My Gardening Goals for 2018

There may be 2 feet of snow on the ground, but the 2018 gardening season is here! I finally ordered my seeds this week and I also planted my raised bed hoop house with greens and am hoping for an early harvest of greens like I was able to get last year. This is an exciting time of year, and I have so many ideas in mind for this coming gardening season. Writing down my major goals for this year will help me stay focused!

1. Grow More of Our Own Food

I didn’t do my annual garden review last year, but 2017 turned out to be a good garden year even though the entire summer was extremely cool and wet. One major breakthrough was that I started a second garden (approximately 20×30 feet) at our cottage; I grew potatoes and squash in this new space, which freed up my fenced-in vegetable garden for the plants that need more tending or regular picking—the lettuce, green beans, tomatoes, and everything else.

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My new, second garden at the cottage. This one is for veggies that don’t need much tending.

This year, I want to grow a lot more of our own food. I don’t typically put a lot of food up in the summer or fall, but I feel like my gardening and eating habits are becoming more aligned (i.e., I’m finally eating my vegetables!!) that it’s seems realistic that I will be able to grow more of what we will actually eat.

Specific things I need to do:

  • Increase the amount of garlic (I planted a ridiculous amount last fall), onions, and potatoes that I plant, as well as try planting some leeks and squash. These will all go in the cottage garden (which will probably need to be expanded) where they won’t need a lot of tending.
  • Focus the primary home garden space on the things that we eat most and on some things that can be frozen. I anticipate allocating more room to beans, kale, carrots, and beets.
  • Use the square foot gardening method to better allocate space in my garden and to plant seeds more efficiently. Also plan for succession planting.
  • The vegetable garden fence will need some major repairs…
  • Purchase floating row cover fabric and get more hoops for season extension. Also consider whether it would be helpful to build a very small greenhouse.
  • Coordinate with a friend to “borrow” some space in their root cellar.
  • Do the research and then implement a fertilization schedule on the fruit trees and shrubs.
  • Inoculate logs with mushroom spawn so that I can grow my own mushrooms.

2. Improve My Garden Soils

A friend told be recently that her biggest question at a newbie gardener was learning about her garden soils. “All the books say it’s so important,” she said. It’s so true—a garden is only as good as its soil.

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More work needed.

And yet, I’ve been the biggest slacker when it comes to improving the soils in my garden. It’s been holding be back for a few years, and I really have a lot of work to start addressing all the issues that I have with my soils: the acidity and lack of organic matter and everything else.

Specific things I need to do:

  • Get a soil test. I even have a soil sample from my vegetable garden in a container in my basement—I just need to mail it in. I need to do a soil test on my cottage garden bed and on the perennial beds too.
  • Start adding amendments early. I’m sure more lime will be needed to raise the pH, and I might need to add nutrients. It would have been good to do this last fall, so I’ll have to add amendments early in the season so that they can start to be worked in before planting.
  • Up my compost game. My non-food compost pile needs to be moved to a better location so that I can be turned more regularly with the tractor. And I need to add a lot more to it too, which might mean growing more of some plants (like comfrey) that produce a lot of material that can be composted.
  • Get a plastic barrel for a compost tumbler. This will be especially handy for collecting compost next winter.
  • Continue to play around with green manures and cover crops, particularly this fall.

3. Expand My Perennial Gardens

This is lower priority that my vegetable gardening, but there are a few places where I would like to expand my perennial beds and strategically kill my lawn in areas that are harder to mow. I am hoping to expand my prairie garden to get rid of  a small strip of grass and to cover the septic mound. I also want to expand the foundation plantings on the east side a bit to make mowing a bit easier, but I’m not willing to devote much time or energy to that.

Compass-plant
The compass plants in my garden are going bonkers, and it looks amazing!

Specific things I need to do:

  • Look up which prairie plants that are okay to plant on septic mounds, and then determine which I can get from my own garden (transplants or seeds) and what I might need to buy.
  • Do more research on sheet composting (lasagna gardening), and then use that method to smother grass in the areas where I want to expand my garden. Ideally, I’d do this early in the garden season, so that the areas are ready to plant in late summer or fall when I might have more time.
  • Consider whether I should be growing more herbs in the front garden bed so that they are convenient, and if so, determine which perennials should me moved to the new areas.

4. Tend Trees and Shrubs at the Cottage Property

There’s so much I want to do at the cottage, and I think this year will mostly be determining where to start. We want to remove some existing trees (before emerald ash borer does it for us) and plant a wider variety of tree and shrub species that will diversify the forest and enhance habitat for wildlife.

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I want to take cuttings from the viburnum bushes at my house and grow more for the cottage property.

Specific things I need to do:

  • Complete the management plan for our property and get it submitted to the American Tree Farm System.
  • Cut and poison the stumps of the box elder trees that I cut down last winter, and prepare the area for planting the oak trees we have in mind. Then get the trees, plant them, and protect them from hungry deer and beavers.
  • Do research on how to propagate shrubs using rooted cuttings. Gather wood at the right time from shrubs like elderberry, ninebark, and red-osier dogwood and start experimenting. Plant bundles of willow at the Point and protect them (last year the beavers stole the cuttings I planted!).
  • Determine where trees need to be thinned and make lots of firewood.
  • Make a wish list of plants that I want on the property (e.g., elderberry, silver maple, basswood) and go on scouting trips to find places where I can gather seeds or cuttings of those plants. Look for silver maple seedlings along sand bars on the river.
  • Continue work to remove invasive honeysuckle and barberry.
  • Improve fencing in the orchard. This probably involves making a large number of tree cages that can be moved around the property as needed over time.
  • Identify the mystery plant I found last fall!

5. Create Demonstration Gardens for My Master Gardener Project

Last year I worked with a few friends to start rehabilitating some neglected garden beds at the Marsin Nature Retreat as part of our work for the Extension Master Gardener volunteer program. We made good progress, hosting 3 workshops and getting a large garden ready for planting. The work this year will be to plant this garden area and then decide which derelict beds are next.

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Before pic: The foundation gardens have been neglected and need a big makeover. We’re halfway there…

Specific things I need to do:

  • Work with my gardening co-conspirators and others to create a wish list of our desired plants for the area. Then host a “plant drive” to get donations for what we want.
  • Plant the area that’s been prepared with the plants that we receive and establish nursery beds to hold extra plants that can be propagated for future use.

6. Teach Others How to Garden

Do you ever have it happen where you don’t realize something about yourself? For years I knew that I liked gardening, and it seemed pretty normal because lots of people I know have gardens and grow a bit of food. It has only been in the past year or two that I realized that I love gardening, and that I spend way more time on it than most people. This became most apparent to me when I realized that I love talking to people about gardening, and that I often find myself answering gardening questions for my friends.

One of my friends bought a house last year and she wants to have her first garden this year—she knows almost nothing about gardening and is truly starting from scratch. And I have a handful other friends who are looking for advice on how to improve their veggies gardens this summer. And, for me, it’s all really exciting.

To start answering all these questions, I made an online course, A Beginner’s Guide to Gardening in Cold Climates, using the awesome online education platform Udemy. The course is designed to help people with no experience (and living in places that have a true winter season) create their first gardens. I posted the course as soon as I had the minimum materials, but there are a lot of improvements that could be made.

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I made this online course for beginning gardeners. Check it out and/or tell your newbie gardener friends. 
  • Continue improving the course by adding new material and making the existing lectures better. And publicize it too.
  • Do a few garden visits this year to help my friends get their gardens going. I think I can be especially helpful with soil testing and helping people figure out what soil amendments they need since I did that in the demonstration garden last year and will be doing it in my gardens this fall.
  • Post more information on this website, or on other gardening sites, to address common questions and stumbling blocks.

Wow! That’s a lot of things to do! I’m pretty confident that I’ll be able to do most of it, even though it is a major list. And I’m excited for all of it. Happy gardening!

Places of 2016

It’s that time of year again—the time in late December when I get cozy in our warm house, watch the snow fall, and think about the new year. It’s also time for my annual summary of the places I’ve been this year. This is the fourth year in a row that I’ve summarized my travels, and I like how it pulls everything into a single place.

Work Travel

Work always takes me to new and interesting places, but this year was a bit different and I traveled less than I have in past years. During the first part of the year, I deliberately avoided travel so that I could spend time writing and get a few big reports published (BTW, it worked!). Then at about the time that I was about to start ramping my travel back up, Sexy broke his ankle and I cancelled a few trips.

Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks
Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks

Madison (March & November): This year I went to Madison twice. I made the trip down in early March to facilitate a meeting that I helped organize. In November I was able to attend the Society of American Foresters National Convention; that meeting is always a blast, and it was especially exciting this year since I knew so many people from across the region who were there. The meetings was very busy, which meant that I didn’t have a lot of time to get outside and explore. Luckily downtown Madison is so walkable that I was able to stretch my legs (and get some good food too!).

New Brunswick, Canada (March): I was invited to participate in a meeting on climate change adaptation for foresters in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Again, I was mostly stuck inside during the meeting, but I learned a lot about the forests in this corner of the world.

Massachusetts (March): I finished up a busy month of travel in March with a great trip to the area around Sturbridge, Massachusetts. At the Norcross Wildlife Sanctuary, I got to spend one day checking out an adaptation demonstration site and then the next day we had a field tour in the woods with about 20 foresters and natural resource managers. The weather was gorgeous and springlike, which gave me a nice break from the snow that was still on the ground back home.

Some critter's hemlock home.
Some critter’s hemlock home

Wisconsin (April): I made a super-quick trip down to the College of Menominee Nation in April. On the drive back, I stopped at a National Forest trail head to stretch my legs.

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A trail on the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest

Northern Vermont and New Hampshire (August): I cancelled some work travel planned for June and July, so it was August before I got to head back east. This may have been my favorite trip this year; it was certainly the most exciting from the perspective of getting out in the woods. In involved flying in to Burlington, Vermont, and driving three hours east to the Maine border and staying in a remote camp with interesting scientists and good beer. The highlight of this trip, swimming in a deep pool on a picturesque river with two friends, was one of my favorite moments of the entire year.

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Northern New Hampshire

New York, Vermont, and Massachusetts (September): Since my travel time was limited this year, I crammed as much as possible into this one trip. After arriving in Burlington, I took a car ferry over to New York; in an unbelievable coincidence, Sexy was on a car ferry in Michigan at the exact same time, also for a work trip! I spend a day learning about the Adirondacks. Then, I met up with a co-worker and visited a few partners in Vermont and bordering Massachusetts. This was the first time in nearly 10 years that I got to go in the woods on three consecutive days, and it was great. After all that, I attended a conference and gave a presentation. What a trip!

Northern Michigan (October): I made a quick trip to give talks at the Michigan Society of American Foresters meeting and a meeting of some Department of Natural Resources foresters. After being stuck inside and stuck in a car, I planned to find a spring along my travel route to get some fresh water and stretch my legs; unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find it.

Minneapolis (October): This trip was to go to the National Land Trust Rally where I helped lead two workshops. It was an amazing meeting with great people and energy. Since I’m getting more involved with the local Keweenaw Land Trust, I was also on the prowl for good ideas to bring back home!

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Between Minneapolis and Madison

Madison (November): I got to go to Madison twice! In the fall, I attended the Society of American Foresters National Convention this fall. That meeting is always a blast, and it was especially exciting this year since I knew so many people from across the region who were there. I ♥ foresters!

Texas and New Mexico (November): This trip involved flying into El Paso, Texas, for a work meeting about an hour away in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Travel snags on the way where meant that my coworkers and I arrived in the dark, and I wasn’t able really take in the scenery until it was time to drive back to the airport. But we did eat lunch outside in a courtyard where rosemary was used as a landscape plant and made the entire area smell wonderful.

Vacations

It’s been a while since I’ve gone on vacation outside the Lake States, but this year I hardly went anywhere at all!

Northern Lower Michigan (February, July, and December): We took a few trips Downstate this year to visit Sexy’s family. We got to meet our new niece in February, and I finally participated in two important family traditions: making Polish sausage and the winter bonfire on Hamlin Lake. That trip was tacked on to some work travel for Sexy. My plan was to go cross country skiing and write while he worked, but I came down with the flu instead. Our July trip was also different than expected, since we were limited in what we could do with Sexy’s broken ankle, but I still biked to Lake Michigan and went for a swim. Our December trip was also short, but we spent two mornings outside stacking split wood for his family to burn during the winter.

Family bonfire
Family bonfire

Western Upper Peninsula (May, July, and October): One Friday night in May, I realized that I didn’t have any plans and decided to join Sexy and his friends at a cabin on Huron Bay. But instead of staying in the cabin, I spent the night bundled up in my new hammock. For my birthday in July, I made a small getaway and biked to the Porcupine Mountains. Sara and I camped on the shore of Lake Superior. In October, Sexy and I spent a weekend in Copper Harbor. I raced in two cyclocross events, and we hiked to the top of Lookout Mountain.

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Camping on Lake Superior

Northern Minnesota (June): Sara and I did the canoe triathlon again this year, which I always look forward to. We’re already planning to do it again next June.

Central Minnesota and Wisconsin (November): I took a vacation between work trips to Minneapolis and Madison. I explored areas that I’d never been to, even though I grew up not far away. As I drove from Minneapolis to my parents’ house, I wished that I had more time to see everything along the way. I stopped at a nature center along the Mississippi River and talked to two old men who were out birding. When I was visiting my parents, my brother and I spent a morning driving around Amish country; we bought string cheese from the cheese factory and a pineapple from the grocery store (because why not?!).

Upstream from where I grew up
Upstream from where I grew up

Home and Nearby

Because I didn’t travel as much this year, I spent a lot more time locally—so much so that I hardly know where to begin talking about all of it. But then a movie line rings in my ears that says, “When you don’t know where to start, start at the beginning.”

Winter is always a good time to stay at home, and so I played hermit. I didn’t ski as much last winter as in previous years, but the skiing that I did to was generally in the woods near our house. Sara and I met up to ski at Courtney Lake; we ended up and the rustically-spectacular Rousseau Bar. I also spent a considerable amount of time moving snow because, well, it’s the Keweenaw.

Courtney Lake ski trail (it's never too far to the Rousseau Bar...)
Courtney Lake ski trail (It’s never too far to the Rousseau Bar…)

As the snow melted, we celebrated with neighbors by making maple syrup. As soon as the weather warmed up, I started biking to work and training for the canoe triathlon. Sara and I met up one morning in May to canoe on Otter Lake, and it was so foggy that we were barely able to see the shore from the water. Sexy and I took a day trip to Copper Harbor in the spring to ride bikes, which I always love.

Canoeing in the fog
Canoeing in the fog

Gardening also took up a tremendous amount of time during the winter and spring. During the winter, I took the Master Gardener class and made raised beds for the elderly as one of my projects. I did a lot more garden planning than in previous years. As the weather warmed, I spent long days working in the gardens, planting berries and vegetables with mixed success.

Garden beds made for my Master Gardener project
Garden beds made for my Master Gardener project

I spent a lot of time this summer hanging out on the porch since Sexy was on crutches. We did, however, go to our little town’s first (annual?) 4th of July parade and kayak on the lake.

We bought a some land and a cottage near the end of summer, which was the major highlight of the year. We spent every weekend there into the fall, cleaning out old clutter, rearranging things, and exploring the property. We had a big party there on Labor Day weekend, which involved a 9-mile river paddle down the river with friends and catching frogs with kids. I spent a night sleeping in my hammock by the lake (and didn’t die).  We lived there for a week in the fall—at least until we used the electric stove and filled the entire cabin with the most awful-smelling smoke because mice had found their way into the insulation (so gross!). As fall has transitioned to winter I started taking down some trees so that we can better wildlife habitat next year and explored the property on snowshoes.

View from the cottage
Near the cottage

Those are some highlights from 2016.

Happy New Year!

15 Minutes in the Morning: Garden Edition

Do you ever think that we try to do too much? For example, I have a hard time going out for a run that’s shorter than 30 minutes because it seems too short. As if somehow running 27 minutes doesn’t count but anything over 30 does. Of course this makes no sense, and running (or doing whatever) for even  five minutes is just that—doing something for five minutes, not zero.

I only had 15 minutes in the garden this morning. But that was still enough to Continue reading “15 Minutes in the Morning: Garden Edition”

Garden Work and Rain Delays

It’s been raining a lot this past week. It rained all yesterday and this morning, and again this afternoon.

Muddy worm in a muddy garden!
Muddy worm in a muddy garden!

Yesterday I spent a little bit of time digging some spiderwort out of the perennial flower garden wrapping around the foundation of the house. There were three big patches of it, and it was finally time to get rid of it. I don’t like it because the whole plant has a tendency to flop over and look crummy, even though it has pretty fuschia flowers. So yesterday morning, I started to dig it up. I moved a bit of it, but then it started to rain and rained all day, so that was the end of that.

This morning I started back at it. Continue reading “Garden Work and Rain Delays”

Mystery Solved: I Found My Watershed

We moved to our house just a little more than 8 years ago. That’s a long time to get to know a place, but I’m still amazed at how much I don’t know. I’m not proud of it, but it took me six years to have the bright idea to walk around our property (less than 3 acres) and record all of the different tree species that are present. Last night, I finally figured out our watershed.

I’ve been wondering this since about the time we moved here. Our house is on the top of a hill. But it’s not a steep-sided single hill like I would draw in my 4th grade art class: it’s more of a flat ridge that is 2 miles wide and several miles long, running southwest-northeast. There’s a lake a little more than a mile to the east of us. It’s about 300 feet lower in elevation than our house, which makes it just steep enough that I’ve never wanted to bike to the lake knowing that the pedal back up would be painful.

The hill is almost flat on top, sloped ever so slightly. Our road runs east-west and it seems like the highest point is very close to our driveway.

So for 8 years, I’ve been wondering whether the water in our driveway ditch flows east or west. Even though I tried locating my watershed using online tools, those only showed that our house fell right on the edge between the two. If it flows east, it seems like it would be a relatively simple journey to the lake, a distance of no more than a mile and a half. Then, after the lake, the water would run into the Sturgeon River and out to Lake Superior.

If the water flows west from our driveway, it would also go to the lake and then down the Sturgeon River to Lake Superior, but it would do it in a much lengthier way. It would flow west down the road ditch for a mile before hitting a small, scenic creek. From there, it would work its way 4 miles (as the crow flies) southwest before linking up with a small river. Then the small river would take the water another 2 miles south, turn and run east for 2 miles, and then turn again to go back northeast for 4 miles before entering the south end of the lake. Ultimately it would end up in the same place, but it would take a circuitous route to get there.

I solved the mystery by grinding leaves up in my hands and sprinking the dust in the ditches that are currently full of snow melt. I’ve tried to do this in the past, but I must have had the timing wrong on past attempts. The water would invariably be stagnant and not carry whatever floating thing I threw in the ditch.

This time the leaf particles moved in a clear direction—east. Our water takes the direct route to the lake, bypassing miles of shaded brook and sandy-bottomed river.

I solved this mystery, but still have another to solve: where to the west of our house is the dividing line between these two watersheds. Where does the water start to run west, and does any of our water go that direction?

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Moving Snow

I don’t think I would get outside somedays if it weren’t for moving snow. I had a cold earlier this week and spent the entire day at home on the couch reading journal articles. I wasn’t too sick, so in the afternoon I ventured outside for a half hour to shovel the steps and a few other places in our yard.

This weekend I was getting over the cold, and we spent Saturday morning shoveling snow off of our roof. On Sunday, we hauled more firewood into the basement.

We were grateful for the warm weather that made the work easy and made it feel like winter might not last that much longer. The neighbors are already getting excited about sapping season, and we are making garden plans.

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Nearest Nature: Spend Time in Your Yard

Do you want to spend more time in nature? If so, forget the scenic  vistas , popular parks, and wild destinations; there’s is an enormity of nature in your yard, even if it is the size of a postage stamp.

Here’s a starter list of ideas for easy ways to get more time outside.

  • Garden or tend plants
  • Watch or feed wildlife and birds
  • Paint or draw
  • Read
  • Cook
  • Run around and play
  • Entertain guests
  • Climb a tree
  • Play in the snow
  • Play with water
  • Collect plants
  • Cut flowers
  • Sit and contemplate
  • Meditate
  • Do yoga
  • Build or use a tree house
  • Grow food
  • Exercise
  • Roll down a hill
  • Spend time with pets
  • Raise animals
  • Relax
  • Nap
  • Play lawn games
  • Slack line
  • Zip line!
  • Sleep out overnight (tent optional)
What do you like to do in your yard?

The Keweenaw: Why I Moved Here, Why I Stayed

I’ve lived in the Keweenaw (Peninsula, of Michigan) a long time now—longer than pretty much all of my friends, who also moved here from other places. When people ask about where I’m from or how long I’ve lived here, my short response is “I came up here for college and stayed.”

But recently I joined Toastmasters and had to give an icebreaker speech and introduce myself. That, combined with the realization that this year will mark my 15th Keweenaw winter (What is that: 250 cumulative feet of snow?!), it was a good time to reflect on things. Why did I come here? Why did I stay? And what does that say about me? This is the written version of that speech. Continue reading “The Keweenaw: Why I Moved Here, Why I Stayed”