The Garden Club of Amherst’s journey from high heels to sneakers

Members of the Amherst Garden Club view an exhibition of photos for the 100th anniversary of the club Thursday at Jones Library in Amherst. For the Daily Hampshire Gazette – Friday, March 18, 2016

The words “garden club” may conjure thoughts of dainty flower arrangements and cucumber sandwiches. But that’s not the Garden Club of Amherst at all.

“We are a dirt garden club, not a white-glove garden club,” said GCA member Denise Gagnon. Fellow club member Susie Lowenstein, agreed: “People always ask me how I get my hands clean, and I tell them, ‘By washing my hair.’ ”

Club member Wendy Larson noted that some of the Boston area garden clubs are primarily interested in flower arrangements. “Our club did some of that back in the 1940s and ’50s,” she said. “At our monthly meeting, when an announcement is made about an invitation to participate in a flower show, our response is to laugh.” Continue reading “The Garden Club of Amherst’s journey from high heels to sneakers”

Celebrate Public Shade Tree Planting in Amherst 2016

The Amherst Public Shade Tree Committee (APSTC) invites you and your neighborhood to apply to become this year’s Neighborhood Tree Steward Project. We’re seeking one Amherst neighborhood in need of public shade trees with several interested households to work with us to select, plant, water, mulch etc. and learn how to care for newly planted trees. Last October, we worked with neighbors on Potwine Lane and planted 18 new public shade trees. Interested? Contact Nancy Higgins at and/or meet with some of us at The Sustainability Festival on the Amherst Town Common, April 16, 2016.


A Bad Effort in Congress to Thwart States on Food Labels

The Senate could soon join the House to try to make it harder for consumers to know what is in their food by prohibiting state governments from requiring the labeling of genetically modified foods. This is a bad idea that lawmakers and the Obama administration should oppose.

25thu3web-superJumboIn July, Vermont will become the first state to require the labeling of genetically modified food. Many food companies and farm groups say such laws are problematic because they could dissuade consumers from buying foods that federal regulators and many scientists say pose no risk to human health. But that is an unfounded fear and states should be free to require labels if they want to.

The Senate Agriculture Committee is considering a bill by its chairman, Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas, that would prohibit state labeling laws. The committee is likely to approve it, primarily with Republican votes. The House passed a similar bill last summer along party lines.

There is no harm in providing consumers more information about their food. A study published in the journal Food Policy in 2014 found that labels about genetic modification did not influence what people thought about those foods. Some companies are deciding on their own to increase the information they provide to consumers without fear of losing sales. Campbell Soup said last month that it would begin voluntarily disclosing whether its soups, juices and other products had genetically modified ingredients. Around the world, such labeling is commonplace, with 64 countries requiring it, including all 28 members of the European Union, Japan, Australia, China and Brazil.

Various polls have found that about 90 percent of Americans favor mandatory labels for genetically modified foods. Several states are or have considered labeling laws. Connecticut and Maine have passed laws that would require labeling when nearby states adopt similar legislation. Efforts to require labeling in California and Washington State have been defeated by aggressive campaigns by the food industry.

Usually, Republicans in Congress are eager to give states more power to set policy in areas like environmental protection, health care and social services when they think that legislatures and governors will weaken regulations or cut spending to help the poor. In this case, however, they want to take power away from states that want to impose new rules that their residents support. The only thing these lawmakers seem to favor consistently is protecting corporate interests.


Grow Food Amherst supports the GMO Labeling Law in Massachusetts, which is currently stuck in committee. See Massachusetts Right to Know.

For our position, see:

And for an alternative viewpoint from one of our members, see:

Do you support the proposed Massachusetts GMO Labeling Law?

The Praying Mantis, a Friend and Foe of Gardens?

mantisPerplexed gardeners might suspect that the frothy, walnut-size blobs attached to shrubs, fence posts and grass stems this time of year are insect-related. But not many guess that these are the egg masses of praying mantises.

There are several species of insects in the Northeast that are collectively called praying mantises. The largest in New England, the Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis), is responsible for most of the big egg masses. The Carolina mantis (Stagmomantis carolina), our smallest and only native species, and the European mantis (Mantis religiosa) also deposit eggs in insulated sacs, or “oothecae.”

Brought to North America at the turn of the 20th century as predators of agricultural pests, both the Chinese and European mantises are continuously replenished when home gardeners buy mantis eggs from garden supply stores. The insects are summertime terrors, suitably adapted for capturing and devouring small insects. But the largest of them will target frogs, snakes, hummingbirds and small mammals.

Mantises are masters of camouflage, and despite their size (a Chinese mantis can grow to be four or five inches long), they can go unnoticed through the warmer months. Winter is frequently the best time to discover whether a local park or garden has a population of mantises, because their eggs are fairly conspicuous once the leaves have fallen.

Urban myths about praying mantises abound.

First, there is no fine for killing a praying mantis. Growing up in Canarsie, Brooklyn, my friends and I imagined penalties of $50 to $250 — depending on whether the murder was premeditated. A mantis found in the grill of a station wagon was an accidental death, but turning a magnifying glass on a mantis could get you the maximum sentence.

The claim that praying mantises feed on hordes of garden-destructive insects is true, but mantises are equally happy to rid your garden of beneficial pollinators, such as bees and butterflies. Mantises are also not above cannibalism. The egg case sold in catalogs will generally hatch into happy Chinese or European mantises eager to eat one another, or any native Carolina mantises nearby.

Then here is the mother of all mantis tales: The male mantis cannot copulate without the risk that the female will bite his head off. Though generally untrue, the idea is not completely without merit. The mantis’s brain coordinates motor control, but ganglia within his abdomen control copulation. So having literally lost his head, a mantis may be capable of more aggressive copulation once the tempering influence of the brain is removed. There may be more than just nutrition inspiring the female.

Studies of wild mantises indicate that a fast male won’t be a meal. In fact, most flew off after mating. Earlier studies conducted in laboratory tanks left males with nowhere to run — which may explain how more captive males met their mates and their makers together in one last wild burst of glory.

Join us to learn about seed saving!

Come out this winter and learn how to grow and save your own seeds with us!

This informal group of your neighbors will be meeting to discuss how to we can grow and save seeds from our own plants, maintain the isolation distances required, decide how many plants are needed, and share our knowledge on harvesting (how do you know when the seeds are ready, etc.) and of course storing seeds for use next year.

We will start by discussing an excellent book on saving seedBreed Your Own Vegetable Varieties: The Gardener’s and Farmer’s Guide to Plant Breeding and Seed Saving, 2nd ed. by  Carol Deppe

Our textbook!
Our textbook!

If you can read the chapters ahead of time that would be helpful, but not necessary.

We will start with Part II:  Seed Saving Practice;

  • Chapter 16 (Introduction to Seed Saving)
  • Chapter 17(Growing Seed) and
  • Chapter 18(Isolation)

… for the first week (Wednesday, January 13; 7:00-8:00pm)

As long as there is interest, we will continue meeting in the First Floor Meeting Room of the Amherst Town Hall (comfortable chairs) on the 2nd and 4th Wednesday evenings from 7:00-8:00pm throughout January and February.  The dates are:

  1. January 13
  2. January 27
  3. February 2
  4. February 24

Please plan to join us and BRING A FRIEND!

If you choose to buy the book, here are some places to get it:

If you are not on the email list to get updates about this group, please contact John Gerber and request to be on the Amherst Saves Seeds listserve.


Grow Food Amherst is working to create a more resilient community by encouraging residents of Amherst and the surrounding towns to grow and buy healthy and affordable food locally. 

Volunteers Needed to Help Plant Fruit at the New Farm on Veterans Day!

The site of the Amherst Pollinator Garden. VOLUNTEERS NEEDED

We have received a generous donation of 50 small fruit plants from the Hadley Garden Center for our new Fort River Farm Conservation Area Sharing Garden!

The site has been prepared and is waiting for plants!


We need help planting!

If you can join us at 9:00am on Wednesday, November 11 (Veterans Day) at the Fort River Farm, please sign up with this form….


Please bring a shovel and wear old clothes!  The farm is behind the Sunoco Station at 40 Belchertown Rd. (Rt. 9) just south of Fort River School. Take the road between the Sunoco Gas Station and Rens Used Auto’s back to the farm.





Public Invited to a Community Information Session on Solar in Amherst

solarpicAmherst residents are encouraged to attend an information session regarding a preliminary proposal for a solar program in Amherst on Wednesday, September 16th at 7 PM in the Amherst Regional Middle School auditorium.

Town Manager John Musante met with staff and renewable energy experts over the past several months to investigate potential sites throughout town. “We examined roof top solar as well as other sites and were advised that the Town’s best opportunity for solar exists at both the new and old landfill locations. We would like to work with the community to develop a project that will meet the needs of the Town and respect concerns of abutters.”

Several communities in Western Massachusetts have installed solar landfill projects or are in the process of doing so. Most recently, Northampton announced their plans to move forward with construction of a 3.3 megawatt solar array on the former Glendale Road landfill. “Given the overwhelming response to the Solarize MA program, Select Board’s interest in solar and Town Meeting support of a solar project we feel that it is time to move forward,” said Musante. “Our best opportunity to move Amherst in the direction of greater energy independence and greater environmental responsibility lies in solar.”

Community members are invited to bring both their questions and concerns to the meeting on September 16th. “It is our hope that we can have a meaningful and productive conversation about a potential project and would like to hear from community members as to how we can make this work,” stated Sustainability Coordinator, Stephanie Ciccarello. “The Town is in the preliminary stages of developing a project. Input from a series of community conversations will develop Amherst’s best solar opportunities.”

The community session scheduled for the 16th will be moderated by Ms. Ciccarello and include a presentation by Barrett LaChance of Sun Edison. The Town is working with both Sun Edison and Power Options, the state’s leading nonprofit energy buying consortium. Meg Lusardi, former Director of the Green Communities Division and acting Commissioner of the MA Department of Energy Resources currently serves as Power Options Executive Director and is an expert in assisting communities with their energy needs.

For more information, please contact Stephanie Ciccarello, Sustainability Coordinator, at or via telephone at (413) 259-3149.

Help Bagshare Amherst!

bagsBagshare Amherst and All Things Local is in need of gently used cloth bags, can you help?

In an effort to reduce their environmental impact, All Things Local Cooperative Market is partnering with the Bagshare project!


The BagShare event is ongoing at All Things Local. The in-house (or on the patio, rather) event that they had recently was very successful. They made over 50 bags… BUT they need your excess empty cloth bags to help get to 150 bags!

Your donated bags will be outfitted with a “bagshare” label and then will be available to those who have forgotten their reusable bags!  Sharon Raymond, of Simple Shoemaking will be overseeing the “BagShare” program.

All Things Local is holding off on handing out these bags until they have 150 – so they will definitely be having another (on the patio) event in the very near future.

Please help by bringing your extra soft cloth bags that are suitable for shopping!

My “10% for the Bees”

Following the success of Amherst Bee Week this past spring, Grow Food Amherst sponsored an effort to “leave 10% for the bees”!  An earlier post explains it all…. please see:

The Ten Percent Campaign

Based on conversations with friends and neighbors, it seems that lots of folks “get it” and are happy to not mow part of their lawn for the bees.  Here is an example!

tenpercentmidSince I have a relatively big back yard, my 10% was substantial.  I tilled up a part of the yard that was nothing but lawn and seeded a wildflower seed mix.


After about 6 weeks it has filled in nicely with meadow grass and lots of flowers!


There is milkweed for the Monarchs too!  In the fall, I intend to mow it all (setting the mower blade high) to scatter the seeds and continue to reseed the wildflowers.

Here are a few pictures from the “other 90%” of my garden….