CTG 2014 Week 4: May 24 to 29- Plot Assignments, Planting Brassica Crops, and Adding Covers

Topics:

  • Planting starts
  • Brassica family crops
  • Covering crops for pest control

Activities:

  • Plot assignments & painting signs
  • Planting cabbage, broccoli, & brussels sprouts
  • Using row covers
  • Sign

This past long weekend in Burlington was full of excitement between the 2o14 Key Bank Vermont City Marathon & Relay (kudos to you VCGN runners!) and Memorial Day celebrations.  However, there was just as much excitement to be had in the Community Teaching Gardens as our students began planting their own starts and finally received their plot assignments!  There were even some delicious treats to be shared as well!

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Lettuce starts!
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I spy some radishes…

Planting Starts:

Although both of our classes had previously sown seeds in the gardens, this week’s planting activities revolved around using starts, or sprouted plants that had been seeded in containers before the weather and soil conditions permitted successful planting.  Some tips covered by Denise included the  ‘hardening off’ of starts, a process in which the seedlings are gradually exposed to the outdoors.  The goal being to build up the seedlings ability to withstand outdoor temperatures and less ‘baby-sitting’ by the gardener.   Denise also provided a demo on the root ‘boundness’ of starts, or when the roots of the starts begin to take up majority of the container space, providing little room for continued growth.   This is certainly a sign of the plant’s desire to literally spread its roots and continue its growth.  After a demo of how to remove the starts from the containers, Denise showed the students the proper methods for planting them into the soil of the prepared beds.

Teaching Assessment Rootboundness of Starts
Discussing root boundness
Mallory the Artist
Mallory the artist working on her sign

Plants of the Brassica Family:

After receiving their long-awaited plot assignments, Wednesday and Thursday’s classes got their hands dirty with Denise as they set about planting some awesome-looking starts from Red Wagon Plants that Libby, our lovely Program Manager, had delivered to the gardens.  The starts included several examples from the brassica family, a genus of vegetables that includes crops like kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, kohlrabi, mustard seed, and cauliflower.  Many of these veggies provide excellent sources of vitamin C and fiber, not to mention they’re absolutely delicious.  Each of our gardeners got to work planting two types of cabbages and some broccoli in their individual plots, and then shared the job of planting Brussels sprouts in the communal beds.  We can’t wait to taste some of these delicious crops at our upcoming potlucks!

Intro to Starts
Introducing the brassica family
Ali The Artist
Ali’s got some serious talent

Covering crops for pest control:

 

In a continuation of last week’s discussion on covering crops to prevent the destruction of native pests, like the flea beetle, Denise had the students apply their own row covers after planting their lovely, yet vulnerable starts.  Aside from creating a physical barrier between crops and pests, row covers can also protect starts from cold and wind and discourage the spread of disease.   Row covers can be either draped directly over the crops or can be coupled with metal hoops or wooden supports to provide space between the crops and fabric.  It is important to note that some crops that require pollination will need their covers removed for periods during the daytime to allow our bee friends to get to work, but other crops, like tomatoes, do not require this.  For more information on row covers and when to use them visit: http://www.gardeners.com/how-to/row-covers/5111.html.

Class Demo Planting Starts
Planting starts demo
Brook w Rhuarb Fresh Popsicle
Enjoying some fresh rhubarb popsicles

With our fourth week coming to close, our gardens and gardeners have begun to flourish and we couldn’t be more excited to see what the remainder of the gardening season holds in store!

CTG 2014 Week 3: May 17 to 22- First Potluck, Planting & Thinning Demos, & Adding Organic Nutrients

Topics:

  • Planting & Thinning
  • Cover Crops
  • Intro to Pests (TT)
  • Boosting Soil Fertility

Activities:

  • First Potluck!
  • Planting Radishes, Lettuce, & Potatoes (TT)
  • Adding alfalfa powder & kelp meal
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A plate full of goodness

Although this past week was ushered in by some chilly, drizzly weather, the CTG students, interns, staff members, and some guests were all smiles as we met for our first official potluck of the season Saturday morning at the Tommy Thompson site.   With delicious food aplenty, we gathered for brunch and each of the classes enjoyed meeting one another while sharing recipes and gardening interests.  There were certainly a plenty of ‘mmmm’s’ going around as we dug into dishes like Martine’s Strawberry-Banana Rhubarb Crisp and Alyssa’s BLT egg salad.  Kudos are in order for all of our students and their cooking abilities- I think it’s safe to say that everyone left feeling very satisfied and content.  For those of our students who couldn’t make it to our first potluck, we hope to see you at the next one!

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Decisions, decisions, decisions
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Looks like Denise has an idea!
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A parting gift for our potluck guests

Planting & Thinning:

With plot assignments occurring in the next week, Denise offered demonstrations on planting seeds on both Monday and Wednesday to help the students prepare for their individual plots.  Rows were dug in the communal beds at both the Ethan Allen and Tommy Thompson sites and the seeds of radishes and mixed lettuce were sown by the students under Denise’s watchful eye.  Some helpful tips to keep mind when planting seeds include making sure the soil is moist prior to seeding and that seeds should be buried at a depth that is twice as deep as the seed is long, or you  can always refer to a trusty seed packet for precise measurements.  Also, it is important to remember that seeds need constant water to germinate, and so its a good idea to watch the weather and/or give them a good, regular soaking once they’ve sprouted so they can take root successfully.   The Tommy Thompson group were eager as they also planted two varieties of potatoes, German Butterball and Desiree, from sprouted potatoes rather than seeds.  These were planted at a much deeper depth than the radish and lettuce, and Denise mentioned that new gardeners are better off  using seeds to avoid using contaminated potatoes and to reduce the possibility of fungal disease midst the starts.  In the weeks to follow, Denise will continue with a thinning demonstration on the radish and lettuce once they have sprouted in order to show students what happens when sprouts get overcrowded rather than thinned.

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Making rows
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Planting radishes

 

Cover Crops:

Midst the excitement of planting, some of the students at the Ethan Allen  Homestead noticed sprouts of what they assumed to be weeds, but were remnants of the Buckwheat that had been planted last season as a cover crop as the site laid fallow.  This sparked a brief discussion on cover crops, or crops that are cultivated when the given plot or field is not being cultivated with a cash crop (i.e corn, veggie gardens) in order to preserve and add to the soil’s fertility and organic matter. For more information regarding cover crops visit the Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) website for an informative webinar at: http://www.sare.org/Learning-Center/Multimedia/American-Society-of-Agronomy-Cover-Crops-Webinar-Series/Cover-Crops-Seed-Selection-and-Planting

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Our peas have sprouted!

Brief Introduction to Plant Disease & Pests:

Wednesday’s class at the Tommy Thompson site also got a brief introduction on some native pests that will most likely be encountered (although we hope not) at some point this growing season.  While preparing the rows for the potatoes, Denise gave some information on potato blight, a common disease in the Northeast that impacts, as its name suggests, potatoes.   Also known as late blight, this disease causes grey-green spots on growing tubers and eventually turn an unsightly dark brown in hue.   Denise, with help from second-year gardening student Steve, also introduced flea beetles, another common pest in the Northeast that generally targets veggies found in the cabbage family.  These small black beetles received their title due to the way they jump like fleas when they are disturbed.  After identifying a few that had gotten to the sprouting radishes at another second-year’s garden, Steve showed the class the row cover he had developed to put over his arugula transplants.  Keeping starts and/or transplants covered is the  best method for excluding pests like flea beetles and while also keeping the transplants warm- a difficult task here in VT! A row cover can easily be made by hand with some fabric, some malleable supports, and stakes.  Check out Steve’s below!

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Planting potatoes at Tommy Thompson
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The leftovers from a flea beetle picnic
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Thanks for the tips Steve!

Boosting Soil Fertility:

Each group this week ended class by getting their hands dirty in not soil, but alfalfa powder and kelp meal.  Each of the unplanted beds received a hefty sprinkling of each of these organic fertilizers to give the soil a little boost before the students begin planting next week.  While the alfalfa powder adds to the soil’s organic matter, the kelp meal provides some essential micro-nutrients that the future plants will certainly be thankful for!

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Explaining the benefits of kelp meal and alfalfa powder
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Working at sunset

Delectable Deserts from Alyssa

Last Monday evening, the Ethan Allen group was fortunate enough to munch on some seriously scrumptious deserts brought by Alyssa, a first year student in the CTG program.  Due to popular demand, I am posting them here for our students, volunteers, interns, staff, and fans to reference for their own use.  I’m no professional taste-tester, but these deserts are delicious, semi-nutritious, vegan, and gluten-free!  Thanks again for the treats, Alyssa!!

Flourless Chocolate Chip Chickpea Blondies with Sea Salt:

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Yield: 16 blondies

Ingredients:

  • Cooking spray
  • 1 can (15 oz) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup all natural almond butter or peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup or agave nectar (honey can also be used)
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoonbacking soda
  • 1/3 cup vegan (or regular) dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips plus 2 tablespoons
  • sea salt, for sprinkling

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and spray 8×8 inch pan with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In a food processor, add all ingredients except chocolate chips and process until batter is smooth. Fold in 1/3 cup of chocolate chips.  Note: batter will be thick and delicious- can be eaten on  its own!
  3. Spread batter evenly in prepared pan then sprinkle 2 tablespoons of chocolate chips on top.  Bake for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean and edges are slightly brown.  The batter may look underdone,  but you don’t want the blondies to dry out.
  4. Cool pan on for 20 minutes on wire rack.  Sprinkle with sea salt then cut into squares.

Variations:

Adding an egg to the batter will make it more cake-like, but they will not be vegan.

Add your favorite nuts or dried fruits.

Healthy Flourless Black Bean Avocado Brownies:

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Yield: 12 bars

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon flaxseeds
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened almond milk
  • 1- 15 oz can low sodium black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 medium to large ripe avocado
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup  dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 cup vegan chocolate chips, plus 2 tablespoons for sprinkling
  • 1/2 teaspoon coconut oil

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease an 8×8 inch baking pan.
  2. Place flaxseeds and almond milk into food processor.  Process or puree until ingredients form a smooth batter and almond milk thickens up a bit, about 1 minute.  Next add in black bean, avocado, vanilla, and brown sugar and process again until smooth.  Add in cocoa powder, baking soda, and baking powder and process again until smooth. Batter will be thick.  If batter is too thick and won’t process, you can add in another tablespoon or two of milk.  This batter needs to be thick to produce fudgy brownies.
  3. Add batter into prepared pan and use a spatula to spread evening to sides.
  4. In a microwave-safe bowl, microwave 1/4 cup chocolate chips and coconut oil for 30-45 seconds to melt chocolate.  Stir until smooth, then pour over top of batter.  Use a knife to swirl chocolate into batter a few times.  Sprinkle top of batter with 2 tablespoons of chocolate chips.
  5. Bake for 22-30 minutes or until knife inserted comes out somewhat clean.  The top of the batter should be completely set and no longer jiggle.  Cool pan on wire rack and then cut into bars.

Notes:

You may replace brown sugar with honey or agave nectar, but reduce amount to 1/3 cup.

Brownies are best when served room temperature or cold.  They should be stored in the fridge.

 

CTG 2014 Week 2: May 10 to 15- Compost, Weeding, and Garden Planning

Topics:

  • Garden Planning
  • Crop Rotation
  • Seeds & How to Plant

Activities:

  • Adding compost
  • Weeding
  • Planting peas (TT)
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Denise sharing her knowledge

This week finally brought some greatly desired warm weather, as well as a bit of rain, for our gardeners who returned for their second round of classes led by the ever knowledgeable Denise.  After adding some fresh compost to the beds at the end of last week, and weeding out the weeds (pun intended) midst the Ethan Allen group’s sprouting raspberries, it was time to begin discussing the ins and outs of planning a garden.

 

CTG Rasberries Class #3 four days after weeding
Raspberries!
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Compost thieves beware

Planning a Garden:

What do I plant? Which vegetables and fruits will do best in my garden? Where do I buy seeds and how do I know I’m planting them correctly?  These questions were all addressed by Denise as she provided our students with some valuable tips on planning and preparing for a successful garden in both Monday’s class at the Ethan Allen Homestead and Wednesday’s Tommy Thompson group.  In terms of choosing what to grow it is important to consider your personal food and/or culinary preferences, the amount of sun and shade your designated plot will receive throughout the season, the amount of space each crop will need to grow successfully, and the actual geographic location of your garden.    Our class textbook, The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible, is written by native Vermonter Edward C. Smith and is a great reference to have in picking which crops to cultivate in Vermont’s climate.  Denise also provided some instructive handouts that illustrate Plant Hardiness Zones, which map out regions based on average winter temperatures and help provide gardeners with a standard for determining which plants will thrive in their local region.  For a colored, interactive map you can visit the USDA’s website at: http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/.

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Patiently waiting to harvest some of these guys!

Crop Rotation:

Although we are just beginning this season’s garden, Denise introduced our students to crop rotation, an important concept to consider when thinking about a garden or field in the long-term. Rotating crops in successive seasons is key in maintaining soil fertility and disturbing pest cycles and diseases.  Each garden is different,  and therefore each crop rotation cycle differs in terms of length of the rotation and the types of crops being included.  For more information visit: http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/crop-rotation.

The learning process
The learning process
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Can you spot a 4-leaf clover?

Seeds:

As a part of her garden planning discussion, Denise shared with both classes how to go about acquiring seeds as well as what things should be considered when planting them.  Seeds of all kinds, both organic and non, can be purchased at any garden store or from seed catalogs.  Locally, seeds may be purchased at Gardener’s Supply, a partner of VCGN, located at the Intervale, City Market, and directly from High Mowing, an organic seed company from the Northeast Kingdom (you can order online at: http://www.highmowingseeds.com/).    When it came to talking about planting methods, Denise handed out a series of seed packets and handouts to describe the most important components to consider which include soil temperature, spacing, hardiness, and seeding depth.  When in doubt, seed packets act as a great reference for making sure your seeds are properly sown and cared for.  With a better idea of what types of veggies may be successful in their individual plots, our gardeners began brainstorming what types of seeds they wanted to get their green thumbs on to begin planting in the weeks to come.

 

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Learning about seeds
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Asparagus, anyone?

Although Monday’s gang didn’t have time for any serious gardening work, we were fortunate enough to enjoy watching the pearly moon rise in the purple night sky over the Ethan Allen Homestead.  Wednesday’s group was not as lucky when it came to the weather, yet the beds were full of wiggling earthworms and  everyone went home with some freshly harvested asparagus, after planting and watering a couple of rows of shelling peas.   This Saturday both of the Community Teaching Garden classes will come together at the Tommy Thompson Community Garden  and share some delicious treats during our first potluck of season!

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A peaceful end to another great night at the garden

CTG 2014 Week 1: May 3 to 9- Day in the Dirt & a welcome to the garden!

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The Tommy Thompson Community Teaching Garden site is ready for action!

Spring has sprung and our 2014 Community Teaching Garden classes have officially begun at both the Ethan Allen Homestead and Tommy Thompson Community Garden sites!  Thanks to our wonderful ‘Day in the Dirt’ volunteers and the UVM CDAE Public Communications capstone team, both gardening sites received a much needed ‘makeover’ last Saturday, May 3 to prepare them for the CTG program and its eager students.  Our CTG sites look fantastic with their freshly wood-chipped pathways, newly staked beds, and a much needed layer of compost!  I think its’s safe to say that our volunteers really enjoyed themselves as well as they worked in the surprisingly beautiful weather sharing laughs, conversation, and a plethora of delicious food during our post-work lunch celebration.  We at VCGN can’t thank you enough, and hope you all return for another successful Day in the Dirt next year!

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Day in the Dirt volunteers sprucing up Tommy Thompson site- thanks everyone!
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The weeding warriors

On Monday our first class began with our Ethan Allen Homestead group, and all were in high spirits despite the overcast skies and chilly temperatures.   As with all first day of classes, an orientation of sorts was in order.   After introducing herself as the Lead Teacher, Denise Quick handed over the reigns to Libby Weiland, our Program Manager, to provide the students a crash-course on the Vermont Community Garden Network and its extensive projects throughout Burlington and the rest of the state.  Following suit, both our new students and second-year mentors  introduced themselves to the group and shared their gardening interests and incentives for participating in this season’s class.    Next up was a tour of the Ethan Allen Homestead site led by Denise, who pointed out the individual and common gardening beds, the tool shed, and the designated compost pens, which we hope will be getting revamped by our summer compost intern, Shannan.

CTG Denise & Libby-LynneCardozo
Meet our Lead Teacher Denise & Program Manager Libby (Photo Credit: Lynne Cardozo)

Once our new students became familiarized with their new gardening home, Denise jumped right into her first instructive session with a introduction on the invaluable foundation of any and every gardening site- soils!   In Denise’s words, soils can be considered as their own micro-ecosystems with both abiotic, or non-living,  and biotic, or living, components.  Abiotic factors of soil can be comprised into two sub-groups, which include pore spaces for air and water and soil solids that include minerals, nutrients, and soil particles.    Soil particles, which is in reference to either sand, silt, or clay, often determine how porous or susceptible to compaction a given soil sample is.  As Denise explained, a soil that is equal parts sand, silt, and clay is referred to as a loamy soil.   The class was then given a brief introduction on the essential nutrients plants require for successful growth and yields.  While there are 18 essential nutrients in all, the students learned that nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) are key in establishing healthy soils to cultivate in.   Some of the soil’s biotic components, like certain bacteria, help release these nutrients via decomposition and nitrogen fixation, a process which converts atmospheric nitrogen into a form that is usable by plants.

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Ethan Allen Homestead: First day of school!

By this point in the soils discussion, the evening sky had reached a darker hue and many of the students were keen on getting warmer so Denise suggested they get moving by planting a row of sugar-snap peas and a row of shelling peas in on the common beds.  Once the peas were nestled into the soil and covered, the first official CTG class at the Ethan Allen Homestead came to an end.

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Peas please!

 

 

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Planting sugar-snap peas (Photo Credit: Lynne Cardozo)

On Wednesday evening the second CTG class gathered for their first meeting at the Tommy Thompson Community Garden located at the Intervale.  Fortunately, the skies were much clearer and we were graced by a gorgeous sunset as we gathered around for introductions and orientation.  Similar to Monday’s class at the Ethan Allen Homestead, Denise and Libby introduced the program and VCGN, and we even received a surprise visit by our Executive Director Jess Hymann who also warmly welcomed all of the new and returning students.  After introductions, a tour of the teaching garden was given by Denise who pointed out the individual and communal beds, the stone herb spiral, the growing rhubarb and strawberries, and the bed where a beneficial insect garden is meant to be planted during the season as a supplemental project of the program.  With the sun quickly slipping behind the trees, there was not much light left to lead a full discussion, and so after handing out copies of Edward C. Smith’s The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible to each student, class came to an end.  Next up for the Tommy Thompson group on Saturday morning- soils!

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Tommy Thompson garden tour- check out the rhubarb!

 

 

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Tommy Thompson class photo!

With week 1 of the CTG program coming to a close, we are eager to ‘dig’ a little deeper with our students and finally welcome the gardening season here in VT!