Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Urban Biodiversity in Okra

Recently two amazing Baltimore organizations, Blue Water Baltimore and Power in Dirt posted articles about biodiversity, the urban environment, and our foodsystems.

What does okra have to do with biodiversity? A hint is in the photo above. Can you find the nearly six inch long praying mantis we found this summer on our okra? It's in the middle of the photo. I can't remember the last time I saw one in the city, much less such a big one.

It's commonly know that it's hard to have biodiversity when you need to grow thousands of acres of corn. This article posted by Blue Water Baltimore and written by Robert Krulwich, Cornstalks Everywhere But Nothing Else, Not Even a Bee, describes a project by "David Liittschwager, a portrait photographer, who spent a few years traveling the world, dropping one-cubic-foot metal frames into gardens, streams, parks, forests, oceans, and then photographing whatever, or whoever came through."

By the end of the article we learn that the one cubic foot of a commercial corn field is essentially denuded of any life. Sounds a lot like the empty houses filled with trash, wild cats, and virginia creeper we see around Baltimore.

We see a majority of the same five or ten creatures around most cities: crows, pigeons, sparrows, starling, cats, rats, and maybe a few feral raccoons or bats. Same with plants: grass, virginia creeper, ghetto palm (ailanthus), and that other broad leafed ghetto palm whose name I can't recall.

The article posted by Power in Dirt, The Wild Life of American Cities, confirmed this limited variety of urban life. Baltimore even gets a shoutout, and I found out our city is going to be in a study about this very issue:

"Places like Baltimore, Minneapolis and Phoenix appear to be becoming more like one another ecologically than they are like the wild environments around them. Groffman and Hall are currently part of a huge, four-year project financed by the National Science Foundation to compare urban ecology in six major urban centers — Boston, Baltimore, Minneapolis, Miami, Phoenix and Los Angeles. The purpose of the study is to determine how much cities are homogenizing and to create a portrait of the continentwide implications of individual decisions we make about our backyards."

I love that last part about the individual decisions we make about our backyards. Which brings us back to the okra.

This past summer we noticed a great deal of insect life, particularly on the okra. Before okra becomes the pod that is eaten, it is a large, beautiful flower that looks like hibiscus.

The bees and other pollinating insects absolutely love the open flowers, which bloomed from July until early November.

In addition to the giant praying mantis, we had another really cool find in the okra: a caterpillar covered with parasitic wasp eggs! Wikipedia can explain more about parasitoid wasps.

The white things you see in the photo below are the wasp eggs, which the wasp lays on the back of a caterpillar. When they are born, the wasp larvae eat their host and then emerge to eat nectar as adults before spinning a cocoon and re-starting the cycle.

Parasitic wasps are something that any organic gardener wants to encourage in the garden as part of a natural pest control program. The tomato hornworm will eat your tomato plants and other nightshades, and can only be controlled by laborious hand-picking or spraying with pesticides. This way, the wasp does the pest control for you!

Our third interesting predator find was this giant garden spider! This is not my photo, but hopefully Cheryl can send me a photo soon. It hadn't made a web when we found it, but the spider is a big one, probably two or three inches. The kids who visit us at the garden were definitely excited to find it.
Interesting fact: Cheryl and I were told by a gardener at Herring Run Nursery that we should leave the whole okra stalks in the garden in case predators laid their eggs in the stalks. So don't chip up or remove those okra stalks if you can help it. We did cut the stalks down with a saw to clean the garden for winter, but left them in a pile in case any predators will be hatching in spring.
(Photo borrowed from another source, link unknown.)
 And of course, okra aren't only good for biodiversity. Can't wait to crack open these pickles at the Greater Greenmount Community Association holiday party next week!


Monday, October 8, 2012

Block Party!

Community gardener Jonathan showing off his zinnias. Check out another gardener's Hopi blue corn in the background!

Boone Street Block Party 2012!

Thank you so  much to everyone who came out to the Boone Street block party, and especially to all of the volunteers who helped cook, serve food, set up and break down, and otherwise help us coordinate! It was so amazing to see family members and loved ones chatting with Boone Street neighbors, Farm Alliance friends, and more. The event was a dream come true and a great way to celebrate our second year at the garden. 

Check out our Facebook page or Picasa album for a full look at all of the photos! 

We had tons of barbeque with all the regular hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken, and sausage, plus some healthier foods such as Cheryl's homemade potato salad and swiss chard greens, and a very large veggie chili pie I made using Boone Street tomatoes, peppers, and black eyed peas. Yum!

Lots of kid's activities too, including face painting! Check out this amazing handiwork.

Baltimore Showstoppers Marchign Band was a great hit! Photos don't do it justice, I hope to have a video posted soon! The band really brought the crowds. 

Frequent visitor to the garden, Kirby, poses for the camera!

My man Lee brought a rabbit and two chickens for a petting zoo! The chickens are behind the wire in the shed, but we let the rabbit hop around in a little hay bale corral.

At the end of the night we had popcorn and played a short video made by Cheryl's friends about the garden, and another stop motion animation film about being outdoors. The video was another great look back at the past year, and we can't wait to show it to you all. Stay tuned for the release in about a month!

We had so much fun at the party! Thanks again everyone. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

WYPR Radio Story on Urban Livestock

Tom Pelton published a radio story today about people who raise urban livestock in Baltimore City, and the city's increasing efforts to make it easier for people to raise animals for pleasure, fresh food, and valuable animal products.

"Amid the rowhouses, graffiti and vacant lots of Baltimore, 10 farms have opened in recent years, growing vegetables and breeding chickens, rabbits and goats. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's administration is relaxing the city's livestock regulations to try to encourage more urban farms, which provide fresh food and an enhanced quality of life to the city." - WYPR


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Top Five List of Baltimore Urban Agriculture Resources

Want to start your own urban garden, orchard, apiary, chicken coop, rain garden, perennial herb and flower bed, mushroom logs, urban farm, and more?

Don't know where to start?

There are a lot of different resources around Baltimore City that can help you learn more about growing food in the urban environment, get access to tools or other resources, and find out which city paperwork you need.

Here are my top five links to programs that are an essential part of the urban gardening and farming network of support!

Just click on the highlighted names to get to the resource you want.

1. Getting Started: How to Get Land + Water

Baltimore City's new Power in Dirt program has a list of vacant lots available for adopting, and links to the city's necessary forms for adopting a vacant lot and getting access to the municipal water system.  This is the number one place to start for many projects.

2. Join a Community of Support: Access to Tools, Plants, Grants & Events

Parks & People's Community Greening Resource Network(CGRN) is an essential for any city gardener from backyard growers to schoolyard gardens to small scale urban farms. Their plant giveaway days, event calendar, potlucks, and tool bank cannot be beat. Membership is only $20, which is a total steal once you factor in the giveways goodies like fruit trees and seedlings, access to lots of tools, and more. Plus you can apply for community greening grants. Sign up ASAP!

3. Learn How to Grow

If you don't quite feel confident yet in your green thumb, you might want to consider taking  Master Gardener training. The classes are a commitment (basic training is 40-50 hours), but once you are trained you can become part of a corps of truly knowledgeable gardeners that do all kinds of great volunteer work around town such as maintaining demonstration gardens at City Hall and Cylburn Arboreatum, and providing plant clinics and advice at gardening events.

Or just volunteer at your nearest farm or community garden! Getting hands-on and having a knowledgeable friend by your side is the best way to learn.

4. Learn How to Farm

This might sounds the same as #3, but there is a lot more to farming than just growing food. Future Harvest has hosted an absolutely incredible workshop series for training beginning farmers, with opportunities for internships with local farms and detailed classes on everything from marketing to planning your planting schedule. This year's class series has just ended, but there are still two classes left in this year's brand new urban farm specific classes!

More information on the remaining May and June urban farm classes hosted in conjunction with the Real Food Farm and Farm Alliance of Baltimore City can be found here:

5. Supplementary Organizations

Blue Water Baltimore: learn about how we can improve the city's watershed
Baltimore Orchard Project: dedicated to planting fruit trees and sharing fruit across the city
Baltimore City Office of Sustainability: find out the zoning regulations for urban livestock and gardens and other city support of urban farms and garden, and an annual Request for Qualifications opens up large areas of vacant land to bids from potential growers

I would post links to all of the other Baltimore urban farms but I don't want to forget anyone!

Hope this list helps anyone doing research on how to get started turning the vacant lot near you into a thriving community space and diverse ecosystem. Happy growing.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Boone Street Brunch Bake Sale

Thank you to everyone who came out and visited the Boone Street Garden brunch bake sale on New Year's Day!

It was so wonderful getting to see friends and having delicious treats on a nice warm day. Thanks to everyone for the support, and we earned $135 in profit which will certainly go to use in the Boone Street Garden budget. 

Here are a few photos from my friend Jon. What a pretty day! The weather was great. We had peach-apple pie filled muffins, oatmeal-serviceberry mini muffins, sausage-egg-kale-black bean bites, a box of coffee, and the bloody marys. All items were made available on a donation basis.

Billy from the Free Farm also took more photos of the make-your-own bloody mary bar so those will be posted soon. One of the visitors said she had always dreamed of doing a make-your-own bloody mary bar so now she could cross it off her list!

Here you can see our lovely neighborhood, Remington (where I live, it's not where the Boone Street Garden is located.)

Various pickles for the bloody-mary garnishes and for people to take in exchange for donation: pickled okra, pickled banana peppers, chili oil, sweet and sour zucchini relish, and pickled green tomatoes and roasted peppers. The cherry tomatoes to the far left have been soaking in vodka, which is another great way to store your summer produce and makes a great bloody mary garnish!

I plan on posting the steps soon for making the bloody marys for any of you who want to host your own party.

Happy New Year everyone!
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