Nourish – May 2017

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On The Radar:May

Pets with Benefits

Spring Foraging in Northern Michigan

Meeting Notes- April 4, Wild Food Foraging

Photo by Morganic Farm

On The Radar:May

Cheryl Gross, Advanced Master Gardener, Vice President MGANM, President Plant It Wild

BEGIN seed starting indoors the first week!  In northern Michigan, delicate vegetable plants should be ready for the garden by Memorial Day.  Get a jump on the season with seed starting NOW.

Some vegetables are best started by seed and like the cool spring temperatures.  Direct sow peas, carrots, lettuce, spinach, and such outdoors before warm-weather sensitive plants.

Later in the month, purchase your bedding vegetable plants that are easily added to the garden as started plants.  Tomatoes, eggplants, and the like do best when the season is extended and they are planted with a head start.

Photo by MG Bethany Thies

Pets with Benefits

Bethany Thies, Master Gardener

I love my chickens!  I mean, I knew I would love the daily fresh eggs which, in my opinion, taste 1,000 times better than store-bought eggs.  But after keeping chickens for the past three years, I have come to discover so many other reasons to appreciate and love these funny little creatures…especially if one is a gardener.

  1. Chickens are composting machines!  First, they eat almost all of our fruit and vegetable scraps, as well as stale bread, leftover grains and pastas, and some meats (no cannibalism please).  Although they don’t live on these scraps, they do come running every evening when we bring out the day’s leftovers.  Chickens also love to dig and scratch, which is great for breaking down leaves and plant materials.  In fact, we don’t even bag our leaves in the fall.  Our spring and fall cleanups go directly into the chicken yard for the girls to tear up.  Every couple of days we rake it all back into a pile and the chickens rip through it, again and again, until all that’s left is rich dirt.
  2. Chicken poop.  Need I say more?  All kidding aside, we all know that chicken manure is a terrific fertilizer.  It is extremely high in nitrogen but also contains a good amount of potassium and phosphorus. But, because of its high nitrogen levels, it is considered a “hot” manure that will burn plants if spread directly onto beds.  It needs to be aged or composted first.  Depending on the composting method, most chicken manure needs to age between two and four months.   This not only brings the nitrogen down to safe levels but also allows for the natural death of any bacteria found in the manure.  For an in-depth description on how to compost chicken manure, see the University of Idaho Extension’s publication, “Composting and Using Backyard Poultry Waste in the Home Garden” (  For a quick primer on the subject, try the Dummies website (as in Gardening with Free-Range Chickens For Dummies) at 
  3. Chickens eat bugs.  All the digging and scratching that chickens do is for one purpose, to find insects, worms and other bugs to eat.  While they won’t rid a yard of all pests, they are especially good at taking care of insects that overwinter in the soil as larvae or eggs, as well as any slugs or snails.
  4. Chickens are fun to watch in the garden.  Like plants, chickens come in many wonderful colors and patterns.  I currently have two different varieties, Ameraucanas and Australorps.  The Ameraucanas have variegated feathers of shades of brown and gold, cream and rust.  The Australorps are the complete opposite, all black with a shiny iridescence of purple and green.   They are truly beautiful.  Add that to their constant activity and variety of vocalizations (my chickens are always talking, from chirps to honks, beeps to purrs) and you have a creature that provides constant entertainment in a garden.

Bonus:  The eggs are divine!  And I’m not talking about just the taste.  There is nothing like going out to your garden chicken coop on a cool spring morning and finding these wonderful little presents in the nesting box.  Mocha, olive and aqua eggs, hefty and still warm in your hand…it’s like Easter every day!

Clay Bowers of Northern MI Foraging

Spring Foraging in Northern Michigan

Clay Bowers, Wild Foods Instructor

After a long dark winter northern Michiganders don’t usually have to be convinced to get outdoors.  Many of us are eager to get outside to work in our gardens, and clean them up after they have been buried under the snow for so long.  I too desire to get outside, but my desire to get outside is usually fueled by other desires; the free and abundant wild food that surrounds us.

In the spring in northern Michigan many people are aware of wild leeks (Allium Tricoccum) and  morels (Morchella spp.), but there are many more delicious spring greens and roots available this time of year.  The choices are limited only by how much time we want to put into foraging. Following are some of the options:

Wild Watercress (Nasturtium officionale) is abundant in our area, to say the least.  We have the great fortune to be surrounded by water; creeks, streams, rivers, and lakes.  These places are typically suitable habitat for watercress. The best places to look for this nutritional powerhouse are in the slower moving creeks and streams that feed larger bodies of water.  Often times the plant is so dense that I have gathered no less than 2 pounds in five minutes.  Watercress is actually a non-native species so one should feel no concern about taking too much. 

A word of caution is in order, however. I strongly urge you to cook your watercress, because many waterborne bacteria that we do not want to ingest can be on your collected greens.  A simple steaming or a quick boil is all you need to rid the plants of anything harmful.  With all of this in mind, finding and collecting watercress for spring soups and stir fries should be an easy challenge.  It is a highly nutritious plant and one that I consider to be a spring staple of my diet.

Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is a nuisance plant to say the least, and to some represents pure evil in plant form. However you view this plant, one thing is certain; it is edible, and dare I say, delicious!  With such an absurd amount of garlic mustard in the area, and the great desire to rid the woods of  this pesky plant, you could store away an ample supply and share wild nutrition with all of your interested friends.  Garlic mustard was brought to the U.S. from Europe as an edible garden plant, and yet its edibility is never mentioned as a means of control.  As a proponent of using our mouths to control the invaders, I say go to the woods this spring and turn your attention toward this wonderful and strong flavored spring green.  Over the years I have used it in pesto, stir-fries, soups, salads, and last year I even fermented a batch like sauerkraut.  The possibilities are endless, much like the supply.  If you are in need of a spot to harvest I suggest just asking around, someone will know a place that has been overrun.


The previous sources of food are from the “non-native, invasive” clan.  The next wild edible that I love to talk about in spring is the ever spreading and native Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus).  This sunflower relative is a spreader, but this one does not usually spread by seed, it spreads by its edible tubers.  In the spring you can find a patch and dig up the tubers before they have had a chance to sprout into new plants.  An added benefit of loosening the soil and “thinning the herd” as it were, allows the next season’s tubers to be larger. Jerusalem artichoke, or Sunchoke, as some like to call it, is a plant that is capable of creating an enormous amount of edible food per year.  It is not uncommon to dig 10-15 pounds of tubers in a half an hour’s time. Sunchokes like to grow in a very particular niche in the wild.  Their preferred habitat is right above the water table near the water.  Not too far away, but not too close either.  They seem to adore soil that is very damp, but not soggy.

It is my experience that harvesting Sunchokes actually increases their spread, and not the other way around.  I have witnessed patches double in size over years of harvest, leading me to believe that they benefit from humans digging up some of their edible tubers.  Locating a patch of Sunchokes is easier done in the summer and fall when they have living stems and flowers for identification, but once you have found a patch, you can bet that you will have years of free food ahead.

A spring wild edibles list would not be complete without mentioning the amazing leaves of the Basswood tree (Tilia americana).  Basswood leaves taste amazing.  Some people even refer to the Basswood tree jokingly as the salad tree.  In the spring you can eat the leaves from the time they emerge until the time when the leaves are no longer translucent. Basswood produces some of the most superb greens available in the spring.  Such mild and delicious delicacies are normally only mentioned in the lore of fairy tales.  The Basswood tree is present throughout our area, it is a native plant, and it offers us rather large window of collection time in the spring.  With some wild plants, there requires a bit of “getting used to the flavor”, not so with Basswood.  This spring green is an instant hit with all that venture to try it.  Look for the emergence of its heart shaped leaves this spring and I promise you won’t regret it.

The foraging activities mentioned above should always be done with permission from the landowner and care taken to not harm the environment. Finding locations to pick your wild edibles is an easy task, but it is a task that should be done with the proper precautions and mindset to care for the place from which you are harvesting.  Even places that are harboring great quantities of invasive species should be carefully walked, so as to not stamp down the soil.  I highly suggest getting a few books on the identification of wild edibles and taking a class if you are indeed interested in learning more.

I recommend two books by Sam Thayer, ”The Foragers Harvest” and “Natures Garden”. I also offer classes multiple times a year for any and all interested in learning how to identify wild plants.  You can find out more information at

Incorporating wild foods into your diet is a great way to connect more deeply with nature!  Enjoy!

Wild Foraging meeting with Clay Bowers, 4/4/17

Meeting Notes- April 4, Wild Food Foraging

Nancy Denison, Advanced Master Gardener

Clay Bowers of NoMi Foraging was our guest speaker on April 4th at BRNC. The large gathering was very interested in Clay’s experiences and vast knowledge of local wild edibles. His first encounter with plants was meeting up with a stinging nettle. Apparently it was love at first bite(?) as it is still a favorite plant and he named his son Nettle!

Knowledge of wild edible plants; their identifying characteristics, nutritional value and growing habits are obviously the first steps in becoming a forager. Lambs Quarters, Wild Amaranth, Wild Rice, and Wild Parsnips are just some of the plants readily available in our area. Clay suggests using berries from the Autumn Olive, greens from Garlic Mustard and shoots form Japanese Knotweed as a way to diminish the invasiveness of these pesky plants. Participants had many questions about Wild Rice- where to find it, how to harvest, etc.

Clay offers monthly classes, foraging hikes and lots of information from his website; or email him at  Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm and knowledge with us Clay!

Nourish – March 2017

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Life Below Our Feet

Let’s Get Glowing and Growing

Pallet Gardening

Image by Advanced MG Cheryl Gross, MGANM Vice President

Image by Advanced MG Cheryl Gross, MGANM Vice President

Life Below Our Feet

by Brian Zimmerman, owner of Four Season Nursery

My wife and I raised a family on the west side of Traverse City a stone’s throw from where I grew up as a kid. I walked my children to grade school through the same forest I walked as a child. It is a maple – beech – hemlock forest and I showed them how to identify a tree by the type of bark. We would talk of where all the leaves seem to go between autumn drop, when we would kick through deep piles, and spring when the path was dirt again. I would tell them of “little creatures” hard at work in the ground that used the leaves for food. I explained how worms would get cold in the winter, how they pull leaves down to wrap themselves in a leafy sleeping bag. Yes, this is a stretch of the imagination, but the kids were young and giving them a visual was meant to help them understand that there is life below our feet.

It does seem that year after year the forest should be choked with leaves.  Instead, as if by magic, the fallen leaves “disappear” and are turned into soil.

The process is an amazing one.  Leaves work all summer pulling CO2 and water from the atmosphere, sucking up nutrients from the roots, making carbohydrates, fats and proteins to build new plant parts and fruit. Some of what the leaves manufacture is kept in reserve. Come autumn the leaves fall to the ground with their package of carbon. There are billions of bacteria and fungi, many thousands of protozoa, nematodes, worms, and other creatures living in the soils of the forest floor. These “little creatures” – some microscopic, some visible to the human eye – love to eat and their favorite food is carbon. As the tree goes dormant in the winter the microbes continue eating, multiplying and re-cycling the forest litter into nutrients that the tree will use the next summer.

While today most of us don’t live in a forest, we still grow plants that cycle through the seasons much like they do in a forest. Whether they are the trees on our property, the lawns we mow, or all the dead plant parts from our gardens, it’s all mostly carbon and food to the microbes. If we left all this potential food where it fell in the autumn, the cycle of life and death would make compost and a healthy soil/plant environment would continue.  

But we just can’t leave it. We rake up our leafy litter and garden waste. We keep our grass cut short and remove clippings after mowing because we like it tidy. We remove the thatch that builds up and rototill our gardens every spring because it really does look nice. However, in the process of doing all this we are killing many microbes we desperately need. Our gardens, trees and lawns are creating the carbon to feed the soil microbes … but we remove it. Then, in an attempt to return this lost food back to the soils, we apply organic fertilizers, compost and wood mulch. These are not bad things.  All three feed the microbes in the soil, which in turn release nutrients to the plants. But, could we accept a less tidy garden space and let nature take its own natural course?

Nitrogen is also a critical part of the soil and plant cycle; it’s the building block for making proteins. The atmosphere is 79% nitrogen.  But unlike carbon that is taken in by the leaves during the summer, atmospheric nitrogen is not available.  This nitrogen can only become available after entering the soil and, as you may have guessed by now, microbes are front and center in this process as well.  Atmospheric nitrogen enters the soil, is re-combined with other elements and is consumed by microbes. Microbes use most of the nitrogen for their own metabolism; the remainder is excreted as waste, making it available for roots to take up.

So now we have a picture of carbon coming into the soil as fallen leaves and lawn waste, and nitrogen coming into the soil from the atmosphere, where both are consumed by the microbes making their waste available as plant nutrients. This explains why so much life in the soil happens around the root zone. Plant roots can’t move around the soil searching for food so they secrete exudates (plant waste excreted through the roots) to attract microbes. Most of the exudate is carbon-based sugars and microbes love carbon. There are more species of bacteria, fungi, and others microbes than we can count and many yet still undiscovered. Most are beneficial and live right around the root zone:  some even grow into the roots. This allows for a bartering between roots and microbes

Think of a root as a long dinner table with many chairs and all microbes are guest who bring a dish to pass. The root wants all the chairs filled with friendly guests sharing the feast, leaving no room for unfriendly guests (non-beneficial microbes & pathogens). When we add good compost to soils we ensure the table is filled with friendly guests. Organic fertilizer ensures there is enough food to go around and mulch serves as central heating – cooling in the summer and insulation in the winter.

I have mentioned using organic fertilizers. The key ingredient in organic fertilizers is carbon – the very food the microbes love. The nutrients need to be consumed by microbes before the roots can take them in. There are many other more popular fertilizer on the market that are called synthetic fertilizers, which are salt based. The reason for their popularity is two-fold:  they are water soluble and less expensive. When the fertilizer pellets come in contact with water they immediately go into solution and the nutrients are available to the plants. Any excess leaches away. The nutrients fed to the plants are not bad but the salts are. With repeated use the salts kill the microbes and most of the worms and other larger soil animals. Without soil life the ground becomes compacted, causing further depletion of the oxygen necessary to feed the remaining good microbes. This allows for the multiplying of anaerobic microbes and pathogens (these microbes don’t need oxygen and cause plant diseases). Remember the table filled with friendly guests? Now the only guests are bad. Plants become dependent on synthetic fertilizers, insecticides, bacteria and fungicides, and this chemical dependency destroys the balance nature put in place.

How do we bring the right guests to the table in our own gardens? Be generous with compost as a top dressing. If your lawn is in poor shape, a light compost top dress over the lawn will work wonders. If you have a sick tree or shrub in the lawn, remove the grass growing around the base and use 1”-2” of compost. The suggestion that compost can fix everything does seem overly simplified. In reality, soil science is very complicated with much going on between roots, soil and the little creatures. It is very rare that something that complicated can be boiled down to a simple message. That said, well-made compost delivers to your plants literally billions of beneficial microbes per handful and that is exactly what the roots of all plants want. Once your garden soil reaches a balance it will need less water and additional nutrients, your plants will thrive, your vegetables will taste better, making gardening more enjoyable.

For many millions of years,’ plants, soils and the “little creatures” below our feet have been composting together and it works. When we compost we are giving back to our soil so it will, in turn, give back to us healthy plants.

A footnote: This article takes on many subjects; soil science, plant science, fertilizer technology, composting, and attempts to synthesize all into a simple message. If this subject is of interest to you following are a few books that I have read, and re-read.

  • Secrets of the Soil, New Solutions for Restoring our Planet, Peter Tompkins & Christopher Bird
  • Teaming with Microbes, The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web, Jeff Lowenfels & Wayne Lewis
  • Building Soils Naturally, Innovative Methods of Organic Gardeners, Phil Nauta
  • Dirt, The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth, William Bryant Logan


I'm gonna be busy tomorrow.

Let’s Get Glowing and Growing

by Bethany Thies, Master Gardener

Starting seeds indoors is an efficient way to save money and get a jump on the summer growing season.  The requirements are pretty simple.  All you need are seeds…check.  Pots or trays and planting medium…check and check.  And, of course, water and light.  

Well, here in Northern Michigan, we have an abundant supply of fresh water so that isn’t a problem.  But light, that wonderful element that actually makes plants grow, that is something that can be a little harder to come by Up North.

Michigan, it seems, doesn’t get a lot of sun.  

According to the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information’s website (, Northern Michigan ranks only a little better than Seattle, Washington and Nome, Alaska, in the average percentage of possible sunshine per year.  This percentage is calculated by looking at the total time sunshine reaches the ground in a certain city over the course of a year as compared to how many hours of sunshine are possible from sunrise to sunset.   

Grand Rapids, the closest city to Traverse City on the list, has sunshine only an average of 46% of the time during daylight hours.  Alpena, the next closest city, only sees the sun 48% of the time.  Seattle and Nome, both known for their grey weather, are at 43% and 42% respectively.  And while the Midwest isn’t the sunniest of regions, other cities in the area still see the sun more than Northern Michigan:  Chicago and Green Bay at 54%, Minneapolis-St. Paul at 58% and Fort Wayne, IN, at 59%.  (In case you were wondering, the sunniest spot in the United States is Yuma, AZ, with an average of 90% sunshine!)

So while many books and websites may talk about placing freshly planted seeds next to a sunny window, in all honesty, in Northern Michigan that probably isn’t going to get you the best results.  Most vegetable and annual flower seedlings need 14 to 18 hours of light a day to really do their best.  Our Michigan winter-to-spring sun just can’t provide that kind of light.  You will get plants from setting seed trays in a windowsill here, but they will probably be thin and leggy rather than the preferred strong and compact plants that make good transplants.

The solution?  Set up a grow light system.  This can be as simple or as elaborate as you want to go.  The goal is to give your seedlings the best type and amount of light possible in a way that best suits your space and pocketbook.

Here are some of the key terms you should know before buying:  

  • Lumens — Don’t look at the wattage of a bulb; look at its lumens.  Wattage measures how much electricity a light source uses.  Lumens, on the other hand, indicate how much light is being produced by the bulb.  This is usually listed on the bulb’s packaging.  When it comes to grow lights, the higher the lumens, the better.  This is because seedlings need  a lot of light to produce the energy needed to grow more leaves. (Note: Ordinary incandescent and halogen bulbs emit high heat along with lumens They simply put off too much heat for the amount of lumens provided.  And this heat can scorch delicate seedlings).
  • Light spectrum — You also need to look at the light color or spectrum being produced by the bulb.  Obviously, plants need light for photosynthesis, the process where they create the energy they need to survive.  However, the light color needed changes from plant to plant and from developmental stage to developmental stage.  For example, foliage is usually produced by blue shades of light, while the red and orange end of the spectrum helps spur fruit and flower production.  In nature, sunlight provides a full spectrum of colors, from infrared (red) to ultraviolet (blue), so a plant’s needs are always covered.  Ordinary household bulbs, on the other hand, give off more yellow and orange light which can actually starve leafy plants.
  • Kelvins – The numerical value of the color emitted by a light source is typically measured in degrees of Kelvin (K) or Kelvins for short.  Like wattage and lumens, a light bulb’s Kelvin value is also listed on its packaging.  Colors above 5000K are considered cool colors in the blue end of the spectrum and most closely resemble natural sunlight.  Colors below 3,000K are in the red end of the spectrum and are considered to be a warm light.  Again, this measurement is important because each spectrum triggers different responses from a plant—blue light induces vegetative growth while red light promotes flowering.

So what’s the best light to use for starting seeds?  While there are several options available if you are a commercial grower (including high intensity discharge or HID lights), the two main grow lights for the home gardener are LED (light emitting diodes) or fluorescent bulbs.  Both LEDs and fluorescent bulbs are offered in sunlight-mimicking full spectrum light or in isolated red or blue color ranges, depending on your plant needs.   

Most experts consider fluorescent bulbs, however, to be the winner for now.  That’s partly because LEDs tend to be more expensive to purchase.  Fluorescent lights, whether the long T-5 shop light-type bulb or a compact florescent bulb, are inexpensive and readily available, emit very little heat so you can hang them close to plants and have a very long life expectancy.

For examples on how to set up your own grow light stand for starting seedlings, head over to Mother Earth News ( or The Petite Farmstead (

And get glowing and growing!


pallet gardening 3 by cheryl gross

Using pallets to grow a variety of squash; photo by Advanced MG Cheryl Gross, MGANM Vice President

Pallet Gardening

by Cheryl Gross, Advanced Master Gardener, Vice President MGANM

Several years ago I read about square-foot gardens and built a couple for my husband’s vegetable gardening. When we moved from Frankfort to Traverse City, we found some under the snow in the back too; a pleasant surprise!  A square-foot garden allows access to plants for planting, weeding and harvesting without requiring any compaction of the soil.  It is a method to raise food crops densely yielding greater volume at harvest in a small space.  We have had great success with tomatoes, sugar snap peas, carrots, and green beans in our square-foot gardens.  I like their tidiness too.  Check out the following site for Square-foot gardening.  

Last year, we removed a significant part of our front lawn.  I am a serious less-lawn proponent.  The new beds are landscaped with Michigan native plants to promote pollinators and wildlife habitat.  In the process of transforming a lot of lawn, one bed was thinly planted with young tree and shrub specimens. This bed left us with a large, open chipped bed.  

Wanting to use the space temporarily for growing ‘attractive’ food gardens, and because our good sun was limited elsewhere, my husband planted squash mounds and I assembled a pallet garden for lettuces and chard.  The process is very straightforward.  

  • Locate a free clean pallet and drag it home.
  • Cut a piece of landscape cloth to wrap around the bottom and sides of the pallet and staple into place.
  • Move your pallet into your desired location.  If in front of your home, stand back and examine the pallet placement for aesthetics.  Once set in location…
  • Fill the lower portion (about half) with good top soil.  Fill the remainder with compost or a blend of other nutritious growing medium.
  • Then, plant spinach, lettuce, chard, herbs or other seeds in the rows.  Remember to stagger seeding to allow for harvesting through-out the season.  Water the pallet garden regularly for germination.  Because of the landscape cloth, the moisture will stay in place a bit longer.

Throughout the growing season, I could harvest fresh lettuce that arrived in the kitchen pretty clean.  By fall, the pumpkins were orange, the acorn squash deep green and the butternut squash nicely tanned.  We heard no complaints from neighbors as the big-leafed squash plants filled the open chipped bed with a lovely, green ground cover.  I believe the neighbor children delighted at the bright orange pumpkins in our yard in October waiting for carving.

Nourish – January 2017

Growing Herbs in Winter

by Jamie Gunther, Master Gardener

Looking out the window is a beautiful sight if you like snow. It may be difficult to remember how the world outside appeared during greener times but even though now is not the right time to plant herbs in the garden area, it is a perfect time to plant some types of herb indoors.

First, a couple of tips to think about before digging in. Make sure your herbs will be exposed to enough sunlight by placing them in a south facing window. If a south facing window isn’t possible, consider some grow lights or a combination of cool and warm bulbs set on timers to recreate a sunny day instead. Also, it is a good idea to make sure that the seedlings are planted to the proper depth in a well-drained soilless mix. Cover with plastic after planting to create a humid environment but be sure to remove the plastic after the seedlings emerge to allow for air movement and allow them room to grow. Be sure to keep moisture and temperature at the required levels to encourage seed germination as well. Be aware that temperatures near windows may vary.

After seeds germinate and seedlings emerge, be sure to keep the soil moist but allow for drainage and move containers apart to discourage fungal growth. Once the seedlings reach six inches, you can begin to harvest the leaves but be sure to leave some if you would like the plant to continue to grow. Also, keep in mind that if plants get leggy, they can be pinched back to just above a leaf to encourage a bushier growth.

Following is a list of herbs that do well grown indoors:

  1. Basil – Fast germinator that may appear in as little as four days.
  2. Bay – This plant will do well in an east or west facing window and likes lots of air circulation.
  3. Oregano – Needs patience. Oregano may take weeks to germinate.
  4. Parsley – It will grow faster in south facing window and slower in an east or west facing one.
  5. Chives – Can germinate in about ten days.
  6. Cilantro – Germinates in about seven to ten days. Cilantro doesn’t like being transplanted so in the spring keep it in the container it was planted in.
  7. Dill – Germinates in one to two weeks’ time.
  8. Sage – Slow to germinate and could take up to three weeks.
  9. Thyme – Two to three weeks’ germination time. The seeds are very small so overplanting is common.

A white blanket of snow outside the window can be a beautiful sight to behold but adding some green indoors can be a great visual enhancement and has the benefit of the addition of delicious home grown herbs to recipes all year round.


Michigan State University Extension

Nourish – November 2016

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Garlic, the Spice of Life

Savoring Apples

Washed garlic. Harvested and photo provided by MG Nancy Denison

Washed garlic. Harvested and photo provided by MG Nancy Denison

Garlic, the Spice of Life

by Bethany Thies, Master Gardener in Training

Garlic, like salt, is one of those basic elements that have been around for thousands of years.  Allium sativum, commonly known as garlic, permeates almost every culture from Asia to Europe, Ancient Egypt to modern America and is used as both a culinary and a medicinal.  And while its garlicky cousin Allium tricoccum (commonly known as ramps) can be found throughout our local forests in the springtime, growing your own garlic is not a difficult task. 

If you are like me, the hardest part will be deciding which types of garlic to grow.  But don’t take too long deliberating because, like most bulbs, now is the best time to plant garlic. 

Here are some tips, gleaned from the pages of Fine Gardening, Mother Earth News and Rodale’s Organic Life magazines, to help you get started.  The Michigan State University Extension website also has a terrific bulletin that you can download called “Producing Garlic in Michigan” that will tell you everything you could ever want to know about growing garlic in our region.  The link for it is: .

Types of garlic

There are literally hundreds of named varieties of garlic.  Essentially, though, these different varieties can be grouped into two main subspecies, hardneck and softneck.

Hardneck garlic (Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon) – In general terms, hardneck garlics tend to be more flavorful and grow better in areas with colder winters.  They are characterized by hard woody central stalks and a long flower-like stalk called a scape.  Hardnecks usually have four to twelve cloves in each bulb.  Popular subtypes include porcelain, purple stripe and rocambole varieties. 

Softneck garlic (A. sativum var. sativum) – Softneck types grow best where winters are mild, though some tolerate cold up to our Zone 5.  As its name implies, this garlic has a softer stem which makes it great for braiding.  Because it lacks the flowering scape of hardneck garlic, it tends to produce many more cloves—sometimes as high as thirty or more per bulb.  It comprises most of the garlic you see in major supermarkets.  Subtypes include Creole, artichoke and many Asian varieties. 


When to plant – Garlic should be planted four to six weeks before the ground freezes.  In our area that usually means late September to early November.  Spring planting can also be done but it will result in reduced yields.

Where to plant – Garlic prefers to be in a sunny location in a well-drained soil such as sandy loam.  Clay soils are also acceptable if they can be loosened enough to allow for planting and bulb growth.  Soils high in sand will also work if adequate water for irrigation is available.  Garlic can also adapt to some shade, but it will affect the size of the bulbs.  To help avoid disease, do not plant garlic in the same location two years in a row.

How to plant – After loosening the soil and adding any needed amendments, create several shallow furrows about six inches apart.  Separated cloves should be planted pointed side up, 2 inches deep and 4 inches apart in these furrows.  After all the cloves are in the ground, smooth the soil surface to fill in the holes, and water well.

Caring for the plants – Garlic doesn’t need loads of water, but it doesn’t like to dry out either. One to two inches of water a week is adequate.  After the initial planting, water regularly until the ground freezes to help the roots develop.  If the soil feels dry an inch below the surface, it is time to water.  Follow the same pattern in the spring until about mid-summer.  Stop watering about two weeks prior to harvesting.

Scape removal — If you are growing hardneck garlic, you will have to tend to the scapes or garlic “flower” that emerges from the center of the plant in mid-June.  These “flowers” are actually bulbils, which are clones of the parent plant.  Because producing scapes and bulbils takes energy away from the growing garlic bulb and can reduce its size by up to 30 percent, it is important that they be removed in a timely manner.  Scapes start out straight, curl as they elongate and straighten out again as they mature.  They can be cut from the plant any time after they emerge but before they straighten out again.  If removed at this point, they are still succulent and can be used fresh or in cooking.


Bulb harvest usually takes place in July when 30 to 50 percent of the plant’s leaves have died back.  To harvest, carefully drive a garden fork or shovel under the bulbs to help loosen them from the ground.  Then, gently pull them out and shake off any excess soil. 

You can start using this garlic immediately.  However, if you plan on storing your garlic, it needs to be cured first.  To do that, lay the plants out to dry in a warm, airy spot that is protected from rain and direct sun.  After a few weeks of curing, brush off any remaining soil on the bulb.  Cut the plant stalks to 12 inches above the bulb if you plan on braiding the bulbs together or to about an inch or so if you plan on storing the heads loosely.  You can also trim the roots close to the bulb if needed.  Try not to remove more wrapper layers than you have to.  These layers protect the bulb and help keep it from sprouting. 

Store the bulbs in a well-ventilated, dark spot.  And if you want, set aside the biggest bulbs for planting your next crop of garlic in the fall.

apples (large)

Savoring Apples

by Bethany Thies, Master Gardener in Training

Around here, apples are as much a part of autumn as the changing colors of tree leaves and the first frost on the pumpkins.  This year the autumn apple crop seems to be one the best in recent memory, both in quantity and quality.

Of course, the best way to enjoy this bounty is to head to your own apple tree or one of our area you-pick orchards and biting into an apple straight from the tree.  Nothing is better.  But after gorging oneself on numerous fresh apples and then making all apple pies and crisps your family can handle, what does one do with all the leftover fruit?

Instead of another dessert, why not try something on the savory side.  Apples can actually be a delicious part of many main dishes.  Here are three recipes, two with meat and one vegetarian, which prove the point.  Enjoy!

Roasted Cabbage and Apples with Italian Sausage

Recipe from the Bon Appétit Test Kitchen

Makes 4 servings


1/2 head red cabbage, thinly sliced

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

1 medium apple, sliced

2 sprigs thyme

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper

1 lb fresh spicy turkey sausage

Crusty bread (for serving)


Preheat oven to 400°. Toss cabbage, onion, apple, thyme sprigs, vinegar, 1 Tbsp. oil, and 1/4 cup water in a 13×9″ baking dish; season with salt and pepper and roast, covered, until cabbage is wilted and softened, 35–45 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 Tbsp. of oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Cook sausages until browned and cooked through, 10–12 minutes. Add to cabbage during last 10 minutes of cooking, tossing to coat. Serve with bread.

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

Recipe from Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa Parties! (2001) and the Food Network

This recipe is for serving a large group and makes 3 ½ quarts.  Cut the ingredients in half to make 4 large bowls.


2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons good olive oil

4 cups chopped yellow onions (3 large)

2 tablespoons mild curry powder

5 pounds butternut squash (2 large)

1 1/2 pounds sweet apples, such as McIntosh (4 apples)

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 cups water

2 cups good apple cider or juice


Warm the butter, olive oil, onions, and curry powder in a large stockpot uncovered over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes, until the onions are tender. Stir occasionally, scraping the bottom of the pot.

Peel the squash, cut in half, and remove the seeds. Cut the squash into chunks. Peel, quarter, and core the apples. Cut into chunks.

Add the squash, apples, salt, pepper, and 2 cups of water to the pot. Bring to a boil, cover, and cook over low heat for 30 to 40 minutes, until the squash and apples are very soft. Process the soup through a food mill fitted with a large blade, or puree it coarsely in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade.

Pour the soup back into the pot. Add the apple cider or juice and enough water to make the soup the consistency you like; it should be slightly sweet and quite thick. Check the salt and pepper and serve hot.

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Apple

Recipe from Everyday Food (Nov. 2005) and Martha Stewart Living Television

Makes 8 side servings


3 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

4 pints Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed and halved

Coarse salt and ground pepper

1 apple, cored and cut into 1/4-inch slices, each slice halved crosswise

2 teaspoons red-wine vinegar


Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Arrange bacon in a single layer on a large rimmed baking sheet. Bake until browned, 10 minutes. Add Brussels sprouts in a single layer; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until they begin to brown, about 15 minutes.

Remove from oven, and toss in apple. Return to oven; roast until Brussels sprouts are browned and tender and apple has softened, 10 to 15 minutes.

Toss vegetables with vinegar, and serve immediately.

Nourish – Sep ’16

Contents (Click on a title or scroll)

How & When to Harvest Herbs

Help with Zucchini

Garden Produce Recipes

Photo from Pixabay

Photo from Pixabay

How & When to Harvest Herbs

Shared by Judy Reich, Master Gardener; From Susan Austin 9/14/2015

  • Only pick herbs when they’re dry. Harvest when morning dew has evaporated or at dusk.
  • Harvest culinary herbs just before the buds open. Once they bloom, all the plant’s energy goes into producing blooms, not developing those tasty leaves. Be sure to pinch any buds before they flower.
  • Harvest seeds before they turn from green to brown. Seeds should be brittle, dry and crushable, but not brown.
  • Be gentle! Fresh herbs are fragile, so when you harvest, handle them with care to avoid bruising your precious harvest.

When you harvest herbs depends on three things:

  1. What part of the herb you’re planning to use or preserve. Do you only need the flower, or do you want the leaf or root?
  2. What you’re using the herb for. Do you plan on drying it, or using it fresh?
  3. The life cycle of the herb. Do you need to harvest before your herbs grow buds and flower?

Once you’ve established which part of the herb you need and what you’re using it for, all you have to do is wait for your herbs to ripen for the picking.

Every herb is harvested in its own unique way. Here’s how to harvest some of our favorites:


Before You Harvest: Water your basil the night before you intend to harvest. That way, your basil will have a chance to soak up all that delicious water and your leaves will last longer after you harvest.

When: Harvest basil right before the plants start to bud and the flowers start to bloom (also known as “bolting”). Basil is best when harvested in the late morning, just after the dew has dried.

How: Pinch or cut each stem just above the second set of leaves. Cut the tips of each branch weekly, or cut the entire plant to just above the second set of leaves monthly. Pinch off any flower spikes right away.


Before You Harvest: Wait until the stems have 3 segments.

When: Harvest continuously until your plant’s color fails, usually around late fall or early winter. Parsley will grow indoors all winter, but if your parsley is growing outdoors, you should harvest the whole plant before the first frost hits.

How: Snip your harvest from the base of the plant to encourage more growth. Cut leaves from the outer portions first so your parsley can focus on growing new leaves from the center of the plant. If you remove too many leaves from the wrong part of your plant, your herbs won’t collect enough sunlight to continue growing.


When: Harvest cilantro roughly once a week to prevent bolting, or your herb going to seed.

How: Trim the whole stem near ground level, but be careful never to cut the center stem. Like parsley, harvest the outer leaves first, so the newer, inner leaves can keep growing. Only harvest 1/3 of your plant at a time.


When: Wait until the morning dew has dried, and if you can, harvest oregano on a warm morning – the oils and flavors will be the most highly concentrated. For the best flavors, harvest just as the flower buds form.

How: Cut to just above the growth node or the base of a particular set of leaves so the plant can grow new branches from the cut area.

Tip: Oregano is one of the only herbs that has a better, stronger flavor when it’s dried than when it’s fresh!


When: Like most woody, stemmed herbs, thyme is best harvested right before it blooms. For the best flavor, harvest thyme in the morning after the dew has dried.

How: Cut the stems just before the growth node to increase growth and ensure a constant supply of fresh, delicious thyme.

Tip: Thyme can have soft or woody stems. Soft stems are best cut up and thrown into your recipe with the leaves, whereas woody stems should be removed. Alternatively, you can tie the wooden stems together and toss the whole bunch in to your recipe – this is a great option if you’re cooking a roast or soup.


When: Clip leaves whenever they’re large enough to be clipped and used.

How: Gather leaves into a bunch and use sharp, clean scissors to cut them. Don’t clip too close to the bulb or they won’t regrow – leave at least ½ inch attached to the bulb above the soil. Cut from the outside of the bunch first.

Pro Tip: Chives produce edible flowers! The flowers won’t have the same oniony flavor as chives, so try using them as a garnish instead.


Photo via Flickr

Photo via Flickr

Help with Zucchini

Nancy Denison, Master Gardener

Thanks to my new garden beds, I am having great success with most of my veggies… And so I am blessed with mucho calabacin (zucchini).  Here are two of my favorite recipes to use up a bit of the green monsters!


Heat oven to 350. Prep an un-greased cookie sheet/sheet pan.

Mix together: 1 egg, ½ cup brown sugar and ½ cup sugar

In a separate bowl, combine:

1 cup flour (whole wheat, white, combo)

¼ tsp each of baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg

Stir flour mixture into egg mixture. Add 1 ¼ cup oatmeal and 1cup finely grated zucchini. Mix well.

Drop onto cookie sheet. Bake12 minutes till golden brown.  Makes about 2 dozen.

Recipe notes:  I sub chia and/or flax seeds in for some of the oatmeal. I also add chocolate chips and dried cherries. Recipe from Parade or Relish Magazine.

This next recipe came from a good friend in California.  It is decadent and sort of healthy?!


Combine in large bowl:

1 to 1.5 squares of unsweetened chocolate, melted

2 eggs

½ cup oil

1 tsp vanilla

Add, then mix in:

1 ½ cup flour (white, wheat, combo)

½ tsp salt

1 tsp each-baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon

1 cup semi -sweet chocolate chips

Fold in 2 cups of grated, drained zucchini

Bake in greased loaf pan 50-60 minutes at 350. 


Garden Produce Recipes


Jamie Guenther, Master Gardener

Add the following ingredients to a pot:

4 cups zucchini, chopped

1 cup onion, chopped

1/3 cup butter

Cook and stir for 10 minutes.

Stir into pot:

½ cup chopped parsley

½ tsp salt

½ tsp pepper

¼ tsp garlic powder

¼ tsp basil

¼ tsp oregano leaves

Combine separately:

2 eggs, beaten

2 cups shredded mozzarella

Stir into zucchini mixture.

For crust:

Separate an 8 oz. can of Pillsbury refrigerator crescent dinner rolls into 8 triangles.

Place in un-greased 10” pie pan and press over bottom and up sides to form crust.

Spread crust with 2 tsp mustard.

Pour zucchini mixture into crust.

Bake at 375 for 18-20 minutes or until center is set. (Cover crust with foil during last 10 minutes of baking.) Let stand 10 minutes before serving.


Photo via Flickr

Photo via Flickr


Jamie Guenther’s Gram Steed

7 cups unpeeled cucumbers, sliced thin

Cover with cold water and let sit overnight. Drain.

Then add and mix together:

1 large green pepper, sliced thin

1 large onion, sliced thin

Take mixture and fill about 4 pint sized jars.

Mix together:

1 Tbsp salt (may need a bit more to taste)

1 Tbsp celery seed

2 cups sugar

1 cup vinegar

Pour into jars filled with cucumber mix, add lids and bands. Store in refrigerator.


Tomatoes by Whitney Miller

Tomatoes by Whitney Miller


Jamie Guenther

4 tomatoes, peeled and chopped

1 onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

½ cup water

1 cup milk

Sugar, salt, pepper to taste

Fresh basil leaves

1 banana pepper (optional)

Tomato paste to thicken soup if desired

Add all ingredients to pot, heat to boiling, turn down to simmer.



Cheryl Gross

After canning tomato sauce and spaghetti sauce and being unimpressed with the result, I began to roast tomatoes and freeze them.  Besides being able to processes tomatoes when they come available in small batches from the yard, I can also buy a bushel to process all at once.

Tomatoes (as many as you have)

Wash, core and quarter as many as you can layer in a 9×13 pan. (if the fruit is really big, cut into smaller chunks.

Place in a 9×13 glass baking dish in a single layer (squeezed together is ok).

Splash with olive oil, sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper.

Roast in a 450 degree oven for about an hour or until liquid is reduced, stirring every 20 minutes or so. Blackening around the edges is just fine.  Cool.  Package about 2 C of tomatoes in a quart freezer bag, lay flat to freeze. 

Options:  Add herbs, such as thyme springs to the tomatoes before roasting.  Add whole, peeled garlic cloves to the pan before roasting.

Use the thawed roasted tomatoes in ANY recipe with tomatoes….spaghetti sauce, pot roast, stews, bean and lentil pots… you get the idea.  The roasted tomatoes add a richness and depth to any dish.

Nourish – July 2016

Contents (Click on a title or scroll)

Loaded Cauliflower Recipe

Companion Plants for Vegetable Gardens

Watering Woes

Loaded Cauliflower Recipe

Judy's loaded cauliflower is always a hit at our meetings

Judy’s loaded cauliflower is always a hit at our meetings

by Judy Reich, Master Gardener

1 large head of Cauliflower cut into bite size pieces (approx 6 cups)
6-8 strips of bacon cooked and crumbled (Cooked in oven at 400° for 20 mins)
6 Tbs chopped Chives
1/2 cup Mayonnaise
1/2 cup Sour Cream
2 cups Colby Jack Cheese ( may use cheddar)
8 oz container sliced mushrooms (optional)

Preheat oven to 425°
In a large pot boil water and cook Cauliflower for 8 – 10 minutes, drain and let cool.
In a large bowl combine sour cream, mayo, 1/2 of crumbled bacon, 3 tbs chives, 1 cups of cheese, mushrooms(optional) and cauliflower and mix well… place in baking dish and cover with remaining 1 cup of cheese and rest of bacon crumbles. Bake for 15-20 minutes until cheese is melted. top with remaining 3 T chives and serve.

Companion Plants for Vegetable Gardens

Companion planting of carrots and onions

by Jamie Gunther, Master Gardener

As many of us are keenly aware, when undesirable insects such as a squash bugs or tomato worm infest the garden, we will do almost anything to get rid of them. After all, we tend to plant our gardens with the intention of feeding ourselves and our families and hopefully have so much produce that we extend our bounty to our friends as well! After the initial shock and dismay at finding such rude invaders wears off we can begin to consider the best ways to keep infestations from occurring or provide the ammunition necessary to put up a good fight when pests come calling.

A couple of good methods to try are companion planting and border planting. According to Garden Toad, companion plants are those that are used to “confuse or repel plant pests, to encourage the growth of other plants and to act as a trap for pests and parasites. Companion plants may also be used as a “nurse” crop to provide food or possibly an attractive home or habitat for beneficial insects.” Companion planting can attract pollinators into the garden as well which is also a good idea. So how do we go about adding these plants into the garden?

Research has shown that certain plants do better when planted near other specific plants. It could be because the plant may attract beneficial insects into the garden or repel unwanted ones. Whatever the reason, planting certain plants together equals a better opportunity for them to thrive and provide us with our desired fruits or vegetables. A few examples of this are:

  • Allium when planted near carrots, tomatoes and fruit trees. Allium repels aphids, weevils, carrot flies, red spiders and even moles.
  • Basil when planted near tomatoes and asparagus. Basil repels aphids, flies, mosquitoes, mites, tomato hornworms and asparagus beetles.
  • Borage when planted near tomatoes, strawberries and fruit orchards. Borage repels tomato worms and attracts honeybees.
  • Coriander when planted amongst a variety of vegetables. Coriander repels aphids and attracts bees.
  • Dill when planted near cabbage. Dill attracts beneficial insects and honeybees.
  • Nasturtiums when planted near cucumber, squash and other vegetables because they repel aphids, cucumber beetles, whiteflies and squash bugs. Nasturtiums also act as a trap crop for aphids and repel borers near fruit trees.

Border plants are planted on the edge of the garden to help control pests and attract beneficial insects instead of directly in the garden. There are many to choose from including both annuals and perennials so finding some that will work should be easy. A few examples of good border plants are alyssum, anise hyssop, Canada anemone, penstemon/hairy beardtongue, yellow coneflower, beebalm, cup plant, columbine, blue lobelia, pale-leaved sunflower, joe pye weed and butterfly weed. Because the bloom time of each plant varies it is worth planting a variety along the garden’s edge to provide continuous sources of nectar, pollen or shelter.

Many of the border plants mentioned are native flowering perennials which is an added benefit for the gardener as well. Native plants require less watering and fertilizer, are better adapted to Michigan soil; can actually improve soil, help filter water and resist pests themselves much better than nonnative plants can. When falls approaches there is less need to prepare native plants for winter because they are already adapted to the cold so going native makes good sense.


A list of companion plants to consider can be found on Garden Toad’s Companion Plant Guide

A user friendly chart for native flowering plants is available through Michigan State University Extension in the article “Attracting Beneficial Insects with Native Flowering Plants.”

A variety of native plant information can also be found through Michigan State University Extension at:

Watering Woes

Buckets of Rain installs a gravity fed drip irrigation system in San Mateo, Guatemala. Photo by

Buckets of Rain installs a gravity fed drip irrigation system in San Mateo, Guatemala. Photo by

by Bethany Thies, Master Gardener in Training

I happen to love gardening in raised beds.  They allow for greater control of the planting soil, better containment of mulch and easier weeding, to name just a few of their benefits.  And, probably most importantly for me, my children can’t accidently run through them, destroying all my hard work!  In fact, all my vegetable gardening is now done solely in raised beds. 

When I started with two beds it was easy enough to hand water every few days with my trusty hose and shower wand.  Now that I have 10 raised beds to deal with, though, my thoughts have been turning to a more automated irrigation system.  Several days of searching the Internet has led me to what I see are essentially four possible ways to water an existing raised bed garden:  sprinkler, drip, olla and SIP systems.

Sprinkler systems — Of course the cheapest and easiest way to automate your watering system is to run an inexpensive sprinkler head off a timer attached to your outside water source.  If your beds are large or you have several close together, a sprinkler system like this might work just fine for you.  But be aware there are negatives to this type of system.

Sprinklers are indiscriminate and therefore can be wasteful.  They are designed simply to irrigate large swaths of land regardless of what is in its path.  So walkways and other unplanted areas between and around beds are given as much water as the plants which need it.  And because water is shot through the air with a sprinkler, additional water can be lost through wind and evaporation. 

Sprinkler irrigation is also discouraged on vegetables prone to foliar diseases such as powdery mildew and early blight.  Water left on leaves from sprinklers not only can create favorable conditions for these diseases but the splashing of water from a sprinkler can also spread the disease organisms from plant to plant.

Photo from

Drip system – A step up from the hose and sprinkler head routine is a drip irrigation system.  This type of system relies on narrow tubing to deliver low pressure water from your outside water source directly to the plants in your raised beds or containers.  Materials for a drip system can be purchased individually or in complete kits from several different manufacturers and can be found readily on-line or at the big box stores. 

Several types of drip systems are available, including:

  • In-line drip tubing – Emitters are pre-attached to the tubing every 6, 12 or 24 inches.
  • Soaker hoses and soaker tubing– Emits water along the entire length of the hose.
  • Bubblers, drippers or micro-sprayers  – Different types of water emitters are placed where needed to water individual plants.

While these systems are most often attached to an outside source of your house water, they can also be rigged to work with rain barrels or other large containers of grey water.  Online articles at Mother Earth News  ( and Permaculture Ideas ( have step-by-step instructions on how to set up this type of barrel drip system.

Whether you use house water or grey water, the big advantage with a drip irrigation system is that it can be customized to the needs of your planting bed.  Water goes directly to the plants that need it, resulting in less wasted water.  In addition, soaker hoses and tubing often can be placed directly under mulch which helps reduce water waste from evaporation.  Timers and even water gauges can also be attached to most of these systems to increase their efficiency and ease-of-use.  Set your timer once and you’re free of watering duties for the rest of the summer!

The two disadvantages can be time and money.  It does take some time and planning to set up one of these irrigations systems.  And, depending on how many beds need to be irrigated, material costs can start to add up.  The planning part is key.  Do your research and know what you are getting into before you start buying and cutting tubes.  Again, on-line sources are helpful and many have step-by-step guides for building your own drip system. 

Photo by

Olla system – I have to admit that this form of irrigation was somewhat new to me.  But, it is one getting a lot of attention in areas west of the Rockies where drought conditions have led to water rationing in many communities. 

An adaptation of an ancient method of irrigation that is thought to have originated in Africa over 4,000 years ago, ollas (pronounced “oy-yahs”) are essentially porous, unglazed clay pots with a narrow neck that are buried in the ground and filled with water every few days.  Osmotic pressure pulls water from the pot to the roots of the plants situated around it.  Keep the pot filled with water and you will provide a steady source of irrigation where and when your plants need it.  And since the pots are covered and buried, water loss due to evaporation is almost nil. 

Whereas you can buy traditional ollas online, they are a bit pricey.  Making one seems to be a simple enough endeavor, though.  Take a large unglazed terracotta pot and plug its drain hole with a wine cork.  Bury it almost up to the top in the soil near where your plants will be.  Fill it with water and add a terracotta saucer as a lid.  There, you have an olla. 

How many ollas you need to keep a bed irrigated seems to be up for debate and varies by size of olla and type of plants being watered.  Dripping Springs OLLAS, a Texas-based distributor of ollas suggests one 2-gallon olla can easily irrigate a 3 foot by 3 foot area on up to about 4 foot by 4 foot.

If you want to take this system a step further, you can create a clay capsule system, which is basically a string of ollas fed by a drip irrigation system.  The pots are closed off except where the tube from the drip system comes in and then almost completely buried in the planting bed.  Again, these capsules can be bought online, but they can also be made from terracotta pots, saucers and silicone sealer.

While all this may sound great, one big drawback to the olla system for people Up North is our winter temperatures.  As we all know, water, terracotta and freezing temps are not a good mix. To avoid cracked clay pots, ollas will need to be dug up and stored indoors each fall before the first hard freeze. 

Photo from Brooklyn Seed Company

Sub-irrigated planters or SIPs — Finally, if you are in the process of creating a raised bed or don’t mind digging out your existing one, sub-irrigated planters or SIPs might be the way to go.  Sometimes also referred to as wicking beds or self-watering planters, this technique has been getting a lot of buzz in the permaculture community lately.  The process involves creating a reservoir of water at the bottom of the raised bed which allows water to wick up into the soil as needed.  Plant roots stay consistently moist, there’s less evaporation and you don’t need to water as often or as much. 

The process for creating a SIP seems pretty simple.  Start by lining an empty raised bed with heavy plastic.  Then place perforated drain pipe on top of that at the bottom of the bed.  This creates the reservoir.  Some type of tube or funnel is placed into this drain pipe so that once the bed is filled in with soil water can be placed directly into the reservoir.  An overflow hole or spout is also drilled into the bed or container.  Next, landscape fabric is placed on top of the perforated pipe and then the soil and plants are added. 

Two great tutorials on how to create your own SIP can be found on The Family Handyman website at and at the Verge Permaculture website at  But, if you search sub-irrigated planters online you’ll find hundreds of similar instructions for planters and raised beds of all shapes and sizes.

For a complete listing of all the various ways you can water a garden, whether it is raised or not, see “Choose the Best Garden Watering Systems” from the Mother Earth News website (  It provides a wonderful overview of irrigation techniques, from simple soaker hoses to sunken beds and planting pits.  It also has several DIY tips for implementing these systems without spending a fortune.

Nourish – May ’16


Newly installed raised beds at the home of MG Nancy Denison

Newly installed raised beds at the home of MG Nancy Denison

Desperately Seeking Raised Beds

by Nancy Denison, Master Gardener

It’s sort of like the book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff.  If I want to redo the vegetable garden with really high raised beds, I’m going to have to clear out the landscape timbers. If I clear the timbers, I’m going to have to divide and transplant the perennials and herbs.  If I replant, I’m going to want to reduce the size of the whole garden, and if I reduce the garden, then the back of the garage and garden tool shed will have to be redone.  Yikes!  But isn’t that how it seems to go with any project? 

All winter, I have been searching out raised garden bed designs, styles and plans, looking to see if there is anything out there better than the two original ideas I had.  I had a friend and professional garden designer, Karen Harrison of Precious Petals, help me with how to reduce the size of the garden and a bit of the layout, and now the rest is up to me.  It all started with simply (I thought) using galvanized feed troughs. They are a bit shorter than I want, but reasonably priced and easily obtained.  But when my husband said let’s redesign the whole area to make it look really nice, I began to look at other options and the whole philosophy of raised beds.

I am getting older but I still love to be out in my yard all day. However, I am finally beginning to face the fact that my body hurts when I do too much. The raised bed will allow me to stand or lean slightly to plant, weed and harvest my crops.  Since I am tall, they will need to be 36 inches in height and 48 inches wide. Of course one can find beds shorter and less wide and even beds with legs for disabled or elderly gardeners.  These beds are great for smaller spaces and may increase yields because the soil can heat up earlier for a longer growing season.  In addition, weeds and insects may not be so invasive due to better soil conditions, and they can be easier to maintain (I hope). 

According to, there are three main types of raised beds: shallow, deep and terraced.  Shallow beds are one foot tall or less and can be contained by various types of lumber, stone, brick, plastic edging or just mounded soil.  Most are rectangular in shape.  The deep raised beds can be at waist or chest level, at the most 4 feet wide for easy access from both sides.  These can be made of many of the same materials as the shallow beds.  The bottom of the beds should be lined with wire fencing to keep small critters from tunneling underneath and into the beds.  To keep soil costs lower, fill the bottom third with logs, twigs, plastic milk or water bottles, jugs, cardboard, etc.  The third type of bed is the terraced bed.  These can be built into a hillside or slope of wall to stabilize the soil and/or stop erosion.  They consist of a series of raised beds stepping down/up the slope and can be made from timbers, stones, bricks, etc. 

raised bed by MG Nancy Denison

Materials for forming your raised bed merit some consideration.  Rocks, bricks and other cement type materials stand the test of time, look great and are pretty safe for your edible plantings.  But be aware that they absorb heat and can cause scorching of seeds or fragile plants as the sun shines directly on the hard surfaces.  Though most raised beds are made with wood, it is strongly suggested to avoid any treated wood, landscape timbers or railroad ties.  Chemicals to preserve the wood may leach into the soil and plants.  Cedar and redwood are long lasting while other woods may need to be replaced within five years. 

Many other materials make for fun, less costly, smaller style raised beds; large tree trunks or logs, pallets, burlap, canvas or plastic bags, barrels, stacked concrete blocks, straw bales, galvanized metal sheets, tubs or troughs.  I think I am going to use a combination of cedar and galvanized sheets to make the beds strong and able to outlive me!  Use your imagination, save your body and have fun! 




Nourish – March ’16 Real Dirt

Contents (Click on a title or scroll)

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

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