Thursday, October 23, 2008

Northeast Trial Garden Journal

Middlebury College Organic Garden in Vermont for Renee's Garden Seeds-by Jay Leshinsky

For the past six years I've been running the Renee's Garden's northeast seed trials at the Middlebury College Organic Garden in Vermont where I serve as "farmer/advisor". The garden is located about a half mile from campus on a 2 acre knoll with sweeping views of the campus and the Green Mountains. During the spring and fall student volunteers do the planting and harvesting at the garden. Over the summer four student interns work with me to grow vegetables, herbs and flowers for the college's dining venues and for local restaurants. This gives them lots of opportunity to trial Renee's Garden varieties against those from other seed companies and to do a lot of taste testing!
Middlebury College Organic Garden in Vermont for Renee's Garden SeedsThis summer was a most challenging one for the student gardeners. Almost no rain from mid April to Mid June, twenty inches of rain from mid June to mid August and back to very little rainfall to end the season. The Middlebury College student interns were up to the challenges and we managed to produce bumper crops of most vegetables, spectacular flower blooms and abundant herbs.
Middlebury College Organic Garden in Vermont for Renee's Garden SeedsMost of our trial vegetables and herbs go to the Middlebury College Dining Services and some local restaurants. Raven zucchini and Baby Persian cucumbers were two favorites of our customers. Although there were the heavy rains during harvest, we consistently harvested the fruits when they were small and kept the plants well picked. Despite the spate of wet weather neither the cucumbers nor zucchinis had any mildew and the usual challenges from cucumber beetles and squash bugs were almost non existent. I think this was a benefit of the ample rain on our well drained soils. As an extra gift from this abundant harvest we consistently brought large amounts of zucchini and cucumbers to our local Food Shelf program where they disappeared not long after we delivered them. Middlebury College runs its own dining program and takes the extra effort to buy local whenever possible.
Middlebury College Organic Garden in Vermont for Renee's Garden SeedsOur favorite chef in Dining Service appreciates our fresh, flavorful offerings. Since he serves our produce to an international array of students at the College's summer language school, he has a ready audience for the stunning colors and sweet flavor of sautéed Bright Lights, Scarlet Charlotte and Neon Glow Swiss chard, or the full tomato tastes of Summer Feast heirloom tomatoes with our Pesto Basil in a Caprese salad.
Middlebury College Organic Garden in Vermont for Renee's Garden SeedsEach garden bed has an insectary planting of flowers and herbs to attract insect pollinators and beneficials. Many of our insectary plants are annuals and this year we planted all varieties of Renee's Garden zinnias, nigella, and nasturtiums to enhance the insectary rows and provide swaths of color throughout the vegetable plantings. It gave the students great pleasure to cut bouquets of zinnias and deliver them as gifts to offices all over campus. As a bonus the Catering staff bought our nasturtiums as a garnish for many of their offerings.
Now that we've had several frosts it is time to review the summer planting data and begin plans for next year's trials.
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