Archive for April, 2010

GROWINGGARDEN’s Latest Dig (Youth Grow Edition)

We are very excited to announce that the Portland Schools Foundation, Eat.Think.Grow Coalition has completed their survey of the edible school gardens in the Portland Public School District.  The map will be available on the Eat.Think.Grow website very soon.  There are currently 40 edible school gardens in Portland, and that number is continuing to grow each year.   We still have a long way to go, but Portland should be very proud! Thank you to Linda Colwell and everyone else involved for all of your amazing work!

A couple school food updates:

  • A recent survey commissioned by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and its Food and Community Program has found that nearly two-thirds of parents of school age children describe local school food as “poor” or “fair” and “nearly 70 percent of Americans said pizza should be served in school just once a week or pulled from menus entirely; more than 60 percent said chicken nuggets and hamburgers should be limited to once a week or removed.” Visit the W.K. Kellogg Foundation site to read more about the survey.
  • In another recent study conducted by Cornell, researchers found that the placement of the salad bar in school spaces can lead to increased veggie consumption by students. We know first hand, through our experiences in after school garden clubs, that most of our students are excited about having the opportunity to try new and familiar veggies, but found that this study also opens up an interesting discussion of how physical school spaces, including school gardens, could be capable of impacting student experiences and behavior (including health).

And a quick reminder about the Portland Farm and Garden Educator Network (PFGEN).  PFGEN aims to connect educators, youth, families, and community members working in sustainable food and agriculture education.  The group meets approximately every 6 weeks at different farm/garden education sites around Portland, and provides an opportunity for educators and community members to network and share experiences and resources.  To learn more contact Youth Grow Manager, Caitlin Blethen at


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Thinking about Food Miles at the Jefferson Carbon Footprint Fair

Last week, Jefferson High School hosted their second annual Carbon Footprint Fair.  The event featured student projects and activities focused on environmental issues such as waste reduction, alternative energy, carbon footprints, and transportation.  Local non-profits were also offered an opportunity to share their insights on how to reduce our community’s carbon output (check out our friends at Bicycle Transportation Alliance for a great example of an organization working to reduce our carbon footprints).

GROWINGGARDENS‘ offered an activity for students on food miles and how transporting food impacts our carbon output. In a slightly belated effort to honor Earth Day, we wanted to share this activity (and some resources on food miles) with you.

At the GROWINGGARDENS table, we laid out maps of Oregon, the U.S., and the world, marking places various fruits and veggies traveled from to reach local stores. Jefferson students guessed how far the different fruits and veggies traveled to get to our grocery stores, and were presented with issues related to food seasonality, agricultural practices, and transportation in considering the carbon footprint of our food .  Most students were surprised by how far foods like bananas and grapes (in spring) traveled to reach grocery stores in Portland. Other students had questions about  how/why you can buy Oregon grown melons at the end of the summer, but when you see them in the store here in April, they are likely from Mexico or Central America.

Students left with their own bag of carrot seeds and a better understanding of the distance food can travel to get to their local store.  Students also learned a little about alternatives, such as our home and school gardens, as a way to reduce the carbon impact of food (while also supporting local food security and improving nutritional health).

If you’re interested in learning how far your food has traveled, we found these neat web resources in our preparations for the Carbon Footprint Fair.  Check them out!

  • A food miles project for teachers, including some great resources for calculating emissions and finding local foods.

The temperatures are warming up and more local fruits and vegetables will soon be making their way to markets and stores all around Portland.  When you have a chance, think a little about where your food comes from-and if you can, reduce your carbon footprint by growing a little of your own!

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GG’s Latest Dig (Youth Grow and Home Gardens Version)

First, a few Youth Grow links:

As we prepare for our first parent-child workshop this weekend (check-out upcoming parent-child workshops here), we’ve been thinking about fun gardening activities that families can do together. Here are a couple of ideas:

  • Many of our younger students have a tough time handling little seeds. Check out this cool info on making seed tapes! This activity is perfect for a rainy day.

A few other garden links for good measure:

  • According to an article in the Washington Post, as of the April 2010 255 gardens have been established by USDA workers worldwide, producing 29,656 pounds of food in the past year. Read this article to learn more.

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Asparagus: A sure sign of spring!

Asparagus, a perennial and member of the lily family, can be found growing wild in marshy areas of Europe such as Poland and Russia.  The edible shoots have been enjoyed for centuries as a delicacy as early as ancient Greek and Roman times.  It has also been utilized medicinally as a laxative and a diuretic.  The vegetable is high in vitamins C & E, folate, potassium, and fiber.  White asparagus is cultivated by a process called etiolation, or deprivation of light.  Mounded dirt formed around the growing stalk deprives the plant of chlorophyll, which is a plant’s source of green.  Purple asparagus originated from a region around Albenga, Italy. Purple hybrids typically produce larger, sweeter and more tender spears than green asparagus.

Asparagus is a cold-season vegetable that prefers loose well-drained soil rather than clay-compact soil. Planting this vegetable on north or east slopes is best as the soil warms slower and the early-developing spears are not threatened by late frost.  It is preferable to plant asparagus where it will receive at least seven or eight hours of sunlight during sunny days. Harvesting requires patience as the first year it is best to not harvest any spears if crowns (two year old root clumps) are planted initially.  If the gardener chooses to plant seeds directly then the first harvest should take place two years after planting. The following year it is recommended to harvest the spears of asparagus lightly, for about two weeks.  The next year the harvest lasts about four weeks and six to eight weeks thereafter.  To harvest simply snap off at the ground level when spears are 6 to 10 inches tall and follow the recipe below to enjoy steamed in all of their glory!

Simple Steamed Asparagus

Thoroughly wash the asparagus. The bottom of the stalk is usually too tough, so you’ll want to remove it. A good trick is to hold a piece of asparagus with one hand on the cut end and one closer to the tip. Bend it until it snaps. This automatically separates the tender part from the tough part.

Put the asparagus in a shallow pan with an inch of water. Heat on high until the water boils, then simmer 8-10 minutes, until the asparagus is tender. Don’t overcook… a little on the crunchy side is better than a little on the soft side.

Season with a little butter or olive oil, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Variations: Try adding a dash of balsamic vinegar or a little lemon juice for zesty asparagus.


Thank to our amazing Youth Grow Intern, Andryce Anderson, for this blog post!

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Spring Gardening Tip #2: Gardening with Containers

A few weeks back, GROWINGGARDENS was mentioned in a great blog post by Elizabeth Madrigal discussing where apartment-culture fits in the with urban agriculture movement.  There are also tons of examples floating around the web about how to grow food, no matter where you live.  As a supplement to our recent post about building in-ground garden beds, we wanted to share our experiences with container gardening.  For the many folks who don’t own their homes or live in apartments, container gardens may be the most manageable option for starting food gardening.  Check out the information below!


Container gardening is a method of growing fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers in pots, hanging baskets, planters, and other containers. Container gardens are a great way for gardeners who don’t have lots of space to grow their own food!


To create a container garden, you will need:

  1. Containers
  2. Potting soil
  3. Seeds and/or plant starts
  4. Water and a watering can or hose.
  5. A natural fertilizer (compost tea or fish emulsion)

Step 1: Survey for Sun and Shade

Look around your home for the best place to put your container garden. Which areas get the most sun? Which areas are shaded? Put your containers in the spot with the most sun! Vegetable plants need lots of sunshine to grow and produce food.  For example:

  • Tomatoes, peppers & eggplant need full sun. Leafy greens & root vegetables can live with a little shade.
  • Patios, balconies, porches, and windowsills can all be good places for your garden.
  • If you have a fence or railing, you can use it like a trellis for peas or beans.

Step 2: Find Your Containers.

For most vegetable plants, you will need five-gallon containers, or larger. The containers must have holes in the bottom so that water can drain out. Otherwise the soil can become waterlogged and plant roots won’t be able to get the air they need to survive!

Step 3: Pick out Your Soil

Soil in a container garden needs to be good at holding water and nutrients. Potting soil is usually made with this in mind. Do not use soil from the ground, because it will not hold water or nutrients very well. You can buy potting soil at any garden store, but make sure the soil package says that it can be used in a vegetable garden. We recommend using organic potting soil, because it holds nutrients better and does not have chemicals.

Step 4: Selecting the Right Plants

Choose varieties of plants that are well-suited for growing in containers. Plants in containers will have less space and less soil than they would if they were planted in the ground. For example: Smaller (dwarf) plant varieties grow better in containers than larger varieties (i.e. cherry tomatoes grow better in a container than large slicing tomatoes).

Step 5: Water Often!

Plants growing in containers need a lot more watering than plants growing in a backyard garden. This is because water drains out through the holes in bottom. You can put a tray underneath your containers to catch the water that drains out. The plant will then absorb the water later.

  • During the summer, you will probably need to water your containers every day, especially if they are in full sun.
  • Water in the early morning or evening. When the sun is less strong, the plants will be able to absorb more water, and you will lose less water to evaporation.

Step 6: Make the Most Out of a Small Space

  • Grow Vertically! Use trellises, stakes, or a nearby fence to help your plants grow UP instead of across. This works with VINING PLANTS like squash, peas, beans, and tomatoes!
  • Companion Planting: Instead of planting one type of vegetable in each container, mix and match different vegetables! Most vegetables have other plants that they grow well with. These are called ‘companion plants’.

Step 7: Fertilizing and Soil Care

Well-fed plants are happy plants! Plants in a container garden need to be fertilized often, because nutrients in the soil wash out of the container’s holes every time you water. We recommend that you fertilize your containers at least once a month! This will make a big difference in the amount of food that your garden produces.

Fish emulsion and compost tea are good organic (non-chemical) fertilizers. They are safe for food, people and pets to be around:

  • Fish emulsion is a nutrient-rich natural fertilizer. You can buy it at any garden supply store. You will need to dilute it with water, then pour it on the soil around your plants. The bottle will tell you the proper mixture. It is actually made from fish parts—so it can be a little stinky!
  • Compost tea: Compost tea is a natural liquid fertilizer made from finished compost and water. Put a few cups of finished compost in a bucket of water and let it sit for 5-10 days, or until the water turns the color of weak coffee. Use the finished mixture to water your containers!
  • Worm composting is also great way to make your own fertilizer! Check out our blog in upcoming weeks for more information on worm composting.

Step 8: Preparing for Winter

You can use the same containers and soil for many years.

  • Every winter, cover the soil with a layer of mulch to protect it from weeds and rain. Fallen leaves make a great mulch!
  • Put the containers under cover if possible, to protect them from the rain.
  • Add fresh compost to the containers in the spring.

For more information about container gardening, check out this article!

Whether you choose a container garden, an in-ground garden, or a little bit of both, it is definitely time to get started.   Grow some tasty veggies for your friends and family this growing season!

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