Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Espalier! Train a Tree to Lean

Belgian Fence in foreground. Credit
We have a "blank" wall in our garden & a friend suggested trying espalier. (According to Encyclopedia Britannica, "tree or other plant that is trained to grow flat against a support.")

We found a great book, Living Fences, by Ogden Tanner, which has wonderful, inspiring photos (now we wish we had more blank walls!), and great how-to illustrations.  We took the book to our local hardware store & bought all the thingamajigs needed & this is what happened next...look closely, the wires are there, but won't show until our red chokeberry is much bigger! (Note, clicking on photos will display the original size, which is usually much larger.) 
Our espalier project, which is just waiting for the bush to grow.
A few more examples, to inspire you.  I suggest a search for espalier on  pinterest or flickr if you'd like to see more!


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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Low-Tech Food Preservation: Kimchi!

Scurvy! Just a horrible disease, which is mostly associated with sailors in the days of yore, but really can afflict anyone who doesn't get enough Vitamin C.  Even someone as notoriously well-fed as Henry VIII might have had scurvy.  An article from History Today (from 1989, subscription only), by Susan Kybett concludes that his symptoms point to a meat-based diet with few or no fruits and vegetables (poor people ate those "dirty" foods).  

King Hank may not have been able to overcome the "dirty" label, but more difficult would be finding fruits and vegetables to eat in northern climes in late winter/early spring.  So what to do?  Preserve those greens the low-tech way by making kimchi.  


After reading an article about raw food activist Sandor Katz in the New Yorker from 2010 (subscription required), we decided to give it a try.  We bought a large glass jar with a special lid that helps keep the kimchi airtight, and began experimenting with different mixes of vegetables, amounts of chile, and fun additions (caraway seeds, lemon or lime slices).  We also got a mandoline, which is a great way to quickly turn whole veggies into uniform slices. 

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For many recipes and a thorough how-to, check out Sandor Katz's website,  Wild Fermentation.  You'll also find links to buy supplies there.  We got our jar from Pickl-It.

We've had very good luck and most of it has been delicious.  (Except the time when I added 2 cups of salt instead of 1!)  It's even been approved by my Vietnamese & Chinese co-workers, both of whom requested I bring them samples whenever we make it.  We've also discovered it's a great addition to soups (beef, turkey, chicken, bean), making them even healthier with a lovely rich taste.
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Though traditional Korean kimchi is HOT HOT HOT (see photo above), it doesn't have to be.  You don't need to add any chiles.  It's just as good with no chiles as with a few or lots.  We've done many different levels and they've all turned out yummy.

Enjoy! 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

No Space? Grow Up!!

Vertical Vegetables & Fruit (Creative Gardening Techniques for Growing Up in Small Spaces), is a 2011 book by Rhonda Massingham Hart about finding a way to grow fresh fruit & vegetables, no matter how small your space is.  

The book is full of ideas, from making the most of what you already own, to using traditional & not so traditional techniques to use your airspace (hanging, stacking, towering, etc.).  

Separate sections on annual vines and perennial fruits help you pick a few items that grow well in this environment and make the most of their traits to ensure an abundant harvest.  

Additionally, there's a great how-to section in the appendices.  Topics include growing your own seedlings and recommended varieties.  

All in all, the book will provide you with some great ideas to make the most of what you've got.  Which sounds like a song for a women's cigarette commercial, but oh well!  

Friday, May 23, 2014

Composting Class for DIYers 6/1/14, or...Compost Pick-Up in Del Ray

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Let's be honest, composting is fairly disgusting.  But you will be amazed at how little trash you have once you start composting & recycling.  Our trash does not fill a small office-sized trash can each week.  

And if the soil at your house leaves a lot to be desired (ours is essentially clay), composting is a great way to amend it so that things will grow, while keeping rotting trash out of landfills. 

If you'd like to give it a try, there's a class coming up at Arcadia Farm next week...

How to Compost, Saturday, June 1, 10am-12pm
Instructor: Stephen Corrigan, Arcadia’s Farm Director


Composting is a cheap way to reduce your household’s contribution to the landfill while creating a natural fertilizer for your garden. Farm Director Stephen Corrigan will discuss the basics of successful backyard composting and talk about a variety of easy home-scale compost systems. This workshop is great for those new to composting as well as those looking to troubleshoot issues with their current composting systems. Separate child-friendly activities are available for an additional fee. Fee: $30. Click here to register. 


The Alexandria City government also has people at the city farmer's markets answering questions about & collecting compost

Another possibility is Veteran Compost, who will pick up your compost every week. 


A recent article from the Washington Post mentioned other compost options for those of us in the DC metro area. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

A Bird Friendly Yard? Here's How...

Birds are quite important to me (and our indoor cat who enjoys lots of kitty TV), and one
Brown-headed Cowbird from AllAboutBirds.com
way to attract more to your yard is to apply a few of the suggestions from the Audubon at Home (AAH) program.  Right now I've seen over 20 different species (including Red-Shouldered & Cooper's Hawks, 2 types of woodpeckers), and I've only begun following the AAH suggestions in earnest. 

Most important is to plant native species, lots of them, in bunches (multiples of one type of plant).  This gives birds & bees lots of cover & food.  

Second is to remove invasive plant species (Oh, English Ivy, I curse you curse you curse you!).  Livestock for Landscapes rents out small herds of goats, if you have lots of invasives to remove, or have a steep, unreachable area needing cleaning up.  (This really works!  A friend in California has a goatherd & his goats come every spring to clean up the cliff behind her house.)  We have a flat yard, so put down newspaper, wet the newspaper, then applied a few inches of leaf mulch from the City's program (they deliver).  It didn't clean up 100%, but I'd say 80% is long gone, allowing natives some space to become established. 

There are 10 suggestions in all about how your backyard can be friendlier to birds & bees & little animals at Ten Ways to Make A Difference for Migrating Birds. Take a few, or more, to heart & see what happens next. 

And once you've got all those amazing birds hanging out at your place?  If you'd like an online way to identify them, try WhatBird, which lets you search by color, state, size, and other variables. 

And eBird, run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, lets you track your bird sightings online.  Not only do you get to use their tools for counting what you've seen where, but your data is used by ornithologists, conservations biologists, land management experts, etc. via the Lab to do research on migration, climate change, bird abundance & distribution.  

Happy native planting & birding! 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Green Springs Native Plant Sale on 5/17/14


This post is not really about vegetable gardening, but if you want to encourage Virginia's native birds & bees, you might want to consider adding some native  plants to your yard.   

This Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (female)
would sure appreciate a native habitat!
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A great place to find out more about VA native plants is to head over to the Green Spring Garden and the Master Gardeners of NoVa Plant Sale, this Saturday, 5/17 from 9:00 am - 3:00 pm.  

Native plants are low maintenance once they're established.  They don't need to be coddled because they're used to the climate of the Mid-Atlantic.  

More information about the sale is available here (along with a plant list, if you're like me and want to do some research).  

There are plenty of resources online if you'd like to read up on native plants & wildflowers.  Here are a couple that I've found useful. 

The US Fish & Wildlife Service publishes Native Plants for Wildlife Habitat and Conservation Landscaping.  It's a small book that should answer most of your questions.

I like the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center because their website has a search engine that lets you find recommended plants based on amount of sun & water the plant will get & the state you live in.  

Of course your local public library has plenty of books, too.  Find it by entering your zip code on this page.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Square Foot/Small Space Gardening

Anyone who's lived in Del Ray a while knows that space is at a premium.  Even those of us with houses may not have that much gardening space because of all the shade trees. (I'm speaking to you, Mr. & Mrs. Holly!)  If you're in an apartment, or a townhouse (both of which we've also lived in), gardening requires even more ingenuity.  So I thought I'd start off the new blog giving those of us with a hankering to try at home some ideas on how to get the most out of the land you do have.  

The GWCG is a great resource for those of us who are not green-thumbed, or if holly trees make your yard super-shady, or if you just wish to meet your neighbors and see the miracle that sunshine & water brings.  But even though we've got a sun-deprived yard, we still grow some herbs & salad greens, while relying heavily on the GWCG for variety.  

If you'd like to try at home, here's a chart to get you started (clicking on the photo will get you the largest size available).  Remember, everything is in a square foot!  Try to space seeds evenly within the area so they have plenty of room.  This should help you conserve seeds & get more out of your garden. 


I always like to read about what others are doing.  Joe Yonan of the Post recently wrote about turning the front yard of his new home into a square foot garden

And here's another square foot gardening article specifically for children: Easy Gardening for Kids