Thursday, August 16, 2012

A New Fence for the Garden

Deep in the heart of Williams campus, behind a wall and beside a large, white house, there lives a garden.  Few know of its existence and fewer still have ventured within.  This, the Presidential Garden, is one of the best kept secrets at Williams.  If you ask the average Williams student about the garden, they might raise their eyebrows and ask if you're on the right campus.  Sometimes I wonder if Adam Falk even realizes there is a garden in his yard.

At the beginning of the summer, the garden's low profile may have been fitting - it was unkempt and overgrown, with more weeds than vegetables in sight.  With a bit of clean up, however, it began to look quite respectable.  
The garden, post weeding extravaganza.
I decided then that the Presidential Garden deserved more attention than it had been getting.  So when Brent suggested that we build a new fence for the garden, I was easily convinced.  Ever since then, he and I have been dreaming and scheming about every kind of fence imaginable.  Images of bamboo fences, classic white picket fences, fences made of bricks, stone, and wrought iron - all of these have crossed my mind.   

As we planned the fence, Brent and I had to keep a few specifications in mind.  Originally built to keep out hungry bunnies, the fence had to be practical; this meant chicken wire buried about a foot underground.  And because of its snazzy location next the the Presidential abode, it had to be aesthetically pleasing.  It also needed to be as permanent as possible, so that it could be enjoyed by generations of Williams gardeners to come.  So when Drew Jones of Hopkins Forest offered us a large supply of old split rails made of black locust, we knew we were in luck.  Not only would the rails fulfill all of our requirements, they were free.  And they would lend a much-needed rustic edge to the perfection of the President's yard.  We decided that the fence would consist of wire fencing stretched between the sturdy rails, with a gate made of salvaged boards and chicken wire. We set the ambitious goal of finishing the project, including the gate that went with it, in a single day.

Construction of the fence began early one warm day in July.   With the help of post hole-diggers, rock bars, and student workers from Hopkins Forest, we dug over 20 two-foot-deep holes into the rocky soil of the Presidential yard.  Raising the tall rails into the holes, we set them straight and packed the soil tightly around them.  

Once all the rails were in place, we unrolled a large bundle of wire fencing, stretching it taut and nailing it tightly between each post.  (We were disappointed to find that our 50 ft roll was several feet too small to fit the perimeter, a problem we fixed later by patching the gap with chicken wire).  We repeated this process with a smaller roll of chicken wire, lowering it into a trench we had dug and burying it in the soil to deter garden pests.  At the same time, we added a layer of black weed barrier, hoping to keep weeds from entering the garden from the outside.  

The final challenge was constructing a gate for the garden that would fit snugly and swing freely.  We fit the salvaged boards carefully to the shape of the gap we left in the fence, screwing them in place.  Next, we screened the frame with chicken wire.  The trickiest part was screwing the hinges into the gate and then into the rails, taking care to keep the gate at the appropriate angle above the ground.  With a few minor adjustments, the gate was in place!  It was incredibly satisfying to open the gate for the first time, it swinging smoothly to let me into the garden.  Voila! A new fence for the garden.

A watermelon in the President's yard.

Now, the Presidential Garden overflowing with ripe corn, winter squash, watermelons, cantaloupes, and beans!  Complete with painted vegetable signs, I'd say its quite deserving of its new defenses.  So if you're ever in the neighborhood of the Falks, you should stop on by.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Thoughts on the Summer

Here's a link to a reflection I wrote about my time in the garden this year.  Enjoy!


Hi, everyone!  I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to post.  Things have been pretty busy around here.  However, just because I didn’t post doesn’t mean there wasn’t anything to blog about!  The last couple of months have been filled with exciting projects and even more exciting produce.

For instance, at the end of June, the Garden held an (E)scape party – a party for pickling scapes!  At the same time, we made pesto from the vast quantities of arugula we harvested and the garlic leftover from last year.  I’ve posted both recipes below, in case you ever find yourself overwhelmed by either of these vegetables. 
Brent and Cedar with garlic from the garden

The canning apparatus (to the right)
I’ve never canned before, so I was thrilled to get the opportunity to try my hand at it, under the knowledgeable guidance of Brent.  The whole process is pretty extensive, but it’s a wonderful way to make sure you’re eating your own vegetables all year round!  The procuedure breaks down into several distinct steps: washing, chopping, preparing the brine, blanching, filling, and sealing.
Washing the scapes

The biggest concern with canning at home is preventing growth of the bacterium Clostridium botulinum from occurring after you’ve sealed your jars shut.  C. botulinum is a nasty little bug that .  It colonizes the gut, leading to respiratory and musculoskeletal paralysis.  That's why it's so important to start with very, very clean mason jars (we washed ours thoroughly before using them).
Clean mason jars

Blanching in brine
Fortunately, the bug can be destroyed by boiling for a few minutes and by keeping the pH of your brine within a certain range.  Blanching the scapes for a minute takes care of both of these steps, cooking the bacteria and ensuring an even pH both inside and outside the vegetable; thus, blanching is a key step in the canning process. 

The scapes, in all their glory
After blanching the scapes in our brine, we packed them as tightly as possible into mason jars.  Then, we filled the remaining space in the jars with brine, knocking out all the air bubbles we could find. 

Finally, we closed the jars by placing them in boiling water until a seal was created  under the lids.  

Voila – pickled scapes!  

Garlic Scapes
Pickling brine and process instructions

Brine ingredients:
4                cups                           apple cider vinegar
3                cups                           water
1½            cups                           sugar
3                Tablespoons            kosher salt
as needed                                    spices

1)     Wash and cut garlic scapes into jar-length segments, keeping the straight pieces and curved pieces separate.
2)     Pre-heat the jars and lids.
3)     Mix brine ingredients and bring to a boil. Add spices to brine, if desired.
4)     Test the brine pH (should be ≤ 3.9).
5)     Blanch the scapes in the brine: boil one minute.
6)     Remove the scapes and strain the spices out of the brine, if used.
7)     Pack the scapes into clean warm jars. Curl the curved portions on the outer part of the jar, and put the straight portions in the center of the jar.
8)     Top off the jars within 1/2” of the top with hot brine.
9)     Seal the jars finger tight.
10)   Process the jars in a boiling water canner: quarts for 15 minutes, and pints for 10 minutes.
11)    Allow the jars to cool before handling.
12)    Test the equilibrium pH; it should be ≤ 3.9.