Sunday, August 31, 2008

Hurray for International Kitchen Garden Day

Today garden bloggers the world-over are celebrating International Kitchen Garden Day by posing in front of a white house (any white house) with edibles in hand to make a photographic statement directed at the next President of the USA: "We're eating the view and so should you!" You can check it out here.

Because I'm a loner, a rebel, and just don't play by the rules, I instead went and sought out a white house with a kitchen garden in the DC area that could act as a direct example of what can be done with a little effort. I did not have to search far -- almost exactly 3 miles due north of the White House, I found this enterprising homeowner who has transformed their entire front yard to vegetable beds. They also used the whole side yard and a good portion of their paved back yard for an elevated squash vine bower.

What makes this even more impressive is the fact that next door is the police department and an animal hospital. Also, they front onto a busy street used by multiple bus lines. So besides all the cars, trucks, bikes, baby strollers, etc. that pass by, their are many busloads of elevated folks looking right down into this patch of edible Eden each hour of every day. They are great examples, not just for the next President, but also for the entire neighborhood.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Fall Harvest Collection for the Hungry

Washington Gardener Magazine is again hosting a fall harvest collection for Plant A Row for the Hungry. Clean out your summer garden and bring your excess edibles to Washington Gardener Magazine’s headquarters at 826 Philadelphia Ave. Silver Spring, MD on Sunday, September 28 between 3-6pm. Your donations will be sorted, weighed, and delivered to local area food banks for the needy. Every donor who drops off excess harvest at the event will receive a special Plant A Row marker for placement in their garden next year so they can proudly mark a row set they aside for the hungry in our local community.

Plant A Row for the Hungry is a project begun and administered by the Garden Writers Association, which Washington Gardener Magazine supports as an Allied member. The concept is simple. There are over 70 million gardeners in the U.S. alone, many of which plant vegetables and harvest more than they can consume. If every gardener plants one extra row of vegetables and donates their surplus to local food banks and soup kitchens, a significant impact can be made on reducing hunger. Food agencies will have access to fresh produce, funds earmarked for produce can be redirected to other needed items and the hungry of America will have more and better food than is presently available.

Tomato Taste in Gazette

The weekly local paper, The Gazette, sent a photographer to the Tomato Tasting last weekend and the issue came out yesterday with the photos and blurb on page A-4. I've scanned it in and placed it here - click on it to see it at full-size. I searched their web site, but do not see anywhere that this item was placed online so that it could be properly linked.

Eagle-eyed readers will note our names was inventively misspelled in the photo caption as "Washington Gardiner"! That is a first for that one. Usually folks drop the first e. *Sigh*. I have requested a correction.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Garden Party Photos Published

The Takoma Voice/Silver Spring Voice came by our party last month and took several photos just after the storm stopped and most of the guests made it out. The photo spread is published in their August 2008 issues on page 34 of both versions of our local community newspaper. I'm finally reporting this here as I've been waiting for the past 3+ weeks for the online version to be posted so I can link to it. (Their habitual tardiness makes me feel so much less guilty when I'm a day or so late posting our new cover to our web site!) It is finally up now and you can view it here. I've also clipped at posted it as a jpeg file below here so that you can click on the page to enlarge and read it.

You will also want to go get the actual paper or go to their web site to see the full issue though as adjacent to this story is a great feature on mojitos, which we served at our event and are available at many fine establishments around downtown Silver Spring. The Voice reviews the different offerings. I generally agree with their conclusion that the best mojito in town is at Cubano's. The worst? Well, I won't trash any local eateries here by name, but I will say I've had a few locally mixed mojitos that were not up to snuff. Sure I'm a mo-snob, but I can forgive not having fresh sugarcane stirrers. What I can't forgive is tinkering with a proven recipe. I mean is it so hard to strain out the muddled mint before the pour? Then throw a fresh spring in for the serve. It is not cool to be on a date and to still be picking tiny, torn mint pieces out of your teeth an hour later. Nor is it cool for a mojito to be made with anything but clear rum or for foreign nasty ingredients to enter the mix -- we're talking salt on the rim or a maraschino cherry thrown in - ugh! I'm not asking for perfection here. Keep it simple and you can't go wrong.

Now all this mojito and garden party talk has me thinking that the unofficial end to summer is this weekend and a Labor Day gathering in the gazebo to close out the season might not be a bad idea. I'll check the weather reports and my schedule then post here if a last-minute function is in the plans.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Tomato Head Gallery

Here are some of the Mister/Miss Tomato Heads created at the Tomato Tasting we hosted last Saturday. The Brandywine tomatoes we use were generously donated by Spring Valley Farm and Orchard. Staff photographer Drena J. Galarza took these photos and it shows that she is a kindergarten teacher by day, doesn't it?
I learned a few things from this first-off event. Children younger than 4 enjoy sticking toothpicks in tomatoes. No need to have any artistic goal or concept in mind. It is just fun. Therefore, we ended up with a few "sputniks" in our gallery.

I also learned that certain grown-ups are without shame or sound judgement -- a number of individuals were coming up and sampling the cut-up foods off the kid's activity table. When we warned them that A. the food had been kid-groped, B. it was just for the kid's project, and C. was not meant in any way, shape, or form for actual sampling, they remained undeterred. The selection included such wonderful foods to sample as broccoli shavings, stale celery bits, and old raisins -- yum. I suppose this behavior is par for the course when dealing with the general public, but it still saddens and kinda sickens me that folks will eat anything put out on a paper plate in a street market.
Despite the misbehavior of a few, it was a terrific morning and the crowds had a great time. Most children took their creations home with them, but a few left theirs for our display. Next year, we may get even more ambitious and have them all leave theirs on display for a competition of sorts (all will win prizes) and we can award categories such as "best animal resemblance," "scariest dinosaur," "most raisins used," etc.

Tomato Tasting Results

Here are the results of the first annual Washington Gardener Magazine's Tomato Tasting at the Silver Spring FreshFarm Market.

  • Sun Sugar ~ 42 votes

  • Evergreen ~ 20 votes

  • Cherokee Purple ~ 14 votes

  • Red Grape ~ 10 votes

  • Mystery Yellow ~ 5 votes

  • Brandywine ~ 3 votes
We had almost 100 taste ballots turned in. (Many more folks tasted-and-dashed, declining to vote or thinking we were some kind of free food free-for-all.) I'm now a convert to Sun Sugar - my previous favorite Sun Gold pales in comparison. Many commented they will be growing Evergreen in their gardens next year, it was a surprising solid second. Most of the tomatoes were heirlooms and all came from farmers at the market. Spiral Path Farm was the source for the top three entries. The Mister/Miss Tomato Head activity was also a big hit -- I'm estimating 40 children took part. My next post will contain TomatoHead photos of some of the fanciful creations. The winner of the prize drawing for a big basket of garden and market goodies was Barry E. Shapiro of Silver Spring, MD.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Last List... for now

Here is the online link to this week's The List: Top Gardening Events for the week ahead on page 39 of today's print edition in the Washington Examiner. You can find the Examiner in the many red street-boxes around town. I saved a screen capture of the listing as a JPG and posted it here at left -- you can click on it to read at 100%.
Notice in the print edition, the only thing showing of my list is the cherry tomato picture I took at last year's Penn Quarter farmer's market. To read the actual list you are instructed to go online. I've copied and pasted it here:

1. Washington Gardener Magazine’s Tomato Tasting: Sample the multitude of tomatoes at market and vote on your favorites. Stop by for tomato recipes, growing tips and much more.Details: 10 a.m. to noon Saturday; FreshFarm Market; Ellsworth Drive between Fenton Street and Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring; free, registration is not required; 202-362-8889;
2. Native Plant Seminar/Sale: The seminar, in its 17th year, features three dynamic speakers as well as post-seminar workshops. Throughout the day the Native Plant Sale, featuring 13 native nurseries, is open to the general public.Details: 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday; Irvine Nature Center; 11201 Garrison Forest Road, Owings Mills; $70, $60 for members, workshops are $25, sale alone is free; 410-484-2413, ext. 25;
3. Invasive Plant Identification and Removal: Join The Nature Conservancy for a volunteer workday removing invasive plants from the Potomac Gorge, in the national parks just upstream from Georgetown. Children over the age of 5 are welcome.Details: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Aug. 23; Potomac Gorge Park; free; 202-225-1116;
4. Rain Gardens — Learn How to Manage Storm Water Beautifully: Learn the five types of rain gardens that are easiest for homeowners to install. Get tips on how to design, plant and maintain your rain garden. After the talk, participants will have the chance to view the Chesapeake Conservation Landscaping Council’s demonstration “RainScape” garden on the USBG grounds to check out some beautiful landscape elements that also control storm water runoff. Details: noon to 1 p.m. Friday; U.S Botanic Garden; National Mall, Washington; free, registration is not required; 202-225-8333;
5. Tropical Sensations Art Show: The Brookside Gardens Visitors Center exhibitions showcase affordable original works or giclee prints of original works on horticultural themes by area artists.Details: Through Oct. 10; Brookside Gardens; 1800 Glenallan Ave., Wheaton; 301-962-1400;
This will likely be my last list for the Examiner. I was doing it for the past year-and-a-half without direct compensation and just in exchange for the link and credit line -- many times which were missing. I did not feel for the time investment Imade in this that we were really getting much out of it. Instead, I hope to launch in early September our own event listing on our web site or here. Still tinkering as to format, frequency, etc. Right now we do a selection of events in our monthly Washington Gardener Enewsletter where we list a sort of top 10 for the month, but I get several hundred submissions and would like to do something more comprehensive. The Washington Post Home section dropped their garden event listings awhile back too and I say I can't blame them. The listings are a real chore and time-suck. Will see what I can come up with that will be manageable.
Meanwhile, you may have noticed that event #1 in this week's list is our Tomato Tasting. Here is the blurb from FRESHFARM Markets E-News issue of August 20, 2008:
Saturdays, 9 am to 1 pm, downtown on Ellsworth Dr.Market is OPEN now through November 15, 2008.
Saturday, August 23: Tomato Tasting at Market!
Kathy Jentz, editor of "Washington Gardener" magazine, is coordinating the tomato tasting at market so you can sample the best of our farmers' tomatoes and vote for your favorites. We'll have tomato recipes and tomato seeds galore! Kathy will also give away copies of the current "Washington Gardener" and Renee Catacalos, editor of "Edible Chesapeake," will distribute the most recent issue which features Kathy's article on tomatoes. For kids, there's a "Mr. Tomato Head" activity table where tomato "toys" or "artwork" can be made and/or eaten. We'll also raffle off a basket full of garden and market goodies. Join us for the first "Purple Cherokee Heirloom Tomato Days of Summer!"
At market this week: Tons of sweet corn, peaches, nectarines, melons, apples and raspberries. Tasty pastries at Praline; breads and more at Atwaters. Chicken at Groff's Content and Evensong; beef at Tomatoes, Etc.. Firefly's goat cheeses pair nicely with summer fruits and vegs. Welsh Gardens and Suttler Post have cut flowers; Four Seasons Nursery has potted plants and herbs. Lots of fresh cut herbs at Evensong. Charlie Koiner has figs--these fly out of the market! Charlie and Lynn will also have their 130+ ribbons (including 4 Grand Champions) from this year's Montgomery County Fair and photos too!<<
So THAT explains where all my first and second prizes ribbons went too. Darn those Koiners and their winning ways! Kidding! Can't wait to see their display. I'll have to pick their brains for prize-winning entry tips.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Summer Gardening Trends Report

The 2008 Summer Gardening Trends Research Report from GWA is now out. A few choice results:

~ On average, consumers are planning to spend about $771 on their yards and gardens this year, where expenditures include making improvements and doing maintenance.

~ Almost half of American households (43%) grow vegetables in their gardens. The top reasons households gave for not growing vegetables in their gardens include:
No time (29%)
No interest (21%)
No space (20%)
Lack of knowledge (8%) and
Not enough sunlight (6%).

~This year, about two out of five (39%) consumers say that they participate in container gardening. This is down from 47% last year.

I picked these three out as the most surprising. I think the $771 is very low as it includes lawn maintenance. Just paying a weekly lawn mow would account for that amount. Are people including their water bill? Mulch? Leaf bags? Heck, if you are DIY, one lawnmower blade sharpening per year and the gas/electricity will still set you back for a good chunk of that.

As to the reasons not to veggie garden, I find 6% for lack of sunlight not reflective of what I hear in my area. I'd say that and lack of space are the only two reasons I ever hear. Many DC-area residents try tomatoes with enthusiasm and give up due to the lack of light. We'd see many more veggie gardeners if apartment rooftops and sunny public spaces were given over to those who want to grow their own produce.

Finally, container gardening went from 47% to 39% in one year?! I think something is way off there. Maybe the terminology - is "patio gardening" better? I can't think of anyone I know who does not have at least one pot at their entrance steps, balcony, or patio -- the majority of whom do not consider themselves gardeners.

Not sure I can use any of this for shaping our magazine content. Interesting, yes. Fun to know. But in the end not much real world application.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Think Local First

I FINALLY took two minutes last week to join Think Local First DC. As many of you now I'm a fierce proponent of buying local and supporting local businesses. I may pay a little more to use a local printer and not have the magazine printed in Canada or China (You would not believe some of the print sales and paper supplier calls I get.), but I think it is worth it to be able to meet my printer in person and have deliveries come from just a few miles away not trucked in from another country. I've managed to set up relationships with local businesses and freelancers for almost all aspects of the magazine's production. You may have noticed our cartoonist is in the UK and we manage our whole relationship via online files so that is not too guilt-inducing. I have been actively seeking a local garden humorist over the past few years with no luck in matching Chris Madden's talent - so far. If you know of someone who might fit the bill, drop me a line.
But back to local. Why focus on supporting other DC region businesses? First, as a green gardener we want to help the environment. Supporting local businesses cuts down on sprawl and wasted transportation energy. Second, we are investing in our own future. We want DC to remain a unique, thriving community with a variety of local businesses we can call on when the need arises. Third, we get better service. Yeah, I said it. Our local quick printer does not give me the attitude I get when I walk into Kinko's where the kid behind the counter literally rolls his eyes that he has to get up and take down the details of a job order. Our local quick printer owns her business and actually is happy to see me and my business walk through the door. And she always has a few minutes to spare for local community gossip and to share what new, local restaurants to try.

I could go on and on about the superiority of local, but Think Local First DC has some great lists on why to shop local first and how to do so that you can explore on their site. Forthose who strive to plant local and eat local, this is just the next natural step. If you are a local DC business and want to join too, please tell them "Washington Gardener Magazine" referred you and sign up here.

Friday, August 15, 2008

A Sunny August Bloom Day

It's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day again and here are a few pics I took running around only the backyard yesterday. The county is ripping out part of my front and side walks to put in handicap stripping (yellow pad inserts with bumps) and new concrete edging to alert people that they are about to enter a busy street. It is NOISY and annoying on a day when I'd like to be out there in the garden - but luckily a fairly quick process and I'll have bright, shiny new sidewalk come Monday.
In the pot is a dwarf Buddleia I'm trialing. The sunflower is one I planted by my side fence and it keeps turning its head away from passers-by and in towards the fence. Shy? Or just bratty? The rest are perennials and self-sowers that are reliably turning my pond area into a jungle. The birds are loving it.

DC's Growing Sidewalk Hazards

On WAMU radio today (and repeated over the weekend), we are debating the topic of vigilante bike riders who chop back plants deemed in their way. In "Another Side of the Clippers," we give a different perspective on the issue of gardening and sidewalk obstructions. Listen to this segment here. Then go to WAMU's Conversation comment board and join in the frey.

One poster wrote on that thread: "Whether or not bicycles belong on the sidewalk (and, having biked all around DC for years, I think they don't), the plants are either private property of the homeowner, or public property belonging to all of the people of the District. A non-owner has no business hacking up plants that don't belong to them. Even for bikers who are also competent gardeners, a better option might be to carry preprinted notes for the homeowners. If there's a plant you particularly object to, leave the note in the mailbox asking the HO to trim the offending item. I mean, do you really want to be responsible for the murder of someone's valuable Japanese maple or their baby American elm? Keep in mind, however, that shade and lush greenery are part of what make these streets so appealing to ride on. If you can't get your way with the problem plant, you can always ride in the blazing sun and tailpipe exhaust on a big street."

Amen, sister!

Meanwhile, NBC4TV at 4pm yesterday picked up our Feeding Birds On A Budget story from the current issue of Washington Gardener where we offer "Ideas For Saving Money On Bird Food." Watch the short segment here.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Potluck Surprise

Here is the online link to this week's The List: Top Gardening Events for the week ahead on page 35 of today's print edition in the Washington Examiner. You can find the Examiner in the many red street-boxes around town. I saved a screen capture of the listing as a JPG and posted it here at left -- you can click on it to read at 100%.

This weekend I won't be attending any of these listed events. Instead, I'm continuing work on the Sept/Oct issue layout and attending several parties, picnics, and potlucks. One has stipulated "vegetarian dishes only" - while I don't cook meat or seafood, I do bake with eggs, milk, butter, etc. And sorry, total vegans, it is just not the same without the real things. What I do is just label the cake/pie/bread that dairy and eggs were used, that way folks are fully informed and can partake as they wish. Actually, it'd be nice at potlucks if all dishes were well labeled. Don't you just hate biting into something and finding mid-bite that the one ingredient you are repulsed by is hiding in the middle? There you are with a mouth full of nasty, looking for a napkin or nearest trashcan, and trying not to let the torture show on your face as you chat with the dish-bringer.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Fair Warning

I played hooky yesterday and spent the better part of it at the Montgomery County Fair. I did end up cutting a number of flowers and enter 15 for the Flower competitions. I won no firsts or seconds - but a number of thirds, fourths, and fifths. No biggie - I'll just try harder next year :-), Here are a few fun Fair pictures: the frog was a winning flower arrangement that caught my eye. I'm in the photo with the plastic calf along with my two nieces. The Master Gardener display included the squash vines growing through a crape myrtle and a wonderfully inventive screen-table full of edible greens. It runs through this Saturday so get on down there!

Friday, August 08, 2008

Celebate Farmers Market Week

From August 3-9 is National Farmers Market Week. According to the USDA, over 4,400 farmers' markets bring the freshest, locally and regionally grown and harvested foods to communities all across America this year. For farmers' markets near you, visit LocalHarvest or the USDA search page.

While at a meeting in Rockville, MD, this week, I happened to catch that city's wonderful Wednesday lunch-time market. (They also have a large Saturday morning market.) I bought a single ear of corn and a personal-sized cantaloupe. Unfortunately, my purchases were limited by the fact that my tote bag was already weighing me down from earlier stops. I also chatted with "the pickle guy" and made a mental note to myself to come back to buy one of each of us pickled concoctions to try them out.

Nearby was the "From Farm to Market" art show which runs through Sunday, August 17 at VisArts at 155 Gibbs Street (just around the corner from the Rockville Library). Free to the public, the show "explores the impact farming has on our lives, revealing its influence through a fascinating spectrum of art." Okay, that sounds fairly highbrow, but really the first thing you will think upon entering the main gallery on the second floor is "cow!" Your next thought will be "tomato!" The mushroom picture above is from the exhibit and my advice is don't go there hungry! The best part of the show is the intelligent commentary and captions. At most exhibits you breeze on by these, but these really make you stop and think about our connections to local agriculture and relationship with food. More information on the show is at visarts.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

To Cut or Not?

Here is the online link to this week's The List: Top Gardening Events for the week ahead on page 33 of today's print edition in the Washington Examiner. You can find the Examiner in the many red street-boxes around town. I saved a screen capture of the listing as a JPG and posted it here at left -- you can click on it to read at 100%.

Number 2 on the list is the Montgomery County Fair which opens this weekend. I'm once again planning on entering a few cut flowers into competition. I've been holding off cutting flowers for indoor bouquets for the last two weeks due to that. I'm afraid I'll cut something I may "need." It's silly, really, as those flowers from two weeks back are surely not competition worthy now. But I'm always thinking "what if these are the best?" -- kind of like not using the "good" china or linens and then ending up never taking them out to enjoy. At least with flowers, you can enjoy them yourself indoors or leave them out for the world to enjoy -- both are lovely choices.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Let It Rain: Weeds and Slugs

Catch me tomorrow (Thursday, 8/7) on Channel 4 at 4pm. Here is the little bump they gave me at their blog today. We'll be talking weeding, slugs, and weather - oh my! Yes, all the glamorous gardening topics. Now if I was really ambitious I'd set out some slug traps in the garden tonight so I'd have a few to show on the air tomorrow. The thought though of catching and transporting them with me on the metro to the studio is giving me the creeps. Can you imagine if the container broke open in transit? Urgh!

UPDATE: Here is a link to the online video of the Channel 4 segment. Bizarre pop-up storms forced us indoors for it. I did get one viewer email chastising me that pennies are not pet-safe. Um, yeah. I had recommended copper, and pennies in particular, as slug barriers and then earlier commented that our slug remedies shown (beer, iron phosphate, etc.) were pretty pet-safe versus the harsh pesticide alternatives. Apologies for any confusion. As a cat-person, I must say my brain does not automatically take into account that certain dogs can and will eat anything.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Seeds of Gold

Jack traded the family cow for a handful of beans. They called him a fool, but you may soon think he got a bargain as you'll need to exchange a bigger chunk of your hard-earned pay for seeds this coming year and next.

You heard it HERE first. Seed prices are about to double and triple. Seed catalogers and suppliers I've been talking to are experiencing sticker shock. Those who have already printed their 2009 catalogs and seed packs are going to feel the pinch the most. If they survive to 2010, expect to see a big increase in their prices. Those that who have yet to print their prices, will be able to adjust according to their costs for 2009, however they will be also be greatly hurt as consumers will naturally question why some seed packs are more than double the others when comparing the artificially low prices on pre-printed seed packs. Catch-22 for all.

Why the coming seed price increases? The same inflationary impacts as are effecting our food crops are trickling down now to the seed markets. Fuel, pressure to grow energy crops, land-use restrictions, increasing taxes, etc. are squeezing the seed suppliers and they are going to have to pass that along to the seed catalogs, retailers, and consumers.

What is a home gardener to do? Start collecting seeds. Go out now and get as many free ones as Mother Nature will provide. And be nice, collect only from your OWN garden, unless you have gotten the special permission of the owners to collect from them. (Note: public parks, gardens, zoos, etc. are not up for grabs either. Many of them will be collecting their seed bounty for their own propagation next season as well.)

Next, mark your calendars for January 31, 2009 -- the date of Washington Gardener Magazine's annual Seed Exchange and National Seed Sway Day. We'll be hosting it once again at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, MD, and for a very low entrance fee (even lower for magazine subscribers), you'll get a goody bag full of seed packs and be able to swap seeds with other DC-area gardeners.

What else can you do? Go through your current seed pack collection and ensure it is well stored. That means out of heat, light, and most of all, away from any moisture. Storing them in tightly sealed jars is best. Take care of seeds and don't let them get damp and they can last for decades. Just because a packet is stamped "best by 2007" does not mean seeds they will not be perfectly viable. Think of the grains found in Egyptian tombs that can still grow today or of weed seeds that lay under the surface for years waiting to be stirred to the surface and sprout. Seeds are tough; they may soon be scarce and expensive as well. Spread the word to your gardening friends.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Paint the White House Green

Now here is something ALL Washingtonians, no matter their party affiliation, can get behind. Check out Eat the View 's campaign to turn part of the White House lawn back into a productive landscape. They have a new Youtube video which can be viewed here. In addition to being entertaining and educational, the video is a call to action to encourage people to sign their online petition.

The video shows Roger of Kitchen Gardeners International up in Maine doing some strenuous sod-busting to create a nice clean veggie patch in the middle of his front lawn. It is a dramatic effect. However, I'd recommend lasagna (aka layer) gardening instead for those who want to get rid of a significant chunk of lawn and start new planting beds. It'll save your back and be much quicker. We described exactly how to do that in our November/December 2006 issue of Washington Gardener Magazine, but you can Google it and find instructions easily on the web too.

Back to the topic at hand, let's cast our vote for a "green" White House by demanding whoever our new president may be (*cough* OBAMA *cough* :-) use some of those 18 acres to feed their household and the hungry of this city.

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