Welcoming Back our Familiar Foes

The beautiful thing about being some of the first to have plants in the ground first is, of course, early abundance and garden joy; the downfall is that the pests also love the early growth. These past few weeks a good bit of gardening in community has meant managing pests in community, with bouts of frustration, triumph, and good lessons. This year, following the spotting of our first potato beetles, Vic Izzo, entomologist, professor, gardener, researcher and more, paid us a visit to teach us about the pests in our garden.

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Vic teaching us about pests in the garden

Before we began identifying pests, Vic introduced us to the idea of integrated pest management. Pest management methods fits, more or less, into four categories: cultural, mechanical/physical, biological, and chemical. These represent varying levels of intervention and are traditionally thought of as a hierarchy, with cultural as the least invasive and chemical as the most. Vic encouraged us to think less rigidly about the “hierarchy,” and address our unique circumstances as small scale, community gardeners by mixing and matching pest management methods.

Here are our most familiar and persistent pests, with Vic’s suggestions, as of the end of May:

Flea Beetles: Flea beetles overwinter in the soil and emerge as soon as there’s plant matter to munch on, aka our brassicas. The most common indicator that they’ve found your young brassicas is many tiny holes in the leaves of your plants. For us, this happened very quickly. Our first pest management effort was covering the plants with row cover. Larger brassicas like cabbage, broccoli, kale etc. can survive flea beetle bites once they get bigger, so we were able to use row cover while they were young. This would be considered a physical/mechanical pest control, because we created a physical barrier to keep the beetles out. Something else we’ve done to control flea beetle is spray Neem Oil, an organic, plant based oil, directly onto the plants. Sometimes row cover just isn’t enough, or it doesn’t fit over your beautifully large broccoli, or it’s causing other pests to breed around those plants (swede midge in our case), or it’s keeping beneficial insects (like pollinators and natural predators) out. We’ve taken row cover off for all of those reasons in the past few weeks. Monitoring the plants regularly, such as every time you water, is crucial at this stage to identifying the best pest management method for your unique garden.

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Flea beetles on a cabbage leaf

Leaf Miner: Leaf miner most commonly, and most drastically, affect our spinach, beets, and Swiss chard. They lay white eggs on the back of the leaves and then burrow into them, eating away at the cells, leaving only their paths and the shell of the leaf. Leaf miners leave the leaves when they are adults and then they fly away to continue wreaking havoc. We typically manage, or try to manage, leaf miners by pruning off any leaves with damage (and taking them far, far away from the garden) and mushing eggs off where we see them. However, these are often persistent and very hard to manage even with that. Vic had recently heard from an entomologist colleague that they had had luck using sprays made with Spinosad, a naturally occurring bacteria, in controlling leaf miner. The spray he brought us is called Captain Jack’s Deadbug, but it is also bought in larger quantities at a different concentration under the name Monterey. This could either be considered a biological or chemical control, depending on what you consider the bacteria. Vic told us we didn’t need to panic and use it yet, but to try it out in the case of a true infestation.

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Leaf miner damage on Swiss chard

The list of pests for us goes on, including three striped potato beetle on our Solanaceaes, slugs on our cabbage, and more that we are anticipating with row cover and leaf checks. If you have any unknown pests in the garden or need advice on managing them, feel free to reach out to UVM Extension’s Plant Diagnostic Clinic here. In the meantime, we harvest and enjoy each other’s company in the garden!

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Another garden guest hanging out in the hose

 

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Gardening In Community

Hello 2018!

The snow has melted, the ground has thawed, and the sun is out to welcome us into the gardening season, though the Community Teaching Gardens have been buzzing for months with planning, planting, and harvesting! Unique to the advanced class, we start our seeds back in late March at Red Wagon Plants, one of our generous supporters and community partners! You could say we’ve hit the ground running this season…

Like last year, we are hosting two courses this season – beginner and advanced organic gardening! But, we’re shaking it up a bit with a new approach to garden education for the advanced class. This year, we are hard at work achieving three goals:

1.) building off of our beginner knowledge to become better gardeners,

2.) producing as much consistent harvest as we can for all participants, and

3.) fostering more intentional community in our garden education.

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In order to do all of that, we are growing almost all of our food collectively instead of tending to our own individual beds, much like the Garden at 485 Elm in Montpelier, VT. Our broccoli’s are all in one bed and our beans are all in another. In the spirit of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) models, we collectively accept crop failure and reap the bounty of our successes.

Hayley and JacobBased on my past years’ experiences in the Community Teaching Garden, I am completely confident in my ability to plan, grow, and care for a small garden plot. Switching to a communal model in the advanced class this year has been an exciting opportunity to develop skills in production gardening and working collaboratively. Having shared responsibility for the garden deepens our sense of commitment to the whole space, and growing together means we can produce a wide variety of vegetables, herbs, and flowers– something I would be reluctant to do on my own. We also have a lot of fun! The season is off to a great start and we hope to see you in the garden soon.” – Hayley 

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The season is warming up fast, so this week we harvested our first crop of butterhead lettuce before it bolts and each student took home at least one head!

 

Registration is Open for the 2018 Community Teaching Garden Program

It’s Winter in the garden, but we’re already having sweet dreams of greens and beets and peas and all of the sweet things Spring will bring. Won’t you join us this year?

Registration for the 2018 season of the Community Teaching Garden program is officially open, with both beginner and advanced level courses offered. Both courses provide  comprehensive, hands-on curriculum designed to support gardeners in both theoretical and practical aspects of organic gardening, and include field trips, cooking activities, explorations in herbalism, legendary potlucks and much much more.

Click here for more information or to register for the upcoming season!

With Warm Holiday Wishes,

Your Pals in the Community Teaching Garden program

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Tommy Thompson Community Garden under a blanket of snow.

A Sweet and Vinegary End to the Season

Greetings from the Community Teaching Gardens! We hope that you had a bountiful harvest and an enjoyable end to your season. As we wrapped up at the Ethan Allen Homestead and the Tommy Thompson Community Gardens, we were able to come together for a few final work days; to clear and cover our beds, to plant our garlic, and to fortify ourselves for the cold winter ahead with some tasty fire cider, a vinegar-based immune boosting beverage.

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Fire Cider prepared in the Community Teaching Garden advanced course. Yum!

But before we get into all that! It wouldn’t be the Community Teaching Garden if there wasn’t a potluck. Sure enough, we gathered in early October we one final time to share a meal together and celebrate all that we have learned this season. With that, if you, our dear reader, are interested in learning with us next season, please keep in mind that registration for the next year’s Community Teaching Garden will open in December. For more information, check out the Community Teaching Garden page on VCGN’s website.

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Happy graduates of the Community Teaching Garden beginner and advanced courses.

 

Fire Cider, which was widely popularized by notable Vermont Herbalist Rosemary Gladstar, is a simple and fun way to boost your health during the cold winter months. Including many elements that heat the body and clear it of illness, like horseradish, ginger, and spicy hot peppers, creating your own fire cider at home is as easy as chopping up a batch of ingredients, tossing them in a large jar, dousing them with vinegar, and giving them a hearty daily shake as they rest on your counter for a month.

A quick inventory of our garden added some fun herbs like sage to the mix. Using the basic recipe posted above, you can create endless variations to suit your palate. After a month, you strain your ingredients and add honey to your liking. Store your fire cider in the fridge and use it whenever you would like a sour tonic, a soothing vinegar tea, or a flavorful salad dressing.

As we close the season, we send one final thank you for joining us in our learning journey!

We hope to see you in the garden next year,

Your pals in the CTG

Seasons Collide Over Plant-Based Dyes

This week the Community Teaching Garden experienced a taste of two seasons! We harvested apples from tree adjacent to our garden as well as our first watermelon of the season. On the hot late-summer evening, we were happy to join together to learn a new skill: making plant-based dyes.

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Apples from an adjacent tree, a dye-making resource book, and sample patches from our dear teacher Carolina.

With the goal of making some plant-based dyes in mind this season, we planted indigo and coreopsis— two common plants used in dyeing. We also harvested some wild-growing goldenrod to make a third dye. A wide range of plants and techniques can be used to create dyes in your own garden, so don’t limit yourself to our examples!

For our dye project, we wanted to create vibrant colors using easy materials and a quick process. Protein-based fibers, like silk and wool, tend to be easier to dye, so we started by creating silk scarves and swatches. Plant based dyes work better if the fabric is treated with a mordant. After soaking our silk in the mordant and preparing our dyes (boiling our coreopsis and goldenrod in water for about an hour) it was time to begin!

Dyeing our silk swatches with coreopsis and goldenrod was as simple as draining the dye and soaking the material. To create our indigo dye, we headed back to the VCGN offices, where we combined indigo with ice and water in a high-powered blender and strained the plant material to create our dye.

It was hard to believe that the bright green dye would produce blue fabric, but indigo needs to oxidize before it takes it’s trademark color. After soaking for just a few minutes, students rinsed their silk to find it had transformed into a lovely robins egg blue color.

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At the end of the evening, several students display their plant-based dye projects.

While it was a brief introduction into the world of plant-based dyes, the students in the Community Teaching Garden course were very inspired and hope to have a bright future ahead of them as they continue to create natural dyes.

A Balmy Evening in the Garden

The gardeners in the Community Teaching Garden have been hard at work this summer growing and harvesting herbs and flowers to make tinctures, glycerites, and balms. This week in class, they gathered together to make lip balm and a skin-soothing balm out of herbs and flowers cultivated this season. Like making tinctures and glycerites, creating your own balms is easy, cost-effective and fun!

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Lip Balm fresh from your pals in the Community Teaching Garden!

Early in the season, we identified herbs and flowers in and around our garden that have medicinal and skin-soothing properties, and created oil infusions of calendula, plantain, comfrey, yarrow, lavender, and chamomile. If you’re not sure which herbs are beneficial for topical use or skin irritation, this resource is a great place to start. After identifying the herbs and flowers we wanted to use, students dried the herbs, added the dried herbs to a base oil (olive oil, sweet almond oil, coconut oil or jojoba oil all work well!), and let them sunbathe on their sunny windowsills for 4-6 weeks to create a solar infusion.

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Rose and calendula infuse in sweet almond oil on a CTG student’s windowsill. 

Once our infused oils were ready, we gathered together the ingredients needed to create our balms. The two primary ingredients needed are infused oil and beeswax, but other ingredients like vitamin E oil or castor oil can add extra moisture and sheen to your lips or skin. You can add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to your balm just before pouring it into a tin or lip gloss tube for additional healing properties or to add a fun fragrance.

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Beeswax and lavender, a sweet and fragrant pair!

We used a base proportion of one part beeswax for every three parts oil, and melted them together in a pyrex on a double boiler. For our lip balm, which we wanted to be a bit firmer, we used three parts oil to one and a half parts beeswax. Make sure to stir your balm regularly as the beeswax is melting, and to have your containers for the balm ready. To check the consistency of your balm, dip a spoon into the boiling oil and wax mixture and withdraw it. It should harden quickly and give a good sense of it’s thickness.  You can thicken your balm by adding additional beeswax or loosen it by adding additional oil. Once it has reached your desired consistency, quickly and carefully add your essential oils and place it in your tins and tubes.

Making these simple balms is a great way to enjoy and share your harvest! For more detailed instructions, check out these lip balms from Mountain Rose Herbs and this “owie cream” from the Hippy Homemaker.

Autumn Creeping In and Herbal Preparations

The days are getting shorter, bright leaves are showing their true colors, and there’s a cool, crisp feeling to the mornings these days. Ready or not, Autumn is on her way! In the gardens, our most massive and unwieldy plants spread about their wide and lazy pathways, our squashes and tomatillos, sunflowers and tomatoes are huge and ripe and seemingly unaware of the eager gardeners scrambling about to complete their work before the increasingly early sunset. As an Autumn mood has begun to set in, the students in the Community Teaching Garden are focusing on what they would most like to learn, make, and do in the quickly fleeting last weeks of garden time. It’s a great time to take an intentional eye to your garden and ask what tasks you would like to complete before seasons end. For us, many of our upcoming classes are focused on processing herbs and flowers that we have been drying or preparing in oil or glyercite over the past few weeks.

Echinacea

Last week, CTG students in the advanced course at the Tommy Thompson Community Gardens started an herbal tincture of echinacea. Using a simple folk method to create our tincture, we gathered echinacea from around the garden, chopped the petals and the edges of the cones, placed the plant material in a large mason jar, then submerged the herbs in vodka. A student volunteered to take the tincture home, store it in a cool, dry place, and give it a hearty shake one time per day. After four to six weeks, we will strain the tincture, bottle it, and distribute it among our peers.

Creating your own tinctures at home is simple, cost-effective, and fun. For more detailed information on creating herbal tinctures, here is a guide to some common herbs and how to best harvest them, as well  step by step instructions to making tinctures.

Wishing you happy harvests and good health!