Friday, August 25, 2017

Polishing things up

The height of the summer has snuck by us slyly, and as we move into fall, I am saying goodbye to the learning garden. Working a full time job an hour away from Lacey and trying to find time to make it to Saint Martin's on the weekends was a challenge to balance. In retrospect, I should have foreseen the toll that this balance would take on me, but I was initially ambitious, yet now feel humbled. I hope that someone with a little more balanced work schedule will be able to give the Learning Garden the attention it deserves.

That being said, the garden has done a remarkable job of taking care of itself, thanks in large part to the automated irrigation system, with lots of thriving beds, and some unexpected surprises.
One of my favorite surprises of the season: Lilies!
There were some other not so lovely surprises, like when I arrived at the Learning Garden after a couple weeks of absence to find that the bean trellis had buckled under the weight of its load!
The beans growing up the trellis before it fell
The beans on the new trellis, a little beat up after the incident
Despite this minor catastrophe, the beans continued to grow prolifically, and some of the bean pods are getting close to a foot long! Many of these are dry beans, meaning they are ready to be harvested when they are nice and dry on the stock at the end of summer, but they are certainly on their way to maturity!
Bodacious beans!
Another unhappy (recurring) surprise was that the tomatoes I planted in the garden never took off! I did plant them a little late in the summer, and they were a little shocked from the initial transplant, but none of those factors were the problem. Instead, each time I returned to the garden, there was a little bit more of the plant that was nibbled off! I assume deer, as they wander around campus quite regularly, but the unidentified animal droppings that occasionally turn up in the garden suggest that there could be another animal lurking around eating the tomatoes.
Nibbled tomatoes on the right, and struggling cauliflower on the left
Because of the state of some of the beds, with some crops like tomatoes being nibbled on, and other crops like cauliflower, cucumbers and zucchini having passed their prime, I decided to turn over some of the beds, clear the old crops out, and sow new seeds for the last bit of summer. After removing the organic matter from the beds as much as I could, I tossed some compost on the top of the beds from the compost bins, made furrows, planted seeds, then covered them up again and watered them in.
There is something satisfying about straight rows
Beet seeds, nestled in the topsoil

The tomatoes and kohlrabi had to go, but the kale stayed
Rainbow chard and kohlrabi are planted
Zucchini and cucumbers, looking sun burnt and sad
The same bed, with cabbage and salad turnips planted
Turning over beds is at once a bittersweet act, bitter because you have to remove plants that you have developed a somewhat personal relationship with, sweet because there are new vegetables that will soon be coming into your life. With my leaving the position as Garden Manager, there is also a metaphorical turning over of myself that I couldn't help but think about while working on this. Like with the garden beds, I am trying to leave this wonderful position planted with seeds, ready to give potential to the future Garden Manager, and the students and community members who come wandering through. I won't be around to see these seeds sprout, but I hope that others will bear witness to these beautiful plant lives about to be born.

My last contribution to the garden was something that had been on my checklist for a while, but had been put off because of how much time was required to do it right. This task was varnishing the beautiful overhead trellis structure that will eventually provide shade and snacks for passersby. There is one young grape vine that is starting to creep up the trellis, and kiwis will be planted by Irina Gendleman and her students when classes start.

The trellis structure, partly varnished
The trellis, fully varnished, subtly toned in the shade

Monday, July 31, 2017

Building Compost Bins

 Last week, July 24th, I set out on a project of building a sturdy compost bin to replace the composting system that I inherited. While the compost was indeed composting, the structure was rather rickety, with spindly wooden posts holding up a plastic netting that was secured to the posts with twist ties that you might find on a bag of bread. It was not exactly built to last, but it definitely did its job for however long it was there. Below, you'll see the old "bin" in its final moments of glory.

Compost bins need love too!
In order to prepare for the construction project, I picked up 5 sturdy pallets (made in Canada) from a local business, and picked up some joints and screws from home depot. All the materials fell into place nicely, I brought the tools I would need for the project from my house, and when I arrived at the Learning Garden, I was ready to build!

Bringing the pallets into the garden with the help of my trusty Subaru
The materials

The materials I needed were somewhat contained, though some things did get added part way through the process. I needed 5 pallets, 12 ninety degree corner joints, a box of screws, the right drill bit to match the screws, a few pieces of scrap wood to sink screws into, a saw to cut them to size, and a little bit of patience for the whole process.

The first corner complete, a few more to go.
Things got off to a good start, with the first two pallets coming together quite easily, but even with the quick progress I knew that things might not be as simple as they seemed. I noticed that the screws were poking through the wood after securing the joints in the corner, and I knew that I needed to fix that.
Sharp metal object hazard!!
Even though the screws were poking into the inside of the pallet, meaning that someone would have to intentionally reach inside the pallet in order to be in danger of getting cut by these screws, I didn't want to take shortcuts. I know that I have cut myself many times on random sharp objects poking out of strange places, and I wanted to limit the chance of that happening to some unknown person in the future.
Splinter hazard, yes, but no pokey metal things in sight!
After working out my little fix for the problem I identified, I figured that things would come together quite quickly, but as so often happens, that was not the case. It was considerably difficult to get the wood blocks back behind the pallets that form the back wall of the bins, and, even though I knew people weren't likely to stick their hands back there to get cut, I figured I'd err on the side of caution. The last thing I want to do is leave sharp things exposed, have someone get hurt, then find out 10 years down the road that SMU had to pay out half a million dollars because someone sued them after they got tetanus while turning the compost pile. It's not likely, but boy is it good to avoid things like that far in advance, whenever possible.

Unexpected surprises found in the compost
As I continued to move the compost around to create space to work in, I kept finding Keurig cups, the disposable coffee pods made for the Keurig machine. I'm not sure if they are actually rated as compostable or biodegradable, but someone in the past thought that they were compostable, and threw them into the pile. Unfortunately, many of the "biodegradable" or "compostable" consumer plastics still have a ways to go before they will actually break down in home compost piles. They are typically rated as compostable only in industrial composting facilities, where compost temperatures routinely stay over 100 degrees, and microbial and bacterial activity is super strong. The coffee inside of the plastic casing was clearly composting though, and there were even a few that had become homes to earthworms and were still moist and rich. I did what I could to empty the coffee out without wasting too much time on the process.

Almost complete!
Another addition that I decided to make at the last minute was adding some metal chicken wire type stuff (I can't think of the technical term) to the back pallets to limit how much compost would be lost through the slats in the pallets. You may be able to see the chicken wire sitting flat against the back pallets, held on with a number of horseshoe nails and a strip of wood at the top and the bottom. The chicken wire was already at the learning garden, and I figured it was a good way to use it. Had I found more lying around, I likely would have done it to all the insides of the bins, but I only had enough for two pallets, and decided the back wall was the most important part to reinforce. Some compost might still escape, but that is inevitable.

Bins completed, compost reloaded, and employee worn out.
All in all, this was a full day project. Between research, getting supplies from various places, revising things on the fly, and trying to take the time necessary to make things strong enough to last, I easily spent upwards of 10 hours on the project. Could it have been done in less time? Definitely. Will I be able to do it in less time the next time around? Hopefully. What I am quite proud of is that this compost bin could last up to 10 years if all goes well. Many times I have made the mistake of taking shortcuts, and, more often than not, I find myself going back to fix the stuff I didn't do right the first time. I still have some learning to do in the realm of construction, but I'd say that this project was a success, and should hold up for some time.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Footprints in the Dirt

So, my title this week is a little misleading, but I wanted to do a play on the phrase "footprints in the sand". Whatever the original context of this phrase, I have come to associate it with a metaphor used in Christianity, in which Jesus is walking alongside all of us. This idea, however, is not specific to Christianity, nor is the concept exclusively religious. To me, it represents the idea that no matter how alone we might feel at times, there are other people with us in spirit at all times. Due to my second job, I'm not able to be in the garden as much as I would like to be, and often when I am there I am all by myself, save for a few squirrels who run and hide when I show up. This last Monday, however, I  saw traces of human (and animal) activity that inspired this title: Footprints in the Dirt.

The first footprint I encountered
Upon doing a quick scan of the garden and setting out a list of tasks that I wanted to accomplish during the day, I noticed that someone had chopped the five heads of lettuce that I had salvaged when taking out the rest of the greens. Having already bolted and sent out flowers, most of the greens were hardly usable, so I planted potatoes in their stead, but something told me that I should leave those heads of lettuce that were still good. I'm glad I did, as it appears that someone came through the garden and took the leaves for their dinner. Knowing that someone had a good meal because of that decision makes it all worth it!

The second footprint
After noticing that the lettuce had been taken by someone in the St. Martin's community, I continued to scan the garden, until I came to rest my eyes upon the beets. I had already been worried about how the beets were doing, some had already gone to seed, and none had really sized up the way I was hoping for them too. Altogether, I thought that this beet crop was going to suffer from hot days, not enough direct sunlight, and the kale infringing on their space. While I still have those fears to some extent, I noticed this Monday that someone had also taken a few beet leaves home with them as well, another success in my book! The other possibility I had considered was that there had been some curious deer nibbling, but the the lettuce and the beets were too uniformly and cleanly cut to have been the work of a munching deer.

A set of footprints, and some wings, resting on a leaf. A ladybug! (Apologies for the poor photo quality)

Though it may be hard to see in the photo (the lens on my phone camera was quite dusty, unbeknownst to me at the time), there is a lady bug resting on the leaf closest to the lens. To its right is the start of a bean blossom, happily climbing up the trellis system and getting ready to send out beans. Ladybugs are always a welcome sight in a garden, especially in gardens that don't use pesticides. Though deemed predators, we tend to look at ladybugs as cute little bugs that bring good luck with them. For gardeners, this might not be far from reality since they eat aphids, mites, and a variety of other insects that can damage plants.

The fourth footprint, a little less expected than the first three

The fourth footprint I found in the strawberry patch, and it didn't make me quite as happy as the other footprints. When I first took a glance at the bed, I was so focused on examining the leaves that had been bitten off of plants (likely by deer) that I didn't notice this gift of fecal matter that something left me until my hand was almost on top of it. Jumping back a bit, and trying to hold my breath at the same time, I tried to figure out what sort of living creature had produced something of that size. I was strongly hoping that it wasn't human, but it also isn't deer, and I tend to doubt that a raccoon can produce a log of that size. It was almost six inches long, and too thick to seem human. If there are any experts in fecal material identification, I would be happy to have a second or third opinion on what could have produced this.

Other footprints in the dirt
Though it is likely obvious, my own footprints are all over the Learning Garden by this point. Though I am not there frequently, I try to keep it looking good and put in a lot of work when I do get out there to maximize the efficiency of those trips and give the garden the love that it deserves. It has certainly paid off! This week there were a few patty pan zucchinis and round zucchinis that were ready to be harvested, as well as a big pile of kale, a couple cucumbers, some red scallions, one medium sized beet and a few blueberries with much more food to be ready for harvest by next week. Please stop by and take whatever you want to use! 

If that load of veggies coming home with me wasn't enough gratification for the week, my supervisor informed me that pictures of the garden had popped up in her facebook newsfeed, with praise for the garden to go with them. After all of these reminders, I could see clear as cucumbers that I was not alone in the garden, though I might have been the only one there at that particular moment. My footprints in the dirt were not the only ones.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Berries are in, weeds are cut

It is July 4th today as I write this, and it is hot! As we celebrate Independence Day, plants are celebrating the return of long days and ruthless sunshine. As my life cycles through its work rhythms, it is always interesting to return to a patch of vegetables that I have left for a week and see its progress. 

Sometimes it can feel as if crops explode overnight, but what is more often the case is that the gardener has had so many other things to do, while the plant has but one job, that the plant’s slow and steady growth has gone unnoticed. These surprises are often pleasant, but there can certainly be bad surprises as well. A crop that has been infested by bugs, a crop that hasn’t grown to adequate size, or sometimes even a crop planted accidentally in a bed that was already seeded. At the farm I work for, all of these surprises have already happened this year at least once, and in fact we just harvested a bed of mature bok choy that had baby spinach plants peeking up from underneath them, trying to assert their rightful ownership of the bed. 

Ripe raspberries!

Luckily, in the Learning Garden, most of the surprises have been good this year!The raspberries have made a full appearance, and the canes are laden with fruits! The way that some of the plants are already getting yellow leaves may speak to a number of factors. For one, they are the older canes, and therefore the ones that bore the most fruit. They also may be experiencing some nutrient deficiencies – I saw a neighbor’s raspberry trellis the other day out on the sidewalk, and his plants were six feet tall, luscious green, and laden with berries. This is possible for the learning garden too, but soil amendments will have to be made before next year in order to coax that kind of growth out of the crop.

The blueberries are so close!

The blueberries are tantalizingly close to ripeness as well. Some blueberries have even started to turn purple, and the birds can’t wait any longer! One bush specifically has become a favorite snack for some of the local birds on campus, and I even debated throwing some aesthetically unpleasing netting over the bushes to horde the crop for our human mouths, but ultimately decided to strike a truce with the birds. So much of the food we grow in this country goes to waste, whether it is left in the field, spoils while waiting to be sold, or composted off of someone’s unfinished plate, I figure if the birds can glean a meal or two off of our hard work, at least it isn’t completely wasted!

The birds are already enjoying the blueberries!

Another way that rhythms are present in the upkeep of a farm or garden is in weed control. Ask any farmer what some of their biggest expenses are, and rest assured that weed control is on their top 10. The simple fact of the matter is that weeds are plants, and plants grow. Some do better than others in different soil types and climate conditions, but in a fertile place like the Pacific Northwest, there are a ridiculous number of different weeds, there is plenty of natural irrigation, and during the summer they need to be dealt with consistently. 

The garden before....
Today at my job on the farm, my boss spent most of his day mowing in crops that were past their prime, mowing down weeds on the roads, and redefining the edges of the fields. While this work can seem tedious, and it is regarded by many gardeners as a bane to their existence, effective weed control can help crops get the sunlight, water and nutrients they need and prevent weeds from reproducing. 

...and the garden after!

Additionally, it tailors the space to human needs. On a farm, we need to be able to keep track of different crops, see what is growing, and not have our sight blocked by walls of weeds. If we just let the weeds grow, not only would vegetables not grow properly, we wouldn’t be able to tell what was growing in which row without getting on our hands and knees and parting the curtain of weeds. In the Learning Garden, though it is much smaller than the farm I work for, weed control provides an aesthetic value as well as making it more navigable for passersby. With a weed whacker and a few hours, the space is looking nice, and ready to accommodate any curious individuals that may wander through looking for a berry snack!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Garden Success!

When time is spent in a garden week after week, the subtle progression of the different plants you interact with become readily apparent. As I have strolled through the Learning Garden over the last month and a half or so, I have slowly taken notice of the progression of the crops that were planted before I took over, and watched as the plants that I have planted have come in behind them. As some of these plants come to an end of their productive lifespans, and while still others slowly crescendo towards ripeness, I have to say that it has been a beautiful ride.

I'm sad to see the broccoli and cauliflower go to flower so quickly, but I'm excited for the blueberries and raspberries, which are right around the corner! I'm also kind of bummed about the tomato plants that don't seem to be growing fast enough, but their neighboring zucchini and cucumbers are growing almost well enough to compensate!

Gardening is as much about empowerment as it is about accepting your powerlessness. You can give birth to thousands of living plants and feel the power involved in working with nature symbiotically, but nature gives, and nature takes away. When a plant reaches the end of its life and gets composted to be turned back into compost, it is important to remember that those nutrients will get back in the soil eventually, and the space where that plant was before can now be home to a new plant. Nature gives and takes, but if you keep planting seeds as old crops stop producing, nature just keeps on giving.

For this weekly update I thought I would provide some pictures of the more successful crops that are planted in the Learning Garden and look at some of the lessons that can be taken from each crop's success.

The blueberries beckon

Almost all of the blueberry bushes in the garden are heavy with fruit! There is one bush that looks as though it has been nibbled on, but all the others have thick clusters of fruit that is getting fatter and fatter as the weeks go by. I keep hoping it will be next week, but it will more realistically be another two weeks before these berries are nice and sweet and a deep blue. The secret to their success? The potting must have been decent for them to do this well in pots, but I think that periodic mulching and frequently watering was a big part of the secret. Since these are hooked up to the drip irrigation system, they get enough water to fatten up those fruits. Many people have blueberry bushes that are not frequently watered, and while some are in moist enough soil to still produce berries, some just produce leaves and slowly wither away. Mulching the bushes also help to promote soil health and moisture retention, and with the fresh straw that I put on them today they should be happy through harvest.

The raspberries redden

These raspberries are also bulging with fruits, but the story of their success is not the same as the blueberries. These raspberries are so successful because they have established a deep root system and are very hearty plants. These bushes are not hooked up to the irrigation system, and as a result only get watered when it rains, or when I soak them with a hose once a week. They do show some signs of disease pressures, they also have been nibbled on by deer, as evidenced by some of the chomped off stems that are on the tips of plants. Luckily, there are plenty of berries on the way.
Zucchini blossoms are a sign of the times
The zucchini plants in the foreground, teeny tiny tomatoes in the middle, cucumbers in the back, and leeks on the right

Even though there are technically two more days until summer, I usually judge summer as having started when the zucchini blossoms start showing themselves. Normally, there would be tomato blossoms already to accompany them, but these tomatoes were planted late and got root bound in their pots and, evidently, a little stressed out. Hopefully they will catch up, but the zucchini and cucumbers are certainly doing their best to make up for their neighbor's under performance. The zucchinis are already forming behind the flowers, and I spotted a handful of one inch long cucumbers today that are starting to bulk up.

The grape vine slowly creeps upward
The grape vine growing here was procured by the previous garden manager, and I planted it without knowing too much about grapes. I did know that they like rocky soil, however, and sure enough, it seems to be growing well! I have started to coax it to climb up and around the post of the outdoor classroom structure. The dream is to one day have this grape vine grow up over a section of the roof, and have bunches of grapes hang down into the structure. Within a couple years it will likely be up to the roof, and in a couple more the roof should be covered in the vines, which hopefully then become laden with fruit! With the plant of such a small size this year, I'm not sure if it will produce any sizeable grapes, but I did see a small bunch starting to form, and will be keeping an eye on it in the coming weeks to see what happens.

Straight(ish) rows of scallions, also known as green onions
Though not the most aesthetically pleasing crop, these scallions are looking good to me. they were replanted about a month ago now and are getting to be a decent size. Almost all of them are healthy, and there is a decent amount of them! Since these scallions are smaller than most onions, they are more tender and mild, and are great raw on top of a salad, as a topping for cheese and crackers, or as something to blend into a cream cheese or salsa dip. With just a little bit of bite and a lot of flavor, I am looking forward to trying some of these scallions in a couple weeks.

Looking forward to the future, the Learning Garden is looking good. Plants are growing, vegetables are forming, and people are passing through occasionally to take notice. Today a Bon Appetit employee stopped by to tell me that the garden looked good, and he talked to me briefly about the garden he has at his house before wishing me a good day and going back to work. I hope to invite a few groups of students to participate in garden activities in the coming weeks as the lessons to be learned from a garden are often more potent and accessible when things are juicy and delicious.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Growings-on in the Learning Garden

As is true for so many things, an effort to raise vegetables can be aided greatly by reflection. To follow up on last weeks personal introduction, I would like to give readers an introduction to what is growing in the garden and take the opportunity to reflect on the state of things. 

The Saint Martin's University Learning Garden consists of roughly 10 beds, and a series of other plantable spaces like in-ground raspberry beds and some large pots for blueberry plants. I say roughly 10 beds because one of the smallest ones is occupied primarily by a behemoth rosemary plant, which takes up the majority of the space. Barring that bed, I will document here most of the plantings that are found in the garden and discuss how they are doing, and possible reasons for their success or failure. 

One of the deepest beds in the garden, at around 2 feet deep, with peas on the outside and beans sprouting in the middle rows
Peas, especially sugar snap peas, the most common ones you can munch on while still in the pod, like to be trellised. While they were planted in this bed that has trellis lines on the sides, they never actually got to the height that they needed to in order to start growing upwards. They did send out flowers, and produce peas, but they are already on their way out of production after only a week or two of fruiting. What happened? A lot can be learned from the way they were planted. They came with about 6-8 plants in a pot, and were planted as whole clumps instead of being broken up into 6-8 individual root systems before being planted. As a result, they show distinct signs of being rootbound - in other words, the roots did not have enough space to breath and grow individually. The plants could have benefited from more space, and more active trellising.

The beans that are sprouting up now were planted as the peas were first flowering, and show signs of pest damage, likely slugs. If they can survive this first onslaught, they will hopefully grow larger and produce some tasty beans. The seeds that were planted were beans that were grown in the Learning Garden last year. 

Cauliflower (already going to flower) and purple broccoli
This bed is doing reasonably well. The plants are healthy and growing well, but the cauliflower has already started to flower! This is not good, as it means that these plants will produce no cauliflower, other than the meager flowers they have put out prematurely. A likely factor is the heat that we have had in recent weeks, which acts as a sign to the plants that they need to put out seeds soon or risk dying without reproducing. The purple broccoli seems to have sustained the heat better, but we will see how they fare in coming weeks. 

The broccoli bed last week, with tiny, but tight, heads of florets
Green broccoli this week, unfortunately flowering and going to seed
Broccoli, like cauliflower, can easily go to seed when there is too much heat and they aren't harvested in time. Unlike the cauliflower plants posted up above, these broccoli plants at least had decent heads on them before they went to seed. They are still very much edible, quite delicious in fact, but not exactly marketable anymore in a commercial setting. People typically want tight heads of broccoli with dense florets, and these heads of broccoli are on the verge of having more flowers than florets, and are loosening up as the flowers get sent upward and outward. If they had been harvested last week, they would have been an all around successful crop, and in some ways they still are, but my desire to let them bulk up some more allowed for just enough time for them to bolt by the time I made it back to the Learning Garden today. 

Red scallions, growing well!
The bed pictured above is one of the most conventionally successful in the whole garden. When I arrived, the scallions were planted a little too densely, so I ripped them out, put them into small groups, and replanted them. Scallions are small onions, often called green onions, that are harvested young and used for topping salads and other foods. The way they are sold is in small bunches, and this type of planting facilitates the easy harvesting and bunching of scallions. The yellow shoots that can be seen are not a cause for concern, they are the outermost layer of skin, also the oldest, and do not tell the whole story of the planting. The inside growth is still fresh and green, and the yellow parts can easily be peeled off when harvested for a more aesthetically pleasing (and palatable) result. 

Two types of kale on the left, and red and yellow beets on the right. 
This bed is also doing very well, partly because kale pretty much takes care of itself. If you let kale go to seed in your garden, you are almost guaranteed it will come back on its own the next year. The darker, less serrated leafed kale is Lacinato kale, and the crazy looking lighter kale is Red Russian, or Dinosaur kale. They both are very abundant and fertile. 

On the right are a few rows of beets. These were also planted a little too densely when I inherited the garden, and I took the time to thin them out and give the beets space to bulk up. Especially with root crops like carrots and beets, thinning is crucial for a successful crop. If the plants are spaced too closely, they will grow into each other, fighting for space, and ultimately inhibiting each others' growth. The replanting definitely stressed out some of the beets, but others are loving the wiggle room and are expanding rapidly. We are maybe 3 or 4 weeks out from our first sizable beets. 

The greens bed, a mess of stressed out, flowering greens.
This bed of mixed greens is a mess. It is a product of the crazy spring that we have had here in the Pacific Northwest. First it was cold and rainy for too long, then intense heat hit us here and there, and that is a great way to have leafy greens freak out and send out flowers much too soon. While you can still dig out some usable leaves from the craziness, this planting is too far gone, and I will be tearing it out today and planting a bed of potatoes in its stead. 
Last week, with strawberry starts hanging out for watering purposes

This week, with tomatoes planted in the center, zucchini along closest and left walls, cucumbers along far wall, and leeks on the right

This bed, which is also reasonably deep, and enjoys a bit more full sun in the afternoon than the other beds, is doing quite well. The tomatoes that I planted were from donated seeds that I started at my house, and are taking a little time to really take off. Some appeared to be damaged by pests this week, but I'm willing to give it another week before I am really worried. The other vegetables planted here seem to suggest that all is well. The zucchinis and cucumbers are all bulking up nicely, and the leeks, though they are taking their time, are looking healthy and disease free. Most leeks and onions, in the allium family, don't have many pest problems. If you've ever eaten raw onions, you might have a clue as to why! ;)

On the subject of pests and diseases, I am not sure how the combination of zucchinis, cucumbers and tomatoes will do. Zucchinis and cucumbers are notorious for attracting powdery mildew, and tomatoes are notoriously susceptible to ailments such as mildew when they are around, though they don't seem to attract it on their own as much. The zucchinis and cucumbers are members of the curcubit family, while tomatoes are in the nightshade family, so I'm not sure if they will play nice or not. With the curcubits having a couple weeks of a head start, if it turns into a contest, they will likely win out over the tomatoes. Only time will tell!
The perennial herbs bed.
This bed, while planted this year, is filled with herbs that will, with any luck, continue to grow for many years to come. There is rosemary, thyme, sage, lavender, mint, chives, and horseradish. Yes, that's right, horseradish. I have never grown it before, but it, along with the other plants, were graciously donated by the previous Learning Garden manager Johanna, and are doing quite well! The chives were rescued from the compost pile, which had a wealth of different plants growing on it. Many of them I just sent back to compost land, but I figured the chives would make a nice addition to the herb bed, and there they are, clinging onto life in the midst of the other herbs. This bed, with some preventative weeding each week, pretty much takes care of itself as well. 
A new addition to the learning garden, an in-ground strawberry bed
This strawberry bed was the brainchild of the previous Learning Garden manager Johanna, and was in an ideal spot, a previously weedy patch of dirt next to the apple tree. It was waiting for something to be planted, and after loosening up the soil and putting down some straw for mulch, I gave it some strawberry plants, also generously donated by Johanna. Strawberries are a delicious berry, and that flavor comes at a cost - strawberries are not always easy to grow. There are many different types of berries, and the plants in this bed are from 3 or 4 different varieties. That means that they will fruit at different times, produce different sized berries, and fruit a different number of times each year. 

In some senses it is good to have this diversity to space out the strawberry harvest throughout the summer, but it can also complicate the care for them. Some of the everbearing varieties, types that will produce strawberries more than once throughout a summer, like to have the first flush of berries left on the vine, or else they won't produce again the rest of the year. Other types need to be harvested the first time because that is the only time they will flush the entire year. These plants likely won't produce fruit this year since they were just stuck in the ground last week, but it is always okay to hope! In the end, just one juicy berry and all the work is worth it!

Two in-ground raspberry plantings, struggling, but ultimately putting out fruit
 Raspberries are some of my favorite berries, and the beauty of them is that they often grow like weeds! These raspberries are not linked up to the irrigation system, meaning that I only water them once a week when I come to the garden to work. Still, with little attention, and no thinning this year, their canes are laden with young fruits, and raspberry munching seems to be only a few weeks out.

As has been mentioned in relation to many other crops in this post, thinning can be beneficial to raspberry plants, but unlike carrots and beets, not thinning raspberries is not catastrophic. You can notice on some of the raspberry leaves that they are growing yellow and crispy, and some disease presence is likely, but they are still sending up new shoots, and producing fruit on schedule. In terms of raspberries, thinning can benefit them in a few ways, mostly root space and air flow. When the airflow is restricted by a mass of leaves, diseases and pests can attack plants more easily, jumping from plant to plant with ease, and with little wind to carry away the intruders. Raspberries also routinely send up new shoots each year, and root space can get crowded. Had I started a couple months earlier at this job, I would have done a quick winter prune, but now that there is fruit on the canes, I will wait until after the harvest at the least to prune so as not to shock them and damage fruit production.
Blueberries! They're so plump and almost ready to devour!

The blueberries that are planted along the walkway into the garden are absolutely thriving! Most of them are planted into what look to be halves of wooden casks, which gives a cool look to the bushes coming out the top. There are nine bushes in all, eight of which are doing extremely well, and one of which is doing so-so. They are in a spot that is shaded by two large cedar trees, but they don't seem to be suffering because of it. The fruit is plump, and is going to be ready to harvest in just a couple weeks. These plants have benefited greatly from being hooked up to the automatic irrigation system, and without that daily watering, they would not be able to survive like the raspberries have. Blueberries are, like strawberries, a picky crop to grow, but I am fortunate to have healthy, happy bushes to take care of! A little weeding and some extra mulch, and they will likely continue to be healthy for many years more. 

In summary, this garden is like so many other gardens and farms in that some things are growing incredibly well with little effort, while other things are not cooperating, and ultimately, failing. Over time, with good stewardship and reflection, we can learn more about how each garden grows, different soil types, different sun exposure, different watering techniques, etcetera, and with each year, we can learn a little more.

Until next time, your gardener,
Lee Kaplan-Unsoeld