Wednesday, April 24, 2013


Despite yet another late April smattering of snow this morning, it’s a great spring day in our neck o’ the woods!  Reason?  Yesterday we received word that our proposal for a Master Gardener Volunteer “demonstration” or “learning” garden we hope to develop in partnership with SEEDS has been approved!  We definitely have our work cut out for us, but what a great site!  Thank you, SEEDS, for your great leadership!

Not familiar with SEEDS?  The name is an acronym for Seeking Ecology Education and Design Solutions; it’s a marvelous nonprofit organization that contributes in many ways to building better, more ecologically responsible communities.  Please check out their web site:
We’re also very grateful to the City of Traverse City and Garfield Township Recreational Authority, owner of the site, for the trust shown in SEEDS in supporting our project.

The site is a small area within the Grand Traverse Commons Barns Area near the northwest corner of Silver Lake Rd and Franke Rd, just outside Traverse City.  It slopes gently toward the south, enough that we’ll take care to avoid soil erosion but not enough to require terracing. The soil is sandy, not too different in texture from my own home garden.  I’ve submitted a soil sample for testing and will include those results in a future post.

This afternoon I took the following photos standing at the northeast corner of the plot we plan to develop.  The first is looking south toward Silver Lake Rd.  To the right is part of the much larger SEEDS garden, which we’ll enjoy watching as it’s further developed this year.  The hole in the left center of the photo is the location where geothermal units are to be installed for energy-saving temperature control in the historic barns; the closest two of these are seen in the second photo, looking northeast. Our small plot won’t extend quite as far as the hole, but most of our work will have to wait until the units are in place.  The small white building contains a pump that supplies irrigation water (not potable!) for the gardens.

Our main goal is to provide a site for learning, teaching, and encouraging others to grow food, especially families with children.  Our methods will be strictly organic, and will involve no power equipment and no unnecessary turning of the soil—we’ll just loosen it as needed with broadforks, letting beneficial soil organisms do the heavy lifting.  We’ll use straw as a mulch for weed control and moisture retention, and high-quality compost applied on top (not tilled in!) as our main soil additive.  Depending on our soil test results, we may add other organic amendments, but the utmost care will be taken to protect water quality—we’ll avoid excessive fertilization.  Initially our crops will be mainly annual and biennial vegetables and kitchen herbs, but some perennials and small fruits may be added in following years.  Especially since we want to involve children in the project, safety and sanitation will be the our first and foremost considerations.  Our garden design will involve growing beds rather than single rows; the beds will be no wider that three feet, allowing easy reach-in by children.

We hope you’ll share in our experiences, at least through this blog; and when you can, please come and visit us at the garden!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Snowy Saturday

Lovely spring day here in Grand Traverse County!  There’s about two inches of fresh white “mulch” on the ground, not exactly pea planting weather.  I guess that’s the only new material my garden will be getting for a while, as compost deliveries to our area have been delayed by weather issues.  I felt sorry for this mourning dove cooing its heart out on my collapsed asparagus plants this morning.

August 2012 Treats
Today I’m starting tomato and pepper plants in cell trays, 48 cells in all including a few plants each of several varieties of tomatoes.  I’ll start a few more in a week or so, but at the moment, that will be all the plants my small planting area can handle.  My favorites for snacking straight off the vines are  those sugar-sweet SunGold hybrids, which produced up to about 300 one-inch morsels per plant last year.  The best of the large slicers was West Virginia Sweetmeat, an heirloom variety I obtained from fellow blog contributor Mike Kiessel a couple years ago.  He gave me a two-pound tomato from which I saved the seed—a great thing to share. 

Monday, April 8, 2013


Why another garden blog?
It’s our contention that individual and family food gardens, however small, can provide many important benefits including saving money, improving our health, and helping protect the health of our planet.  There are dozens of really good garden blogs out there, some of which we’ll be mentioning as we develop this one.  Many of the better ones, though, aren’t directly geared to specifics of our region (the northern Great Lakes area) or our primary focus: learning and helping others learn to grow healthy food on a small scale, as in school, community, and home gardens.  We invite you to learn with us, to contribute and share relevant experiences, and to suggest improvements to this fledgling effort. Please see the ABOUT page to find out what we're...all ABOUT.

School and Other Gardens
In our GARDEN UPDATES page, we'll introduce some school gardens and talk briefly about a couple community garden programs.  Following the progress of these gardens through the year will be an exciting undertaking.  We share the firm belief, shared vividly by Trina Ball in our ABOUT page, that gardening can be a wonderfully enriching experience for children, one whose importance for the future should not be underestimated.  In our EVENTS & OPPORTUNITIES page, we'll mention at least one way you might join us in helping others share the benefits food gardening can bring.

Gardening Season
There’s no such thing as “gardening season”; all seasons are that!  Over the course of the next year, we’ll take you through some of our experiences as home gardeners and Master Gardener Volunteers in a climate of The North that offers its challenges, but also its great rewards.  Earlier this week (on the last day of March), I harvested some of my best-ever beets and carrots, fresh from the garden.  Protected by nothing but some straw and our winter-long lake effect snow, they lay mostly undisturbed, holding their crispness and even increasing their autumn sweetness.  A marvelous treat!

Getting Started
This time of year, though, is the beginning of a new cycle of life for most of our annual vegetables grown in home, school, and community gardens.  For many types of plants, indoor seed starting begins the process.  Why start your own seeds when soon stores will be well-stocked with plants?  You can grow better, healthier plants, and ones better suited to your needs.  You’ll have a much wider selection from which to choose.  You can time their growth to have them ready just as weather conditions allow them to move outdoors.  You can start at different times, extending your harvests over longer intervals.  And even considering some initial investments, you can save money in the long run.

Most plants tend to be quite forgiving of the mistakes gardeners make; I know…I’ve eaten many a juicy tomato plucked off a badly mistreated plant.  Plants are quite determined to survive and reproduce.  There are, though, quite a few things we can do to help them along.  For one thing, it’s useful to know something about their heritage, and to do what we can to make them feel “at home”—to approximate if we can the natural conditions in which they evolved.  Further, over just a few generations, plants tend to adapt to differing conditions.  That’s why I try to purchase seed grown at a latitude close to my own, in my case the 45th parallel, and if I can, to save seed of my own, which I hope will adapt further.  I am NOT an expert seed saver; for that, I defer to my fellow contributor, Mike Kiessel, whose knowledge is astonishing.  Mike told me recently that he now has 160 varieties of saved heirloom tomato seed in his inventory.

This past winter, I spent many a hopeful hour perusing garden seed catalogs and ordered just over 100 varieties from four companies I have learned to trust.  I try to order from co-ops and family-owned companies if possible, and always from Seed Savers Exchange.

There are many variants among seed starting METHODS & MATERIALS, some of which are described on that page.  Here’s some of what I have growing so far this year:

Red Russian Kale, Day 10

De Cicco Broccoli, Day 12
Top to Bottom: King Richard and Blue Solaise Leeks, Day 20; and Sage, Day 10

Have questions about gardening?  Send them along to one of our contributors, and we'll try our best to address them in our Q&A CORNER.  If we don't know the answers, we'll say so, but together our team has lots of experience and familiarity with the challenges of the Northern Gardener.  And, as always, we'll recommend that for reliable advice on a multitude of subjects, you should consider contacting your local University Extension office.  In our state, Michigan, we're proud of our Michigan State University Extension system; see

Finally, any trip to a library or book store, online or otherwise, can reveal a bewildering number of books and periodicals on gardening.  Many are wonderfully inspiring and excellent sources of information; and some are...fluff.  In our FURTHER READING page, we'll talk briefly about some of the best, and point out some useful online updates as we see them.

Happy Gardening!