Pickle Night with the Community Teaching Garden!

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!

Proud Picklers!
The Proud Picklers of the Community Teaching Gardens!

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)

Ingredients:

  • 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:

  1. After filling jars, use a (sterilized) chopstick or knife to remove air bubbles,
  2. Wipe rim with damp paper towel.
  3. Put lid on and ring “finger tight.”
  4. Return jars to water and simmer for 15 minutes, making sure there is at least 1 inch of water over the jars.
  5. Remove the jars and gently place on towel to cool. Listen for “pop” and do not disturb for 12 hours.
  6. Check for seal and refrigerate any jar that has not sealed.

Enjoy!

 

Advertisements

Times of Abundance: Sharing and Preserving Your Harvest

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!

Recent Student Harvests
Recent student harvests from the Community Teaching Garden at the Tommy Thompson Community Garden.

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!

 

Sauerkraut Night!

If you’ve visited the Community Teaching Garden at the Ethan Allen Homestead recently, you may have noticed an exceptionally good looking cabbage patch. Last week, these delightful cabbages were ready to harvest on what is always one of the most enjoyable nights of the season– Sauerkraut Night! One of the highlights of the Community Teaching Garden program is harvesting and processing food on-site in the idyllic twilight hours of the evening. Despite rain, cold, and vicious mosquitoes for this cooking adventure, the CTG students’ spirits were undampened and they produced enough sauerkraut for each student to take home two or three pints!

For many, this was their first foray into fermenting. Thankfully, it is a fairly straightforward process, and one that has been honed through various cultures over thousands of years. For our purposes, we followed a simple recipe: 1 medium cabbage and one tablespoon of salt. Students chose red, green, or mixed cabbage, and after washing the cabbage and removing any bad spots, cut it into thin ribbons. They then set to work massaging the cabbage with the salt. As they massaged the cabbage, it began to release its juices. Some students added other hard vegetables like carrots, while others added caraway seeds. After their cabbage was nice and juicy, students packed it into wide-mouth pint jars and compressed it below a cabbage leaf to help keep the kraut submerged in liquid.

Students were encouraged to top their sauerkraut off with a small bag of stones, a pickle pebble, or a bag of brine to to ensure the cabbage remained submerged while fermenting. By tasting their kraut every day, they could determine the level of fermentation that suited their tastes. In warm weather, a week or two is recommended! Moving the kraut to the fridge will slow the fermentation process, but not stop it completely. If more brine is needed, a simple ratio of four cups water to one tablespoon of salt does the trick.

Following these simple steps can lead to delicious results! But if you are looking for a more detailed recipe, Sandor Katz’s sauerkraut is a great place to start. Enjoy!

 

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).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.