Island Updates

island gardens

Planting the Straw Bale Garden

After three very wet and unseasonably cold days on Hurricane I finally was given a sunny day to plant the straw bale garden! Visitors to Hurricane will see that the bales are arranged in a similar pattern and shape as last year. Placing the bales in rows oriented East and West maximizes the sun’s southern exposure and allows for good walking paths.

Last year we planted vegetables that flower and grow above ground in the straw bales, and we are doing the same this year. We planted two long rows of tomatoes, two rows of vining cucumbers, squashes, and zucchinis, one row of broccoli, and another of peppers. The herbs are still growing in the window of the mess hall but I plan to try growing some basil and cilantro in the bales this year too.

Last year the deer broke my heart by eating the entire straw bale garden within two days. We got a few good zucchinis and cucumbers before they feasted, but we didn’t enjoy one tomato. I refuse to go through the same heartache this year, or at least I’ll try like crazy to prevent it. Oakley worked hard with volunteers in May to put up an indestructible garden fence around the meadow garden, and he continued to put his skills to use with the straw bale garden. I’m crossing my fingers that this will be enough to prevent the deer from literally enjoying the fruits of our hard labor.

I mentioned in the garden blog post a few weeks ago that the bales we got this year are different than last. When we bought them they had already started to decompose and break apart easily. A few weeks of conditioning the bales and letting them sit outside in the May rain has helped expedite this process even more, and has made planting the bales very easy. To plant the bales I first took handfuls of potting soil and spread it across the top of the bales. Next I took a small garden trowel and carved away a spot to put the plant and its roots, just like I do in the gardens that grow in the ground. After placing the plant in its spot I cover it with more potting soil and water it in!

One change this year is that I added more flowers to the straw bale garden. I planted nasturtiums (a popular edible flower for kids) and am using the deer fence as a trellis of sorts for climbing Black Eyed Susans. Once more of the flower seedlings are ready to go outside I’ll also plant Sunflowers and Zinnias.

Gardening is a very cathartic activity that helps me clear my mind. After three cold and rainy days of emails and to do lists this day of gardening felt like a breath of fresh air, literally!  

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2015 Garden Update

April showers bring gardens to life on Hurricane!

This month marks our third year of growing food for the Center For Science and Leadership. Returning visitors and students will see both similarities and differences in our gardens from previous years.  

We are excited to be growing in straw bales for the second year in a row! Last year we had a blast experimenting with straw bale gardening and we especially loved using them as a teaching tool for our students. They provide a great lesson in compost and circular agricultural techniques, and have allowed us to grow a lot of food on Hurricane’s stubborn granite bedrock. This year we were able to get bales that have already started to decompose a bit from sitting out in a field all spring at Spear Farm and Greenhouse and in Warren, Maine. I’m interested to see how they play host to our vegetables compared to the bales that we used last year.

As I write this I am in the middle of the two-week process of conditioning the bales. Every day I soak the bales through with water (from our conveniently placed fire hose). Every other day I put a half-cup of fertilizer that is high in nitrogen on top of the bales, and continue to soak them through. This process gets the bales “cooking”, by breaking down the straw to start the decomposing process. In about a week they will start to smell sweet and hold moisture really well, and in two weeks they will be ready for planting!

The flower garden has Day Lilies, Sweet William, Echinacea, Bee Balm, and a beautiful Bleeding Heart coming up again this year. We planted Marigolds, Snap Dragons, Calendula, and two high bush blueberry plants in the flower garden, all in the hopes of inviting pollinators to this area of the island. The flower garden is one of my favorite spots on Hurricane. I love seeing bright colorful flowers peak over the old foundation wall that was once the bowling alley during the quarrying era. It’s a joy to see nature reclaim Hurricane’s old historical sites. 

Our volunteer Betsy Rich planted our flower, cucumber, and zucchini seedlings. These are happily sitting in front of the big windows in the mess hall catching as much solar heat as possible. We have also placed our two cold frames over the herbs in the herb garden since they are the most exposed to wind and cold ocean air down by the waterfront.

A big addition to our gardens this year is the expansion of the meadow garden. The students from our Botany program last year helped us turn the second half of the garden over and we covered it with tarp to kill off the weeds and grass. During a very productive volunteer day this past April we had three people help turn the whole garden over and start to form and rake beds. I decided to layer straw over the walking paths in hopes of suppressing weeds, fingers crossed it helps! We planted carrots, peas, kale, spinach, and head lettuces, the perennial rhubarb is as enthusiastic as ever, and the peony looks like it will bloom again this year!

For now we are playing the waiting game for all of our seeds to pop of out of the soil. Stay tuned for more garden updates!

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