Preserving the Harvest: Medicinal Herbs and Flowers

It is hard to believe the middle of July is upon us! After a cool, rainy start to the season, we have had abundant sunshine in past weeks, which has led our gardens to take off! We are now harvesting our first cucumbers, zucchinis, and summer squash, as well as herbs, greens, and flowers. While there are some staples we get to enjoy all season, the students in the Community Teaching Garden have not forgotten to savor those foods we have just a fleeting moment to enjoy. For many, that means preserving the harvest just as quickly as these seasonal treats come and go. This spring and early summer, we have already enjoyed lemon balm, rhubarb, and strawberry jams, candied angelica, pickled fiddleheads, kimchi, and a variety of pestos, all made with ingredients from the garden. We look forward to preparing and sharing more of our harvest as the season progresses!

 

In order to make the most of our harvest, the students in the Community Teaching Garden advanced course have begun to focus their attention on the herbs and flowers they would like to process throughout the season. Specifically, we have begun to collect and dry calendula, lavender, mint, and lemon balm to include in teas, salves, and balms. Additional herbs we hope to incorporate in our preparations include skullcap, chamomile, yarrow, and bee balm. A simple approach to drying herbs and flowers is to hang them in a shady, dry spot with some airflow (see below). Alternatively, it is quite simple and inexpensive to build drying screens at home. Either way, it is important to make sure that herbs are completely dry before storing them in order to prevent rot.

Herbs drying
Mint dries in a student’s home.

We will also be using fresh herbs and flowers to make tinctures, butters, and honeys, and we look forward to sharing our recipes with you!

 

 

 

 

After the Flood: Practices to Support Your Garden Following Excessive Rain

Burlington has experienced substantial rain in the past several months, and over the 4th of July weekend, we received a large thunderstorm which created flood conditions in the Intervale. In addition to wreaking havoc on a number of the commercial farms based there, sections of the Tommy Thompson Community Garden were completely submerged, leaving students in the Community Teaching Garden class asking how they can recover from a flood.

Erin in Flooded Garden
Erin stands forlorn in the flooded Community Teaching Garden. 

In class this week, our dear teacher Carolina provided both advice and caution as well as hands-on demonstrations of how to care for gardens after they flood. Her first advice: wait until your garden dries before trying to assess the damage. While Erin (above) has taken care to walk only on the paths in the garden, soil is particularly vulnerable to being compacted when waterlogged. It may be difficult to resist the temptation to care for your plants, but it is worth the wait.

Ehrin in the Garden.jpg
Just one day later, Ehrin stands in our almost dry garden! 

After your garden dries, look for signs of where the water came from. The Intervale is located on a flood plain along the Winooski River. Had the flood source been the river, wood chips, straw, and debris would be strewn around the garden. Had the river flooded, our gardens would have risked contamination and needed to be cleared. Thankfully, the flood was caused by rain. The straw and wood chips in our garden settled more or less in the same places we had arranged them before the storm. Take a careful look, smell, and feel of your soil. In our plots, we found that the soil was quite muddy and stinky. That odor was caused by bacteria which breeds in anaerobic environments. As a quick response, you can perforate your soil using a pitchfork to facilitate drainage (see photo below).

After assessing the source of the damage, remove any plants that are particularly affected. In our gardens, the majority of the tomato plants in the flooded area needed to be removed, as tomatoes can be quite sensitive to excessive water. Next, push aside straw mulch if you use it, in order to let both the mulch and the soil dry. Then, aerate  your soil and add fresh compost to boost the nutrients and to allow those nutrients to travel more easily. Remove the lower leaves of plants which had been waterlogged (see photo above) and transplant new seedlings if you wish to replace the plants that you lost. Finally, avoid planting seeds while the soil is still very moist in order to prevent them from rotting. Having taken these steps to care for our gardens, the students in the Community Teaching Garden are hoping for a strong recovery over the next couple of weeks. We hope that if you were affected by the flood that your gardens are well on their way to recovering!

 

 

 

Looking Back, Planning Ahead

At the start of this week’s class at Tommy Thompson, we spent some time checking in on our own plots and adding a dose of kelp to everything (except the solanaceae, which received Tomato-tone). Carolina brought us some extra herbs, peppers, and cucumbers to fill in our plots, the compost was turned, weeds were plucked, and some of us tended to communal areas as time allowed.

After some hands-on work in the garden, we headed over to the picnic shelter to discuss our seasonal calendar. Carolina had printed out blank calendar pages from April – October to help us visualize our timeline for the season. We also had some candied Angelica and chocolate covered pretzels to munch on while we worked on our plans.

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It was great to collaborate and see what we had accomplished so far, and what we could expect in the second half of the season. These calendars will come in handy next year when we set off on our own garden adventures, whether it be at home or in another VCGN plot.

Since our last class, we’ve unfortunately had a great deal of flooding in the garden. It seems to have made a miraculous and full recovery in the past few days, thanks to abundant sunshine and warm temps. Here’s hoping our plants are well-hydrated and healthy moving forward.

This Week in the Garden: Friends, Foes, and a Spotlight on Angelica

This week in the Community Teaching Garden we had a work night where we tended to weeding, compost turning, and pest removal. We are continuing to focus our energy on protecting our plants from pests, are filling in any empty spaces in our beds, and are enjoying bountiful harvests of lettuces, herbs, cabbage, kohlrabi, and garlic scapes. Our peas, which have been slow-growing this year, have finally started producing, and there are bright yellow squash and cucumber flowers dotting the garden here, there, and everywhere.

Many gardeners have lost their chard or beets to some very crafty deer who have found ways around our deer fence. We have started to find three striped (or lined) potato beetles on our tomatillos and ground cherries, stinky squash beetles on our squash, and cucumber beetles on our squash and cucumber plants. In order to protect our plants, we are covering our remaining chard and are continuing to remove harmful insects (and their eggs!) from our plants. Last week we wrapped the base of our squash plants in tin foil to protect them from stinky squash beetles. We have begun to see some leaf miner damage on our chard and are trimming back any chard with signs of damage.

Leaf miner damage
Leaf miner damage on Swiss chard. 

We have had some friendly guests grace our garden as well! A pair of beautiful swallowtail caterpillars were found in our dill this week in addition to many baby toads which love hiding in the shade of our plants!

In our beneficial insect garden, our angelica has been attracting butterflies, lady bugs, and a host of other pollinators. In addition to it’s many herbal medicinal applications, early season angelica can be made into a delicious candy. If nothing else, it is lovely to admire it’s abundance!

Angelica
One of the beautiful angelica plants in the Community Teaching Garden. 

 

Insects and Compost and Guests! Oh My!

Things are moving quickly in the two community teaching gardens. In the past week or so we’ve gotten a good amount of rain, warm weather, and ample sunshine. Many of our heat-loving plants which were lagging behind are now taking off. This week in the advanced course, we did a review of harmful and beneficial insects, worked with our compost and planted our sweet potatoes. The beginner gardener class welcomed their first guest teacher of the season, Vic Izzo, an entomologist who works with growers in the area.

Students planting sweet potatoes
Students plant sweet potatoes in a shared plot in the Community Teaching Garden at Tommy Thompson Community Gardens.

This season, the advanced class has been especially focused on producing viable compost to restore our garden at the end of the growing season. We visit our compost bin each week to assess the quality of the compost we are creating, and to vigorously turn the compost by transferring it from one bin to the next. In the process, we take a multi-sensory approach to examining our compost: looking for beneficial insects, smelling for positive or negative signs of decomposition, and feeling for heat. Students are encouraged to bring plant-based food scraps from their homes to add into the mix we have created of scraps, straw, and already prepared compost. This week, we added nitrogen-rich comfrey from our garden to increase decomposition rates.

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On Thursday night, Vic Izzo joined the beginner gardeners at the Ethan Allen Homestead. His hands-on lesson focused on two common pests in Vermont, the Colorado potato beetle and the leek moth. During his visit, students learned how to identify these pests and the damage they cause in the garden. Potatoes and eggplant are susceptible to Colorado potato beetle, while onions, leeks, and garlic are attacked by leek moth. Vic suggested strategies for managing these pests using integrated pest management. Specially, he suggested monitoring the flights of leek moths and covering your garlic and other attractive crops while leek moths are in their larval stage. When it comes to Colorado potato beetles, the most affective approach is often removing the beetles by hand and crushing their eggs before they hatch.

Vic Teaches the Beginner Gardeners About Leek Moth
Vic Izzo discussing integrated pest management strategies with students at the Community Teaching Garden at the Ethan Allen Homestead. 

Students will continue to implement these strategies and more as new pests appear in the garden. We look forward to sharing what we learn with you!

 

Exploring Wild Harvestable Plants and Our First Potluck of the Season

This week students in the Community Teaching Garden advanced course made their first formal exploration of the land surrounding the teaching garden. Our mission was to identify wild harvestable plants while reviewing plant botany. Using our handy plant identification guide as well as a few field guides of local plants, we worked with our teacher, Carolina, to identify some of the wild edibles just steps away from our garden!

Wild Harvestable Plants
Clockwise from top left: elderberries, nettles, motherwort and garlic mustard. 

When ripe, elderberries can be used to make a healing syrup for colds and flus. Motherwort has a wide range of medicinal uses, particularly in support of women’s health. Among other uses, nettles and garlic mustard make delicious early-season pesto. Yum!

This week also marked the first official meeting of the two Community Teaching Garden classes. Students from both classes gathered at the advanced course site at the Tommy Thompson Community Gardens for an evening of exploring gardens and sharing food.

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After touring the advanced course teaching garden, we gathered together for a potluck dinner. It was a delicious way for the students in the two classes to get to know one another, and we are looking forward to meeting (and sharing our recipes with you!) throughout the season.

What is your favorite potluck dish? Let us know in the comments– we’d love to hear from you!

New Plants, New Pests! Continuing Integrated Pest Management in the Community Teaching Gardens

It’s been an exciting couple of weeks in the Community Teaching Gardens. Despite cold, rainy, and gloomy weather, the Advanced Course has had surprisingly bright and beautiful weather for our class nights, and we have been able to make a lot of headway both in our individual plots and in our shared plots. We have now planted our brassicas (like kale, cabbage, and broccoli) our solanaceaes (like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant) and most of our cucurbits (like cucumbers and squash). Our communal beds are filling up with tomatillos, ground cherries, winter squash, potatoes, and a wide variety of flowers, berries, and herbs. Even though the majority of our plants are still in the seedling stage, there is a sense of abundance in the garden which is very exciting. Students are continuing to consider design and production as we integrate more plants into our plots, and we are now harvesting rhubarb, broccoli rabe, and what appears to be the last of our asparagus.

garden snacks
Thank you to Angela and Erin for sharing your delicious ramp pesto, rhubarb jam, and lemon balm jam with the class this week!

As we have brought new plants into the garden, we have been joined by new pests. While flea beetles have mostly tapered off for the season, the rainy cool weather has created an ideal environment for slugs. Many students have removed the row clover they were using to protect their brassicas from flea beetles so that birds will have easy access to the slugs which are very interested in our cabbage and lettuce. We have found that many of our seeds have had better germination rates this year when covered by row cover, and at this point most students are just covering the freshly seeded areas of their plots. Along with slugs, we have started to find Colorado potato beetles on our potatoes, eggplant, and tomato plants. We are working diligently to remove the beetles as we find them (usually tossing them in a glass of water with a couple of drops of soap) and crushing the bright orange eggs they leave on the underside of our plants.

While the work of manually removing pests may seem time consuming and tedious, it is one way to ensure the health of our plants for a bountiful harvest.

What pests have you seen in your garden so far? What strategies do you use to manage them? We’d love to hear from you!