Infused oils can be used to soothe bug bites, small cuts, scratches and rashes. They are amazing natural remedies for many minor ailments. If you already have an herb garden why not put it to good use? Many of the common ingredients found in essential oils can also be found as common weeds like Yarrow and Plantain. If you need help identifying common weeds we recommend the following link.
In class we focused on infused oils and salves with Comfrey, Plantain, Calendula and Yarrow. Comfrey is used to help promote new skin cell growth, and should only be used on surface wounds. The herb will promote the surface to the wound to heal without allowing the skin cells to heal from the bottom up by filling in the gash or puncture. When used inappropriately, you will end up with a partially healed wound… not fun. You should also refrain from internal use of Comfrey products.
Plantain is great for insect stings and bites and is very effective at drawing out toxins from stings. Yarrow has traditionally been used to help stop hemorrhaging. During Civil War times it was used on the battle field. Calendula oil has many antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Infused oils can be combined to help serve multiple functions and are great household remedies for minor ailments.
How to make herb-infused oil:
Prepare your jar. Make sure the jar is clean and very dry. Any water in the jar can lead to spoilage.
Fill the jar to the top with herbs. Make sure that your herbs are very dry again, this will help keep the oil from spoiling.
Pour oil over the herbs slowly. You can use a variety of oils, but make sure that the oil is good quality something you would eat because it is going to be absorbed into your skin. Using a chopstick or knife, move the herbs around to make sure all air pockets are filled with oil. Add enough oil to completely cover all the herbs, filling right up to the brim of the jar.
Cover the jar, give it a few shakes, and put it in a sunny spot on your porch or in your backyard. The jar should sit between 3 to 6 weeks.
Strain the oil into your storage bottles through a cloth-lined strainer.
Cover and label your bottles. The oil should last at room temperature for up to a year; two years if you add a capsule or two of vitamin E, a natural preservative.
This week the class was lucky enough to visit a suburban homestead located in Williston VT. Markey Read and Tim King have designed and managed an amazing property that is literally a gardeners heaven. They grow vegetables, perennials, fruit trees and even a rice paddy. Markey and Tim can grow it all.
Markey’s vegetables are a marvel. She uses raised beds to maximize space and encourage her plants to grow upward. Markey fits a lot into a little space, crowding plants far closer than any seed packet would ever advise. However, Markey illustrated that the distances found on seed packets are appropriate for industrial applications so that farmers can cultivate their crops with a tractor. Since not many home gardeners use tractors, that leaves us free to experiment a bit with plant spacing. One thing to note is that you will need deep raised beds for success with this gardening method. You will also need to keep an eye on your plants to make sure that they are not developing diseases from the mildew family. So if you have limited space in your garden this may be just the trick you need.
Pests, who wants them? The tricky part is how do you know which insects are good for your garden and which are harmful? It is not always simple, but this week at the teaching gardens we identified the top two insect pests that are common in our garden. The first one, pictured above is the California potato beetle, although; the name isn’t quite fitting because scientists believe that the beetle originated in central Mexico. Potatoes are the preferred host for the Colorado potato beetle, but they may feed and survive on a number of other plants in the Solanacae family. We found several eggs on our eggplants in addition to just the potatoes.
The technique we used to rid ourselves of the potato beetle was handpicking. This can be very effective in small gardens but could be somewhat time consuming in larger plots. All you need is a jar of water mixed with a small amount of soap. This method works because most bugs breath through little holes (called spiracles), theses holes are so small that the surface tension of water near them usually prevents it from flowing inside and suffocating the bug. However, if you put a little soap in a jar of water, and then place the beetle in the water, the soap destroys the surface tension and it causes the bug to drown.
The striped cucumber beetle is the second insect on our the list. The cucumber beetle loves to feast on cucurbit seedlings. So this time of year it pays to take special care and protect against the damage these beetles can inflict. In a previous post I talked about installing foil traps to keep your squash seedlings safe from the cucumber beetle, see the following link for more info.
Another method that is commonly used in organic gardening is delayed planting. Growers can avoid the most significant damage by simply delaying the planting of summer cucurbits by a few weeks. If you don’t mind not getting the first cucumbers of the summer market, let a neighbor’s crop take the brunt of the spring cucumber beetle migration.
It has been several weeks since we planted the leeks and they have matured enough that it is time to add more soil. If you remember we planted the leeks in a small valley so that as they grow we can add soil around the base of the plant, so that our leeks develop that wonderful milky stem. We simply removed the reemay and piled about two inches of soil around the base of the leeks. The class also took a few minutes to weed out the bed before we cover the leeks back up with Reemay.
The gardeners at the Ethan Allen Teaching Garden had a serious orientation to some hardcore weeding. We braved rain and mosquitoes and transformed a garden plot in just a matter of hours. It was a total team effort but with the help of the teaching garden students and numerous Vermont Community Garden Network Volunteers we got the job done. Braving the elements was a whole lot easier with the notion that this garden would serve the local Vermont Community. The team planted dozens of squash plants that were generously donated by Red Wagon Plants a nursery located in Hinesburg VT. Visit their website if you are ever on the hunt for some amazing plants! http://www.redwagonplants.com/.
This beautifully cultivated garden will provide fresh vegetables to the local food shelf. The activity of planting this plot really exemplifies what community gardening is all about. Gardening doesn’t always have to be for your own personal benefit, or in your home garden. It can be in a shared space and it can benefit entire communities. There is something truly rewarding about growing with the community, for the community.
Besides some routine upkeep we had one important task for the week, mounding the potatoes. Mounding your potatoes plays several functions. The first is that it gives the potato tubers room to grow. Often times the potato plant will send out additional roots from the berried stem. The other function is to help prevent blight infection. The soil should be mounded every few weeks, and remember, your potatoes begin to produce tubers when they start to flower. Harvest potatoes early for small and tender new potatoes, or let them continue to grow for mature larger potatoes.
The part every garden looks forward to most… harvest! In the past few weeks we have harvested tons of yummy veggies. Everything from chard to lettuce, kale, and radishes. A useful tip for harvesting greens and lettuce, pick the larger leaves around the middle of the plant first leaving the inside of the plant to mature, which allows you to get multiple harvests from a single plant.
In total the week was a great success. We did everything from planting a garden, to servicing the community, to harvesting & enjoying the fruits of our labor, at the teaching garden. We all enjoyed each others company as we preformed our weekly duties; and we shared in the rewards of participating in a true community of gardeners, working and playing in the garden together.
Identifying and protecting against the cucumber beetle
This week the cucumber beetle was not the only bug we encountered in the teaching gardens. The classes were plagued with mosquitoes but that didn’t stop us, we put on out mosquito nets and got to work. The first task was to protect our cucumber plants from the pesky cucumber beetle. The class took come time to examine a few of the beetles so that everyone in the class would be able to recognize them if they ever encountered them in future gardening experiences. The beetles have black and yellow striped bodies, and can be quite challenging to catch. The insect will take refuge in the soil at the base of the cucumber plant it it feels threatened. This is where the handy tin foil comes into play. Placing aluminum foil around the base of the cucumber plant has been shown to help protect your plant from the beetles. Please see the following photo for the finished product.
Up next, some fun in the mulch, mulching is a gardener’s best friend, it not only protects against weeds but it also helps insulate the soil to keep it moist. A few helpful tips about mulching: try to avoid using bark mulch in your vegetable garden. Stick with straw, and remember there is a distinction between straw and hay. A bail of hay is composed of the entire grass plant but straw is just the stalk of the plant. Straw is better for garden mulch because it does not contain as many weeds. When you mulch your garden remember to lay it on thick. After applying the mulch you should not be able to see the ground underneath it, this is because if you can see the ground your weeds will still be able to get light from the sun. Lastly, remember to give your plant some space. You should leave about an inch and a half of room between your plant and the mulch, this promotes airflow around the plant and helps decrease the spread of any diseases contained in the hay.
The next activity had to be my personal favorite probably because it involved delicious vegetables. Who doesn’t love garlic scapes? You may not know that the garlic clove is not the only edible part of the garlic plant. The scapes can be quite delicious. Garlic scapes are the flower bud of the garlic plant. The bud is removed in late June to encourage the bulbs to thicken up. Lucky for us they taste just like garlic and can be used in any dish the same way garlic is used.
To close out the week we had our second garden potluck. As usual the food was spectacular, and topped off with almost an entire course of pies yum. As soon as I had finished I was already looking forward to the next one.