Tag Archives: urban garden
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.

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. 

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!

Garden Catch Up On A Rainy Fall Day

17 Nov

It’s cold and rainy out today. I’m going to think happy garden thoughts so my feet will warm up.

2014 was a mildly upsetting year up on the roof, though that doesn’t mean I didn’t learn anything! Over the next few weeks I’ll post by general topic instead of a play-by-play.

First, a catch up.

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Herbs. Dead rosemary, returning chives, returning thyme.

All in all, my “harvest” was much smaller than in years past. We had some gross cold, cold weather that actually killed my rosemary plant. It had been doing really well over the years, and I had given it a much larger pot. I thought it was pretty hardy. I heard that lots of other folks lost their rosemary. The rest of my herbs came back, though. Chives, thyme, and oregano all came back in their pots. I planted new parsley in a pot, and then both green and purple basil in one of the tanks from seed. They wound up doing well. I still have not replaced the rosemary. Debating what to do there, if I should try some indoor herb gardening this year. I brought one plant inside last week but I don’t know if I want to make a whole indoor garden out of it.

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Tank 1, cucumber seed, bean seedling, tank 2.

Then we had a bit of a cold snap in May that killed off several seedlings I had started indoors and had replanted outside. I started beans inside. They died, so I wound up planting them a second time. Here are my tanks and some wee baby seeds. The tank on the top wound up with cucumbers, beans, and beets. The one on the bottom had the same as last year, two tomato plants, variety of carrots, and the aforementioned green and purple basils. I planed fewer carrots than last year, and I think they grew much better because of it.

I decided to tackle my problems with water this year. I built (what I thought would be) a great rain barrel! You’ll have to wait for my next post for my great 2014 water adventure.

The highlight of this year was certainly my composting abilities. I had two buckets that did really well. I’ll save that for another post as well.

I pick a peck of pickled peppers

24 Jul

IMG_8658Well, they’re not pickled just yet. This is last week’s pepper harvest. Banana peppers from ShmErin’s plant, bells from ShmAli’s, red jalapenos from my plant. The plant currently has about a dozen banana peppers ready to pick. I’ll do that tomorrow. The bell peppers are also doing well, but they’re not getting to, like, actual pepper size. The green peppers here are supposed to be red and the red ones are supposed to be green. Some picked too early (they were starting to get soft spots) and some too late. I have actually transplanted three of the plants…more on that in a day or two.

Here are the three plants that these peppers came from. The bell pepper has been getting really thirsty since this heat wave started. I’ve been bringing it water about 2x a day. It generally responds within about 15 minutes by waving “thanks” to me.

So about three weeks ago I asked my neighbor if she saw anyone taking my chocolate cherries. Although I’ve offered her tomatoes and herbs as she liked, she has repeatedly refused, saying I should enjoy the fruits of my labor. So, I couldn’t figure out who was stealing my cherries. Then, I noticed one of the other tomatoes on the other plant was half eaten. Then another. Could this be the elusive soft-bellied tomato pecker that Alton Brown and neighbor McGregor talked about in Good Eats episode 6, season 6, “Tomato Envy”?

Cucumbers were moving along really nicely for several weeks. I decided to pick off the little baby cucumbers once I saw one or two nice sized ones growing on each plant. It really seemed to help them along. Rather than having the plant focus on a dozen babies, I encouraged them to just pay attention to a few. Seemed to work well. I actually picked enough to not know what to do with them at one point. We sliced them up and nommed on them while biking one day. Great snack! I wound up making a cold cucumber soup. Easy and totally delish. Used cuces and onions from the garden.

But, all good things must end. After picking a whole bunch of beans one day, I noticed that most of the leaves were starting to yellow and the beans themselves weren’t looking great. The cucumbers in the tanks were also not so hot anymore, probably because it has been so hot. I’ve been bringing each tank a full 5 gallons every day, plus more for the smaller pots, but with almost a week of temps near 100, it just wasn’t working. Sadly, this tank is nearing its end.

My compost had been growing weird things…I was advised against nibbling on these mushrooms, as they are toadstools and will kill me. I’ll skip them. I also saw a number of larvae squirming around here and there. So, I got another bucket and divided the compost in half, adding several days of rabbit litter to each one. Today, both bins are doing well, no mushrooms, and no wiggly things.

Finally, some lovely garden photos…

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The Pepper Whisperer

11 Jul

FYI…I’m rather enjoying Instagram and Picstitch, as you may have picked up in the last few posts.

Last week, we put up lights for our July 4 get together on the rooftop. I was really surprised at how pretty the tanks looked with the lights all around. We also made lots of snacks.

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We’re really cooking now! Tomatoes, cuces, peppers, beans…almost everything is growing well up on the roof. What’s not? Cilantro. But, remember, I don’t really care, as it tastes like soap. I don’t, however, know why it died. I’m thinking it’s because those bins don’t dry out as well as the terra cotta pots or the tanks. It wasn’t a problem in the past, but I think with all of the rain we’ve gotten in the last few weeks it hasn’t had a chance to dry out, and therefore the cilantro is over watered. The parsley and peppers in the same bin are fine, it seems, but the baby onions in the other bucket seem Imageto be stunted also. Oh well. Win some, lose some. On the left here are some scenes from the most recent strong storm we had. In and out in under 45 minutes, usually. I haven’t even collected water for weeks.

Now, on to veggies I actually like.

I have become the pepper whisperer. Two friends brought their sad, almost sickly pepper plants up to the roof, and lo and behold, magical healing takes place under my watch. ShmAli brought her yellow bell pepper over maybe three weeks ago. She was keeping it on her kitchen windowsill. Once up outside, it dropped a bunch of sad leaves, and then started to regrow new ones quickly. ShmErin also had two indoor peppers, a banana and some sort of chili pepper. They had grown to about 3′ tall and were kind of lanky. They also had spider mites. Booo. After two weeks on the roof, a ton of banana peppers appeared.

Beans I wind up picking every two days or so. The smaller, thinner ones are REALLY sweet. Cuces are doing quite well. The two plants I put in the terra cotta pot and expected to die have been productive and have offered a few final products of their own. I have to pick them before they seed, as the plant’s goal is to reproduce. If you pick them before the seeds inside mature, it will keep making more plants. Same with the beans. The ones that are left on the plant too long get really dry and not tasty at all. Also, smaller seeds taste better and are less fibrous.

I’m really looking forward to the tomatoes. They seem to be the crowning achievement of everyone’s home garden, for some reason. Might be the beautiful color contrast.

The cabernet grape plant…I don’t think is. These do not have a grape shape. They are more like large cherries, but I’m excited to see how they’re going to do anyway. I think I’ll be ready to pick a few of them this coming weekend.

And, for good measure, some of my babies, via Instagram.

As always, I had a willing parsley taste tester.

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Welcome to the Rooftop Nursery

7 Jun

Babies!

I have babies!
Cucumber babies, tomato babies, carrot babies, jalepeno and bell pepper babies….even BEANIE BABIES! (Sorry.)

The cuces are sending out their little curly tendrils, often grabbing the leaves of the bean plants. I threw in some bamboo stakes to encourage them to grow up in that direction and eventually on to the fence. Didn’t happen on its own, so I’ve been gently moving them right over to the fence.

I’ve always been told to pick off the suckers that grow on tomato plants. At some point, they get really big and become another branch of the plant. I generally pick the smaller ones off and if I happen to miss any until they’re really big, I will let them stay. They form in the little armpit area between the branches and pop up as leaves.

My compost is marvelous. Everything is breaking down in there, it is letting off a good amount of heat, indicating that it’s working, and as my neighbor says, it smells like walking through the forest after a rain. SCORE! The heat will kill these mushroom spores I found in there a few days ago.

Speaking of mushrooms, I found a mushroom in the tomato tank. Of course, it popped up overnight. Farmer Russell says it’s an indication of warm, rich soil. Considering it was next to a sleeping gnome, I think it was a magic mushroom.
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Fences Make Good…Bean Plants

29 May

I built a fence. Out of bamboo and twist-ties. I’m so handy.

The beans were flopping over in the wind, so I decided to help them stand upright. I was able to see the bad leaves and pick a few of them off. Now they will happily feed me with purple string beans soon.

About two weeks ago I decided to fill in the spaces in the carrot rings where I didn’t get carrots. Just regular seed, no more tape at this point. I also decided to plant some more green onions. Brought both packets up to the roof (with my cocktail, of course) that evening and went to work. Then I sat back, had my first sip, and realized that I had put the carrots where the onions should be and the onions where the carrots should be. My neighbor, also enjoying a beverage on the roof, asked if I could just switch the seeds. No, no I can’t do that. I figured, just wait and see.

My fears were for unfounded, I was glad to see a few days ago. Both carrots and onions are coming up in their proper spots. Whew!

photo 3 (3)Someone is eating my cucumber leaves. Any ideas? I don’t see anything on the underside of any of the leaves, and I’ve checked at different times of the day, just in case I have a night nosher or something. Also, I’m wearing the latex glove because I had smashed up part of my hand a few days earlier and had it all covered up in super awesome advanced healing bandages. Didn’t want to damage them any more than I needed to.

 

photo 1 (5)And finally, it’s going to be almost 90 degrees here in the DC area by the end of this week. We started off with a thunder storm last night. Great opportunity for me to collect about 24 gallons of water from the roof in my 5 gallon buckets, smaller buckets and watering cans. I also filled up the reservoirs in the containers holding other smaller plants now.

Uninvited Visitors & Unstinky Compost

23 May

Last Friday afternoon was pretty busy. Had to deal with some guests and some stench.

So, these guys showed up at the same time and pretty much set me off for the day.

What kind of bee is that? Yellowjacket? Or just some scary jerk? I can hear the chewing into the white oak whisky barrel table. Not pleased about that.

The spider was furry…and had orange and blue spots? I have named him Oliver. He may not be with us any longer, as he walked through the white powder. More on that later.

Those aphids were all over the radishes. I did not see them in the morning when I had picked a few, but by the afternoon of this IMG_7679photo…ALL of the radish leaves were covered in them. Not the beans or cucumbers in the same bin, though. Interesting. Must be tastier. Anywhooo…I pulled up all of the radishes at that point. They were ready to be picked, and I had been eating them for a few weeks. Separated the radish from the leaves and tossed the leaves into the horrible smelling watery compost. Would really be disgustingly impossible for anything to survive in there, so as an immediate pesticide solution, I think I did a good job. Then I pickled the radishes.

Farmer Russell recommended I use diatomaceous earth for the aphids, which would essentially dry them out by slicing up their bodies. It’s crushed silica. ShMerin had used it in the past for uninvited guests in her home and seconded the recommendation. No additional pesticides added. She suggested I wear gloves and a dust mask (already had a bunch at home) and use a soft brush to paint the powder on the underside of the leaves. I think I looked pretty snazzy.

NOW, LET’S UNSTINK!

I’d finally given up on the anaerobic composting in the bucket. Why? Smelled like a broken sewage treatment plant, that’s why. Had to convert to “normal” traditional aerobic composting.

There are tons of instructionals here on the interwebs. Basically, I picked up an 18 gallon Sterilite bin from Target (on sale last week, too) for about $6. Drilled holes all over it. Top, bottom, all sides.

Next I had to clean up the compost mixture. I needed a lot more “brown” material, stuff like, oh, hay and rabbit litter. How convenient! I just happen to have a nearly endless supply. Threw in a layer of several full litter boxes of hay and recycled paper litter before dumping in the stinky bucket of wet yuck. Most of the water drained out through the holes so I was able to collect it in one of the larger white buckets. Then I put the whole thing on bricks so it would get some air flow on the bottom, too. Tossed it around a bit, and all done. (I had an extra bucket top on the bottom of the bin to collect extra tea that might seep out so I could add it back to the plants, but after a few days it was collecting too much and was smelling on its own. I’ve removed the “bottom” top and today it’s sitting right on the bricks.)

Some compost pics from the past week. This stays covered all the time. I just toss my food scraps in there. ONLY plant material, no fats or oils at all.

Verdict? Stink is greatly reduced, and as soon as all of the old water is absorbed back into the mix I imagine it will be even better. I already see it starting to break down after about a week in there.

Then I went downstairs and took a shower. I smelled like…well, I needed to take a shower.

Some chilly nights slow down planting

23 Apr

It’s been really cold here…like, really cold! We’ve had a few nights dip into the mid 30s over the last week or so. Also, there’s pollen everywhere. Lots of it. All over. Coating everything like a thick, giant yellow-green snot inducing powdery blanket. And I’ve had a cold for four days. Whoo hoo!

I went to the Purcellville farmer’s market last weekend before work and picked up these Image 26two little guys from Dave the tomato guy. (Hi!) I told him to follow me here. I got a chocolate cherry tomato plant and a cabernet grape. He said the chocolate cherries have a deep red purple color and an almost salty sweet flavor. I had never heard of them before, so of course I had to try them out. The cabernet grapes look like they’ll be a nice classic red grape. I had originally planned to plant them right away, but I’ve been keeping them on my windowsill for the last few days and they appear to be happy. I’d like to keep them until this weekend when it’ll be over 50 at night. They’re just babies!

My seeds have been slow to germinate, but they’re finally starting to grow. I know these guys are tiny, but they’re there. I took these photos yesterday, 4/22.

Today I saw three string beans starting to break the surface. No carrots just yet either, but it may be for a few reasons.

  • Seed tape and glue have to dissolve before the seed can germinate.
  • It’s been pretty chilly.
  • The seeds are a season or two old.

I’ve used old seeds before. (The packet usually says “Packed for 2013” or whatever year.) They are always fine, but sometimes take an extra few days to pop up.

Before this cold last week, we had a nice heavy rain. I used it as an opportunity to fill up my water buckets. I have yet to build a large scale self-filling rain barrel. I needed a new flexible bucket to use under the gutters and came up with used pre-washed salad containers. They’re great. I have one under each gutter and the buckets right next to them. Takes only a few minutes to fill them up, and then I fill the watering can for an extra 2.5 gallons. Again, I get sopping wet outside, but at least I’m not out there forever.

Other than that, everyone seems to be settling in nicely. I even had a bird watch me take these pictures as he bathed in a puddle on the roof.

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