Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Farming Our Schools

Guest Blog by Jesse Kurtz-Nicholl

(This is the first in a continuing series on the subject of gardens and schools.)

When is the last time you walked around an urban public high school in the United States? For most of us, it’s been a while. As a former high school teacher I like going to high schools and I will tell you what I notice when I walk around. It’s not the dilapidated buildings, the lack of experienced teachers, or the missing vocational and practical trades that disappeared a long time ago with shrinking budgets. I notice land. I see opportunity.

What some say is the last vestige of the “commons” in America, our public school system sits on an incredible amount of land! Walk around a public high school and you see land that is not being used; it’s either being under-utilized or it is completely abandoned. Pavement and asphalt is the default, and green-space upkeep costs too much money for strapped urban districts. Was it ever used? I don’t know, but it’s time to utilize this public space for the community.

As we stare at our nation’s expanding waistlines and the “franken-foods” that dominate our store shelves, we realize that what the communities of our great nation need is real food. We’ve watched the obesity rates in our children triple in the last two decades, and we are left with no choice but to creatively respond to this epidemic. If we don’t, there is a good chance they may become the first generation in our history to live a shorter life span than their parents.

As a Government and Economics teacher in a deeply urban school in California, I came face to face with disturbing daily realities. Last year, a 16 year old Latina student came up to me in astonishment and asked, “Are you telling me that a lemon is a fruit?” Equally astonished are the students that walk out to the school garden and marvel at the sweet peas they can pick fresh off the vine. “I never knew that came out of a flower,” I’ve heard them gasp. They recoil at the sight of dirt touching a piece of produce, yet they don’t blink at paying $2 for bottled water that is less regulated than the water coming out of their tap. I don’t blame my students for a system that produces 3,800 calories per day per person (we only need half that amount) and then uses the most sophisticated marketing tools on the planet to get our youth to consume them. As a teacher, I have learned that you must accept your students “where they are” because getting angry about how they got there is wasted energy. Accept the challenge and then work like hell to help them reach their potential. I’ve accepted that the industrialized food companies got to my students first, and now I know through local food production in the schools, I can help them become healthier once again.

Even though I came from California, I now call the District of Columbia my home. And while the seasons have changed (we don’t even have seasons in California!) the vision behind food production in the schools is no different. This land in public high schools could begin the process of re-connecting young people with food, especially because schools represent the center of communities. Everyday, kids go to school, parents pick kids up from school, after-school programs, dances, talent shows, it all happens at the school. Through “food production” at our local public schools we can address myriad community needs: childhood obesity, inner city access to food, local economic distress, global warming and environmental damage.

Picture this. Schools in DC choose to use the vast amount of its unused land to create school “farms.” Students in high school are engaged in a curriculum where, through the production of food for their community, they learn the most essential knowledge about nutrition, the health of our planet, social justice and history. In addition, the farm employs the students as farm interns, giving them valuable tools in leadership and hard work and the caring of their community. Most food is sold into the community, but portions are given to food banks and shelters supporting those populations on the margins. Food dollars, which may have otherwise been spent at convenience stores and fast food restaurants, will now be spent in the community improving the local economy and creating jobs. A study conducted by Local First and Civic Economics found that out of every $100 spent on non-local purchases, $57 left the local economy, whereas, if that same $100 dollars was spent in local businesses, only $32 left. This 25% increase of money that flows through a local economy becomes local spending, job creation and elevated incomes. In our picture, the potential increase stays in the community through student stipends, the hiring of workers, and the buying of local inputs for the gardens.

These students don't need to become urban farmers, but maybe some will. Others may become chefs, or teachers, or one of the hundred other jobs related to our new local food system. What we know they will become are better eaters, better consumers, and future community leaders. Let our schools once again be the institutions that nourish not just our mind, but our body as well.

(Pictured above: Students Farming in West Contra Costa County CA.)
Jesse Kurtz-Nicholl is Program Coordinator, Urban Tilth, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He can be reached at,

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Philly Flower Show Update

Garden Writers:

Anyone going to the Philly Flower Show this weekend or located within driving disatnce of Philly, we are meeting INFORMALLY for breakfast and networking this Sat morn 2/27 from 9-11am at the Reading Terminal -- first one there please grab the closest tables to Philbert the Pig statue. I'll bring a GWA logo sign so we can recognize each other. See: Reading Terminal Market for photo of Philbert and address/directions. We promise to tweet and post pics forthose who can't make it.

PS For those considering going up to the show net Wed 3/3 with us, Cheval has informed me today that only 10 seats are left on our coach. See our Philly Trip blog post for more details and sign up soon if you want to join us. Contact Cheval at gardentours (at) gmail (dot) com to reserve a spot.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Forgotten Annuals and an Old-Fashioned Seed Swap

This event is a kind-of "make up" for our Seed Exchanges on January 30 that did not get canceled, but did have lower attendance due to the nuisance snow storm that day. Who knew that the following weeks would bring us so much worse?

Save the date for:
The Forgotten Annuals and an Old-Fashioned Seed Swap
Part of the The DC Urban Gardening Talk 2010 Series
Presented by Washington Gardener Magazine and the Historical Society of Washington, DC
Sunday March 28 2:00-3:30pm
at the Auditorium of the Historical Society of Washington, DC
801 K Street, NW at Mount Vernon Square Washington, DC 20001

Janet Draper (pictured here), Horticulturist of the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden at the Smithsonian Institution, will discuss: "What Happened to Growing Thing From Seed? The Forgotten Annuals." She will describe those wonderful self-sowing and easy-to-start annuals many of us remember from our grandmother's gardens. From Columbine to Nasturtium to Zinnias, Janet will walk us through each flowers' attributes and the best ways to start them from seed.

Janet's talk will be followed by an old-fashioned seed swap. Bring your new, un-used, or self-collected seed packs for a fun seed trading session. Please fully label all your seeds and be sure that none are on the Mid-Atlantic invasive plants list. Be prepared to say a little about the seeds you have brought.

Speaker Bio:
Janet Draper is Horticulturist of the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden at the Smithsonian Institution. For about a decade now, Janet has been refining the Ripley garden and also maintaining the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden plantings, along with the numerous security planters along Independence Avenue. Janet’s training includes what she refers to as her ‘Pedigree’ in Horticulture from Purdue University, but her real hands on training came from internships after college where, she says, the real education began. Her first stop was at Mt Cuba Center for the Study of Native Piedmont Plants in Delaware, then on to Maryland to learn ornamental grasses and perennials at the nursery of Kurt Bluemel. The next stop for the Indiana farmgirl was at the Staudengartnerei Grafin von Stein-Zeppelin (Perennial Nursery of Countess von Stein-Zeppelin) in Germany’s famed Black Forest. She was then accepted to work at the nursery of Beth Chatto, one of England’s Victoria Medal of Honor holders. Janet still considers Beth Chatto’s garden to be one the most inspiring gardens she has ever had the opportunity to see. After her time in Europe, Janet returned to the US and worked in numerous nurseries before beginning a residential design business and started putting plants into the ground instead of little black nursery pots.

This event is FREE and open to the public.
Seating is limited to 150 and it is on a first-come basis.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Washington Gardener Enews Feb '10 issue

Washington Gardener Enews Feb '10 issue

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

How did you survive the blizzard?

Many stories of tree and shrub destruction are surfacing as the snow thaws. Evergreens, Boxwoods, and Magnolias seem to be the worst-off victims. Some of those who have greenhouses were impacted badly as well. Dorothy Cichra of Beltsville Garden Club writes:

"Thought you might like to know that the greenhouse at Duckworth School that the Beltsville Garden Club uses to grow plants collapsed last weekend during the snow. A picture is attached. We do not know yet what will happen. Bill Koppes is exploring the possibility of us using the greenhouse at High Point. Bob Pecatchek is pricing a replacement. It will depend on what the school wants to do and what can be done - was it insured in some manner? We have obviously lost our stock plants and the plants which we had been growing to sell. We have not been able to get in it much because of the snow and the danger from the hanging glass to see if any of the perennials survived - the heat was still on so there is a chance some survived."
The photo tells the whole story. So how did your garden do during the Mid-Atlantic blizzard(s)?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Snow-blown Garden Blogger Bloom Day

It is Garden Blogger Bloom Day again. Several feet of snow and ice is on the ground outside still and more flakes are coming down as I type this. All my winter bloomers are covered in thick layers of snow and it will be at least another two weeks before I see them again. I hate snow. I hate being cold and wet. I have to shovel it. Sure it is "pretty," but that lasts how long on our urban streets? Maybe for five seconds. Yes, I'm grumpy and can't wait for the big thaw. Indoors, I'm forcing many spring bulbs. They are all a few days away from blooming. So I'm sharing the only thing I have in really full bloom now, my violets. And yes, that is a touch of sunshine coming in the window this morning.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Wall Street Journal Visits Our Seed Exchange

The Wall Street Journal sent a photographer to our Washington Gardener Magazine Seed Exchange last month and the article with the slideshow of our event is up now. Here are the links (up for about a week): slideshow and related article. I'm a bit disappointed it is referred to on the slides as "the Wheaton swap" and leaves out our magazine's name or link though.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Washington Gardener Magazine BLIZZARD Back Issue Sale!

Washington Gardener Magazine BLIZZARD Back Issue Sale! 

Normally, you can request a single copy of back issues for $6 each or any 6 back issues for $24 or ALL 28 back issues for just $100 (price includes postage and handling).
For the BLIZZARD, we are making that $4 each or any 6 back issues for $20 or ALL 28 back issues for $90 and yes, all prices include postage!

This offer expires on 2/15/10.
Please specify/circle the issue date(s) you are ordering. Order must be prepaid by check or money order. Don't forget to include a note saying where to send the order!
Send your order to: Washington Gardener, 826 Philadelphia Ave., Silver Spring MD 20910


March/April 2005

• Landscape DIY vs. Pro

• Design an Herb Garden

• Prevent Gardener’s Back

• Ladew Topiary Gardens

• Dandelions

• Cherry Trees

May/June 2005

• Stunning Plant Combinations

• Turning Clay into Rich Soil

• Wild Garlic

• Wisteria

• Keeping a Garden Journal

• Strawberries

July/August 2005

• Water Gardens

• Poison Ivy

• Disguising a Sloping Yard

• Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

• Edible Water Plants

• Water Lilies

September/October 2005

• Container Gardens

• Clematis Vines

• Make Herbs & Vinegars

• Sponge Gardening/Rain Gardens

• 5 Insect Enemies of Gardeners

• Chicory: Weed or Wildflower

NOV/DEC 2005

• Backyard Bird Habitats

• Hellebores

• Building a Coldframe

• Gardening as Exercise

• Bulb Planting Basics


• Garden Decor Principles

• Primroses

• Tasty Heirloom Veggies

• U.S. Botanic Garden

• Start Annuals from Seed

• Meet Andre Viette


• Top 10 Small Trees and Large Shrubs

• Azaleas

• Figs, Berries, & Persimmons

• Oak Diseases

• Basic Pruning Principles

May/June 2006

• Using Native Plants in Your Landscape

• Crabgrass

• Peppers

• Secret Sources for Free Plants

• Alternatives to Invasives

July/August 2006

• Hydrangeas

• Theme Gardens

• Agave

• Canada Thistle

• Find Garden Space by Growing Up

September/October 2006

• Shade Gardening

• Hosta Care Guide

• Fig-growing Tips and Recipes

• Oatlands Plantation

• Native Woodland Plants

NOV/DEC 2006

• Horticultural Careers

• Juniper Care Guide

• Winter Squash Growing Tips and Recipes

• Weed-free Beds with Layer/Lasagna Gardening

• Secret Sources for Great Plants


• Indoor Gardening

• Daphne Care Guide

• Asparagus Growing Tips and Recipes

• Houseplant Propagation

• Gotelli Conifer Collection

• Easy Care Orchids

MARCH/April 2007

• Stormwater Management

• Dogwood Selection & Care Guide

• Early Spring Vegetable Growing Tips

• Perfect Plants for Ponds & Puddles

• Franciscan Monastery Bulb Gardens

MAY/June 2007

• Roses: Easy Care Tips

• Native Roses & Heirloom Roses

• Edible Flowers

• How to Plant a Bare-Root Rose

• A Trip to Bon Air Memorial Rose Gardens

• Creating a New Garden


• Groundcovers: Alternatives to Turfgrass

• How to Pinch, Prune, & Dead-head

• A Trip to William Paca House & Gardens

• Fire Ants in Virginia

• Plant an Urban Community

• Hardy Geraniums

September/October 2007

• Succulents: Hardy to our Region

• Drought-Tolerant Natives

• Southern Vegetables

• Seed Saving Savvy Tips

• The National Garden on its First Anniversary

• Building a Bay-Friendly Garden

November/December 2007

• Gardening with Children

• Holiday Crafts with Native Plants

• Kid-Friendly Vegetables

• Indoor Bulb Forcing Basics

• National Museum of the American Indian

• Versatile Viburnums


• Dealing with Deer

• Our Favorite Garden Tools

• Indoor Bulb Forcing Basics

• Delightful Daffodils


• Patio, Balcony, and Rooftop Container Gardens

• Our Favorite Garden Tools

• Coral Bells (Heucheras)

• Brookside’s Phil Normandy

• Japanese-style Garden

MAY/JUNE 2008 — Almost Sold Out!

• Growing Great Tomatoes

• Glamorous Gladiolus

• Seed Starting Basics

• Flavorful Fruiting Natives

• Build a Better Tomato Cage

• Restored Gardener’s House at Mount Vernon


• Landscaping with Ornamental Grasses

• Edible Grasses to Graze On

• Slug and Snail Control

• Sage Advice: Sun-Loving Salvias

• How to Weed

• Richmond’s Treasure — Maymont’s Gardens


• Autumn Edibles — What to Plant Now

• Ladybug Lore

• Beguiling Barrenworts (Epimediums)

• The Best Time to Plant Spring-Blooming Bulbs

• A Daytrip to Meadowlark Botanical Gardens

• 5 Steps to Amazing Fall Rose Blooms

• 14 Dry Shade Plants Too Good to Overlook


• Outdoor Lighting Essentials

• How to Prune Fruiting Trees, Shrubs, and Vines

• 5 Top Tips for Overwintering Tender Bulbs

• Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick

• Emerald Ash Borer: A Serious Threat

• A Daytrip to Tudor Place

• Bringing Nature Home with Doug Tallamy


• Compost Happens: Nature’s Free Fertilizer

• Managing Stormwater with a Rain Garden

• Visiting Virginia’s State Arboretum

• Grow Winter Hazel for Gorgeous Winter Color

MARCH/April 2009

• 40+ Free and Low-Cost Local Garden Tips

• Spring Edibles Planting Guide for the Mid-Atlantic

• Cutworm Control

• Testing Your Soil for a Fresh Start

• Redbud Tree Selection and Care

• A Condo-Dweller’s Cantilevered Herb Garden

• Best Local Viewing Spots for Virginia Bluebells


• Top 12+ Easy Summer Annuals for DC Heat

• Salad Table Project

• Grow and Enjoy Eggplant

• How to Chuck a Woodchuck from Your Garden

• Aphid Alert


• Grow Grapes in the Mid-Atlantic

• Passionflowers

• Mulching Basics

• What’s Bugging Your Tomatoes

• Growing Hops

FALL 2009

• Apples

• How To Save Tomato Seeds

• Persimmons

How Bad is the Blizzard?

Hope you all are safe and warm! Check in here after the storm and all the snow melts so we can assess our tree/shrub damages.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Think Spring! 8 reasons to join us for Philly Flower Show Trip

Washington Gardener Magazine has partnered again with Cheval Force Opp’s Garden Tours company to take local DC gardeners up to the Philadelphia Flower Show on Wednesday, March 3, 2010. What sets this tour apart from all the others? 8 Great Reasons!

1. We feed you! That's right, lunch is included on the way up as well as a hearty snack on the way back

2. We entertain you! We'll have garden-related DVDs to view, flower trivia contests, prizes for bests (dressed, on time, etc.), and just plain silly games for your day off work.

3. We'll hold a lively show preview talk! Cheval and I will be at the show on Sunday-Monday and get a behind-the-scenes tour with the show management. We'll pass on any tidbits we learn to you.
4. We are going up later and arriving later then all the other crack-of-dawn folks! That means you'll hit the exhibit hall when it is at its least crowded and have some time to sleep in on the morning of your day off.
5. We take care of the details! Cheval will be your acting "den mother" for the day and you can just concern yourself with all the great things you will see. You can leave the driving, directions, and parking hassles to our coach transport. We also provide you with a packet of show information so you can arrive ready to hit the Flower Show running.
6. We leave from a convenient location! Downtown Silver Spring's Starbucks on Ellsworth Drive is our start and stop point so you can take the metro, train, or metrobus to Silver Spring metro or have a friend drop you off or drive yourself and park in the many downtown parking garages for the day. Many who live in the area can just walk or bike on down.
7. We let you pick your seat-mate! Yes, no worry of being stuck with some weird-o on the Greyhound or of getting separated from your friend. If you are traveling with someone and want to sit together, just let us know and we'll place you together in our handy seating chart.

8. We set a great price! Whether you go by train or drive yourself - by the time you add up all the costs (gas, toll, parking, meals, etc.) and the price of the show ticket, you'll see we are a terrific bargain. Not only that, but we are giving Washington Gardener subscribers $5 off our fee. And yes, you can sign up for the trip and subscribe at the same time to get the discount.

Complete registration information and form can be downloaded hereRegister soon as we are half-full at this point and expect a sell-out. Potentially, we can add a second bus, but we'd need to do that in the next week or so.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Drumroll please... And the Photo Contest Winners are...

CORRECTION: Richard Paul Weiblinger's name is spelled incorrectly. He placed three times in the Garden Creatures category. Please note the correct spelling.

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Gifts for Gardeners ~ Gardening Gifts ~ Cool Gardening Gift Ideas

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