Serve – March 2019

Contents (Click on a title or scroll)

Real Dirt:  New Volunteer Opportunities!

Public Pollinator-Friendly Gardens

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben: A Review

Real Dirt:  New Volunteer Opportunities!

by Cheryl A. Gross AEMG

The Real Dirt has been a publication of the Master Gardener Association of Northwest Michigan for many years.  It began as as paper document copied and mailed to all members. In January of 2013 it evolved into an on-line, web-based format and expanded content.  It has been locally produced by an entire team of volunteers, many contributing writers, including Nancy Denison who has been writing since the beginning.  At the core, I have been the editor coordinating with all contributors and assembling the content. Whitney Miller has been the ‘Techie Chick’ logging countless hours on the design, format, redesign, and uploading of each issue.  For the past several years, Bethany Thies has been our go-to for final grammatical editing.

As these jobs go, the volunteers give it their best shot and then are ready to move on.  Changing hands is the best way to infuse new life into a project. Bethany and I are ready to move on.  I began thinking about letting it go it last year, but as I have enjoyed it very much, have let time pass.

We are looking for VOLUNTEERS to carry-on the Real Dirt or will cease production with the March 2019 issue.

As Editor, it is not a difficult job.  I would be more than happy to help someone transition to the role.  You would be able to design the job to suit you; I will explain all of the steps I have taken for each issue.  As for the grammatical part, we really do need to find a new Bethany. Her eagle eye and corrections kept us looking professional and I relied on her.  Master Gardeners can earn volunteer hours for all of the time spent researching, writing, and editing the Real Dirt. For those who find working on your knees too much, these are ‘easy’ hours.  You need to be able to work with computers, be a reasonably good writer, and want to share interesting gardening concepts with others.

Click HERE to read more details on the Editor/Chair duties.  Contact me at to find out more and to refresh the Real Dirt!

Public Pollinator-Friendly Gardens

by Barbara Backus, EMG

In 2016, both the City of Traverse City and the MGANM gave me permission to start a garden project at Hull Park, a small sliver of a park on the shores of Boardman Lake to the southwest of the Main Branch of the Traverse City District Library on Woodmere, so I could acquire hours for certification.   Weeds were over waist high in the garden beds, but the beds had the bones of a good garden design with Serviceberry, fragrant sumac, purple echinacea, and the ubiquitous daylily. That year I worked on those beds by myself and got to know city personnel who hauled away the weed debris I’d stack to the side of the beds.

In June of 2017, at a MGANM meeting, I met two new MG’s, Sandy Coobac and Victor Dinsmoore, who were looking for a place to garden for their certification hours.  When they joined me it was a boon for Hull Park to have them help create a more beautiful Pollinator-Friendly Garden.

In the Summer of 2017, Sandy Coobac, Victor Dinsmoore and I worked on the Hull Park Gardens, to which we have added Walker’s Low nepeta, salvia, liatris, butterfly weed, rudbekia, plus other pollinator favorites.  While we worked in the beds, the passing runners, bikers, moms pushing strollers, and folks out for a stroll, thanked us for the beautiful beds.

Hull Park bed with heuchera, nepeta, liatris, echinacea, Golden Alexandra, nicotiana and hosta. Photo by Barbara Backus

At some point mid-summer 2017, someone explained to me that there was a new application that was needed to be completed by EMG volunteers for project approval, and that all MG projects needed to be educational.  Our submitted proposal for a “Smart Gardening for Pollinators in Public Parks – Traverse City” was approved, making us official.

Later in 2017, Sandy, Victor and I started thinking that we could begin another garden and provide another place for new MG’s to earn needed hours.  Since we were receiving such positive feedback from passerby’s of the Hull Park site, we asked the City of Traverse City if we could have some garden space at Clinch Park, where even more people pass by. We worked with City Staff, Cindy Anderson, to identify garden beds in Clinch Park that we could use, and we chose the beds on either side of the Cass Street tunnel that leads into Clinch Park for our new demonstration gardens.   Derek Melville, Director of Parks and Recreation, was most supportive of our offer to revive those beds and make them into pollinator-friendly demonstration gardens, offering to help fund the new native and pollinator attractive plants and educational signage.

Clinch Park Bed covered with Dairy Doo. Photo by Barbara Backus

In the spring of 2018, Sandy and I dug samples for soil analysis from the Clinch beds, discovering that they were one step above beach sand.  Then we dug out the cotoneaster that populated those beds and added required fertilizer and Dairy Doo to the soil. In May, Derek Melville assisted Sandy Coobac with buying many native plants at the Boardman Nature Center Native Plant Sale for the Clinch pollinator gardens, and loaded $500 of plants on a city truck to take to my garage.  In a number of weeks we had all the natives planted in the Clinch gardens.

When out and about this summer, please stop by the Hull Park Garden and the Clinch Parks beds to watch pollinator habitat in action.

Tree huggers (birch and maple), by Kathryn Frerichs

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben: A Review

by Kathryn Frerichs, AEMG

Once in a great while I am astounded by some new, amazing findings in medicine, genetics, botany, etc.  The revelations in Peter Wohlleben’s book The Hidden Life of Trees create one of those times. The works of natural scientists in recent years have revealed the role of mycelium and bacteria in the soil now called the Wood Wide Web.

Teaming with Microbes by Jeff Lowenfels was reviewed in the Real Dirt previously. In it, mycelium is described to extend plant roots and exchange minerals and water for sugars from those roots.  Miles of threads of mycelium exist in a teaspoon of soil. The mycelium belong to the fungi family and the largest living organism on earth is a fungus that covers 2,384 acres and is dated at 2,400 to possibly 8,650 years old.  Plenty to be gobsmacked about with these discoveries. Then comes Wohlleben’s book to take us to that place of wonder and amazement regarding trees.

Wohlleben reveals how to observe that trees can, in fact, detect smell. The thorned acacia trees in Africa have been observed to ward off giraffes by secreting a bad tasting substance in their leaves tanking them from tasty to nasty.  The long-necked herbivores then trot off to a neighboring acacia and depending upon the wind direction, the trees will have already begun secreting that nasty-tasting chemical into their leaves too. The giraffes have figured out that the downwind trees can smell chemicals from neighboring trees and just move upwind to chomp on other unsuspecting trees.  Trees do, by deduction from this example and others examples, have to be able to “smell” or detect the odor the other trees emit. Some critics claim that Wohlleben’s writing becomes anthropomorphic. Whatever you may want to call it, smell or detect, trees are communicating via odor/smell. Man can be very egocentric in thinking that only the human species can ‘smell’.  I think more of us will pay attention to his work with his imaginative approach.

Peter Wohlleben explains how trees communicate through the air and through the Wood Wide Web (WWW).  Saplings that are living on the shaded forest floor are fed by the mother trees through their roots. The saplings can wait in the dark, so to speak, because the mother trees feed them for decades before an opening in the forest canopy provides the light to fuel their growth. Trees feed one another in times of illness too.  They use the WWW, also known as mycelium, to accomplish this feat. After a number of these examples, you begin to realize that a forest is not made up of individual trees but is a type of super organism. The parts are all interconnected and protecting one another. Trees, also, have the ability to detect artificial light at night  Eventually the light stunts their growth. They need to stop photosynthesis at night in order to rest.

A forest of trees operates in concert with one another by regulating their climate.  The leaves, or their solar panels, provide a cooling effect and feed and water the roots every autumn when they are broken down and become soil.   The depth of the soil increases over time. They can withstand wind storms by buffering each other to prevent being toppled over. By fall the trees have made and stored as much sugar as they can so they shed the solar panels to rot and become new soil for the next season.  Also, Mr. Wohlleben tells us that when man comes along to harvest lumber from these magnificent giant-coordinated organisms called forests, they cut down the oldest, largest most mature trees. Our old growth trees are the biggest carbon sequesterers we have. The first trees to be cut down in a forest are the largest ones ‘who’ are the most capable of helping us fend off climate change.  

I highly recommend The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben to Master Gardeners.   Besides being a delightful read, it is informative, teaches us to respect those giants of the forest living in the slow lane, and recognizes that trees are interconnected in ways we have not anticipated.  Communication, sleep, nurturance, and functioning as one organism make for better survival just as Darwin hypothesized.

Enjoy this wonderful book!

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