Salted with Sharks

Potluck Gardening Workshops Build Soil-Esteem

In Green Elbertians, Open Season, The Mess Deck on February 7, 2011 at 9:23 pm

Vegetable gardens are sprouting up all over the country in unexpected places, from the White House front lawn to city rooftops, in response to the economic crisis and concerns about nutrition and food safety. Some prominent Frankfort and Elberta residents are on the front lines of this trend, participating in Grow Benzie, the two-year-old nonprofit organization that promotes local self-sufficiency—from gardening to cooking to sewing and other job skills.

||| Turns out you should never, ever rototill.  |||

Grow Benzie’s greenhouse now supplies vegetables for Frankfort–Elberta schools and Grow Benzie volunteers are teaching schoolkids how to recycle and compost. The heaps of snow haven’t slowed them as Grow Benzie volunteers “plow” ahead, bringing spring a bit early with the help of a series of workshops on extending the growing season.

Sharron May, of the May Farm and Beyond Salon, is a member of Grow Benzie. On January 11 she attended the first of six potluck workshops led by Craig Schaaf, who lives and works at Golden Rule Farm, near Kaleva. “We’re so lucky to have this opportunity so close to home,” May said. “Craig is the Pied Piper of hoop houses [inexpensive plastic greenhouses] in Manistee county. A friend of mine learned how to build a hoop house from a workshop with Craig and that led to a freshly picked salad on Christmas Eve from her own backyard.”

Sharron May estimates that more than 100 farmers and gardeners of all skill levels attended the first workshop. The topic was how to create a mineral- and organism-rich soil, for more nutritious produce. Enriching the soil doesn’t have to be expensive; in fact you can do it with the food scraps and other organic waste you have lying around your house, along with a few simple tools and methods.

Connie Manke, a professional gardener who sells herbs and other plants at the Elberta and Frankfort farmers markets each year, said she learned some new tricks at the first session. “I grew up watching my grandfather rototill his garden each spring, and so I rototilled every year too. Turns out you should never, ever rototill. It spreads the weed seeds around. Instead you should simply punch into the soil with a long-tined rake and just lift the soil a bit to aerate it.” Manke says Craig Schaaf has nearly eliminated the weeds (and therefore the weeding) in his garden through this method, and she’ll be trying it this year.

Schaaf also discussed the latest in composting technology. “He said to go out and pick mushrooms in your yard and put them in the compost pile—the mushrooms will start growing in the compost and break it down even faster. Also, roots are even more useful than leaves in the compost pile, so don’t be afraid to put roots in there.”

“Our soil here is mostly very sandy,” Manke said, “So we need to find ways to build the nutrients.” Biochar, a kind of charcoal, is being made locally by Land of Goshen farm and others. “You can raise your crop yield 40 to 400 percent with an 8 percent biochar mixture in your soil,” Manke said she learned.

The next workshop will be held next Tuesday, February 15, at 5:30. The topic is “Building Soil Blocks.” Attendees will learn how to prepare free-standing blocks of potting soil for starting seedlings indoors without containers. Schaaf will explain how to water the blocks and what the germination times are for various plants. When the danger of frost has passed, the blocks can be easily inserted into the garden. This method makes for hardier seedlings and has the effect of extending our growing season by several weeks.

Guests are asked to bring a dish to pass and a place setting for each person in their party. Admission is $7 per person, $10 for a family. Scholarships are available for those unable to pay the admission fee. For more information contact Deb Query, the director of Grow Benzie, at 231-882-9801 or  Ψ

Upcoming Grow Benzie Workshops

  • February 15 “Building Soil Blocks” 5:30 pm to 9:30 pm
  • March 19 “Hoop House Management” 10 am to 3 pm
  • April 12 “Transplanting Seeds” 6:30 pm to 9 pm
  • May 10 “Seed Saving” 6:30 pm to 9 pm
  • June (day and time TBA) All-day workshop on Hoop House Building

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