As the summer heats up, our gardens show no signs of slowing down! Incredible amounts of produce have been pouring out of the Food for All gardens, spreading positive impacts to our neighbors and community through the gift of nutritious produce. During this particularly fruitful time of year, we’d like to take a moment to spotlight an equally fruitful program that Trellis runs with your support.
Youth Seed Enterprise (YSE) is an 8-week long summer program, where teenagers learn how to manage organic gardens and facilitate the distribution of produce to the surrounding neighborhoods through a dignified exchange model. This year, more than 50 youth are running 5 different gardens from Phoenixville to Pottstown. Through their community building and outreach, they have signed up over 70 households to receive a weekly subscription of fresh produce.
These YSE participants are taking the idea of a local food system to the next level by hand delivering nutritious food directly back into the communities in which their gardens are located!
In addition to all the incredible hands-on work in the garden, the youth also meet together virtually to participate in Trellis designed curriculum and activities focused on systems thinking and systems change. While they are actively contributing to change in their own communities, the youth also engage in lessons and discussions which broaden their understanding of the world and their ability to affect meaningful and positive change in it.
During a recent exploration of our food system, we discussed together what food justice would look like in our world, and what steps we could take to help make it a reality. The following Jamboard captured some of the responses from our participants when asked for one commitment each youth would make to have a positive impact on the food system. Here were some of their amazing contributions:
Stay tuned to this space for more stories to come from the Youth Seed Enterprise program, including some posts written by the youth themselves! All of this is made possible by supporters like you, and the continued support of all of our partners in our Food for All network and beyond. We could not be more grateful and excited to continue this work. Thank you!
To learn more about Youth Seed Enterprise, check out the dedicated page on our website here.
Fertilizing: Cultivating Nutrition (from the ground up!)
While many understand the need to keep a garden well-watered, the astute gardener also understands the importance of keeping a garden well-fed. Sometimes in our haste to provide sustenance to our plants, though, we forget about the vital connection between the health of our plants and the health of our soil. Healthy soil is a living system, and by caring for that living system we can better care for our plants, and ourselves.
Using soil health practices like keeping the soil covered with a mulch like compost or shredded leaves, adding organic matter, leaving roots of healthy harvested crops in the ground, and other practices can reduce the overall need for fertilizers in your garden. Even with those practices in place, a proper dose of fertilizer at the appropriate time can improve your yields and cultivate greater soil health through the growing season.
Fertilizers: Organic or Conventional? Bigger Isn’t Always Better
The vast majority of fertilizers will have three numbers listed on the packaging. 5-5-5 or 10-10-10 can be common, but there are many different formulations available. The higher those numbers are, the bigger the dose of nutrients available, but there’s a catch! While organic fertilizers rarely achieve high nutrient formulations (an organic 10-10-10 is not likely to be natural/organic), they do something that conventional fertilizers boasting big numbers don’t do.
Organic fertilizers feed the soil, while synthetic fertilizers are designed to feed the plants themselves. Synthetic fertilizers may deliver big results, but they do so at the expense of the long-term health of the soil. This is one of the key reasons we strongly urge folks to use organic and not synthetic fertilizers.
Cracking the Code: Making Sense of the Numbers
The three numbers stand for N-P-K, Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium. All plants need these three elements (along with many other micronutrients) but they need them at different ratios at different times in their lives, and that varies widely between crops.
Nitrogen helps your plants grow stems and leaf material. This can be found organically in the form of compost, cow manure, and bone meal among others. This nutrient is highly important for your leafy greens, but also vital for the fruiting plants like tomatoes. The key is to have the appropriate ratio of n-p-k for your fruiting plants. An overabundance of N will give you a massive, leafy, green tomato plant with very few tomatoes.
Phosphorus is vital to the plant process of turning sunlight into useable sugars and compounds within the plant leaf. It also contributes to root growth, bloom promotion and structural strength of the plant. Common sources of P also include compost, manure, blood and bone meal.
Potassium is responsible for many plant processes. It is often referred to as the “quality” element, because it contributes to improving many traits like taste, color, size and shape of the crops. A lack of potassium will lead to stunted growth and low yields. Common sources of K include wood ash, banana peels, manure and compost.
Trellis for Tomorrow Recommendations
Trellis for Tomorrow only uses organically certified fertilizers, and that is what we advise you to use. Fertrell, Espoma, Dr. Earth, and Jobes are common, good quality brand names that you’ll see. Each of these products will have recommended rates of application on the packaging.
We like to fertilize at the time of planting, and then again, every 4-6 weeks throughout the summer. For plants that are already established, you can broadcast fertilizer on the surface and cultivate it into the soil at a depth of a couple inches. Make sure that you’re using the appropriate fertilizer for the appropriate plant- high N fertilizers for leafy greens, and high P-K fertilizers for your fruiting crops
The Plenty of July: Harvesting for Your Plant’s Health
When your plants start putting out ripe fruit, it’s time to harvest. Don’t let your harvest sit on the vine too long, or you’ll end up creating a number of problems in your garden. Leaving your crops in the garden too long will encourage pests, wildlife, and disease to take over for you. If you harvest frequently and thoughtfully though, you can actually extend the life of your plants and increase your yields!
Plants like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, zucchini and squash, all respond to harvesting by making an effort to produce more viable seeds, by way of fruit. For tomatoes, harvest them when they have mostly turned color. If you’re dealing with pests, you can harvest your tomatoes slightly early and let them ripen in a paper bag on your counter.
One thing to consider is that you should also try to pick the entire fruit. For example, clip the stem above the pepper off while it’s still connected to the pepper. Clip the green stem that’s attached to your tomato. If you leave this plant material attached to the fruit, it will ensure that the plant knows it’s being harvested, and it will actually make your fruit last longer on the shelf.
Did you know that most peppers start out green, and then ripen to shades of red, yellow, orange, purple, white, brown, and more?!
Closing the Buffet to Save the Garden
Thinking about what lives in your garden and when is important to your success in growing. When you are dealing with an overwhelming pest problem, often one of the best ways to manage the problem is to remove the food source of these critters. Some insects can feed on many different types of plants, but many of the most common garden pests feed solely on a specific species or family of plants.
When it comes to our high-production gardens in the Food for All network, we suggest an early to mid July harvesting-out all brassica family plants (kale, collard greens, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and many more) from the garden. These crops are susceptible to infestations of the harlequin bug, which can decimate those crops once established.
Aim to remove this type of plant two to three weeks before planting your fall crops. This will close the window when harlequin bugs often get established, and insure your garden great success in getting a new round of brassica plants established. Understanding the life cycles and dynamics of pest species will not only attune you to the world around you, but also allow you to better enjoy the fruits of your labor!
Stopped in the act: Noticing signs of the Squash Borer
Early July is usually when people start to notice their squash and zucchini plants wilting in the mid-day summer. When those large leaves get droopy, it’s a tell-tale sign that you may have a squash borer living in your midst. As soon as you notice this, check the stem at the base of your plant. If there are small holes, and what looks to be sawdust like particles around the base, you can be sure you have a borer larva in the stem of your plant. The adult squash borer lays eggs at the base of your plants, and when those eggs hatch, little grubs burrow into the base of the stem, eating their way through the plant tissues. This prevents the flow of water through the stem, causing your leaves to wilt. If these bugs go unchecked, they will kill your squash plant.
If you have BT (bacillius thuringiensis) or Spinosad, you can spray or pour these compounds into the holes left behind by the borers. This should take care of your problem within a few days. If you notice that the leaves are still wilting, and the plants look like they’re still struggling you can do an operation.
Take a sharp knife and create an incision along the stem, through the damaged areas. If you gently pry this incision open, you will likely find a small grub inside the stem, feasting on the innards of you plant. When you remove this critter make sure to destroy it by squishing it, or dropping it in a cup of soapy water. After the grub has been removed, you can gently tie a string around the stem to close the cut, or let it heal naturally, and your plant should recover in no time!
If you’ve never tried this, you are definitely missing out! What better way to experience and enjoy the incredible flavors of one of our fresh, local, and organic tomatoes than by building a sandwich where it can really shine. After many satisfying tests, we can vouch that this is one of our best summer recipes. This sandwich really showcases the delicious flavors of a perfectly ripe tomato, one of the ultimate joys of gardening.
1 beefsteak tomato
2 slices of your favorite sandwich bread
Salt and Pepper to taste
Toast bread lightly
Cut tomato into 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick slices
Spread mayonnaise liberally onto one side of each piece of toast
Add tomato slices and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper
Did you know that not all bruschetta is made with tomatoes? For our pepper loving peeps, this is an excellent alternative. Using peppers in this recipe also creates a rich, sweet, delicious flavor and texture that is sure to be a crowd pleaser!
1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
2 Tbps. olive oil
½ tsp. sugar
2 Tbps. fresh basil leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
1 loaf Baguette (or bread of choice)
Gorgonzola or blue cheese
Preheat oven to 375
Slice 1 red and 1 yellow bell pepper into thin strips, removing seeds
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium pan over medium-high heat
Add peppers and cook until soft, about 12-15 minutes
Sprinkle with ½ teaspoon sugar and cook for another 2 minutes
Add 2 tablespoons basil leaves, salt and peppers
Slice a baguette crosswise into 18 thin round slices
Brush the bread with olive oil
Arrange the slices on a baking sheet lined with parchment and toast in oven for 7-10 minutes, until lightly browned
Top each toast round with a teaspoon of the pepper mixture and 2 small pieces of room temperature gorgonzola or blue cheese
Pop tray back into oven for 1 or 2 minutes to warm through, then serve
based on a recipe by Caroline Phelps: https://pickledplum.com/eggplant-garlic-sauce/
This is an absolutely delicious dish. Simple ingredients and thoughtful preparation elevate this often misunderstood garden fruit into a main or side you will want a second helping of. Here at Trellis, we love eggplant! Properly prepared, it can add a number of textures to dishes and acts as the perfect carrier for phenomenal flavors – like garlic! Follow the easy steps below to make the most of this garden star, and you will see how variations of this dish became a staple in restaurants around the world.
2-3 long Japanese or Chinese eggplant, sliced in half lengthwise and chopped (alternatively, you can cut an Italian style eggplant into 3 inch strips, 1 inch wide)
2 tablespoons peanut oil
4 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon ginger, peeled and minced
2-3 dried red chilis, chopped
4 scallions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon black vinegar (if you do not have black vinegar, you can substitute rice vinegar)
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1 teaspoon sesame oil.
Whisk all the ingredients for the sauce into a bowl and set aside
In a large pan over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon peanut oil and eggplant. Stir fry for a few minutes (about 5 minutes) until the sides are golden brown and the center is tender.
Transfer eggplant to a plate and add remaining 1 tablespoon peanut oil to the pan. Add garlic, ginger, red chilis and cook for 1 minute.
Add eggplant and scallions, toss and pour the sauce. Stir fry for 1 minute, until all vegetables are coated.
Turn the heat off and serve with white or brown rice.
Pickles are one of the best ways to make your garden harvests last longer. They will usually consist of cucumbers as the main ingredient, but you can also pickle many other crops like beans, peppers, beets, onions, garlic, and many more! This recipe is a quick and easy method for making delicious pickles that live in your refrigerator.
IngredientsMakes 2 quarts
6 medium sized cucumbers (1.5-2lb)
1-¼ cups of white vinegar, or apple cider vinegar
8 large cloves of garlic
2 cups water
3T Kosher Salt
2 teaspoons coriander seed
1 teaspoon mustard seed
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon black pepper
8 sprigs of dill.
Heat the vinegar, salt, sugar, and water, and all spices over medium heat. Stir until combined and let the brine cool. Store in fridge until ready to use.
Slice your cucumbers into the preferred size and shape. You can cut them into thin slices, halves or spears depending on your preference.
Crush your garlic cloves and add to the mason jars.
Stuff both quart sized mason jars with the sliced cucumbers.
Carefully pour your brine into the jars until the cucumbers are completely covered by liquid.
Store these in your fridge for 24 hours before serving. The pickles can then be kept in your fridge up to 1 month, and will improve in flavor as they soak up the brine.