Starting From Seed

Greetings! My name is Jessica Gates and I am one of the lucky Organic Farm Interns of the 2012 season. Speaking of the season, one of the best ways to sweep away the winter blues is by starting farm or garden plants from seed. The ability to get your hands dirty a few months early and see sprouting seedlings in January or February can prove to be great cabin fever therapy!


Another of the many benefits to starting your own seed is the variety of seed choices available from seed catalogs. You can choose from hundreds of interesting varieties and  also be sure your seedlings are raised organically. Garden store varieties are far fewer in number and the condition of the transplants are out of your control. We have been busy perusing seed catalogs and choosing delicious and interesting varieties for the upcoming season!


On January 23, 2012 we started our cool-season crop seedlings in the UT greenhouse. A cool-season crop is defined as a vegetable that grows best with temperatures of 60 to 65 degrees F. Cool-season crops can tolerate light to moderate frosts, but are intolerant of high summer temperatures. These crops are cold hardy and therefore can be transplanted a few weeks before the last frost date. These will be the first crops to market in May.  Some of the varieties you can expect to see first include kohlrabi, kale, broccoli, swiss chard, beets, several varieties of onions, several varieties of lettuce, parsley and cilantro. They will be hardened off and transplanted to the field within the next couple of weeks. Check out how the little guys are coming along in the photos below.


The wonder of it all

“When we mistake what we can know for all there is to know, a healthy appreciation of one’s ignorance in the face of a mystery like soil fertility gives way to the hubris that we can treat nature as a machine.” ~ Sir Albert Howard

Greetings! My name is Brenna and I am a 2012 intern with the UT Market Garden. I am also 18 weeks pregnant, which is totally irrelevant to this blog, unless this blog becomes emotional, and then it’s a little bit relevant.

My interest in agriculture was hosted by the normal array of issues that plague modern crop production. Things like food and health, animal welfare and community development all fostered within me a want to make the current system better. But this new intrigue, as true and provocative as it maybe, was in itself unsustaining because it seemed to work only in the form of ideals, rather then the practicality of application. How was I to apply my soap box of locality and stewardship when I knew nothing of soil health and fertility, let alone crop management. And so I find myself back in school, learning about such things.

Here’s the thing, I’m awful at science.

Really awful.

I always wonder how we can know what we know especially since what we’ve always known has been disproved by so much of what we know now. So science has gotten better, yes probably, but I struggle with it’s imperfections, and perhaps it’s absolution. I’m a huge Wendell Berry fan, I probably quote drop him at least once a day, unashamedly. Because of his criticisms of research institutions, namely large universities, my desire to come back to school was always tainted with his words. One quote especially, which I don’t have off hand, went something to the affect of  “…and one day our farmers will work primarily from laboratories rather then fields.” And as I attend my classes, most being in labs without windows, or even plants for that matter, I wonder how much we’re actually accomplishing for the small farmer, or the tired land, or the communities that are slowly diminishing because the demise of the former.

There is a need for science, absolutely. But there is a need for awe, I do believe. To change our current culture in regards to ecological justice and land stewardship there’s going to have to be something that actually brings people outside. Things like classes and statistics and documentaries will make an impact, no doubt, but people forget those things over time. What people don’t forget are life experiences. One time, while in another country, I was sent on a mission to capture and kill a chicken so that a local woman could cook dinner for myself and her family. I will say, that after the chase and the tremendously clumsy kill, that that was the most reverent chicken and rice dish I’ve ever partaken in.  We are able to live in a society that has the “luxury” of detachment. Most of us do not know the joys of an abundant season or the devastation of a famine or drought, the majority of us will never know true hunger nor have to really do anything other then go to the store to buy our food.  As of now there are enough studies and articles out there about organics and healthy living that we as a people are able to make informed and educated decisions about what and what not to buy.

What lacks in a society that can know so much and yet have experienced so little is the profoundness and quiet mystery of the life beneath our feet. We buy into the idea of our entitled ownership of it all rather than merely another beneficiary of it’s fruits.

However I will say, after this rant, that science is helping me with this reverence. The complexities of soil fertility and the naturally occurring cycles of life and death and life out of death or truly fascinating. I’m thankful for my professors who are patient with students like me, and who give me hope that science and awe really can be integrated into something useful. I’m also grateful for this internship that provides first hand experience at growing food in better ways and application of all that we’re leaning. I’m excited to work alongside friends this season and to continue various conversations that have brought us all uniquely to this one garden.

Cheers to all,


Peppers and Cans

I’ve been put in charge of the Solanums quarter of the market garden. Solanums are the peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, and, for market garden purposes, okra. In this group is a plethora of sizes, shapes, colors, and tastes to put a smile on your face and something good in your belly. Working on planning the garden has introduced me to a whole new world of diversity among cultivars of these plants, but none have matched my interest in the chili pepper with its flavor and color it’s an awesome addition to anything that needs a little kick (chilli, stir-fry, chocolate, etc.)

So now the waiting process begins, and looking through all these seed catalogs doesn’t help ease my mind. We should have a good amount of both hot and sweet peppers this year as long as my fellow interns agree. In the meantime I’ll plan for the times after the harvest when I’ve got lots of these little devils and no way to store them for long periods. This year I’m hoping to try my hand at canning. Though I’m not particularly well-versed, I do remember days spent at my grandparent’s house while my grandpa would sit and can green beans fresh out of the garden.

It’s an awesome way to preserve food from a previous year’s harvest in order to get through winter without buying produce from 1000 miles away. Hopefully you’ll join me, all you need is a pressure cooker, some mason jars, and lots o’ good food courtesy of the UT Market Garden.

For lots of information, check out the page at Pick Your Own:

When I was looking through all the recipes of different preserves that you can make I found a nice one for the Solanums that uses the peppers and the tomatoes that I will hopefully work my way up to eventually. It’s called “Canned Hot Tomatoes” and sounds delicious. Give it a shot.


Until next time,


What Oraganic means to Me.

Howdy dudes and ladies,

As a quick how-do-ya-do I would like to say hello, my name is Elias, and I will be working at UT’s Organic Market Garden this summer.  But enough about that. . .

How did I beome so involved with organic agriculture? What do organics mean to me?

America was once a nation of farmers.  It was what society built the household on.  Times got better and society shifted its interest and energy in agricultural cultivation and progressed towards a industrial nation.  In less than a century’s time a culture had adapted to a new lifestyle, standard of living, and perspective on what it means to, simply, be.

In America of the twenty-first century, our society associates all thing good and evil with a celebrity face or corporate logo, yet neglect all those who contributed towards the finished product.  Today, transactions have become faceless–substituted with an illuminated screen and an artificial sense of reality.  Every aspect of life seems to be taken for granted and expected in instant gratification.  With a blind eye, today’s society will go about its way with an even more oblivious regard towards the impact of its actions.

What Organic means to me is reaction towards contemporary life–a reconnection to human instinct, or sacred and primal nature that has been forgotten as our bodies work less and our minds work faster.  For me, organic is the rediscovery of stability.  It is making neighborly relations with the farmer and patron, not solidifying the disconnected relationship between consumer and grocery store.  Organic is a progressive step towards cultural retrogression: making eye-contact, having appreciation for the cost of food and labor, and understanding the endowned duty of earthly stewardship to those who “possess,” or dominate it.

I want to take a moment to apologize for the politics and opinions. But, reconnecting back to nature; a lifestyle that reminds us we are human. 


That is what organic means to me.