Companion Planting!

Happy 4th of July weekend! We hope you are able to enjoy a relaxing weekend filled with food and fun!

As many of you know, we practice organic farming here at the Dexter Farm to School Program. One of the important practices we do to combat common pests and weeds is to use companion plants!

What are Companion Plants?

Companion planting simply means to grow complementary plants in the same bed for their potential benefits. For example, certain plants can help ward away common pests, attract pollinators for your vegetables and fruits, help trap nutrients (mainly nitrogen) in the soil to enhance growth, and to prevent unwanted weeds from growing. Through companion planting and monitoring our beds, we are able to not rely on pesticides!

However, not all vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers can be planted together. So make sure to do a quick Google search on what are compatible plants to plant in the same bed!

Companion Plants to Help with Pests in Your Garden!

In our gardens, we love using marigolds and nasturtiums to help deter pests. Here is a list of great companion plants that are compatible with most if not all garden plants!

Nasturtiums: Not only do they grow beautiful red, orange and gold flowers but they help to repel aphids, potato bugs, squash bugs, Mexican beetle bugs, white flies and pumpkin flies!

Basil: Improves the flavor of tomatoes and lettuce, while also repelling mosquitoes! Compatible with most plants except rue.

Marigolds: Naturally repels many pests including Mexican flea beetles, aphids, potato bugs, squash bugs, nematodes and maggots. We love to plant them near kale but they work near all garden plants!

Oregano: This amazing common herb repels many pests including aphids, spider mites, and leafhoopers.

Sage: Repels carrot flies and cabbage moths. Great to plant near tomatoes as they stimulate growth! Compatible with most plants except for cucumbers.

There are a ton of resources online to identify great companion plants for your gardens. Here’s a guide from Mother Earth News

Oven Baked Parmesan Zucchini Crisps
From The Stay at Home Chef

We all know that the 4th of July is fried food season! But maybe you can convince your kids to give these a try for the same crisp and yum!

2-3 large zucchinis
1 cup of buttermilk* see instructions for substitution
2 large eggs
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup plain bread crumbs
1/2 freshly grated parmesan
1 teaspoon or Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder
Marinara sauce (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 400 F
  2. Slice washed zucchini into 1/4 inch thick slices. Pat dry with paper towel
  3. Whisk buttermilk and eggs together and pour into a plate or shallow bowl. You can substitute buttermilk for 1 tbsp of lemon juice (or white vinegar) and top off with whole milk to make one cup.
  4. Mix breadcrumbs, Italian seasoning (or choice of dried herbs), parmesan, garlic powder on a 2nd plate or shallow bowl.
  5. Pour flour into a 3rd plate or shallow bowl.
  6. Coat each slice of zucchini in the flour, then buttermilk mixture then breadcrumb mixture. Spread them out on a baking sheet on a single layer (this is important to get the right crunch)
  7. Bake for 10 minutes until golden brown.
  8. Serve with a side of marinara sauce!

Mother Earth News

What About the Asparagus?

As we wait for the rest of our crops to grow and produce, we harvested the remaining garlic scapes and strawberries from the beds. Our next harvest would be the garlic bulbs themselves, which will still be a few weeks away. So I decided, why not give an update about our asparagus beds?

Mary Kate, the intern last summer, helped to plant the asparagus bed in the Sullivan Memorial Garden. This year marks the first year of its growth but we didn’t harvest this year and won’t be for the next two years. It takes three years for new asparagus crop to establish, fully develop its roots system, and be productive. By waiting three years, we could see the asparagus plants produce for the next 30 years!

Our asparagus plants have “ferned out” and grown in their fronds. Some of which are 5 feet tall! The fronds are essential for feeding the asparagus through photosynthesis and keeping it healthy. We are also seeing new asparagus spears come in, which will later grow and “fern out” to provide more food for the plant. This is a good sign of a maturing crop. The fronds are now producing “berries”, which are not berries but are actually seed pods that can be used to grow new asparagus.

Asparagus season usually begins in late spring to early summer, around May to June in these parts! However, I have still been seeing asparagus in the stores and you would likely still see them at the Dexter Farmer’s Market!

Did you know?

Asparagus is a “nutritionally balanced” vegetable? It contains Vitamin K, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, potassium and it is a good source of folate, which is a B-vitamin that is essential during pregnancy and for children going through rapid growth (infants and adolescents).

Folate is needed when creating DNA and RNA, all of which are necessary for creating new cells in our body!

Green Monster Pasta

It’s a popular misconception that any and all carbs are bad for you. In fact, the recommended daily intake of grain foods is around 6 oz for adults. However, half of those grains should come from whole-grain sources like brown rice, oatmeal and whole wheat bread.

Here’s a delicious, simple recipe packed with whole grains, veggies and fruits (avocado IS a fruit!). I’m not a big fan of eating vegetables myself but trust me, getting the greens crisp in the pan makes it taste 100 times better. The avocado adds a creaminess and richness to the dish that leaves your whole family satisfied!

(serves 6, 646 calories per serving)
30 minutes

1 lbs brown rice pasta (or choice of pasta)
8 oz jar of pesto
1 lbs brussel sprouts
1 lbs asparagus
1-2 avocados
2 tbsp olive oil


  1. In a large saucepan, boil lightly salted water over medium-high heat.
  2. When the water is boiling, add the dried brown rice pasta. Follow instructions on package. When done, drain pasta and place in large bowl.
  3. While the pasta is cooking, prepare the vegetables. Cut off the ends of the brussel sprouts and quarter the brussel sprouts (split each into 4).
  4. Cut off any really hard, fibrous ends of the asparagus. Half if the asparagus is too long.
  5. In a large frying pan, heat up the 3 tbsp of olive oil (use less if desired) over medium heat.
  6. Add in the brussel sprouts and asparagus. Cover the pan until the insides are soft enough to your liking.
  7. Remove cover and continue cooking until vegetables are browned.
  8. Add vegetables to the large bowl with pasta.
  9. Add the whole jar of pesto into the bowl, mix all together until coated.
  10. Half the avocados and make slices in the avocado half. Scoop the insides of the avocados out and add to your pasta. Enjoy!


First Harvests of the Season!

In the Sullivan Memorial Garden, we have had another bountiful strawberry week! We harvested over 20 lbs of strawberries this week which we then froze for future classroom smoothies. We are also seeing the first sprouts of the pole bean, nasturtium, and marigold seeds that we planted just a couple of weeks back.

In addition to strawberries, we also harvested garlic scapes!

What are garlic scapes?

You’re not alone, I had never seen nor heard about garlic scapes before this summer.

There are two types of garlic that you can grow in your garden, soft-necked garlic and hard-necked garlic. Garlic scapes, also known as garlic spears, are the flower stems that only grow from the top of hard-necked garlic. They form a flower bulb that contains seeds for the garlic to propagate, or reproduce. The garlic plant uses a lot of energy to maintain these garlic scapes so removing the garlic scapes will actually allow the plant to produce larger garlic bulbs! Think of it as a bonus harvest!

To harvest them, the scape should be at least 6 inches long. Grasp them as close to the base as you can and pull firmly and slowly in the vertical direction. You are supposed to feel and hear a satisfying pop but they often break off, so don’t worry! You can also just cut the garlic scape off.

You can find garlic scapes at farmer’s markets in late spring/early summer!

Now what do I do with the scapes?

Think of the scapes as a thicker scallion with a whole lot more garlic flavor in it. With using garlic scapes, you can get that yummy garlic flavor without all the prep of peeling and mincing garlic!

One of my favorite flavors is roasted garlic but typically, you have to roast whole garlic in the oven for 30-40 minutes! That’s too much time of ingredient prep for me. But with garlic scapes, you can get a similar flavor by grilling or pan frying the scapes with some olive oil. Cooking the scapes sweetens and removes the bitterness but keeps that garlicky goodness.

You can also roast whole garlic scapes in the oven to make a side dish for dinner! Just drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and stick it in a preheated 400 F oven for 10-15 minutes until they start turning brown.

You can make it into a garlic scape pesto to add to sandwiches, soups or pastas.

Recipe of the Week:
Garlic Scapes Grilled Cheese with Spinach, Strawberry Balsamic Vinaigrette Salad

Ingredients (serves 4)

For the grilled cheese
(457 calories per serving):

8 slices of sourdough bread (use whole wheat bread for extra fiber and protein)
2 cups of grated cheddar cheese (or cheese of your choice)
8 garlic spears
2 tbsp olive oil

For the salad
(110 calories per serving):

2 cups of baby spinach
1 cup of fresh strawberries
2 tbsp of honey
2 tbsp of olive oil
1 tbsp of balsamic vinegar
black pepper


  • Wash and remove the leafy tops of the strawberries
  • In a food processor or blender, puree the strawberries, honey, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar until smooth
  • Rinse and dry the baby spinach, drizzle the dressing over the spinach.
  • Slice the garlic spears
  • In a large frying pan over medium heat, heat up 1 tbsp of olive oil then add the garlic spears. Cook for a couple of minutes until the outsides start to brown, they will look a little charred. Remove from heat.
  • In a bowl, mix the cheddar cheese and the garlic spears together.
  • Sandwich 1/2 cup of cheddar cheese garlic spear mix between two slices of bread.
  • Add 1 tbsp of olive oil to the same frying pan used for the garlic scapes, place one or two sandwiches on your frying pan and cook on medium heat until the underside is a golden brown the the cheese inside starts to melt a little.
  • Flip and cook on the other side until the filling has melted and the crust turned golden brown. Do the same for the next two sandwiches.

Taste of Home also has some really interesting savory dishes to try with strawberries with recipes like “Chicken with Berry Wine Sauce” and a “Seared Salmon with Basil Strawberry Relish”.

New Beginnings

While the end of any school year brings a lot of changes, this definitely has been a memorable one to say the least. First we would like to say congratulations to all of the 6th graders. While, we were sad that we could not enjoy your presence in the gardens as much this spring, we are sure that you can carry your enthusiasm and hard work in the gardens to your classrooms in the 7th grade!

We would also like to thank Francie Wesorick for her passion and dedication to the Dexter Farm to School Program for the last two years. As the Kitchen Classroom Flex teacher, she infused the classroom with joy and creativity. We will all miss her dearly!


This summer is also a new experience for myself as the Dexter Farm to School’s summer intern! My name is Tiffany Lee. I am an graduate student at the University of Michigan School of Public Health where I am pursuing a dual degree in Health Behavior Health Education and Epidemiology.

I am passionate about learning to listen and work with people and communities to achieve healthier lives. I think the Dexter Farm to School is an amazing program where students can learn about where their food comes from; how to organically grow their own fruits and vegetables to preparing them in the kitchen.

I have a passion for home-cooking, animals, and hope to one day own a farm! This summer, I am excited to share with you some tasty but easy, nutritious recipes in our weekly newsletters!

Garden Updates

In the last two weeks, we have done an amazing amount of weeding. In no time, we were able to get those seedlings in soil and ready for the growing season!

In the Sullivan Memorial Garden, we planted cherry tomatoes, larger beefsteak tomatoes, bell peppers, hot peppers, basil, sunflowers, kale, collard greens, eggplants, zucchini, cucumber and pole beans.

Returning to the gardens, we were amazed to find that the strawberries had practically exploded! What started out as 8 seedlings last summer turned into a whole bed that overflowed into the walkways. Last week alone, we were able to pick just over 2 pounds of sweet strawberries from these bushes.

Freshly picked, juicy, red strawberies
The strawberry patch! Look at how it’s grown!

Unfortunately, this year, we are not going to hold the weekly farm market at the Dexter Wellness Center. While we are exploring other alternatives on distribution, we cannot be certain of plans for the next few weeks, but we will be sure to keep in touch!

Weekly Recipe
Low Sugar Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding

Imagine a world where you can say to your kids, “we are having chocolate pudding for breakfast!” This quick recipe tastes surprisingly similar to the real thing but with tons more fiber, more protein and way less sugar!

Make it a parfait and top it off with your favorite fruits, granola, nuts or seeds. I personally love the classic banana with chocolate pairing. But maybe add a tablespoon of peanut butter and granola for some crunch!

Ingredients (serves 4)
Time: 5-7 minutes + overnight

3/4 cup of chia seeds
3/4 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder
2 1/4 cup of whole milk (or milk substitute of your choice)
4 tbsp of maple syrup (add more for more sweetness)
pinch of sea salt
fruits and toppings of your choice!

– In a bowl whisk in chia seeds, unsweetened cocoa powder, milk, maple syrup and sea salt until combined
– Cover the bowl and leave in the refrigerator overnight.
– If you like the chunkier texture, top it off with your choice of fruits or granola then enjoy!
– If you like the smoother texture option, transfer the mixture to the blender and blend until smooth.

These pudding cups will last for 5-7 days in the refrigerator as long as it’s in an airtight container.

Did you know?
Chia seeds are amazing sources for fiber, iron, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids, which lowers “bad” HDL cholesterol. 2 tablespoons of chia seeds will fulfill 40% of your daily fiber needs!

What can I do with the remaining chia seeds?
Chia seeds can be pricey, so you may want to know other uses for chia seeds! Here are some suggestions to add a daily boost of fiber to your diet:

  • Add a couple of tablespoons when you are cooking oatmeal
  • Add them into your smoothies as a topping or blended in
  • For vegans, chia seeds apparently are a good egg-substitute.

Adapted from Minimalist Baker

Giving Thanks

Dexter Farm to School has had a very busy fall season and we are so thankful for all of the wonderful students that have participated in planting, harvesting, processing and cooking with us!

Garden News:

Creekside flex students harvested the last of the veggies from the school gardens this week. So far this year, students have harvested over 370 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables. Students have harvested late fall veggies that included carrots, rutabagas, pumpkins, lettuce and Swiss chard. They have prepared and cooked mini eggplant sandwiches, veggie quesadillas, fresh carrots and dip, salsa, pumpkin cookies, raspberry smoothies, and veggie pizza. Yum!

Creekside student harvests lettuce for the school cafeteria

Fall is also the time of the year to prepare our garden beds for winter and this year we enlisted the help of Dexter NHS students to help with the process and they were amazing! They cleaned out garden beds and incorporated compost into our soil to bring back much needed nutrients and microorganisms for spring planting. Flex students also planted garlic and will mulch the asparagus beds and strawberries in the coming days to help protect these plants from frigid temperatures.

Dexter National Honor Society students volunteer for our fall workday

Cafeteria News:

Some of the veggies that are harvested in our gardens go directly to our school cafeterias. Dexter Farm to School has an amazing relationship with Dexter Food and Nutrition and we are always looking for creative ways to incorporate fresh and local fruits and veggies into Dexter cafeterias.

The Farm to School Program has sold over 45 pounds of fresh produce to Dexter Food and Nutrition. Vegetables like tomatillos, sweet peppers, cherry tomatoes, lettuce, radishes, Swiss chard and bok choi made delicious appearances at Mill Creek, Wylie, Dexter High School and Creekside cafeterias. Dexter cafeterias also featured local apples, nectarines, plums and squash as cafeteria samples or items available for purchase.

Creekside students harvest and process radishes for Dexter cafeterias

As we move into November and colder temperatures, The Dexter Farm to School Program will focus on cooking with garden vegetables that were processed or frozen and other projects like composting, hydroponics and seed saving. We are so grateful for all of the students, teachers, and community members that make this program possible and we are looking forward to this season of Thanks and Giving. Enjoy!

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