Week 3: May 22

Topics:

  • Crop rotation
  • How to plant potatoes

Summary of week’s activities:

  • Sowing potatoes and radishes
  • Garden planning: review the different crop families and decide which plants you want to plant of each
  • First community potluck!

This week the class learned about crop rotation. Crop rotation is important as it cuts down on disease and nutrient depletion of the soil. In the CTG, crops are rotated through four quadrants within each individual garden bed. Gardeners are given a garden map at the beginning of the gardening season which shows where crops from specific families of plants are to be planted that year. Another thing which gardeners must consider when designing a garden is plant height, to prevent shading of shorter plants. However, some plants, including cool season crops like lettuce and spinach, thrive in shade and will do well in the shadow of a taller plant. If these plants are given full sun they will “bolt,” or flower and go to seed – a process that ends their life cycle and makes their leaves bitter and unpalatable. When these plants are grown in shade, the harvest will be extended and crop will be more tender and succulent. The height of a mature plant can be found on the back of seed packets.

The type of plant determines whether a gardener should use wide or single rows. Single rows are used for plants that will take up a lot of space, while crops like greens, radishes, and beets go in wide rows since they are small and can grow close together. Seedlings in wide rows, especially greens, should be thinned throughout the growing season. This allows a few vigorous plants to reach maturity. Wide rows should be spaced several inches apart. Spacing within a wide row can be based on the size of the seed. Larger seeds, like beets, can be planted and inch or so apart. Smaller seeds like lettuce can be scattered much more densely and thinned as they grow. Many planting instructions on seed packages are designed with large mono-crop harvesting in mind, but the CTG utilizes small raised beds, a system which allows for rows to be planted more closely. When paths are not placed between each row of crops, a diverse selection of plants can be planted in a small, easily reachable space, and each plant doesn’t need as much room. In order to extend the harvest, not all seeds should be planted at the same time in a garden. Instead, succession planting is recommended.

We learned how to plant potatoes this week. To do this, you want to have organic seed potatoes which are certified disease free, after a first purchase you may want to save some to re-seed the following year. Gardeners cut the potato so that there a a couple of “eyes” on each chunk. An eye is the growth on the potato that will grow into the plant .

Next, gardeners dig two trenches, 8 inches deep and 1.5 feet between them. Then place each potato chunk in the trench a foot between each, and cover with soil.

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Week 2: May 14, 17

Topics:

  • Soil health
  • Nutrients and Ph
  • Soil testing

Summary of week’s activities:

  • Made two soil test to submit to UVM extension
  • Discussed importance of nutrients in the garden

The main topic this week was soils. Soil quality is vital for healthy crops, and for gardeners it is important to understand the basics of soil health. Soil is an ecosystem in itself. The basic nutrient that we talk about in soil health are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K). Nitrogen affects leafy growth and chlorophyll, when there is a deficiency in N, leaves will appear yellow and plants will look weathered, if there is too much Nitrogen, the plants will send too much energy to leaves. Decomposition of organic material ties up the nitrogen in the soil temporarily, that is why we try to remove the rye grass from the soil. Phosphorus is a component of several cellular structures and is important for energy transfer, other biochemical processes, flowering and proper root growth. Potassium has a number of regulatory functions in plants, and inadequate levels can result in sickly looking plants with poor disease resistance.

Understanding the role of these nutrients will help us to understand the soil test results. Getting a soil test every few years in your garden is a good idea, and if you are starting up a garden, you should definitely get a soil test. Especially if you are living in an urban area, like Burlington, because the soil test will tell you if there is any contamination, such as lead or industrial chemicals, which is common in urban soils and can be absorbed by the roots of plants. A soil test may be purchased for around $14 at UVM. To conduct the test, dig a hole 10-18 inches deep and take a slice all the way down the edge of the hole. Put this soil sample in a bucket and do the same process at 10 points throughout the garden. Mix all of the samples together and take a sample, about one cup, and put it in the plastic bag which is included in the soil test kit. (For more information check out UVM’s Agricultural and Environmental Testing Lab website: http://pss.uvm.edu/ag_testing/?Page=soils.html)

Soil health can be nurtured in several ways: by the addition of compost and other soil amendments like alfalfa pellets, by growing cover crops like rye grass (planted in the fall and turned under in the spring), by rotating crops from season to season, and by growing legumes like beans and peas (which fix nitrogen). Adding organic matter is also important, as it adds nutrients to the soil, this is why we add compost.

For more information on what plants like what kinds of soil, you can look in the HIgh Mowing Magazine, where there is a description of different plants. (Or look on their website and under “growing information” there is a category about soil requirements). Also, in the “Organic Vegetable Gardener’s Bible”, chapter 6 covers soils and soil health and on page 126 you can find this information.

Lastly, we ended with another bountiful harvest of rhubarb!

Week 1: May 7, 10

Topics:
  • History of Friends of Burlington Gardens and the Community Teaching Garden
  • Garden orientation and tour, introduction to the physical space
  • Garden planning
  • Understanding seed packets
Summary of week’s activities:
  • Personal introductions and story sharing
  • Distribution of folders, class materials, and garden maps
  • Optional purchasing of “The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible” for $12
Monday: The group gathered at the end of a sunny, refreshing spring day for our first Community Teaching Garden class. We gathered in a circle and Jess Hyman, program director of Friends of Burlington Gardens gave an overview of Friends of Burlington Gardens and the history of the Community Teaching Garden and the organization. Denise introduced herself, and then we went around in the circle and gave a brief introduction and story sharing of who were are, why we are here. Denise walked us through a tour of the garden and gave a quick overview of what the season and class will look like. We learned that it is very important to avoid walking on the garden beds because this will cause soil compaction. Instead, we have paths between beds that are for walking on. We spent the rest of the class, until around 8:30 PM in groups weeding the beds and setting up the compost piles.
. . .
Thursday: On a misty rainy evening, the group got right to work! We spent the majority of the class continuing our de-weeding project. Around 8:30 PM we gathered for a quick discussion on reading seed packets and we planted a bed on sugar snap and shelling peas! As the darkness set in, some eager gardeners learned how to harvest rhubarb, the first harvest of the garden this season. Rhubarb is a perennial crop, which means that it will grow back year after year (as opposed to annual, when you have to plant it every year). To harvest rhubarb we learned to pull from the bottom of the stalk and it will dislodge from the plant. Do not harvest the stalk that has a flower on it. Then, cut off the leaves and put them in the compost. Rhubarb leaves are poisonous to humans, but the stalk is delicious for pies, jams, and compotes.