Big Spring Thing 2016

The 2016 incarnation of Big Spring Thing, the garden’s annual seasonal festival where volunteers and community members alike gather for local food, music, and container gardening, was a big wonderful success! This year we had four acts of live music and delicious snacks sourced from Charlottesville-area farmers as well as snap beans and sunflower seeds for attendees to plant and take home – enabling them to check “Plant in the U.Va. Community Garden” off their list of things to do before graduation. We loved kicking off Earth Week at U.Va. with the community on a perfectly sunny spring day! Check out photos below as well as a feature on the event by NBC 29.

A shot of our buffet featuring country white and multigrain sourdough from Little Hat Creek Farm, damson plum and apricot jam from Jam According to Daniel, local raw honey, lemon mint and raspberry hibiscus sage tea made by Katie with herbs from the garden, Caromont Farm Red Row cheese, vegan chili made by Molly, radishes from Whisper Hill Farm, dates, apples, dark chocolate, iced coffee from Mudhouse, homemade apple cider made by Jared, and banana chocolate chip bread made by Molly!
Nathan prettying the garden up by spreading woodchips with one arm like a boss. Photo credit: Jared Gingrich
Our first musical act, Maria DeHart and Samyukta Venkat


Paige enjoying some fresh-made cider. Photo credit: Jared Gingrich
Planting Provider bush snap beans and sunflower seeds in peat pots to take home
Our second act, Molly Murphy
Photo credit: Jared Gingrich
Photo credit: Jared Gingrich


Photo credit: Jared Gingrich


Checking out the garden’s new cold frame funded by the GIFT Grant program
Our third act, Taylor Ruckle
Kate and Molly enjoying a laugh. Photo credit: Jared Gingrich


Photo credit: Jared Gingrich
Giving a tour of the garden and marveling at the wonder that is asparagus. Photo credit: Jared Gingrich
Our final act, Noah Zeidman
Giving an interview for NBC 29 about the Big Spring Thing. Photo credit: Jared Gingrich
Photo credit: Jared Gingrich
Kevin enjoying his freshly potted seed. Photo credit: Jared Gingrich
Photo credit: Jared Gingrich
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All that remained of the spread! Photo credit: Katie Lang

Thanks to everyone who came out and everyone who helped organize to make the event a hit!

Love + The U.Va. Community Garden Leadership Team

Shots of a sunny spring workday & wisdom from Wendell

“A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the space define and limit the possibilities of each others’ lives.” –Wendell Berry

After reading this gobbet of wisdom from the great agrarian Wendell Berry on the website of one our neighboring Virginia growers, Origins Farm (check out their beautiful photography here), it felt wonderful to soak in the rays of the sun and let these words guide our gardening practice as a sort of meditation on our last spring workday. Workdays at the U.Va. Community Garden are typically a joyful blend of learning, interfacing with the soil, wondering at bugs, joking around, and meeting new people, but if we step back we can see that these activities of cultivating place help us cultivate friendship as well.

Planting cilantro, collards, and vates kale starts
Finishing off the last of the speckled Bibb lettuce seeds. The other half of this bed will be planted with Virginia peanuts, a first for this crop of of U.Va. Community Gardeners, later in the season!
The compost bench is looking awesome with a mix of leaves, winter cabbage plants that served their duty and will now be repurposed into new earth, and food scraps!
Tackling some wicked weeds on the east side of the garden
Our newly constructed cold frame housing our eggplant and tomato starts, previously living in the Morven Estate greenhouse, and a tray of lacinato kale that we started here
Working on some epic cereal rye cover – we’d turned it in several weeks ago but it came back strong!

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Asparagus season is truly the most heavenly time of the year in the garden! Its growth cycle is a miracle to witness – from monstrous wintery monstrous bush to delicate trees in miniature sprouting directly from the ground – and the taste of its shoots cannot be paralleled by anything you can buy!
Enjoying a springtime harvest of asparagus, chives, mint, and super sweet survivor spinach plus a few stray beets and turnips


In addition to Sunday workdays (3 to 5 every week), Tuesday workdays have started! Join us from 11 to noon for some midweek planting fun. See you in the garden!

Love + The U.Va. Community Garden Leadership Team

Photo journal of a productive Sunday workday

Though we missed last week’s Sunday workday due to snow in the forecast (that never did arrive), we made up for it by being twice as productive this week! We worked on projects big and small, planted some wonderful crops, and even got to play with a dog.

Nathan, Jared, and Molly finished constructing the cold frame! It will allow us to lengthen our season and start our seeds right here in the garden while increasing the visibility of our plot from the street. We planted a very late tray of dinosaur/lacinato/Tuscan/cavolo nero kale to test it out! Thanks to the Green Initiatives Funding Tomorrow grant program for making this project possible.
Background: Jared and Nathan hard at work constructing the cold frame. Foreground: The heavenly first stalks of asparagus of the season – so incredibly sweet munched straight from the ground!
Caroline the Seed Whisperer plants speckled Bibb lettuce in our new wheelchair-accessible bed.
Sugar Ann snap peas ready for planting! There’s something whimsical about plopping a giant pea, bean, or corn seed into the ground – they’re magnitudes larger than most of the seeds we plant.


Kevin and Grace prep beds for sorrel (Molly’s favorite herb) and snap peas.
In addition to kale, snap peas, lettuce, and sorrel, we also planted Cosmic Purple carrots and Purple Top Globe turnips!
Even Riley joined in on the fun.


Come join us at our next workday on Sunday, and mark your calendars for the annual Big Spring Thing – a seasonal festival with local food, live music!, and a container gardening workshop where you can leave with your very own potted plant – on Sunday, April 17th from 3 to 5 p.m.!

Love + The U.Va. Community Garden Leadership Team

Compost & chill

The tranquility of spring break, the heavenly crisp temperature Charlottesville saw this week, and the nourishing rains in the forecast made for the perfect moment for an impromptu Saturday workday in the garden. A winter’s worth of time for the earthworms and microorganisms to work their magic gave us an opportunity to check in on the garden’s numerous composting systems, new and old.

Much progress was made in our eight-bin rotational system, which Engineering Students Without Borders constructed in the garden a few seasons back. Three bins contain fully finished compost, and the others have made varying amounts of progress in their generation of black gold. Check out the process in the slideshow below.

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It’s important to maintain a balance of nitrogen-rich or “green” material, like food scraps, and carbon-rich or “brown”material, like leaves, pine needles, and woody twigs. The former offers the decomposers the bulk of their nutrients but breaks down slowly, while the latter aerates the pile and adds oxygen, speeding up the process. The ideal carbon-to-nitrogen ratio hovers around 30:1, but volumetrically that translates to one part green for every two to three parts brown. So every time you toss in a couple vegetable trimmings, grab a handful or two of leaves to balance it out.

Check out all those earthworms doin’ their thing!

Saturday started off with a solid turn of the compost in each of the eight rotational bins – there’s nothing like taking a shovel to the earth to get out some frustration and/or energy. We also started a brand new pile in our brand new compost bench! As we took out the winter’s cabbages to make room for spring planting, we chopped them up and tossed them into the seat compartment, interspersing them with dried leaves.

Finally, we made use of a generous donation of finished compost from Black Bear Composting, as we planted fava beans, white icicle radishes, and speckled Bibb lettuce! Black Bear and  U.Va. dining have a wonderfully reciprocal relationship – dining halls and cafe locations across the university send their food scraps to Black Bear, and Black Bear furnishes our student gardens with its superpowered soil amendment. Beans and radishes are perhaps the best crop for the impatient gardener, as these favas will germinate in about 7 days, and in only 29 days we’ll have whole radishes to munch on! This variety look like ghostly carrots, sending their satisfyingly zippy root deep into the earth. Come on out to our next workday, Sunday, March 20th at 3 p.m., to see what we’re planting next!

Credit for photo and planting power go to Liz Master.


Love + The U.Va. Community Garden Leadership Team

Celebrating wintertime activities on a lovely spring day

Spring has arrived in Charlottesville just as students have embarked on spring break. I write this from atop the hill at the park near my house in wonderfully crisp 75-degree evening air, with the sound of a basketball game and kiddies racing behind me. Take a look at what we’ve been up to over the colder months to prepare the garden for the rebirth of spring!

Compost bench

The wonderful Elise Watt (a future 2016 Charlottesville Sustainable Agriculture intern!) received a Green Initiatives Funding Tomorrow (GIFT) grant to construct a number of beautiful compost benches for the U.Va. Community Garden and school gardens in two Charlottesville elementary schools! These benches will serve double duty as an aesthetically pleasing sitting area with a fully functional composting compartment under the seat. The bench will enhance the visibility of the garden and help create a more inviting public space, and we’re so grateful for Elise’s hard work! Check out this article from U.Va. Sustainability to learn more about her project.




The freshly installed compost bench in the glory of what’s (hopefully) our last dusting of snow!


Seed purchasing

After a meeting of the minds among in the Leadership Team in which brainstormed what we wanted to plant (and eat) this season, we mapped out our spring crops and bought our seeds from our favorite gardening store, Fifth Season Gardening! We also stocked up on peat moss to amend our soil as well as trays to start our seeds in the greenhouse at Morven Estate – thanks to Emily and our friends at Morven Kitchen Garden for sharing your space with us.

A peek into the future…


First workday + cold frame construction

This past Sunday, we enjoyed another punch of spring weather and hosted our first workday of the spring semester! Molly led the Leadership Team in receiving a GIFT grant to purchase two cold frame beds, which will allow us to start our seeds in the garden in the future and extend our growing season on-site. She and (other future 2016 Charlottesville Sustainable Agriculture intern!) Grace led day one of construction of our cold beds, while other volunteers turned in clover and cereal rye, prepped the beds for spring planting, raked leaves and generally gave the garden its seasonal facelift, and filled the wheelchair-accessible bed Freedom by Design built for us with soil.

Rays of sun shining down on our amazing construction crew


Andy getting feisty with the stakes
Filling the wheelchair-accessible bed with soil – a wet, cold task despite the sunny February weather

It was wonderful to see faces new and old, and we’ll be hosting more Sunday workdays after classes recommence, each week from 3 to 5. Beginning in April, we’ll also host Tuesday workdays from 11 a.m. to 12 for a quick break from class (or a refreshing start to your day!). To stay up-to-date on our workday schedule, send an email to

See you in the garden!

Love + The U.Va. Community Garden Leadership Team

Announcing…Two opportunities! Cville Sustainable Agriculture Internship + Leadership Team

Hi gardeners and garden fans,

As the snow melts off the ground in today’s 60-degree weather, the U.Va. Community Garden Leadership Team is hard at work planning for the coming seasons!

The Leadership Team met this week to plan out our spring seed purchases and crop rotation!

We have two exciting opportunities to get people more involved in the growth of the garden. The first is our second year hosting the Charlottesville Sustainable Agriculture Internship in partnership with Bellair Farm, the U.Va. School of Architecture, and Morven Kitchen Garden, and the second is a call for undergraduate students to join our Leadership Team for the spring and beyond! Please see the descriptions and applications below, and email with any questions. We look forward to hearing from you!

Charlottesville Sustainable Agriculture Internship 2016
  • We’re excited to offer two paid summer internship positions that offer a unique opportunity to learn about sustainable farming and community gardening through active engagement. Interns will gain practical skills as well as a greater understanding of food systems by managing the U.Va. Community Garden; apprenticing at the beautiful Bellair Farm, a local farm growing 30 acres of organic vegetables; and participating in a scholarship component. The internship runs mid-May to mid-August with a competitive stipend of $2,000+ and an abundance of fresh veggies. See the attached application, email with questions, and send your response by 11:59 P.M. on Wednesday, February 17.
  • Application here —–> Cville Sustainable Agriculture Internship 2016
U.Va. Community Garden Leadership Team
  • Apply to join the U.Va. Community Garden’s team of leaders as an Underclass Representative! You’ll get to plan crop rotation, lead volunteer workdays, coordinate community-wide events, and hang out with a great bunch of veggie-lovin’ people. We’re looking for enthusiastic people to help grow the garden into the future. First and second years are strongly encouraged to apply, but third years will be considered as well! Please see the description attached and email your application to by 11:59 P.M. on Wednesday, February 17.
  • Application here —–> U.Va. Community Garden Leadership Application


Love + The U.Va. Community Garden Leadership Team


Black Bear Composting Field Trip!

This week, the U.Va. Community Gardeners took a tour of Black Bear Composting with our friends from Hereford Garden! Black Bear accepts food scraps and waste from universities, restaurants, food processors, and residents in Charlottesville, Harrisonburg, and Central Virginia, transforming it into nutrient-rich, biologically rich soil amendment for organic gardeners. The U.Va. Community Garden has had a relationship with Black Bear since the latter opened about five years ago – the University sends its back-of-house compost from the main dining halls and other dining locations to Black Bear, and Black Bear donates finished compost to the garden each spring. We had a fantastic visit with Eric, Black Bear’s founder, and learned about the inner workings of the facility and its microbial manpower!

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Love + The U.Va. Community Garden Leadership Team

Fall happenings in and out of the garden

Hey garden fans, see below for some photos of fun fall times! A few weeks ago we took a field trip to Chile’s Orchard to pick apples just as the trees started working their orange magic. Today after our workday we drank cider crafted by Jared from those very apples!

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Also this month, we partnered with Greens to Grounds for a workday! After selling our herbs to the student-run nonprofit that offers produce boxes based on the CSA model, we decided to get together in the garden and see what it takes to grow! We also received a return visit from the bearded silky chickens, Stella (the rooster), Wanda, and Angus.

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Want to join in on the fun? Come out to the garden’s annual fall festival! Carvin’ in the Garden happens next Sunday, the 25th from 3 to 5, and we’ll be offering pumpkins to carve, biscuits from J.M. Stock Provisions, local apples and other goodies, and lots of good times!! Anyone is welcome to come – students, faculty, staff, family – and if you’ve never been to the garden before, this is a fun day to make a visit. Check out the Facebook event, and we’ll see you in the garden!

Love + the U.Va. Community Garden Leadership Team

Freedom by Design in the U.Va. Community Garden

We’re excited to announce a huge project for this winter in partnership with Freedom By Design! Freedom by Design at U.Va. is a chapter of a national organization that brings architecture students and community groups together to create design-build projects that improve wheelchair accessibility, and we’re working with them to add a wheelchair ramp and an accessible bed in the garden.

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The group, out of the University of Virginia School of Architecture, is currently in the process of designing a number of components for the garden, including a ramp from the sidewalk to the garden, a patio, a wheelchair-accessible raised bed with built-in swivel bench, and some updates to the master plan of the 4 (2)photo 2 (4)photo 5 (2)

The U.Va. Community Garden, Freedom By Design, and the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity will work together in November to build out these beautiful designs as well as reconstruct our 2009-era wooden garden beds! Keep an eye out for build day announcements if you’d like to trade your green thumb for a hammer and nail and get involved!

Love + U.Va. Community Garden Leadership Team

Black eyed peas – and what to do with ’em!

On Wednesday, we rushed to harvest the beautiful zebra-striped black eyed peas before the rain recommenced. Planted as a cover crop by our summer interns, black eyed peas (also called cowpeas and southern peas) became a staple of the Southeast after being brought from Africa by slaves, according to Ira Wallace of the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange in her book Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast. Despite their name, black eyed peas are actually beans. Not only do black eyed peas reinvigorate the soil with nutrients by fixing nitrogen from the air, but when allowed to dry on the vine they can be plucked and stored for a year or more! In the South, black eyed peas are often eaten on New Year’s Day for good luck.

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So, what to do with them now? Some of us were a little worried about the preceding days’ rain and resulting humidity – Did the beans get too wet already? Is it simply too damp in the air to dry them now? The answer is, nope – beans are resilient and drying them is easy! Just shuck the beans from their pods, (compost the pods – feel free to bring them to the garden), and lay the beans out on a tray overnight. Once they’re dry to the touch they’ll be ready to store in an airtight container for months on end!

When you’re ready to eat your beans, plan ahead for best results. The day before you want to cook them, soak them in enough water to cover them for eight hours or overnight – right on the counter is fine. In book-nourishing-traditions-fronther book Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon of the Weston A. Price Foundation recommends soaking legumes such as black eyed peas in water plus two tablespoons of pastured whey. Drawing upon the ancient knowledge and practices of traditional societies across the globe, Fallon explains that soaking legumes in water and the acid found in whey neutralizes phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors so the nutrients in beans become readily digestible and easily assimilated.

Now, for cooking! Bring equal parts beans and water to a boil in a pot. After it begins to boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and let it go for 40 to 60 minutes, or until the beans are tender – just test it by picking out a few with a spoon and tasting (after letting them cool off for a moment!).

Want to jazz up your basic black eyed peas? Check out this recipe for Black Eyed Pea Cakes with Collard Greens and Sweet Potatoes by Nourished Kitchen, or this recipe for Black Eyed Peas and Kale Soup by Nutrition Stripped – and take advantage of the lovely dinosaur kale trees in the garden!

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Aloha from the U.Va. Community Garden, brought to you by dinosaur kale.










Love + The U.Va. Community Garden Leadership Team