Sunday, March 27, 2011

Monticello: A Beacon on a Hill

Hi, my name is Nick Williams and I am a student at UVA. On Sunday, March 20, 2011, my gardening class and I took a trip to Monticello, located right here in Charlottesville, Virginia. Once we got through all of the shortcuts, turns, slopes, and winding roads, we finally made it to Monticello. This beautiful area was filled with many colors and a scent of naturalness; being at Monticello itself felt very magical and yet mysterious.

My class and I drove over to the greenhouse where we first met Pat. Pat is in charge of growing the vegetables at Monticello and tends to a few acres of land. While at the greenhouse, Pat showed how she collects seeds for use in future growing. Through a creative and innovative method of using various sieves, Pat has been able to extract delicate seeds that will eventually be used to fill the Monticello gardens with beautiful and tasty vegetables.

 Gabriele Rausse discusses the benefits of cold frames.

Next, Gabriele arrived to show us the greenhouse and to explain how he plants and transplants various seedlings. Gabriele took us through the greenhouse and pointed out the various seedlings that were growing and further showed us the surprises within the cold frames outside. After the tour of the greenhouse, Pat and Gabriele showed us the vegetable gardens on the other side of the land.

'Gardening in Winter' students tour the Monticello Vegetable Garden.
As a gardener and chef, seeing the rows of peas, green and red leaf lettuce, spinach, arugula, onions, sea kale, tarragon, and lavender, tasting the spiciness of fresh watercress straight from the ground, smelling a combination of mint and lemon balm, and grasping the smooth texture of fresh sage brought joy and excitement to my heart.  In fact, seeing all of these beautiful vegetables made me both hungry and inspired my want to cook a dish at that very moment.

Pat Brodowski reveals sea kale (Crambe maritima) grown under a clay blanching pot.

During our tour, Pat tried to test our "great" plant identifying skills. In one quiz, Pat looked to her right, picked up a leaf of one of the plants, turned around and grinned. She suddenly asked, "Ok Nick, since you are a chef-to-be, you should be able to get this, what is this plant?" I grabbed a piece of the leaf and sniffed it. The strong, somewhat mildly spicy aroma truly was familar, and brought me back to my days of making homemade honey mustard. Immediately, I shouted out "horseradish." The sound of Pat saying "Ding! Ding! Ding!" put a smile on my face because I was right! I had never seen horseradish before that was not already processed and jarred. Seeing the green color, I then quickly asked, "Hey Pat, if this is horseradish, then how does it become the creme colored product that you see in bottles at grocery stores?" Pat quickly replied, "they use the root, and the leaves are not really used for eating." All I could say to this piece of information was, "wow, I never knew that."

'Tennis Ball' lettuce finds shelter under rosemary.
Being at Monticello was unbelievable and taught me that I have a lot to learn about food. This place showed me--no, proved to me--that nature's bounty, food, is a truly magical gift that carries with it many mysteries and information that, once harnessed, can make even a five-year-old wiser beyond their years!

Dirt: More Than Just That Stuff You Stand On

I'm Kathryn, a student at UVA and a resident of Hereford Residential College. On March 13, I was lucky enough to learn that dirt is way more interesting than I thought it was - and I got to plant indigo seeds for the JDG!

My Winter Gardening class (a short course offered through Hereford Residential College) spent some time with Mike Parisi (a UVA alum!) of Blue Ridge Backyard Harvest. His talk went a long way towards breaking down the complexity of soil - its varieties, the innumerable interactions between its chemical and physical structure and the microorganisms and other lifeforms that live in it, and the effects that the climate and physical and chemical environment around it can have on it. This helped us to understand the results of the soil test that was done on the JDG. It is my understanding that the most important thing we learned from the test was that our soil pH is in the desired range, which is great, because that means that all kinds of plants can grow in it.

Mike discusses the importance of good soil with the students.

Afterwards, I got to plant indigo seeds! Thomas Jefferson counted indigo as one of his "useful plants" because dye can be extracted from it and used to color clothing. A portion of the seeds I planted were "scarred" in order to (hopefully) make them germinate more readily. Indigo seeds have hard coats, and it is sometimes difficult to get them to start growing without a little coaxing. By scarring seeds using a sandpaper file on a seed coat, it is possible to make them germinate earlier. Hopefully, our indigo seeds will do just that!

Winter gardening students plant seeds for the JDG.

Indigo (Indigofera tinctoria, top) and Nasturtium (Tropaelum majus) seeds were soaked overnight.

I'm very excited to see what the future holds for the JDG - a showcase of useful plants, just as Jefferson intended.

Kathryn Lawryszek
B.A. | Foreign Affairs, 2012
M.P.P. | Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, 2013
University of Virginia

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Jefferson and Soil Improvement, Part 2

In addition to his reliance on lots of manure, Jefferson improved his soil with cover crops and crop rotation. According to the Duc de la Rochefoucauld-Liancourt in his Travels through the United States of North America, in the Years 1795, 1796, 1797, Jefferson didn't allow his fields to lie fallow because he believed that "the heat of the sun destroys or at least dries up in great measure, the nutricious [sic] juices of the earth." While this may not exactly be the case, he was on to something, as cover crops do increase soil fertility, add organic matter, suppress weeds, and prevent erosion. At the JDG, we will be growing several cover crops used by Jefferson: red clover, buckwheat, and cowpeas (check back for plant profiles soon).

Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum), from La flore et la pomone francaises, by Jean Henri Jaume Saint-Hilaire (1828-33). Missouri Botanical Garden.

Jefferson also practiced crop rotation, discussing the matter frequently with his son-in-law, Thomas Mann Randolph, and also with fellow gentleman farmer, George Washington. Writing to Washington in 1794, Jefferson laid out this six-year crop rotation plan: "first year, wheat; second, corn, potatoes, peas; third, rye or wheat, according to circumstances; fourth & fifth, clover where the fields will bring it, and buckwheat dressings where they will not; sixth, folding, and buckwheat dressings." 

Crop rotation benefits both home gardens and field crops because it reduces nutrient depletion in the soil, as well as the build up of pests and diseases. As can be seen in Jefferson's plan, cover crops also play an important role in crop rotation.  We look forward to reaping the benefits of both of these important planting practices at the JDG.

Sources consulted:
  1. Jefferson, Thomas. Thomas Jefferson's Garden Book. Edited by Edwin Morris Betts. Charlottesville: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, 1999.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Jefferson and Soil Improvement, Part 1

We are happy to report that the first official beds of the JDG have been built! A small crew of three managed to lay out and construct nearly five beds in about 3.5 hours. It is exciting to see the design by Landscape Architecture students Chelsea Dewitt and Erica Thatcher take shape. More on the overall design soon...

It is a little hard to see here but there are four new parallel beds, which will soon 
hold our field crops: flax and indigo. Photo by Sonia Brenner.

We also began to turn compost into the beds. We are currently using some very nice looking leaf mould from our friends here at UVa.

Lily and Jim taking a little break. We have begun to add well-rotted leaf mould to the bed on the right. 
See the big pile of leaf mould in the previous image. Photo by Sonia Brenner.

Back in January, when we began to discuss improving our soil at the JDG, we couldn't help but wonder how Jefferson himself managed the soil fertility in his gardens and fields. It should come as no surprise that he knew a thing or two about the subject. In 1793, TJ advised his daughter, Martha Randolph, “[w]e will try this winter to cover our garden with a heavy coating of manure. When earth is rich it bids defiance to droughts, yields in abundance, and of the best quality. I suspect that the insects which have harassed you have been encouraged by the feebleness of your plants; and that has been produced by the lean state of the soil.”

Manure was the soil amendment of choice, and Jefferson incorporated it by the wagon-load to both his vegetable garden at Monticello and his field crops grown on satellite farms like Shadwell and Tufton. In typical Jeffersonian fashion, he calculated that 150 cattle would provide enough manure to cover 60 acres per year.

Also in 1793, a year that he seemed to be putting a lot of thought into his farms, TJ made a few interesting notes in his Garden Book. He recorded the application of tobacco suckers as a "greendressing" to three squares of the vegetable garden and to the asparagus beds. For the asparagus, he also noted the addition of a "thick coat of well rotted dog." Now, did he really mean well rotted dog? Or perhaps he meant to write dung, or hog, as in hog manure... Here is a copy of the October entry:

Garden Book, 1766-1824, page 28, by Thomas Jefferson [electronic edition]. Thomas Jefferson Papers: An Electronic Archive. Boston, Mass.: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2003.

While we certainly won't be considering any well rotted dog for the JDG, we do plan to incorporate some well rotted manure, probably in the fall. We will also follow two more of Jefferson's methods for soil improvement: cover crops and crop rotation. To be continued in Part 2...

Sources consulted:
  1. Jefferson, Thomas. Thomas Jefferson's Garden Book. Edited by Edwin Morris Betts. Charlottesville: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, 1999.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Plant Profiles: Calendula and Onions

In his 1826 plans for a botanical garden at UVa, Jefferson wrote that the garden would be "restrained altogether to objects of use, and indulging not at all in things of mere curiosity." Here at the JDG we will follow this objective, focusing only on useful plants that have been historically important for people, and often continue to hold such importance. Calendula and onions, the first two plant species to be started from seed for the JDG, both have many uses, some of them well known, others less so.

Calendula (Calendula officinalis), syn. Pot Marigold, Marygold
Family: Asteraceae
Image from Kohler's Medicinal Plants, by F.E. Kohler (1887)
Missouri Botanical Garden.

In addition to lending a bright, cheery yellow to the spring and fall garden, calendula has a wide variety of medicinal, culinary, household, and cosmetic uses. Both the flowers and the leaves are edible. The flowers can be boiled to make a yellow dye; they were even used to turn cheese yellow at one time. Valued for its soothing, healing, and antiseptic properties, calendula can be used in ointments for wounds, varicose veins, and insect bites, in softening skin creams, in healing mouthwashes, and in aromatherapy, just to name a few. While it is not known if Jefferson found calendula useful for these reasons, he did note sowing "Marygold" on April 2, 1767, at Shadwell. In fact, the seeds started for the JDG were recently collected from the gardens at Monticello.

Onion (Allium cepa)
Family: Liliaceae
Image from Flora von Deutschland, Osterreich und der Schweiz,
by Otto Wilhelm Thome (1885)

While Jefferson only noted growing marygolds, or calendula, once in his Garden Book, the planting of onions appears with much more frequency (1794, 1809, 1812, etc.). Certainly the onion was appreciated as a culinary staple at Monticello during Jefferson's day, but was it also grown for its antiseptic and diuretic qualities and use as a dyestuff? Mrs. Grieve, in A Modern Herbal (originally published in 1931), notes that "a roasted Onion is a useful application to tumours or earache." This particular method may not be gaining in popularity anytime soon, but you never know! Instead of discarding or composting your onion skins, try making a dye from them; depending on the mordant (used to set the dye), the resulting color can vary from orange to a deep yellow. At the JDG, we are starting our onions from seed because of the wider variety available, as compared to onion sets. This year we are trying 'Jaune Paille des Vertus,' introduced around 1793, from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

Just three weeks after sowing the calendula and onion seeds for the JDG, it was time to transplant the seedlings into larger pots. While the other students in the Winter Gardening short-course transplanted seedlings such as kale, wong bok, kohlrabi, leeks, thyme, and sage for future planting in the Hereford Farm Garden, Kaela potted up the calendula and onions that she has been tending for the JDG.

Nice work, Kaela!

Elaine, the course instructor and Hereford's garden manager, lends a hand.

Danielle and Deanna brave the dropping temperature to get their seedlings transplanted.

We hope to plant our calendula and onions in the garden mid-late March, depending on both the weather and our ability to construct all of the new beds by then! Check back soon to see the exciting garden plan designed by two landscape architecture graduate students!

Sources consulted:
  1. Bremness, Lesley. The Complete Book of Herbs. New York: Viking Studio, 1988.
  2. Grieve, Maud. A Modern Herbal. Darien, CT: Hafner Publishing Co., 1970.
  3. Jefferson, Thomas. Thomas Jefferson's Garden Book. Edited by Edwin Morris Betts. Charlottesville: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, 1999.
  4. Sumner, Judith. American Household Botany. Portland, OR: Timber Press, 2004.
*Please note: The above information is for educational purposes only. Consult a qualified practitioner before use.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Eliot Coleman in Virginia

Last week (Feb. 13) Eliot Coleman, celebrated organic farmer and author, came to UVA to give a talk about how to garden in winter and to discuss his gardening methods. He gave his workshop at the future site of the Jefferson Demonstration Garden, and we couldn't have been luckier.

It was surprising to see how many people actually came! Being a college student, I knew little about Eliot Coleman 'til I started helping with JDG. It is amazing the things he has come up with to be able to harvest his plants in all four seasons. We had people from babies (though I don't think she was listening) to people well into their 70's.

As a part of the presentation, Eliot Coleman showed us pictures of how he has made his hoop frames, cold frames, and so on. He was very open to answer any and all questions. The best part was that he demonstrated some of the tools that he designed himself. After the demonstration, he actually gave the tools to the mini farm at Hereford!

Well, that's all she wrote!
Deanna Storm (class 2012)
BA/MT Sociology and Elementary Education (2013)

Learn more about Eliot Coleman and his equally talented wife, Barbara Damrosch, here: