Nourish – March ’16 Real Dirt

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Food Security:  Farm to School

Essentials of Organic Gardening in an Urban Environment

Food Security:  Farm to School

Mikaela Taylor, FoodCorps Service Member

A nationwide top producer of asparagus, blueberries, cherries, and dry beans, Michigan is the 2nd most diverse agricultural producer in the nation. Though the state is bountiful in agriculture and water, there is also great need. One in 10 people in Michigan use emergency food programs, and over 57% of public school students receive free or reduced lunches. Northwest Michigan is not immune to this pattern. Though this paints a bleak picture, there is great hope for economic development in our local food systems, with an exemplary example occurring in Northwest Michigan. While we know an integral aspect to sustaining this movement is engaging youth, how exactly is that done?

The farm to school movement has been building for the last 10 years, with its roots established in work done by Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities (formerly Michigan Land Use Institute). Partnering with a nationwide organization known as FoodCorps, Groundwork has been hosting service members that go into the schools to teach nutrition-based lessons, work in school gardens, and promote food service sourcing of local foods since 2011. On September 1, 2015, MSU Extension Grand Traverse County, where I currently serve, began hosting one of the Traverse City-based FoodCorps service members. Now, Groundwork and MSUE are developing a team approach to support farm to school programming in Northwest Michigan, with both Stephanie Cumper, Food Corp Service Member, and I bringing nutrition, garden, and culinary education into Traverse Heights Elementary, Interlochen Elementary, Platte River Elementary and Frankfort Elementary.

Why is this important? I believe that reconnecting youth with the land is integral to creating sustainable, resilient communities. There is power in students knowing where their food comes from, having the ability to grow their own food at school and making choices to support their local food economy. There is also power in offering healthy choices in school cafeterias, where many students consume the majority of their daily calories, in order to ensure access for all individuals regardless of their socioeconomic background and lead to the reduction of diet-related diseases. But we cannot do this alone. We work with a variety of community partners from Cherry Capital Foods, to Farm to Freezer, to PE-NUT and SNAP-Ed Educators, to Master Gardeners and beyond. Everyone plays a part, and it really does take a village to raise a healthy child.

Check out our blog at to keep up-to-date on what’s happening in the schools. Interested in volunteering in school gardens, with taste tests in the cafeteria or with the broader farm to school movement happening in the region? Contact Mikaela Taylor at to be added to our volunteer newsletter. We are prepping for spring planting, need to put some seeds in our hoop house and indoor grow spaces, and would love Master Gardener assistance!


Brisbane Tree Experts using a helicopter to remove a deceased Eucalyptus tree, 2008. Photo by same.

Essentials of Organic Gardening in an Urban Environment

by Philip Piletic,  Brisbane Tree Experts, Brisbane, Aus

The urban organic gardening movement is being driven by the desire to control what’s in our food and to reduce the time from harvest to plate. It is succeeding on both counts.

Safe Food

When you grow your own vegetables, fruits and herbs, you determine the origin of the soil, seeds or seedlings and what products, if any, are used for fertilizer and pesticide. Certified organic options are available for every step of the growing cycle. By contrast, it is impossible to know exactly what dangerous, synthetic chemicals store-bought produce might have been exposed to.

Fresh Food

Produce grown in the US travels an average of 1,500 miles from field to fork. The large percentage grown in the Central Valley of California is trucked more than 2,200 miles to reach Northern Michigan. Food from Central and South America makes an even longer journey.

The “fresh” beans and carrots you walk by in Meijer or the local Spartan store might have been harvested more than a week before. To their credit, many grocery chains are making an effort to offer more locally grown food. Still, with the short growing season in the Midwest, grocery stores will continue to sell long-distance vegetables for much of the year. Most won’t be organic.

Every day that the vegetables in tightly packed crates sit in a warehouse or go bouncing down the interstate in a trailer, they lose what’s important: Taste, quality and nutritional value.

With that in mind, here are a couple of questions: How far does food travel from your backyard garden plot or vertical balcony garden to your kitchen? How long does it take to pick it, rinse off the soil and pop it in your mouth? The difference is dramatic in every way that matters.

Now that we’ve covered the key reasons to grow your own and do it organically, here are the basics you’ll have to address to make it possible.

Choose your Garden Style

Here are the most popular urban garden types with some pros and cons:

  • Backyard garden plot: The traditional garden is a great way to go – but many urban dwellers don’t live in housing with a backyard. If you have a yard, choose the location that gets the most sun. You’ll have to watch the space throughout the day since adjacent homes and buildings or big trees so common to this area might produce shade at various times from sun up to sundown.
  • Small container gardening: The wonderful thing about containers is that you can start plants in them indoors in late winter or early spring to thumb your nose at the short growing season along the 45th parallel north. Then, they can be moved outdoors in warmer weather. The containers can also be moved periodically to keep them in sunny spots, but frequent repositioning is a time- and labor-intensive method for optimizing photosynthesis.
  • Vertical gardening: You get a lot of production for the space with this approach. Common methods include attaching grow boxes to walls, windowsills or fences, building shelving for small containers and a vine and trellis approach.
  • Greenhouse gardening: A portable greenhouse can be used in conjunction with any of the methods discussed so far to add weeks to both ends of the growing season.
  • Rooftop gardening: Building raised beds on the roof is efficient use of space. The beds cool the building in summer and insulate it against heat loss in the winter. Getting the materials onto the roof and tending the plants is a challenge.
  • Hydroponic and aeroponic indoor gardening: This year-round gardening technique requires use of artificial lighting in the dark months, and that will increase your energy costs.

Feed your Plants with Homemade Compost & Organics

Residential garbage is, by weight, about 30 percent organic material. That’s a lot of kitchen scraps that could be turned into food for plants. Even if meat products are excluded, there is still too much organic material going into the waste stream – when it doesn’t have to be waste at all.

This organic compost will feed your plants many of the nutrients they need to be robust and fruitful. Plus, if enough urban dwellers were composting, there would be fewer garbage trucks on the street belching out noise and air pollution!

Many ordinary containers can be repurposed as composting bins. For the hardcore urban gardener, composting toilets are available or can be made.

If there is a need for fertilizer or pesticide, you can have the peace of mind that organic, safe products are available from dependable producers to give your plants the boost or protection required.

Reduce Water Requirements with Mulch

Master gardeners and other enthusiasts know the value of mulch and how to use it. The practices carry over to urban organic gardening to limit water use, save costs, reduce labor and still reap an abundant harvest.

Safe, Delicious and Worth the Effort

Perhaps this primer on organic gardening from an urban perspective will get you thinking about implementing these practices in your own space in Northern Michigan. Even if you’ve got a “back 40” that’s wide open, we think you’ll find small-space gardening to be rewarding, fruitful and fun.


Philip Piletic – Originally from Europe, now situated in Brisbane, AUS where I work & live. I have a strong interest in ecology and generally living a sustainable and responsible lifestyle. I love to share my experience with others by contributing to several blogs and helping others lead healthier lives. This article was brought to you by Brisbane Tree Experts.

Nourish – Jan ’16 Real Dirt

What To Do with Winter Veggies

by Bethany Thies, Master Gardener Trainee

Okay, crazy weather aside, it is now officially winter.  And if you are, like me, trying to eat as locally (from your own garden or an area farmer’s) and as seasonally as possible, this time of year starts looking a little bleak on the fresh produce front.  

Fear not, Mother Nature knows just what we need.  As the weather turns its coldest and we need concentrated energy to keep our internal fires burning, she gives us the starchy goodness of her winter bounty to keep us going.  I’m talking about those basic work horses of our garden, root vegetables.  Carrots, parsnips, beets, turnips, rutabagas, and their root-like cousins, potatoes and sweet potatoes all handle frosty weather well and can store for months at a time.  A perfect match for winter.  And best of all, preparing these earthy beauties couldn’t be easier.  Your best bet?  Oven roasting.  

Oven roasting root vegetables actually caramelizes their natural sugars, bringing out a sweetness in them that even your most die-hard veggie haters are sure to enjoy.  And the process is really quite simple.  All you need to know are the three Cs:  cut, coat and cook at high heat until tender.  After 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the type and size of the vegetables being roasted, your veggies should be done.  That’s it. That’s the whole recipe.  

But of course, as with most things, the devil is in the details.  How you cut, coat and cook can make a difference, turning good roast veggies into great ones.  Here are a few tips gleaned from food and lifestyle websites such as, and that will help make even your lowliest root vegetables shine:

  • Cut it right – After cleaning and pealing (if necessary), vegetables should be uniformly chopped, usually one to two inches in size, so that they cook evenly.  If you are doing smaller similar vegetables, like baby carrots and parsnips, they can be roasted together whole.  They may just take longer to roast
  • Coat it right – Once chopped, toss vegetables in olive oil until lightly coated.  One to two teaspoons of olive oil per cup of chopped veggies should be all you need.  They should have a sheen not be dripping in oil.  You can also season with salt at this time.
  • Put it in its proper place – Baking sheets or trays are the best option for roasting vegetables because they expose the pieces to more of the oven’s heat.  Casseroles or cake pans, with their higher sides, aren’t as good a choice because they tend to trap moisture around the vegetables, leading to more steaming than roasting to take place.
  • Don’t overcrowd – The idea is to get the heat from the oven to hit every side of your veggie pieces in order to get that crispy on the outside finish.  And you need space for that.  Pieces that are jammed together or on top of one another in the pan don’t allow the heat to do its job.  So make sure you leave a little space between each piece and don’t overfill the pans.
  • Keep it hot – You need a hot oven to get that soft on the inside and crispy on the outside result that makes roasted vegetables so good.  Most sites and cookbooks recommend 400 to 450 degrees F. oven.
  • Move things around – For truly great roasted vegetables, you want all sides of the veggies to be exposed to the oven’s heat.  That means you’ll need to stir the trays at least a couple of times during the process.  

Use your oven wisely – If you are heating up the oven anyway, why not make two or three trays of roasted vegetables?  There are several sites online that speak directly to cooking up an oven full of veggies and using them for several meals throughout the week.

That brings us to the next question:  Now that you have a delicious pan of roast vegetable, the next question is what do I do with them.  Of course, these veggies can be a wonderful side dish to any meat or poultry.  But with a few additions, roasted vegetables can also be the star of the meal.  You can:

  • Chop up precooked or leftover chicken, beef or sausage and add it to the roasted vegetables to make a one-pot meal.
  • Add a can or two of drained white beans, like cannellini, to the mix to make a meatless main dish.
  • Serve on top of a whole grain like brown rice or quinoa.
  • Chop up the roasted veggies into smaller pieces to make a hash.  Serve with a fried or poached egg on top.
  • Toss with leafy greens and your favorite vinaigrette to make a hardy winter salad.
  • Add to stock for a flavorful veggie soup.  For something different, use a blender to puree and make a cream soup of the veggies.
  • Combine with cumin and chili pepper to use in quesadillas or tacos.
  • Toss with pasta, a little pasta water, chopped basil and Parmesan cheese to make a roasted veggie primavera.

Now that you know what to do, go fire up your oven and get roasting.  

Nourish – November ’15 Real Dirt

Contents (Click on a title or scroll)

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

Nourish – September ’15 Real Dirt

Preserving: Pickling, Canning, Dehydrating

Nancy, Nancy, Just How Fancy, Does Your Garden Grow?

The Dream of the Crop

Preserving: Pickling, Canning, Dehydrating

Britt Uecker, Horticulturist and Garden Educator at Grow Benzie

I didn’t grow up learning how to preserve food from my mother. I am self-taught and am living proof that at any age we can learn how to preserve produce all through the season. When I turned my passion of gardening into a career in Horticulture at Michigan State University I began my journey of really discovering the love of produce to it’s fullest dimensions. As the abundance of the farm presented itself I was literally forced to learn how to prepare, eat and then preserve the harvest as it was available. Contrary to some common belief, preserving does not happen at the end of the season, but rather it starts when our first crops come in in late spring and continues throughout.

Michigan is #2 for variety and high in the top 10 producers in the country; we are fortunate to live in such a verdant and beautiful state. If you do not grow enough of your own produce, farmers markets and farm stands are great sources for buying the goods you need. There are many benefits to preserving as produce is made available. When produce is at it’s peak season, it is at it’s absolute freshest, it is most nutritious, it is usually the most inexpensive, and keeps the money in the local economy.

I begin preserving with eating asparagus fresh mostly since it is nearly an 8 week season, and then pickling it. Some folks blanch and freeze it, I do not care for the texture, but it can be used for soups and casseroles. Then strawberry season is upon us, and I make jams, jellies and freeze the topped berries out onto cookie sheets then bag them into freezer bags for many later uses. This can be done with any berry. If it is too hot outside to steam up your kitchen, consider making jam later from your freezer berries when the temperatures become more mild and comfortable. I do something similar with cherries, often going out to a u-pick orchard for the best deal and a family outing. When I pickle, can, or make jams I make enough to last for two years so that I do not have to do every berry or pickle each season. As it is a labor of love.

Cherry season seems to be the 4th of July in the garden kicking off the beginning of the real garden season when everything else really starts to come in! I blanch and freeze most greens and green vegetables rather than canning, and I do enough to last until the next season begins. I calculate how many weeks there are until the next season, figure 1 pound of each vegetable per week and process accordingly. And as the tomatoes are bursting at the seams I have my latest favorite technique for processing them. I core and cut out any imperfection and throw them into freezer bags for dealing with them later, at which point I pile them high in a crock pot or roaster in the morning and let them cook down all day, then puree them (with an immersion blender) skins and all into a lovely almost-paste concentrate. It can then be canned or cooled and put into freezer bags for later use.

My family loves dried fruit, and the bulk of the work is in the pitting of the cherries. Using a mandolin or corer/slicer for apples and pears makes short work of it then laying them out onto the trays for 12-48 hours depending on the fruit. The investment of a good dehydrator can be a once in a lifetime purchase for some healthy snacking. One of my final seasonal duties is making sauerkraut and kimchi; fermented foods are particularly beneficial to our digestive tracts and overall health. I will make tangerine or orange marmalade sometimes in December when the citrus is in season and use it for gifts at Christmas time.

There is nothing like sitting down for a dinner in the middle of winter and pondering the bounty on my plate. It is absolutely possible to eat healthfully and locally all season long, and it is so worth it.

Garlic. photo by MG Nancy Denison

Garlic. photo by MG Nancy Denison


Nancy, Nancy, Just How Fancy, Does Your Garden Grow?

By Nancy Denison, Master Gardener

It wasn’t a fancy garden we inherited with the house but a semi-fenced area on the only flat part of our back yard. Inside the 40x30ft area was a privet hedge, two 25ft rows of thorn-less raspberries, perennials, spring onions, garlic, and three slightly raised beds. I had only experimented (with moderate success) with planting a garden at our home in California but with the help my neighbor, Grace, and the space just waiting for me, I dove in.

In the past 24 years I have added comfrey for the raspberries (as a bee attractor), tarragon, chives, oregano, mint (ugh), sage, lavender, plus the annuals; basil, rosemary, and cilantro. This year I planted cilantro seeds twice with no luck, until a few weeks ago when I put the seeds in small containers and they are coming up nicely. I am able to use the basil most years to make several batches of pesto, which is always a nice treat in the middle of winter. I give away bunches of herbs to friends but there is still more than any one would ever use.

Vegetably speaking…I have experimented with various combos over the years but have found my favorites, and those that grow well, are the lovely zucchini, broccoli, green beans, tomatoes, snap peas, lettuce and for the past few years, kale, beets and carrots. Rhubarb, which came from two different neighbors, is still looking good, though my husband has had enough! Maybe I will try freezing a bunch again for a winter surprise…

As all gardeners know, every year is unique and offers bountiful growth with some plants and some eaten to death by some critter. I have amended the soil for several years with the “lasagna” style of layering leaves, grass clippings, newspaper, and compost which breaks down over winter. Then I also add some good compost to the soil and mix in before planting in the spring.

I have learned to wait till the end of May before planting the young starts of kale, lettuce, broccoli, and tomatoes I get from the TC Farmer’s Market. I have yet to figure out why my bean, snap pea, zucchini seeds don’t germinate well and require multiple plantings before sprouting. I even tried to germinate the seeds this year in paper towels and plastic bags so they might have a better start, but alas, not so helpful. Then sometimes after the new shoots come up, some little visitor munches on the leaves to the point of destruction and I have to start again. I have some success with putting a thin band of aluminum foil around the stem of these little guys or egg shells and coffee grounds, which can deter some undesirables.

Carrots. Photo by MG Nancy Denison

Carrots. Photo by MG Nancy Denison

Lettuce has been a wonderful producer and I just love being able to pick, clean and eat. It lasts for a long time after being cleaned so we have many homegrown salads from June through almost the end of July. If only the tomatoes were ripe at the same time! I am able to get several cuttings from the broccoli plants which I use for broccoli salad with the large and small heads. Raspberries ripen in early July and are eaten as fast as we can pick. I have frozen them but usually I make a simple raspberry pie which everyone loves. My asparagus plants have been rather slow in producing, even though they are about 4 or 5 years old. This year I did get about 10 spears, though not at the same time, so I’m hoping next year will be even better.

The major pests I have to contend with are slugs and Japanese Beetles…not sure which I detest the most. Of course I pick them off when I can find them or pour salt on them to make sure they don’t find their way back. The beetles wreak havoc on the raspberries, roses and burnette as well as leaving grubs in the yard for spring animal feedings. I discovered a bait trap last year which worked well. This year I set it out early and have greatly diminished the population.

Being intrigued with the growing of potatoes, I decided, last year, to try a “potato tower” that was suggested in a Fine Gardening article. I assembled the chicken wire into a tower and then filled it with straw, and dirt and the starter potatoes in several layers. I had some success with it; however, most of the potatoes were delicious but quite small. So I have tried a different location this year with more sun and at this time both towers are looking good and the potato I just checked on was about three inches in diameter! Much better than last year.

Potatoes. Photo by MG Nancy Denison

Potatoes. Photo by MG Nancy Denison

A week ago I harvested the small patch of garlic which came with the garden, getting about 24 heads. I read that when the scapes are cut off on the garlic plants, more energy is sent to the bulb which causes them to grow larger. They are now cleaned and drying. I love how I can use them all year long. I also gathered up the beets that were ready, roasted them and used them in a salad. I even put more seeds in for a second harvest. I used to turn up my nose when it came to eating beets, but I am learning to like them in my old age!

Cleaned garlic. photo by MG Nancy Denison

Cleaned garlic. photo by MG Nancy Denison

While I await the zucchini and tomato invasion, I will continue to pull weeds, think about what I may have done right and what to do differently for next year…always a learning process, a stretching exercise for the mind and the body and peace for the soul.


The Dream of the Crop

By Jamie Gothard, MG in Training

It happens every year. The innocent dreams of a beautiful vegetable bounty turn into a nightmare featuring a mountain of fresh veggies. They seem to appear overnight and make you question what you were thinking when you innocently planted all of those seeds and small, innocent looking transplants. What in the world can you do about it? There are more answers than you think and some solutions even work best when there is an overabundance of vegetables available so don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

For starters, the internet has scads of recipes available for you to peruse and even include some that turn your zucchini into noodles, also known as zoodles! Who would have thought it was possible? Recipes such as these not only use your bounty quicker but also reduce calories if you’re into that. One great source is which includes zoodle recipes like Kung Pao Chicken Zoodles and Zucchini Noodles with Pesto among others. These recipes might be a fun way to use zucchini after zucchini bread has lost its appeal.

Another great valuable source for handling those ever appearing veggies is the Ball Blue Book guide to preserving. The 100th Anniversary Edition features tried and true canning, freezing and dehydrating ideas for fruits, vegetables (from apples to zucchini) and even meats. Not only does this book provide all information needed to figure out how to approach food preservation correctly, it also lists recipe ideas for those preserved food items as well. It is a worthwhile investment as it helps those who are new to food preservation succeed and provides new recipes to some previous editions so that those who are experienced with food preservation may even try new ideas.

Cucumbers are a vegetable with a habit of appearing out of nowhere and all at once. The Ball Blue Book guide has recipes such as dill pickles, relish, and sweet pickle spears. A plethora of cucumber recipes exist as well. For example, lists 529 cucumber recipes alone so the possibilities seem endless. Several different recipes might come in handy since as soon as the cucumbers are picked and used, another few seem to appear out of nowhere.

Onions can be canned in various recipes and the recommendation from the Michigan State Extension for harvesting onions is to leave them in the ground for one to two weeks after the tops fall over on their own to allow them to develop thick skins. After that time, dig them up and spread them out in a dry, sunny location for three to seven day to allow them to dry before bringing them indoors for storage in a dry, warm location.

Potatoes can be canned as well according to the Ball Blue Book guide. Recipes vary from sweet, white or Irish and can also be frozen. To store them long term, Michigan State Extension recommends waiting until the potato vine dies, the skin is set (meaning it doesn’t peel from the flesh from the application of pressure) and the potato has reached the desired size. Once these indicators have been met, dig them up and cure potatoes starting at around 60 degrees and high humidity for two to three weeks followed by a lower temperature of around 40 degrees.

Squash is separated into two different varieties. Summer squash like zucchini, is harvested when it is immature. Winter squash, on the other hand, is harvested after it matures. Varieties like acorn, spaghetti, butternut and pumpkins all vary with regards to maturation but the rule of thumb provided by Michigan State Extension is to wait until the vines decline and they have been allowed to cure in the field for two to three weeks before harvesting to store.

Tomatoes should be allowed to fully ripen on the vine unless a killing frost prevents this from happening. If they have to be picked green, there are recipes such as fried green tomatoes and The Ball Blue Book guide even provides recipes for canning green tomatoes too. Of course, there are recipes for ripened tomatoes such as sauce, juice and salsa too. Michigan State Extension recommends storing tomatoes at temperatures below 50 degrees because they are sensitive to chilling injury once they have been picked.

The ideas are endless as far as food consumption and preservation is concerned so even when the vegetables start turning from dream into overwhelming nightmare, know that there are many options to consider. If all else fails, just wait until someone leaves their car with the windows down and slip some veggies into their seat while they’re gone. They will probably be thrilled with the gift.


Ball Blue Book guide to preserving, 100th Edition

Michigan State University Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Program Training Manual

Nourish – July ’15 Real Dirt

Contents (Click on a title or scroll)

U of M Medicinal Garden Opens August 2

Inspired at Greenspire

photo by Dwight Burdette, wikimedia commons

photo by Dwight Burdette, wikimedia commons

Matthaei Medicinal-Garden-map

U of M Medicinal Garden Opens August 2

By Cheryl Gross, Advanced Master Gardener 

Historically, most of our medicinal products have been derived from plants. Yet how often do our thoughts turn to the plant at the root of it all as we’re waiting at the pharmacy for a prescription to be filled? Since the 1870s, a time when medicinal gardens and the plants that grew in them were a part of a medical school education, awareness of the connection between health and medicinal plants has declined. According to Bob Grese, Director of the University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum and Professor of Landscape Architecture in the School of Natural Resources and Environment, the goal of the University of Michigan Medicinal Garden is public education. The garden, Grese says, demonstrates the “relationship between plants and public health.”

The Medicinal Garden concept opened up partnerships between the Botanical Gardens & Arboretum, the U-M College of Pharmacy and the Department of Integrative Medicine at the U-M Health System. According to Grese, the medical and pharmacy staff believe that their students would benefit from a greater understanding of the botany behind medicinal drugs. The plants in the new Medicinal Garden are all backed by clinical science in pharmacy. Indeed, the medical and pharmacy staff were included in choosing plants for inclusion in the garden.

The Medicinal Garden’s location will be near the conservatory at Matthaei. The garden’s layout, with its curved, soft edges and free-form shape, will lead to a sense of “fun and unexpectedness, and should be welcoming to visitors,” according to David Michener, Associate Curator for Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum. Within the garden’s layout the plant bed design will be grouped by body function, such as cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, women’s health, etc., with each bed containing plants that provide the basis of drug treatment for that function. Early medicinal gardens were filled with plants native to their locale. This gave rise to what we think of as Native American medicine, Chinese medicine, and the like, all across the globe.

Signage in the Garden will include information on plant origin, parts of the plant used in medicine, i.e. root, leaf or seed; the drug derived from that plant; and the diseases it treats.

While the garden will make the educational link between plants and human health, from a gardener’s point of view how do these diverse plants, many from different ecosystems and requiring different soil, moisture, and light, work next to each other in the same garden? The answer is: with a lot of effort, attentive care, and a trial-and-error approach. Tender plants that are not perennial in Zone 5, such as tea (Camellia), Schisandra vine, aloe, and Coleus will be kept in pots in the garden and then moved into the greenhouse for overwintering. Alternatively, some of the plants with aggressive growth habits will require close attention, either by being potted, having seed heads removed before they set, or planted apart and closely monitored for spread. These valuable plants include chamomile, sweet clover, and peppermint. Plants needing shade may have screening above to diffuse the strong sunlight. Finally, some plants are trees so will be pruned frequently to keep them to scale and not overwhelm their neighboring plants.

In designing the Medicinal Garden, the staff at Matthaei-Nichols along with College of Pharmacy and Medical School partners have tried to develop a space with plants that will serve as an educational resource and research base for U-M students and staff to study medicinal plants and wellness while also inviting the public to learn and be reminded of the plant-health connection all around us in our daily lives.

For those who may wonder… The Medicinal Garden will not include coca, the source of cocaine. Nor will marijuana or opium poppies be planted. Additionally, any plants that are known to cause an allergic reaction when touched will not be included.

The Medicinal Garden website is under construction and is looking at a launch date on or before July 15, 2015. The garden opening is scheduled for August 2, 2015. As with all gardens, it will not be complete on August 2, 2015, but continue as a work in progress as more is learned about each plant and its preferences.

If you plan a trip to the University of Michigan Medicinal Garden there are many other areas to visit at the botanical gardens. The Alexandra Hicks Herb Knot Garden is located close to the Medicinal Garden, as is the Great Lakes Gardens, which feature Great Lakes native plants and their ecosystems; the Bonsai and Penjing Garden; the Gaffield Children’s Garden; the Conservatory; and hiking trails. With a number of display spaces and natural areas to choose from, Grese promises that there is “always something fascinating” to see at Matthaei.

Corey Hanson providing a tour at The Greenspire School photo by MG W. Miller

Corey Hanson providing a tour at The Greenspire School
photo by MG W. Miller


Inspired at Greenspire

By Nancy Denison, Advanced Master Gardener 

On April 7, sixteen community members and MGs met at the Greenspire School on the grounds of the former State Hospital. We met Kevin Kelly, Head of School, who introduced us to the history and philosophy of Greenspire as well as a brief overview of the adolescent  mind, body and spirit.

Greenspire was chartered in 2011, is loosely based on the teachings of Maria Montessori while encompassing some of the principals of traditional education.  It is project based, experiential, multi-aged and environmentally focused.  It currently houses ninety five students in three buildings on 580 acres. 

Teacher Corey Hanson took us on a tour of the grounds which offers open classrooms, gardens, sugar shack, commercial kitchen, and a few rabbits and chickens.  The students are outside for at 45-90 minutes a day learning or taking care of projects.  The greenhouse work is currently helping local farmers with vegetable seed planting and growing food for use at the school.

What a wonderful opportunity for learning in such a beautiful environment.  Thank you so much, Kevin, Cory and Michele for the chance to see what Greenspire is all about!


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