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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!