Across the Fence

Monday, March 30th Expanding the Growing Season: Crop Storage Improvements Developed by UVM Extension, and, UVM Apple Specialist Terry Bradshaw Demonstrates Apple Tree Pruning
Tune in to WCAX Channel 3 at 12:10 pm. Watch shows online shortly after they air, at:

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Across the Fence

Monday, March 23rd Vermont Herb Farmers Jeff and Melanie Carpenter of Zack Woods Herbs in Hyde Park Discuss their Book: The Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer Tuesday, March 24th UVM Extension Horticulturist Leonard Perry Tours Gardens of New York’s Hudson Valley
Tune in to WCAX Channel 3 at 12:10 pm. Watch shows online shortly after they air, at:

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Bus Trips to Botanical Gardens

FYI only, does not count for EMG continuing ed. hours.  Open to the public. Discount price for early registration.

Please visit these websites for more information:



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Winter-Weary Gardener’s ‘Shake It Off’ Parody

Just for fun!

(Do you recognize what their skirts are made from?)
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Growing healthy futures: a visit to the greenhouse at the Parent Child Center

Article submitted by EMG Judith Irvin. 

You can find the link to her blog “North Country Reflections” on the sidebar.

Last Thursday, with a foot of snow on the ground and the outside temperature hovering around 15 degrees, spring seemed a long way off indeed.So it was pure delight to step into a warm sunny greenhouse filled with growing things: trays of green mesclun ready to harvest; a prolific red nasturtium casually draped around a window and an enormous pink New Guinea impatiens.

Dick and I were at Middlebury’s Parent Child Center that serves young parents throughout Addison County, providing them with an accredited high school education and other services. (Each county in Vermont has a similar program.)And, looking at the tidy row of colorful car seats beside the front door, I was reminded that caring for their young children is also very much a part of the PCC mission.

Inside the center’s greenhouse we chatted with Deirdre Kelly and Joe Pearl, PCC director of education and science teacher respectively, and Rhiannon Howard, an enthusiastic program participant. Two UVM Extension Master Gardeners, Shari Johnson and Anne Collins from Cornwall, were also on hand. Since the temperature inside the greenhouse was nearly 80 degrees and most of the space allocated to growing crops, the seven of us were quite a snug group!

As a gardener I was fascinated to see how this family-sized greenhouse was designed and built to facilitate food production. And, as a caring citizen, it was wonderful to learn about local programs that support our young people. Here are some of the impressions I took home from our ninety minute visit.

Healthy food on a limited budget

Deirdre explained that the greenhouse is part of the larger gardening program at the center. It all began a few years back when she and a group of participants were discussing the importance of a healthy diet that includes plenty of fresh vegetables. The students all said that their biggest challenge was the ability to buy healthy food on a limited budget. And, since many of them were apartment dwellers, it was difficult to have their own gardens.

One outgrowth of this discussion was to apply to the Vermont-based Canaday Family Charitable Trust for sufficient funds to build and equip a new energy efficient greenhouse at the center. The PCC was delighted to receive the funding, and Jonathan Hescock of Vermont Victory Greenhouses in Cornwall was contracted to build the structure.

Building the new greenhouse became a family affair

During that summer Jonathan and his colleagues at Vermont Victory Greenhouses constructed a 10’ x 15’ wood-framed greenhouse with an attached potting shed. Students also built three outdoor raised beds, resulting in a true year-round growing space.

Even now, three years on, people are still talking about how Jonathan went ‘above and beyond’ as he encouraged all the young parents at the center—both moms and dads— to work alongside him and his electrician friend. This created a wonderful opportunity for everyone to learn about real building activities such as cutting and joining lumber and assembling benches.

A greenhouse designed for efficiency and convenience.

During our visit Joe described some of the energy-efficient features of the greenhouse:

  • To maximize the collection of passive solar energy, the long wall of the greenhouse faces due south.
  • The walls are double-layer polycarbonate that, in addition to its superior insulating qualities, also diffuses the light for the plants.
  • Two large black water barrels act as passive heat storage elements. Situated inside, high up on the north wall (in otherwise unusable space), they absorb excess daytime heat that is then returned to the greenhouse at night. A small electric heater provides supplemental nighttime heating.So I thought the Victory Greenhouse solution at the PCC was both elegant and functional: they had replaced the typical translucent wall on the north side with a roomy insulated potting shed!
  • The greenhouse is also designed for convenience. In addition to having electricity and running water, all the benches are equipped with drip irrigation nozzles that keep the plants evenly moist. And, to prevent overheating on sunny days an electric fan—operated by a solar panel on the roof—circulates the inside air, and windows in the roof and side walls open automatically to provide cross ventilation.
  • I had long known that, with a traditional freestanding greenhouse, the translucent north wall is virtually useless. It contributes very little added light for the plants or for solar heating, but at night it results in considerable heat loss.

Fresh food for young families

This is the third winter of greenhouse growing at the center. Currently organic mesclun is the main food crop (mostly using seeds donated by High Mowing Organic Seeds of Wolcott, Vermont). This is grown in large trays filled with local Moo-Doo potting soil from Middlebury’s Vermont Natural Ag.

Participants use the ‘cut and come again’ method of harvesting. The seed is broadcast fairly thickly over the soil, so that the seedlings soon fill the tray. At this point the growing plants are cut down to soil level, and allowed to regrow several more times. As testament to the success of this method, every fortnight students deliver 5 lb. of mesclun to the PCC kitchen for everyone, parents and little children alike, to enjoy with their lunches.

This winter they have also delivered a variety of fresh herbs, some radishes and tomatoes, and even a green pepper—also much to the delight of the cook. As she commented recently: ‘My food budget doesn’t run to culinary herbs’!

I also saw a number of seedlings that, come spring, are destined for the raised beds outside. Cherry tomatoes are always popular, most especially with the little kids who love to eat them in a single mouthful!

As Rhiannon said, she really wants her 2-year-old daughter to learn to love healthy food—even when all her friends are devouring sugary drinks and unhealthy snacks. All the young children at the center enjoy visiting the greenhouse where they are encouraged to explore the smells and tastes of fresh vegetables, and to dig in the soil and plant their own seeds.

To maximize the harvest in a small space, students are also experimenting with the French Intensive Method of growing. In this technique a mixture of seeds are sown together in rows. The salad greens grow fastest and are harvested first. The radishes mature next. And, by the time spring arrives, the young broccoli and kale plants will be large enough to plant outside.

I also enquired about any crop failures. After all, as any gardener will tell you, there will always be something that does not work according to plan. Everyone told us how aphids completely infested the spinach. So, rather than risk spreading aphids to all the other crops, they decided to stop growing spinach inside.

Learning Science

The greenhouse also plays an interesting role in the PCC science curriculum.

Rhiannon showed us a controlled experiment underway to determine how different potting soil mixes affect the rate of seedling growth. Four trays of mesclun with differing proportions of compost and peat moss were growing on the top shelf of the south wall. Once the mesclun is harvestable participants will evaluate which formula produced the best results.

Then Joe described the new aquaponics system. Very briefly: aquaponics is an ancient method of intensive agriculture that combines the principles of aquacultureraising fish or other aquatic animals in tanks—and hydroponicscultivating plants in water. At the PCC the goal is to investigate the use of aquaponics in a compact greenhouse setting.

First Joe, with the help of several participants and a Master Gardener/carpenter, built two large waist-height planting trays that they partially filled with different types of nonporous granular growing media—gravel of different sizes and small clay balls. Then they planted bean and pea seedlings, already started in standard Jiffy pellets, directly in the growing media.

Beneath the growing trays a pair of open black plastic tanks filled with water are home for the fish. Periodically a small pump floods the plant trays with some fish water, where the nitrogen-rich fish excretions gradually break down to fertilize the plants.

Currently one tray is flooded three times an hour, the other eight times an hour, but these times can be modified. The long-range goal is to pinpoint which growing medium and which flooding schedule optimizes the plant growth.

Master Gardeners are program mentors

And finally, I want to make a quick mention of the dedicated group of UVM Extension Master Gardeners that work behind the scenes to support the entire PCC gardening program. In addition to soliciting supplies and grants for the program, Master Gardeners are on hand both summer and winter, working with participants and little kids alike, and advising them about best gardening practices. In this way the Master Gardeners pass on their knowledge and love of growing things to a new generation of gardeners.

The article will be published in the Addison County Independent  and also in the Vermont Country Sampler (April edition). 




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Movie “Food Chain$”

FYI ONLY Sponsored by UVM Food Systems Initiative  More info click here.


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Branch Out Burlington Tree Sale

FYI only:  8th Annual Branch Out Burlington!’s TREE SALE IS OPEN FOR BUSINESS!! This year Branch Out Burlington is offering eight different beautiful bareroot specimens, including fruiting trees, flowering trees, specimen tree and shade trees. All 5-6 feet tall and only $49.00 each. These trees always sell out; so preorder now for Saturday May 2nd pick up! Proceeds from the tree sale support Branch Out Burlington!’s tree planting and educational activities to promote the health, well-being and expansion of Burlington’s urban forest. Tree descriptions, photos and order form may be found at Questions – please call Kyle at 863-0134.


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FIDDLEHEADS!   Or The First True Sign of Spring
submitted by Daryle Thomas, a volunteer with  UVM Extension Master Gardener

We have suffered through that first day or two after daylight saving has occurred. Spring ahead, loose an hour. “Don’t worry,” my friend said. “The days are getting longer.” I hated to tell her that the days were 24 hours in duration before EDT, and they still appear to be 24 hours long now. It won’t be long before the snow begins to melt, swelling the brooks, streams and rivers across Vermont’s greening landscape. Soon the sun’s influence will cause even more melting and many waterways will overflow their banks. Kind of like the Nile, without the crocodiles. The charging waters are a veritable tea of manures, deceased vermin and other such delights we try not to think about.

And, like the Nile, the waters will eventually recede leaving the banks and edges of the brooks, streams and rivers well-fertilized. One beneficiary of this free fertilizer is Matteuccia (mat-TEW-kee-uh) struthiopteris (struth-ee-OH-ter-is). The ostrich fern, in English. Most commonly called fiddleheads, which are of course not a type of fern, but merely a stage in the growth process of all ferns. While there are several edible ferns, we will concentrate on the ostrich fern. They can grow in moist areas, rich with leaf mold and other natural enhancements. The ostrich fern thrives along the edges of waterways that often overflow their banks. They grow from rather sturdy clumps of rootstock, which are usually encumbered with grass and twigs delivered by the rushing waters. Almost as soon as the water recedes, the ferns begin to uncoil out of the ground. When it is still about an inch or so across, a fiddlehead looks very much like the scroll at the end of the peg box of a fiddle. Not a violin, mind you, this is a rural vegetable! A delicacy to be sure, but still very country. Like a fiddle.

It is usually a good idea to find someone who knows one fern from another. The next step would be to convince said person to take you into the woods and show you the ostrich fern in its native habitat. Right! The unfortunate problem is, it isn’t likely to happen. As I understand it, about 50 or so years ago, Vermont’s population was very independent and somewhat conservative in nature, politically speaking. Then a nice, young socialist showed up from New York City. Over time, Vermont evolved into the number one moocher state in America. These new “indigent state employees” were led to believe they were entitled to all Vermont had to offer. The free housing, food, medical care and pocket money was bad enough. These folks found our fiddleheads. Being greedy, ignorant and uninterested in the native citizens around them, they would strip the fiddlehead fields, filling a pillow case for every member of the family. Off to the wholesaler, formerly located outside a ski town southeast of Rutland, where the fiddleheads were exchanged at the rate of two dollars for every pound. Local merchants would retail the ferns for seven to ten dollars a pound. My sister, who lives in Sarasota, confirmed that her market offered fresh (not quite) fiddleheads at the princely sum of $19.99 a pound.

If you haven’t figured out the problem as yet, ignorant and greedy people are killing off the fiddlehead population. A true forager knows that one never takes more than half of the curled fern precursors. That practice will leave enough food-producing fronds for the rootstock to maintain life, and give rise to fiddleheads for years to come. Native foragers have crawled deeper and deeper into the forests to find their own personal patches of the elusive ostrich fern, and aren’t about to let anyone know where that may be.

Back to you, the first-time enthusiast. You may benefit from a photograph to get an idea of your quarry. The ostrich fern is smooth, darkish Kelly-green, and is covered with a coppery-brown thin skin. The stem has an obvious u-shaped groove along its entirety, from tip to tail. The truth is that it is almost impossible to confuse the ostrich fern with any other. A sandwich-sized zipper bag can provide a couple of decent meals to the harvester. You should also know that fiddleheads are sort of poisonous. Or may be. Until cooked. So pick only a bag or two to eat during the short season. Pick another bag or two to preserve for later. Keep them refrigerated as soon as you get them to your kitchen. Clean them as soon as possible. Some folks will say to hold the coils under running water to remove the coppery skin. That will work. I use a different method. I think it works better and does not waste water. No, I’m not going to tell you exactly how I do it. But you get one hint. Next time you are on an archaeological dig, notice the device sifting collectibles out of the dirt. Hold that thought.

If you are going to freeze a batch or more, do that as soon as you can. Set up a stock pot with a strainer insert. This makes it easier to do several small batches, while keeping the water boiling. Also have a large ice bath to shock, or quick chill, the par-boiled ferns. The process is fairly simple. Par boil the fiddleheads for two minutes at full boil. Shock them. Repeat until all your fiddleheads are done. Then spin-dry the fiddleheads with that salad spinner you hardly use. Load a freezer zip bag about three-quarters full. Start to set the seal. When the bag is almost closed, press the air out of it gently and complete the seal. Freeze ‘em. Remember, you still have to cook the ferns after thawing.

I did mention that fiddleheads must be cooked. I have been eating ferns for over 45 years. I’m thinking that my cooking method is probably safe enough. The trouble is that all things growing out in the wild can have microbial activity coursing over their outer surfaces. And I may have mentioned that the flooding waters probably picked up a touch of something that passed out of the south end of a north facing bovine. That’s why we rinse the ferns well after picking off the coppery skins. To the best of my knowledge, UVM does not offer a Master Canning course … yet. UMaine does. The canning people at UMaine offer two methods of cooking fiddleheads. IMHO, neither is quite right. Extremely safe, but epicurean they are not.

Boiling: “Bring lightly salted water to a boil and add washed fiddleheads. The water should fully cover the ferns. Bring back to a boil and hold for 15 minutes.” At this point you will be able to pass the cooked fiddleheads through that slight gap between your front teeth with a light push of your tongue. Steaming: “You may also steam fiddleheads for 10 to 12 minutes after the steam apparatus returns to full steam.” This will still over-cook the coils.


My method has not been verified by any governmental body that might offer such a service. I also mention again that I’ve been practicing this cooking method for over 45 years. This is more chef-like, so you may have to do two cooking techniques at once. It’s not that hard. First bring a large pot with enough water to cover the ferns to a boil. At about the same time, cut up a half dozen strips of thick bacon into two-inch dice. Put the pork belly bits into a large frying pan over medium heat. Drop the cleaned fiddleheads into the water as soon as it’s boiling hard. Stir the bacon. Check the boiling water. Stir the bacon. After five minutes at hard boil, drain the fiddleheads. Drain them well, perhaps referring to the previously mentioned salad spinner. CAREFULLY add the damp fiddleheads to the frying pan with the bacon. Stir the bacon, this time sautéing the fiddleheads. When the bacon is fully cooked, the fiddleheads will be cooked perfectly. Transfer the bacon-fiddlehead mix to a warmed plate. Add a bit of cracked Tellicherry black pepper, a grind of pink Himalayan salt and a couple of scratches of fresh nutmeg. That is all.

© 2015 by Daryle Thomas. All rights reserved.


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Three Destructive Forest Pests Webinar

This webinar counts for EMG continuing education hours.  Password/user protected.

Click here.

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Across the Fence

Monday, March 16th The Vermont Agriculture Mediation Program (VTAMP) –Matt Strassberg, VTAMP Executive Director, and Bob Parsons, UVM Extension Agricultural Economist
Wednesday, March 18th Segments on: The 2015 UVM Extension 4-H Pumpkin Contest -and- Creating a Habitat for Pollinators
Tune in to WCAX Channel 3 at 12:10 pm. Watch shows online shortly after they air, at:

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