We dedicated this week to learning food preservation techniques to process the bounty of our gardens into nourishing treats come wintertime.
We had the honor of having Jess, the Vermont Community Garden Network’s Executive Director, lead a hands-on canning workshop for both of the Community Teaching Garden classes. Jess has been sharing her preserved food with VCGN staff for many years – from pickled beets, to habanero and carrot salsa, homemade ketchup, and juniper berry cherry jam – Jess is skilled in the world of canning.
Students brought in harvest from their gardens – mostly zucchini, summer squash, and cucumbers, but also a few peppers, string beans, and culinary herbs. After an introduction on the canning process and a Q & A to respond to students’ worries about canning, Jess divided us up into several teams to wash, peel, chop, measure, stir, boil and prep all the necessary ingredients for making refrigerator pickles (the quick version that doesn’t require a boiling bath) and canned pickles (with cukes and mixed vegetables).
Students received an easy to follow handout with guidelines and recipes for canning vegetables. We share that resource with you here – ctgcanninghandout-2016.
As for the lesson on agroforesty, here’s what I gleaned:
An edible forest is designed using two parameters. One is structure, the layers that make up the forest composition. The second is plant archetypes, the polyculture that works together to create a nutrient rich system.
The agroforest is made up of an overstory, an understory, a shrub layer, an herbaceous layer, a rhizomatic layer, and a vining component. We quickly discovered that each of these categories are loose and relative to the other crops housed within the system. While the red currant bush is most commonly used in the shrub layer, it could easily serve as an overstory in an edible forest of a smaller scale.
With regard to the plants, there are three important archetypes to include: nitrogen fixers, dynamic accumulators, and insectaries & nectaries. Nitrogen fixers have the capacity to pull nitrogen out of the air and send it down into the soil, providing nitrogen for itself and allowing that nitrogen to be captured by nearby plants so long as its needs are met. Dynamic accumulators have long tap roots that reach down into the earth and pull nutrients up into the top soil where it can be accessed by shorter root systems. Nectaries keep non-desirable insects away, insectaries attract the beneficials. Meghan suggested that gardens and edible forests alike should have flowering plants through the length of the season. These flowers should be diverse in terms of color and shape so as to attract the greatest number of beneficial insects.
It’s a fruitful moment, rounding the corner to late summer now. With each visit to the garden, I am amazed by the generous green jungle that has emerged from the beds that were bare just three months ago.
It’s easy to forget about the little things when the garden gets so big. The little things – those little pollinators so crucial to the fruit bearing wonder of the moment. For the tomato, the potato, the eggplant, and the blueberry, it takes a particular pollinator to unlock the pollen that facilitates the plant’s reproduction. According to biologist Anne Leonard, with buzz pollination, ‘the flower is almost like playing hard to get.’
Oh calendulas, they are such sweet burst of sunshine in the garden! We have been diligently harvesting calendula flowers for the past few weeks at both Community Teaching Gardens. We are dreaming of harvesting a generous quantity of calendula petals to eventually infuse in olive oil and make a healing salve.
The first step has been to properly harvest the blossoms to encourage more blossoms to come forth, which in gardening terms we call “deadheading”.
Here is a more detailed guide for deadheading flowers:
At the Tommy Thompson CTG site we have been joyfully harvesting from calendulas that self-seeded from last year and left us with an abundance of blossoms.
After filling our baskets, we left the calendula blossoms to dry on an indoor drying rack for a couple of weeks. On Saturday we pinched off the dry calendula petals, filled up a pint-sized mason jar, and then poured in enough olive oil to fully submerge the petals. Now we will patiently wait for 4 weeks for the calendula to fully infuse the oil.
The CTG held our third potluck of the summer, this time at the Ethan Allen Homestead garden. Neighboring gardeners were invited along the students, teachers & friends – thus the tables were full of dishes! Such tasty dishes and engaging conversations that no one seemed to take the time to capture the experience with photos. This said, there are recipes to share instead.
A student, Hayley shared her recipe for vegan caeser salad. As the potluck was starting she visited a fellow gardener’s bed and with permission picked some greens to mix this dressing with.
It’s really easy to make. Put the almonds and hot water in your blender and let them sit for at least 15 minutes. Then add the other ingredients and mix it up.
Well, Carolina shared a recipe for flourless zucchini brownies as a sweet way to use up some of the bounty. The brownies are quite tasty – and as in Hayley’s recipe, calls for almonds. However, I am sure you can replace almonds in both recipes with another nut/nut butter. There would be a slight change in taste, but both dishes would keep their integrity/texture.
The students learned about compost this week as we reactivated one compost bin, pictured above. Though a few students were already well-informed in the subject, it was an exciting step to further round our community garden practices and lessen waste.
Carolina explained that “brown” materials such as dried/dead plants are carbon-rich whereas “green” materials such as plant-based kitchen scraps (including egg shells and dairy waste) are nitrogen rich. The green plants (yard clippings, weeds etc) added will bring the much-needed chlorophyll into the mix. All this, plus soil and likely some water, is what a compost consists of!
The following link has useful information on small batch composting
Of all the shared beds at the Tommy Thompson teaching garden, I have a soft spot for the cabbage patch. It was one of the first beds we planted – a row of green conehead cabbage on one side, a red cabbage row on the other. As the season went on, we planted a row of beans down the center – offering a wonderful combination of color on the thin growth of the bean stalk to contrast the sturdy round of a head of cabbage. What I love about the bed though, is within the red cabbage row itself – eight heads of cabbage, all of which were planted on the same day, from the same tray of starts, into the same bed, tended by the same gardener with the same regularity and yet, demonstrating the entire spectrum of growth.
I’ve loved this cabbage bed as a reminder of the unpredictability of the garden. It is a comfort on days when my own bed shows distress and it is humbling when I begin to take credit for the growth of what I’ve planted.
As it goes in the garden, even our favorite beds have their time. And this was the time of the cabbage bed:
Alas, with communal cabbage harvest, there comes communal sauerkraut:
The week started with walking garden tours led by three folks involved in our neighboring community garden spaces.
Bonnie led the class through community garden plots rented out through Burlington Parks and Recreation. She explained that a portion of these plots are part of the “family room” – a garden-based program for parents and children. A program which, some years ago, she and her children were involved in.
Alisha, a UVM student who is working with New Farms for New Americans led us over the hill and into the fields of many refugee and immigrant Vermont families. This space is a project of the Association of Africans Living in Vermont (AALV) and its mission is to promote digdity and equal opportunity through farming.
Tour guide, Emma
Farmer in her field at sundown
Derek, a recent CTG graduate, led the class around the Discovery Garden. We learned that this garden was previously focused on children’s education, but is now a space for the community at large. We finished by picking out some horseradish roots from a communal space and almost everyone happily chewed on one.
This week she spent time at the Ethan Allen CTG, sharing her knowledge about herbalism and the medicinal plants surrounding our garden.
One of the plants we stopped by to talk about was right beneath our feet, plantain. Though considered a weed or grass to mow by many, it is actually a useful herb. Medicinal folklore, science, and many more sources I am sure, explain that plaintain can be used externally as a remedy for rashes or cuts and even insect or snake bites.
Yes, plantain can be collected and added to salves or balms but it can also be used quite simply. Kate explained the “chew and spit” method. This is as it sounds – chewing up the leaves and then spitting this liquid/pulp onto the wound or rash.
Plantain is a simple perennial that propagates by seed.
Another common weed we learned aboutwas Vermont’s state flower: the red clover.
We also found a herb called yarrow in the garden. It is pictured below, one flowering and the other with only its segmented leaves.
Yarrow, in one of our shared plots
Kate showed us that this plant also grows in great abudance in the fields outside of the garden. She explained that yarrow can be used internally for helping (or even breaking) fevers, or externally as a poultice for bruises, rashes, swelling and so on.
Finally, week 9 seemed to bring all pea varieties to life! The ornimental peas flowered while the shelling peas and snap peas burst bright, full and delicious.