Spring: Youth, Experience and Joy

Spring has been slow to come to Hull. In the last two weeks the high temperature has been below average 12 out of 14 days. But the sun continues its march higher in the sky and the cold frames have been stored in the basement.  As you can see from the photographs above and below the food is coming in despite the cold.

Last month I wrote about arugula and told my story about this amazing green. I also proudly celebrated the meager food that came from the garden and the value of cold frames. A month ago it took about an hour to pick a salad. Now in five minutes I can go out to the garden and get greens for three days. 

At the end of last month’s post I wrote, “I hope you can get out in the beautiful spring air and not just feel the warmth of the sun but the feel of dirt on your hands and the sense that the work that you do now will feed you later.  May that food be literal food from your garden or figurative food for your souls, and may the work you do now be honored in the months to come.” I love sitting on the ground slowly thinning and picking. Maybe that love comes from the almost fifty years of tending a garden. I know from practice and experience that the tending and the labor of the present will bring me food later. Perhaps that is why I love sitting on the ground for hours gathering little tastes. Or perhaps it is because I was taught by both of my grandfathers who shared their gardens with me? Or perhaps it is because I was taught by my parents, who usually kept a garden?

In the garden I have seen year after year that the work of the moment gives my future life joy. That is experience. But what were the preconditions that allowed me to have that experience? Certainly among them were the privileges of land and stability. Carrot Day is a way of encouraging the experience of learning that work/time/labor/focus now produces something that can be celebrated later. That is why this simple act of planting, tending and waiting for the frost can be more than fun; it can be a lesson in why effort is important, but fun is enough.

This year has been a hard year for schools. I have been thinking a lot about why this is so. It seems to me that one reason for the challenge of the year is that it is even harder now than before the Pandemic for students to believe that effort in the present will be worth it and that a reward will come later. That struggle, “the-discomfort-in-the-now-for-gain-later,” has always been a challenge in schools. Schools acculturate. In a school the knowledge and wisdom of the past is handed from one generation to the next. The problem is that the world changes and the wisdom and knowledge of the past may not be what the children think they need and sometimes the children are right but sometimes the children are simply children.

This dilemma is not new and at least since culture was codified by the written word the old have been complaining about the young and the young have been complaining about the old. In schools the adults want to be able to explain and tell the students to “work now and it will pay off later and it will be worth it even if it is hard now.”  But for many of us being told something and instructed on “our attitude” and how “to be” does not work. Being told to do something only works for some so now more than ever we need to figure out how the “group project” that is “a classroom” and “a school” can create space for the young to see that there is value in what the old know.

How do we set up situations where students can experience the joy that can come later from labor now? I got an answer to this question in the monthly Zoom Meeting of the the Middle School Network in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In a small group conversation I said that it seemed harder than ever to convince young people that putting in effort now will lead to personal benefit later and I wanted to know how others were handling that situation. Bo Lembo, the Director of the Gately Youth Center, in Cambridge, gave me an answer that rang true. Bo has worked with youth for over two decades and through his years of experience he has learned how to create space where students learn how to be a cohesive group and work now for gain later. He divides the year into four sections and he starts with joy, moves to gratitude, then to setting goals, and ends with celebration.

That feels right if we start with joy and end with celebration we might create a set of experiences for all of us that demonstrate that effort now brings reward later. I think Carrot Day follows that pattern, plant, thin, tend and then harvest.

Two weeks ago I sent out over 60 packages of carrot seeds. I still have over half of the carrot seeds left. Please order your free seeds here and remember to start with joy and end with a celebration and a love of hard work may come in the middle.

Harvest from the Hull Garden May 8th

Thinning, Spring, and Carrot Seeds

Spring is here in Hull and I have been opening up the cold frames to pick greens. Katy and I have had a few salads of lettuce, spinach, and turnip greens that were planted in October, arugula thinnings planted in November and radish, beet and lettuce thinnings planted in late February or early March. Those salads are delicious and precious as they take almost an hour to pick and contain 100’s of individual plants.

The most common of those plants in the salad are tiny arugula plants. The arugula in the garden just comes. 

Arugula has special meaning for me. A neighborhood boy calls me Arugula Ted. Several times a year I host an open water swim called the Arugula Swim and Potluck.  In May and June I harvest trash bags full of arugula and work hard to give it away. 

This arugula, which I love, is the wild pointy tipped type that has deep tap roots and often overwinters here in Hull. These plants came to me almost by chance as I bought one packet of seeds over 20 years ago from Johnny’s Seeds. I didn’t think much about them or even really think about what I was planting. Every year since it has come back. What made that planting 20 plus years ago magical and surprising were that the plants were identical or nearly identical to the “ruchetta” my parents brought back from Rome in the summer of 1965. 

We returned that summer of 1965 early from Rome because my mother had breast cancer and my brother and I were sent to live with family in Memphis Tennessee. My father and mother and younger sister went home to live in Woodbridge Connecticut where my father took care of my younger sister and my mother recovered. Later I asked my mom if she was worried that summer about dying from the cancer, and she calmly said no. She had three children under five and she felt there was no way she would not be there for us. I find it so interesting that in the summer of 1965 those seeds traveled with them and then persisted for the next thirty plus years in their yards. But that is arugula or as it is named in the Roman dialect “ruchetta,” it just comes.

Even though I know the arugula will come, I push it a bit by throwing seed stalks on the ground in November and put a cold frame on top. This will make a solid rectangle of green in April and May but to get to that there is a lot of thinning that needs to happen. As simple as this technique is it may be the only invention I have made in the garden, certainly I did not learn it directly from anyone else or from reading any book or article, and so I take great pride in this arugula planting.

Arugula under its cold frame, notice the the largest plants have the most space. The lower left hand corner of the photograph shows the reflection of the house at 41 Western Ave.

I hope you can get out in the beautiful spring air and not just feel the warmth of the sun but the feel of dirt on your hands and the sense that the work that you do now will feed you later.  May that food be literal food from your garden or figurative food for you souls, and may the work you do now be honored in the months to come. 

Thinning and weeding are joys for me and I hope you join Carrot Day and the joy of the garden.

Don’t forget to order your free carrot seeds.  There are still plenty left and I will be sending them your way soon.

Please use this form to order your FREE Carrot Seeds. I can’t wait to send them to you.

Carrot Seeds and Small Buckets

Well, two pounds of carrot seeds sit in our kitchen. According to the Virtual Carrot Museum there are about 288,000 seeds in a pound of carrot seeds. They also tell me that Carrot Seeds will last seven years when stored in a dry place and I have about another half pound of seeds from previous years. So it is safe to say that I can not manage 700,000+ carrot seeds all on my own. I need you.

Please use this form to order your FREE Carrot Seeds. I can’t wait to send them to you.

Nantasket Beach with seaweed

Well this weekend I finally collected seaweed for my garden. On Saturday I gathered seven big black trash bags “of the plenty” form the ocean and piled it onto the garden. In Hull on Saturday it was very warm and the beach was crowded with folk and I got into several conversations about seaweed and gardens. One conversation was with a woman who told me a story of how her grandfather had had a farm in County Kerry on the West Coast of Ireland.  She told me how every year he would take a donkey and cart to the shore to gather seaweed for his farm. At 85 he broke a hip and the doctor told him he had the bones of a 60 year old. I suspect those strong bones and his health came from his farm and that the health giving qualities of the farm came from his land and the land’s health came from the seaweed laid down on the land year after year. 

On Sunday I was back for 13 more bags and the weather turned cold and it was snowing.

In the cold and snow of Sunday I found nearly perfect seaweed. The seaweed was broken up and free of rocks and trash. It had been washed ashore in the Nor’easter at the end of January. It was trapped by some rocks and had been pulverized by two weeks of exposure since then. And while I was late to spread the mulch on the garden it will be okay as this seaweed was amazing.

I loved my Sunday in the snow on the beach as I gathered those 13 bags and thought of the seaweed lesson I taught year after year to the students in the Garden Project. The idea of the lesson is to always put more into the soil than you took out and to use that act as a metaphor for living a life, having friends or a happy classroom.  The principle of always trying to give more than you take is a guide to community and a good life. When the students (Kindergarten, First and Second Graders) and adult volunteers and I would gather seaweed for the school garden from the beach I would tell them that this was the day to make me “suffer.” I told the students that all year I made them work and do things they did not want to do.  I had been asking them to do things like practice their handwriting or sit still and listen to each other, and now was the day to make me carry the heavy trash cans of seaweed to the two pickup trucks and it was time for them to make me “suffer.” The many hands would gather more seaweed than the adults could carry and the beds of the truck would fill before the children tired. I thought of that experience on Sunday in the snow as I again toiled with seaweed flung over my back. In our class we frequently talked about “little buckets.” It is a basic and old concept, “the longest walk begins with a single step,” “many stones build an arch,” “Rome was not built in a day.”  Despite the students being small and only able to carry “little buckets” they could do and did big work.

We have big work to do. What are we going to do to slow climate change? Yes, politics is very important and there are systems at play that structure our lives that make each of us hurt our earth and make us less friendly to our future than we should be. But we can’t just wait for enlightenment and change from others; we need to carry our “little buckets.” This past weekend I finally carried mine and I feel better for having done it. The approximately 800 pounds of seaweed will I hope produce 200 pounds of vegetables from the Hull garden next year and it will help the soil. I hope that home grown food will strengthen my bones just like the farmer from County Kerry had his bones strengthened by his farm. I just hope I never break my hip.

Hope you order the free carrot seeds. I cant wait to send them to you.

Hull Garden with 21 lumps of seaweed ready to be spread

MLK Day, the Gift Economy and Seaweed


It is MLK Day and I took the morning to read a book my sister Lizzy gave me for Christmas, Braiding Sweetgrass: Idigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teaching of Plants, by Robin Wall Kimmerer.

That is what I want, Wisdom, Knowledge and Teaching. I got all three this week from Dr. Martin Luther King and Kimmerer, wisdom, knowledge and teaching. I learn directly from Kimmerer by reading her words. This week I learned from King indirectly through the sixth graders at the Community Charter School of Cambridge. The students made a “quilt” of his quotes. The paper quilt was their drawing of King’s words and how those words fit with their familys’ and their own wisdom, knowledge, and teaching. The paper quilt is a gift to me as a teacher and King’s words are gifts to us all.

Kimmerer is teaching me about the ways a “gift economy” works and the lessons of plants. So far I have only read about sweetgrass, pecan trees and wild strawberries. From reading Kimmerer I realized that Carrot Day is part of the “gift economy.” Here is what Kimmerer says about a “gift economy”

“Sweetgrass belongs to Mother Earth. Sweetgrass pickers collect properly and respectfully, for their own use and the needs of their community. They return a gift to the earth and tend to the well-being of the wiinggashk. The braids are given as gifts, to honor, to say thank you, to heal and to strengthen. The sweetgrass is kept in motion. When Wally gives the sweetgrass to the fire, it is a gift that has passed from hand to hand, growing richer as it is honored in every exchange.

That is the fundamental nature of gifts: they move, and their value increases with their passage. …. The more something is shared, the greater its value becomes.”

In the Hull Garden

One of my favorite lessons as a garden teacher was and is that the soil gives us the gift of the harvest and we in return need to give the soil gifts. I believe and have taught that lesson for more than twenty years.  I believe that the goal of the gardener is not harvesting vegetables but building soil. I looked at the garden today and saw many things I liked, but I also saw where I had not given back to the soil and had not followed my own teachings.

Pictured above: Left to right spinach under a cold frame, lettuce and mustard under a cold frame, kale unprotected, and collards with their protective buckets for cold spells.

Back in December after the neighborhood kids and I had harvested the carrots and celebrated Carrot Day I did nothing to give back to the soil. To be good to the soil a gardener needs to be continuously adding and giving back and it is selfish and unwise to leave the earth bare in any season, including winter. The central focus of regenerative gardening is to protect the soil from washing away and to create conditions where the soil can develop a healthy and carbon capturing ecosystem. In this case of the carrot bed I have not done that and the degrading of the soil is clear to me in the photo below.

Bare ground where carrots had grown in 2021

Only once since the carrots were harvested have I tried to collect seaweed. None was there the day that I went. But there have been many days when I did not go and there were a huge gifts from the sea that I did not take. 

October 30th in Hull and the gift of seaweed not taken

My goal this week is to keep checking and when there is seaweed to lay it on top of the garden.

I hope you can read King today and I hope you can read Braiding Sweetgrass someday. King and Kimmerer’s words are gifts that are there to be accepted. May we all embrace the “gift economy” and the notion that, the more gifts are shared, the more value and love there is in the world.

The seeds have been shipped to me from Fedco but they have not yet arrived here but I can’t wait to send them to all of you when they do come! And I promise to give back to the soil and I hope you do so too, no matter if “your soil” is in your garden or in “your community.”

Carrot DAYS 2021

I first started celebrating Carrot Day with the Kindergarten, First and Second Grade students in the Garden Project at the South Shore Charter School in about 1998. In 1998 it was a small thing and I did not yet know about the flavor of frost kissed carrots. Carrot Day in its essence is all about a small thing. You plant carrot seeds in the spring and you tend them all summer and come fall and frost you harvest them. It takes land, time, patience, diligence (thinning carrots is no picnic) and then the reward comes, a really great frost kissed carrot.

It is simple.

That simplicity is Carrot Days’ beauty. I have been doing it with students and friends long enough that I have seen how “simple” can matter as folks start gardening and growing their own and the taste of a really good carrots is the catalyst.

The thrill of pulling a carrot out of the ground and wondering “is it going to be big” or “is it going to be tiny” matters.

This year there was a new wrinkle as I celebrated Carrot Day with high school students. I had never gardened with high school student before. The X-Block Gardeners from the Community Charter School of Cambridge (CCSC), most of them seniors, showed me that joy in school is not reserved for the youngest students. Carrot Day at CCSC was as joyous and loving as the Carrot Days I remember celebrating with elementary school students at South Shore. You can see it in their masked faces and I could hear it in their voices. To pull food from the ground and to be in touch with the cycle of sowing and reaping matters no matter the age.

At CCSC on June 18th I planted carrots with a fifth grade student soon to be a new CCSC sixth grader in the fall. 168 days later on December 3rd she and the high school X-Block Gardeners picked and cleaned the carrots. We picked and washed about 200, later that afternoon we ate them and by the end of that day they were all gone. It really is a wonderful feeling to have eighth grade students come up to you and ask, “Do you have anymore carrots?” The next day an eighth grade boy, who often asks me if I have any candy, came up to me and asked if I had any carrots. I had to tell him no they were all gone.

Here are some of the words of the CCSC X-Block Gardeners:

I enjoyed going to the garden and digging up the carrots.  My favorite part was finding very large carrots.  One highlight was seeing the reactions on my friends’ faces when they picked big carrots. — Last Friday gave me a chance to spend quality time with my current X block buddies.  It is senior year and I was able to take a break from my studious learning to pick carrots together with Mr. Hirsch and my X-Block Buddies.  Who else is doing it like us! Period!!!! — The carrots were nice.  After eating the carrots it was nice to clean up with everybody else in X-Block.

Not bad to have a high school student celebrating cleaning up and to make it even better they finished the cleaning after I left to go teach another class!

One of the concepts of Carrot Day is anyone can do it at any school or any garden. One person who really embraced Carrot Day this year was Christine Godfrey, the librarian at the South Elementary School in Plymouth. Here is what Christine wrote about their Carrot Day at South Elementary School:

The children were thrilled to pull the carrots. I stood outside and a fellow teacher brought out class after class of second graders to me to pull the carrots. Five classes in all. They had planted these carrots as first graders, and of course everyone thought they recognized “their” carrot, lol!  In all we pulled 72 HUGE carrots. I mean, I’ve grown carrots at home before and had success, but these were like nothing I’ve ever seen! 
Then the day came to actually TASTE the carrots and they were beside themselves.  Out of about 125 children only about 3 opted out of tasting. And almost all of them LOVED the carrots! Many, many had second helpings. 

Carrot Day is also a family event and some of you sent me pictures of your carrots and two of you sent me pictures of your children and their carrots.

But Carrot Day is not only about big carrots and plentiful harvests it is also about trying. Our neighbors wrote this: “I think the soil wasn’t too good this year, since it was cultivated first time. But the carrots taste good. We like them. Also I will make a side dish from carrot greens for tomorrow. We are so grateful to be able to put food on the table from our own garden.
Thank you for the seeds and thank you for the gardening advice. Hopefully I will do better next year. We will get more seaweed this weekend.”

There are two more Carrot Day Celebrations I want to honor.

On Sunday December 5th we had Carrot Day at 41 Western Ave in Hull with the neighborhood kids and their grownups. There were seven children and seven grownups. It was simple. We pulled carrots, we ate carrots, and the children played and the adults talked. An hour later and the children were still playing and still eating their really big carrots.

I need to end this blog with deep thanks to June Fontaine who continues to celebrate Carrot Day at South Shore Charter, the birth place of Carrot Day. Below is a an excerpt of what she wrote about South Shore’s Carrot Day:

Last spring the garden became a special place to gather during the pandemic. The crops grown were cucumbers, pumpkins and carrots. All three crops did well.  …. We waited until the first frost to harvest the carrots, Excitement was in the air among all the children on Carrot Day.  Cries of “We have another baby carrot!’ could be heard as frequently as exclamations about bigger carrots.  We decorated paper bags to send the surplus carrots to a local food pantry with a group of our middle school students, just in time for Thanksgiving!  Several of those students had been in the Garden Project when they were in first and second grade, so they were happy to be connected with that once again. We were so glad the carrots would be enjoyed by the wider community. A special thanks to Derik for keeping the garden up and running during the pandemic, and to the families who helped out with watering and weeding during the summer break. We’re looking forward to carrot day, 2022 already!

Be well and join us for Carrot Day in 2022, I am ordering seeds soon and would love to send you seeds come spring.

Fedco Seed Catalog and Waiting

November 17th

Thanksgiving is about a week away and we here in Hull have not yet had a solid frost. The ten-day forecast does not predict a frost before Thanksgiving.

Sad.

That is difficult news for me and other lovers of frost-kissed carrots. Over the past twenty or so Thanksgiving I have eaten really good homegrown carrots, not this year as I wait for the gift of frost on carrot flavor. It also is bad news as it is yet again another sign of the warming climate and the need for changes in how we eat and how we live.

Left to right middle step: radishes, turnips, rainbow radishes, carrots, cherry tomatoes, radishes, butter lettuce, collards top step: sorrel and chard, bottom step: carrot tops.

With the new pattern of seasons, the garden is different and the picture above is of the big harvest I had last weekend — a harvest I am glad of even though it has ominous undercurrents of future disasters.

I do have three cold frames going to extend the tender plants’ harvest and for seeds to grow for winter and early spring harvests.

Thinking of spring gets me to thinking about seeds and what should come in the mail today but my Fedco Seed Catalog. (You can use the link on “Fedco Seed Catalog” to request your own.) I love the catalog as it is its own bigger version of this blog. They on a much grander scale are doing climate work with sentences such as, “May you and your gardens thrive in the year to come, growing in beauty, durability and resilience!”

Nice to know we are in this work together with others and Carrot Day is a small piece of a movement to get more folks to grow their own food and to share the gift of land with others. Each small piece of work we do for our soil and our climate is a step. And we have to take the steps that we can.

I leave you with this gallery of pictures from our Hull garden and please let me know how your carrots are.

Please send pictures of your celebrations!

Butternut Squash and Cold

Back in Late August I wrote:

Right now my big interplanting excitement is a single butternut squash plant. Sometime in late June, I put in some seeds on the edge of the garden right at the corner where the flowers, mint, and vegetables coexist.  I did not see the butternut squash for weeks.  But a single seed germinated and lived and one day while picking cucumbers I saw the plant.  …. Well, the cucumbers are now gone and the squash is taking over the cucumber’s space and the space of the tansy and mint.  The butternut squash has grown to twenty feet in one direction and ten in the other.  It is growing amongst and over the tansy, asters, zinnias, black-eyed Susans, and mint. It seems to grow almost a foot a day.  But not all is well with that butternut squash plant as the first leaves are starting to die off and I fear that disease may be moving fast as well.  Will the plant produce 10 – 12 beautiful butternuts or two of three that exist now and will mature even if the plant dies?  I don’t know but I am very curious to find out. I am not that hopeful about the butternuts but also not that worried as I am not dependent on those squash for survival.

My Butternut Squash, August 28 — In the picture are also mint, zinnias, black-eyed susans, sunflowers, pole beans, and tomatoes.

Well in was a battle between the butternut squash and the disease and the squash won!

My Butternut Squash, October 19th — The tomatoes are mostly over for the season. the sunflowers are brown, and only some of the zinnias survive but the mint, sorrel, and the butternut squash continue to thrive.

At the end of August I was unsure about the butternut squash’s chances and while other squash in the neighborhood in other gardens have now died off this butternut squash has thrived. It is now 75 feet in length and with six big beautiful butternuts and one or two small ones that I am fairly certain have been pollinated and are on their way. Most of these squash were pollinated by insects but as I tired of seeing promising squash embryos turn yellow and fall off undeveloped, I started to hand pollinate the flowers.

To hand pollinate a squash you take the male flower and brush its stamen on the female flower’s pistil. I did this to about eight female flowers and got two or three new squash.

The male flower with the single stamen in the photo on the left, the female flower with the three part pistil inside and the squash embryo below it in the middle photo, and the same female flower from the side with a clear profile of the squash embryo in the bigger photo on the right.

From left to right: just pollinated, maturing, almost ripe butternut squashes.

Well it is not just me who watches the butternut squash plant and the butternut squashes in my garden. My friend Catherine tells me she checks it out when she walks by to see how it is doing and my neighbor’s children, aged 5 and 7, are keeping track too. They will come over at the end of the day to talk to me about the squash and to look and see how many squash they can find. The kids may also ask for some chard, or a beet. They know vegetables are special and worthy to be gifts. They know better than to ask for a carrot. They know about Carrot Day and the value of waiting for the frost and talk about Carrot Day as if it was a prominent holiday.

When Carrot Day happens is dependent on the weather. But I expect it will be before Thanksgiving and I hope you do celebrated Carrot Day.

Please send me pictures of your carrots, your children and your celebrations when the big day does come.

May we all do our part to get our selves, our friends and neighbors, and their children to celebrate the garden, growing vegetables and doing our part to grow our own. Let’s combat global warming by sequestering carbon in our soil. That is if we are fortunate enough to have soil. If you do have a yard please think of those who do not have any land and sequester carbon not only for yourself but for your friends without soil.

News from California

September 10, 2021

This time of year, the tomatoes are usually laden down on the vines, begging to be picked and turned into tomato sauce, sundried tomatoes, gazpacho, or just sliced and eaten with a pinch of salt. Late summer turning into fall, the garden is exploding, while winter crops and green-topped carrots grow patiently above and below the soil surface, promising continued nourishment in the dark and quiet months to come. However, on some small farms in California, there are no tomatoes to be picked, no vegetable bounty to carry to local farmer’s markets. The state of the drought is so severe that irrigation ponds did not fill up, or the local jurisdictions cut off water access to some farm properties. This is the case for Green Valley Farm in Sebastopol, CA, tucked into a valley among redwoods and nearby rivers and creeks, all of which have run dry. Here I am, leading a course about climate change and regenerative agriculture, bearing witness with the host farmers and eight participants to the very impacts we are seeking to better understand, adapt to, and mitigate.

We have been gathered here at the farm for 10+ days, working on the land in the morning in a variety of capacities (tending perennial beds, moving animals, milking cows, making cheese, harvesting herbs, lining new pond projects with clay to hold water that will hopefully come in the winter), and learning about climate change intersections with farming in the afternoons. It’s part of a new experiment in land-based climate change education, bringing people together onto a piece of farmland to connect the dots between farmers and non-farmers working to address the challenges of climate change. With veggies from nearby farms, meat, eggs and dairy products from Green Valley, and homemade sourdough bread in plentiful supply its not like we’re suffering here too much, but the realities and challenges of this drought year and fire season are ever-present on people’s minds, a backdrop to the pastoral and idyllic setting with bone dry grasses begging for rain.

“Climate change is a self-created problem turned opportunity that we must now embrace,” said one of our Climate Farm School speakers from a local Resource Conservation District, hosting a workshop on soil carbon. What does this mean for your garden? Intercrop, grow a diversity of things, incorporate perennials, incorporate animals even if they are worms or other insects demonstrating that there is life in the soil, and above all keep your soil covered! Put down a layer of straw or seaweed, or plant a cover crop of rye, fava beans, vetch, and oats over the winter. Put some garlic in the ground and straw mulch around it, so you might have some delicious garlic scapes and bulbs to harvest next summer.

What thrives in drought conditions? What survives? There are still grapes on the vines waiting to be harvested, apples and pears on the trees, though maybe a few less than a good year. Perennials can do ok, limiting their energy towards fruiting and leaf production and instead focusing inward, drawing strength from their deep root systems and stores of nutrients several feet below the soil surface. My Indian colleagues tell me to plant millets in California, because they are such a drought resilient and nutritionally dense form of sustenance. But we don’t have many millets in the farms around me in Sonoma County, or elsewhere in California for that matter; we have almond trees and alfalfa fields, and tomatoes and lettuce and other crops no longer suited for the changing climatic conditions and extremes, and water limitations we are facing across the state. How do we get back on course, back in planting rhythms that are more in harmony and taking cues from our regional climate and native ecology? What aspects of native plant science are still relevant, and do we need to look to native plant regimes further south for guidance on what should happen in a climate-changed future California? I would like to plant millets in my garden next spring, and maybe some amaranth and drought-resilient plant varieties saved from seeds of what did ok this year, under such challenging conditions.  

As the time draws closer to Carrot Day 2021, that day of the first frost when patient gardeners will pull frost-kissed carrots out of the ground and eat them in celebration of the soil’s fertility, I am especially grateful for the gift of carrots. I don’t take them for granted, because they might not be able to be planted every year, everywhere. The Green Valley farmers might not have their own farm carrots this year, but there are other farms nearby with better water resources who might be willing to share. There is community, and generosity of spirit, and so much strength in human relationship, and I suspect those relationships also increase in strength when there is soil involved. When people come together to plant, weed, harvest, and eat together, something amazing happens: we collectively experience the power and magic of our connection to the Earth, how good it feels to have our hands in the soil, and so much generosity and mutual support springs from that collective energy. That’s at least how it’s felt having the participants of the first Climate Farm School course here at Green Valley, digging and cooking and eating together, and forming a very strong sense of community and empowerment towards collective action on climate solutions.

This fall, as we prepare to focus inwards and slow down our activities in line with winter’s shorter days and colder temperatures, consider keeping a small book shelf alive with further readings on climate change and food systems, talk to your friends, family and local farmers about what it means to farm and eat “regeneratively,” and make a personal commitment to growing and sourcing food in a way that mitigates climate change by sequestering more carbon in our most vital natural resource: the soil. I’ll be heading back East to Rhode Island in another month or so, to check on my family’s garden plot in Tiverton and hopefully pull up some carrots and put in some garlic. I’ll leave a nice layer of seaweed on the ground and some cover crop seeds buried underneath. And I’ll look to start up some conversations about the Climate Farm School courses that could happen on the East Coast next year.

Enjoy those carrots pulled from the ground in another 6 to 8 weeks!   

Laney Siegner, Ph.D., Director of Academic Programs and Climate Farm School course creator at Terra.do

September

Well, it is already September, somehow the August Post never got written but the carrots did not care.  They grew and grew.

On August 28th I began the transition to the fall garden.  I picked the last of the cucumbers and put in beets, radishes, lettuce, spinach, and turnips seeds. The big news, for this post, of that day’s gardening is that I did some selective thinning of the carrots.  That selective thinning’s main goal was the future — bigger and better carrots on Carrot Day, but I did get some nice carrots to use right then.

Over the past three or four years, I have been developing my knowledge of interplanting. It began for me as a way to get more out of each inch of the garden. As different vegetables mature at different rates the bed can be maximized for production.  For example, by the time the kale is mature and in need of a great deal of space the radishes and lettuce have had their time and are no longer competing for light, water, and nutrients.  

Right now my big interplanting excitement is a single butternut squash plant. Sometime in late June, I put in some seeds on the edge of the garden right at the corner where the flowers, mint, and vegetables coexist.  

I did not see the butternut squash for weeks.  But a single seed germinated and lived and one day while picking cucumbers I saw the plant.  My friend Katherine was there when I first discovered the larger squash leaves among the smaller cucumber leaves.  We celebrated the discovery together. We laughed and found glory in that sole squash plant and what it might bring come fall. That sense of sharing and hoping is what Carrot Day is all about. Developing a sense of community and encouraging each other.

Well, the cucumbers are now gone and the squash is taking over the cucumber’s space and the space of the tansy and mint.  The butternut squash has grown to twenty feet in one direction and ten in the other.  It is growing amongst and over the tansy, asters, zinnias, black-eyed Susans, and mint. It seems to grow almost a foot a day.  But not all is well with that butternut squash plant as the first leaves are starting to die off and I fear that disease may be moving fast as well. 

Will the plant produce 10 – 12 beautiful butternuts or two of three that exist now and will mature even if the plant dies?  I don’t know but I am very curious to find out. I am not that hopeful about the butternuts but also not that worried as I am not dependent on those squash for survival.

In another part of the garden, I am training my Sungold and Black Cherry tomato plants to climb up to our porch.  Tropical Storm Ida had other ideas and set the tomatoes back some but I am hopeful about reaching over our porch rail and eating a tomato.  Fingers crossed.

Our next post will be written by Laney Siegner, a teacher of farming and carbon sequestration, and she tells me that interplanting is supported by science as a way to maximize the health of the garden and farm and to improve soil, and to sequester more carbon in that soil.

I got started interplanting because I am a competitive gardener. I want the garden to produce more food this year than last year.  Things don’t always work out.  Sometimes it is too wet, sometimes too dry, or too cold or too hot, sometimes there is disease and insect damage.  The only thing we as gardeners can really work and succeed with is our soil.  When our soils improve, more carbon is sequestered, and not only will we be doing our part to lessen climate change, eventually the conditions will be right for more food to share from our own labors.

It feels good to try to get the most out of the land and feed friends and family. Here is to a celebration of surplus shared! That is what Carrot Day is about — celebrating the taste of a really good carrot with friends. Let’s try to spread that joy to all of our vegetables one garden and one child at a time.

Thinning Carrots

It has been over six weeks since my last post and in that time I have become a grandfather. Our daughter Cleo and her husband Josh had a baby on June 24th.  What a blessing. Well here in Massachusetts it has been plenty wet enough for good carrot germination and growth.  And like all things you can have too much of a good thing and June was one of the wettest on record.

That meant that there were also a lot of weeds to pull and carrots to thin.

This year I again interplanted carrots and radishes but I used alternating rows. In the past I had broadly cast the seeds for a solid bed of carrots. I found that when I had good germination I did not give each carrot enough space as I did not thin aggressively enough.   I am trying rows this year because I wanted bigger carrots and by using rows I could more easily assure each plant enough space.

Well, using rows has certainly great for the radishes. I have been falling in love with radishes more every year and they have been really, really good this year.  I slice them on a mini mandoline and then make an instant pickle with apple cider vinegar, sherry vinegar, salt and water.  They make any salad or sandwich better…

I have been reading carrot experts who talk about progressive thinning.  Progressive thinning means you thin and then later you thin and harvest.  This method optimizes yield and minimize the need for patience.  It is still a long, long way from the frost and eating the thinnings in August will makes waiting for frost easier for me. The carrots in the pictures below were planed last fall at the CCSC school garden and grew under a cold frame all winter. On the left are some of the thinnings; they are not frost kissed but they are very good.

Rabbits have been doing very well the past few years in Hull but my garden has been protected by our cat Pepper.  Pepper was a hunter and brought us rabbit corpses to our back door mat regularly.  Carrot Day Post are not typically conveyors of bad news but today I tell you that Pepper fell victim to coyotes and while the rabbits stayed away for three weeks they have discovered that the garden is now unprotected.  So today I will instal a small fence around the carrot bed.

With love and hope you are thinning and weeding your carrots and are able to protect them from the bunnies and other predators.

Ted