CTG Week 4: May 25th to May 31st – Planting Potatoes

Activities:

  • Planting potatoes
  • Picking plots and weeding the garden
Gathering in the Garden
Gathering in the Garden

This weeks task was to plant potatoes.  The delicious tuber that can be found in so many yummy dishes.  It makes sense that potatoes are the worlds fourth largest food crop when you think about the role they play in so many cuisines.   The glorious thing about potatoes is there are a multitude of varieties, and a multitude of ways to plant them.  You can plant them in hilled rows, in grow bags, in straw mulch or in wire cylinders to name just a few methods.  Our class chose the conventional route and opted for the hilled rows.  The advantage to this method is there is no soil to transport, or containers to buy, it is just a simple proven method that farmers have used for millennia.

Seed Potatoes
Seed Potatoes

One of the most important parts of growing potatoes is picking the right seed potatoes.  Why not just use those potatoes that got left in the cabinet a little to long, you know the ones that sprouted and are starting a garden plot of their own right in your kitchen?

Although, having a use for those little buggers would be great, potatoes that you purchase form your local grocery are often treated so that they don’t produce sprouts, and although this is great for your pantry it is not so great for your potato plant.  The safest way to chose your seed potatoes is to go to your local nursery and select seed potatoes that are cultivated for garden use.

Planting Potatoes
Planting Potatoes

On to planting.   Your potatoes should be about eight inches deep and a foot apart.  The seed potatoes can be cut apart so that you have one good sprout for each chunk of tuber.  Note, the tube will be what initially feeds the plant so make sure you don’t make the potato chunks to small.  It is also recommended that after cutting your potatoes you let them sit over night this allows the potato to harden and it subsequently becomes less susceptible to pests.  Potatoes need lots of space to develop under the soil and as the plants mature it is customary to mound soil around them to give added room for the tubers to grow.

Pulling Weeds
Pulling Weeds

After planting potatoes it was time for some more garden fun.  All the gardeners got to choose their plots.  Once everyone had a space of their own they got to work weeding it and getting it ready for planting.  Everyone talked and started thinking about all the delicious vegetables that they were going to grow and we all looked forward to seeing the garden come together and seeing how each gardener sets up their plot.   Each garden will express the individuality of each student and that is part of the beauty in gardening it is a form of art and there are so many ways to garden and express your individual creativity.

CTG Week 3: May 18th to May 24th – Garden Planning & Potluck

Activates:

  • Discussion about garden planning
  • Spreading compost
  • Covering the garlic with Reemay
  • Garden potluck
photo
Group photo of the class at Ethan Allen

This week marked another awesome week in the garden.  The topic of discussion was garden planning, and perfect timing too because the students are itching to get planting.  Planning a garden is no easy task, and there are many things that you need to take into account to get your garden set up just right.  By planning your garden properly you improve the health, and the yield of your crop. There are several important factors that go into a well planned garden, but the first thing you should ask yourself when you start thinking about planting is what do your like to eat, and what is expensive to buy at the grocery store?  You want your garden space to be practical and you want to utilize that space to produce food that meets your needs.  So ask yourself the following questions what will taste best fresh from the garden?  What plants will save me the most money if I grow them myself and what will I actually eat?

Listening to Denise
Listening to Denise

Although it would be ideal if we could grow the veggies we like to eat and with a little magic, stick the seeds in the ground, sit back and voilà a beautiful garden.  Magic right?  Well maybe it doesn’t work quit like that but keeping a few things in mind we can make a little magic happen.  Some of the obvious things to think about are plant spacing, plant size, sunny vs. shady planting and the length of time a given plant will take to mature.  Conveniently enough most of these questions can be answered right on the back of your seed packet.

Reading your seed packets carefully will tell you a lot about a plant.  How and when to plant it, how big it will grow,  how long you have to wait until you harvest it, all theses questions can be answered from that small paper bag.  However there are a few tips that make the planting process go a little smoother.  When planting seeds remember that the size of the seed is representative of the amount of stored energy that seed has meaning, the bigger the seed the deeper you plant.  A good rule is to plant at a depth of three times the size of the seed.

spreading some compost at the Ethan Allen garden
spreading some compost at the Ethan Allen garden

In order to plant our seeds we need healthy soil.  The class activity for Mondays class was to give all the garden beds some TLC.  The class weeded and spread compost in all the garden plots in anticipation of the planting that was soon to come.

More fun more compost
More fun more compost

Over at the Tommy Thompson garden an altogether different garden activity was in order.  With a burgeoning garlic crop of its own it was time to cover the garlic with some Reemay to protect it from the leek moth.  The class took some time after lecture to cover the garlic while we discussed the importance of identifying plants when they are young, to avoid weeding them by mistake.  We took a look at a few baby spinach, and baby bean plants to show just how hard it can be to identify baby plants because they look very different from their adult counterparts.

Covering the garlic crop with Reemay
Covering the garlic crop with Reemay

As the week came to an end we all looked forward to Saturday our first potluck!  A time to bring both classes together and share some delicious food.  After all what good is community gardening without community?  The buffet was extensive, and many of the students made dishes showcasing some of the gardens fresh rhubarb and tuns of fresh herbs. The menu included cakes and muffins fresh rhubarb compote, cornbread, roasted rhubarb salad, stewed lentil tacos, various pasta dishes, and salads… the list goes on, a true feast.

Digging in
Digging in

The potluck was an awesome atmosphere of good food and the shearing of past stories and experiences.  Although gardening is what brought us all together it was amazing to experience the true diversity of experiences and interest our group possesses.  Gardening has the unique ability to bring people together and make community.  I am happy that I am blessed enough to be a part of our new gardening community.

CTG Week 2: May 11th to May 17th – Soil Health and Maintenance

Activities:

  • Discussion about soil health and maintenance
  • Replanting seeds washed away by rain
Blossoming strawberry plant
Blossoming strawberry plant

Just as the strawberries have started to bloom so has our class at Tommy Thompson Community Teaching Garden.  Wednesdays class was a fun lesson in soil health and maintenance.  The class gathered in the circular meeting spot located at the center of the garden and sat shoulder to shoulder for a talk about soil.  Lead teacher Denise described soil as an ecosystem, a community of living organisms like plants, animals and microbes interacting with the nonliving components of their environment, things like air, water and minerals, to create an interacting soil ecosystem.  There are many parts to soil but they are broken down into four main components.  Minerals, air, water and organic material, it takes an ideal mix of theses components to make up healthy soil.

Lettuce at Tommy Thompson Community Teaching Garden
Lettuce at Tommy Thompson Community Teaching Garden

The mineral components are further divided into three particle sizes, clay, silt and sand.  When you have an ideal mix of the three particle sizes the soil is refereed to as loamy soil roughly 40% sand and silt and 20% clay.  Varying the ratios of the three particle sizes is what results in different soil types.

Ideally all soil would be loamy but for most gardens that is not a reality.  So the question arises what can you do to improve soil that has the wrong ratio of particle sizes?  The main way to improve the soil is by mixing in a layer of organic material.  This can be done in a number of ways.  The first is to mix compost, aged manure, or peat into the soil at the beginning of the growing season.  The other method is to mix organic plant material into the soil at the end of the growing season, this helps both the particle makeup of the soil and it also helps add nutrients to the soil like nitrogen.

Nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium (NPK)

Nutrients are another key component of the soil.  The three most important minerals found in soil are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (NPK).  Each of theses three minerals contributes to plant health in its own specific way.  Nitrogen is so vital because it is a major component of chlorophyll, the compound by which plants produce energy along with that it is also a major component of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. Without proteins, plants wither and die.

Phosphorus is important in the development of new plant growth especially the root systems of plants because it plays a roll in cell division.  Lastly potassium helps make plants more hearty by improving drought resistance and promoting protein and starch synthesis in plants because potassium is essential at almost every step of protein synthesis.  After all the discussion about soil the class was itching to get planting.

photo

To close out the evening we focused on replanting some seeds that had washed up due to heavy rain over the weekend.  After our discussion about soil I think everyone was eager to get their hands in the dirt.  We all enjoyed to chance to let the soil run through our fingers with the new found understanding that any garden is only as healthy as its soil and although it takes work soil maintenance will lead to a hearty healthy crop.

CTG 2015 Week 1: May 4th to May 10th – Groundbreaking & Orientation

Activities

  • Garden Orientation
  • Discussion about Crop Rotation
  • Garden Cover with Reemay
Spiral Herb Garden at the Tommy Thompson Community Teaching Garden
Spiral Herb Garden at the Tommy Thompson Community Teaching Garden

The first class of the year at Ethan Allen Homestead was marked by beautiful weather, a sign that summer is really upon us in Vermont.  As with most first days of class an orientation was in order.  Lead teacher Denise Quick gave all the students a brief overview of what to expect in the coming weeks, and then she introduced our fabulous second-year gardening mentors.  All the mentors and students said hello and shared their personal gardening interests and aspirations.  After that it was time for our garden tour.

Denise led the group around the garden pointing out the various plots, then we all gathered for a talk focused on the importance of rotating plant families within your garden plot. Crop rotation is done to keep your garden healthy by preventing crop specific pests and diseases from building up and carrying over year after year in the soil.  Vegetables that are members of the same botanical family are susceptible to the same problems and pests.  By moving the crops the pest has no host on which to live making crop rotation an easy way to decreases the negative effects of diseases and pests within your garden.  For more information about vegetable families and crop rotation visit the following web-sight… http://www.groworganic.com/organic-gardening/articles/quick-guide-to-vegetable-families-for-crop-rotation

photo

After we finished our conversation about crop rotation we were treated to a surprise visit from Jess Hyman Executive director of The Vermont Community Garden Network (VCGN).  Jess gave a warm welcome to all the students and a special thanks to all the people that make the Community Teaching Gardens possible.  Highlighting just how lucky we all are to be able to share in the wonderful experience of gardening though this awesome course.

An example of how one can use Reemay to help protect plants form pests.

To close out the night we worked to cover our garlic crop with some agricultural fabric also know as Reemay.  We are using the Reemay to protect against a pest that has recently made an appearance in Vermont called the Leek Moth.

Picture of the Leek Moth

Leek moth larvae cause extensive damage to garlic by tunneling mines and feeding on leaf tissue, and occasionally on bulbs thus ruining an otherwise healthy garlic crop.  However, Reemay helps to protect the plant from the larvae by blocking access to the garlic and by providing a protective covering.

The sun went down and we put the garlic to bed, tucking it in under a protective layer of Reemay.  Then the class parted for the night, but with eager anticipation of the exciting gardening season we have ahead.