UMass Amherst Offers Series of How-to Articles and Video Blog for First-time and Seasoned Gardeners This Summer

‘Growing Your Own Food with Franco and Beto’ features herb- or vegetable-a-week
Frank Mangan
Frank Mangan

AMHERST, Mass. – As families find themselves at home and looking for activities to do together outdoors this summer with coronavirus cautions in place, many are trying vegetable gardening for the first time, not only for the enjoyment and fresh air but to grow healthy and nutritious food.

To help, a team at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Stockbridge School of Agriculture and UMass Extension led by extension professor of vegetable crops Frank Mangan has launched a series of web-based how-to articles to cover the entire growing season. His doctoral student, Heriberto Gody-Hernández, publishes a weekly version in Spanish. In addition, there is a weekly English-language garden blog video update.

Mangan says, “I know there has been a large surge in interest in growing your own food, and as the land-grant institution for Massachusetts we feel this is one way to give back. Each week we highlight a specific vegetable or herb along with information on other components of growing vegetables, such as soil fertility, watering and pest management.”

Various extension educators in soils, vegetable pests and other topics contributed to the UMass Extension Home Lawn and Garden Resources website, which offers fact sheets and other research-based information on how to grow specific vegetables and herbs appropriate for Massachusetts, Mangan says.

In the garden video blog, “Franco’s Garden,” Mangan tours his own large garden and updates what’s going on each week. “It can give viewers a sense of what to expect, how the garden is organized and any problems I run into that may help them,” he adds.

The tour introduces information on not only peas, peppers and tomatoes, but beets, bok choy, radishes, broccolini, cilantro, parsley, spinach, arugula and more. Among other features, Mangan shows evidence of pests and disease and demonstrates how to build pea ladders for climbing varieties. He also makes a basket-weave string trellis for supporting tomato plants, for example.

He and Gody-Hernández call the series “Growing Your Own Food with Franco and Beto” after their nicknames. Mangan explains, “As part of this series, we provide historical and cultural information on each vegetable and herb we cover. The overwhelming number of vegetables and herbs we grow in Massachusetts originated in other parts of the world and were domesticated for production here. So far, we have covered peas and spinach, both from Eurasia, tomatoes and peppers, both from tropical parts of the Americas.”    

Among the tutorials offered is, “Where to Start When Growing Your Own Vegetables and Herbs Outside: SOIL!” It points out that vegetables benefit from healthy soils, with optimum soil organic matter, nutrients and the appropriate soil pH. It includes instructions for how to get soil tested. Other articles discuss the cultural significance of vegetables, herbs and tomatoes, and garden water management.

A recent weekly entry in the “featured vegetable series” was the cool-season crop, peas. Legumes that originated in the Mediterranean and Near East were domesticated through Eurasia and brought to the Americas by immigrants. Three types of pea are grown in New England and may be dwarf, tall or climbing varieties.

Other featured vegetables to date have been tomatoes, spinach and peppers. Pepper varieties and types popular to grow in Massachusetts are listed in a table divided into sweet bell, green to red; sweet bell, green to yellow; sweet Italian and cubanelle as well as by heat hot ancho, hot cherry, hot banana, hot jalapeno, and miscellaneous hot.