Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Phase Three

We planted many of the cukes and tomatoes on the patio yesterday evening. The seedlings were planted in many different types of containers, each with holes on the bottom.
We discussed the possibility that some of our Phase Two plants may not make it. So, each container garden location now has a stockpile of seedlings to plant in case some of the original plants do not make it. Below, you can see the seedlings in waiting, including the cherry tomatoes (which made a fantastic and full recover from their run-in with death a couple weeks ago), cukes, and tomatoes. They will replace any lost life or will be added to our garden as we obtain additional space. With all the seedlings out of my office (aka the green house), I have room to start the new batches of seeds. Radishes, spinach, and chard will make nice additions but I may also start some new lettuce (just in case our Phase Two has to be re-planted due to the unexpected 90 degree weather).

Walking onto Common Good City Farm is remarkably akin to stepping into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Room, a World of Pure Imagination. Workers are scattered about like Oompa Loompas- digging, watering, wheelbarrowing around the small tract of land. They toil quietly and diligently, while we visitors watch in silent wonder, so as not to break their concentration.

In addition to these industrious Oompa-Loompa types, looking around we realize that everything we see-- and everything that we don’t see yet, but will inevitably sprout within the next several weeks-- EVERYTHING is edible! And while the trees here probably won’t grow jelly apples, the bushes likely won’t sprout lollipops, and the mushrooms certainly won’t be spurting whipped cream any time soon- the creations dotting the outfield of the Common Good Farm are fairly remarkable.

Common Good City Farm is self-defined as “an urban farm and education center, growing food for low-income residents in Washington, DC and providing educational opportunities for all people.” They offer classes of all types and sizes with the goal of mixing expert gardeners with low income urbanites.

So some of these Adventuring Container Gardeners ventured to the farm, located in the baseball field of a recently closed elementary school, for what else- a course in Container Gardening! We learned a myriad of tricky container tactics, from constructing our own raised beds to utilizing ‘grow bags’ that claim to be 100% portable. The day was a great success, and future visits to this edible world are certainly in order.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Summer in Springtime

So, with the 90 degree weather, it is safe to assume that our newly planted seedlings did not freeze during their first weekend outside. However, rumor has it: the cukes may have been attacked by a wild animal! Stay tuned for more info...

On another, happier, note we may be planting the tomatoes and more cukes on the patio today. It is going to be awesome! Also, I will also be starting some new seeds today for the highly anticipated additions to the container garden (spinach, radishes, and chard).

Enjoy the weather and stay clear of the pig flu...

Friday, April 24, 2009

New Seeds

With the first round of seedlings in their containers, I am going to get started with some new seeds. We are going to try to grow:
  • Spinach
  • Radishes
  • Swiss Chard

Although the packets said that they should not be started inside, I think I may try anyway. As the weather continues to get warmer, it may be possible to begin starting seeds outside as well. Another idea to consider, we will have to get a schedule together to continuously plant seedlings so that we have lots of veggies as the spring and summer continue on. Our planting and harvesting should flow in a continuous cycle.

I am looking forward to getting these yummy plants started on Sunday. But now, it is time to start the festivities for Foxfield Races....

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day

I was really excited to celebrate Earth Day by planting our seedlings [almost] outside (see previous post). I am looking forward to spending this season figuring out how best to keep the values represented by Earth Day central in my every day life.

Luck, Earth Day, and Phase Two

Fantastic Earth Day news! Although I thought the cherry tomatoes and the butterhead lettuce plants were dead... they are not. Or, they came back to life! Either way, after a little TLC, most of the cherry tomato seedlings and much of the butterhead lettuce perked back up. Just in time to make the trip to Katherine's house for our first attempt at planting in the containers outside.

See the cherry tomatoes here: Very perky! So, after the rain stopped today, I took a cab ride with the tray of all the seedlings over to Katherine's. We began Phase Two in celebration of EARTH DAY. Our primary goal was to sort out who would be planted at Katherine's house and who should move to our second location on the porch of Samson's house. Also, we wanted get some of our lettuce and herbs in the larger containers.
So with the soil we had available, we got to work planting the chives, basil, and mesclun lettuce in the hanging planters at Katherine's. You can see that we put about three to four plants in each container for the time being. It is hard to believe that these little seedlings will become big enough to fill a whole container by themselves (and yes, the containers are old plastic colanders lined with either newspaper or coconut liner). Katherine says that using coconut liner (as well as the newspaper) is supposed to give our little plants some extra nutrients and love.

We were able to get all the chives and basil planted, as well as the bulk of the lettuce. We filled up six hanging containers and one additional container that we found in her yard and freed from some non-vegetable yielding shrub.

To the right you can see the post set up with the three hanging containers. Ultimately, we are going to have two separate posts -- each with three containers.

Unfortunately, we ran out of soil and could not finish. But we have three thin, long containers and one round, deep container (plus a number of other tubs and buckets) remaining to work with. We will finish up Phase Two at Katherine's tomorrow by planting another cuke (we already got two in a round container) and the remainder of the lettuce (which will hopefully continue to make a full recovery).

Another huge accomplishment was to relocate all the tomatoes and cukes to some new, bigger homes. Now, each plant is separated out and has more space. I am hoping this keeps our tomatoes alive until we can get them set up on the porch. All the seedlings look very happy after having moved to their new homes.

I was getting ready to leave with my tray of newly arranged tomatoes and cukes when Katherine and I went outside to check out our babies again in their new homes. As we reflected on our accomplishments, we both looks at each other and smiled, "Do we really want to leave them outside tonight, alone and in the cold?"

As you can see (to the right), we are nervous new mothers and had to move all the plants inside for fear of the cold. Katherine promised to move them outside tomorrow morning before work.

Tomorrow, the seedlings will move outside and after that, we will see what happens next...

Monday, April 20, 2009


Looks like we are having some trouble with the seedlings. After returning from a weekend in NYC, I found that two of my containers has died off in the same way as the cilantro. The cherry tomatoes and the lettuce are pretty much all gone!

I noticed that the dead seedlings are in the same type of container, while the surviving seedlings are in plastic containers. I don't know if this is at the root of the issue. But, hopefully, we will plant this week and try again with the cilantro, cherry tomatoes, and lettuce.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Earth Day... and Update

Looks like spring is finally here. The weather is much better today. Hopefully that means we will be able to get these seedlings in the ground, or well, in their outdoor containers. How they will love the great outdoors of Dupont Circle, DC.

So far, most of our little friends are still alive. But, sadly, the cilantro is gone and two of the cherry tomato seedlings are looking pretty droopy. I think they are about to die as well.

But, I am still full of hope. After we get these planted (in the next week maybe), we are going to start some more seeds and populate another friend's deck with containers.

On another note, while I will be out of town again this weekend, some of my friends will be attending the spectacular events and workshops this weekend and will fill us in on the blog soon.

Two fantastic workshops are:

  1. Family Urban Gardening: The Best Vegetables to Grow in D.C presented by the Historical Society of Washington (HSW), DC Urban Gardeners, and Washington Gardener Magazine. 4/18/2009 from 1:00 - 2:30pm (http://www.historydc.org/calendar/view.asp?ID=246)

  2. Container Gardening presented by Common Good City Farm, information available at: http://commongoodcityfarm.org/growinggardens

Look for other ways to celebrate Earth Day (April 22) here: http://www.earthday.net/

Whatever you are doing this weekend, enjoy some of this wonderful weather. I think this weekend is going to be a great start to the new season, and I'm looking forward to the next steps in our gardening adventure.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Supporting Obama's Organic Garden

After signing many petitions encouraging the Obama's to use the White House lawn to grow an organic "victory garden", I couldn't have been more excited to see Michelle leading the charge to get the garden started.

Not everyone is happy about the garden's organic status, of course. The Mid America CropLife Association (MACA) (which represents chemical companies that produce pesticides) sent out an email to their supporters that said: "While a garden is a great idea, the thought of it being organic made [us] shudder." MACA went on to publish a letter it had sent to the First Lady asking her to consider using chemicals, "crop protection products", in her garden.

There are many opinions out there on how to grow food and what is best for the future of our country's agricultural system. But, I am very happy about the choice for the White House's garden to "go organic". So, to show my support, I signed a petition put together by CREDO Action. You can sign a petition to support Michelle Obama's organic garden here: http://act.credoaction.com/campaign/wh_garden/?rc=homepage

The world may be a crazy place, but I am thrilled about the White House garden and the first family's new pup! The pictures below makes me smile.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Damping Off

I have been pondering the issue of our cilantro and wondering why the cilantro, and not the other seedlings, died after sprouting. I came across the term "Damping Off". According to Wikipedia, "Damping off is the term used for a number of different fungus -caused ailments which can kill seeds or seedlings before or after they germinate."

As in the case of my cilantro, a seedling can be infected after it sprouts or even after it appears well-developed, resulting in the plant mysteriously thinning right where it touches the ground, until its stem at that point rots and it falls over.

eHow offers the following advice:
  • Use quality, sterile potting soil to start your seedlings. Select a neutral pH potting soil, since acid soils are ideal for fungus growth.
  • Before planting, make sure the seed-starting flat has been well watered.
  • Sow seeds thinly. Crowded seedlings do not dry quickly after watering, resulting in humid, moist conditions - the perfect environment for fungus spores to germinate.
  • Sprinkle a thin layer of sand or perlite on the surface of the soil. This step will keep the stems dry at the soil surface where damping-off occurs.
  • Prop the top of the seed-starting tray up a few inches to allow for air circulation.
  • Avoid overwatering seedlings. A light misting may be enough if the soil was saturated thoroughly prior to planting.
  • Place an electric fan near the seed-starting tray. The added air circulation will prevent fungus from developing.
  • Water around the base of the plants once they emerge from the soil to avoid wetting the foliage.

It may be the case that I overwatered the poor little cilantro. Or maybe it was a handful of the wrong soil. There is advice out there to microwave the soil before planting or mist plants with either chamomile clove, or stinging nettle tea as a preventative. But, the most helpful advice I found was: "If at first you don't succeed, don't be afraid to try again."

But then again, I do still see one little green sprout in the cilantro container...

Monday, April 13, 2009

Veggie Trading

If the cold weather passes, and we can find time in this busy season to get our plants in their outdoor containers, and all the seedlings don't die waiting... maybe we will be able to participate in a great new online community called Veggie Trader (http://www.veggietrader.com/).

Here is how it works: You create a free user account, then use the site like craigslist. You post a listing describing the excess produce you have and what you'd like in return, and then you wait for a response. Or, if you're looking for local produce, you simply enter your zipcode and see what your neighbors have available. You can also post specific produce you’re looking for in our Wanted section and see which of your neighbors answers your request.

In the "Who We Are" section, Veggie Trader says:

"Veggie Trader is our pilot effort to see if we can help more families eat well, make the most of the environment, and put more backyards to work for the benefit of neighbors, community and country. We think knowing where your food comes from and supporting your local economy are more important these days than ever. And saving money (or making a little extra) doesn't hurt either."

I can't agree more. Hopefully we will have some produce to trade this season. I am keeping my fingers crossed, as long as the rest of the plants don't go the way of the cilantro.

At least the rest of the seedlings are looking healthy (especially the cukes and tomatoes)!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

How can we ensure our food is safe?

During my family's Passover seder last night, we spent a lot of time discussing the injustices of the current economic climate, health care, war -- you name it. Of course, we also touched on some issues related to food safety and agricultural policy. I am currently working on a project for Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) at the USDA. Upon hearing this, my grandmother asked, "How can we make our food safe then, Allie? Why are we all getting salmonella these days?"

Of course, issues regarding food and health are tremendously complicated. And we are not all getting salmonella. But, I am sure of this: One of the most important ways to make sure the food we eat is safe is to be informed about what we eat and feed our families/friends. Equipped with information regarding their food, consumers can decide for themselves about what to eat. Transparency is essential to a safer and more trustworthy food system.

One of the battles being fought on transparency has to do with food labeling and genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (rbGH or rbST). rbGH/rbST are administered to cows by injection in order to increase milk production. There is ongoing debate regarding the safety of this hormone -- for cows but also for us, the consumers of their milk. There are many resources to read more about the controversy, and I encourage you to learn more.

Take a look at this short movie for some more information about the issue: http://www.yourmilkondrugs.com/

I believe that since the jury is still out on its safety, consumers have a right to know whether or not the hormone is injected in the cows that produce the milk they drink.

This brings us to Kansas: Unless Governor Kathleen Sebelius vetoes it before April 16th, a Kansas bill would restrict any national US dairy from properly labeling their milk products as free from genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (rbGH or rbST).

Please take action on this issue by clicking the link below to send an email to Governor Sebelius:
Protect our Choice for Drug-Free Milk—Without Bovine Growth Hormone (rbGH/rbST) - Email Governor Sebelius

Monday, April 6, 2009

Spring Cleaning

Unfortunately, we were not able to plant our lettuce outside this past weekend. Also, I will be out of town for the remainder of the week and will be unable to provide the daily love and attention our seedlings are used to. In preparation to my few days out of town, I removed many of the "extra" seedlings from the containers. I want to make sure that they do not overcrowd each other while I am away. Here are the plants that did not make it.

I am looking forward to getting the lettuce in the ground this coming weekend and celebrating the spring holidays!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Ahead of the Curve

The New York Times stole our idea and published yesterday what will the first in a series of articles about a novice creating a vegetable garden.

Our nascent green shoots are part of what the National Garden Association estimates will be a 20% increase this year in first-time household food gardens, thanks to the economy, the Michael Pollan-ation of our bookshelves, and what have you...

"My garden, as it lives in my mind, is perfect: undulating and bountiful and soft underfoot. Sometime in the next week, though, the first dumb green shoot of that artichoke will grope its way out of the dirt and start screwing everything up."

The author also blogged on his experience purchasing seeds. I can't fathom why the Times didn't ask US to do this blog first!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

"Natural" Selection

Katherine came over last night to observe the massive growth we have seen in the seedlings since they were planted about ten days ago. Equipped with dirt, more small containers, and advice from her mother (the master gardener), she also arrived to perform another important function: help select the seedlings strong enough to survive. Since we planted multiple seeds together (because who would have thought that ALL of them would grow), we now are inundated with small seedlings crowding each other. Of particular concern were the cucumbers, which are growing inches above the rest of the plants.

Together, we began pulling out some of the smaller seedlings. As Katherine put it, "First time gardeners often have a hard time understanding why they would kill the little plants they worked so hard to grow." I agree. It was a challenge, but we saved some of the cukes and cleaned up all the containers. We made another important decision: it is time to move the lettuce outside. This weekend, we hope to migrate the lettuce outside to the yard as well as the rosemary I have been keeping for about a year in my house.

Take a look at the cukes, now spaced out to one (or two) per container:

When we move the seedlings, there may be room for some additional seeds to start. So, I found a list from a Container Gardening Tips website (http://www.containergardeningtips.com/) of plants well suited for containers. I took some highlights from the list and will consider them carefully. My options are:

Sage, Dill, Thyme, Garlic, Mint, Oregano, Fennel (Sweet Florence), Sweet Marjoram, Ginger, Eggplant, Squash, Spinach, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Bean, Radish, Blueberry, Potato, and Corn

Some of the plants on the list surprised me. Apples were even on the list as suited for container gardening. While I think we are a ways from starting an apple tree, there are quite a few issues to ponder regarding the garden and our seedlings. After the lettuce, we have to determine who will be ready to go into the great outdoors.

One last note, we also noticed the chives becoming a bit more "chive-like":