Monday, June 24, 2013

Community Garden Plans 2013

by Andy

It is pure joy to witness the sense of connection many children feel to our community garden. Examples:
  • There is pleasure and competence that older children feel as they cut flowers and arrange beautiful bouquets.
  • There is the sense of responsibility and care that is easy to see on young children as they plant our massive pumpkin patch, one fragile transplant at a time. 
  • There is the loss of focus on planting as a child slides into a sensorial experience of breaking large clods of soil into crumbles or forming mud into perfect round balls. This sensorial experience is equally important as "getting the work done." 
  • When the Junior High students come for the summer Apprenticeship I get to see the sweaty, tired pride that comes from hard physical work in the garden: hoeing, planting, harvesting, weeding, tying up tomatoes. This is a priceless connection to all people who work with their bodies, whether the apprentices are aware of it or not.
  • At the market day, when children stop by, they often ask for a carrot. I can usually find one that fell out of a bunch. Sampling our Land School carrots is the sweetest, easiest way for children to taste the difference between an organic carrot and a store-bought one. Maybe they can taste their connection to the land.
  • In the fall, there is the crinkly sound of dried cornstalks as we walk through the fields to harvest popcorn. Or the "big work" of rolling massive orange pumpkins to the wagon. Or the excitement of trying to harvest the squash before the hard frost. The children get a chance to notice their chilly fingers on a frosty morning broccoli harvest, and appreciate the warmth of the Homestead when they come in for lunch. We touch the closing of the season in a physical way.
  • When we eat a meal at the Land School, the announcement of the meal includes a litany of which items were from the garden. In the summer and fall, most of the meal can be fresh from the garden.
  • When children do any work in the garden, we strive to couch the work in a description of the importance of their contribution. The key is to understand that the work is necessary work, without which plants might die. This is the opposite of make-work. I think everyone feels a greater connection to a thing that requires their care for survival. Without me, this thing might die.   
  • We have developed cultural connections to traditional foods and people, for example through our blue corn tortilla project, our potato project, and our sauerkraut project. These connections give people a real connection to their own and other cultures. 
  • When we plant potatoes with the E2, we tell stories of the first people who domesticated potatoes, and how the potato they hold in their hands is a living descendant of the first potatoes that those first agricultural people held in their hands more than 10,000 years ago. It is a connection that reaches through time and space.
  • Finally it is important to note that the connections continue when we bring the produce into Lake Country School to distribute to families and classrooms. When there is a pile of potatoes on the kitchen counter that the child helped to plant or harvest, that valorizes the child in the family and in the classroom, especially when we invariably notice how good they taste.
When I think about the aggregate of all of these connections, it amounts to a tangible connection with nothing less than reality. But it is not just any version of reality, it is the reality of Nature with a capital N. Nature is abundant with life and nature responds to nurturance with even greater abundance. As the child connects with Nature in the garden, the experience calls to the innate Nature in the child. That Nature in the child loves the physicality of his or her body. That Nature the child takes joy in sharing the work with others in a social way. That Nature in the child is, like the soil, abundant with a well of energy, and that energy responds to nurturance.

So this is the true work of the Land School community garden, to create a place for connection to the Land.

Every year we have some over-arching goals for the LCS community garden that inform our decisions. This year we are looking to extend the number and types of student connections to the gardens to encompass the entire school year.

For many years our main goal for the community garden was to involve LCS students and families in the meaningful work of growing food for a membership-based produce box distribution. We also had a goal that each Elementary Classroom could have a specific connection to the community garden (pumpkins for all of E1; potatoes Class F; Three Sisters, fruit trees and squash for Class G; garlic and popcorn for Class H). In 2004 we substituted a market-style for the membership box, so new families and others who hadn't purchased a share could also enjoy Land School produce and flowers. We also shifted our harvest season from beginning in mid-June and ending in mid-September, to beginning in mid-July and ending in late October. This allowed for more markets during the part of the harvest season that happens during the school year. It also allowed our new Junior High Residency program to eat out of the garden at least during the Fall and early Winter. One of our new goals was to produce more "fall crops," and conveniently our Elementary connections are almost all fall crops. So it offered enhanced student connections. By 2010, we were producing enough fall crops to offer a "holiday basket" of the remaining garden produce the week before Thanksgiving. In the Fall of 2012, we did something that we should have done years ago. We offered market "credit" to each of the levels at Lake Country School. They sent students or staff out to choose produce and then they used the produce all week for soups and other creations. This was a wonderful new connection. The school was permeated with the smells of Land School produce cooking into one thing or another.

Over the years, the gardens have grown. When Jen and I started, the gardens were primarily near the farmhouse, with some sweet corn grown for us by a neighbor in the big field where the Homestead currently sits. Because of our experience growing on a farm scale and the equipment that we brought from our other farm, we were able to move some crops out to the big field and scale up. We added the pumpkin project for the Harvest Fest, and added winter squash, popcorn, onions and potatoes to the field grown crops. Later we installed a hoophouse near the Homestead and moved our tomatoes in there. Recently we have been growing fall broccoli family crops in the big field, as well as dry beans and sunflowers. The garden has been kept for intensively hand-cultivated crops, such as lettuce, green beans, herbs, cut flowers, garlic, carrots, beets, and greens. The addition of a deer fence to the garden in 2008 greatly improved our results with certain crops. We have been slowly adding perennial fruit. Every year our orchard grows by one or two trees. In 2010 we planted some blueberry plants and raspberry plants. Our plum trees and currants have come into their own. The word has been MORE, every year. But this year our plan is not simply MORE food, but rather MORE connections. Our plan is to grow as much food as in previous years, but increase the number of student connections to the garden.

Main Goals of the Land School Gardens for 2013
  • Go big for fall crops (these are ready during the school year when students help harvest and classrooms can enjoy them). 
    • More broccoli family crops that are ready in September and October.
    • More winter squash.
    • More onions and leeks. 
    • More carrots and beets.
    • More kale.
    • More potatoes.  
  • Build a root cellar near the Homestead to store food for the use on Farm Stay and for winter markets (potatoes, carrots, beets, turnips, more?).
  • Attempt to can or freeze more sauerkraut, salsa, tomato sauce, pickles, and more.
  • Do not grow tomatoes, peppers and eggplant in the hoophouse, instead grow salad crops that can be harvested during the winter. We will grow the tomatoes, peppers and eggeplant in the big field instead, and the result will be that we will have fewer tomatoes, peppers and eggplant and they will be ready later, but the payoff in potential winter harvest will be a fun experiment.
  • Grow more grains to be dried and eaten and used in classrooms during the fall and winter. This includes continuing to grow dry beans and dry corn, as well as a small patch of oats and wheat. We are experimenting with growing the grains in a big "polyculture" of corn, beans, squash, oats, wheat, and sunflowers. We are hoping to have dry beans and prepared tortilla masa to bring in to winter markets.
  • We love permaculture (look it up if you have not heard of it before). We are trying hugelkultur, polyculture and sheet mulching this year. 
  • To balance these goals out, we have planned to start the markets a week later in the Summer and go one week longer into the Fall. We plan to have fewer members (45 versus 60) and have more produce available for use on the Farm Stays, in Classrooms, and for winter markets (which we have not yet scheduled, but we hope for once a month). 
Updates (June 24th, 2013):
  • The wet weather has prevented us from planting much of anything in the garden by the farmhouse. We have watched the weeds grow just fine in the garden though.
  • Our first plantings of green beans and carrots rotted in the garden soil. Both have since been replanted and are up - but will be later than usual.
  •  The cool weather has meant that the tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, and zucchini are just sitting there waiting for heat. This week is warm though. My guess is late July for cukes and zukes and late August for nightshades.
  • The potatoes look good. Healthy, happy plants. Knock on wood.
  • Onions went in late, but look decent. As do the leeks.
  • Garlic is slow, but good looking too. I hope it is ready for Garlic fest.
  • Salad mix and radishes have germinated and should be ready for the first market week.
  • Pumpkin and squash patches are happy.
  • Flowers are planted and there will be cut flowers every week. 
  • We should have 5 or six straight weeks of bicolor sweet corn, starting sometime in mid-late August. 
  • Dry beans mostly came up and we have like 8 or 9 varieties. Lot's of dry corn and popcorn.Yum.
  • Fall broccoli are up in the greenhouse and getting ready for planting in early July. 
More Updates (July 9th, 2013)
  • It has been hot and dry for most of the last 10 days (until the thunderstorm today).
    • This heat has been good for the cukes and zukes, pumpkins, peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, and corn. In fact I can see a massive zucchini harvest coming up.
    • The dry was very good for preparing the soil to plant fall crops and for digging and killing quack grass.
  • Carrots and beets are in and waiting to come up. Usually we do 3 beds of carrots for the fall. We have six in, and are thinking about more. Beets we usually have 1 for the fall and we have 2 and a half. 
  • We recently relocated a woodchuck that was bringing havoc to the garden. The woodchuck(s) ate all of the edamame (waah!) and at least half of the brussels sprouts and kale. I hope there is only one, but we will keep the live trap out there for a few days.
  • The deer seem to like our hull-less oats and dry beans. Lots of grazing has been happening. My hope is that the heat causes the beans to grow faster than the deer can graze.
  • The onions, pumpkins and squash are coming along nicely. Weeded by JH apprentices.
  • The apprentices also helped weed the summer carrots and they planted the last of the corn.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

garden tour with photos

So it has been an exceptional year for the garden, and not in a good way. Wet. Wet. Wet. And cool. Like we have not seen before. I took these pictures to document what the garden looked like on the Solstice. We have done a lot of planting in the last weeks, but there is much more to do. We have a big group of Junior High students coming this week to help us finish planting, weeding and mulching.

We start our tour in the greenhouse. There are literally thousands of broccoli family plants getting ready to go in the garden for fall harvest.

Athena melons - ready to plant this week for harvest in September. 

Basil and Parsley for early fall harvest.

Round two of sweet corn - ready to plant this week - assuming it dries out.

Now we left the greenhouse and see the tree in the farmstead yard, loaded with apples. 

There are a few plums coming too.

Fall raspberries - thriving in the wet weather.

Now we are in the garden by the farmhouse. This patch of flowers was planted by Class C the first week in June. They will be mulched and weeded this week.

On the left side of the garden (east), the first two beds have leeks. MORE leeks than we have ever grown before. This week we mulch.

The garlic is looking great. Slow compared to last year. But, hopefully ready by July 20th!

South of the garlic, the rest of the garden is still swampy and unplanted and full of volunteer lawn grass. Our goal if it dries out is to plant a lot of carrots, turnips, radishes, and beets there for fall harvest.

Recent plantings of lettuce, carrots, soybeans, radishes, cilantro, dill, lettuce. We hope they come up through the packed mud that came after the last rain.

Hops. Planted into our first complete "Hugelkultur" bed near the derelict corn crib.

We planted some tomatoes in the little greenhouse. We hope to have some ready sometime during August. Who knows?

Now we are walking to the Homestead and the big fields. On the way, we pass another patch of raspberries.

Here is our first crop of blueberries from plants put in 3 years ago.

Here are the blueberry plants. We are attempting to protect then using wire cages.

Here is the hoophouse. Notice: 1. no plastic yet - we are switching it out this year. 2. no tomatoes and peppers - we are taking a year or more off to interrupt disease cycles (we will plant fall salad crops there). 3. lots of green plants. Those are lamb's quarters, a weed in the spinach family that we have been eating in absence of success with cultivated plants. 

The little herb garden by the Homestead. Planted by GRS students this year. 

Hey! Those are the hardy kiwi plants we planted last year. Alive!

Tree swallow chicks in the birdhouse by the Homestead - installed by Class E students this Spring and immediately occupied.

Miles and Grace prepping for our new back patio!


This week we install the pavers in the patio. 

Here's what the pavers look like.

The Liberty apple trees behind the Homestead will have their first apples this year.

Cucumbers and zucchini - planted in the big field. The "plastic" is actually a biodegradable film that will warm the soil. This week we mulch between the beds.

The tomato plants. Sad and small for the date, but they will make it by September.

Erosion. We had nearly 2 inches of rain on Thursday night.

Peppers and eggplant.

On the left are GRS potatoes and on the right are the onions (and Pippa).

Out of focus potato beetles.

The pumpkin patch.

Pumpkin close-up.

"Hull-less oats" in the middle. On the left potatoes. On the right black beans and blue corn.

Three sisters. Beans. Corn. Squash. 

Pumpkins and the Homestead.

Baptista in front of the Homestead.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Gardening in a swamp

When I think about this year, I am reminded that gardening is sometimes an exercise in patience. In any year, much of gardening can seem to be about waiting. I wait for it to dry out. I wait for it to rain. I wait for seeds to germinate. Will it hail? I hope for heat. I hope for it to cool off. I wait for weeds to die after a cultivation. I wait for the right moment to plant and cultivate. Then when the time is right, I feel like I need to hurry up and do the thing I have been waiting to do. Sometimes this lifestyle is referred to as "hurry up and wait," and it might speak to the uncertainty workers can have working for an uncertain boss. So the garden is an uncertain boss.

I feel like I need to learn how to wait for something without becoming impatient. I think the word is detachment. I have become better at this over the years. If I can do something at the right time, then I do it. If I can't do it, then I do other things. It is not abandonment.

But what if the right time doesn't come?

Our garden has a north facing slope and a heavy silty clay soil. When other farmers nearby are able to work their ground, our garden is still wet and swampy. Sometimes it even smells like a swamp. Then it rains again. And again. And again. So instead of preparing the soil for planting, the weeds are growing. Then when it is time to work the soil, we need to dry out the weeds by digging them up and letting them dry for a week. It is still wet and it looks like it is going to rain again tonight. Sometimes you work the soil anyway and plant anyway.  We call this "mudding them in," and we have been doing a lot of that this year.

So far we have planted: onions, leeks, some flowers, potatoes, pumpkins, squash, tomatoes, tortilla corn, dry beans, the first carrots, the first beets, the first beans, kale, and green beans. I am impatient to get planted: peppers, herbs, more flowers, eggplant, zucchini, cucumbers, watermelons, sweet corn, brussels sprouts, and lettuce.

This week will again test my detachment and impatience.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Class C Overnight Student Photos

Thanks Naci!

Picture of the first minute of our trip; gathering and unloading, a lot chaos, of course.

Deer-eaten pine trees on the east side of the Homestead.

Looking southwest from the Homestead

Looking west from the Homestead

Thanks Cooper!

Morel mushroom.

Thanks Lily!

Thanks Evan!