Carrots, Kale, and Local Food

The summer garden is getting into full swing here at the end of May.  During our workday this Friday, we planned for new crops in the empty beds as Spring plants begin to die back.  Tomatoes are chief on the agenda, but variation selection is always tricky, only because we want everything!  The squash we planted on Tuesday will still take a week or so the sprout, but we put in some good bush beans around the peas, which should be great.  The kale and collards are still absolutely beautiful, and hopefully we’ll keep harvesting those for a while longer.


Weeding is also becoming a chief concern now that we have so much sun after weeks of rain.  They’re popping up everywhere!  We also thinned back the cosmic purple carrots, which based on the ones we pulled out, should be stunning!  Thinning them out will give the other carrots space to grow even bigger and more delicious.


It’s exciting to see the new strawberries in bloom, and the lima beans and fava beans starting to come in.  There are even a few green berries starting to pop up! Can’t wait to see how those turn out. We had fewer volunteers at the garden on Friday than on Tuesday, but still got some good work done, because we are very serious garden professionals, as exemplified below.


This week, I’m reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, which, in the interest of full disclosure, is a book I’ve read before, but I figured would be a good way to step back into the world of sustainable agriculture.  I’m only about half way through it, but already I’m on a local food kick. Kingsolver is absolutely right about food quality when it comes to seasonality.  We may have access to any food in any season here in America, but none of it is truly great unless it’s been recently picked and minimally handled.

That’s why it’s hard to put a finger on truly American cuisine, outside of McDonalds and processed sugar. An abundance of choices comes at the price of specificity, which is a shame because limited variety in food supplies throughout the year usually leads to great recipes, along the lines of “necessity is the mother of invention.” I’ve already discovered several groceries and butchers around Charlottesville with great local food, and plan to patronize them as often as possible this summer and try to stay in season.

Our first day working on the farm was Thursday.  The main thing I’ve learned is that organic vegetable gardening is by far the most labor intensive form of farming.  Elise and I were exhausted by the end of the day, but in the best way possible.  Picking fresh fruit from their strawberry field for lunch has only reaffirmed my love for fresh, local, in season produce, which is Bellair Farm’s specialty.  I have to say, you have not lived until you’ve eaten fresh summer strawberries still warm from the sun.

Until next week, greetings from the Garden Crew!




First Summer Workday

Today we had our first workday of the summer on a beautiful, warm day that finally decided to live up to the season. We have high hopes that the recent Charlottesville monsoons are winding down for good, although I don’t think Grace or I minded a few days off from watering the beds. The rain has been so plentiful its had an impressive effect on the growth of our radishes.

It’s hard to tell, but that radish pictured on the right is the size of a tennis ball–a fresh, organic tennis ball that goes great on a salad.

First, an introduction is in order. The garden interns this summer are yours truly, Grace and Elise. We’re excited to be rocking our garden hats and getting our hands in the dirt alongside the awesome community that has flourished around this green space. We’re all smiles.


Today we cleaned up the turnip beds, which had quite a few fallen stalks trampled by torrential downpour. Of the ones that did survive, you can chalk their persistence up to their unusual height and leafiness. Our turnips are very robust above ground but lacking below. We unfortunately have tiny turnips to eat, but we do have great leafy stalks that would go great as a center piece at the dinner table! Their strange growth is a garden mystery, and I’m sure it won’t be the first we’ll experience this summer.

Luckily, we had lots of bib lettuce, radish, and kale to harvest!


We had some great volunteers to tackle some weedy grass that infiltrated the herb and asparagus beds. And perhaps most exciting of all, we planted the winter squash. We’re crossing our fingers that our squash will wind up as orange and enticing as the seed package promises.

A brief reflection:

“Neither nature nor people alone can produce human sustenance, but only the two together, culturally wedded.” -Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America

This quote from Berry’s work is embedded in a larger passage about the danger of being an “exploiter,” one whose principle is to divide and conquer, whose goal is profit, and whose competence is organization. To be a “nurturer,” on the other hand, is to work as well as possible, to shoot for personal, communal, and national health, and to be guided by an understanding and respect for the human order, which includes the accommodation of compassion and mystery.

The particular line above stuck out to me because of the word choice: “human sustenance.” I’d like to think that Wendell wasn’t just talking about eating food.  Growing and harvesting food gives the mind a sense of place, and working for that growth and sharing the harvest with others feeds (ha ha puns) our human desire for connection.

When you work in a garden, you realize that food is more than the end product picked from the fruit stand at Kroger. Participating in the process of growing food allows us to experience all that food has to offer–not just a nourishment of our physical bodies, but of our deeper selves, too.

Big Spring Thing 2016

The 2016 incarnation of Big Spring Thing, the garden’s annual seasonal festival where volunteers and community members alike gather for local food, music, and container gardening, was a big wonderful success! This year we had four acts of live music and delicious snacks sourced from Charlottesville-area farmers as well as snap beans and sunflower seeds for attendees to plant and take home – enabling them to check “Plant in the U.Va. Community Garden” off their list of things to do before graduation. We loved kicking off Earth Week at U.Va. with the community on a perfectly sunny spring day! Check out photos below as well as a feature on the event by NBC 29.

A shot of our buffet featuring country white and multigrain sourdough from Little Hat Creek Farm, damson plum and apricot jam from Jam According to Daniel, local raw honey, lemon mint and raspberry hibiscus sage tea made by Katie with herbs from the garden, Caromont Farm Red Row cheese, vegan chili made by Molly, radishes from Whisper Hill Farm, dates, apples, dark chocolate, iced coffee from Mudhouse, homemade apple cider made by Jared, and banana chocolate chip bread made by Molly!
Nathan prettying the garden up by spreading woodchips with one arm like a boss. Photo credit: Jared Gingrich
Our first musical act, Maria DeHart and Samyukta Venkat


Paige enjoying some fresh-made cider. Photo credit: Jared Gingrich
Planting Provider bush snap beans and sunflower seeds in peat pots to take home
Our second act, Molly Murphy
Photo credit: Jared Gingrich
Photo credit: Jared Gingrich


Photo credit: Jared Gingrich


Checking out the garden’s new cold frame funded by the GIFT Grant program
Our third act, Taylor Ruckle
Kate and Molly enjoying a laugh. Photo credit: Jared Gingrich


Photo credit: Jared Gingrich
Giving a tour of the garden and marveling at the wonder that is asparagus. Photo credit: Jared Gingrich
Our final act, Noah Zeidman
Giving an interview for NBC 29 about the Big Spring Thing. Photo credit: Jared Gingrich
Photo credit: Jared Gingrich
Kevin enjoying his freshly potted seed. Photo credit: Jared Gingrich
Photo credit: Jared Gingrich
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All that remained of the spread! Photo credit: Katie Lang

Thanks to everyone who came out and everyone who helped organize to make the event a hit!

Love + The U.Va. Community Garden Leadership Team

Shots of a sunny spring workday & wisdom from Wendell

“A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the space define and limit the possibilities of each others’ lives.” –Wendell Berry

After reading this gobbet of wisdom from the great agrarian Wendell Berry on the website of one our neighboring Virginia growers, Origins Farm (check out their beautiful photography here), it felt wonderful to soak in the rays of the sun and let these words guide our gardening practice as a sort of meditation on our last spring workday. Workdays at the U.Va. Community Garden are typically a joyful blend of learning, interfacing with the soil, wondering at bugs, joking around, and meeting new people, but if we step back we can see that these activities of cultivating place help us cultivate friendship as well.

Planting cilantro, collards, and vates kale starts
Finishing off the last of the speckled Bibb lettuce seeds. The other half of this bed will be planted with Virginia peanuts, a first for this crop of of U.Va. Community Gardeners, later in the season!
The compost bench is looking awesome with a mix of leaves, winter cabbage plants that served their duty and will now be repurposed into new earth, and food scraps!
Tackling some wicked weeds on the east side of the garden
Our newly constructed cold frame housing our eggplant and tomato starts, previously living in the Morven Estate greenhouse, and a tray of lacinato kale that we started here
Working on some epic cereal rye cover – we’d turned it in several weeks ago but it came back strong!

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Asparagus season is truly the most heavenly time of the year in the garden! Its growth cycle is a miracle to witness – from monstrous wintery monstrous bush to delicate trees in miniature sprouting directly from the ground – and the taste of its shoots cannot be paralleled by anything you can buy!
Enjoying a springtime harvest of asparagus, chives, mint, and super sweet survivor spinach plus a few stray beets and turnips


In addition to Sunday workdays (3 to 5 every week), Tuesday workdays have started! Join us from 11 to noon for some midweek planting fun. See you in the garden!

Love + The U.Va. Community Garden Leadership Team

Photo journal of a productive Sunday workday

Though we missed last week’s Sunday workday due to snow in the forecast (that never did arrive), we made up for it by being twice as productive this week! We worked on projects big and small, planted some wonderful crops, and even got to play with a dog.

Nathan, Jared, and Molly finished constructing the cold frame! It will allow us to lengthen our season and start our seeds right here in the garden while increasing the visibility of our plot from the street. We planted a very late tray of dinosaur/lacinato/Tuscan/cavolo nero kale to test it out! Thanks to the Green Initiatives Funding Tomorrow grant program for making this project possible.
Background: Jared and Nathan hard at work constructing the cold frame. Foreground: The heavenly first stalks of asparagus of the season – so incredibly sweet munched straight from the ground!
Caroline the Seed Whisperer plants speckled Bibb lettuce in our new wheelchair-accessible bed.
Sugar Ann snap peas ready for planting! There’s something whimsical about plopping a giant pea, bean, or corn seed into the ground – they’re magnitudes larger than most of the seeds we plant.


Kevin and Grace prep beds for sorrel (Molly’s favorite herb) and snap peas.
In addition to kale, snap peas, lettuce, and sorrel, we also planted Cosmic Purple carrots and Purple Top Globe turnips!
Even Riley joined in on the fun.


Come join us at our next workday on Sunday, and mark your calendars for the annual Big Spring Thing – a seasonal festival with local food, live music!, and a container gardening workshop where you can leave with your very own potted plant – on Sunday, April 17th from 3 to 5 p.m.!

Love + The U.Va. Community Garden Leadership Team

Compost & chill

The tranquility of spring break, the heavenly crisp temperature Charlottesville saw this week, and the nourishing rains in the forecast made for the perfect moment for an impromptu Saturday workday in the garden. A winter’s worth of time for the earthworms and microorganisms to work their magic gave us an opportunity to check in on the garden’s numerous composting systems, new and old.

Much progress was made in our eight-bin rotational system, which Engineering Students Without Borders constructed in the garden a few seasons back. Three bins contain fully finished compost, and the others have made varying amounts of progress in their generation of black gold. Check out the process in the slideshow below.

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It’s important to maintain a balance of nitrogen-rich or “green” material, like food scraps, and carbon-rich or “brown”material, like leaves, pine needles, and woody twigs. The former offers the decomposers the bulk of their nutrients but breaks down slowly, while the latter aerates the pile and adds oxygen, speeding up the process. The ideal carbon-to-nitrogen ratio hovers around 30:1, but volumetrically that translates to one part green for every two to three parts brown. So every time you toss in a couple vegetable trimmings, grab a handful or two of leaves to balance it out.

Check out all those earthworms doin’ their thing!

Saturday started off with a solid turn of the compost in each of the eight rotational bins – there’s nothing like taking a shovel to the earth to get out some frustration and/or energy. We also started a brand new pile in our brand new compost bench! As we took out the winter’s cabbages to make room for spring planting, we chopped them up and tossed them into the seat compartment, interspersing them with dried leaves.

Finally, we made use of a generous donation of finished compost from Black Bear Composting, as we planted fava beans, white icicle radishes, and speckled Bibb lettuce! Black Bear and  U.Va. dining have a wonderfully reciprocal relationship – dining halls and cafe locations across the university send their food scraps to Black Bear, and Black Bear furnishes our student gardens with its superpowered soil amendment. Beans and radishes are perhaps the best crop for the impatient gardener, as these favas will germinate in about 7 days, and in only 29 days we’ll have whole radishes to munch on! This variety look like ghostly carrots, sending their satisfyingly zippy root deep into the earth. Come on out to our next workday, Sunday, March 20th at 3 p.m., to see what we’re planting next!

Credit for photo and planting power go to Liz Master.


Love + The U.Va. Community Garden Leadership Team

Celebrating wintertime activities on a lovely spring day

Spring has arrived in Charlottesville just as students have embarked on spring break. I write this from atop the hill at the park near my house in wonderfully crisp 75-degree evening air, with the sound of a basketball game and kiddies racing behind me. Take a look at what we’ve been up to over the colder months to prepare the garden for the rebirth of spring!

Compost bench

The wonderful Elise Watt (a future 2016 Charlottesville Sustainable Agriculture intern!) received a Green Initiatives Funding Tomorrow (GIFT) grant to construct a number of beautiful compost benches for the U.Va. Community Garden and school gardens in two Charlottesville elementary schools! These benches will serve double duty as an aesthetically pleasing sitting area with a fully functional composting compartment under the seat. The bench will enhance the visibility of the garden and help create a more inviting public space, and we’re so grateful for Elise’s hard work! Check out this article from U.Va. Sustainability to learn more about her project.




The freshly installed compost bench in the glory of what’s (hopefully) our last dusting of snow!


Seed purchasing

After a meeting of the minds among in the Leadership Team in which brainstormed what we wanted to plant (and eat) this season, we mapped out our spring crops and bought our seeds from our favorite gardening store, Fifth Season Gardening! We also stocked up on peat moss to amend our soil as well as trays to start our seeds in the greenhouse at Morven Estate – thanks to Emily and our friends at Morven Kitchen Garden for sharing your space with us.

A peek into the future…


First workday + cold frame construction

This past Sunday, we enjoyed another punch of spring weather and hosted our first workday of the spring semester! Molly led the Leadership Team in receiving a GIFT grant to purchase two cold frame beds, which will allow us to start our seeds in the garden in the future and extend our growing season on-site. She and (other future 2016 Charlottesville Sustainable Agriculture intern!) Grace led day one of construction of our cold beds, while other volunteers turned in clover and cereal rye, prepped the beds for spring planting, raked leaves and generally gave the garden its seasonal facelift, and filled the wheelchair-accessible bed Freedom by Design built for us with soil.

Rays of sun shining down on our amazing construction crew


Andy getting feisty with the stakes
Filling the wheelchair-accessible bed with soil – a wet, cold task despite the sunny February weather

It was wonderful to see faces new and old, and we’ll be hosting more Sunday workdays after classes recommence, each week from 3 to 5. Beginning in April, we’ll also host Tuesday workdays from 11 a.m. to 12 for a quick break from class (or a refreshing start to your day!). To stay up-to-date on our workday schedule, send an email to

See you in the garden!

Love + The U.Va. Community Garden Leadership Team