Insects and Compost and Guests! Oh My!

Things are moving quickly in the two community teaching gardens. In the past week or so we’ve gotten a good amount of rain, warm weather, and ample sunshine. Many of our heat-loving plants which were lagging behind are now taking off. This week in the advanced course, we did a review of harmful and beneficial insects, worked with our compost and planted our sweet potatoes. The beginner gardener class welcomed their first guest teacher of the season, Vic Izzo, an entomologist who works with growers in the area.

Students planting sweet potatoes
Students plant sweet potatoes in a shared plot in the Community Teaching Garden at Tommy Thompson Community Gardens.

This season, the advanced class has been especially focused on producing viable compost to restore our garden at the end of the growing season. We visit our compost bin each week to assess the quality of the compost we are creating, and to vigorously turn the compost by transferring it from one bin to the next. In the process, we take a multi-sensory approach to examining our compost: looking for beneficial insects, smelling for positive or negative signs of decomposition, and feeling for heat. Students are encouraged to bring plant-based food scraps from their homes to add into the mix we have created of scraps, straw, and already prepared compost. This week, we added nitrogen-rich comfrey from our garden to increase decomposition rates.

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On Thursday night, Vic Izzo joined the beginner gardeners at the Ethan Allen Homestead. His hands-on lesson focused on two common pests in Vermont, the Colorado potato beetle and the leek moth. During his visit, students learned how to identify these pests and the damage they cause in the garden. Potatoes and eggplant are susceptible to Colorado potato beetle, while onions, leeks, and garlic are attacked by leek moth. Vic suggested strategies for managing these pests using integrated pest management. Specially, he suggested monitoring the flights of leek moths and covering your garlic and other attractive crops while leek moths are in their larval stage. When it comes to Colorado potato beetles, the most affective approach is often removing the beetles by hand and crushing their eggs before they hatch.

Vic Teaches the Beginner Gardeners About Leek Moth
Vic Izzo discussing integrated pest management strategies with students at the Community Teaching Garden at the Ethan Allen Homestead. 

Students will continue to implement these strategies and more as new pests appear in the garden. We look forward to sharing what we learn with you!


Exploring Wild Harvestable Plants and Our First Potluck of the Season

This week students in the Community Teaching Garden advanced course made their first formal exploration of the land surrounding the teaching garden. Our mission was to identify wild harvestable plants while reviewing plant botany. Using our handy plant identification guide as well as a few field guides of local plants, we worked with our teacher, Carolina, to identify some of the wild edibles just steps away from our garden!

Wild Harvestable Plants
Clockwise from top left: elderberries, nettles, motherwort and garlic mustard. 

When ripe, elderberries can be used to make a healing syrup for colds and flus. Motherwort has a wide range of medicinal uses, particularly in support of women’s health. Among other uses, nettles and garlic mustard make delicious early-season pesto. Yum!

This week also marked the first official meeting of the two Community Teaching Garden classes. Students from both classes gathered at the advanced course site at the Tommy Thompson Community Gardens for an evening of exploring gardens and sharing food.

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After touring the advanced course teaching garden, we gathered together for a potluck dinner. It was a delicious way for the students in the two classes to get to know one another, and we are looking forward to meeting (and sharing our recipes with you!) throughout the season.

What is your favorite potluck dish? Let us know in the comments– we’d love to hear from you!

New Plants, New Pests! Continuing Integrated Pest Management in the Community Teaching Gardens

It’s been an exciting couple of weeks in the Community Teaching Gardens. Despite cold, rainy, and gloomy weather, the Advanced Course has had surprisingly bright and beautiful weather for our class nights, and we have been able to make a lot of headway both in our individual plots and in our shared plots. We have now planted our brassicas (like kale, cabbage, and broccoli) our solanaceaes (like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant) and most of our cucurbits (like cucumbers and squash). Our communal beds are filling up with tomatillos, ground cherries, winter squash, potatoes, and a wide variety of flowers, berries, and herbs. Even though the majority of our plants are still in the seedling stage, there is a sense of abundance in the garden which is very exciting. Students are continuing to consider design and production as we integrate more plants into our plots, and we are now harvesting rhubarb, broccoli rabe, and what appears to be the last of our asparagus.

garden snacks
Thank you to Angela and Erin for sharing your delicious ramp pesto, rhubarb jam, and lemon balm jam with the class this week!

As we have brought new plants into the garden, we have been joined by new pests. While flea beetles have mostly tapered off for the season, the rainy cool weather has created an ideal environment for slugs. Many students have removed the row clover they were using to protect their brassicas from flea beetles so that birds will have easy access to the slugs which are very interested in our cabbage and lettuce. We have found that many of our seeds have had better germination rates this year when covered by row cover, and at this point most students are just covering the freshly seeded areas of their plots. Along with slugs, we have started to find Colorado potato beetles on our potatoes, eggplant, and tomato plants. We are working diligently to remove the beetles as we find them (usually tossing them in a glass of water with a couple of drops of soap) and crushing the bright orange eggs they leave on the underside of our plants.

While the work of manually removing pests may seem time consuming and tedious, it is one way to ensure the health of our plants for a bountiful harvest.

What pests have you seen in your garden so far? What strategies do you use to manage them? We’d love to hear from you!


Fun with Vegetative Propagation and Integrated Pest Management

This week in the Advanced Course class we focused on vegetative propagation and integrated pest management. Our lesson topics were timely, as we are dealing with our first pests of the season, flea beetles, and because we are eager to divide and transplant some of our perennial herbs and flowers while we still have some cool Spring weather to work with. We are continuing to work on our individual garden plots as well as the shared spaces of the garden, and this week were focused on planting flowers and herbs in particular. We are already harvesting asparagus, rhubarb, and herbs from our perennial beds!

Pasta Primavera
Pasta primavera with asparagus and tarragon from the Community Teaching Garden.

Our examination of integrative pest management focused on different strategies used to respond to pests in the garden. In general, one should try to implement the least invasive strategies possible to manage pests. While it is tempting to immediately grab a spray or other chemical intervention when we see our plants at risk, there are many lower impact strategies we can implement first. Examples of less invasive measures include cultural practices like choosing disease resistant crops or attracting beneficial insects, mechanical strategies like building manually removing pests or creating a barrier between the pest and crops, or biological strategies like introducing beneficial insects.

Carolina Instructs Students on Plant Division
Carolina demonstrates how to divide a chive plant in the perennial herb bed.

After learning about integrative pest management, we had a short lesson on plant propagation. Our focus was mostly on plant division. We had several large herb plants that we wanted to share with our peers in the beginner class at the Ethan Allen Homestead. We also received some herbs and flowers from the Ethan Allen Homestead garden. We divided the plants on a cool evening, digging deep and clearly and carefully dividing the plants in order to cause as little damage to the roots as possible. After transplanting our new herbs and flowers, we committed to watering them two times per day for the next week or so to help them adjust to their new space.

Sunset at the Community Gardens
A beautiful sunset as seen from the Tommy Thompson Community Gardens.

As we wrapped up our work for the evening, we were greeted by a beautiful sunset, again reminding us how lucky we are to garden in this space.

Welcome to the Beginner Organic Gardeners and the Latest News from the Advanced Course Garden

It’s been an exciting week for the students in VCGN’s teaching gardens! The biggest news is that the Beginner Gardeners course has started! On Monday night, twenty new and seasoned gardeners gathered together at the VCGN office in Burlington’s North End to share some of their goals for the season and start to get to know one another. These students will be working side by side for the next several months in the community gardens at the Ethan Allen Homestead growing vegetables, herbs, and flowers. Along the way, they will learn about herbalism, food preservation, and supportive principals of organic gardening. There will be a number of guest teachers, potlucks, and other fun events. By the end of the first class, students were feeling excited, happy, and inspired!

Beginner Gardeners.png
A warm welcome to the Community Teaching Garden students!

Although early in the season, things are moving along quickly at the Community Teaching Garden at the Tommy Thompson community gardens. The students in the Advanced Course have been hard at work transplanting their cold-hardy seedlings, planting some new perennials, and making plans for several shared garden beds. This week we reviewed some of the characteristics of potatoes and planted two varieties of potatoes: Russian Banana Fingerlings and Red Chieftains.

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We have also encountered some of our first challenges of the season: unexpected cold weather and the arrival of flea beetles. We are using floating row cover as protection from both. This article from Planet Natural suggests some additional strategies for managing flea beetles in organic gardens. As always, these challenges are opportunities for learning, and we hope to be able to ward off these pests and keep our seedlings happy and healthy!


Day in the Dirt

Last weekend, 260 volunteers gathered at 16 sites in greater Burlington to participate in Day in the Dirt. Thanks to to the support of these volunteers and a number of generous sponsors, we were able to better prepare these community garden sites for the upcoming season. The event was a great opportunity to work together, have fun, connect with our broader gardening community, and of course, get dirty!

Following the event, I connected with a few Day in the Dirt participants to learn more about their experiences.

Name: Roxanne          Site: Kelly’s Field Senior Housing

Hinesburg volunteers
Volunteers work together to build a raised bed at Kelly’s Field Senior Housing.

H: Tell me about your site.

R: The site was Kelly’s Field Senior Housing in Hinesburg, an Independent living facility which is part of Cathedral Square. It’s set back from main road and has a pavilion surrounded by a yard. We added six raised beds and worked together to fill them with dirt.

 H: What was the most memorable part of your experience?

The people. The same as when I took the Teaching Garden class last year. The conversations you have when you are shoveling. I love connecting with people around a common activity—especially one with a bigger purpose. It was nice to connect with people on a nice sunny Saturday and get this done!

 R: What would you tell others considering volunteering in the future?

I would say that if they have a passion for community, if they desire a more close-knit community, if they want to help others be able to garden, if they want to get they want to get their hands or feet dirty or if they want to earn City Market hours, sign up for day in the dirt! It’s very fun, it’s hard work, but it feels very fulfilling. You get to meet people who are interested in helping out and gardening and at the end of the day you can see the progress you’ve made. Whether it’s a pile of dirt that’s in garden beds or something else.

Name: Ehren               Site: Ethan Allen Homestead Community Garden

Ethan Allen Volunteers
A team of volunteers work on integrating crop cover into the soil at the Teaching Garden at the Ethan Allen Homestead.

H: Tell me about your site.

E: The Ethan Allen Community Teaching Garden is designed to educate about 20 or so new gardeners in the greater Burlington community so we have a mix of individual small garden plots and communal plots of annuals and perenials.

 H: What was the most memorable part of your experience?

E: I was really impressed that a woman brought out her 90 year old mother who was ready to do everything and anything. Multiple generations of gardeners came out to support the cause. Three or four generations were out here. I was really taken aback by how hard everyone was willing and able to work in those three hours for something that they weren’t necessarily going to be part of in future.

 H: What would you tell others considering volunteering in the future?

E: Whether you are new or a veteran to the Burlingotn garden community, it’s a really great way to connect to your neighbors and your natural environment in a way that benefits your community.

Name: Kane                 Site: Tommy Thompson Community Garden

Tommy Thompson Volunteers
A group photo of the volunteers at the Tommy Thompson Community Garden.

Tell me about your site?

It was very close to the Intervale so it was very convenient to Burlington. It was right out in the sun so I got some awesome sunburns. I liked working there a lot because it was very quiet and peaceful—a nice little stand apart location.

What was the most memorable part of your experience?

It was when I was working on a raised bed—the handicapped accessible one—Bill and I were working on it and we brought compost over from the compost pile and it reminded me of being back in a middle school playground and being on the balance beams. And I didn’t fall off!

What would you tell others considering volunteering in the future?

I would say be ready for a lot of hard work—you’re definitely putting your back in to it. It’s very awe inspriging to see how much the garden can be transformed with only a few hours of work spread across many hands. I thought the event was very well organized and they did a great job of always staying on top of always having new tasks available to us. There were a lot of tasks available so everyone could be involved regardless of their physical abilities.

Thanks again to all those who volunteered and to Roxanne, Ehren, and Kane for sharing their experiences!

First Night in the Garden!

In one of the most anticipated classes of the season, this week the students in VCGN’s Teaching Garden Advanced Course had their first night in the garden! Our focus for the evening was on orientation, preparing our beds to transplant our seedlings, and on examining some principles behind nutrient-dense gardening. In the garden, we were greeted by warm weather, some early spring blooms like the Johnny Jump Ups below, and the sight of a single fox meandering to and fro.

Johnny Jump Ups
Johnny Jump Ups!

After getting rained out the previous week, we were delighted to be in the space where we will working intensively over the next several months. While about half of the students in the course had their plots at Tommy Thompson Community Garden last year, the remaining students came from the community gardens at the Ethan Allen Homestead. After going over the general layout of the garden and looking over some of the shared spaces, we joined together to set intentions for the upcoming season and passed a smudge stick around our circle.

Smudge Stick
Our smudge stick surrounded by clover and some early season wildflowers.

Our homework for the night was to read an article from Mother Earth News on restoring soil nutrients as well as review a chapter on nurturing vegetable-friendly soil from The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible. These resources were intended to get us thinking about how we can support nutrient-dense soil and encourage happy, healthy plants and a bountiful harvest. After reviewing our readings, we divided into groups and compared some soil tests from our shared gardens and students’ home gardens. Finally, we created a nutrient rich blend to integrate into our soil including: Pro-gro organic fertilizer, bone char, green sand, k-mag, compost, azomite, copper, zinc and boron.

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Our final task of the evening was to begin preparing our beds. Over the weekend, we have been slowly hardening our cold-hardy seedlings by introducing them to cooler weather, wind, and other outdoor elements. We are eager to get these plants in the garden next class, and there’s a lot of work to do preparing the soil! Students added 10-15 buckets of compost to their plots and used lots of muscle and grit to integrate it into the soil. Students whose beds had cover crop over the winter will return to the garden several times this week to make sure their beds are thoroughly hoed and that the cover crop is broken down and well-integrated.

Our garden got some additional love this weekend thanks to the hard-working team of volunteers who attended Day in the Dirt! They cleaned out our communal beds, installed a fence to keep deer out, and mulched many of our pathways. A great time was had by all and our next post will focus on some stories from VCGN students and volunteers.