Wednesday, August 31, 2011

National Public Lands Day

National Public Lands Day is September 24th. We just registered as the Boone Street Garden, so come on out an volunteer!

We will be weeding to get ready for fall crops such as garlic and cabbage transplants, cleaning up the lot, harvesting greens and hopefully pumpkins and melons. We will also need help mulching and finishing the compost bins for the winter.

So save the date for September 24th and come on out to volunteer! Contact me at to get more information.

From the NPLD website:

National Public Lands Day (NPLD) is the nation's largest, single-day volunteer event for public lands in the United States. Last year, 170,000 volunteers worked at over 2,080 sites in every state, the District of Columbia and in many U.S. territories. NPLD volunteers:
  • Removed an estimated 450 tons of trash
  • Collected an estimated 20,000 pounds of invasive plants
  • Built and maintained an estimated 1,320 miles of trails
  • Planted an estimated 100,000 trees, shrubs and other native plants
  • Contributed an estimated $15 million to improve public lands across the country
Eight federal agencies, nonprofits and state, regional and local governments participate in the annual day of caring for shared lands.

National Public Lands Day keeps the promise of the Civilian Conservation Corps, the "tree army" that worked from 1933-1942 to preserve and protect America's natural heritage. 

If you're a BaltimoreDIY reader in another state, there are plenty of volunteer opportunities available all around the country. Click on the link to the National Public Lands Day website to see all of the events.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Late August 2011 Update: Fermenting Pickles, Hops, and Baby Bunnies!

This photo is just a little corner of the BaltimoreDIY pantry. Mostly I wanted to show the hops picked from my friend's yard over the weekend.

Beer brewing is a project way beyond my means right now, but I do like the use the hops in tea! The tea is extremely bitter but calming. I like to mix it with dried lavender and other herbs to cut the bitterness. Perfect drink if you're trying to cut back on the beer but still miss drinking it!

The feathers were a gift from a neighbor- she found a hawk by the side of the road that had been hit and killed, and she dried and preserved the wings and tail. What a nice gift!

The tomato box holds feathers from our ducks. I didn't have the guts to post about this, but the ducks are now in the freezer... everything went well and wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. I was glad that I was reading "Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat" the same weekend that we did the ducks in.

The jars are mostly homemade maraschino cherries and canned peaches. I'm hoping to have these for sale at HampdenFest on September 11th! We'll have lots of other canned goods and homemade food made from local Boone Street produce available as well. I'll be sure to keep you all posted.

Another pantry addition over the weekend is: more pickles!

Some BaltimoreDIY readers may remember that I've already canned up a lot of the cucumbers from our Boone Street garden. Those pickles were the simple vinegar pickles.

I didn't quite have the energy to do any canning this weekend and was trying to think of something easier to do that would also preserve the bounty of produce that we haven't been able to sell as quickly as we would like!

Fermenting came to the rescue. I modified a recipe from the Ball canning book.. I'll post it here hopefully tomorrow.

These awesome flower vases are actually perfect for fermenting since the curve at the top of the jar holds the cucumbers under the brine. Usually you need to have a special crock or rig up some kind of thing where you weigh down a plate to hold the vegetables submerged under the brine, but this vase made fermenting nice and easy. It's hard to see how big the crock is in the photo, but it's bigger than it looks! You can kind of tell once you realize the crock goes about three-quarters of the way up the chair back.

These fermented pickles will be on sale at HampdenFest too!

It would be super awesome if I could make pretzel rolls and a white bean and pork flavored hummus-type spread to serve with the pickles, but we'll see if I have the time and energy to bust that out!

In other fun BaltimoreDIY news:

Baby bunnies!

They are about a week old right now and their eyes are just starting to open. They are baby Rex rabbits.

Here's the mama:

The babies are all doing well. Our American chinchilla also had two kits at the same time the Rex rabbit had kits, but her's didn't survive. She never built a nest for them. Yes, rabbits build nests! They pull out their belly fur to keep the newborns nice and cozy. That's what all the white hair is in the top photo.

In other weird rabbit news, (you probably don't want to read this if you're squeamish)... the mama Rex rabbit did eat one of the kits. That wasn't a fun thing to realize. I guess at a certain point when they're nursing maybe they just really need that kind of protein or something? So strange.

Just another layer added to my thoughts on meat eating and the life and death of our backyard barnyard.

So as you can see, there's a fair amount going on at BaltimoreDIY! We are harvesting quite a lot of Boone Street produce these days, and I will be posting a list soon of what we have available for purchase.

Depending on where you are located and how much you purchase, we may even deliver right to your house! Leave a comment if you're interested, or contact me at

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Urban Agriculture Classes at PGCC

Prince George's Community College in suburban Washington, DC is offering a whole host of Urban Agriculture courses this fall.  There is already a waiting list for some classes!

The courses are:

AGR-301 Urban Agriculture: The New Frontier in the Green Economy

AGR-311 Starting Your Urban Farm

AGR-312 Post-Harvest Processing and Marketing

AGR-315 Distribution: Getting Food from Farm to Table

AGR-320 Composting for Urban Agriculture

AGR-321 Introducing Urban Livestock on Your Farm

AGR-330 High Tunnel Construction and Use

AGR-360 Introduction to Beekeeping

AGR-301, AGR-311, AGR-312, AGR-320, AGR-321, and AGR-330 are offered at ECO City Farms in Edmonston Maryland (near Hyattsville) and together make up the Certificate in Urban Commercial Agriculture, and AGR-315 and AGR-360 are offered at PGCC's extension center in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, the Westphalia Training Center.

All urban agriculture courses earn CEUs.  To sign up for any urban agriculture course, go to, click on Owl Link, click on the yellow bar labeled Workforce Development and Cont. Ed. Students, click
on Register Cont. Ed. Courses, and type the course code in the course code box (or to see all of them, just type AGR in the course code box).

Click on the name of the course to read more, or click the box next to it to register for the course.

The above photo was taken from the March 2010 post of a class I took as part of the new farmer training series held by the Maryland Extension Office. Click the link for more photos of the visit to Calvert's Gift Farm!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat

It’s so easy to open a tin of cat food… but could you feed a live kitten to a snake?

Hal Herzog is a leading scientist in the emerging field of anthrozoology, which studies the relationship between humans and animals. His new book uses a range of scientific studies and personal anecdotes to explore the murky waters of meat eating, pet owning, animal research, and other human-animal interactions.

You can read my review of his new book on HOMEGROWN.ORG here!

(Disclaimer: I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for a review. However, I think you will see from my review that I read the book, and wrote a truthful and personal evaluation.)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Value Added

Organically grown fruits and veggies often don't turn out looking as picture-perfect as they do at the grocery store.

What's a small scale food grower supposed to do when their crop turns out as fugly as this not-quite-ripe tomato we grew at the Boone Street Garden?

The answer requires a lot more labor and time, but in the end you will have an even better product.

Many of our cherry tomatoes split open a tiny bit due to the heavy rain last week, and many of our heirloom tomatoes developed deep cracks as shown in the tomato above. Definitely not appetizing to the average consumer. And in the case of the broken tomatoes, we had a product that was going to go rotten very fast.

But when you're a small-scale grower, every little bit counts. You've just got be inventive.

One of the best ways to turn that not so pretty produce into profit is through food preservation. This is otherwise know as making a value-added product. Or as I prefer: "selling the sizzle, not the steak."

All of those busted tomatoes got cleaned, the bad bits were chopped off, and I simmered and simmered the tomatoes for hours to create the delicious tomato paste you see in the top photo. It tastes just like sun-dried tomatoes!

If you'd like to try this tomato jam, come visit us at the Charles Street farmer's market tomorrow (Friday the 19th), right near Velocipede and the Charles Theater.

We'll be spreading the tomato jam with homemade hummus on baguettes I'm baking tomorrow a.m. so they will be fresh.

Some of the other tomatoes were pretty good looking, but pretty much everyone is up to their ears in tomatoes these days and we wanted to make a special product. So we made a lovely summer salsa!

This salsa is chock-full of Boone Street tomatoes, cucumbers, banana peppers, chili pepper, yellow squash, basil, and a few nectarines from Reid's Orchard thrown in for good measure.

We'll be selling chips from Baltimore's famed Tortilleria Sinaloa served with this salsa.

That's not all! We also have the following available for sale:

- okra pickles
- cherry and large tomatoes
- yellow squash and zucchini
- banana peppers

If you would like any of our produce or are interested in purchasing the baguette + hummus + tomato jam or chips + salsa if there is some available after the market, please email your contact information to and I will add you to our list of people interested in purchasing Boone Street Garden produce and food.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Thanks for coming to our market in Remington!

Thanks to everyone who came to our market in Remington yesterday!

We sold handmade pasta, okra, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, potatoes, collards, kale, squash, banana peppers and pickles. This is the table display before Cheryl showed up with about four times as many cucumbers, a lot more tomatoes, and more okra and peppers. More produce was also in a cooler, this is just the display.

The handmade pasta is in the jars (the purple kind was colored with beets, and the more orange kind was colored with carrots). Definitely hoping to make more of that soon!

All total we made enough funds to purchase tools (maybe a really nice mallet for putting in trellises or fence posts, or a wheelbarrow so we don't have to keep borrowing one) or about one third of the cost to have the city open up our water main on the street so we don't have to hook up 200 feet of hose to the fire hydrant. Or we could get more lumber, or seeds, or pay some of the neighborhood kids to help with garden harvests and care.... so many choices!

Thanks again everyone, and with all this rain and nice weather I'm sure I'll be posting about more pop-up markets soon!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Boone Street Produce Available for Sale TONIGHT

We have fresh picked Boone Street produce available for sale tonight!

Kale, collards, cherry tomatoes, banana peppers, okra, cucumbers, potatoes, and squash will be for sale TONIGHT in Remington.

We will be set up with a tent covering in the parking lot next to the Remington garden at 28th and Fox Street. The market will go from 5:30-8:00 PM.

We did have a small sale on Sunday in the Midway neighborhood next to the garden and at the Greenmount and 25th Street intersection, but the rain put a bit of a damper on things and we still have a lot of produce for sale.

Growing all of this food has taught me a lot about the work it takes to bring produce to market. Each leaf of greens has to be washed, sorted, and weighed. We harvested 3.5 pounds of greens on Saturday, and there is plenty more growing.

The greens will be great in a summery saute with tomatoes, over rice, mixed with pasta, or in an easy eggy frittata. Can't go wrong with greens!

Sorting and weighing the tomatoes:

One of the neighborhood kids borrowed my camera, here's a shot he took of us harvesting on Saturday!

All produce is pesticide-free, and the proceeds will be used to help support the garden's growth.

We may even bring our homemade pasta:

Thanks for the new pasta machine, Greenmount Goodwill!

Here's the beet flavor made with Boone Street beets (we have a carrot version also):

Thank you all for the support, and I'll see you at the market tonight!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Spicy Sesame Noodle Salad: On Sale Today at the Bohemian Cafe!

BaltimoreDIY now has food for sale!

This spicy sesame cold noodle salad is available at the Bohemian Cafe TODAY starting at 11 a.m. If you're in the Mount Vernon or Station North Area, stop by and grab one before they're gone!

What's in that pretty jar?

Cold soba noodles tossed in sesame oil and topped with a homemade spicy korean chili-vinegar sauce. Topped with diced cucumbers and hardboiled egg. Yum! Perfect summer meal.

The Bohemian Cafe is located at 1821 N. Charles Street.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Block Party Photo Slideshow

Slideshow of photos from Saturday's block party at the Boone Street garden!

Thanks so much to the Baltimore Neighborhood Energy Challenge for organizing the event.

The garden now looks nice and trim, relatively trash free, and has a new sign! It was fun giving tours, welcoming people to come hang out in the space, displaying photos, and spending time with the neighbors.

We were even visited by the Baltimore Showstoppers marching unit as well as several City Council candidates. Thanks all!

Enjoy the photos!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Canning! Peaches, Plums, and Cukes

It's been a little quieter here than usual- I've been canning!

Peaches, plums, and cucumbers so far, and I hope to do tomatoes next. Then the general plan is to move on to pressure canning non acidic foods like beans with sage and meat broth.

Just uploaded a bunch of photos and I'll be posting more details soon. I need to clean out my Picasa photos first since it's all full up and won't let me post any more to the blog.

If you've been clicking links and they have an /!\ where the photo should be, that's because I accidentally deleted some photos from Picasa while trying to make more room. Argh. Re-post time!

Somehow it worked out that I've been canning about a crate of fruit per Sunday. Two Sundays ago it was peaches. Peach pie filling (a little watery so it might be sauce), peaches in syrup, and peaches with Grand Marnier. See top photo!

Some of those peaches got opened up this Sunday and added to plums, banana peppers, spices, honey, and cider vinegar for some delicious sweet and spicy roasting fruit. I'm envisioning dumping a jar of this into a roasting pan with a chicken or duck this winter... yum!

This is the fruit pre-cooked when it looked much prettier in the jar.

Boone Street Garden pickles! All made with produce grown from our garden. Very mustard-seed strewn pickles, okra pickles, mixed okra-cuke-green tomato pickles, and two half-pints of zucchini relish leftover from the block party on Sunday.

Can't wait to post more details soon! And I've got photos from Saturday's block party too. For now I'll just leave you all with a video of the Baltimore Showstoppers, the marching unit that performed at the block party. Thanks!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

2011 Charm City Garden Tour: THIS SATURDAY 8/13

Charm City Garden Tour & Party

August 13, 2011 — 2:00pm

Location: Whitelock Community Farm, 940 Whitelock St., Baltimore, MD, 21217

Join Parks & People, CGRN and the Baltimore City Master Gardeners for the 2nd Annual Charm City Garden Tour! This year's tour will explore and celebrate the gardens of the west side. Choose from either our bicycle or charter bus tour options.

Registration: $15 for bike tour / $20 for bus tour

Stick around for the post-tour garden party at Whitelock Community Farm complete with locally-sourced refreshments, live entertainment and games! Party will begin at 5:00pm. The party is free and open to the public.

For more information, click here to view the garden tour's website.

An update from the Whitelock Farm blog:

The bus has officially been filled however the Bike Tour still has a few spots left in registration and if you just want to enjoy the Block Party there is no registration for that. Just show up, meet your neighbors and gardening friends from the city. And enjoy some music and food as well.

Friends of mine have a pretty epic barbeque planned for that day so I may not be able to make the bike ride, but I really want to at least come visit Whitelock for the dinner!

Love that photo above of our friend Dale Hargrave at his Greenmount West garden! The photo was originally posted on the Charm City Garden Tour photo gallery.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Homemade Maraschino Cherries: Recipe Roundup

Last week I posted about several different methods for preserving all of this summer bounty. One of those methods used good old hard liquor to preserve fruit.

Since I just managed to snag the end of cherry season in early July, I decided to store up as many cherries as possible by making maraschino cherries. Turns out other homegrown foodies have been doing the same!

Here is a round-up of the method I used and a few other recipes as well.

As I mentioned before, maraschino is actually a "bittersweet, clear liqueur flavored with Marasca cherries." Luxardo is the most most popular brand of this type of liquor, which happily the Wine Source had in stock. You are welcome to use whatever liquor you like: Luxardo, vodka, brandy, cognac, etc.

No corn syrup and red food dye here!

I started out this project by doing some quick online research and then winging it with a simple preparation.

After several hours pitting cherries and putting them into quart-size mason jars, I put a cup of natural cane sugar into each jar, then filled the jars up with liquor and put them in my fridge. Done and done.

Other websites list a variety of methods: using just plain cherries and liquor, blanching the cherries in salt water, using hibiscus tea for coloring, and more.

The Punk Domestics website links to an article by Sean Timberlake which recommends using specifically sour cherries and simmering the cherries in Luxardo instead of a long-term soak.

I'd have to say that I found that the sweet cherries I used were fine, but sour cherries might be more authentic. His recipes also does not include sugar, so if you'd like omit that part of the recipe it seems like that would be fine.

This Chowhound discussion suggests methods like blanching the cherries in salt water to maintain their firm texture and adding hibiscus tea or cherry juice to the liquor to enhance the color. Read the discussion for more details!

Soaking the cherries in salt water may sound weird, but that's also a suggested method for making watermelon rind and cucumber pickles. The salt water soak takes out extra water from the fruit, resulting in a firmer pickle.

One of the full recipes posted on Chowhound (by Striper Guy) is below.

The recipe recommends blanching the cherries quickly in salty water, but I would probably go for soaking the cherries in saltwater overnight in the fridge instead. I think it would take out just as much water and you would avoid accidentally cooking the cherries too long and making them soft.

I recommend reading the actual discussion for more details if you really want to nerd out on the process.

Cocktail Cherry Recipe:

- Blanch cherries in very salty boiling water for 4 minutes
- Rinse and soak for a few minutes in cool water to get rid of salt
- Place cherries in large jar
- Add healthy amounts of the following: star anise, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, allspice, anise seed,   fennel seed
- Make some REALLY concentrated red hibiscus tea (this is to help the cherries keep their color) and add 1/2 cup to the bottle
- If you can find some good cherry juice add a cup to the jar
- Fill the rest of the jar with vodka or cheap brandy
- Add sugar to taste
- Wait at least a month

Sounds exciting!

If you're looking to keep it simple though, adding a cup of sugar to a quart jar of cherries and filling the jar with did the job.

The color of the liquor became a deep red and very cherry flavored without any added cherry juice or hibiscus tea for coloring, and the cherries were perfectly firm after about a week. I do still want to try that saltwater soaking method though just to experiment.

I did end up canning the maraschino cherries with a spice mix of cinnamon stick, a few cloves, and several peppercorns.

If you want to replicate the canning process, I boiled the jars for 15 minutes in a water bath to can them.

The heat from the canning process probably evaporated all of the alcohol from the cherries, but at least they are flavored like real maraschino cherries. I wasn't 100% sure that the cherries would be shelf-stable otherwise.

UPDATE Here is a reply from Chowhound StriperGuy in response to one of my many maraschino cherry questions:

Just FYI you can't destroy the alcohol. The only issue with cooking and alcohol is that it has a low boiling point 172F so boils off more easily than water. Also why distillation of alcohol is possible.

As long as your jars were sealed when you heated them, the alcohol is trapped and none was destroyed or evaporated away.

Also, as long as you use a decent amount of alcohol (I think 20% should do it) ain't nothing going to grow there.

Hmmm, so perhaps the alcohol didn't evaporate during canning?

Boiling water does heat to 212 degrees F, which is above the boiling point of alcohol. I'm not sure if the alcohol is prevented from evaporating by the jar lids or not because the canning lids seal completely only *after* they cool down from the water bath.

Sounds like I could use some of Chicken-Man's scientific expertise!

I did consider that the alcohol would allow the cherries to be shelf-stable, but figured it would be safer to sterilize the contents of the jar in a water bath just in case, since I will be storing them in the pantry until winter and will hopefully be providing the cherries to the public. So I want to be absolutely sure that they cherries are safe to eat.

Hoping to have a fancy cocktail party fundraiser for the Boone Street Garden! These homemade, local maraschino cherries will certainly add a nice touch.

I guess we'll find out when we drink the contents of the jars in winter if they are still alcoholic or not!

UPDATE #2: Chowhounds help me out again!

JMF from the Chowhound forum actually did an experiment to see if the canning process will evaporate alcohol. Here is his response:

OK, so I put 16 oz of 50% abv alcohol in a pint canning jar. Sealed it and put it into a waterbath and brought to a boil for 30 minutes, then removed it and cooled it down. There was no determinable loss in liquid quantity (there may have been a few ml. loss, but such a small amount that it wasn't noticeable using a lab measuring retort), and zero change in alcohol by volume. Absolutely none.

Yay! Looks like the cherries will still have a nice kick to them!

Just because cherry season is over doesn't mean you can't experiment with this same method using different produce.

Soak some peaches in cognac and sugar syrup to serve with chopped toasted nuts and oats plus whipped cream. Or mix cherry tomatoes and basil in vodka for a delicious Bloody Mary addition. Or mint and blueberries in rum for an extra classy mojito.

StriperGuy also kindly forwarded along this New York Times article about preserving fruit in alcohol. There's a great list at the end of all the different ways to use boozy fruit from tarts to serving with roast meat.

The possibilities are endless!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Boone Street Cleanup Day

The Boone Street garden is hosting a block party this Saturday, August 6th, in collaboration with the Baltimore Neighborhood Energy Challenge. The block party has been a good reason to get the garden prettied up!

Last Thursday and Saturday we had cleanup days to pick up trash, trim the weeds, put up a community garden sign, rake all the lovely hay from our fresh cut grass, and more!

Special thanks to Mr. Lowell, Ms. Lolita, Ms. Janine, Ms. Haroline, Ms. Cindy, Mr. Brent, Ms. Marisa, and of course all the kids who came out and helped us rake hay and put up the sign. We ate zucchini bread and had fun getting things cleaned up! The girls even told me about the Disney "Friends for Change" show, and they want to send in a video and photos from the block party to show what's going on in their neighborhood.

Our newly expanded perennial bed mulched with all the hay... Cheryl managed to get some really interesting perennial plants on sale like horseradish root, curry plant, and more. Can't wait for next year when we can really start harvesting these perennials!

The bed doesn't look like much right now since it's so hot and it's a new bed so we are leaving lots of room for the plants to expand on their own over the next few years. But eventually we will have lots of tea herbs like chamomile, mint, mountain mint, echinacea, and more as well as edible perennials like sorrel, strawberries, rosemary, sage, oregano, etc.

I'm also hoping to feed the rabbits and chickens with that hay... hay is usually about $10 a bale so I'm hoping to cut down on our feed costs a bit!

Speaking of lowering feed costs, stay tuned for photos and a post about the soldier fly larvae I was happy to find in our rabbit compost bin!
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