Saturday, June 26, 2010

We get by with a little help from our (six-legged) friends

Last year we wrote about how we handled an aphid invasion of our columnar apple tree. We weighed the various ways to rid your garden of aphids, and personally chose to just spray them off with water.

It worked last year but they're back this year, and they brought some friends along. So we bought some friends of our own. About a thousand chilled ladybugs to be exact.

An hour before nightfall, we warmed up the critters and released them on our garden. They sort of went crazy, swarming out of the bag and onto all the plants. They must have been hungry because a couple of days later there were no aphids to be seen.

Good riddance. See you next year? If so, we know who our friends are.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Who Knew Baltimore is a Farm City?

Last Wednesday I made my first Veggie Trade of the year. I had sprouted  too many tomato plants and since I had no space in my garden for all of them I posted a listing on Veggie Trader, offering them up to anybody who wanted them. Within a couple of days of I had some responses, and on Wednesday Beth (the first responder) came to my home to swap. We had emailed already, Beth was picking up her CSA box and asked if I wanted to share some greens in exchange for my tomato plants. YES! I said, and Wednesday 6pm the tomato plants found a new home and I got dinner delivered to my door.

As soon as the trade was made I took off to the Baltimore City Public Library to see Author Novella Carpenter present her book "Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer". I haven't read the book yet but had caught Novella speaking on NPR earlier in the day and was intrigued. I'm not really a farmer but a girl can dream, right? Novella Carpenter gave a wonderful presentation on her urban farming exploits to a packed house in the main library auditorium. Her book is about her tiny farm on a vacant lot in a bad part of Oakland, a rough town not unlike this one. During the question/answer session Novella reveals that her farm has been bought! "Fortunately the new owner is letting the farm stay…" she explains, "but I'm going to need to move eventually…"  to this I call out, "Move to Baltimore!" and Novella sort of pauses and jokes "Maybe I will?" - and the audience breaks out into cheer and applause! Who knew that Baltimore, an old rust belt city with blight and abandonment is a hotbed for urban farming?

Later I came home and made a salad from my trade. I enjoyed the salad with some local cheese and bread from our local baker which we had on hand.  Beth graciously included a pint of the most delicious local strawberries which I had for desert and I realized that I managed to do something very rare that day. Last Wednesday I did not spend one penny whatsoever. It was a $0 day, and I felt very content.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


I'm annoyed. I can’t be the only gardener who sucks at growing lettuce. I'd have been better off eating the nursery six-packs in a tiny celebratory salad of defeat. Instead I've tried my hand at lettuce five times now, but the crispy vibrant bunches I plant as toddlers all meet the same untimely end. What remains is only the little plastic (thankfully, the compostable kind) nursery gravestones marking the Mesclun and Buttercrunch, long ago departed.

I’m giving it one last go though. But one thing my failures have taught me is to be a bit more mature in my attitude toward container gardening. That means taming the excitement of what I could grow (lettuce), with what will make the most of every square inch of dirt (not lettuce!).

For what you get, lettuce is kind of a space hog. In a 24” container, I’ve got three lettuce heads. And I know I’m pushing the limits of what it will tolerate. I’m cheating, and actually angry at the lettuce because it’s using too much dirt. Whoever coined the term “dirt cheap” was wrong. Good dirt isn’t cheap, it takes time, energy or cash to get it.

With economy in mind, if I could only plant five plants for homegrown flavor and best use of space/highest yield, what would they be?

1.) Cucumbers. I can get two plants inside a 24” container, each one yielding over a dozen snacky cucumbers.
2.) Basil. I’ve jammed three plants into the 24” container. There’s nothing like having it at your fingertips all summer long. Plant basil 6” to 12” apart.
3.) Tomatoes, but not cherry. Just looking at yield, I’ve had more volume grow of the regular size tomato.
4.) Peas. So good and crispy when fresh off the vine. 2” apart! Row spacing, 18”
5.) Rosemary. Grows big in a small pot (and I can't seem to kill it!).

The wildcards: the columnar apple will fruit this year, and we’ll see what the beans I planted yield.