Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Baby crane update

Hello all -

You may recall that a baby crane was injured right outside of EHCG a few weeks ago. We have received an update on his welfare from Patrick Comfert with Public Health-Madison and Dane County! Patrick's message and photos are below.

"He is doing very well and both his wing and his leg have gotten much better.  His leg is 100% better.
His wing still hangs a little but he is able to hold it up and this week even started flapping and practice flying.
We are calling him “Watashi” (male in Japanese) not sure he is a boy but very adventuresome and into everything so it was a reasonable guess. He is VERY attached to the foster crane “BG” and they are together 24 hours a day.  The eat, forage, bathe, and sleep together.   BG still feeds the Watashi about half the time even though the younger bird is more than able to feed himself. They talk back and forth to one another constantly. And when Watashi needed to be caught or handled for a bandage change BG would come running to his distress noises and peck us trying to save his young charge.

 Nothing was broken in the accident but he had suffered trauma to his left leg and wing.   At first he couldn’t bear weight on his  leg limped quite badly but it healed quickly within a week or two he was walking strong.

His wing was a different matter. One of the joints was slightly dislocated and there was quite a bit of nerve and/or muscle trauma. He was unable to hold it up in a normal position and it would hang limply at his side. Also 90 percent of his flight feathers were pulled out of that wing in the accident and we were not sure if they would grow back in or not. 

His wing was x rayed to make sure nothing was broken and was then wrapped in a figure 8 bandage to keep it from hanging and was wrapped in such a way as it was next to his body in a natural way. He did not like this one bit and worked day and night with his beak to get the wraps off his wing. Many nights he was successful and I would find an hours worth of fancy wing wrapping in a tangled pile on the floor the next morning and a droopy wing crane standing there saying.. HAH  You thought that was going to stay on ME? No way buster!
In the end I used my bigger brain and found a way to keep his wing bandaged where it needed to be.
Slowly muscle control returned to the injured wing and he was able to hold it up in an almost natural position but with some droop.  (which remains)

As of the first of October he started flapping both wings, (formerly only flapped the right one)   and has even tried running and flying short distances. J     Because of the wing droop he tends to go sideways a little bit when he flys so at this point he would still not be able to survive in the wild.   But keeping our fingers crossed.

Enjoy the photos."
 We at EHCG are very happy to hear that the baby crane Watashi is doing better!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Cranes in the gardens

With the summer solstice more than a month behind us and the days growing noticeably shorter week after week, now is a great time to check in mentally with the fact that it is indeed still summer and that there are experiences left to savor.

A member of our community recently took the time to snap a few photos of Sand-Hill cranes at EHCG. I appreciate the opportunity to share these little reminders of the life and beauty around us.

 We have been collecting donation produce for Saint Vincent de Paul for several weeks now on Wednesday mornings (8 AM pickup) and Saturday mornings (10 AM pickup), and I hope that you have a chance to donate those few extra zucchini or tomatoes or leafy greens that you find yourself unable to consume or preserve. Please keep in mind that donations made Wednesday afternoon through Friday morning and Saturday afternoon through Tuesday morning will be exposed to the sun and heat and not keep in time for the actual pickups. If you find yourself overburdened by produce at the gardens and no pickup time is close, please feel free to leave items at the Share Shelf so that other gardeners can put them to good use.

The weather is warm and we have some rain expected in the next week. Take advantage of these beautiful days in the time we have left.

Happy gardening.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Planning for Autumn

Although the days are still warm and even heating up over the next week, it is never too early to start thinking about Fall planting. There are many print and online guidelines for late season planting; the above is an example from the Old Farmer's Almanac.

Personally, I still have Fall sowings of carrots, chard, lettuce, peas, and even fava beans ahead of me. Autumn will also be the time for harvesting very long-season crops like winter squash.

What do YOU plan to plant now, for the Fall?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Summer in the garden: a photo update

There are so few days of Summer here in Madison, Wisconsin, that I think we really ought to go the extra mile to enjoy every single one. In that spirit, I make a point of actually walking the (4) extra mile(s) from my apartment in east Madison to EHCG as frequently as I can. One of the bright spots of this trip is the Howard Temin Lakeshore path, with gorgeous views of the Mendota Lake.
Boats on the lake in July. 

More boats.
When I arrive at the garden, there are always wonderful surprises waiting for me.

Even a community gardener can grow fruit in Wisconsin, if the fruits are appropriate varieties for the growing season, like strawberries and ground cherries (perennial and annual, respectively).

Strawberries harvested in late June.
Ground cherries, not yet ripe.
Cabbages planted in the Spring have grown large - the cabbage below yielded several cups of cole slaw on the 4th of July.
Red cabbage, grown from a Garden to Be cabbage start.
Fava beans have grown large and buttery through cool Spring days and the warmth of the early Summer sun.
Fava beans, a late Spring treat in Wisconsin.
Peppers, tomatoes, tomatillos, eggplants, and more are beginning to put out flowers, signaling the advent of the height of Summer produce.
Poblano pepper.
Squashes burst into expansive green foliage, hiding young yellow blossoms.
Pattypan squash.
Forrest of carrot tops. 
The plot as a whole - a little messy but full of life.
The life cycle of the garden demands a lot of energy and time from the gardener between April and June, but from July to September, Mother Nature does most of the work. Over June and July, I have spent my time in the garden weeding, although the new weed germination is greatly slowed, and harvesting. The use of leaf cover as mulch (see above) reduces the need to water and to weed, letting me spend more of my time in the garden enjoying the view.

Be sure to make some time this Summer to really enjoy the sunshine and blue skies abundant at this time, yet so fleeting. It can be difficult to find time for relaxation and reflection while balancing our over-committed schedules, so we ought to treasure the time we do have to put on old jeans, strap on gardening shoes, and hit the soil.
The arbor, covered in grapevines.
Happy gardening.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Share the Bounty

Hello all -

I hope that you have been keeping pace with the lettuces and carrots growing quickly in your plots, and are having luck with warm-season crops either directly sown or transplanted over the past few weeks. In this time of burgeoning abundance, it can be easy to take for granted having enough - or even too much - fresh produce.

For several years, EHCG has maintained a donation program, Share the Bounty, for the St. Vincent de Paul (SVdP) food pantry here in Madison, WI. During the productive months of summer and early fall, we collect vegetables on Wednesday and Saturday mornings, which are driven to SVdP by EHCG volunteers. If you would like to donate to the Share the Bounty, please place produce in the plastic bins that will be located on the white stands at both EH and UH gardens starting July 2.

If you choose to donate, we ask that you arrange to place donation produce in the collection bins close to the collection time to avoid wilting/spoilage/loss. For instance, lettuce donated on a Thursday at noon would not be collected and transported to SVdP until Saturday morning, and would wilt far before arrival.

Please do not take produce out of the donation bins, as our gardeners have chosen to donate their fruits and vegetables to those in need. Remember that items meant for sharing with other gardeners at EHCG are placed on the share shelves, not in the SVdP Share the Bounty bins.

I look forward to seeing overstuffed Share the Bounty bins on Saturday mornings over the upcoming weeks. In my experience, any successful attempt at growing produce over-yields, and there are always more zucchini, tomatoes, and green beans that I can easily consume - perfect for donation.

Happy gardening.

Friday, June 6, 2014

EHCG in bloom

I find myself unable to believe that Madison was so frozen and barren just a few months ago. Spring changes the landscape and daily life so much more up here than it does in my native Texas.
Everywhere, the outside world is full of life and green foliage. Blooms from the daffodils and tulips have already come and gone, and now the irises are reminding us that summer is just around the corner. Soon, EHCG will be full of blooms that quickly fold and morph into young fruits, the origami that Summer loves to practice a few months of the year.
This photo, taken by EHCG gardener Melita, reminds me of the fleeting nature of these warm and lively months. If you have other photos you'd like to share with us, please contact me at ehcgarden@gmail.com and I will post them.
Happy gardening.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Watering your garden in the warm months

Hello all -

As we enjoy the warm days full of light and increasing garden greenery, I think this is a good time to have a discussion about watering.

You don't need a very green thumb at all to be able to list watering as a basic gardening chore. It is common for new gardeners to think of watering as it is shown in movies or TV - light overhead watering that lasts about two minutes. Novices tend to lightly water their plots at least once a week, sometimes more.

Unfortunately, frequent shallow watering doesn't accomplish very much other than use up water. A few minutes of watering won't put down enough water to soak the first few inches of soil, and will really only distribute enough to evaporate or osmose deeper and farther away from your plants' tender, thirsty roots. According to Adam, one of our garden workers, "The problem with light watering (just wetting down the top of the soil) is that it promotes shallow root development which in turn requires more watering and a lot of the water evaporates before it is accessible for the plants".

Instead of light watering, optimize your time and resources by planning to only water when you really need to, and then water DEEPLY. "Stick your finger in the ground and if it's moist 1/2 down no water is necessary," explains Adam. "If it's dry an inch down then it's time to take the time to water." Look out for these conditions after a week or more without rain.

Watering deeply is the best practice which can be done lots of ways (hand watering, soaker hoses), all of which water the plant's root zones, not the plants themselves or the soil surface. Thorough watering also takes considerable time, as the water is slow to soak down deep into the soil. If watering is indicated by the soil conditions, don't plan to get in and get out quickly. Be patient, and really take the time to soak the soil. 
Adam points out, however, that "the trick to watering is to prevent the need to water". This can be done easily and cheaply through the use of mulch. He advises putting down mulch (including leaf mulch or straw) around plants at least 3 - 4 inches thick, and an additional 3 - 4 inches after the first deposit of mulch has settled (ideally, a final total of 6 - 8 inches). You can do this serially as the plants grow up, putting down the first layer as soon as the first true green leaves of your spinach and carrots poke up out of the soil, and the second at the end of Spring when transplants go in and the plants are more developed. Take care not to cover your plants, but of course pile leaf mulch on top of weeds to your heart's content. Leaf and straw are also great mulch for paths, and can be laid down even thicker. "If you do this," counsels Adam, "unless we have an extreme drought year, you'll only water once a month... at most". Sounds good to me.
Only water fruiting plants during flowering and fruit set. When watering fruiting plants, don't lazily water overhead; it's not good for the plant foliage to remain wet. Instead, water at the base of the plant, with an eye on soaking the roots. Adam's final word of wisdom: NEVER water ripening fruit, no matter how long it has been since the rain. "In fact, if it's going to rain on your ripening fruit it might be best to pick it a little early and finish ripening inside. Ripening fruit can split (like tomatoes), go mushy (raspberries), go mealy (melons) and flavor gets watered down (all fruit) if the plant gets an influx of water."

Regardless of how you choose to water, be mindful of garden rules and neighborliness. We have already had an incident this year involving a sprinkler left on overnight in the gardens. While we understand that deeply watering is a long, involved, tedious task, we have to insist that you be present for it. If you choose to use a sprinkler to water, you must remain in the garden to oversee it and turn it off when ready. We do really prefer that people not use this approach; sprinklers may be great for your lawn at home, but at EHCG they are rather wasteful, sending water great distances with no regard for whether it lands somewhere helpful (carrot roots) or harmful (the paths already populated by grass and all manner of weeds). 

Please also consider your neighbors with whom you share access to a spigot. There are probably at least 6 other plots that call your spigot their own, and it is impolite to monopolize the shared water source for very long. Finally, when finished watering, be certain to shut off the water flow completely, to avoid water dripping into the path. Even a minor drip adds up over several minutes or, worse, hours, wasting water and encouraging weed growth in the path. If you find a spigot that just won't shut off, email Gretel the registrar right away (ehgardens@rso.wisc.edu) and we will get it sorted out.

Thanks for dropping by the blog, and don't hesitate to send us your questions and comments.

Happy gardening!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Manure deliveries in the gardens

Hello all - 

The blog got a question submitted via the "Blogger Contact Form" last week:

What is the best way to use the horse manure that was delivered this week?

We are fortunate enough to have deliveries of manure provided by the UW Hoofers. According to Will, one of our garden workers and committee members, we used about 14-15 yards of manure from the Hoofers barn last year. We continue to find this resource helpful for our gardeners and our gardens alike, and are working on future deliveries.

To answer the question about how to best use this resource, I turned to our other garden worker, Adam. He responded: "Use in tomato or pepper beds. If they haven't been planted, rake in the top of soil and use a cup in the transplant hole. If planted side dress the plants." Manure could also help support the growth of other heavy feeders, like squashes and melons. Some gardeners prefer to use manure around crops whose skin is not eaten (winter squashes, melons); however, the manure we get from Hoofers is well decomposed and these measures are merely personal preference.

If you have other questions for our garden workers, check out the EHCG facebook page. Adam and Will are both admins on this page, and are also extremely knowledgeable and likely able to answer any question about any gardening topic under the sun. "Like" the page to keep updated on garden worker advice as well as activities (sales, work days), deadlines, and more.

On an unrelated note - I would love to add more pictures to this blog, and keep forgetting my camera at home on the weekends. If you have any photos you'd like to share, please email this blog account (ehcgarden@gmail.com) with them, and I will feature your images in a future post.

Happy gardening.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Tomato weather

Hello all - 

We enjoyed some wonderful weather this weekend, including a beautiful Sunday that was a perfect setting for our warm weather plant and compost sales. Scott Williams of Garden To Be sold over 3,500 plants at EHCG this Spring, including 1,400 this past Sunday. Compost was sold at Eagle Heights, and Adam, one of our garden workers, oversaw its transportation to University Houses gardeners, cartload by cartload. We do sell this compost at cost, and this year scaled back to $2 per 1/3 cart load. We hope that you had a chance to get some of this wonderful compost. We are discussing selling off the remainder some time in the near future, and will keep you updated.

After the warm weather plant sale and the recent temperatures, I think it is safe to declare that we have begun the part of the late Spring that can be classified as "tomato weather": it is now safe to grow tomatoes outside. But how do you know if tomato weather has truly begun?

Everyone has different superstitions and anxieties about when it is ok to put fussy warm weather plants outside. I have put together a very simple chart (below) with very general guidelines about tomatoes. Feel free to respond with your own perspectives and experience.

I will be transplanting my peppers, eggplants, and basil next weekend as well. 

Along with the sales, I walked through Eagle Heights garden with the registrar yesterday to get an impression of how far along our gardeners are with their Spring garden work. Many of you have beautiful, well-managed, robust plots already bursting with gorgeous lettuces and carrot tops. I look forward to continuing to admire the work of our gardeners as the season progresses.

Happy gardening!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Compost and caring for the soil

This coming Sunday, in addition to the warm weather plant sale, with weather permitting, we will be selling compost at EHCG:

Compost Sale

11 AM to 1 PM
Eagle Heights Community Garden
$3 per half cart load

We are very excited to bring this important soil amendment to our gardeners. We sell this compost at-cost, ie we don't make any money off of it. This is sourced from the West Madison Agricultural Station, and composted of well-aged barn manure and food waste from campus. While that doesn't sound very appealing, I promise that this stuff is perfectly pleasant soil amendment gold. 

Speaking of soil amendments, let's have a brief discussion of what soil amendments are, and why we use them. Vegetables, fruits, and flowers require both macronutrients and micronutrients to grow. While carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are important macronutrients for people, plants require nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium (N-P-K) for their health. Each year that a volume of soil is used to grow plants, a fraction of the N-P-K is used up, making that much less available for next year's plants.

It is important to restore these nutrients through soil amendments, including compost, fertilizer, and/or leaf mulch, to get the most out of your garden. If soil amendment is neglected, your yields will drop, and your plants may show symptoms of either nutrient deficiency or disease. 

The compost sold at EHCG, as well as the leaf mulch available free in the gardens all season long, are inherently organic and therefore suitable for our organic gardening spaces. These amendments are also lower in N-P-K than fertilizer, slower-releasing, and generally can be applied liberally without running into any issues. This contrasts with fertilizer, which can be bought either organic or synthetic, both of which are higher in macronutrients. (Organic fertilizer is generally lower in N-P-K that synthetic.) While these nutrients are important for plant health and growth, too much can result in fertilizer burn, a leaf "scorch" resulting from exposure of a young plant to too much nitrogen. If you apply a lot of strong fertilizer all at once, there is also the possibility that most of it will be washed away or lost instead of being taken up by your plants.

It is a good idea to invest in both a low N-P-K, slow release amendment (compost, leaf mulch) as well as a high N-P-K, quicker release fertilizer. I incorporate leaf mulch into my plot all season long, both for weed suppression when laid down thickly, and nutrient incorporation when I turn it into the soil in the Fall. (It has all season long to break down in my plot.) I also buy a half-cart of compost every Spring to surface-dress the soil. As I plant heavy feeders, such as tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and squashes, I bury a small amount of organic fertilizer into the soil as I transplant, and periodically fertilize, in small quantities, throughout the season.

When applying fertilizer to tomatoes, keep in mind that nitrogen will spur the growth of green foliage, but not fruit. Tomato fruiting is actually encouraged by calcium, not nitrogen, so I hold off on fertilizing tomatoes once the plants start putting out flowers. I also bury eggshells into the soil as I transplant tomatoes to provide a slow-releasing calcium reservoir.

I hope to see you all at the transplant and compost sales this coming Sunday. Happy gardening.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Warm weather transplant sale: warmth and rain returning

Hello all -

After a warm weekend and a rainy day, I am feeling better about gardening than ever. I transplanted my tomato and ground cherry plants this past weekend, and have sown directly melons, squashes, corn, and beans. I tend to start a little early, but soon many warm weather crops such as these will be popping up in the gardens, adding color and life.

I would like to remind everyone that there will be a warm weather transplant sale this weekend:

Warm Weather Transplant Sale

11 AM to 1 PM
Eagle Heights Community Garden Arbor
Tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, basil...

For a full list of transplants expected this Sunday, follow this link.

I have previously posted a transplant guide; please consult either this or some other resource ahead of transplanting time. Planting depth and use of fertilizer or other soil amendments are very important parameters in the transplanting of starts. If you read nothing else, please read the next 16 words: transplant tomatoes DEEPER than they are in the pot, up to the bottom set of leaves!

We are having a committee meeting Wednesday night, 05/14/14, at the Eagle Heights Community Center, room 139. All EHCG gardeners are eligible to attend. I am mentioning this meeting specifically because we are electing a new co-chair to replace the departing Josh Parsons. If you are interested, show up and lend a voice to how the gardens are run!

One final note - I hope that you are having a pleasant, neighborly interaction with your fellow gardeners. While sometimes we have issues with our plot neighbors or other gardeners or visitors at EHCG, patience, cordiality, and forgiveness can go a long way toward rectifying injury and healing relationships. Our gardeners are all equally interested in having an enjoyable gardening experience, and letting go of honest mistakes or misunderstandings can help to foster the kind of community we want at EHCG. That being said, every once in a while a serious incident may precipitate. If you have any ongoing issues in the gardens, please email Gretel the registrar at ehgardens@rso.wisc.edu.

I look forward to seeing you all at the transplant sale this Sunday. Happy gardening!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014


In the past week alone, we have gotten about 2.5 inches of rain, and I couldn't be happier. I do look forward to sunny late spring days on the horizon, but for now the ample rainfall is encouraging sprouting and growth in my plot, and that is good enough for me.

Thankfully, there is no need to water in the near future. We are looking at turning on the water at EHCG in the next two weeks, although you likely won't need to water your plot yourself any time soon.

Speaking of water, be conscientious when watering your plants. Seed germination and transplanting do require good amounts of water, and in my experience there is just no substitute for actual rain fall. (How long would you need to stand in water in your plot to simulate actual rainfall? Hours?) The proper growth of some crops (root vegetables, like carrots) also requires consistent rain/water to prevent splitting, stunted, woody produce. However, most garden plants are happy without constant watering, and going overboard can be very harmful. If you are growing tomatoes for the first time this year, for instance, be very cautious about watering at all unless there has been no rain for 2 weeks. A beginner's instinct is often that more water = more care = a happier plant, but following this logic will leave you with pounds and pounds of cracked, burst tomatoes in late summer. Water only in moderation, only if Mother Nature hasn't already done the job for you in the form of rain. 

I believe the last spring frost is safely behind us, and now begins the game of starting the summer crops. I suspect that selection of a tomato transplant or zucchini seeding date is one third superstition, one third paranoia, and one third half-way believing what the back of the seed packet or seller at the farmer's market tells you. Last year, I put my tomatoes out in April, and every last one of them survived. Some people wait until the first week of June. I don't know any genuinely fool-proof advice to give, as the consequences of planting too early (death by frost) or too late (stuck with 20 lbs of green tomatoes in September) are both serious, and the many opinions on the subject are too passionate for there to be a real debate. Any time from mid-May on is probably safe, but I feel compelled to wish you luck anyway.

While much of the initial work of the season is behind us (tilling, mulching, installing supports), there are still months of planning, working, and harvesting ahead. If you have any questions, please email this blog (ehgarden@gmail.com) or the registrar (ehgardens@rso.wisc.edu).

Finally - there is yet another new poll on the right side of this page (under "Blog Archive") so please vote!

Happy gardening!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Spring in full swing!

Hello all -

This past Sunday we had our cool-weather plant sale with transplants by Garden To Be. Brassica (Brussels sprouts, cabbages, broccoli) sold out very quickly. If you didn't find what you were looking for or didn't beat the early Sunday rush, you can find transplants by Garden To Be as well as many other growers at the Saturday morning Dane County farmer's market on the Capitol Square.

I would like to announce that EHCG will be doing a SECOND free seed hand-out this coming Saturday:

Free Seeds!
10 AM to 12 PM
Eagle Heights Community Garden Arbor and University Houses Shed

I will personally be handing out seed packets at the EH arbor, and Gretel, the registrar, will be handing out seed packets at U Houses. Please note that this is not a normally scheduled free seed distribution like the Seed Fair; we are handing out seed packets for a second time this Spring as a special courtesy to our gardeners. It is unlikely that we will do this every year.

Seeds on free offer will include summer squash, winter squash, beans, cow peas, certain root crops (beets, radishes, carrots), melons, and several others. We will allow one seed packet per category/type per plot. This is to ensure that we can offer seeds to as many gardeners as possible.

Please bear in mind that this seed hand-out will be first-come, first-served so if you have your heart set on getting one specific type of seeds, it may be best to come earlier.

We will try to have compost sometime in the next two or three weeks for sale, as well as turn on the water. Both of these activities are at the mercy of the weather - if the roads are wet we can't truck in compost (or sell it), and if we are expecting another freeze, water turn-on is out of the question. Please be patient with us as we plan around the weather.

On an unrelated note - I have noticed many plants and bulbs set aside on the Share Shelf. If you are thinning your strawberries or splitting your lilies, the Share Shelf is a wonderful place to leave these items to ensure that they can have a second life in someone else's plot. Keeping sharing and re-purposing in mind supports the community-centered spirit of EHCG.

Finally - I hope that everyone has met their plot neighbors! Fostering good neighborly relationships is very important at EHCG and will serve everyone very well. Every year we have misunderstandings and issues to resolve, and approaching your neighbors with a respectful attitude is a great way to kick off the season.

See you in the field, and happy gardening!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Cool weather transplant sale 2014

Hello all -

The cool weather transplant sale will take place this coming Sunday, April 20, at the EHCG shed. Scott Williams of Mt. Horeb's Garden to Be will be selling transplants (small starts) of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, and lettuces. Transplant prices will range from $2.50 - $2.75 in various pack sizes, ex 4 broccoli/pack and 6 lettuce/pack. The full inventory of plants provided by Scott is here. Please bring cash if you plan to buy plants. You may also consider bringing an umbrella as we expect some light rain. 

When picking out transplants, keep in mind the space they will actually require in your plot. My own cautionary tale materialized when I bought 6 broccoli transplants from Garden To Be as a first year gardener, several years ago. They start of small so I transplanted them into my plot, spaced about 6 inches apart. A few weeks later I realized that this was nowhere near enough space, moved them apart from each other, and essentially lost my broccoli harvest to bad planning. I have previously posted a very long set of guidelines about planting time and space that you are free to consult, as well as links to Robin Mittenthal's From the Ground Up manual (abbreviated planting guideline charts for vegetables, salad greens, herbs, and flowers here). 

EDIT: check out the new page, "Transplanting 101", at the top of this blog, for a brief overview of transplanting!

Next weekend, on Saturday April 26, Gretel (the registrar) and I will be out at U Houses and Eagle Heights gardens, respectively, handing out limited amounts of free seeds. Carrots, beets, beans, squash, melon seeds and more will be provided in small quantities. Look out for an update on the exact time in a future email from Gretel. It will be first-come, first-served!

Speaking of planting - some of you may have noticed that I started running polls in the right-most column of this blog, right under the "Blog Archive". This week's poll is about what you will buy at the cool weather plant sale. 

Finally - I am putting out a last call for new co-chair nominations. If you are interested in getting more involved in the gardens, please email me at jmirrielees@gmail.com so that we can discuss the position and you can figure out if it is a good fit for you. We are voting on a new co-chair at next month's committee meeting on May 14! Even if you aren't running yourself, you can always drop into a committee meeting to vote on the new co-chair or any of our many other agenda items. 

Happy gardening!

Monday, April 14, 2014

If April showers bring May flowers, what does April snow bring?

Right now, I'm seeing quite a bit of snow through my window at home. According to weather.com, the low for tonight is 20 F, far beyond a hard freeze.

Before you panic, bear three things in mind.

1) Some crops are frost-tolerant. Hopefully those are the ones you have planted so far. Think spinach, kale, lettuce, root crops, peas. Check the packets of the seeds you sowed or are planning to sow. Most of them give a sowing date of anywhere between 2 and 6 weeks before last frost for these cool-weather plants. If you have already planted tomatoes or other summery crops outside, I give you only my condolences and word of caution to be more careful of when to plant and transplant in the future. Many resources for determining planting dates abound online, including Smart Gardener, recommended by garden worker Will Waller, as well as this very simple planting date tool I like to use. Also check the backs of your seeds, ask your neighbors, the garden workers, etc; essentially everyone who gardens loves telling new gardeners what to do and when to do it.

2) Some snow cover is actually insulating, so a bit of chilly weather plus now is not as bad as chill alone.

3) We need our water. That snow is going to sit and melt in your plot. Better a bit of April snow to bring some water back to our gardens than no precipitation at all.

Please also bear tonight in mind the next time you start wondering when we will turn on the water at EHCG. To avoid doing damage to our plumbing, we have to wait until the threat of a hard freeze is past before opening up those valves. Last weekend I would not have expected a night like tonight, yet here it is. We hope to be passed the danger of last frost by the beginning of May and water turn-on will be TBA until then.

One final word: if you are concerned about your seedlings, consider laying some row cover or other landscaping fabric down, at least at night. I haven't had a problem in the past with a cold snap or two like this, and row cover alone works well enough for me.

Have a nice night, stay warm, think summery thoughts, and happy gardening.


04/15/14 nighttime update: the snow is gone! It looks like it may only freeze one or two more nights this spring; fingers crossed!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Should I throw this away?

Hello all -

This will be a short post about waste management in the gardens.

When I started as a gardener at EHCG, I had no previous experience with community gardens. Instead, I had some experience with home gardening, more like landscaping, in which tools and supports and supplies were always bought new. For a novice like me, it seemed that if you wanted something to use in the garden, you ought to drive to a big box store to buy it.

Thankfully, EHCG is able to provide for most gardening necessities internally. This is accomplished in part by good management of old supplies, broken tools, leaves falling in Autumn and shared resources. We really throw very little away. The following graphic summarizes a few of the ways that our garden workers and gardeners re-use or recycle resources, and ultimately what we can produce from these investments.

From that I'd like to segue into a discussion of when, how, and where to dispose of unwanted materials.

Communal items: broken tools, carts, poles

If you are using a tool and it breaks, or find a broken tool, please don't throw it in the dumpster or claim it as your own! Just a few weeks ago I met a gardener who had found a broken communal tool, with a pink handle, which he decided was trash, fixed it, and wanted to keep it as his own. You can imagine that I was very sad to explain that we needed to take it back. We (almost) never throw tools away! If you see something broken, either find a garden worker to give it to, or leave it by the shed. We collect and repair broken tools every year, sometimes multiple times a year. We also repair carts. If you see a broken cart, please don't use it, and bring it to our attention so we can do something about it. The cart beds are really expensive so we want to do our best to take care of them instead of replacing them.

Items you may inherit or find: tomato cages, bricks, wood, structures

If you are a new gardener this year, you may have "inherited" a mess of cages and other structures. Many of these inherited items are perfectly good, and can be used in your plot this year. If you inherit something you don't want, please leave it at the Share Shelf (by the bulletin board at the front of the gardens) instead of putting it in the dumpster. There are many spendthrift, crafty gardeners who may see treasure where you see trash. I myself have never paid for a tomato cage as I have collected plenty left in the trash.

Other things you can donate

If you picked up three packets of lettuce seeds at the Seed Fair but only used 10 seeds and realized you don't need that much lettuce, you can always leave your extra seed packets on the Share Shelf (front of the gardens by the bulletin board). The same goes for plants. Whether you start your tomatoes at home under a light, or buy a flat of transplants at the plant sale or farmer's market, please keep in mind that if you have more transplants than you have plot space, there is another gardener at EHCG who would love to be provided a free plant. Leaving resources on the Share Shelf is a great way to make certain that someone, somewhere will benefit.

Dead plants, weeds

The correct destination for organic materials such as dead plants and weeds is the weed pile, NOT the dumpster and also NOT the path in front of your plot and certainly not your neighbor's plot. Some gardeners choose to let some amount of dead plants or weeds pseudo-"compost" in their own plot. I do this: while hand-weeding small weeds, I place the removed weeds in the paths within my own plot, on top of leaf cover, so that as I walk in my own paths the weed are destroyed but their organic matter is incorporated back into my soil. However, if you have more than a handful of weeds, especially large volumes of dead plants, please do everyone in the gardens a favor and cart them over to the weed pile. These will get turned into mulch the following year to close the loop (of nitrogen, of nutrients, of waste).

Surplus produce

There are some plants that just can't help but yield in excess. If you show me someone who has eaten every single cherry tomato they grew in a season, I will show you either a liar or someone who is not very good at growing cherry tomatoes. Spinach, lettuce, tomatillos, and raspberries behave the same way. The good news is that we have a process in place at EHCG to transport surplus produce to St. Vincent's food pantry to be distributed to those in need. I will write a separate blog post later in the spring to discuss details.

Actual garbage

Once you have turned broken communal items in to the garden workers, donated tomato cages to neighbors, hauled weeds to the weed pile, and dropped off a pound of cucumbers in the donation bins, you may still have real, genuine, honest-to-goodness trash left in your plot. This may include black landscaping plastic inherited from last year; packaging from seeds, plants, structures; the coffee cup you brought to the garden in the morning. If it isn't broken, compostable, or good to eat, take it to the dumpster!

One final word: the way we handle our resources and our trash significantly impacts our neighbors, and future gardeners as well. If you make the effort to incorporate nutrients into your soil in the form of leaf mulch or compost, you will enhance the soil health for yourself and those who come after you. If you litter and cast disposable items around the garden, you make gardening that much less enjoyable for everyone else. If you throw weeds in the dumpster instead of the weed pile, you deprive us of the opportunity to turn trash into treasure. Be mindful of how your choices affect those around you, and you will have happy neighbors and happy plants.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Crop rotation and companion planting

Hello all -

Following up on a suggestion by a reader of this blog, I have decided to write a few words about crop rotation, and the related concept of companion planting. I hope that guidance related to good crop "neighbors" has found its way into your gardening plans.

If you have grown vegetables and herbs before, you may have noticed that the various plants have their own spectrum of needs, ailments, and behaviors. Genetically-, or more specifically, phylogenetically-related plants take the same nutrients out of the soil and are vulnerable to the same pests and diseases. One example of this is the vulnerability of both turnips and arugula, Brassicaceae family members, to the flea beetle, a very small, black beetle that leaps from the soil onto greens such as these, leaving  scores of tiny, tragic holes in its wake.  Alternatively, some traits that significantly impact plant health may have no origin in closely-shared genetics. While not a Brassicaceae member, eggplant, in my experience, is highly prone to flea beetle attack.

The personalities of the crops we plant can inform us of how, when, and where to put them down. It is wise to separate crops with similar nutrient and pest profiles by time and space. One way to accomplish this is crop rotation, a practice whereby the same crop, or type of crop, is not planted year after year in the same spot but rotated to someplace else in the garden. For instance, one might choose to plant garlic, the scourge of many garden pests, in the ground to replace last year's arugula or turnip plantings, and rotate the planting of these Brassicaceae to a spot that most recently housed lettuce or carrots. Another method is companion planting, a practice by which crops that are "good neighbors" are planted in close proximity, and "bad neighbors", such as those that consume large amounts of nitrogen, or those that attract the same pests, are kept far apart. Companion planting also frequently involves the use of flowers, allia, and other plants you might otherwise not have cultivated, for the purpose of promoting or repelling various fauna, pests or otherwise. Both crop rotation and companion planting are good strategies to minimize loss and maximize output, without relying on pesticides or other chemical additives not permitted in organic gardening.

Two key consideration for both crop rotation and companion planting are 1) nutrients and 2) pests.


Some plants are givers, and some are greedy. The nightshades, including eggplants and tomatoes, are among the heavier feeders. A plot planted year after year with only eggplants and tomatoes will become nutrient-deficient, and eventually fail to deliver adequate minerals, or macronutrients and micronutrients, to ensure healthy, productive plants. While unrelated, corn and Cucurbitaceae (melons, squash, cucumbers) are also heavy feeders. "Greedy" crops such as these give you a good reason to invest in some soil amendments for your plot, including compost, leaf mulch, and even coffee grounds. However, even with soil amendment, it is in your best interest to move your Nightshade/Cucurbitaceae plantings around your plot from year to year, replacing them with plants that contribute positively to the condition of your soil. This year, for instance, I am replacing last year's sowing of eggplants, for instance, with green beans in the same spot. Green beans and other legumes are nitrogen-fixing, meaning that they host beneficial bacteria in their roots that convert gaseous nitrogen in the air to a useful, water-soluble form in the soil. I have also sown peas, another legume, into the spot where I grew my butternut squash last year, and fava beans to replace tomatoes.

People have been using legumes to supplement the soil nitrogen lost to the cultivation of heavy feeders for a very long time. Native Americans developed this technique long ago, and planted beans (for nitrogen), squash (for ground cover), and corn together under the name of the "Three Sisters". Whether you plant legumes and heavy feeders together in the same season, or rotate the former in to replace the latter from year to year, you will be using the inherent nitrogen-fixing capacity of the legumes to its full potential.

Even if you don't plan to take advantage of this property of legumes, it is a good idea to rotate tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, melons, squash, and corn around your plot from year to year. In addition to depleting the same nutrients out of the soil, these crops, when planted in the same place year after year, also promote the recruitment and establishment of serious garden pests.


Flea beetles, as I mentioned above, are a striking example of why you don't want to plant your broccoli, kale, and brussels sprouts in the same place from year to year. Flea beetles love the Brassicaceae family, and will hang out all winter in the soil, patiently awaiting your return to the gardens, and the paralleled return of their staple crops. (This is not quite as true of large, vernalized, overwintered kale plants, which generally have tougher leaves are are less vulnerable to the tiny bites of the flea beetle.) Flea beetles will also attack your eggplants, but in my experience have no idea what to do with tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, green beans, or most other crops. Move your Brassicaceae around and replace them with a crop that doesn't look like lunch to a flea beetle.

Another good example is the tomato hornworm, which is attracted to tomato as well as dill. Move those tomatoes around!

Some flowers and herbs are thought to be repellent to many garden pests, including the flea beetle. I find that insect pests completely avoid garlic, onions, chives, and shallots, just one more reason to plant Allia in the garden. Lemon grass, with its fragrant stalks, it also effective. Nasturtiums, beautiful sprawling flowers whose petals can be eaten in salads, recruit predatory insects to hunt down the offenders.

If you are interested in learning more about companion planting, there are extensive, dedicated resources available online. I find the wikipedia entry on companion planting particularly simple and helpful.

I will leave you with an excerpt from Robin Mittenthal's gardening manual, From the Ground Up:

"Rotate crops so related plants don’t stay in the same place. Broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, kale, radishes, kohlrabi, rutabagas, turnips, and cauliflower are all very closely related (they’re in the same plant family, known as “Brassicaceae,” or the mustard family). As a result, they take the same nutrients out of the soil and are vulnerable to the same pests and diseases. As much as you can, move these crops around your garden so that no two related crops occupy the same space for two years in a row. There are other groupings of plants that should not follow each other: Potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant are in the family “Solanaceae” (sun-loving family); Carrot, parsley, celery, parsley, dill, and parsnip are in the family “Apiaceae” (carrot and parsley family); summer squash, winter squash, pumpkins, watermelon, cantaloupe, and cucumber are in the family “Cucurbitaceae” (gourd family); Chicory, endive, salsify, dandelion, lettuce, Jerusalem artichoke, sunflowers, and globe artichoke are in the family “Asteraceae” (aster family); Beets, chard and spinach are in the family “Chenopodiaceae” (goatsfoot family); and onion, garlic, leek, and chives are in the family “Liliaceae” (lily family)."

Happy gardening!

Monday, March 31, 2014

The gardening season has arrived!

We had a wonderful Seed Fair this past Saturday!

All told, 316 plots checked in, and about 700 people filed into the community center gym including children and grandparents. 

EHCG gardeners selecting seeds at Seed Fair 2014

Committee members Adam and Sandra hosted a gardening workshop, which received many positive reviews. We unprecedentedly sold out of row cover (!!!) and are working on ordering more to sell a new round of the stuff. 

The final orientations were well-attended; my group swelled to about 30 people, all new gardeners at EHCG eager to get into their plots and get seeds into the ground. 

On a personal note, I did get my fava beans, spinach, carrots, peas, radishes, and beets into the ground! I threw down some poppy seeds as well for good measure. I also buried about 50 egg shells and several months worth of coffee grounds into the section of my plot that will soon host tomato plants and basil. Coffee grounds are a wonderful soil amendment! I will discuss this more in a future blog post, later in the season as EHCG begins to truck in its own supply of coffee grounds from local coffee shops.

Looking forward, we will host a cold weather plant sale at EHCG on April 20, a Sunday. Cold weather plant sale items will include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, and lettuces. Transplants range from $2.50 - $2.75 in various pack sizes, ex 4 broccoli/pack and 6 lettuce/pack. We are also working on getting row cover and compost for the cold weather plant sale, but those items are still TBA. Photos of last year's plant sales are below.

Cold-Weather Plant Sale - April 2013
A wealth of lettuce!
Scott Williams of Garden-to-Be standing proudly behind a wall of lettuces.
 Warm-Weather Plant Sale - May 2013
Army of tomatoes. Scott provides a large array of varieties,
including heirlooms, that varies from year to year.
Brandywine tomatoes. You may want to do some research about
different heirlooms before purchasing transplants, as flavors,
colors, productivity, etc vary widely.

Finally, a forest of basil.

Complete list of plants to be sold at the 2014 plant sales at EHCG:

What will YOU plant this year?