Archive for October, 2013|Monthly archive page

Apiculture ~ Session 1 in the 2013/2014 “Ultra Urban Green” DC3 Professional Development Series

In Events, Kids on the Farm on October 27, 2013 at 10:25 am

This past Friday, we hosted the first session of this year’s teachers professional development series titled “Ultra Urban Green” for the DC3 Collaborative (nine DC Public Schools) which covers both the theory and the practice of incorporating meaningful environmental projects in schools, from growing crops to bug hotels, from wet beds (raised beds that house wetland plants for Anacostia and Potomac wetland restoration) to composting, from greenroofs to other bioremediation projects such as raingardens. Of course the site here at Walker Jones does all of that and is continuing to expand so not only can education professionals come together to share ideas and planning, working examples of these initiatives are already in place. One of our growing projects is apiculture; this was the substance of the day’s training.


Last year we started our Junior Beekeepers initiative, generously supported by Whole Foods Market at P St NW and also the DC Beekeeper Alliance, when we trained students from Walker Jones, as well as from Maury and Mann elementary schools to keep bees. As we already have three mature beehives on the Farm itself, and a further four located on the school’s greenroof, giving the students hands-on experience, and now extending this learning opportunity to more teachers, will not only expose students to this exciting experience , but is also contributing to the establishment of urban honeybees to counter the plight of this most valuable crop pollinator.


The success of our Junior Beekeepers initiative was underlined by how several of our students gave up their day off school to come demonstrate, and in turn to educate the educators themselves!

This was also an opportunity to share some of the excellent lesson plans and student materials created by entomologist and Curator of the Cornwall Public Library in New York, Louise Lynch.


To learn a little bit more about the beekeeping work our students already engage in, please take a look at last moth’s blog post “The Keeping of Bees is like the Direction of Sunbeams”


This Season’s Pumpkins: Inside the Numbers

In Kids on the Farm, Recipes on October 20, 2013 at 2:45 pm


90 pumpkins curing, two dozen still on the vine, and 87 Pre-schoolers and Pre-kindergarters anticipating our Harvest Day Parade in 10 days’ time… I think we have it covered!

Following advice from the University of Illinois Agricultural Extension Service, we’ve harvested the majority of our pumpkins and are curing them inside the Growing Room. Ideal curing should be at 80-85°F with 80-85 percent relative humidity for 10 days. This is done to prolong the post harvest life of the pumpkin fruit because during this process the fruit skin hardens, wounds heal and immature fruit ripens.

A few more numbers: we used Charisma F1 hybrids this year, a selection from Johnny’s Seeds which was developed by Johnny’s in conjunction with Cornell University to be a PMT variety (powdery mildew tolerant); 250 seeds for $10.95; average weight 14-18lbs; 1.5 fruits per reduced-length vine; maturing in 98 days; so at 5 seeds per mound, and 25 mounds in total, planted July 14th… our 3 and 4 year-olds will continue the tradition on October 31st!





But the math also means that we’ll have some left over for our Junior Chefs to have a go at making these delicious Pumpkin Cheesecakes following a recipe by food-blogger and Iron Chef America judge, Pim Techamuanvivit!


Tessellation and Minimal-Till Mode

In Improvements on October 15, 2013 at 11:57 pm

After three years of building the soil profile on the Farm to ensure the surface soil (about 8-10″ below the initial 2″ of organic litter layer) not only has a healthy amount of organic matter, but also a healthy population of necessary micro-organisms, we have moved to a “minimal-till” mode. This really means that instead of continually weeding our beds and fields, thereby disrupting the stratification of beneficial organisms in the surface soil and litter layer, we allow certain areas in our fields to lie fallow for several months as a part of our crop rotation protocol; we will only till those areas once in the year, and lightly, just prior to planting.

In order to continue to enrich our topsoil, we have developed a practice whereby we  first mow untilled and unweeded areas using the “mulch” setting on the mower (so organic matter remains on the surface instead of being removed), then we smother the remaining stubble with several layers of wet cardboard (a cool spatial-temporal task for our students, akin to assembling a jigsaw puzzle or creating tessellations), finishing off the process with additional compost that will continue to break down over the Fall. We have found that this creates an insulated layer for many beneficial organisms to shelter under and to continue to reproduce, even into Winter, and the resultant biodegraded cardboard and decomposed organic matter has added nutrients and substance to our topsoil- a quick light till prior to planting, and we give our crops an excellent start to their season.




O Thou Weed!

In Recipes on October 13, 2013 at 5:04 pm

O thou weed, who art so lovely fair and smell’st so sweet that the sense aches at thee, would thou hadst ne’er been born! (Othello 4.2.69)

On the farm, we grow weeds! Yes, those plants commonly considered “undesirable, unattractive, or troublesome, especially one growing where it is not wanted” here in the US, but in other parts of the world, three of the most common weeds found on the farm are not only staple crops, they are highly nutritious.

purple amaranth

Inadvertently planted in 2011, a purple-leaved decorative amaranth (Amaranthus cruentus) has self-seeded throughout our space and returns with abandon every Spring. Beautiful in the late Summer and early Fall, it seems to grow anywhere there is disturbed ground (read: in every field and garden on the farm!) yet whilst many gardeners around DC have sprayed and pulled and heaved these plants from cracks in the sidewalk and from their beds of prized blooms, on the Farm at Walker Jones we encourage its growth, for after all, it is an edible crop. Documented as a cultivated edible crop throughout much of Asia, it is consumed as a leaf vegetable in Indonesia and Malaysia where it is known as bayam; in Vietnam, it is called rau dn and is used to make a soup; in India, the leaves are added in the preparation of a popular dal called thotakura pappu; and in China, the leaves and stems are used as a stir-fry vegetable and called yin choi.

District 17 Chillum-20120729-00457

Purple-leaved amaranth ready for simmering in a broth seasoned with garlic and allspice, and cracked black pepper


This season we also received a donation of heirloom seeds from a farmer in Kingston, Jamaica. Not only are the okra still growing and producing, another amaranth (Amaranthus viridis) grew very successfully. The national dish of Trinidad, and of course popular throughout Jamaica, this leaf is used to make callaloo.

callaloo-loaf Christies flatbush ave Brooklyn

A callaloo loaf from Christie’s in Brooklyn – photo by Chef Paul Yee, the author of the food club Brooklyn Table 


The scourge of cotton and soy fields in the southern US, resistant to Roundup, and classified by the USDA as a noxious weed toxic to livestock, redroot pigweed (Amaranthus retroflexus) is another crop we encourage to self-sow on the farm (anything this defiant towards Monsanto is always welcome!) The young leaves of this plant are commonly used throughout both East Africa- in Swahili it is known as mchicha, and in the West, found as a staple ingredient in most Nigerian dishes where it is known in Yoruba as efo tete or arowo jeja (“we have money left over for fish”), called lenga lenga in the Congo, as well as added to the Cameroonian peanut soup ndole (the name taken from yet another “weedy” species, Vernonia, one of the ironweeds)

District 17 Chillum-20120729-00456

Redroot pigweed, soon to be steamed, then added to potatoes and peas in a samosa!


As one of the important aspects of our mission as a farm is to produce food, and to improve nutrition in our local community, yet another weed is allowed to grow profusely throughout the Summer here on the farm. Containing more omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable we could purposely cultivate, is purslane (Portulaca oleraceae) whose leaves, buds, and flowers are eaten throughout much of Europe and the Mediterranean.  In Greece, where it is called andrakla (αντράκλα) or glystrida (γλυστρίδα), they fry the leaves and the stems with feta cheese, tomato, onion, garlic, oregano, and olive oil. In Turkey, besides being used in salads and in baked pastries, it is cooked as a vegetable similar to spinach, as it is also used in Albania, where it is called burdullak when simmered and served in olive oil dressing, or mixed with other ingredients as a filling for dough layers of byrek. In the south of Portugal (Alentejo), baldroegas are used as a soup ingredient.

Another very important reason we encourage purslane to grow wantonly is in its role as an ecological facilitator, sending its roots down through harder soil that other crops cannot penetrate on their own; corn in particular will “follow” purslane roots as they penetrate the deadpan common to DC soils

purlane salad Karen Tedesco DinnerStyle

Purslane salad with cucumbers and tomatoes- photo by Chef Karen Tedesco of DinnerStyle 

Through the Eyes of a Child

In In the Classroom, Kids on the Farm on October 12, 2013 at 9:36 pm

pumpkin patch 1This season’s “Pumpkin Patch.”

Every year we plant enough pumpkins so that each of our Pre-schoolers and Pre-Kindergartners can harvest their very own pumpkin on Hallowe’en. The field in which they are planted also then becomes the field in which they work for the remainder of the school year. As per our crop rotation protocol, the next rotation after Cucurbitaceae (in this field we also have watermelons, ‘Delicata’ squash, and cucumbers) will be the Legumes, when our youngest kids will plant seeds for the very first time; in March, with a lusty “Root, Shoot, Toot” all our 80-odd 3 and 4 yr-olds will plant our beans and peas.

pumpkin patch 2

Monitoring the progress of all our crops is a regular part of class visits (from the emergence of male flowers, the pollination of female flowers by honeybees and bumblebees, the beginnings of fruit with small green swollen ovaries, to the green-skinned, and then the orange-skinned mature pumpkins), and this month is no exception.

Here then are a few drawings of their pumpkins, through their eyes:













The Bug Hotel: Free City Accommodation!

In Creatures, Improvements on October 12, 2013 at 2:51 pm


This Wildlife Stack, or Bug Hotel, consists of recycled construction materials like wooden pallets and perforated bricks combined with natural materials to create various habitat opportunities for invertebrates. An ad in the bug classifieds would read: “accommodation free on a first come first served basis, extended family occupation encouraged, utilities included; located amidst 1 acre of private gardens, with gated entry, and a garden penthouse on the roof!”

“Rooms” include natural habitat like hollow phragmites reeds (ideal for pollinators like orchard mason bees, Osmia lignaria and O. cornifrons), straw, earth-packed perforated and cellular bricks, broken clay pots, sphagnum moss, bamboo, panicum grass stems (winter habitat for the beneficial minute pirate bug Orius insidiosus), stacked pine and maple bark, spruce cones, pine needles, stones and gravel, oak and maple leaves (for overwintering ladybugs), and even recycled inverted tactile pavers at the ground level which make this hotel ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant for blind or visually impaired bugs like ground beetles and earthworms!

Wildlife Stack The Wildlife Trusts UK“Wildlife Stack”, The Wildlife Trusts, UK

Insect Hotel at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust Jersey“Insect Hotel” at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Jersey

Insect Condo in Scotland“Insect Condo” in Scotland

my initial salvage for a bug pallet stack hotelour initial salvage ~ ironically (see the Open Letter to the DC Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development on our main page), these materials, including wooden palettes, iron gratings, and various pieces of fencing, nails, and wire, were all salvaged from the ongoing gentrification in our community…

initial construction 1initial construction ~ hollow phragmites reeds, straw, earth-packed perforated and cellular bricks, broken clay pots, sphagnum moss, bamboo, panicum grass stems, oak and maple bark, spruce cones ~ two more storeys to go and then the “roof”…

initial construction 2“this building under construction”, three out of five storeys completed…

initial construction 4th storeyfourth storey underway…

initial construction ADAand now we are ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant ~ as required by DC law for all pedestrian crossings, we salvaged inverted tactile pavers from the road renovation on K St to place in our Bug Hotel at the ground level for the blind or visually impaired invertebrates…

initial construction 5th storeythe fifth and final storey including stacked pine bark, sphagnum moss, pine straw, and perforated bricks holding packed earth ~ next up, the penthouse garden…

finish 2and finally, as of April 2013, the penthouse garden which will be planted with various sedum salvaged from the new NPR building greenroof project on North Capitol St.


New Entry: the Bug Hotel with penthouse garden compete (and now some solitary bee spp. already moved in!), October 2013


‘Saijo’, ‘Jiro’, and ‘Maekawa Jiro’ Asian Persimmons

In Recipes on October 9, 2013 at 11:21 pm

Saijo Asian Persimmon

Writing about the native American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) in the “General History of Virginia” (1624), Captain John Smith describes his persimmon experience as follows: “If it be not ripe, it will draw a man’s mouth awry, with much torment, but when it is ripe, it is as delicious as an apricot!” As our American persimmons will not bear fruit until they are at least 10 years old (25 is optimum), we are looking to the East!

It’s less than one month to go before our ‘Saijo’ Asian persimmons (Diospyros kaki) will be ready for harvest! This is one of the astringent varieties (“will pucker your mouth if unripe” in non-horticulturist language) and so although those in the above photograph are already orange, they will only be ripe when fully soft. The other varieties we grow, ‘Jiro’ and ‘Maekawa Jiro’ (with slightly smaller fruit) both belong to the non-astringent group and can be eaten when they first turn orange and are still firm.


Our ‘Jiro’ trees seem to be ripening the earliest so they have been earmarked for our Junior Chefs to make a persimmon-chili jam in two weeks’ time, using the organic tabasco peppers we just harvested, however the ‘Saijo’ is destined for the cookie jar!

4 very soft, ripe ‘Saijo’ persimmons
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp grated nutmeg
½ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp salt
1 cup organic cane sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
8 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temp 
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly grease two baking sheets or line them with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

Coarsely chop the fruit, discarding the calyxes and any seeds and puree persimmons in a food processor to get one cup.

Sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt. Using an electric mixer set at high speed, cream butter and sugar, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until mixture is light and fluffy, about three minutes. Beat in egg. With mixer on low speed, beat in persimmon puree, then flour mixture. Stir in nuts.

Using a tablespoon measure for each cookie, drop the dough, two inches apart, on the baking sheets. Bake, rotating trays from top to bottom, midway, until edges of cookies are lightly browned, about 15 minutes.

oh, and while still warm… eat two, one from each hand!

Store the remaining 28 cookies when completely cooled on a very high shelf in the tallest closet you can find, and surround with barbed wire!

Fig & Almond Preserves

In Recipes on October 6, 2013 at 2:07 am

celeste figs

We are just a few weeks away from making Fig & Almond preserves with the Junior Chefs club!

The recipe ingredients: 4lbs ‘Celeste’ figs, 1/4 cup lemon juice, 1/4 cup water, 1/4 cup amaretto (yes, I did say 1/4 CUP!), slivered almonds, lo-sugar pectin, so only 4 1/2 cups sugar (instead of 7), a touch of cardamom syrup, and cinnamon to taste ~ perfect with brie, Ile de France, or cambozola!

Kale-Banana-Strawberry Smoothies

In Recipes on October 5, 2013 at 2:03 am

kale smoothies

Another creation by the  Junior Chefs at Walker Jones: kale-banana-strawberry smoothies made with organic soy milk and sweetened with honey!

Three of our student Junior Chefs- Nasir, Rasheed, and Fred (all 8th graders), created this nutritious breakfast for our 4th grade class, utilising organic kale from the Farm as well as our own Walker Jones honey harvested by some of our Junior Beekeepers- Kenneth, Ralanda, Yasmine P., Yasmine T., and Trevon.

The recipe: a handful of torn kale, one banana, a handful of quartered strawberries, 1 tbsp honey, enough soy milk to fill a blender halfway up the dry ingredients, a touch of vanilla, et voilà! (total fat 4g, sat fat 0.5g, sodium 90mg, total carbs 12g, fiber 20%, sugars 10g, potassium 25%, vit A 12%, calcium 30%, vit B12 50%, vit C 100%, vit K 40%)