Questions to ask yourself before designing your garden
[Preamble that Matt will post with our answers on Monday]: Here's our batch of answers. This has been compiled by the various members of the group editing an internal website over the last few days. As such it may not be as consistent as we might like and there might be pieces that represent opinions of just a few (or one) of us rather than the group as a whole.
- What would you like to achieve on your property in terms of the landscaping of your home and its ability to feed you? This is the time to dream big and long term.
Dreaming big and long term: The 500 meals/day that are served in the dining hall contain mostly food that we've grown or foraged for ourselves. All 400ish community members will be intimately involved with producing this food. The landscape design across the whole campus is centered around food. Well-maintained apple and other fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, grapes(?), other perennials. Maple syruping. The farm and greenhouse(s) will produce many annual crops. Livestock will roam happily. Bees! Goats! Goat cheese! Chickens and ducks. Are their options for grains in southern VT? How do we best provide calorie crops?
Food processing will also be part of the program: canning, baking bread,...
All of this will integrate seamlessly with the academic program.
- What is your timeline- can you make changes quickly or do you plan to make changes over several years?
I'd say both. Some things, like down at the garden we can do more immediate things, whereas it would also be beneficial to have long term plan. For the main-campus ideas, that probably needs to be approved by the community, no?
We want to be working continuously year-to-year to grow the operation. We are currently nowhere near our answer to the previous question!
- How much money do you plan to dedicate to initial changes?
The farm budget is tiny---$500/year. We have reasonable expectations that this will grow slightly each year. There are budgets to which we can apply for specific projects. The college, in conjunction with other small independent VT colleges, has applied for a $100,000 grant to support connections to and participation in sustainable local food networks. We will not hear if this has been successful until the end of summer at the earliest.
So, ideally we'll come out of the class with a range of low-cost projects (we're confident we can match that $500 if we have well-thought-out uses for it). We won't be able to immediately fund larger projects, but if we can put those together too we can start the process of asking for funding.
- How much money can you dedicate on a monthly or annual basis?
See previous answer. We also hope to be able to work out how we can sell food, possibly to the kitchen via an internal accounting mechanism that isn't really "selling", to provide more income.
- How much sun do you get on your property? It helps to think in terms of number of hours of direct sunlight between March and November and think in terms of the different areas of your property.
The farm is on a south-facing slope with no shade. There is some space to extend the farm beyond its current extent. The campus as a whole is south-facing too, but many spots are shaded by the surrounding forest and/or buildings.
- Are you willing to remove trees to increase the amount of sunlight?
Probably not. We think we have enough sunny spots without this, at least in the early stages of our growth.
- What is your source of water if irrigation becomes necessary? Can you harvest rain from your roof?
We utilize the firepond for water when the siphon is running, although the hose doesn't seem to actually put out much water. Perhaps that is a blockage issue somewhere? Also, unrelated, but did that hose ever get taken out before the snow/freeze? We could in theory harvest rain water off of the Love Shack (aka farm shed), but any farther away seems impractical. Any other water would have to be carried down from Persons Auditorium, which I imagine makes for back breaking work.
- What is currently growing in your yard?
Last year's crops from the farm included: onions, leeks, tomatoes (lots of varieties), basil, kale, pumpkin, strawberries, delicata squash, butternut squash, hot peppers, green peppers, swiss chard, spinach, edamame, amaranth, carrots, garlic, cabbage, broccoli (didn't work), drying beans, hops. Cover crops: winter rye, buckwheat.
Elsewhere on campus: lots of apples, peaches, blackberries, mint, raspberries, we planted three blueberry bushes, wild grapes.
- How important are the aesthetics of your yard to you? To your neighbors?
Similar to the entertaining question, the main campus needs to maintain it's functionality of being a communal space, that of gathering and of beauty and appeal, both for us and for visitors. It needs to be quite presentable. Down on the farm I think so too, but not as much. But maybe if we can make it look nice and visitable down there, we'd be taken more seriously up on main campus.
Improving aesthetics might have knock-on effects for funding and growth within the community as the farm can be part of tours etc.
- Are there neighborhood covenants, rules or regulations that are suppose to keep you from growing food or raising certain types of animals?
We have many lovely layers of bureaucracy, most of which say different things. Can we sell our food? We don't know. Can we keep animals? We don't know. Can we even eat our own food in the dining hall? We do, but last year we didn't get any money back to the farm. We hope to change this in the coming year.
That's all the internal college stuff; we need to find out about state and federal regulations too.
- Will children be using the yard? If so what age and how many?
- Will pets be using the yard? If so how many and what kind?
- Do you use your yard for entertaining purposes?
I guess this is a matter of opinion. ;)
Taking the question as it is meant, I think that the answer should be that we do and we want to more. There's the firepit and the proposed meeting area aspect of the greenhouse. I'd love to see the farm used more as a social space.
Also, if we're thinking in terms of the entire campus, it most certainly needs to be presentable.
- Are there special activities like bonfires or hog racing for which you will need to set aside room?
We hope to use the farm and greenhouse more in academic work. I'd love to see some hog-racing too!
- Would you like to include fruit trees, bushes and edible perennials (plants that come back every year) in your landscape? If so how much room can you devote to these plants? (Remember trees are big and produce lots of shade. Shrubs can get big too.)
I think we need fruit trees. I want fruit trees. We need the next generation of apples plus others. Fruit bushes and perennials, both edible and medicinal, would be a great part of the system, I believe, at least maybe for the main campus bit. Once the perennials and fruit trees are established, they are less work.
- Do you plan to grow annual vegetables (plants you start from seed or transplant every year like corn and tomatoes) and if so how much room can you devote to these vegetables. By the way you’ll want at least 6, and better yet 8, hours of direct sunlight for this area.
Yes. We do this quite a lot already.
- How much time can you commit to your garden each week?
Variable. Until mid-May and from September onwards we have a lot of people on campus, including a small group (mainly us!) that are committed to working on this and more that can be persuaded to help out on specific projects. From mid-May until September, we don't know. Clare H and Travis will be here for all but six weeks of this. We hope that one or more students will be able to stay in the area and work on the farm. Various staff and faculty will probably be able to do some too.
- How much food, on a percentage basis based on your weekly menu, would you like to harvest from your yard?
As much as we can. In the short term we'd to be able to have a noticeable presence in the dining hall---some inclusion in most meals, or the occasional meal built around produce that we've grown.
- Do you have physical limitations that would make typical gardening difficult for you?
- How much help (significant others, reluctant in-laws, children, household pets pressed into the service of chasing away squirrels) do you have at your disposal?
- How much experience do you with growing plants and gardening?
Some of us have quite a bit; most of us have very little. Some are somwhere between. As a college, we rotate through about a quarter of our population each year. Our long-term plan needs to include ongoing education.
- Do you have room to over-winter potted plants in your home?
We have one greenhouse and another being built. Beyond that we have lots of offices, dorm rooms and other spaces we could house potted plants.
- Do you have sunny windowsill useful for starting seeds or growing sprouts?
There is a greenhouse area in the science building that we currently use for this. Windowsills in dorms and offices could probably be commandeered too.
- What kinds of animals would you be interested in raising: chickens, turkeys, rabbits, goats, cows, pigs, sheep, llamas, bees, fish, or others?
Any and all! I think we might be able to make headway with bees. Chickens for eggs might be the next step after that. Some of us are very enthusiastic about getting goats.
- What equipment do you own or could borrow? Think hand tools like shovels and rakes but also mowers and tillers.
We have a range of hand tools. We have a rototiller and plant ops mow where needed. We have a garden cart for transporting compostable materials from the dining hall to the farm, but this is on its last legs (wheels?).
- Do you have natural sources of mulch available including baled straw, fallen leaves or grass clippings? How about cardboard (any appliance stores near by?)
We have some baled straw available and as many fallen leaves as we can collect.
- Do you have room for outdoor containers on patios, decks or porches for growing food?
- Do you anticipate a problem with animals such as rabbits or gophers visiting your garden and helping themselves to your produce?
We have many deer. Probably other stuff too. Whatever you'd expect in a forest in VT.
- Do you anticipate encountering soil contamination due to exterior lead paint or other chemicals previously used on your property?