It would be capital if people continued to care for the garden over the summer; a few people put a great deal of time into preparing it this spring, and it would be wonderful to see the project literally come to fruition. Although taking care of the garden is a pretty simple process, for those who are interested I’ve included more detailed information in the following pages, including recipes for jams and medicinal teas, and instructions on making wine and linen. There’s no need to get overwhelmed. All of the information is also going to be posted on the website. It might be useful for those who are interested in getting involved with the garden this summer to discuss when and by whom various tasks will be accomplished. This would ensure that the garden actually does get watered, and that vegetables are eaten when they’re ripe and not left to rot. In a garden emergency, or if you just have a question, feel free to contact Jack or Alex, or me by email (email@example.com). Enjoy!
Watering Try to water everything once daily if hasn’t rained. Use the garden hose; there is a sprayer attached. Spray gently, mimic the falling rain. A rule of thumb is that if you spray in one area for about 10 seconds, the garden is getting about an inch of rain. This is a good amount of water to give those thirsty plants. Also, watering early in the morning or at dusk is best since it is cooler and less water will be lost to evaporation.
Weeding Weed the entire garden maybe once a week; you’ll have to judge the eagerness of this summer’s crop of weeds. Make sure to pull the weeds out by their roots. Just snapping off the leafy part does absolutely nothing. This spring, a lot of plants with rhizomes (underground stems that run throughout the garden) got dug up, but as you’ll see there are still many roots and pieces of roots in the beds. Ideally, it’s great to get these roots and rhizomes out of the garden, but be careful not to uproot the veggies when you pull them out—it’s easy to do. Finally, the more often you weed, the fewer weeds there will be to pull, and the smaller they will be. It’ll be easier if you don’t keep on putting it off. (Plus, weeds compete with our plants for water, nutrients, and sun. So uproot the competition!) You can put the pulled weeds in the piles of brush in the back yard of 05. Bonfire in the parking lot?
Thinning Thinning should happen once the plants are well-established. Leave the seedlings that seem to be the heartiest and healthiest, and pull up the others. The idea is to reduce competition between the seedlings, allowing the best ones to thrive. Often the uprooted young plants are edible (especially with the kale and bac choi) and very tasty since they’re young and tender.
- Kale—thin to 8-12 inches apart
- Bac Choi—thin to 6-8 inches apart
- Coriander—don’t thin
- Lettuce—thin to 8 inches apart
- Peas—don’t thin
- Strawberries—leave them alone
- Pumpkins—thin to 2-3 plants per hill
Garden Tools Our current stock of garden tools consists of a wheelbarrow, two digging forks (one of which has a bit of a busted handle), one shovel, two hand trowels, a pick axe, and an anchor. All but the hand trowels, which are stuck in the ground next to the anchor on the side of ‘05, and the anchor are up in a corner of Dan’s porch. Please keep them there when you’re not using them so that they aren’t left out in the rain to rust, and so that no passer-by nabs a pick axe. Also, to make them last longer, clean the dirt off of them when you’re done. A spray with the hose should do the trick. These tools can be expensive, so pays off to care for them. The wheelbarrow generally lives leaning up against the side of ‘05.
Fall Cover Crops Preparing the garden for the winter is a pretty easy process. Once the veggies are over, which will happen at different times for each vegetable, go through the beds and dig up all of the remaining plant parts. Ideally this should happen in late September or early October; it can't be too late or the cover crops won't have time to grow. Use a digging fork to turn the soil much like you would to prepare a bed, and take out weeds, sunflowers stalks, bok choi roots, etc. as you go. The idea is to get some clear and fresh beds. Leave any perrenials (those plants that come up year after year) to overwinter. Once the beds are ready, plant a cover crop or green manure. By planting something that will stay on the bed throughout the winter, you can accomplish a few things: a) you can prevent winter erosion by securing the soil with plant roots b) you can add organic matter to the soil by digging in the crops in the spring c) you can add nutrients to your soil by growing legumes that fix nitrogen. This is pretty much like adding chicken shit to your soil, except you grow it in plant form. Once you've planted the cover crop, water it it and let it grow. In the spring, you can just dig it into the soil and plant right into it. It's like growing your own manure and compost.
Some Cover Crops and Green Manures:
- Winter Rye (Secale cereale)-The hardiest of winter cover crops that prevents soil erosion and adds organic matter. Sow anytime through midfall for a green manure. To harvest, sow in the fall for a midsummer harvest of rye grain or straw.
- Winter Wheat (Triticum aestivum)-Another winter hardy cover crop. To harvest, sow in late August/early September and harvest the next July/August
- Hairy Vetch (Vicia villosa)-Sow in late summer or early fall. It is a hardy green manure. Because it is a legume, it fixes nitrogen and is great for replenishing soil. In the spring, till in the vetch before planting the season's crops.
- Crimson Clover (Trifolium incarnatum)-Another legume that fixes nitrogen. It is a winter annual that should be planted in late summer/early fall. In May, it puts out beautiful red blossoms. Pretty much any clover is a good choice for a cover crop, i.e. also Red Clover or Sweet Clover.
- Other cover crops that are great although not so winter hardy include alfalfa (Medicago sativa), soybeans (Glycine max), oats (Avena sativa), buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum), and chickling vetch (Lathyrus sativus).
Harvesting This is the tastiest part of the whole process. There are a couple of things to know to maximize the quantity and duration of the harvest:
- Mustard greens—use scissors to clip off the leaves when they’re 4 to 5 inches long. Clip at the base, but not too low. Also, take just one or two leaves from each plant—don’t just clean out one plant. Clipping allows the greens to grow back, and you can probably get 2-4 harvests per plant. Eat these greens for salad, and eat them when they’re young. They’re spicy and flavorful. There are two beds of these greens that were planted about 4 weeks apart; this means you should be able to get a good continuous harvest. When they’re totally done, though, you can always order some more seeds or head to the hardware store and buy some more seeds and plant them!
- Kale (Brassica oleraceae)—take one or two leaves from the outside of each plant. Again, don’t harvest the entire plant all at once. Start harvesting about 2 months after sowing; this would put a first harvest date around the third week of July. Kale is cold-hardy, and actually increases in eating quality throughout the fall.
- Bac Choi (Brassica rapa)—clip individual leaves from the plant. Harvest after about two months when the heads are 12-15 inches tall. This puts the approximate harvest date beginning the second week in July.
- Coriander/Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum)—harvest leaves once the plants are well established. Again, harvest just one or two leaves from each plant to encourage the regrowth of more leaves. This is a tasty herb that’s good in salads, gazpacho soup, etc. If you leave some of the coriander (7 or 8 plants) untouched and allow them to flower, you can later collect the seeds for sowing next spring. Seeds are produced about 3 months after planting—mid-August—and should be harvested when they are dry on the plant. Put them in an envelope in a cool and dry place.
- Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)—pick individual leaves from different plants, starting from the outside of the head of lettuce. Begin harvesting about 1.5 months after planting, or in early to mid July. Harvest before it bolts, or sends up a flower stalk from the middle. When lettuce bolts it becomes bitter and fairly unpalatable. Though this is supposed to be a slow-to-bolt variety, keep an eye on it once it reaches maturity. If it’s about to bolt, cut the entire head off and use it if it still tastes good.
- Peas (Pisum sativum)—harvest when the peas have enlarged in the pod. The pods should be around 3 inches long and a ½ inch across after around 2 months (early July). Try to snap the peas off at the stem; if you leave the sepals (leafy parts below the flower), the plant will think it still has fruit attached to it, and will continue to send resources to where the pea used to be. By snapping the peas off before the sepals, the plant will know to put energy into more flowers and setting more fruit. Eat the peas raw or cooked; the shell is great to eat as well. For snow peas, harvest the pods before the peas enlarge. Steam or eat raw. If it looks like the trellis isn’t working out, try to tie up the peas gently with some twine.
- Tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum)—Pick them when they’re ripe. If anyone feels so inclined, planting a few more plants might be nice. You can buy the plants up at Pemberton Farms, a nursery just a little ways up Mass Ave. past Porter Square.
- Strawberries (Fragaria spp.)—Just pick ‘em when they’re red and juicy, but before the squirrels and birds. Also, leave the plants alone; they are perennials and will come up year after year. The patch can always do with some weeding, though. Depending on the bounty of the crop, strawberry jam is easy and fun to make. Food preservation is an increasingly rare art, but is an essential skill for anyone interested in eating seasonally and sustainably. Crops don’t ripen year-round, so preserving the summer and autumn harvest is critical for supplying food throughout the winter (think root cellars, canning, pickling, and jams). Check in cookbooks like the Joy of Cooking for some quality jam recipes.
- Raspberries (Rubus spp.)—The raspberries are located past the two ornamental cherry trees near the end of the strip of shrubbery bordering the parking lot. There are three scrawny bushes we planted this spring. Care for them (weed and water) even though they may not give fruit this year. Check for flowers to see whether or not they’ll yield any berries.
- Pumpkins (Cucurbita spp.)—These won’t get harvested until well into the fall when the first semester is back in session. Harvest happens when the pumpkins are at full-color maturity, and after 1 or 2 light frosts but before any heavy frost. They can always use weeding, and you can try to gently guide the vines back onto the bed or over towards the cherry tree if they begin to invade the peas. Be careful not to step on the vines on the ground as they’re quite fragile.
- Basil (Ocimum basilicum)—The basil may or may not make it. The transplant seems to have been pretty rough. If any plants do survive, harvest by pinching off the tops of the plants. This encourages them to grow more leaves and get bushier.
- Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum)—The rhubarb is located down by the raspberries at the end of the shrubby strip bordering the parking lot. Look for red stems and bit green leaves. DO NOT EAT THIS RAW. IT’S POISONOUS. Under no circumstances should you use the leaves, which are much more poisonous than the stems, which are fine when cooked (think strawberry-rhubarb pie). The dangerous compound in rhubarb is oxalic acid. While eating rhubarb raw in small quantities won’t kill you, it will make you very uncomfortable (throat swells, hurts, breathing is difficult). Large quantities will kill you. For more information, check out [| this website].
- Unidentified Mint species (Mentha spp.)—If you see a fuzzy greenish-blue herbaceous plant growing throughout the garden that smells like mint when you crush the leaves, it’s a mint species that makes a fantastic tea. There are many species of mint, which are often difficult to identify precisely. Feel free to uproot this species since it’s rather weedy; it spreads by underground rhizomes and invades every inch of gardens, so it’s not something we’re interested in keeping around. Hopefully we will get a contained pot of mint growing in the cold frame in the fall.
- Grape (Vitis vinifera)—The grape vine is located at the western end of the garden along the back fence. Look for the characteristic leaves, a vine with tendrils, and grapes later in the summer! It could be fun to make a first batch of co-op wine.
Flowers There are a number of flowers planted in the garden. All are pretty, and some are medicinal.
- Fibre flax (Linum usitatissimum)—tall stems with small blue flowers that sway in the breeze. You can use the stems for fiber (linen cloth comes from flax), though they must go through a process of retting. Give traditional “dew retting” a try: pull the flax stems up from the ground by the roots and dry them; remove the seed heads. Spread the stems in a field (or the back yard) and leave them there for 4 to 6 weeks while the nonfibrous parts rot away. Then dry them again, pound them to separate the fibers, and spin them into yarn!
- Calendula (Calendula officinalis)—orange and yellow flower heads. Also known as marigolds. These have a number of medicinal purposes. Dry the flowers for a flavorful and colorful tea, which is especially brightening on a cloudy day—sunshine in cup, as Sarah Jessop says. You can also use the flowers to make salves that are great on burns, cuts, and scrapes as calendula has antimicrobial properties.
- Self-heal (Prunella vulgaris)—Use the beautiful purple flowers in tea, or use them with calendula in a salve. Self-heal is in the mint family, Lamiaceae, which is generally distinguishable by its square stem and often fragrant leaves.
- Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea)—lovely pink flowers. It’s used by herbalists as a blood purifier and an antibiotic, and as immune-system support.
- Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)—those six-foot tall yellow and orange blossoms. If left, they’ll serve as bird feeders. Harvest the seeds by removing the flower heads when blooming is done and the seeds have matured. Remove the seeds and dry them. It would be wonderful if someone could save seeds from some of the most beautiful and healthy looking sunflowers to plant next year. They are planted in the middle of the peas, in the tomato bed, and along the back fence next to the parking lot.
- Poppies (Papaver somniferum)—red, purple, and blue heirloom poppies. The blossoms are spectacular. Medicinal uses are many and illegal; for further information on uses of poppies and the associated legal issues, see the witty article by Michael Pollan called [| "Opium Made Easy"]. It’s a great and, yes, inspiring read.
- St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum)—small yellow blossoms. St. John’s wort is used for a wide variety of medicinal purposes, with the most well-known being as an antidepressant tincture. It also has antimicrobial properties, and so is great in healing salves with Calendula.
- Morning glory (Ipomoea tricolor)—look for these vines climbing up the back fence along the parking lot. Morning glories have bluish-purple flowers that should look spectacular next to the sunflowers.
A Word on the Soil Rumor has it that soil in the garden may be contaminated. Past coopers mentioned something of the sort, but to be honest I have no idea if it is indeed contaminated, and if so, with what. When I return in the fall, I will get the soil tested at the local agricultural station. If anyone wants to take on this project, feel free to do so and report the results. As for risks associated with eating the veggies, my take is that each plant would accumulate a very small amount of the toxins--not enough to have any negative effect on your body if you eat from the garden during the summer. But when the mystery is resolved in the fall, I will be sure to let you all know. May the harvest be bountiful!