Ecology Farm & Garden

Dahlem’s Ecology Farm, located at 1429 Wickwire Rd., Jackson MI 49201, features Betty’s Garden, the Introduction to Beekeeping course apiaries, and has a parking area with access to Dahlem’s five mile trail system.

From the Ecology Farm you can access the Butterfly Trail. This 0.4 mile grassy trail loops around fields and meadows of Golden Rod and other native wildflowers.  The Butterfly Trail is Dahlem’s ONLY dog-friendly trail.  Dogs must be leashed.

The Ecology Farm provides opportunities to watch pollinators like monarch butterflies and honey bees at work and take in the spectacular views of Betty’s Garden. Dahlem’s grounds and trails are open dawn to dusk, year-round.

Gardening is the most popular hobby in the US and good exercise. Adults still love to play in the dirt! Safe, healthy, delicious and affordable fresh vegetables are your rewards. Becoming part of a community of Dahlem’s hands-on science of cultivating organically within our broader ecosystem is your dedication.

Betty’s Garden at the Dahlem Ecology Farm was started in 2010, thanks to a generous donation from Betty Dahlem Desbiens. The acre fenced garden, which also has a water system, consists of 48 plots measuring 20 x 20 feet.

A 20 x 20 plot rental is $45/year *Dahlem Membership Also Required

**Organic Farming Only**

Your rental includes:

  • Deer and rabbit fencing installed around entire garden to protect crops
  • Water and hoses
  • Healthy soil ready for you to rake and sow your own seeds
  • Wheel barrows and hand-tools (as available)
  • Compost & Wood Chips for mulching
  • Porta-potty facility and shaded picnic table
  • Friendly gardeners to give you growing tips
  • Extra produce donations to area food shelters

Contact Dahlem with any questions 517-782-3453 ext. 0 or

“When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.  There is no other way for land to survive the impact of mechanized man, nor for us to reap from it the esthetic harvest it is capable, under science, of contributing to culture.”

~ Aldo Leopold, in Sand County Almanac

Betty’s Garden Guidelines

Contact Dahlem to be added to the garden plot waiting list: 517-782-3453 ext. 0 or

Gardening Tips & Information

Mildew is a fungal disease identified by white spots that spread on cucumber and squash leaves. Any garden with powdery mildew or yellow bottom leaves with black spots should immediately remove the diseased leaves. DO NOT put the yellow leaves in your compost pile. You can spread this disease by spores on your hands as well, so make sure to wash hands and garden tools.

Mix 3 tablespoons of cider vinegar (5% acidity) with one gallon water and spray in the morning on infested plants. Good for black spot on roses and aspen trees too. (for leafspot, mildew, and scab)

Mix 1 tablespoon baking soda, 2 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil with one gallon of water. Shake this up very thoroughly. To this mix add 1/2 teaspoon of pure Castile soap and spray. Be sure to agitate your sprayer while you work to keep the ingredients from separating. Cover upper and lower leaf surfaces and spray some on the soil. Repeat every 5-7 days as needed. (for anthracnose, early tomato blight, leaf blight and spots, powdery mildew, and as a general fungicide)

Question: I’ve noticed many tiny black bugs and holes on the leaves of my 2 eggplants. What should I do to treat the plants? Answer: According to Rodale, wood ashes repel flea beetles. Simply sprinkle a spoonful of ashes on each plant 2 or 3 times a week. You could also get excellent results with a spray made w/garlic. Bulbs of garlic are minced with a cup of water. Then strained, diluted and sprayed on the plants.

The largest caterpillars found in this area and can measure up to 4 inches in length. The prominent “horn” on the rear of both gives them their name. The size of these garden pests allow them to quickly defoliate tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, and peppers. Occasionally, they may also feed on green fruit. The tobacco hornworm larva (Manduca sexta) is generally green with seven diagonal white lines on the sides and a curved red horn (above). The tomato hornworms (Manduca quinquemaculata) have eight V-shaped marks on each side and their horn is straighter and blue-black in color (below). These “hornworms” are the larvae of hawk or sphinx moths, also known as hummingbird moths. The tobacco hornworm is the most commonly seen of the two, but both can be found in this region and may even be present on the same plant. Gardeners are likely to spot the large areas of damage at the top of a plant before they see the culprit. Hornworms are often difficult to see because of their protective coloring. They tend to feed on the interior of the plant during the day and are more easily spotted when they move to the outside of the plant at dawn and dusk. The presence of the hornworm may also be noticed because of the large, black droppings that accumulate on the ground beneath the affected plants. Hornworm damage usually begins to occur in midsummer and continues throughout the remainder of the growing season. CONTROL: Handpicking hornworms and rototilling (destroys pupae)

Question: I found a large white grub type worm on one ear of my corn this morning and there was a lot of white something else with it. Pretty disgusting looking. I smashed it into the ground and put the ear in the trash can by the compost pile. I also had a bunch of little bugs on one of the leaves of an eggplant. They had red bodies and black heads and were chewing away like crazy. That leaf also went into the trash can. Any idea of what either one was? I will be going back out Sunday and will check for both of these again. With all the rain I don’t know if anything will have a chance to develop. Answer: I believe the grub in your corn was probably the European Corn Borer. According to Rodale, “handpicking is the oldest and simplest remedy and can be very effective in controlling the borer.” In the Fall stalks should be shredded and/or removed or plowed under. May be confused with flea beetles, which can be controlled with wood ashes sifted on the plant, or a garlic spray (made by grinding up 2 garlic cloves, mixing with water, and straining the garlic).

It’s always a good idea to keep records (i.e. a garden journal) of what worked and what didn’t in your garden. Ideas for next year can be noted as well, such as plant more/less tomatoes, plant arugula, install landscaping fabric, etc. Also, mapping what was planted will help in planning for next year. Graph paper makes it easy to draw your garden to scale, giving a realistic view of what you have room for. You usually don’t want to plant the same thing in the same place every year. Changing planting locations will reduce diseases and pests from the year before and assures that certain nutrients aren’t depleted in a single location.

By Pegg Clevenger


I’ve been practicing organic gardening for five years with the help of the Dahlem Conservancy. Over 20 years ago I learned Integrated Pest Management through the Master Gardener program. But when all else failed, the safeguard for my plants was an allowable dose of chemicals. In the Dahlem Community Garden program, I’ve learned to live with an insect nibble here and there, and I enjoy organic vegetables when the season is just right.

It’s the season now to await later daybreak and beat the earlier sunsets into my Dahlem plot as production fades with the sunlight. It’s time to build and protect nutrient rich soil. Pull the last weeds by the roots, cut down plants, slice into the soil around the stems but leave the roots in the soil to break down or compost.

Remove the plant tops and look for caterpillars or chrysalises that the plants might be hosting over winter. I harvested dry-bean stalks from my Dahlem garden plot and brought them home in a bag to pick and shell. Unknowingly, I’d brought home a Monarch caterpillar that I had to find a host plant for. I’ve also found lady bugs, and not-so-nice Tussock moth caterpillars munching the Basil.

If plants have powdery mildew, blight or other fungus diseases, then carefully cut the stems and stash them immediately into bags to later destroy. Pull out those roots as well and bag them. Blight spores overwinter in plant droppings and topsoil, so scoop up into the bag any old surface mulch. Most home compost piles do not heat up enough to kill pathogens, so dispose of the infected debris elsewhere.

Next, help build up soil for next season and keep down winter weeds by laying down layers of fresh organic mulch. Formerly living material like compost, fine wood chips or shredded bark, sawdust, wood ash, and pine needles can also help to condition your soil for better yields. Pine-needle mulch will not affect the acidity of soil. Mulch also keeps the worms around to build and aerate your soil and yield healthier plants.

In Jackson County, Howard’s Feed Store downtown sells bales of locally grown “Marsh Hay” (NOT straw or alfalfa hay) to cover your garden. Puddingstone Farms in Parma sells bags of composted sheep manure. Knutson’s in Brooklyn markets “worm dirt” by the bag. Mother Nature provides free our last cuttings of non-treated grass and fallen leaves to chop up and spread over our weedless garden plots. One Dahlem gardener raked her leaves into the driveway, drove over them, then bagged them for the garden. Oversized leaf scoops and a paper leaf bag holder make this job easier.

Another nutrient boosting method is planting a “cover crop” in fall to rototill into the soil in early spring. This living mulch will smother out winter weeds and provide “green fertilizer”. Howards Feed sells “Garden Annual Rye” seeds for sowing now.

Dig your hands into the soil one last time and plant your organic garlic cloves in October for a July harvest. Separate each clove from the head, plant the clove 4” deep and 6” apart. Cover the row with mulch. Now head inside and fall asleep with seed catalogues, garden reading, and cookbooks and dream all winter long.

If you wish, a fall crop may be planted. Radishes, arugula, lettuces, or anything that will be harvested in under 60 days should be ok. If need be, you can dig it up and plant it indoors for the winter! Finding seed this time of year can be difficult unless you have some left over. Some seed companies sell on the internet. If you saved seed from your plants this year, use them! You can save seed from many of your vegetables either for planting or for winter eating. Beans and peas are excellent dried and used in soups or stews during the winter. You can make your own bird feed with sunflower seeds, spent marigolds, etc. Nothing goes to waste in nature and the same should be true for your garden. Remove all vegetation – Move either to compost pile or, if diseased or weed with seeds, to the diseased materials container. Nature rarely has bare ground, it is always covered with something. This should also be true for your garden! Cover crops help protect worms and other beneficial critters in the soil over the winter. The soil will not freeze as deeply and will warm more quickly in the spring.

Cover crops take up and store needed elements for the crops that follow them, keep weeds down, host beneficial insects, improve the structure and arability of the soil, and break up clay and hardpan. Most of all, as they die back and are turned into the soil, they provide food and energy for the organisms that live and thrive in a healthy soil (Organic Growers Supply).

Buckwheat is a cover crop, a.k.a. green manure. It helps smother weeds with its rapid growth and builds the soil by adding organic matter. It is a favorite of bees and used to be a common grain crop along with wheat, corn, and oats. Today it is used mostly as a livestock feed or cover crop. It is an annual and will be killed by frost. The dead plants can either be left on the soil to protect from erosion or can be tilled in.

Rye is also a common cover crop. Similar to buckwheat, rye adds organic matter to the soil, prevents erosion issues, and smothers weeds. It must be killed and tilled under in the spring so as not to develop too large a root system.

Soil pH:

the level of active soil acidity or alkalinity. Above 7.0 is alkaline, 7.0 is neutral and below 7.0 is acid. This measurement, sometimes referred to as the water pH, is made with soil in distilled water. A pH between 6.0 and 6.5 is best for production of most field crops. Alfafalfa, however, grows best at pH 6.6 – 7.2.

Lime Index:

an indicator of the reserve or potential acidity in soil and is used to determine the quantity of lime needed to correct the pH of an acid soil. Lime index mearsurements are made only on samples testing less than pH 6.8. The lime index usually falls between 70 and 60. With a lime index above 70, no additional lime is needed. As the lime index decreases below 70, more lime is required to bring the pH back up to 6.5. Soils with greater reserve acidity have a higher capacity to resisit change in pH. Therefore, clay soils which have high levels of reserve acidity require more lime to bring about a 1.0 pH unit change than do sandy soils which have lower levels of reserve acidity. Hence, a clay loam soils and a sandy loam soil with the same soil pH will have different “lime indexes” and lime needs. For more information on liming, see Extension Bulletins E-471, Lime for Michigan Soils, and E-1566, Facts About Lime. Soil test values are reported in parts per million. For mineral soils, 1 ppm (parts per million) equals 2 lb/acre. The soil test values are indicators of the relative available nutrient levels in the soil. The soil test values for phosphorus, potassium, calcium and magnesium are not equal to the total amounts of these nutrients available in the soil for plant uptake, but they are correlated with plant growth and yield responses, and with fertilizer needs. As the soil test values increase, the need for supplemental fertilizer nutrients decrease.


(P) levels of less than 10ppm are very low, 20 -30 ppm are medium and above 50 ppm are very high for most field crops. Vegetables require higher levels of available P so that a soil test of 50 – 75 ppm is desired.


(K) test of less than 30 ppm are very low for most field crops, 80 to 105 ppm are medium and above 150 ppm are very high. For vegetables, a potassium test level of 140 to 150 ppm is desired.


(Ca) levels are generally adequate in Michigan soils. Even acid soils needing lime generally contain sufficient calcium for plant growth. This test value is used primarily to calculate nutrient balances and in making magnesium recommendations.


(Mg) levels are considered inadequate for most crops when any of the following conditions exist: Soil test values are less than 40 ppm in mineral soils or 175 ppm in organic soils. Magnesium accounts for less than 3 percent of the total bases (calcium + magnesium + potassium expressed in milliequivalents). Relative to the total bases content (percent bases), the magnesium percentage is less than the potassium percentage.

Zinc, Manganese and Copper:

analyses are made only on special request. These micronutrients are reported in parts per million. Adequate levels of zinc and manganese vary with the crop and soil pH. Deficiency of manganese is most likely to occur above pH 6.5. Deficiency of zinc is most likely above pH 7.0. For most crops, a manganese level of 20 ppm is sufficient and less than 10 ppm is inadequate. A zinc level of 10 ppm is sufficient and less than 2 ppm is inadequate. Sufficiency in between these levels depends on the crop and the soil pH. As soil pH increases, higher manganese and zinc soil test levels are required in order to provide sufficient amounts for optimum plant growth. Copper levels are adequate (above 0.5 ppm) in most Michigan mineral soils. Copper deficiencies are most likely on newly developed organic soils. For detailed information on interpretation of the micronutrient test levels, see Extension Bulletin E-486, Secondary and Micronutrients for Vegetable and Field Crops.

Organic Matter:

is determined only on request and reported as percent of active organic matter in the soil. The active rather than the total organic matter content is reported because this is the part which is important in nutrient holding and the adsorption of herbicides. Most mineral soils in Michigan have active organic matter contents between 1 and 4 percent.

Cation Exchange Capacity:

(CEC) an indicator of the nutrient holding capability of a soil. It is a relatively permanent characteristic of each soil and is not easily changed. In general, the greater the clay and organic matter contents, the higher the CEC of a soil. CEC is calculated by adding together the amount of soil test values of potassium, calcium, magnesium, and hydrogen held on the soil particles. It is expressed in milliequivalents per 100 grams of soil. Loamy sands and sands usually have a CEC less than 8. The CEC of sandy loams frequently falls between 8 and 12. Loams, clay loams and clays usually have a CEC greater than 12. As the soil pH changes, the CEC value will also vary somewhat. The higher the CEC, the greater the capacity of the soil to hold nutrients and bind certain pesticides. The CEC of a soil is also important in determining permissible heavy metal loading rates associated with land application of sewage sludge.

Percent Bases:

information on the nutrient balance among potassium, calcium and magnesium. The percentages reported assume K, Ca and Mg comprise 100 percent of the exchangeable bases, and are used to determine potential magnesium deficient situations. Mg should be above 3 percent and greater than the percentage of K. For example, 6.8 percent K and 4.2 percent Mg indicates a Mg-deficient soil situation.