Gardening, With An Assist: MIdnight Harvest
Now that we’ve turned the corner toward spring, the proprietor of a new local business is hoping to turn locals’ thoughts to gardening. MIdnight Harvest is Matt Hall’s endeavor, a business that advocates for, installs and supports home gardening.
“I wanted to get people in touch with their food again and show them how to create vegetable garden installations,” Hall said. “Everyone is more aware of their food – there is so much talk about our concerns about genetically modified organisms and pesticides – but the only way to get really good, organic food is to grow food right outside our back door. I want to make it easy for the people who want to get back to gardening.”
MIdnight Harvest offers different planting packages depending on what the consumer wants.
“We do a consultation to figure out if people want a basic bed plan, where we bring in the raised beds, soil, plants and give a few tips and tricks customized for small gardens from what farmers would use in larger scale,” said Hall. “We set up everything.”
All organic, MIdnight Harvest uses no fertilizers nor pesticides. Hall’s team assists with row covers, customizing what is normally used on farms to the smaller home gardens, and hardware cloth mesh to keep rabbits, squirrels, mice, and other pests from getting into the plants. For a fee, if desired by the client, the team will also do drop-ins or weekly scheduled visits to check on the gardens and offer pointers on what more the client can do to manage a successful garden.
Hall also provides recommendations for the top five vegetables to grow in a northern Michigan home garden – a list that includes beans, a high-yield plant that only grows 2 feet and requires minimal watering and no pruning. Though he steers clients to the list of recommendations, he doesn’t discourage them if they have their heart set on other vegetables that might prove more challenging. But he will explain the limitations.
“I don’t want them to leave gardening disappointed in the first year,” he said.
From Water To Dirt
Inspired by the victory gardens of World Wars I and II – wherein the general public in several allied nations was encouraged, trained, and supported by the government to contribute to the stretched food supply by growing vegetables and herbs at private residences – working in the horticultural industry was not Hall’s original goal. It wasn’t so long ago that Hall was honoring his passion for water, studying marine mammal science and training dolphins and manatees at Disney World.
But after working as a server at a Grand Rapids restaurant that was deeply invested in the farm-to-table movement, Hall discovered a new passion: “It popped into my head one day that I wanted to grow my own food, to provide for myself and others.”
He went on to participate in a work-study program about farming, run by Reid Johnston of Second Spring Farm, an organic certified operation in Cedar, and participate in the Michigan State University extension office’s Master Gardener program.
Though Hall noted that this type of business is not a new concept, as there are similar companies throughout the United States, he has tailored his gardening approach to the requirements demanded of the northern Michigan climate. Frost, for example, is a big challenge in this area, he said.
“In 2014, the last frost date was mid-May. In 2013, it was June 9, almost a month’s difference,” he said.
For consumers bringing transplants home from a greenhouse early in the season, a process called “hardening off” is critical under these conditions.
“You need to train the plants to be outside beforehand,” Hall added. “This will give the plant a robust texture and heartiness for nights when the temperature dips down to pretty cold.”
In addition to the garden installations, Hall has also launched Michigan Grow. At the Village of Grand Traverse Commons farmers market under the Michigan Grow brand, Hall sells landfill-tested, biodegradable, bamboo ecoplanters; 100 percent organic cotton farmer’s market tote bags; and transplants, including his top five recommended vegetables, as well as a “bar garden” featuring herbs like basil, mint, lemongrass, and others that are popular in craft cocktails.
“The gardens are very easy to maintain and the planters are highly biodegradable, so even if a person does discard it, the materials will go back into the earth,” he noted.
Michigan Grow is a fundraiser of sorts, as all proceeds go toward Hall’s end-goal, to eventually start his own farm and, he hopes, cultivate organic shitake and maitake mushrooms for edible and medicinal use, “something a little different than what Northern Michigan already has.”
But Hall especially prizes the opportunity to teach about gardening, both at the farmers market and through MIdnight Harvest.
“I want everyone to enjoy the process,” he said. “When they have small triumphs in gardening, people feel they can do more and more.”
Consultations: $50 in Grand Traverse County; $75 in Leelanau, Antrim, Benzie and Kalkaska counties. Raised beds start at $400 with discounts for bulk purchases. Full details at midnight-harvest.com.