A Visit to Queen City Acres

This week, students from the Community Teaching Garden visited one of the sites for Queen City Acres in Burlington’s New North End. Nestled behind a home on a quiet cul-de-sac, one would not expect to find such a dense and productive growing space. It was there we met Ethan Thompson, the urban homesteader behind Queen City Acres.

QCA ET
Ethan Thompson of Queen City Acres. 

For the CTG students, this was a great opportunity to learn more about some of skills, practices, and tools that can be helpful when transitioning to growing on a larger scale or using a production model. Our plots at the Ethan Allen Homestead and Tommy Thompson Community Gardens tend to measure around four by twenty feet. Ethan’s growing space in the New North End is about one tenth of an acre. While it is densely planted, it is spacious enough that his plants appear happy and healthy and clearly produce a high yield.

QCA Lower and Lean Tomato Structure
Ethan explains the principals of a tomahook system and lower and lean planting to students.

Many of the CTG students were particularly interested in the scaffolding Ethan uses to grow his tomatoes, implementing a lower and lean technique (see above). He also had an interesting collection of tools which make managing his homestead with just a small, dedicated crew of weekly volunteers a feasible venture. Among the tools that were new to students were the tilther, the jang seeder, the flame weeder, and the Quick-Cut Greens Harvester. Both the tilther and the greens harvester are powered by a cordless drill, and it was fun to see a common tool repurposed to power garden equipment.

QCA Tools
A Quick-Cut Greens Harvester

Thank you again to Ethan for taking the time to show us around, and for making our visits to your homestead both educational and fun!

To learn more about Queen City Acres, check out their website, Facebook page, or stop by  one of their weekly pop-up markets at MetroRock Station in Essex (Thursdays 6-9) or Scout & Co. in the Old North End (Fridays 4-7).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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!