Saturday, April 25, 2009

Backyard Witchcraft for Muggles

Today we volunteered at one of the local community gardens, hoping to have a little fun while doing something helpful. The garden was huge, with over a hundred plots, but we didn't get anywhere near it. Instead we ended up on weeding duty, clearing the wooded area around the garden of invasive species. (Meh!)

We got a quick crash course in how to identify those plants about to be banished from the garden: English ivy, wild clematis, overgrown blackberry bushes, and...hemlock, the Bard's herb!

One of the volunteer leaders warned us to wear gloves when pulling up the hemlock, making a passing reference to it being poisonous. Some of the kids volunteering weren't even allowed near it, which got us wondering, how bad could this stuff really be?

Turns out, hemlock is a decidedly nasty cousin of parsley. According to wikipedia, Socrates was famously poisoned by a hemlock potion. Today, the plants we weeded looked quite a bit like a carrot above ground, but with a purplish red spotted stalk and a stronger, herby odor. It can kill you quickly--its neurotoxin properties shut down the respiratory system--so keep it away from your stews and brews!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Container Garden Update

It’s turned cloudy again, but the weather was gorgeous earlier this week. Temps were in the low 80s and our starts took full advantage of their window sun. We’re happy to report all of our plants are doing extremely well. We’ll probably transplant the tomatoes to larger pots today, their last move before going outside in a few more weeks. Here’s a picture of one of our pepper starts:

Moving outdoors, the peas we planted last month are standing about seven or eight inches tall. They really started shooting up when the sun came out last week...

And we can’t believe how well our columnar apple tree has adapted to life on our deck. It was an almost barren brown stick when we took it home from the nursery almost two weeks ago, but now it’s covered with tiny green buds. And some of the buds aren’t so tiny if you look close…

Here's a wider view:

Can’t wait to see if the little tree actually produces apples this year…

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day Book Review - The Omnivore's Dilema

Believe it or not it took me, a foodie, a long time to figure out that being green starts with what you eat. The book The Omnivore's Dilemma has brought to light for me the complete picture of how food is interconnected with the American environment. In the book Michael Pollan explores one simple question, "What should we have for dinner?", really extensively. I feel like I've woken up after eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge! I had no idea that the former Soviet Union had an underground black market for home grown produce, because their "highly efficient" industrial agricultural system just did not work. I never knew that spring mix salad was so resource expensive. I did not know that mushrooms live underground for decades. Nor did I know that pasture (grass) raised beef (and milk) literally has more nutrients in it than industrialized corn fed cattle.

The Omnivore's Dilemma is a fun, interesting read, but it does have some scary moments. The entire first section alone, the part about industrialized agriculture, is enlightening in a depressing kind of way. Pollan exposes the fact that commodity corn has infiltrated the American food system so extensively that it is in almost everything in most supermarkets, simply because it's the most profitable thing for large companies to make. Later in the book, Pollan describes a 100% sustainable, highly productive farm, Polyface Farms, in Virginia. I don't know why ALL American farms aren't like Polyface? Well, yes I do, Wall Street can't profit from farms like this.

Reading the Omnivore's Dilemma will validate many Veggie Traders and others who already have a head start on being green. We already know that green is really about economics and how one chooses to spend their money and their time. We know that we want to spend more time in our gardens and kitchens with family and friends. We would rather trade seeds than trade stocks. And the only bailouts we care about are the ones associated with a heavy rain.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Success Stories?

We’re seeing more and more listings everyday and know of at least two happy connections made so far through Veggie Trader. One person in the LA area posted a listing and now has a waiting list for his fruit!

If you have used the site to make a successful swap, sale, or purchase, we’d love to hear from you and learn about your experience. Please contact us and tell us how using Veggie Trader worked for you!

Swap Groups

Recently a veggie trader asked us how he could use the site as a place for trading with members of a specific group he belongs to. We thought we’d clarify how to do this, just in case other people have the same question. If you’re a member of a gardening club, church, business, neighborhood association or any other group, you can quickly and easily find listings made by other members of your group by entering your zip code and the name of your group in the Veggie Trader search bar, and then clicking Search! As long as other members remembered to enter the group name in the “Group” area when posting their listings, you’ll be able to find them.

For instance, if you belong to the ABC Neighborhood Association and you have apples you want to offer for trade to other members, simply write the full name of your group in the “Group” area when posting your listing. Other members searching for “ABC Neighborhood Association” will quickly find your listing.

Watch out for typos!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Fruit Trees for Small Spaces

For a couple months now we’ve been considering adding a columnar apple tree to our deck. If you’re not familiar with columnar trees, they are specially created to grow to a limited height while hardly growing out at all. In other words, they’re a great fit for small spaces, as they’ll reach just eight feet tall or so and only grow out 18 inches to two feet. They stand in a pot, and from everything we’ve heard the fruit is full sized and tastes great…

So this weekend while at the nursery, we caved and picked one up. The little guy we took home is just a stick at the moment, standing almost four feet tall but with little buds all around. It’s a golden sentinel and rumor has it these trees can sometimes produce fruit in their first year.

Our new tree got us talking with a friend of ours who has espalier madness. Espalier is another way of growing fruit trees in small spaces, by pruning the trees into a flat shape. Espalier trees often use multiple grafts, and our friend has claimed dibs on a graft from our little columnar. He's got visions of his own monster frankensteined apple tree, its limbs heavy and lumbering with fuji, honeycrisp and yes, eventually golden sentinel.

Here are a couple videos on the espalier technique:

Video One

Video Two

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Spring is Here!

And the blossoms are out all around Portland...

Container Garden Update:

The last week has been crazy, leaving us no chance at all to write on the status of our container garden project. Nevertheless, we carved some time out to transplant our tomato starts last weekend into larger peet pots. We’re happy to report all 18 of the transplants seem to be doing well. The sun finally came out this weekend too (hello, haven’t seen you in a while!), so we’re hoping the transplants will soak in the sunlight and keep growing happily. We’re aiming to start introducing them slowly to the outside world (aka: our deck) in a few weeks…

The onion and sweet red pepper starts we planted at the same time also seem to be growing steadily too. Same happy news to report for the snap peas we planted a couple weeks back. All eight peas planted have sprouted in the past week.

Hope your gardening efforts are going well...