Feels like summer, rains like spring!

As the heat has officially arrived, May showers have also been plentiful in east Tennessee this spring. We experienced three dry days in a row this past week which was a much needed break. We spent a couple days catching up with lots of weeding and mulching. During the dry days we also took the opportunity to  plant another succession of peppers, our first eggplant, a row of sweet potatoes, and more! There are also some flowers waiting to go in to help bring pollinators to the garden.
               

We were able to harvest delicious greens that went home with our teens this month. Some families experimented with kohlrabi, while others tried kale for the first time. Most families were happy to have fresh lettuce mix to make salad. One teen has a family member who loves radishes so she was able to take home a couple pounds. We are also distributing garlic scapes this week and instructing teens on diverse ways to cook and eat them. I constantly hear teens say, “Well I don’t think we’ll eat that.”

However, after telling them a couple different ideas or writing down a few simple instructions, most of them end up taking new vegetables home with them. One teen realized, “I actually enjoy eating kale!” Another parent was excited for lettuce mix three weeks in a row! An idea I have considered is working with a few of our older teens to help think of easy, go to recipes that we could send home. This way our families will have solid go-to resources for preparing veggies.

‘Maters and ‘Taters

Lettuce mix and fennel have moved out to make way for more summer crops. This week we finally trellised our tomatoes using baler twine and t-posts. Tomatoes do not like being handled when they are wet as it can make them more susceptible to diseases (and spreading them as well). Our first row of string went on the ‘maters and some already need a second string soon. We hope to sucker and prune them soon, but a few might be too far along. Sometimes tomatoes can be finicky, however, we are still hoping for a plentiful harvest this summer! As far as varieties, we planted slicing, paste, and cherry varieties for a wide range of flavors and eating experiences. The paste tomatoes will be used by the teens to create sauce for the pizza enterprise. If we have enough we will most likely try to can tomatoes as well. Small cherry tomatoes might also be used for a fresh, juicy topping. The teens have already used our Genovese and Purple Amethyst basil to make pesto. They put it on pizza for a pizza dinner event this past weekend. We hoped to gather feedback about our pizzas and are looking forward to improving our product.

Our sweet potatoes finally got into the ground. When planting them, I had laid them all out with a serving of compost and splash of fertilizer. As I started, however, it began to rain. Then it rained harder and quickly turned into a full on downpour. Unfortunately, most of them were planted in a pile of mud. I typically do not enjoy planting when the soil is so completely saturated, so we will see how these turn out. We have a few more slips left over that will get planted soon.

Rain barrels

During our last class the teens decorated and made their own rain barrels. First, we took off the top of the barrels so we could access the inside and put the irrigation pieces into place. We discussed the purpose and how to use irrigation tape, primer, and glue. After installing the irrigation parts, we allowed them time to dry and they decorated their barrels using paint. Finally, we demonstrated for them how to hook it up at home. We hooked up our rain barrels at the farm and had the students help build a small, flat surface with bricks to ensure it was high enough to allow gravity to help us utilize the water. We explained our plan for using the barrels to water some of our raised beds using soaker hoses. The students received all the parts they needed to attach their barrels at home. While the barrels were drying we had them cut screens to put over the top. We utilized large rubber bands to keep the screens in place. Using the screens helps keep bugs and other unwanted insects from getting into the water. This opportunity also allowed us to discuss food safety when using “standing water” as well as further talk about conservation.

       

                                   

Students learned about the difference between greywater and blackwater systems. We shared stories about practical ways people utilize their greywater systems to safely execute projects at home in their backyards. Vermicomposting, humanure, and food grade composting were discussed as most teens did not seem familiar with repurposing what most people refer to as “waste.” Later this year we plan to dive deeper into these topics. Worm bins, beekeeping, and more fun projects await our teens this summer so we are excited for loads of learning opportunities ahead!

                      

About the Author:

I am from a farming community in Indiana where my family farmed over 200 acres. As a teen, my family moved to Florida where I became heavily involved in 4-H and developed a love for service and passing knowledge onto others. I graduated and began working at the local girls club while attending college for a Business/Administration degree. I realized that teaching youth was my passion and stayed at the girls club for 12 years before moving to East Tennessee. In East Tennessee I was able to reconnect with my farming roots and began a home garden. In growing, I tapped further into my roots and began canning and freezing food for my family. Really enjoying putting to use all the long hours working on the farm in my youth and realizing how important that was for me to learn, I wanted to get back into teaching youth again! Skimming help wanted adds, led me to Rural Resources who was looking for a coordinator to run their Farm and Food Teen Training Program. All my loves in one - youth at-risk, farming, gardening, cooking, and business planning! What a wonderful life to share my passions with others, play on the farm, enjoy local home cooked food, and advance these youth to a better future! Here I have been for 6 beautiful, happy, and productive years!

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