Fun with Vegetative Propagation and Integrated Pest Management

This week in the Advanced Course class we focused on vegetative propagation and integrated pest management. Our lesson topics were timely, as we are dealing with our first pests of the season, flea beetles, and because we are eager to divide and transplant some of our perennial herbs and flowers while we still have some cool Spring weather to work with. We are continuing to work on our individual garden plots as well as the shared spaces of the garden, and this week were focused on planting flowers and herbs in particular. We are already harvesting asparagus, rhubarb, and herbs from our perennial beds!

Pasta Primavera
Pasta primavera with asparagus and tarragon from the Community Teaching Garden.

Our examination of integrative pest management focused on different strategies used to respond to pests in the garden. In general, one should try to implement the least invasive strategies possible to manage pests. While it is tempting to immediately grab a spray or other chemical intervention when we see our plants at risk, there are many lower impact strategies we can implement first. Examples of less invasive measures include cultural practices like choosing disease resistant crops or attracting beneficial insects, mechanical strategies like building manually removing pests or creating a barrier between the pest and crops, or biological strategies like introducing beneficial insects.

Carolina Instructs Students on Plant Division
Carolina demonstrates how to divide a chive plant in the perennial herb bed.

After learning about integrative pest management, we had a short lesson on plant propagation. Our focus was mostly on plant division. We had several large herb plants that we wanted to share with our peers in the beginner class at the Ethan Allen Homestead. We also received some herbs and flowers from the Ethan Allen Homestead garden. We divided the plants on a cool evening, digging deep and clearly and carefully dividing the plants in order to cause as little damage to the roots as possible. After transplanting our new herbs and flowers, we committed to watering them two times per day for the next week or so to help them adjust to their new space.

Sunset at the Community Gardens
A beautiful sunset as seen from the Tommy Thompson Community Gardens.

As we wrapped up our work for the evening, we were greeted by a beautiful sunset, again reminding us how lucky we are to garden in this space.

Welcome to the Beginner Organic Gardeners and the Latest News from the Advanced Course Garden

It’s been an exciting week for the students in VCGN’s teaching gardens! The biggest news is that the Beginner Gardeners course has started! On Monday night, twenty new and seasoned gardeners gathered together at the VCGN office in Burlington’s North End to share some of their goals for the season and start to get to know one another. These students will be working side by side for the next several months in the community gardens at the Ethan Allen Homestead growing vegetables, herbs, and flowers. Along the way, they will learn about herbalism, food preservation, and supportive principals of organic gardening. There will be a number of guest teachers, potlucks, and other fun events. By the end of the first class, students were feeling excited, happy, and inspired!

Beginner Gardeners.png
A warm welcome to the Community Teaching Garden students!

Although early in the season, things are moving along quickly at the Community Teaching Garden at the Tommy Thompson community gardens. The students in the Advanced Course have been hard at work transplanting their cold-hardy seedlings, planting some new perennials, and making plans for several shared garden beds. This week we reviewed some of the characteristics of potatoes and planted two varieties of potatoes: Russian Banana Fingerlings and Red Chieftains.

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We have also encountered some of our first challenges of the season: unexpected cold weather and the arrival of flea beetles. We are using floating row cover as protection from both. This article from Planet Natural suggests some additional strategies for managing flea beetles in organic gardens. As always, these challenges are opportunities for learning, and we hope to be able to ward off these pests and keep our seedlings happy and healthy!


Day in the Dirt

Last weekend, 260 volunteers gathered at 16 sites in greater Burlington to participate in Day in the Dirt. Thanks to to the support of these volunteers and a number of generous sponsors, we were able to better prepare these community garden sites for the upcoming season. The event was a great opportunity to work together, have fun, connect with our broader gardening community, and of course, get dirty!

Following the event, I connected with a few Day in the Dirt participants to learn more about their experiences.

Name: Roxanne          Site: Kelly’s Field Senior Housing

Hinesburg volunteers
Volunteers work together to build a raised bed at Kelly’s Field Senior Housing.

H: Tell me about your site.

R: The site was Kelly’s Field Senior Housing in Hinesburg, an Independent living facility which is part of Cathedral Square. It’s set back from main road and has a pavilion surrounded by a yard. We added six raised beds and worked together to fill them with dirt.

 H: What was the most memorable part of your experience?

The people. The same as when I took the Teaching Garden class last year. The conversations you have when you are shoveling. I love connecting with people around a common activity—especially one with a bigger purpose. It was nice to connect with people on a nice sunny Saturday and get this done!

 R: What would you tell others considering volunteering in the future?

I would say that if they have a passion for community, if they desire a more close-knit community, if they want to help others be able to garden, if they want to get they want to get their hands or feet dirty or if they want to earn City Market hours, sign up for day in the dirt! It’s very fun, it’s hard work, but it feels very fulfilling. You get to meet people who are interested in helping out and gardening and at the end of the day you can see the progress you’ve made. Whether it’s a pile of dirt that’s in garden beds or something else.

Name: Ehren               Site: Ethan Allen Homestead Community Garden

Ethan Allen Volunteers
A team of volunteers work on integrating crop cover into the soil at the Teaching Garden at the Ethan Allen Homestead.

H: Tell me about your site.

E: The Ethan Allen Community Teaching Garden is designed to educate about 20 or so new gardeners in the greater Burlington community so we have a mix of individual small garden plots and communal plots of annuals and perenials.

 H: What was the most memorable part of your experience?

E: I was really impressed that a woman brought out her 90 year old mother who was ready to do everything and anything. Multiple generations of gardeners came out to support the cause. Three or four generations were out here. I was really taken aback by how hard everyone was willing and able to work in those three hours for something that they weren’t necessarily going to be part of in future.

 H: What would you tell others considering volunteering in the future?

E: Whether you are new or a veteran to the Burlingotn garden community, it’s a really great way to connect to your neighbors and your natural environment in a way that benefits your community.

Name: Kane                 Site: Tommy Thompson Community Garden

Tommy Thompson Volunteers
A group photo of the volunteers at the Tommy Thompson Community Garden.

Tell me about your site?

It was very close to the Intervale so it was very convenient to Burlington. It was right out in the sun so I got some awesome sunburns. I liked working there a lot because it was very quiet and peaceful—a nice little stand apart location.

What was the most memorable part of your experience?

It was when I was working on a raised bed—the handicapped accessible one—Bill and I were working on it and we brought compost over from the compost pile and it reminded me of being back in a middle school playground and being on the balance beams. And I didn’t fall off!

What would you tell others considering volunteering in the future?

I would say be ready for a lot of hard work—you’re definitely putting your back in to it. It’s very awe inspriging to see how much the garden can be transformed with only a few hours of work spread across many hands. I thought the event was very well organized and they did a great job of always staying on top of always having new tasks available to us. There were a lot of tasks available so everyone could be involved regardless of their physical abilities.

Thanks again to all those who volunteered and to Roxanne, Ehren, and Kane for sharing their experiences!

First Night in the Garden!

In one of the most anticipated classes of the season, this week the students in VCGN’s Teaching Garden Advanced Course had their first night in the garden! Our focus for the evening was on orientation, preparing our beds to transplant our seedlings, and on examining some principles behind nutrient-dense gardening. In the garden, we were greeted by warm weather, some early spring blooms like the Johnny Jump Ups below, and the sight of a single fox meandering to and fro.

Johnny Jump Ups
Johnny Jump Ups!

After getting rained out the previous week, we were delighted to be in the space where we will working intensively over the next several months. While about half of the students in the course had their plots at Tommy Thompson Community Garden last year, the remaining students came from the community gardens at the Ethan Allen Homestead. After going over the general layout of the garden and looking over some of the shared spaces, we joined together to set intentions for the upcoming season and passed a smudge stick around our circle.

Smudge Stick
Our smudge stick surrounded by clover and some early season wildflowers.

Our homework for the night was to read an article from Mother Earth News on restoring soil nutrients as well as review a chapter on nurturing vegetable-friendly soil from The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible. These resources were intended to get us thinking about how we can support nutrient-dense soil and encourage happy, healthy plants and a bountiful harvest. After reviewing our readings, we divided into groups and compared some soil tests from our shared gardens and students’ home gardens. Finally, we created a nutrient rich blend to integrate into our soil including: Pro-gro organic fertilizer, bone char, green sand, k-mag, compost, azomite, copper, zinc and boron.

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Our final task of the evening was to begin preparing our beds. Over the weekend, we have been slowly hardening our cold-hardy seedlings by introducing them to cooler weather, wind, and other outdoor elements. We are eager to get these plants in the garden next class, and there’s a lot of work to do preparing the soil! Students added 10-15 buckets of compost to their plots and used lots of muscle and grit to integrate it into the soil. Students whose beds had cover crop over the winter will return to the garden several times this week to make sure their beds are thoroughly hoed and that the cover crop is broken down and well-integrated.

Our garden got some additional love this weekend thanks to the hard-working team of volunteers who attended Day in the Dirt! They cleaned out our communal beds, installed a fence to keep deer out, and mulched many of our pathways. A great time was had by all and our next post will focus on some stories from VCGN students and volunteers.


A Night of Transplanting, Good Eating, and Community

This week the gardeners in VCGN’s Advanced Course had a slight change of plans as we were greeted by some very cool, very rainy weather on our regular class day. Our hope had been to begin work on-site at our plots in the Tommy Thompson Community Gardens. However, rainy weather would not have been ideal for the initial tasks we needed to do and especially for working our soil. Better to visit our seedlings at the UVM Greenhouses and see what needs transplanting!

It was wonderful to be reunited with our warm season seedlings and to observe the growth of some of our neighbors’ seedlings as well. Some unique plants popping up in the greenhouse include artichokes, fennel, and castor beans. We focused on transplanting our seedlings which need a bit more space like tomatoes and peppers. For many of us, our basil and flowers are still just poking a delicate sprout out of the soil and are happy to stay in their smaller containers for a bit longer.

After class, many of the students joined at Bluebird Barbecue for a community night to benefit VCGN. It was wonderful to connect with our garden pals while enjoying some delicious food! Thanks to Bluebird Barbecue for their support.

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Next week we are looking forward to getting into our gardens and getting our hands dirty! Wishing a Happy Earth Day to All!



Transplanting Seedlings and Composting with Worms

It was an exciting week in the Community Teaching Garden Advanced Course! We were back at the VCGN offices in Burlington’s Old North End to transplant the cold-hardy seedlings we planted two weeks ago. We also had our first guests of the season– worms! They came in to teach us first hand about some of the advantages of using a worm-based composting system. We also learned many interesting facts about worms from our dear teacher Carolina, including information about their very unique reproductive habits.

worm reproduction
Birds do it, bees do it, even composting worms do it!

While it would be fascinating to spend an entire post exploring the reproductive lives of worms, much of our lesson focused on how worm-based compost systems work and what some of the benefits are. We learned about how to start a worm compost system, how to support worms in the system, and how to harvest the “black gold” they leave behind. Curious about how to start your own worm-based compost system? One classic and much-loved resource is Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof.

Freshly transplanted and watered planties
Our beautiful seedlings after being transplanted and watered.

It was a pleasure to see how much our seedlings grew in the past two weeks. After our exciting lesson on worm compost, we focused our attention on transplanting our seedlings to larger seed starting trays. We started by identifying any seeds that grew poorly or did not germinate, and then carefully examined our remaining plants to determine which seedlings were highest priority for moving to larger cells. While most of our kale and lettuce was quite comfortable in the original, smaller seed starting trays we used, our cabbage, broccoli, and some of our flowers were ready to move into larger spaces. After carefully transplanting our seedlings and gently watering them, many students found that they had a few extra seedlings. These seedlings were shared with peers, and extra seedlings were enjoyed as a light snack– our first harvest of the season!

broccoli rabe
Delicious broccoli rabe micro greens. Yum!

Next week will be our first week out in the garden! We’re looking forward to preparing our beds for the upcoming season.

How are your seedlings coming along? We’d love to hear from you!

Starting Warm Season Seedlings

Warm and summery greetings from Burlington! This week the students in VCGN’s Advanced Course started their warm season seedlings like tomatoes and peppers at the UVM Greenhouse Facilities. It was a great way for us to experience a different growing environment, meet some fellow gardeners from the Burlington community, and to see what other gardeners are using the space for.

As we continue to plant our seedlings, our plans for our gardens are evolving, and many students are working on updates of their plans to try to get a clearer vision of what their gardens will look like at different phases of the growing season. Our focus for planting this week was mostly on solanaceaes like eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes. Students were delighted by the wide range of varieties available and we’re looking forward to growing and tasting some new and old favorites this year. In addition to our solanaceaes, some students started basil, zinnias, and tomatillos this week. We would like to thank High Mowing Seeds, American Meadows, and Gardener’s Supply for their generous seed donations.

Plan and Seeds
A student garden layout and some of the seeds used for their garden.

Back at the VCGN offices, the cold-hardy seedlings we planted last week under a three-tiered grow light system have already taken off. Next week we will be back at the office to transplant our cold-hardy seedlings into larger seed starting trays and to monitor our seedlings progress.

What have you planted so far? Do you have any warm season seedlings you are excited about this season?