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.