Last week when I was in my Garden Memoirs class, each person got to grow their own type of seed. I chose a seed that was tolerant to the cold and that it was a vegetable that could be cooked to make different recipes like salads, soups or they can be eaten as greens for dinners.
When I received my seeds, I did not know when was the best time to grow the seeds. I did research that they can be planted at the end of winter before spring time. The first thing was to find a container that would hold hold soil and have holes to not overflow the soil.
Some of the containers that I chose was either too big or too small. The first container I picked was a plastic food container and thought that it would be perfect for growing seeds. I felt that this container would be too deep or too wide for the seeds.
Then I chose to plant the seeds in a small plastic pot that was not too big and not too wide. The pot also had small holes on the bottom to help drain too much water from getting into the soil. The seeds started sprouting after 5 days and started to see flowering. I made sure that the plant received enough sunlight, water, and fresh air.
When my parents bought our house, it came with an extra lot of land to the side of it. This gave me, my brother, and our neighborhood friends ample room to play outside while growing up. This also meant my parents could start the process of turning a large portion of the backyard into a flourishing garden over the years.
Placed in the sunniest part of our yard, my parents made a gardening space that they have continued to grow over the past 20 years! My mom always dreamed of walking out into her backyard to pick fresh produce grown by herself and my dad for my brother and myself. The previous owners of our house had chickens, and their manure left rich nutrients in the soil of our garden, which was great for growing our plants.
We have grown tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, soybeans, zucchini, various squashes, decorative gourds, eggplant, green beans, snow peas, broccoli, cauliflower, and the list goes on. This past year we even grew our first mini pumpkin! My favorite part of the garden is our blueberry and raspberry bushes. They are the best berries I’ve ever had. One of my favorite memories growing up is coming home, in the beginning of July, every year from our vacation in Maine and running straight to the blueberry bush for perfectly ripened blueberries.
Another memory that my brother and I share from growing up was using a metal detector in our yard. Digging up our yard and getting dirt everywhere eventually led to us finding old cow tags deep in our soil along with buried gardening shovels. This led us to believe our yard used to be a farm back in the day, which we were so excited about. I will always have these lasting memories of the history of our yard and garden growing up. Also, I will forever be so grateful for what our garden provides us during the warmer months, and the commitment my parents have to continuing our garden each year. It definitely created a connection to the food we eat, knowing it came from our very own yard, and from the love of my parents.
Seed starting is a beautiful transition for us in New England to begin to look ahead into the warm spring from our cold and dreary winter. Starting seeds is a fun and extremely affordable hobby for those who want a connection to our environment. Seed starting is something I have been doing over the past years since I was a young child about the age of 8. Now that I am older and passionate about seeing progress in my seeds I have become much more interested in what exactly I can grow and how to do so. In our Garden Memoirs class we have been able to access an inside look at some farmers and other classmates’ skills of what they grow and have experienced. With this course being offered at Merrimack I think it is a great option to take and should be advocated more vocally to students. I have learned that at our college we even have access to the Merrimack garden on campus for when we are all back on campus. This year in particular with the worldwide events going on around the world I have been more inspired to get to planting than ever before. Seed starting allows us to learn the importance of growth and progress. Growth is slow and steady and this is important in life as well that we as people can learn through these little seeds growing as well. My seeds that I was able to plant during class time have now sprouted! My seeds are showing major amounts of growth and health and it is only March. We started our seeds in plastic containers with coverings to act as a greenhouse. As they begin to grow and get stronger they can be brought outside and transported to pots or in the ground as the warm weather comes in as the Spring progresses. This experience in our Garden Memoirs class has opened my eyes to what the garden has to offer and it has exceeded my expectations!
The following blog post is a story from the mother of a good friend of mine at Merrimack College. I would like to call her by her real name, which is Ursula, for this. Ursula has a backyard with a lot of plants and flowers, which are bound to attract creatures such as Butterflies. Last year she planted an herb garden in pots in the months of May and June of 2020. While planting these herb gardens she included herbs such as dill, parsley, and white sage. Soon July would arrive, and she would see a black butterfly flying around the pots.
Now, the eggs of these butterflies are tiny and light green, and it’s very rare for them to survive and become caterpillars because of predators. Also it was pretty surprising for Ursula to see the eggs grow up in potted plants and not in a bigger garden. So at the end of their growing stage, the Caterpillar based on its colors will become an “Asterius” or a Black Butterfly as it’s called. This wouldn’t be the only time an Asterius would make an appearance in Ursula’s garden though.
In August of 2020 Ursula would find a green and black caterpillar on her white sage plant on her deck outside. She would name her new Caterpillar friend “Guilbert.” Her kids would ostracize her for having Guilbert as a pet and for having them greet the animal. The Caterpillar would start changing, and would eat for about a week, and would thread a chrysalis as well as Cocoon for 2.5 weeks. Finally, the chrysalis would turn black on the morning of August 21, 2020, and the process of Eclosion would occur. This is a long process in the development of a Butterfly, as it can take up to an hour for their wings to strengthen. Fortunately, the butterfly would finally sprout its wings and make its place in Ursula’s garden. Based on the wing colors, the butterfly was a female.
In conclusion, I think Ursula’s experience teaches us a lesson we shouldn’t forget. It’s always the little things that matter. Having a butterfly grow in your garden may not mean much to others, but I think Ursula naming it and making her children greet it is very telling about how something so little can bring so much joy. I think this happiness is the essence of what gardening is.
One early morning in May my father, cousin, and my eleven year old self headed out for a fishing trip to the Quabbin Reservoir. Quabbin is a very unique place, in the 1940’s an entire county was flooded to supply Boston with clean water. What was left behind is one of these most beautiful fisheries in the world, no civilization in sight, just green mountains sandwiched between the blues of the sky and water.
The Quabbin Reservoir is home to state record trout and is known for its pivotal position in rejuvenating the American bald eagle population. Seeing these majestic birds of prey, the staple of americana, soar above your head is the epitome of freedom. They especially grabbed the attention of my late great uncle, Uncle Moose. Moose was the textbook definition of an outdoorsman, doing everything from commercial tuna fishing to hunting rabbit, but his favorite place to be was right there at Quabbin with those eagles. On this particular day in May the presence of the eagles were prominent. You could make out the white of their heads perched in the evergreens like a singular ornament on a christmas tree.
As we neared lunch, still fishless, our luck changed. One of the rods off the back of the boat bent down and we had a fish on! My father handed me the rod and was coaching me through what to do. He was saying; “Ok Jack, you’re going to reel the fish in, pull it past me next to the boat, I’m going to drop the net into the water, and then you just let the fish drift right back not the net.” It seemed fool proof. Twenty feet off the back of the boat we see the fish break the surface of the water, my cousin and dad come to the conclusion that it’s a rainbow trout. My first Quabbin fish was now fifteen feet away. Ten feet and I’m thinking of how I’m going to hold it for a picture. It’s five feet away and all of a sudden a shadow screams in from the right, there is a splash in the water and my rod bends straight up. That shadow belonged to the eagle that was once perched high up in the trees. But the fish was still hooked. So here I am, eleven years old, fighting a bald eagle at the end of my line. After a valiant fight of a few long seconds, the eagle won and took my fish back to his perch. Dumbfounded at what we all had just witnessed I picked up the phone and immediately called Uncle Moose, frantically trying to explain to him what just happened. After all he was the one who taught my father, who then taught me how to fish. Although we left that day without catching a fish we all knew that what we all experienced together out there on the water was a shared memory that will never be forgotten.
Gardening is arguably one of the most rewarding processes. It builds one’s connection with nature while contributing countless benefits. However, my personal favorite aspect of gardening is the gift of fresh food as well as all the benefits that it brings.
When you grow your own food you are not only benefiting the taste of your products but you are benefiting health wise. Your diet becomes packed with minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants. When products are harvested directly from the source, you are able to consume these nutrients in their rawest form. This is very different from food purchased in places such as a grocery store because the timeline there is much longer. The food we see sold in our stores go through several stages of being harvested, shipped, and distributed. The longer the food sits on a shelf or in storage the freshness of the product is compromised. These products are also subject to undergo unnatural treatments in order for them to last longer. Overall, this is not the healthiest for people to consume and can compromise existing health benefits. By growing or harvesting your own food, you avoid these things. Instead, you are granted with delicious products in their purest form, directly from the source to your plate.
Not only does growing/harvesting your food provide health benefits but it allows you to form memories with the people around you. For me personally, harvesting blueberries will always remind me of my grandmother. We didn’t grow them ourselves, but each summer she visited we made countless trips to the local berry farm. We would wander up and down the patches in search of grammy’s criteria for the “best blueberries.” She taught us just what to look for, not too big or small, not too dark or to light in color. As kids, we were always quick to grab the first berries we saw in sight. But when we would go to show her, she always warned “you’re not looking deep enough” as she believed the best ones were always hidden. When the process finally came to an end, it was time for what I thought was my favorite part: blueberry pie. The pie we would make tasted far better than any other pie as the freshness of the blueberries was evident. However, I have to say, looking back all those years ago I can’t clearly remember the taste of the pie. What I remember most are all the times collecting the blueberries with my grammy and it is those memories that are still clear to me.
Growing/harvesting fresh food is extremely beneficial health wise as it allows you to consume products in their rawest form, providing all of their individual benefits. However, more importantly, growing/harvesting food is an opportunity to make memories with those around you like I was able to do. As we have now created our greenhouses in class, I am excited to have the opportunity to grow my own product and make memories with my classmates while doing so.
Although my family has never been big on the idea of growing our own food, I do have a story that has kind of become a tradition related to sustainability. When we first moved into the house I currently live in, 11 years ago, we discovered that there are a ton of blueberries and even some strawberries that grow in the woods behind our house. My mom was thrilled when she found out because for many years prior she loved to go and pick blueberries in the huge blueberry fields across the road from my grandma’s house. Now we had our own source right in our backyard, without ever doing any work. The first year we noticed them growing back there we weren’t really sure if they were safe to eat, but we decided there was only one way to find out. My mom and I decided to sample a few. They were delicious and thankfully nothing bad happened.
My mom suggested that we should pick some of them so that we could make some blueberry pies and I was 100% on board with that idea. It took hours in the hot sun, but we had eventually picked what seemed like hundreds of delicious blueberries. We made two blueberry pies with some of the blueberries we picked and then my mom froze the rest to save for future use. The pies were delicious and it was amazing to think that the main ingredient had come right from our backyard. The following summer we noticed that the blueberries had grown back so we decided to pick them again and make more pies. We bought some antique blueberry rakes to see if those would make the process go a little faster. They worked well. Every year since then they have grown back without us having to do any work. We leave the wooded area alone back there and let nature do the work for us. We pick our share and leave some for the deer and other animals to enjoy. Nature has so many gifts to share with us. Not only did nature give us some delicious blueberries, but it created a family tradition that will reach 12 years this summer.
This blog post will be dedicated to the seed starting that we began last week in class. Last week we got introduced with some seeds and we brought materials into class to help us learn how to start planting seeds. We were required a small Tupperware container and Dr. Perks brought in some potting soil and seeds for us to get started. First off Dr. Perks explained that the seeds are different for everyone, in size, planting style, how much to water each, and sprouting times. Now I had seen seeds planted directly into the ground before but I had never planted my own, or attempted to start seeds off indoors. When the time came around to choose our seeds my eyes were glued to the lettuce, and next thing I knew a packet was in my hand. What I found interesting about my packet was the instructions for planting these delicate seeds. There were the usual planting tips, plant at this depth and allow sunlight four to eight hours, but also it mentioned planting one seed in the “cell”, hoping to produce a head of lettuce, or plant multiple seeds in the cell to reap the rewards of a bed of lettuce.
I gave it a go, I planted my seeds at about 1/4 of an inch down and threw a single seed in each Tupperware container on the left, the heads of lettuce. In the right container I dropped three little seeds into each cell as the package instructed me. The package said that around a week would go by and I should see sprouts. I was astonished when it was about the fifth day and I noticed a single sprout from my heads of lettuce, but it was only a single one. To my even greater astonishment I opened the second container to three of the cells having a couple sprouts up each.
I was astonished with how quickly and well my sprouts started to be doing so I also tried to incorporate another method Dr. Perks mentioned besides watering them daily, but not too much, as well as once the sprouts emerge either blow on them or wave your hand to give them a little workout and prepare them for the outdoors.
Newly sprouted seedlings are exceedingly vulnerable to pests and the elements. This is why seed starting is a very effective way to ensure your crops will prosper and produce a high quality yield. Seed starting is a process of growing seedlings in controlled greenhouses where they can receive precise watering and controlled temperatures. When the crops grow stronger, they are then transplanted into the native soil where they can grow to their complete form. Commercial farms will use large walk-in greenhouses but smaller alternatives can easily be made at home. Once the seeds are almost to the point of being ready for transplant, you should move them to outdoor seedling tables where they can be acclimated to the natural elements before being brought to the soil.
In our garden memoirs class, we are getting hands-on experience with seed starting of our own. We started by making homemade greenhouses where our seedlings can thrive in our dorm rooms. I choose to grow eggplant because my townhouse has a large window that receives an abundance of sunlight perfect for the heat loving plant. To construct our greenhouses, we brought tall boxes to class and cut out two sides with a box cutter to allow for sunlight exposure. We then simply wrapped the box in clear plastic to insulate the seedlings and continue to provide sunlight.
All that was left was to do was fill our containers with nutrient rich soil and lightly pack in down. I then spread my eggplant seeds throughout the container at the recommended depth of ¼ of an inch. I am currently watering my seedlings every day and awaiting the first signs of life in my homemade greenhouse. I look forward to watching them grow and eventually seeing them flourish in the Merrimack garden.
In 2006 my family moved to Townsend Massachusetts. We moved during the month of June and one of the first things I remember doing that week was build a large wooden compost container. We built our compost pile about 10 feet back into the woods. The location we chose was critical because if it was too far out of the way it would not get used as much but if it was too close to the areas we frequent on the property it would smell bad. To build the composter we first dug six holes in the ground for our 4×4 support posts. We added concrete to each post so they would not move and would have a secure base. We built and double-sided composter and you can see from the picture the far side and walls of the composter have spacing in between for better airflow. The wall in the middle and the front wall of the composter is solid so to help keep the compost contained properly.
We use our compost for everything. We have upwards of 10 flower beds on our property along with two beds that are for growing vegetable crops. Before we mulch in the spring we always put down a nice healthy layer of compost on our beds to help with the nutrients our flowers are getting and to put back some nutrients that were lost from the prior year. We grow a lot of tomatoes (heirlooms, cherry, Roma) and they absolutely love the compost. Compost is amazing for your crop beds and very key to growing strong healthy tomato plants. My father’s grandmother owned a flower nursery and garden supply store. Growing up my dad would always spend a lot of time with her at the nursery learning about all the different kinds of plants. That is where he gets all of his motivation to maintain so many flower beds on our property. It is not easy or cheap to plant, mulch, and maintain a bed of flowers but it is all worth it once it is fully grown and flowered and you get to enjoy the beauty and life they provide. After planting these beds for so many years with my family I am excited to start my own flower beds and compost pile when I get a property of my own.