It’s hard not to learn in a garden

While I’m writing this from outside my parents’ considerably less-impressive garden, I’m considering where SLUG fits into the spectrum of purposeful plant-growing. It still often seems like an unfamiliar midpoint between my family’s starved tomatoes and the corner of the immense corn monoculture that I can see from my house. No one in SLUG disagrees that gardening improves the world or oneself in some way, but the specifics of how that happens or how to maximize it are surprisingly hard to discuss concretely. One approach is that it’s unnecessary to do so: gardening has a pretty wide range of applications in the real world that a SLUG graduate can find themselves, and their time at SLUG is best spent just learning how to garden most effectively. We’ve mostly settled on this liberal arts-influenced approach, but it leaves so much open and can be unsatisfying for a group of people interested in social justice, in addition to gardening and so many other things.
This is only a discussion of the garden’s greater purpose, too: if we do decide we want just to learn how to garden and save the specifics of world-improvement for later in our careers, we run into more questions. Not just ideologically, but physically, how does or should SLUG fit between an experimental and learning-focussed garden like mine at home and a profit-driven farm? What plants do we grow, the ones that make the most money sold to the Lawrence dining hall, or ones that could feed the disadvantaged either now or someday? We strive for a balance. The labor intensive core of the garden is tomatoes, greens, and chives, which we grow every year and sell. It’s important to learn the financial skills related to managing a garden, as well as necessary to support ourselves. While many of the rest of the plants we grow are pretty standard, like rhubarb or radishes, we don’t make as much money or spend as much time on them. These categories are pretty arbitrary, but the point is that SLUG is capable of fulfilling multiple purposes at once and being an opportunity for we gardeners to learn multiple pretty separate skills.
While, like other gardeners, I put in most of my time doing standard gardening tasks like weeding or pruning, what I most enjoy is the more experimental learning we get to do. Right before I returned home I set up two new oyster mushroom cultures using woodchips that would normally be composted. There’s a reasonable chance they won’t grow at all, but they could also add to our income and use our materials in efficient, interesting ways.
I think it’s hard to go wrong while gardening, especially in an environment like SLUG where we’re all learning and many of us are starting from little or no experience. That doesn’t preclude pushing for involvement and productivity; in fact, involvement especially seems more important because failure or not, it’s impossible not to learn in a garden. In my case I can see just by looking at the size of SLUG’s tomatoes compared to my parents’ tiny sickly ones how much more they know, but either way it’s pretty fun participating in a successful garden.



Back At It

After a six-week stint in Northern Minnesota speaking French and cooking Italian (check it), I am thrilled to be back. As much as I will miss the trees, trails, and tirimisu of language camp life, there is something to be said for knowing where one’s tomatoes come from…

I have been back working in the garden for a week and a half now, and boy, do I have the other summer workers to thank for its current state of leafy-green lusciousness! Their hard work has truly paid off. We are harvesting pounds upon pounds of juicy tomatoes, crisp bush beans, tasty basil, and more. Much of this we are selling to Bon Appétit, and the other part at Griff’s Grill (outside the café on Wednesdays, 11:30am-1pm) or to our own SLUG co-op. Last week, we also had a number of visitors to the garden: a community group for high schoolers, a group of admissions counselors, and current freshmen, some of which helped us with weeding and planting. These exchanges withe the greater community are an important part of the SLUG mission, and sharing my SLUG story with others has been an excellent opportunity for self-reflection.

There is a certain naturalness to rising with the sun, donning a straw hat, and sticking one’s hands in the dirt. The occasional stinging insect or prickly plant is a small price to pay for the overwhelming sense of peace I feel every morning in the garden. The sun, the savory scent of dewy-fresh tomato plants, and sensation of contributing to something bigger than myself: this is why I SLUG.


SLUG: Something Learned, Used Greatly

I was trying to decide what to write my blog post about, and I couldn’t decide between a post about the animals in the garden or gardening alone or what I’ve learned this summer. I chose what I’ve learned this summer, but I do touch on the value of gardening with a team. For your pleasure, I will include some photos of our favorite rabbit friend (we affectionately refer to him as Tom, short for Tomato Basil SLUG) at the end of this post. Enjoy!

SLUG: Something Learned, Used Greatly

I’ve never gardened alone. Sure, I’ve been pruning tomatoes while Elana, Nicole, and Jenny were in another part of the garden fixing a fence. Or, I got to my spring term compost day early so I filled a wheelbarrow with wood chips, but I never gardened alone. I think there’s a couple of reasons for this, mainly, I was a freshman with no experience and I wasn’t fully confident enough in my skills to be able to take initiative and do something. I had a huge fear of messing something up. I could over water, under water, pull the plants instead of the weeds, walk on the beds, shovel the wrong compost, put something in the wrong place in the shed, or a litany of other things that would ruin something in the garden. Luckily, this summer I’ve learned some valuable skills that have given me the confidence to be able to garden alone and with a team. I  would like to share  some with you.

Plant vs. Weed Identification

Yes, it seems weird, but my biggest fear was pulling the plant instead of the weeds. I love Kale and Lettuce, so of course I would know what they looked like, right? And no one eats anything super pointy so that has to be a weed, right? After spending countless power hours this summer pulling weeds, I’m certain that I can tell the difference between food and weed. The thistle are the pointy ones, burdock have the big leaves close to the ground, the jade is kind of a vine with the thick succculent-y leaves, and crab grass is the worst and just looks like grass. None of these descriptions match kale, chard, tomatoes, or beets. Thankfully, the only thing that I accidentally pulled was some mint, which Nicole nicely pointed out to me was not what we wanted to remove. It’s sort of silly that I had this fear.


Another weird idea that I’ve learned, but learning how to be gentle with people and plants was a very helpful lesson this summer. Full disclosure: I never considered myself a morning person. The earliest I’ve ever needed to wake up regularly was 6:45 a.m. By 6:45 a.m. in the garden, we’re usually well into our weeding power hour. It was pretty difficult to coax myself to wake up at such an early hour, especially since it’s difficult to see the payoff of our work while we’re gardening. It’s a little frustrating. There’s a few more frustrating things like blight, plants being eaten, plants bolting, plants not flowering, and if I really thought about it, I could write an entire blog post of small garden frustrations. I learned to keep my wits about myself and not get angry at other people for issues that none of us could have controlled. Also, it’s a good idea to be gentle with tomato plants. Those guys are very temperamental.

The Value of “I can do this”

As I mentioned, I’m not a morning person. But, the phrase “I can do this” got me through a lot of mornings. I’m not going to lie, there were times where I wanted to sit in the shed and drink water for 15 minutes, or make up an excuse for why I had to leave early or miss a day, but just saying to myself “I can do this” gave me the confidence in myself to be able to push through. It’s something I tell myself as I stare at a hill full of weeds, or a bed full of blighted tomatoes, or 3 beehives full of bees trying to get to their honey,or laying in my bed at 5:30 a.m. convincing myself to get out of bed. This summer I learned, no matter what the task is, I can do this.

The Value of Gardening with a Team

I’m now confident enough that I could garden on my own, but I don’t know if I would want to do it voluntarily. One of the things that I think is amazing about SLUG is the way that the organization continues itself. Students are only at Lawrence for 4 or 5 years, and SLUG has continued to thrive with such a quick turnover of volunteers. The secret is that the more experienced SLUGgers teach the new SLUGgers all of the tricks to gardening. Elana, Nicole, and Jenny were my teachers this summer helping me to learn the correct way of keeping the garden producing, and along the way, forming new friendships. This teaching is what makes SLUG such a strong community. While I did listen to a lot of music and RadioLab while gardening this summer, the conversations that we had while weeding were some of the most genuine conversations that I’ve had with people at Lawrence. I couldn’t imagine doing anything that I did this summer without those ladies.

I learned a lot this summer about myself, the garden, the bees, and my co-gardeners. With only a few weeks left of the summer, I wouldn’t go back and change a thing. Except maybe try beets earlier. Turns out, I love beets!

As promised, here’s some pictures of Tom:

With love,


Rainbows of Vegetables

I said to Jenny last week, “We should have counted the number of wheelbarrows that we have filled up with woodchips the past month.” We didn’t though. Perhaps it can be counted in pounds of produce that we have been harvesting the past two weeks?

The past month has been busy with protecting tomatoes from more blight. That means putting a layer of woodchips on each tomatoes bed. We put newspaper and woodchips down on each of the paths in between the beds in the garden.

We weeded behind the Hoop house and a long the riverside of the garden finally clearing up the space around the pagoda.

Annual plants are nature’s emergency medical service, seeded in sounds and scars to hold the land until the perennial cover is re-established.

Wendell Berry

As a gift for all the care we gave the garden, we harvested our first tomatoes on August 1.


Since then, the garden has rewarded us with an assortment of rainbow vegetables including so many black, yellow, orange, and red tomatoes, basil, rainbow chard, green collards, kale, yellow and red beets, and purple radishes. It is so rewarding and exciting to go to the garden each day and see more vegetables.



Harvest from Wednesday August 3


Jenny’s picture from Griff’s Grill (8/10) exposes the beautiful tomatoes and other produce, but personally, I think the tomatoes steal the show.

We are able to sell to Bon Appetit again because students are starting to return to Lawrence. We are excited for what the end of summer and the beginning of fall have in store for the garden.


Bye Bye SLUG!!


This year was my second summer working in SLUG, and this season brought with it many joys, challenges, and learning experiences (i.e. what do you do when you DROP a box of bees???)  I am so so so grateful to have returned to this internship for a second time.  Seeing the bright faces of  Elana, Nicole, and Anna at 6am every morning has been absolutely wonderful.  I could not have asked for a better garden crew with whom to spend this summer.

In just under a week, I will be boarding a plane to fly to Qatar, then New Delhi, and finally Pune, India.  I will spend all of fall semester learning the Marathi language, living with a host family, and (if all goes well) exploring the political theatre community of Maharashtra.  I am so excited to have this opportunity.  That being said, this experience is bittersweet, with such huge separation of time and distance from the communities at Lawrence that have come to mean so much.  SLUG has been one of the more defining experiences in my time so far at Lawrence, both in the vast amount I have learned in the garden and apiary, as well as the beautiful relationships I have found within the community.  I will miss all of these people very much!!!

Thank you to everyone who made this summer so special.  I’ll see you in January!

Tons of love,



Do you know what a happy tomato plant looks like?

I didn’t.  I thought I did though, until early last week when Oren, a SLUG alum who now runs Field Notes Farm, stopped by the garden and did a walk-through with us.  He gave us lots of good advice – pull out the pepper plants that had not flowered so late in the season (RIP, dreams of canning salsa with local habaneros), turn off our automatic irrigation system since Appleton has gotten so much rain lately, and prune the tomatoes.

Before Oren’s visit, I thought our toms looked fine.  They were shooting up faster than we could trellis them, several green fruits had appeared, and if their lower leaves looked a little droopy, well, their upper leaves were green and perky!  But Oren explained that those green fruits really ought to be ripening right now, and the droopy bottom leaves were a symptom of blight, a soil fungus that can kill tomatoes.  He prescribed pruning the plants, which both encourages the fruit to ripen faster and slows the spread of the fungus up the stalk.

Hearing that our tomato plants needed urgent care was a little disheartening, especially when I thought they were doing so well.  But realizing that I do not know how much I don’t know has been a theme of my summer as a SLUGger.  I used to think gardening was mostly just watering and weeding, but the more I learn, the more I realize how ignorant I am.  It feels like I could spend my whole life learning to farm and still know only a scintilla of the information that is out there.  That’s daunting, but also exciting; growing food is the kind of work that can last a lifetime!  I feel extremely lucky to have SLUG as a classroom and to have farmer friends like Oren (and Rick from Produce with Purpose, and Larry Cain, and on and on…) who are willing to be teachers.

After Oren’s visit, we spent the rest of that week and the start of this one doctoring our toms.  We finished pruning the last bed today, and they all look happy, I think.  Even better, several of the cherry varieties are ripening! Hopefully, next week will mark the start of tomatoes as an addition to our farm stand offerings (8:00 – 10:00 AM in the garden ;)).  Tomorrow we are on to planting carrots and zucchini; I can’t wait to see what those crops have to teach me!

Xoxo –


Some Sweet Bee Updates!


Hey all!

Summer SLUGger Jenny here with some very exciting updates about the garden and the bees!  Those of you in the Lawrence area may have noticed people walking a little taller, with a bit more skip in their step, a smile on their face, and (most importantly) a jar of what might be described as Liquid Gold in their hands.IMG_1966That’s right!  The SLUG bees are making honey like it’s nobody’s business!  They are healthy and strong and happy, and we couldn’t be prouder of them.

Let’s start with a recent history lesson of our apiary, which can be found behind Hiett Hall enclosed in a nice and protective white fence.  When I personally began my infancy as a beekeeper last summer, we had one lonely but strong hive we named Kristin.  During this summer we were also fortunate to get connected with a local beekeeper named Larry Cain.  Larry has been so SO helpful in getting our apiary back to the strength it is today.

To make a year long story short, our one hive became three, the new hives named GusAnn and Laurel.  Winter came and our bees huddled together for warmth in Larry’s ‘bee-garage’.  Kristin lost her queen and was split and combined to make a new hive we named Abeegail.  The three remaining hives are now buzzing and thriving beyond anyone’s expectations.  Slugger Gil and I have been having a blast hanging out with these spritely gals and harvesting the delicious honey they are continuously making.IMG_1970.JPGOur first harvest consisted of just about 70 pounds of honey.  We were even able to use Larry’s fancy new electronic honey extractor, which uses centrifugal force to extract honey from 9 frames at a time!  A sure upgrade from our own hand-cranked, two frame extractor.  There is nothing more satisfying than watching that pure honey pour out of the spout and fill up a big 5-gallon bucket.IMG_1954.JPGWe expect to make another harvest of honey within the next week, and likely one or two more after that before the campus fills up with Lawrentians for the start of the 2016-17 school year.  The honey will be sold every Wednesday in the garden from 8am-10am and at Griff’s Grill from 11:30am-1pm.

Wishing everyone a cool and exciting end of July!

xoxo – gardener Jenny