Gardening Event Sows Seeds of Knowledge for Community Members

By Elle O’Casey

It was a lovely evening in the garden a few weeks ago. After months of cold, dreary weather, the sun finally showed up June 7 as a group of community gardeners gathered next to their plots at the Billings Community Garden to learn more about growing their own food and flowers from Master Gardener Bea Cole. As part of Bea’s Master Gardener certification, she offers educational talks throughout the year, sharing her wealth of gardening knowledge.

Sustainable Woodstock held the workshop at Billings Community Garden and it was open to anyone interested in getting some gardening tips from a local expert. Sponsoring this event, Sustainable Woodstock is holding summer events like this to help support communities interested in developing and sustaining local food systems.

Bea has been gardening since she was a kid. When she was younger, it was a family affair as she worked beside her mother and aunts in the garden to grow an array of flowers and vegetables. Some 35 years later, she wanted to hone her craft and signed up for the Master Gardener course with the University of Vermont. Through the 13-week course, she learned an array of new techniques, including garden layout and design practices, mulching methods, and IPM, or ‘integrated pest management’ which is a pest control method that combines cultural, biological, and mechanical practices instead of chemical use.

Bea’s philosophy is simple but takes time to do correctly. As she puts it, “I try to understand what every plant needs.” Here are a few useful tips and tricks Bea shared with the group during gardening workshop.

Garden Layout and Design

  • Before you put anything in the ground, really think about plant placement. For example, if you plant corn, keep in mind that it will grow 5’ tall so ensure you have enough space for growth. Know how much sun each plant needs and think about placing shade-loving plants in strategic places to guarantee their survival.
  • Anticipate plant spacing. A seedling may not look very big in its early stages, but in some cases can take up a massive amount of room. Squash and cucumbers in particular will leaf out across the gardening bed, so consider using poles or corn for them to climb on.
  • Crop rotation is crucial to establishing and maintaining good soil. Legumes put nitrogen back in the soil while corn, tomatoes, and cabbage are heavy feeders that take nitrogen from the soil.
  • Don’t use hoops for tomatoes. More effective methods include using stakes or creating a T-shaped structure with twine at either end of a tomato row, as you would with raspberries, keeping the tomatoes off the ground.


  • Mulch most beds with leaves once a year, right as the plants are beginning to poke through the soil in spring. Using leaves adds nutrients to the soil as they break down. Leaves should be aged nine months or more before using.
  • Black plastic can be useful for producing heat in the soil and is best for anything in the tomato family.
  • If you use straw or hay, know that this may produce more weeds as the seeds from the hay can take root next season. Hay should be seasoned so you don’t end up with weeds from the hay.
  • Don’t use wood, sawdust or bark chips in vegetable garden as they take several years to break down and can rob nitrogen from the soil.
Caption: Community gardeners gather to hear from Master Gardener Bea Cole

Caption: Community gardeners gather to hear from Master Gardener Bea Cole

For more helpful advice from Bea Cole, check out the column she writes for the Randolph Herald entitled “Gardening with Bea.” Her latest column answers questions related to lilacs. For more activities related to this gardening workshop and all of Sustainable Woodstock’s upcoming events, please visit and check out the monthly calendar.

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