July Beginnings

Finally, vegetables are starting to bear their fruits! It has been challenging giving the soil the right nutrient at the right time. Much like teaching, plants need care at certain times. Our rains two months ago put stress on Spring plants and as a result, has pushed back the Summer season’s harvest. We will have a rain barrel on-site in the next month to provide

Featured below are the corn, tomatoes, and peppers that are starting to produce. Also featured is our first pumpkin plant. Watermelons and cucumbers that were planted did not take off as expected, so they were snipped and their nutrients sent back into the ground to support other future plants.

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Pumpkin

Many gardeners pull their plants out of the ground when they are dying, yellowing, or show any sign of pest damage. This is not something practiced at the LIFE garden. According to Wayne Weisemen, Permaculture Design Educator and Director of Kinstone Academy it is so important to leave root structures in tact.  “Snipping” them instead of pulling them allows soil structure to remain in tact. If two plants are competing for space, snipping actually gives the plant that is left a stronger root structure. It utilizes the precious work that the microbial organisms have worked so hard to complete.  As seen below, the corn seems to be competing with these other plants, when in fact, the sorrel and wildflowers are sending nitrogen to the corn plant. If these plants were pulled, the corn would suffer.

 

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Sweet Corn, Wood Sorrel, Wildflowers

Many Northern Virginia gardeners won’t let plants complete their natural cycles, this is not a good idea. Believe it or not, plants will actually exchange nutrients to create the most optimum balance. Just like our Mason LIFE students, they try to harmonize the nutrients available and create the best possible outcome for each other.

 

June 2016

This month in the garden a lot of exciting things happened. I noticed a few new varieties of birds coming in.  Unfortunately, these birds dined on some of the cucumbers that students at Mason LIFE germinated in the greenhouse at the end of Spring. The non-Native Canadian geese that seasonally flock to the Mason campus seemed to really enjoy the squash sprouts. Thankfully, LIFE students practiced something called “Succession Planting,” meaning, they germinated cucumber seeds on two occasions. Practicing this is helpful because in case something happens to a set of germinated seeds, there is a back-up available to try again.

The butterfly garden is blossoming and coming into maturity. Some of the variety of flowering plants here are: Canna Lilly’s, dianthus, sunflower, and assorted Virginia native wildflowers. Some of the medicinal and culinary plants that are flowering include, Echinacea, St. John’s Wort, lavender, mint, rosemary, basil, and thyme. Students in the LIFE program will be practicing harvesting these herbs and using them in different ways.

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Echinacea (Purple Coneflower)

In the Fall of last year, students practiced making fresh “loose-leaf”  tea. Herbs included were thyme, mint, sage, and cedar. Cedar is packed with Vitamin C and thyme helps with respiratory issues, it was perfect timing for some students who were feeling the allergies due to the seasonal changes. Preparing medicinal beverages and encouraging students to create at-home remedies is just one way the Horticulture class promotes self-care.

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                                                                                                                               Stevia, (natural sweetener)

Mint will be used for drying as well as adding fresh to our tea. Students in the Fall will learn how to make a “Poultice”.  Comfrey, the native american band-aid, when combined with mint and mashed into a paste, is an amazing remedy for wounds, cuts, or burns. Making a poultice is an old folk-remedy and students will get learn about Eastern cultures that used poultices.

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Chocolate Mint

In the next few weeks, our vegetables will be moving onto the flowering stage. I look forward to students harvesting tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, green beans and peppers beginning the Fall. Things to be germinated at this time, to be planted in 8 weeks include spinach and lettuce varieties, pumpkins, kale, Brussels sprouts and squash.

End of June

Our butterfly garden, located to the right of the vegetable bed, is beginning to show off its colors. Bee balm and Comfrey, both attractive in color and smell to the butterfly and bee populations, have added a beautiful purple color to the garden. Petunias, an annual flower, are spreading their trailing leaves. Sunflowers are almost at their flowering point, the ants have been marching up and down the stalk and seem to be doing some kind of job to help the plant. The  combination of perennials and annuals have been planted in order to have bees coming in the Spring through the end of the Fall.

Our first harvest of green beans has also happened! Bush beans must be harvested when the beans are at the right size, or else they stall and will not produce more. So far, we have collected a few hand-fulls of beans. They taste delicious raw and will be dried as well for next year’s summer planting. Wood sorrel, which many mistake as perennial clovers, are featured above next to the green beans. This plant actually tastes like green apples when chewed! Their tiny yellow flowers encourage bees to pollinate at a lower part of the garden. For a perennial bed, it is vital to have different heights of plants to protect bees and insects.  Students are LIFE will be sampling this, along with cilantro, and other culinary herbs in the Fall season.

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Petunia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Petunias of this variety are rare in that they have fluorescent blue pistils in the center. Blue is a rare color to see in flowers, which means more bees and butterflies will be drawn to the area. The more pollination occurring the flower bed, the heartier the vegetable harvest will be. Another blue wildflower that the students directly sowed is featured below.

 

End of Spring

Over the past semester, students at the Mason LIFE program graduated and moved on to a new path: jobs, internships, new residential areas, mostly, a lot of new adventures! Some of those graduates participated in the Horticulture class. These students planted perennial plants in the Mason LIFE butterfly garden. This area is blossoming! This garden is located on George Mason University’s Fairfax campus, outside Thompson Hall and adjacent to Mason LIFE’s main building, Krug Hall. The pictures featured below show some of the successes from student’s planting. By the Fall, students will have the luxury of harvesting some of these edible delicacies! In terms of vegetables: the annual seeds (or plants that do not survive in Zone 6b conditions during the Fall/Winter)  have remained mostly dormant because of the moist conditions. Finally though, the area has had over 3 days of  65+ degree weather. Our bird houses are completed and are ready to be mounted into position!  As a result of this new almost-Summer sun, some of the perennial flowers and herbs in the butterfly garden are flowering and laying down their seeds for the Fall. Featured below are some of the herbs loving the sunshine. These include: cilantro (coriander), chamomile, lavender, oregano, sage, and comfrey.