Two students tilling soil in a patch of greens.
Two students tilling soil in a patch of greens.
Two students tilling soil in a patch of greens.

5 tips to grow your garden

By Madeline Swanson | Art by Dyanna Bateman

It’s a warm summer day in Michigan. You’re ready to toss up a seasonal salad. Imagine if you could harvest lettuce and kale from your own garden for your meal? Or maybe you want to pick some fresh basil and tomatoes for a pasta dish?

Jeremy Moghtader, program manager at the University of Michigan Campus Farm, gave Leaders & Best some tips for growing your own food in Michigan this summer:

Student Ivy Muench weeding a garden of greens

Ivy Muench (LSA Class of 2023) pulls weeds from the greens


1. Start small

For someone new to gardening and growing food, I would say start small and do what works for you. If you don’t have much space, some plants like cherry tomatoes and herbs can do really well in pots on a porch. Or, if you have a flower garden or landscaped area that gets good sun, you can plant something like tomatoes, peppers, or chard in those beds. Just make sure to give them a good amount of compost into their planting hole and keep them watered.


2. Mulch is your friend

After planting with compost, mulch is a great way to help your garden succeed by suppressing weeds and retaining soil moisture. “Losing” your garden to weeds as summer gets busy can be a real issue, so putting down mulch around plants and in paths is a great way to set up a lower maintenance system. 


3. More about mulch

If it is a landscaped space you’ve added vegetable plants to, go ahead and mulch around your plants with whatever mulch matches your landscaping. If it’s a new vegetable garden area, mulching with leaves, hay, straw, or landscape fabric works well.

Students Ivy Muench (left) and AJ Barberi (right) tend to the crops.

Students Ivy Muench (left) and AJ Barberi (LSA Class of 2023) tend to the crops.


4. Find your fabric

If using landscape fabric that will not get covered with other mulch (something we do quite a bit of at the Campus Farm), I prefer a woven-type fabric that is UV-resistant. This works very well for crops that like the heat, like tomatoes, peppers, and melons. 


5. Heat + food you like to eat

Great summer crops in Michigan are things that like heat and that you like to eat. Tomatoes and smaller-sized lunchbox peppers are productive choices for beginners, especially those with limited space. Cucumbers, zucchini, and summer squash are great choices for those with a little more space. Crops like eggplants and basil make great Michigan summer choices as well.

A student worker tending to a patch of Swiss chard.AJ Barberi, Indigenous Collaborative Garden intern, cleans up the patch of Swiss chard.

Started almost 10 years ago, the Campus Farm is a place where students learn about sustainable agriculture, experiment with different crops, and grow as leaders through internships, manager positions, fellowships, and volunteer opportunities.

The farm is part of Matthaei Botanical Gardens. Food grown there helps supply Michigan Dining, the Maize and Blue Cupboard, local organizations, and more. 

Tony Kolenic, director of Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum, said donor support has allowed their programs and student opportunities to expand. Internships, in particular, receive generous donor support, and Matthaei Botanical Gardens offers these opportunities at the Campus Farm and throughout the gardens and arboretum. 

“The donors have been absolutely critical in catalyzing not only student development and professional skill acquisition, but also the different public impact partnerships that we’re able to grow on behalf of the university.”


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