Harvest by Hillary

Blogging about my journey to living a more sustainable and organic life


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Week 5: Birthday Week!

What a week it has been! This week was especially special because it was the week of my 21st birthday!!!

But, before I get to my awesome birthday inspired section of my post, let’s go over what was accomplished this week!

Monday Emma and I spent most of our time preparing for the freshmen orientation activities fair . We decided to have a herb tasting”station for our booth at the fair. We made three different herb infused olive oils for taste tests. We harvested chives, thyme, and rosemary fresh from the garden and served the oils with fresh-baked baguette pieces for dipping. Check out Emma’s blog to see how we made the oils! http://eatingwithemma.tumblr.com/post/53924838024/herb-infused-olive-oil

For the fair we also had to make a poster, which looked awesome! I will be sure to post a picture of that sometime soon because Emma and I are so proud of our craft skills.

Tuesday was the day of the fair so, I headed down to the student center to set up. To my surprise there was more interest in the garden than expected! I made sure to talk to a lot of people and I found that even though some students didn’t like the physical work of gardening, they loved how the garden helps with good nutrition and sustainability.

I’m hoping through the students’ different views of what the garden means to them Emma and I can work to draw more students to the garden.

Overall this week has been a good week for the garden’s publicity. Not only did I educate the incoming freshmen of the garden and its benefits, but I also gave a garden talk on Wednesday at the Sigma Xi summer research lunch series. The Sigma Xi summer research lunch series is a way for science and math research students and faculty to meet and discuss current research.

I love going to these talks because not only is there free food…BONUS! But, I can see who is on campus and what other science students are doing.

I love going to talks like these, especially when there are biology presentations. It’s a great way to stay engaged in the science world over the summer.

My garden presentation ended up consisting of two-parts. First I discussed the overall garden plans for the 2013-2014 year and then I talked about the cherry tomato research.

Everyone loved my talk and I got asked so many questions. I took this as a sign that my research project is headed in the right direction! I wanted to do research that was relatable for all people and what is more relatable than food, nutrition, and health!

Now, I just need to get my tomatoes going and I will be ready to delve into this experiment!

After, the lunch talk I went down to the garden to clean up some of the pieces of our old fence because WE GOT A NEW FENCE! This fence is supposed to last much longer than the first and it looks a lot more durable. Now Emma and I just need to pick up the mess the fence crew made and the garden will look stunning!

New Fence

In plant news, the baby carrots and jalapeno are beginning to sprout and the row of winter squash popped up the other day along with the row of cherry tomatoes! The garden keeps growing and pretty soon everything will be filled!

Baby Jalepenos

Baby jalapeno

Thursday morning rolled around and when I woke up to this sweet surprise from Emma!

Emma's Present

Being a gardener and healthy eater I sure enjoyed getting strawberries as a birthday surprise! Shout out to Emma for being an awesome intern partner!

I enjoyed the rest of my 21st birthday by hitting the track for a solid workout, working in the garden pruning and weeding, and finishing by going out that night with friends and family for a nice dinner at Old Post Tavern in Fairfield. 🙂

This was my birthday meal:

Pan-Seared Scallops Fava Bean Puree, Sauteed Mixed Mushrooms, and Truffle Tomato-Caper Vinaigrette

Pan-Seared Scallops Fava Bean Puree, sautéed Mixed Mushrooms, and Truffle Tomato-Caper Vinaigrette

It was amazing! I also had a cup of clam chowder before the main meal and after the tavern surprised me with a massive brownie sundae and a little pink specialty drink from the bartender. The brownie sundae was awesome, but the drink…not so much. The waitress said it was fruity, but I could taste no fruit in that to save my life. Let’s just say I’m going to stick with lemon water for now on. 🙂

Overall I had a wonderful birthday and thank you to everyone who made it such a special day!

For this weekend Emma and I are just going to focus on weeding, cleaning, mowing, and watering. Sunday, if weather permits,  Tod and Jen will be coming in the help fill my pots with soil for the research project! I am so excited!

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Week of Rain and Research

Hello all!

I’m almost to the end of week 3 of my internship and despite the massive amounts of rain this week Emma and I still managed to accomplished nearly everything on our to-do list.

Monday, was a pretty successful day despite the bad weather from hurricane Andrea. Emma and I went down early that morning to meet Jen to prep the upper rows for squash and cherry tomato planting. We laid down the row covers and secured with rocks, while Jen set up the irrigation system for each row. We covered every row, except for the whole first row because we were just short of the covering. So close, yet so far…

Since the weather was so bad Monday afternoon, we figured Tuesday wasn’t looking so good either so we cancelled weekly lunch in the garden. 😦 We had plans to make a new vegan recipe for Swiss Chard and Garlic Scape dip, but now we have to wait until next week. For those of you interested in getting that recipe be sure to keep an eye out for the post on Emma’s blog, http://eatingwithemma.tumblr.com/ .

The next day,Tuesday, was actually quite a nice day! So we could have had lunch in the garden…but better safe then sorry, I guess! With the nice weather we were able to plant an entire bed of jalapenos and another bed with some very important tomatoes.

These “very important” tomatoes are none other than the tomatoes I will be studying for my biology research project! I am so excited to start conducting research and manipulating these little guys!  Right now I am only in the developing stages, caring for the newly planted seeds, but I’m ecstatic things are up and running! The question I built my project on is how can manipulating growing conditions of tomato plants affect the yield and quality of tomato fruits. In turn I want to investigate whether it is more sustainable to grow greater quantities of fruit that lack flavor and nutrient composition or to grow lower quantities of nutrient dense fruit and relate this to food security and health.

I am still in the developing stages of my investigation, but I have some time to decide where my research will go. The best part about this project is that I can take it wherever I please, so the possibilities are endless (within reason of course)!

Another task I completed Tuesday was trimming off the flowers from the herbs. After trimming, my hands smelled like rosemary for the rest of the day, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing! While, I was trimming I began thinking about how herbs have a reputation for having incredible health benefits.

With this thought, I decided to conduct a mini side research project (currently in the works) about natural grown herbs and how they can help improve athletic performance.

Last year's picture of the herb beds

Last year’s picture of the herb beds

As mentioned in my “About Me” page I talked about how I have been a runner for years. Being a runner I am very conscious about what I put in my body. Food is fuel in my mind and I want to eat whatever it is that will make me stronger and faster. Conducting this research has been very interesting and I will be posting a follow-up post about my findings in a week or two, so keep a look out!

Me running!

Me running!

Moving on from research, Wednesday was a transplant day for Emma and I and we thinned our crowded tomato sections in the demonstration beds. We moved the extra plants to a free bed and still had some extras so we planted 11 plants down at the Early Learning Center across the street. I’m sure the little kids will love picking the tomatoes once they begin fruiting!

That brings us to today, which has been nothing but dreary and rainy. I really hope tomorrow isn’t as bad so the squash and cherry tomato rows can get planted. But, for now I will continue with research and cross my fingers for the next week to be filled with sun!


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Animals in the Garden

This post is about one of my favorite things…BIRDS!

Last Wednesday, Emma and I were harvesting chamomile when I noticed something out of the corner of my eye…a baby bird! Right behind Emma at the far side of the garden was a little baby bird crying for food. He or she was adorable.

Naturally, Emma and I assumed the baby was from the song sparrow family nesting in one of the beds near the shed and we figured he got ambitious and left the nest getting lost in the process. We took pictures of the little guy and let him be while he continued to cry for help.

After sometime one of the parent song sparrows found the baby and we watched as the mother or father bird first fed and then led the baby back to the nest. Emma and I thought this was the cutest thing ever and after the baby bird was safely back home we got back to work and went on with our day.

Now, that may seem like a satisfactory nature story in itself, but just wait! Caution: PLOT TWIST APPROACHING!

The next day we were in the garden with Tod, our supervisor and my previous Ornithology professor, mowing under the fence and mowing back the chamomile. Once again Emma and I saw the baby bird lost again in the same spot. We showed Tod and told him our story from the day before. After a couple of minutes Tod broke the horrifying news.

The baby song sparrow was not in reality a song sparrow but, a baby COWBIRD. I was shocked…

So, why I am dramatizing this whole thing that is seemingly not that interesting? Well, for someone who has studied birds, I was ecstatic to see what I learned last semester playing out in the real natural world.

For some light background, a Cowbird is a bird that lives in North America that acts as a “brood parasite.” A brood parasite is an animal that uses other animals of the same or different species to raise their young. Cowbirds do this by depositing eggs in nests of other species (such as robins or SONG SPARROWS) and relies on that species to raise their young.

Brown headed Cowbird Common to Connecticut

Brown headed Cowbird
Common to Connecticut

Why do Cowbirds do this? Well, think about it…this animal behavior is an evolutionary marvel! While Song Sparrows and Robins are wasting and investing energy in an offspring that isn’t their own, the Cowbirds are using their energy to forage and produce even more offspring raising their fitness. Therefore, the Cowbirds are the species who get the upper hand!

Baby Cowbird invading a nest of other bird species

Baby Cowbird invading a nest of another bird species

This my friends is why I was so interested in the baby bird being a Cowbird, it was an act of biology at its finest!

I know you may think post didn’t have much to do with sustainability or gardening, but animals definitely do connect to gardening and sustainability in more ways than one. Birds in particular can be pests to gardens or beneficiaries to gardens by either eating crops or eating insects that can act as other pests. Everything in nature is connected and it is important to remember that your garden will be affected by nature in ways that you can and can’t control and its best to not become frustrated with natures ways but instead to appreciate and embrace it!