Come and garden with us

Fresh produce is a luxury the less fortunate can only dream about which is why the Common Good Gardens started 13 years ago.

The reasoning was and is: you can’t grow a tomato for every hungry person in the world but you can at least do it for your neighbors in need – as long as you have the will and the acreage.

The Common Good Gardens, a non-profit corporation, is located behind Grace Church on Main Street, Old Saybrook and is tended by volunteers who grow and deliver the produce to the five Shoreline Soup Kitchen pantries each week. In addition, volunteers pick up day-old vegetables and fruit from six farm stands and also deliver that produce to the pantries.

The garden is organic and employs a number of innovative techniques developed over the years to grow as much produce as possible. It would not be possible without the generosity of Grace Church and the corps of workers.

Volunteers hail from all the surrounding towns and are young and old, experienced gardeners and not. The gardening takes place in season on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings to correspond to the times the pantries are open. Workers come when they can and stay as long as they want.

For information on volunteering, please email or call 860-526-3459.

Donations may be sent to:
Common Good Gardens, PO Box 1224, Old Saybrook, CT 06475.

Make a gift of vegetables

A gift was brought to Common Good Gardens on Tuesday, July 22, when Bailee Drown pulled up in her van and unloaded bin after bin of just picked vegetables at their height of flavor. The kale, baby cucumbers, Swiss chard, carrots, potatoes, beets and more were from the two-acre Upper Pond Farm on Sill Lane in Old Lyme which Bailee owns and farms.

Longtime volunteer Linda Clough and
Bailee Drown of Upper Pond Farm

Even though Bailee just started her farm this winter, it’s already producing enough for two farmer’s markets and five area restaurants – and for our garden. “When I have a glut, I harvest for you,’’ says Bailee, who has years of agricultural experience and helped put herself through college with a pumpkin stand.

Our garden can’t produce enough vegetables for all the people in need who come to the Shoreline Soup Kitchen pantries so getting a gift like the one Bailee delivered is a big help.

If you’ve grown too many vegetables in your garden, please consider doing what Bailee does and bringing them by – we’ll deliver them to the pantries along with our produce. Please drop off Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays by 10:30. Thanks

Tomato experimenting

At Common Good Gardens, we often experiment to come up with the best way to get optimum yield and taste. Right now, Mark Lenhart, based on an article he read in the organic gardening publication, “Back Home,” is experimenting with some jet star tomatoes.
Mark with his tomato experiment

He’s regularly pruning the bottom leaves off the plants to improve air flow in two tomato rows and because, the article reasons, everything below a blossom is not going to produce a tomato. At the same time he is leaving the suckers, which we are removing regularly on the rest of our tomato plants, because suckers can produce tomatoes. He does cut out those not making blossoms.

Meanwhile, he is also augmenting one of the two experimental rows with a regular dressing of coffee grounds which we get in abundance to see if those tomato plants perform better.

Too early to tell the results of all this but we’ll report back.

Garden is blessed

We should all feel flattered – and relieved – that this past Sunday the Rev. Ellendale Hoffman, the priest at Grace Church in observation of Rogation Day, asked God’s blessing for our garden.

Grace Church seminarian Bjornberg on Rogation Day
This was not a simple observation but a lovely ceremony on a lovely Sunday when the congregation followed a cross being carried by church seminarian Phil Bjornberg out to the garden.

There and during Sunday’s service, Ellendale praised the garden and all of us for tending it. When we arrived at the garden volunteer Danielle King was planting flowers she’d bought in our shed window box and her husband, David was watering the clover bed. It was as if we called central casting and asked for extras.

The Rev. Ellendale Hoffman at the garden on Rogation Day
Rogation Days are a custom dating back to the 5th century when God’s blessing is asked for the harvest, of the earth and sea.

The beginning of the prayer Ellendale gave asked God “to grant favorable weather, temperate rain and fruitful seasons, that there may be food and drink for all your creatures.”

Let us all hope He heard her.

How to pick broccoli so it lasts until frost

These instructions on harvesting broccoli were written this June by Karen Selines of Old Saybrook who is the head of the Common Good Gardens Planting Team:

Broccoli heads should be harvested before they begin to loosen and soften.  The loosening and softening indicates the head is preparing to flower, and once it flowers, a chemical signal tells the plant it has completed its job of producing seed and can now shut down production.
 Jeanne Munnelly, a volunteer in the garden
since its inception, cuts a broccoli head.

If you pick all the heads before they begin to flower, the plant will continue to produce broccoli heads until after frost in the fall.  It is important to remember that the size of the head is completely irrelevant to whether or not it should be picked.  Even a baby floret only a half inch in diameter should be removed from the plant if it is getting loose.  If heads are missed during a picking and begin to flower, they need to be removed as soon as they’re spotted.

You can tell if a head is loosening by looking at it and by gently squeezing the head between your fingers.  By sight, if you see the buds are not as tightly packed, and the tiny stems to each tiny flower are growing longer, it is time to cut off the head.  Often the color will begin to change from blue green to a more yellowy green.  If you squeeze the heads, you can feel the firmness of a tightly packed head versus one that is beginning to loosen.  It is better for the ultimate production of the plant to remove a head a day too soon, than to leave it a day too long.

 Close up shot of a broccoli
head ready for harvesting
To actually harvest the main heads, cut the main stem on a diagonal. You want to make the cut low on the stem, but where the stem is still fat and there are still leaf axils below.  (If you look at the stems, you will see that most stems are narrow near the soil.  You will want to cut in the fat stem section above this narrow part.)  Cutting lower on the stem instead of at the base of the head will result in the plant producing larger side shoots later on.

To harvest side shoots, break off the entire stem where it meets the main stem.  The side stems will usually break cleanly with your fingers - like picking suckers off a tomato plant.  If you cut the small side stems, any florets produced from the remaining section of side stem will be too small to be worthwhile.  To save and labor, you want fewer but larger side shoots.

We've got good weeders

As all gardeners come to learn, the articles that promise you will never have to weed if you use a good layer of mulch are lies..

Weeding is a big component of gardening no matter how much hay, shredded bark,, crushed leaves, cocoa hulls or even black plastic you lay down.

So, when Gloria Hager from Guilford came to the garden several years ago declaring she only wanted
to weed, she was welcomed with open arms.

Gloria broke her back two years ago and was out of commission for awhile and broke it again this winter because of a fall on the ice but yet she's in the garden this June again, her knee pad tucked under her arm and her floppy hat on her head.

Glory be!
Brianna and Rachel
And, we have three other weeders. Brianna Adams from Chester and Rachel Breault and Julie Zablocki from Essex came to the garden in May to fill social service hours they were required to complete for their sophomore civic's class at Valley Regional High School. They were good weeders, and we were sorry to have to bid them a fond good-bye when they finished their hours.

But, who should return last Saturday but Brianna and Rachel (Julie couldn't make it). All three are going to come when they can during the growing season, they promise.

So, no criticizing teenagers in our garden is allowed. These are special girls - their school and parents should be proud - and we're grateful.