Monday, June 21, 2010

NE Trial Garden: Getting the Garden Going - by Jay Leshinsky

The four student interns who will work with me all summer (Max, Hannah, Sarah and Shane) began their work on May 24th. This year two other students (Amanda and Rachel) will be working with local elementary schools to develop gardens at their sites. As part of their curriculum they will be bringing students and parents to our garden to get some hands on experience with planting, cultivating and harvesting a wide variety of crops. The interns first week is always a whirlwind of bed preparation, planting, and transplanting. We are also learning how best to work with each other and understand the unique soil, weather, insect and animal conditions on our knoll.
At this time of year the Middlebury College Organic Garden is transitioning from brown to green (mostly lettuce and spinach and our cover crops of buckwheat and winter wheat) and showing some islands of early flowers in our insectary row. Butterflies are all over our chive blossoms and our honey bees can't get enough of our catmint while they wait for the clover flowers to bloom in the adjacent hay fields. There are also rows of white gossamer. The rows of white aren't flowers, but tents of floating row covers that protect our squash (Raven zucchini), cucumber (Endeavor for pickling and Baby Persian for slicing) and pumpkin plants from the soon to appear cucumber beetles. Further down the hillside are the concrete reinforcing wire tomato cages wrapped in white row covers (old pieces with small holes in them) to protect the new tomato transplants from the unceasing late spring winds.
We were fortunate to have dry sunny weather for most of the week and we accomplished most of what we planned. However on Wednesday night a high wind and torrential rainstorm knocked over several of our tomato cages and blew off several of the protective row covers on our squash. Luckily no plants were killed, but we used a good portion of the morning to rebuild our supports and reconstruct our row covers.
We have about 50 tomato plants this season and we've found we always have to hide the Sungold cherry tomatoes away from the paths or they disappear before we can pick than. This spring's big project was construction of a hoop house. Planned and built by student volunteers, it was "mostly" finished when the interns began work (fortunately we postponed putting on the plastic covering just before the wind and rainstorm struck). On the north facing side we will have tables for plant propagation, so we can do more transplanting (rather than direct seeding) of our head lettuces (Blush Batavians and Caesar Duo). On the south facing side we are building in ground raised beds for warm weather crops (tomatoes, peppers and eggplant) in the summer and cool weather greens in the fall. We want to extend our harvest season without using fossil fuel, so the hoop house will have no heat source other than the sun and students will be experimenting with greens that can be harvested through late fall or winter over for early spring harvest. Many of our neighboring organic farms are doing this and we will be visiting many of them during the summer to learn more about season extension.
Food is a big part of our summer and at the end of this week we will be visiting the Crawford Family dairy  to see Sherry Crawford making her Vermont Ayr cheese (and certainly getting some samples). Sherry is one of the many Vermont farmers that give so much of their time to show the students every aspect of their farming operations. Wish I could send some samples in this post!
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