• Publishers' Note Fall 2007

    Publishers' Note Fall 2007

    Congratulations to all the new and seasoned “Localvores” who took part in this year’s challenge and enjoyed every bite, knowing that you were supporting your farmer neighbors in their efforts to provide the fresh, delicious, and nutritious food we’re so fortunate to have in this state! Some friends from Williston commented, “How can you go back to eating anything else that isn’t locally grown or raised after you’ve spent an entire week of tasting the difference?” We couldn’t agree more!

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  • Experimenting with Diversity

    Experimenting with Diversity

    Ever since I was in grade school and heard about Gregor Mendel and his famous hybrid sweet peas, I’ve been fascinated with the notion of conducting experiments with plants in a garden. Of course Mendel really was a scientist, while I’m something between an enthusiastic gardener and a tiny-scale farmer. I don’t expect my own experiments will yield anything as ground-breaking as the laws of heredity, but I always hope they will prove valuable in guiding my work the following year. And besides, they’re really fun!

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  • Cheese Culture

    Cheese Culture

    In 1882, Emil Frey, a Swiss immigrant working at a deli-owner’s cheese factory in Monroe, N.Y., supplied his boss’s deli with a spreadable cheese called Bismarck schlossekase. Inspired by this cheese, Frey went on to create a bewitching cultural and food revolution with a processed cheese that would be called Velveeta. Along with Cheez Whiz, Philadelphia Cream Cheese and La Vache Qui Rit, Velveeta and its industrial counterparts have obscured the legacy of thousands of years of traditional cheesemaking.

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  • Local Agricultural Community Exchange

    Local Agricultural Community Exchange

    When the Farmers Diner left Barre for Quechee last fall, it left a “local food gap” downtown that is being filled by a new nonprofit initiative called LACE. The name stands for Local Agricultural Community Exchange. It’s a local-oriented grocery store, cafe, and educational center located in the former Homer Fitts Co. department store in downtown Barre. LACE’s founder, Ariel Zevon, has made it her mission to help the Barre community reconnect with local farmers and provide healthy food to the people of central Vermont. 

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  • Farmers' Kitchen—Turkey Broth

    Farmers' Kitchen—Turkey Broth

    Most people who eat the turkeys from our farm say they’re the best they’ve ever had. It must be all the sunshine and fresh air our birds get. Or perhaps it’s the buckwheat, oats, and clover we grow for them to forage in. Maybe it’s the grasshoppers they chase around. Whatever the case, something makes these turkeys really healthy and good.  Every hawk, eagle, fox, coyote, and owl in the area seems to want to jump every hurdle to get to them.

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  • Green Mountains and Amber Waves

    Green Mountains and Amber Waves

    Over the past few years, many Vermonters have embraced the local foods movement. Farmers’ markets are thriving, community supported agriculture shares are growing, and local grass-fed meat, pastured poultry, farm fresh eggs, and other products have become more widely available. But one of the challenges the local eater finds is the limited availability of some staple foods not widely grown in Vermont, such as nuts and seeds (which are pressed into cooking oil) and grains and flour. The eater may ask, ‘Why doesn’t my local bread have more local flour?’

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  • Sub Rosa

    Sub Rosa

    If you walk along the back roads and country lanes of rural Vermont this fall, you’re likely to encounter wild roses. Sometimes you’ll find them near old cellar holes and abandoned roads. You can easily distinguish the wild rose because, unlike its hybrid relative, it has only five petals.

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  • Land of Plenty

    Land of Plenty

    Rutland is important to me. After leaving Vermont for several years, trying out such places as North Carolina, southern California, and South Dakota, I chose to return here in 2000 with my own children to live where my grandparents, my parents, and my husband and I all grew up. Although many of my childhood peers had settled elsewhere, I was determined to use my education to help make Rutland a better place. I now do this in part through my work at the Community College of Vermont, where I advise students, hire instructors, and teach in various disciplines.

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Experimenting with Diversity

Tomatoes

Written By

Tatiana Schreiber

Written on

September 01 , 2007

Ever since I was in grade school and heard about Gregor Mendel and his famous hybrid sweet peas, I’ve been fascinated with the notion of conducting experiments with plants in a garden. Of course Mendel really was a scientist, while I’m something between an enthusiastic gardener and a tiny-scale farmer. I don’t expect my own experiments will yield anything as ground-breaking as the laws of heredity, but I always hope they will prove valuable in guiding my work the following year. And besides, they’re really fun! 

The most dramatic outcome of last year’s experiments was this year’s cucumbers. I had the best cucumber crop ever, in one part of my garden, while another planting nearby barely produced at all. The vines were stunted and yellow despite my side-dressings with dried chicken manure and my foliar feedings with compost tea. What caused the difference?

 

Both crops had about the same amount of light, and were in the same garden, but the beautiful, bountiful crop was planted in beds that had nurtured my tomatoes last year-¾tomatoes with an underplanting of hairy vetch. I had heard about the vetch/tomato intercropping idea a couple of years before, and it was my second year using that method. The idea is to place your tomato transplants in the ground and then undersow the vetch as a living mulch. Theoretically, the vetch helps control the spread of bacterial and fungal diseases which can be transmitted from the soil onto your tomato plants when it rains. And since vetch is a nitrogen-fixing legume, it is thought to supply some nitrogen to your tomatoes.

Farmers around the world have interplanted legumes with other plants on the theory that the legumes benefit the other crop, but I haven't yet been able to determine whether the vetch has really helped my tomatoes. I’ve had just about as much early blight in the tomatoes planted with vetch this year and last as in years when I used hay mulch. But the vetch certainly worked as mulch, shading out other weeds. The most obvious benefit was to those cucumbers, though. This spring I pulled out the dead vetch from the year before, adding it to the compost of course, and planted the cucumbers. I added no other soil amendments to these beds except some compost in the trenches where I planted the cucumbers. Lush, dark green, productive vines (of several different varieties) were the result.

The less successful cucumbers included some of the same varieties. They were planted in the same garden, but along the edge in order to grow up the fence, in a spot that had seen only hay mulch the year before. The result: stunted, yellow, cucumbers which produced very little. I'm not sure yet why the second site was quite so bad, but I'm now confident that using vetch the year before is good for cucumbers!

What else have I learned from my experiments? Well, this year I went a little overboard with intercropping "field trials." My hypothesis is that the more diversity one can introduce into the garden the better, so this year I decided to use both vetch and crimson clover as the living mulch under alternating rows of tomatoes.  I also used clover as mulch under all my summer squash, winter squash, and melons. clover, like vetch, can add significant nitrogen to the soil as well as organic matter when it gets turned in. How will the tomatoes, squash, and melons be affected? So far, the jury is still out, but it's clear that no harm was done. My summer squash were wildly abundant, weeds were non-existent, and disease seemed to arrive late in the summer squash patch.

As to comparing clover to vetch, I really haven't noticed a difference. All my tomatoes did eventually suffer from early blight or other bacterial or fungal diseases, and differences between the degree of damage seemed more due to the variety (i.e. the resistance of the plant itself) than to the type of interplanting I did. (An intriguing finding, however, is that one tomato plant, surrounded on all sides by amaranth that I'd let grow for color, was the most disease free of all the tomatoes in my garden.)

Farming and gardening are inherently risky activities- you never know what the weather will bring, how your new varieties will bear, or whether you'll be able to outsmart the raccoons (unlikely)! But the more you experiment, observe, and¾importantly¾document your results, the more you can manage the risk with a degree of fortitude or, even better, a spirit of adventure. It’s an interesting challenge to consider your garden as a site for investigation.

This year's experiments resulted in wonderful color and abundance in my gardens¾though my beautiful cucumbers finally succumbed to something viral in September. Instead of dwelling on that, however, I'm already thinking about next year. Maybe I should try soybeans as an undercrop with the corn?

About the Author

Tatiana Schreiber

Tatiana Schreiber

Tatiana Schreiber grows and sells heirloom and unusual varieties of eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes, as well as medicinal and culinary herbs, at her farmstead, Sowing Peace Farm, in Westminster West. She also teaches ecological agriculture and other topics at local colleges.

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Vermont's Local Banquet Magazine illuminates the connections between local food and Vermont communities. Our stories, interviews, and essays reveal how Vermont residents are building their local food systems, how farmers are faring in a time of great opportunity and challenge, and how Vermont’s agricultural landscape is changing as the localvore movement shapes what is grown and raised here.

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