It’s already that time, you guys! That’s how you know spring is almost here…. it’s seed sowing time. I’m so excited to start in on my vegetable garden, I’ve got my grow light out, I’ve got all my books (this and this) on my coffee table and I’ve been madly perusing the Seed Savers Exchange website. But I got a little overwhelmed with where and when, exactly, to start, so last weekend I sat down to talk a little bit with Meredith Shepherd of the DC-based organic home gardening service Love & Carrots and get her advice for starting your own small home garden.
Here are a few of her tips:
- Grow herbs. Meredith advises the best way to get started gardening is to design and grow a small herb garden, especially if you’re a renter. Her favorites are lavender, sweet woodruff, lemon verbena and chives.
- Don’t over water or under water. Read up on what you plant and what kind of soil and water level it needs so you don’t waste your time or drown your plants. (She told me I should be keeping my rosemary separate from the rest of my herbs because it likes it a bit drier.)
- Salad greens can grow in the shade, especially the “cut and come again” varieties. This is handy if you live on a narrow street and don’t have much sunlight.
- The District proper is a plant hardiness zone warmer than the rest of the surrounding DMV area. This is handy to know when you’re trying to figure out when and what to plant.
Overwhelmed? Love & Carrots can help. Meredith’s service offers everything from consulting (a one-time service where she helps you think it all through) to coaching (you set up regular appointments where they teach you everything you need to know, complete with syllabus and notes emailed to you after), or full plant-and-care service done by her staff.
After confessing the way growing a garden makes me feel like I’m sticking it to big agriculture (Monsanto, I’m looking right at you), Meredith agreed. “I feel like I’m bringing back a part of culture,” she said about Love & Carrots. “All our grandparents had gardens, it just makes sense.”
courtesy of ‘K’s Clicks’
The local farmers market you’ve been hungrily stalking finally has something other than winter storage apples and root vegetables for the first time since September. You’ve been dreaming about fresh asparagus since the Second Snowpocalypse. You finally have the chance to buy strawberries that aren’t imported from Chile or someplace so… if you’re anything like me, you just bought more produce than you can possibly hope to eat because it all looked so darn good.
Don’t let it go to waste! I know, you’re just one person and you’ve got a flat of strawberries because once again, you forgot to pace yourself so you can last all strawberry season. but fear not. Here are some suggestions about what to do with all that spring produce goodness. Continue reading
"Bull Run Farm Greenhouse"
courtesy of "boboroshi"
Making your own Victory Garden isn’t for everyone. It may be that you live in an apartment or you simply don’t have time to do your own gardening, or perhaps you are a serial killer of plants from the garden center. Regardless, this does not prohibit you from joining the local food revolution. A simple creation by small farmers has spread all over the country and you can now join CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) programs, or farm shares, and get fresh produce every week from a local farmer delivered to you.
‘The garden, fully planted’
courtesy of ‘Boboroshi’
Outside is a view of the grip of winter, fitting more for Boston, Montreal, or Calgary than a typical Washington winter. The snow flies sideways and the cold is enough to make anyone think twice about joining a snowball fight. In light of this, you might think me crazy to state, emphatically, that winter is for gardening.
The trickle began a few weeks ago with a catalog from gardeners.com, followed by Lee Valley and Baker Creek. Suddenly it’s an explosion of the promise of summer: “ORDER YOUR SEEDS NOW!” “GET YOUR GARDEN READY!” they shout. The snow is up to my waist in parts of the yard. The garlic planted in the fall hibernating under straw and three feet of snow and ice.
But this is exactly the time for gardening. If you want to start your own seeds and get your beds ready, this is the optimum time to be working your garden. Some of the things that I am going to talk about may be a bit late, but for future planning purposes, I will include them in this brain dump.
‘The salad beds’
courtesy of ‘boboroshi’
So by now, your Community Supported Agriculture share has started generating produce. And if you planted spring crops in your garden, you might be harvesting some food. (Unless you’re mrmoonpie, who was WAY AHEAD of all of us, because he is too cool.) And the farmers’ markets are starting to fill out with actual farm produce, rather than jars of last year’s preserved produce.
If you’ve jumped as enthusiastically into the fresh-and-local food as we have in the Bridge house, this probably means that you’re shoving stuff into your fridge when you don’t quite know what to do with it. So far we’ve gotten an enormous bunch of kale, a large bunch of spinach, more asparagus than we know what to do with, and strawberries coming out of our ears, plus a couple of bunches of spring onions, and that’s JUST from the CSA. Here are some tips on how to enjoy what’s in season in these couple of weeks now, as well as preserving it for later. Post your suggestions in the comments, or let us know what else you’ve got that you don’t know what to do with. Continue reading
Arugula and Salad Mix coming up
courtesy of boboroshi
Sunshine. Thank God. At long last. I was afraid Spring was going to just be rain and clouds, and none of my plants were ever going to do anything at all. The rain was wonderful from an irrigation standpoint, and did incredible things out at the farm laboratory to soften up the otherwise heavy & clumpy Virginia Clay at Oatlands. But, now that the sunshine is here, everything’s perking up and heading skyward in our various gardens. It’s not too late to get started and reap the benefits of having your gardens
In our patio garden, the radishes appear to have taken over half the bed with tall green plumes with red stems. Sadly, planting in the seed-starter kit wasn’t such a great idea, and the roots are doing peculiar things in most cases. Next year? Plant ‘em straight in the ground. Herbs have been slow to start, with the basil in particular staying small and low to the ground. Fortunately, the tomatoes that I’ve planted it with are still fairly young, which means they won’t get crowded out so quickly. The biggest surprise so far has been the peas, which have really come into their own in the last week, grabbing hold of their cage and climbing ever higher. There are a few blossoms & pods hanging down already.
Seedlings by dsb_nola
If you haven’t planted your seedlings yet, this weekend’s just about the perfect time. The weather today’s going to be up in the 70s, and we’re looking at 70s and 80s for the next five days, which means good soil temperatures, excellent conditions for planting. Why does soil temp matter? The higher the soil temperature, the quicker the germination for seeds, and the quicker your existing seedlings adapt to their new environment. With days and days of sun ahead, the only think you’ve really got to worry about is keeping things from drying out. Get out your planting gear and get ready to get hands deep in some loam.
Time to hit up a Garden Store, or a garden section of a bigger store, for some planting mix. If you’ve got containers and soil left over from last year, that’ll work, too, but think about topping that off with a little mulch or mixing in some compost as part of your process. It’s easy to do this in a bucket: dump in last year’s soil, dump in some compost, and mix thoroughly, and then re-pot. Don’t forget to make sure that your containers need drainage. That’s what allows your soil to avoid getting over-watered, and it’s what help carries away some of the plant waste, as well. If yours are clogged, a good wash in the sink is good, and don’t be afraid to put a few extra holes in place.
Find a good place in the sun for this weekend to maximize time in the light, if at all possible. Make sure to check every day that the soil isn’t drying out and caking in these warm temperatures. We’re still in the low-humidity portion of our Spring, which means that ambient moisture isn’t going to play a role in what you’re doing. Get a decent watering can, and maybe use the last of the growth accelerant that came in with your seed pod kit. Definitely won’t go amiss once your new preciouses are in the ground. Don’t forget to set up a climbing structure for those vine and creeper based crops like peas, beans and squash. Direct their growth up and off the ground where at all possible, to avoid spots for rotting.
Read on for Back Yard Gardeners and the Farm Laboratory work.
courtesy of ‘FamilyNature’
So, you’ve got your garden under way. Or maybe you’re anxiously awaiting the beginning of your CSA. You’ve armed yourself with a good cookbook or two so you’ll have some basic recipes for that eggplant you inevitably end up with. You wander through your nearest farmer’s market every week, wistfully looking for the first hothouse tomatoes of the season. And then there’s the inevitable result: the moment the Westmoreland Berry Farm strawberries look any good, you buy 8 quarts, get them home, and realize that even if you could fit them all in there, they only keep in the fridge for 3 days, and that there’s no way you can possibly eat that many in that time. Not that this has ever happened to me. I’ve certainly never walked out of a farmer’s market wondering how I managed to buy $90 of fruit and had to hold a sangria party to consume it all… *ahem*
When you can’t foist any more zucchini on your neighbors and coworkers, when you’re tired of pesto, and when you’re embarrassed at the number of peaches you allowed to go bad in your dining room while you were looking for the right cobbler recipe, you realize: You’ve got to find a way to preserve this stuff. Continue reading
When last we left our intrepid gardeners, we were all on the path toward clearing up the land and getting ready for garden season. We’ve had some positive developments out at the farm, getting all the soil tilled and turned for planting, and some setbacks at the quarter acre, related to a section of land that turned out to be horrifically root-bound, and so we’ve had to move the garden. But before we go any further, this is a follow-up on the last post about using seeds. It’s time to get planting (truth be told, it was probably time to plant a week or two, but we’ve all been so busy, it’s been hard to write!) and we can worry about land-use later.
‘Our Garbage Cans’
courtesy of ‘auntjojo’
I’m an unabashed free thing scavenger. If its on the curbside and in good condition, I will go out of my way to look at it. One of the best finds of late on this front, was a sizable terra cotta flower pot (thank you, 8th St. neighbor!). You know why this was super exciting? Because flower pots are expensive! And if you’re gardening with limited space/sunlight, container potting is one of the smarter ways to go.
So, what to do? (Besides scavenge, that is.) Make your own! This is something my grandmother, a master gardener, advised me to do early on: make flower pots out of old coffee cans (either tin or plastic, doesn’t matter). Then, I saw this article in The Guardian.
All it takes is a quick pass through the recycling bin (your own, or.. if you’re adventurous, that of others) to find some really sweet-looking tin cans. Puncture holes in the bottoms and you’re ready to go. You just saved precious dollars that can be spent on more seeds!
‘what a find!’
courtesy of ‘NatalieHG’
It looks like we’re not the only ones with DC Victory Gardens this year- the First Family will be starting a vegetable garden on the White House grounds. I don’t see a lot of confirmation that this will be the big ol’ organic garden that Alice Waters of Chez Panisse has been pushing for, but the example of growing your own fresh vegetables is nonetheless welcome from such a high-profile family. And you know, if they need any gardening tips, the Obamas are welcome to hit us up in the comments… I wonder if they’ll be doing any preserving of their home-grown produce in the White House kitchen?
UPDATE, 3/20: The New York Times has some more details about the garden. Fifty-five varieties of vegetables, grown in raised beds, total cost: $200. Awesome.
(Thanks to Twitter user @lorig for the tip! Do you follow us on Twitter yet?)
Seeds 2 by tbridge
Starting your garden can happen many ways. You can get seedlings, or full-blown adult plants from the many DC nurseries, and most of the time, this is a pretty good way to go, but if you really want a good place to start for not a lot of dough, then starting from seed packets is the way to begin.
What kind of seeds should I buy?
Well, I guess that depends on what you want to grow. Assuming you’ve figured out what you’re going to be growing, and you just want to look at seeds, you’ve got a number of choices. You can hit up any garden store or garden section of a hardware store and find seeds, but what about trying something a little more local, and a little more unique? Here are two places we recommend:
When food rations cut into the kitchens and pantries of the 1940s, the Department of Agriculture responded with a series of WPA posters on creating Victory Gardens to help add to the plates of Americans everywhere. The response was immense. Victory Gardens sprung up all over the United States, and a generation of vegetable farmers were created within cities and towns where they otherwise might not have. The idea of producing your own crops as a matter of patriotism and national pride swelled then, and dwindled through the 60s and 70s.
With the economy on the most drastic downturn since the Great Depression, it’s becoming an attractive option to grow food again. Frugal is the new black, they say, and what could be more frugal than growing your own food? We’ve got a few talented amateur gardeners here at We Love DC, and we’ll be doing a set of year-round features on growing your own produce, maintaining a garden even in the smallest of spaces. So, let’s introduce our participants.