Where Did All Those Seedlings Go?

Back on May 5th, DC State Fair sponsored a seedling swap at the 14th & U Farmers’ Market. Novice and experienced gardens came together to trade seedlings and tips for making them grow. Do you think those tips worked? Check out the photos below, which include pics from our swap and the plants all grown up.

If you have any snapshots of your plants from the seedling swap, please post a link to the photos in the comments section!

Veggie Preservation Will Pickle Your Fancy

Our friends at Brainfood recently spent an evening preserving cucumbers and squash from their new garden in Mt. Vernon Square. Brainfood, an after-school program for high school students, uses food as a tool to build life skills in a fun and creative way. Their story is quite the full circle.  In June they built the garden plots and planted vegetables; August is harvest and pickling time; and come October, DC youth will use the vegetables in all sorts of recipes. From soil to food to education in just six months!

Do you wish your food told a story like that? The more common methods of preserving fresh vegetables – pickling, freezing, and fermenting – can be surprisingly easy. Whether it’s the produce of your garden, a fresh farmers’ market find, or something from your grocery store, many vegetables can be enjoyed year-round through some simple processes in your own kitchen. You can start out with everyone’s favorite, pickled cucumbers. After that, try out some the great, simple recipes at the end of this post.

Whether you’re a veteran or novice pickler, join us in the DC State Fair’s Prepared Foods contests! We have separate competitions for Cucumber Pickles, Other Vegetable Pickles, Fruit Pickles, and Fermented Vegetables.

Frozen Summer Squash

Extending the life of your fresh vegetables through freezing is one of the easiest ways to eat tasty produce year-round. The squash in this recipe is easily replaceable with zucchini, carrots, broccoli, spinach, or many of your other favorite vegetables. Adapted from a recipe at http://www.pickyourown.org.

  1. Cut any quantity of squash into ½ inch rounds or batonnets (like French fries).
  2. Blanch the squash in boiling water or steam for about 3 minutes.
  3. Cool the blanched squash quickly in an ice bath.
  4. Bag and freeze the squash. There are many methods out there, but one of the easiest is the Ziploc brand vacuum seal bags available in grocery stores. You can also use a regular freezer bag, but use a straw to suck out as much air as possible to prevent freezer burn.

Pickled Beets

There are few things more delicious than pickled beets. Adapted from a recipe at www.thespicehouse.com. Remember to fully sterilize your mason jars using boiling water.

  • 6 fresh beets
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups cider vinegar
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 Tbsp. whole allspice
  • 1 Tbsp. whole cloves
  1. Wash the beets and remove any greens. Put them in a pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and cook until fork-tender. Remove skins once they’re cool enough to handle.
  2. Bring all other ingredients to a boil, then simmer for a few minutes. (If you don’t want the cinnamon sticks, allspice, or cloves in the final product, tie them up in a cheesecloth sack before boiling).
  3. Pack the beets into several mason jars.
  4. Pour the pickling liquid over the beets, ensuring that the beets are fully covered by liquid. Cover with the lid.
  5. If you plan to eat within a couple weeks, then just pop the jars in the refrigerator and wait a week. If you’d like to preserve them longer, use a water bath canner or pressure canner to seal them according to the canner’s instructions. 


This spicy, funky fermented cabbage is a mainstay in a ton of Korean dishes. Check out a great Kimchi recipe at Mark’s Daily Apple. Adjust the seasonings to taste – there’s no wrong way to do kimchi.

DC’s Pie Lady

Are you thinking of entering a pie in one of the 2012 DC State Fair competitions? Well, I hope you got started last September, because that’s when last year’s pie-making contender, Ninette Dean, began planning her comeback. She walked home with everything but 1st place and “Best Apple Pie,” but she’s practicing hard to claim both titles this year, something that her husband, family, and friends—the main beneficiaries of Ninette’s baking prowess—must be enjoying.

Cherry Pistachio Pie

Ninette Dean loves a good cookbook and is a professed disciple of Martha Stewart. “I think I’m channeling a ’50s housewife,” she says. And for those interests, Ninette has the ideal day-job at the Smithsonian Libraries, which house a goldmine of cookbooks cleverly named the CHOW Collection, which was donated by the Culinary Historians of Washington. They even blog about their best finds. You could call the pictures in cookbooks her muse, since they are the starting point for some of her best recipes. Ninette also adapts some other pastries she has eaten into new pie ideas. One of her favorites is a cherry pistachio pie, which was inspired by a tart she ate at Pierre Hermé in Paris. (We’re hoping to see that one at the Fair this year.)

Chocolate Macadamia Pie

There are two “secrets” to Ninette’s pie prowess, although only one is truly a secret: her pie crust recipe. The crust, as Ninette attests, “makes or breaks a pie.” The non-secret secret to a great pie is finding the best ingredients for your filling: Those canned cherries on your grocery store shelf will not do. Ninette often goes out to hand pick fresh fruit for her fillings, and for other needs she usually has a long-term relationship with a particular local farmer.

It seems like Ninette has a lot of fun in her kitchen, which she mentioned can be a bit of an obstacle course at times. “According to my husband, the pies aren’t good unless I’m swearing,” she says. Her fun does not come without a little turmoil. But never fret, Ninette has one strong piece of advice for new bakers: “Don’t be so afraid of it.” Admittedly, that is some hard advice to swallow from the pie maven of Washington, DC.

A Gardening Duo Shares Their Success

Wendy Caron and Mark Perry are not your typical DC urban gardeners. In their large plot at Blair Road Community Garden near Fort Totten, they grow potatoes, garlic, beans, salad greens, asparagus, cucumbers, squash, beets, carrots, onions, berries, cherries, herbs, and more. They grow enough produce over a long enough season to cover almost all of their personal needs. Like, they haven’t purchased garlic in twelve years. Compare that to your correspondent, a novice DC urban gardener. My plot at Wangari Gardensis three months old; I grow tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and peppers; I will produce enough to make a few salads and impress my friends. As gardeners, Wendy and Mark may be on a different plateau—but we all share the challenges of growing vegetables in a strictly urban environment.

Last year, Wendy and Mark had the run of the vegetable competitions at the DC State Fair. Their garden shows no signs of slowing down, so it will be up to the rest of the field to rise up to that level. As for the gardening duo, they simply want more competitors.

When asked about their motivation behind gardening, Wendy and Mark unsurprisingly cite the delight in “eating what we grow” and that it is “most satisfying to be independent.” But in meeting the pair, it is clear that they live and breathe gardening. Mark is a self-proclaimed lover of compost; they keep a great pile of the stuff at their garden, and it is fed regularly by materials from his professional landscaping business. The compost heap is kept above 180 degrees to kill any lingering weed seeds. You can imagine how large a pile must be to maintain that kind of temperature.

The most tangible evidence of Wendy and Mark’s growing prowess is the delicious produce that emerges from their garden. Less obviously, their experience has built a store of knowledge invaluable to a beginning gardener. Of most interest to the more whimsical would be Mark’s advice on planting and eating by the phases of the moon. If the plant’s edible parts grow above ground, you should plant your seeds while the moon is waxing; for those plants with edible parts growing underground, plant during the waning moon. (An exception: Transplanting should always be done in the waning moon because root growth is of utmost importance.)

There is a traditional explanation for this common practice: Just as the gravity fluctuations from the moon’s phases ebb the tides, so do they move moisture within the ground. And any gardener knows how important water retention is to healthy plants. Wendy suggests that for all the hoopla about moon phases, it is really a great way to organize your time during planting season. Considering how much her garden grows, err on the side of trusting her.

Wendy and Mark encourage more DC residents to garden wherever they can. They have a few basic pointers: plant at a depth of approximately three times the seed or bulb’s length; vegetables need full sun; raised beds are great because the water drains from them very easily, but they are pesky because the water drains from them so easily.  Maybe their simplest advice is to just get started.