So You Want to Plant a Garden …

_JS_0349Growing your own food is a great way to add fresh herbs and produce into your diet, and it’s dirt cheap. Gardening isn’t without its quirks, though. Anyone who has brought a basil plant home from the grocery store only to watch it slowly wither away and die knows how frustrating cultivating food can be.

“I think the misconception is that it’s hard and it’s not,” Sarah Turkus, from the Young Farmers Network said.

The organization is designed to help people foster a green thumb for both personal and professional purposes. We met on two acres of farmland in Seekonk, Massachusetts, The Sidewalk Ends Farm, with her business partner Laura Brown-Lavoie. They lease the land to grow vegetables, raise pigs and chickens, and sell them at farmers markets and local restaurants. They also have a 5,000 sq ft plot of land in Providence that they mainly use for growing flowers and that acts as their PVD Community Supported Agriculture pickup location.

The basics of growing your own food and plants consists of providing good soil, water and sunlight. Some plants have specific needs, but their packaging usually explains them.

_JS_0367“We usually tell people, when they’re thinking about starting a garden, to only grow the things they actually care about and actually want to eat because if you don’t care about it, you’re not going to take care of it.” Turkus said.

Whether your plants are living in a pot, on a porch or window sill, or in the ground outside, the seeds need to start with good soil. You can purchase soil from hardware stores, buy manure from local farms, reach out to friends with compost piles or join cooperatives like the Southside Community Land trust (SCL), which will give you some compost each season as part of being a member. If your plants need a little help, you can fertilize them with products such as fish emulsion, a fermented product made from bi-products of the fishing industry.

“Just like on any food, make sure you read all the ingredients that go into potting mix or compost; even if it says organic on the front, sometimes they sneak things in,” Brown-Lavoie said.

Unfortunately, people living in urban areas need to do their research if they’re planning on planting in the ground because more often than not the soil can be contaminated and downright dangerous to garden in because of lead from old houses and paint. In situations like this, you can buy or build planting beds to fill with good soil.

“I don’t encourage people to spend a lot of money on fancy specific things. If you have a bucket, that will work, an old pot. Anything that will hold dirt will hold a plant,” Turkus said.

_JS_0375When you garden in a planter, make sure the plants have enough room and that the planter has holes to allow excess water to drain off.

“Herbs do fine in a small container like a small planter or one-gallon container. Tomatoes or anything larger should be in a bigger container, generally five gallons or more,” Turkus said.

Generally plants want damp soil, and the symptoms of a drowned plant will look a lot like the ones for an underwatered plant. Overall, Turkus said, the plant will look bummed and sad.

Getting started can be intimidating, but luckily there are a plethora of resources in the state. The SCL offers classes ranging in topics from organic farming to container gardening. Their website, southsideclt.org, also includes a large amount of resources like planting schedules for different types of plants, and it is a great organization to further your own knowledge about gardening and farming in general.  

The 48 Hour Film Project: Suffering in the Name of Art

The 48 Hour Film Project, which took place in Providence during the weekend of July 15, offers local filmmakers a chance to suffer and abuse themselves for an entire weekend in the dead heat of summer for the sake of art. Participants are required to make a film in just 48 hours — this includes writing the script, rehearsing, costume and set design, shooting, editing, sound design, color correction, rendering and exporting to a storage device for delivery to the drop-off location. Each participating team must include in their film one featured line of dialogue, prop and character, and each team is assigned a different genre, which forces people to think on their feet about how to write and stage their film. The project is a crash course in filmmaking for anyone trying it for the first time, but for the veterans it’s a chance to refine their skills and show what they can do.

Every year sees a slew of stories — usually comedic — about how minor problems become big problems and how technologies always seems to fail at the most crucial time. This year problems ranged from absentee cast and crew members to being assaulted by waterfowl.

Elbow Deep Media produced a film named Heroux Hero or Herrou Hero. The title sounds like a drunken “hero” with a heavy stress on the “r” followed by a sober “hero,” but kind of slurred together. The film is about a man who can’t remember his heroic deeds because his superpowers are directly linked to his blood alcohol level. After an impact event from a giant celestial melon, the race is on for our hero to drink until he can save the planet.

Some filmmakers who participate in the festival annually show real progress year after year. For example, Daniel Larsh, working with On the D.L. productions, has gotten good at the process and now worries less about simply making a film in 48 hours and focuses more on the finer details of the writing, shooting and editing processes. This year they created a short exploring the anxiety parents face when they’re bringing a new baby into the family.

Smoking Bottle and Rivenhart Design created a piece called Election Day about a mother and daughter being bombarded by campaign rhetoric in their home. “The most surprising thing for us is how well it went!” Rivengurl Hart said from Rivenhart Design.  

Of the films made, several are chosen for the best-of screening, the date of which is yet to be announced, and the best overall competes nationally with other winning shorts from across the country. Check out the Providence 48 Hour Film Project group on Facebook for behind-the-scenes content and information.

Hitting the Trails Safely

Whether you’re hiking in a management area in Rhode Island or a wilderness area farther north in the White Mountains, you should always keep some basic information in mind to stay safe. The gear and even the clothing for your trip will vary depending on what you’re doing, how long you’re gone and where you’ll be.

The Appalachian Mountain Club has been a trusted resource for backcountry knowledge and advice for over 100 years. There is a lot of useful information on their website, outdoors.org, and it’s a great starting point for deeper search topics about any backcountry sport you’re looking to get into.

The AMC outlines five core practices to stay safe while you enjoy the outdoors:

  1. With knowledge and gear. Become self-reliant by learning about the terrain, conditions, local weather and your equipment before you start.
  2. To leave your plans. Tell someone where you are going, the trails you are hiking, when you will return and your emergency plans.
  3. To stay together. When you start as a group, hike as a group and end as a group. Pace your hike to the slowest person.
  4. To turn back. Weather changes quickly in the mountains. Fatigue and unexpected conditions can also affect your hike. Know your limitations and when to postpone your plans. The mountains will be there another day.
  5. For emergencies. Even if you are headed out for just an hour, an injury, severe weather or a wrong turn could become life threatening. Don’t assume you will be rescued; know how to rescue yourself.

When you set out on your trip you need a few essentials: good footwear, a map, compass, trail food, water, first aid kit, protection from the sun and insects, along with a way to carry it all. Other considerations for longer hikes include a shelter, multi-tool, flashlight, sleeping bag, stove and a way to clean water.

Your feet are your single most important asset. If you can’t afford proper boots for the amount of hiking you’ll be doing, consider a shorter trip or one with less demanding terrain. Sneakers, athletic shoes, boots and anything with good tread are fine for most of the hikes in and around Rhode Island on a sunny dry day.

As you start on longer outings in increasingly inclement weather pay attention to your feet and invest in proper footwear as needed. If you outpace your boots, you’ll discover how they can chew your feet apart. The opening scene of Wild is a pretty accurate portrayal of what can happen when there is a problem with your footwear.

Everything you bring goes on your back and if you set out for an overnight or longer with a bag that doesn’t fit right, it can make your trip unpleasant from blisters and chafing. For a day hike, a backpack to carry water bottles and snacks is fine. Anything from your old school bag to a small 10 liter pack will work. As soon as you need anything bigger you should head into a local outdoors shop or a chain store like REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc.) or EMS (Eastern Mountain Sports) for advice.

When you are new to a mountain range, get familiar with the environmental management or protection agencies overseeing the area. It will have an official website filled with information to help you stay safe in that region, including everything from trail and road conditions to what animals inhabit the area and how to respect them in their habitat. The quality of your trip comes down to pre-planning.

Once you’re on the trail, the biggest problem you’ll have to deal with is animals raiding your food on overnights. The only sure option to secure your food is with a bear-proof container or by hanging it high enough that a bear can’t reach it. Most parks on the East Coast have bear boxes or a designated hanging area at impact sites used for camping close to major through trails. Check out backpacker.com/skills/how-to-hang-a-bear-bag to learn about the official way to tie off a bear bag in a tree. Have someone experienced teach you a few times before trying it yourself in black bear territory.

It’s especially important to remember the leave-no-trace ethic hikers are expected to follow. Everything you pack in must be packed out, with the exception of your human waste, which should be buried. Be safe, do your homework, have fun.

A Tour Through RI Vineyards

A trend with RI vineyards, and our farms in general, is how hard they work to keep extra chemicals off of their crops. Each vineyard approaches the problem differently, but they all seem to use some combination of cover crops, tilling and even specialized mowing equipment to keep weeds and bugs from harming their vines.   

“On our travels to California and Long Island, everything was about the insectaries and about compost,” said Nancy Wilson, the owner of Greenvale Vineyard in Portsmouth. Her son, Billy, is spearheading their effort by growing wildflowers to attract beneficial insects and even using nettle tea, a natural fertilizer in his compost piles.

“That water line was put out, but we’ve never had to use it because the natural irrigation is so good,” Greenvale’s tasting room manager Maggie Harnet said, motioning to a water line. She was explaining how factors like the proximity to the ocean and pitch of the land create perfect growing conditions. Grapes are resilient, and stressing the plants a little bit forces them to hold onto their nutrients instead of growing a large canopy, according to Maggie.

Over a tasting with Deborah Daniels, the director of guest relations and wine education at Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyard in Little Compton, she explained how Rhode Island is similar to the northern coastal regions of Europe and particularly France. RI doesn’t stay warm for long enough to support the ripening of big robust grapes like merlot and cabernet sauvignon. It is, however, ideal for dry white and light red varieties that generally fare well in acidic soil and occasionally brisk conditions.

“We’re more like the French style, the Burgundy-style chardonnay,” said John Nunes, Jr., co-owner / vintner of Newport Vineyards in Middletown, referring to the grapes he uses to make two of their wines. “We’re not looking to do a California butter bomb in your face; this is a real food wine.”

A large form of public outreach for these vineyards are their classes and tours covering the growing and production of the wine along with different food pairing guidelines. Entertainment isn’t restricted to only eating and drinking, either. Greenvale has jazz weekly and Sakonnet has a summer concert series. Newport Vineyard hosts both comedians and musicians along with a farmers market. If you’re looking to get a little more involved, some of the vineyards even enlist the help of the public to pick the grapes come harvest season. Remember to bring a camera. The properties are works of art in and of themselves, and catching them as the sun is fading is downright magical.

The vintners and staff go out of their way to welcome you onto their farms and in some cases, their homes. Diamond Hill vineyard is a classic New England farmhouse tucked away in the woods of Cumberland. The ground floor is open to the public as a tasting room and shop. The majority of the property is open to explore as well, the exception being the family garden and other private spaces.

Diamond Hill grows a few varieties of grapes including cabernet franc and chardonnay, but only their pinot noir is completely estate grown. They started adding fruit wines to the roster because it allowed them to produce a product while they age and make more grape wines. “If we get a crummy year we just don’t make any wine,” Chantel Berntson from Diamond Hill said. “So that’s why we like having the backup of the fruit, not only because they’re our most popular, but it allows us to go to farmers who just grow great blueberries or raspberries and make wine from their fruit.”

For a good look into the production side of viticulture, Brix restaurant is located in the Newport Vineyards winery and part of the dining room overlooks the production facility. Go when the grapes are being harvested to see the crushing process over a glass of wine with dinner.

If you get a chance to try some of the wine the state is producing, pay attention to the riesling from Newport Vineyards, the gewürztraminer (pronounced guh-voorts-trah-meener) from Sakonnet, Greenvale’s vidal blanc and Diamond Hill’s fruit wines. 

Amos House & PVD Roller Derby 5k Gored for Good

Photos by Staff Photographers –

Mike Ryan, Denneese Seal, Sampson Jacobs

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What’s on Tap at Tilted Barn

A common problem among RI brewers is that they can never seem to brew enough beer to satisfy the crowds flooding their tasting rooms every week. One member of the Rhode Island brewing family that experiences this problem is the Tilted Barn Brewery in Exeter, founded by Matthew and Kara Richardson. The newly renovated barn is tucked away on a Christmas tree farm and is on the verge of expanding from their old two-barrel system.

“We max out capacity and sell out every week,” Matt said. “Now we’re actually bumping back — we’re only open every other week.”

By the middle of May they are hoping to have their new seven-barrel system up and running so they can expand their hours.

Whether in sun or sleet, the crowds will not be deterred. A half hour before the brewery opened, cars started to arrive and a crowd began to form for the three beers on tap and for sale that day. Named after their daughters, the Libby is a crisp American blonde ale and the Violet is a hoppy farmhouse beer with a pilsner base.

“Everyone likes the hoppy beers,” Matt said referring to the crowds each week. “Whenever we do a double IPA it’s always intense.”

The third beer the crowd was excitedly murmuring about was a seasonal maple brown ale, the Pour Sap. This isn’t just any maple ale by the way. The majority of the water used in the mashing of the recipe is replaced with maple sap from the farm, along with a bit of syrup from another local sugar house added during fermentation. This hearty American brown ale has a soft body and as it warms up, toffee and maple start to seep through. Slowly at first, and then very suddenly, this beer takes on a heavier, creamier mouthfeel and is reminiscent of a malted shake.

“It comes once a year. It comes once and then it’s gone,” Matt said.

Find out about hops growing operations at Tilted Barn and other spots in RI.

Check the Tilted Barn website tiltedbarnbrewery.com, to verify hours and what is pouring.

Hop to It!

Rhode Island is seeing a boom in microbreweries like never before, and not far behind is another growing trend as the state produces more local and artisan ingredients. This year there will be three hop farms spread across the state. Ascending Hops New England in Johnston and the Tilted Barn Brewery in Exeter are still going strong, and Greenvale Vineyards in Portsmouth is stepping up their game after a bit of research and a successful test run last year.

Historically the hop industry has resided in the northwest of the country, mainly Washington state, but recent years have seen an increase in hop operations on the East Coast. The northeast is more humid than the northwest, but the climate is perfect for growing hops according to Matt Richardson from Tilted Barn.

“You get the good dormancy in the winter time, the long growing season in the summer, you harvest them right around labor day … it’s a good spot for them,” he said.

Pale Ales, IPAs and any brew that can benefit from the mildest of bitterness to a black hole of tannins go hand in hand with the hops being grown in the state.

“The aroma hops have more resistant properties to mildew than straight-up bittering hops,” Billy Wilson from Greenvale Vineyards said.

He explained how modern agricultural techniques make it possible for farmers to effectively manage mildew and keep it from ruining their plants. The essential oils in hops provide most of the aroma properties and prevent mildew from forming. Copper sulfate also is used to control mildew; however, despite being considered organic, is harmful to be around when it is being applied. Growers in the state are trying to find more natural solutions to the problem, but haven’t really had to deal with too much damage to their crops to date. Luckily hops are genetically unstable and year to year become more resilient and better suited to their new home and growing conditions.

“Cascade does the best by far out of everything we grow,” Matt said. “Chinook does really well and it has a unique flavor we’re picking up here that you don’t get with the Pacific Northwest ones.”

Not only do hops strengthen themselves year after year, but they start to express different regional characteristics. Local Chinook is leaning closer to a grapefruity/melon profile as opposed to its traditional piney/citrusy one.

As more players step into the game, brewers are looking around to brush up on their craft and get a little insight from the companies paving the way in this budding industry.

“I found there is a lot of support nearby from the Land Grant Institution or from the state Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS),” Billy said. “So I figured why not? Instead of growing six plants, try growing 400 plants!”

The NRCS agent helping and advising Greenvale’s operation is none other than Matt from Tilted Barn. When Matt and his wife, Kara, harvest their crops, they bring them up to Johnston to be processed in the automated picking machine at Ascending Hops New England.

“What takes us three weeks around the clock by hand, he can do in three hours on his picker,” Matt said.

This is a common theme you find in the state, whether it’s brewers frequenting each other’s facilities to compare crops or working together, sharing equipment and knowledge. Rhode Island state breweries are showing how successful their business model of partnership and community is and anyone who’d like to be a part of it should probably take a page from their book.

“I guess the next question would be: Everyone is focusing on hops, but grains are an important matter,” Billy said.  “So, you know, when will local grains come into the picture?”

See related article and video about what’s on tap at Tilted Barn.

Alt-Sports: Climbing Rocks

Photo Credit:  Alex Bouthillier at Apollo Media
Photo Credit: Alex Bouthillier at Apollo Media

If you want to learn how to climb you can probably find a rock gym to get introduced to the sport. This isn’t how it’s always been though. “You could only climb when the weather was good and you could drive to New Hampshire,” said Kat Waterhouse, director of marketing for Rock Spot Climbing in Lincoln.

Waterhouse explained how necessary it is to learn to climb outside with a seasoned climber or a hired guide. The pioneers of the sport needed years to build up enough experience to attempt famous climbs like the prow of Cathedral Ledge or VMC Direct on Cannon Cliff. For many people their first introduction to outdoor climbing is either bouldering or top-roping.

With the help of a spotter and one or more big cushions called crash pads, bouldering enthusiasts are protected from falls. “The bouldering scene in Rhode Island started in the ’70s with a bunch of Brown students,” said Kris Kearney, Manager of Rock Spot Climbing in Lincoln. Bouldering has become more popular over the last couple decades and recent years have seen a push in southern RI to develop access to bouldering in areas like Connors Farm in Smithfield.

In top-roping, top-ropes are set up by an experienced climber and are strung through an anchor above a climb. A climber ties into one end of the rope and a belayer clips into the other end.

Belaying consists of managing the slack in a rope system to keep the climber safe; the belayer literally holds a climber’s life in their hands. As the climber ascends the route, the belayer removes slack by pulling excess rope through a friction device like an ATC or a GriGri. When a climber falls, the belayer holds the brake end of the rope to keep it from sliding through their belay device. Because either person is effectively on opposite sides of a pulley system, the belayer isn’t catching the entire weight of the climber.

In lead climbing, the rope is piled at the bottom of the cliff and as the climber progresses up the wall, the belayer lets slack out. The climber either sets their own protection into the rock or clips into bolts drilled into the wall. The downside to this kind of climbing is that leader falls are much longer — twice the distance from the last piece of protection they clipped into.

In gym climbing, you can practice everything from strength conditioning to bouldering, top-roping and lead climbing. “Kids can come in and have an after school class, and become really strong indoors,” Waterhouse said.

Thanks to indoor facilities, climbers can train all types of holds and techniques to target weaknesses that would normally require trips to multiple crags to work on. Climbing isn’t just for athletes who can do one finger pull-ups either. The majority of the people who work out at rock gyms don’t end up climbing outside. They use the gym as an alternative way to stay in shape. “You can come into it at any age,” said Kearney. “My climbing partner started when he was 50. He’s 58 now and he’s a really accomplished climber.”

Check out these local climbing destinations:

Rhode Island:

Rock Spot, Lincoln & Peacedale

Arcadia Management Area

Lincoln Woods

Connors Farm

Rockville Management Area


Ross Pond in Killingly

Lantern Hill North Stonington in the Pachaug State Forest

North Stonington

Plant a Vine and Make Some Wine

Relatively speaking, wine making is a simple process. If you crush grapes and leave them in a cool, dry place, the juice will ferment into wine because of the naturally occurring yeast on the skins of the fruit. Using modern techniques and equipment, vineyards can produce wine like never before; however, home wine making hasn’t changed much and is usually found in families that have passed down the practice for generations from their ancestors in Europe.

Henry Silveira, like so many other Portuguese immigrants to the United States, ended up living around the Narragansett and Mount Hope Bay. Henry immigrated to the US in 1975 and over time made a home with his wife, Bella, overlooking Mt. Hope Bay. Henry buys red grapes from California, grows his own Isabella grapes and also buys what he can locally. This year, along with his red, he’s making a white wine with vidal blanc grapes from Greenvale Vineyards in Portsmouth.

“One day I go help her pick up the grapes, for nothing. I didn’t charge her anything, I didn’t want anything,” Henry explained. “And she was so nice to me! Before they pick the white grapes, the Skipping Stone, she let me pick 10 big crates of white grapes!”

The white wine is tart and filled with the acid of fresh-picked citrus fruit. The finish is crisp and lingers for a bit.

In a phone interview with Nancy Parker Wilson, the owner of Greenvale Vineyards, she described how her grape pickers would maybe be a third of the way down their row of grapes while Henry would be finishing his.

“You could tell he really enjoyed it. He was just there for the fun of it,” Nancy said.

Rhode Island has always been a haven for farming; it has rich topsoil and it drains moderately well. Maggie Harnet, Greenvale Vineyards tasting room and event manager, explained how the the soil composition, topography and climate are perfect for growing grapes. The Gulf Stream’s warm wind patterns and waters create a temperate climate for the southeastern facing slopes, which soak up as much light as they can.

“We have really nice growing conditions,” Nancy said, describing Aquidneck Island. “Locally it’s been referred to as the Eden of America among farmers.”

The Bay keeps the surrounding land warmer for more of the year and allows the grapes to ripen for longer and support heartier breeds of grape.

Especially in southern Rhode Island, despite not being as warm as the Bordeaux, Nancy says,  “The malbec, merlot and cab franc growing in Rhode Island can create just as long of a finish as any eight-year-old Bordeaux coming out of France.”

Henry’s red from this year is a deep maroon with a tawny edge to the color. It’s a blend of zinfandel and the Isabella grapes he grew. The nose and taste is big and juicy like you’d expect in a young bottle of red wine.

“This is only four, five months old, but it’s already drinkable,” Henry said.

For some vintners, like Henry, making wine is a part of life. But if you didn’t grow up with a parent teaching you how to tend the garden grapes, making your first batch of wine can be intimidating. Luckily the growing access to local vineyards and knowledge is making the process easier.

Each year by the middle of October the grapes are ready to harvest. If you ask around you can find a vineyards like Greenvale that need help picking their grapes quickly, and often you can exchange your time for wine from the vineyard. So ask around, get your hands dirty and pick up some wine making tips in the process.

Whalers Brewing Company

A look into the Whalers Brewing Company in Wakefield RI.

This isn’t just a brewery that sells growlers to the public, it’s more than that. Since its inception the locals have done everything they can to help get theses gentlemen off the ground with their brewery.

The atmosphere inside the brewery is relaxed, the facility is wide open, and every aspect of the operation is viewable from the main room. You can sample the beers while enjoying a game of pool, corn-hole or darts with your friends. Remember to pick up a shirt or sweater and impress all of your PBR drinking friends that still seem to know everything about good local beer, despite never drinking it.


(401) 284-7785

1070 Kingstown Rd, Wakefield, RI


Thur / Fri 4 – 8pm

Sat 1 – 7pm

Sun 1 – 5pm