A Farmer in the Garden

I recently helped my friend, Josh, plant some seeds and starts on his farmland out in the Northeast Kingdom. Josh’s family has always produced vegetables on their small-scale farm for area farmers’ markets, but this year Josh is running the operation on his own.

When I visited Josh’s land, I got to help him plant some of the usual crops that I have in my small garden: tomatoes, squash, pumpkin, green beans… but the planting process was a little bit different here. Forget the gentle loosening of roots on the tomato starts. Just drop them a couple paces apart for the length of the field and then walk back through and quickly tuck them into the soil a few inches above the roots. And while in my small garden I planted every squash seed with an exaggerated amount of care, here we just opened up a small hole in the soil every three paces, dropped three or four seeds in, and were on our way.

It’s funny how long my friends and I took to plan and decide and gently dig up homes for plants in the small garden plot we have when I compare it to the farmers’ methods. But I guess it’s only fair; any farm must be at least 50 times the size of our garden. It wouldn’t be as big of a deal if two or three tomato plants didn’t survive on the farm since this is such a small fraction of the crop.

While I am not about to move away from the more gentle and tedious methods of the gardener, I’m glad to have a farmer friend as a resource. The next day, when Josh visited our garden, he shook his head when he saw how I, on hands and knees, meticulously plucked out small weeds from a bed of soil I hadn’t planted anything in yet. He grabbed a hoe and we broke up the weeds. I grabbed a small rake and pulled out many of  the larger weeds before scooping some of the smaller pieces up in my hands.

In all reality, the garden isn’t just a place to grow food. It’s a place to relax, work hard, get dirty and watch life grow. So, while the farmer has some shortcuts that will still yield a good crop, I know I’ll continue to take the longer and maybe more laborious route for my miniature field of vegetables. I’ll continue to use my farmer friends as a great resource for planting and pests and so on, but somehow the garden would still feel like a productive use of my time even if it failed to produce much of any food.

Social Networking for the Garden

Got a great deal on seeds and bought way more than you needed? Have a few extra tomato starters and no where to put them?

These are a few examples of the kinds of posts I have seen in the last month or so on a network I subscribe to called Front Porch Forum, or FPF for short. FPF was developed here in Vermont in order to help people stay in touch with their immediate neighborhood.

My community posts anything on here from yard sales to school district meetings, but I have been especially pleased by the notices from neighbors who have a few extra plants they want to give away or sell at a very reasonable price.

Free mint! (To be transplanted into a real pot very soon…)

Just this week, a neighbor posted about his overgrown mint that he was pulling up from his yard and was hoping others might like to transplant. I hopped on this chance to get some free, gorgeous, towering mint. One man’s trash (prolific mint weeds) is another man’s treasure (ingredients for delicious minty sun tea, anyone?). Maybe Front Porch Forum isn’t the hip thing in your neighborhood, but with all of the social networking we now have at our fingertips, there is likely to be a website/newsletter/etc. to post about gardening needs. So, next time you considering purchasing the value-pack of of seed potatoes or are landscaping and pulling up some unwanted plants, check to see if someone else might split the cost or take what you don’t need. Even if you don’t have a gardening partner nearby, a little networking might allow you to help someone else in the community.

Anyone else have  a good networking tool in your area that you use to share garden news and needs?

Bikington Vermont

As community gardeners get to work with starting their gardens, I still see some empty plots that have yet to be rented next door to mine.  This is surprising to me, since I have heard Burlington has such a big demand for community gardening spaces. I guess this demand does indeed exist, but it is a demand for more of the smaller garden plots that are sprinkled between all of the housing close to downtown. My community garden is a little bit further from downtown, and this extra travel time is likely a deterrent for those who lack their own transportation.

However, with this being such a bike-friendly city, it’s refreshing to see that many gardeners choose to bike to the garden. Even for those that need to carry garden tools or plant starters, there are some great basket carts such as this one:

I’m very impressed with this trailer… notice the grooves in the plywood designed for oversized garden tools!

 

While some might see the extra traveling as a barrier to starting a community garden plot, hopefully the growing accessibility of bike lanes, bike paths, and affordable bikes, will encourage more people to get pedaling and get growing.

 

To Garden or Not to Garden

I am counting down the days until I can make it back over to my community garden and check on the next round of seeds I planted this past weekend. The mustard and radish sprouts were already up when I last visited, and it will only be a matter of weeks before I can eat baby salad greens to my heart’s content!

My boyfriend, my roommate, and I rented two full size garden plots to share, and it’s been so helpful to pool everyone’s garden knowledge as we plan where to plant what and when. When the three of us put our heads together, I expect there will be plenty of food to eat and then some to put up for the winter. Now that I think about it, ever since I started gardening away from home, I have teamed up with at least one other person. To me, this has felt like a better guarantee that something will definitely grow.

But do you necessarily need to work with garden gurus who have all the know-how about gardening? Of course not. I attended a meet up on gardening yesterday where we talked about the barriers people may face in getting started, and many people identified the fear of failure. Who wants to spend lots of time planting seeds and weeding if things might not grow well? Like any skill, gardening may take some trial and error, but the error is how we’ll learn. And chances are that something will grow. We could think about this in terms of costs and benefits and the break-even point of investing in the garden, but maybe the first thing we can share with potential new gardeners is to enjoy the process rather than worrying too much about the results.

First Impressions of the School Garden

This past week, I got the chance to hang out with a crew of kindergarteners as they took their first chance at digging into a small school community garden plot abutting their classroom. The kids were super-excited to get outside and use garden trowels, and while the main lesson of the day surrounded the planting of seeds for sugar snap peas, the kids were most enthusiastic about the earthworms…

Earthworms!

Early in their orientation to the garden, the kids were asked to think of what ways they should behave in the garden Continue reading

Local Foods: Slowing Down and School Lunch

Hey, here’s a fun listen: Test Kitchen Radio shares a story about school lunch and the impact of local foods in what children eat! The best part: the program interviews one of the coordinators of the Farm to School program at the Dorset School here in Vermont. Check out the program here (start around minute 14:00).

What I like about this story is Continue reading

One of the Perks of Joining a Community Garden Plot

This weekend, in anticipation for digging into my own garden plot, I attended an event on cold frame building and season extension at one of the community gardens in town. Well… actually, the workshop had to be rescheduled because the workshop leader wasn’t able to make it…

But if you ask me, that didn’t really even matter. While I was interested in learning about cold frames, I was also attending simply because I wanted to see this community garden space and meet other gardeners.

And, on that note, the workshop actually had a pretty small turnout… there were four of us present – two of whom were assisting with the event – which means really just me and one other person – Natalie* – were officially attending the workshop.

I have to admit that generally, when I think about who attends these kinds of workshops, I expect to see that stereotypical experienced gardener who arrives in grungy jeans and sneakers with calloused hands. Natalie didn’t fit this description at all with her manicured nails, sunglasses, and a short latte cup. Having moved to Vermont just recently from the South where there is a year-round growing season, I think Natalie’s motivation for attending the workshop was similar to my own: she just wanted to meet other gardeners and learn a few things as she started her own community garden plot.

Ground cherry seeds in their tomatillo-like pods

And while the workshop didn’t happen, Natalie and I still were offered some great resources. Natalie was set up with a trowel, a pot, and a little direction for transplanting some mint which she took home, and then we were both introduced to ground cherries – which are best described as a small, pineapple-like relative to the cherry tomato. Seed pods from last year’s ground cherries littered a few of the garden beds, and I stuffed a big handful of these into my coat pocket.

I’m getting super-excited to start some seeds in my own community garden plot this spring, and I’m thankful to be splitting it with my boyfriend and my friend so we can share the workload and garden knowledge. Natalie, on the other hand, will be managing her own plot. My first thought about running my own plot was, “Ugh, what a load of work, and do I really know enough about gardening to pull this off?” But after the spontaneous assistance from other community gardeners, I think I’m starting to get a sense of the meaning of the “community” in community gardening. Although it might initially feel more challenging to maintain a plot if you’re newer to the garden scene, there are plenty of resources available within the gardening network to ensure your hard work returns a fruitful harvest.

*Name changed

FN 4/9