July is always a busy month for gardeners, and I am so happy to share that our gardeners have been getting great harvests! Though the summer has been extra hot, rainy days in the last few weeks have really made the gardens pop. Zucchini, Sun Gold and Brandywine tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, onions… everything has bounced back from a rough start.

I have received quite a few photos from participants of their beautiful bounties. After receiving and trying some amazing recipes, we are going to add a place for our gardeners to share and read great ways to use the crops they are harvesting now (in addition to donation and food preservation methods!).

This month, we held a class at Harvest Table Farm and I cannot tell you how valuable their knowledge was for our group or how contagious their passion for sustainability is. We learned so much about crop rotation, companion planting, and soil building. We have quite a bit of clay soil in this area. Building organic matter is a vital component for happy, healthy plants. At one point during our visit to Harvest Table Farm, we checked an area that had been mulched as a path and found beautiful black soil! The mulch had been applied only one year earlier. It was incredibly impactful to see this with our own eyes.

We also saw the impact companion planting with flowering crops (borage, marigolds, nasturtium, basil) had on the beneficial insect population at this garden. By planting basil with tomatoes, for instance, can harvest from both plants and also let the basil flower. The small flowers on basil and similar crops attracts pollinators like nothing else. Using companion planting, this farm has to implement minimal pest control. At one point this year they believed they lost an entire crop to Japanese Beetles – left it alone – and a week later the beetles were gone! It goes to show how a healthy garden ecosystem can balance itself without the use of chemicals or intensive pest maintenance.

On a personal note – to prepare for our Food Preservation class (held last week), I made pickles for the first time! I have shared them with friends, coworkers, and participants and am happy to report positive reviews. I had a ton of fun and am looking forward to more food preservation ventures.

Thanks always to Grow Appalachia for the continued support!