On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
With stay at home orders in place and grocery store shelves becoming increasingly sparse, many are looking for alternative ways to feed their families. As the weather warms, there’s no better time to develop a green thumb and start a garden.
We sit down with local gardening experts to learn the best ways for those stuck at home to grow everything from tomatoes to greens, to berries and peppers.
Produced by Kayla Hewitt
- Joshua Singer D.C. Parks and Recreation Community Garden Specialist
- Meredith Sheperd Owner, Love and Carrots
- Kendra Hazel Community Green Space Educator, City Blossoms, @CityBlossoms
KOJO NNAMDIWelcome back. The coronavirus pandemic has affected all of our daily lives, including regular trips to the grocery store. Many shoppers have been confronted with sparsely stocked aisles when trying to stock up on essential items, and are looking for new ways to keep their families fed, as stay-at-home orders remain in effect. As the weather warms up, this may be the perfect time to develop a green thumb and grow food right in your backyard.
KOJO NNAMDIAre you struggling to find the produce you need in your local grocery store? Do you want to start your own, at-home garden? Joining me now is Meredith Sheperd, the owner of the urban gardening company Love and Carrots. Meredith Sheperd, thank you for joining us.
MEREDITH SHEPERDThanks, Kojo. It's great to be here.
NNAMDIGreat to have you. Meredith, why is gardening an important activity, especially at a time like this?
SHEPERDWell, I mean, we're used to being able to access, really, any kind of food we can think of. But with coronavirus, you know, it's kind of exposing us to what, unfortunately, is a daily reality for a lot of people in the city and around the world. And that's a lack of, like, instant access to fresh fruits and vegetables. So, a way to combat that is to grow your own. D.C.'s a great city for that for a variety of reasons.
NNAMDIAnd one of those reasons might be Josh Singer. Josh Singer is the D.C. Parks and Recreation community garden specialist. Josh Singer, thank you for joining us.
JOSHUA SINGERThanks for having me.
NNAMDIJosh, what kinds of programs would your department normally be running at this time, and how are you adjusting to social distancing measures?
SINGERYeah. We're actually running most of our programs right now. We had to cancel a few things because of social distancing, but we are very grateful for the mayor's office who deemed a lot of our community gardens to be essential, being a great source of food in a time of crisis right now and a great chance to kind of reduce your trips to the grocery store. So, as long as you're social distancing, you can keep on growing in any one of our 35 community gardens.
SINGERBut one of the main programs that we do is we do a lot of garden education programs. We teach a lot of people how to garden throughout the year. And kind of our main program is a 12-class series called the Urban Grower Course. And we've been doing it for years, but this was the first time we actually converted it to a whole entire webinar class.
SINGERAnd just to show the demand that people that are interested, we opened up registration, and in three days, we had over 2,000 people registered for this class. And it's really exciting. I mean, we can only fit 100 people into this course, but we're recording the classes and we're sending out the recordings to the rest of the people. We're sharing the PowerPoints and presentations and everything like that.
SINGERSo, if you are interested in learning how to grow right now, this is a great time to learn. Go to DPRadvance -- DPR stands for D.C. Parks and Rec -- advance is our webinar page. It shows all different kinds of great cooking classes and, you know, workout classes. And you'll see the garden classes. Register for the garden classes, even if they're full. As long as you get on the waiting list, you'll get the recordings, you'll get the presentations. We're doing Q&A sessions for people that can't attend the class and still have questions.
SINGERAnd you'll get a heads-up on a lot more -- we're organizing a really cool summer gardening webinar series, where we'll have classes, have over 20 classes right now of, like, mushroom forging and hydroponics and, like you know, canning your food and things. So it's, you know, just a perfect time right now to learn how to grow.
NNAMDIJoining me now is Kendra Hazel, community green space educator at City Blossoms. Kendra Hazel, thank you for joining us.
KENDRA HAZELThank you for having me. I appreciate it.
NNAMDIWhat is City Blossoms and how have you all adjusted to stay-at-home orders?
HAZELCity Blossoms, we're a nonprofit based here in D.C., in which we encourage healthy communities through innovative and community engagement programs in several green spaces throughout the area. And we focus on developing tools and building healthy communities and schools through kid-driven gardens, in which we focus on creativity, nature connection, art, science, healthy eating, sustainability and also garden care.
HAZELAnd currently transitioning from our in-person program, which we usually would do in our spring. We're transitioning into remote distance learning to support our D.C. educators and our partners and also our family members and supporters. We are now doing stuff, many work days in which we go into our community green spaces that we do have access to. And we're planting multiple spring crops such as lettuce, kale, Swiss chard, collard greens with hopes of donating these produce -- once they are ready for harvest -- into the community.
HAZELAnd also we're providing virtual lesson plans on our social media, such as Instagram, in which families and also educators are able to follow and track several activities that they can do inside their house, and out in nature, as well.
NNAMDIWhat are you planning to do with the food you harvest in your community green spaces?
HAZELWe're planning to work with some of our partners, such as Dreaming Out Loud, to distribute some of the food. And also making it known that our community members in our garden neighborhoods are able to have access to the food, as usually our gardens are open and free willing to have the produce distributed to the community.
NNAMDIHere now is Phyllis in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Phyllis, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PHYLLISHi. Thanks for taking my question. I dug a lovely garden plot on the south side of my house, and I planted sugar snap peas and bush beans. And I did that about two weeks ago, and nothing's come up. And I was just curious whether I was too exuberant about having the time to do it, and I planted too early. Should I replant?
NNAMDIMeredith Sheperd, can you offer some advice?
SHEPERDYeah, definitely. So, peas are a cool-weather crop, so your timing is right on point for them. It still might be a little bit early for beans. Every type of seed, every type of vegetable has its own kind of germination temperature that it likes the soil to be. So, peas are a great thing to plant early in spring, like you just did. You might want to retry your beans a little bit later.
SHEPERDSometimes, you know, squirrels or birds can dig up the peas. Also, if it's two weeks, you're not necessarily out of luck yet. They might still pop up, but don't be afraid to re-seed. There's no harm in it, if you still have seeds. And once you do see them, make sure to keep them nice and moist.
SHEPERDAnd another thing I can recommend is before you replant your peas, if you're going to do that, soak them overnight in water, and then seed them the next day. Pea seeds should go about an inch down in the soil, and then just lightly pat it. And I think it's not too late to plant either but give beans another week or so before you put them in the ground.
NNAMDIPhyllis, thank you very much for your call, and good luck to you. Meredith, how has your company, Love and Carrots, been affected by the pandemic?
SHEPERDWell, we service a lot of restaurants, local restaurants, and we have a lot of rooftop gardens. So, in order to reduce exposure for my staff and for the community, we stopped servicing restaurant gardens and going through buildings. So, that was about 30 percent of our maintenance clients, but that's the downside.
SHEPERDOn the upside, we've seen a huge uptick in people wanting to start new gardens, which is great. You know, it kind of harkens back to victory gardens. There's been a lot of news articles out about a resurgence of that. So, we've seen a lot of new gardeners coming out of the woodwork wanting to garden with their kids, looking to, you know, have some ready access to vegetables in their own backyards. So, it's been both. We've lost some business but now we're also struggling to keep up with the new business.
NNAMDIHere now is Terri in Silver Spring, Maryland. Terri, your turn.
TERRII love you madly. Your wife doesn't have to worry. I'm 81 years old. (laugh) But, anyway, I started a garden, a microscopic garden on county property, Montgomery County property a few weeks back, and was flabbergasted to get some feedback that startled me, and I'm hoping you can help me dispel this myth. I was told that vegetable gardens attract rats.
TERRII called the county, got all that straightened out, but it is definitely an urban myth that seems to be out there. And it might be interfering with a lot of people starting a garden. So, if you can help me dispel that myth, I would be very grateful. Thank you.
NNAMDII'll ask Kendra Hazel to do that. Kendra?
HAZELI would like to say that that is not a myth. That is, in fact, true, in which we are actually, you know, invading in their space, as well. I would say there's not much that we can do in regards to keeping the rats away, but to just keep producing in hopes that they don't take over the garden, as sometimes it can happen.
NNAMDIMeredith Sheperd, care to comment?
SHEPERDYeah, so we care for 150 gardens all over the city, and we certainly don't have rats in the majority of our gardens, the vast majority. Typically, if there's an existing rat problem in the area, like if you live in a neighborhood that has a lot of restaurants and dumpsters and so there's just, like, a lot of rat traffic as it is, then you'll probably have rats in your garden. They're not going to eat all of your crops. They're mostly interested in tomatoes and squash and other fruiting varieties. But then they'll also burrow in that nice soft soil.
SHEPERDWe've tried things like lining the raised beds with hardware cloth, which, I'll admit, it's a real pain in the butt. (laugh) But it, you know, can deter them a little bit. So, I would say, you know, don't be deterred. Give it a try and, you know, get some cats. (laugh) But it is something that we do coexist with here in D.C. But, yeah, we don't see them in most of our gardens.
NNAMDIHow about you, Josh Singer?
SINGERYeah. The class that we're doing today for our webinar series is called critter-proofing your garden. It's all about, you know, dealing with squirrels and birds and all kinds of things. And rats, we typically -- like, your main, you know, pests are going to be your squirrels and your birds and deer, if you live close to, like, Rockford Park or DuPont, or someplace.
SINGERAnd there's a lot of great, you know, organic issues that we talk about. Again, we record the classes. If you want to, you know, learn about tips, just sign up. But, with rats, we usually don't see too many rats in a lot of gardens, unless, like Meredith was saying, they already exist. A lot of times they're not attracted to your, like, tomatoes and things. They're attracted to rotting food. They're attracted to dumpsters.
SINGERSo, a lot of times, we see if people don't know what they're doing with, like, composting, and they have a bad composting pile, they'll attract critters. And then while they're there, they might, you know, eat your sweet potatoes, they might eat your squashes. But they're not just coming just because you're building a garden. And that's really important to understand.
SINGERAnd also really important, if you're composting, you need to know what you're doing, especially in the city. Because more people care about, you know, rats than they do about diverting organic waste from a dump. So, definitely take a class on composting before you start composting.
NNAMDIHere now is Angela in Brentwood. Angela, your turn.
ANGELAYes, good afternoon. Hi. I'm Angela, and I'm a plant killer, and I don't want to be. (laugh) I'm a workaholic, and I work varying hours, and I know proper growing probably takes consistency. But, like, I don't have a consistent work schedule in terms of, like, watering at this particular time, having a plant in the sun at this particular time and such.
ANGELASo, I'm wondering, I really like microgreens, but I would like to try to grow something in like a glass jar or a cup or something that I can do primarily inside my home, which is something very easy to do.
NNAMDIIndeed, Meredith Sheperd, that, and for people who may live in apartments and don't have a lot of great deal of outdoor access, what would you recommend?
SHEPERDWell, sunlight is going to be key for any garden, so pick a south-facing window and try to, you know, on a Saturday or something, do a little monitoring to see how many hours of sunlight you might get. Six or more is ideal to start with, but even if you have less, don't be deterred. And then, you know, if you're gardening on a balcony or indoors, make sure to start with a pot that's bigger than you think. Especially if you're on a balcony, I'd say anything the size of a five-gallon bucket or larger is good to start with. Make sure it has drainage holes. Start with really good organic potting soil.
SHEPERDAnd then, from there, you can -- micro greens are a really great thing to grow in a small space like that, or anything that has what we call a continual harvest. So, an example of something that's not a continual harvest is a carrot, where you plan one seed, and then you wait about 90 days, and then you have one carrot. That versus, like, you know, kale or lettuce or basil or tomatoes. Things like that, you have a continual harvest. So, the tomato plant keeps producing tomatoes, and you can pick off the same plant for an extended period of time.
SHEPERDSo, focusing on crops like that is going to help you have a more meaningful harvest and get more out of your garden. Some simple things to start with, if you're just starting out, are herbs like basil, thyme, rosemary, lavender, sage. And then greens are a great thing to start with, lettuce, kale, collard greens. Peppers are also pretty easy and forgiving. And if you're just starting out, cherries are everybody's favorite crop, so try cherry tomatoes first if you're nervous. And they'll be a little bit more successful in a pot.
SHEPERDOne last tip for container growing is -- or two actually, is don't overcrowd them. I see people get overzealous and they'll put like five pepper plants in one, you know, container the size of a five-gallon bucket. That doesn't mean that you're going to get more harvest. They'll overcrowd each other, they'll compete, and you'll get less produce than you would with just one pepper plant properly spaced.
SHEPERDAlso, watering, make sure that, you know, the soil is continually moist. You don't want it to be over-soggy. Plants don't like, you know, their roots to sit in water. So, the ideal is like the moisture of a wrung-out sponge. Nice, even consistent moisture is going to help you, as well.
NNAMDIMeredith, are gardening centers in the area still open? Where can people still buy tools and seeds and soil?
SHEPERDI think nurseries were considered an essential business, I believe, nurseries and hardware stores. So, yeah, should be open.
NNAMDIAnd, finally, here is Glenna in Nokesville, Virginia. Glenna, your turn. We only have about a minute left.
GLENNAFine. Can you tell me how to keep the neighbor's free-range chickens out of my garden patches?
NNAMDIKendra Hazel, Josh Singer, any ideas?
SINGERWell, I mean...
SINGERWell, for sure, I mean, I don't know what your neighbors are doing, but that will be one of the classes that we're going to be hosting this summer, is how to actually responsibly raise chickens. So, maybe, you know, get that link and (laugh) nicely send it to your neighbor, because they should not just be running around. They need to be in enclosures. You know, raising chickens, definitely you don't want roosters. You want chickens.
SINGERYou know, a lot of times, you can rent these little cages. They're called rent-a-coops. And the idea is -- well, a lot of times, for their own safety, because there are, you know, birds of prey and things that will attack them, that you want to keep in these enclosures. (laugh) You don't want them running around the neighborhood. So, definitely, sign up for one of our classes. You'll get a link to all of our summer classes. We will have a chicken class, and just very nicely suggest that they take this class.
NNAMDIJosh Singer is the D.C. Parks and Recreation community garden specialist. Meredith Sheperd is the owner of the urban gardening company Love and Carrots. And Kendra Hazel is the community green space educator at City Blossoms. Thank you all for joining us. Good luck, and stay safe.
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