Real Dirt

President’s Letter – March 2021

by Michele Worden, AEMG, MGANM President

As we slog through of slush of late winter, I am excited by the opportunities that I see and by the progress we have made on our mission of education.

I am amazed and grateful for the wonderful volunteers that have stepped up and made our association better.  Great things are happening!  Thank you all for answering the call and sharing your numerous talents.

Molly Bacon has led the charge to update and improve our website.  Please look at the new ease of finding useful information and upcoming events.  We have a committee that is working with Molly, but we also welcome any input on how to make things better from the membership.  Let us know what works and what needs improving.

Molly has also been leading the effort to expand and improve The Real Dirt with her prolific group of Master Gardener writers and editors.  We discovered that not all members were receiving the newsletter because of confusion around how to subscribe to it.  Thus, we have moved the delivery platform from MailChimp to our membership management software, Wild Apricot.  By going through Wild Apricot to distribute the newsletter, all members will get The Real Dirt via email.  Archives of past Real Dirt articles will still appear on the website and be discoverable for the public.

A big thank you to Nancy Popa, our Vice-President, and the two Programming Co-chairs, Kay Goodall and Kathleen Mullaney.  They have taken the reins on getting the execution of the programming calendar working like clockwork.   I especially appreciate this as I have some family commitments that prevent me for being as active in the programming as I have in the past.  They are doing an amazing job of working with speakers, writing press releases and distributing them, creating the Facebook and Wild Apricot events and managing the registration process.  It is a lot of work.

MGANM programming has been more popular than ever.  In January we hosted a fascinating event on “Composting and Biochar” by Nate Walton and Tim Overdier that had 80 registrants. 

In February, we saw an amazing presentation on “Seed Starting” by our own Sue Newman.  Our Facebook post on this event went viral and had over 70,000 views and hundreds of shares.  We had 189 registrants.  I think we tapped into the pandemic desire of many to learn how to start a garden from seed.  We had so many registrants for Seed Starting that we had to move from the MGANM zoom platform (max 100) to Nate’s MSUE platform that can host effectively unlimited participants. 

For March, we are excited to welcome tribal member Nathan Wright on “Plants that Native Americans Used”.  So far, we have 128 registrants, and once again have had to  move to the MSUE zoom platform.  I am really looking forward to this talk!

The surge in interest in our programming has had another impact.  We have had an increase in new memberships as well as many of the optional $5 donations to view our programs.  We welcome all to our programming but ask for the optional donation to defray costs. The increase in memberships and programming donations has had a positive impact on our budget.  We will send our Annual Report out in March to the membership.

I am grateful that we have been able to expand the reach of our educational mission through virtual speakers and connecting people to resources.  But I also am itching to get in the garden and in our volunteer projects where we can promote horticultural education the old-fashioned way by getting our hands dirty. 

Start your seeds and plan your gardens.  Spring awaits!

Many thanks for all you do for our community.


News & Events – March 2021

There are so many wonderful events and workshops happening in our community that we simply cannot list them all. Please be sure to check directly with the websites and Facebook pages for these organizations and the events that they offer:  Botanical Gardens at Historic Barns Park, Boardman River Nature Center (Grand Traverse Conservation District), Plant it Wild, Wild Ones, NW Michigan Invasive Species Network, NW Michigan Horticulture Research Center, Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, Saving Birds Thru Habitat, Benzie Conservation District, Leelanau Conservation District, and Leelanau Conservancy.

There is a new feature on the MGANM website menu under Volunteer Opportunities titled “Events and Educational Opportunities”.  Updates will be posted as they are received so please check often for additions.


Presently all meetings are being held via Zoom format. Registration is required. For more information and registration, please see the website

Apr. 6th (Tue.) Backyard Conservation” 6:30-8:00 p.m.

May 4th (Tue.) A Pest Resistant Landscape-Plant Choices That Are Work Horses” 6:30-8:00 p.m.


Mar. 14th (Sun.) A Master Gardener’s Guide to Raised Bed Gardening by Sue Newman”.  2:00-3:00 p.m.

Mar. 21st (Sun.) Food Gardening for Everyone with Melinda Myers”.  2:00-3:00 p.m.

Apr. 11th (Sun.) Save Money and Improve Your Soil for Better Gardening Results with Melinda Myers”.  More information to come.  

Apr. 22nd (Thur.)  “Earth Day”.  Two presentations: “Gardening Sustainability” and “Refresh Your Landscape with Dr. Schutzki”.  More information to come.

Registration is required for all events.  Please see the website for all information and cost.


There is an exciting new feature on The Botanic Garden’s website – an audio tour of The Garden. Click on ‘Visit’ at the top of the home page, and then select ‘Self-Guided Audio Tour’.  You can access this feature on your cell phones as well. Whether you are walking the garden or curled up at home, you can hear all about each garden and special features, including an introductory historic background.   Self-guided tour brochures are available at both the upper and lower-level entrances of the visitor center and are aligned with the audio tour.

The Garden and Labyrinth are still available to enjoy. The Botanic Garden at Historic Barns Park is always open to the public.  Please check the website for current information on the gift shop. The Garden looks forward to welcoming visitors and is working hard to keep everyone safe and healthy while providing guests with the best possible experience.

Beautify – March 2021

Contents (Click on a title or scroll)


Forcing: A New Winter Hobby

The Trials and Tribulations of Indoor Gardening



Forcing: A New Winter Hobby

By Karine Pierson, Extension Master Gardener Trainee

C.H.A.D. Compulsive Horticultural Acquisition Disorder – The obsessive need to acquire new plants, whether you have room for them in your house.

Do you ever get bored in the winter, suffer from C.H.A.D. or just develop an itch for gardening during the colder months that cannot be scratched by just looking at seed catalogs? Forcing is a new winter activity for you that can keep you occupied (read: fascinated), and your environment filled with beautiful blooming plants all season long. I am going to share with you several planty activities that you can occupy your itchy green thumb with when the ground outside is frozen. These plantings can be done and enjoyed inside from fall to early spring. The difficulty level of these projects varies, but even a brand-new beginner can learn to force, which we can think of as coaxing plants into bloom inside when they normally would not be blooming, like the middle of January. All of this and more can be accomplished, but let us start with something a little more on the easier side.


Forcing amaryllisThis is my double-blooming red amaryllis that exploded with color and double blooms during Hanukkah (right before Christmas). I got it at the local hardware store for five bucks. Winning!

Difficulty level: Easy

Amaryllis is one of the easiest bulbs to force.  It is in a group of what are called “tender” bulbs, as in bulbs from the tropics – the opposite of hardy bulbs we grow outside here in our temperate climate, such as tulips and daffodils.  These bulbs have an opposite growing season than we do, being that they are native to areas south of the equator.  You may be familiar with tender bulbs such as cannas and dahlias, which are planted outdoors in the garden and then are dug up for storage in the fall.  Amaryllis bulbs will start to appear in gardening stores and big box stores alike in late November and December.  It is a traditionally festive plant for the holidays, since they are usually red, or red and white in color.  You may see “Paperwhite” narcissus bulbs for sale with these, which will also bloom around the same time period, and are ridiculously fragrant.  Get a few of these bulbs going together and your holiday parties will be the talk of the town.  All you must do is open the package and rehydrate the coco coir it came with as a growing medium.  Sometimes this comes in a weird dry disc and that is ok, just make sure it is fully hydrated and it will turn into soil.  Plant the bulb root-side down (the fat part) and if a little sprout is already coming up that is a bonus!  Water whenever the growing medium dries out (stick your finger in it to feel the moisture level) every few days or so (more as it grows), and in about four weeks you will have giant blooms.  Trellis so they do not fall over, they are infamously heavy and impressive. 


Difficulty Level: Moderate

Forcing CliviaAnother of the tender bulbs, this is a new plant to me.  Clivia was popular from the 1800’s until the 1950’s.  It is a throwback bulb!  I have just purchased it online for $7.99 and it arrived alive from California in three days.  I have transplanted it, and I am sending it good vibes that it will come out of dormancy and begin to make little sprouts during which time I can begin to water and pamper it.  They do not like being repotted nor do they like wet feet, especially during the dormant period.  It is the perfect plant for those with little light.  Stick it in the darkest corner of your home.  You do not water it four months out of the year, so it is a lot of reward for very little effort.  Once it comes out of dormancy, gorgeously detailed orange flowers will appear, which I will deadhead for more blooms.  It should bloom the entire month of March and then I will be left with the beautiful glossy, evergreen foliage for which this plant is famous.  Water all through summer until the first day of November.  On that day, stop watering and do not begin again until the first day of March next year.  I am going to assume my little plant will still bloom in March because it is going to sulk a bit in its new pot after being transplanted before it will decide to grow.  I will keep you all posted on this new child. 

This is my new Clivia plant pouting in the corner after transplanting.  Its root structures resemble those of orchids, so I used orchid potting soil.

Hardy Bulbs

Difficulty Level: Hard (pun intended)

Have you ever wondered how wonderful little pots of daffodils, tulips, and fabulously scented hyacinths are grown so that they appear in early spring, just in time for everyone’s cabin fever to be at a level ten?  The answer is forcing!  Plant these bulbs in a potting medium with good drainage the second week of October or so, and if things turn out just right, in the spring you will enjoy a dazzling display of color and scent.  The trick is to have the right places to put the plants in the right temperature at the right time, and this can be challenging.  Get out your trusty thermo-hygrometer for this task and take temperature readings in places in your house such as a garage, basement, and attic.  They should start out at about 40 degrees (a chilly, but not frozen garage) for the first and longest period where you will be mimicking winter.  I would not advise using a refrigerator for this because the bulbs will not grow next to gases that emit from ripening fruits like apples.  Keep this in mind when deciding where to put the bulbs.  If you have a bunch of pears from your pear tree curing in the garage for example, it is not best to put the bulbs next to them.  For about 12 weeks water them and keep them cold.  About two weeks before blooming, they will need to go in a little bit of a warmer spot at 55-60 degrees or so with low light.  A north-facing window is perfect for this.   You are now mimicking early spring.  After a couple of weeks of this, you need to put them in a nice sunny spot or under a grow lamp (to imitate late spring), and blooms should burst forth!  After the blooms come up, you can place the plant anywhere you want in the house as light is no longer a factor.  If you buy forced plants like this at the store, remember they do not need light as they are past the period where it is necessary for them, so you may place them in your darkest, most windowless room for some spring cheer. 

HygrometerThis is my trusty thermal hygrometer, which is the scientific word for a device that tells both temperature and humidity.  One can be had for about five dollars at a gardening store or online.






Twigs and Branches

Difficulty Level: Easy

Anyone can bring branches and twigs into bloom.  Simply gather some branches with buds from spring-blooming trees and shrubs, and/or trees with interesting leaves such as red maple and willow any time from the end of January until the second week of March.  Place the branches in your bathtub in lukewarm water and soak for two hours.  Next, you will arrange the branches in a vase of water and place them in a windowsill where they will see natural light or even under a grow light.  They should start to bloom before the trees outside bloom, and you will get an early show.  The warmer the weather when you harvest, the better-suited the branches will be for forcing so aim for a rare winter sunny day.  Trees in Northern Michigan suitable for forcing are as follows:

Redbud, Pussy Willow, Forsythia, Spirea, Witch Hazel, Staghorn Sumac, Wild Cherry, any fruit trees

Use your imagination, the possibilities are endless!

Forcing Cherry TreeMy cherry tree was a good candidate for forcing, but be careful where you harvest branches from so that you’re not taking your good fruiting branches that you can easily reach to pick fruit from.Small Redbud

My redbud tree is brand-new this year and struggling, so probably not the best candidate to take branches from.

Getting these branches got me outside in the cold!  It’s good for you! Getting BranchesBranches Inside

Once the branches come inside, they need a good soak in a sink or tub at room temperature water, so I set a timer for two hours.


Miscellaneous Forcing/Indoor Gardening

Difficulty Level: Various

There are many other types of forcing, including water forcing which is where the bulbs are placed in vases of water instead of soil. This is commonly done with hyacinth bulbs. There are also many other types of bulbs not mentioned previously that can be forced, including the weird and wonderful Bowiea plant or the ‘Walking Onion.’  There are also other ways to indulge your inner gardener during the winter such as growing and propagating house plants and starting seeds. These activities can be done at any time, but be aware if you are going to germinate seeds for your summer garden, each plant has a specific timetable as to when to start it. Onion seeds are started in January, tomatoes and peppers in March and squashes, pumpkins, and cucurbits about three weeks before the last frost. I highly recommend getting a grow light, a humidity dome, and a heat mat if you are going to start seeds for the summer garden, as these items ensure success. Seedlings like it warm, like most babies do.Baby Lime

Seed in a GlassCheers! In the bottom of the glass is an organic Mandarin (dwarf) orange seed I obtained from a delicious Mandarin from a local food co-op. The trick is to not let citrus dry out prior to planting since it is a tropical plant from a wet environment. Direct-sow in a pot of seed-starting mix and keep watered once a week for six weeks and a citrus sprout should come up. As a rule of thumb, always start at least two of any fruit trees to ensure pollination and in case one does not make it. Let us be honest, many do not make it and it will be years before we ever see any fruit, but it is fun to try right? In the photo below is the result of one of these seedling experiments, a baby lime tree, thorns, and all:


Tips for forcing plants:

Choose a nice-looking container I cannot stress this enough, especially with forcing twigs and branches. They look elegant in a nice vase, really ‘meh’ in your old mayonnaise jar. Twigs and branches also pair nicely with other forced bulbs.

Raise the humidity level in your home with a water feature, such as a small water fountain or a simple humidifier.  This is good for your skin in the winter too, when humidity levels can get as low as twenty percent. Keep track of it with a thermal hygrometer, which is a handy little device that reads both temperature and humidity. Actively growing and flowering plants like a general humidity of 50-60%

Choose safety for your family

Some tropical plants, garden plants and bulbs are extremely toxic to children and pets, including iris and daffodil. If you have kids or pets, do your research before you buy plants. Obviously call your doctor or veterinarian if you fear that your family member, furry or otherwise may have ingested plant material.

Use better water

Distilled water is better for plants than tap, and well water is best. If you must use tap water, let it sit out for 24 hours to evaporate some of the chlorine and synthetic chemicals.

The possibilities for winter and indoor gardening are endless! With a little preparation and some planning ahead, you will not ever be forced to be bored or plant less during the cold season again!

For Further Reading:

Forcing, Etc.” by Katherine Whiteside (Smith & Hawken)

This is the quintessential book on forcing, and I highly recommend getting it if this subject really interests you and you want a lot of details. Everything is covered here.

Bulb Forcing” by Art Wolk

Art Wolk is a humorous expert in bulb forcing, and this book is an intensive, scientific discussion of it.


A small, family-run business with a wide selection

These guys are from Ann Arbor Michigan! Heirloom bulb specialists

Flower brokers with efficient service

An extensive gardening and plant website

The original bulbophiles, the Dutch, bring us this extensive jewel of a catalog

wide selection and Dutch bulb specialists



The Trials and Tribulations of Indoor Gardening 

By Molly Bacon, Extension Master Gardener Trainee

For about 25 years I have had greenhouses, while living in both Tennessee and Georgia prior to coming back to Michigan. They were heated, had automatic misting systems and a large thermostatically controlled fan. I started out with orchids, which I had also grown while living in Southern California, and later added potted citrus. I did well with the orchids, having some award winners at shows being judged by the American Orchid Society.  Unfortunately, once the trees surrounding my greenhouse grew larger, they drastically reduced the lighting to where I could no longer grow orchids. I continued with the citrus, which spent their summers outside and then I finally gave the citrus and the greenhouse to some friends in Florida.

Pre - Garden RoomHere in Michigan, I have a small south-facing room with three windows and no heat. It also has a day bed, my collection of lightning rods (that were acquired since this photo), and some miscellaneous knick-knacks.

Last year, I decided to venture back into trying potted citrus and a couple of fig trees. This was before myGarden Room 2020 Master Gardener training. In October 2019, I brought in the citrus, some poblano peppers, strawberries, and artichokes. I Added an oil-filled heater, a borrowed 4 foot- 2-tube grow light, a three-arm table-top grow light, and a small table-top fountain. The artichoke pot brought in a horrible case of fungus gnats and the artichokes slowly died. My experiment of over-wintering 3 pots of poblano peppers wasn’t worth the space and the strawberries also died. Somewhere around the holidays, I acquired a Thanksgiving cactus and in the spring an amaryllis. The citrus stayed alive and in March, the Meyer lemon bloomed and then promptly dropped all its leaves.

Garden Room seed startingI also tried my second year at seed starting. I added an additional 2 foot- 2-tube grow light suspended from the shelf above. Even seed starting was not totally successful since the seed starting media was very inferior and would not evenly take up moisture no matter what tried. Consequently, those seeds either did not germinate or died shortly after germination.

Once the weather warmed, I moved everything outdoors. Most of the plants did okay when I remembered to water them.

For this winter, I spent some time planning how to better utilize the limited space and make the garden room more successful. I replaced the borrowed 4 foot grow light with one I purchased, and I added one of the halide lights that the professional growers use.  I was lucky to find it for $5 at a yard sale down the street this last summer.  I knew I needed much more humidity than the little table-top fountain provided, so I purchased a humidifier rated for more square footage than the room is large. Last year, I set the citrus pots on upturned 5-gallon buckets but did not like that arrangement. Since the room is carpeted, I placed an extra-large dog kennel tray under the citrus even though they are also on drainage saucers. This tray helps collect accidental water spills and drips from misting. The house is on a raised foundation and the floor gets cold in the winter, so I added a large heat mat under the tray with the citrus.

Garden Room StandFrom my former days of selling antiques and “stuff”, I still had a vintage 5+ foot high wrought iron plant stand shaped like a spiral staircase with a larger potholder on top. I am using it to hold the now two amaryllis since I’ve acquired a second plant, Thanksgiving cactus, the smaller fig tree, and a Hoya carnosa ‘Krimson Queen’. I had a large Hoya plant in the greenhouse in Georgia. They have such unique waxy flowers. Can you believe, there is actually a Facebook group of just Michigan Hoya growers.

Yes, my room is really packed full. Eight citrus trees, a dwarf pomegranate, two figs, three Hoyas, Thanksgiving cactus (1Garden Room 2021 large and 4 small pots from the large one falling and breaking apart), Easter cactus and 12 recently acquired Christmas cactus cuttings, eight orchids, and finally last year’s pot of parsley and a cucamelon or mouse melon (Melothria scabra). I had read where cucamelons grow tubers and can be over wintered and replanted again the next year. Though my pot had gone through the fall freezes a couple of times, it thinks it is becoming spring in the back corner of the garden room and its vine is now about 3 feet high.

Now to my biggest mistake of this year. Being too busy which I know is no excuse and kidding myself into thinking it is was not that bad, I let a horrible spider mite infestation take over all of the citrus plants. They started dropping leaves and were looking really shabby. Shame on me, a new Master Gardener trainee. One morning I moved them all out of their corner and one by one with cotton swabs and insecticidal soap, I swabbed them all down and then drenched them with a spray bottle of insecticidal soap. I have started a daily misting routine and repeated incremental insecticidal sprays to, “fingers-crossed”, break the life cycle of the mites. Fewer leaves are dropping, except the Palestine Sweet Lime, which like the Meyer lemon last year, was beautiful, bloomed profusely, and dropped most all its leaves. It was not all the leaves but about 98% of them.

Just when you think you have it figured out; they surprise you. Of course, it is not like I pick normal houseplants to grow so I think it is expected that there will be surprises.

Baby fig
Last minute update: One of the figs, Ficus carica ‘White Marseilles’ has a baby fig. First fruit I’ve had on the citrus or the figs.


Nourish – March 2021

Contents (Click on a title or scroll)


Food of the Month:
Frozen Fruit
Frozen Blueberry Chatter
Overnight Baked Blueberry Muffin Oatmeal

Planning for Planting

MGANM Garden Book Club Meeting Update



Food of the Month: Frozen Fruit 

Frozen Blueberry Chatter

By Joanne Johnsen, AMG

The Michigan Farm/School calendar has designated March as Frozen Fruit Month, and the one fruit that can always be found in my freezer is blueberries, preferably Michigan blueberries from Buchan’s Blueberry Hill in Traverse City. 

Blueberries are so easy to freeze—no peeling, hulling, blanching, or slicing.   Just do a quick rinse off in a colander.  Pick out any stems or damaged berries.  Place them in a single layer on paper toweling and allow them to dry off before placing them in freezer containers or plastic freezer bags.  I like to measure mine out in 1 cup increments, place the cup amount in a small sealable sandwich bag, and then place the smaller bags into a larger gallon freezer bag.  That way they are recipe ready and easy to find in the freezer. 

When you are mixing up a batch of blueberry pancakes or muffins, simply add them to the mix.  No need to defrost.  Yogurt parfaits or berry smoothies are another popular use for these frozen gems. The good news is blueberries can be kept in your freezer for up to 10 months. 

Some blueberry facts:

  • 1 Cup of blueberries = 80 Calories; 3.6 Grams of Fiber; 25% Daily Vitamin C
  • Blueberries are native to North America, and Native Americans used them for medicinal purposes and as a natural flavoring.
  • In 1893, Elizabeth White, the daughter of a New Jersey cranberry grower, saw great potential in domesticating wild blueberries. In 1911, she teamed up with Frederick Coville, a USDA botanist, and they began identifying wild blueberry varieties and crossbreeding them.  In 1916, White and Coville sold the first commercial crop of blueberries to delighted customers in Whitesbog, NJ.  Thank you Betty and Fred!!
  • In 2011, First Lady, Michelle Obama, planted blueberries in the White House kitchen garden.

For more interesting blueberry facts and blueberry recipes, please visit:


Overnight Baked Blueberry Muffin OatmealBlueberry Recipe

Course Breakfast                Cook Time 35 minutes                    Author Emma Chapman


  • 1 3/4 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • (I add a couple shakes of cinnamon to the batter.)

Crumb Topping

  • 1/4 cup cold butter
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour


  1. In a large bowl, stir together the dry ingredients: oats, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
  2. In a smaller bowl, stir together the wet ingredients: milk, egg, melted and cooled butter, and vanilla extract.
  3. Combine the wet ingredients with the dry in the large bowl, stir to combine. Then stir in the blueberries.
  4. Add this mixture to a pie pan, cover and store overnight in the refrigerator.
  5. In a small bowl, cut together the crumb topping ingredients. The mixture will be crumbly, like small peas you can press together. Store overnight (or you can make this in the morning, either way).
  6. Top the oatmeal with the crumb topping, then bake at 350°F for 30-35 minutes. If the crumb topping doesn’t look golden brown and slightly crispy, you can set under the broiler for a minute or two.



Planning for Planting

By Shari Froelich, Extension Master Gardener Trainee

Garden PlanningI’m not a planner by nature and have often flown by the seat of my pants in anything that required planning. Since I’ve not done too well in this area in the past, I am using the adult learning principles of “see one, do one, teach one” but bypassing the do one, and jumping right in to teach one.  I figured it was early enough this year to do and teach at the same time.


Site Selection

Planning starts out by deciding on the garden location, maximizing the amount of sunlight available. It is important to start off by having a soil sample completed by MSU to determine soil needs. Ideal locations are where the soil is loose, rich, level and well drained. It is recommended that you do not choose low areas where water stands, or the soil remains wet and most plants will not grow well in poorly drained areas. Most plants need sunlight to grow well. Planting near buildings, trees or shrubs that will shade the garden is not advised. Most plants need at least 6 hours of sunlight daily. Planting anything under branches of large trees or near shrubs will rob food and water from the plant. Ideal situations are to plant the garden area near a water supply if possible. Water is needed especially during long dry periods or when planting seeds directly into the soil.

Garden Size

Making the garden too large is one of the most common mistakes of enthusiastic, first time gardeners.  A garden that is too large will be more work than can be successfully managed by one individual. Things to consider are available room from containers to having plenty of ground space. Available time is also a key factor. Determine if you only have time for gardening after work or school or only on weekends as there will not be enough time for a larger garden. With vegetable gardening, it is important to include family size as this will help determine total size and if others in the family will be assisting.  Knowing the reason for your gardening as purely recreational or having a bigger garden for canning/freezing to selling produce/plants/flowers will also determine size. Determine types of plants to be grown as some plants take up a lot of space. Various resources will assist on determining the spacing of plants.

Deciding What to Grow

Available space is as a big decision as where to locate the garden. Vining plants require different space requirements than non-vining plants. Expected production from the crop, maturing rates and length of time vegetables/flowers bear over the duration of the season are important considerations.  Cost factors of seeds versus buying pre-started plants are important aspects to consider. The variety of plant types of GMO, hybrids, and organic sources can impact costs. Growing anything that the family prefers versus what a sellable market needs are also considerations.

Location of the Garden

Arranging plants in a way that makes the most use of space and light is key. Growing taller plants on the north side of your garden where they won’t shade shorter plants is important. Grouping plants according to maturity will also be beneficial as it makes it easier to replant after removing an early crop. Plant vine crops near a fence or trellis if possible. Making a drawing on graft paper to show the location and spacing of plants in the garden is helpful.

Timing of Planting

A key component of timing is knowing your first and last frost dates. One of the simplest is to contact a local nursery, a farmer or using online tools such as 4-25 Frost free date table REBECCA.pdf (; Michigan Interactive Average Last Frost Date Map (

Vegetable plants are generally divided into two groups—warm season and cool season varieties. Flower plants also include a spring season in most areas by planting many spring bulbs in the fall in most of northwestern Michigan. Cool season vegetable crops can stand lower temperatures; plant them before the soil warms in the spring. They can also be planted again in late summer to harvest after the first frost in the fall.

How Much to Plant

Some plants produce more than others, and it is important to know these factors prior to planting. Vegetables will depend on the use such as family size, selling at Farmer’s Market, etc.  Another consideration is expected production and whether or not freezing or canning will be done. Key advice is not to plant too much as over-planting is wasteful and may take more work than what you have to offer. If even after good planning you end up with too much, most friends, family and food pantries welcome any extras you have.

Planting Guide



Flower planting will also depend on whether the purpose is for personal pleasure or for income.

Sources for seed calculators can be found at  Seed Quantity Calculator | Johnny’s Selected Seeds (; Seed Planting Calculator – Grow Organic

Happy Planning!






MGANM Garden Book Club Meeting Update

By Barbara Fasulo-Emmott, AMG, Book Club Chair 

Our first MGANM book club met in January in a zoom format. We had 10 participants who read and discussed Paige Dickey’s book “Uprooted.” We had a delightful discussion from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. Everybody thoroughly enjoyed the book which spurred many questions about flowering plants, soil science, cold frames, and landscaping. We agreed to limit our membership to the current number of participants, increasing the number of participants as people left the book club.

Natures best hope



Our February book choice is “Natures Best Hope” by Douglas W. Tallamy

Serve – March 2021



Gardening Mentors

By Sue Sensenbaugh-Padgett, Advanced Extension Master Gardener

Garden MentorsGardening at its essence is the desire for connection.  We connect seed to soil, soil improvement to plant growth, even native plants to insect habitats.  As Master Gardeners, we expand that desire to connecting others with gardening and gardening information.  The pandemic removed the opportunity for face-to-face volunteering.  It also limited our chance to connect with and learn from fellow Master Gardeners.

Creativity is finding ways to expand volunteering opportunities, while Zoom meetings are allowing the continuations of regular meetings.  This article is a way to learn from and about fellow Master Gardeners.  Each article interviews 3 members asking them the same questions.

This Issue interviews members Lillian Mahaney, Michele Worden, and Gary Michalek asking them each about mentoring.  The answers are interesting and informative. Our subject is mentoring beginning with:

Did you have a Garden Mentor growing up?

Lillian says:
As a child I loved visiting my grandparents, particularly seeing the huge perennial garden. My grandmother showed me what were weeds, and I would very carefully dig them up and replant them in a little bed that I created to the delight of my grandfather! I would keep them watered, and if I remember correctly, they did well.

Gary shares:
My grandfather, Roman, worked in a commercial wholesale florist’s greenhouse. We lived in a duplex above him and my grandma.  Growing up, our backyard was a large plot of cana lilies, most taller than me, and salvia lining the sidewalk to the alley. I had the opportunity to watch, help, and learn from him, from the start of the season  to fall cleanup. 

Michele continues:
I had two garden mentors.  The first was my great-grandmother, Stella.  I      remember weeding her rock garden, and her tall stand of African violets in her sunny sewing room.  She taught me to cut the heads off of zinnias and put them in a paper bag in the basement.  They could be planted whole in the spring to create a bed of colorful zinnias. 

My Dad was my other mentor or “task master”.  He loves his roses and tomatoes.   We had fruit trees and vegetables and perennial beds when we were growing up.   We could not ride our bikes to our friends’ houses on Saturday until we had done our garden chores – weeding, harvesting, etc.  It was agonizing.  We used hand trimmers to edge the beds on our knees.  My brother and I both hated gardening as kids.  Interestingly, we both grew up to have big gardens at our houses.

What was the best/most useful thing your Mentor told you?

Gary was clear:
Success in growing plants requires patience, precision, and hard work.  You can’t cut corners and get good results.  It’s gratifying to do it right and see the beauty of the results.

Michele says:
I learned to pay attention to detail in the garden.    Really look.  There is lots to see.

Lillian’s is practical:
My grandparents had the perennial garden and a very large vegetable/fruit garden.  The one garden was strictly for enjoyment and the other was a necessity, so I learned about both parts of gardening.

 If you were Mentoring, what would your advice be to a young gardener?

Michele tells us:
I would say just get your hands dirty.  You learn first by doing.  You never know a plant until you have killed it three times.  Then get a subscription to a garden magazine and read some books.  It complements the hands-on work.

Lillian shares:
My advice to young gardeners would be to try new things and always, always, have fun.  Even if things don’t work well, it is a learning experience and the process is what makes it fun. I tried to instill this in all the Jr. Master Gardener students I taught at 3 schools over many years.  It is wonderful when they tell me they love gardening since they are now young adults.

Gary gives us:
Learn all you can about gardening, then go out, work hard and carefully, and have fun.  Don’t be afraid to experiment and learn from your failures. Assemble the best garden tools you can to make your gardening tasks easy and enjoyable.  Always garden with a 5-gallon bucket at your side.  Keep learning new things and be passionate about gardening.

We hope you have enjoyed learning about these EMGs’ experiences with mentoring. The next issue’s subject is Seeds.  

Steward – March 2021

Contents (Click on a title or scroll)


Composting with biochar

Seed Starting

Bale Raised Beds: My experiment and project for this year’s growing season – Part 2

Planning for Planting (moved to Nourish)

Getting Started with Vermiculture, AKA Worm Composting

Spring Clean-Up in the Garden



Composting with biochar

Featuring presentations by Tim Overdier and Nate Walton.

MGANM January Meeting Notes by Erin Paxson -Extension Master Gardener Trainee

BiocharBiochar is the latest buzzword in the gardening world. What exactly is biochar?  What benefits does it have in the garden and how do you utilize it?  Tim Overdier is based in Northport, and after years of research as a soil scientist in 10 different states and twice as many Indian reservations, he has collaborated with grazier Paul May to sell to and educate the public on biochar use. Their company, The Biochar Guys ( create biochar using old home heating tanks made into 10ft trough kilns.

Although many of us are just now becoming familiar with biochar, Tim tells us it was utilized 8,000 years ago in the Amazon by indigenous people to enhance soil fertility.  Biochar has the ability to absorb water, minerals, nutrients, even fertilizer nitrates, heavy metals, and chemicals that can contaminate the groundwater. Biochar’s high surface area and honeycomb-like structure can provide a home for soil microbes. It is negatively charged, absorbing nutrients with positively charged cations thus contributing to higher cation exchange capacity (CEC). Another benefit of biochar is that it stabilizes 50-65% of carbon in organic matter, slowing down the normal decomposition cycle.  

Tim believes Michigan is an ideal place to experiment with biochar.  Our sandy Kalkaska soil has a low cation and water holding capacity.  Using biochar can provide a solution.  It is possible to make your own biochar but not all material can be burned. It best to stick with branches 0-3” in diameter left over from pruning or old wood mill waste. The process of pyrolysis is also key to making quality biochar.  Tim recommends applying 2 cubic ft of biochar mixed with compost into a 100 sq ft garden.  Adding compost to the biochar helps prevent it from initially absorbing too many nutrients in the soil. Amazingly, biochar does not need to be reapplied each year, it does not break down and will last hundreds of years in the soil!  The char has a pH of 8 so its best to add it in increments and monitor the pH. Adding too much can have a liming effect.

Dr. Nate Walton rounded out the presentation by discussing the finer points of using biochar in compost for the garden. He reiterated the fact that the ideal soil is comprised of 5% organic matter.  This includes humus (decomposed organic matter) and living organisms. Building healthy, active soil can be done with mulch, cover crops and compost.  During the composting process, as organic matter decomposes, methane, carbon dioxide and ammonia are released.   The optimal ratios for compost are 2:1 or 3:1 by volume (carbon: nitrogen). The carbon or brown material you would add to create compost might include leaves, straw, twigs, shredded paper.  The nitrogen or green material could come from grass clippings, food waste, weeds, and coffee grounds.  For example, add 2 buckets of shredded paper and 1 bucket of lawn clippings. When composting, 1) layer material up to 4 ft in height. 2) Add water so the compost feels similar to a damp sponge. 3) Add a shovelful of moist soil. 4)Mix well.    If you choose to create hot compost (aerobic) the moisture level and temperature will need to be monitored and it should be turned.  This is the best type of compost to mix with biochar.  When adding char to compost, consider the source of the biochar.  Add 5-15% by weight at the beginning of the composting process.

 As of today, biochar lacks the research and funding to be a widely used product.  Hopefully, this will change.  The benefits of biochar appear to be well worth the effort. More info can be found here:



Seed Starting

Presentation by Sue Newman- AMG

MGANM February Meeting Notes by Erin Paxson -Extension Master Gardener Trainee

Seed SavingThese rare sunny days have us gardeners ready to get our hands in the soil!  Advanced Master Gardener Sue Newman shared with us some valuable tips for successfully starting seeds indoors, allowing for a head start on the short growing season.  It begins with browsing the seed catalogs. Look for the helpful key in the first few pages to quickly learn the light requirements, disease resistance and many other factors that will allow you to choose the seeds that are right for your garden.  Long day seeds grow well in northern climates. Sue recommends AAS- All America Selections as a great resource for finding new highly rated seeds based on flavor and growth and tailored to specific regions.  She turns to Mother Earth News and Fine Gardening magazines for articles on current trends. 

When determining when it is safe to being planting, Sue combines the last frost dates found at with information found on the back of individual seed packets.  Here you will also find days to germination and whether the seed should be direct sown or started indoors.  Finding the right growing medium can be as simple as purchasing a packaged seed starting mix or mixing you own using coconut coir or a combination of vermiculite, perlite and sphagnum moss. Using topsoil is NOT recommended! The medium must be sterile to avoid damping off disease and other fungal issues.  When considering containers for seed starting, smaller seeds should begin in 2-3” cells.  Some larger seeds may be moved to a bigger pot before planting (cucurbits) and in this case starting off with a 4” pot will do. With so many options one thing is for certain, containers MUST have holes in the bottom for proper drainage. Sue commented on the use of soil blocks noting the roots of plants have a chance to grow together. Peat pellets may dry out faster and have restrictive netting.  Peat pots don’t always break down and can rob moisture from the plant.  Seed starting systems are worth considering although if it is made of Styrofoam it cannot be used with heating mats and will float in water.  The Burpee self-watering seed starter system has been a go to product for Sue.

A short video of Sue’s workspace in her garage featured a long work bench, totes for soil storage, a sink with filtered /heated water and grow towers with attached lighting.  Full spectrum bulbs make a difference in growth rate and the ability to raise the lighting component is helpful. Lighting should consistently be 1-2” above the seedlings as they grow. Timers can assist in maintaining 14 hours of light.  The type of water used is just as important as lighting. Chlorinated water should sit in a container for 24 hours for the chlorine to dissipate. Soft water can be filtered. Tepid temperature is preferable and when watering those fragile seedlings, start from the bottom or mist. Warmer soil temperature will speed up germination. If your growing space is below 65 degrees, adding heat mats will increase the soil temperature. Fertilizing is not recommended until the first two true leaves appear.  Fish emulsion can be used, but Sue prefers not to use pre-mixed fertilizers. 

When seedlings are large enough to handle without causing damage, its time to transplant! Sue prefers transplanting into square 4” pots to save space under the lights.  Burying the stem of tomato plants will prevent legginess.  When using a plastic dome/lid, seeds with similar germination rates should be planted together.  This way, you won’t be stuck with some seedlings pushing at the lid while others are barely popping above the soil.  Please remember to label the seeds as you plant and transplant them otherwise you may run into a case of mistaken identity.  Store remaining seeds in the original packets in a dry, dark area. Once the seedlings are ready to venture outdoors, the hardening off process begins.  Begin by placing the plants in a shady spot protected from harsh winds.  At first, they will sit outside for just a few hours. Each day increase the amount of time they are outdoors, finishing with some time spent in direct sunlight.  The whole process should take 7-10 days. Once acclimated, the plants can begin their lives in the garden!

The presentation ended with Sue sharing some of her improvement goals; sharing seeds with buddies, creating a planting plan, planning for succession planting and remembering to document everything. Recommended resources ranged from Nancy Bubel’s The New Seed-Starters Handbook to various seed catalogs and garden supply websites (Lee Valley and Gardeners Supply).   As usual, Sue’s presentation was packed with useful information and entertaining visuals. Stock up on seeds and soil. The time to start seeds will be here before you know it.

Seed Starting Recording
Seed Starting Presentation





Bale Raised Beds: My experiment and project for this year’s growing season – Part 2

Article and photos by Michael O’Brien, Advanced Master Gardener

In my first article (Part 1 of Bale Raised Beds-The Real Dirt, July 2020), I discussed creating bale raised beds.  In this second part, I will discuss some of my successes and my disappointments or better put as my frustrations.  I got my plants planted around June 19th, which is a little later than usual.  Building the bed and filling it was delayed due to the coronavirus and the state mandates at the time. Within a few days after the plants were planted, the temperatures went into the nineties with clear skies and no rain in sight for two weeks.  My plants were already stressed due to the delay in planting them.  All my plants could do was transpire just to stay alive.  I found drip lines that weren‘t watering plants enough so some plants died. For two weeks, my plants hadn’t grown.  It was now the beginning of July, I was so far behind in the growing season.  I was ready to give up.  Deep in my heart, I knew I couldn’t do that.  I had the training to see and know what was needed to fix this problem.  Besides, if I gave up I wouldn’t be able to write the second part of this article.

It was time to get to work, fix the problems and give the plants what they needed.  I replaced the drip lines with spray emitters.  I also increased the amount of time the garden was getting watered, twice a day a half an hour each time.  I also noticed the soil I used didn’t have enough nutrients to support the plants.  Yes, soil testing would have helped though I was behind schedule.  After a few days of good healthy watering I then added a slow release fertilizer.  The fertilizer would be enough to get the plants through the growing season.

Bale Garden


This picture was taken on June 23, 2020.

By the third week in July, I really started to see the plants were really growing.  I knew my harvest was going to be late due to the late start and high temperatures.  I was just happy to see the raised bed was working ,and the plants were happy.


By the end of August, I was beginning to harvest some tomatoes and the squash plants were doing well.  I was amazed to see how much my plants had grown.  Using the center support for the plants was just what the plants wanted and needed.

Bale garden grown



This picture was taken on August 30, 2020.





SquashThis Photo is Red Kuri Squash, a cultivated variety of the species Cucurbita maxima.

To summarize my experience working with a bale raised bed, I loved it!  The soil was so soft making it really easy planting plants.  At the end of the season, seeds that were in the bales did sprout.  The bales raised the height of the grow bed which made it easier to work with.  The plants were more protected during early morning frost especially if a tarp covered the plants.  The tarp kept the heat around plants which allowed my plants to continue to ripen vegetables.  This year I plan to surround the remaining bales with cinder blocks.  I will also do some experimenting with the cold frame that is attached to the side of the bed.  This is really a great design though your’s doesn’t have to be as big as mine.




Getting Started with Vermiculture, AKA Worm Composting

By Jane Denay, Extension Master Gardener Trainee

My journey with vermiculture began seven years ago when a friend donated her working tray worm compost system to me. It wasn’t that she failed, however she had purchased the two tray systems and she wasn’t able to provide enough food scraps for her worms. I had been a long-term composter with varying degrees of success. I have done heap composting but found it hard to have the proper blend of ingredients to get a hot pile.  I’ve used layered, lasagna method composting in starting new beds. I have also used a compost tumbler. The vermiculture system has taught me to be a better composter, with all my methods I have the right balance of carbon to nitrogen, moisture, and aeration. With the help of my worms, I have turned our limestone lot into a virtual Eden.  

Vermicomposting is similar to traditional composting. Both use natural processes to break down organic matter. Traditional composting relies on fungi and microorganisms to breakdown the organic matter; therefore, it is sometimes called microbial composting. In vermiculture worms do most of the composting. Both microbial and worm composting are aerobic processes since they require oxygen to function. 




Vermiculture, worm composting tray system, located in our utility room.




Setting up your vermiculture:

  • Worm Bin: I use a worm bin with four stacking trays. This allows for an ongoing addition of food in the upper tray while allowing composting to proceed in the lower trays. There are also homemade systems using plastic totes, buckets, even old coolers. All bins need a source of oxygen and to be covered to conserve moisture and provide darkness for the worms. 
  • Location: Locate your worm composter in a space that is warm, dry and well ventilated. The temperature should stay between 55-80 degrees year round.
  • Worms: You’ll want to get Eisenia fetida, which are commonly known as red wigglers; for your bin. They thrive on organic matter at the surface. These can be ordered on line or procured from a friend. Do not use earthworms as they live deep in the soil and don’t tolerate the confinement of a bin.
  • Preparation and maintenance: In preparing and maintaining a bed for your worms, keep the carbon:nitrogen (C:N) ratio of 50:1. Worms thrive at this ration. At lower ratios, the environment becomes acidic and microorganisms will out compete the worms.
    • Carbon bedding: To begin, start with 3 inches of moistened bedding materials. You can use shredded newspaper or cardboard, shredded fall leaves, chopped-up straw, sawdust, paper towels and napkins. No glossy colored paper or plastic window in envelopes. Vary the bedding in the bin to provide more nutrients for the worms and to create richer compost. Add two handfuls of sand or soil to provide the necessary grit for the worm’s digestion of food and to provide microscopic organisms necessary for decomposition. Pulverized egg shells may also be used for grit.
    • Nitrogen is provided by food scraps: Fruits, vegetables, coffee grounds, and teabags. Chop scraps into small pieces to speed worm digestion. Do not use citrus, onion or salty items which worms avoid. Also avoid animal products, oily foods scraps and grains.




Keep a separate compost container for foods like citrus that worms will not eat.



  • Add food after the last feeding is mostly eaten. When using the tray system, spread a thin layer of food waste 1 ¼ inches deep, then cover with two inches of fresh bedding. New bedding is needed to keep the C:N balance. Overfeeding can lead to a C:N imbalance. Put surplus food scraps in a traditional compost bin.
  • Getting the C:N balance correct is more an art than a science. The tendency is to provide too much nitrogen. Clues to too much nitrogen are found under the troubleshooting section.





Food scraps provide nitrogen.Vermiculture



Strips of newspaper provide necessary carbon.


  • Moisture
    • Water is necessary for worm survival. The optimum moisture content is 70 percent to 85 percent with the bin’s content being like a wrung out sponge. Dampen new bedding as you apply it.
  • Harvesting:
    • Using the tray compost system move the bottom tray of finished compost to the top and leave the lid off for 24 hours. Red wigglers don’t like light and most will migrate to the lower bin.
    • Treat vermicompost like manure and mix in an 8:1 ratio with garden soil.
    • In the winter finished compost can be kept in a 5 gallon bucket for spring use.




Red wigglers worms on top of the finished compost ready for fresh food scraps.



 Finished compost tray brought to the top.
When exposed to light red wigglers will migrate to lower bin.



  • Troubleshooting
    • Odor: This is your first hint your C:N balance is off. Stop feeding for two weeks and cover with 3 inches of bedding. Do not over feed.
    • Escaping worms: Red wigglers can survive in saturated bins for short periods, but will escape the bin when oxygen starts to run out. Taking the lid off helps dry it out, and the light will drive the worms back into the compost.
    • Flies: Flies can be problematic if you overfeed or leave food scraps exposed.
  • Leachate
    • Leachate is the brown, excess liquid byproduct of vermiculture. All vermiculture systems have a means of draining it off. As this liquid is not oxygenated, microorganisms in it are growing under anaerobic conditions. This can lead to harmful bacteria and thus it should not be used in vegetable gardens. Flush it down the toilet or dilute and use on nonedible plants.
    • If your system has the proper C:N ratio, you should have minimal leachate forming.
    • Leachate is not the same as compost tea which is made with compost and water under aerobic conditions using an aerator.


.MSU Extension Master Gardener Training Manual “Backyard Composting” pp15-19




Spring Clean-Up in the Garden

By Cheryl Gross, Advanced Extension Master Gardening

Garden CleanupAs this is being written, northwest lower Michigan is covered in snow.  We are anticipating deep chill and daily snowfalls.  Spring seems A-LONG-WAY-OFF, and yet, before we know it, green will begin to emerge.  After our long winter season, gardeners are simply itching to get into the soil!  The desire and longing are real.  This article is about curbing your enthusiasm.  I know, I feel your pain, and I am sorry.

In the fall, there were articles and Facebook posts and a wealth of information shared about “leaving the leaves”.  The writers emphasized the ecosystem created by leaf litter.  There are many critters who depend on leaf litter for their very survival.  Some overwinter as eggs, others as pupa, and some as adults.  By destroying the ecosystem during fall clean-up, the very survival of these populations is doomed.  The advice then was to take it easy, leave the leaves, and take a fall hike instead.  So, now as we emerge from the cold and dark winter months, WHEN can we disturb the leaves we so lovingly left for the good of nature?

The easiest way is to watch the thermometer.  When the daytime temperatures are consistently 50 degrees or above, MOST of the critters will have emerged.  In early May when hiking at Pete’s Woods and the temperature reaches 50 degrees, bees will begin to emerge to feed on the nectar of our early spring ephemerals and Mourning Cloak butterflies, who overwintered as adults, will emerge to begin feeding.  Not picky eaters, when there are few flowers, I have seen them nourishing themselves on scat.  These early insects return to safety when the temperatures drop.

So, what does that mean in our home landscape?  Wait until temps are consistently 50 degrees or more.  It is not easy.  Many neighbors will be out well before that key marker raking leaves, fertilizing, spreading fresh mulch, and generally disrupting the micro ecosystem living in the beds and stems that were left intact over the winter.  If you were willing to wait it out in the fall, do not jump-the-gun in spring.

Besides protecting our critters in spring and letting them emerge when ready, holding back in spring is important in other ways. 

  • Soil should not be worked when wet.  Allow all of your beds to warm and dry before digging.  Worked wet, soil becomes compacted and clumped.
  • Most seeds are happiest with warmer soil temperatures which is why delicate vegetable seedlings go out after the last date for a frost. (Some, like peas, appreciate cooler temperatures.)
  • Plants that emerge under leaf litter will not be stunted; they just might look a little sickly at first, but will harden and green-up quickly.  Remember, delicate Dutchmen’s Breeches need no help clearing leaf litter to emerge from the forest floor.  Additionally, fern and mushrooms can break through blacktop to grow.  Plants are tough. Spring bulbs are strong enough to blossom through leaf litter so do not fear.
  • The last plant to emerge in my gardens is Wild Petunia.  I have learned to use that as my clean-up signal. In some seasons when too eager, it is easy to damage the plants or roots of plants if their exact location is not clear.
  • Birds may use garden materials to build nests.  In my yard, Cedar Waxwings collect strips of plant material from the dead Swamp Milkweed stems left over the winter.  What might they use if my gardens were neat, tidy, and cleaned in the fall or cut back in early spring?
  • Finally, the hollow stems left for bee nurseries need to remain standing until the next generation emerges. 

What is a gardener to do when the air smells of soil and leaf mold and the sun is out and warm?  Take a walk, read a book, observe your gardens.  Watch for insect life and check for winter damage.  Do anything you can to anticipate the gardening season, and WAIT for the magic of consistently 50-degree days to garden.





Integrated Pest Management – March 2021

Contents (Click on a title or scroll)


Adaptability, Versatility Spell Success for Insects During Winter

Rodent Invasion- Survival from a “MAST” year




Adaptability, Versatility Spell Success for Insects During Winter

By Braun Campbell, Extension Master Gardener Trainee

Whether they are welcome or not, signs of spring and summer are abuzz with the flutter, stings, and sometimes plant damage, of insects.  But where do they go in winter?  Snow, ice, and dormant trees all seem uninviting for insect survival.  Still, insects seem to take a cue from British author H.G. Wells who once observed, “Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative.” 

Northern Michigan environs seem an incredibly hostile environment for our winged, six-legged friends, but they employ a wide array of survival strategies to adapt to their surroundings.   For instance, some migrate to avoid freezing temperatures.  Others seek shelter, and some even remain in their larval states in various places.  Physiological changes further allow some either to enter a state like hibernation or even become freeze tolerant.  As expected, some lay eggs and die, allowing their future young to overwinter and greet spring. These diverse characteristics exist in both beneficial and nuisance insects, so it’s important to use cultural practices that offer a balance to encourage health for the beneficials and to Ladybugs Hibernatingprovide some level of control of harmful pests.

Probably the most familiar and best example of migrating insects is the Monarch butterfly.  In late August, they begin their long trip south to overwinter in Mexico.  While some dragonflies remain under ice layers active in their larval states, the Green Darner moves south to areas like Texas and Mexico to avoid freezing temperatures.  The Asian lady beetle is an example of an insect that finds a “microhabitat” and seeks shelter under roof shingles and in cracks and crevices of windows or siding.  Leaf litter, rocks and decaying logs all provide another type of refuge for beetles, pillbugs, stink bugs and grasshoppers. Other insects like mites harbor in plant bud scales while some like the Japanese beetle prefer to harbor in soil.  Galls (swelling of plant tissue) can provide shelter for midge larvae.  The European honeybee remains in its hive in all life stages during winter, clustering with the colony and using wing vibrations and oxidizing honey to keep warm.

Some insects avoid freezing by lowering the point at which their body fluids freeze.  This type of supercooling allows them to withstand temperatures below the freezing point.  To achieve this, some empty their gut to prevent internal ice formation, while others produce glycerol, an “antifreeze,” to lower the freezing temperature of their hemolymph or body fluid.  Codling moths, the larvae of the emerald ash borer, and tent caterpillar eggs survive by this sort of freeze avoidance.

Wooly Bear CatepillarOther insects, including the Woolly Bear caterpillar, are freeze tolerant and can endure internal ice formation.  During the fall, these insect’s hemolymph promotes agents that allow non-lethal ice formation within the creature’s cells.  Still, other insects enter diapause, a state of dormancy like hibernation.  During diapause, the fall’s shorter daylight hours and falling temperatures trigger hormone production which lowers both metabolism and energy requirements to as much as 90 percent below normal.  During this slower and suspended state, the insect does not develop.  As springtime approaches, insects resume activity.  Eggs, larvae, pupae, and adults can enter diapause depending upon the species.

Finally, some insects lay eggs and die before winter arrives.  Most crickets die in winter, and the eggs they lay in soil hatch in spring ushering in a new generation for spring.  A small number of crickets do overwinter as nymphs and some species of crickets diapause.

A Balance of Strategies Can Promote and Discourage Development

Humans can help control nuisance pests and encourage beneficials by certain practices.  Postponing fall cleanup until spring when temperatures areLeaf debris above 50 degrees for at least a week can provide places for insects to survive winter’s harshness.  At the same time, delaying can also encourage nuisance pests.  Cleaning up leaves and chopping down plants might result in tossing out a butterfly chrysalis or removing shelter for solitary bees.  Thus, balance is the key to promoting a natural system that allows success for beneficials.  Leave healthy, hollow stemmed plants as refuge spots, and wait until spring to trim ornamental grasses as they provide sheltering for bumblebees.  Small piles of leaves and grass clippings and brush provide spots for ground beetles, and compost promotes beneficial microbes and predatory mites.  At the same time, it’s crucial to inspect garden plants and remove plant material where known pests existed.  Check garden plants like broccoli and kale for aphids and toss infested material.  Raking and turning over the soil can expose grubs and beetles to disturb their winter habitat and provide food for birds. 

When spring and summer finally arrive, this versatile adaptability guarantees an insect will be visiting your garden — whether welcome or not!




Rodent Invasion- Survival from a “MAST” year

By Barbara Fasulo-Emmott, Advanced Extension Master Gardener

“So Cute,” my young grandchildren and I would say while watching those furry little chipmunks scurrying in and out of my garage. Except during the winter of 2019/2020, thereRodent damage seemed to be an abundance of those cute little creatures, as well as their squirrel and mouse relatives. One day, I noticed a lot of chewing destruction in my front porch and front wood door frame.  Also, a large hole in my cedar garage siding which I patched with half inch plywood. Rodent damage It was eaten through a second time within an hour while I was on a hike with a neighbor.  The damage had to be stopped!  I went on the DNR website and found information on a local nuisance pest control business and elicited their services.  In the meantime, I spoke to our MGANM, MSU extension person, Nate Walton, who spoke of a “MAST” year.  I googled that word and learned when our trees overproduce their nuts i.e., acorns, hickory nuts, etc. the rodent population explodes.  After 5 weeks of trap setting and disposal of more than 50 rodents, the weekly visits from my pest control guy to empty the traps subsided. However, during his last visit/inspection he found several holes where rodents had chewed through the drywall and insulation in the garage where it connected to the house.  He patched them as well with black expandable pepper foam.  Then I noticed a lot of the flower buds on my magnolia, lilacs and weeping cherry trees were also being devoured by those nasty little rodents.  I bought some more traps and set them with cheese, peanut butter, or pumpkin seeds (the seeds worked the best). I even resorted to throwing stones at them to scare them away from my flowering trees. I called the pest control guy back one more time as I was still getting an occasional mouse in the house.  He found 2 more potential entrances.

Some people have said I should get an outdoor cat; however, I am allergic and did check with the Humane Society who said that was not condoned.  Anyway, the cat would have to come indoors in the cold winter months.  What I have noticed since I have declared war on any rodents trying to destroy my home or gardens, is that as soon as I open my bedroom shade in the morning, they take off into the woods. When they see me come to a window or glass door, they too will take off running.  I have not caught a single rodent in any trap inside the garage or house in over 4 months.  I will stay vigilant, as I hope this article gets the word out to those who also struggle from rodent issues…WE SHALL Overcome? Ha, Ha.

Ed note – there were a number of comments during the contributor’s article review so I’ve included those comments below.

Lillian Mahaney-Leland, AMG, licensed wildlife rehabilitator: “As a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, rodent problems are something I (and my fellow rehabbers across the country) hear quite frequently.  It is terrible when they destroy things, and we want to keep that from happening.  If the exterminator is bait stations that contain rodenticide that is a huge problem.  We lose a huge amount of hawks, owls, opossums, raccoons, skunks, foxes, coyotes and even cats and dogs from eating a poisoned rodent.  We are actually hoping to have those rodenticides banned.

The best solution is to be sure there is not an entryway and then to make the area “unlivable”.  Getting a box of the strongest smelling fabric softener sheets and putting them in the area wreaks havoc with the sensitive noses of rodents.  People have used them in garages, sheds, boats, cars, and cottages with good success. Perfumed sprays (like body spray) also work well since the key is making things fragrant.

When lethal methods are the only solution using the old-fashioned traps (like Victor wood ones) is the most humane method.  Some exterminators use traps that hold a number of rodents and then the traps are only checked once a week or so.  The rodents are panicked and starving during this time.  Many exterminators use traps that have glue at the bottom.  Those types of traps are simply sadistic and barbaric.

Once you think the mice are gone, I would try making the area very fragrant either with fabric softener sheets (the less expensive are usually the most fragrant) or even the body spray mentioned above.  I use a combination of both methods in the garage with great success.”

Brenda’s response: “Thanks Lil, I have used dryer sheets in the house and garage and under my front porch…wish there were a more effective solution!”

Beth Milligan, MG Trainee: “Speaking from experience, raisins work amazingly well in mice traps. We have killed seven mice so far this winter off of the same single raisin! We have found it to be an effective solution that doesn’t hurt or poison other animals.”


President’s Letter – January 2021

by Michele Worden, AEMG, MGANM PresidentHappy New Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carpe Diem! And Happy New Year

Coordinator Corner – January 2021

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

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

Hello From Your New The Real Dirt Editor

by Molly Bacon, EMG Trainee

Molly Bacon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact me anytime at


Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors
Filter by Categories
Archive News
Coordinator's Corner
Integrated Pest Management
News & Events
Real Dirt
Upcoming Events
Volunteer Projects

Michigan Gardening Hotline

9am to Noon, M-F Year round
Also 1pm-4pm in Spring/Summer



Ask an Expert


Log Your Hours