Adventures in Composting: Let The Fun Begin

Adventures in Composting is a regular series written by Jason Silverman, a composting newbie and blogging enthusiast.

I’ve been “composting” yard waste in plastic bags around the yard, putting off getting a composter. I didn’t know which one to get. They’re mostly ugly things. I figured it wouldn’t work anyway; I’d just wind up with rotting watermelon rinds in a rain barrel. Also, they’re kind of expensive.

But the other day I was feeling flush and confident, and also my wife was asking me why I was keeping all those plastic bags of grass and twigs scattered about the property.  And I got tired of shelling out money for bags of soil amendments that I’d need to shlep back from the garden center and forget about.

So I ordered a fine-looking composter with a snazzy Japanese name that surely means it’s well-designed and efficient. It also has a spigot for compost tea, which I hope tastes as good as it sounds. And it has a nice little trap door at the bottom for taking out what I hope is actually compost and not just plain month-old garbage.

Here’s a photo. I hope it composts as good as it looks.

Kyoto Composter

“Saving Seeds” Bridges the Gap Between Generations of Gardener

Guest post by Carolyn Szczepanski

The demand for fresh, local food has put a premium on community garden space in all corners of the District.

Young people are reconnecting with their food sources, urban planners are preaching the gospel of green space and families are eager to prepare dinner with organic produce they’ve nurtured from seed.

But it takes more than dirt and desire to make a garden grow.

Cultivating that perfect heirloom tomato or harvesting a bumper crop of crisp greens requires one key ingredient: knowledge. In 2008, the Neighborhood Farm Initiative sprouted to fill that void for DC growers.

“While there’s plenty of great gardening books and online resources, NFI was started as a hands-on, educational center to really walk total newbie gardeners step-by-step through their first growing season,” says Liz Whitehurst, NFI’s volunteer coordinator.

And NFI is wise beyond its years. The community garden movement isn’t a new phenomenon, Whitehurst points out. The current trend is just the latest page in a much longer history — one that started with Victory Gardens after World War II.

“While recent initiatives have brought more media attention to people growing their own food in Washington DC right now, several dozen community gardens have existed here since the mid-1970s,” Whitehurst says. “We work alongside several community gardeners who have been cultivating their plots since before we were born, and we recognize that people in our generation didn’t invent the idea of eating homegrown food.”

So it’s fitting that NFI’s fundraiser next week bridges the gap between generations.

On Thursday, NFI hosts Saving Seeds: A Night of Food, Film and Conversation on Urban Gardening Through the Generations. The $25 ticket price — which benefits the nonprofit — includes local, seasonal hors d’oeuvres, an open wine bar, and a cinematic double-header.

The first film screening, Corner Plot, is an intimate and heart-warming window into the life of 89-year-old Charlie Koiner, who’s been gardening his one-acre plot inside the Beltway for decades. The second movie short follows Teen Green, a summer program NFI launched in 2010 to educate local youth about urban farming, from seed to sale.

“When we first saw Corner Plot, we were struck by the difference between Charlie Koiner’s way of life and the lifestyles of the teens we work with every day,” Whitehurst says. “But as we thought more about it, we began to see some powerful connections, and we wanted to give others the opportunity to make their own.”

Those organic connections will be fleshed out after the films, during a Q&A including Corner Plot filmmaker Ian Cook, Koiner’s daughter and several teens from NFI’s summer program.

“Education is at the core of our mission,” Whitehurst says. “We want to teach people to grow vegetables in the city, and we want to connect people to serve as resources to each other.”

Growing Gardens, Growing Kids

Guest post by Alison Drucker

At City Blossoms, organic gardening and environmental education meet art and community development. Founded in 2003 by Lola Bloom and Rebecca Lemos, this grassroots nonprofit builds gardens at local schools and recreation centers and uses gardening to build skills and healthy habits among kids.

The City Blossoms model is unique: develop productive, organic green spaces where children and youth are the main cultivators, using gardening to teach about sustainability, health, responsibility, and artistic expression (alongside basics like writing and social skills).

It doesn’t hurt if the project spruces up a formerly neglected urban lot, either – artistic expression and beautification are key pieces of the programming.

Spanning seven years and at least eight different projects, City Blossoms’ activities reach more than 700 kids each week in D.C., Baltimore, and Langley Park.

One of their success stories is the Girard Children’s Community Garden in Columbia Heights – in 2008, the group transformed an asphalt lot into a demonstration garden where children from community organizations now attend workshops and help grow vegetables, flowers, and herbs.

The garden is also home to a free monthly workshop series for families. This season’s bilingual workshops kicks off on April 3 with a session on container gardening; future workshops this year will give kids and parents a hands-on opportunity to learn about herbs, insects, composting, and garden-inspired cooking.

This spring, City Blossoms will be transforming another urban D.C. space into a neighborhood garden, this time on Marion Street in Shaw. The two lots will become home to drought-tolerant, native flowers and plants, along with herb and vegetable gardens, an outdoor classroom, and art spaces.

On Saturday, April 10th, you can volunteer your digging and planting skills to help the Marion Street Community Garden become a reality.

For the D.C. Bilingual Public Charter School and others, City Blossoms has also developed and delivered regular workshops tied to schools’ curricular goals and standards, hosted at the school, another local green space, or the Girard garden. And they create special school-wide events and after-school or summer activities that promote environmental and community stewardship.