Your late fall and winter garden start today!

wintergardenOnce you’ve gotten used to fresh, homegrown food, it’s a terrible shock (financially as well as flavor-wise) to go back to buying it—even if your ambitions, like mine, stretch no further than salad fixings, herbs, and handfuls of kale for the soup pot. In warm climates, growing crops outside for much of the year is relatively straightforward, but in colder areas, things get a bit more complicated.

If you have the room and aesthetic tolerance for a plastic-wrapped structure in the backyard, building a modular greenhouse, à la organic gardening authorities Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch, is well within the capability and budget of most DIYers. But there are smaller-scale devices and strategies that work on the same principle—capturing the sun’s warmth by day and radiating it back at night—that are even easier to implement.

In The Garden Primer, Damrosch recommends that unless you live in a frost-free climate, you should have some form of protection handy in case an unexpectedly early fall cold snap threatens to do in the tomatoes and basil. A big sheet of clear plastic or even a tarp or old blanket will work—anything you can throw over a large number of plants and weight at the sides with stones if necessary. “On a still night no weighting is needed,” she adds. “In fact, it’s usually on still, clear nights that frosts occur.” Got it. She’s also had good luck with a so-called floating row cover, basically a garden blanket made of spun-bonded polyester. One popular brand is Reemay (available at numerous online sources), which allows 75 percent light transmission and provides frost protection down to 30°F.

To protect small individual plants in the ground, Damrosch uses plastic gallon jugs with the bottoms cut out—a practical if inelegant riff on traditional garden cloches. Either stick the plastic jugs into the soil around each plant, “or partially cut the bottom to make a flap, which you can anchor with a stone. If you leave the jug on during the day, be sure to unscrew the top in case it gets hot.”

For sheer versatility and dependability as a season extender, however, the cold frame wins, hands down. A cold frame is usually a bottomless wood box with an easy-open (for harvesting), adjustable (for ventilation) top made from a repurposed window, shower door, or tempered-glass patio door, but it can also be jury-rigged from straw bales, stacked bricks, or concrete blocks covered with plastic or translucent corrugated fiberglass. A cold frame should be positioned so that its transparent top is angled toward the sun; the ideal spot is next to a south-facing wall of a building, in order to maximize every bit of warmth and wind protection. For centuries, kitchen gardeners have relied on cold frames not just for raising cold-weather food crops, but also for overwintering ornamentals and herbs in pots and hardening off seedlings in the spring.

You’ll find design plans and detailed how-to info on cold frames on any number of websites and in books such as Eliot Coleman’s Four Season Harvest and The Winter Harvest Handbook, both of which make great bedtime reading. His August 2009 piece for Vegetable Gardener magazine is full of sterling advice too; in particular, he gives a shout-out to a couple of gardening supply houses that sell ready-made cold frames, Charley’s Greenhouse & Garden ($89.95) and Peaceful Valley (from $149).

Aside from planting the right crops in a cold frame (I’ll get to that in a sec), the most important thing to remember is temperature control. The soil inside a closed cold frame heats up much faster than it does out in the open, and you don’t want to cook those vegetables before their time. “Keep the temperature below 60°F during the day by opening the frames a little,” Coleman writes in Vegetable Gardener, and although you can easily vent a cold frame manually by propping open the top, a temperature-activated ventilating arm is mighty handy. He likes the solar-powered Univent control ($49.95) from Charley’s Greenhouse & Garden because it allows you to open the top all the way.

Choosing the right crops for a cold frame is key. Among the vegetables that flourish in cold weather are arugula, brussels sprouts, carrots, chard, kale, leeks, mâche, radishes, and spinach. Check out the helpful fall and winter vegetable planting guide at Ed Hume Seeds for more details.

Equally important is sowing time. Plant carrots and leeks right now for a winter harvest; they’ll be mostly grown by the time the cold weather hits and will keep in the soil all winter long, getting sweeter and more delicious with each frost. Coleman lives in Maine, and by mid-August, he’s sowing mustard and turnip greens. In September, he sows mâche, spinach, claytonia, arugula, and mizuna, as well as radishes. “From time to time, spaces open up where a crop finally gives in to winter,” he writes, “or where I’ve harvested whole plants such as mâche. I sow seeds for new crops in these holes. Arugula, mâche, spinach, claytonia, radishes, and lettuce will germinate during the winter. If they fail, I try again. As the sun climbs higher in late winter, these seedlings are poised for rapid growth, and about the time my earlier crops are finished, the winter-sown ones are ready for harvest.” It all sounds delicious.

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If gardening and farming is more than a hobby for you, consider earning a Bachelor of Sciences degree in Sustainable Food and Farming at UMass!  Or check out one of our ONLINE classes!

Calling all kids – make a luminary jar at the Kendrick Market on Wednesday

jarMaster teacher, Ellie Figueroa and her daughter Maddalena, will have all of the supplies ready for kids to create their own luminary or happiness jar with recycled materials.  This activity reinforces concepts of sustainability (recycling), community values (gratitude, connection) and ecological responsibility (re-purposing instead of buying new).

Please bring the kids to the market for this fun afternoon activity.  For directions to the market, click here.

Wednesday, July 9

Kendrick Park, Amherst

4:00 – 5:00pm

Join Fungi Ally at the Wednesday Market!

fungi-ally-logoWednesday, August 13 at 4:00-5:00pm

Fungi Ally growers Willie Crosby and Sarah Berquist will have an interactive workshop to inform the public of fungi anatomy and explore the life cycle through hands on activities. Bring the kids for this fun and educational event at the Wednesday Amherst Farmers’ Market at Kendrick Park!

Part 1: Mushroom Show & Tell: Learn about fungi anatomy, including coloring pages of mushrooms.

Part 2: Exploring the Life Cycle: Fungi, production through decomposition!

Part 3: Grow Your Own Mushroom Patch: A hands on activity, installing a wood-chip bucket.

This event is part of a summer-long series with Grow Food Amherst at the Amherst Wednesday Market. Events happen weekly 4-5pm, come for the food, stay for the fun!


Amherst Regional Middle School students learn how to grow their own food

University of Massachusetts student Kelsey Welborn, who leads the greenhouse club at Amherst Regional Middle School, talks to Anthony DiMauro Thursday, June 12, at the school
University of Massachusetts student Kelsey Welborn, who leads the greenhouse club at Amherst Regional Middle School, talks to Anthony DiMauro Thursday, June 12, at the school.

AMHERST — Five students at the Amherst Regional Middle School have been playing in the dirt each Thursday after school as University of Massachusetts student Kelsey Welborn guides them in the planting and harvesting of all sorts of vegetables and flowers.

Welborn, 21, a rising senior majoring in sustainable food and farming in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at UMass, started the Greenhouse Club in February. Her mother, Jennifer Welborn, teaches science at the school and Kelsey Welborn said she wanted to extend her studies to working with students in that age group.

When her mother told her that the greenhouse behind the school was never used, Kelsey Welborn jumped at the chance to start the club which has five members.

“I feel like the middle-school experience can be hard,” she said. “This club gives students something fun to do after school.”

Using organic techniques, the middle-schoolers have grown peas, spinach, cherry tomatoes, onions, basil, broccoli, rainbow chard and bib lettuce.

 As soon as students set foot into the greenhouse on Thursdays, they check their plants, and immediately start watering them if needed.

“I don’t want to impose my ideas on the students,” said Welborn. “It’s their club. I just suggest ideas.”

In fact, Welborn said, they figured out how to plant on their own. “If they had a question, I just told them to read the label and they did,” she said.

One student, Grace Lucas, 12, of Shutesbury, wanted to grow flowers, so she brought in her own seeds, planted them, and now has a patch of beautiful blooms.

Lucas said she enjoys the club. “We grow awesome, amazing plants every day, and you can eat most of the plants that you grow. It’s fun.”

The garden club has been a learning experience, not only for the students, but also for Welborn.

“This is the first time I’ve had a garden,” she said. “The kids know more than I do.”

Lucas backed that up as she explained to a visitor last week, “You need to take care of your plants. You need to make sure they’re properly weeded, identifying weeds, not pulling up good plants. You also need to water the roots, and not just the top of the leaves.”

Henry Wilhelm, 13, of Amherst, likes the fact that club members can eat what they grow.

“There’s some really tasty plants in the greenhouse,” he said. “It’s important to know which of the weeds are edible, so you can eat what you’ve spent work pulling out.”

Welborn said she hopes to maintain the garden over the summer so that it will still be there for students in the fall. Since the greenhouse is small, she is also planning to start a bigger garden outside.

If that succeeds, she is hoping the harvest can be served in the cafeteria so more students can sample it.

“Some people don’t know where their food comes from,” Welborn said. “I think it’s important for people to have a close relationship with their food.”

She added, “The kids that are in (the club) are really, really motivated. They are really proud of what they’ve done.”

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For additional news on Stockbridge School of Agriculture students working with the Amherst School system, see:

Family Farming Ancestry and Anecdotes: dig into your farming family roots


Monday June 30, 7-9pm in Amherst 

Bangs Center room 101

Join Grow Food Amherst member Karen Ribeiro for a facilitated community discussion about farming ancestry. How many generations has it been since your family farmed? Have farming and gardening stories been passed down in your family? Your participation in this conversation is welcome whether or not these questions have a simple answer. The discussion will be preceded by a writing exercise to help participants reconnect with their stories.

karenRibeiro is writing a book currently called Digging My Roots and one of her anecdotes details her travels to Ireland where she found the gravestone of her great grandmother’s parents and siblings in Athenry. It was obvious by the date of death of two siblings – and the two subsequent sisters named in their honor as they had died in infancy (Nelly and Ellen, Margret and Peggy) – that the Great Potato Famine, caused by a fungus, was a factor.

Here are a few writing prompts for the discussion:
  • How many generations has it been since your family farmed (or gardened) and how/does that inform you professionally?
  • How would you describe your attitude about personally growing food? Why?
  • What could stimulate greater adoption of local gardening and small farming?
  • What do you know – or want to know – about nutrient transfer from soil to plant to gut?
  • What are some of the community benefits of learning soil science and agronomy?

This discussion or “fun-shop” is not intended to be fodder for Ribeiro’s book, though if you share something particularly amazing, she may ask if you’d be interested in being quoted!



Amherst Bee Week Summary

If you want to help make Amherst a “Bee Friendly Town” please contact Grow Food Amherst!

logo-friendly-bee-townflat-300x300And…… thanks so much to Jonathan Mirin and the Piti Theatre group for their efforts to raise awareness in Amherst about the plight of bees.  Here is a summary from Jonathan’s web page:

What Happened in Amherst??

AND . . . What’s still happening: Andrew’s Greenhouse (a sustainably operated nursery) will be having a special on a different bee-friendly plant every week until June 1st!

4/22: “More Than Honey”: documentary screening in the Woodbury Room, Jones Library, 7 pm. Co-sponsored by the Jones Library and All Things Local. More Than Continue reading “Amherst Bee Week Summary”

Professor Elizabeth Vierling teaches Amherst about the Science of Genetic Modification

vierlingThanks to Dr. Elizabeth Vierling, UMass Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, for her presentation on the Science of Genetically Modified Plants at the Amherst Town Hall on April 15, 2014.  Sponsored by Grow Food Amherst, Sustaining Amherst, the National Science Foundation, and the League of Women Voters, the event was attended by over 50 interested citizens.

10262401_10101958821048802_837168057_oThe evening began with an informal survey on how familiar the audience was with the science of genetics, as well as a sense of what concerned those in attendance about GMO’s.

958906_10101958820874152_1395112373_oDr. Vierling recognized that some of her colleagues thought she might be “a little bit crazy” for being willing to speak in a public forum on such a controversial topic.  Nevertheless, the audience was respectful and seemed genuinely interested in learning the science.

She began with a review of the background of plant genetics and an explanation of the “chemistry of life”.  A brief review of nucleic acids, proteins, lipids and carbohydrates provided the context for an understanding of DNA and the genes that make up a chromosome.

She explained that a genetically modified organism (GMO) is an organism created by extracting genes from one organism and putting it into another.  The audience asked thoughtful questions about how genes are put into plants and why anyone would want to do this trick anyway!

Crown Gall on a Willow Tree
Crown Gall on a Willow Tree

Dr. Vierling’s personal history included a connection to some of the early research on how bacteria inject their own genes into plants to manipulate the plant to create a hospitable environment for the bacterium.  This happens at times in nature and one of the results is Crown Gall, a disease of plants such as the willow tree on the right.  The unique bacteria able to do this neat trick is called Agrobacterium, the “first genetic engineer.”

The same bacterial organism that is able to inject its own genetic material into plants can also be used by humans to inject other genes into plants.  This is the process of genetic manipulation.

Questions from the audience were very thoughtful and demonstrated a deep curiosity about how humans have manipulated the genetics of plants.

EPSP Synthase
EPSP Synthase

Dr. Vierling then explained how plants are made “Roundup Ready”, that is resistant to the herbicide (weed killer) Roundup or glyphosate.  Farmers spray the herbicide Roundup on crops that are genetically manipulated to be resistant, and weeds are killed by the herbicide but the crops survive.  The process of creating “Roundup Ready” corn and soybeans was a bit “geeky” by Dr. Vierling’s own admission but most of the audience tried to really understand the biochemical process.

She stated that the major crop plants that have been genetically modified are corn, soybeans and cotton.  Most of the acreage growing these crops are raising genetically modified types of these plants.  An example of genetic modification is the use of GMO papaya in Hawaii.  The ringspot virus almost wiped out the entire industry.  In fact, genetic modification saved the industry.

Dr. Vierling’s curiosity and passion for the topic was infectious and her love of science was clear.  She also acknowledged that the social and economic concerns associated with the use of GMO’s are important topics for discussion.  As the evening concluded she thanked the audience for trying to understand the science of such a controversial topic and recommended several websites which she felt were credible sources of information:CERL








Help Amherst move toward Zero Waste – a Workshop

Lynne Pledger, second from left, speaks to fellow members of the Valley Zero Waste group, from left, Sue Morrello, Patrice Pare, David Starr, Jessica Tanner, John Root, and Suzanne Cordes, during its first meeting last month at the Bangs Community Center in Amherst.
Lynne Pledger, second from left, speaks to fellow members of the Valley Zero Waste group, from left, Sue Morrello, Patrice Pare, David Starr, Jessica Tanner, John Root, and Suzanne Cordes, during its first meeting at the Bangs Community Center in Amherst.

You are invited to join your neighbors and friends in Amherst to help us move toward ZERO WASTE!

Learn more at the last weekly workshop of the season at the Amherst Winter Farmers’ Market (at the Regional Middle School – 170 Chestnut St., Amherst MA) on;

Saturday, March 29; 12:00 Noon – 1:00pm

Susan Waite, Amherst Recycling Coordinator, and members of the local group Valley Zero Waste will present their ideas and ask for our help!

Please join us! 

f8cd4a00d6fdd459ff83a8a8ab72e95d_scale190x150—————————————————————————————- Continue reading “Help Amherst move toward Zero Waste – a Workshop”