Archive for the ‘Improvements’ Category

Community Action Day, Saturday March 8th, 9am to 3pm!

In Events, Improvements, Partners, Uncategorized on February 22, 2014 at 7:34 am

By now you will have heard that the farm has something of a reprieve in that talk about “relocating” has also included an understanding that if any construction and development is indeed going to take place at the farm site (still an ongoing discussion, including the illogicality of moving to a possible adjacent space), it may take 12 to 18 months before anything happens.

What does this mean? It means that we can move ahead and prepare the farm for the upcoming 2014 season and further consolidate the farm’s importance as a community hub and unique opportunity for our students to be empowered by growing and eating their own food!

As many gardeners know, Winter is hardly a time for sitting back and waiting for Spring, but should be the period when much of the needed repairs, renovations, and maintenance are completed prior to the Spring surge. While we have moved the debate from shutdown towards reprieve, much of this needed work was not completed so in order to re-energise our initiative we are asking everybody to recruit, cajole, bully, bribe, or otherwise encourage all your groups and supporters to volunteer for a massive Community Action Day on Saturday, March 8th from 9am to 3pm.

We have a ton of work to do which will primarily involve spreading compost, and weeding and tilling all our fields and peripheral areas. We will arrange for the school building to be open to cater to bathroom needs, and we will provide tools and gloves for all.



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.




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


Three and Four Sisters Garden

In Improvements on June 30, 2013 at 12:36 am

4 sis 5

The traditional Iroquois native-American system for companion planting has corn, runner beans, and pumpkins planted together so that the beans climb up the support of the corn stalks while the pumpkin/squash leaves shade out weeds ~ the Anasazi tradition in the American desert south-west used a fourth sister, Cleome serrulata (Rocky Mountain beeplant), as a pollinator-attracting flower.

4 sis 1gridded

4 sis 4

mounded ~ especially for corn, pumpkins and squash, raised mounds are warmer, allow the plants feet to avoid being too wet, and allow for air circulation between plants to help prevent mildew and fungus in the humid mid-Atlantic Summer

4 sis 2

planted ~ the stakes mark those mounds planted with a hybrid yellow sh2 (super sweet) corn ‘Vision’ ~ when the corn is about 6″ high, scarlet runner beans are planted around each corn plant, and on 6 of the empty mounds, simultaneous to bean planting, will go a mix of ‘Marina da Chioggia’, ‘Kakai’, and ‘Speckled Hound’ heirloom pumpkins (for harvest around October 5th)~ the remaining 4 mounds will be planted with Cleome serrulata

4 sis 8

July 30th Update:

4 sis 7

August 23rd Update:

4 sis 6

“Just a little Raingarden…” sang Pooh

In Improvements on May 27, 2013 at 8:55 am

Harvesting up to 1,200 gallons of rain water from the roof of our outdoor classroom requires a measure of responsibility when storing more rainwater than is needed, or when some needs to be evacuated to avoid freeze damage in Winter, so we constructed a raingarden to ensure that excess water was not allowed to enter the storm water system (an already overburdened system, especially as the Farm is also located in the Combined Sewer System) but would re-enter the water cycle naturally through ground percolation and transpiration through the leaves of plants sited to “drink up” occasional floods. The species of plants selected are native to the mid-Atlantic to not only require little maintenance once established (ie. no excess watering, able to withstand periods of occasional flooding alternated with dry spells, requiring no use of fertilizer to grow healthily) but to also provide support for our native insect biodiversity.


1. after planting the red maple yesterday, the workhorse of this little project, it was time to start…



2. a few more river rocks (gathered from the Anacostia River) to form the drainage channel for the cistern…



3. the first native perennials ready to go ~ Eupatorium dubium (Eastern Joe-Pye weed), Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’ (switchgrass), and Carex muskingumensis (Muskingum sedge)



4. first the sedges…



5. then the grasses…



6. then finishing with the Joe-Pye weed



7. so now we come to “the rock” ~ I’m sure we can fit it in somewhere!



8. a perfect fit



2 hours after the first big storm (June 2nd/3rd), and all seems well!

The Growing Room

In Improvements, Partners on February 5, 2012 at 7:22 pm

The “Growing Room” was constructed on January 30th, 2012 on the farm. This greenhouse will serve a dual purpose; as a venue for starting seeds early (mid-February) and distributing seedlings to DC school gardens for the early spring planting, and as a classroom for training Garden Coordinators at the spring “Growing Garden Teachers” workshop. This greenhouse was originally constructed at “The Great Garden of Anacostia,” Thurgood Marshall Academy’s vibrant school garden. Unfortunately due to site location and a huge wind storm, the greenhouse was dismantled and generously donate to The Farm at Walker Jones. This greenhouse was refurbished and will be maintained by DC Greens, The Farm at Walker Jones, and the School Gardens Program at the Office of the State Superintendent of Education.

The generous and industrious soul you see here working? OSSE School Garden Specialist Sam Ullery.

A huge thanks to Sam for helping Farm Operations Director Sarah Bernardi make this happen!

Chez Poulet

In Improvements on October 1, 2011 at 3:14 pm

We have been talking about getting chickens for a long time, entertaining a variety of different options yet never quite satisfied with any plan. And then these drawings for Chez Poulet came along. Stunning. A poultry palace. And just the type of beauty piece we are looking for as we march forward in the development of the farm. Take a look at these details from the website of designer, Heather Bullard.

Many of our students are very excited about adding chickens to the possibilities of the farm just because they appreciate them as animals. Once some of them (especially our first graders) realized that we will be adding eggs to the list of edibles our farm produces that excitement really intensified. Manure as compost is still creating more than a few wrinkled noses and skeptical looks but this is a process. Knowledge is a powerful thing and their poultry education is just beginning.

The cost of materials will probably be over $1,000 for the project. The rest will come from what designer Bullard identified as “sweat equity.” Anyone wanting to participate in the process, please email Farm Operations Director, Sarah Bernardi at sarah@wjfarm.org and/or Farm Executive Director, Frances Evangelista at frances.evangelista@dc.gov.

Where are the cantelopes?

In Improvements on July 28, 2011 at 4:57 am

Nothing gives us greater pleasure than to answer all the questions children (and adults) pose to us about the farm, but ultimately, we would like to see our outdoor classroom become a place that all visitors can self-navigate. A place where children begin to recognize the crops without having to reference the sign at the end of the row. A place where children learn to spell “cucumber” from reading it on the sign as they pick. And a place where the dynamics of our small urban ecosystem come to life on signage that explains rain barrels and composting systems and pest control and run-off water and butterfly migration patterns and… Well, you get the point. There is much to learn on the farm.

With all this in mind, we have begun the process of identifying our crop rows on wooden hand-painted signs, and our perennial herb garden with slate markers. It is a start.