Monday, June 15, 2009

Thinning/Transplanting Suggestions

Dear Gardeners:
I just loved walking around the gardens last Saturday. Plants are springing out of the ground everywhere! But what I also observed is that we also need to start thinning and transplanting some of the crops, so I'm going to make some suggestions. If I do not cover a type of vegetable that you are growing and you want information, please email me ( and I will get the information on this blog. Also, I'm working on a blog, "Ban the Bugs, Organically", which I hope to get on this site soon--I'm starting to see a few bug and disease issues on some plants in the garden (all normal stuff), and I'd like to address some of what I'm seeing.

Radishes: At this point I'd thin the almost non-existent radish roots to 1"-2" apart to let the roots start to form. Then, as the roots grow, thin more to about 2"-3" apart, but eat the radish roots you have are pulling out (young and tender--yum!). This will then allow the remaining radishes to grow. Radishes appreciate the weather we have been having--not too hot. They get "spicy", but generally not in what I consider a nice way, if they endure a long hot spell. Radishes are best picked at their prime, then stored in the refrigerator for a few days if need be; that's better than leaving them in the garden too long where they can get too bitter tasting. If you plant again for the fall (I'll make suggestions later this summer for when I think it's reasonable to plant radishes again), I'd like to suggest that rather than planting in rows, plant in a block. Pick an "area" (2'x2' or whatever) and poke seeds in a grid about 2'-3" apart in all directions--you get a lot more radishes in a given area this way.

I have never tried transplanting radishes, but if you want to experiment, I'd love to know your results. In general it's not recommended to transplant root veggies (like carrots, beets, or radishes because the roots can end up stunted, or so I've read). I defied conventional wisdom several years ago and started transplanting beets and have found that the transplants work just fine!, but for some reason, I'm more wary of transplanting carrots. I've never bothered--I'm usually too busy thinning them to bother with transplanting.

Lettuces: There are two very basic categories of lettuce---cutting (mesclun) lettuces or head lettuces (butter, bib, romaine, iceburg, etc.). The cutting lettuces don't seem to mind a bit of crowding (2"-3") apart, because it's sort of expected that you will come through when the plants are 4"-5" high and cut off the top few inches (leaving behind about 2" high for regrowth). If you have head lettuces, however, it pays to transplant them to 4"-5" apart (I also have a favorite cutting(looseleaf) lettuce, Lolla Rossa, that I transplant this way, so you can transplant looseleaf lettuces as well). The best time to transplant is either late in the day, or on a cloudy day, to stress the plants the least from having the hot sun beating on them after transplant. It's also helpful to transplant just before it's supposed to rain. Be sure to water the plants soon after transplanting. These are "the best" times to transplant, but I've also transplanted early in the day and just gave the transplants a good drink, knowing that it could be tough on the little plants and that I was more likely to lose some of them from transplant shock. You don't need to transplant lettuces into rows--can transplant into a "block"--space them 4"-5" apart in a grid in all directions--you'll fit more into an area this way. Lettuce heads, when mature, will last in the garden about 10 days. After that, the lettuce may taste more bitter and the heads start to "bolt" (high heat of summer will also promote bolting), meaning that the plants start pushing up in the middle (reaching for the sky). Once bolted, the flavor is bitter and the lettuce head should head to a compost pile.

Most lettuce cultivars like cool temperatures and sulk in the hot weather. Sometimes it pays to transplant some heads into the partial shade--hide them behind taller plants so that they don't get full sun all day. I'm going to experiment with that this summer, to see if the cucumber tepee in the Seed, Weed and Feed garden will provide enough shade to help lettuce plants under it from bolting.

Beets: Beet "seeds" are really clusters of seeds, so beets will come up in clumps of 2-4 plants. I transplant so that the plants are about 4"-5" apart in all directions (again, forming a block). Remember, you will be defying conventional wisdom if you do this, but if you have the space, why not try?--you'll probably end up with more beets (see my comments on radishes)!

Carrots: Thin, thin, thin to about 4" apart.

Squashes and Pumpkins: Most squash and pumpkin seed packages recommend thinning to 1-3 plants per hill, once you see how many plants have germinated.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Please support the gardeners

Board of Ed Approval
We received approval from the Board of Education in March to use this space as a community garden. We have tried to be good neighbors. Early on, I contacted the President of the Pine Orchard Association to see if there were any concerns about a community garden in Pine Orchard. I was told that we were doing a great thing and that the association wished us luck and offered to assist if possible.

Early Meetings
We had an initial walk-around on the property on March 24 with the director of the daycare center, Beryl Meiner, to hear any concerns and to try to address them. The boundaries of the current garden are the same boundaries that she said were acceptable on that day. She expressed concern about potential disturbance of the butterfly and hummingbird gardens and wanted to make sure that liability issues were clarified. We stated an interest in allowing the day care children and teachers to visit the vegetable gardens occasionally as a learning experience, and Beryl seemed to think it was a good idea. We stated that we would be putting up a deer fence and she agreed that it was essential since deer and other animals have been a problem for the day care center’s gardens.

We invited Beryl to our next directors’ meeting on April 5. Both she and her husband attended and we discussed the above stated issues, as well as concerns about blocking sunlight to the sundial. She also wanted to ensure that there was a no-smoking policy in the garden and a policy that people remove any trash brought in. At that time, Beryl stated that she was satisfied and that her concerns were addressed.

Preparation of the site
The plots in the garden are all leased and the gardeners have been working hard for the past month or so to get their soil ready. We have amended the soil with compost and organic fertilizers. Criscuolo Engineering and the Public Works Department staked out the site, dug a trench and the postholes. The cedar fence posts were donated by the Branford Land Trust, and deer fencing with a sunken chicken wire boundary at the bottom have been installed by our volunteers, as have two gates. This all has happened in record time because of the enthusiasm and support the garden received from the larger Branford community.

Based on the Board of Education granting us permission to create a community garden, the gardeners bought plants, mulch, fertilizer, compost and gardening stakes in preparation for planting. They have been barred from the garden during school hours for the past week and it is creating a great difficulty for the maintenance of their garden plots.

BCG is a part of the Branford community
The Early Learning Center wants to prohibit gardeners from the garden from 7:30 AM to 5:30 PM on weekdays. We believe that the gardeners are being held to a higher standard than all other people who use the open space areas next to the school, including the many people (both Branford residents, and those from further afield) who walk their dogs there, birdwatchers, hikers and bikers along the Shoreline Greenway Trail, many of whom access the trail through the property and some of whom park in the parking lot. The space has been used for many years as a nature garden, with no restrictions on public access. Members of the Branford Garden Club were responsible at one time for weeding the flowerbeds in the space, and did so during school hours. Several of those same garden club members are now, as community vegetable gardeners, being restricted from the space during that same time. There is a National Wildlife Federation sign at the entrance to the area inviting the “entire community” to enjoy the space. To my knowledge, people who currently use this area in a responsible way are not held in suspicion and not subject to any undue scrutiny, as long as they are not acting suspiciously. This courtesy is not currently being extended to the gardeners.

All of our gardeners are Branford residents, they are registered with me, including names, addresses, telephone numbers and email addresses. I would venture to say that you know some of them. Included in our ranks are a Yale dean and his family, a Yale scientist and his family, a former Killingworth Selectman, a retired CT probation officer, a local, well-known artist, the head of an IT dept at YNHH, a journalist for a local newspaper, a paramedic, a former PTA president, and a musician. These people are your neighbors. We have moms who drop their kids off at day care and spend the morning in the gardens, we have retired couples that want to work their plots during the day, and we have people who work on weekends and need to tend their gardens during the weekdays. We have senior citizens who frankly run out of gas as the day proceeds and need to work their gardens in the morning. The proposed restrictions would be non-workable for them and they are rightly angry. For these reasons, it is essential that the garden be available to gardeners when it is convenient for them to garden, as this open space is for all other users.

Branford Community Gardens provides a service to the community by leasing garden plots to Branford citizens, from young families to seniors. Garden members maintain the 20’ x 20’ plot, which we recently started planting, the produce from which will be donated to families in need in Branford.
The day care center also provides a valuable service to the community and receives a substantial benefit from the Board of Education for the use of the school. The gardeners are Branford taxpayers, who subsidize the day care center with their taxes, and yet they are being targeted for suspicion and discrimination. An inexplicable fact is that as members of the public, the gardeners are free to use the open space adjacent to the school, un-questioned, but as soon as they walk into the vegetable gardens they somehow become unwelcome.

The overwhelming sentiment in Branford to the community gardens has been positive. We have recently been awarded an “Official Citation” by the General Assembly of Connecticut for our work, initiated by Connecticut Representatives Lonnie Reed and Patricia Widlitz, and Senator Ed Meyer. C, L & P has honored us with a grant for our community service, and local businesses have donated materials and effort to our cause.

I would like to conclude by stating my belief that our presence in the vegetable gardens, rather than creating a risk, actually enhances the safety of the children and would tend to deter those with evil intent from hanging around the school. Additionally, the gardens can be a learning experience for the children. Malaine Trecoske, our secretary/treasurer, is working with Walsh Intermediate students to teach them the joys of gardening. We would still like the children and teachers here to be able to take a tour of our gardens when the plants are further developed, and at harvest time.

Gardeners, officers and directors are asking not to be discriminated against by the imposition of time restrictions for gardening, and to allow us to share in the use of this space with the rest of the community.

Connie Drysdale,
President, BCG, Inc.