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 Clinton Township Senior Center Garden Club gardeners plant kale seeds May 29. The volunteers meet weekly to help the garden thrive.

Clinton Township Senior Center Garden Club gardeners plant kale seeds May 29. The volunteers meet weekly to help the garden thrive.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

Senior garden club in Clinton Township is labor of love

Latest effort involves saving dwindling monarch butterflies

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published June 11, 2019


CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Words that adorn a sign at the entrance of the Clinton Township Senior Center Garden read, “We plant, water and sow; love makes it grow.”

The Senior Center Garden Club began in 2014, when numerous senior volunteers who live within the township decided to band together to grow plants and herbs in the garden located behind the center. Most meet on Wednesday mornings.

There’s no shortage of what one can find in the garden to date: kale, Swiss chard, garlic, green beans, yellow beans, carrots, rhubarb, tomatoes, peppers, squash, zucchini, beets, radishes, onions, lettuce and various herbs.

Garden beds are composed of cedar wood, which is organic and can weather better than rot-inducing plain lumber.

It is a self-sufficient operation run by volunteers, of which between 20 and 28 of them come out weekly to tend the garden and maintain the grounds.

The first meeting is usually in February. Five Michigan State University Extension master gardeners aid the project to facilitate growth.

“It’s a camaraderie of people,” said Dennis Beltz, a group leader. “That was our goal when we set it up. There were goals and objectives to promote seniors, the outdoors, giving back to the community and a comradery of getting together, and to donate at least 80% of our produce to charity.”

The group posts weekly donations and past statistics in relation to how much it has grown. Donations have been made to organizations such as the Vietnam Veterans of America and St. Paul of Tarsus Church. Other produce is purchased by senior center members at nominal prices, with money made going toward seed packets for future plants.

The garden itself is in “tip-top shape,” Beltz said, complete with peat moss, coffee grounds, manure and an additive of nitrogen in the form of urea, a natural fertilizer.

Beltz grew up with parents who tended their own gardens, and he later took up landscaping while in high school. Jim Eckert, one of the group’s founders, lived in Kansas for a while and would plant potatoes as early as March and green beans in July.

Janet Kaltenbach, a master gardener and master pollinator, said gardening is in her blood. She said others come to volunteer because “they love to get in the dirt.”

“Some of us come in the pouring rain, get soaked to the skin,” she said. “But when things have to be done, you do it.”

Eckert said the endeavor has grown since its inception. The activity gets seniors outdoors, to congregate and get exercise, and it benefits the overall community.

“One of the nice parts about this place, we’re kind of protected from the weather,” Eckert said. “We’ve got the building here, woods there, and the sun moves (in a certain direction).”

On May 13, the Clinton Township Board of Trustees approved the purchase of four new garden beds, intended to be used as a monarch butterfly waystation. The club hopes the beds will soon be placed next to the garden, in a U shape so citizens can walk through them. A bridge over a nearby ditch is desired too, for those who require Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility.

The club began helping butterflies last year, offering a dedicated area to plant butterfly-attracting pollinator plants, which include coreopsis, bee balm, sunflowers, aliums and milkweed. Pink-colored flowers are swamp milkweeds, while butterfly weeds are bright orange and attract the species.

Kaltenbach, an avid camper, said the effects of hurricanes — coupled with the freeze and deforestation in Mexico — have radically reduced the monarch population by about 90%. It is a population that has always ebbed and flowed, she said, but it is now considered endangered due to a “nosedived” population the past three years.

“Farmers used to have hedgerows around their fields, which had all your different milkweeds in it and those kinds of plants,” she said. “They don’t do that anymore. It’s just a barren field out there, there’s nowhere for the monarchs to go.”

When monarch eggs are found, they are kept with the fresh milkweed until they hatch. When they do, the butterflies are tagged with a cellophane number placed on the backside of their left wings, so researchers are aware.

A granddaughter of a former police chief in Ohio, Kaltenbach said being a community steward has always come naturally for her.

“It makes all the difference in the world to help people,” she said.

“I’ve always been interested in gardening,” she added. “When I was working, I used to use that to release stress. But I also believed in helping the community. It’s just in my blood. You can just see (the volunteers) when the plants come up and start producing. It’s like, ‘I helped plant that.’”

To join the club, you must be 55 years or older and a Clinton Township Senior Center member. For more information, contact the center at (586) 286-9333.