A Student Project by Marina Welch – Independent Service Project Gardening at the Homestead

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I have never before gardened, not for lack of desire, but for lack of space! Going to college in Boston isn’t exactly conducive to exploring the art of vegetable growing. Funds to rent a plot at a community garden are also in short supply when sustaining yourself on Ramen Noodles. Not only did I not have the funds and the space, I didn’t know anyone who gardened, or could help me start one. It’s slightly intimidating starting a garden based solely on what can be learned from dry gardening books and short YouTube videos.

However, I decided to jump into gardening for my Independent Service Project (ISP) with AmeriCorps. When I began my term at my site, I was told that the previous member had started a garden for her ISP that the summer camp kids loved to explore. I was then told that it would be very beneficial to have the garden again. So in order to not disappoint future camp goers, I embarked on an extreme adventure. I recruited some fellow AmeriCorps members to help in the endeavor and was joined by Mary Kelsey Trumps, Sydney Kalas, and Katy Lord, who also have never gardened before. Due to the fact that the garden was part of the Burlington Area Community Gardens right at my site, I took the lead on the project.

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In keeping with the spirit of my ISP and the mission of AmeriCorps, all of the materials (compost, plants, seeds) needed to be donated for my 10’ by 10’ plot. As I began writing donation request letters and prepping the beds, the director of my site decided to give me his half plot, which is next to mine. Another 10′ by 10′. Thankfully, Mary Kelsey had recently gotten a position with the Ethan Allen Museum at my site and so was able to be a lot more involved. Instead of feeling overwhelmed with so much space and so little time, we pushed forward and got 2 cubic yards of compost donated and all of the seeds and plants needed.

At the same time, I began a teaching garden class run by the Vermont Community Garden Network in order to try and learn tips that I could transfer to my own plot. However, my group wanted to start right away in preparing the beds and planting, so I had to jump in ahead of the teaching garden class schedule. As classes progressed, I learned whether or not I had done certain things right in my own garden. Sometimes I had and sometimes I learned the hard way that certain plants might not be growing that year due to seed depth or wrong transplanting methods.

Throughout the summer, our group has been weeding and tending the garden. At one point we were also joined for a day by five volunteers from All Script. Along with adult volunteers, for two weeks in July and August, campers with the Winooski Valley Park District’s Sustainable Outdoor Leadership and Education (SOLE) Camp helped us. They learned about where food comes from, proper watering techniques for gardens, what certain weeds look like, and how delicious a fresh tomato tastes.

In full bloom

The learning opportunities for the summer campers were wonderful. However, our largest impact was that all of the food grown was donated to the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf. As of August 31st, we have donated 273 pounds of fresh vegetables. I personally feel very accomplished having gone from no knowledge of gardening, to donating so much food to a worthy cause through such hard work.

I find myself extremely lucky to have been given such a learning experience. It’s been time consuming, overwhelming, and intimidating, but I have learned more than I ever thought I would. I hope that the two years of WVPD AmeriCorps members using the garden for their ISP continues, as the food donated and the educational opportunities it gives to campers is invaluable.

IN VERMONT, IT’S ALL ABOUT THE RAMPS! A Student Presentation by Angela Ross

Last year I went Ramp foraging for the first time. Ramps (this is what Vermonters call wild leeks) are a big deal in Vermont, so much so that our paper featured Governor Shumlin’s annual ramp picking expedition. Click here to view Gov. Shumlin’s Wild Ramp Pasta recipe. The Vermont Epicure featured a story titled Stalking the Wild Leek, the Forage Press highlighted leeks as the April’s wild food of the month, and Seven Days ran a feature titled A Writer Gathers Wild Leeks by the Roadside last spring.

Speaking of spring, that’s the perfect time to go foraging for leeks – I’ve learned that they are in season right before and up to a few weeks after Memorial Day in Vermont. I had no idea how secretive Vermonters are about their hidden treasures – I mean nobody wants to tell you were these spicy little gems are… My own mother swore me to secrecy when she showed me her spot in Randolph last year. Apparently I passed the test as she showed me where to find them in East Montpelier this year! The only hint I can give you is that they usually grow on a hillside shaded by trees (many times these are maples), and are relatively close to a natural water source (think brook or stream). If you didn’t know what you were looking for, you’d probably walk all over them while searching for them – personally, I think their leaves look a bit like lilies. Here’s a photo of my score this year:

Ramps!
Ramps!

An important reason why folks protect their ramp patches is that ramps are often over-harvested.  The seeds can take a year and a half to germinate, and the plants may not produce seeds until they are at least 5 years old. So if many plants are taken from a given patch year after year, that patch may not survive.  If you decide to experiment with ramps, harvest less than 5% of a given patch, or learn to cultivate your own. The NY Times has published more information on over-harvesting of ramps.

I google recipes and modify based on the ingredients I have collected the garden / Farmer’s Market or have readily available in my kitchen.

If you don’t own a food processor, I would highly recommend investing in one (or borrowing a friend’s, which I did the first few times I made pesto). So, for Ramp Pesto I googled recipes (I’ve listed a basic pesto recipe) and went from there.   Put the following ingredients in a food processor and blend until creamy:

Wild Ramp leaves and bulbs                                            3-4 handfuls basil, rinsed

1-2 handfuls toasted walnuts                                           Olive oil

Juice of 1 lemon                                                               3-4 shallots

Salt (I use Sea Salt or Pink Himalayan)                             Small piece of ginger, peeled and chopped

2 spoonfuls sundried tomatoes with oil                            1 can Hearts of Palm or Artichokes, drained

The amount of Ramp leaves and bulbs depends on how much pesto you want to make. I made a big batch, so I filled the food processor full of ramps, drizzled with olive oil and blended until smooth. I emptied that into a big bowl, and then blended the rest of the ingredients and added to the ramp mixture. I add the salt and olive oil based on taste – after I blend the mixture, I taste it and add more if I think it needs it.

The Hearts of Palm (or artichokes), ginger, and sundried tomatoes are completely optional. I don’t use cheese in my pesto, so I think these give the pesto a nice dimension. I’ve experimented using pistachios and toasted pecans instead of walnuts – they are great options, really depends on what you like in terms of nuts. I’ve also used kale, oregano, and sage as my greens in the pesto – again, depends on your personal taste. The fun of it is finding out how different ingredients taste together, and what you like!   I tried grapeseed oil instead of olive oil – I would not recommend this substitution.

Here’s what my pesto looks like:

The Finished Product!
The Finished Product!

Here’s a basic pesto recipe you can use as a guide:

 

Basil Walnut Pesto via Once Upon a Chef

2 cups gently packed fresh basil leaves                                     2 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped

1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano                                        1/3 cup walnuts

1/2 teaspoon salt                                                                       1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, best quality such as Lucini or Colavita

Place the walnuts and garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process until coarsely chopped, about 10 seconds. Add the basil leaves, salt, and pepper and process until mixture resembles a paste, about 1 minute. With the processor running, slowly pour the olive oil through the feed tube and process until the pesto is thoroughly blended. Add the Parmesan and process a minute more. Use pesto immediately or store in a tightly sealed jar or air-tight plastic container, covered with a thin layer of olive oil (this seals out the air and prevents the pesto from oxidizing, which would turn it an ugly brown color). It will keep in the refrigerator for about a week. (If you’re planning on freezing it, omit the cheese and stir it in once you defrost it.)

CTG Week 16 August 17th to August 23rd: How to Grow your Own Shiitake Mushrooms

This week at the teaching garden we were lucky enough to have a wonderful presentation by Derek Proulx.  Derek shared with all the gardeners some wonderful tips for home grown shiitake mushrooms, take a look at the following post to learn some tips for growing your own shiitakes.

Admiring the Sunset
Admiring the Sunset

A Shiitake is an edible mushroom, native to East Asia. They are delicious when eaten, but they also have a long history of being used in traditional medicines and some studies have even found the fungi to hold anti-tumor properties. The shiitakes you’ll find at the local supermarket are typically grown in sawdust, but the more traditional method is to grow them in logs. Log grown varieties are a delicacy that have a superior flavor and a higher nutrient content than their sawdust grown counterpart, selling for upwards of $40 per pound in Japan. I imagine there probably aren’t very many of you spending that kind of money on mushrooms, log grown or not, so why not give growing your own a try? It’s easier than you might think.

Derek Preparing for His Talk about shiitakes
Derek Preparing for His Talk about shiitakes

We established you need a log to grow your shiitakes on, but you don’t want to choose just any log. The wood you choose to grow your Shiitakes can have a big effect on the taste and productivity of the mushroom. Oak has developed a reputation as the gold standard here in the northeast, but many growers have found that other species like sugar maple, and beech are very effective as well.

You may not want to run out and cut down the nearest tree just yet. A study by researchers at Cornell University showed that spring is the ideal time period to cut and ‘inoculate’ logs. It is recommended that you fell your trees in the early spring before the trees leaf out, and inoculate the log within one day to 3 weeks after the tree has been cut. Take care to keep your logs clean and free of debris, while making sure the bark remains intact. If necessary you may also cut trees during the winter months and store the logs before inoculation in the spring.

Log Grown Shiitakes

Logs should typically be 4 to 6 inches in diameter and about 3 to 4 feet in length, allowing you to handle the logs easily. Length is less important than diameter but if you do need to go with a fatter log you may want to cut yours a little shorter to make it manageable to carry.

Once your log is ready, follow the steps below:

  1. Drill holes in your log. You will need to drill a series of holes in each log, 7/16” diameter and 1.25” deep, which is the dimension of the inoculator tool used to plug the holes with spawn.
  2. Inoculate the logs with spawn: Mycelium is the vegetative part of a fungus which consists of a network of fine white filaments. An inoculator tool is specifically designed to inject spawn into the hole. After the holes are drilled, place the spawn plug into the holes, making sure they are flush with the surface of the log, thus bringing the shiitake mycelium in contact with its new food source. Once inoculated, the log becomes known as a bolt.
  3. Waxing the bolts. Applying a coat of food grade wax to the plug holes reduces contamination from competing fungus, and helps seal in moisture so that the spawn does not dry out. Completely seal each hole using wax that is very hot (lightly smoking) when applied in order to ensure an airtight, flexible seal.
  4. Incubating the bolts: Once inoculated, the bolts are set to incubate in a “laying yard”, preferably an area of 80% shade for optimal results.   Your laying yard should be beneath a canopy of some sort. The best environment is in a coniferous forest, but a man-made solution will work well too. The incubation period or “spawn run”, during which the fungus colonize the wood, is typically between 8 to 18 months.
  5. Shocking the bolt: Mycelium growing inside the log form colonies that will become shiitake mushrooms. Shocking the bolt triggers mushroom production. The right time to start shocking your log depends on the mushroom strain and log species. When mycelium growth (white moldy looking discoloration) is visible on most of the bolt end, it should be ready to fruit. Submerge the logs in cold water for 24 hours. A 100 gallon cattle trough or big tub works best because you can control the water temperature, but utilizing a nearby pond or stream works well also. You should see mushroom growth 3 to 5 days after shocking.
  6. Grow & harvest your mushrooms: You want to harvest shiitakes when the mushrooms are not fully opened, before the edges curl up, at which point you have let them go to long.   After fruiting, logs need to be rested for 6 to 8 weeks before begining their next growth cycle. A bolt will normally continue to produce a crop for 3 to 5 years after your first harvest.
Beautiful Sunflower
Beautiful Sunflower

For more information check out the link below that will direct you to a great resource that was produced by the UVM Extension Service, “Best Management Practices for Log Based Shiitake Cultivation in the Northeastern United States”.

http://www.uvm.edu/~susagctr/resources/ShiitakeGuide.pdf

We hope we have encouraged you to try growing you own flavorful, nutrient rich, and affordable shiitake mushrooms. We know you will enjoy the experience.