After Memorial Day weekend, the week started on Wednesday with a lesson on building raised beds from Jess, the Executive Director at the Vermont Community Garden Network. With freshly cut Vermont hemlock wood, we began our work to create a raised garden bed for both aesthetic and accessibility purposes. We learned that raised beds are often utilized in urban environments to avoid planting in contaminated soils, as industrial chemicals can end up in the soil in most cities. Raised beds are a great way to plant vegetables in a safe manner and many people enjoy the presence of raised beds in their gardens for aesthetic reasons. The natural, rustic look of the Vermont hemlock is already proving to be a nice addition to the Community Teaching Garden.
On Thursday we finished the raised bed work started by the students and staff on the day before by adding the last layer with some serious hammering. Once the frame was completed we added a few layers to fill the bed to ensure that it would be ready for individual planting, which is starting soon! The bottom layer was filled with debris and other organics from the new, unfinished compost pile. This layer is used to fill the space and avoid wasting soil and compost that the roots will not reach. On top of this layer we added a mix of finished compost and dirt. Once this task was finished, we wrapped up the sunny, humid night with individual bed assignments! Soon the plots will be filled with our favorite plants to enjoy.
On Monday, we began Week 3 by learning about various topics related to seeds and why rotating your crops is important to the maintenance and wellbeing of soil. Taking some time to look at several different seed packets, we learned that the packets provide almost all of the information you need to start your plants or vegetables. The packets offer guidance on when to plant, how deep to plant, how far apart to plant, and often how many days to harvest or maturity. While some plants have a short length of time until they are ready to be harvested, others will need a longer time in the ground, which is important to keep in mind when planting in Northern Vermont, where the season is shorter than in warmer climates. While the seed packets are a great source of information when starting your plants, looking at the seed itself can also be helpful. Depending on the size of the seed, you can determine how deep or shallow to plant and how much energy the seed is able to store.
Another key aspect of gardening is crop rotation. Crop rotation is necessary to avoid disease, maintain soil, and prevent the soil from becoming depleted. To ensure you are rotating your crops properly, divide the plants into families. This will help you sustain healthy soil and prevent diseases from overcoming your garden. An example we learned about in class was the brassica group, which includes cabbage, kale, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.
Once your seeds have taken root and begin to grow above the surface, it is often time to begin thinning your plants. We frequently plant more seeds than needed to ensure enough survive to harvest, which also forces us to thin our plants when they are young to prevent competition between the roots for nutrients. Thinning allows the roots to gain enough nutrients and leads to a healthy harvest.
After learning more about the importance of soil health and how to follow seed packet directions, it was time to plant some potatoes. We learned how to plant potato tubers, which are a little different than seeds. The tubers are left over from the previous season and are able to store the nutrients to reproduce during the next planting season. Before planting, you split the tuber and make sure that there is at least one good eye in each part you are splitting. The eyes look like sprouts that grow off of the tuber. We began planting the potatoes by digging two trenches about 6 to 8 inches deep and planted the tubers about 8 inches apart. Once the rows were full we added lots of soil back on top to ensure that there was more than enough soil for the potatoes to grow. The potatoes will be ready for harvesting in about 70 to 80 days or by the middle of the summer.
After planting potatoes we also had time to start some leeks and radishes. We transplanted the leeks from pots and ensured that the leeks were separated into individuals and planted a shared row. Along with the newly planted leeks, we started a thinning experiment with two rows of radishes. When the radishes begin to grow above the soil we will thin one row while leaving the other overcrowded to take a look at the difference thinning can make for healthy plants and a successful harvest.
After heavy rain and thunder, which cancelled Wednesday’s class, it was time for our first potluck of the season. On Thursday, members from both classes and Vermont Community Garden Network staff met for delicious food, lots of rhubarb treats, and even some stories of the Tommy Thompson Community Garden. Ann, the Administrative Assistant at the Vermont Community Garden Network, had a plot at the Tommy Thompson site, where we now meet, for 12 years and shared some photos and stories of the garden and how it has changed over the years. The potluck was a success and we ended just in time for another thunderstorm to make its way over Burlington.
After seemingly skipping over spring altogether this year, a couple of cool, damp evenings reminded us of the diverse weather conditions common to gardening in Vermont. We started Week 2 with a lesson on soil and compost. Healthy soil is critical to the growth of your plants and overall success of your garden. A good place to start when trying to determine the general health and makeup of your soil is by conducting a soil test. We learned that soil testing is important for various reasons. Soil tests can outline the status of important nutrients and elements such as calcium, phosphorus, and potassium. As we saw in the example soil tests during class, the results will tell you if you have a deficiency, good amount, or excess of the specific element while also providing you with suggestions on how to correct the levels to ensure your garden is successful and the soil is healthy for years to come. Soil tests are also important for urban gardening, especially in a city like Burlington with historic homes, to detect and determine the potential presence or levels of lead in the soil. As a result of lead being used in paints, lead can end up in the ground through runoff and other forms of contamination. We learned that to ensure the soil you use in your home garden is safe, you should have a soil test done. Do not worry if you find that your soil is contaminated because raised beds are often a solution to the problem. Soil tests are an important step in gardening that should not be forgotten or skipped because of their ability to show you what your garden needs and how to go about correcting the levels for optimal plant growth and ultimately a good harvest.
When analyzing your soil it is also important to determine the type of soil that makes up your garden. Soil can typically be made up of sand, silt, and clay. Ideally, the soil should a good mix of all three. Sandy soil can drain too quickly, while soil that is made up heavily of clay may not drain well enough. Also note that macronutrients are very important to the health of soil. The most important three are:
Nitrogen (N) – proteins, the transfer of energy, chlorophyll and photosynthesis
Phosphorus (P) – root growth, energy storage
Potassium (K) – photosynthesis, energy creation
To aid soil in its quest to be healthy and provide successful crops, remember the importance of compost. The importance of compost is outlined by Edward C. Smith in his book, The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible, “Compost is the magic elixir that brings your soil to life and keeps it alive”. Compost can help plants fight diseases, stabilize pH levels, and feed the soil. Compost is also a great way to reduce the amount of waste taken to the landfill; it is much better to compost the waste at home and for the benefit of your garden.
Many aspects of this lesson and soil knowledge are highly technical and complex. For more information on the specific elements found in soil and their roles along with details on composting, take a look at chapter 6 or pages 119 to 155 in Smith’s The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible. Another helpful website is http://extension.psu.edu/agronomy-guide/cm/sec1. Also, on that same website check out “Section 2: Soil Fertility Management” for more information.
After filling our brains with information on soil and compost, on Monday we picked up where we had left off with our weeding and transformed the garden yet again. With many hands, the weeding was quite effective. On Wednesday, after also learning all about the ins and outs of soil health, we spread a layer of buckwheat and clover as a cover crop along the teaching garden’s border with the other gardeners. Cover crops are a good way to help soil health and fertility. After raking the cover crop into the soil it was time for some more planting. In another joint effort, we planted a row of spinach in a shared plot. Soon the garden will be bursting with peas and spinach to share.
There are a ton of things that can be done with rhubarb. The super sour stalk of this the rhubarb plant (which is technically considered a vegetable) is showcased mostly in desserts. On it’s own rhubarb is a pretty low-calorie food, but because of it’s extreme tartness it is almost always paired with sugar and some other, sweeter fruit. And hey, when something demands to be made into a dessert, who am I to argue!
Yesterday was Mother’s day, and with our rhubarb growing like crazy I decided to make strawberry rhubarb muffins for Mother’s day brunch. Unfortunately, my first batch was eaten so quickly that it didn’t actually make it to brunch and I had to whip up a second batch. Here’s the recipe if you’re interested in making some yourself.
Strawberry Rhubarb Muffins
1/4 cup butter (I use 1/8 cup of butter and 1/8 cup of non-fat yogurt to reduce the fat)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup milk
1 cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup strawberries, chopped into 1/2 inch cubes
3/4 cup rhubarb, chopped into 1/2 inch cubes
Granulated sugar for sprinkling
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees
Mix together the butter, yogurt, sugar, egg, and milk in a bowl
Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt
Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir only until most of the lumps disappear
Fold in the strawberries and rhubarb
Spoon a heaping spoonful of the batter into a muffin into cupcake liners in a muffin tin
Sprinkle granulated sugar on the top of each muffin
Bake muffins for 25-30 minutes (until a toothpick stuck into the middle of one comes out cleanly)
A look into the history of the Vermont Community Garden Network and the establishment of the Community Teaching Garden
Information on the Tommy Thompson site and discussed Intervale community basics
Summary of the Week:
Orientation to the garden site
Introductions to each other and instructors
Hands-on work with weeding, maintaining active and fallow garden sites, planting peas, and even harvesting rhubarb
After a long streak of sunshine and cloudless skies the first CTG class of the summer met on Monday, May 6 for an introduction to each other, the Vermont Community Garden Network, and the Community Teaching Garden at the Tommy Thompson site. After providing the background of the Vermont Community Garden Network, Libby Weiland introduced herself as the Program Manager and Denise Quick as the Lead Teacher. Following all of the introductions of students and instructors we took some time to familiarize ourselves with the garden and Tommy Thompson site. More specifically we took some time to tour the Community Teaching Garden. Following our tour, it was time for a little garden work. The group worked together to plant a row of peas in a shared bed. As the sun set on a perfect spring day in Vermont, the class concluded with some weeding of the shared space in the center of the garden.
The dry, sunny weather in Vermont was interrupted by a much-needed rainy day on Wednesday, May 8 at the Community Teaching Garden. The drenching rain stopped just in time for class to start and group two to meet and begin our summer of garden fun. As we gathered under the roof while the rain carried on lightly, introductions were done and stories of connections to the land and community were told. The diverse group of students then took to the garden for a tour and chance to become acquainted with the site. There was more weeding to be done and with many hands, the work was efficient and the center circle of the garden looked healthy. Before parting as the rain picked up again and the sun disappeared the group spread some clover seed over the center garden circle.
On Thursday, May 9 the group met at the Ethan Allen Homestead site to help clean up and maintain the garden before it rests for a season. After a quick orientation to the site from Denise, the group was eager and worked hard for the next hour and a half on weeding and raking. The site was transformed and the reward was learning how to harvest rhubarb, which many students happily took home. Rhubarb plants grow rapidly and can be identified by their large, lush leaves and bright red stalks. We learned that it is important to pull up near the base of the stem while twisting slightly. It is also important to remember that the base of the stem and leaves are toxic but the stalk can be used for delicious deserts and in various forms. Some ideas on how to eat your rhubarb are in pie, jam, syrup, or crisp. If you are curious for more information on growing and cooking rhubarb you can look at page 288 in Edward C. Smith’s The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible, the book we received through the class on Monday or Wednesday, and from this website, http://urbanext.illinois.edu/veggies/rhubarb.cfm.
With the spring in full swing and summer clearly on its way in Vermont, it is time to prepare for the Community Teaching Garden! With all of the classes happening at the Tommy Thompson Community Garden, we started preparing the site on Friday, April 26 by marking the freshly tilled soil by following the plan for the garden created by the landscape designer, Jenna. After a morning of preparations the site was ready for the following day’s activities.
The stakes were placed to mark the future garden plots.
The Day in the Dirt event was planned and presented by the Vermont Community Garden Network and the hard work of UVM CDAE Public Communication students with support from various amazing sponsors, which made the fun day possible. Groups of volunteers joined together at various school and community garden sites around the city of Burlington on Saturday, April 27 to help prepare the sites for the summer. The hard work of the volunteers made the day a great success and we celebrated with lunch and a prize giveaway from the great sponsors.
The team of volunteers worked hard all morning to prepare the Tommy Thompson site.
The volunteers together after the day’s work was finished.
After a morning of hard work the volunteers gathered for lunch and prizes.
While the Community Teaching Garden site at the Winooski Valley Park Community Garden at the Ethan Allen Homestead is going to lie mostly fallow for this summer, there was still some site prep work to do, which, with the help of some volunteers, happened on Saturday, May 4. We joined together to rake, weed, and more on a gorgeous day. With the bike route right next door there were many people passing by on bikes or picking up trash for Green Up Day.
The group of volunteers helped clean up and prepare the Ethan Allen Homestead site.
With the first classes starting this week there was lots to do to prepare and the gardening fun is just beginning. We look forward to continuing to enjoy the great weather and seeing everyone for the first classes this week!