Tuesday, December 3, 2013


Snow has melted considerably over the last couple days, so today I dug into the straw-covered carrot bed and pulled a few to add to a stew.  Quality of the remaining Rainbow and Bolero varieties proved excellent except for just a little loss of taste in the cores at the top couple inches of the largest of the Rainbows.  One observation, though: the voles have been feasting on them.  I’m not sure how many will be in bad shape by March.  Clearly this is an increasing problem, as last year I had almost no damage in ones I harvested in April and kept until July.  Next year, I’ll try to protect them better with ¼” mesh galvanized hardware cloth buried a few inches deep and extending a foot or so above ground.  I’ll also do that around the beets and parsnips intended for overwintering, although those haven’t been bothered so far.
I was surprised that the carrots did this well in the shade of 7-foot-high asparagus plants!

Friday, November 29, 2013

By Trina Ball...The "Worm Lady"

Winter holidays provide the perfect incentive to start a family worm bin.  Begin now and stop trekking kitchen scraps through deep snow to the compost pile! Special composting worms can make your life easier.  And the results of their labor? The very finest compost, full of chemical-free, water-soluble nutrients recycled and ready to nourish your spring plantings.  Trina Ball, “The Worm Lady,” tells us how easy it is, and how to get started.  Please click on METHODS & MATERIALS, above.

Thursday, November 14, 2013


Nice and sunny, snow almost gone, so I finally dug the last of the Kennebecs today.  Sizes range from that of a good-size pea to just over 19 ounces with a good many in the 6-ounce range—not the kind of uniformity one would expect in the local supermarket.  The good crunchy texture and real potato taste more than make up for that, though.  Finding a perfect 5-ounce Dark Red Norland I had missed earlier was a nice surprise.

Those potatoes grew in an area that 18 months ago was nothing but useless lawn grass struggling with dandelions and black medic in mostly clay soil.  Stay tuned, as I’ll try to get an item on converting lawn (or whatever…) to useful garden space without much work posted sometime before sleigh bells interrupt the proceedings.

Thursday, November 7, 2013


Frost a couple weeks ago finished off the tomato plants, and final fall cleanup is well underway.  We've covered our remaining root crops in preparation for the hard freezes and snow that may come soon. The carrots, parsnips, and beets should winter over well, and the turnips should provide delicious early greens next spring. The Red Russian kale is so sweet now that it’s almost candy-like; we’ll let a bit of it survive as long as it can.  There are still a few Kennebec potatoes to be dug. Onions and garlic are “cured” and stored in a cool corner of the basement.  Perennial herbs are ready to divide and move, and seed from annuals such as savory is drying in a box with silica gel along with other seeds from earlier.  Some will do better if it’s “stratified” first, i.e., given a cold storage period.

We got off to too late a start this year to do much in the way of cover crops.  We left legume roots in place to conserve the nitrogen they've stored, and our few remaining deep-rooted daikons will reduce winter soil compaction and be mostly broken down by spring.  We've decided to leave the soil in most of the beds bare except for very thin layers of straw.  Mulching can greatly reduce erosion, but we don’t have a problem with that.  It can reduce compaction caused by rain and the accumulated weight of snow and ice, but we broadfork our soil carefully each spring, loosening without turning it, so it doesn’t stay compacted for long.  Also, we would want to remove any mulch as soon as possible in the spring so the dark soil could catch the heat from those first few warm, sunny days.  Then the one- and two-year-old straw mulch will go back around the plants as soon as they’re large enough.

The compost pile will get one more loosening before it freezes.  One of our neighbors was generous enough to donate several bags of nicely shredded maple leaves raked from an organically maintained lawn, enough to bring the leaf contents up to about 10-15 percent by volume.  (We don’t want to exceed 20% in any case.)

Projects we hope to tackle this winter include a bulletin board frame, a picnic table, and cut-to-size components for a couple cold frames and three different types of plant supports: cages made of concrete reinforcing wire, bamboo trellises to be assembled with zip ties, and wooden overhead supports used with twine and clips for tomatoes or hanging material of a couple kinds to try for pole beans.  There are seed starting containers to clean, new fluorescent lights to install over indoor growing areas,

We’re thinking about seed orders for next year now, hoping to share a few seeds and plants with friends, especially those working in gardens for youth program support.  First we’ll select as many of our favorites from Seed Savers Exchange, then start perusing a few commercial seed catalogs as they arrive.  We’ll try to maximize use of seeds grown close to home, or at least at a latitude close to ours, and we’ll think twice before ordering from any company whose ethics we question.  Can’t wait to get our fingers in the soil again!
Compost covered with straw, ready for the snows!

Sunday, October 20, 2013


Congratulations and best wishes to the co-founder of this blog, Kirsten Gerbatsch, for her appointment as the “Fellow,” or statewide team leader, of FoodCorps in the State of Montana!

For the last two years, Kirsten served as an outstanding FoodCorps service member in the Grand Traverse region of Michigan, working extensively with the Michigan Land Institute.  In that time, she led the building and revitalizing of six school gardens, using these as “outdoor classrooms” and teaching both production of nutritious food and hands-on cooking to K-12 students. I’m one of many in our area for whom Kirsten will always be a friend, and to whom we’re ever so grateful for her inspiring leadership; skilled, patient teaching; and untiring hard work.  I once wrote of Kirsten, paraphrasing Abraham Lincoln: “A woman never stands so tall as when she stoops to help a child.”  She’s a bright, dedicated future leader of national significance in the areas of food and agricultural policy.  One might rightly say that our loss is Montana’s gain—true, but with two new FoodCorps members now building on Kirsten’s achievements under the superb leadership of Daniel Marbury, Kirsten’s outstanding co-worker for the last two years and now deservedly Michigan’s own new FoodCorps Fellow, Northern Lower Michigan stands ever more at the forefront of food education for health and sustainability.

Saturday, October 19, 2013


 After its late and frustrating start, our MG-SEEDS garden at the Historic Barns Park has shown great promise…assuming we can keep Bambi at bay.

- The first bed of green snap beans did quite well, about 15 lb of beans (more than half donated to SEEDS for their program with kids). With more regular picking, we might have added another 2-3 lb to that total.  The bed of Royalty Purple Pod beans was the first one the deer found.  After sampling some of the beans the deer missed, I realized it wasn't such a great loss, as the eating quality wasn't up to the standard of our "old reliable" Providers, which were planted July 4.

- The peas (Sienna) understandably couldn't germinate well under the hot, dry conditions of a July planting, especially with irregular watering.  We got perhaps a dozen pods of edible peas from a 3 x 12' bed; we left them in place so they could at least add some nitrogen to the soil.  Based on my nice crop of Siennas at home, we'll definitely try them again in '14.  It will be interesting to compare them with my old favorite, Green Arrow.

- The carrots (Merida, Bolero, and Rainbow, planted July 27) got off to a great start with nearly 100% germination, and were growing very well until the deer found them.  The tops are now nibbled down to about 3 inches, so I don't expect much if any more growth.  The roots are perhaps 1/2" in diameter, fairly uniform, definitely usable.  We'll try wintering some of them over; the Merida is bred especially for that purpose, and all three varieties did well in my home garden last year.

- The Purple Top White Globe turnips did OK, but most are now streaked through with root maggot (Delia brassicae) tracks.  They’re crisp and sweet, though.

- The leaf lettuce grew OK, but summer lettuce tasted like...summer lettuce.

- Mixed results with radishes: the poor germination of the small ones (Cherriette) can be attributed to the hot weather and rapid drying of the soil in July.  The daikons (Summer Cross No. 3 planted July 20), though, are excellent.  Here's one tipping the scales at 2-3/4 lb.

- Dunja zucchini and Sunburst summer squash, planted July 20 are starting to show some powdery mildew but are still producing a few fruits.  We’ll pull the plants soon and won’t bother treating the mildew this late in the year.  Deer have nibbled off some zucchini blossoms, easy to do since Dunja, my favorite, is an open plant with small spines, making it easy to harvest for both deer and people.

- Beets planted July 15 are a disappointment.  We should have soaked them overnight before planting for better germination, but even so, the sizes of the Lutz and Detroit Dark Red plants (the two that germinated best), both tops and roots, are far less than expected.  Mine at home, planted two months earlier and with consistent irrigation, are also disappointing this year after a spectacular harvest last year.  I'm not sure why.

- We set out 30 free pathetic-looking Golden Acre cabbage plants on July 17.  I had my doubts, but they produced beautifully!  SEEDS members used 19 heads as part of one of their great after-school programs. A few heads split because of uneven moisture, but overall, an unexpected success.
- Sunflowers planted July 20 are blooming in spite of strong interest on the part of the local deer population.  On October 11, we planted our best 21 cloves of Spontaneo garlic (a porcelain hardneck heirloom from Northern Italy) in the north part of the bed where the sunflowers occupy the south side.  We’ll put some onion plants there next spring after the birds have had their sunflower seed snacks during the winter.

Plans for 2014 include, obviously, some fencing, and likely liberal application of blood meal, which can be at least somewhat useful as a temporary deer repellent.  It’s also a good nitrogen source, so it won’t be wasted.  Chives are already doing well, and we hope to get some additional herbs started in some of our partly buried plastic pots yet this fall.  We’ll soon begin construction of some improvements including a picnic table and a bulletin board.  We’ll definitely include a couple beds of trellised tomatoes and some pole beans, likely Fortex (round pod) and Northeaster (flat pod).

We’re also discussing the possibility of a small expansion for some bramble fruit, hopefully including some of my favorite Fall Gold raspberries.  We’ll look to our friends at SEEDS for guidance on that and any varieties they might find useful in their outstanding programs for Grand Traverse area youth.  We hope to add at least a couple more “regular” volunteers next year, and we’re always open to suggestions on how we can be of better service to our community.

Friday, September 6, 2013

By Mike Davis

My garlic crop this year was a little disappointing, but my favorite heirloom variety, which we've named “Spontaneo,” was, as usual, my most productive.  The Spontaneo name stems from the Northern Italian family responsible for keeping the old variety growing after it was brought to the US by a friend of the great uncle of one of my friends, now living in Western Ohio, who grows several hundred plants of it each year.  Its reputation as a premier variety for northern climates is growing rapidly.  In my soil, bulbs average over 2.5 inches in diameter most years, just a bit less this year.  Its strong root system resists heaving from freeze-thaw cycles, it’s sweet and versatile, and its strong wrapper makes it a good keeper as hardnecks go.  It consistently grows five cloves per bulb; I have to cut them in half, sometimes into thirds, to fit them into my garlic press.  This year’s crop is spoken for, but if next year’s crop allows, I’ll send a bulb or two to each of the first ten people who request one around Labor Day in 2014.  Here’s a photo showing the largest of each of my four varieties this year.
Left to right: Music (a porcelain from Kazakhstan), Purple Glazer (Republic of Georgia), German Red (a Rocambole), and Spontaneo

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

By Trina Ball…”The Worm Lady”      

Why should you vermicompost as opposed to using traditional organic waste-management methods? There is a long list of responses to this question depending on whom you ask.  For me it all started when I tired of trekking through deep snow to a compost pile in the dead of winter.  So I bought the recommended species of red worms, Eisenia fetida (also seen as foetida) and made myself a worm bin.  Through spring and summer, after a little experience and lots of reading, I accumulated countless other reasons for adopting my newly-discovered composting alternative.  Since one thing typically leads to another, by fall I found myself providing materials, services and ideas to classrooms in area schools.  Thanks to several dedicated teachers, many students now use worms and other organisms to break down organic waste into material rich in nutrients for plant growth in local gardens. 

What goes on in that little bin connects children to nature and gardening.  It’s a model ecosystem and a hands-on tool for teaching ecology, soil science, biology, entomology, societal concerns, observation skills, use of the Scientific Method, problem-solving, critical thinking, accurate record-keeping, measuring, weighing, teamwork, worm anatomy, mathematics, awareness of avoidable waste, and experimentation comparing plant growth with and without vermicompost.   Please contact me at Balltl@aol.com if you know of teachers interested in starting a bin, if you wish to contact teachers who already have one, or if you wish to be included on my emailing list.

Here I am in the photo below, in a Suttons Bay classroom after school, teaching Kirsten Gerbatsch how to make bins.

I think we made six bins that day before she told me she was running a low-grade fever!  (Now that’s dedication.)  We've been fortunate to have Kirsten as an energetic FoodCorps educator working with the Michigan Land Use Institute, SEEDS, the MSU Extension; and as a contributor to this blog.  We wish her the best in her continued work with FoodCorps in Montana!
Kirsten at Work
Each spring I bring some of the classroom bins and vermicompost home for summertime care, to be returned the following fall. The photo below shows this fall’s preparations for “Worm Lady Deliveries.”  That wonderful tote bag was a generous gift from good friend, Master Gardener and animal rehabilitator, Lillian Mahaney.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


Please click on our METHODS & MATERIALS page above for a new article on vegetable seed saving with some recommended heirloom varieties.  The article is an expanded version, with many new photos, of a handout Mike Kiessel and I passed out in conjunction with our talk (well, mainly Mike K's talk) during the Master Gardener College event at Michigan State University this past spring.  Our area is indeed fortunate to have Mike available to advise on this increasingly important subject, and it's a privilege to work with him and learn about his many contributions to preserving and adapting heirloom vegetable varieties to the local climate and soil conditions of Northwest Lower Michigan.

Saturday, August 3, 2013


A contrast in gardening:
Perhaps more so in our Northwest Lower Michigan area than in most, there's often a fine line between "farming" and "gardening."  To see these two in contrast and as they relate, why not stop by at the Traverse City/Garfield Township Historic Barns Park? Check out the half-acre "farm" production garden run by our outstanding local nonprofit organization SEEDS and its neighbor about 1/20 of that size: our backyard-size Master Gardener-SEEDS partnership demonstration garden next door.  Points of contact for the two, respectively: Christina Carson, christina@ecoseeds.org; and Mike Davis, mcd49621@gmail.com. Both gardens are listed in the new MG VMS site among projects for which Master Gardener Volunteers are needed; if you're a Michigan Master Gardener, please consider becoming one of our volunteers. If you're not a Master Gardener but would like to be, or if you're just interested in learning more about food gardening Northwest Lower Michigan, please click on EVENTS & OPPORTUNITIES above for details.

Historic Barns in Background

SEEDS Farm/Garden in Background
Latest progress:
Our diminutive MG-SEEDS garden is finally beginning to look like a garden, albeit as we would prefer to have seen it about two months ago--and still not exactly pretty.  The weeds are now mostly under control.  As you can see, we’re using straw…and more straw.  First, we chopped down the worst of the lamb's quarter, spotted knapweed, and their invasive friends, and covered most of the interior area and pathways with plain brown cardboard.  We're holding that down temporarily with whatever is available including slabs of partly decomposed straw intended for use on the growing beds a little later.  The pathways around growing beds are getting nice layers of new straw to make kneeling as comfortable as possible.  We laid a 3-foot strip of heavy black landscape fabric around the entire perimeter, fastened that to the hard ground with 80D (8-inch) spiral-shank nails and fender washers, and covered that with more straw.  We'll leave the cardboard in place to become part of the soil between beds but will remove the landscape fabric for reuse elsewhere next spring.  All that straw will eventually end up in the compost bins that are made of…guess what…straw.

All eleven growing beds have now been planted as follows:

DATE  BED#              VARIETIES
6/29       1                    Unknown bush bean plants
7/4         1                    Provider bush beans
7/15       3                    Sienna peas
   "          4                    Lutz Green Leaf, Detroit Dark Red, & Red Ace beets
7/17       5, 10, 11        Golden Acre cabbage plants (30 total)
7/20       5                    Green Forest Romaine & Simpson’s Curled lettuce, Summer Cross daikon radishes
   "          6                    Royalty Purple Pod bush beans
   "          7                    Sunflower mix
   "          8                    Purple Top White Globe turnips, Chioggia beets
   "          9                    Dunja Zucchini, Sunburst Patty Pan squash
   "          -                     2 buried pots of chives (divided)
7/27       2                    Rainbow, Bolero, & Nelson carrots

Germination has been a bit spotty so far, limited initially by the hot, dry weather and by continuing problems in getting sufficient water to the site; however, most of the vegetable varieties seem to hold promise of worthwhile autumn harvests.  The first of the beans are beginning to bloom, and even the carrots are showing signs of life.  For a first try at mid-summer on a difficult site, we'll take it!

Thursday, July 18, 2013


The weather was quite nice on the morning of Saturday 7/13/13, and we accomplished a good bit.  We unloaded and spread the last of a total of 2.5 (cubic) yards of compost, about 2.5 inches deep on the 11 beds.  We added 4 lb of kelp meal and a little leftover greensand to each of the larger beds, a little less to the smaller ones, corresponding closely to the recommended 1/2 lb of potassium per 100 sq ft.  We've decided not to add more nitrogen (1/4 lb per 100 sq ft recommended)--we'll  just rely on the high-quality compost to provide that.  We further loosened the compacted soil as deep as we could get our digging forks and smoothed out the soil.  On Monday the 15th, we planted Sienna peas in one bed and a row each of Lutz Green Leaf, Detroit Dark Red, and Red Ace F1 beets in another.

Then on Wednesday the 17th, we planted 30 Golden Acre cabbage plants, gifts from Harbor View Farm & Nursery. Golden Acre is a good, early-maturing heirloom variety that usually produces heads up to 3 lb in early spring plantings...which this clearly isn't. Naturally, this late in the year, the plants were somewhat rootbound, but their condition was remarkably good considering their age. Whether they can thrive in this heat remains to be seen. Temperature is now 89 and rising at 11:30 AM.

We're continuing to water every morning, as we've still had only one good rain since June 16. We're planning another work bee this coming Saturday morning, July 20, at 9-11 AM, weather permitting.  There's still a lot of work to be done, but I for one would not be terribly disappointed if we were to be rained out!

Monday, July 1, 2013


Some progress!  On Saturday 6/29, four of us volunteers made some progress toward getting our demonstration garden going.  We decided on 5 ½ inch wide lightweight red cedar deck boards and some leftover white cedar boards for our 3 x 12 and 3 x 8 foot growing beds.  Why only 3 feet wide?  For kids and “vertically challenged” adults like me to reach easily to the centers.  Why only 5 ½ inches high? For economic purposes, and because we want to nurture the existing soil rather than hauling in “topsoil.”  Here are the first 6 of our planned 11 growing beds.  Still lots to be done!
Thanks to the generosity of one of our “neighbor” gardeners from the community garden near ours, we now have our first plants growing—we were gifted with several trays of bush bean plants (upper right, above)!  I’ve never started beans indoors for transplanting, but if these do well, I might try a few next spring to get an early start.  Today I watered them well and worked a little kelp meal in around them, hoping to start improving our soil’s low potassium level and add some other much-needed nutrients.

Picked peas in my small home garden this morning.  The good news: just over a gallon (~3 ½ lb) in the shells from about 10 square feet, and very sweet and tender.  The bad news: this is the main picking, as there are few new blooms and the plants are showing the effects of the warm dry weather of the last couple weeks.

Another item I find of continuing interest:  If you haven’t heard of “Carter’s Compost,” please see Carter’s latest update at: 
http://us6.campaign-archive1.com/?u=e6249eeb2dc0166be0dfa93f5&id=5e4511de4c&e=4aeb5ac5ce.  It’s not often that adults can look to kids as great role models, but here’s a worthy one.  My wife and I were privileged to meet Carter while visiting one of Traverse City’s new school garden projects earlier this year; this kid is for real!

Monday, June 24, 2013

It was a great pleasure to introduce Mike Kiessel at the Master Gardener College event held Saturday 6/22/13 at Michigan State University!  Mike proved once again that if you have any questions on saving vegetable seeds, he's the guy to ask.  We're fortunate to have him as a contributor to this blog.  And why not save seeds?  It's fun, saves money, and helps preserve some of the wonderful heirloom vegetable varieties that are getting hard to find.  More of these treasures disappear every year.  And it allows the seed saver to select for preferred plant characteristics and for strains that get better adapted to local soil and microclimate conditions every year.
Mike Davis

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Here are two updates for the price of one: a quick summary of this year's somewhat perplexing but ultimately successful hardening off of plants started indoors (click on METHODS & MATERIALS above); and a status report (below) on the delayed but promising beginning of our new Master Gardener-SEEDS partnership garden at the Historic Barns Park just outside Traverse City.  Startup is now just barely underway following completion of a geothermal project intended for temperature control in the classic barns that once supported a 50+ acre agricultural production area at the Traverse City State Hospital.


by Mike Davis

We're starting our new garden with a very small group of Master Gardener Volunteers, with the support and counsel of the great folks from SEEDS, particularly Christina Carson.  See: http://www.ecoseeds.org/.  As we grow, we hope to provide education and the inspiration to generate perspiration to a much wider cross-section of our community: those who could live better through gardening.  In order to do that, first we need to gain the confidence of our community by demonstrating that we know what we're doing.  We'll try.  And we'll offer samples of whatever fresh, clean, safe(!) edibles we have ready to harvest to visitors as they stop by.  "What are those silly people doing with their tiny garden on a big, potentially productive piece of land?"  We hope we'll be showing those visitors what they might do if they have only a patch of grass on a sandy residential lot to start with, and not enough money to risk on rototillers or even plants from the garden center.  And those who live in neighborhoods where ornamental landscaping is a competitive sport, and whose neighbors frown on cabbages.  And those who live on shady lots without the "full sun" the garden writers say we must have.  And those who grew up not "liking" vegetables because....

Over the last week, we've begun learning more about our future garden site including available resources, by looking carefully at our soil test results, and by laying out the first of our future growing beds.  The soil sample we had tested was taken before the excavation and subsequent regrading following geothermal unit installation.  We'll plan to do another next spring.  The test results were promising, showing relatively high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus but low levels of potassium.  Recommended macronutrient applications were 1/4 lb of nitrogen and 1/2 lb of potassium per 100 square feet.  Since, including our planned buried pots, our total planting area is about 350 square feet, we'll spread most of a 50-lb bag of kelp meal (about 4% potassium) over our beds and pots.  We're still debating what source(s) of nitrogen to use, possibly blood meal, which should also be at least a little discouraging to foraging rabbits and deer.  The soil pH is 7.1, just a bit in the high side; the cation exchange capacity (CEC) is 7 meq/100 g (not as low as we feared); and the organic matter content is 2.8%, low, but respectable for our sandy soil.  We'll easily raise the organic content to a reasonable level by adding a cubic yard (almost an inch) of top-quality compost before we begin planting.  Micronutrient levels were all in a "normal" range.  It was a relief to find that the lead level, 31 ppm, was quite low.

One problem: see that freshly disturbed soil in the foreground of this photo?

Think concrete.  Well, not quite, but the structure of the soil has been significantly broken down from compaction by repeated passes of heavy grading equipment following the recent excavations.  Clearly it will take a while for that structure to be rebuilt.  Again, compost to the rescue, along with liberal use of our broadforks.

During the next couple weeks we’ll loosen the soil with digging forks and broadforks, outline our beds with cedar frames, apply our soil amendments, and, just maybe, get a few plants started.

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

School Garden Week 2013

             During the week of June 2, 2013 schools in Leelanau, Grand Traverse, Benzie, and Antrim Counties celebrated an inaugural School Garden Week, increasing community attention to the diversity of school-based gardening projects in the Grand Traverse, Michigan, region.  During June 2-6, members of the community visited schools for “Garden Tour Days” to learn more about these projects, participate in fun garden activities, and meet the staff who help to run these programs.
Michele Worden, one of two newly hired Farm to School Educators working with the Michigan Land Use Institute, expressed the hope that teachers and parents other school gardens and gain inspiration to take back to their own school communities. Each school hosted its own unique day throughout the with support from the Farm to School and FoodCorps Team based out of the Michigan Land Use Institute. Pam Bardenhagen, another Farm to School Educator in Leelanau County, Mary Brower with ISLAND in Antrim County, as well as Kirsten Gerbatsch and Daniel Marbury of FoodCorps, and several teachers and Master Gardener volunteers gave tours and spoke with visitors.  
Suttons Bay Schools, Northport Public School, Leland Public School, and Leelanau Children’s Center in Leelanau County at both the Northport and Leland locations; Platte River Elementary in partnership with Grow Benzie in Benzie County; Central Lake Public School in partnership with ISLAND and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in Antrim County; and Interlochen Elementary School, Traverse Heights Elementary School, Central Grade School, The Greenspire School, and the Children’s Garden at the Traverse Area District Library in Grand Traverse County all participated. Thanks to the enthusiastic efforts of all participants, school garden programs significantly expanded and flourished during the year; the outlook for 2014 is more promising than ever! 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

School Garden Update: Interlochen Elementary

At Interlochen Elementary School, we really had our work cut out for us when we decided to revitalize several of the outdoor raised beds to cultivate more vegetables than the indoor hydroponic garden in the school library could support. Just outside those library windows where the kale and nasturtiums grow in a nutrient solution under fluorescent lights, there are ten large raised beds. The beds had been left to their own devices for about 2 years and as one 2nd grader described it, “It looked like we were just growing weeds.” Needless to say, there was a lot of weeding to do!
           With the help of volunteers and students, we successfully weeded five of the ten beds, removed three, and relocated two. Then we added about 1 inch of compost to each one. To make weeding easy, one person first loosened the soil using a digging fork or a broadfork. This broke up the dense root structures below the surface of the soil. Then, we proceeded to weed using hand tools, strong hands, and sheer will power. Well, many hands make light work – and within several hours about 300 square feet of gardening space was made ready for planting!
          The one complication that remains at the Interlochen Elementary School Garden is the underground system of tree roots that have begun to penetrate the soil in the raised beds. Let this lesson be learned: Watch out for trees when planning your school or home garden, as their roots can find their way into your beds and compete with your plants for soil nutrients and space.

School Garden Update: Traverse Heights Village Garden

          On a brisk and sunny May 1st, several community volunteers, teachers, and many, many children helped to seed a total of 17 raised beds at Traverse Heights Elementary School Garden. Our planting schedule had been pushed back several weeks due to cold, wet weather. Each grade level planted a certain kind of vegetable: we seeded radishes, lettuce, peas, carrots, beets, kale, and a variety of annual and perennial herbs.

We planted several different varieties of each crop. When it comes to “learning gardens” it is fun and educational to try out growing different varieties. The different colors, shapes, and flavors are fun and interesting for young gardeners (well, all ages really!), but there is also much to be learned when it comes to experimenting by observing the difference in maturation rate, cold hardiness, bolt resistance, etc., in unique varieties of lettuce, for example.
Here is a list of some of the varieties we planted at Traverse Heights Elementary School on May 1st :

Carrots: Bolero, Scarlet Nantes, Rainbow, and Cosmic Purple

Peas: Amish Snap, Golden Sweet, Dwarf Gray Sugar, Mammoth Melting Snow Peas

Kale: Red Russian, Red Winter Bor, and Green Curly Leaf

Lettuce: Lolla Rossa, Winter Density, Skyphos Red Butterhead, Tango, Merveille Des Quatre Saisons, Waldmann’s Dark Green Lettuce

Radishes: Cherry Belle, White Icicle, Rat Tailed Radish (for the seed pod)b n and Scarlet Globe

Note: All of the seeds we planted are for cool season crops that grow well in the early spring and fall. This is a good strategy for planting within the constraints of the school year (if your school does not provide summer programming or camps). I like to plant early harvest crops in the spring so that we can harvest and enjoy the “fruits of our labor” before the end of the school year in June. Additionally, it is a good idea to plant late summer/early fall crops such as carrots, beets, and winter squash that students can harvest when they return to school in September.