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Seattle Fling 2011

Garden bloggers meet in Seattle in 2011

Preview the Year of 2015 with the UMass Extension Calendar

2015 UMass Extension Calendar

2015 UMass Extension Calendar

Wouldn’t we all like to peek into the new year ahead? Sometimes we can look forward to certain events with a fair amount of certainty – a baby due in May?  A graduation? A special anniversary? Maybe even a new garden? The 2015 UMass Extension Garden Calendar is a great holiday gift for any gardener who is already thinking how the new year will unfold as s/he promises to be really organized and get chores done on time.

2015 UMass Extension Calendar - Julia Child Rose for June

2015 UMass Extension Calendar – Julia Child Rose for June

The 2015 UMass Extension Garden Calendar does give you a peek into the new year by listing timely chores.  This excellent, and beautiful, calendar also contains useful horticultural information about plants throughout the year.  To order send $12 payable to UMass, to Garden Calendar, c/o Five Maples, 78 River Road South, Putney, VT 05346. Add $3.50 for the first calendar and $2.00 for each additional calendar. Think of all the gardeners in your life you could make happy.

UMass Extension Calendar

UMass Extension Calendar

Don’t wait to order. December days pass more quickly than any others.

An Incredible Tale of Squash Strength

My Lakota squash

My Lakota squash

Turkey, squash and pumpkin pie are the Thanksgiving triumvirate. And we will give thanks for all three, as well as the oyster stuffing, creamed onions and all the rest. A groaning board indeed to stand in for all the blessings the year has brought us.

Thanksgiving has been a tradition from our founding, but the harvest has been marked with festivities probably since the invention of agriculture. Squash was probably a part of our first thanksgiving meal because we know the Narragansett natives called this vegetable ‘askutasquash’ which means raw or uncooked. The Pilgrims shortened the name and before long were cooking and sweetening squash with maple syrup.

But what else do we know about squash?

We know squash and pumpkin belong to the same Cucurbita family.

We also know Cucurbita pepo is the family of what we call summer squash and it is probably the oldest squash family going back to 6000 BC. These squash originated in northern Mexico and in the warmer sections of North America. Cucurbita moschata developed later, around 3000 BC in Central and northern South America. These winter squash varieties spread throughout South America before Columbus landed. Their great benefit was that they could be stored for several months without rotting or losing flavor.

Cucurbita maxima includes pumpkins and originated in the valleys of the Andes mountains of northern Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile. They remained very local and did not travel much beyond that area until the Spaniards arrived.

We know that New World plants including squash made their way to the Old World, where farmers and breeders multiplied the few varieties into many. Squash obviously did better in the warmer climates of Spain and Italy. We even know that squash was being eaten in Japan by 1600.

We know that Hubbard squash, butternut squash and pumpkins are among the very few varieties of squash to be found in the supermarket. If we go to the farmer’s market we may find a few other varieties that are less familiar. If you join the Seed Savers Exchange you can help preserve the many heirloom varieties of these common vegetables. I took a look into my Whole Seed Catalog from Baker Creek Heirloom seeds to get an idea of how many heirloom squash varieties there are. Listed are 30 varieties of summer squash and 96 varieties of winter squash and pumpkins.

We know squash are easy to grow. Some of these heirlooms would be fun to grow just because they are so beautiful or so weird looking. Iran (C. maxima) is billed as one of the most beautiful squash “with a unique foam green rind that is mottled in soft peachy orange.” The name Red Warty Thing gives you a good idea of the squash’s appearance.  For myself I harvested Lakota squash this year, a variety grown by the Lakota Sioux.

One old variety, the Boston Marrow, has a local history. In 1831 (or thereabouts) Mr J. M. Ives of Salem got seeds from a friend in Northampton who got them from a friend in Buffalo “after a tribe of Native Americans traveled through the area distributing seed.” These big orange-red squashes were the most popular commercially grown squash in our region for 150 years. Currently, the Boston Marrow has a place in the Slow Foods ‘Ark of Taste’ for its superior flavor.

The big Hubbard squash originated in Chile or Argentina and came to North America via the West Indies. It is thought that Captain Knott Martin, a North American seaman who traveled those routes to South America and the Caribbean, brought seeds to Marblehead, Massachusetts. We know that James J.H. Gregory, farmer and seedsman, was selling those seeds in 1844. We have been eating squash in Massachusettss for a long time.

So we know a fair amount about squash, but do we know how strong it is?

1875 Squash in Cage at the University of Massachusetts

1875 Squash in Cage at the University of Massachusetts

In 1875 William Smith Clark, President of Massachusetts Agricultural College, and a few of the faculty members wondered about this. They knew that tree roots could disrupt stone walkways. They also knew that even a bean seed had to “lift comparatively heavy masses of soil as it germinated.” But they did not know if anyone had ever tried to measure the expansive force of a growing plant. They determined to design their own experiment and President Clark wrote it up in the Annual Report for 1875.

They got seeds of the mammoth yellow Chili squash from J.H. Gregory in Marblehead and planted them in a specially prepared bed in Durfee Conservatory. The bed, 50 feet long, and four feet wide was filled to a depth of six inches with good soil and rich compost. The squash germinated and grew vigorously.

The Report states, “Never before has the development of a squash been observed more critically or by a greater number of people. Many thousands of men, women, and children from all classes of society, of various nationalities and from all quarters of the earth visited it.”

In addition to measuring the strength of the squash they measured the roots. The description of that process is long but they determined that after they counted every fine root there were about 15 miles of roots. They also estimated that they were growing at the rate of 1000 feet a day.

Then they devised a kind of metal basket or cage to hold the squash to which they arranged a fulcrum and lever that was changed regularly to hold increasing weights. The squash was planted on July 1 and on August 21 it lifted 60 pounds. On the 24th it lifted 162 pounds. By September 11 it lifted 1100 pounds and at the end of September it lifted 2015 pounds. The final measurement on October 31 was 5000 pounds!  All supported by a squash that weighed 47 pounds.

I hope that this year you will all enjoy your Thanksgiving squash with a new appreciation for its vitality and strength.

Between the Rows    November 22, 2014

 

 

The Road to Thanksgiving

The road to Thanksgiving

The road to Thanksgiving

The road to Thanksgiving leads from our house to our daughter’s house. We were trying to beat the big snowstorm but we met it on the way. Fortunately, the snow did not get beyond pretty by the time we arrived.

The makings of Thanksgiving

The makings of Thanksgiving

Our assignment for the Family Feast was to bring a farm fresh turkey, cranberry sauce and cranberry bread and my famous Green Apple Mincemeat Pie. Still a lot to do before the rest of the family arrives tomorrow.

Happy Thanksgiving to all! Be well. Eat well.

Thinking About Our Gardens

 

Thomas Affleck Rose

Thomas Affleck Rose

As I‘ve worked  to put my gardens to bed this fall I’ve also been thinking about gardens and how they came to take this form, and how any garden takes form.

Some people plan a garden in one fell swoop. Or have someone do it for them. But I think for most of us we begin slowly and one step follows another. Which is a good thing because we learn about our site, and about ourselves as we move through the seasons.

Still there are some basic things to think about when we plan, or plan again.

First we have to consider the site. Do we have a lot of room or a confined space? Where is the sun on the site? Where is the shade? How does the shade move over the course of the season as the sun’s course across the sky changes? Is the soil sandy, or clay? Is it very dry or damp?  Does the site slope and is it exposed to wind? The answer to each of these questions will help determine how to proceed. The answers will guide us as we search for the right plant for the right spot.

The second consideration is how each gardener will use the garden. We each have different desires and needs. I’ve needed a vegetable garden, but I’ve also wanted flower gardens. I want to be comfortable in my solitude, but I also enjoy eating outside, and entertaining friends in the garden. I like to stroll through the garden, but some like to admire the garden landscape from a deck or from inside the house.

Beyond the practical ways we use the garden, I think we have to examine how we want to feel in the garden. Do we want to feel sheltered? Do we want to feel we are in a private woodland? Or do we want to feel like a Jane Austen character strolling through the estate shrubberies with a dear friend?  What is your fantasy?

One element of your fantasy might be a season of constantly blooming flowers. This will mean gaining knowledge of the many beautiful annuals that can bloom from spring well into the fall.  On the other hand, you might have a fantasy of a serene green garden where it is the shades of green and foliage textures that please.

For myself, my mostly-achieved fantasy is that of a mixed border. It did not happen all at once. Inspired by my mentor Elsa Bakalar I once tended a 90 foot long perennial border. Many perennials were gifts from Elsa, and many were bought with careless enthusiasm when I saw them at the garden center. I could not maintain such a garden for long.

It was only about 16 years ago that we planned The Lawn Beds. These are mixed borders, which is to say in each bed I have evergreen and deciduous trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals. Because the shrubs take up more room than flowers, these generous beds are much less labor intensive than that 90 foot long border. I still have perennials which will bloom for three or four weeks in their season, but there is room for annuals that will give me bloom all summer long.

Ghislaine de Feligonde whose orange-apricot buds open to cream

Ghislaine de Feligonde whose orange-apricot buds open to cream

Of course, I have The Rose Walk. This began as my fantasy of growing lush fragrant old roses. Thirty two years ago I planted the first two roses in the middle of the lawn. I don’t know why I chose that spot. Those two roses ultimately forced the creation of the Rose Walk. I have mourned (briefly) the roses that did not survive, and enjoyed adding new roses every year. I loved my early summer morning walks along the Rose Walk thinking of the centuries that roses have bloomed on this earth, and the ladies that have cared for and enjoyed them in their modest farm gardens or on great estates. The Annual Rose Viewing., our annual garden party was a further natural outgrowth. The Rose Walk is proof that a complete plan is not necessary to begin.

A garden will inevitably attract wildlife.  Some wildlife like deer are not welcome, and it behooves us to be aware that some plants are very inviting to deer and rabbits, and others less so. Lists of these are available. I never plant hostas because of deer, but thought my herb garden was safe because they would not dare to come so close to the house. I was wrong. They tramped across the Daylily Bank (totally unnecessary) to eat the parsley in the herb bed.

Other wildlife, birds, bees and other pollinators like butterflies are very welcome. Birdwatchers have told me that the sound of moving water is the most dependable draw for birds. The burble of a fountain, especially if it is near some sheltering plants is especially inviting.

Pollinators are attracted by the many plants that are native to our area. Bee balm, asters, rudbeckia, and even our fields of goldenrod attract the pollinators that will keep our vegetables and fruit trees productive.

Finally, when planting we have to remember those basic considerations like allowing for growth. A small shrub in a small pot bought at the garden center will not stay small. When planting allow for that growth, how wide and how tall will it be in three years?  Or five years?

Soil needs annual attention with applications of compost, and mulch. Where will the compost pile go?

One very important question is how much time can the gardener realistically expect to devote to garden chores?

Are you thinking about your garden this fall? How might it change? How does it need to change? We gardeners must always be thinking. ###

Cold and Ice on Wordless Wednesday

View from the Bedroom Window  November 17, 2014

View from the Bedroom Window November 17, 2014

By the time we had ice on the trees and landscape we had already had our first snowfall – one and a half inches of the white stuff. But that weather all felt like a heat wave. This morning the temperature was a record breaking 16 degrees! AND the Farmer’s Almanac predicts a  much colder winter in our part of the world!  The firewood is almost all stacked.

For more (almost) Wordlessness this Wednesday click here.

Intervale Center – Still More Projects

 

Intervale Center Food Hub

Intervale Center Food Hub

My visit with my cousin, Travis Marcotte, at the Intervale Center in Burlington, Vermont stunned me with the varied ways an organization could support farmers, the vitality of their conservation effort, the size of a marketing project like a food hub, and the excitement and involvement of a large community.

Last week I described two of the IntervaleCenter’s programs: the Farms Program which allows farmers to lease land and equipment at reasonable rates; and the Success in Farms program which brings expert advice to farmers all across Vermont. The interconnectedness of all things is clear in the goals that run through every Intervale project. Sustainable farms provide a living for farmers, protect land and the environment, and provide healthy local food for the population.

Interconnectedness is the theme of the online Food Hub. Most of us have become familiar with CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farms which allow consumers to buy a share of a farm’s produce at the beginning of the season and then get a weekly pickup all season long. Travis said “there are models of the Food Hub all over the country. At the Intervale consumers order online. “Our food hub consists of 45 farms and food producers who send us their order every week. Volunteers box orders up and deliver them to nearly 50 pickup locations in Burlington. The several colleges in Burlington, and private businesses get direct deliveries, but there are also a number of other delivery sites. The FletcherAllenHospital which participates in the Healthcare without Harm program gets food from the Food Hub for their hospital kitchen and for their employees.”

Travis pointed out that while everyone knows the physician’s Hippocratic oath says “First do no harm,” they don’t know that it also says “I will devise and order for them the best diet, according to my judgment and means.”

The Food Hub building, a renovated barn, includes a huge refrigerated room that holds all the produce and products like cheese, yogurt and meat that require refrigeration delivered by the 45 farm participants, and space for boxing the orders.

Beyond providing a stable market for the farmers, and deliveries of good food for the consumers, the Intervale website states that the Food Hub “provides ongoing technical assistance and support, enabling [farmers] to grow and process more food, diversify production, develop specialty products and push the limits of Vermont’s growing season.”

Intervale Center Conservation Nursery

Intervale Center Conservation Nursery

 The big greenhouse of the Conservation Nursery was empty but dozens of crates filled with hundreds of tree seedlings in growing tubes were ranked in the adjacent open area. I wondered where Intervale got all their plants. I quickly learned that this project begins with collecting seed, making cuttings and growing on about 30 varieties of native trees and shrubs. Thousands of plants go to landowners, farmers, and watershed organizations as well as municipal agencies.

Intervale also hires seasonal planting teams that work full time for six weeks in the spring and fall. These crews go all over Vermont usually planting varieties of willow and dogwood. These rugged native plants are fast growing, tolerate summer droughts, and winter cold. The focus is on riparian restoration, planting along riversides to make the banks stable and capable of capturing sediments and pollutants before they reach the water. Lake Champlain has a high level of pollution that is caused by runoff from the various rivers and waterways. After Irene Intervale gave away 15,000 trees to repair damage done by the storm.

Intervale Gleaning and Food Rescue. This program works to get fresh healthy food to income eligible families. Gleaning is the ancient practice of letting people go into the fields after harvest to take up that portion of the crop that was left. At Intervale volunteers work with local farms to rescue food that would be lost, and sign up Farmer’s Market vendors to donate produce leftover at the end of market day. The Community Farms offers free CSA shares to income eligible families and social service organizations. Several of the farms at Intervale, including the Community Farm, welcome gleaners weekly as the harvest proceeds.

The 350 acres of the IntervaleCenter include biking and hiking paths. Up to a thousand people come to enjoy the Summervale gatherings every Thursday in July and August, for free music, and great local food sold by a variety of vendors. This is community involvement at its most joyous.

Do not think that I have given a full description of IntervaleCenter here. It has a large and far reaching scope. Yet, when I think about what we have in our own area I can count a growing number of small farms; CSA farms; Just Roots Community Farm, lively farmers markets; food pantries that work with farmers, gardeners and the farmers markets; CISA (Community Involved in Sustainable Agriculture) that provides support and training for farmers; food producers like Sidehill Yogurt, South River Miso and Warm Colors Apiary, and many more!

Vermont is a rural state, but Burlington is a metropolis. My cousin Travis likes to look a models. He knows different areas will need different models. He has access to a population of 200,000, and we have a fraction of that. Still, we all benefit from knowing about and understanding the workings of many models.

Between the Rows     November 8, 2014

First Snowfall of the Year

First snowfall November 14, 2014

First snowfall November 14, 2014

This morning I woke to the first snowfall of the year. Just over an inch. Thirty degrees and breezy. A pretty preview of what is to come.

Yellow Birch at dawn

Yellow Birch at dawn

Surprises on Wordless Wednesday

Forgotten pansies

Forgotten pansies

This pot of pansies was all but forgotten until the sun shone on it this afternoon.

Chrysanthemums

Chrysanthemums

This large clump of chrysanthemums is still blooming so energetically that it refuses to be forgotten.

For more Wordlessnes this Wednesday click here.

Fall Cleaning on the Daylily Bank

Daylily Bank in August

Daylily Bank in August

The Daylily Bank is beautiful in August. It is also  the best idea we ever had for this steep bank right in front of the house. I started planting it from the top down and it took about three years to cover the whole bank. And there is still room for these clumps to continue to increase. For the most part I have chosen gentle colors of pale yellow, peach and pink, but some red crept in I don’t seem to be able to stop myself.

. In November the Daylily Bank  doesn’t look anything like this.

Daylily Bank in November

Daylily Bank in November

The fall weather has alternated between cold and very warm so I have been out today continuing to put the Daylily Bank to bed. I work both from the bottom up, and from top down. I  cut back the dead stems and foliage and then do some rough weeding with my Korean hand hoe. There are a few plants in the middle that I have not yet reached.

The Daylily Bank is about as low maintenance as you can get. They grow so vigorously that it is hard for weeds to take hold – but not impossible. I think fall weeding is easier than spring weeding. Somehow weeds don’t have the same tenacity that they do in the spring.  A couple of more nice days are predicted. I might get this job finished this year.

Intervale Center in Burlington Vermont

Cousin Jennie with Travis, Hale and Serein at Intervale Center

Cousin Jennie with Travis, Hale and Serein at Intervale Center

Intervale:   n. Regional. A tract of low-lying land, especially along a river. 

The Intervale  Center in Burlington, Vermont has three goals: to enhance the viability of farming; to promote the sustainable use and stewardship of agricultural lands; and to ensure community engagement in the food system.

Last weekend my husband and I went to Vermont to visit some of my cousins who grew up on a dairy farm in Charlotte. My father also worked on that 300 acre farm with Uncle Wally at different times, and all my other cousins spent part of our summer vacations on the farm. As a child I had a (very) few farm chores, but I have always given credit to The Farm for my ending up in Heath with a flock of chickens.

The Farm of my youth is gone, but my cousins still hold a tract of land, fields and woodland, where family gatherings continue to be held on the stony beach. On this trip we got to spend time with my cousin (once removed) Travis Marcotte whose journey from the University of Vermont and the University of California-Davis where his studies in community, international and economic development led him to several years working in Central America and the Caribbean. About nine years ago he returned to Burlington and the Intervale Center where he is now the Executive Director.

In 1988 Will Raap, founder the Garden Supply Company, with an interested group of citizens began establishing the Intervale Foundation, making and selling compost on what had been wasteland. Now, under the name Intervale Center, it manages 350 acres of land within the Burlington city limits. From establishing the Community Farm, the first CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) in Vermont to establishing an incubator farm program and a host of other programs the Intervale Center works to protect land and water quality, and find ways to bring good fresh food to everyone.

Cool  and damp at the Intervale Center's greenhouses

Cool and damp at the Intervale Center’s greenhouses

It was wonderful on that very cool day to walk around the Intervale with my cousin Jennie, Travis and his two boys. We took the wooded hiking trail along the  Winooski River where some restoration work is being carried on. We passed joggers and then turned away from the river and out into an open area, a kind of street lined with large hoophouses. Some are owned by Intervale, and some are owned by businesses who lease the land they are built on. This is where the Farms Program begins, and support for farmers becomes infrastructure.

The first farm here was the 50 acre Community Farm founded about 25 years ago. “This is a very traditional CSA,” Travis explained. “Members come here to pick up their shares, but they have an interesting model. The 550 consumers own the cooperative. When they want to expand they borrow money from themselves at a very low rate of interest. After all, they are not interested in making money here, they just want to get the next job done.”

Intervale leases the land to the Community Farm which then has access to all the equipment like tractors, and washing equipment for the produce. “Three hundred people have signed up for Winter Shares. Farmers all over Vermont are working to have a four season year,” Travis said.

Ten other farms lease land from Intervale Center, including the tiny two acre Half Pint Farm. Three of these are incubator farms who lease land for five years. . “Being able to lease land and equipment makes it possible for new farmers to get a start without a heavy outlay of money,” he said. “We also help them with business plans and can provide them with referrals to other services in the state.” In addition new farmers get help and encouragement from mentors at the rooted farms. They are not isolated with their worries or lack of experience.

Ben and his chickens at the Intervale Center

Ben and his chickens at the Intervale Center

We met Ben who is in his second incubator year raising about 1000 chickens for eggs. “Ben came to us with a business plan and a lot of ideas. He needed a place to test them out. Now he can’t keep up with the demand for his eggs, most of which go to the City Market Coop in the center of town,” Travis said.

Ben’s chickens live outdoors on pasture and in shelters three seasons of the year, and in two greenhouses during the winter. Next month he will cull the non-layers and be ready for new pullets in the spring. He told us that he’ll slaughter a few birds for his own use, but will sell the rest back to the producer for a very small amount of money.

Another program is called Success on Farms.  Business plan and consulting services are available to farmers all across Vermont. Farmers need to know about more than growing crops or raising animals. They need to know about efficient production systems, good financial planning, and markets.

We were surprised when Travis explained that a lot of their funding comes from the quasi-state agency, the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. “About 25 years ago Vermonters decided they didn’t want to lose this great way of life. They wanted to conserve the beautiful countryside, but they didn’t want it to be an exclusive place. That meant they needed to insure affordable housing.”

When Travis returned from his work in Caribbean nine years ago, he said he had a dream of working part-time in Vermont. He had worked as a cook in a million restaurants he said. He could do that. Instead he saw an ad for a job at Intervale Center and cooking was forgotten.

He took on the job of travelling around Vermont helping farmers with their strategic and financial planning, advice on creating value added products, amd expanding their markets. Success on Farms was his goal.

Next week I’ll talk about other Intervale Center programs. The Food Hub. The Conservation Nursery. Gleaning. Summervale! We have many of these services and opportunities in our own area, but it was absolutely stunning to find them all under one roof.

Between the Rows   November 1, 2014