor gardener could purchase a kitchen garden made from cedar and includes a metal light stand and 4 gallon water reservoir. Since he is planning on putting his garden in his basement away from any natural light, something like this would be right up his alley and could possibly work for anyone else who would like to try indoor gardening but may be feeling overwhelmed by everything that is involved in starting it up. He recently told me that he plans on starting with hot peppers, carrots and cilantro. I can’t wait to see how he does.

Once an indoor garden is established and the right conditions are met, it seems that the sky could possibly be the limit. It might even cause a gardener look forward to winter!


Michigan State University Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Program Training Manual


The Cycle

by Rebecca Carmien, MG in Training

With a deep knowledge and respect for the earth and organic farming methods, Leilan Heiler-Cape finds her groove in the circle of life on a very busy, enormously productive farm in Benzie County. The cycles of her farm and the many goods produced from it under the name ‘Country Girl’ go well beyond what one might expect – and give new meaning to the term ‘permaculture’ -with far reaching effects.

Under the sweeping branches of a very large, well formed sugar maple by the road stands a little cottage shed from which the delicious and wonderful products of Country Girl are sold. In the spring and summer sweet scented blossoms line it’s walk and doorway, the bright colors and lush foliage of lilies, sweet peas, climbing vines and container plants welcoming you into a world of plenty. Multi-colored jars of jams and jellies, with surprising names like,‘Cucumber’ and ‘Orange-Creamsicle Jelly’ or ‘Raspberry Rhubarb Jam’ and goat milk body creams such as ‘Sandalwood’, ‘Earth’, or ‘Damascus Rose’ are presented. Baskets of goat milk body and laundry soaps in a multitude of healing and cleansing herbal scents like ‘Lemongrass’, ‘Teakwood’ or ‘Cotton’ are available with body sprays to match the soaps and creams. ‘Vanilla Mocha’, ‘Sugar Raspberry’ and ‘Cherry Lime Aide’ are a few of the beeswax and stevia based lip balms. Herbal mixtures have been hand picked and dried with care and a homeopathic knowledge that is well researched and spans many years.

-Jams and Jellies-

The shelves of Leilan’s kitchen and Country Girl cottage shed shine in the most beautiful colors of her garden’s bounty. Many of us have rejoiced in the musical percussion of the canning ‘pop’ of sealing jars and gazed at the jars on the counter; so pretty, so satisfying…so much work! But so worth it. Few of us, however, have the pallet that she does; ‘Raspberry Rhubarb’, ‘Quince’, ‘Sour Watermelon’, ‘Ginger Citrus’, ‘Cucumber’, ‘Lemon Drop’, ‘Elderberry’, ‘Crabapple’, ‘Jalapeno’, ‘Apple Cinnamon’, ‘Plum, Peach’, and ‘Dark Chocolate’ in Strawberry, Blueberry, Cherry and Red and Blackberries are just a few.

For the fall, a sinfully delicious sour apple flavor has been developed and given the very appropriate name of ‘Forbidden Fruit’. Just in time for the winter holiday season Leilan has perfected a brand new concoction with a beautifully fragrant rose infusion. Made with the rich juices of pomegranate, strawberry and cherry, the infusion of roses and one whole sour cherry dropped in the middle, this is a jelly you will want to keep out of reach – out of sight of others. Save it for a special occasion with chocolate covered strawberries, whipped cream; and someone special. This jelly certainly is ‘The Fruits of Love’.

-Goat Milk Body Creams

Body creams are made from coconut oil, goat milk, aloe, beeswax, vitamin E, glycerin (a simple, naturally occurring compound), germall plus (a paraben free preservative), borax (a naturally occurring substance produced by the repeated evaporation of seasonal lakes) and scented oils. Some of these scents include ‘Creamy Coconut’, ‘Eucalyptus’, ‘Honey Almond’, ‘Lemongrass’, ‘Peaches and Cream’, ‘Lilac’, ‘Silver Cedar’, and ‘White Sage’. But of all these, by far, my favorite is the one simply called ‘Earth’. Remember the last time you went out in the woods, picked up a hand full of leaves, inhaled the wonderful, heady perfume of the earth? It is, exactly that. Earth. So I purchased the soap, too. And the ‘Earth’ scented body spray which is called ‘Down and Dirty’.

-Goat Milk Body Soaps

The body soap that Leilan makes on her farm is made from the milk her goats give to her, the oils of olives and sunflowers, castor oil, lard, glycerin and lye; this is an all natural product. To this base she adds the magic; her scented herbs and other natural ingredients. ‘Mocha’ is a deliciously chocolate scented soap that exfoliates with added coffee grounds; ‘Orange Lavender’ and ‘Yucca’, (Yucca contains saponin, ‘nature’s soap’), is very refreshing. The aromatherapeutic qualities of ‘Rosemary Mint’ is lovely and energizing, ‘Green Tea and Tea Tree’ has natural astringent properties and the oils within ‘Cedar and Teak Wood’ are well known to have calming effects upon the mind, relieve tension and induce the release of serotonin which converts into melatonin in the brain. Melatonin induces the calm, restorative sleep that we need so much. ‘Cedarwood’ aromatherapy is recommended for people with depression and chronic anxiety. These are only a few of the many incredible body soaps made at Country Girl farm. When you use this soap, your skin quite literally, becomes squeaky clean. No harmful residue left on you, your shower or filtered into groundwater.

-Goat Milk Laundry Soaps

The ingredients in Leilan’s laundry soap include; borax, washing soda and whichever of her goat milk soaps that are requested. Some of her customers have their favorite scents; some like the fresh scent of ‘Cotton’, some enjoy ‘Patchouli’, still others swear by the cleansing abilities of ‘Apple Jack’ (is it the cinnamon?) or the pleasing fruitiness of ‘Peaches and Cream’. Of note, washing soda is used every day in our water softeners. It is extracted from plants that grow in sodium rich soils. Vegetation that grows in the Middle East is well known for this, as is kelp from Scotland and seaweed from Spain.The ashes from these particular plants, called soda ash, have a much different consistency than those of our domestic timber ashes, called potash.

Though Leilan does business year round, throughout the school year Country Girl Cottage doesn’t have regular hours. Please call to receive her product lists, ordering information and/or for an appointment. She also does business through the mail. Her contact information follows: Leilan Heiler-Cape, 231-871-0724,

Country Girl products will also be available on December 5th at the historical Mills Community House in Benzonia Michigan from 10 am until 4 pm during a holiday craft show and farm market. Mills is located on U.S. 31 near the intersection of W115.

Leilan Heiler-Cape, her family and Country Girl products would like to thank all of their friends and neighbors for their continuing friendship and support, their sense of humor and community, and for their pride of country. She would also like to thank the following, without whom her business would truly be affected.    

Smeltzer’s Orchard- cherries, strawberries, blueberries, rhubarb

Marvin Gardens- peaches, apples,

Youkers- plums

Sleeping Bear Honey- honey

Sue Martin- beeswax

Ron Carpenter- lard, hay, maple syrup

Amanda- bartered goats, medicines

Carla- peaceful blackberries

Brian- wonderful organic granola