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Our Herb Garden

In Uncategorized on April 28, 2012 at 8:42 pm

We tend to think of herbs mostly from the culinary point of view as plants that lend flavor to food whereas vegetables provide substance, but in a broader sense, herbs are any plants with leaves, or seeds, or flowers that are used to not only flavor food, but are used medicinally, spiritually, and for perfume. It is with this broader sense in mind that the Herb Garden at Walker-Jones has now developed into a resource not just for culinary flavorings, but which now incorporates a number of species traditionally used by native Americans for medicine and sacred rituals, and plants that provide intriguing or inviting scents.

By far the most prominent plants featured in our herb garden belong to the Lamiaceae, the mint family, however we’re not just talking about mints like peppermint, but also rosemary, savory, marjoram and oregano, lemon balm, hyssop, lavender, thyme, and sage; as well as bee balm, catnip, self-heal, and deadnettles. Most of the over 3,000 species in this family have aromatic parts often used in medicine and cooking. They have leaves in opposite pairs which are usually toothed, they often have square stems, and their flowers are bilaterally symmetrical with five unified petals (forming a lower and an upper lip) and five unified sepals.

The design of the Herb Garden takes some inspiration from Japanese tradition: the gateways are always open, so as not to shut anybody out; because evil spirits are said to only travel in straight lines, the paths wind around, leaving evil spirits behind; and in the meander of the paths some stones are set unevenly, focusing a visitor’s thoughts on their walk, rather than problems the world outside.

This post was contributed by David Hilmy, Walker Jones EC Physical Education teacher and coordinator of student Green Team initiatives. Mr. Hilmy is responsible for the renovation of our perennial herb garden this season.

Blue Ribbon Youth Leadership Institute Visit

In Uncategorized on April 15, 2012 at 12:04 am

Last Wednesday, 31 high school students from Chapel Hill, NC, spent the morning learning and working at The Farm. After Sarah explained that serotonin could be absorbed by digging in the dirt with bare hands and that the bee colonies house at The Farm were ruled by powerful queens, the students went to work, keeping a curious eye on the bees. The energetic 9-12th grade students weeded the strawberry garden, transplanted lettuce and kale seedlings, tilled the herb garden, and cleared a perimeter around our annuals bed.

“I hope to impact DC by giving back to their community,” said 12th grade student Cyerah O’Briant. The students were part of the Blue Ribbon Youth Leadership Institute, an organization dedicated to providing youth with leadership skills necessary to become servant leaders in their communities and to empower them to be advocates for change. The group of students was visiting D.C. for their annual alternative spring break trip where students participate in service projects, college visits, and cultural enrichment activities. Many of the students had worked in in community garden in Chapel Hill before, but most of the group had never been to D.C.

The Spring Break Swarm

In Uncategorized on April 10, 2012 at 12:40 am

The children had no sooner left the building for spring break when some of our bees started to swarm. Both fascinated and a little cautious, we immediately contacted our bee expert, Jeff Miller at DC Honeybees, who assured us that this was a perfectly normal state of affairs. He pointed us to this article that explains that swarming is “the natural means of reproduction of honey bee colonies. A new honey bee colony is formed when the queen bee leaves the colony with a large group of worker bees, a process called swarming. In the prime swarm, about 60% of the worker bees leave the original hive location with the old queen. This swarm can contain thousands to tens of thousands of bees. Swarming is mainly a spring phenomenon, usually within a two- or three-week period depending on the locale.”

The bees on the branch in the first pictures were the first swarm. The queen from one of the hives left the hive with followers and they settled temporarily on the branch while scouts went out to look for a suitable space for their new colony. Jeff interrupted this process by placing them gently into a new temporary hive (the white box) They eventually took to it, and he left it there while they got settled and picked it up at the end of the day. He will relocate it to a permanent hive somewhere else.

Sometime later we noticed new bees swarming in the air above us, thousands of them. A second swarm. The group dissipated and eventually we found them on another bush. They were soon gone, having probably found a suitable place far away to set up a new colony. See our Flickr photostream here for all the photos.

When the kids come back to school tomorrow, all in the bee yard will be at peace as you see here, but the stories of the swarm will be important to share as we continue to demystify the lives of bees for the students, making sure they understand the natural order of things without fear.

A Visit from Maury Elementary

In Uncategorized on October 5, 2011 at 8:40 pm

Yesterday, the farm was happy to host a large group of first grade students from Maury Elementary School. The students received the usual tour complete with bees, farm chores and composting, and had plenty of time to harvest produce as well.


They were also lucky enough to work side by side with new OSSE School Garden Specialist, Sam Ullery. Who is a very laid back guy, but will still enforce the hand-washing-before-lunch rules on the farm.

Would you like to bring your school group over for a field trip? Please see the guidelines and sign-up information on our Field Trips page. Just click on that tab above. We would love to welcome as many students as possible to the farm.

The Farm Debuts at NoMa Farmers Market on Wednesday, October 5

In Uncategorized on October 4, 2011 at 12:31 am

The NoMa Farmers Market at 1200 First Street NE is open every Wednesday from 3:00pm until 7:00pm, and offers local residents some wonderful choices for locally grown produce, dairy, meats and baked goods. There are chef demos most weeks, and the market aims to make its offerings more accessible to all in the community by accepting food stamps in the form of WIC (Women, Infants, Children) and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). This is a vibrant program that is drawing an ever-expanding crowd in this its first year of operation.

The Farm at Walker Jones is proud to announce that it will make its debut at the market this week, October 5. We will be bringing over spicy mustard mix, red Russian kale, dino kale, Swiss chard, gourmet baby lettuces, snap peas, pumpkins, collards, basil and herbs. There may even be a few of the beauties you see above still left. All produce was grown on our farm with the assistance of our great students, and all profits will support our urban gardening project. So stop by, say hi, and take home some beautiful produce that was organically raised in your own neighborhood.

More Great New Signs

In Uncategorized on August 4, 2011 at 5:38 pm

We’ll let you in on a little secret. We’re picky. We have a highly defined sense of our project and that includes the aesthetics of how it is presented. As you can see from a recent post, we consider signage to be an important part of the farm experience, but we have been waiting for just the right sign design to hit us. And then fate introduced us to Corcoran College of Art and Design graduate and employee, Sarah Robbins. Just look at the photo of the signs she just created for us! It is like she could read our minds. She took our logo design by Ivan Indigo as an inspiration, and developed compatible signage for our various needs. Here is a quick bio from the very talented Sarah with whom we hope to continue working.

“Originally from Rochester, New York, I moved to D.C. to attend the Corcoran College of Art and Design. I received my BFA in Fine Art this past spring, and have a job working at the school. I work in all mediums, but my favorites are painting, photography, screen printing, and sculpture. Currently, I am in the middle of painting a mural for the British Embassy, working on personal commissions from D.C. organizations and residents, as well as getting ready for an upcoming show at Transformer Gallery. Eventually, I would love to own my own gallery, which helps emerging artists break into the arts scene. I am excited to be working with the Farm at Walker Jones, I think it is a really great project, and I’m so glad to be a part of it.”

A Sink Station at Last!

In Uncategorized on June 26, 2011 at 10:04 pm

Three groups recently teamed up with The Farm to build the first covered structure on our urban oasis – a sink station, fed by rain barrels.

Bob Schless and Dave Silbert are co-founders of So What Else, a grassroots humanitarian movement designed to strengthen area non-profits by bolstering volunteerism and inspiring activism. After we identified our most pressing need as a covered structure under which to rinse hands and veggies on the Farm, they worked to make our vision a reality by bringing together the know-how (their carpenters) and the muscle (their volunteers).

Want to see something really cool? So What Else associates Ryan Helfer and David Ross built this work table above from a deconstructed pallet. Genius! And there was no stopping these guys. Eduardo Gonzalez and company worked past sunset to complete the structure.

Students for Environmental Action, a K-12 environmental club at the Potomac School led by Bern Hoffman, not only purchased all the supplies needed for the sink station, but hand delivered them to the Farm on their school bus! The club focuses on environmental intiatives and awareness throughout the school and the greater community. They were glad to donate a portion of the proceeds from their Earth Day Farmer’s Market. “We recognize the important message that Walker Jones is sending to its students and would like to to support that”.

The day also provided an opportunity for a wonderful group of young adults from Hearts and Homes, an organization helping troubled children and youth become independent productive adults, to get some hands on farming experience. A few of them had some really good advice for us and they put in a full day of work! A couple are making plans to come back on a regular basis as farm interns.

Chloe Perez, Program Administrator of Residential Services, had this to say about the day’s experience: “Our kids really enjoyed the farm experience. They said they really felt like they were helping. The staff who accompanied and supervised the kids were so proud of those who participated because they were so focused and hard working, and it was the first of this kind of experience for most of them. They even expressed interest in creating a garden at their own house when they returned. The staff really enjoyed seeing them make such a contribution to the community.”

Many thanks to all who made our new sink station building day possible! We are constantly overwhelmed by the acts of kindness and generosity that feed our farming efforts. Now take a look at what the day’s efforts rendered.

Earth Day on the Farm

In Uncategorized on April 30, 2011 at 11:13 pm

April 22 was the first Earth Day for the farm so we wanted to mark the occasion with an appropriate activity. Jeremy from Compost Cab had been hard at work on the plans for our new composting system for some time so the kick-off for this project seemed the perfect choice for the day.



The project plan is pretty straightforward: build and manage an on-site composting system that produces fertile, nutrient-rich compost so that the farm can grow more and better food. The space at the northeast corner of the farm by our double gate is perfect to enable a simpler workflow for composting and other farm operations. The first task was to re-purpose the railroad ties and pallets that were already on site to create three holding areas (for wood chips, farm waste / leaf mulch, and finished compost), while leaving room for easy access for deliveries of all sorts. The folks from Compost Cab also carved out space for, and started building, the actual composting operation.



At full capacity, we’ll be utilizing two passively aerated windrows, one approximately 30′ long, the other 15′ long, and each around 6′ wide and 4-5′ high. We’ll be managing these to produce finished compost in approximately 18-22 weeks, depending on the weather.

Over time, the inputs for the compost will consist primarily of three things:
1. Food waste (no meat, dairy, or oil) collected by Compost Cab from in and around the city. We’re planning to source as much of this from as close to Walker Jones as possible, and obviously hope to include scraps from the school as soon as possible.

2. Leaf mulch (likely from the municipal program in DC or Takoma Park, MD) and waste material from the farm.

3. Wood chips (mostly from landscapers with whom the farm has an existing relationship).




Going forward, we’ll be needing some additional materials, including compost blankets, a compost thermometer, a sifter, etc., but we’re not quite there yet. If you know any good sources for these materials, will you let us know?

Will Allen Visits the Farm and the “Super Hero Farmers”

In Uncategorized on March 28, 2011 at 8:45 pm

Urban farming legend and MacArthur Fellow, Will Allen visited the farm today as part of a tour of DC and Maryland farming projects led by Dr. Michelle Thomas. The tour included stops at Hines Jr. High Community Garden, Common Good City Farm, Ward 7 Lederer Youth Garden and ECO City Farms. We were fortunate to also have Jeremy Brosowsky of Compost Cab and Vinnie Benvivino of Seed & Cycle, the organizers and architects of our soon-to-be-built new composting system, join our small group. But the stars of the show? Well that would be Ms. McAlee’s and Ms. Tuck’s kindergarten “Super Hero Farmers.” Allen was interested in talking to some actual junior farmers, and our young agriculturists shined as they showed off their dedicated bed, worm farm, knowledge of soil and compost, and willingness to eat vegetables other kids won’t touch.









Thank you to all for today’s special visit! And Mr. Allen, we hope you wear your The Farm at Walker Jones t-shirt with pride. We look forward to your next visit when the hopes and dreams we have for our project that we discussed today are in full bloom.

Kindergarten Experimental Plot

In Uncategorized on March 5, 2011 at 12:48 am

The self-named “Super Hero Farmers” of Ms. McAlee’s and Ms. Tuck’s kindergarten class are perhaps the most experienced of our student farmers at Walker Jones. As we prepare the children to plant the farm for the first time themselves this spring, our young five and six year old friends felt they were capable of just a bit more. So they will be given their own plot in the garden to develop as they see fit (under a little adult guidance of course), to care for, to harvest.

The students worked hard all week to research and narrow down their choices for crops, using research books (thank you, Lois Ehlert!), a harvest timeline, and persuasive arguments to each other.

The crops, in order of preference, were:
1) Carrots
2) Corn, Eggplant
3) Peaches, Beets
4) Phlox, Roses
5) Zucchini




Next step? A map of their plot.

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