Thursday, July 23, 2015

More Garden Fun

As always, we've been having lots of fun in the garden since our last blog post. We hosted a Garden Salad Social where members of the Saint Michael's community came down and shared a delicious lunch of fresh food from the garden with us. While it is gratifying to see the seeds you've planted produce fruits, it is even more gratifying to see people enjoying the literal fruits of your labor.
We enjoyed not only the kinds of things you would expect to find in a salad (lettuce, radishes, snap peas, etc.) but also were able to include some wild treats like sour clover and black raspberries! We also gave people the opportunity to mix up their own salad dressings. This is not only a tasty way to accommodate everyone but also helps to engage people in experimenting with their food.

The salad social was such a hit that we plan on having more of them so keep your eyes out for an invitation from the sustainability listserv! If you're not already subscribed, you should be! It's the best way to keep up with what events are going on with sustainability all around campus.

We've also begun having our weekly farm stand in front of the Chapel Wednesdays from 11:30-1:30. Visiting the farm stand is a great way to learn about new veggies, ask questions, and get recipe suggestions from the garden crew! We also love getting to meet people and talk about what we're so passionate about. Come early and come often as our selection is always changing with the season and some things sell out fast, like snap peas. This week, we sold three days worth of snap pea harvesting in the first hour.

If you can't make it to farm stand or you'd just like to see the garden for yourself, we are always happy to have visitors and give a tour. We love to show people the cool things that we're doing and answer questions, as well as brag about how well our peppers, tomatoes, and watermelons are doing.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Attack of the Swede Midge

The garden is popping these days with tons of produce ready for picking and eating! We're harvesting beautiful kale, lettuce, snap peas, radishes, herbs, rainbow chard, and much more. Our tomatoes are on the way with bushes loaded with green fruits and we just can't get enough of the colors.

There are really the days when our long hours of hoeing, weeding, and planting are paying off. The peas, squash plants, and bush beans have especially impressed us with their rate of growth. 


Unfortunately, we still have to stay on our toes and watch for any signs of attack on our produce. This past week we lost our entire broccoli patch to relatively new pest, the Swede Midge which is a pest of all the brassicas. Signs of damage include puckered and crinkled leaves, distorted growing points, leaf and flower galls, brown scarring, blind heads, and plants with multiple small heads or shoots. Below is a picture of one of our brussels sprouts. The scarring around the base of stems is a sure sign that the swede midge is here. The only thing to do seems to be to pull infected plants asap and keep all others tight underneath of an insect net. The Cornell reference page has other helpful information.

We've also started seeing an influx of japanese and rose chafer beetles. There isn't much that we can do about them but we're hoping that some of our companion planting experiments will help to distract and deter the beetles before they cause too much damage.

As always, we welcome questions, comments, volunteers, and visitors any time!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Garden Critters and Incredible Growth!

The past week felt a little bit scattered to us in the garden. Some days were beautiful and others cold and rainy. We're getting a little tired of being in the library so we stuck it out in the rain a few times. While we might not have enjoyed the soaking, our plants seem to really be loving the alternating sunshine and rainstorms. The peas are now around 8 inches tall and we've had our first harvests of spinach, radishes, and garlic scapes. The garlic scapes especially have amazed us with how fast they're growing and all of them will need to be harvested this week. (Contact Heather Lynch, if you'd like to place an order). As the produce starts coming in, the garden crew has started looking for new ideas of how to use different vegetables. We've used scapes for pizza, stir-frys, on the grill, and to make pesto. Radishes we've tried roasting with oil and in salad. If you have any other ideas, we'd love to hear them, especially for the radishes which some of us are struggling with.

A few weeks ago, we told you that we had recycled some old pallets and turned them into birdhouses. We are now proud to report that the houses have been decorated and placed around the garden site. We're waiting to see if the new additions interest any of the many bird species that keep us company.

In addition to many kinds of birds, we also get to see frogs and snakes in the garden. The snakes especially like to hang out under the black plastic over our tomato beds. We don't mind them and they don't seem to mind us though sometimes we do startle each other.

A side project that we've been working on is recovering an over grown part of our garden site. A few years ago, a previous crew put in blueberry bushes and a beautiful trellis in a quiet spot behind the garden. Unfortunately, the site was also home to poison ivy! We think we've managed to knock it back enough to make a mulched path and reclaim The Nook. We've even planted it with some annuals to make it seem more welcoming.

Finally, we're still looking for people to join our northward adventure to Miracle Farms in Quebec to check out the awesome permaculture orchard that they've been developing. Contact Amanda at with questions and to sign up!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Rain and Research

This past week has been pretty miserable as I'm sure you didn't fail to notice. The rain drove us from the garden most days but did ensure that we didn't have to water the plants. We spent a significant amount of time doing more research on garden critters, disease, and permaculture techniques. While we do miss the sunshine, I think we've come across a lot of ideas and information which we're excited to implement in the garden.

We did brave the rain to check on our garlic, however. It looks like we've beaten the leek moths with our weekly application of Bt and keeping the rows covered at night to keep off the nocturnal moths. We only found 1 larvae in the whole bed on our last check! The scapes are up and look gorgeous with very few of them damaged. In the next couple of days we should be able to taste our work. Lettuce, spinach, and radishes are all coming on so we're hoping for a salad social sometime soon. More information when we figure it out.

Saturday was a busy day at the garden with a visit from local elementary school kids and some of their Saint Mike's mentors. They explored the food growing in the garden, planted some zinnias, and decorated the birdhouses that the crew built. While they found the herbs pleasant to smell, the garlic was a bit much for them.

One of our permaculture inspirations is Stefan Sobkowiak from Miracle Farm up in Quebec. His instructional video The Permaculture Orchard has given us tons of information and ideas to work with as we plan the implementation of our new site. We're trying to organize a tour of his farm sometime this summer and would like to open the invitation to anyone who is interested in attending with us. Please contact Amanda Kellner at with questions or to express interest.

As always, we welcome questions, comments, ideas, visitors, and volunteers! Here's hoping for better weather this coming week.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Bird houses and permaculture research

What a week! The weather was very off and on this week which made gardening a little bit difficult.  On the rainy days we retreated to the library and used this time to do some extra research on permaculture gardening techniques as well as the pests which we may encounter this season.
Jess and Jack brush up on some awesome permaculture techniques with the film  The Permaculture Orchard

While it's nice to have your go-to reference books, we've found it very useful to look at a variety of sources to answer our questions and get new ideas. There are lots of reference pages online from seed and gardening companies or from university extension offices. It's a good idea to look at multiple sources to get the most information you can. Some sources are incomplete, out of date, or don't deal specifically with the region and gardening techniques that apply to you.

Most things in the garden are planted and we're just waiting for them to start producing, but that doesn't mean that there's nothing to do! Some of our seeds didn't germinate as well as we would have liked so we went through and replanted where there were gaps. This will ensure that we're making the most of our space and will have plenty of produce. It's important to be flexible in your garden plan and be willing to add or rearrange as necessary for these same reasons. Mother Nature sometimes has different things in mind or you get an unexpected gift of seeds as we did this week. For example, we came across a package of turnip seeds and even though we didn't have a spot planned for them, we tried to find a bed that wasn't being used to it's fullest.

As we walked around checking on our seedlings, we noticed that some of our soil had developed a thick, hard crust as a result of repeatedly getting wet and then cooked in the sun. We went through and broke up the soil with our hands, being very careful not to disrupt the seedlings too much. Breaking up this crust will not only make it easier for the plant roots to spread out but it will also increase water absorption into the beds. The thick crust causes water to run off faster than it can soak in which doesn't do the seedlings much good.

Another task between planting and harvesting time is fertilizing. Some plants like to have an extra little boost once they've gotten started like our brussel sprouts and beets. The kind of fertilizers that you can use vary as well as how far apart you should time reapplication. The Veggie Gardener's Bible has a concise reference for these sort of things.

We also built some new bird houses! During our rainy day research, we learned that bird houses are often only occupied at 50% capacity because a nesting pair will defend two nests in case they need to move. We have a pair of house wrens living in out two previous houses so we felt it was time to encourage more nesting pairs by giving them more places to live. We're hoping that a group of elementary school kids coming to visit will help us decorate the houses using bark and other materials found around the garden.

One of our new bird houses-entrances to be added. They're made from recycled pallet wood and a lot of sweat.
An update on the leek moth situation: We found a strain of Bt that seems to be working very well at limiting the life cycle of these pesky moths. It's an organic fungus that gets into their digestive systems and causes them to stop feeding on our beloved garlic. We're still covering the garlic at night and hand-picking the larvae every morning but their numbers seem to be diminishing. With an luck, we still may get a handful of garlic scapes this season.

There are always new things to do and see in the garden. We welcome your questions, comments, suggestions, and even your visit at the site! Until next week, happy gardening!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

experimental planting and fending off the leek moth

Jack admiring the broccoli starts.
We're two weeks into the summer season and the garden is really starting to take shape! In the past two weeks we've planted most of the beds, repaired some of our garden infrastructure, and had our first challenge with critters munching on our plants. The weather has been absolutely beautiful and even Wednesday's rain couldn't hamper this season's crew as they prepared beds and encouraged seedlings to take root.

We now have in the garden tomatoes, flowers, kale, peppers, beets, carrots, spinach, lettuce, onions, broccoli, radishes, brussels sprouts, peas, herbs, and cabbage. We're also experimenting with a couple types of perennials like sorrel and bee balm. There are some varieties of veggies that are our go-to's but we also like to experiment. Seed companies are always coming out with improved varieties or varieties with slightly different qualities so it's interesting to constantly try new things. You may find that certain kinds are more suited to your garden environment, cultivation preferences, or can be preserved better in one way or another.

Jess planting marigolds.

We also are finding it exciting to experiment with companion planting. This past week we planted cosmos and cilantro in our tomato and pepper beds after reading that they can help to control potential pests. We also planted marigolds near our beans, squash, and cucumbers. There are lots of great books out there to help you with companion planting. One of the books we use is Carrots Love Tomatoes, a classic companion gardener's handbook.

A leek moth larva eating our garlic.
Unfortunately for garlic lovers, we also noticed this week that the leek moth has found our garlic patch and is munching away, endangering the early season scapes we love so much. the leek moth is a species which was introduced into eastern Canada relatively recently and is spreading down into New England. So far, there seem to be few organic means of controlling the leek moth. We've resorted mostly to "handpicking"- searching each plant and squishing the individuals we find- and covering the plants at night which should prevent the nocturnal moth from laying fresh batches of eggs. We've also been looking into using a specific strain of Bt which is supposed to effect the larvae stage of the leek moth and keep them from maturing into adults. Cornell has a good page for more information and how to identify them.

Stay tuned on updates from the garden and don't forget to like our Facebook page! Please feel free to send us any questions, comments, or suggestions. Look out for the leek moth and happy gardening!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Meet the Garden Crew of 2015

The garden season has been off to a phenomenal start with a stellar group of crew members!  We thought you should meet the team as we kick off our weekly blog for the 2015 season.

Jack Loomis '16 - Organic Garden Crew Member
Jack is excited to be working in the organic garden this summer. He is an Environmental Studies major who enjoys writing and spending time outside. Following this summer's gardening experience, Jack hopes to continue focusing on environmental education, especially in regard to food production and community engagement. He especially enjoys snap peas and cherry tomatoes, and can't wait until they are ready to be eaten! 

Jess Reid '17 - Organic Garden Crew Member
Jess is an Anthropology major from Bridgewater, MA. Her interest in organic gardening stems from the beneficial impact that gardens have on communities: they bring people together, educate across generations, and encourage a more sustainable mindset. Now, Jess hopes to learn more about different gardening techniques and methods throughout the summer. She is looking forward to helping the garden develop, and hopes that it will play a larger role in the Saint Michael's community in the future.

Amanda Kellner '15 - Organic Garden Crew Leader
Amanda is from Bakersfield, VT and majored in Anthropology and Environmental Studies with a concentration in Women and Sustainable Agriculture. Amanda is thrilled to be working in the garden this summer and can think of nothing else that she'd rather be doing. She values the garden for its ability to bring together a wide range of academic disciplines and personal interests especially social justice and social transformaiton through community involvement in localized food production. Amanda is especially interested in learning about pest control and growing members of the brasica family. She hopes that she can carry her passion for food outside of the garden and teach people how to use and explore the food they grow.