Harvest by Hillary

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


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Week 11: Lunch in the Garden, Tomato Weaves, and a Field Trip

I can’t believe there are only two more weeks of work in the garden! This summer has flown by and pretty soon all the other students will be back on campus. With the start of school right around the corner I am just realizing that everything Emma and I have grown will soon be used in the dining hall. I will be so excited to go to Barone (Fairfield’s dining hall) and see cherry tomatoes from the garden in the salad bar, or the carrots in a side dish for all of Fairfield to enjoy. I cannot wait to tell everyone that those weren’t just from the campus garden but, they were the product of Emma and I’s hard work!

So, with the summer coming to a close this week there was no planting to be done, only watering, maintenance, and pest hunting. Monday, I really focused on watering the new seeds and checking up on all the plants. Emma freshly mowed the lawn to prepare for lunch in the garden and I made sure the beds were all weed free and looking nice. I also wove the tomatoes, which was actually a really fun task. I don’t know why I enjoyed it so much…but I did. I liked it so much I decided to weave my experiment tomato plants as well.

woven tomato row

I don’t think I have talked about my experiment in a while. I wanted to make sure everything was up and running before I began talking about it to not jinx anything. But, now that my tomato plants are transplanted into pots with each individual treatment I feel confident that this experiment is going to be awesome!

Half of my research tomatoes

Half of my research tomatoes

All the plants are doing well and right now I am just keeping track of how many flowers each plant has because there is no tomato fruit data yet. Eventually I will be counting tomato numbers and looking at the tomatoes quality: color, size, shape, etc. I also am in the process of finding a lab to analyze the individual fruits for vitamin and nutrient content so I know how the soil conditions (salinity and nutrients) affect the nutritional quality of the fruits.

A close-up view of one of my research tomato plants

A close-up view of one of my research tomato plants

I have thoroughly enjoyed working on this project and I really think a lot of people will be interested in what I am testing.

Tuesday was lunch in the garden and Emma once again created another “garden inspired” recipe from our kale and onions. She called her dish “Sweet Kale and Onion Salad” and it was amazing! She was experimenting with the recipe in our kitchen Monday night, so I got to taste test and I loved it. Make sure you check out her blog to get the recipe! http://eatingwithemma.tumblr.com/

We had quite the crowd Tuesday. First, three former Fairfield U basketball players working at the basketball camp stopped by. They told us that they had been meaning to show their support and come to lunch in the garden. After giving them a tour of the garden and a taste of Emma’s salad we agreed to come to their games to show our support for their team as they did for us.

I was so happy to see people from Fairfield Athletics show their support for the garden. Being an athlete myself I know how important nutrition is for athletic success. I hope in the future more athletes will become involved with the garden.

I think one of the most important goals for the campus garden is how it is meant to build the Fairfield community. Being a Fairfield student I think it is so important to get students of all types interacting and working toward common goals. I have met so many new and interesting people this summer and I am so glad I was given the opportunity to branch out of my comfort zone and expand my interests and activities on campus.

It is really easy for people to shy to their comfort zones. If there are any freshmen reading, take this advice and take advantage of all your campus has to offer and don’t be afraid to do something different then you are used to!

Besides the basketball girls we also had some graduate students and faculty attend the lunch. We had a gorgeous day of weather and everyone enjoyed having Emma’s salad.

Wednesday, Emma and I had a meeting with a member from Fairfield’s media department. Fairfield wanted to write an article on the campus garden and so Emma and I were interviewed about our summer experiences. I can’t wait to see how the article comes out and I will post the link to the article on my blog so you all can read it as well!

After the interview Emma and I checked on the squash for pests and cut back two of the chive plants. We cut back only two of the chives so that the chives would be all growing back at different growth times.

Our butternut squash row

Our butternut squash row

Thursday, Emma and I did something a little out of our usual routine and took a trip to the Westport Farmer’s Market. We have been meaning to go to a local farmer’s market and I am so glad we did. The Westport market was amazing. Emma and I went to town talking to the vendors and asking about their local businesses.

Take a look at the pictures below for everything Emma and I purchased!

Westport Farmer's Market Purchases

All of our amazing purchases! We love supporting local businesses and farms!

Carrot basil hummus and organic carrots

Organic carrots with carrot basil hummus. Best snack combo ever.

chocolate mint

Chocolate Mint. This special ingredient will be used in Emma and I’s upcoming lunch in the garden recipe!

Organic Peaches

Juicy and sweet organic peaches

 

Emma's Farmers Market Purchase

Emma’s purchases: zucchini, apples, berries, mixed lettuce, and edamame protein salad (amazing by the way)

Probably my favorite thing I bought at the market was my carrot and basil hummus. I had a free sample of it at the stand and I fell in love. It tasted so hearty and fresh I needed to buy a container of it. Right when I got home I actually made a salad and used it as a dressing. The salad was made from veggies found in either the campus garden, or the farmer’s market. I loved knowing exactly where all my veggies were coming from.

My lunch made from everything either found in our garden or the Westport Farmer's Market

My lunch made from everything either found in our garden or the Westport Farmer’s Market

Emma and I were raving about this for probably the entire time we were eating lunch…We discussed how we think it is so strange and disturbing that people rarely question where their food is coming from. If I could I honestly would buy and use only locally grown food or my own grown food. The only problem with this is that at times it can become quite expensive, but I think if you never waste your food and are smart about what you buy you can buy a lot of your food locally at a decent price.

Maybe I should do a post about how students can buy their groceries locally without emptying their wallets? That would be fun!

Well, that brings us to today. It is Friday everyone, but what a dark and dreary day it is… It doesn’t look like the weather is going to be very promising today, so Emma and I will probably just focus on our blogs and researching garden information today.

I hope everyone has a fantastic weekend and I will be back next week!

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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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How to Make Your Own Organic Chamomile Tea

Hi Everyone!

So, I am sure you have been anxiously awaiting this post to learn how to make your own natural chamomile tea.Forget those conventional tea bags cause harvesting your own tea is much more rewarding and fun!

Let’s begin!

The first step to making your own tea is to find Chamomile seeds. I know Home Depot sells them and I’m sure if you go to any garden store they would help you out. The type of seeds that 2012 garden intern, Jesus, planted in the garden was German Chamomile seed, an annual chamomile plant.

Once your chamomile seeds are in the ground, you need to wait until the flowers are in full bloom. From the day of planting until blooming takes about a month.

Once the flowers are in full bloom get ready to harvest! All you need to do is cut the stems of the flowers 2-3 inches down from the flower. Then, bundle the individual flowers with twine and make as many bundles as you desire. What Emma and I discovered is that one bundle that has a stem diameter of about 1-1.5 inches should make about 6-12 cups of tea.

Picking chamomile me

After you bundle the chamomile, hang the bundles in a dark, warm place. We used our garden shed which worked great! Let the Chamomile hang for 1-3 days and wait for it to dry.

Once the Chamomile is dry pop the individual flowers off the plants. Those dried flower are what you will eventually boil to make your own tea!

Store the dried flowers in an air tight container until you are ready to use them.

When you are ready to make the tea, boil the desired amount of tea water in a sauce pan. Wait for the water to boil and then for every cup of water you boil add 1 heaping teaspoon of dried Chamomile. Turn the heat to low and let the sauce pan sit on low heat for 30 seconds. Then, remove the saucepan from the heat and let the Chamomile sit in the hot water covered for however long you like or until the liquid turns a pale yellow hue. Emma and I decided to let the flowers sit for quite a while because we wanted the tea to have a strong flavor and color.

After you let the chamomile seep, strain the chamomile flowers out of the liquid. We did this using a tea strainer, but a normal strainer would work just as well. After this step you are all ready to drink! If you prefer to have it iced, like us, let the tea cool to room temperature, and then pour into a container to store in the fridge to chill. When ready to serve add some ice, sliced lemons, and some local honey to sweeten and you are all set!

Hope you all enjoyed this post and are on your way out to buy your own Chamomile seeds!


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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!