Starting Cold-hardy Seedlings

This year, the students in VCGN’s Advanced Course are taking advantage of two opportunities to start seedlings: at the VCGN office in Burlington’s Old North End and at the UVM Greenhouse Facilities. By utilizing these two spaces, students will be able to compare the impact of different growing environments. We will be using a 3-tiered grow light system at the VCGN offices. The slightly cooler environment here is ideal for starting cold season brassicas and leafy greens. We will start our warm season crops like tomatoes and peppers in the greenhouse, where controlled warmer temperatures and higher humidity will encourage their growth.

Students Look at Seeds.JPG
Advanced Course students examine lettuce and flower seeds.

Many students had their gardens planned down to the inch and were eager to find the exact varieties of seeds they had planned around. Others followed an intuitive approach, planting whatever struck their fancy with the intention of redesigning according to what felt like a good fit. Some adjusted their plans according to that night’s lesson, which focused on seed starting and the tools and environments we use to support young plants. We also discussed some resources on succession planting. Regardless of the approach, there was a palpable excitement as students got their hands back into the dirt after a long winter.

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Our first class photo! Meet the Advanced Course gardeners and some of their favorite seeds.

Some favorites planted this week include Swiss chard, tulsi basil and broccoli rabe. We are excited to start some of our warmer weather favorites at the UVM Greenhouses next week and will be sure to keep you posted.

Have you planted your cold-hardy seedlings? What are you most looking forward to?

Setting Intentions for the New Season

Just two weeks ago Burlington, Vermont, received its second largest snowfall on record. Not to be deterred, the humble gardeners of VCGN’s Teaching Garden Advanced Course are already hard at work planning their gardens for the 2017 season. This cohort of 15 students, all graduates of VCGN’s Teaching Garden Program, will be digging deeper this year. We’re excited to share the journey with you as we take on new challenges, like starting all of our plants from seed, and old challenges, like battling some familiar garden pests.

Tommy Thompson covered in snow
The site of the advanced course, Tommy Thompson Community Gardens, as seen from the Intervale cross-country ski trails. 

Our approaches to planning have been as diverse and varied as the students in our course. While some students have preferred an old-fashioned pencil to paper approach to plotting out their gardens, others have explored online programs like GrowVeg. A number of students attended or volunteered at VCGN’s Seed Swap hosted at the Fletcher Free Library earlier this month.

Kane dressed as pea
Advanced Course student and volunteer, Kane, dressed as a pea at VCGN’s seed swap.

Regardless of our approaches, we are all excited about what the new season brings. We hope you can join us at Day in the Dirt! 2017 on April 29th, as we work together to prepare community gardens around Burlington for the upcoming season.

What are you doing to plan for your garden this year? We’d love to hear from you!

2017 gardening season

Registration is open for participating in the 2017 Community Teaching Garden course.

We will be running one class for first-year students at the Ethan Allen Homestead on Monday and Thursday evenings.

And we are very excited to begin an advanced level course (CTG.2) for individuals who have completed the first-year course.  Advanced level gardeners will meet at the Tommy Thompson garden on Wednesday evenings.

For more details on the course, please visit VCGN’s webpage.


Week 22: We celebrate a season of Growing Together

We could say so much about the wonders of growing food together and about what we have learned after spending 22 weeks in the garden!

We celebrate all the plants that were our teachers this season, particularly our beloved sweet potato:


#No filter.  Sweet potatoes in an orange TubTrug bucket actually look as beautiful as this!  After a season of growing potatoes and sweet potatoes, there is a unanimous agreement among students to embrace the amazing sweet potato – they are easy to grow, require minimal tending, pests are not attracted to them, and their high nutrient profile make them the ideal fall harvest.

When we use our organization’s tag line of “Growing Together”, we of course celebrate all the nutritious food we grow in the Community Teaching Garden.  And we also celebrate the new friendships and connections cultivated in the garden.  During our final class, we had a closing ceremony to share words of gratitude for all that we have learned by Growing Together.

An offering of fall-colored calendulas, marigolds, and nasturtiums decorated our garden for our last class.

Students, friends, and family gathered for one last potluck during our graduation celebration on Saturday, October 8th.  We exchanged gifts, sweet words of gratitude, a chronological slide show of photographs, and enjoyed a garden-inspired feast.

With certificates in hand, students strike a pose.  Hooray for our graduating class of 2016 Community Teaching Garden students!

Students share their thoughts on the Community Teaching Garden course:

“It is amazing to see all of the progress and growth that occurs over the span of 22 amazing weeks.  Not only did the garden transform, but so too did all of us.  From bare soil and weeds, to prolific vegetables and herbs; from inexperienced students, to knowledgeable community gardeners.”                      – Morgan Rainville, 1st year student

“Being at the garden for two summers has shown that a city girl can become a gardener, can grow her own food and flowers, can learn and fail big, and re-connect with nature weekly with other like-minded and wonderful people.  I’m grateful for all VCGN does for communities throughout our state and the impact it has on our lives.”                            – Andrea Olson, 2nd year student

Meeting twice a week with the same group of individuals and knowing that I would be outside was really mentally helpful for me.”                                                                                 – Anonymous

“I loved everything!  But if I had to pick out one (highlight): I really like learning different ways to use herbs and vegetables in ‘atypical’ ways (like fire cider, salve, herbed butter, canning, sauerkraut, and drying herbs).”                                                                                                    – Anonymous

“I will look back on this summer as a landmark year; this course developed skills and cultivated a passion I will utilize the rest of my life.”                                              – Bill Wooden, 1st year student

“I appreciate food even more now, because I have learned how much work is actually behind all our foods. I value the work of all the people who work in growing food, I now make even more and better informed decisions on what I eat, where I eat and if I eat at all. My conscientiousness and consciousness have been more sharp now, and I share my very well informed opinions all the time. I made new friends, I spent quality time outside with Willy Wonka (dog) who was part of the group too! I made a greater connection to mother nature and the actual real values in life!”                          – Ute Monsen, 2nd year student

Week 21: Putting our gardens to rest

Although it is almost the end of our 22-week long course, we are still keeping busy!  We are primarily focused on collecting the last harvest, spreading cover crop, mulching around perennials, and gathering our garden tools for our end-of-season inventory.  With so much to do and cold weather inviting us to be very efficient with the time we spend in the garden, we rely on garden checklists to keep us on track.

We are grateful for other gardener’s who have come before us and have written checklists to guide us with putting our gardens to rest.  In that spirit, we share with you this checklist from Waterfowl Farm (we don’t actually know them, but we are thankful they share resources online!):

Putting the Garden to Bed – A Fall Checklist 


One CTG student decided to uproot and re-pot her beautiful marigolds to bring them inside.  You can do the same with perennial herbs such as rosemary and thyme that tend to be less frost-hardy than other herbs.

Week 20: Tomatillos

Tomatillos need plentiful summer warmth to fill in the papery husk that surrounds each fruit.  So finally, after 3 months of growing and growing and growing, both CTG sites have been blessed with an abundance of green and purple-tinted tomatillos.  Our garden teacher, Carolina, shared her favorite recipe for preparing green salsa…

Roasted green tomatillo salsa
2 handfuls of tomatillos (husked and rinsed off to remove the stickiness)
1 medium white onion
3-5 garlic cloves
1-3 jalapeno or serrano peppers
1 handful cilantro
1 lime
salt and pepper to taste

At the CTG site, we used a griddle over a camp stove to “roast”  all the vegetables.  At home, try putting all vegetables under the oven broiler and every couple of minutes move them around to keep the cooking even.  You want the onion, garlic, and pepper skins to get all nice and toasty black.  As for the tomatillos, they will turn from bright green to a more muted green when they are done roasting, and you will notice that their juices start caramelizing.  This is when their natural sweetness comes out and pairs divinely with the strong flavors of the onion, garlic and spicy peppers.

Once all the vegetables are nicely charred, combine all ingredients in a blender.  Season with lime juice, salt and pepper as desired.


Week 19: Supporting the change you wish to see in your soil

Of course, evaluating the health of our soil is not only for the fun of observation, but also as a reference point for soil amendment. Each time we water, we are amending our soil. As we learned last week, water is crucial to the distribution of nutrients through the soil and the distribution of nutrients is crucial to soil health. That said, simply watering our soil is not always enough. Remember, with a too clay-y soil, the water can not penetrate the soil’s top layer and will simply run-off (along with your precious nutrients). In the case of sandy and silty soils, the grainy quality leaves nothing for the water to hold onto. Without a support structure, water disappears leaving a dry nutrient-deficient soil.

So the first thing is first – support a soil that allows water in and invites water to stay. For any soil, begin by adding organic material (compost). Curious to learn more about compost? Attend VCGN and compost expert, James McSweeney for a community composting forum this October 2016.

Though the forum is just around the corner, the time to add compost is early spring – as soon as the ground is workable. Until then, a few ideas for soil amendment:

Cover cropping

Buckwheat is an excellent late summer cover crop that keeps moisture in and weeds out.
The beautiful buckwheat flowers indicate that it’s time to turn the cover crop. This process, as simple as cutting the base of the plant stems and leaving the layer of organic plant material to rest, keeps the plants nutrients in your garden while also preventing the cover crop from going to seed and becoming ‘opportunistic’ (or invasive).

Buckwheat is not the only cover crop. In fact, there are several cover crop varieties that can over-winter, even here in Vermont. Winter rye is quite hearty and, with long, strong roots, can help to defend against winter weather – keeping soil in place through heavy rains, freezes, and thaws, and even ice sheets. Legumes provide another benefit — fixing nitrogen from the atmosphere and pulling it down into the soil.

Sheet mulching (‘Lasagna gardening’)

Sheet mulching is an excellent alternative to cover cropping – supporting weed suppression and helping to build the fertility of your soil. Act fast! Now is the time!

As the season winds down and plants come out of the ground, check out this ‘Ultimate, Bomb-Proof Sheet Mulching’ How-To.