Garden good-byes, garlic and gratitude

Happy Fall, y’all! The Ethan Allen Homestead these days is alight with shades of ochre, vermillion and gold, peppered with crimson-colored sumac cones and wild bunches of concord grapes. It’s a beautiful yet bittersweet sight to see for us at the Community Teaching Garden because sadly, it means the beginning of the end of the growing season… Just earlier this month, everything was blooming and booming with harvest, and now the gardenscape has shifted very visibly as many of our plants’ energy is ebbing with the shift in daylight. September caused tomatoes to slow down and blush more timidly, flower beds that were a kaleidoscope of colors have taken on more mellow shades, and the days of endless juicy snap peas to snack on became a sweet memory while the tall pole beans grew dry and toughened on their trellises. Even the zucchini finally stopped being their usual zealous selves and admitted defeat to the frost.


And yet! These days, the fall raspberries continue to absolutely burst off their branches, our lanky kale palm trees are towering mightily like weathered oaks, and we still have plenty of roots like carrots, beets and daikon radishes nestled in the ground alongside Napa cabbages in our “kimchi” bed. Some black-eyed susans, calendulas, borage and tansies flowers are still beckoning to pollinators as late season snacks. And the growing cycle continues as the tiny peas we planted a few weeks ago are now reaching their new tendrils up in cleared beds to blanket the earth over the winter and fix nitrogen back into it. We tucked baby garlic bulbs into the ground and look forward to the twirls of scapes they will bring early next season. Plus we saw everything really come full circle during some of our last classes as we were still slapping at mosquitoes just like in back June… Some things never change.

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A good thing about the chilly weather is that it makes it easier to stay in to process all our produce and also process the events of the season. I think it’s no coincidence that the first cotyledons that emerged back in May were shaped like hearts, as they were a hint at how lovely the months to come would be. It was a fabulous season with memories that will last far longer than my Chaco sandal tan lines and the dirt under our fingernails. True to VCGN tradition, we acknowledged the end with mugs of hot cider, a flower mandala and a whole lot of gratitude. Reflection is just as important for a healthy garden as any good practice– it’s like feeding compost to the soil, trellising wily tomatoes and keeping the ground covered with cover crops.

Best in Show

We had some pretty superlative-worthy plants growing this season! For the best tasting tomato, Pink Berkeley Tie Dye and sun gold cherry tomatoes had our hearts. Napa cabbages were definitely the most beloved by slugs with radicchio as a runner up. Bumper crop veggie: need I even say it? Zucchini of course! (although tomatillos were a close second.) We voted the sugar baby watermelon for sweetest harvest (especially when sprinkled with spicy Tajin!) Peskiest pest goes to The Notorious CPB, who really made themselves comfortable and did a number on our potatoes and eggplants this year…so we have these next couple months to make a plan of action to tackle ‘em next season.


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In terms of good looks, marvel of four seasons was voted cutest lettuce, and our purple cabbages earned most adorable brassicas. Our okra and rattlesnake beans gave us the most unexpectedly beautiful blooms, and the magic runner stalk beans won were the almost too pretty to eat champions.  And the overall winners of the CTG beauty pageant were striped Cocozelle zucchini and the lovely lobed Costoluto tomatoes.

Preserved and precious 

And after a season of such abundance, we have so many things brighten the coming winter days with plenty of summer flavors. The herb garden may be brown and dead-looking but the bright shine of summer can live on in the zesty tea mixes we made of lemon-balm, calendula petals, tulsi basil and raspberry leaves. We filled colorful jars of ferments like kimchi, sauerkraut, and fire cider for boosting our gut microflora and immune system. And we’re all set to have the most moisturized skin in Burlington with tins of herbal salve to soften up dry crackly hands in the cold! Oh, and so much tomatillo salsa, too.

Fire cider! (a fermented elixir of oranges, horse radish, jalapeño peppers, lemons, ginger, parsley, garlic and apple cider vinegar)

Garden Grown Lessons

Some say clichés are cheesy, but really, who has ever complained about too much cheese?

“Waste not, want not.” I learned to eat and enjoy beet greens, stinging nettles, carrot tops, sweet potato vines, nasturtium pods and wild invasives like garlic mustard. Rhubarb leaves aren’t all that edible but they make great veggie packs when you forget your basket!

Harvest wrapped in a rhubarb leaf

“Make hay while the sun shines.” Or as I like to say, “Make pesto while the basil goes crazy!”  We turned blight-struck basil into pesto, which will theoretically last in the form of pesto cubes in the freezer to pop into warm pasta dishes all winter long (or they might all disappear by November, who’s to say?)



“The difference between a weed and a flower is judgement.” (big thanks to Traditional Medicinal tea bags for this one.) It was fun and delicious trying some new wild edibles for the first time that our fantabulous garden instructor Carolina showed us, like henbit, purple deadnettles, dandelions, sorrel, black raspberries, radish poppers and bachelor’s button flowers. I discovered my favorite kind of fast food just grows for free on the side of trails and bike paths! The world is full of abundance (and snacks) if we keep our eyes and minds open.

A garlic mustard and nettles galette garnished with chive blossoms and garlic mustard flowers

“A yellow leaf invites a closer look.” As gardeners, the best thing we can give a plant is attention (okay, it might be a tie with compost). Plants that seemed to be wilting or struggling showed us that they needed more love, like Septoria speckled leaves on tomatoes called out for a good pruning, strange shavings-like residue on our squash indicated squash vine borers living inside of their stems, lacy looking cabbage leaves meant it was time to mobilize tactics to confront the slugs.

And my favorite advice of all…. rub some dirt in it! It felt like a blessing every afternoon I got to dig into into the dark soil of the Winooski floodplain and help grow a healthy community of microorganisms below the soil while getting to be a part of growing our own above it.

The ground may be close to freezing over soon and be a bit harder to play in for a while, but some good news… life is a garden, dig it!

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Look at that community we grew!

Celebrate the Colors of Summer Forever with Eco Prints

It’s high summer and the vibrancy of our gardens is quite a stunning sight to see! Maybe we love them all the more for how fleeting the vivid display plants are putting on before they fade into autumnal shades of gold, brown, and eventually, winter grays… But with this ecoprinting technique, we can surround ourselves with a reminder of the season’s beauty all year long!

A cool thing about ecoprints is that each print is incredibly unique based on what plants you find around you, the time of season that they’re picked in, how long you let them steam, etc. Whatever you find around you can become an artistic medium; lay the plant material out organically, in patterns, cut them up into fun shapes…

Plants to Pick

A rule of thumb is that plants that produce colorful flowers and berries tend to have pigmented leaves, such as the leaves from strawberries, sumac, rose bushes, blueberries, raspberries, etc. Flowers we had success with were dyer’s chamomile, dyer’s coreopsis, rose petals and marigolds. Leaves from oak, maple, indigo and ostrich ferns are some others that work well, but try out whatever you find!

Flowers and leaves we used with samples of Jackie Reno’s work in the background

Making ecoprints is an activity great for doing with kids to encourage exploring nature and gardens all around. But no matter what age you are, we promise that unrolling a print to see what designs the plants reveal is pure magic!


Here is the process that Jackie Reno, the Children’s Program Coordinator at the Family Room, taught us last week. This takes advance preparation but can be done in stages. She learned this method from India Flint and many online tutorials and blogs. Check out Jackie’s work here!


  • Cotton cloth*
  • Whey powder (or another mordant like soy milk)
  • White vinegar
  • A rusty object
  • Sticks
  • A steamer*
  • Parchment paper
  • Twine
  • Flowers and leaves (see introduction for which types)

*Notes: Animal derived fibers like silk and wool are often used because the pigment adheres more easily to them than plant fibers like cotton. Make sure that the steamer and pots you use are strictly for dyeing and never used for food.


  1. Soak the cloths in half of a large container of whey powder and 5 gallons of water overnight or for half of a day in a warm spot. The mixture should look cloudy and milky.
  2. Place a rusty object or two, such as nails, in two parts water to one-part vinegar and let soak for about a week to make your iron solution.
  3. Let the cloths dry out and cure for a week.
  4. Fill up a large pot with water and a few cups of vinegar, around half a bottle, then let the cloths soak for half an hour.
  5. Gather up some flowers and leaves that you would like to use along with sticks for wrapping in.
  6. Then, you can choose to dip the plants in the iron solution for darker colors, or place them directly on the fabric for softer hues (they will just need to steam for longer).20190808_103132
  7. Lay out the cloths lengthwise and place your plants along one half of them. Fold the cloth over to sandwich them in.20190808_104535-1.jpg20190808_104543-1.jpg
  8. Place a piece of parchment paper on top of the fabric and roll the fabric up around the stick very tightly. Tie the fabric up with twine so that it’s secure.
  9. Now put the sticks with fabric in the steamer to steam for at least two hours. It’s tempting to peak but try to keep the lid on for the full amount of time!20190808_105128
  10. Unroll the twine from the fabric and enjoy!!

    Work by Jackie Reno 

How to Survive and Savor Squash Season

“It grows quickly, cooks quickly and is delicious. What’s not to love?” – Community Teaching Garden student Sylvia.


That’s right, zucchini season is upon us! Those tiny teardrop-shaped seeds have been photosynthesizing like the wind to turn water, air, sunshine and a few minerals into a whole lot of green.

Botanically speaking, zucchini and summer squash are a type of berry called pepos, but they are traditionally treated like vegetables. Thanks to their high water content, zucchini and other summer squash have a delicate flavor and amazing versatility in recipes ranging from savory to sweet.

The zucchini plants of my garden have been comfortable sprawling their spiky stalks and fuzzy leaves sideways into pathways, soaring upwards towards the sky and even right into tomato plant territory. I regularly push their overly zealous branches aside to harvest bike-basketfuls of squash, many of which grow big enough to cradle in both arms if left unchecked just a day or two too long.

These ambitious plants are notorious for taking over refrigerator space just as quickly as garden space. If you, too, have a bunch of zucchini practically the size of yoga mats crowding up your kitchen, never fear! Those squash that have outgrown their lot of the garden plot can become dinner (and breakfast, dessert and snacks…) in no time! And with no peeling necessary. Here are a few recipes from the Community Teaching Gardeners to share with friends, family, kids and any roommates who have graciously let your squash sublet their shelf of the fridge.

Zucchini Blossoms

The male flowers of zucchini plants will not turn into the zucchini fruit we know and love, so once they have pollinated the female flowers they are ready to be enjoyed! Or harvest the female flowers if you’ve had enough of the squash itself. My favorite way to prepare them is to make fiori di zucca fritti, a fairly simple Italian dish that truly tastes of summer. I lightly blanch them, then stuff each one with with vegan cheese, herbs and garlic, batter them up and fry them. Here is a recipe that explains it nicely!

In Oaxaca, Mexico squash blossoms are sold widely and used to top beautiful tostadas and memelas (pictured above). They are also used in the lovely vegan springtime soup sopa de guías along with corn, young squash tendrils and small squash.


Savory Ideas

  • Cut zucchini into half moons and they can be thrown into a sauté with just about anything, especially alliums like garlic and shallots. Spiralized, they become zoodles!
Epazote-spiced zucchini and corn tacos served up at Drifter’s.
“Zuccadelle” (pappardelle-style zoodles) with garlic scape pesto and vegan Parmesan


  • Grill up sliced zucchini (or put in the broiler) and layer with other summer veggies to put on toast to make a tartine.
Roasted zucchini, eggplant and pepper tartine. With herbs of course!
  • “I like to just roast up sliced zucchini with a bit of Parmesan on top and I’m a happy camper.” -CTG gardener Rebecca.
  • Gardener Huy makes baked zucchini boats stuffed with rice and beef. For a delicious vegetarian version, fill them with mushroom duxelle.
  • Whip up some stacks of zucchini pancakes (here is a great recipe for those) or some Greek kolokithokeftedes (fritters!)
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Roasted zucchini herb fritters at Drifter’s
  • Make zucchini butter to melt those summer squash down into a creamy, delicious spread.

Sweet Recipes

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A beautiful zucchini bundt cake from Isa Chandra. 

If you’ve tried every squash recipe in the land and can’t manage to find any takers for your bumper crop extras, just shred them and place them in a bag in the freezer to use when you find yourself missing the flavors of summer. Happy cooking!


The Dish on Herbs

Just like all our pollinator friends, we are just buzzing about herbs! They make fantastic space-fillers in the garden and they fill us with excitement in our kitchens. Now that they are growing lushly, it’s the perfect time to make hay while the sun shines! Or make pesto while the basil goes crazy! Read on for a couple of our fragrant favorites that we’re growing and how we’re using ‘em.

Insects & herbs

A garden full of flowering herbs makes a well-balanced buffet for butterflies, bees, beetles & many other pollinators to feast on. A few of the aromatic all-stars we keep seeding are basil, cilantro and dill because they are quick-growing herbaceous annuals ready to cover any open patches.

Keeping the insects happy will help encourage even-pollination of all the other plants, leading to a much higher potential for beautifully formed tomatoes and squash. Other side effects herbs will definitely cause are lovely aromas in the breeze, a stunning gardenscape and a desire to stay outside as often as possible. It’s a pretty sweet dill!

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Fresh Uses

Herbs open up so many recipes and roads to Flavor Town! We love making generous batches of condiments like chimichurri, pesto and gremolata. It lets us freeze summer flavors into cubed condiments for dreary winter days.

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Pounding up some pesto in the community garden!

Another delicious dish you don’t even have to leave your garden to make is herbed compound butter. It’s incredibly easy but sure to impress! All you need is butter or a butter alternative, parchment paper and your favorite fresh herbs.

  1. Put a stick of softened unsalted butter in a bowl.
  2. Chop up your fixings and add them in (herbs, edible flowers, lemon, some salt, garlic, cracked pepper… anything goes)
  3. Mix them into the bowl with a spoon or your hands
  4. Place on a square of paper and roll into a log. Now revel in your chefly skills! Your butter is ready to be displayed on a charcuterie board, shmeared on some bread and melted to sauté up greens.


Some classic combinations we love:

French Persilladegarlic + parsley

Italian gremolata: parsley + lemon zest + garlic

Indian twist: cilantro + mint + lime

Greek zest: lemon + mint + dill

Mexican spice: cilantro + oregano + garlic + chile powder


Herb flowers can be used to make fragrant bouquets and garnishes. Warning: you may find your food too pretty to eat or have to wait till everyone around you has taken pictures of it before you can dig in.

  • We love chive blossoms for their bursts of purple blooms and onion-y notes that are delicately floral.
  • Use tiny Johnny jump ups to dress up every dish or drink!
Refreshing iced sumac lemonade with johnny jump ups
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Vegan currant ice cream with matcha shortbread, johnny jump ups and borage flowers served at Drifter’s in Burlington!
  • Borage makes delicate blue flowers that are beloved by bees and us humans for their color and cucumber-y flavor.
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Risotto cakes with roasted garlic scapes and seared green tomatoes at Drifter’s 


Are some of your plants overly zealous? (We are looking at you, mint.) Try drying them out to make warming mugs of tea in the winter, or perhaps your own “herbes de Vermont” salt mix – here’s a nice tutorial on a few ways how.

Herbs can bring the cuisines of any place in the world over to your kitchen in just a snip. The world of herbalism is wide and wonderful, hopefully this small taste has inspired you to plant and preserve these lovely plants!


A few useful resources that may be helpful in picking herbs to plant:

Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway is an excellent book to flip though as well for more ideas on cultivating a healthy, thriving ecosystem in your garden

Are you feeling the need to dive in to all things herbal? Check out this post on the Materia Medica, this one on preserving and this one on Angelica.

Fungi in the Garden

Mushrooms may not be on your radar much in the garden, maybe until they erupt on the edges of your mulch and suddenly pop up by the spinach in your veggie patch. But oh do we have a lot to thank them for!

Many mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of a vast organism interwoven into the earth– a champion of the world of soils, our compatriots of another kingdom: mycorrhizal fungi!


Often associated with disease and decay, fungi are the original upcyclers, helping to break down all the carbon material on this earth so that new things can grow and living beings like your bok choy, bell peppers and all the rest of us can keep on keepin’ on.

Their presence is the reason for renewal, rebirth and so much more in the living ecosystem of the soil. Read on for a small introduction on how they make it happen!

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How they work

Not seen but undoubtedly there, the fine branching filaments of mycorrhizal fungi (known as hyphae) are like threads that are woven deep in the ground underfoot. They form webby networks called mycelia that are like vast, stunningly complex tapestries. This mycelial map sprawls far and wide to facilitate many essential and fascinating interactions down below.


Multitasking Mycorrhiza

The most common type of mycorrhizal fungi, endomycorrhizal fungi (EM), use their hyphae to enter the root cells of over 300,000 species of plants. Unlike garlic mustard, these invaders are very benevolent! They engage in an elegant exchange system to support the thriving of plants above.

The dense systems of mycorrhizal hyphae threads increase the surface area of roots immensely to absorb more nutrients. Mycelia mine for precious nutrients like phosphorus, which is not very mobile and quite difficult for most plants to get enough of on their own. Kind of like that friend who always knows what spice to get for you when they travel, or the postworker who never fails to deliver your packages when you need them.IMG_8867

In forests, they can help distribute nutrients from taller trees in the canopy to the shorter trees that are hidden in the understory and less able to produce them.

So they act as the Robin Hood of the soil, scavenging for the plant version of excess wealth and sharing it with all to help plants cooperate rather than compete. For more on this topic, check out this TED Talk by Suzanne Simard.

EM protect the roots from salt, heavy metals and even predators, with the special power of being able to degrade toxic organic chemicals. Fungi tend to evolve so rapidly that they help their hosts adapt to changes in their environment more easily.

They even produce biochemicals to stimulate plants’ immune systems! (Toby Hemenway)

See this website for a few more of their roles in the ecosystem.

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These heroic hyphae do need a cut of their own, and they accept repayment in the form of carbohydrates from the photosynthesizing plants they interact with. Plants share a bit of their sugars, then presto! They get a team working 24/7 to provide them with the nutrients they crave, immunity boosts, tools to help adapt to their environment… Not a bad deal, huh?

However, there are plenty of pathogens in the fungi kingdom that weaken plants and feed on things we don’t need broken down. Some unwanted varieties threaten farmers’ crops and our food supply, such as wheat stem rust, the notorious hallucinogenic ergot, mildews, blights, leaf spots… For these types of fungi, integrated pest management is the call to make. Here is an informational site on a few of them (however VCGN does not endorse any of the products sold on it)

So how can we keep our mycorrhizal allies happy?

Organic all the way! The principles of organic farming practices are centered around conserving soil health, which in turns fosters good fungal health. Nourish your soil with compost you can make, organic fertilizers in moderation, mulching, and avoiding tilling (which slices up these intricate networks. Check out this page for plenty of resources on soil health management!

As you can see, garden mushrooms are just the tip of the garden version of an iceberg… One might say they are like the terminal leaflet of the potato plant. We are grateful for these hardworking fungi for helping our plants to help us!


Mycorrhizal Associations

Hemenway, Toby. Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture. Chelsea Green Publishing, 2009.

A Forager’s Feast!

Spring in Vermont so far has kept our gardens nice and deeply watered for us, to say the very least. Seeds all around are happily bursting from the earth, stretching up their leaves towards the sky to finally rise and photosynthesize.

The rainy June showers have been kind to plants outside our patches too, who have been drinking up and growing just as vigorously, springing us right into weeding season.

But wait! Before you hack away at those dense lush thickets, please take a pause and take another look – you’ll very likely be pleasantly surprised by some wild edibles. Get to know them and they just might make for a lovely dinner!


STINGING NETTLES (Urtica dioica)

If you’ve ever been stung by stinging nettles, we don’t blame you for perhaps wanting to clear them away and let them rest in compost. They can be intimidating, gazing from their stands of tall prickly stems that bristle with venomous hairs (known as trichomes.) But really, they just want to be invited into your kitchen! Just make sure to harvest/approach them with thick gloves on, and you may be shocked by how tender and mild they become with a quick blanching that turns the leaves into a deep emerald green.

This plant has been used for food, medicine, dyes and fibers by gardeners for ages. Seasonal spring cocktails, garden quiche, pizza, pesto, green eggs and ham… You name it and nettles will lend their lovely green color. The true danger nettles pose is that once you befriend them, you’ll want to incorporate them into everything!

Blanching stinging nettles!

GARLIC MUSTARD (Alliaria petiolata)

This wild green has gone wild in Vermont and throughout much of the United States. It tends to take over ravines and disturbed areas, and is so successful that it crowds out many of our native speciesin the undergrowth and it can even choke out seedlings of young trees.

It is in the Brassica family and has a garlicky, arugula-like flavor similar to cime di rapa(aka broccoli rabe) along with a ton of vitamin C. After the plants have gone to seed, they bloom with small white, four-petaled flowers. Garlic mustard’s heart-shaped leaves are quite yummy and wilt down easily in any dish that you might put spinach. What’s even better is that by eating it you help the health of the environment. Once you recognize garlic mustard, you’ll likely start seeing it pretty much everywhere. Please eat this delicious invader!

First year garlic mustard basal flower rosette
Second year garlic mustard flowers (which are also edible!)

Green Greek Tzatziki


  • 1 cup yoghurt (this vegan Forager cashewgurt was delish)
  • A splash of lemon juice
  • A few sprigs of mint, chopped
  • A handful of blanched nettles, chopped finely
  • Dill, chopped
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 small cucumber, finely diced

Throw all the ingredients in a bowl and enjoy! This cool, refreshing tzatziki is great to smother on falafel, pitas and as a dip for fresh veggies.

Rustic Nettle and Garlic Mustard Galette

This very green galette is garnished with chive blossoms and garlic mustard flowers
  • Olive oil
  • ½ onion, chopped finely
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Plenty of garlic mustard leaves
  • A big handful of nettle leaves, blanched
  • 1.5 cups cooked white beans (like canned cannellini)
  • White wine (or lemon juice, or a vinegar of your liking)
  • Aleppo pepper
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • Pastry dough
  • Turmeric
  1. Preheat oven to 350º. In a wide pan, sauté the onion until translucent and add in salt, garlic, thyme and pepper.
  2. While onion is cooking, mash the beans then add them in with the garlic mustard and blanched nettles. Add a splash of white wine to taste and adjust seasonings.
  3. Roll out dough into a wide circle and place filling in the center up leaving a border of around an inch and a half.
  4. Fold the edges in to make the crust, and brush the entire galette with a wash of olive oil and turmeric. Bake at 350º for 30 minutes until the top is golden and smells heavenly.
  5. Garnish with garlic mustard flowers and chive blossoms, and serve!



Abracadabra, presto!

Handmade Nettle Pasta (“Nettagliatelle”) with Mushrooms


Sauté up the mushrooms (these are oyster and chestnut mushrooms), add to your big green bowl of pasta and serve! You may pasta-bly never want to make boxed pasta again. Chive blossom florets go especially beautifully with this verdant dish.

A heaping spoonful of credit goes to the marvelous Melissa Pasanen for lending her creativity and kitchen in helping make these recipes happen! 

Buon appetito!

Join us in the Community Teaching Garden this season!

CTG Newsletter Release

The gardens are still asleep, but we’re dreaming of greener days full of warmth and sunshine in the Community Teaching Gardens!

The Community Teaching Garden (CTG) course is a unique garden education program offered by the Vermont Community Garden Network to teach adults how to grow their own food in a fun, supportive, and cooperative learning environment. The 22-week long course follows the rhythm of the growing season through through hands on garden work, weekly lessons, field trips, food preservation, herbalism, legendary potlucks and much much more! 

In a nutshell:

  • 22 weeks (88 hrs!) of class instruction
  • Students individually maintain their own 80 square foot garden bed
  • Shared garden space is available for select vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers
  • Monthly make-and-take lessons in food preservation and herbalism

When: May 6 – October 3

  • Morning class: Monday and Wednesday from 9:00 to 11:00 am
  • Evening class: Monday and Thursday from 6:00 to 8:00 pm

Where: The Ethan Allen Homestead, in the New North End.

Here, each participant learns how to plant, cultivate, harvest, and preserve produce from their own 80 square foot garden plot.

Additionally, at least twice a month we will take a field trip to our satellite garden site at the Tommy Thompson Community Garden in the Intervale where we collectively tend to perennials and larger annual crops.

Scholarship and payment plants available! To learn more and register online, visit:

Questions? Contact (802) 861-4769

We can’t wait to garden with you!


October: Putting Our Garden to Bed

Last week, our beginner CTG students said goodbye to their gardens and our advanced class ends formal class time this week. This is perfect timing because you’ve probably put away the shorts by now and unpacked a few pairs of gloves and your trusty hat. Just a few nights ago, even the tippy top of Mt. Mansfield experienced its first snow of the season!

Students sharing their favorite CTG moments

Mid-October is full of transition in the gardens. If you’re like us, you’ve been waiting until the very last minute to put your garden to bed. So how do we know it’s time to call it quits? We follow our estimated first and last frost dates. In Burlington, our average first frost date (50% chance of frost) happened to be yesterday, October 16th! Sure, we might scathe by for a few more days without a serious chill, but we try to bring our harvest into our cozy homes before frost damages the last of the peppers we were hoping would ripen and anything else that may not be frost tolerantVermont

Our preparation for winter didn’t just start last week. We’ve been anticipating the end of the growing season since early August when we started timing our successions around waning sunlight and lower temperature. We also began to close up the beds we won’t replant and seeded a  cover crop to give our soil back the nutrients we took. In the Community Teaching Gardens, we prefer buckwheat for cover cropping because it grows quickly and dies back with the frost. When new students arrive next spring, we won’t have to hand-till in our overcrop and beds are relatively ready-to-plant. If our thick overcrop of buckwheat goes to flower, we pull it up, shake off the roots in the bed, and drop the buckwheat over the bed so it can break down and return important nutrients back to the soil.

For beds that are not cover cropped, we clear the bed of this year’s plants, weed, re-measure, and cover the bed with a thick layer of straw to keep soil from eroding. We weed the pathways and add a thick layer of wood chips around the bed borders.


Last but not least, we say goodbye to the garden with a ceremonial planting of garlic. This year, we even had the opportunity to use our own compost on the beds! Because Vermont is relatively cold and we love harvesting mid-summer garlic scares, we choose hard-neck varieties. We plant our garlic 3 inches deep 6 inches apart in rows 12 inches apart. After covering our garlic bed with a thick layer of straw, we say goodbye to the garden and dream of next months seed catalog arrivals and the last average frost of 2019.


Dyes from a Vermont Garden: A How-To


This season (and every season), the magical plant world brings us an abundance. An abundance of veggies for our soups, salads, and sandwiches, fruit for our jams, and flowers for our table. But, of course we know there’s more.

In addition to exploring the world of medicinal plants, advanced students also had the opportunity to dye with fabric, yarns, and scarves with plant material we grew in our own garden!

At the beginning of the season, we chose a few plants we’ve previously experimented with and dedicated a whole bed to their upbringing. In particular, we chose dyer’s coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria) , dyer’s chamomile (Coda tinctora), madder root (Rubia tinctorum), and Japanese indigo (Persicaria tinctoria). If you look at the scientific names, you’ll notice each one ends in tinctoria. More likely than not, if you see tinctora/tinctoria/tincotorum at the end of a plant’s name, it’s often a plant that’s been used for dying fibers throughout history.

Dye pigment is extracted from the leaves, flowers, bark, roots, fruit, seeds, or the entire plants depending on the end color you’re hoping to achieve. Indigo is extracted from the Japanese indigo plant’s leaves while a deep red is extracted from the roots of the common madder plant. Wild Color and Harvesting Color both offer great information for the beginning natural dyer.

People have been using plants as natural dyes and pigment for thousands of years on walls, fabric, paper, clay, etc. Today, we generally divide our clothing and fabric in three categories : plant-based (cotton, hemp, flax, rayon, etc.), animal/protein-based (wool, silk, etc.), and synthetics such as polyester or nylon.

For our purposes, we chose to use two animal-based fibers, wool and silk, for our dying because they easily absorb pigment without incorporating too many, or often no, chemical processes.

dye plant bed
Our dye garden of Japanese indigo, coreopsis, and dyer’s chamomile

The process of dying with fresh plant material, like coreopsis flowers, asks for equal weight in plant material or weight of fiber (WOF). That means potentially a lot of plant material will be used! For that reason, we collect coreopsis flowers across the season and dry them. Then, when harvest is over and it’s time to dye, we use half the WOF of dried flowers since they will be much lighter in weight but equally strong strong in pigment.

Just before dying our fiber (we chose wool/silk blend scarves) we soaked the fiber in water and then pre-mordanted it. A mordant is a product that prepares the fiber to best absorb pigment from the plant material. Usually, soluble metals act as mordants, like aluminum (alum). For this purpose, it’s important to always wear gloves when preparing your fabric and during the entire dye process! We mordanted our scarves in an alum/water solution using the WOF to measure how much alum to use.

Next, we begin to dye! Much like tea, we simmered our plant material in water for nearly 45 minute stop extract as much pigment as possible.


We then strained out the plant material and kept the pigment solution on a low temperature. Next, we dipped our scarves in and watched nature work it’s magic! By dipping our scarves in one color and then another and adjusting the pH of the material with vinegar or baking soda, we were able to create so many colors!

scarvesWith only the color-wheel essentials (red, blue, and yellow), nature’s rainbow is recreated to keep us warm and remind us of those beautiful summer days in the cold and snowy Vermont winter.


Soils 101 (Where Our Food Really Comes From)

Nell, our CTG intern, weighing some of our first harvest of the season

You may have already heard, but our Advanced Community Teaching Garden class logged over 350 pounds of harvest from the garden in August alone! As we marvel over our bountiful and beautiful harvest from this past month, we reflect on the growing season and what made it all possible. One thing we know for sure, that we’ve been exploring the past few weeks, is SOIL. Is it dead? Is it alive? Can I ever get it out from under my fingernails? This week’s blog will discuss our soils education and give some tips for understanding yours!

Lesson number one: soil is alive! And dead, and decomposing. There are many layers of soil called horizons, and they all have different functions and origins. Soil begins where hard earth, or parent, material ends and continues up to the earth’s surface where we recognize it and call it dirt. The top layers are home to organic matter which is created when organic things (like food scraps, leaves, dead insects etc.) decompose into the soil. Organic matter is what we should thank every time we gasp at a beautiful carrot or watch our kale plants produce for months and months (and months and months).

soil horizon
Source: Wikipedia

However, because soil is alive it can also be unhealthy and lack organic matter or other indicators of healthy soil. Soil health is similar to human health in that it is reflective of many factors and can mean many things. Typically, healthy soil is very alive. There may be an abundance of earthworms, it could be very dark in color, hold moisture well, resist erosion etc. Soil is healthy when nature is allowed to complete its natural processes and return nutrients back to it. For example, in a forest, soils give heaps of energy and nutrients to trees and other forest plants. At the end of the tree’s lives, they drop their leaves on the ground and return the favor. Unhealthy soil, or un-fertile soil, experiences more extraction than return.

In addition to soil health, there are some inherent features of soil that humans nor trees nor kale can control. There are many soil types that are reflective of the history of a given piece of land. Certain soils (alluvial) tell us that there used to be a river in that spot, for example. Furthermore, soils are most basically classified as clay, sand, silt, and anywhere in between. Based on the balance of clay, sand, and silt, the soil will act differently. You can look up what kind of soil you’re standing on right now here!

Nell and students
Nell testing soil with students

Every fall for the past couple years or so, we’ve tested the soil in both of our teaching gardens. As gardeners, we play a pretty significant role in soil health. Some things we’ve done so far to enhance soil health include: adding compost and soil amendments early in the season, excluding synthetic inputs, cover cropping spent plots, and composting after large harvests. All of these are in effort to return nutrients and organic matter to the soil.

The soil tests we did were through UVM’s Agricultural and Environmental Testing Laboratory and the Cornell Soil Health Testing Laboratory. Both will clue us into the soil’s pH, organic matter, and various micronutrient levels, in addition to some more technical information about the sample. The Cornell Lab will also include information about soil respiration (what’s breathing in there?) and we aggregate stability (soil structure). These soil tests will inform next year’s soil health actions in the gardens, such as what kinds of organic soil amendments to add and what kinds of plants we can expect to do well. If you’re curious about improving your garden’s soil fertility in the mean time, UVM Extension has put together some excellent information on Managing Vegetable Garden Soil Fertility in Vermont.

Nell soil

Just like we cherish our relationships with each other and with our incredible edible harvests, we cherish our relationship with the soil. Such a relationship requires care and reciprocity, and begins with knowing what’s going on down there.

If you’re interested in getting your garden soil tested, Cedar Circle Farm can guide you through the process with this easy how-to!

Stay tuned for the results of our soil tests and corresponding garden planning for 2019!

Nell has been an intern with the Vermont Community Garden Network for the last two seasons, first as Garden Education Intern and this year as Community Teaching Garden Intern. She is also an Undergraduate Research Fellow with UVM’s Agroecology and Livelihoods Collaborative (ALC) and has brought a wealth of knowledge to the Community Teaching Gardens this year! Thank you, Nell! 

Grow your own food, medicine, flowers, and community in 2020!

Early bird registration for the 2020 Community Teaching Garden is open! Click here for online registration.

We have updated the Community Teaching Garden Course to better reflect the valuable feedback that past students share with us each season.

Classes are now scheduled for 1 weeknight + 1 Saturday each month. Total instruction hours are comparable to past years’, however the most significant change is that students will need to dedicate more time on their own schedule for tasks such as watering, weeding, and harvesting from their individual beds.

We are very excited about Saturday classes that will take the shape of a make-and-take workshop during which students will learn herbalism and food preservation skills to transform garden harvest into food and medicine to stock their pantries and medicine cabinets. Meeting for 3 hours on a Saturday means that we will also have time for a monthly brunch potluck that has always been a highlight of the CTG experience – potluck dishes are usually extraordinary showcases of fresh garden harvest and culinary inspiration. We can think of no better way to spend 1 Saturday morning a month!

In past years we have managed two Community Teaching Garden sites, but for the 2020 season we have made a difficult, although important, decision to focus our energy on the Ethan Allen CTG site. (FYI – the Tommy Thompson CTG site will now be managed by Burlington Area Community Gardens). We are looking forward to expanding pollinator gardens, perennial plantings, and student bed square footage at the Ethan Allen site this year.

The CTG experience is revolutionary. Past participants share glowing feedback about the knowledge they acquired, the weekly harvest baskets they went home with, and the community of friends that they made. If you would like to talk to a past participant and/or if you have questions for the CTG Lead Instructor, feel free to reach out to

Rhubarb & Brassicas

Hey everyone, the Community Teaching Garden is up and rolling again in preparation for a fruitful season! We have been busy bees this rainy spring so far with big leafy plans a-brewing!

Maggie & Gillian planting a Napa cabbage transplant!

Earlier this month we tucked our first transplants of plants in the delicious and diverse Brassica family into the garden beds, such as brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, kohlrabi and purple cauliflower. Some other members of this family now growing up together at CTG are peppery mustard greens, arugula, radishes and kale. The Solanum family just started moving in, too– plenty of slips of German butterball and All Blue potatoes are snugly burrowed in the neighboring raised beds (hopefully nice and safe from any Colorado potato beetles.)

All these May showers have been kind to our brassicas, giving them the cool, moist soil they need to thrive… Already some heart-shaped cotyledons of the seeds have already been poking up out of the soil!

Another gift of the spring thus far is a stunning perennial vegetable who was already waiting from last season to welcome us warmly, actually, perhaps a bit tartly: rhubarb! Rhubarb is in the buckwheat family and originated in Asia thousands of years ago. Underground, rhubarb has a hardy rhizome that you can cut and transplant in early spring to spread it wherever you would like. Our rhubarb evidently weathered the long winter well as their healthy broad green leaves and bright ruby red stalks practically called out to us from their patch on our first day.


We learned about how the succulent stalks (petioles) are tangy and often prepared for desserts like a fruit, and its leaves are high in a toxic compound called oxalic acid–so make sure to cut them off and compost them. Students had plenty of ideas about how to enjoy this first harvest of the garden and gladly traded recipes, here are a few!


  • Rhiannon recommends putting sugar on it and eating it raw like a snack she remembers from her childhood.
  • Marleen makes rhubarb chutney for a tangy, semi-sweet spread to put on meat dishes, cheese and crusty bread
  • And Huy made a rhubarb cake to share with everyone!