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Neighbor garden development

27 Apr

After many, many hours of weeding and mulching, the garden is ready for planting!

Some extra hands joined us two weeks ago to weed, paper, add rabbit litter, and then mulch the second third of the garden. We’ll plant the front section first, and then wait a few weeks before planting the second section. By that point, much of the paper will have broken down.

We had so many wormy friends, I just hope that pulling up all of the soil didn’t mean a smörgåsbord for the birds.

Then a quick mow in the back where the sitting area will be and we added a few wheel barrows of leaf mulch back there, too. Hopefully we’ll just have to mow/weed whack it to keep the grass and weeds down, but we’ll use the whole space as a border from the grass outside the fence. We’ll add some plastic edging between the back and middle sections to try to keep the grass and weeds out of the main area, but we’ll still have to keep an eye on that front part. Just before the back section, we have some strawberries, a blueberry bush and a raspberry bush. Yay fruit!


Monday evening we headed out to pick up some supplies. Siggy joined us to pick up 16″ pavers for the center path (HEAVY), some veggie and wildflower seeds, plastic edging, buckets and potting mix for potatoes, and a few other bits and pieces. He was very helpful.


We raked out a bit of the mulch to level the ground and then laid the paving stones. They will hopefully eventually settle into the soil here so they’re flush with the ground, but I don’t think they’ll shift too much. The path creates a nice visual point for the garden and makes a safe walkway so we can avoid walking on the soil when not working in the beds. We’ll need to pick up a few more pavers to complete the path, as our initial measurements weren’t so exact…oops.

We also had a visit from my friend Becky, a VCE Master Gardener and fellow FOUA board member. She suggested we remove the white mulberry that is actually invasive in our area, so we got on that and hacked away at the roots. At the bottom of this photo is where the strawberries live. We were excited to discover them (they’re starting to bloom and have teeny berries right now) and also the blueberries in the bottom right corner.




Here is the finished garden, ready for planting next weekend! We’ll use some of the seeds we picked up, and I started cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplant, and sunflowers that we’ll move in about 2-3 more weeks.

Later that evening, I did a little time traveling and had a look at our future garden. I’m quite pleased with our progress.

New garden and new friends!

4 Apr

Now, I’m not giving up my status as Roof Garden Gal, but when neighbors I didn’t know before messaged me asking if I really am “super gardener,” well, I couldn’t say no. Turns out, they had just been approved for one of the coveted garden plots in an Arlington County public community garden. Really….the list was long before the pandemic, and now it has grown to over 1,000 people! They got on the list in the before times.

Their new plot is in a great garden that’s about a 15 minute walk from home. They asked if I’d be willing to help them get started, as neither of them have gardened before. I’m not one to say no to dirt, so this weekend we jumped in. Based on what they have in mind for their plot, I created an action plan.

FYI… 20’x10′ is a HUGE plot, especially for new gardeners. That’s considered a half plot, too. My neighbors decided to work the front 2/3 and keep the back 1/3 as a little sitting spot. They’ll add chairs and a little table and make it a lovely spot to enjoy the nice weather.

I was really happy to run into some garden folks I know through FOUA and Plot, and I was even able to connect with a woman who’s new in town and looking for opportunities to help in a garden. This is why I always carry business cards with me! I gave her a FOUA card and she actually emailed me that night.

Back to the weeds. This particular plot hadn’t been worked in about two seasons, as the previous gardener had some medical issues and was unable to tend to it. It was packed with weeds. She apparently made some smart decisions that benefitted us, as she had put down some landscape fabric. I suggested we treat it like a newish raised bed and start from the bottom:

  • WEED (Get everything up, regardless of its actual identity.)
  • LEVEL (Level out the existing soil.)
  • NEWSPAPER (Several layers of newspaper to smother whatever else is there)
  • LITTER (Hey, if you have access to rabbit poop, you use it.)
  • MULCH (The county supplies lovely leaf mulch to the garden. You haul it to your plot from a big pile.)

There are a few berry bushes that we left, but everything else came up. We watered in between each layer. (BLESSED ON-SITE WATER!) The soil looked amazing, there were tons of healthy looking wormies in there doing their thing. Thanks to the pieces of landscape fabric, all we had to do was pull up the sections that were still there, shake out the dirt, and move on. This way, we were able to disturb very little of the layers of soil bacteria that have built up over the last two years.

This was about 7 hours of work over two days. Three people the first day, five the second. Many hands make light work! That was the bulk of the heavy work, I think. Maybe cleaning up that back part, too. We’ll have ot put in some deep edging pieces to keep the grass from leaving the sitting area. Gotta see how that will work. Hopefully we’ll get some rain this week, but if not we’ll go back and water the mulch some more. It should break down in about 4-6 weeks. I’m thinking that next weekend after layering the second bed, we’ll add some more mulch to the first bed, and then plant some seeds there. The second bed will be about two weeks behind for the whole season. Turning the clods of weeds over reveled those yummy beneficial worms and also some evil grubs. Thankfully, other garden neighbors were more than willing to help us out.

My neighbors want to put a walking path through the middle using large pavers, which is a super idea. It will make a safe stepping place, differentiate the beds, create visual interest, and cut down on some of the space to work.

The one thing we forgot to do was a soil test, but I’m not too worried about that at this point. We can always do it when we return next weekend. (See the How & Why To Test Your Garden Soil I made last year)

There was already chicken wire in good condition in the plot, so we’ll get some new stakes and reuse the wire to create a fence. We were warned to protect young seedlings with individual barriers. LOTS of bold critters enjoy this garden, including this guy, who was more annoyed that we were interrupting his dinner than anything else.

Speaking of creatures….I didn’t pass up this opportunity to pick a few pesticide-free dandelions for the buns. Considering they’re also going to be contributing to the garden, it is compensation. Theo, of course, was not interested, and Ellie, of course, ate both.

Kickoff 2021 with Plot Against Hunger & FOUA

21 Feb

Arlington FOUA is the new official home for the Plot Against Hunger program! Formerly part of the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC), Plot is a network of private home, community, and school gardens that raise fresh produce during the year to help feed our neighbors. Due to the pandemic, AFAC saw a significant increase in the number of clients needing food assistance and had to shift resources to focus on its core mission of providing free groceries to Arlington families in need in 2020. Along with growing food, Plot also supports a network of pantries that distribute the produce to clients in Arlington and parts of Alexandria. Here’s our full press release about the transition.

The Plot Against Hunger program will be a collaborative effort managed by FOUA that includes Arlington Virginia Cooperative Extension, Marymount University, Master Gardeners, Master Food Volunteers, food pantries, and individual gardens and gardeners. 

In addition to seed distribution events for participating gardens, we’re starting off the year with a big kickoff week of online events, some distanced demonstrations, and even some surprise giveaways. Here is more info, including a link to registration. If you’d like to get involved in Plot, you can contact me here or through the FOUA web site.

Please also observe my newfound design skills with this bangin’ promo poster.

 

Video

FOUA, School Victory Gardens, and an Interview!

19 Jun

Have I mentioned I’m on the board of directors of Arlington Friends of Urban Agriculture? FOUA is new as a 501(c)3, though the group was formed in 2017 out of Arlington County’s Urban Agriculture Task Force in 2015. Our mission is to build and support a fair, equitable, and sustainable food system in Arlington. I love talking about urban farming and small space gardening, so it’s right up my alley, huh? Plus, I get to use one of my advanced degrees yay!

A few weeks ago, I talked to the Ballston BID about urban agriculture in the county. Honestly, I was pretty nervous about how it would come out, but due to the producer’s magical editing skills, I think it’s pretty good! Here it is, all 27 minutes of listening glory.

We hit the ground running this year when we took on the COVID-19 crisis. A combination of factors lead us to our Victory Garden project that includes the new home of the Plot Against Hunger program (formerly of AFAC, the Arlington Food Assistance Center) and our school garden program.

With the approval of Arlington Public Schools, we are working with Arlington Virginia Cooperative Extension and garden coordinators at existing gardens to provide administrative support, volunteer bodies, trained Extension Master Gardeners, and in a very happy and unexpected twist, funding. When schools closed in March because of the pandemic, gardens struggled. Right before most gardeners begin their spring planting, volunteers and students were not allowed on school grounds. We presented our plan to the schools superintendent that FOUA would support the gardens by turning them into production gardens (or aiming to increase production for those that already were) and donate produce to a number of local food pantries that have seen a sudden and incredible increase in need. Our goal is 2,500 pounds by the end of this season. We started with three gardens in early/mid May and have made a ton of progress so far. We’re beginning to donate from each of the gardens. Plus, next week we’ll be onboarding a fourth school garden!

Follow us on social media for updates, on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and now YouTube (please subscribe so we can eventually get our own username!) I’ll be posting photos and making videos on a regular basis. Here are the first two videos I put together.

 

 

More updates as the season continues and our donations pick up.

Grow Some Tasty Grass For Your Bunny

26 Mar

Want to make your buns super happy? Grow some fresh grass at home in under a week!

Equipment:

– Wheatgrass. (Buy in bulk for best price, usually under $2/pound. Look for hard winter wheat or wheat berries.)
– Clean containers of the same size that will stack into one another, plus one extra. (I like round plastic takeout style containers because they’re easy to clean and move around.)
– Potting mix. (Nothing special. Just a handful or two per container.)
– Heavy plastic. (Thickness of a ziplock bag, think. Anything will work, recycle if you can!)
– Water & love

1) Soak about 1/2 cup of wheatgrass overnight. This will wind up making about 2-3 containers worth, depending on the size of your container. I started with (L-R) buckwheat, wheatgrass, and barley. (We’ll ignore the barley and buckwheat for now. I don’t think the buckwheat sprouted properly, but the stuff I used was VERY old.)

2) The next day, prepare your containers. I added about 3/4″ of potting mix to the clean containers, and then pressed it down using the other container. This part is important! You want to create a good base for your roots. (Wheatgrass doesn’t actually need a growing medium, but it takes way longer without.)

3) Sprinkle your soaked seeds over the prepared potting mix so you don’t see any mix, but try to get just a single layer. Water each container so the mix is saturated.

4) Cut a piece of plastic wide enough to cover your container, with an additional 1″-2″ all the way around. Place a piece of plastic on top of each layer of seeds, and put another container on top. Don’t stack more than three containers. The final layer should be an empty container with a gentle weight, like a jar.

4) No need to water, and no peeking! (Well, maybe just this once.) The seeds will germinate very quickly in the dark. Left photos are the day after planting, right is two days after planting, and time to move to the next step.
5) Unstack and put the containers in a box that you can easily close. I always throw a towel on top to keep the top and sides of the box closed. You want to block out as much light as possible. Leave the plastic lightly on top of the containers. Remove the plastic after the second day to avoid mold.

6) In about two days, you’ll have yellow grass about 3″-4″ tall. Take it out, put it in the sun (or even just indoor light), and it will continue to turn green and grow. Water just a bit every day from now on.

7) Once the grass has reached 5″-6″ in another day, you’re ready to serve! Total time: 6-7 days.

8) You can let him or her nibble on their own, or trim it and serve. Buns will eat down to the white part, where it will naturally regrow. You can get two good grow cycles, maaaaaybe three. Growth does slow down after the second trim, so I usually just toss the whole thing into the compost and start over. If you want to trim it yourself, cut at that same point.

Indoor update!

11 Mar

Since losing my garden last year, I’ve focused a lot more on indoor plants. This winter, however, I wanted to start some miniature tomato and pepper plants. I bought some grow lights and made this little set up. They were inexpensive and super easy to set up. I’ll probably move them around in a bit. They are connected to a timer, so I don’t have to remember to turn them on an off every day. 

 

The plants seem to LOVE the lights. I have to work on transplanting them all to larger containers. I’ll take care of that this weekend. The yellow fly tape is TERRIFIC. The fungus gnats are annoying, but they’re not interested in anything besides the plants.

I started everything from seed in late Jan. (I always mark dates on the tags when I start.) Here I have micro tom tomatoes from Baker Creek, several kinds of purple and green basil, parsley, hot jigsaw peppers, and hot Peruvian aji peppers, and some dwarf sweet alyssum. The wheatgrass in the corner is for my bunny, Miss Elliott Hopsalot. I have a lot of that lining the windowsill, too.

Some of the basil will be donated to the Central Library’s Plot Against Hunger garden to go into the tanks in a few weeks. 

New year, new garden

3 Jun

Sad news to report, my garden friends.

In January, my condo board declared that I had to get rid of the marvelous tanks that brought greenery, vegetables, and enjoyment to the rooftop for years. Why? A bunch of weak reasonings, including weight (they had no idea how much the tanks weighed, plus they’re 1/3 styrofoam, remember, so they weigh less than 25 lbs psf fully loaded), “visuals” (I was told that people didn’t like them, except for all of my neighbors and the half-dozen realtors who included photos of the garden in condo listings since 2011), and basically that I don’t share, which was news to my neighbors who had been picking tomatoes, beans, herbs, and onions as they desire since I started.

Needless to say, I was crushed. But rather than fight what we were sure would be a losing battle, I decided to donate the tanks to the Arlington Food Assistance Center to be used to grow food for Plot Against Hunger. We moved the tanks in early March, and they are now happily growing food outside the Arlington Central Library.

I still have a garden, though it’s much smaller. The usual suspects, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, radishes, parsnips, kale, herbs, etc. This year I also have a number of hot peppers so I can make some sort of hot sauce. I’m also pleased to report that the asparagus we planted last year (that I had to remove from a tank and transplant) is doing really well! I’m hoping that by next year, I’ll be able to pick a few pieces.

More to update soon, including my presentation to members of the Arlington Friends of Urban Agriculture earlier this spring.

About Those Cucamelons…

24 Sep

Part of my hand is famous! My 3 seconds of fame.

I’ve tried to grow cucamelons/Mexican gherkins for a few years after a friend told me about them and we traded seeds. They are the size of grapes, look like watermelons, and taste like lemony cucumbers. But, they did’t grow. Lots of buds, but they never took off. I was so bummed!

Then, we gleaned a ton of them earlier this past July at Baywater Farms on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, so that was pretty cool.

 

I was so jealous…of this 150 year old organic farm in an idyllic setting. Well, I was more frustrated that mine wouldn’t grow! Just LOOK at them!

My plants must have heard my quiet cries and hopes for their future, so they decided to get crackin’ and start producing. All of a sudden, I saw about a dozen little gherkins on the one plant that was going crazy on the roof. I thought late August was a bit late for them, but it was still pretty hot out, so if they’re happy, I’m happy.

 

I shared my gardening joy on Instagram and was contacted by a producer for Thrillist who was doing a story on these little guys. She wanted a video of me cutting into one of my darlings. I contrasted it with what is actually a teeny tiny watermelon in the background.

My hands are famous. This 33 second video, of which you see my hands and vegetables for all of 3 seconds, makes us famous. Roof Garden Gal has reached the big time! I’ll try not to let it go to my head.

It’s 2018 and RGG is on Instagram

4 May

My garden is on Instagram now as @roofgardengal. I apologize for neglecting the detail here on the blog, but I post a lot more over there now. I’ll have to remember to do both! I’ve made some fun updates upstairs this season already, despite the late and stupid cold that didn’t seem to go away, so here’s the first update.

New tank!
We put a third 100 gallon tank upstairs so I can get rid of some of the smaller pots that crack after just one season. Plastic AND terracotta do this, by the way. I was just done with it, and the tanks are easier to water. I also think it looks nicer than having a bunch of pots. Tomatoes, some herbs, and onions will still have their own pots, though.

I started a bunch of seeds inside, but they were pretty slow to take, and many seedlings died. Today I have three tomatoes, two cucumbers, two Mexican gherkins, two peppers, and a bunch of herbs waiting for some consistent weather to go outside. They’re all still pretty small, but I think we’ll be fine. One of the tomatoes looks a little sickly, though. Have to keep an eye on that one. We also had a garlic clove that somehow hid out on the counter. It started to sprout, so I decided to plant it. So far it’s looking good.  I will plant beans this weekend.

This week, I thought I’d start to harden off some of the seedlings. I tried to make little protective covers from 1 gallon containers with the bottoms cut off, but it got too hot out. Everyone went back inside. It’s supposed to cool down next week, so I’ll try again.

The new tank has radishes, golden beets, carrots, and parsnips.
 

We also tried asparagus this year. It takes a few seasons to get established, and I don’t think it’s going to happen, sadly. But aren’t they cute?

Summer’s Here…With Cucumbers

28 Jun

Bla bla bla…started tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, peppers, herbs from seed. Planted them. You know the drill. I added a whole bag of organic soil to each tank, and topped off all of the tomato pots. Everyone got food when planted, and tomatoes got a ton of crushed and powdered egg shells. The calcium will hopefully avoid the blossom end rot that I’d dealt with in the past.

One thing I did this year is use plastic containers for pots before ultimately tossing them in the recycling bin.They were great. I used quart yogurt containers, pint sized coconut creamer containers, and cut milk containers in half, drilling holes in all of them. They were large enough that I didn’t have to rush to plant. I’ll do it again next year.

 

Now, we harvest!

Earlier this month I went away for two weeks, and my neighbors watched and watered the garden. They got lucky, as we had the perfect combination of rain and warm weather. Their job was easy, and I came back to GIGANTIC cucumber plants in both tanks! I planted regular cuces and lemon cucumbers, the later being part of a seed trade I did with a friend in the winter. The lemon ones look like lemons but taste normal.

I’ve been picking them for about a week now. I learned that bitter cucumbers are thought to come from irregular watering, which makes sense for me. The difficulty I have with water on the roof sometimes leads to a day or so of improper watering, but I’ve tried to keep up with it this year. Still, the first few green cuces were a bit bitter. Peeling them worked, so I’m not terribly worried. The lemon cucumbers were better though. Taste just like any other cucumber.

Tomorrow…two cucumber recipes!

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