Check Out the Tollgate Camp Video!

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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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The Tollgate Plant A Row for the Hungry (PAR) Garden Celebrates 20 years of Community Service

The MSU Tollgate Farm PAR (Plant A Row For the Hungry) Garden is celebrating 20 years of community service this year! The PAR Garden was founded in 2002 with a charter to provide fresh produce for those who are food-challenged locally. Since then, various teams of wonderful volunteers have toiled to produce an average of 2,600 pounds of fresh produce, with distribution support from Forgotten Harvest, Feed the Need Novi, and CARES of Farmington Hills. The garden, which consists of twenty-five 30 foot by 4 foot beds in an enclosed area at MSU Tollgate Farm in Novi, is maintained by a dedicated group of volunteers with the support of the MSU Tollgate Farm staff.

Over the years, the garden has grown, and many lessons learned have been incorporated into the maintenance of the garden based primarily on MSU Extension Master Gardener principles and gardening experience. Recently, we have concentrated on vegetables with a good shelf life — potatoes, onions, carrots, beets, cabbage, garlic, leeks, summer and winter squash, and turnips. In years past, apples, watermelons, and other vegetables contributed to the bountiful yields. Each year we plan in October, order what is needed in December / January, work with the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) team to grow seedlings in the greenhouse February through April, and really dig into the work effort starting in April with a few workdays per week until mid-October. Our labors include prepping the beds for planting, planting seed potatoes / seedlings / seeds, maintaining the irrigation, weeding, IPM (Integrated Pest Management), harvesting, preparing the produce for distribution and storage, and winterizing the garden.

All volunteers, whether Extension Master Gardeners, avid gardeners, or individuals interested in gardening and community service, regardless of experience level, are welcome to join the team once cleared through the MSU Volunteer Central. We have an enthusiastic, fun, hard-working team, and plenty of rewarding opportunities to help those in need. Come check us out.

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.

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