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26 January 2012
Rooting DC - support urban gardening

Rooting DC 2012

Three cheers for Rooting DC! This year marks the fifth annual gathering to celebrate urban gardening in all its many colors and flavors. Whether you want to learn to compost, cook healthier, organize a community garden, or influence local food policy, this is one event not to miss. And it's free!

I've attended for several years running, and I love how this event gets me energized for the gardening season ahead. Attendees comprise a wonderful mix of gardeners, foodies, community organizers, and most importantly low-income residents for whom this event was created.

The goals of the Rooting DC Forum are to:

* Build community among groups and individuals who want to improve our city through gardening and greening
* Share information and resources about gardening and greening in DC
* Provide opportunity for DC gardeners to coalesce around specific areas of interest
* Identify volunteer opportunities by creating a database of community based garden projects
* Keep gardeners connected via monthly e-newsletters that highlight volunteer opportunities, events and news from participants
 

oktapodi loves urban (and suburban) gardening
oktapodi loves urban (and suburban) gardening


I'm slightly bummed that I'll be missing Rooting DC this year because we'll be in Brazil -- I know, I know, don't cry for me -- but I encourage all my DC garden peeps to check it out. Online registration opens January 30.

While Rooting DC remains free and open to the public, tax-deductible donations of any amount are greatly appreciated. To further support the cause, there's a silent auction & happy hour next Thursday, Feb 2, at Looking Glass Lounge. I'll be there, raising a toast to my West Coast nephew Jack, who turns two that day. I'd love to see you there!

OK, so let's summarize. Here's how you can get involved to support this great cause:

1. Come to happy hour on Thursday, Feb 2
Looking Glass Lounge
3634 Georgia Ave NW, WDC 20010
5-8pm
RSVP on Facebook

2. Spread the word!
- Like Rooting DC on Facebook
- Follow Rooting DC on Twitter (also watch the hashtag #RootingDC)
- Download and share the event flyer

3. Come to Rooting DC on Saturday, Feb 18
Coolidge High School
6315 5th Street, NW, WDC 20012
9:30am - 4pm
Online registration & more info: http://rootingdc.org


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22 November 2011
Unexpectedly thankful for...

November is a dreary time in the garden, at least here on the East Coast. And Nov 21 in particular is one of the toughest days of the year for me. But just when I feel like giving up and burrowing in for the winter, Mother Nature pulls out a few surprises. Here are a few random happy things I found yesterday:

kale, glorious kale!
kale, glorious kale!

unknown volunteer
I have no idea what this is, but it's been growing all year and decided to flower yesterday.

strawflowers
strawflowers, still going strong

peas
pass the peas! we might actually get a few before winter

Thanks, Ma!

Posted by sonia at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments


24 August 2011
WanderFood Wednesday: summertime yum

one of these things is not like the others!
one of these things is not like the others!

Today's WanderFood Wednesday post didn't require much wandering, just a stroll out to my front yard, plus a quick trip to our local farmers' market.

Happily, I've been too busy out in the garden to do much documenting this year. But rest assured, the goodies have been rolling in! Above is a selection of heirloom squash, tomatoes, and hot peppers surrounding everyone's favorite cephalopod. Below is one of my favorite summer salads, a classic caprese, with Woodle and Black Plum tomatoes, two kinds of basil, and some heavenly mozzarella from Blue Ridge Dairy Company.

say it with me: om nom nom!
say it with me: om nom nom!

I had a little success growing potatoes this year, although the resulting crop was a bit paltry. Never mind, we had enough yield to whip up some roasted blue and purple potatoes with garlic and rosemary. All ingredients straight from the front yard, except the olive oil & salt.

what's taters, precious?
what's taters, precious?

Paprika, grown like other peppers, has been another fun experiment this year. I've already picked a few and once they're dried they'll be ground into powder. Until then, they make a spirited addition to the front walk.

paprika, salvia, kale
paprika, with some salvia & kale in the background

I've always been a big fan of carrots, and although they don't tend to grow all that big in my yard, I have managed to pull up a fun sampling of heirloom shapes and colors. In the salad below is a combination of chantenay, deep purple, sunshine, and cosmic carrots, plus a few types of lettuce, mustard, kale, and chard.

heirloom rabbit food
heirloom rabbit food

This has been another challenging weather year (earthquakes! hurricanes! drought!), but the front yard veggie garden experiment continues! How does your garden grow?


For more great foodie posts, be sure to visit Wanderlust & Lipstick's weekly WanderFood Wednesday blog carnival!


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30 May 2011
Promise

Marina di Chioggia winter squash
Marina di Chioggia winter squash seedlings

Mother Nature is such a crafty bitch. Most of the time she makes me work really hard to get my garden to produce veggies. Then she goes and surprises me, just to make sure I haven't completely lost hope. The monster seedlings pictured above are less than a week old! I just popped some seeds in the ground, and BAM! The promise of such low-maintenance produce makes me happy.

Marina di Chioggia is an Italian heirloom winter squash that produces big green warty fruit. Other experiments in my front yard pumpkin patch are slate blue Jarrahdales, chestnut-flavored Black Futsus, and Greek Sweet Reds. I've also planted a few squash and melons elsewhere, figuring I need to hedge my bets in case the beetles return with a vengeance!

ground cherries
"Cossack Pineapple" ground cherries

The other item I'm excited to watch develop is a "Cossack Pineapple" ground cherry plant. Ground cherries are similar to tomatillos, in that they grow inside a husk, but they're sweet. We got a handful at a friend's CSA last year, and they are yummy! I had the opportunity to grow some myself this year. You can see a handful of little lantern-shaped fruits starting to appear, along with some small flowers that bear the promise of more treats to come.

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Posted by sonia at 12:00 AM | Link | 1 comment
16 April 2011
Aaaaaaaa...chooooooo!

magnolia + pollen

The magnolia tree in our front yard is astonishingly beautiful each spring, replete with fluffy pink petals that exude springy cheer. But, alas, springtime in DC is a double-edged sword, as allergy sufferers know. And the other day I came face to face with what's been causing itchy eyes and runny noses for me and many others this season. Just look at that nasty pollen, just waiting to fly out and prickle up my sinuses! Mother Nature is such a bitch sometimes. :)

magnolia in full bloom

Fortunately, recent thunderstorms have blown most of the flowers off our trees, and we're back to good old green leafy goodness. It was fun while it lasted, sneezes and all.

(Yes, I'm a day late for Photo Friday, but go check out Delicious Baby's weekly carnival of photo goodness anyway!)

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22 March 2011
Ode to Spring
the Great Garden Experiment continues

eat more kale!
eat more kale!

I could not be more excited about the arrival of Spring. Even though we didn't have nearly as brutal a winter as last year, there's still an exquisite pleasure in witnessing the renewal this season brings.

Continued experiments
This year's garden experiment continues some of last year's endeavors, like start seedlings in the basement, in all manner of recycled containers. (I didn't get a chance to snap any pics, but just imagine a small army of greek yogurt containers sprouting tomato and pepper seedlings.)

raised beds raised beds, view from the street
Last year's raised beds did well and will be put to good use again this year.

I'm always on the lookout for free supplies, and am a frequent visitor to the City of Falls Church's free leaf mulch pile. There are also a ton of great places to get free (or nearly-free) seeds, including events like Rooting DC and Washington Gardener Magazine's annual seed swap, or organizations Wintersown.org and the America the Beautiful Fund.

The lawn takeover continues, little by little. I forgot to take a "before" picture, but handily enough, Google Maps hasn't refreshed its image of my yard since about 2009, so here's a snapshot from a much greener time of year:
street view, spring 2009
here's the street view from January:
street view, Jan 2011
and here's a view from the house in March:
yard view from the house

Besides the additional raised beds, the bushes near the mailbox and around the center island have been removed to make way for herbs and veggies, and there are two new "lasagna" beds in the main part of the front yard.

 

New experiments

sprouting garlic
I planted some garlic in November, and it seems to be coming along nicely. It should be ready to harvest in June, about time for the tomatoes to take over this bed.

potato grow bags
I really wanted to plant potatoes, so I splurged on some potato bags. Blue and purple taters went in this past weekend.

wintersowingwintersowingI thought I'd try wintersowing this year. The concept is putting seeds out over the winter in little mini-greenhouses. Supposedly they sprout once the weather gets nice enough, and are hardier than plants started inside. So far some items have sprouted, some not yet; will see how the seedlings do in comparison with their pampered inside brethren.

raspberriesI put in some raspberry & blueberry bushes, right out front! I'm simultaneously excited and terrified by this prospect. I fully expect a scene from Hitchcock's "The Birds" to play out in my front yard, but if there are any berries left for the humans, it should be pretty cool.

lasagna bedI'll do a separate post on my lasagna bed project. No, I'm not growing lasagna in the garden; the term refers to a no-till method of layering materials to create garden beds.

Along with the lawn takeover comes a renewed interest in edible landscaping. This includes putting out attractive veggies like nagoya kale  (pictured at the top of this post) front and center alongside traditional flowers, or mixing blueberries with alyssum.


I'm going to try to post some pics each month, so you can see how the garden is progressing. Here's a snapshot of what's growing now:

leeks return of the chives tarragon  thyme and oregano
leeks, started indoors in January returning chives tarragon thyme and oregano
cilantro overwintered kale mystery items mystery items
cilantro overwintered kale mystery items


RELATED LINKS:
* browse all garden posts
* view all garden pics
* City of Falls Church free leaf
mulch
* Wintersowing resources
Wintersown.org | A Garden for the House | 
Dirty SC8 
* lasagna gardening
* edible landscaping/lawn replacement
Rosalind Creasy | Edible Front Yards |
Lawn Reform Coaltion 
* Rooting DC
* Washington Gardener Magazine
* America the Beautiful Fund

If you enjoyed this post, please help us spread the word!


 

Posted by sonia at 12:00 AM | Link | 2 comments
14 January 2011
Photo Friday: sigh, are we there yet?

A short dispatch from deepest, darkest, coldest January...

wistful
an empty planter on the back deck dreams wistfully of warmer days
(I know how it feels)

hope from the basement
on the other hand, green things under grow lights in the basement give hope of things to come!

This post is part of DeliciousBaby's Photo Friday series.

Posted by sonia at 12:00 AM | Link | 2 comments
12 October 2010
Show your colors
and support your local farms via "Dine Out For Farms" week

crisp autumn sky and some tall zinnias
crisp autumn sky and some tall zinnias


I've never been a big fan of fall. Chillier temps. Back to school. Dark mornings. Bleccch. What's to like?


the humble zinnia
I tried for a while to capture the simple brilliance of this humble zinnia, but couldn't quite get it!

rose mallow
rose mallow, a pleasant surprise this year

hearty marigolds turn toward the sun
hearty marigolds turn toward the sun


Well, being a little more in tune with the rhythms of the garden has actually brought me an appreciation of the autumn season. Who'da thunk? I'm experimenting with a fall planting this year... broccoli, brussels sprouts, LOTS of kale, leeks, some late carrots and beets, winter spinach. Not to mention a whole bed of glorious garlic that I'm hoping will yield some scrumptious spring garlic scapes and about a metric ton of stinking rose to cook with for a season or more. We shall see.


the last of the sunflowers, and (hopefully!) the last of the cucumber beetles
the last of the sunflowers, and (hopefully!) the last of the cucumber beetles

just a little more sunflowerliciousness
just a little more sunflowerliciousness


So far the mozzies haven't completely dissipated, but as the temperatures drop, so will the pests. I did notice a spate of cucumber beetles -- spotted rather than striped -- on the last of the sunflowers. I'm far less annoyed than when these critters decimated my squash beds earlier in the season. On a more convivial note, a fat brown grasshopper has been hanging out in the wildflower bed near the front door. His presence sparks a vague memory of fables about hard work, but every time I spot him all I can do is stop and gaze in wonder.


oh, hello!
oh, hello!


There are still a few stalwart tomatoes and peppers waiting to be harvested. At this time of year, it's anyone's guess whether we'll get frost or 80-degree days. I'm willing to hang onto the last bastion of summer crops as long as I can. But, I have to admit, I'm looking forward to those autumn veggies!

 

the last few peppers and 'maters
the last few peppers and 'maters

new fall crops: brussels sprouts on the rise!
new fall crops: brussels sprouts on the rise!


Also, it's "Dine Out For Farms" week! Support your local farms and the American Farmland Trust by eating out at a participating restaurant. What better way to show your colors? 


RELATED LINKS:
* Fruition
* Sweet green sublimation
* Wait for it...
* browse all garden pics


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09 August 2010
Fruition

early August garden haul

...because sometimes it's nice to have a visual reminder that all your hard work really IS paying off.

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20 June 2010
Sweet green sublimation
the garden experiment continues

wildflowers blooming
wildflowers blooming

The #1 question I get these days is "When's the next big trip?" Unfortunately, the way this year has turned out, it looks like we won't be doing any extended international travel. I know, it's killing me! My passport is highly offended to be sitting in the closet collecting dust. We've got some fun US trips coming up, but it's not the same.

So what's a Global Grrl to do when faced with a travel hiatus? Transfer that impulse into something more homebound, namely gardening. I took some of the lessons learned from last year's experimentation with the Special Olympics Victory Garden, and decided I was going to crank it up a notch this year. Notably:

* Move the veggies out to the front yard, where there's a whole lot more sun!

* Start seedlings inside with a proper grow light in more stable conditions.

* You can just never, ever have enough compost.

* Start early and plant late; cool weather crops like brassicas and root veggies can go out much earlier than other crops. I'm also planning to re-plant a bunch in the fall.

not nearly as illicit as it looks starting tomatoes indoors is fun! every container has the potential to become a pot

I got a set of cheap plastic shelves from Home Depot, hooked up some fluorescent lights on a timer, and gathered a handful of leftover pots and recycled plastic packaging. Suddenly every container that passed through the kitchen was a potential planter! I got pretty handy with the drill, too, to make sure each vessel had the appropriate drainage. Add in some free seeds from excellent sources like Wintersown and Washington Gardener Magazine's seed swap, and we were in business! After a few weeks, our basement looked as though something highly illicit was going on. I don't watch the show "Weeds," but I began to feel a strange kinship with Mary-Louise Parker, even though it really was just boring stuff like parsley and kale being grown down there.

hardening off plants by setting them out on the deck for a few hours a day
hardening off plants by setting them out on the deck for a few hours a day

Soon enough, it was time to start moving the plants outside. I struggled once again with having to create a garden plot from scratch, and wasted some time dithering over materials. This time it wouldn't be enough to nail some boards together in an odd corner of the backyard. We were moving into front yard territory, where the stakes are higher! I spent some time ripping out scraggly evergreen bushes (backbreaking work) and layering compost and shredded newspaper in their place. And I eventually decidd to buy some pre-made raised beds from Gardener's Supply, in conjunction with some cheap border material from Home Depot. No point spending time and money building expensive permanent structures when I didn't even know if this latest experiment was going to work any better than last year!

front yard in mid-February much better without all that nasty snow | mailbox view, mid-February mailbox view, mid-June

It was pretty funny to see an area that had been covered in three feet of snow not that long ago transformed into an edible landscape. And 'twas so subversive to rip up patches of grass, that sacred symbol of The American Dream! Moo hoo ha ha haaaa.

my spanky new Grow a Row sign
my spanky new Grow a Row sign

ahhhhh, brassicas!bolted broccoli, actually quite a lovely bouquetI ended up with four raised beds in the front yard. There's actually a considerable amount of shade from nearby trees, but I'm hoping there's enough sun to produce lots of delicious veggies. In fact, this year I've decided to participate in the Grow a Row program, where the Capital Area Food Bank pairs gardeners with food banks and other nonprofits that feed the hungry. Mark thinks the whole concept is pretty funny. I don't think I grew an entire row of anything all season last year, and now we're going to give stuff away? We'll see. So far I've had a profusion of leafy greens, and a few radishes. I didn't get the brassicas in the ground early enough, and while the broccoli and bok choi plants got huge, some started to bolt (flower and go to seed) before I was able to harvest anything edible. But, the experiment continues!

lush purple bush beans
lush purple bush beans

Three Sisters Garden: corn, squash, beans Mother Nature is fascinating up close! makeshift bean trellis squasharific

I decided to try a "Three Sisters" patch with corn, several types of squash, and beans. Almost all  plants were grown from seeds I got for free! Gotta love that.

tomaters a-comin'
tomaters a-comin'

tomato/cuke/pepper bed, in mid Maytomato/cuke/pepper bed, in early JuneI started a *ton* of tomato plants from seeds this year. The seeds came from a variety of places: saved from last year's few tomatoes, obtained for free, or in a few specialty cases actually purchased. These mostly-heirloom tomatoes have fun & funky names like "Razzleberry," "Black Cherry," and "Woodle." We'll see what kinds of 'maters start showing up! So far I've spotted a few flowers, which is a good sign, but most of the plants are still too small to produce anything so early in the season.



Cherokee lettuce, my new fave!
Cherokee lettuce, my new fave!

At the end of the day, no matter how many veggies get eaten in our kitchen or donated to charity, I still enjoy this pursuit. There's something zen about digging in the dirt and communing with earthworms. (They sure don't talk back or complain that your project is behind schedule or ask where your updated budget figures are!) It's a connection to my mom and grandmother, who taught me to appreciate the magic of popping a seed in some dirt and coming back to find a living plant. OK, it's not as much fun as spending a month in Italy, but if we're gonna be stuck at the homestead it's not a bad way to pass the time.

insect-attracting perennial wildflower mix
perennial wildflower mix

RELATED LINKS:
* read all garden-related blog posts

* browse all garden pics
* our upcoming travel schedule
* support the Capital Area Food Bank
* more info about Three Sisters Gardens

* Wintersown - learn to sow seeds outdoors!
* Washington Gardener Magazine


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Posted by sonia at 12:00 AM | Link | 1 comment
19 May 2010
WanderFood Wednesday: wait for it...

Happiness is plucking a juicy, ripe, red strawberry off a plant in your own backyard, before the birds and squirrels get to it.

so close!

This one is juuuuuuuuuust about ready. It's been taunting me from out on our deck for about a week now. I can see it from my kitchen window. So close!

Ah, the yearnings of springtime.

Technically, this post is a bit of a stretch for WanderFood Wednesday, since I didn't even leave my house. But I'm pretty sure anyone who saw me on the deck this morning, in a bathrobe, meticulously photographing this strawberry, would strongly recommend a trip to the looney bin. So there you go.

Hop on over to Wanderlust & Lipstick's WanderFood Wednesday for more mouth-watering travel foodie posts.


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Posted by sonia at 12:00 AM | Link | 3 comments
17 March 2010
WanderFood Wednesday: I <3 kale

kale veggie stirfry
kale veggie stirfry


This is the perfect time of year to wax poetic about kale.

Still with me? (You're a hardcore bunch of readers and I LOVE you for it!) Allow me to 'splain. We all know that kale is a superstar veggie, ridiculously chockfull of vitamins and minerals and sooooooo good for ya. It's one of the world's healthiest foods. But it's not all that celebrated in its raw form, most notoriously known as salad bar garnish because of the rigidity of its leaves.


nagoya kale
nagoya kale seedlings

Well, I'm excited to be growing several kinds of kale in the garden this year. So I did a bit of research and found some fabulous recipes befitting this fabulous vegetable. One particular recipe, a sausage & kale soup I found in an organic seed company's newsletter, has become my new favorite food and I've been singing its praises every chance I get. The recipe is pretty simple -- spicy turkey sausage, fat-free chicken broth, a ton of kale & garlic, and some cannelini beans, with a dash of your favorite spices to kick it up a notch -- and is really easy to make. It freezes well too. Everytime I eat this soup, I feel like Popeye! It's been a truly awesome tool to battle the nasty colds going around in this season of transition. And the massive amounts of garlic have helped keep vampires away. :)


lacinato kale
lacinato kale seedlings

We'll see how my two types of kale -- a purplish nagoya and an heirloom lacinato -- do in the garden. So far the seedlings seem to be pretty robust, and I've been hardening them off for a few hours outside each day, but I haven't had the chance to actually put them in the ground yet. They'll definitely go in soon, as kale (like fellow brassicas broccoli and cauliflower) flourishes in cool spring weather. I am *so* stoked about the possibility of lots and lots of fresh kale coming straight from my front yard! BTW, the pic at the top is from a kale-barley casserole recipe. It was a bit bland the first time around, so I'm going to experiment with it some more. The stirfry was just gorgeous, though.

If you have any favorite kale recipes, send 'em my way!

Hop on over to Wanderlust & Lipstick's WanderFood Wednesday for more mouth-watering pics.

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Posted by sonia at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments
19 February 2010
Photo Friday: slacker edition

I've been a bad-bad monkey this week and have not posted ANY new content to the blog! I blame the complete *lack* of snow this week, forcing me to actually go to the office and get some work done. Bleh!  ::: shakes fist at Mother Nature nobody in particular :::

However, all the recent snowmageddon/snowpocalypse/snOMG craziness has me dreaming of greener pastures and new garden adventures. So, here's a little hopeful reminder that spring really is coming...

sunflowers always make me smile


And if you want to see the rest of the pics from this recycled Photo Friday, check out the original post: Simple pleasures.

Tomorrow I'm attending Field to Fork Network's Rooting DC urban gardening event and hope to get all fired up about this year's gardening endeavors. Stay tuned for updates about my planned attack on the front lawn and other edible conquests!


For more great travel photos, be sure to visit Delicious Baby's Photo Friday.


RELATED LINKS:
* Photo Friday: simple pleasures
* Grrrrrrrrreat Success! a Special Olympics Victory Garden update
* Our (Special Olympics) Victory Garden
* Celebrating Joan with the first seedlings of the season

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Posted by sonia at 12:00 AM | Link | 1 comment
31 July 2009
Photo Friday: simple pleasures

We all know we're supposed to stop and smell the roses from time to time. Well, after a hectic and overly-dramatic week, I'm taking a deep breath this Friday to appreciate the unexpected treasures, great and small, that have popped up in my yard.

sunflowerrific!

I planted a few sunflower seeds in a scrabbly patch next to the garage, not even sure if anything would grow there. Much to my surprise, a few plants cropped up, looking mostly like enormous weeds. Much to my relief, they have recently sprouted a few sunflowers! The biggest one plays host to a big bumblebee who often greets me in the morning as I hop into the car. (He didn't want to pose for any pictures today, though. Guess he's camera-shy.) I can not WAIT for this beautiful, cheery flower to start producing some tasty seeds!

dwarf zinnias

The dwarf zinnias I picked up at the farmers market earlier this season are thriving near the front walk. It's so nice to see bright flowers in the middle of the hottest and driest part of the summer.

cheers to you, mail carrier!

Inspired by Shawna Coronado's "crazy-ass mailbox garden", I decided to plant some stuff out by our mailbox. It's not nearly as fab as Shawna's, but a few giant zinnias have popped up. I can only hope they bring a shred of joy to our mail carrier.

unexpected pea pods!

The sweet pea seeds I planted with the zinnias haven't yielded much in the way of flowers. So I was shocked and delighted to discover that there are actual PEA PODS coming out! Bonus! There aren't a lot of them out there, but what fun it'll be to sprinkle a few fresh peas into a salad.

beautiful and edible too

The final simple pleasure photo is from the nasturtiums out on our back deck. I picked out these seeds at random, not knowing much about these marvelous flowers. In the subsequent weeks, I've been tickled to see bright orange flowers and leafy green vines spilling out over the side of the deck. I also noticed some seed pods poking out, and upon researching it a bit more I discovered that nasturtiums produce three kinds of edible treasures: the seed pods can be used much as you would use peppercorns, the flowers are edible, and the leaves are spicy and not unlike arugula. Triple-bonus!

What simple pleasures are you enjoying this summer?

Be sure to check out other great Photo Friday pics on Delicious Baby!


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30 June 2009
Grrrrrrrrreat Success!
Special Olympics Victory Garden update

Great Success! High Five!OK, well, maybe not great success, but I will give myself a small Borat-style high-five. We're finally starting to see some veggies in the Special Olympics Victory Garden! Niiiiice, I liiiiike!

The herbs -- basil, parsley, dill, cilantro, sage, chives, thyme, oregano -- have been doing well, and I've been harvesting the thinned seedlings for salads and other recipes. However, I was skeptical that we had enough hours of sun in the backyard to produce any actual veggies. The tomato, cucumber, and pepper plants have been growing like mad. But I was beginning to think we'd have a bunch of gargantuan plants with no edibles.

one red tomaterJoy! This week, I noticed our first red tomato. This tiny cluster is from the Juliet plant we bought at the Falls Church Farmers Market. Woot! You can see from the picture that the birds have been trying to get at it. (Despite the menacing inflatable snake that ain't foolin' NOBODY.) It's not going to win a blue ribbon at the State Fair. No matter! After carefully photographing it, which I made Mark do because my hands were all muddy, we carefully harvested it, and it's now in the kitchen awaiting a place of honor in a salad of some sort. Hopefully there will be more where it came from. I may live to regret those words... in which case you will ALL be receiving cases of salsa for Christmas this year!

cukes!I also noticed that the cukes are starting to proliferate. These are also farmers market plants, which are clearly at home in their back corner of the garden and are threatening to overtake the beans and squash.

I continue to struggle with the southeast corner, which doesn't seem to get enough sun to support anything. Plus it's the lowest, wettest point of the entire yard. I've tried lettuce from seed packets, several times, to no avail. I got a few seedling freebies at a gardening workshop last weekend -- yes, I attend gardening workshops on weekends for fun, are you the least bit surprised at my geekitude? -- so I might put in some cilantro and dill back there to see how it does.

My other struggle is with the compost pile. We've held off buying an expensive rotating composter, and instead used an old plastic trash can. I tried to keep everything manually rotated and aerated, but I let it go for a week or so because of all the rain. And when I opened it up this week it was chock-full o' maggots. Barf! So much for that experiment. I dumped it out in a secluded spot in the backyard and let the birds have a nice lil' picnic. We'll cover it with grass clippings and still have a workable compost pile. Another lesson learned for the Victory Garden files!

the whole shebang, June snapshot

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Related links:
* Our Special Olympics Victory Garden (May update)
* Celebrating Joan with the first seedlings of the season (March update)

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10 May 2009
Our (Special Olympics) Victory Garden

In celebration of Mother's Day, this seemed like a good time to check in with an update on our gardening adventures. As I've said before, my mom was the one who instilled in me a love of veggies and diggin' in the dirt. So while I'm more than a bit sad she's not around to witness my latest attempts at green-thumbery, what better way to celebrate this day?

First Lady Michelle Obama takes part in the groundbreaking of the White House Kitchen Garden Friday. (AP)This year we (and by "we" I mean "I") decided it was time to graduate from container plantings to a full-blown garden in the backyard. I was inspired, in part, by First Lady Michelle Obama's awesome efforts to raise the profile of organic gardening by planting a vegetable garden on the grounds of the White House. Hurray! The likes of Alice Waters and Michael Pollan have been advocating this for years, and it's just another sign of positive regime change to see the First Family involved in gardening efforts. (To his credit, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is doing some kickass things to embrace sustainable agriculture, and has planted his own garden right on Ag grounds.) There's been much talk of "Victory Gardens" this year, given the troubled state of the economy and America's higher awareness of the importance of locally-sourced food. And how much more local can you get than your own backyard? The time was right to fully embrace the gardening ethos, and take our efforts to the next level.

Just one problem: our backyard is pretty shady. We love our "secret garden" backyard for the privacy it affords. While the front yard is super-sunny and enjoys afternoon southern exposure, the back is full of tall trees and doesn't get as much sun. Hrm. While there is an interesting movement (see below) that recommends doing away with that All-American pasttime of keeping a high-maintenance, resource-draining green carpet of turf, we weren't quite ready to take the plunge and dig up our front lawn to make way for veggies. So we tried to find a suitable spot in the backyard that would get enough sun to sustain a small patch of salad fixins.

We found a spot, and opted to go with a raised bed. Supposedly raised beds are a more efficient use of space and water, and are the way to go when planting vegetables. So we plotted the dimensions of a possible raised bed, taking into account the odd shape of the yard, several drainage spouts we didn't want to disturb, and the extant foliage. We settled on a very odd shape, and set off to obtain the necessary lumber to make the frame.

March 2009 - setting up the frame over existing dirt and grass

The result was affectionately referred to as either the "Trapezoid Garden" (Mark) or "Special Olympics Garden" (me). Yes, the shape is weird. Yes, it's a bit larger than recommended for a raised bed garden. But ya gotta work with what ya got.

In preparation for planting all manner of herbs and vegetables, I decided to try to start a few things from seed. After purchasing a boatload of seeds (rookie gardener syndrome), as well as a few peat starter trays, I planted some tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, rosemary, and a handful of flowers for the front yard. Lacking a proper greenhouse setup, I had to be satisfied with a few sunny windows and plenty of water.

By late March, we'd mulched over the scant remaining grass using newspaper and a combination of grass clippings and compost. Having lugged five big bags of designer dirt home from the garden store, it became obvious we'd need a *lot* more soil for this puppy. Hoo boy.

April 2009 - slowly filling in more dirt, little by little

Meanwhile, the cukes and tomatoes had all succumbed to mysterious malady I eventually identifed as "damping-off disease." This fungus rots the stems at the soil surface, causing them to topple over, shrivel up, and die. Boo-hoo! It's caused by overwatering and poor circulation. I've decided that the peat trays are partially to blame, as it's hard to tell if the plant is sufficiently moist or oversaturated. It was discouraging to lose a whole tray of seedlings, but fortunately the peppers were still in good shape.

April 2009 - pepper seedlings aplenty

At least, until the mercurial DC spring weather got the better of me. I accidentally left the seedlings outside overnight once in April. The daytime temps had been in the mid-70s, so I'd put the plants outside to "harden" a bit in preparation for eventual planting. That worked out great, but that night it plunged to the 40s. Eeeek! The abundant tray of seedlings dwindled down to a few extra-hardy specimens. I was crushed. One glimmer of hope: an errant tomato seedling from last year's crop managed to survive the winter and poke its little head up. I've since been warned that hybrid seedings are not to be trusted, but I'm still proud of this one tough little soldier that made it through the ice and snow. I eagerly await whatever fruit it decides to bear this season.

April 2009 - one tomato survived from last year!

Gradually, throughout late April and early May, we transformed the bed into something that might actually support vegetative life. This involved many trips to the garden center for bag after bag of dirt, plus some attempts to turn over the existing soil and combine it with the purchased stuff. I transplanted several lettuce varietals that I'd started from seed, as well as scattering some new lettuce seeds directly into the garden. I researched "companion plants" and which veggies played nice with each other, and attempted to plot out the garden schematic. I also attended a workshop co-hosted by The DC Historical Society and Washington Gardener magazine, and geeked out to an afternoon of Q&A by Cindy Brown of Green Spring Gardens. My true geekburger nature shone through as I reveled in the research, the planning, the anecdotal stories from other local gardeners. But at the same time, I was realizing that gardening is really all about trial and error. As with most great hobbies, in gardening one must not be afraid to fail once or twice or three times, in pursuit of that one combination that really works. I don't like to fail (who does?) but when you're talking about a 99-cent pack of seeds or even a $2 plant, happily, the stakes are low. When the cucumbers I started from seeds all croaked from the damping-off fungus, I bought a bunch of seedlings from the garden store and planted those in the garden. When cutworms (or perhaps the insane amounts of rain we've been having lately) got the better of those seedlings, and all but one flopped over, I bought heartier plants at the local farmers market. Hopefully the third time's the charm. Likewise, though I can't seem to keep a tomato seedling alive no matter what I try, a friend has come through with some awesome heirloom plants. Live and learn, and take good notes to prevent the same debacle next time.

May 2009 - fulla dirt, fulla plants

Which brings us to the present. As of this weekend, I've planted nearly everything, except the peppers, which require really warm weather to flourish. The multiple varieties of lettuce, which love the cool damp weather, are starting to mature and I've already started incorporate some into our daily salads. A sage plant from the garden center seems to be doing well, alongside a stevia plant that I just couldn't resist. (I have no idea how you make the transformation from green leafy plant to organic sugar substitute, but that's an experiment for another day.) The new cukes are in, fingers crossed. I planted a bunch of herbs from seed, including basil, cilantro, and chives. Several types of heirloom tomatoes (Cherokee Purple, Cherokee Chocolate, and Black from Tula) from our friend's garden are planted alongside some other funky-sounding tomatoes (Nebraska Wedding, Juliet, Pink Beauty, and Green Zebras) sourced from the Falls Church farmers market. The Juliets were purchased from a farmergrrl with a Jack Skellington tattoo. Now *that* is the American dream, friends and neighbors. I also planted a few different types of carrots, beets, and beans, as those were always my favorites to garden with my mom. I think she'd be proud of my efforts. Now, if I can just keep the birds and squirrels from eating everything...

May 2009 - sage, stevia, and many lettuce varietals

PS. I have discovered that gardeners, in addition to happily sharing their knowledge, are generous with extra plants and clippings. Along with the heirloom tomatoes, in recent weeks I have been the benefactor of rosemary clippings, hostas, and day lillies. I could also have my share of free mulch if only I had a way to transport it from a friend's yard in DC. Much love to my garden peeps, you are a wise and bounteous group of folks!

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Related Links:
* Michelle Obama: How Does Your Garden Grow?
* Obamas to Plant Vegetable Garden at White House
* Michelle Obama's Garden
* For Vilsack, the Proof Is in the Planting
* Lawn Reduction and Lawn Substitutes
* Why Mow? The Case Against Lawns

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28 March 2009
Celebrating Joan with the first seedlings of the season

Yayyyyyy, little green theengs!

Yayyyyyy, little green theengs! The first seeds we started in indoor kits have sprouted. I think these might be the cukes.

What a fitting way to celebrate my mom's birthday, which, when she was around, was practically a national holiday. She was an avid gardener, and I credit both my love of veggies and my love of diggin' in the dirt to her fabulous guidance. Happy Birthday, Mom!

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