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.
Thanks to everyone who came out and everyone who helped organize to make the event a hit!
“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.
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!
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.
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.!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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!
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 email@example.com with any questions. We look forward to hearing from you!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org with questions, and send your response by 11:59 P.M. on Wednesday, February 17.
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 email@example.com by 11:59 P.M. on Wednesday, February 17.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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 garden.
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!
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.
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 her 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!).