Garden Memoirs Wrap-Up and Merrimack Garden Expansion

The lull between planting and harvest time is perfect for reflecting on the busy spring we had in Garden Memoirs class. Dr. Perks taught ESS 3600, an Environmental Studies + Arts and Literature class, for the first time in spring 2019, working with a fantastic group of students from a range of majors. We went from struggling to identify the significance of honeybees in the opening scene of our first book, Farm City by Novella Carpenter, to talking extensively about the symbolism of hatching a new flock of heritage turkeys at the end of Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. It was a rewarding semester, full of human and plant growth.

In addition to honing our critical reading and writing skills throughout the semester (with blog posts, reflection papers, and literary criticism), we also engaged in a lot of food- and garden-related work, some of which is recapped here.

Follow our garden progress on Instagram at ‘Merrimack Garden!’

In the warm, communal space of the 47 Lounge during the colder months, we practiced food preservation skills. During one memorable class, we made over a dozen jars of dill pickles, crafted sustainable beeswax wraps, and perused garden catalogs to help plan our garden.

Jar of dill pickles with snowy background. Photo by Lisa Perks

On another busy class period, later in the semester, we made two apple pies and fresh cheese. Even more exciting: we ate all of our delicious food the next time class met.

Two apple pies cool and cheese curds separate from whey. Photo by Lisa Perks.

All three of our books emphasized raising animals for meat, eggs, and/or milk. Daisy, Lily, and Speckle (three chicks raised for egg laying), visited Garden Memoirs class and the Humor and Media class (pictured below).

Three chicks visit the animal-whispering students in Humor and Media class. Photo by Lisa Perks.

Once the ground thawed, we began work on what would be our proudest accomplishment: expanding plantings at Merrimack’s Rock Ridge Rd. garden site. We tested the soil, analyzed what had been planted the previous year (rotating the crops to prevent disease), extensively researched plant growth habits and disease susceptibility, thought about our community’s needs, and mapped out our plantings.

Pete, Brayden, and Ben identify last year’s plants. Photo by Lisa Perks.

After a trip with Stephanie and Danny (pictured below) to haul our raised-bed cedar lumber back to campus, we were ready to get building.

Stephanie and Danny with the cedar lumber. Photo by Lisa Perks (pictured in shadow).

And after a memorable, rainy-day trip to Lake Street Garden Center, we were ready to get planting. (See Jaiden’s blog post about the experience getting blueberries + apple trees, and check out our garden-themed playlist for the van ride.)

Spring planting photo by Stephanie Sartori
Worm heart photo by Stephanie Sartori
Blueberry planting photo by Stephanie Sartori
Watering impatiens photo by Stephanie Sartori

The plants have had over a month to settle in and grow. We’ve added other annuals and a team of volunteers for summer care. Plantings include strawberries, blueberries, apples, cucumbers, lettuce, pumpkins, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, potatoes, and a selection of herbs.

The garden is there to feed anyone in our community. Stop by Rock Ridge Rd. to enjoy the plants, pull some weeds, and eat some food! Our Merrimack Garden Instagram account will have updates on what’s ready to harvest. Here’s a look at the progress as of June 9th, 2019.

Lettuce and dill planted by young women in the Lawrence Math and Science Partnership program. Photo by Lisa Perks
Early blueberry photo by Lisa Perks
Littlest Perks planting peppers and zinnias
Pumpkins planted by young women in the Lawrence Math and Science Partnership program. Photo by Lisa Perks
Everbearing strawberry photo by Lisa Perks


Brayden Downing – July 3rd

My family loves Cape Cod, especially during the summer months when it’s prime time for going to the beach, boating, and eating at my all-time favorite restaurant, Chapins Bayside. The area my summer house is in is on Ridgevale Beach in Dennis, MA, but over the summer I visited different parts of the cape and saw a lot of really interesting and pretty areas.

I visited my friend at his cape house over the summer in Hyannis and his neighbor’s had an insane garden with a path lined with flowers that led to a private beach, as picture and below. Every type of flower imaginable covered almost all the space in their backyard and the grass was extremely well kept.

I was amazed to see how well they used their land to create such a scenic area right in their own backyard and it was obvious a lot of work had gone into making such a pretty space. My favorite part was the path to the beach surrounded on all sides by the trees because it was a hidden part of the backyard; the various flowers draw in more attention right off the bat.

Poison Ivy

For as long as I can remember, it seems that every year, once a summer, I have found out the hard way that that I have lost a battle to poison ivy. My most recent experience came while I was on a camping trip with my buddies. Let the record show, we were hands down, without a doubt the worst campers at the camp site. We did not know what we were getting ourselves into.

My friends and I making the best of a tough camping experience. (All 21 🙂

A little background on how bad of farmers we were is well first off, nobody brought any fire wood, the main resource that is crucial for camping, we had none of it. Since every store within a 15 mile radius was closed we decided that we would use branches, wood around us. This lead to me, walking through high brush, in search of wood to burn. As you can see from the picture, none of us thought about the proper footwear to have on, we all felt flip flops were a great idea. With me being on “fire wood” duty, it meant frequent trips through the high brush, about one trip every 10-15 minutes. With it being pitch black, and the only form of light is coming from my cellphone flashlight, I wasn’t sure what I was stepping on at all times. There is where we run into my good ole friend poison ivy. In its defense, I don’t think I would have known what it looked like if the sun was out, and would have still walked through it. So here i am, day the morning of day two out of four, and I am covered with poison ivy. I must have itched it throughout then night because it spread from my feet throughout my whole body. Looking back on it, there is no reason to feel sorry for myself, I was walking through tall brush with flip flops and no socks on. I was basically asking to get poison ivy.

From that experience, I decided that will be my last time getting poison ivy, once a year is way to frequent. I am now an expert in everything that has to do with poison ivy. I know exactly what it looks like, areas it likes to grow in, and all the different forms of it. I have really hoping that this is the summer that I am free from poison ivy and don’t have to worry about the itchy scabs spreading throughout my body. So if there was one good thing that came out of this trip was that I made a few big realizations. First off, becoming a master in all things poison ivy. Secondly realizing that camping is a lot more than just pitching a tent and telling ghost stories around the fire. So from now on I will try to become a heck of a lot better camper than I was for that trip.

-Dominic Dockery


Not all plants are created equal at all. Some, may be easy to grow and require a minimal amount of upkeep to maintain its growth, while others need a lot of help in order to grow fruitfully. This is important to know when considering which plants to grow in your own personal garden. The tomato and the onion are a classic example of this.

    One of the easiest plants to grow under the sun is the tomato, a plant that needs a very little attention to survive. It only needs about two inches of rain a week to survive, and that is a very slim amount. They also grow very well in some hardy conditions, they are accustomed to almost any area that receives rain. They need around 7 hours of sunlight a day as well in order for them to thrive and bear the best possible outcome. This differs greatly from the onion. The onion is rather challenging to grow for a new farmer.

    Onions must be placed in a little over an inch of dirt, and they need around 5 inches of space compared to the few inches tomatoes need. It survives in zone 3-9, while a tomato can survive zone 5-9. It needs a long time to grow, and only needs an inch of rain to grow. They are so difficult because they do not have the best defenses against pesticides and insects.

The Blue Chew Toy

Before my family planted our first garden the yard was covered in holes from our first dog Tucker. Tucker had a favorite blue chew toy that he would bring with him everywear for comfort. When Tucker was getting older and sicker, it finally came to the day to put him down, his blue chew toy was nowhere to be found, which was strange because it was always right by his side. After hours of searching for it, we had no choice but to bring tucker to the vet without it. We tried to search for the chew toy but we were never able to find it. After years past and our new garden has blossomed into something somewhat nice, we decided to get a new puppy, Nike. Nike would run through the garden and stomp on everything in his path. Just like Tucker, Nike started to dig up everything, but we would always find him before he did too much damage to our garden. During the summer of 2010 my parents threw a big party to celebrate my brothers birthday, and with everyone distracted with singing happy birthday, Nike finally got his shot to dig up the garden as much as he could. When my mom finally notice she ran down the stairs yelling at Nike to stop and all the kids laughing in the background. My mom went to pull Nike away but he would not budge. He had his nose fully in the hole and was trying to pull on something. My mom was confused so just let him go. After a few second Nike emerges his nose from the deep hole with his face covered in dirt, and with a shock to all of us he was holding Tucker’s blue chew toy. My parents were almost in tears because the memories that blue chew toy held was ones they haven’t thought about in years. That summer my parents got a stone that said “Tucker, 1989-2005” to put in our garden with the blue chew toy buried underneath it.


Greenhouses of the Badlands

Not many people know what exists in the flat landscape that is South Dakota. To me, it is filled with rich culture, populated with the honest Lakota people looking for any means to survive. One of these people is named Patricia. Patricia has one large greenhouse that she uses to grow different kinds of plants and vegetables throughout the year to help support the poverty stricken Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Fellow volunteers from Xavier at Patricia’s greenhouse

Last year’s harvest from Patricia’s greenhouse and farm right outside harvested tens of thousands of pounds of potatoes, carrots, as well as many different kinds of flowers. The day that we were there, we helped plant tons of small plots that would end up being prepared finally by the group the next day. We planted heirloom balloon flowers, zinnias, Indian summer rudbeckias, and bright light cosmos, just to name a few. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see any of the flowers that previous groups helped plant and grow as we were the second volunteer group at Re-Member for the season.

Sample of flower seed bag from Patricia

Any means of gardening/farming/agriculture, large or small makes the biggest difference for the residents of the Pine Ridge Reservation. On the Rez, there are very scarce resources, such as fresh produce. If you were to go to one of the gas stations/convenience stores called Sharp’s Corner, and you walked in you would see isles lined with the biggest brands of snack foods like Doritos, Pop-Tarts, Lays, Snickers, Reese’s. But what you wouldn’t see are any fresh fruits or vegetables until you went into the back left corner of the store to a small refrigerator unit that wasn’t filled with Kid Cuisine and Stouffer’s. In this refrigerator was the produce section of the store where a bag of grapes that cost $2-$3 dollars back home at Market Basket. In South Dakota, that bag of grapes costs upwards of more than $10 dollars to put things into prospective of what resources are available on the Rez.

My Meadow Garden Plans

Not quite a year ago I put up a six foot privacy fence around most of my yard.  I say most of it, because on the east side of my driveway there is a strip about thirty feet wide, and a hundred or so feet long that we decided to leave unfenced.  We did this for a couple reasons, mainly though because any kind of fence on that side makes it difficult to see oncoming traffic when pulling out of the driveway….which is kind of important.  This space, which is occupied only by two Bradford Pears and hemmed in at one end with some Arborvitaes, is really a wasted area that needs a purpose.

My ugly, wasted space of a side yard

I have a vision for it though, and it takes the form of a meadow garden.  For those who don’t know what a meadow garden is, it is a planting area that basically has been allowed to revert back to a “natural” meadow-like state.  When filled with hardy, native plants and wildflowers, these areas serve a very important role.  First, they reduce the amount of a non-native and extremely invasive plant that is found in most lawns – grass.  Second, they provide food and habitat for smaller animals like rabbits and chipmunks.  This can be critical to their survival, especially in the colder months.  Another essential service that meadow gardens provide, (and arguably the most important) is a source of food for our pollinators. The role pollinators play in agriculture cannot be understated and they must be protected.      

A representation of a meadow garden, which I am confident will pale in comparison to mine (

In my situation, having a meadow garden will be mutually beneficial for both myself, and the pollinators as well.  Just on the other side of the fence that borders this area, is my vegetable garden.  Over the past few years, I’ve noticed a steady decline in bees, and I believe this has contributed to some lackluster harvests.  I’m hoping that by providing a smorgasbord of wildflowers just a few feet away, bees and other pollinators will be enticed to stick around.  If that fails, at the very minimum I’ll at least have something that’s aesthetically pleasing.

Peter Reed


Spring’s Invitation

As I begin this post, I would like to first welcome Spring, a season that embroiders life, growth, and vegetation in every facet of their meanings. Through this platform, I hope to both ignite and encourage growth in your own development and indulgence through reconnecting with the wonders our natural environment has provided, of course in a responsible manner. Pondering what concept my upcoming blog post might entertain, I decided that it would be appropriate to highlight my relationship with Spring. Ever since I could remember the first day of spring has always been a much anticipated day for me. In light of this year, upon waking up, I found myself gravitating towards the window, where I was greeted with the inviting sounds of chirping birds and a mild breeze that carried the air. This, I thought to myself, was another season of opportunity to work with the natural environment. Spring, A season which not only rekindles life in the physical sense, but also encourages new discoveries, and techniques that brand the labor of its title. Soon after this personal invitation of spring, I found myself in the yard glancing upon the landscape still patched with glistening white snow.

It is reflecting on the animation of Spring that I find myself as a part of the intricate system of networks deemed as our natural environment. Significantly, my earnest attempt to work with nature, rather than against it, is reverberated through my attempt at organic gardening. In light of this process, during the early days of Spring, I began to plant Organic, Non-GMO heirlooms in my strictly maintained organic compost and topsoil mix, and store them in my incubated sunroom. To that end, just the other day I woke up to several green sprouts surfacing the top of the soil. This, in its miraculous and fruitful journey, is pivotal in the attempt to creating and maintaining sustainable practices. Specifically, through diversifying and extending the life of a product/item in the effort of conservation.

To elaborate on this concern for deficiency in our ideology and social interaction that I would like to extend my evolution on the theory of sociological interaction. It is in earnest reflection of my often comprised relationship with the physical environment that I would like to echo my concern for the foreseeable future as a culture that caters to the demands of society. Regarding the present stature of our society, we should be amplifying means of prevention between the natural earth and its inhabitants. To that end, I find that as an environmental steward it is often difficult, although executed in a different capacity to interrupt the corrupt system that has been fortified through unsustainable practices deemed practical in the current social system. It is in light of this approach that I have attempted to avert the corruption of our social behavior through the act of organic gardening.

Mr. Glumpkin

(Photo of my bearded dragon Glump)

About two summers ago, me and a bunch of my friends decided to rent a nice house on a lake and stay there for a week. Once we got settled in we walked around the house and just to check out the scenery. Towards the back off the house there was a greenhouse filled with beautiful plants, flowers so bright and big. It was about the size of an our classroom. After walking through an observing something brought me back to the greenhouse, maybe it was the flowers, I am not really sure. As soon as I walk in I spot a giant lizard in the far back corner on the ground. Now this took me by surprise mainly because, IT IS A BEARDED DRAGON! I did not know what to do, the best thing I could think of was get him a cage and call the landlord. we called the and asked if he belonged to him and he did not. So, worried about him I took him home with me. The picture above is me and glump a year after first meeting. I brought him to our beach house in Ocean City Maryland.

(Me and Glump eating breakfast)

Glump and I became very close over the last year and a half. I do everything with him, that is from eating breakfast to going to the beach. He has always been a positive in my life mainly because when I think of him, I think about where I found him and how alone he was. At that point in my life I believe I was feeling the same even though I was on vacation with my friends. Meeting Glump changed my views on people how they treat this world we live in. Leaving an animal, a precious animal like him in a greenhouse for god knows how long is just wrong.

Now how does this apply to Gardening?

In reality this does not apply to much to gardening but it does speak on nature and my connection to it. I have always been the kid to run towards a snake instead of away. Always been excited to go outdoors and explore rather than stay inside. Our community should take a better stance to help those like Glump, because he changed me for the better.

– Juice Jones


Pops and Mangoes

  Photo of Pop and Me (Photo by Christine Ducille)

As you can see in the picture above, my family is tiny. In the center of every picture you can see in the light blue is my Pop Pop Carl, born and raised in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Every summer I made my way to Jamaica and there has always been a passion for nature in our culture mainly because of the life style we were brought up in. When it was time to prepare breakfast, lunch or dinner we and my grandfather and his tenant Sunshine would go out back, into his giant garden which is about 1 ½  acres. Full of Mangoes, Potatoes, Sugar Cane, Carrots, Greens, etc. I always loved picking mangoes with Pop, he’d pick me up and let me decide which ones were ripe and which should stay on the vine.

Ataulfo Mango; (grown throughout Jamaica)

Now mangoes are very difficult, it is hard to tell when they are ripe. Many try and tell by the color of the fruit yet, my Pop’s always taught me off of the smell. Mainly because there are three different types of mangoes grown throughout the south and all over Jamaica. All judged different in ripe season, the Ataulfo Mango Jamaica’s finest can be judged by its smell but more its color. A very tart aroma is produced by the mango when ripe, also it is very soft on the ends (that being the top and bottom on the mango), and lastly the mango is plump and juicy like a water balloon. After going through our daily evaluation on which mangoes we should pick, we pluck them and cut them up and would make so many different things. Smoothies, passion and mango fruit juice (which happens to still be my favorite drink).

What does this have to do with Gardening?

Throughout my life, I have never been one to cherish gardens but after writing this blog and looking back on the great memories I have made with my family through nature. I can proudly say, gardening is an activity I would like to take up and make an important part of my life. From our readings I have grown fond of how life with nature produce happiness and love. I believe there should be more of that in everyone’s life.

   Rest In Peace Pops

– Juice Jones