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!

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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
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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.

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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
Announcements
Map garden

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From the summer log

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

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RABBITZ

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:

Lalala just watering the garden… OH MY GOODNESS A NEST OF RABBITS IN THE RAISED BED! WHAT DO I DO?

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 www.ghorganics.com (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.

ifplantscouldtalk.rutgers.edu 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:

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

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:

http://www.fws.gov/mainefieldoffice/New_England_cottontail_rabbit.html

http://www.biokids.umich.edu/guides/tracks_and_sign/leavebehind/scat/

http://www.jesseshunting.com/california-rabbit-jackrabbit-cottontail-hare-hunting-info

http://www.ghorganics.com/page6.html

http://ifplantscouldtalk.rutgers.edu/planttalk/article.asp?ID=13

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/robert-irvine/rabbit-stew-recipe/index.html

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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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Garden Potluck

It has been a great semester for Tom Thumb’s Garden, and I am really proud to be a part of it. We have expanded the garden tremendously (and thank you for all the help from the Sustainable Food Systems class), measured each bed, and have tucked it away for the winter. We’ve even got our first hoop house! Over the course of the winter and into the spring, we shall keep an eye on all that is growing beneath the flaps of our fine, little hoop house. Updates to come!

We’ve recently received a supply of seeds from Heritage, so that’s something to look forward to once the ground thaws. In the meantime, we will take a break from Tufts, maybe stop at some winter farmers’ markets, and make meals with loved ones. Like this evening: the members of Tom Thumb all got together for a garden pot luck! We had lots of delicious food, and I was reminded that I have met so many kind people through getting involved. They are a group of hard-working and committed people, who are really quite generous and silly! I am honored to play in the dirt beside them.

Until then, happy holidays from Tom Thumb’s Garden!

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A list… of what?

-Nebraska Wedding
-Kolb
-Blondkupfchen
-Bumblebee
-Calypso
-Red Swan
-Sultan Green Crescent
-Detroit Dark Red
-Calabrese
-Tom Thumb
-Udumalapet
-Red Burgundy
-King of the North
WHAT DOES IT MEAN??
We bought seeds- that’s what it means. SeedSavers was having a 50% off sale… So we jumped at the opportunity to save money and buy for the future.
Arugula, beets, beans, peas, eggplants, basil, peppers and tomato seeds to arrive at my house this week!
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A Brand New Fence

Sunday morning was beautiful, crisp and sunny: perfect weather for fixing the fence.

The first part of the fence had been fixed earlier in the semester and stood up wonderfully against the wind, rain, and our first snow. Inspired by our success, we finished the fence on Sunday. First, we dug holes for poles and buried the base as solidly as we could, then we took our roll of slatted fencing and attached them to the poles, tying them with twine to enforce them.

Our garden now has a clear perimeter, making all the beds easily accessible by comfortably wide paths, which will make work in the spring much easier. The fence itself looks amazing! It now stands tall and will not fall over easily. We also decided that the garden only needs to have one gate, which is located by the shed.

We also opened up the hoop house to let in a little sunlight, and were amazed to find that the temperature inside the house was close to 100 degrees! The radishes looked great and some were definitely ready to be harvested.

The composting bins were fixed so that hopefully, we’ll no longer find any nasty small animal surprises in there. It is important to note that the lids need to be twisted before they can be removed from the bin, and if they are not coming off, they should not be yanked on because that will cause the middle layer of the bin to pop off the bottom part. We also checked on the winter rye, which has begun to sprout in one of the beds.

We talked about possibly working towards getting a real fence, because as wonderful as this new fence is, it is still temporary. One idea was to apply to TCU for a grant to fund the construction a permanent fence.

All in all, it was a fantastic day in the garden. We accomplished exactly what we set out to do, and we now have an amazing fence that makes our garden look more organized and lovely.

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