Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Guest post: GIEI at the MAEOE Conference

This is a guest post by Pam Hosimer.

Jenny Brown and Pam Hosimer, two Montgomery County UME Master Gardeners, recently attended the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education (MAEOE) Conference in Ocean City, MD.  They were spreading the word about Grow It Eat It to 500 fellow educators.  It was a fantastic weekend! The quick highlights:
  • Two keynote speakers, Don Blumstein and Charlie Saylan, who co-authored the book The Failure of Environmental Education (And How We Can Fix It), shared their thoughts on many different topics, including school gardens.
  •  Three members of a Plenary Panel discussed Hot Button topics to challenge our thinking.

    Daniel Soeder is a geologist with the U.S. Department of Energy at the National Energy Technology Laboratory in Morgantown, West Virginia, and presented thought provoking information about energy and environmental issues related to unconventional fossil energy resources, or "fracking".

    McKay Jenkins, who just published a new book What’s Gotten Into Us?  Staying Healthy in a Toxic World, presented a fascinating view of why we need to be more proactive in caring for ourselves and being aware of the choices we make in interacting with the world around us.  One thought provoking fact he shared is that 400 chemicals used in the American cosmetics industry are banned in Europe.

    Mike Tidwell, Director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, spoke passionately about wind power and the reasons to pass an offshore wind energy development bill in 2012.  Did you know that there are 49 offshore wind farms in Europe and zero in the USA?
  • There were a total of 30 breakout sessions covering the entire spectrum of Environmental Education topics and concerns.  We learned about spiral herb gardens, creating partnerships with other programs, ideas to use STEM to teach about watersheds and budget friendly nature crafts. Jenny and Pam each presented a session which incorporated our wonderful GIEI program.

    Jenny and Diane Lill, her co-worker at the Audubon Naturalist Society, presented a session called Salad Science to 30 participants.  They shared the nuts and bolts of their successful elementary school program GreenKids, making it look so doable the entire audience was ready to go out and start growing salad greens!

    Pam presented a session called Storybooks + Kids + Gardening = Innovative Programming to 25 participants.  This original program shows educators a step by step process for finding inspiration in children’s books and using that as a basis to build an innovative and enriching program for kids to learn about the natural world.
This conference will be held next year at University of Maryland in College Park, MD on February 21 – 24, 2013.  Please consider attending it!

    Monday, February 27, 2012

    Community gardening in Takoma Park

    On this leap year, February does not feel like it should. The wonder of opening up plant covers and discovering life within have long since faded with constant opening and even some harvesting during this unusually warm month. Still, as I surveyed my plots on Sunday, I was amazed by the life taking place under my thick row cover—the one I hadn’t planned to open till early April. There, I not only found thriving bok choy, but also the wonderful colors of salad greens and the soft ferns of carrots emerging from seeds hastily thrown in November or December, as I rushed to close up before the frost.

    New plots may look like this.
    Community gardening means that I am gardening next to other people. That has meant that each year I have grown something different because someone else gave me a seedling. The discovery of kale and collards during my first year of growing food has changed my family’s diet forever. Only last week, I harvested enough kale (micro-greens) as I thinned out the seedlings, and made dinner with it—rinse, steam and sauté with ginger and garlic. Last year I grew butternut squash from a seedling a neighboring gardener gave me, and had a wonderful crop, which lasted till January. I learned that it tastes great and looks very appetizing when cooked with Vietnamese squash. I wonder what new thing will come my way this year.
    I am not alone in the garden even at this early date. One ambitious pair made a substantial dent into their new weed-ridden plot on Sunday afternoon. See photo above. They put me to shame as I lounged around doing not much more than puttering about and absorbing the fine spirit of the place.

    
    Takoma Park Community Garden in February 2012
    
    One new vegetable I am trying this year is the winged bean, a vegetable I have not had since I was a child. I was thrilled to see it featured in the Baker Creek Heirloom seed catalog. Seeds are currently soaking in anticipation of planting tomorrow.


    Others have already prepared their plots for the Spring planting. Yet others have some work ahead of them!

    Saturday, February 25, 2012

    Do we "carrot" all about carrots?


    What did one Snowman say to the other Snowman?
    "Do You Smell Carrots?"

    Carroll County Master Gardeners Cheri Grubby and Dave Flora
    enjoy their February 23rd, 2012 discovery of last years carrot crop.
    The harvest was still thriving in the Carroll County Demonstration Garden High Tunnel.
    These fantastic carrots were grown in a raised bed garden with plenty of compost.

    Carrots
    The Carrot (Daucus carota subsp. sativusEtymology: from Late Latin carōta, from Greek καρότον karōton, originally from the Indo-European root ker- (horn), due to its horn-like shape) is a root vegetable, usually orange in colour, though purple, red, white, and yellow varieties exist. It has a crisp texture when fresh. The most commonly eaten part of a carrot is a taproot, although the greens are edible as well. It is a domesticated form of the wild carrot Daucus carota, native to Europe and southwestern Asia. The domestic carrot has been selectively bred for its greatly enlarged and more palatable, less woody-textured edible taproot.

    Description:  It is a biennial plant which grows a rosette of leaves in the spring and summer, while building up the stout taproot, which stores large amounts of sugars for the plant to flower in the second year. The flowering stem grows to about 1 metre (3 ft) tall, with an umbel of white flowers that produce a fruit called a mericarp by botanists, which is a type of schizocarp.

    Uses:  Carrots can be eaten in a variety of ways. Only 3% of the β-carotene in raw carrots is released during digestion: this can be improved to 39% by pulping, cooking and adding cooking oil.[2] Alternatively they may be chopped and boiled, fried or steamed, and cooked in soups and stews, as well as baby and pet foods. A well known dish is carrots julienne. The greens are edible as a leaf vegetable, but are rarely eaten by humans. Together with onion and celery, carrots are one of the primary vegetables used in a mirepoix to make various broths.
    In India carrots are used in a variety of ways, as salads or as vegetables added to spicy rice or daal dishes. The most popular variation in north India is the Gaajar Kaa Halwaa carrot dessert, which has carrots grated and cooked in milk until the whole mixture is solid, after which nuts and butter are added. Carrot salads are usually made with grated carrots in western parts with a seasoning of mustard seeds and green chillies popped in hot oil, while adding carrots to rice usually is in julienne shape.
    The variety of carrot found in north India is rare everywhere except in Central Asia and other contiguous regions, and is now growing in popularity in larger cosmopolitan cities in South India. The north Indian carrot is pink-red comparable to plum or raspberry or deep red apple in colour (without a touch of yellow or blue) while most other carrot varieties in world are from orange to yellow in colour, comparable to Halloween pumpkins.
    Ever since the late 1980s, baby carrots or mini-carrots (carrots that have been peeled and cut into uniform cylinders) have been a popular ready-to-eatsnack food available in many supermarkets.
    The sweetness of carrots allows the vegetable to be used in some fruit-like roles. Grated carrots are used in carrot cakes, as well as carrot puddings, an old English dish thought to have originated in the early 19th century. Carrots can also be used alone or with fruits in jam and preservesCarrot juice is also widely marketed, especially as a health drink, either stand-alone or blended with fruits and other vegetables.
    Companion Planting:  While not proven,  many believe carrots are useful companion plants for gardeners. There is experimental evidence that growing it inter cropped with tomatoes increases tomato production. If left to flower, it (like any umbellifer) attracts predatory wasps which kill many garden pests.
    Nutrition:  The carrot gets its characteristic and bright orange colour from β-carotene, which is metabolised into vitamin A in humans when bile salts are present in the intestines.[3] Massive over consumption of carrots can cause carotenosis, a benign condition in which the skin turns orange. Carrots are also rich in dietary fibre, antioxidants, and minerals.
    Lack of vitamin A can cause poor vision, including night vision, and vision can be restored by adding it back into the diet. An urban legend says eating large amounts of carrots will allow one to see in the dark. The legend developed from stories of British gunners in World War II, who were able to shoot down German planes in the darkness of night. The legend arose during the Battle of Britain when the RAF circulated a story about their pilots' carrot consumption as an attempt to cover up the discovery and effective use of radar technologies in engaging enemy planes, as well as the use of red light (which does not destroy night vision) in aircraft instruments.[4][5] It reinforced existing German folklore and helped to encourage Britons—looking to improve their night vision during the blackouts—to grow and eat the vegetable.
    Ethnomedically, the roots are used to treat digestive problems, intestinal parasites, and tonsillitis or constipation.
    One last Carrot Joke

    A guy walks into a doctors office with a carrot in his ear and a piece of celery up his nose.  The doctor told him he wasn't eating right.


    Thursday, February 23, 2012

    That's what I'm taking about - Parsnips!



    Meg Gross harvests the last of 2011's Parsnip crop yesterday
    at the Univ of Md Extension Public Demonstration Garden in Carroll County.
    Did you know?
    • The parsnip is richer in vitamins and minerals than its close relative, the carrot. It is particularly rich in potassium with 600 mg per 100 g. The parsnip is also a good source of dietary fiber. 100 g of parsnip contains 75 Calories (230 kJ) of energy.
    • While the root of the parsnip is edible, the handling of its shoots and leaves requires protective clothing. Like many other members of the Apiaceae family, the parsnip contains furanocoumarin, a photosensitive chemical that causes a condition known as phytophotodermatitis.[6] The condition is a type of chemical burn rather than an allergic reaction and should be treated as such. Symptoms include redness, burning, tingling, and blisters (often in the shape of the streak where the plant juices brushed against the body) within 24–48 hours of exposure.
    • When gardening parsnips, gloves and long sleeves are advised. If bare skin does come into contact with the upper part of a parsnip plant, the area should be washed immediately and kept out of sunlight. A cool, indoor area is best as a retreat, as sweat can aid in the absorption of the toxin, and sunlight activates its deleterious effects. Should a rash appear, the area may be treated similar to a burn and a physician or pharmacist ought to be consulted.
    • Parsnips are considered winter vegetables, since low soil temperatures are necessary to develop their flavor.[5] They are a favorite with gardeners in areas with short growing seasons. Sandy, loamy soil is preferred; silty, clayey, and rocky soils are unsuitable as they produce short, forked roots.
    • Seeds can be planted in early spring, as soon as the ground can be worked. Harvesting can begin in late fall after the first frost, and continue through winter until the ground freezes over. More than almost any other vegetable seed, parsnip seed significantly deteriorates in viability if stored for long, so it is advisable to use fresh seed each year.
    • In Roman times, parsnips were believed to be an aphrodisiac.
    • In the United States, this plant was introduced by British colonists as a root vegetable. In the mid-19th century, it was replaced by the potato and consequently escaped from cultivation. New cultivars continued to be developed and disseminated, including the 'Student' cultivar, developed by James Buckman.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parsnips

    More recycled materials for gardens

    Since we are all taking advantage of the warm winter to work on preparing our gardens for the season (are we?  I hope I'm the only one who hasn't gotten to it yet) I thought I'd share a couple of possibilities for materials that can be reused as part of the garden.  (This is only a start.  Your imagination, and a few practical considerations, are the only boundaries to this practice.  Recycle freely!)

    First, the gardeners at Parklawn Community Garden in Montgomery County were using coffee sacks last summer as mulch and pathways.  They block weeds nicely and will eventually decompose, but could be pulled up in fall and stored inside to make them last longer.  These bags came from Mayorga Coffee in Rockville, which has bag pickup days when they do a big roast (they send out alerts on Facebook).  Other coffee roasters probably do the same, so check it out.

    This little fabric pot belongs to my neighbor, who has a friend who works in a hospital and noticed that the blue wrap fabric used for sterile packaging was thrown away after use.  She began to collect it and make things out of it.  The polypropylene fabric is pretty close to sterile when its hospital use is over, and would certainly not introduce plant diseases.  The fabric is long-lasting; I don't think I'd want bright blue weed barrier, but the pot is cute.  You would have to have a) a hospital source willing to procure it, and b) sewing skills.  Some hospitals are introducing recycling programs for "blue wrap" so the source may dry up.

    If anyone with hospital know-how wants to chime in on this one, I'd be interested to hear what you think.

    Saturday, February 18, 2012

    Seed and plant source project

    image by Bob Nixon
    A group of community gardeners is putting together a listing of sources all over the state of Maryland for seeds, edible plant transplants (vegetables, fruits, etc.), seed potatoes, edible allium bulbs, and similar items.  Please leave a comment on this post if you have resources to share.

    Any kind of store/market that sells these items is useful:  grocery, hardware, home improvement, drug store, museum, nursery, farmer’s market, farmstand, greenhouse, etc.  Please provide in your comment:
    • the name of the business
    •  the location (address or a description including closest town and/or roads, or link to a website)
    • the relevant items it sells (might be specific to spring, fall, etc.)
    • brands of seeds carried if known
    • if relevant, a specific country/region/cuisine that the store specializes in (such as an Asian grocery carrying seeds from Taiwan)
    Information about big box stores and other large chains has already been gathered, so unless there's something special about your local Home Depot you don't need to report on it.

    Maryland businesses only, please (or those just over a state line that could easily be reached by Maryland residents).  All spam comments will be removed.

    Thank you!

    Friday, February 17, 2012

    It's Official!- 2012 is The Year of Leafy Greens

    Leafy greens- nutritious, easy to grow, and versatile. We love 'em, so University of Maryland Extension's Grow It Eat It Action Team has designated 2012 as The Year of Leafy Greens. We also think leafy greens can be "gateway" plants to hook beginner adults and kids on the joys of food gardening.

    Master Gardeners around the state will be promoting and teaching leafy green gardening and growing leafy greens in demonstration gardens. Here are some of the luscious plants we'll be following on this blog, Facebook, and the GIEI website (these seeds are all from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange in Mineral, VA):
    ‘Lacinato’ kale, ‘Lark’s Tongue’ kale, 'Sorrento’ broccoli raab, ‘Southern Giant’ mustard,‘Champion’ collards, ‘Rainbow’ chard, ‘Red Giant’ mustard, ‘Red Malabar’ spinach, ‘Drunken Woman’ leaf lettuce, ‘Slow Bolt’ leaf lettuce.

    Mid-Atlantic gardeners have already started sowing leafy greens indoors and some of us are still harvesting our overwintered greens! Please send us your tips, photos, and recipes to share with the GIEI Network. Let's get out there and grow, eat, and enjoy our leafy greens!

    Tuesday, February 14, 2012

    Seed Starting Mix

    In the backyard gardening supply war, two belligerents works hard to have your patronage in 2012.


    In the orange corner: The Home Depot Inc teamed with Jiffy International Group owner of the Jiffypots and Ferry-Morse Seeds Co.

    In the blue corner: Lowe's Companies Inc. paired with the W. Atlee Burpee & Co. aka Burpee Seeds.


    As the title of this post suggest, we will talk about seed starting mix available at this two stores. For more information on << How to start seed inside>> please click on the link.


    This post and the next ones will evaluate the starting seed mix of two products available in 10 qt bag at the hardware stores named earlier. We will not include in this contest the Scotts-Miracle-Gro® Seed Starting Potting Mix. This peat moss brand always give us good result but its 20% more expensive for 25% less than the two rivals describe below.





    According to the information on the bag, this soil less product contain a 50/50% of vermiculite and decayed Sphagnum moss as know as peat moss. Some lime is added to adjust Ph. It's 100% organic and natural.












    This product is say to be eco-friendly because is made from coconut fiber and is 100% organic. It contain less than 5% of perlite and turkey litter as natural fertilizer.














    The purpose of these products are the same: to give you the best mix to start your seeds. But to use them, that's where is the difference. The Jiffy brand needs to be mix with water in a container before to be added to your seeds container. The Burpee brand is poured directly in your container before to add water. As result, the Burpee brand feel more ligth than the Jiffy brand and less messy too.


    Stay tune to see wich seed pots will give the "better" pepper plant.



    Cook's Garden, Renee's Garden Seeds, Johnny's Selected Seeds

    Garden porn. That’s what seed catalogues are. Those fabulous pictures, the descriptions of an almost overwhelming variety of possibilities despite what for most of us is a limited amount of space, coupled with our winter-fed optimism untested by the reality of the coming year’s growing season. The thing about the catalogues is they often offer new varieties of things you won’t see at your local garden center’s racks. At least for a while.

    Cook’s Garden catal
    ogue is one of my favorites since they offer seeds that are specifically meant for the plate, which is where much of my gardening is focused. I had spent years hunting for what I considered the best haricot vert – bearing in mind of course that taste is subjective – and tried a lot of so-called haricots verts looking for that slim, beany, less-than-pencil-thin specimen. Finally, I found Cook’s French bush bean. Prolific plants hold little dark green haricots for days instead of growing thicker and tougher by the minute. The beans also store well for days in the crisper if you happen to have too many at once and don't want to freeze them. Cook’s also sells a sweet pepper the same size as the mildly hot peppadoes you see in some olive bars at Whole Foods. Perfect for stuffing for hors d’oeuvres or snacks. Cook’s seeds are pricier than some – usually run between $3.95 and $4.95 a packet, but they offer some great new things each year, as does their sister company, Burpee. Worth considering if you like to experiment in the kitchen and amaze your family and friends.

    Burpee is where I first found lemon pepper seeds as well as Lemondrop cherry tomatoes, both of which are prolific producers. Both are now available through other seed catalogues as well. The germination rates for both Burpee and Cook’s seeds are usually quite good, and the packets are sealed well, so if you want to plant some this year and save some for next, the seed is usually just as viable the following year or two provided you’ve closed the packet up and stored it well. Burpee seed packets generally run between $3.95 and $5.95. They also offer some organic seeds.

    Renee’s Garden Seeds offers very mild ‘Suave’ Habaneros that are 500 scoville units as opposed to 300,000 for habaneros. The Suaves, which I use both fresh and roast and freeze for winter soups, have that distinctive habanero taste (I’ve never actually been able to taste a full-blown habanero, but they smell the same). I chop the fresh Suaves into crab salad, onto omelets, into cheese spread. Delicious. Renee also sells Pot of Gold chard, which I tried last year. Touted for containers, it’s prolific, easy to maintain and you can cut and cut and cut. Renee’s also sell watermelon radish, whose watermelon pink interior gives it the name. These radishes are large – the size of a medium turnip - mild and delicious as a simple snack or cut into tomato aspic or topped with a little bit of smoked salmon with a squeeze of lime. Renee’s also offers a number of seed mixes, which, if you like a mix, is an economical way to get several varieties for the price of one. The packets are generally less than $3 each.

    Johnny’s Selected Seeds, an employee-owned company in Winslow, ME is for serious gardeners (actually, who isn’t serious about wanting to grow good things well?). It offers a terrific array of stuff including a lot of unusual varieties. They have a number of Asian/oriental greens, and offer a good selection of organic seeds, cover crop seeds as well as plenty of supplies for starting, season-stretching, tools, and more. Packets average $3.45-$3.95, but you can also order much larger quantities since they cater to CSA’s and truck farmers as well as home gardeners.

    Pinetree Garden Seeds in in Glousester, ME, while a fair distance from our growing zone, nonetheless has lots of stuff that will thrive her, including a wealth of heirloom tomatoes, and their packets, which are perfect for home gardeners, are cheap -- 95 cents - $1.80 generally. A great buy.

    I’ve ordered for years from all of these catalogues and like them all. The customer service, in my experience, is quite good.

    Friday, February 10, 2012

    Washington Post columns about vegetable gardening

    Here are links to four recent Washington Post columns by Barbara Damrosch and Adrian Higgins on vegetable gardening.  Damrosch writes about potatoes, pelleted seeds, and garlic chives.  Higgins writes about tomatoes.

    For “Potatoes worth the space,” by Barbara Damrosch, A Cook’s Garden column, Washington Post, Feb. 9, 2012, CLICK HERE.

    For “There are ways to keep seedy irregulars in line,” about pelleted seeds, by Barbara Damrosch, A Cook’s Garden column, Washington Post, Feb. 2, 2012, CLICK HERE.

    For “The other chive,” about garlic chives, by Barbara Damrosch, A Cook’s Garden column, Washington Post, Jan. 26, 2012, CLICK HERE.

    For “Seeking the holy grail of tomatoes,” by Adrian Higgins, Gardening column, Washington Post, Jan. 19, 2012, CLICK HERE.

    Note: Article titles are those in the print edition.  Online titles usually vary, but the text of the articles in the two media are the same.

    Sunday, February 5, 2012

    Super Bowl Sacrifice

    Red Sails lettuce in mini-greenhouse, Feb. 5
    Ellen and I were assembling ingredients for our Super Bowl treat—a six-layer dip.
    Guacamole—yes!

    Refried beans—yes!

    Shredded cheddar—yes!

    Chopped tomatoes—yes!

    Tzatziki—yes!

    Lettuce—lettuce?

    “Did you bring it in yet?” Ellen asked.

    It was time for our Super Bowl Sacrifice.  It was time for me to cut one of the three Red Sails lettuce plants that have been growing in my cheap mini-greenhouse during the winter months.

    The beautiful Super Bowl sacrifice
    Well, when it’s time, it’s time.  I took my garden scissors off their hook in the garage by the kitchen door, and Ellen and I walked to the mini-greenhouse.  I wanted her to witness the sacrifice.

    I unsnapped the fasteners and took off the lid.  The three Red Sails lettuces were beautiful.  I took my scissors, raised the lower leaves of the left Red Sails lettuce a bit, slid in the scissors, and … our Super Bowl Sacrifice was complete.

    The head of lettuce was beautiful—despite the two small slugs that had managed to burrow their way into the bottomless mini-greenhouse in their quest for a lettuce meal.

    Soon our six-layer dip was complete, and we nibbled away as the Giants took an early lead in Super Bowl XLVI, and then the Patriots went ahead one point.

    Let the eating begin!
    Good game, so far.  Good six-layer dip.  Good Red Sails lettuce fresh from meager winter garden.
    This is my round-about way of saying the mini-greenhouse is working well in this warm winter.

    One Red Sails lettuce sacrificed.  Two Red Sails lettuces growing beautifully still.

    If you missed my earlier postings about my mini-greenhouse experiment, CLICK HERE.

    P.S.  Final score:  New England Patriots 17, New York Giants 21, Red Sails Lettuce 24.

    Friday, February 3, 2012

    Start a New Vegetable Garden

    If you’ve always wanted to have a vegetable garden, but are uncertain how to begin, don’t worry, it’s easier than you may think and this is the perfect time of year to begin planning!  In addition to supplying your family with a bountiful supply of delicious, inexpensive vegetables, vegetable gardening provides exercise, fresh air, and the opportunity to learn more about the natural world.  It is a great activity to share as a family and a wonderful learning experience for kids.  Here’s how to get started:

    First, select a location for your garden.  Most vegetables need full sun, at least 6-8 hours per day.  Remember that those bare trees will soon have leaves, so what looks like a sunny spot today may be shaded come summer.  Conversely, as the days lengthen and the sun rises higher in the sky, some locations that are shaded in winter may be fine for a summer garden. 

    If you can’t find a location in full sun in your yard, consider a plot in a community garden or plant in containers on a sunny deck or paved area.  Also, consider integrating vegetables into an existing flower garden. 

    If none of these options is possible, there are some vegetables that can tolerate lower light levels. Unfortunately, tomatoes and peppers are not among them. Try leafy greens, such as spinach, lettuce and arugula, in locations with four to five hours of sun, and carrots, radishes, beets, and kale in areas with six hours of sunlight per day.

    Make certain your selected site has easy access to water for irrigation.  Vegetable plants demand ample water and hauling water long distances to thirsty plants in the heat of summer is sure to dampen any gardener’s enthusiasm. 

    If possible, locate your garden near the house. You are more likely to use your vegetables if you can step outside to pick some as you prepare dinner than if you have to walk a distance to get to them.  Also, you are more likely to notice any problems in time to respond to them if the garden is in an area you pass by regularly.

    Once you’ve decided on the ideal location, you are ready to prepare the site.  Begin by having a soil test done to determine what amendments may be needed to alter pH or nutrient levels and to make certain the soil does not contain unsafe levels of lead.  Information on soil tests and soil test laboratories is available at http://www.hgic.umd.edu/content/SoilTesting.cfm.

    Most likely, you will be killing or removing sod to create your new garden.  There are two basic methods of doing this: digging and smothering.  If vegetable gardening is an integral part of your fitness plan, then have at it with a garden spade, stripping the top two inches of sod from your plot.  Don’t discard it.  You want to keep the valuable topsoil and nutrients that are present in the sod.  Just turn it over and wait for it to die, then mix it into your garden beds, along with additional composted organic matter. 

    If digging sounds like too much work, smother your sod instead.  This method is quick and easy.  Lay cardboard or several layers of newspaper over your garden plot, being sure to overlap the edges so there are no gaps for weeds to grow through.  Spray the newspaper with water to keep it in place as you work, then top the paper with a four inch layer of compost.  Voila, instant vegetable garden!  You can plant directly into the compost while you wait for the grass to die and decompose, further enriching your soil.

    Now comes the fun part: deciding what to grow.  The most important thing is to grow what you want to eat, but you may also want to consider other factors, such as which vegetables are most expensive to buy (typically those that are most perishable or unusual), ease of growing (tomatoes, beans, greens, and squash are good choices for our area), and the difference in quality between store-bought and home-grown produce.  While all fresh garden vegetables are superior to their grocery store counterparts, the taste difference is greater with some, such as snow peas and tomatoes, than others, like onions and potatoes.

    For more information on growing your own nutritious and delicious vegetables, visit the UMD Extension Grow-it-Eat-it website at http://growit.umd.edu/, contact the Home and Garden Information Center at 800-342-2507 or http://www.hgic.umd.edu/ , or look right here for future articles with timely tips throughout the year.  Happy growing and eating!

    Thursday, February 2, 2012

    Great book about food gardening and cultural identity



    I've just finished reading a fascinating book, The Earth Knows My Name: Food, Culture, and Sustainability in the Gardens of Ethnic Americans by Patricia Klindienst.  The author takes us on a journey around the country exploring the food gardens and farms of Americans of different cultural backgrounds, some of whom (Native Americans and the Gullah people of South Carolina) have been here for a long while, and some who are first or second generation immigrants.

    Klindienst, who identifies strongly with her mother's Italian heritage, wanted to discover how gardeners keep a culture alive despite the uprooting that comes with displacement and change.  She visits with Latino gardeners in New Mexico and Massachusetts, Polish and Japanese farmers working side by side in Bainbridge Island, Washington, a Punjabi gardener in California, Cambodians relocated to New England, Native American growers of New Mexico and Connecticut, Italians at opposite ends of the country, and two African-American Gullah gardeners on St. Helena Island.  The book is a tribute to people who love food and community, who've come through poverty and war and conflict but held on to a traditional valuing of land and its produce.  Klindienst uses her skills as a writer to frame the stories and describe their settings, but she lets the gardeners speak for themselves as well, which is what I'll do for the rest of this review.

    "Many of us had to make it on the land when we didn't have any other jobs here.  This was our source of life for years.  That's why we don't like to see fences.  We hate gated communities, most of us do, because everybody here was raised to feel free to walk anywhere, and you respect it, that freedom."  Ralph Middleton, St. Helena Island, South Carolina
    "In Puerto Rico, having a garden is about growing your own food.  Here it's not only about food.  It's your way out of your apartment if you don't have your own house.  It's a stress reliever.  And it's a way of screaming out, 'I want to keep my culture.  I want to give this tradition to my children and leave them with this gift, this pride.'  When you talk to the elders, you see the pride in their eyes."  Hilda Colon, Raíces Latina community garden, South Holyoke, Massachusetts
     "People from my own county who came by and saw me back here working in the garden said, 'Why are you digging?'  Why wasn't I inside watching TV and doing American things? .... I realized that I was offending people.  But here, I don't have my gardeners.  I don't have crop-sharers.  I have only myself.  I want to have a garden, a beautiful garden.  And I am my only resource.  The pleasure of planting a seed and making my own garden is a pleasure that should not be denied me."  Ruhan Kainth, Fullerton, California
     "He got his seeds from friends.  They would go to each other's gardens and investigate and talk.  If somebody's crop--say, lettuce--didn't do well, they'd give them some.  There was a lot of exchange.  That was a gift they could give to their neighbors.  They never bought seeds.  They didn't spend money on the garden.  Otherwise, they thought they were defeating the whole purpose of a garden."  Tullio Inglese, Leverett, Massachusetts, on his father's gardening community just outside Boston
    "So he pointed at each item on my plate and then to the field that it had grown in--the poles on the horizon with the hops, and the fields of barley for the beer, the fields of rye for the bread and the potatoes, the cabbage for the sauerkraut.  And then he said--and it haunts me to this day--'If you cannot see where your food comes from, you are doomed to live in ugliness.'"  Gerard Bentryn, vintner of Bainbridge Island, Washington, on a brewer he met in Germany
     "To be close to the earth--that's what we grew up with, that's what I'm about.  I never had words for it before.  It's part of who I am.  I've completely acknowledged that now."  Loretta Fresquez, Monte Vista Organic Farm, Española, New Mexico
    Read this book - I promise you will learn something!  And perhaps give some new thought to your own heritage and what it does or doesn't contribute to your love of gardening.