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gardening

Jan 25 2012

Food for the future

by Dea Anne M

The Epi-log blog on the Epicurious website ran a story about a month ago regarding  potential global food profiles of the future as forecast  by futurist Christopher Barnatt. The not-so-good news is that Barnatt predicts that food will become increasingly scarce, and more expensive to purchase, due to declining oil supplies, global water scarcities, and increasingly unpredictable climate changes. According to Barnatt, these changes will necessitate that we start getting serious about producing and sourcing more of our food close to home. Barnatt sees as the good and hopeful news in all of this the already growing trend of urban based agriculture. Check out, for example, this design (at right) for a skyscraper housing gardens on some of its floors. For home-based food production, the Windowfarms Project offers options for growing hydroponic vegetables in window installed units. Barnatt goes on to say that we will all most certainly be eating less meat in the future and, because of drastic decreases in global shipping, we will not have the same variety in our diets that many, in the developed nations at least, enjoy now and certainly we will have access to fewer non-native fruits and highly processed foods. The trade-off is that locally sourced and fresher foods will insure a better diet for most of us. That might not be such a bad thing…less beef and fewer bananas but better health and fresher food.

I’ve posted here before about the pleasures of gardening on a personal level. I think that more and more, though I come to look at growing food as a potentially important skill to cultivate (as it were!). Barnatt’s predictions, if likely (and I think they are), seem to make it all the more vital to not only extend myself more as a gardener, but to actively encourage others to get involved with locally based food production. The possibilities are exciting when cities like Detroit are encouraging urban farming on a large scale and more and more restaurants are installing roof-top gardens.

Are you interested in exploring the topic yourself and maybe taking on the role as an urban pioneer? If so, check out these resources from DCPL.

Even if you aren’t interested in becoming an urban homesteader,   Your Farm in the City: an urban dwellers guide to growing food and raising livestock by Lisa Taylor will still give you a lot of great advice and information on producing a farm’s worth of vegetable, fruit, and herbs in the city or town setting. Useful information targeted to the urban gardener includes dealing with specifically urban pests, zoning laws, vandalism, and potentially suspicious neighbors.

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Sep 19 2011

It’s the Berries!

by Greg H

Several three to four foot tall bushes  with striking purple clusters of small berries grow just outside the staff room doors at the Hairston Crossing branch.  I’ve been told that they are called Beauty Berries, a  plant I’d never heard of before I saw these.   They look succulent enough to eat, and could be eaten, but their taste is such that even wildlife  will only feed on them as a last resort.  This started me thinking about the berries in my life, the ones outside of a supermarket,  that could be eaten as a first resort.

My grandmother first introduced me to the joys of berries, if only indirectly. When I’d visit her we would sometimes walk to the home of her friend Mrs. Gorski who had red raspberry plants growing along the edge of her back yard. Mrs. Gorski would give me a bowl of raspberries doctored with milk and sugar.  They were so good that I didn’t mind sitting there on the porch while two matronly women talked at length over my five year old head.

Those red raspberries became for me the standard against which other berries would be compared.  Black raspberries, for example. They grew like the weeds that I guess they were among the abandoned coke ovens across the railroad tracks at the bottom of our street.  In my eyes the only advantage the black raspberries had over their red cousins was this ability to grow everywhere.  They were tart where the red raspberries had a more pleasing flavor and their bushes were guarded with plenty of thorns.  Furthermore, picking them meant wearing long denim jeans in the middle of the stifling summer heat to protect us against sticks and scratches and poison ivy.  Once in a while we might find a blackberry that was big enough and ripe enough to taste almost as good as a red raspberry; if we collected enough of them in our empty Maxwell House coffee cans they could be turned into pies, possibly a la mode,  before the afternoon was over. That nearly instant reward made the heat and the thorns easier to endure.

Blueberries were next on my berry countdown. My Aunt Bib and Uncle Tony owned a cabin in north central Pennsylvania and we would sometimes visit for a weekend. On one such visit they took us to a wide field of nothing but blueberry bushes. I’d never seen them in the wild until then.  We were issued our containers but, before we were turned loose,  Uncle Tony advised us to be aware of snakes who just so happened to also like blueberries. While I’m sure that there was a kernel of fact to my uncle’s warning, I’m just as sure that he enjoyed watching our eyes get big as he issued it. Aunt Bib turned most of those berries into pies as well, saving enough for blueberry pancakes the next morning.

Those were the wild berries of my childhood. Yes, there was a brief dalliance with an elderberry bush that grew on some undeveloped property at the top of our street but, while it was interesting to know that they could be eaten, those berries were ultimately deemed too small and sour to hold our attention. And I know there are more out there.  Thanks to Ikea, I’ve tasted lingonberry jam but that doesn’t really count. Just where are the huckleberries, pokeberries and gooseberries of which I’ve heard tell?

The Library has the following books to aid the intrepid berry enthusiast:

The Berry Bible: with 175 Recipes Using Cultivated and Wild, Fresh and Frozen Berries by Jane Hibler

The Berry Growers Companion by Barbara L. Bowling

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Jun 29 2011

Well-Preserved

by Dea Anne M

At the beginning of every summer, my parents handed me and my younger brother over to our grandparents. Mom and Dad stayed at home and enjoyed the luxury of private time as a couple while we kids spent three blissful months with our extended family in south Georgia.  I think everyone involved thought they had the best of the bargain.

Both of my grandparents were avid gardeners and part of the allure of staying with them was their huge vegetable garden as well as  the grape arbors, the strawberry beds and the thickets of wild blackberries that grew in the woods nearby. My brother and I were picky eaters, and most vegetables were a hard sell, but we loved the abundance of it all and would make up wild adventures when my grandmother sent us out with our buckets to pick berries.

Grandaddy and Mother gardened seriously, and by that I mean that they intended what they grew to feed them not only through the growing season but into the year.  Every August saw a frenzy of activity as Mother canned vegetables, made pickles and jams, and froze what seemed like bag after bag of corn, beans, and fruit. I remained a mere observer of this food preservation marathon but  I found it quite fascinating. As an older child, I took on some, shall we say,  less than becoming attitudes which the family put up with fairly graciously. My comment “You know, you can buy all of this at the grocery store”  provoked nothing more than gentle smiles from my grandmother and aunts. They, of course, knew that a home preserved jar of strawberry jam beats the grocery variety every time and that the bags of field peas blanched and frozen at the peak of flavor would be very welcome in the middle of February.

Well, since becoming a gardener myself, I have changed my thinking. My small garden is in no way comparable to my grandparents’ so my interest in canning and preserving is more on the small batch scale. Of course, you don’t have to be a gardener to preserve food. On any day of the week, there is a farmers market going on somewhere in our area and a good one will have the freshest and best tasting of local produce. Of course, you’ll want to use most of it as soon as possible,  but why not preserve some of your purchase to enjoy later in the year? Preserving on a small scale is doable, and pleasurable, and you don’t need the whole month of August, a large kitchen, or multiple helpers to accomplish it. [read the rest of this post…]

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May 13 2011

Strawberry Season

by Ardene W

It’s strawberry season! Strawberry shortcake, strawberry smoothies, angel food cake with strawberries . . . yum! I have fond memories of picking berries in my grandparents’ garden, and not-so-fond memories as an older child of picking them at home, where it became a chore to pick and freeze strawberries every day at the height of the season.

Strawberries grow wild in many places, but did you know that the ones we eat today are descendents of a cross between a flavorful North American native, Fragaria virginia, and a variety from Chile and Argentina, Fragaria chiloensis, with large fruit? And though it isn’t the reason I eat them, they are good sources of Vitamin C.

I eat strawberries, of course, because they taste good. And fresh ones taste better than the ones from the store. Every spring I wish I had planted some in my yard last fall. Luckily for me, there are pick-your -own farms nearby. Take a look at the Georgia Strawberry Growers web page to find a farm near you, or check out the list at this website. If your experience is like mine, it will take you longer to drive there and back than it will take to pick a bucket full.

And if you’re not sure what to do with the bounty, check out these resources at the library:

Although it’s late in the season for planting, you can find out more about growing strawberries at the library too.

Or check out the Georgia Extension Service’s guide to growing strawberries at home.

Finally, if you just don’t want to get out in the sun, here are a few books that feature strawberries:

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Of course, we all know that library collections have long circulated all sorts of  items that aren’t books, but check out this article: Seed Lending Libraries Bloom.

That’s right…it’s a seed lending library! Patrons “borrow” seeds and then save the seeds from those plants to return. I think this is a great idea and sounds like a wonderful way to encourage gardening within communities. The article specifically mentions the Potrero branch of the San Francisco Public Library but there are similar programs in place at the Richmond Public Library in Virginia and in Connecticut at the Fairfield Woods branch of the Fairfield Public Library.

What type of items would you like to see in a lending library? The public library in Rochester, IL offers a crafts supply lending library and the Berkeley Public Library in Berkeley, CA has a tool lending library.  Also, did you know that at one point, we at the DeKalb County Public Library lent out framed paintings for people to put on their walls?  And that today, as you read this, we are lending out free family passes to Zoo Atlanta and Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites?

Getting back to seeds, it isn’t too late to get them in the ground whether that ground is your yard, a raised bed, or a container. Think you need some help?

Try Growing Herbs and Vegetables: from seed to harvest by Terry and Mark Silber

or check out Gardening With Heirloom Seeds: tried and true flowers, fruits, and vegetables for a new generation by Lyn Coulter.

(Thanks to my colleague Jessica for the link that inspired this post.)

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Mar 21 2011

Thank you Mr. Applegate

by Patricia D

We spent part of January, the part where we were actually able to come to work instead of  holing up in our snow covered homes, quietly passing the magazine around the office, exclaiming in hushed tones during breaks and lunch over the full color photos and the enticing captions.  It was the Burpee seed catalog and I fall for its charms every year.  I can also be felled by the catalogs from Jackson and Perkins and the McMurray Hatchery catalog (that is a whole other post) but every year Burpee sets me daydreaming about lush rows of Snappy Sugar Peas, Bright Lights Swiss Chard, Heatwave Blend Lettuce and Camouflage Hybrid (the better to hide it in your unsuspecting coworker’s bag) zucchini.  Of course bountiful mounds of various heirloom tomatoes go without saying.

I was lucky enough to learn how to garden in a 10 x 10 foot space at Kingwood Center, where the Master Gardener patiently taught us how to companion plant and weed, when to harvest and which insects to leave alone.  It was a wonderful program and probably one of the best parts of my education.  I’m not going to lie to you,  I hated taking care of the garden on blistering July mornings, but  I have wonderful memories of  taking a knife and a salt shaker out as the day cooled to the smoky blues of dusk.  Standing barefoot in the dirt,  grazing on sun warmed tomatoes,  fuzzy to the tongue snap beans and baby carrots—not those bagged, milled baby carrots we’ve all come to love, but small, intensely flavored carrots that would have been huge and sweet if only they’d been left to finish the year—was the best part of summer.

These days I still dream of warm, rich, juicy tomatoes drizzled with fruity olive oil and fresh mozzarella and a few basil leaves,  but I gave up on everything else years ago.  A wacky work schedule and too many drought ridden summers made successful gardening too much effort.  Now though, I’m honor bound to pass along what Mr. Applegate so patiently taught me on those Saturday mornings all those years ago.  At my house we’ve been talking about Sunflower Houses (sunflowers planted with runner beans to make a bio-degradable, child sized hideaway),  Pizza Gardens (basil, tomatoes and peppers) and pumpkins, because I think every child should get to grow pumpkins.  Also, what’s a summer morning without a joyous riot of Heavenly Blue Morning Glories, or a summer evening without the heady fragrance of roses and jasmine?

For the Pizza Garden and the Sunflower House look in Roots, shoots, buckets and boots by Sharon Lovejoy.  Other books you may want to use with children are The garden that we grew by Joan Holub and Grow it, cook it edited by Deborah Lock.  If you’re just learning the basics of gardening Fresh food from small spaces by R.J. Ruppenthal,  All new square foot gardening by Mel Bartholomew and Don Hastings’  month-by-month gardening in the South are hugely helpful.

Now, go forth and garden!

 

 

 

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Sep 22 2010

Something for (almost) nothing

by Dea Anne M

I would never classify myself as a cheapskate, but I do like saving money. I’m always telling my cost-conscious friends, “If you’re looking for a bargain, get a library card!” After all, the library offers book, magazines, music, and movies for…nothing! What could be a better deal?

For a gardener like me, another great bargain is making compost. All you really need to get started is source of kitchen scraps, for most of us that would be our own kitchen, and a place to stow them while time, heat, and air to do the work. The result is a nutrient rich fertilizer/soil for your garden, shrubs, flowers, and container plants. I had wanted to get started on composting for awhile but I couldn’t seem to find the right container.  There’s the old school, and very effective, bin constructed from chicken wire and lumber. I am, however, someone who is woefully unskilled with hammer and nails. There are also plenty of excellent commercial bins available but none that I felt were within my budget. Finally, I located a simple bin at Home Depot for a price I thought I could handle. Okay, I admit that it was on sale.  When I say simple, I mean it. My bin consists of four interlocking sides and a spring top lid, but it has been doing the job for a year and a half and I couldn’t be happier. Vegetable scraps, washed out egg shells, coffee grounds, and tea bags all go inside along with shredded paper and yard trimmings and out comes rich, black soil.

While composting is a straight-forward operation, there are a guidelines and tips that can make the process more effective and enjoyable. Here are a few of the resources available at DCPL.

Complete Compost Gardening Guide: Banner Batches, Grow Heaps, Comforter Compost and Other Amazing Techniques for Saving Time and Money, Producing the Most Flavorful, Nutritious Vegetables Ever by Barbara Pleasant and Deborah L. Martin

The Rodale Book of Composting Deborah L. Martin and Grace Gershuny, editors

The Urban/ Suburban Composter: the Complete Guide to Backyard, Balcony, and Apartment Composting by Mark Cullen and Lorraine Johnson

Let It Rot! The Gardener’s Guide to Composting by Stu Campbell

…and for kids, how about…

Compost! : Growing Gardens From Your Garbage by Linda Glaser; pictures by Anca Hariton

Oh yes, back in the late spring, I noticed a plant growing out of my bin. A week later, I realized that what I had was a tomato plant that must have sprouted from a composted seed. I’ve left it alone and it has grown into mass of vines nearly 12 feet long. Plus, it has produced delicious tomatoes all summer long.

Now that’s what I call something for nothing!

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Jun 30 2010

Growing A Gardener

by Dea Anne M

For someone who grew up in a gardening family, I had remarkably little interest in plants or their products.  Sure, I loved strawberries and sliced tomatoes but I somehow didn’t consider these members of a realm which I regarded with suspicion (most fruits) mixed with dread (all vegetables).  Later, as a tween, I started to enjoy the products of my grandparents’ huge garden, but seeing a snake the summer I was eight scared me off of actually getting in there with a hoe and a bucket and learning anything. Then, of course, there was the danger of becoming dirty, or worse, sweaty. I expressed a similar disdain for the preparation and preservation of the harvest, and I scorned the nightly pea shelling marathons on my grandmother’s darkened screened porch. Though I yearned for the pleasures of family gossip and chat, I was wary of any activity that might be work cleverly disguised as fun.

Well, now I know better. I started shopping at farmers markets several years ago and experienced a revelation with my first taste of an heirloom tomato. At the back of my mind, a small voice said “Maybe you could grow something like this.” Over the next few years of enjoying fresh, beautiful tasting, local produce the voice persisted and a passionate vegetable gardener was born.

Gardening can be alternately rewarding and frustrating. Patience and persistence are essential. One piece of advice that you will hear over and over is to start small. Here are a few titles from DCPL that can help you succeed in doing just that.

Starter Vegetable Gardens: 24 No-Fail Plans for Small Organic Gardens by Barbara Pleasant provides well-illustrated and easy to follow instructions for (as promised) 24 different gardens, both conventional and off-beat. My favorite plan is small enough for one person to maintain easily, is designed to expand each year, and features vegetables grown directly in bags of soil. The growing medium enriches your existing soil and the ease of installation and care should make this garden an attractive option for those who’d rather not develop a relationship with a rototiller.

Because of sunlight issues in my yard (as in it doesn’t get enough), I do most of my gardening in containers on my back deck. A few years ago, I became a convert to “self watering pots” which are containers built with a sealed water reservoir at the bottom matched to an overflow spout. Results are so superior that now these containers are all that I use except for a few herbs that I grow in conventional pots. To this end, Incredible Vegetables From Self-Watering Containers by Edward C. Smith has been an invaluable resource. Beautifully illustrated, this book provides sensible, yet simple, information on preparing and tending your containers for maximum yield. This is a great beginning book for anyone who can’t, or doesn’t want to, garden in the ground.

Finally, if you’re convinced that food production is beyond you because you lack the huge yard space taken for granted by so many gardening books, let me recommend Fresh Food From Small Spaces: The Square-Inch Gardener’s Guide to Year Round Growing, Fermenting, and Sprouting by R.J. Rupenthal. From growing herbs on a widow sill, to sprouting mushrooms in a cabinet, to using reflected light to grow vegetables on a tiny balcony, this book will provide instruction and inspiration to help you get started right away.

….and I guarantee that after tasting that first tomato, you won’t want to stop.

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I miss lilacs.  Against the advice of every book I read when I first started gardening in the South I defiantly planted a lilac bush and nursed it through three years of misery before it finally gave up on me.   Mother Nature’s compensation for depriving me of that scent, comfortingly sweet in the soft night air, heady and almost too heavy in the midday sun,  is magnolias with their bright lemon scent and those show off camellias that bloom when I still don’t expect to see flowers.  Though I miss the Spring riot of peonies I could never keep a gardenia alive back home and roses and rosemary are so much less finicky here.  It is difficult to feel cheated when planting pansies in the fall, cheerful, bright and hinting at the intoxication of Spring in the South, but I still manage to feel put upon when I find myself cutting the grass in December.

Naturally I have a battered copy of Don Hasting’s Month-by-Month Gardening in the South but here are a few other titles in the collection you may find helpful.

Bulletproof Flowers of the South by Jim Wilson,  Gardening in the Humid South by E.N. O’Rourke,  Questions and Answers by Deep South Gardeners by Nellie Neal, Gardening with Native Plants of the South by Sally Wasowski and Commonsense Vegetable Gardening for the South by William D. Adams

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Sep 28 2009

Pitiful Lawn

by Ev S

My lawn is pitiful.  It’s got brown spots, bare spots, pretty purple weeds, and holes.  I’m not very picky about lawns.  I figure that some shade of green is good, even if it’s rye grass.  I’m also a lazy gardener.  There are several websites to go to, including Georgia’s own Walter Reeves.  Books are also in great plenitude.  I’ve not read them, yet.  We even have DVDs such as Lawns in the Landscape.  I hope between the website, the books below, and the DVD I’ll figure out how to make my lawn pretty instead of pitiful.

The Organic Lawn Care Manual by Paul Tukey

The Lawn Bible by David Mellor

Easy Lawns edited by Stevie Daniels (I think this is the book for me)

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