By Maryam Yahya
Islamic Post Staff Writer
(IP) –First Lady Michelle Obama took center stage on the South Lawn of the White House recently as she broke ground for a spring vegetable garden. Mrs. Obama and 23 fifth graders from Washington’s Bancroft Elementary School dug up the soil of a plot that measured 1,100 square feet. Her green-thumbed student helpers hail from a school that has already been gardening for a few years in their own schoolyards. Bancroft Elementary happens to be one of the thousands of schools in the United States that have committed time and energy into making their gardens a place of outdoor instruction in science, nutrition and economics. The students will continue to assist Mrs. Obama and the White House staff on a consistent basis by planting, weeding and harvesting the vegetables and herbs.
The Obama’s spring garden will boast 55 varieties of vegetables and herbs ranging from cilantro and basil to red romaine lettuce and sugar snap peas. Fresh berries will be available for the picking as well. A portion of the healthy produce will be used by the White House cooking staff for meals that will be served there and the remaining portion will be donated to Miriam’s Kitchen, a facility that caters to the needs of the homeless in the Washington DC area. During a recent visit to Miriam’s Kitchen, Mrs. Obama expressed her excitement about being involved with the homeless project there. “We are facing some tough times in this country and there is a moment in time when each and every one of us needs a helping hand,” said Mrs. Obama. “I want to, on behalf of the White House and the administration, thank the staff and the volunteers of Miriam’s Kitchen for their work here.”
At a time when many parts of the world are experiencing an economic downturn and as obesity has become a primary focus on a national level, advocates for locally grown food have garnered much attention. Worldwide supporters of local growing recognize the boons that are afforded to individual growers. The cost savings found in using less oil for transporting produce from industrial farms, reduced use of chemicals found in industrial pesticides and the reduced need for biological or chemically engineered fertilizers are just a few of the pros of local gardens. The Obama’s decision to use part of the White House lawn sends a clear signal to the world that local gardening is essential to keeping costs down and quite crucial in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Filed under: July Volume II - 2008, Magazine/ Culture, Science | Tags: Garden, How-to
By Saudah Umm Nur, Islamic Post Contributing Writer
In gardening, planning is everything. Here in Canada, where we consider ourselves lucky when we have 90 days of warm weather in the summer, gardeners must be especially strategic. But, even here, we can get 2 or 3 crops from a garden bed if we plan well.
For vegetables that have a short shelf life, such as lettuce, we have to focus on growing just what we know we will use. In my early days of gardening, when I had 114 acres to work with, I grew a lot of plants just because I could. But a lot of work goes into preparing and nurturing the soil, so prepare ahead of time to can your vegetables and store your grains and seeds properly. I soon found that a lot of veggies ended up on the compost pile and became a waste of energy and space. Growing what your family will eat and, more importantly, planning when your family will eat it, is the best policy. While preserving is a separate topic, we will start by talking about how to hold on to your seeds.
If you grew too many peas in the spring, or beans in the summer, don’t compost them just yet. Let them continue to grow until the pods are dry. When they are completely dry, put the pods in a paper bag. Put the paper bag in the freezer for a day or two to kill any bugs which will more than likely be on the plants since you grow chemical-free. Take the bag out of the freezer and store it in a cool, dry place. Use the dried peas in the winter for soup or grind them up to a powder and add it to your chicken feed to boost the protein and flavor of your eggs and meat.
Similarly, let one of each of your squash, melons, cucumbers and tomatoes and heads of corn grow to full maturity and harvest the seeds. This should be no problem because you started off your sustainable gardening venture with non-hybrid, open-pollinated, organic seeds—right?
Late summer is a good time to assess the health of your soil. Every thing you grow takes something out of the soil, so it’s important to put nutrients and organic matter back into the soil late in the season because in high temperatures, with low moisture or with too much moisture, it is harder for plants to use the nutrients in the soil.
Look around and take notice of those spring-sown plants that didn’t thrive. If they wilted quickly, were frequently attacked by bugs – as bugs crave the least healthy plants– or gave a low yield, it is probably time to amend the soil with compost and/ or manure. Grow a cover crop in that area like clover or, better yet, oats. Oats are easily dried and stored for the winter for your family and clover flowers can be harvested for tea. What you don’t use of the cover crop can be easily turned over into the soil so that next spring you can just till it in. Extra oats are also good for chicken or dog food; oats are the only grain dogs can digest raw.
I get the most enjoyment from my garden in the winter. When the rest of the country is eating stale, irradiated, imported vegetables, I love to go in my garden and dig up fresh, healthy, delicious produce. To have a winter harvest, you have to start in late summer. Carrots, beets, parsnips, broccoli, cabbage, collards, kale and most of the Asian vegetables, like bok choi, all can be sown now in late summer and harvested in the dead of winter. Plant them now, and you will reap the benefits after the first frost –or the first snow fall in milder climates. Cover the plants with at least a foot of shredded paper, straw, or heap the soil up until just the very tip of the plant is visible. Plant a tall stick or some other marker so you can find them in the winter. Around December or January (or earlier) go out and dig up what you like, when you like. The cold temperatures will have brought out the maximum sweetness in the vegetables. Even the kids will like them! If you want to have enough onions or garlic through the winter, you should have started the seed last January or February, but if you can get onion or garlic sets this time of year, plant as many as you can now and leave them in the soil over the winter. You probably will be able to harvest some during the winter if you use mulch. They’ll continue to grow through the winter and they’ll be huge by the beginning of next summer, if Allah so wills.