Place Setting: Carleton Student Garden

Carleton Student Garden

After we photographed the student garden this summer, Katie Blanchard ’10 (Petoskey, Mich.), copresident of Farm Club and manager of the Carleton Student Garden, was thrilled to have a photo of her hard-earned harvest to show her parents. “I used to plant a garden in our yard every summer, but when we came back from our annual family road trip, everything would be dead,” she recalls.

This year she stayed in Northfield all summer, tending and expanding the garden behind Farm House. The season’s haul included such intriguing horticultural cultivars as ‘Purple Peruvian’ potatoes, ‘Dragon Tongue’ beans, ‘Fish’ peppers, and ‘Bull’s Blood’ beets—among more than 50 flower, herb, fruit, and vegetable varieties. 

At the height of the harvest, we visited Farm House for a taste of vine-ripened tomatoes and a garden tour. Here’s what we unearthed:

  1. Katie Blanchard ’10: Blanchard learned everything she knows about gardening when she worked on a Michigan farm in high school. “It was an escape from my summer retail job,” she says. “Now I want to grow food all my life.”
  2. Ceramic watering can: Jake Gold ’07, who helped revitalize the garden while he
    was a student, made this watering can in a ceramics class. Too heavy to use for daily watering, it serves as garden decoration.
  3. Harvest table: An overturned cable spool showcases various vegetables and fruits, including ‘Sungold’ and ‘Green Zebra’ tomato varieties, as well as swiss chard, basil, and ‘Moon and Stars’ watermelon. Some were grown from seeds purchased at Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa, an organic farm that saves and sells heirloom seed varieties.
  4. Fish and seaweed emulsion: “This smells disgusting, but it’s a widely used organic fertilizer,” Blanchard says. “We get it from a place called Neptune’s Harvest ( I mix a couple tablespoons per gallon of water and apply it when I plant seeds or transplant something and once again during the season.”
  5. Small hand tools: Blanchard rarely uses these hand tools. “My hands are the best tool,” she says. “I weeded every day in the summer until it got so hot and dry that the weeds stopped sprouting.”
  6. Wheelbarrow and tools: When necessary, Blanchard reaches for the stirrup hoe (with red top in photo), which she calls the “key tool for an organic farmer” because it cuts the roots as well as the top of a weed. “It slices underneath the weed plant so that the roots are exposed and fry in the sun,” she says. “With a regular hoe you’re just hacking off the top, which is not as effective.”
  7. Rototiller: No one knows the origins of this rototiller, but it helped expand the garden to twice its size last season and will be used for future expansion later this year.
  8. Plot expansion: Blanchard plans to plant a second garden on this site specifically to grow produce for Bon Appétit, Carleton’s new dining service. Although the garden can’t supply all of the College’s produce needs, some of its harvest has been used for catered events and campus dining. “We also hope to increase the connections between the garden and the classroom,” Blanchard says. “Learning the value and art of growing food is important for our generation.”
  9. Farm House: “Farm House has a rich history,” says Blanchard. “There’s a painting of a huge tree on an inside wall; everyone who has lived in the house since the 1970s has a leaf on the tree with his or her name on it.”
  10. Flowers and herbs: “It’s good to plant more than just vegetables in a garden,” says Blanchard. “Flowers and herbs attract beneficial insects and birds, which add to the ecosystem.”
  11. Beans: In addition to traditional string beans, Blanchard planted foot-long beans (given to her by Arb director Nancy Braker ’81), which generally are harvested before they reach a foot. She let them dry on the vine in order to save the seeds.
  12. Potatoes: Blanchard planted three kinds of potatoes, which she stored—in a homemade root cellar in the basement of Farm House—for use in the winter.
  13. Brussels sprouts: Farm House residents eat their brussels sprouts well into winter—the hearty vegetable grows best after frost.
  14. Kale: “If there’s one thing Farm House is known for, it’s kale,”
    says Blanchard. “It grows in mass quantities. Luckily, there are a lot of vegetarian houses on campus that like it because it’s high in protein.”
  15. Carrots and beets: Blanchard had fun with these, planting varieties of red carrots and
    yellow beets.
  16. Love-lies-bleeding: “The information on the seed packet was ambiguous, but I was intrigued by this annual plant’s name,” says Blanchard. “The seeds are the size of a pinhead, so I was surprised when the plants grew to be huge.” Crimson tassels can reach 18 inches and are excellent for cut and dried arrangements.

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