North Country Gardening

Simple Secrets to Successful Gardening in the North

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North Country Gardening has moved!

Overgrown landscape

A landscape that will be worked on this spring by Haylake Horticultural Services.

I guess I got sick of the neighborhood. Or maybe it got overgrown like this landscape I’m going to work on when the snow goes away. Either way, I’ve packed my bags (blog posts, that is) and moved my blog from Blogger to WordPress. If you’re new to blogging I recommend using WordPress rather than Blogger. There are more and better features, like the ability for the administrator (me) to comment on comments made by others. I also think it will serve me better at being found by others and increasing traffic to my blog. This way I can help spread the gospel of northern gardening. Yes, you can garden up here, you just need to learn a few things about gardening in a short season zone. I’ll continue to provide you with lots of tips.

I’m excited about using this new format. I don’t know why I put off the conversion for so long (yes I do, I’ve been busy gardening, landscaping and gardening!). So on a day when it looks more like winter than fall, I’ve taken the time to move across town to WordPress. I hope you enjoy!

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If you’re looking for a prolific harvest of sweet, tasty cherry tomatoes, grow the Jasper varieties. This All American Selection sold by Jung’s and others is a real winner in my mind.

I planted about six of these right up against the fence that surrounds my garden to keep the deer out. I originally planted them from seed in my greenhouse and when I set them out they took right off, which I think is key to a successful harvest of anything in the cold climate. I never did need to tie them to the fence or offer any other type of support, even though they grow up to five feet tall! I just fed them fairly regularly with Espoma’s organic fertilizer for vegetable gardens.

What I got was a seemly endless supply of sweet cherry tomatoes. In fact, at the time of this writing I’m still picking hoards of them, which actually started about a month ago. Jasper did much better than Sweet Million (most of these tomatoes are still green), a slightly larger cherry tomato which used to be my cherry tomato of choice.

My garden hat is off to Jasper cherry tomato!

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Grand Garden Show

Mackinac Island may be best known for horse drawn carriages and yummy fudge, but it is also a destination for people who love beautiful gardens. This will be pretty evident Sunday August 24 through most of the day on Wednesday, August 27th as hundreds of people from all over the country converge on Mackinac Island to attend the second annual Grand Garden Show, sponsored by Proven Winners.
                And to think, it’s only an hour’s drive and a boat ride from the Soo! Good thing, because there’s no room at Grand Hotel, which has been sold out for a few weeks now. However, there is still time if you hurry to attend day events on Monday and or Tuesday.
                This year’s event will feature nationally known speakers, including P. Allen Smith, award-winning designer, gardening and lifestyle editor and Jon Carloftis, nationally recognized garden author, designer, television guest and lecturer.
                In addition to keynote speakers, Proven Winners staff will present educational workshops on the grounds of the beautiful Grand Hotel on Monday and Tuesday. And later in the day you’ll have the chance to tour up to 10 beautifully landscaped homes on the island, including those designed and created by Barnwell Landscape and Garden Services.

                For more information on the event and registering for it, go to                 

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An Irrigation Kit for the DIY on Your Gift List

So how did your grass grow this summer? Did you find yourself watering too much or too little, causing your lawn to fluctuate between brown and different shades of green? Tired of the high cost of watering? An affordable  home irrigation system will save you time and money and help you grow a nice lawn, one that the weeds don’t invade when it dries out.
 I say affordable because I’veinstalled Auto Rain Lawn Gear irrigation systems, a self-draining irrigation system invented by a fellow in Marquette, Michigan. I can tell you that these are very affordable systems (starting at about $100 for the kits, not including the hose) that will pay for themselves in the years ahead. They’ll also allow you to spend more time in the boat, beach or rocking chair next summer.
The system can be installed without digging up your front yard. It comes with popup heads, manufactured by Rain Bird irrigation components, a mainstay in the irrigation business for many years. It is simply screwed into your faucet, no extensive re-plumbing necessary.
Minimum  requirements for the system is 5 gpm, a rate achievable in most homes, according to Coyne. I can install one of these systems for you or you can purchase a do-it-yourself kit that comes with instructions, including a CD. Visit to learn more about the system or purchase a kit. If you’d like me to install it for you contact me at 906-322-4264 or haylake@neilmoran.comat Haylake Horticultural Services for a free estimate.
(Disclaimer: I’ve done work for the owner of Auto Rain Lawn Gear)

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Five Tomatoes for Northern Gardens (and a few tips on how to grow them successfully)

I was going to wait until after Christmas to look at the seed catalogs that have been arriving, but once I started looking at the tomatoes, I couldn’t put the catalogs down. Here are five tomatoes that are suitable to our northern climate.
Celebrity: this determinate variety has occupied my greenhouse and garden for several years now. Celebrity is a reliable producer of medium size tomatoes on disease-free plants. Start your own from seed or purchase transplants that are fairly compact (not leggy or in bloom). 70 days to maturity, AAS award winner.
Juliet: this is a perfect variety for a hoop house or heated greenhouse but also does just fine outdoors. Like celebrity, I’ve rarely been disappointed with Juliet, a reliable producer of red-ripe tomatoes. You’ll love the small, bite sized mater’s that you can eat right off the vine.  60 days to maturity, AAS winner.
Alaskan Fancy: I’ve never tried this variety but with a name like this and a promise to do good in short season zones, well I can’t resist. These are small tomatoes that grow on determinate vines. Determinate varieties are good picks for the north country because the vines will stop growing at some point and start setting tomatoes. With no time to spare in our short season zone, determinate varieties are the way to go. 55 days to maturity.
Glacier: I haven’t grown this one in a while, but I know folks in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where I live who grow them regularly. These begin flowering early for an early tomato set. They’re cold hardy, which is another plus. Glacier is a prolific producer of 2-3 ounce fruit on semi-determinate vines. 63 days to maturity.
Taxi: Remember the song “Big Yellow Taxi,” by Joni Mitchell? Well, it’s the same idea with this tomato variety. This yellow-as-a-school bus “Tried and True Variety” from Totally Tomatoes, is meant for the short season zone. It’s a heavy producer of 4-6 ounce ‘maters that will add interest to salads and salsas. Actually, I’m planting this one next year by popular demand from my 9 year-old grandson, who loves tomatoes. 63 days to maturity, semi-determinate.
A few growing tips:
To get your tomatoes off to a good start in the chilly north, wait until the weather warms to plant them outside or place some type of heat cap over the tomatoes in the early going. You can also start them in a high tunnel as long as you can remove the plastic when the weather warms.
Start off fertilizing with a balanced fertilizer containing 10-15% nitrogen, like Miracle Grow, then switch to a high phosphorous tomato type fertilizer just before your plants start to bloom.  Avoid overfeeding which can result in a lot of vine growth and few ripe tomatoes.
Water well in the early going. Withhold water once they start producing fruit, which will encourage ripening. Any tomatoes that don’t ripen will turn red if placed in a moderately warm (70 degrees) room with or without sunlight.
All of these tomatoes can be found at and other garden catalogs.
For more tips for short season zones, read my book North Country Gardening Simple Secrets to Successful Gardening.

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Opportunity, Challenges for EUP Farmers

The opportunity to create wealth while satisfying the demand for wholesome, locally grown food is at hand in the EUP. That was the message I got from attending the third annual EUP Food Summit held at LSSU on November 7.  Each year 125,000 million dollars is drained away from the EUP from food that is sourced outside the region, in other words, from food not grown or produced here. Imagine if we could pump even 20% of that figure back into the EUP!

                The opportunity is there to make money and so is the challenge. Supply can’t meet demand for fresh, locally grown food. The challenges are many including our short growing season here across the U.P. as well as availability of financing. Neither of these challenges is insurmountable. In regards to our short season, the folks over in the Central U.P. are begging to differ as they are growing more and more produce for market in that region, especially via the Marquette Food Co-op which is has achieved two million dollars in annual sales lately. Some, but not all of their food comes from local sources.
                In regards to financing, Mike DiBernardo, Economic Development Specialist, Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, said at the summit that financing is in fact difficult, but if you come up with a good plan, financing will be considered. The mistake some folks make, he says, is asking for the money before having a viable plan in place. If you’re interested in financing a farming endeavor, contact the MDARD.

                There is another source of help for local farmers, whether you’re interested in making farming your main source of income or using it to supplement your income and supply wholesome food for your family. The U.P. Food Exchange has been up and running now for several months. The Exchange brings together three food hubs: EUP, Central and Western. By doing so the three hubs can pool their resources and communicate better which each other.  Lately, they’ve added a kind of “Craig’s List” to the site so that farmers can list things like farm implements and the like or post equipment or supplies they’re looking to buy. The Exchange will also more than likely be a good place to visit to see if grants or other forms of assistance are available. 

                Yet another source is the Chippewa Luce Mackinac Conservation District. These folks can direct you to programs that are usually available on a limited basis, such as the NRCS’s program to purchase hoop houses and certain programs involving land use and acquisition.
                Michelle Walk, MSU Extension Specialist is the go-to person for all things related to the EUP Food Hub. Walk and MSU have a lot of resources at their disposal to help folks get up and running, whether you want to raise bees, livestock, or grow sweet corn. She can be contacted at the MSU extension office, 635-6368.
                The ultimate goal is to create a “sustainable food web,” one that, like the oil situation in this country, doesn’t rely wholly on outside sources for its food. Kenneth Meter, President of Crossroads Resource Center hammered that point home during the summit as he discussed what other regions across the country are doing, including a four season greenhouse that is growing greens successfully in chilly Minnesota on very limited energy inputs.
                “The current food system takes wealth out of our communities,” he says.

                To learn how to master the skill of growing crops in this climate, pick up a copy of my book, North Country Gardening: Simple Secrets to Successful Northern Gardening at Amazonor from the author by emailing

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EUP Food Summit Will Highlight Progress, Challenges

For the past several years now I’ve attended meetings in the Eastern Upper Peninsula whereby food producers, foodies and the food conscious, talked about forming a local, sustainable food system that would make readily available, fresh, wholesome food to folks in the EUP. For a long time, it was mostly talk.
The third annual EUP Food Summit, to be held on Thursday, November 7 at LSSU will be proof positive that progress is being made in forming a sustainable food system right here in the EUP. “Together at the Table: Recipes for a Sustainable Local Food System,” will show attendees how the local food delivery system is shaping up—and how much more we can still do. 
The day-long event will  bring farmers, restaurant owners, institutional food service staff, retailers and concerned community members together to share the progress and challenges ahead in creating and maintaining a sustainable local food system.
Ken Meter from Crossroads Resource Center will be the day’s keynote speaker. Meter is a food system analysis and has worked across the country, “integrating market analysis, business development, systems thinking, and social concerns.”  He will be discussing, among other things, his recently completed report of the current food system here in the U.P.
Michelle Walk, Community Development Educator with MSU Extension in the EUP, has been instrumental in bringing the conference and local food system concept to fruition in the EUP. She will be speaking that day on the business side of local food production in the U.P. and how it relates to tourism.
Other topics that will be addressed next week include understanding community food systems, an explanation of the recently formed U.P. Food Exchange and how it can help growers and consumers, news from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and some breakout sessions to various topics related to the conference.

To register or for more information visit the U.P. Food Exchange website at


Thank you, from the North Country Gardener!

I’ve reached a milestone today. No, I’m not a decade older. I’ve registered over 20,000 page views on my blog! Thanks to everyone who has stopped by for tips on growing a garden in the north country. I hope I’ve been of some help to all the people out there who enjoy the challenge of growing fruits, veggies, flowers, trees and shrubs in the north. We know it can be done, and done well.

I’ve got over 175 posts on my blog that will help you get more satisfaction out of gardening. Be sure to stop when you can for more helpful tips. I plan on adding more posts on specific plants that do well in the north, like New Ace Peppers that will actually produce in our short season, and hardy fruit trees and shrubs. I’ll also continue to add timely tips for pruning and other garden maintenance tasks.

And if you are so inclined, leave a comment, I read them all.

Happy Gardening,


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Renovating a Perennial Garden

Revamping a large perennial bed that has become overgrown with different plants and weeds kind of reminds me of cleaning out my garage after stuff has been accumulating for several weeks. I just don’t know where to begin. Over time, however, I’ve come up with a method to get it cleaned up and organized again which actually works.
I recently applied this garage cleaning method to get a handle on an overgrown perennial bed. I’d like to share what I do to make this task a little less arduous.
The best time to revamp a perennial bed, especially if you may be moving plants around it is in the spring or late summer (like right now) if it isn’t too hot and dry, which as of this writing it isn’t either. 
To draw upon the garage analogy again, the first thing I do when cleaning out my garage is remove everything that doesn’t belong there. This will  get some things out of the way so I can start to move around. So with this in mind, let’s get started on the perennial bed.
1.      Remove the most obvious weeds, that is, the ones that are getting taller than the perennials.
2.       Remove the plants you no longer want in your bed. If you plan on discarding the plants simply dig up the whole plant and toss it into the pile with the weeds and other brush that can be composted later. If you intend on moving the plants to another location, cut them down to within about six inches from the crown and keep the roots moist until you can move them to their new location.
3.       Cut down all of the plants that are no longer flowering (if performing this task in the late summer or fall.
4.       Do a more thorough weeding now that the plants you don’t want have been removed.
5.        Rearrange the furniture. Now is the time to arrange the plants how you want them, taking into consideration size, color, texture, etc. Be sure to “water in” the plants you move by sticking the hose right in the hole you’ve dug and filling it with water.
6.       After you’ve rearranged your plants use a spray bottle to carefully spray an herbicide or horticultural vinegar between the plants to further eliminate weeds.
7.       Lay down newspaper or cardboard between the plants. When I do this in the  fall I obtain free mulch from the city compost facility. I lay it down nice and thick and then in the spring I’ll top it off with a decorative mulch in the spring. This will provide EXCELLENT weed protection for the coming season. Mulch each year to maintain good weed control.
8.       Put the finishing touches on your “garage cleaning” by doing a little deadlheading or shaping of the perennials or shrubs. Allow adequate room between the plants so that they don’t crowd out each other.
9.       Do some edging around the flower bed to keep grass from creeping into the garden. You can do this with a landscape shovel, small tiller with an edging attachment or install a grass guard. It’s your preference.
10.   Feed your plants with an organic fertilizer, such as Hollytone or a slow release fertilizer such as Osmocote to keep them healthy and looking good.

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Fresh bread to go with fresh veggies

There’s nothing like fresh bread to go with the veggies you’ve picked from the garden to make a delicious bowl of cream of peas with new potatoes or a BLT, for that matter. 
Here’s a great recipe I use to make whole wheat bread using a bread making machine and organic products. Perfect texture and easy to cut.
Whole Wheat Bread
(ingredients available locally at Harmony Health Food store in Sault Ste. Marie, MI)
8-9 ounces of milk or soy milk
½ teaspoons of salt
2 tbl. Butter
3 cups Natural Way Mills Gold-n-White Flour (unbleached wheat)
3 tbl. Light agave nectar, honey or sugar
2 teaspoon active dry yeast for bread makers
Add ingredients into the bread maker in the order they appear above. Set bread maker on the “Basic” or “Wheat” setting. Check a few minutes into the cycle. If lumpy and not forming a ball, add a tablespoon or so of milk to the dough mixture.
Whole Wheat Bread for a Bread Maker
(ingredients available locally at Harmony Health Food Store)
8-9 ounces of milk or soy milk
½ teaspoons of salt
2 tbl. Butter
3 cups Natural Way Mills Gold-n-White Flour (unbleached wheat)
3 tbl. Light agave nectar, honey or sugar
2 teaspoon active dry yeast for bread makers

Add ingredients into the bread maker in the order they appear above. Set bread maker on the “Basic” or “Wheat” setting. Check a few minutes into the cycle. If lumpy and not forming a ball, add a tablespoon or so to dough