Tag: gardening

Spring is finally here

Greetings garden lovers! It’s been a while since this blog has been used, but I’m still going to try to get it back up and running. My name is Nick, and I’m the current president of Tom Thumb’s Student Garden at Tufts University. We are a student-run gardening collective that produces sustainably grown food for three seasons of the year. We place importance on garden education and frequently hold discussions about various topics in botany and pollinator ecology during our Wednesday evening meetings. We provide a place where students can get away from the rush of school and relax for a short while, regain their thoughts, get their hands in the dirt, and harvest some delicious produce. If you want to visit, we’re located just across from South Hall.

I’m sure you’re anxious to find out how the garden fared over Boston’s record-breaking winter, so here’s brief update: Luckily, our garden did not take a terrible beating. A few of the beds collapsed from beneath (more on that later), but both our greenhouse and shed continue to stand tall. Although some of the sage suffered broken branches and only 1/5 of the garlic we started in October successfully sprouted, our onions, self-seeded arugula, and bulbs (e.g., grape hyacinth, globular alliums, tulips) were quick to emerge once the snow pack melted.

We’ve also started a bunch of different fruits and vegetables up in the greenhouse. This year we went for more weirdos (e.g., cool heirloom tomatoes, Japanese eggplants etc. list to follow) than sheer productivity, so I’m curious to see how much food we actually get. We’ve been keeping track of our seedling’s progress in our trusty blue book, so I’ll transfer that over to this log shortly.

Today was our first official work day of the year. We had 5 pairs of hands weeding the beds, raking leaves, and praising the glorious spring sun. Overall it was a successful afternoon, and we even planted a variegated honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) to grow around the arbor (I was planning on getting a trumpet vine, but I was unsure if the arbor could withstand its weight after a few years of thick growth). This honeysuckle, although not native, is a non-invasive favorite of bees; still, we should keep a close eye on it next year to make sure it doesn’t step its boundaries.

Next week is the garden club’s day of service with Tufts GreECO reps. We’ll be building two new beds for the garden and removing a few smaller ones that have gone into disrepair. In addition, we’ll be crafting seed bombs and planting a pollinator garden. It should be a fun day of gardening and bonding (even if it’s supposed to be a little rainy).

All for now, but stay tuned. I’ll be posting garden musings, photos, tips, guest blog posts, and pretty much any other seeds that cross my mind throughout our growing season.


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!

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.