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Home Gardens Musings Personal Sustainability: How-To School Gardens Uncategorized

Trellising and Suckers (aka Keeping Tomato Plants Under Control)

Caged Tomato

By the end of June, most gardens are fully planted and have had several weeks to settle in and start to grow.  If your rows were fully weeded when you planted, you’ve probably had a few weeks of vacation from this ongoing garden chore.  Pests can start to be a nuisance, praying on small vulnerable leaves and stems (read more about pest control here).

Right about now is a great time to get ahead of the game and create a plan to sucker, trellis, or stake any plant that will likely grow tall and may become top-heavy with fruit.  In our garden, I tie pepper plants to stakes; make sure beans, peas, and cucumbers have a trellis to climb on; and sucker and cage my tomato plants.  Most of this makes sense to the average person, except: what the heck is suckering?!

tomato sucker

Plants that are naturally bushy and sprawling, like tomatoes and tomatillos, grow new “heads” (or “suckers”) at every point where a leaf grows from the main stem.  When I worked in school gardens, I would tell the kids that suckers grow out of the armpits of the plants.  If you want a huge sprawling bush, that’s great!  BUT, if you want to be able to find all your mature fruits, keep the plant from sprawling all over the row and plant neighbors, and want to keep it off the ground to avoid disease, you’ll need to take action.

caged tomatoes

There are many trellising techniques for tomatoes.  What you choose should be based on the amount of space you have, the number of plants you want to grow, and how many extra supplies you’ll need to invest in.  Feel free to let me know if you want my thoughts on your specific circumstance!  In general, I recommend starting with a large tomato cage, and suckering your plant to keep it airy, growing up, and focused on producing fruit off its main stem.

Now that my tomato plants are over a foot high, they’ve started to grow suckers.  At this age, I can simply pinch them off with my fingers.  If suckers get very large, you’ll want to use snippers or scissors so you don’t rip the main stalk of the plant.  By removing suckers when they are small, I encourage the plant to focus on growing up rather than out.  In August, this will result in a more orderly tomato row with plants that are (mostly) growing within their cages.  This makes for easy harvesting, less spread of disease (which usually happens when rain splashes dirt up onto your plant or when leaves are densely packed together), and less breakage if there are high winds.

Suckering tomato copy

Suckering is an ongoing chore throughout the season, but is quick and easy, and fits into walks through the garden when you can also keep an eye out for maturing fruit, find new pests before they cause much damage, and take a moment to pluck a few weeds.

IMG_6824Want to get creative?  Let a few suckers grow in a strategic way.  Tomato espalier anyone?  Last year in my garden I planted a single plant at the base of a trellis.  I let one sucker grow up each wire, and then removed the rest.  I used string to periodically tie each branch to it’s assigned wire – tomatoes don’t send out tendrils or curl around wires like peas, beans, and cucumbers. My yield per plant was very high because I was essentially growing multiple “trunks” from one plant.

Happy Gardening!

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Home Gardens School Gardens Uncategorized

Garden Pest E-rabbit-cation

mr macgregor

Err… I mean garden pest eradication.  My focus in the garden has transitioned from weeding to pest eradication.  Yes, there are still weeds, but when I walked through the garden several mornings ago and found pea vines snipped from their roots, a major pruning of our aronia bushes, AND the my first sighting of cucumber and Japanese beetles, I realized my priorities needed to change quickly!

Read this post to see some great pictures and get practical tips to eradicate our most common garden pests organically.

This post puts a nice twist on garden mysteries and will help you avoid garden pest disasters.  We realized this week that baby bunnies could fit through the holes in our garden fence.  Uh oh!  We’re now lining the bottom section of our fence with chicken wire, which has smaller holes.  Meanwhile, I’ve been channeling my inner Mr. McGregor and literally running through the rows chasing baby bunnies out of the garden with my rake!

garden-rabbit-removal

Speaking of channeling book characters, I’ve also been working on my Captain Hook impersonation.  Armed with long sleeves, pants, and a sharp machete, I’ve been busy axing down mature parsnip plants.  A machete is much better than a weed whacker which will spray plant juices everywhere.  The juices of the parsnip make your skin highly sensitive to the sun, leaving burns that take months to go away.  It is important to fell these irritating plants now before their seeds mature and create thousands of baby parsnips.

machete-parsnips

Despite my recent focus on death and destruction, I’m now feeling much more happy and calm when I wander through the garden each morning.  I no longer have to worry about finding plants mysteriously felled or infested now that our pest populations are being kept at bay and our neighborhood rabbits are locked out.  They’ll have to look elsewhere for their next yummy meal of peas, beet greens, and lettuce.

mid-july-garden

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Home Gardens School Gardens Uncategorized

Seed Season

It’s time to start thinking about seed starting and garden planning!  If you live near Charlotte, VT, consider coming to this Saturday’s Seed Swap to give away your extra seeds, get a few fun new varieties, and get your gardening questions answered by local experts:

seed-swap-2016

 

If you’re reading this from afar, here are some past blog posts that I love reviewing at this time of year.  Happy Spring!

Garden PlanningPlanning a Back-Yard Garden: This post includes information on several crucial components to planning a back-yard garden including soil testing, sunlight analysis, seed catalogue browsing, making a veggie wish list, and rough-draft garden planning.  Back yard gardening is an affordable way to access fresh veggies throughout the summer, will get you physically active outside, is rewarding, and can be a great way to bond with family members or roommates!
Basil

Seeds vs. Seedlings: Sometimes it’s best to buy vegetable seedlings from a nursery.  Sometimes it’s better to buy a packet of seeds to start yourself.  Check out this post  to decide whether to buy seeds or seedlings.  Now is the perfect time to buy seeds or attend a seed swap!  If you live in Somerville, check out Seed Sale and Seed Swap information.

ContainersConsider planning a Container Garden: If you live in an urban setting with questionable soil, rent or are planning to move, or have a nice sunny porch, you may want to consider a container garden!  Containers are a great way to try out vegetable growing on a small scale, and can help you determine if you’d like to do more the next season.  If you start gathering materials now, it can also be a very affordable option!  This Post lists all the things you should consider to grow a successful container garden.

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Children and Nature Home Gardens School Gardens

Seeds!

Seeds surround us as we transition from summer to winter.  For gardeners, this means that it’s the perfect time to save seeds to plant next year.   Try letting some of your leafy vegetables, like lettuce and cilantro, flower and make seeds for you to harvest and save.  For young nature explorers, this means it’s the perfect time to build burdock structures, make wishes on milkweed seeds, find out how far a thrown “helicopter seed” can travel, and create acorn cracking factories by the forest edge.  Children can also participate in seed saving for the next spring – equipped with an envelope, you’d be amazed by how many seeds can be found in a fall garden or meadow.  For teachers, there are opportunities to investigate life cycles, parts of a seed, and ways that seeds travel through hands-on outdoor exploration and discovery.

Seeds in the garden: sunflower and cilantro/corriander
Seeds in the garden: sunflower and cilantro/coriander
Hitchhiking and velcro seeds: burdock
Hitchhiking and velcro seeds: burdock
Flower seeds: bachelor button and calendula
Flower seeds: bachelor button and calendula
Helicopter seeds: Box Elder Tree
Helicopter seeds: box elder tree
Parachute and wishing seeds: Dandelion and milkweed
Parachute and wishing seeds: dandelion and milkweed
Categories
Children and Nature School Gardens

Green Thumbs Camp: August 2015

When it comes to summer camp, pictures speak better than words.  The photos below illustrate our wonderful week in the Charlotte Central School gardens and an amazing field trip to Philo Ridge Farm right across the street from the school.  Thank you to my teaching partner Stacy Carter and our assistant Carter, Deirdre Holmes and Abby Foulk for their work in the CCS gardens and compost shed, Charlotte Recreation for administering the camp, Vera Simon-Nobes for welcoming us to Philo Ridge Farm, and all our awesome campers!

Making quick work of a big weeding chore (it helped that we had a "longest root" contest)
Making quick work of a big weeding chore (it helped that we had a “longest root” contest)
Collecting seeds for our Seed Savers envelopes
Collecting seeds for our Seed Savers envelopes
Garden journaling and herb pot painting
Garden journaling and herb pot painting
Our Rainbow Salad Bar - all grown in the school garden!!
Our Rainbow Salad Bar – all grown in the school garden!!
Digging for potatoes - our garden's buried treasure
Digging for potatoes – our garden’s buried treasure
Garden-grown, camper-harvested roasted root veggies: striped beets, rainbow carrots, and purple & white potatoes!
Garden-grown, camper-harvested roasted root veggies: striped beets, rainbow carrots, and purple & white potatoes!
A walking field trip.  Look: our school is right across the road from Philo Ridge Farm!
A walking field trip. Look: our school is right across the road from Philo Ridge Farm!
Observing Philo Ridge Farm Sheep
Observing Philo Ridge Farm Sheep
Meeting Stewart Little (the sheep)
Meeting Stewart Little (the sheep)
Collecting Philo Ridge Farm duck eggs
Collecting Philo Ridge Farm duck eggs
When at garden camp, never forget to water the campers
When at garden camp, never forget to keep the campers well watered
Journaling in the garden
Journaling in the garden
Categories
Children and Nature School Gardens

Turtle Lane Art and Nature Camp

More camp fun: this month on the beautiful Lake Champlain Waldorf School Campus.  Awesome campers, dedicated energetic and loving counselors, blue skies, lush green fields, breezy pine-scented forests, cool sprinklers, nourishing and delicious snacks, creative art projects, and ever changing sand box creations:

Children's Garden Opening Circle
Children’s Garden Opening Circle
Sandbox Creations
Sandbox Creations
Forest Tent Nature Journaling
Forest Tent Nature Journaling
Felting Bird's Nests with enthusiastic CITs and Counselors
Felting Bird’s Nests with enthusiastic CITs and Counselors
Creative Free Play
Creative Free Play
water-play-and-days-recap
Joyous Water Play and a Day’s Recap
Afternoons full of joy, sun, water, and friends
Afternoons full of fun, sun, water, and friends
Categories
Children and Nature School Gardens

Green Thumbs Camp, June 2015

What a week!  Our small but sweet group did a lot of garden work, found plenty of time to play, and made detailed garden journal entires, seed bombs, beautiful painted pots, and delicious snacks along the way.  Check out some images from the week:

Many hands make light work when it comes to moving a big pile of compost.
Many hands make light work when it comes to moving a big pile of compost.
A lovely visit to Philo Ridge Farm.  How lucky to have our school so close to a farm (see it across the road?).
A lovely visit to Philo Ridge Farm. How lucky to have our school so close to a farm (see the school across the road?).
After calculating how much pig food we needed and weighing it out using a scale, we're off to feed the pigs!
After calculating how much pig food we needed and weighing it out using a scale, we’re off to feed the pigs!
Examining pig slop.
Examining pig slop.
It's good to water plants, but it's especially fun to water campers.
It’s good to water plants, but it’s especially fun to water campers.
"Green!"
“Green!”
"Thumbs!"
“Thumbs!”

Want to learn more about gardening with children?  Check out these Tips for Gardening with Kids and this post about the importance of spending time outside.

Categories
Children and Nature School Gardens

2015 Summer Camps!

As snow accumulates and chilly temperatures brighten our cheeks, I’m dreaming of summer in Vermont.  This year I’ll be running two camps: Green Thumbs Summer Camp and Turtle Lane Art and Nature Camp.  Check out the camp posters, visit our websites, save the dates, and help spread the word to families who live in the Charlotte/Shelburne area!

TLCamp_PosterCheck out the camp website and the camp brochure for more information.

CCS-Garden-Camp-Poster-long-2015

Register through Charlotte Recreation.

Categories
Home Gardens Recipes School Gardens

Apple and Squash Recipes and Activities

vermont foliage

I love the flavors of fall: apple sauce with cinnamon, pumpkin pie, butternut squash bisque, toasted pumpkin and squash seeds… my list could go on for a long time!  October is also a time when temperatures get cold and days get shorter – afternoon cooking or baking projects are the perfect cozy warm activities for kids after school.  When making apple sauce or getting the seeds out of a pumpkin, many hands certainly do make light work! Click on the links below for some of my favorite fall recipes and kitchen projects:

our-apple-sauce

Making Applesauce with Kids

Butternut squash

Spicing up Squash

Boiling Pie Pumpkins

Favorite Easy Pumpkin Recipes

Categories
Home Gardens Recipes School Gardens

August Harvest Recipes

Every day there’s more to harvest from the garden.  Tomatoes, herbs, peppers, cucumbers, eggplant, tomatillos, potatoes, onions, beans, squash … the list goes on.  Here are some favorite August recipes that we use to enjoy the in-season bounty.  Click on the blue text below to see the selected recipe:

tomatoes

Tomatoes ~ Our basic salsa recipe and ideas for fun additions

eggplant

Eggplants ~ Pan-fried eggplant, my favorite!

blueberries

Blueberries ~ Several ideas for combining lemon and blueberries in sweet treats

chard

Chard ~ Quiche or stir-fried

kale

Kale ~ two ways

Basil

Herbs ~ tips for harvesting and preserving

peppers

Peppers ~ preserving hot sauce

pickles

And in the peak of harvest season, never forget about pickling!