Check Out the Tollgate Camp Video!

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MSU Tollgate Farm 4-H Outdoor Adventure Camp 2022

Outdoor Adventure Camp at MSU Tollgate Farm is an adventure like no other. 24 campers and 4 teen stewards took survival camp to a whole new level and challenged themselves with exciting wilderness skill-building experiences. They tested their limits in the forest and fields of Tollgate as they developed a survival mindset. They tried their hand at fire-building, wilderness first aid, outdoor cooking, shelter-building, climbing, and team-building trust initiatives. They even traveled by bus for an outdoor paddling and tubing adventure on the river and experienced an overnight campout on the farm.

Camp began with an orientation where we explored the idea that survival is an attitude. We began painting 8 banners, each with a letter from the acronym S.U.R.V.I.V.A.L. standing for a principle of a survival attitude. S, for instance, stands for Size Up the Situation. Knowing your surroundings, your skill level and the skills in your group, your conditions, and your timing will help you survive.

S – Size Up the Situation

U – Undo Haste Makes Waste and Use Your Senses

R – Remember Where You Are

V – Vanquish Fear and Panic

I – Improvise

V – Value Living

A – Act Like the Natives

L – Live by Your Wits and Learn New Skills

Survival is an Attitude

Campers met Dr. Nate, an emergency room doc who often teaches medical students and park rangers backcountry wilderness medicine, and Ben, an EMT-trained medic. They used mock scenarios in the forest to allow campers to try their hand at applying splints, bracing a C-spine injury, and treating hypothermia and heat stroke. Campers even created a homemade gatorade-like drink to replenish salts in the body.

After first aid, campers engaged in a contest to test different types of backcountry stoves to find their ABT (average boil time to bring 2 cups of water to a boil.) We learned about a white gas stove, a compressed gas canister stove, and an alternative fuel stove which burns small pieces of wood and generates energy that can charge a cell phone. The clear winner was the compressed gas canister stove which was lit and boiled water the fastest and which we then used to rehydrate some dehydrated meals.

Expedition team-building consisted of the 2 leg plank walk, the human knot, the giant spider web, and the teeter totter. Waking Carl the Megladon Spider when trying to make their way through the giant spider web meant campers had to sing a song or chant of their choosing. Each activity encouraged teamwork and problem-solving and resulted in learning through failure and lots of laughter!

We ended our first day together assessing survival priorities as campers ranked Staying Calm, Water, Food, Fire, Shelter, First Aid, Signaling, Oxygen and discussed which they would rank as most important in specific situations. For garden kitchen, campers helped make delicious fruit smoothies with berries, applesauce, and Tollgate’s very own maple syrup. Campers enjoyed the smoothie but saved some to make into fruit leather in the dehydrator for later in the week.

Tuesday OAC: Fire and Shelter

After morning icebreakers, campers began devising skits based on the seven Leave No Trace Principles. In small groups, skits were designed to express Plan Ahead and Prepare, Camp on Durable Surfaces, Be Considerate of Others, Treat Wildlife with Respect, etc. Preparing for our overnight campout with cookout, campers made fire-starters out of dryer lint and beeswax.

On our way out to the forest, campers paired up and searched for examples of wild edibles. The rest of the afternoon was focused in the forest as campers learned about the 10 essentials and why and how to hang a bear bag.

Pinnacle experiences at camp, fire building and shelter building filled the rest of the day with challenge, STEM concepts, and FUN!

Shelter-building began with natural found objects such as branches, logs, sticks, tree trunks, and, as the week progressed, we added tarps and ropes.

Wednesday OAC: Take to the River

Wednesday is a favorite for most campers, when we board a charter bus for an adventure off site and on the Huron River. We traveled to Argo Park Livery with swimsuits and lunches and spent part of the paddling in kayaks and the afternoon tubing the Cascades. Check out the fun we had learning new skills and paddling and tubing the river!

Thursday OAC: Climbing Toward Our Goals

Returning to camp Thursday, we began a day of adventure in the kitchen as we explored nutrition to stay healthy in the backcountry. We made spider oat balls with oats, flax/hemp/chia seeds, sun butter, Tollgate maple syrup, chocolate chips, and pretzels. Mmm good! Exploring how we use a variety of resources to signal for help if we get lost, each small group of campers came up with a scenario where they needed to signal for help along with the signaling tools – bright colored bandana, lights, signal systems, etc. Each group presented and challenged the group observing to figure out what their signals meant. After lunch, the physical outdoor adventure challenges took off as we tackled the slack line and the rock wall.

We focused throughout the week on teambuilding, including with our strengths inventory where each camper or steward was highlighted as all the others in the group shared a strength they saw in that camper. This allows the group to build positive connections as well as assess the collective strength of the group. Once younger campers left for the day, OAC campers prepared for the exciting overnight which included a cookout, archery shoot in the forest, and a rousing game of capture the flag. During s’mores around the campfire, the campers created a story as a group, each adding to the fun and laughter with their addition to the story. We ended the evening with a night hike, sans lights. We walked to the pond trail, observed the stars, did a silent sound inventory, and walked to a long-time camper’s favorite spot overlooking the pond.

Friday OAC: Fishing and Final Fun

Morning brought sunlight and an early morning breakfast-on-the-go, after which we took tents down quickly so we could get on with our day. OAC campers were responsible to lead flag ceremony for the whole group which they did with aplomb. Campers had been waiting all week to fish in the pond. For some, this meant learning to bait their hooks. All worked together to collectively catch many fish!

Leave No Trace skits were polished, shelters presented and dismantled (to leave no trace), and strengths inventory finished. Campers shared their skits to educate younger campers and their parents about the principles of Survival is an Attitude and Leave No Trace. Campers, stewards, and leaders alike had a fun, full week at Outdoor Adventure Camp building new skills and making new friends.

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What are Growing Degree Days and What Do They Mean for the Sustainable Agriculture Team?

Spring is slowly but surely arriving at the farm! As many of you might have noticed, we’ve had a cold and overcast spring. In response, your spring bulbs, garlic, trees and shrubs, and vegetable plants might be growing more slowly than last year. 

Plants develop in response to temperature (among other factors). Farmers and researchers use a special way to track daily heat units and thus more accurately predict crop development. Growing Degree Days (GDD) track the accumulation of average daily temperatures. Each crop has a different minimum temperature threshold that must be exceeded for growth to occur. Cool-season crops like lettuce have a lower temperature threshold for development than warm-season crops like tomatoes. 

In 2022, we’ve had 43 GDD (temperatures over 50 F). In comparison, we had 131 GDD (temperatures over 50F) last year. That’s a huge difference!

Are we having a cooler than average spring, or was last year just really warm? Both! Looking back at historical data, the previous six years’ GDD average is 58. So it is a cooler spring this year than on average, but last year was well above average.

So what does this mean for farmers and gardeners? A spring with less GDD means slower development of crops, so you should be prepared for your plants to be 1-2 weeks behind a warmer spring. Seeds will take longer to germinate, develop and be ready to harvest.

Is there anything I can do? When planting crops outside, add a layer of row cover on top to raise the temperature around the transplants. And wait to put out hot weather crops like squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant until we see temperatures consistently above 55 F and ideally above 75 F.

For more information on Growing Degree Days, check out this article. You can track GDD using MSU’s Enviroweather website.

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First Volunteer Garden Work Day of 2022

The weather finally cooperated, and the Tollgate Garden Volunteers returned to the gardens for our first Saturday workday this past Saturday.  We talked, laughed and in general enjoyed being outdoors and seeing each other again.  Of course, there was work also in our focus areas of the 12 Mile Garden and the Constructed Wetlands (aka the Pond).

The Tollgate Garden Volunteers maintain 17 gardens on the site.  Each garden has a different focus and serves as a learning opportunity where you see established plants selected for each garden.  Maps and information on the gardens can be found on the Tollgate website under Gardens ( 

The MSU Tollgate Garden volunteers are a dedicated group of individuals with a love for gardening and a passion for sharing their knowledge. Our mission is to assist, enable and encourage our members to use their knowledge and experience to help people of southeast Michigan to enrich their lives through gardening, good gardening practices and natural resources management. Anyone is welcome to join. We do not have a membership fee, though contributions are accepted to defray expenses. Individuals interesting in earning MSU Extension Master Gardener hours are often interested in volunteering with our programs, but this is not a requirement to participate

If you would like to learn more about volunteering at MSU Tollgate, please visit or contact Roy Prentice (, 248 347 3860 x251) or Carmen Hamilton (, 248 347 3860 x239) for more information.

This article was written by the MSU Tollgate Farm Garden Volunteers.

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Renovating the MSU Tollgate Farm Rose Garden

The MSU Tollgate Farm Rose Garden is one of the oldest established and most beloved gardens on the property. At the time MSU acquired the Tollgate property from the Americana Foundation in 1987, the garden was a grass drive circle between the farmhouse and barn as can be seen in the aerial view. The initial design was an open curved areas that highlighted the different types of roses. Additional changes over the years brought a flagpole, a patio, climbing roses and their trellises along with bush rugosas. This garden has produced abundant blooms for decades and was a favorite of visitors and volunteers alike. Shown in this post are several photos of the years highlighting the beauty of the Rose Garden

Unfortunately, Rose Rosette Disease (RRD) infected roses were identified on the Tollgate property in 2016 leading to the total loss of the Rose Garden as well as singular specimens in other gardens on the site. As is evidenced in the pictures of the former Rose Garden, it was densely planted as a monoculture (all the same species i.e., roses) which we now know is more susceptible to disease problems and catastrophic losses. Close proximity of plants allows easy mite access to adjacent plants (mites spread RRD), contributes to decreased air circulation and fungal infection and presents difficulty with proper pruning maintenance

Despite the challenges, roses are irreplaceable in our Tollgate gardens and should continue to be used in landscape plantings with changes in our horticultural practices of planting and care. Management of RRD requires a multistep approach in planning, planting, and ongoing Integrated Pest Management (IPM). The plan is to restore Tollgate’s Rose Garden and recreate the spectacular centerpiece garden with roses as the stars of the show! The old plant material must be totally removed including roots with no evidence of return shoots before rose plants can be replaced. Removal of all the old rose plants is already in process and will take two seasons in some sections of the garden. All new rose plants will be carefully inspected, ensuring they are healthy and free of pest and disease symptoms, including those of RRD.

For more on RRD, please visit this MSU Extension article

Watch for further posts as we update you on the progress of this project, rose selection and other educational information. Any interested Active Tollgate Garden Volunteer is welcome to join the Rose Garden Team as we initiate this exciting renovation project. There will be a lot to learn and do as we work to restore this jewel of a garden.

If you would like to learn more about volunteering at MSU Tollgate, please visit our website or contact Roy Prentice (, 248 347 3860 x251) or Carmen Hamilton (, 248 347 3860 x239) for more information.

This article was created by the Tollgate Garden Volunteers

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