Week 16: August 21

Cover Crop

Cover cropping is the practice of sowing plants on the land for the purpose of improving the soil. Cover crops are often overlooked by home gardeners, but of you really want to maximize the productivity and health of your garden, the answers are in the soil. Cover crops are used mostly for amending the soil, adding nitrogen and organic matter, which can then be absorbed by crops. A great article on cover crops in home gardens: http://www.motherearthnews.com/Organic-Gardening/Cover-Crops-Soil-Nutrients.aspx

In Monday’s class gardeners looked at a section of the community garden plots at Ethan which is cover cropped with buckwheat. Buckwheat is favored by many farmers because it is a great nitrogen fixer. Other great nitrogen fixing cover crops are vetch and clover, which can be planted in between rows as a living mulch. If gardeners cover crop effectively, they can avoid having to add compost, because the soil will already be so rich. The idea is to never have exposed soil, so that there will not be run off or erosion and the nutrients in the soil will not be lost.


Here is a great chart of different cover crops http://www.johnnyseeds.com/assets/information/FarmSeedComparison.pdf

Cover crops are also used for remediation. For our garden this is especially important with the contamination from persistent herbicides. Green Mountain Compost and the Chittenden Solid Wast District are giving cover crop kits to gardeners and farmers who used their compost this season. For the herbicides which target broad leaf plants, like we have, it is best to use oats.


To sow the rye we clears the plot where were wanted to plant the grain and broadcast the seed, by basically just scattering the seed. We then raked it lightly under to cover with soil and watered the soil. Image

And remember, this Thursday is a community pot luck! This is the best time of the year in Vermont to find fresh fruits and vegetables, so it should be a feast! Bring a dish and a friend.



Week 14: August 6

Calendula Salve Workshop

Calendula is an herbal flower that has very powerful healing properties. Calendula promotes external cell re-growth and internally it generates lymphoid cleansing. General herbal remedies which maximize the healing properties of calendula are salves, which are applies externally, and tinctures, which are the most direct and effective way o consume it, though people will at times eat the flower on salads, as one gardener told us on Monday.


To make a salve:

The petals on the calendula flower are sticky to touch. Dry them for a few hours to a day in a dry hot place (Denise uses her car as an herbal drying space!).

In a pint-sized mason jar, break the petals off the bud of the flower.


Partially fill* the mason jar with a cold pressed oil, we used olive oil, but you can also use hemp or other oils. Leave the mason jar in the sun for at least one week. The oil will absorb the calendula and become a bright orangey yellow color. After this process of absorbsion is complete, strain the petals from the oils, and all a bit of beeswax.

*(proportions depend on how many petals you have)

This salve is great for chapped faces or hands (think dry gardener hands), and great for healing minor scrapes and burns.

Week 13: July 31

Sauerkraut Workshop

This week gardeners learned how to make sauerkraut with cabbage and salt. This process of preserving our harvest is called lacto-fermentation. As opposed to canning, or blanching and freezing, where the heat kills bacteria, and as a result many nutrients are lost, lacto-fermentation is unique in that it creates an environment for bacteria to grow and flourish- but only the bacteria which is good for us! In the same way that yogurt has pro-biotics, lacto-fermentation promotes the growth of healthy bacteria. Sally Fallon, author of Nourishing Traditions writes, “The proliferation of lactobacilli in fermented vegetables enhances their digestibility and increases vitamin levels. These beneficial organisms produce numerous helpful enzymes as well as antibiotic and anti carcinogenic substances. Their main by-product, lactic acid, not only keeps vegetables and fruits in a state of perfect preservation but also promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout the intestine.” While the gardeners at the teaching garden learned the most basic sauerkraut recipe, lacto-fermentation can occur with nearly all vegetables, with the addition of spices and salt.


What you need:

2 lbs of cabbage (a small head of cabbage)

1 tbsp. of salt

1 quart mason jar

Shred the cabbage and put in a large bowl. mix in the salt and let sit for a few hours. This process draws the moisture out of the cabbage and will make the brine in which lacto-fermentation begins. Image

After a few hours begin packing the cabbage into the mason jar. While it is good to be clean about this process, do not be overly sterile- no need to sterilize jars as in canning- because the bacteria is what makes lacto-fermentation occur! As you stuff the cabbage into the mason jar, pound it down so that it is compact as can be. Some people like to add whey to sped up the fermentation process, but it is not necessary. On a counter with a plate beneath (to catch any spillage), leave the mason jar with its top on but not screwed down. Leave the kraut at room temperature, checking on it every day to make sure that the cabbage is submerged in water temperature. Wait until it is bubbly, usually about four days to a week, at which point you may move it to a cool place, either a basement or the fridge.


If you are interested in learning more about recipes and the health benefits of fermentation, a great book I would recommend is Wild Fermentation be Sandor Ellix Katz (Chelsea Green Publishing).

Other updates from the garden:

Garlic harvest! We finally harvested the rest of the garlic. In our garden we harvested hardneck garlic, which was planted last October (a gift left by last years garden class!). Fresh garlic is a very easy vegetable to grow and save seed for the next years harvest.  After harvesting the garlic you can eat it fresh or use it like regular garlic, though it will be a bit stronger. Most gardeners will cure the garlic harvest so that they can store it for a longer period of time, which means drying it out in a hot, indoor, and dry place for about 2 weeks. Bulbs can store for more than 6 months if cured and stored properly.

As gardeners learned earlier in the season, hardneck garlic sends out a garlic scape, which we break off to promote the energy of the plant to go towards the bulb rather than the scape, and the flower. We must have missed one, however, which provided for a good comparison. The garlic on the left went to flower, and the one on the right we broke off the scape.

One thing to do with fresh garlic if you are eager to use it is to peel the outer most layer of skin off and wrap the bulb in aluminum foil with a bit of oil. roast the head of garlic in the oven for about an hour. Then peel the cloves and enjoy! I have made garlic bread and a roasted garlic hummus with my roasted garlic.