How do we irrigate our CSA fields?

We use three different methods for watering. The first method is drip tape, a thin plastic tube with regularly spaced holes that emit drops of water. We use drip tape for crops like squash, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant that we plant into plastic mulch. These crops benefit from the extra heat and weed suppression provided by the plastic mulch, but the mulch prohibits water from infiltrating so we put drip tape under the plastic mulch. Because drip tape and mulch are a significant expense not just to buy but also to install, we only use it on long season crops where we will get the most bang for our buck. We plant about an third of our crops using drip tape, which uses the least amount of water, is the best for preventing disease but is also the most expensive.


The second method is movable solid set, which is a series of impact sprinklers. We set up this system direct seeded crops like carrots that need consistent moisture to germinate. We can quickly install the solid set, which allows us to water daily for the two weeks needed to get the crop to germinate and establish without moving hoses or the gun. We only water a few thousand square feet at a time with this system before it gets moved to the next field and that crop is covered by our last, and main, irrigation method.


The third and our most used method is overhead watering with our large impact sprinkler or gun (the actual industry term). This giant impact sprinkler emits 40 gallons of water a minute and covers a circle 110 feet in diameter. It’s fed water by 2 inch diameter hoses, pumped from our reservoir by our pump and generator. This is our main method for irrigation because it is highly flexible, in that it can go anywhere quickly and can cover a range of areas and water amounts. Its also the most affordable since it requires no upkeep outside of pumping water and rarely breaks.


Each irrigation method is matched not just to the crop, but to the crop’s life stage, the soil quality and more. Each system has advantages and disadvantages, and as we have used each system more we have learned more about how to get the most out of them.

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MSU Tollgate Farm During Stay Home, Stay Safe: Sakura Garden, Hay Field, and Garlic Mustard

Spring in the Sakura Garden

At the end of April, the cherry blossoms in our Sakura garden were in full bloom!

Fertilizing the Hay Field

Tollgate recently started a small scale fertilizer trial in the hay field.  We applied 100 pounds of nitrogen per acre to two acres.  This summer, when we cut hay out of the fields, we’ll note the number of bales in treated and untreated areas.  Observations will help guide our management of the fields in future years.

Have you seen this plant?  Pretty, but beware.  Garlic mustard is an invasive plant commonly found in woodlots, hedgerows and gardens.  Garlic mustard produces lots of seeds and can take over a woodlot rapidly crowding out our spring natives.  At Tollgate, staff and volunteers have been pulling out garlic mustard for years to keep it in check.  The Tollgate woods are a wonderful example of a beech/maple forest type with a beautiful understory of spring wildflowers.  This spring display is made possible by the hours spent controlling garlic mustard. 

Enjoy these additional photos from around the farm. We cannot wait until it is safe to welcome visitors once again.

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Indoor and Outdoor at Home Activities for Youth

Screen-free Activities for Kids

Penny Boat: Build a miniature boat and see how many pennies you can place on it before it sinks.
Materials: Pennies, tub of water, building materials (aluminum foil, tape, string, sticks, cardboard, styrofoam, etc..)  
Steps: Gather materials, get creative in boat design, and count how many pennies it takes to sink your boat, 10? 50? 100? More?
Extension Opportunities: Design your boat on paper first, make a prediction of how many pennies it will take to sink your boat, reflect and redesign to improve boat after sinking. 
Rainbow Hike: How many colors can you find in nature. Take a rainbow hike and see if you can find the colors of the rainbow in nature. This activity can also be done inside looking out a window. 
Extension: Grab some paint chips at a local hardware store and match the colors to objects in nature. 
Meet a Tree: Pair up and have a partner describe a local tree (what color/shape are the leaves, texture of the bark, size of the tree, smell, buds, blossoms, fruit). Once the partner has finished with their tree description, its your job to find this tree using the clues from their description. Once you have found the right tree switch roles and repeat. This activity can also be done with the guessers eyes closed. The partner takes the guesser to a tree with their eye closed and they must use their sense of touch and smell to learn about tree. Once finished studying the tree the partner walks the guesser back to where you started and you must now find the tree you met with your eyes open.
Under a Log: Take a walk in the woods and find an old rotting log or larger stick. 
Lift up and turn log over. What creatures do you see? How does the soil and life found under the log differ from the life around the log? 
Observe logs in various areas and compare the differences and similarities. 
Germinating Seeds in a Bag: Observe a seed as it transforms into a plant right before your eyes.
Materials: Ziplock bag, tape, dried beans (any variety will work), and a paper towel
Step 1: Gather materials
Step 2: Dampen paper towel and fold so it fits inside the plastic bag.
Step 3: Place 1-4 dried beans in the plastic bag. Make sure all the beans are touching the paper towel. 
Step 4: Close up Ziplock bag, and tape the bag to the inside of a window that gets plenty of sun.
Step 5: Observe daily for signs of germination(the first sprout, roots, leaves). When you see leaves beginning to emerge, that is when its time to plant.
Faster Option: Pre-soak seeds in a cup of water for 24 hours before starting Step 2.
Extension Opportunities: Start a daily journal documenting the process of germination. 
Start a small garden (plant the germinated seeds in the ground, or in a small pot, or my personal favorite, start a shoe garden and plant the germinated seeds in a soil filled shoe)
Nature Rubbings: Discover all the beautiful textures of nature 
Materials: White paper, crayons, a objects found in nature. 
Step 1: Hold paper still over object you want to make a rubbing of 
Step 2: Using the side of the crayon, gently rub the crayon over the object. This should create a print of the patterns found on the object. 
There are many ways you can do this activity. You can bring crayons and paper out with you on a nature walk and doing the rubbings on the spot. You can gather materials from outside like leaves, twigs, wood, rocks, flowers, etc… and do your rubbings together at home. Too difficult to get outside? Gather fun objects from inside and do the same thing! 
Mud Kitchen: Make your own mud and explore
Materials: 
Dirt, water, sticks, containers 
Find your own mud patch or make your own. This activity allows your child to get creative and explore the consistency and textures of mud.  Build, mix, measure, explore, and imagine. 
Experimental Smoothie: Use ingredients you have at home to create your own smoothie flavor combination. 
Tips: Frozen banana’s make it creamier and more of an milkshake consistency.  A cup of kale or spinach hides well when mixed with the flavorful combination of fruit and juices. 
Fun ingredients that can go in smoothies: frozen fruit, fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, nut butters, yogurt, oats, etc.. 
Extension: Made too much smoothie? Make it into popsicles to enjoy later. 
Sit spot: Find a spot to sit, preferably outside (think: yard, porch, or park, but a window could work as well) and use your senses to notice whats around you.
Use your eyes and ask yourself, “what do you see?” Do you see birds? flies? people walking? ducks swimming?
Close your eyes and use your ears. What do you hear? Leave rustling? water splashing? cars beeping?
Use your nose. What do you smell? Any thing? Maybe a neighbor grilling? the smell of pine trees? maybe you can smell the new spring flowers in bloom? 
Lastly touch. What do you feel? Where are you sitting? What does your seat feel like?
This activity is all about observation and using your senses. Repeat this activity going to the same location if possible daily and noticing whats different? Whats the same?

Online Activities and Resources

Museum Virtual Tour: Check out 12 of the worlds most famous museums from Seoul to London from the comfort of your home. 
National Park Virtual Tour: Take a trip to some of your favorite national parks from anywhere at anytime using the National Parks virtual tour page. While you are on their page check out their awesome Parks from Home activity page where you can watch an adorable video  all about baby animals and become junior ranger from the comfort of your own home by clicking the link here.
Monterey Bay Aquarium Live Cam: Check out the wonders of the ocean from whereever you are. You can explore any of their 10 live cams from 10am- 10pm Pacific Time, from exploring the gentle sway in the great kelp forest to the lively action in the otter cam, you are guaranteed a great time. 
TIME for Kids: Time for Kids is offering the digital subscription of their kid friendly magazine for the duration of the school year. 
Ranger Rick:Check out this awesome website filled with nature and wildlife inspired videos, games, and activities offered free till June by the National Wildlife Federation. 
Doodles with Mo Willems: If you haven’t checked out Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems yet on The Kennedy Center YouTube channel we highly recommend it. He explains the process of doodling as a space to explore and have fun- its about the process and not the finished product!
MSU Extension: Check out 84 easy science lessons you can do from home with supplies you most likely already have. Children can have fun while they improve their critical thinking systems and learn how to ask their own question and find their own answers. 
Huron-Clinton Metro parks YouTube:   Check out their YouTube Channels for a bunch of interactive and educational videos about Michigan wildlife and nature! 
Huron-Clinton Metro parks Activities: Activities, worksheets, and coloring pages all about Michigan wildlife and science. New activities added weekly! 
Cincinnati Zoo: Check out the Zoo’s website for at home activities that inspire creativity as you learn about the many animals that make up the Cincinnati Zoo. You can also check out their YouTube Channel for Home Safaris where they highlight an animal everyday @ 3:00 est. 

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A view of Tollgate Farm during the Stay Home, Stay Safe order

Thank you to our amazing staff who keep our livestock fed during this stressful time. Here are some photos of them doing their daily work.

We can’t forget the beautiful flowers, plants, and trees! Check out these beauties.

We hope to see you back at Tollgate once it is safe to reopen to the public.

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2020 MS Farm Sprouts – Week #2 Wednesday PM

Farm Sprouts kicked off another week with ideal conditions for maple sugaring with average temperatures at or below freezing at night and above freezing during the day. Here is a short and sweet explanation on this natural phenomenon. We’ve begun noting the temperatures and exposing Farm Sprouts to the importance of temperature to the season. We utilize a thermometer out in the sugar bush to note the outdoor temperature to predict sap flow and in the sugar shack to monitor the temperature of the sap boiling into syrup in our evaporator. Once the temperatures remain above freezing during both the day and night, the buds appear and the sap no longer carries the flavor profile that creates the tasty maple syrup we all love.

Farm Sprouts signed in this week by trailing rabbit tracks to a sugar maple tree. We wonder how trees help animals? So far we’ve identified animal homes (i.e. holes) at the base of several trees in the forest and discovered holes in trees made by insects. We’re very curious about who might make holes in trees. We’ve also found acorns on the ground near to our campfire area and imagine some animals might enjoy eating tree nuts. We encourage you to be on the lookout for other ways trees might help animals.

During our morning welcome and greetings, we (re)familiarized ourselves with maple sugaring tools, including voting for rubber mallet or drill, engaging as imaginative play as sugar workers in our cardboard sugar shack, and peering into our special “Discovery Box” to discuss and hold some of the tools we utilize for sugaring.

Out in the sugar bush, we checked in on the sugar shack, gathered around the campfire for a snack of roasted sweet potatoes and apples and mint tea, both with maple syrup as the secret ingredient, and freely played and explored together in the nearby forest. We also tapped our maple sugar tree, all having a chance to work a drill to make a hole in the tree, to pound in the adapter with our rubber mallet, and set up the tubing and bucket for collection. We were thrilled to see the sap begin to drip out of our fresh-drilled hole! We’re learning many ways trees can help us, from lighting fires to providing shelter and food to eat.

Before hiking back, we stopped to journal and the book, Almost Time by Gary D. Schmidt and Elizabeth Stickney. We also swung by the greenhouse to check on our pea shoots. We were amazed at how quickly they’ve grown!

Throughout our day, we thanked the sugar maple trees for all they offer us and for those who came before us on this land. We closed with our traditional Farm Sprouts circle of gratitude.

“If we wonder often, the gift of knowledge will come. If we never wonder, knowledge will never find us.”

“Before eating, always take time to thank the food.”

― Arapaho Proverbs

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