Harvest by Hillary

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


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Week 10

Well, it has been quite some time since I put out a post! While I am disappointed all my summer trips are over…I am still happy to be finally back and working in the garden again. A lot has happened since the last time I blogged, so this post is a garden catch-up!

So when I last blogged, I was about to leave for Maine.  Emma and I worked hard to plant the remaining beds before I left. We planted beets, cilantro, an assortment of basil, kale, swiss chard, and carrots. I was happy knowing that everything was planted and on its way growing before I left.

When I came back (last week, not this week) I was glad to see everything sprouting and growing beautifully just as I had intended. I was also glad to see that our eggplants had even more fruit, our cherry tomatoes were fruiting like crazy, and some of the cucumbers were ready for harvest!  Everything looked so green, I felt as if Emma and I’s hard work was really paying off!

Cherry tomatoes are popping up everywhere!

Cherry tomatoes are popping up everywhere!

cucumber week 10

Good looking cucumber!

eggplant week 10

Even more eggplants!

growing basil

Beautiful growing basil

sunflowers

Our flower bed is beginning to bloom!

That week, I ended up harvesting the largest eggplant and some kale. I even used the eggplant in my own recipe creation over the weekend, a little something I call “Eggplant Pizza.” I really wish I took a picture of it because it was delicious! But, for those of you that would like to try it yourself here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

1 large eggplant

olive oil

salt and pepper

marinara sauce

mozzarella cheese

Directions:

Slice the eggplant and place in a baking dish lined with aluminum foil.

Brush some olive oil over the eggplant and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Bake for 20 minutes at 350 F.

After 20 minutes, pour the marinara sauce over the eggplant and sprinkle your desired amount of cheese.

Bake an additional 10 minutes.  And there you go, you have yourself some eggplant pizzas!

This was extremely easy to make and there’s no need for specific measurements! It is all it just how you want it to taste!

After the weekend, week 10 began. This brings us to the current week, which has been very productive if I don’t say so myself.

Monday, I was itching to get back in the garden and do some serious work! I ended up thinning and pruning all the cherry tomatoes in the row on the hill. They now look cleaned up and ready to grow to their full potential. Monday I also decided to tackle the old garlic row that has been meaning to be over-turned. The soil is so leafy because of the leaf mulch used to cover the garlic, but for now it will have to do. The only thing that will be planted in that row will be the oats and peas to be used as cover crops, so there is no need for perfect soil.

Before I move on to Tuesday, some of you may not know what “cover crops” are or do. Basically cover crops such as peas and oats are crops that are planted to manage the soil and keep it fertile, hydrated, and healthy. Many gardeners and farmers prefer to use cover crops in empty plots, so in the future when they need to plant the soil will be a great planting quality.

After taking care of the tomato and garlic rows, Tuesday, I decided to replant the cilantro. Some of the newly planted crops (Not a lot but specifically the swiss chard and cilantro) have not come up yet and its been about 3 weeks.

Tuesday was also lunch in the garden and what a crowd we had. We had around 8 people mostly graduate students and staff and it was great to sit down and talk to everyone about the garden and their own gardening experiences. One of our dedicated attendees, the school’s head of public safety, even brought homemade pickles, which were fantastic! I am a huge pickle fan and luckily he told me his easy recipe, so I am definitely going to make my own!

After lunch in the garden I worked on the garlic row again and made sure to check all the plants for pests and soil conditions.

Wednesday was a really cool day because Emma and I uncovered the butternut squash row. The butternuts have gotten huge and the row looks amazing. The blossoms are almost in full bloom and are looking great and will finally get to be pollinated!

Squash blossom

Squash blossom

With the unveiling of the butternuts, came the veiling of the zucchini. Earlier our zucchini was having some powdery mildew problems, but luckily we sprayed them down with an organic fungicide and it has almost gone away. Now the zucchini are covered and are ready to grow as much as the butternuts have.

Wednesday, I also did a lot of weeding. Personally there is something about weeding that I just love…I know this may sound weird. But nothing is more satisfying than tackling a weedy section of your garden and cleaning it up. When the soil looks clean not only does it look pleasing, but it is great for your plants. The plants have the chance to now take up the nutrients available without having to share them with all those pesky weeds. Trust me you can really see the difference in how your plants grow whether they are in a clean or weedy environment.

Thursday, unfortunately was a pretty dreary day. I spent a lot of time researching and blogging, which was nice because I haven’t sat down and blogged in two weeks! Emma and I also went to Ganim’s Garden Center to pick up some beet seeds and new herbs. The second half of the mint bed is still empty, except for a small row of basil that was gifted to the garden from the head of public safety, so we needed to find some herbs to fill it up!

At Ganim’s there were obviously slim pickings since it is the end of planting season, but we ended up finding some pretty cool stuff!

For one we found a stevia plant. If you are a health nut, like I and haven’t heard of the new natural sweetener made from Stevia leaves then shame on you because this stuff is great!

Stevia Leaf

Stevia Leaf

So, what is Stevia? Well, it is a plant that is a member of the sunflower family known for its sweet tasting leaves. Stevia makes a great sugar substitute for dieters and health conscious people because it doesn’t spike blood glucose levels and create a signifigant drop in blood glucose after wards putting the body into a sluggish sugar coma. Also, Stevia is great because unlike other sweeteners it doesn’t trigger further cravings for carbohydrates and sweets meaning dieters can have healthy control of their eating habits.

As you can see I am very excited to put this plant in the garden.

Besides the stevia plant we also found three more types of mint to add. The varieties that are being added are banana, ginger, and pineapple. Emma and I love how many different varieties of mint we have and I think our mint section of the garden will continue to be a hit with visitors.

I always love showing people our mint because they can try it themselves and really taste the difference between each type. I love seeing peoples reactions when they can taste the hidden flavors.

The last herb we bought was lavender, a personal favorite of Emma and mine’s. I used to have bad insomnia when I was in high school and I remember trying every natural remedy under the sun to help me sleep. One of the things I tried was buying a lavender pillow spray. I fell in love with the scent and while it probably was not the primary reason my insomnia was cured, I still love the smell.

I’m even thinking about harvesting some to make small satchels with dried lavender to place in my pillow!

So, after all this catch-up business it is now Friday and almost the weekend. I am planning on hopefully  planting the beets today and getting our herbs in the bed. A nice relaxing Friday of planting is just what I need!

So, I hope you enjoyed my blog catch-up and I promise I will be back again next week to blog!

Happy Weekend Everyone!


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Week 4: Sunshine, Scapes, and Stakes

What a beautiful and productive week in the garden it has been! We were so lucky to have a solid week of little rain, we go so much done and the garden looks beautiful.

Monday, Emma and I only worked 4 hours and in that time we mowed the lawn, harvested all the garlic scapes and swiss chard, planted the winter squash and cherry tomato rows, and watered all our plants. I couldn’t believe how much we got done in such a short time!

That's a lot of garlic scapes...

That’s a lot of garlic scapes…

The harvesting and planting were my favorite part about Monday. Harvesting the garlic scapes was so fun and easy! All you do to harvest is snap the scape off from the main plant and you are good to go!

For those of you who are unfamiliar with garlic scapes, they are considered the “flower stalks” of garlic plants. Gardeners need to remove the scapes once they mature (become curly) because without their removal the plant will balance their energy to power and grow both the garlic scapes and the ground bulb. If the scapes are removed the plant can put all of its energy into growing the bulb, therefore producing a larger, healthier garlic bulb, which is the intended goal.

A perfectly curled garlic scape

A perfectly curled garlic scape

Many gardeners will simply remove the scapes and toss them into compost, but before you do the same know that garlic scapes are just as delicious as the bulb itself and are often used in cooking.

To see how Emma and I used the scapes in our cooking adventures be sure to read Emma’s blog http://eatingwithemma.tumblr.com/  where you can find a delicious vegan recipe for swiss chard and garlic scape dip! You won’t be disappointed!

Tuesday came and it was the infamous “Lunch in the Garden,” where Emma’s vegan dip made its debut. Only a handful of people dropped by, but everyone who tried the dip loved it! Emma served the dip with some fresh-baked bread from Whole Foods that paired great with the dip.

Now that we have a second “Lunch in the Garden” under our belt Emma and I are trying to figure out a way to attract more faculty, staff, and students to the garden. We agreed having our own recipe each week is a plus and we decided that maybe we will have people come eat and also have an optional garden activity such as harvesting, weeding, or something else garden related. We will have to come up with something extra special for next week!

Before lunch in the garden I decided to stake the tomato plants. This was my first time staking plants, but it was honestly so simple. As you can see from the picture below we have A LOT of tomatoes and there are only going to be more once my research tomatoes and the tomatoes in the row grow. The garden will be bursting with tomatoes…so if you like tomatoes make sure you make it down to the garden during harvest season because let me tell you we will have a ton!

Perfectly staked tomatoes

Perfectly staked tomatoes

After our “Lunch in the Garden Tuesday,” Wednesday rolled around and another bed was planted in the garden. Carrots! We planted both regular orange carrots and two different varieties of purple carrots. Wednesday was a great planting day. The weather was gorgeous and it never got too hot.

Wednesday, we also thinned out the chives. Now the chives bed is full with 12 smaller chive plants rather than 6 large plants. Slowly day by day this garden is transforming and Emma and I are so excited to see everything coming together.

Beautiful Chive Bed

Beautiful Chives Bed

Thursday (today) was a pretty, calm day. We thinned out our beet and carrot sprouts and also moved some of the flowers around in the flower bed so, the bed looked evened out on each side.

The most important thing though that happened today, occurred when I was prepping the last bed. This last bed for a while was left alone because it contained the Song Sparrow nest. But, once the baby…Cow Bird was born they no longer needed the nest, so we got the “go-ahead” to prep away!

As I was cleaning out the bed, I came across the nest and with it one baby Song Sparrow egg that looked as if it was destroyed by the Cow Bird! Horrifying, I know. Then a little while later I spotted two more eggs laying not too far from the nest, that must have been ejected out by the menacing Cow Bird. So sad…the little guys never had a chance.

Here’s a picture of the nest with the three Song Sparrow eggs:

I placed all the eggs back into the nest together so all the Song Sparrow siblings could rest peacefully together

I placed all the eggs back into the nest together so, all the Song Sparrow siblings could be together once again!

Friday, will be another day to check up on the garden and get some more work done! I am so happy the weather has been so great lately! Love it! And most importantly the garden is all prepped and ready to be used for more planting!

Here’s a picture of how the garden currently looks!

Beautiful…I know.

Enjoy the up and coming weekend everyone and happy gardening!


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Animals in the Garden: Slugs

I am so excited to write yet another “Animals in the Garden” post!

This post will especially appeal to all the entomologists out there…the small number of you that there are… But, even if insects don’t appeal to you this post will be extremely beneficial!

Slugs specifically are “animals” that are important for gardeners to be aware of.

Slugs are in a sense “shell less” snails. Slugs are a type of mollusc and have soft and smooth “squishy” bodies. There bodies are not waterproof so in order to avoid drying up to a crisp on a hot summer’s day they bury into wet, damp environments. Where’s a wet, damp environment you can think of that these animals would love? Your garden!

Slugs love to live in gardens, but this can affect your garden’s productivity and health. Slugs not only love to live in garden soil, but they love to eat the garden’s contents. Whatever your garden has growing in it, may it be flowers, vegetables, berries, or seedlings you bet these little guys will devour everything!

The other day when Emma and I were turning over some beds we spotted this little guy creeping around:

Menacing slug in the garden

Menacing slug in the garden

I know it is hard to see ,but if you look toward the center of the photo you can find him. This particular slug is a leopard slug and they are usually between 2-4 inches long. They are called Leopard Slugs because of their distinctive leopard-like color patterns. While it is not crucial to know each different type of slug, for they all will destroy your garden, It is important to know the basic general characteristics of slugs so you can spot them before they harm your plants.

Close-up of a leopard slug

Close-up of a leopard slug

Now I know you must be thinking, so what do I do if I find these little guys? While there are many conventional, strong pesticides that would do the job in a second, if you are running an organically grown garden this way is out of question. I also believe finding other ways of pest prevention is more fun and rewarding, so I researched some organic ways to deal with slugs. This is what I found!

To deal with slugs organically you can:

1. Add a super cool and fancy “water feature” to your garden like a small pond. This will attract an array of slug’s natural predators such as salamanders, snakes, toads, ducks, beetles and turtles

(This way really is not the route to go if you: a) have no space b) have no time c) have no money, but it sounded cool so, I wanted to include it!)

2. Clear you garden of damp, wet, and warm places such as random boards, large rocks, and other debris laying on the ground.

3. Stage a “slug stake-out” night and go out when slugs are active once it turns dark. You can remove them by picking up the slugs and placing individuals in a container of soapy water.

(this way seems the most fun…”late night in the garden” anyone?

4. Pour coffee over them. There have been studies by the USDA that show that caffeine can be deadly to these little rascals.

5. I also read that placing cracked egg shells around new seedlings can help repel slugs away from newly developing plants.

6. Use an organic “slugicide”. They are easy to find online!

(This is the easiest…and most boring way to attack slugs)

Those are 6 ways to help your garden combat a slug epidemic! Those are just my personal favorite ways I found to deal with slugs, but if you search online there are tons of organic recipes for slugicides and concoctions to eliminate slugs. If we notice that the slugs are eating away our plants I will let you all know how we combat our problem!

Also it is important to note that not all slugs will loop like this leopard slug. Slugs come in a shapes and sizes. So if you find something slimy looking, like a snail with no shell, you have found a slug!

To end this “Animals in the Garden” post I will leave you all with this image I found while doing my research:


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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!


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Back in the Garden and Right Back to Work!

Last week my garden internship officially began! Emma and I accomplished so much in only a week of work and are so excited to see how to garden transforms come August.

When we first got back to campus the garden needed serious work. The grass was completely overgrown and there were weeds everywhere around the beds…Not good. After seeing this atrocity, we got right to work and weeded out all the weeds and Emma mowed the entire lawn and now the garden looks great!

Once the garden was in shape, we then picked out plants for our personal demonstration beds! Emma and I made a trip down to Ganim’s Garden Center in Fairfield and picked up our plants and seeds. What an adventure that was! We bought tomato, egg plant, cucumber, onion, pepper (red and green), and kale plants and some beet seeds. We got right to work on the beds and worked from 11:30am to 5pm. First we turned up the soil in the beds, tilled, added some very strong smelling organic fertilizer…and planted everything. So now, two full beds are completed and watered and on their way to producing some really cool veggies. We can not wait for them to begin fruiting!

Demonstration Bed 1: Contains tomatoes, eggplant, kale, and beet and carrot seeds. Planted by Emma

Demonstration Bed 1: Contains tomatoes, eggplant, kale, and beet and carrot seeds. Planted by Emma

Demonstration bed 2: Contains (From right to left) Onion, Red and Green Bell Peppers, and various Tomatoes.

Demonstration bed 2: Contains (From right to left) Onion, Red and Green Bell Peppers, and various Tomatoes. Planted by me!

After planting out beds that Thursday we decided to prepare the next bed on our list, the flower bed. We got a packet of seeds from our supervisor, Jen that contained seeds for flowers that attract beneficial insects. These are so cool! Maintaining a completly organic garden means that you have to work hard to keep pests away. If we weren’t organic we could just spray some heavy duty pesticide and call it a day, but as organic gardeners trying to find natural and innovative ways to protect plants and crops is all the fun of gardening and might I say, it is way more rewarding. Playing with science and knowing what will benefit or harm plants is what makes organic gardening so fun. Gardening is such a puzzle and learning experience. I can’t wait to see how the flowers look and how they benefit the garden.

This week, I believe we are planning on setting up a couple other beds and continuously watering and maintaining our new plants. Also, Tuesday we will be hosting our first “Lunch in the Garden,” where Emma and I will be making iced chamomile tea from our own organic chamomile plants. I will post another post about how to harvest and make your own organic chamomile tea! Get excited everyone!

Well, looks like that is that! Have an awesome week everyone!


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First Day at Work!

Yesterday was my first time on the job for my summer garden internship. We needed to get some basic set-up work done before the end of the semester so when we come back in late May the garden is ready to be worked in!

Basically what my partner, boses, and myself did was take care of the huge leaf pile in the middle of the garden by moving it onto the garlic, zucchini, and tomato beds on the hill. We placed piles of leaves along the beds so the weeds underneath would die. Later, all we will have to worry about will be tilling it all into the soil.

Image

This is a picture of the garden from yesterday, May 6, 2013. That huge pile of leaves is now completely gone! As you can see the garden is still in its early stages of development, but come summer I am confident me and Emma (my partner) will be able to make it beautiful and booming with plants.

We also loosened the fence and mowed underneath the fence, so now the garden’s perimeter is looking good. Jen and Todd (my bosses) showed me and my partner how the irrigation system works, which will be very important come time to plant and water.

I have been trying to think of different plants I would like to plant and while I have not done my research, I think cucumbers, asparagus, brussel sprouts, and beets would be pretty cool additions to the garden. I have been trying to read as much as I can about crop spacing and the basics of gardening, so I am not completely clueless when I come back on May 28th.

Overall, it was nice to begin work and see what my days in the garden are going to feel like. I am so excited to start later this month I can’t wait to come back to campus and get started!

Hillary