Gardening With A Purpose

By Josh Morrison ’16

June 14, 2013: Momentarily banished from the garden by the steady onslaught of cold rain that has been hovering over Williamstown all week, I have a chance to explore other less typical aspects of gardening, like blogging! To begin with, my name is Josh Morrison and I am one of six Zilkha Center interns this summer. My job as Williams College Garden Intern has had a fast start, as early summer is one of the busiest times in any garden. Together with Lucy Bergwall, the Mount Greylock High School Garden Intern, we have formed a garden tag-team tasked with overseeing the two Williams College sustainable vegetable gardens as well as Mount Greylock High school’s own garden.

Parsons Garden on our first day
Parsons Garden on our first day

While there are many different aspects to this job, our first priority is making sure that each garden is being used to its full potential. Williams’ late frosts mean that much of the planting is done in late April through May—which, as every Williams student knows, overlaps heavily with final exams. As the Williams Gardens are completely student-run, it is sometimes difficult to orchestrate this part of the year. Overall, however, the Gardens were already bustling with growth. Lucy and I were greeted by various young plants, greens and radishes ready to harvest, and everything between.

In the past few days we have worked to clear the few empty beds currently unplanted as their contents have already been harvested. Working with the plans given to us by Williams Sustainable Growers, of which both me and Lucy are members, we are beginning to collect seeds and seedlings for planting.  If all goes according to plan, in a month or two, the gardens will be producing almost every vegetable you can think of and a few you can’t.

Four miles down the road, out of the Purple Valley and into the Berkshires, lies Mount Greylock High School. Behind it is our third charge. Even so close by, the soil is noticeably different. Each bed is dotted with countless rocks that may prove challenging.

Rows of radishes, greens, and carrots in the Mount Greylock garden
Rows of radishes, greens and carrots in the Mount Greylock garden

Luckily, Lucy and I will be joined by four Mount Greylock High School interns who will help us keep the garden going throughout the summer. While certain vegetables, radishes and peas, are currently thriving there, others are looking a bit stressed. Undoubtedly, much compost will be needed to help encourage growth. As a southerner, it is really helpful to work with Lucy and the high schoolers to learn the nuances of the area. It is fascinating how big of a difference moving seven hundred miles has on seasons! Plants like strawberries, already out of season in North Carolina, have yet to ripen here.

Beyond Mount Greylock High, Brent Wasser (Sustainable Food & Agriculture Program Manager) has discussed collaborating with other gardens in the area. While many of our transplants already come from local sources such as Mighty Food Farm, this summer looks to connect Williams’ resources on a more interpersonal level. Next week, Brent and I are meeting with a representative from Williamstown Elementary School who is looking for help in their garden. While admittedly some of this collaboration is simply asking for man-hours, much of it goes beyond that. Working in multiple gardens run by multiple groups highlights the most effective ways of gardening. While Williams has the resources to hire Lucy and myself as well as some good techniques for successfully growing vegetables, Mount Greylock has a greenhouse that could revolutionize our pre-frost gardening at Williams if we had access to it. In addition, their drip irrigation system is worthy of envy, with every row hooked up to a pressurized water source and timer. As I have not yet visited the elementary school garden yet, it is impossible to say what ideas we will find that could be brought back to Williams, or vice versa.

Vibrant potato plants
Vibrant potato plants

Looking forward, the summer holds many daunting tasks and challenges. As vegetables are constantly ripening, that means that we must be constantly planning ahead to have something ready to replace them. One of our major goals is to keep the garden producing throughout the entire summer so that in the fall, when the students who worked all year to keep it going return, they will reap some of the reward. Beyond the inevitable turnover, Lucy and I, with Brent’s insight, are looking to implement more permanent improvements to our two Williams gardens. Some projects being contemplated are revamping the irrigation system, building cold frames and seating as well as adding raspberry, blackberry, and strawberry plants. During the academic year, larger projects are harder to implement between classes, sports, and other activities. In the relative calm of the summer months, Lucy and I look forward to being able to continue and shape the gardens that we love.