Thursday, January 27, 2011

Calendar of Gardening Tasks

Matt and (especially) I have been very busy lately.  However, in our very limited free time, we have gotten a chance to order seeds and plan the garden a little bit.  Here is a rough calendar of our tasks around the garden, assuming the last frost will be April 1st.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Pig Roast at Sunny-Side Farm


On November 6, Natasha and I went to a pig roast near York, Pennsylvania at Sunny-Side Farm.  Natasha and I were invited to the roast by one of the owners, Dru Peterson, whom we met at the Lauraville Farmers Market.  This was the first year Sunny-Side Farm raised pigs, so they decided to have a pig roast and a pot luck at the farm to celebrate.  The pig was prepared by one of the chefs (above) from Woodberry Kitchen.  Natasha and I baked garlic-rosemary rolls to share.  
At the roast, we were able to wander around the farm and see the operation.  They had chickens and turkeys spread around the property in moveable coops.  I think Dru said that her husband, Homer, moves the coops every morning so the chickens eat fresh grass and bugs every day.  The chickens and turkeys were all different colors and sizes.  Close to the house they had two geese (careful, they bite).  They also had some cows and a huge pig.  Towards the back of their property (towards the trees in the picture below) they had two beehives.

We didn't know this before our visit, but Sunny-Side slaughters their chickens at the farm in an open-air slaughter station, much like the one used by Polyface Farms (as seen in the Food, Inc. documentary).  The chickens are placed head-first in the cones on the left to be bled out.  Next, they are boiled for a moment in the silver box straight ahead, so that the feathers loosen up.  The silver, cylindrical contraption is the de-feathering machine.  It is filled with rubber rods that spin and pull the feathers out.  Sunny-Side has finished processing chickens this year, but we hope to try and help out with the operation next year.

Finally, the food.  The pork we had was pretty good, but we got there at a bad time.  Some pork was cooked and ready to eat, but the ribs and loin were being seasoned and weren't going to be ready for quite a while.  Unfortunately, we did not stay for the next round of eats.  We did try a kidney right off the smoker though, which was quite tasty.  It had really absorbed a lot of the smokiness of the charcoal and the wood it was being cooked on.  The consistency was similar to any other cut of pork, but a little bit grainier.  All in all, Natasha and I had a great time.  The weather was nice, the food was good, the farm was great, and the owners of Sunny-Side were awesome.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Worm Disasters!

Several weeks ago, Matt and I bought a chicken from the Lauraville farmers' market, and I froze the carcass to make stock.  A couple weeks ago, I used the leftover carrots and celery we had to make some stock with the carcass.  The bad parts of those vegetables, plus the ends of the onions I used, all went into the worm bin... Along with a lot of other food that was already in the compost pale from the week.

This was too much food.

We got fruit flies. (Disaster one.)

It wasn't that big of a deal, we vacuumed the fruit flies up everyday, and put out vinegar traps (a glass with vinegar at the bottom and a piece of paper shaped into a cone so the flies can't find their way out easily).  After a while, we didn't have any fruit flies.  We also stopped feeding the worms during that time so we wouldn't add to the problem.

And we added bedding on top so it would be more difficult for flies to find the food underneath, where they like to lay their eggs.  (Keep in mind that there are holes at the top of the bin, where the tiny flies could come and go as they please.)

Bedding should be damp, but not soaked.  Err on the dry side if unsure.

I probably did a poor job keeping this in mind when I put the bedding down. Two days ago, when we looked in the bin, we found it extremely water-logged. Something that also tipped us off was that we noticed worms trying to escape more often.  Since they first moved in, we hadn't had any escapers until now. (Disaster two.)

This is the bottom bin.
I've never seen it this wet before.
Notice how wet it is in the back left corner.
Also, we should learn to take better photos

Our solution?

More bedding!  But, this time, we decided to put dry bedding in to soak up the excess liquid.  We put bedding underneath, and bedding on top.  We also washed out the bottom bin, and used all of that "tea" to water our garden.

And we put some bedding on top.
We put bedding on the bottom.

So far, it seems to have done the trick.  No worms have tried to escape for a couple days now, and it doesn't seem quite so damp.  Of course, this is all trial-and-error for Matt and I, so it might not be the end of this.  But, I predict it'll all be back to normal in the next few days.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Salad Greens & Radishes

We have begun to reap the benefits of our garden!  So far, the mustard greens and arugula have been growing like crazy.  For a while we thought the mustard greens were spinach, but were a bit surprised when we made a salad that turned out to be a little spicy.  I thought Natasha had made a honey mustard-type dressing, but it turned out I was eating mustard greens.  In any case, they are still quite tasty.  The spinach has started to come up (or so we think) and we also have some small radishes growing.

Arugula and Mustard Greens

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sustainable Farmers at Lauraville Farmers' Market

In Charlottesville, April through October (last year, through December), Matt and I had a weekly ritual of waking up early on Saturday and going to the farmers' market.  The market was fantastic: it was huge, there was no shortage of organic or sustainable farmers, and there was 100% grassfed beef, forest-raised pork, and all the poultry and eggs you could want.  Each week, the farmers' market was an event with wonderful local food vendors and musicians.  It was outside in open air and it was a good chance to catch up with friends outside of law school.  I wrote about my love for the market in the Virginia Law Weekly here.

I am sorry to say that Baltimore's main farmers' market is not as picturesque as Charlottesville's.  The market here is a Leviathan that seems to be more of a commodity for susceptible Baltimorians (did I just make that up?) in search of healthy food options.  Unfortunately, I believe that the Baltimore market is a false idol for them.  I found one organic produce vendor under the dark overpass where the market takes place.  I'm not saying that organic is everything-- surely if you're going to buy nonorganic, buying local is infinitely better than buying from a supermarket.  But variety is the spice of life and there seemed to be none of this particular spice at the market.

Similarly, I found no good meat vendors.  What do I mean by "good," you may wonder.  I'm interested in meat that has been farmed in a sustainable system. That means, any potential waste gets put to good use on the farm through a symbiotic relationship between the animals and the crops. I'm also interested in meat from animals that have been fed the food they are evolutionarily conditioned to eat. Last and least, I'm interested in decent prices. There was a lamb vendor at the market, but I didn't even ask the vendor questions about how he raises the lambs because the prices were over twice that of what I paid in Charlottesville for good lamb.

I also had problems with the other meat products I was in the market for, but I had the biggest problem while looking for beef. I asked a beef vendor what she raised her cattle on, and her immediate answer was “they're pastured.” I found this hard to believe because the beef they were selling was such a light color, and so marbled. I waited for a little while longer, playing the staring game with her, and she finally choked out that “they're pastured, but then we bring them in and feed them our own corn that we grow on the farm.” She tried to continue to tell me why her beef was so excellent (which is not a question I asked), but I told her thanks and I wasn't interested in it. Well, that's when she started to yell at me, insisting that I didn't know what it was I wanted and that I'd better figure it out.

Well, I went back once more after that to give the market another chance. But I decided that I just don't like it. It's under a major highway, so it's dark. The musicians seem to be playing for money, not for fun. There seems to be a good mix of prepared-food vendors, but that's not enough to keep me going back. The only reason I would ever go back is the apple\peach\nectarine\plum\tomato vendor that's located in the overflow area of the market because they have the best peaches I've had in years. And I'm from Georgia.

So, I was in search of a better farmers' market, or at least a farm that we could visit and buy meat from in bulk. As far as produce goes, I'm easy to please so long as it's fresh and local. Organic would be nice, but isn't absolutely necessary. It's meat that I'm most concerned about.

Well, I did some research and I found Ferguson Family Farms to have a pretty great and informative website and a location close enough to drive to once a month or so. But I thought I'd call Lynne Ferguson's cell phone just to see if she would be in the area anytime soon. It turns out this was a great idea and Lynne is very easily accessible on the phone. She's at the Lauraville farmers' market every Tuesday from 5-8pm. So, I went to the market in Lauraville about 3 Tuesdays ago, and that's where I found Lynne, along with Dru Peters of Sunny Side Farms. It's really remarkable to find two farmers that practice sustainable farming at this market because the market probably has about 5 or 6 vendors total. We have been to this market twice in the last 3 weeks, and we are very pleased with the quality of the meat. So far we've bought from Ferguson Family Farm: chip beef (paper-thin sliced porterhouse), porkchops, Italian sausage, bacon, and a whole chicken with innards. From Sunny Side Farm, we've gotten: a whole chicken (no innards, but they are sold separately for cheap), a gigantic bag of chicken feet for $4 (for making stock and gravy). It doesn't sound like a whole lot, but for two people it's enough to last us more than the month. From that, we haven't even used a whole chicken yet, or the chicken feet, or the bacon, or most of the chip beef. We are still going through our leftovers of the first chicken and the porkchops. We ate the sausage while camping this past weekend and it was enormous and delicious. Can't wait to get more.

So, if you've made it this far in the post, I'm glad. If not, the bottom line is that good meat in the Baltimore area can be found at the Lauraville farmers' market sold by Ferguson Family Farm and Sunny Side Farm.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

We Have Worms!!

Composting is a great way to dispose of organic material without letting it go to waste in a landfill.  Composting is essentially a natural decomposition of materials sped up with a couple simple tweaks.  There are two main ways to compost: a traditional compost pile (or bin) and worms.

If you pile up your organic material or stick it in a bin, it will decompose over time because microbes will eat your garbage and convert it to black gold.  Keeping it in a pile or a bin keeps the material warm, which speeds up the decomposition.  It's important to keep the material a little moist and to turn the pile every now and then (which is why many people use tumblers-- so instead of churning the material with a big shovel or other tool, you can just rotate the bin a couple times and you're done).  The carbon-nitrogen ratio should be rather high, and as a general rule of thumb this means the ration between yard trimmings and food scraps should be high (of course, this is simplifying it quite a bit).  This method of composting is great if you have the room and patience for it, and if you produce a lot of waste.

Worms, on the other hand, are a better method if you live in a small space, produce a little less waste, and are maybe a little lonely but not yet responsible to get a real pet.  Worms will eat your garbage and turn it into really nutritious compost for your plants, and they will do it all in a bin under your kitchen sink.  The following is a simple tutorial on how to compost with worms.  I'm really not great yet at taking pictures for the purposes of these posts, so please forgive me.

Worm House

I used this website as a guide.

1. I bought 2 bins (opaque is important because worms do not like light)
2. I drilled holes into the bottom of one bin.  This is so any excess liquid from the compost could drain through.  Worms can drown, but they require moisture to live or they dry out.  I drilled about 5 rows of 4 holes each.

I borrowed the drill from my neighbor Joe

3. I drilled holes around the sides of the same bin, near the top.  Worms breathe air, so this is important.  I didn't take a picture of me doing this, but I drilled several holes about 1.5 inches apart along the top of the sides.

4. I stuck a couple bricks, sideways, in the bin that was hole-less and put the holey bin on top of the bricks.


1. I ordered worms off amazon!

2. They arrived!

3. Put bedding in the top bin.  This consists of newspaper, cardboard, dead leaves, etc. soaked in water, squeezed to get rid of excess water, then fluffed around so the worms can get through.

4. WORMS! in the bin

5. Let them get acclimated to their new home for a few days to a week, then feed them regularly every couple days.  Too often, and the worms won't get through it fast enough so it will start to stink.  Too infrequently, and I don't think there's a problem unless you neglect them for weeks.  So better to err on the side of less frequent feedings.

I read that worms prefer to eat food that's less fresh.  I also know that it's not great to feed them too often because I don't want to worry about smells or pests.  SOOOO I got a really cute ceramic compost keeper from TJ Maxx for 15$ (it's orange\\red with a carbon filter that works unbelievably well).  I find this method to be really great because I'm feeding the worms on a better schedule, not just whenever I decide to cook, and I can feed them from the bottom of the keeper so it's nice and appetizing for them.

Worms won't be able to digest dairy, meat, or fat.  I find a good rule of wrist to be to feed them scraps from the cooking process (ends of onions, tomato cores, fruit, etc) and not anything that I've cooked because I usually use olive oil or some other fatty substance to cook.

Worms have a gizzard, like chickens, so they need hard substances to help them digest.  You can use sand for this, but I think crushing up egg shells and giving them used coffee grounds will do the trick.

One last thing.  The worms try to escape at first.  Nowadays, I have worms at the top whenever I take the lid off, and it's no big deal because I just push them back down.  But when they first moved into their new home, they tried to escape.  Really escape.  I found a couple on the tile, dried to death, the morning after they moved in.  They were coming out of the air holes, I suppose.  But they are all fine now.  Survival of the hungriest, I guess.

These little guys were the first to try to escape.

We have hardly anything in the trash now.  The recycling bin is full and the worms are at work making me black gold for the garden.  It's beautiful.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Fall Seeds

We planted some seeds in the bed.  It might be too late for fall crops to do well, but on the off-chance that the frost comes late this year, we thought we'd give it a try anyway.

Swiss Chard
Broccoli (Calibrese)
Broccoli (Nutribud)
Bunching Onion

On another note, I saw a big basil plant growing out of the side walk a couple blocks away from our house.  Should have taken a picture.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Since we learned that the soil in our bed is good enough to grow what we want, we decided to de-weed asap to avoid as many seeds falling from the grasses and weeds as possible.

The process!

The finished result!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Soil test results!

Looks like the dirt in our yard is in great shape!  Save fertilizer, limestone, and such, our soil has everything we need to grow what we want, and nothing to make it unsafe to eat!

Time to get crackin on the garden!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Soil Test

Last Friday, we took a soil sample from our raised bed.

Getting a soil test done is really important, especially if you know nothing about the soil.  In our case, we don't know anything about what old tenants put into the soil, and we know nothing about whether any other toxic contaminants could be present in the soil.

There are several places around the country that will test your soil-- usually universities.  Out of everywhere near Baltimore, I chose UMass because they are the only place remotely nearby that includes lead in their basic soil test.  Here is their website for more information:

Make sure to follow the directions completely.  To sum it up, dig about 12 holes 6-8 inches deep, put the soil into a bin, mix the soil, and take a sample to be sent to the lab (about 1 cup of soil).

dig holes

mix the soil from the holes

take a sample and send it to the lab!  don't forget to label everything!

and voila! up to 2 weeks later, you get the results!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

First Post

We are Matt and Natasha.  We just moved to Baltimore, and are still getting settled.  Aside from living, working, and exploring in Baltimore, we intend to have a garden.  The purpose of this blog is for us to have a log of what we do in our garden and what works and doesn't work.

The back area of our rowhouse has a large raised bed incorporated into it, but it currently houses a plethora of weeds.  This is our garden bed:

From our back door

From the alleyway

We have also heard stories from the neighbors that do not leave us too confident about the soil in the bed.  Apparently, many many many years ago, the old couple that lived here had over a dozen rose bushes and worked in the garden every season.  The story goes on, though, and it seems as though the tenants that moved in after them pulled out all the rose bushes and dumped chemicals in the soil to kill everything.  This does not bode well.  Similarly, the tenants before us let their dog roam through the bed, which also makes it sound like our garden is unlikely to produce appetizing vegetables.

As a result, our first task is to test the soil and make sure there is nothing in it that will harm the edibles we grow (in turn harming us).  More on that later.