Sunday, July 19, 2009

RFFI in the press

How a Greener City gets Growing, The Baltimore Sun, May 26, 2009

Rodgers Forge, state map their gardens, B'More Green, June 10, 2009

Ground Rules, The Urbanite, July 2009

Gaining Support in Suburbia,, July 7, 2009

The Marc Steiner Show, WEAA 88.9 FM, July 14, 2009.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Late Blight Alert

University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources has issued an alert to Maryland gardeners concerning an invasion of Late Blight of tomatoes and potatoes. Though it is called Late Blight, the fungal disease can attack plants at any time during the growing season.

According to Jerry Brust, integrated-pest-management vegetable specialist for the University of Maryland Extension, “Usually the disease shows up in late summer and is a moderate problem; however, this year—thanks to a prolonged period of wet and cool spring weather—it was first diagnosed in mid-June and confirmed up and down the Eastern seaboard in early July. Compounding the problem, large retail stores on the East Coast unintentionally sold blight-infected plants, resulting in an increased distribution of the disease.”

Late blight first appears as dark, water-soaked spots on leaves which shrivel and die. Dark brown spots can also appear on stems and fruit. The Home and Garden Information Center of the Maryland Cooperative Extension has an excellent fact sheet on Late Blight. If you have questions about whether your plants have Late Blight you can contact a the Maryland Cooperative Extension at (800) 342-2507.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Sharing Yards: Another way to Garden

Every summer for the last five years, the neighbors around my block have an alley party complete with moonbounce for the kids and potluck and grills for the adults. Since we've had so much fun at the summer party, we've even begun having a fall party. Held in October, the fall party has face-painting and homemade scarecrows for halloween. These get-togethers have forged wonderful friendships.

At last year's fall party, Scott and I started talking with an elderly neighbor about gardening. She was delighted to hear about what we were doing with our yards. Being nearly 80 and living alone, this neighbor did not have the ability to maintain a vegetable garden. Scott and I asked if we could establish one in her yard, and she immediately said yes.

This spring Scott and I built a few raised beds in our neighbor's yard. Two 4-by-4 beds and one 4-by-8. The 4-by-8 bed has a variety of heirloom tomatoes. One of the 4-by-4 beds has poblano and green bell peppers as well as tomatoes. The other 4-by-4 bed will have arugula. In fact, the first green pepper we picked recently we gave to our neighbor. She was delighted at how we have worked with her in her yard to produce fresh food.

Scott and I care for these plants as if they were ours, but we enjoy the sense of community that this joint effort has created. We have met our neighbors' daughter and grand-daughter, we spend time talking with her when we are watering or weeding, or just checking in, and we feel a stronger bond to our neighbor--and, by extension, our neighborhood.

If you are interested in gardening on more land than you have in your yard, consider asking a neighbor if you can share their space. You may be surprised at how readily they may say 'yes.' Many people have the space to garden but can't garden themselves due to time or physical limitations. Many others have the time or ability but not the space. The Rodgers Forge Farm Initiative encourages others in our neighborhood to seek ways to garden together across our small spaces. We will have a stronger, more closely bonded community if we do.

If anyone has space or time to offer and need help connecting with others on a collaborative garden, please contact us at

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The local that isn't

The Baltimore Sun reports on the movement to label things as local, even when they aren't really:

Signs atop the produce case in Baltimore-area Safeway stores promoted "local" apples from Virginia and New Jersey. But the Granny Smiths and galas in the case hailed from Chile and New Zealand.

Under a cute farm-truck mural and the words "Home Grown," Wegmans in Hunt Valley offered eggplants grown so far away--the Netherlands--that their stickers were in French: "Aubergine." Also in that produce case: white asparagus from Peru, bell peppers from Canada--and, yes, some zucchini and yellow squash grown in the United States.

No wonder shoppers are confused. Large grocery chains, eager to get a bite of the locavore movement, are promoting produce from nearby farms - even when they have little in stock. It doesn't help that the federal government allows produce to be labeled "local" if it comes from within a 400-mile radius, which for Baltimore is roughly an arc that runs from Boston to Charleston, W.Va., to Cape Hatteras, N.C.

"It's an arms race in marketing," said Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food and Water Watch, a Washington-based consumer group that fought for country-of-origin labeling on produce....

Local produce is not only about getting things from growers immediately around you, but also about getting it directly from those growers. Some major food corporations have tried to label themselves local, even though they are in essence multinational.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

mulch season

Grass clippings used as mulch.

People have written the Forge Farm Initiative in the past to ask about mulch: What is it, what does it do, and which materials can be used?

Mulch has a few basic roles in the garden: It moderates the soil temperature, holds in water, suppresses weeds, and provides a small amount of nutrients. July really is mulch season. With that sun blasting down and the rain sparse, you need something there to protect the roots.

There are a number of different kinds of materials you can use for mulch. You can buy bagged mulch, but I don't recommend that for a couple of reasons: One, it's pricey; there are free options out there. Two, some mulches can come with noxious weed seeds in them. A neighbor recently had a bad experience with commercial mulch: It came with seeds of Canada thistle, which is one of the most tenacious and evil invasive weeds out there. Impossible to get rid of.

Some use plastic sheeting as a kind of mulch, but I don't. I want to use a mulch that will decay and offer something to the soil microbes after I'm done with it. Plastic sheeting is just headed to the landfill at the end of the season.

But there is no shortage of free mulches available to you. Here are a few:

  • Grass Clippings: Collect them from a neighbor with a clean, pet-free lawn right after the neighbor has finished mowing. Bagged lawn clippings will quickly go sour -- that doesn't necessarily mean you can't use them, but they will mat up and smell for a day or three.
  • Shredded Newspapers/Cardboard: Perhaps not the most attractive mulch, but it is effective.
  • Shredded Leaves: You might want to avoid oak leaves, which could leach tannins and acids into the soil.
  • Pine Straw: Great for acid-loving plants, like blueberries.
  • Coffee Grounds: Ditto.
  • "Living Mulch": Some people are advocates for shallow-rooted plants that carpet areas around vegetables to suppress weeds and provide nutrients. One example is Dutch White Clover, a low-growing clover that fixes nitrogen in the soil. You can buy clover seeds at garden stores, like Valley View Farms.

With any mulch, you want to make sure that you are choosing clean materials, because this will touch your food (like lettuces and cucumbers, if they lay on the ground).

Mulch is also a great way to eradicate weeds in a particular area, or prepare new ground for garden beds. That method is often called "sheet mulching." We'll offer a recipe for sheet mulch in a future blog.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

the dirt on the Farm Initiative

More good press. We had missed Meredith Cohn's item about the Rodgers Forge Farm Initiative, which appeared about a month ago on the Baltimore Sun's "B'More Green" blog.

As some might have already seen, there is another story in this month's Urbanite about Scott Carlson's front-yard vegetable garden -- and what the Rodgers Forge Community Association thinks of it. (Scott is a co-founder of the Roders Forge Farm Initiative.) Here's a clip:

"Horticulturally, my formative years were schizophrenic. My father was a salesman for a lawn-fertilizer company; I’ll always remember him on top of a riding mower, plying his monotonous expanse of suburban green. My mother, on the other hand, grew up a farmer’s daughter, and she was used to putting the land to work, growing peas, lettuce, or rhubarb for the table.

"Four years ago, when I bought my own home in suburbia—a run-down Rodgers Forge rowhouse with a scraggly, south-facing lawn—I had to choose which side I would follow. I get my environmental sensibilities from Mom, so I did what seemed natural: I started ripping out the grass and planting vegetables....

"But if the process of re-greening the Forge has earned us the admiration of some neighbors, it’s also stirred some ire. This spring, I got a letter from the Rodgers Forge Community Association telling me that my front-yard garden 'does not adhere to the ideal of keeping a traditional design.' The association wants the garden gone...."

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

suburban farming in virginia

The Washington Post has a story today about Jim Dunlap, a former CIA operations officer who has transformed his suburban plot in Loudoun County, situated among McMansions, into a small-scale farm.

His little piece of suburbia is perfectly situated for a small farmer just starting out: The land is fertile, and the location, just 55 miles from Washington, puts him within striking distance of lucrative urban farmers markets, where prices and demand are high for produce grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers. "We need to take a lot of this land that's used for pet horses and giant lawns and find ways to grow food on it again," Dunlap said. "My work is an experiment to figure out how we can do it."

Mr. Dunlap and others think that small-scale suburban farming is one model for future food development. He is planning to get acres from his neighbors -- who are supportive -- and he wants to set up small houses where young farmers could gain experience working on his farm.

For Dunlap, the stakes are high. Reviving suburban farming is not a luxury but a must. If -- or he would say when -- oil prices spike again, it will be less practical than ever to fly in grapes from Chile and apples from New Zealand. "If the future that appears to be coming actually comes, local food isn't going to be a nice thing; it's going to be a necessity," Dunlap said. "We have to find a way to feed ourselves. And the only way to do that is to create farmers."

We think if you have a guy from the CIA worrying about the state of the world's resources and America's land use, you should listen.