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Spring Planting at Countway Community Garden

April 22 (Earth Day), 2014—Spring may have played hide-and-seek this year, yet the community gardeners at Countway Library recently spent a sunny, windy afternoon at the Countway Community Garden prepping the soil and planting the year’s first seeds and seedlings. (Scroll down for a slideshow.)

The garden, one of three community gardens at Harvard, evolved from conversations in Countway’s “Salad Club”—a group of library staff members who share salad ingredients.  Lunchtime conversations inspired library staff to write a formal proposal to grow their own food, and to seek out partnerships with colleagues at the Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Public Health and the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.

In addition to vegetables, the garden produces flowers and medicinal herbs, about which they create educational podcasts, all of which are shared with the Longwood community. This year’s crops will include lettuce, strawberries, beans (tendergreen and Kentucky wonder), tomatoes (cherry and sun gold), cucumbers (national pickling and muncher), peas (snow and sugar snap) and carrots (danvers, chantenay, laguna and rainbow).

“What I love about this program is the sense of community it’s brought,” explained Heather Cristiano, an archivist and records manager at the Countway Library. “What brings us all together is a desire to be outside in the sunshine, work in the dirt, grow things—and then eat them! It makes our professional worlds a lot smaller in a really unique way.”


mulched bed

The garden beds were winterized with salt marsh hay to protect the soil from the elements.

winter rye

Winter rye was planted as a protective covering for the soil, and provided a welcome spot of green during the winter months.

annuals and perennials

Heather Cristiano, center, the garden manager, gives a mini-lesson on the difference between annuals and perennials to Julia Bald, left, and Amber LaFountain, right.

volunteer gardeners

A core group of volunteers devotes half an hour a week each to garden maintenance, and are joined by other volunteers for workshops or events. All who are interested in volunteering are welcome. 

garlic bed

Julia Bald uncovers garlic shoots, which are already thriving. Cloves were planted in late October; the team will be able to harvest scapes from the plants in late May and the bulbs in June. After harvesting, bulbs will be tied together and dried in a cool, dark place so that they can be stored throughout the season; a few bulbs will be spared in order to be planted as next year’s crop.

beds and soil

The garden has 11 raised beds. This year, compost was donated from CitySoil, which processes Boston’s yard waste into compost. Seeds were donated from the Boston Natural Areas network and the Egleston Community Orchard.

expert volunteers

Alvin Kho, right, shows Cristiano cuttings from the lavender plant he is pruning. “Alvin has been an incredible asset to our team,” explains Cristiano, who recently completed the Master Urban Gardener program. “His knowledge of seeds, plants and gardening is almost encyclopedic.”

snack sized carrot

This hardy carrot survived the winter; the team expects to produce four varieties of carrots for the 2014 growing season. “We’d like to produce more snack-able vegetables this year,” said Cristiano, “including smaller crops such as tomatoes, peas and beans—you can just pop them right into your mouth after you harvest them!” 

planting list

The planting list evolves each season with suggestions from the community. Last year’s big hits were herbal teas like mint and chamomile, which gardeners dried, bagged and shared. The teas proved very popular, so this year’s garden will include the herbs needed to produce teas.

bee friend seeds

Bee friend (Phacelia tanacetifolia) seeds are just one of four types to be planted in the same bed. Diversification is important; in addition to creating a more beautiful garden space, the plants will draw on different nutrients from the soil, which in turn will create healthier soil for future seasons and attract a variety of beneficial insects.