Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Saint Michael's College Organic Gardens Are Expanding!

In the fall of 2014, students, staff, and faculty broke ground for a 1.7-acre permaculture site on campus. In the spring and summer of 2015, a fruit and berry orchard will be established as well as other perennial and annual vegetables, herbs, and flowers. 

Did you know: the mission of the Organic Garden Program is to:
(1) Enhance the educational experience of the campus community by providing an outdoor classroom for hands-on, experiential learning opportunities as it relates to food systems and sustainable agriculture,
(2) Support existing programs on campus and carry on the Edmundite tradition of social justice and service as it relates to food issues in our surrounding community.
What is Permaculture?

Permaculture is the study and practice of creating socially just and ecologically regenerative systems through careful analysis and thoughtful design. Permaculture presents a whole systems approach that integrates people, plants, animals, landscapes, economies, built environment, and energy to ensure that humans have the ability to respond to critical environmental and social changes with localized resilience and abundance.

History of the Site

This site was chosen as a new garden space not only for ideal growing conditions, but also for its significance to Saint Michael’s social justice heritage. Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, Father John Stankiewicz, SSE ’37, and volunteers from the SMC community grew over one ton of vegetables for the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf on the same plot of land. 
Plans for the Site
The site is meant to provide a hands-on educational space where students can develop a deeper relation to local ecology and community through agriculture. In addition to providing food for the Intervale Gleaning and Food Rescue Program, the space will also serve as a wildlife sanctuary for birds, bats, bees, and other pollinators. 

Stay tuned for further announcements about the permaculture site and opportunities for you to be involved in its development! We're hoping to name the site in the near future with help from the campus community. More details to come.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

So Many Green Tomatoes

It's that time of the season where the beautiful garden is reaching its height of productivity.  Each week, new veggies mature and are ready to harvest and new color is dotting the growing beds each day.  Such beauty and excitement!  It's also the time of the season that you might be a bit frustrated with the apparent stubborness of all those green tomatoes just sitting on the vine.  Why does it seem to take forever for tomatoes to ripen?  Well, there's a good reason why it seems to take so long.

Once the tomatoes start to emerge from the
blossoms, it takes about 35 to 50 days for the tomatoes to reach full size (calle the "mature green" stage).  Once reaching mature green, it can take several more weeks to over a month for the tomato ripen; the length of time really depends on temperature

The ideal temperature range for a tomato to ripen is from 68 to 77 degrees; as the temperatures stray on both ends of this range, it takes more time for ripening to play out.  If it gets above 85 degrees, the tomatoe does not produce carotene and lycopene which are two of the pigments responsible for the color of the tomatoe.  Also consider how hard the plant is working - not only is it trying to ripen all the tomatoes on the vines, it is still producing new growth, new vines, new blossoms as well as expanding its roots system below the soil's surface.

So, now that you are aware of all the factors that come in to play with getting that tomatoe to go from green to red (or yellow or orange), perhaps we need to ease off a bit on the poor plant and be a little more patient for our ripe tomatoes....just a little ;)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Caring for your Tomato Plants

It's that time of the season when your tomato plants are probably growing like crazy!  There are a couple important things you should be doing to keep them under control (which will also help with reducing disease as well as growing bigger tomatoes).  Check out this video where the Organic Garden Program and Education Coordinator Erika Bodin explains.

The more attention you pay to your plants now, the better off you'll be later in the season.  Other things you should be keeping an eye on are your cucurbits (squash, zucchini, cucumbers, winte squash, watermellon, cantaloupe, pumpkins) - we've started to get are usual cucumber beetle visitors.  A couple things to manage these pests: you can hand pick them off (squish them to kill them), you can use a neem oil spray which supresses their appetites so they don't feed on the plants or you can sprinkle garden dush on the leaves (make sure it's an organic dust - we get ours from Gardener's Supply down the road).   Click on the photo to the left so you can see what cucumber beetles look like (we have the striped variety).

Other exciting news - we will be having our first farm stand of the season tomorrow (Wednesday 7/16) outside in front of the Chapel 11:30-1:00!!  See you there!

Monday, June 30, 2014

2014 Garden Crew: The Passion Behind the Plants

Figured it was better late than never in terms of introducing to you all this year's amazing garden crew (will be putting this up the garden website when I figure out how to update it....).

Garden Intern Nick Rucci '14:
During my time at St. Mikes I majored in Environmental Studies and Studio Art where I looked at humanitarian and socio-political based themes in terms of agriculture.  Despite all the depressing aspects of environmentalism, I found new hope in food. More specifically, I saw an agrarian mindset as a crucial stepping stone towards environmental action.  Through direct engagement with land and the surrounding community of people, plants, and soils we can begin a radical non-violent sort of activism that finally gets something accomplished.  Working on the garden is just one of many ways to help kickstart this idea into motion.  All the efforts and nurturing make everything taste so much better and there is a deeper appreciation for what we’ve accomplished.  My main goal is to hopefully see these attributes carry over to the campus as a whole…And being outside all day in the fresh air isn’t such a bad way to start the dreaded career path either.

Garden Crew Member Shawna McGowan '15:
Shawna, SMC '15, is one of this year's crew members for the Organic Garden. She's majoring in Environmental Studies and became interested in SMC's organic garden last summer, when she helped out with pre-season prep as she did research for the sustainability office. Over the course of her education, she has spent quite a bit of time studying sustainable agriculture, including taking classes abroad, through which she was able to visit organic farms and gardens in various regions of Denmark and Sweden. She jumped at the opportunity to get more of a hands-on experience working in the garden for the summer. As she enters her senior year at SMC, Shawna looks forward to finishing classes a semester early so she can continue organic farming abroad through the WWOOF organization.

Garden Crew Member Rachel Proctor '17:
I personally want to learn how to establish a sense of community around food and have people learn more about where their food is coming from. After reading the Omnivores Dilemma in my junior year of high school, I began to look at the way we grow our food in a different light. I also did one of my projects in my ethics class on GMO’s and that area of study was very interesting to learn about how much power that companies like Monsanto have and the strong influence they use on farmers and the industry. Along with learning more about our food system, that same year I did my history research paper on Rachel Carson and discovered the dangers of pesticide use and this sparked my interest in the environmental movement and in the organic method of farming. My overall goal is to find a job that will allow me to raise awareness of environmental problems in our world and inspire other people to stand with me in implementing actions towards a more sustainable future.
Rachel is majoring in Environmental Studies with a  minor in Biology

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Trouble for Scapes

It's that time of the season that all us garlic lovers anticipate: scape season!  Garlic scapes are the flowering stalks of garlic plants.  For hardneck garlic, it's good to cut the scapes (once they make a full curl) for two reasons: (1) cutting the scapes will put more energy into growing a large bulb and (2) they taste delicious!
This is our fourth season growing garlic and they're supposed to be pretty maintenance free with rarely anything bothering them.  However, this year, we discovered something happening to the scapes (see picture).  After some research, we learned that we've been hit with the leek moth!  According to UVM Extension master gardener blog, we aren't the only ones in the area with this problem.

Here's what the EMG blog site had to say about this new pest:
"Overwintering even in Vermont’s cold climate, the leek moth has two generations per summer growing season. Between May and June, the moth’s larva bore into outer plant leaves and feed down the stems of allium-family crops, leaving behind noticeable frass and sickly plants. After pupating in web cocoons on outer leaves, they emerge as moths and lay eggs nocturnally that become another round of destructive larva from July through August. While the first generation usually stunts plants through boring damage, the second set of larva tend to do the most destruction to the stem and bulbs of the plant, affecting harvest and storage life.

For some, it’s still early and there’s time to take preventative action. For others it may be time to throw in the towel on our allium crops and plan better for next year. Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences provides detailed, preventative IPM methods and further information on identifying the leek moth."

Here's a picture of the larva:
 We are going to start keeping an eye on our onions and keep our fingers crossed. 

In other news, the garden is looking absolutely fantastic!  We've already had one harvest of spinach and tomorrow we'll have another harvest of spinach, gourmet lettuce and radishes.  Our canteloupe and watermellons have blossoms on them and our tomatoes are big enough that the garden crew has started to work on constructing a trellis for them.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Know Your Plants Before you Plant

There's an old and wise saying that starts off something to the effect of an ounce of prevention goes a long way... or something like that.  This couldn't be more true for growing plants.  At the start of each new season I stress to the garden crew how important it is to know the needs of your plants before you put that first seed into the soil (and of course, as we talked about in previous posts, it's critical to know your soil).  Each vegetable, herb and flower has unique requirements and if you want to grow the best of the best, you must plant according to their needs.

Let's look at spinach and snap peas for instance.  Spinach requires moderate levels of macro-nutrients (think NPK) and enjoys it cool (a good rule of thumb is to plant spinach only in the spring for a early summer harvest and late summer for a fall harvest; if you try to grow spinach in the middle of might not have much luck).  Snap peas also like it cool and can be planted the same time as Spinach.  A cool thing about snap peas is that they are also a nitrogen-fixer - adding nitrogen to the soil: a nutrient in demand by spinach!  Also, if you are familiar with how snap peas grow, they grow up a trellis about 4 to 5 feet tall depending on the variety.

Knowing these tid-bits, we plant snap peas and spinach together (a method referred to as companion planting).  We'll plant the snap peas on one side of the planting bed and our spinach on the other side (so that as the snap peas grow, they will shade the soil behind it where the spinach is growing - keeping a nice cool environment for the spinach).  Win-win!

(Picture: snap peas will climb up our trellis and spinach has been planted on the right of the trellis)

Monday, June 2, 2014

A New Era Begins

We'll get back on our regular weekly blog schedule I promise.  We have a good excuse for being off task though.  For those that aren't aware, this past year, former Garden Crew member and SMC alum Erika Bodin (who graduated in 2013 with a degree in Environmental Studies) has been working part-time in the Office of Sustainability on a special project: creating a proposal to move and expand the Organic Garden into a Permaculture/Food Systems Education Research Site.  She actually started this project in her ES Senior Seminar with a few other students in the Spring of 2013.  They were interested in getting a bigger space for students (as well as staff and faculty) to get their hands in the soil to grow food and expand their minds (the site the students were interested in is 1.7 acres versus our current 1/4 acre site).  I could keep going on as to the particulars of the proposal (if you'd like to read it in its entirety, all 30+ pages, email Heather Lynch at ).
Anyway.... we recently received news that the college will be supporting this endeavor and Erika will remain working in the Office of Sustainability leading the charge!  To further sweeten this exciting news, the new site is actually a spot on campus that the Edmundites and the MOVE office used to grow food for the local community back in the 1980s-1990s, it was called the Hunger Garden back in the day.  We'll be bringing this back to the SMC community and the community surrounding us!!  We'll post more details as the summer goes on, but right now there is a Permaculture Design Certification course, under the tutelage of Keith Morris (of Prospect Rock Permaculture at Willow Crossing Farm in Johnson Vermont) currently take place at SMC.
The students in this course will be designing the new site for us.  This couldn't be more fitting to how we envision what this new space will mean for the college and the students.  The community is going to be involved in every aspect of this project.

In other news, the garden crew has been working very hard getting the garden up and running and things have been germinating like crazy already!  Our lettuce, spinach, kale, radishes, beets, snap peas, swiss chard have all poked through the soil.  The crew is waiting on the carrots, scallions, basil, zinnias and bush beans to make their presence known.  We've also transplanted cabbage, broccoli, onions, rosemary, tomatoes and some marigolds.  This week they'll be putting in our sweet peppers, eggplant and perhaps our watermelon and cantaloupes and lots more!

We are also anxiously awaiting signs of our garlic scapes.