Week Four: Acquainting ourselves with the solanaceae family, and with the three-striped potato beetle

Cool weather and a good heavy rain offered sweet relief to our brassicas and good conditions for transplanting starts from the solanaceae family. Solanaceae, also called nightshades, are characterized by their flowering plants and include the many varieties of potatoes, tomatoes, tomatillos, eggplants, and peppers.

6-1-16 CTGTT Solanaceae plants await student arrival

The transplant was quite similar to the transplanting of the brassica family. Tomatoes require slightly more attention as they tends to grow into heavily fruit-bearing and therefore top-heavy plants. Our tomato transplants ranged from about six to twelve inches and had a soft, white fuzz quality to the bottom half of the stalk. This fuzz is the beginning of what will become a strong root system, and therefore wants to be submerged fully underground. Tomatoes want to be planted in a hole that is one-half as deep as their overall height (at the time of transplant). This requires the careful removal of low-growing branches. Finally, removing all flowers and suckers will encourage the plant to allocated its energy to the establishment of a strong and developed root system. This is crucial to the health of the plant.

Here is Carolina offering guidance on tomato planting:

6-1-16 CTGTT Carolina offers guidance on planting tomatoes

Visit the Hudson Seed Library for more on transplanting and tending tomato plants.


Eggplant and peppers need not be buried as deep as the tomato. Just slightly above the existing soil line is fine. Pinching off any premature flowering will improve the health of the plant. Below is Alex choosing what to plant from a variety of peppers!


As for the tomatillo, the transplant is just like that of the eggplant and the pepper. The plant itself though will grow to be quite large and so we’ve dedicated one of our communal beds to the tomatillo crop. To no surprise, the three-striped potato beetle arrived within two weeks of planting.


Also called the three-lined potato beetle, this pest can live off of the leaves of any member of the solanaceae family but has a preference for the tomatillo. We had the opportunity to observe about twenty beetles spread across our five tomatillo plants. It was mid-morning, they were mating, and the backsides of the plant’s leaves were marked with the yellow-orange eggs of the next generation. These pests cannot merely be pulled off of the plant. They must be removed from the garden – either in a tightly sealed container or in a cup of soapy water. The eggs need only to be wiped off of the leaves for the newborns require immediate sustenance and will not survive if born away from their food source.
Read on for a more thorough look at the three-striped potato beetle.


Week Three: Brassica transplanting and companion planting

Students chose from a variety of starter plants after sitting to a lesson. Below are two students, Jenna and Ute, deciding who will get the red russian kale.


Brassica is a genus of plants in the mustard family. Before planting these brassicas, students sat down to a lesson on Brassica oleracea (the species that the vegetables belong too). Carolina drew pictures of cabbage, brussels sprout, kohlrabi, kale, broccoli and cauliflower, while explaining that what we eat of these plants all differs! For example, kale we grow for its leaves while cauliflower we grow for its flower clusters.

A fun identifier of brassicas is given away by their other name: cruciferous. They are called this because their flowers form of a cross: four petals and four sepals.


Above is Kane planting collards in the communal brassica bed

We also planted potatoes! Here is brian cutting large seed potato into smaller pieces, leaving each part with about two buds.

5-24-16 CTGEA Student cutting large potato, each peice with a sprout

Two varieties of potatoes ready to be covered and grow in this raised bed below

5-24-16 CTGEA Potato planting set up

Companion planting is growing various crops near one another so that they can help each other out. After the brassicas, students planted two rows of potatoes, with marigolds on either end.

A marigold is a lovely companion for potatoes as it produces natural pesticides and protects potatoes from viral and bacterial infections. It’s smell repels insects that may be harmful while also attracting pollinators like butterflies.

To top it off, marigolds are edible (their peppery flowers), beautiful and easy to grow

Learn more about marigolds here: http://www.almanac.com/plant/marigolds

Also: What to dhu-barb (with all that rhubarb)

Nothing like a hot and sticky mid-May heatwave to whet our palates for Vermont summer rains. In the meantime, we have giant rhubarb plants that have gone to flower but won’t go to waste.

5-28-16 CTGTT Flowering rhubarb

We’ve gone ahead and cut the flowers off of each of the rhubarb plants. The cut was made at the base of the stalk that had flowered and the intention was to encourage the plant to continue to send energy to its leaves (rather than allocating it towards the growth of the flower). And from the vital, vibrant stalks that have grown, there have been spreads and cakes and gummies and more:


Rhubarb & Berries Sauce

3 stalks rhubarb

2 cups mixed, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries (frozen)

3 Tbsp raw honey (or a bit more if you want more sweetness)

1 star anise

2 cardamom pods

1 small cinnamon stick

1 Tbsp orange zest

½ cup orange juice

½ tsp aged balsamic vinegar (optional)

Slice the rhubarb in small pieces. Place it in a pot with the berries, orange juice, orange zest, spices and balsamic vinegar. Keep it on low heat until it starts to boil. Simmer the sauce uncovered, stirring frequently to avoid sticking. Once it has acquired the consistency of marmalade, turn off the heat and add the honey to taste. Remove spices before serving.

Rhubarb Pudding Cake from Common Sense Homesteading: http://commonsensehome.com/rhubarb-pudding-cake/

And many more for the curious and the adventurous: http://www.saveur.com/rhubarb-recipes-desserts?image=9

5-28-16 CTGTT Rhubarb harvest bundled in its leaf


Above is rhubard harvest bundled in its leaf and below shows the first potluck… where there was plenty of rhubard (and other creative treats) cooked up!


5-26-16 CTGEA Potluck dinner


Week Two: Garden care, compost and fulfilling comparisons


At week two it is time for the students to start helping with garden work: preparing individual and communal spaces for planting. Though Day in the Dirt (read about here) provided a healthy start, at there was still a lot to do. Everyone took up roles: weeding beds, pruning raspberries and shoveling compost were among them.


Above is a student, Hayley, pruning raspberries for a single late season crop.

She is cutting the canes to about 3 inches. Raspberry canes are biennial (live two years) while their roots and crowns are perennial (remain many years). The first year cane is known as “primocane” and after it goes dormant in the winter to wake up to its second spring it is called “floricane”.  Hayley is pruning these second year canes because new canes will grow as the spring moves forward, fruiting sweet red raspberries in late summer.


Below is a simplified depiction of the biennial life cycle of the raspberry:


Frank Louws. 1992. Growing Raspberries in Ontario. Ministry of Agriculture and Food. Publication 105.



Before and after: weeding of student beds
5-21-16 CTGTT Before and after weeding of student plots (1)

The bed on the left is ready for some compost and a garden fork to loosen its subsoil while incorporating the compost deeper into the bed. The goal is to improve soil nutrition before planting. Details of this are described in part one of The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Edward Smith. (The book CTG students were assigned to read)


Week 1: Getting to know the garden (and each other!) and planting peas

The Community Teaching Garden 2016 season began under clear, warm early-May skies. Class began with a circle, a chance to share names and stories and gardening dreams. Every student was asked to share the two fruits and vegetables that they most wanted to grow and, to their surprise and ours, every single plant that was named is in the planting plan for this season’s class.

Our first class closed with the communal planting of our pea bed. Our second week of May start date pushed the limit on the pea planting timeline but, after soaking the seeds overnight  and offering plenty of water once in the ground, we are hopeful that the season’s first direct seed will germinate and flourish.

05-11-2016 CTGTT Pea seeds in hand
Ready for planting!
05-11-2016 CTGTT Pea planting instruction
And after a short lesson from Carolina…
05-11-2016 CTGTT Students planting peas
students are ready to plant!