Blog Archive

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Re-formatted Feb. 2017 Michigan School Garden newsletter


February 2017


Happy February School Gardeners –Planting season is almost here!  To help you prepare for the best school garden ever I have posted an article about the upcoming Starting and Sustaining a School Garden 2017 Bowers workshop.   My esteemed colleague Kaitlin Wojciak is out of the country this month, so I have posted an article by Rebecca Finneran, Extension Educator about preparing your vegetable gardening and the importance of soil development.  Kaitlin will return for the March 2017 newsletter.  I have also posted links to additional articles by Extension Educators about garden planning, and a somewhat technical article about how the early warm temperatures affect Michigan fruit crops.  There are also some great free workshops in Macomb County about vegetable gardening, and lots more, so enjoy!



Let's Get This Garden Party Started!

by Kristine Hahn, MSU Extension Educator, Community Food Systems


Come to Starting and Sustaining a School Garden 2017 Bowers to get your garden off to a great start and keep it on track.


The guilty pleasure of those warm temperatures last week spurred me and a whole lot of other folks to think about getting an early start on our gardens.  I know you want to start digging in the soil and planting seeds (so do I), but RESIST THE URGE!!  Odds are we will have another spurt of cold weather before it warms up for good, and most soils are too wet for working and planting.


The best way to get the 2017 Garden Party Started is to be well prepared – and the best way to get prepared and pumped up for the school garden by is to attend the Starting and Sustaining a School Garden 2017 Bowers workshop on April 13, 2017.  We have a great day planned for all of you school gardeners and you can register at


The Starting and Sustaining a School Garden 2017 Bowers workshop will be at a new location this year:


Bloomfield Hills School Bowers Farm

1219 East Square Lake Road

Bloomfield Hills, MI 48304


It is a wonderful facility with a greenhouse, lots of gardens and animals and excellent educational features.  Best of all, there are a lot of great educators scheduled to speak on topics that will help you and your students' make 2017 the best school garden year EVER!!


Dr. Norm Lownds, Director of the 4-H Children's Garden at Michigan State University will be back to present update workshops on "How to Connect Your Students to the Garden" and the latest and greatest developments on how to participate in the "MSU Collaborating Classrooms" program.  There will also be hands-on sessions about "Seasonal Gardening Instead of Summer Maintenance", "All About Pollinators", "Working with Diverse Students" and much more – check out all the break-out sessions at the online link for the flyer and agenda


There will also be opportunities to ask questions and to network with the workshop educators and other teachers and school garden staff and volunteers.  Feel free to download this flyer and agenda to share with any other interested school garden people such as, parents, administrators and fellow educators.


A limited number of partial scholarships are available and you can contact Kristine Hahn at 248-802-4590 or for a scholarship application, any questions about Starting and Sustaining a School Garden, or to schedule your own school garden site visit or a professional development session at your school.  Hope you can join us for lots of fun and learning on April 13, 2017 at Bowers Farm!


This article was published by Michigan State University Extension and the staff in the Community Food Systems Workgroup who support Farm to School activities including school gardens.  For more information, visit To have a digest of information delivered straight to your email inbox, visit To contact an expert in your area, visit, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).


Preparing the smart vegetable garden

by Rebecca Finneran, Pamela J. Bennett and Denise Johnson, Ohio State University Extension

Soil preparation

Productive vegetable gardens are based on a strong foundation, and that foundation is the soil. Healthy soils consist of different non-living mineral particles, such as sand, silt and clay, as well as organic matter and living organisms. Healthy soils provide an environment conducive to root growth which leads to a healthy plant and fruit and vegetable production. The Smart Gardening tip sheet "Smart gardens begin with healthy soil" provides complete information about soil specifics.

First, start with a soil test in order to know what nutrients are needed as well as the pH and organic content of the soil. Refer to the Smart Gardening tip sheet "Don't Guess - Soil Test!" for details on how to do a soil test. Soil tests can be purchased online at the MSU Extension Bookstore (search for E3154).

Once you have the results, you will know what amendments and in what proportion to add for best results in the vegetable garden. Only add the recommended amounts of fertilizer based on the soil test results. Over application of phosphorous and nitrogen fertilizers is a known contaminant of surface and ground water.

Organic matter is also a very important component of your soil as it is the "glue" holding all of the soil components together, providing space for oxygen and good drainage. Organic matter includes composted animal manure, chopped up leaves, grass clippings and cover crops. These are added to sandy soils in order to improve water-holding capacity, and added to clay soils to improve drainage.

Organic residues can easily be seen on the soil surface in the no-till gardening system. As time goes on, soils should be crumbly and easy to plant.

Site preparation

If you are breaking ground for a new garden, eliminate grass or weeds that might be in the planned garden area first. One method is to remove the grass or sod by hand. This is most feasible when an instant result is needed. The sod chunks or grass removed can be added to a compost pile and re-entered to the garden system at a later time. However, this method will also require some organic matter be added to the soil below the old turf roots.

There are several methods that employ a "smothering" technique that will accomplish this task without using chemicals. Laying down a sheet of plastic and securing it with weights around the edges will effectively kill vegetation beneath except for the most stubborn of perennial weeds. Another easy way to smother weeds is to place several sheets of newspaper down in the area and layer compost or other organic matter such as chopped up leaves, grass clippings or mulch over the top. This is commonly called "sheet composting." The organic layers on top will degrade while weeds below are dying out, resulting in a weed-free and ready-to plant-garden space. This may take a few months or can effectively start in the fall with spring planting in mind. Today's newsprint is made with vegetable-based ink so there are no worries about residues left behind.

No-till preparation

No-till farming and gardening is a method in which the soil is left undisturbed except in the planting space for the seeds or plants. For years farmers have utilized the no-till method for crops, realizing the benefits of erosion control, soil moisture conservation, fewer weeds and building soil structure and health. Excessive tillage destroys the soil structure which is the foundation for healthy plant roots that interact with the living component of the soil.

Adding organic matter also enhances soil structure by encouraging microorganisms to act as a conduit for nutrients to enter plant roots. The no-till technique leaves crop residue on the soil surface which increases the organic matter content of the soil while enhancing the environment for the living component. Many gardeners are utilizing no-till vegetable gardening.

Planning a no-till smart vegetable garden requires a little bit of thought. It is imperative that you don't walk on the soil in the planting areas as you work in the garden. This will only compact the soil. Therefore, you need to design your garden so that you have paths to walk on between the actual planting areas. The beds should be no more than 4 feet wide so that you can reach across the bed to weed or harvest while kneeling in the walkway. In addition, create beds that are shorter in length so that you are not tempted to cut across the bed to get to another one. A good size bed recommendation is around 4 feet wide by 8 feet long.

The sheet composting method mentioned above can be used to prepare the bed the first year. After that, organic matter such as compost should be added to these beds each season; organic matter breaks down over time and needs to be replenished. One to 2 inches of compost may be all a garden needs for the season. It may take a couple of seasons to build your no-till beds, but once they are established, adding additional organic matter is all that is necessary. Using organic mulch such as straw or wood landscape mulch will help prevent weeds from growing and can serve double-duty as organic matter; it's an important component in the no-till garden.

Straw mulch used in walkways will reduce compaction and retard weed growth.

You may want to explore other popular types of no-till systems, including sheet composting, lasagna gardening, straw bale gardens and container gardening.

If you choose a more conventional method of preparing the garden such as with a cultivator, you are encouraged to reduce tilling to a minimum. As mentioned before, tilling breaks down soil structure and disturbs the environment that is beneficial to living organisms, so the less tilling, the better.

The practice of rotating crops in the garden is also a smart tip. This action helps reduce pests and pathogens that may be carried on the same crop from one year to the next. In addition, crops such as beans and other legumes "fix" nitrogen on their roots which will benefit the next plant that gets planted in that space the following season.

For more information on a wide variety of smart gardening articles, or to find out about smart gardening classes and events, visit the Gardening in Michigan website.


Links to Recommended Articles

Click on Plan Your Vegetable Garden with Smart Gardening to read the article with the same title.

Also, click on Worried About February Warm-Up to Fruit Crops to read that article.


School Garden Educational Opportunities

  •  Starting and Sustaining a School Garden 2017 Bowers happens on Thursday,      April 13, 2017 (the day before Good Friday) at Charles L Bowers School Farm located at 1219 E Square Lake Rd, Bloomfield Hills, MI 48304. We have a great day scheduled with knowledgeable presenters, hands-on break-out sessions, opportunities to ask questions and network with others involved in school gardening.  Hope you can join us!

You can register online at:


You can also download the workshop flyer with the registration link and agenda to share with other school garden friends or to post at:


There are partial scholarships available – for a form please contact Kristine Hahn prior to registration at 248-802-4590 or

·        Cool Weather Gardens

Date: March 21, 2017
Time: 6 - 8 p.m.
Location: MSU Extension Office, Entrance E, 21885 Dunham, Clinton Township, MI 48036
Contact: Maureen, 586-469-6440

Join us as Karen Burke, Macomb MSUE Horticulture Assistant and Master Gardener, presents information and gardening tips on what can be grown in the cooler spring and fall months in our Michigan gardens.  This program is FREE, but you MUST register in advance by calling 585-469-6440.

·        Basic Vegetable Gardening

Date: March 28, 2017
Time: 1 - 2:30 p.m.
Location: Max Thompson Family Resource Center, 11370 Hupp, Warren, MI 48089
Contact: Maureen, 586-469-6440

The program will cover everything from garden soil to planning and planting the vegetable garden, from seed to transplant choices, from garden maintenance to garden tools, and the A to Z's of vegetables This program is FREE but you MUST register in advance by calling 586-469-6440.

·        Smart Gardening with Vegetables 101 Webinar Series 2

Date: March 21, 2017 - April 25, 2017
Time: 6 - 7 p.m. (EST)
Location: Webinar
Contact: Rebecca Krans,906-875-0606,; Sarah Rautio, 989-984-1059,

  • Michigan Science Teachers Assoc. Annual Conference:  Putting Legs on the New Science Standards  March 23-25, 2017 at the Suburban Collection Showplace, 46100 Grand River Ave, Novi, MI  48374 *Has a tour of MSU Tollgate Education Center and Farm as an option*

  • Have a question about gardeningresidential/home horticulture or consumer agriculture? Call 1-888-678-3464. Or, submit your questions electronically by visiting




School Garden Grant Opportunities

We would always love to hear about your garden grant stories, awards or applications! Please feel welcome to write us with them so we can highlight your experience in the newsletter.


Smart from the Start

The Smart from the Start Awards are designed to encourage preschool teachers to create practical, long-term improvements in nutrition and physical activity at their preschool. By the end of this school year, Smart from the Start will have awarded almost 50 grants helping families, community members, students, and faculty make life-changing decisions for a healthier lifestyle.


Apply Here:


Prizes: Grand Prize

    $20,000 grant for the preschool

    Prize pack of books


10 Runners-Up

    $2,500 grant

    Prize pack of books

American Honda Foundation

Due dates three times per year; Next application due date is August 1

Schools, nonprofits classified as 501(c) (3) s and private or public schools (elementary and secondary) are eligible.

Award range: $20,000 - $75,000 for one year                                        

Apply online at

The Home Depot Foundation

Community Impact Grants currently open; Schools and 501(c) (3) organizations are eligible.

Awards are up to $5,000

The Home Depot also has opportunities to match donations from local stores with nonprofits. Follow this link for more information on how to request a match. 

Project Produce Fruit and Veggie Grants for Schools

Open: Now

Due date: None, distributed on a rolling basis

Any district or independent school participating in the National School Lunch Program is eligible.

Must be submitted by district food service director.

These grants are $2,500 and can assist with offering educational activities in the lunchroom, encouraging students to try new veggies and fruits. Read more and apply online at this link.

Youth Micro-grants through Karma for Cara Foundation

Application deadlines are now seasonal. Next deadline is April 1st

Youth under age 18 who are working on a community service project (including school and community gardens).

Awards are between $250 - $1,000.

Apply online at this link.


Best regards,

Kristine Hahn

Michigan State University Extension Educator

Community Food Systems

Eastern Market Office

1445 Adelaide

Detroit, MI 48207


248-802-4590 (CELL)

313-567-8726 (FAX)

MSU is an affirmative action, equal opportunity employer.  Michigan State University programs and materials are open to all without regard to race, color, national origin, gender, gender identity, religion, age, height, weight, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, marital status, family status or veteran status.

"Always be humble and kind." - Tim McGraw


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