Growing Points: Future growing at Troy Howard Middle School
By Jean English

LINCOLNVILLE (Dec 13): A high point of this past summer was touring (actually, re-touring) the Troy Howard Middle School Garden Project in Belfast (


Anyone who is worried about the future of agriculture or horticulture need only come here to experience the enthusiasm and edible bounty that teachers Steve Tanguay and Jon Thurston help cultivate, and then go build a similar program at other schools.

This multiple-award-winning program has been covered widely in the press, and you can see many fantastic photos and even movies about the project on its Web site. This column notes just a few ideas gleaned on a summer’s day.

One vegetable variety that Thurston was especially excited about was the 'Yellow Stuffer' tomato growing in a plot of heirloom tomatoes. The fruits of this tall, vigorous, very productive, vining plant look more like peppers than tomatoes and, like peppers, are nearly hollow inside, so are easy to stuff and bake — or slice into salads.

Once fruits mature (in 80 to 85 days or so), cut the tops off, remove the cores, stuff them with your favorite filling and bake them. The Seed Savers Exchange suggests a stuffing mix of spinach and cheese. How about chopped mushrooms, breadcrumbs, butter and Parmesan? Seeds of 'Yellow Stuffer' are widely available, including from the Seed Savers Exchange (

A row of Mason jars with seeds fermenting in them was also encouraging. As our seed supply is increasingly taken over by corporations apparently intent on patenting all life, saving seed from our remaining crops becomes essential.

Jean English
One way to save seeds is to ferment them for a few days. Viable seeds sink to the bottom of the jars, and pulp, nonviable seeds and other debris can be decanted. Then viable seeds can be spread on newspaper to dry. (Photo by Jean English)

The three-dimensional aspect of the Troy Howard garden is one that would be useful for home gardeners with limited space, or for anyone who wants to maximize production while tending the smallest area possible (thus leaving more land wild).

Jean English
Trellises dramatically increase the surface area for growing vining vegetable crops. (Photo by Jean English)

For example, A-frame structures with wire trellising supported vine crops at Troy Howard, easily doubling or tripling the surface area covered with green.

Jean English
The portable chicken coop can be moved to garden space once particular plots are harvested. The rectangular "room" on the right offers a dark place for hens to lay eggs, which are easily accessed by lifting the roof. (Photo by Jean English)

Some efficient "chicken tractors" show students and visitors how to raise their own poultry for producing eggs. When garden space is available, these structures can be set on that ground so that the chickens eat potential garden pests and fertilize and "rototill" the soil at the same time.

Jean English
Hens lay eggs in shredded newspaper. (Photo by Jean English)

I love the shredded, recycled paper bedding on which the hens laid eggs; the practice could offer a new twist on the old theme of the dog eating the homework.

A striking ornamental combination flowered in the Troy Howard garden: amaranth and Mexican sunflower. Who would think that the purplish amaranth would provide such a great backdrop for the deep orange sunflower (which is not a true sunflower, but Tithonia rotundiflora).

Jean English
Amaranth and 'Torch' Mexican sunflower make a great combination. (Photo by Jean English)

Not only are these two flowers great together in the garden and in bouquets, but an abundance of bumblebees seemed to appreciate the yellow, pollen-filled stamens of the sunflower as well.

Jean English
A bumblebee collects pollen from 'Torch' Mexican sunflower. (Photo by Jean English)

There’s lots more to see in this garden, and produce to buy at its farm stand, and a sense that the world’s going to be OK if enough middle school students get to enjoy programs like Troy Howard’s.