Saturday, October 31, 2009

Pretty Poison

On this All Hallow's Eve, I bring you photos of a truly frightening plant -- the lovely native vine known as Poison Ivy. This time of year in the DC-area it is turning a marvelous rainbow of colors, making it very easy to spot in your lawn grass, leaf piles, or browning perennial borders. It is a vine, but it can also disguise itself as a spreading groundcover or even as a seedling tree. Don't confuse it with another color-turning, native vine, Virginia Creeper, which is stunning in fall, but has a quite different leaf shape and growth habit.

This is the best time of year to catch up before it takes over next spring and you are no longer easily able to distinguish from all the other new, green things. My control method is similar to a hazmat team. Before I even start, I open up my clothes washer and set a path from door to the washer and to my shower so that I do not have to touch any walls, doorknobs, light switches, etc. to get to them after exposure. I put on leather gardening gloves then grab some newspaper sleeve bags. I pull those on my hands up to my elbows and then put rubberbands over to keep them in place. I often double-bag my arms to be sure of no break-through. I then get grocery bags and rip out the poison ivy and put it in one bag, then double that bag. Then carefully peel off my arm bags and place them and the poison ivy-filled bags in another bag for good measure. Never, ever compost it or burn it.

Note that I took all of these photos this morning in one 20-yard patch of Poison Ivy on the edge of a park and a state highway in Montgomery County, Maryland. The amount of color variation is amazing and runs from bright yellow-green to dark green through yellow to oranges and burgundy red. This is just feet from a playground and a metro bus stop, so BEWARE in your travels and haunts where you step! Have a wonderful Halloween!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Future of Community Gardens in DC and Beyond

I wrote this Guest Blog for the USDA web site in early September, I'm not sure if they ever posted it or where to link if they did, so I'm posting it here as well so that you all can read and share your thoughts on the future of local community gardens.

The last week of August was proclaimed Community Gardening Week by USDA Sec. Vilsack, and the new People’s Garden project outside the USDA headquarters fronting on the National Mall was a perfect place to discuss community garden in the greater DC-area and take a long at its future. I joined a local farmer and USDA staff to talk about growing tomatoes, maximizing your harvest, and community gardening.

At Washington Gardener Magazine, we are seeing the requests for community garden plot space double each year. We see this trend generated not so much by economics as it is by a desire to be able to be in touch with the Earth and living a more simple, sustainable life-style. Going a step beyond buying local or organic, gardeners that grow their own food have complete control of its production and feel a real sense of accomplishment.

Land use issues are prohibiting many potential gardeners from growing where they live. From Home Owner Associations to small town ordinances, folks are fighting rules that prohibit front yard edible gardens. Many must turn to community garden plots to provide needed growing space. Those in apartments, rental homes, in shady older neighborhoods, etc. are also seeking out community garden plots to grow in.

In a related trend, urban land owners are offering their un-used yards to neighbors who want to grow, but may not have the space. Web sites that match landowners with potential gardeners are springing up in cities across the nation. Many ask for a small share of what is grown in exchange for the land use. This is a win-win for everyone

One new trend in community garden is combining plots and working them together to share the harvest. Instead of each gardener having their own small area, they pool the land and decide as a group what will be grown that season.

Another new trend is urban farming. In which a group buys up a piece of unused land with the express purpose of growing edibles and dividing up the produce among the share-holders. Sometimes they sell the excess produce at local farmer’s markets or grow for an express purpose such as a food bank donation.
School gardens are an expanding trend. Many schools use gardens for teaching science, math, art, etc. and now they are growing food in them to supplement what children are eating in their cafeterias. Colleges are also jumping in by allowing students to set aside a portion of their campuses for community gardens.

All of these community garden trends are converging and the result is that more Americans are gardening. Learning about food, and eating what they grow.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Learn about Urban Trees and How to Winterize Your Garden

I have two upcoming talks. Both are free to attend and are open to the general public.

This Wednesday, 10/28, at 7:30pm in the James E Duckworth School located at 11201 Evans Trail in Beltsville, MD, I will be at the Beltsville Garden Club meeting giving my talk on Trees and Shrubs for the Small Garden. This talk was postponed from last January due to bad weather, I just know Mother Nature will be kind to us this go-round.

On Saturday, 11/7, at 1:00pm at the Historical Society of Washington, DC, I'll present How to Winterize Your Garden. This will be the last of the DC Urban Garden series talks for the year. Attendance at this one will be a BIG determining factor in whether we continue this free series of talks in 2010, so please spread the word.

Friday, October 23, 2009

WaPo Goes LoCo

So the new Local Living insert to the Washington Post came out yesterday. Basically, it combines the two Thursday inserts -- Home and Extra -- into one. Home includes the paper's gardening section. It has its pros and cons.

- Love the tabloid format. Wish the whole paper made the leap to that sizing when it launched its news look this week. So much easier to read on Metro or the bus. Easier to store in my tote bag, spread out on the table while enjoying with a tea, etc.
- Like that all the columns from both previous versions were kept. I'd be really mad about losing the Animal Doctor, Dr Gridlock, Digging In, etc.
- Lots of color ink splashed about and actual white space used. Much less crampy feeling than the test of the "new" Post.

- The cover design makes it look like an advertorial section, like the real estate sections of other papers. Many will throw it out without reading it. The ad banner across the bottom further cheapens it. It doesn't help that Long Windows does almost idenitical ad on the Washington Examiner.  Does the Post really want to invite those copycat comparisons?
- There are already layout glitches, Barbara Damrosch's header (at least in my MoCo edition) is completed botched and unreadable by some overprinting. Also, I see several places where a column header is missing or duplicated. I assume these kinks will be worked out.
- Section dividers looks like this: ///////////////////. Couldn't a more elegant or whimsical divider design have been used? This one just looks like a bad school newsletter done using Notepad.
- The black ink sketches of columnist look old-fashioned and just not friendly. Give us a nice, new color photo and would a half-smile kill anyone? What the sketches DO point out is how many older, white men write for the Post. Surprise!
- In their own words, it will cover "personal health and family matters." First, there already is a health section. Second, what the heck are "family matters?" Which ones of those two areas does gardening fall under? This phrase is bordering on insulting. You might as well have just said "women's issues" and "not important fluff" and be honest about the condescension.
- The "Going Out Guide" only covers what is in my county. For someone who lives within a few yards of the city border and less than a mile from another county, I find this ridiculous and arbitrary. Events in Derwood do not interest me, but events in College Park and Adams-Morgan do. I'm not asking for multiple editions broken down by what is close by to every single zip code, but at least acknowledge that most of us do not spend our lives within just one county's border and be more inclusive in "local" area event listings.

My Verdict: C-
What grade do you assign it?

And on a related note, the WaPo Garden Book is available to PostPoints members for just 500 points. Other PostPoints awards are 2,000 points for a $5 gift card. So by my calculations 25% of $5 is $1.50. Now THAT is a sale considering the cover price is $18.95 for this 1998 publication. I got mine at a used book store for maybe $2.50, but I still see it  for sale at local book stores full price. This makes me wonder if the Post is just clearing out their inventory or whether there is a new edition in the works making the old version soon obsolete.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Who Gonna Check Me Baby Boo?

Love these Baby Boo pumpkins! If I have 10, I want 20. Never enough! Not very "Zen" of me, I know, but "tiny & cute" brings that harvest greed out in me.

My "Feng Shui in the Garden" article in Pathways Magazine's Fall 09 issue that came out last month is online now here -- scroll to pages 59-61.
Also, an article on "Apple Picking Time" I did for the TP/SS Voice this month is online here.

You can still read either issue the old-fashioned way -- in print and for free. Both publications are available at street boxes and in pick-up bins all over DC and the suburbs. I get mine at the Whole Foods in downtown Silver Spring.

Monday, October 19, 2009

New Fall 2009 Issue Out: Apples, Anemones, & Persimmons

The Fall 2009 issue of Washington Gardener Magazine has been printed and mailed. This issue’s theme includes apple-growing tips for the Mid-Atlantic, a trip to Green Spring Gardens, and dealing with invasive bamboo.

In this issue is our PlantProfile on Japanese Anemone, a fall favorite. Several of the bloom photos are from your editor’s own garden.

We also cover Saving Tomato Seeds (yes, you can do-it-yourself), visit the USDA People’s Garden, spotlight the Eastland Gardens Flower Club, and focus on the Native Meehan’s Mint.

We share tips on battling Apple Tree Pests, stopping Squash Vine Borer, and propagating Sweet Potato Vine.

Do your tastes run to the more exotic? You’ll love our EdibleHarvest column on growing Persimmons, which includes a guide to the best Persimmon varieties.

Our Before-After piece is all about a “Sexy and Sustainable” front yard in northwest Washington, DC.

In the “Did You Know” category, we share the latest research on a link between visiting public gardens and senior health. We also share a study on the rapid spread of invasive weeds in western Maryland that points the finger at roadside maintenance crews.

Finally, we interview Michael Twitty, an heirloom gardener and expert in local Afro-American foodways. He helps dispell the myths and misconceptions many people have about traditional African-American gardens.

To subscribe to our magazine: Send a check/money order for $20.00 payable to “Washington Gardener” magazine to: Washington Gardener, 826 Philadelphia Ave., Silver Spring, MD 20910 OR to pay via Paypal/credit card click on the subscribe link.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blog Action Day - What's Blooming in My Garden

In honor of Blog Action Day theme of Climate Change and Garden Blogger's Boom Day, I'm proud to add this new blue "bloom" to my garden. Washington Gardener Magazine is all about being green and I've made great strides in making the print publications environmentally friendly including used 50% recycled paper and soy ink in our printing, but I'm always looking for ways to improve our energy and resource efficiency. I've talked, blogged, and wrote letters to the editor many times before about my efforts to source locally and with the least impact on the environment as possible. This past week my final paperwork was processed switching the Washington Gardener headquarters (i.e. my house) to 100% wind power energy, hence the new blue "flower" in the garden.
   On my wish list now is adding a second rain barrel for my side edible garden, too bad I don't have it already today. As you can see in the photo, we are getting a half-inch today and more over the next few days. Hope my new plantings are happy!

Friday, October 09, 2009

DC School Garden Photo Contest Winners

Here at last are the winners of the DC School Garden Photo Contest Winners. I had the tough job of judging from among the many excellent entries along with fellow judges Lisa Helfert, Karen Helfert, and Christa Carignan. We announced the winners at the DC School Garden Week Kick-off Event this past Monday at Watkins ES in SE, WDC very near Eastern Market and Capitol Hill. To see a slideshow of the kick-off event go here. Many of the young winners were present along with their proud parents and siblings. The winning photos will likely be on display later this year at the MLK Library near Gallery Place in WDC. Stuned for an invite to that.

Without further ado, here are the winners:

A Category (K-2nd grade)

1st place and Grand Prize: Caitlin Cooper - 2nd grade at Horace Mann "Golden Flight"

2nd place: Katie Brady - 2nd grade at Horace Mann "Spring Awakening"

3rd place: Inrid Hager - 2nd grade at Horace Mann "Yucca Buds"

Honorable Mention: Marco Shaik - 1st grade at Horace Mann "Sunny Bee"

Honorable Mention: Dmitri Vassilion -1st grade at Horace Mann "Good Morning Butterfly"

B Category (3rd - 5th grade)

1st Place: Cardea Bannister - 5th Grade at Draper Elementary "Beautiful"

2nd Place: Christina Range - 5th Grade at Horace Mann "Waiting for Spiderslings"

3rd Place: Camille McDermott - 5th Grade at Horace Mann "A Bounty of Beauty"

Honorable Mention: Lashaun Wilkins - 4th Grade at Achievement Prep "Dreams at the Sky"

Honorable Mention: Shade Carter - 5th Grade at Achievement Prep "Sweet and Nothing"

Honorable Mention: Latrell Reed - 3rd Grade at J.O. Wilson Elementary "Yellow Paradise"

C category (6th - 8th grade)

1st place: Monay Minor - 7th grade Barbara Jordan "My Flower"

2nd place: Justin Neely - 6th grade Ferebee Hope "Storm"

3rd place: Cedric Harper - 6th grade Barbara Jordan "Great Green"

Honorable Mention: Moshay Minor - 7th grade Barbara Jordan "Moshay's Flowers"

D category (9th - 12th grade)

1st place: Rocio Ramirez - Cardozo

2nd place: Laneisha McCauley - Cardozo

3rd place: Kimberley Caldera - Cardozo

Honorable Mention: Joel Gibson - BJCPS "My Little Tree"

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Plant Your Winter Greens NOW

Brett Grohsgal's Raising Winter Greens talk
Guest Blog by Diane Svenonius

September’s talk in the DC Urban Gardener series at the HSW featured Brett Grohsgal of Even’ Star Farms speaking on planting for a harvest of delicious greens all winter. Brett farms in St. Mary’s County, MD, and provides CSAs to 200 families, summer and winter. In winter, he grows 23 acres of greens and roots, and lettuces in a greenhouse.

The best plants to choose for winter crops are the brassicas -- arugula, mustard, turnips, radishes, collards, kale, tat soi (but not bok choi, which bolts in winter); some asteraceae -- lettuce, radicchio; and umbelliferae, such as parsley, chervil and cilantro; turnips, and radishes. Brett warned that lettuces will not yield a crop all winter due to leaf burn from frost, but kale and other brassicas are more flavorful after a freeze and thaw. The best lettuces for planting now are buttercrunch, red salad bowl, and rouge d’hiver.

In our area, planting should be completed by October 15 at the latest so that plants will be established before serious cold sets in. Winter crops must be planted from seed, and seeds of hybrids are less cold-tolerant. Transplanting breaks off the primary root tips; to make up for it, the plant will send out secondary roots that grow too shallow for winter survival.

In winter, the sun is lower than in summer, but with leafless trees, the gardener may get the necessary minimum three hours of sun for winter beds. Good drainage is critical, using raised beds if necessary (vermiculite is a good additive to soil), but pak choi, chervil, and field cress will tolerate some wetness. Water well after planting, then every three days until seedlings have six leaves. (If seedlings don’t appear, suspect slugs.) Mulch around the plants with autumn leaves or pine needles; microbes in the mulch give heat to the roots. Nitrogen can be added in the form of fish emulsion and coffee grounds. Established plants will do well under snow, which protects from severe cold and icing; an ice event with no snow is the most dangerous condition. Brett said that Channel 7 gives useful frost warnings for the area.

Brett recommends harvesting by selecting leaves from each plant for winter crops, starting with tiny leaves to use in salad and taking no more than a third each every ten days. If the whole plant is taken (shorn) when sunshine is lacking, the plant will not be able to produce enough leaves to survive. Brett said never to harvest when the plant is frozen.

Brett showed slides of his kale beds alternating with beds of a cover crop, which will be turned under to improve the soil for the next season’s planting. Home gardeners can mulch their unplanted beds with the leaves that are falling this month, and with coffee grounds for added nitrogen.

Brett went into even more detail on winter greens in his article published in Edible Chesapeake's Fall 2008 issue. To see Brett's article click here.

Diane Svenonius is newsletter editor for the Takoma Horticultual Club in Takoma Park, MD.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Blog-Only Contest for GreenFest Passes

To reward our loyal blog readers, the first 10 people to respond to this blog post will win a pass for free admission to the Greenfestival DC! (That is a $15 value)! Just send us your name and address to

GreenFestDC is happening THIS WEEKEND -- October 10th & 11th! That means two full days of 125 speakers including the uber-farmer Joel Salatin, the fascinating Dr. Cornel West, the always entertaining Ed Begley Jr., and many more -- plus see a free showing of The Garden, yoga & dance classes, organic food & drink, live music, green products, and more at the Washington Convention Center.
Stop by the Washington Gardener Magazine's booth (#1036) to sign up for a new subscription, renew, buy the current issue, or purchase any of our back issues. 
PS Did you know that all GreenFestDC exhibitors are Green America's Green Business Network members? And did you know to be a member of Green America's GBN we all have to pass through a strict screening process for leadership in social and enviornmental responsibility and we earn the Green America Seal of Approval for our commitment? Pretty cool, huh? That is what makes GreenFest my favorite event to attend each year -- quality exhibits and no BS. When they say they are "organic" or "green" or "local" or "sustainable," you can believe them and shop with confidence. Whereas at other so-called "green events" I've attended, that is not always the case and that is frustrating. Viva, GreenFest! :-).

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