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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

How to Safely Dispose of Gardening Chemicals and Go Organic!

I have a confession to make: I have not always been an organic gardener.

I have childhood memories of my parents sending me out in the summer to spray the weeds in the pavement with glyphosate (a.k.a. Roundup) -- something I often did while barefoot!  I sprinkled osmocote on garden beds, and applied rose powder to black spot.

In my 20's I discovered organic gardening, and have been "leaning in" to the concept since then. While I did cut back on the amount and frequency of its use, the one chemical that I continued to use was glyphosphate.  I mean, it was supposed to be safe, right? And it killed weeds so well!  And how else was I supposed to get rid of poison ivy?!?

Now, after the report from the World Health Organization came out in March 2015, I refuse to use it any longer.  (See the WHO report here: ).  Not only does glyphosphate harm the environment, but it is a carcinogen (cancer causing agent) for humans.  I no longer want it in my life!

But how to get rid of it???!

I have a big old bottle of the stuff sitting in my garage. Although it is unlikely to cause harm just sitting in the bottle, it is in the way.  I can't just dump it out.  I can't flush it down a drain.  I can't throw it in the trash to fo to the landfill.  Any of those options could harm the environment ot even people.

There is but one option: take it to a chemical disposal facility.

Luckily, my local extension office was able to direct me to one such facility: MAEAP Cleansweep.
A directory of their drop off sites can be found here:

If you live outside of Michigan, your state may have a similar service.  Please contact your local extension service or government agricultural agency for information.

Please join me in becoming a little bit more organic every day by disposing of your chemicals safely.  Together, we can make the world a little bit cleaner, and a little bit safer! 🌳🌼🐸

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Autumn Gardening: Projects & 1 Failure!

Autumn is in full swing. Winter is right around the corner..

The weather has been strangely cool this spring and summer (2015) and oddly warm this autumn.  Usually, by early November in Michigan zone 5b, we have had at least one brief snow. Instead, this year we have had a couple of mild frosts, and several 70F (or higher) days.  VERY unusual.

On the plus side, this has given us a longer span of time in which to gather leaves, mulch, plant bushes, and clean up dead plant material.  All the usual tasks of fall.


If you have read any gardening articles this fall, you know how important leaves are to gardeners!  But in case you haven't read any other articles: LEAVES ARE IMPORTANT!  They are high in mineral content and provide essential microscopic fungal organisms for the soil that help your plants grow.  Here are few quick tips on how to make best use of your autumn leaves:

Composting leaves.

1. Compost the leaves.  Leave provide the "brown" or "carbon" component that is essential to making good compost.  Do not burn your leaves!  Throw them in the compost heap! Your plants will love you once the compost breaks down!

2. Make leaf mold.  Leaves are full of fungal organisms and minerals that are great for plants.  These are most concentrated in leaf mold. Making leaf mold is super easy.  Just gather the leaves, pile them up, and let them rot. You can contain the leaves in a bin with air holes poked in it, in a small area fenced with chicken wire,
Perforated bag of leaves to make leaf mold.
or you can do what I did: put them in a black plastic bag, add water to the bag, poke holes in the bag, then stash the entire thing under the deck.  Leaves take some time to break down.  You can expect leaf mold in 1-2 years after collection depending on your climate. If you wish to speed the process try shredding the leaves and/or mixing them with a high nitrogen material such as coffee grounds, manure, urine, or corn gluten meal.

                                                              3. Insulate your roses (or other plants).  Piling
Insulated roses within a burlap wind-break.
leaves up around the base of roses during the winter can help to insulate the roots.  You can further protect the roses, and hold the leaves in place by erecting a barrier made from garden stakes and burlap. This acts as a wind break and keeps the stems from drying out and dying. Be sure to remove the leaves in the spring to avoid causing rot from moisture build up at the base of the rose.

4. Use the leaves as mulch.  Leaves make excellent mulch.  They help to insulate the ground, protect the soil organisms
Mulching with leaves.
and are a favorite food of earthworms.  To mulch with leaves, simply pile them onto your garden bed to a depth of 1-2 inches.  If you wish, you can shred the leaves first, which will make for a cleaner/neater and more uniform look.

5. Leave the leaves alone!  Unless your leaves are extremely thick to the point of shading out your lawn, consider allowing them to stay where they are.  Most of them will break down by spring and will help to fertilize the lawn and garden. They also help to shelter beneficial insects, amphibians, and small mammals.


Please do not go crazy with fall garden clean up! You do not need to cut back all of your perennials. You definitely should NOT prune trees!

Leaving perennial leaves and stems in place is often a GOOD thing to do!  The seed heads help to feed birds and small mammals.  The hollow stems allow beneficial insects to over-winter in the garden.  The leaves and stems act as insulation for the plants own roots through the winter.  So leave them alone now, and clean them up in spring!  I am giving you permission to procrastinate!! :)

There is one exception: clean up diseased material.  If one of your plants had a disease (e.g. black spot, powdery mildew) it is a good idea to clean up their leaves and any debris from the plant and to either send this material to the municipal dump, or burn it. This will help to prevent the diseases from re-emerging next spring.

DO NOT PRUNE TREES OR BUSHES IN THE FALL!  The plants may have lost most of their leaves, but they are not fully dormant yet!  Pruning encourages plant growth. This is not an ideal time of year for a plant to put on new growth. It wastes the plant's energy which is better stored for next spring.  Also, if the plant makes new shoots in fall, they are likely to get damaged over the winter.  So please, save your pruning for when the plant is completely dormant.  Prune in late winter or early spring (January to March in Michigan zone 5b)!


Vacciunium cyanococcus 'jellybean.'
Fall is a great time to plant trees and bushes.  If you plant in fall, the soil is still soft and warm. This allows the plant to establish healthy roots and then to rest through the winter.  By spring, the plant will be so happily situated with regard to its roots that it will put on very healthy spring growth.

This fall, I planted dwarf blueberries, myself.  The varieties I chose were 'jellybean' and 'northcountry'.  The 'jellybean' variety should grow to a maximum size of 3ft tall by 3ft wide and 'northcountry' should grow to a maximum size of 3ft tall by 4 ft wide. I purchased these bushes at a local nursery. They have several nice looking buds on them and the roots appeared to be very healthy in the pot.   I am hoping for berries within a few years of the plants getting establishes! YUM!!

If you are interested in growing blueberries yourself, please remember that they need acid soil with a pH of 4 to5 in order to be able to absorb the nutrients that they need.  If your soil is not acidic enough, you can increase the acid by amending the soil with peat moss and/or sulfur.  But beware!  Maintaining acidity in soil that is not naturally acidic can be difficult.  This will require testing the soil pH yearly and amending it yearly in order to maintain the health of your plant.  Also, be sure to select a plant that is hardy in your USDA growing zone, and one that will grow to a size that you can manage in your landscape. In other words: READ THE TAG (or online growing description)!


Remember to fill your bird feeders and to put out suet. Many birds are flying south and can use the extra energy. Soon, the wild plant seed and fruit will be consumed by a variety of creatures, and winter will be here.  There will be a shortage of food for the birds who need the energy to keep warm.  So please, keep those feeders full until spring!  Also, remember to provide an ice-free water source if you are able.  

NIFTY TIP:  I learned from the "You Bet Your Garden" podcast that hot pepper/chili powder can be mixed with bird seed or can be used to coat suet in order to deter squirrels from eating the bird seed.  Why? Birds like hot peppers. Their beaks do not have mucous membranes, so the spicy-hot capsaicin  does not burn their mouths. However, squirrels do have mucous membranes in their mouths (just as humans do) so the capsaicin burns their mouth. If they get it in their eyes while dangling from the bird feeder, their eyes will sting as well. They will avoid the bird feeder after that sting!

I can't remember where I saw it, but I found what I thought was a cute bird feeder project on the internet.  This involved cutting a pumpkin in half, scooping out the insides, filling it with bird seed as if it were a bowl, and putting it out for the birds to use as a feeder.  The idea was that the birds would eat the seed and also nibble on the pumpkin.  EPIC FAIL!

This project did not work at all.  While the pumpkin did make a cute bowl (see the picture on the left), none of the birds pecked at the pumpkin at all as far as I could tell. Even worse, the moisture from the pumpkin moved in to the seed via osmosis and made for a damp, grainy mess that was unappetizing for the birds, and began to rot rather quickly.  My advice: use a regular bird feeder, and skip the cutesy pumpkin nonsense!

Happy Fall Y'all!  Check in soon for more blog posts!  :)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

5 Types of Autumn Squash

My newly acquired squash collection ;)
It's the end of October already!  Halloween is this weekend.  Winter squash and pumpkins are fresh, plentiful, inexpensive and perhaps even on sale this time of year.  I ran across one such sale at a local farm stand around the corner from my home (the corner of Brighton Rd. and Chilson in Brighton, MI if anyone lives near me and is interested.) Of course I had to stock up!

Winter squash are extremely useful for cooking. Most smooth fleshed winter squash (like those listed below) can be used interchangeably in baking, chili recipes, soup recipes or others. While their flesh does vary slightly in flavor, all tend to be sweet and have the same basic flavor profile.  You can find many recipes for squash by doing a simple Google search, visiting any of the cooking sites listed to the right of this post, or by viewing 2 of my posts listed here:

Recipe for Squash Puree, Squash Scones & Squash Butter
Recipe for Roasted & Mashed Squash and Squash Soup

Did you know?
You can roast, salt and eat the seeds of all winter squash. Once roasted, the seeds store for at least 6 months in an air tight container at room temperature.  Visit the Betty Crocker Website to learn how.

You can also save squash seed for planting next year.  Simply dig them out from the center of the squash, spread them flat onto a paper towel an allow them to dry for 3-4 days. When the seeds are dry, store them in an envelope in a cool, dry place.  Don't forget to label them so that you know what kind of squash they are! 

Squash leaves are also edible.  Simply strip the leaves off of the thick part of the ribs and stem, then add them to soup, or steam them. These last about 1 week fresh in the refrigerator. 

Happy Halloween!
I thought that I might share my top 5 favorite farm stand winter squash finds with you along with a bit of information on each type of squash.  Here they are:


Everyone is familiar with this bright orange autumn squash. Although there are many varieties, the two you generally see are either those used to make jack-o-lanterns or the smaller pie pumpkins.  Pie pumpkins have thick, sweet flesh and are commonly used for baking, especially for making pumpkin pie.  The jack-o-lanterns are not as good for eating but have thick skin and hold up well to carving.  Pie pumpkins store well for about 3 months in a cool, dry place.

My dog, Snickers, likes to use the sniff test to inspect for squash quality.

These squash are small (for a squash), green, and shaped like a giant acorn.  They have smooth, sweet, nutty flesh.  They are often used for stuffing and baking.   This squash stores well for about 3 months in a dry cool place.


This squash is elongated and tan or yellowish in color.  The flesh is orange, very sweet, and contains less fiber than a pumpkin.   This squash can be stored in a cool dry place for at least 5-6 months fairly easily and gets sweeter the longer it is stored.   This is my favorite squash for making squash butter.  I find it both sweeter and richer than pumpkin butter.


This squash is about the size of a pie pumpkin, but is green and color with silver lines through it.  Its flesh is orange, sweet and nutty.  It contains less fiber than a pumpkin. This squash can store for about 4 months in a cool dry place.

HOW TO GROW SQUASH -  the basics:

Each of these grow in about the same conditions. Plant in full sun and rich soil. If your soil is poor, add compost and/or organic fertilizer.  For more on how to improve soil, please see: My Garden Soil Articles.  Plant the seeds 1-2 inches deep after the average temperature is around 70F (21C) for several days.  (That would be late May to early June here in zone 5b - but watch the weather report, this is Michigan after all! The weather can change when you blink!)

 If you have a short growing season (Zone 3 or 4), you can start squash indoors, but this is not ideal. Squash do not like to be transplanted, so it is better to start them in the ground.  To ensure that this will work, either use seed from squash that grow well in your local area and/or when you purchase seed, read the seed packet to see how many days there are until the squash matures. Choose a length of maturity that is somewhat shorter than the length of time between when the average spring temperature reaches 70F (21C) and first frost date in your area.  Here in Zone 5b, that means that you should select seed that mature around 100 days (give or take) .  Seed should be simple because most squash mature between 85 and 125 days.

Compost fall leaves, squash shells & scraps to enrich your soil!
Squash vines can grow up to 30 feet in length. So be sure to leave plenty of space between the plants (at least 10 feet!).  Spacing is also important to maintain good airflow between the plants so that the leaves do not become infected with downy or powdery mildew. Consider planting in a field, in a bed along the South side of an out building or in another location where you don't mind having a low sprawling vine.  If your area is prone to flooding, make a mound about 1 foot high, and 1-2 feet wide, in which to plant the squash and/or plant in a raised bed.  If your area is dry and drains well, you do not need to do this.

One classic way to plant squash is beneath corn stalks and along side beans. It is one of the "3 sisters": corn, beans and squash.  All 3 plants enjoy rich soil and full sun.  Beans help to produce nitrogen for the corn and squash. The squash acts as a ground cover around the corn to prevent weed growth.  The corn acts as a pole for the beans to grow on. Please consider growing these 3 together.

Water the squash in the morning so that the leaves have time to dry off during the day.  This also helps to prevent downy and powdery mildew infection.  For more information on potential squash pests and what to do about this, please visit:

Harvest the squash when the fruit is large, bright in color, of good weight and when the vine starts to die away slightly.  The shell should also be hard and not easily dented with your finger.  When you cut it open, the flesh should be brightly colored.

I hope to be volunteering at the Brighton Victory Garden again this summer.  If you are willing to donate 20 hours of time to the project, and speak to Kay (the coordinator) about this in advance, she will often agree to give you a row to plant for yourself.  I plan on doing this next summer.  In my row I will be planting the squash seed that I save from the squash discussed in this article.  I am also going to try planting watermelon for the first time. Having a row in the sunny Victory Garden field will be essential to growing these plants.  My yard is both too small and too shady to grow very many of these large, sprawling plants. So, I will grow smaller vegetables in my yard (tomatoes, peppers, greens etc.) and will grow the larger ones (corn, beans, squash, melon) at the Brighton Victory Garden.  I plan to share part of my harvest with Gleaners Food Bank in keeping with the Victory Garden's mission.   Keep reading next spring and summer to see how this goes!  I will be posting about it.

For More Information / Works Cited:

A great website with a list of nearly every type of squash: "All About Pumpkins"

You can buy seed here or just read the growing instructions.  They also have a chart about squash storage and other great growing tips: "Johnny's Selected Seeds" 

"I love the smell of fresh pumpkin in the morning.  It smells like... autumn!"

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Butternut Squash Scones With Squash Butter Recipe

It is autumn.  This time of year, everyone thinks of pumpkins.  But there are several types of DELICIOUS hard-shelled squash that are fresh, inexpensive and in season.  Maybe you harvested some of your own.  Maybe you saw them sitting in a pile at the farmer's market or the grocery store and thought to yourself, "What the heck do I do with those?"   The truth is, you can use most hard-shelled squash as a replacement for pumpkin in many recipes.

There are some exceptions.  For example, you wouldn't want to use spaghetti squash to try to make a pie. It has too much fiber.  But many of the others cook up the same way pumpkin does and can be used in the same way.  These include: acorn squash, butternut squash, buttercup squash and more.

This recipe is a perfect example.  Instead of pumpkin scones, make....


First, you need to make squash puree.  The puree can be used in place of canned pumpkin puree in any baking recipe that you like.  To make the puree is simple.


Yeild: Varies by size of squash.  Usually about 4 cups for a medium squash.

Time: 50 minutes (5 minutes prep, 45 minutes waiting for it to bake in the oven while you do something else)  If you don't have time for this, purchase canned pumpkin puree.  NOT pumpkin pie mix!!


1 medium butternut squash (or other smooth-fleshed, hard shelled squash that you like) size: 3-5lbs or 1.5-2.5kg.


1. Preheat the your oven to 425F (218C).

2. Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds.

 Do not waste the seeds!  You can compost the seeds and squash innards. You could also dry the seeds and save them for planting later by spreading them flat on a paper towel and allowing them to dry.   Finally, you can roast the seeds and eat them.  There is a good recipe for this at the following link: Betty Crocker's Roast Pumpkin Seed Recipe.

3. Place the squash on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (paper optional) for 45 minutes.  Then, go do watch your favorite TV show, read a book or otherwise occupy yourself while the squash cooks.  I don't want to hear your whining about how long this takes. It's not like you have to stand there babysitting the oven!!! ;)

4. When the timer goes off, take the squash out of the oven.  Put on some oven mitts (safety first!) and scoop the innards out of the squash. 

5. Place a colander inside a bowl.  Put the squash innards into the colander, and weight the squash down with a plate.  Allow to drain for 15-20 minutes or so. (You can use the left-over juice in the bowl as a nutrient- rich way to water your plants, or put it in a smoothie for yourself later. You can also compost the squash shell or feed it to the deer or livestock.)

6. When the squash has drained, puree it by mashing it by hand or spinning it in a food processor until smooth. 

Next, use the mix to make the scones.


Yeild: 12 scones

Time: 40 minutes (10 minutes to prep, 30 minutes to bake)

If you don't have time for this, I am surprised you are reading this recipe!  But you could always go buy scones... they won't be as good!)


4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons white granulated sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
12 tablespoons (1.5 sticks) cold butter
1 cup squash puree (see above) - you could also use canned pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie mix!)
6 tablespoons cream, or half and half or whole milk
2 large eggs


1. Preheat the oven to 425F (218C).  Lightly oil a baking sheet or line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and spices an a bowl.  Cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is crumbly.

3. In a different bowl, whisk the pumpkin cream (or half and half, or whole milk) and egg together.

4. Mix the wet ingredients in with the dry ingredients.  Then, dust your hands with flour, and roll the
dough into a ball.

5.  Pat the dough onto a lightly floured surface until it forms a 1 inch (2cm or so) thick circle.

6. Use a pizza cutter to slice the circle into 12 pieces (just like cutting a pizza.) Try to cut the pieces to as close to the same size as possible for more even baking.

7.  Place the pieces onto the baking sheet.  Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the scones turn light brown.

8. Remove from the oven and place on a rack to cool.

You can serve these scones with milk, tea, coffee, butter, jam, whipped cream, cream cheese, or you may want to top it with...


Mix 1/4 cup powdered sugar with 1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon.  Place in an old spice jar with a sprinkler top or dust over the scones using a sieve.


Yield: 1 pint

Time: 30 minutes (all prep and stirring) If you don't have time, buy pumpkin butter, but it won't be as good!
(NOTE: This recipe is NOT meant for canning! Refrigerate only.)


2 cups butternut squash puree (see above) - You could also use canned pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie mix!)
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
3/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon (or more to taste - more will make the mix spicier/zingier/hotter)
1/8 teaspoon ginger (or more to taste)
pinch sea salt (or more to taste)


1. Mix all of the ingredients listed above together in a saucepan.

2. Cook over high heat on the stove until the mixture bubbles.  Stir often.

3. Once the mix bubbles, cook uncovered for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. Taste and adjust the seasoning and/or salt if needed.  To sweeten add more maple syrup.  To make it zestier add more cinnamon or ginger.  To make the flavor stand out a bit more, at a pinch more salt.

5. Allow the mixture to cool.  Then, transfer to a glass pint jar.  You can refrigerate this for up to 2 weeks.

6.  Use as topping for your scones.  It is also good on toast, waffles, pancakes, quick breads and oatmeal.

Happy baking, my autumnal squash lovers!! :)

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Winter Squash: cooked 2 ways

Pic borrowed from

So... you see these ugly (or beautiful!) squashes at the farm stand or supermarket.  Maybe you even grew some.  But what do you do with them?  Well, here is your answer:

MASHED SQUASH (side dish):

Time: 1 hour 3 minutes
Servings: usually 4 (depends on size of squash)


1. Winter squash such as the buttercup squash shown above (do not use spaghetti squash - it is too stringy)
2. 1 tablespoon butter (or more to taste)
3. 2 tablespoons maple syrup
4. Salt and pepper
5. Brown sugar (optional)


1. Preheat the oven to 425F (218C)

2. Place the squash on a baking sheet.  Cover the sheet with parchment paper if desired to make clean up easier..

3. Spread the butter over the sliced halves of the squash, then drizzle the maple syrup over the sliced halves of the squash.

4. Bake the squash at 425F (218C) for 1 hour.

5. When the squash is cooked, scoop the orange part of the squash out of the shell with a spoon and place in a bowl. (Remember to wear gloves or cooking mitts - the squash is hot!)

6. Mash the squash as you would potatoes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Add more butter if desired.

7. Sprinkle the top with brown sugar if desired to add sparkle. 


Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Sevings: 6


1. One winter squash such as butternut squash (shown above), cut in half and cleaned of seeds
2. 3 tablespoons maple syrup
3. 1 tablesppoon butter
4. 1 onion, chopped
5. 1 apple, cored and chopped
6. 1 pinch dry tarragon
7. 1/8 teaspoon cardemom
8. 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
9. 1/2 cup cream
10. Water or vegetable broth to loosen
11. 1 tablespoon cooking oil
12. Salt and pepper
13. Parsley, roast pumpkin seeds, graham cracker crumble or croutons (optional for garnish)


1. Preheat the oven to 425F (218C)

2. Place the squash on a baking sheet.  Cover the sheet with parchment paper if desired to make clean up easier..

3. Spread the butter over the sliced halves of the squash, then drizzle the maple syrup over the sliced halves of the squash.

4. Bake the squash at 425F (218C) for 1 hour.

5. While the squash is cooking, heat the cooking oil over medium-low heat in a pan on the stove. Add the onion. Cook until softened (about 5 minutes).

6. Add the apple, cardemom, tarragon and cinnamon to the onion.  Sprinkle with a pinch or two of salt.  Cook until carmalized / light brown over medium-low heat (about 15-20 minutes).

7. When the squash is cooked, scoop the orange part of the squash out of the shell with a spoon and place in a blender. (Remember to wear gloves or cooking mitts - the squash is hot!)

8. Add the cream and apple-onion mix to the squash in the blender.  Blend until puréed. 

9. If the mix is too thick, loosen by adding water or vegetable broth, a few tablespoons at a time, until the soup reaches the desired thickness. Season with salt and pepper.

10.  If the soup is too cool for your liking by the time the blending is complete,  pour in to a pot and heat gently over low to medium heat until the desired temperature is reached.  Stir often.  

Serve with a garnish of roast pumpkin seeds, parsley, croutons or graham cracker crumbles if desired.

This keeps well in the refigerator for 1 week.  Stir before reheating on the stove or in the microwave.

Congratulations! Your ugly squash is now gorgeous and delicious! 🎃

Sunday, September 20, 2015

DIY Cute Step Stones

Greetings to my DIY, artistic, creative gardeners and upcyclers!

I have an easy DIY way to make step stones for your garden here:

You Will Need:

1. Quickrete Cement Mix
2. Water
3. Many bottle caps and/or stones and/or ceramic pieces and/or other smooth, flat colorful items
4. Cement dye (optional)
5. Plastic tray/dish for under pots
6. Plastic bucket for mixing
7. Stick or shovel for mixing


1. Mix the water, cement mix and cement dye (optional) together in the bucket.  The mixture should be the thickness of porridge once combined.

2. Pour the mixture in to the plastic tray and spread flat.

3. Let sit for about 20 minutes so the cement is set but still damp.

4. Press bottle caps, stones etc. into the cement in any pattern you like! (This is the fun part!!)

5. Allow to harden for 48 hours.

6. Place in the garden and enjoy!

Follow me via:
Twitter: @alhramAndrea
Pinterest: @MiLakeGarden
Facebook: Mi Lake Home Garden
Instagram: @MiLakeHomeGarden

Friday, September 18, 2015

Project #4 - Brighton Victory Garden

Edited picture from
 This year, I have started helping at the Brighton Victory Garden. So far I have assisted with planting, weeding and hoeing rows. I hope to assist with harvest in the fall.

The victory garden is a community garden run on behalf of the Livingston County Hunger Council by Ms. Kay Simmons. The Brighton Garden Club also maintains an herb and flower garden at the front of the Victory Garden. The garden sits on a full acre of land loaned to the hunger council by Brighton NC Manufacturing Solutions. Kay leads a team of volunteers from local schools, businesses, organizations as well as interested individuals to plant, grow and harvest vegetables that are then donated to the local food bank. The garden provides over 10,000 lbs of free fresh produce to families in need each year.

Brighton Hunger Council's Victory Garden - June 2016.
 The Hunger Council was established in 2009 with the  goal to "eradicate hunger in Livingston County."  According to their website, by "December, 2010 – With a year of collaborative efforts complete, the members of the Livingston Hunger Council could boast a total of 3,855,423 additional meals, reducing the hunger gap by almost 77%."  Because of the efforts of the Hunger Council, Livingston County is considered to be one of the few food secure counties in Michigan.

Not only does the Victory Garden provide fresh vegetables to the community, it also provides allotments to individuals.  In exchange for volunteer work in the garden, individuals are given the opportunity to use a portion of the acre of land on which to grow their own produce.

Hoeing a row of pumpkin at the Victory Garden.
The Hunger Council works with a variety of agencies inluding: The Salvation Army, The Well Church, Hartland Consolidated Schools, Livingston County United Way, St. Joseph Mercy Livingston Hospital, Livingston County Senior Nutrition Program, Livingston County Dept. of Public Health, Love, Inc., Hidden Springs Church, SonRise Church, LESA Head Start, Stone Coop Farms, Greater Brighton Area Chamber of Commerce, Family Impact Center, MSU Extension, OLHSA, St. Agnes Food Pantry, St. Joseph Pantry, Olinik Family McDonalds, Livingston County Department of Human Services, Livingston County Catholic Charities, Gleaners Community Food Bank, Fausone Bohn, LLP, Livingston Adventist Church, Society of St. Vincent de Paul at Holy Spirit Church, and Livingston County Sunrise Rotary Club.

 If you are interested in volunteering at the garden,  please contact Kay Simmons and/or view the website at

To view the garden, please visit at NC Manufacturing Solutions - The field to the left of the building - 7300 Whitmore Lake Rd Brighton, MI 48116.  

Picture from

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

DIY: Reflective Grow Shelf

Seeds waiting to germinate in the grow tent.
Here in zone 5b Michigan, the average first frost date occurs somewhere between the last week in September and the first week in October.   Although we have had a few 80F (27C) days lately, the cold weather is closing in fast.  This means that the houseplants that have been "vacationing" outside need to come in to the house soon.

As the weather gets colder, the days get shorter as well.  This means that there is much less light than is optimal for most plants.  So what is a gardener to do?

The answer: Grow lights.  These are full spectrum light bulbs that can be used to either supplement or replace the natural sunlight in the winter.  Better Homes and Gardens has a good article about how to choose a grow light.  To read it, click HERE.

In addition to the grow lights, it helps to have a reflective "grow tent" to bounce the light from the full spectrum bulbs towards the plants and to optimize the amount of light that the plant receives.  But these grow tents can be expensive!  New, they may cost anywhere from $70 to $500 before you even purchase a grow light. 

But not to worry! I have found a way to create an inexpensive DIY grow tent.  The whole thing cost me about $40 including the lightbulbs!  However, I did have an old shelf available. If you do not have an old shelf, the whole project may cost you $40-$70 depending on where you purchase a second hand shelf.


Step1: Assemble the old wire shelf

 1. An old wire shelf -   The pop-together shelves used in dorm & children's rooms work perfectly for this.  You may have one of these sitting around.  Otherwise, you can probably find one second hand in a garage sale, Salvation Army store, or on sale at a big box store for a price range of $0 to $30.

2. Three full spectrum light bulbs - You should be able to find these in a pack of 3-4 for a price range of $3-$10.

3. Three bulb sockets with cords.  I found these online for $8 each.

4. The handyman's best friend: DUCT TAPE!  You can get this at the dollar store.

5. Three or four mylar emergency blankets.  You can find these for $3 each or less either online, at most drug stores, or at a big box store. (Note you may need more for a very tall or wide shelf.  The shelf I used was about 2 ft. x 1ft x 5ft)

6.  A couple of zip ties - You can find these at the dollar store.

7. An extension cord or adapter plug - optional.  This should cost less than $5 and can be found at any big box store, or perhaps your dollar store.


1. Assemble the shelf per shelf instructions.

2. Attach the bulb sockets to 3 tiers of the shelf using zip ties.  Run the cords along the outside of the shelf.  If you want, you can zip tie the cords in to place as well. Hang the bulbs so they do not touch the outside edges of the wire shelf.  This is in order to avoid making contact between the bulb and the mylar sheeting.  If the mylar heats up, it could melt or possibly burn.  Please use caution, common sense, and cool light bulbs.  (NO HEAT LAMPS!!!!!)
Step 2: Zip tie sockets to wire shelf

3. Screw the light bulbs in to place.

4. Use 2 of the 3 mylar emergency blankets to wrap the outside of the shelf.  Secure the mylar in to place with the duct tape. Wrap the left side of the shelf with one mylar sheet, and the right side with the other, leaving an open, over-lapping seam up the center of the back of the shelving so that you can access the pots from the back of the shelf. Be sure to cover the top of the shelf entirely. This step is fun because it's a bit like wrapping a giant Christmas present!!  :) :) :)    (See picture below.)

5. Cover the bottom shelf with the 3rd mylar sheet to reflect light upward into the shelf from below. Tape this in to place with the duct tape.

6. If you are placing the shelf against a window, leave one side of the shelf open / NOT covered by the mylar.  Place the shelf so that this open side faces the window to collect as much natural sunlight as you can.  A south-facing window is best, but any window will do in a pinch!

Step 4: Wrap the shelf in mylar. Leave an access opening in back.
7. If you are placing the shelf in a basement without a window, then go ahead and cover the shelf entirely with the mylar using the 4th mylar sheet.  If you choose to do this, you may want to consider which types of light bulbs you use as grow lights a bit more carefully.  The prices for these can range into the $100's and vary considerably in power, and light spectrum. Better Homes and Gardens has a good article about how to choose a grow light.  To read it, click HERE.

Step 6: Wrap the shelf in mylar with one side open for placement towards the window
 8. Plug the bulb sockets in to the wall or the extension cord.  Make sure that the bulbs are securely in place and turn them on!


Place the plants or pots on the shelf.  Try to load the shelf from the bottom upward so that it does not become top heavy and tip over.

You can use the shelf either to help keep your house plants happy through the winter, or for seed starting in the early spring (or any time of year, really!)

Most plants need about 12 hours of sunlight per day.  If the days are long enough, and the light bright enough, you may be able to leave the lights off for a time.  Once the days shorten, simply turn the lights on in the shelf in the morning and then turn them off 12 hours later.

Remember, in Michigan, the fall equinox is September 23rd and spring equinox is March 20. So you should certainly turn your grow lights on between 9/23 and 3/20 to supplement for the shortened day / missing sunlight.

If you are forgetful, you may want to plug the extension cord in to an electrical timer set to turn on and off every 12 hours.  These timers cost as little as $4 at a big box store.  Well worth the savings to your electric bill!

Note:  The shelf does not insulate very well, and it is dangerous to use a heat lamp with the mylar (fire & toxic fume hazard).  If your plants require a certain temperature, please control this via the central heating system of your house.


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