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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Last week, students from the beginner and advanced Community Teaching Garden courses joined forces to learn about pickle making. Guided by Vermont Community Garden Network’s Executive Director, Jess Hyman, students learned some basic principals of pickle making, then worked together to process 48 pints of pickles using fresh vegetables from their gardens including cucumbers, beets, beans, and squash. This cooking adventure was made possible by the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf, who very kindly offered us use of their well-equipped kitchen for the evening!
Before getting to work, we sampled some delicious pickles, relishes, and ketchups that Jess brought from her pantry. Jess gave an overview of pickling basics, then discussed some of the benefits of pickling, including maintaining a high nutrient content in your preserved foods and reducing food waste. Most student questions centered around food safety, and students were reassured that by taking some simple steps to sterilize their equipment and properly seal their jars, they could happily enjoy their pickles long into the future. If you are interested in pickling, but concerned about safety, there are extensive online resources available to get you started including this illustrated guide to water bath canning and the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning.
After our lesson, we got to work creating making a sweet and a sour pickle brine, washing, cleaning, and chopping our vegetables. Students then packed their jars with their desired vegetables and used herbs and spices to re-create some of their favorite pickles like dilly beans or bread and butter cucumbers, or to invent their own creative pickles. Some students canned their pickles for later consumption, while others made refrigerator pickles to be eaten in a shorter period of time.
A favorite recipe from past pickle nights is Jess’ Zucchini Relish, which we did not make on pickle night, but did relish in tasting! We hope this recipe will serve you well as you harvest your zucchinis this season.
Jess’ Zucchini Relish (Adapted from Wendy Quarry)
10 cups finely chopped zucchini (pulse chunks in food processor)
4 cups finely chopped onion
2 finely chopped red or green peppers
5 Tbs pickling salt
Mix together and let stand overnight. Drain, rinse in cold water, and drain again. It’s okay to skip this step, but your relish will not be as crisp.
Put vegetables in a non-reactive pot with:
2 1/2 cups white vinegar
4 1/2 cups sugar
1 Tbs each nutmeg, dry mustard, turmeric
1/2 tsp pepper
2 tsp celery salt
Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally.
Fill sterilized jars and process for storage using the following steps:
After filling jars, use a (sterilized) chopstick or knife to remove air bubbles,
Wipe rim with damp paper towel.
Put lid on and ring “finger tight.”
Return jars to water and simmer for 15 minutes, making sure there is at least 1 inch of water over the jars.
Remove the jars and gently place on towel to cool. Listen for “pop” and do not disturb for 12 hours.
Check for seal and refrigerate any jar that has not sealed.
After a slow start to a season marked with cold, rain, and flooding, the Community Teaching Gardens have taken off, and are now in states of utter abundance. You may be surprised to find a large harvest that seems to sneak out of nowhere, seemingly overnight, a bushel of beans, a clump of cucumbers, or a zucchini the size of a baseball bat. Among these curiosities, the plants that seemed to be lagging behind the others may surge, and you may find yourself with a larger harvest that you had plans for. In times of abundance, there are many ways to preserve and share!
One of our favorite ways to share the harvest is to incorporate garden-grown items into potluck treats. At our most recent monthly potluck, several participants noted that they thought they had nothing to make, only to take a closer look at their garden and discover lots of hidden treasures. Despite common harvests of kale, cabbage, cukes and more, ingredients were incorporated in distinct and unique ways, truly demonstrating a diversity in approaches and preparations.
Some methods of preservation work better for certain fruits and vegetables than for others. High Mowing Organic Seeds has created useful guide to how to best preserve commonly grown fruits and vegetables by picking, fermenting, freezing or drying them.
Finally, the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf is happy to accept donations of your homegrown vegetables. Conveniently located at 228 North Winooski Avenue, the food shelf is open from 9:00-4:00 Monday through Friday.
We hope you are enjoying this period of abundance! If you have a favorite pickle, preserve or ferment you’d like to share with us, we’d love to hear from you!