Category: Uncategorized (page 2 of 6)

A Poem

In celebration of our upcoming planting on Sunday, some eloquent words by New England local, Robert Frost:


You come to fetch me from my work to-night
When supper’s on the table, and we’ll see
If I can leave off burying the white
Soft petals fallen from the apple tree
(Soft petals, yes, but not so barren quite,
Mingled with these, smooth bean and wrinkled pea);
And go along with you ere you lose sight
Of what you came for and become like me,
Slave to a Springtime passion for the earth.
How Love burns through the Putting in the Seed
On through the watching for that early birth
When, just as the soil tarnishes with weed,
The sturdy seedling with arched body comes
Shouldering its way and shedding the earth crumbs.

“Of compost shall the Muse descend to sing”

To a gardener, compost is the stuff of dreams, but to those unfamiliar this pile of dirt holds many mysteries. In this post, I will try to break down compost (heh, get it?) into the basics.


What is compost?  For the purposes of gardening, it is a mixture of decayed and broken down household and yard organic wastes. This process mimics natural cycles of decomposition found in ecosystems of all types, but most visibly on forest floors.  These natural cycles depend on the beautiful co-mingling of microorganisms, moisture, oxygen, and darkness.

When these four factors are working in harmony, they create a well-oiled compost-making machine. The biological process they facilitate is called aerobic decomposition – the decomposition of bacteria that thrive in the presence of oxygen. When the balance is off, it can lead to anaerobic decomposition, which is the slow decomposition of bacteria that thrive in conditions without oxygen. This usually leads to a slimy, smelly, disgusting pile for gross, rather than rich, dark, earthy-smelling soil.

While compost does have some nutrient benefit, especially with micronutrients, the primary benefits concern soil structure and nutrient retention. Without too much detail, the addition of compost to soil works magic in all sorts of soil, creating porosity in dense, clay soils and improving water retention in soils that are too sandy. Further, they offer to the soil COLLOIDS! These magical structures help retain nutrients in the soils. When applying nutrients in colloid-free soil, a few good soakings could leach the nutrients down below the soil horizon where veggies roots could reach. However, colloids help keep the nutrients stationary in the soil, ready to be used at will!


Farmers have used compost for thousands of years, with some of the earlier written records dating back to Ancient Rome. Back then, they would pile all agricultural waste in a large pile and let it decompose over the course of the season (which works, but is tediously slow.) Today, we have a better understanding of the components that make a good, fast and productive compost pile. There are four primary chemical ingredients for a healthy compost (not to be confused with the other four important factors mentioned above:

Carbon – for energy; the microbial oxidation of carbon produces heat (crucial to adequate breakdown and extermination of weed seeds), if included at suggested levels. High carbon materials tend to be brown and dry.

Nitrogen – to grow and reproduce more organisms to oxidize the carbon. High nitrogen materials tend to be green (or colorful, such as fruits and vegetables) and wet.

Oxygen – for oxidizing the carbon, and supporting the organisms in the decomposition process.

Water – in the right amount; the proper moisture of a good compost pile should be about that of a wrung out sponge.


Proper piles construction and maintenance for best decomposition includes a few considerations. The smaller the surface area (read size of the pieces), the faster they can be broken down.  Thanks high school chemistry for that lesson!

It’s also important to aerate the piles semi-regularly (a couple times a week) to assure that enough oxygen is getting into the pile.

While aerating, notice the moisture of the pile – if it is looking a little dry, give it some water, and if it is looking a little wet, add some brown material to soak it up a bit!

Finally, we know things are cooking away properly if the internal temperature of the pile is 135-160 degree Fahrenheit. The breakdown releases heat, so if it is too low, it’s a sign that things are not working at optimal capacity, and if it is too high, it will kill all the wonderful soil organisms.  This optimal temperature helps kills soil pathogens and weed seeds! Hurray! Of course, few people have a thermometer to stick in their pile, but if you stick your hand in it should be really warm, or, if it’s a cool morning, it should be steaming when you stir it!

But what do you put this all in? At Tom Thumb’s Student Garden we have two black plastic composting barrels that are chugging away, but you can also make a mesh pen, or heap it into a pile (recommended by biology Prof. George Ellmore.) It’s really a matter of what suits your space and preference.


Phew! That’s a lot of information! One last thing to top it all off. How much green stuff vs. how much brown stuff is ideal? Well, it seems the popular ratio is 30:1, Brown:Green. Now, each plant has different green/brown ratios, so it’s sort of complicated, but since most waste in a garden is green, the moral of the story is that you can almost always add more brown (dead leaves, newspaper, egg cartons, that test that you failed…)


Hope this was helpful! Happy Gardening!


P.S. I tried to include more soil puns, but Googling “soil puns” really doesn’t yield a lot, which surprised me with the number of garden geeks that exist in the world!

Work day

Hey everybody! Ivan, Liam, and I went down to the garden today to clean up a little bit. We discovered tulips, cilantro, and spinach all growing in the garden!


We moved one of the cold frames onto one of the beds, so we should seed some things in it. We also moved some soil from a collapsing raised bed onto the other beds. We think we’re going to need to fill in some of the gaps in the taller raised beds so we stop leaking soil out of them, and we’re going to have a tool/shed cleaning day soon. Keep your eyes open for more chances to get in the garden!

Ivan and Liam

George Ellmore Shares Some Gardening Wisdom

Last Wednesday, Professor George Ellmore gave a wonderful talk about the life of plants, how and when to plant seeds, and his experiences as a gardener in Massachusetts.

Ellmore is a professor in the Biology Department at Tufts University. Not only is he an expert at gardening in New England, but he also does awesome experiments that take gardening where no man has gone before.

He started his talk by walking us through plant life history: the plant spends its first 10 days as a seed. It then takes 2 months for a plant to develop its roots and leaves and 3 months for the plant to flower. After 4 months, the flower is pollinated and the ovary of the flower makes fruits.

Planting in the greenhouse can begin as early as April 1st. The plant only needs warmth (70 degrees F) and humidity. Leafy plants (lettuce, swiss chard, spinach, and cabbage) make leaves in June and continue until November. Fruits (eggplants, okra, tomatoes, zucchinis, and peppers) are hardest to grow because they require the longest duration of care. Mild winters do not alter this timeline.

Plants in the greenhouse must be checked on at least twice a week. They can be checked by weighing the lightness of the box; if it’s light, the plant needs to be watered. It takes about a month for plants to outgrow their container and for the soil to be depleted of food if 4-6 seeds are planted per container, so plants should not stay more than one month in the greenhouse. Their growth slows down as plants run out of food and run into each other.

When plants are transferred, they should be dipped in water so that the dirt dissolves away, then picked up by their tops. The roots are delicate and will probably tear, especially at such a young stage.

According to Ellmore, June is an excellent month for gardens because the bugs are not out yet, but by August, the plants will look terrible. Don’t let appearance distract you; all that matters are the fruits, which contain all the sugar of the plant.

The latest to plant is September/October, which will result in a December harvest. The first frost occurs in October, which actually makes plants sweeter because they use their sugar as an antifreeze. If spinach is planted in Sept/Oct, it grows super fast because of the cold, then stops growing in November and sits, sweet and ready to eat.

Ellmore also discussed cold frames, which are simply plastic boxes that keep frost off of plants. Cold frames extend growing season from March to December. He experimented with them this winter and grew surprisingly sweet and delicious cabbages. He warns against glass, which can crack in extreme cold.

A neat tip he showed us was to use a calendar as a garden log.

In terms of plants, peas are traditionally planted on St. Patrick’s Day every 2 inches in rows 4 inches apart. Half of them are lost to rot in the cold, wet soil. However, the early planting means the peas will be ready in June. March is an excellent time to grow red beets because they taste sweeter when grown in cold weather. They’re ready in June – mid-July. Fast-growing vegetables include radishes, which love cold weather and grow in 3 weeks. Red beets need only one month in the greenhouse, then 2-4 weeks outdoors.

To plant seeds, Ellmore swears by commercial potting soil. It does not have fungi and bacteria that could kill seeds and it allows oxygen to filter through more easily. He also recommends planting in square or rectangular boxes to make it easier to plan out seeds and placing a paper towel on the bottom to prevent soil see seepage. Make sure to take time to place seeds and make holes evenly spaced so that each seed has a chance to grow.

Ellmore also shared anecdotes about gardening experiences in France and the consternation of his neighbors over his unbelievable garden, giving an informative yet entertaining talk. Thanks to his advice, we have high hopes that our garden will flourish this year!

George Ellmore Talks About Gardening!

If you’re a Tufts student at all into plants, you’ve probably heard about George Ellmore. But if you haven’t, here’s why we’re excited that he’s coming tomorrow, Feb 29, at 9pm to Eaton 201 to talk about gardening in Massachusetts:

  • His bugs-get-stuck-on-Drosera-trichomes impersonation is flawless
  • He’d rather lose 10% of his produce to critters every year than get cancer from pesiticides in ten years
  • He’s managing to grow a small citrus tree in Massachusetts
  • He has a calendar of dates of when things sprout/flower/grow the best
  • He grows a mean garlic
  • Oh yeah, and he teaches Bio 14, Plants and Humanity, Plant Development, and Plant Physiology. So he knows his stuff

My ode to peas.

The pea plant is my favorite plant, by far. The following might be a little extreme, but it is true – I love the pea plant!  Not only is Pisum sativum the most delicious snack to munch on between picking tomatoes and weeding the eggplants, but it is also the most elegant and peaceful plant, in my opinion. Did you know it is actually a fruit? Did you know it self-pollinates? Did you know it can fix nitrogen? Did you know you can eat the young shoots? Oh my goodness, what a cool plant.

I will explain the pea plant’s impact on my life. Last summer, I worked in a dark, over-air conditioned, sunless office staring at a computer screen. How did I make it through? I’ll tell you: The secret little gems I had stored away in my pocket kept me optimistic. I would wake up an hour early every day to pay a visit to the student garden to check on the plants, water them, do some basic chores… and eat peas fresh off the vine. I would take a few extra to hide in my jacket pocket (again, the office was over-air conditioned). A simple touch of the smooth green skin reminded my fingers of the warm sunshine and moist dirt that went into this little pod in my pocket. And then, at my most desperate moments, I would eat one. So sweet and cool and beautiful!  Days that I did not get to pay my early morning visit to the garden were the worst days. With no sharp crunch and sudden sensation of cool sweetness to start off the day, I knew those days would be darker – such is my obsession with peas.

Let me go on. If I had to get a tattoo, if it were a life-or-death matter, I would get a pea plant up my back. If I could only grow one thing in my garden, it would be a pea plant. If I got the chance to name a planet, I might name it after the pea plant. I like eating peas and their pods, I like looking at the plant itself, I like hunting for pods under the soft leaves, and I like trying to capture their elegance in drawings to decorate my apartment. Although they are spring plants, during this past fall, which was extraordinarily mild, my fellow student gardeners agreed to let me try to grow some. It worked and I got to rejoice with my gardening friends in the sweetness of victory and peas in the fall.

Why such a celebration of success? Because the pea plant is simple and beautiful in its purposefulness. The gentle curving tendrils with their life-seeking grip on anything in its path, the cute tiny pods swelling up and promising sweet deliciousness each day, and the simple perking-up of the leaves when you water them, these are the things that contribute to my love for the pea plant.

General Interest Meeting Wednesday, Feb 8!

Want to get involved with the garden but have been too shy to show up at our weekly meetings? Come join the other newbies at our GIM tomorrow night. We will meet at

9pm in Eaton 201

(as we do every Wednesday night!)

Our potential agenda is as follows:
History/origin of the garden
Group structure
Plans for the spring semester
Weekly meeting structure
Map garden

From the summer log

To get you excited for the planting season, here are some pages from our summer garden log:


Who is that nibblin at our greens? It might be a New England Cottontail – the only rabbit

New England Cottontail vs Eastern Cottontail

native to New England – but it’s probably an Eastern Cottontail (brought to New England for hunting purposes).

If it is indeed a New England Cottontail, we should probably make friends with it. They’re much rarer than the Eastern, and in the spirit of preserving biological diversity, we should let them live happily. BUT if it’s an Eastern, I say we bust out the figurative guns and defend our produce!

How do we know if we have rabbits sharing our garden?

1. You see a rabbit in the area.

2. You find rabbits living in a raised bed (true story).

3. You find circular scat about 1/2-inch in diameter in the area.

Deer and rabbit scat comparison

4. You find tracks!

Cottontail rabbit tracks

So now for an exercise in the hypothetical:


Well first of all, that means we failed to prevent them from getting in the garden. The best way to keep them away is to never let them in, so fine mesh fencing such as chicken wire laced along the bottom of the fence is a simple, basic, and cheap solution. Sometimes rabbits get desperate/clever and will dig under, so in an ideal world where we have a lot of manpower to dig a trench, we would sink the chicken wire in half a foot or so to keep them waskelie wabbits from sneaking past our first line of defense.

But now you’ve stumble across their home! The brash little buggers are living IN OUR GARDEN! Well, now that you’ve discovered them (let them know you discovered them by clearing out the nest overgrowth and letting them see your teeth… I’m serious…), they’ll probably flee that nest and take up residence nearby. But check on it throughout to make sure they’re gone from that nest.

Now, hopefully they’ve made a nest outside the garden perimeter. Throw up that chicken wire! Or pile rocks a foot high along the fence. But they still might find a way back in… since they’ve taste the forbidden fruit, they can’t resist…

Try some of these suggestions from (more suggestions on the site):

1. Sprinkle or hang cheesecloth bags of bloodmeal around plants. If sprinkled it must be redone after rain.

2. Vinegar: Soak corn cobs (cut in half)  left over from a meal in vinegar for 5 minutes, then scatter throughout the flower or vegetable garden. Two weeks later soak them again in the same vinegar. You can keep reusing this same vinegar again and again.

3. Soybean plants will repel rabbits or some say they attract them.

4. Onions will repel them. So will bonemeal.

5. Use red pepper, black pepper, cayenne, paprika etc. as a dust to repel. Rabbits are always sniffing so they snort this up and it sends them packing.

Mexican marigolds! Also edible!

6. Plant “Mexican Marigolds” (Tagetes Minuta) and garlic in the garden to repel them.

7.  Try planting some crops that rabbits will eat instead with, we hope, the intention of deterring them from your other garden crops. Try annual crimson red clover, planted as a

strip border around the garden. Now even if it is not successful as a distraction the clover will up the nitrogen content of your soil. Soybeans are said to be good munchies for bunnies but some say they act as a repellant. also has information on plants that are known to repel rabbits:

Annuals such as Ageratum, Campanula, Impatiens, Forget Me Nots, Scabiosa and Cineraria;

Perennials such as Achilleaa(Yarrow), Amaryllus, Aqualegia(Coral Bells), Artemesia, Aster, Tuberous Begonia, Campanula, Cyclamen, Dahlia, Dicentra (Bleeding Heart), Digitalis (Foxglove), Echinacea (Coneflower), Ferns, Gaillardia, Hemerocallis (Daylilly) Iris, Monarda (Bee Balm) and Verbena.

Groundcovers such as Bougainvillea, Hedera (English Ivy) Lantana, Pachysandra, Solanum (Potato Vine) and Vinca

Shrubs and Herbs include Buddlea( Butterfly Bush), Boxwood, Camellias, Holly, Juniper, Lantana, Lavender, Rhododendron, Rosemary, Salvia, Mexican Sage, Lilac, and Viburnum

These are things we could plant around the edge of the garden to not only act as deterrents but also perhaps to attract some butterflies and bees too!

And finally, if you happen to have a rabbit problem at home and someone in the area is into small game hunting – we don’t recommend trapping because rabbits carry diseases – here’s a recipe for rabbit stew from the Food Network:


  • 3 pounds rabbit, cut into stew sized pieces

    Rabbit stew?

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup grapeseed oil
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup celery, diced
  • 2 cups diced carrots
  • 2 onions, finely diced
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 6 cups water
  • 4 cups red wine
  • 4 medium-sized potatoes, diced
  • 1/2 cup sliced sauteed mushrooms


Using half the flour (3/4 cup) coat the pieces of rabbit, shaking off any excess. Heat the oil and butter in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, and brown the floured rabbit on all sides. Add the celery, carrots, onions, salt, pepper, bay leaves, 6 cups water and red wine, and stew for about 2 hours. Add the potatoes 45 minutes into the stewing process. Once the rabbit and all the vegetables are cooked, use some water to form a paste with the remaining 3/4 cup flour. Stir the flour mixture into the pot as a thickener. Add the already sauteed mushrooms to the stew and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes. Adjust seasonings, if necessary, and serve.

Information from:

Glimpses of Green in Paris

Since I can’t watch the garden grow, i’ll have to find my own green spaces here in Paris. Here’s a few to start with:

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