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Healing the earth, one yard at a time.
October 2019 e-news

In this issue:

October 21 Program 
Native Plants to Attract Winter Birds
Presented by Melanie Manion, Natural Resources Management Supervisor,
Ottawa County Parks

Proposed WORC Bylaws

Learn and Serve October Schedule

September 16 Program Recap Compiled by Ruth Oldenburg
Soil Amendments - Beyond Compost
Presented by Tom Wilkinson, 

October 4 & 5
Liberty Hyde Bailey Conference and Agri-Tour

October 19
Volunteer at the Kent Conservation District Native Tree Sale

November 7
WMCN Fall Feature Understanding Our Water Limits

Save the Date • November 18 • Sweet & Savory Potluck/Annual Meeting

Natives to Know: Tamarack Tree

"Seed Library" at Kent District Library 

Wild Ones River City Shop online at CafePress

Please scroll down for details.

 If you lose your Wild Ones River City Chapter email communications, you can find a link on our website home page in the right sidebar that directs you to the e-news archives.

Please add to your contacts list. 
Photo © Tony Campbell –

October 21• 6:30 pm

Native Plants to Attract Winter Birds
Presented by Melanie Manion, Natural Resources Management Supervisor,
Ottawa County Parks

Bunker Interpretive Center, Calvin University
1750 East Beltline Ave SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49546


Think beyond the bird feeder! At this program, we’ll learn from Melanie Manion about natives you can plant for more diversity among the winged winter visitors to your garden.

Melanie started working for Ottawa County Parks in 2011 and is responsible for coordinating the protection, stewardship, and restoration of natural resources on park properties and for the development of a comprehensive parks volunteer program. Melanie has a B.S. in Biology and Environmental Science and a M.S. in Conservation Biology from Central Michigan University.

Wild Ones River City Chapter Proposed Bylaws 

Treasurer Ann Nowak, our resident lawyer, has been diligently working for the past nine months on drafting bylaws for the River City Chapter. We thank Ann for her efforts. Ann had input from Board member Betsy Ford, a retired lawyer, and the entire Board has made recommendations, reviewed and approved the draft. 

DOWNLOAD THE BYLAWS, and please take the time to read them over. The Board is recommending approval of the draft bylaws by membership vote at the November 18 Annual Meeting.

Mark your Calendar for October Volunteer 

Learn and Serve in our Native Plant Education Garden
920 Cherry Street, GR  
In front of the beautiful Inner City Christian Federation (ICCF) building.
Park in the large lot on the east side of ICCF.

October 15 • Tuesday, 10 am–noon

We will collect plant labels to store for winter, harvest seeds and cut back any plants drooping into pathways. We will then bid our educational garden a fond farewell until spring and celebrate another successful year of serving and learning amongst the native plants.

Questions? Contact Amy Heilman, Garden Chair

Learn and Serve at the Prairie Habitat at Marywood
2025 E. Fulton at the NW Corner of Fulton and Lakeside Dr
Park next to
the site at the Marywood Health Center lot.

October 24 • Thursday, 10 am–noon

Questions? Contact Sr. Lucille Janowiak,

September Program Recap Compiled by Ruth Oldenburg
Soil Amendments - Beyond Compost 
Presented by Tom Wilkinson, author

Tom Wilkinson was concerned that too much organic material was being sent to landfills. He began composting the organic material from his household waste and then improved his compost with red worms, creating a vermicomposting system. He sold his vermicompost at the local Farmer's Market. Tom wrote his first illustrated book called Beyond Compost and later he became interested in biochar and added that to his vermicompost. This blend he named "BioPreta". In 2013 he wrote the 2nd edition of his book called Beyond Compost +.

Tom gave us the background story of biochar. Spanish conquistadors in Peru about 50 years after the time of Columbus were sent on an expedition over the Andes and into the jungle led by Francisco de Orellana, along with Fr. Gaspar de Carvajal, a Spanish Dominican friar. They were looking for gold and cinnamon, a prized spice. 

When the expedition reached the area where the Negro River meets the Amazon River they saw as Carvajal described: "large cities, well-developed roads, monumental construction, fortified towns, and dense populations." Over the next 400 years, scholars thought that Fr. Carvajal's report was unfounded. Later expeditions to the same area did not find evidence of that advanced civilization. The first expedition's soldiers had exposed the indigenous people to diseases from which they could not survive. The jungle had taken over their wooden structures and gardens.

However, in the last fifty years, scientists have found proof that Dr. Carvajal's writings were true. Archeologists have found evidence in Brazil, that there were thriving agricultural communities along the Amazon River. Rainforest soil is a very thin layer. Rain quickly drains right through it. They found that the ancient garden areas are still there with dark, rich, fertile, six-foot deep soils that were man-made. This soil is called Terra Preta del Indios, "dark soil of the Indians" Similar soils have been found in Africa.


Between 2500 to 9000 years ago people made these soils by combining highly-concentrated low-temperature charcoal (biochar) with composted organic waste, fish, feces, and animal bones. This mixture added to the soil layer produced as much as 880 times the grain crop yield than the unamended soils. Biochar does not disintegrate. It is "permanent soil restoration."

Making charcoal is "baking biomass" (like wood) in the absence of oxygen. Tom explained that biocharring is putting carbon in the soil. Carbon in the soil provides a home for microbes in the soil. Plants do not take carbon from the soil. Plants put carbon in the soil. Plants get carbon from the air. Carbon atoms that get into the soil stay there forever.

The rainforest has been intentionally set on fire for development. Slash and burn is not as effective as slash and char. Charcoal is not burned wood!
We learned that:
• "Slash and Burn" does not produce CARBON, except by accident.
• "Slash and Burn" produces mostly ashes.
• Ashes are not CARBON.
• CHARCOAL is CARBON produced on purpose by humans.
• Humans have made charcoal for thousands of years.

Tom suggests that the best size for a home composter is 3 ft. x 3 ft x 3ft. He starts by composting organic matter, then separates it with his VermiHarvesters. He then introduces red worms into the mix. Tom uses stacks of large plastic bread trays. The worms work their way through the compost spreading microorganisms and leaving behind their castings. Check out Tom's book to learn how to build a Vemiculture System and a VermiHarvester.

A question was raised if worms can be left out in the compost all winter. Tom used to separate and bring the worms inside, but it was messy. He decided to try leaving them in the compost all Winter. He explained that Red Worms lay eggs the size of a grape seed in the Fall. Each egg contains 15-20 wormlets. In the Spring Tom found that all the adult worms had died, but he had so many more new young worms to replace them. Tom recommends purchasing Red Worms online from a reputable dealer—not from bait shops!

Tom kindly gave each of us a sample of his product, BioPreta. More information about BioPreta can be found at It is made by his method of composting a wide variety of ingredients. It is fed to worms that digest it and leave behind rich castings along with a wide variety of beneficial microorganisms. Then, the microorganisms are blended with finely graded hardwood biochar. The biochar remains in the soil attracting microbes and keeping them down at the root zone of plants. The website states: 
"Plant roots provide exudates to the microbes in exchange for nutrients in a natural balance as they need them."

BioPreta can be used wet or dry. The BioPreta directions state that 1 cup of BioPreta can be mixed with 5 gallons of water. For best results, stir to add air for a week before using as liquid fertilizer. Alternately, one cup can be mixed with one cubic foot of organic potting mix (without synthetic chemical ingredients). 

Tom ended his presentation saying that there is a new, promising use for biochar. It is starting to be used as fuel in countries like Haiti and Africa.

We thank Tom Wilkinson for sharing his knowledge of vermiculture and biochar with us. 

October 4 & 5
Second Annual Liberty Hyde Bailey Conference
and Agri-Tour

Lake Michigan College, South Haven, MI

South Haven’s favorite native son, Dr. Liberty Hyde Bailey (1858–1954) and the father of modern horticulture, 4-H, nature study and the agricultural extension service, will be the inspiration for the Second Annual Bailey Conference (October 5) and Agri-Tour (October 4) in South Haven, Michigan.

The Bailey Museum will host an agricultural bus tour of four unique farms in West Michigan, Friday, October 4th. At the conclusion of the tour, participants will return to the Bailey Museum for music, local food, beverages, an exhibit by Michigan artist Conrad Kauffman, conversation and walks through the gardens.

On Saturday, October 5th, the one-day 2019 Bailey Conference will feature local and national speakers, art, display tables, and a chance to speak with professionals all inspired by the work, philosophy 
and life of Dr. Liberty Hyde Bailey.

Due to unforeseen circumstances, David Milarch founder of the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive had to decline as our morning keynote speaker. Phyllis Higman, Senior Conservation Scientist and Botanist from the Michigan Natural Features Inventory will be the new keynote speaker. Phyllis has 25 years of field-based experience studying Michigan’s native ecosystems and vulnerable species. She is working statewide to promote awareness of Michigan’s natural heritage and to increase capacity for early detection, mapping and strategic control of invasive species—one of the biggest threats to biodiversity conservation.

For more information and registration visit: 
or contact the Bailey Museum at 269-637-3251. 
Volunteers needed at the Kent Conservation Native Tree Sale

Join a wonderful team of stewards this Fall on Saturday, October 19th at the Kent Conservation District office: 3260 Eagle Park Dr. NE, Grand Rapids. We are hoping we can count on you to provide a helping hand with our upcoming Michigan native plant browse 'n buy and pickup event. 

When: Saturday, October 19th (trees, shrubs, and wildflowers).
Volunteers are needed from 7:30 am–4:30 pm. Please consider joining us for an hour, a shift or the day:

Or assist by wrapping bare-root trees on Wednesday, October 16th from 8 am to 4 pm at the Kent Career Technical Center's greenhouse (easy to find on their loop driveway at 1630 E. Beltline Ave NE). 

Why: This fundraiser goes back to protect and enhance the natural resources of Kent County.  We will have refreshments and a free lunch. Your friends and family are welcome to join you. YOUR TIME WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE.  

With gratitude for your service, 

Jessie Schulte, Conservation District Manager


November 7
West Michigan Conservation Network
Fall Feature
Understanding Our Water Limits

Muskegon Community College's Stevenson Center
221 South Quarterline Road
Muskegon, MI 49442

Doors open at 6:30 pm • Presentation 7:00 pm. 

Access to fresh drinking water is a privilege that sometimes we take for granted, especially those of us that live in the Great Lakes State. In Ottawa County, MI we are learning that our supposed limitless supply of fresh drinking water may be in jeopardy. Recent scientific studies have revealed that more water is being pumped from our natural underground water reservoir than can be replenished.

Hear Paul Sachs from Ottawa County discuss the unique geology of Ottawa County and how their supposed limitless supply of fresh drinking water may be in jeopardy. To register, visit
Save the Date • November 18

Wild Ones River City Chapter
Sweet & Savory Potluck/Annual Meeting

Details to come in the November e-news
Natives to Know: Tamarack
Larix Laricina

Compiled by Joyce Tuharsky

One of our northernmost trees, the hardy Tamarack is a slender-trunked, conical tree that grows 50–75 feet tall. The needles are a bright blue-green and surprisingly soft. They grow in tight spirals around short knobby spurs along the twigs. Tamaracks are among the few conifers that lose their needles in autumn. Just before the needles drop, the needles turn a beautiful golden-yellow

Tamarack cones are egg-shaped and among the smallest: less than an inch long. The bark is tight and flaky. Under this flaking bark, the wood appears reddish, giving the tree an interesting appearance even without needles. 

Very cold tolerant, Tamaracks are able to survive temperatures down to −85 °F. They are commonly found at the arctic tree line where it grows as a shrub. In more southerly locations, Tamaracks are normally found in wet soils in swamps, bogs and along lake edges. They are among the first trees to invade filled-lake bogs and are fairly well adapted to reproduce after a fire. However, because of its thin bark and shallow root system, the tree itself does not stand up well to fire. Also, the seedlings do not establish well in shade. Consequently, other more shade-tolerant species eventually succeed Tamaracks. 

"Seed Library" at Kent District Library

Do you have extra native seeds to share? The Kent District Library staff is very excited to accept native seeds from Wild Ones River City Chapter (WORC) members to make available to their patrons through their seed exchange. If you have extra seeds that you are willing to share, you can drop seeds off at any Kent District Library location (but not at Grand Rapids library locations).

The seed should be within an enclosed container (bag, envelope, etc.), labeled with name of species (common name and scientific), and limited planting instructions (wet/dry soil type, sun/shade). You can include brief germination instructions such as “stratification required.”

Provide your name and contact info in case library staff have questions for you. Please state that you are a member of WORC. Library staff will repackage the seeds in their own packets and put the planting info in a catalog for patrons to consult.

Download a pdf with a list of native species that are considered easy to germinate and a form that you can fill out to use with your seed.

Questions? WORC Contact Joyce Tuharsky
Library contact: Julia Hawkins (616) 784-2016 ext. 2096,

Wild Ones River City Shop at CafePress


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