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 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.