Saturday, May 30, 2015

Youth Gardening at Its Best

Yesterday the Leelanau Community Garden came alive! More than 40 “Greenagers,” outstanding students from Traverse City West Middle School, came to the Garden to weed, apply compost, prepare growing beds for planting, and plant thousands of vegetable seeds and more than 100 plants that will provide much-needed fresh, organically grown produce to needy Leelanau County residents throughout the coming summer and fall.

The students were divided into a number of teams, each assisted by a Master Gardener Volunteer. The teams were chosen completely at random, so it was amazing to see them almost instantly transform into efficient, cohesive units. I was fortunate to be one of those volunteers, an especially gratifying experience since the five young people who worked with me proved courteous, considerate, and wonderfully dedicated and proficient gardeners. It seemed almost miraculous that a neglected, weed-infested garden was transformed in a mere two hours into a system of neat, precisely planted plots. The garden will soon be producing beans, cabbages, cucumbers, onions, peas, peppers, summer and winter squash,  and a variety of different tomatoes to be delivered to a local food pantry.

Thank you so much, Greenagers!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Shoot(s)out at the MG Corral

Shoots, roots, and rhizomes, that is. Today began the annual battle against quackgrass and other villains at the Master-Gardener-run ‘corral’ behind the Barns. Here's one of the casualties, hanging from a post along with one of my trusty weapons, the other being my antique digging fork. We’re steadily weeding out the enemy!

As in the past, we’re off to a bit of a slow start at our demonstration garden at the Historic Barns Park, but in this our third year at this wonderfully located public site, good progress is evident. The weeds are getting fewer now, and this year’s planned expansion to 22 small raised beds will be much easier than installation of the first 15 thanks to a year of keeping much of the soil in the new area under a mulch of straw on brown cardboard. And we have a reliable water supply now thanks to superb leadership by the Traverse City/Garfield Township Recreational Authority and our great local nonprofit organization SEEDS. We’re especially excited because soon that water system will be driven by a solar array--energy independence at last!

Today we had a great surprise: one of our local gardening friends donated 20 like-new, heavy-duty tomato cages, some of which we’ll use at the Barns and some at the Leelanau Community Garden this year. Such a fine donation is especially appreciated since our basic garden operation is entirely volunteer-financed. Thank you, Chuck!

Next steps: assembling new raised bed frames, adding compost, loosening the soil with a digging fork or broadfork, adding organic soil amendments based on our soil test results expected this week, and planting. What great therapy! We welcome visitors of all ages and plan to offer informal seminars this summer, open to anyone interested in joining us as we garden and learn.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Recycling Latte Cups

About a week ago, I did one of the most distasteful jobs of the spring. When I plant tomato seeds in cell trays to start raising the year’s plants indoors under fluorescent lights, I always use three seeds per cell.  As soon as most have germinated, I thin to two tiny plants per cell; then when all have their first true leaves (different from the cotyledons, or ‘seed leaves’), I do the final thinning.  With two healthy, nearly identical plants in each cell, it’s agonizing to choose the “winner” and snip off the “loser” with sterilized scissors--but it must be done. I base these decisions mainly on the stem diameter and strength, not the height of the plants. Shown here are plants in a 24-cell tray, now reduced to one plant per cell, partially hardened off by spending increasing times outdoors each day for a week.

Today I’m transplanting my first tray of plants into paper cups saved from lattes I've consumed over the past year. Tough duty, but I always manage to accumulate a few dozen. For details on transplanting techniques, see the METHODS & MATERIALS page in this blog.  Here’s a typical plant before and after transplanting; note that I've removed the seed leaves and covered the stem to a point slightly above their former location.

Now for the final hardening off.  These were started on April 15 (25 days ago) and should be ready to plant in one of their garden destinations during the first week in June, about 7 weeks after starting. At outdoor planting time, the top halves of those labeled latte cups will begin the last phase of their useful lives as cutworm collars around the stems of the plants they've helped nurture. I’ll bid a fond farewell to most of the bottom halves of the cups, although if some have survived in fairly good shape, they might do for starting next year’s pepper plants. I hereby resolve to empty even more new latte cups before next spring.