Monday, May 24, 2010

Perspective and Attitude: Have Some, Get Some

Last weekend I visited the spot of our first group event, the wonderful planters at the intersection of T and Vermont NW. I woke early on that Saturday morning and made my way to the garden, amazed at how quiet the U Street Corridor was at that hour. Apart from a few (insane) joggers, the world slept. But I? I was marching to do battle with weeds.

I arrived at the site and surveyed the landscape, pleased to see that nothing had died. All of our plants were still there, looking very much like they had the day we planted them. I began my familiar worrying at this, the lack of growth, curious as to why our plants were not flourishing when the ginormous weeds poking out between the sidewalk cracks were. I gave these weeds my best Stink Eye, jealous at their height and heft.

I stood there for a little while, staring at the petite plants, staring at the whoppin' weeds, staring at the plants, staring the weeds, the plants, the weeds, the plants, the weeds. My mind a'buzz with all of the possible reasons our plants weren't flourishing: bad soil, grubs, inadequate sun, soil acidity, not enough water, too much water, poor drainage, arsenic, lead, aliens, re-runs, the series finale of Lost, woe. My brain was doing that insanity thing that it does so well.

I took a deep breath and stopped the plant-size-freak-out midstream. Okay, so Lost is over, the Voyager 2 probe was abducted by aliens, and our plants were still wee and a bit scrappy looking. Let's look on the bright side. Dr. Who is airing new episodes and the plants were still alive, right? And though I am but a humble novice gardener, I know that alive and scrappy is better than dead and, well... dead. And also, the new Doctor is pretty great so while I miss David Tennant, I'm okay with Matt Smith.

But I digress.

I expertly navigated past the freak-out and began weeding.

I tore the heads off of anything that bit me, that looked too happy, too tall, too green, too weedy, or too sneaky. I ignored the little voice in my head that kept warning me that I was working on land that wasn't mine, that kept telling me I was trespassing. I tried to ignore the fact that I couldn't determine the difference between the weeds and the plants. ('Ello. Novice gardener, remember?) So in an act of defiance to my own insecurity, I sprawled myself out on the uncomfortable pavement, began humming, "This land is your land, this land is my land," and ripped out weeds.

I was seeing "below me that golden valley" when a movement to my right made me stop and turn. I looked up to see a man standing amongst our precious plants, his dachsaund squatting undecorously over the butterfly weed. I began blinking furiously, shocked at what I was witnessing. A dog. Pooping. Not five feet from where I worked. The dog's owner gave me a nonchalant nod and then walked off with his Number Two-making hound.

I kid you not, my gardening friends, my head almost exploded.

BRAZEN is what that was. Impudent. Shameless and disrespectful. That man watched me sweating over this tiny plot of soil and cared so little for it that he let his dog crap all over our hard work. I was incensed.

I was gearing up for a full-on tirade when I heard a little voice ask, "Dad, what is that girl doing?" I halted my mental yelling and looked up to see a curly-headed child staring at me with enormous Anime eyes.

"She's working in the garden," her dad told her, and then with a smile he said to me, "Thank you for doing that."

And just like that, my mental yelling stopped. I told him that he was welcome, and by George, I meant it. He WAS welcome. He was welcome to enjoy that spot with his little girl, to watch the plants grow, to breath in their fragrance and remember that good things take time. And so was I. I was welcome to do the same.

Heck. People were also welcome to let their dogs poop there. It's fertilizer, right?

This gardening thing is teaching this crazy novice a whole lot. I am learning that gardening is about perspective, the slow passing of time and the fruits of physical labor. It's about letting things grow at their own pace and accepting that weeds will always find a foothold. But guerilla gardening is different. It's about attitude, getting your cockels up and taking action. It's about laying claim to land that is not your own and planting there; it's about making use of something considered useless; it's about being a city dweller who wants a touch of green amongst their concrete jungle.

But guerilla gardening is also about accepting that your plants are never safe, that they are subject to nature and people and policies and deeds and dogs. People will love what you do, people will hate what you do. People will help you, people will hinder you. Some will pitch in and weed along beside you, and still others will walk their dogs among your evening primrose. Some will add their own plants to your little garden. Others will rip your plants up. Squirrels will dig up your bulbs and eat your seeds. Summer will refuse you rain. City planners will turn your abandoned lot into a Best Buy.

Guerilla gardening is brazen. It has to be, because we live in a brazen world full of brazen people. The odds are stacked against us, but we plant because it is important to us. We accept the good with the bad, the weeds with with flowers, the poop amongst our progress.

Our plants at Vermont and T are not flourishing, my friends, but they are still there and they are alive. That is success. Shameless, impudent success, and for that I am extremely happy.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Happening TODAY! Whole Foods, Whole Lotta Good

Good morning, mon amies!

On this rainy Tuesday morning I have some sunny news for you! Today marks the grand opening of a new Whole Foods Market in Chevy Chase. In fact, right this very minute, as I type this very sentence, they are celebrating said opening with a Bread Breaking Ceremony.

If you're in the Chevy Chase area and have a hankering for some fresh veggies, stinky (but delicious!) cheeses, stupendous and hard-to-pronounce grains, or other healthy sundries, be sure to stop at Whole Foods. The store is located at 4420 Willard Avenue, Chevy Chase, MD 20815.

If today's rain keeps you locked up inside with a Snuggie and a good book, be sure to check the new market out on May 26th for their 5% and Food Drive Day. 5% of that day's sales (made between the hours of 10am and 7pm) will be donated to the Capital Area Food Bank and Manna Food Center. Staff from both will be on hand to accept non-perishable food donations and to engage customers about their programs.

Welcome to the neighborhood, Whole Foods! Thanks for stocking quinoa and wheat berries. I love that stuff!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Doing It (With Others) - 6th Annual National Arab American Service Day

Hey guerillas!

Lookin' to get in on some more urban gardening fun? Lurking on dark street corners with seeds in hand ain't enough for you? Well, have no fear! The 6th Annual National Arab American Service Day is here to satisfy your gardening thirst, aka your thirst to garden.

This Saturday, May 15, 2010, the Arab American Institute Foundation is taking over some dilapidated tree boxes on the corner of 9th and N Street NW and you're invited! Anyone with a: love of gardening; and/or desire to beautify our city; and/or need for a free t-shirt can participate.

Yep! I said FREE T-SHIRT!

Meet up at Old City Green at 9am on Saturday with your rakes, shovels, garden gloves, and zest for dirt! And then get on with the helpin', my guerilla-y friends. Get on.

For more information on this fabulous event, check out the Arab American Institute's website. You can also contact Paul Brown, who is super nice and invited us to participate.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Innovation - A Lean, Green Machine

AVS Harvester by Algaeventure Systems
Reported by Lindsay Silberman of Inc. Magazine - May 2010 edition, pages 44-45

"This could be a technology that truly allows economic viability of algal fuels."
- Ross O. Youngs
A lean, green machine
To be a viable source for fuel, algae must be dried completely, but the most common way of doing so - spinning it in a centrifuge - is costly and inefficient and often damages the plant particles. Algaeventure Systems, founded by Ross O. youngs in Marysville, Ohio, in 2008, has developed a more efficient drying system based on osmosis and other natural processes. After algal solution is placed on the AVS Harvester, a moving screen pulls the plant particles in one direction as a conveyor belt pulls the water in the other. The resulting thin algal deposit dries using natural evaporation and electric heat before flaking off into a container. the flakes can be processed in a variety of ways to create things such as fuel and food. Algaeventure, which received a $5.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy in October, sold its first harvester to energy firm General Atomics last summer. It plans to target the alternative fuel and food markets in the next two years.

Locally grown
The algae shown in Inc.'s article was grown in a greenhouse-like structure next to Algaeventure's Marysville, Ohio, headquarters.

Flaking out
The harvester is 6 feet long and 30 inches wide. It can process 500 liters of algal solution per hour.

The bottom line
It costs about $2 to process a ton of algae using the harvester, compared with $3,400 a ton using a centrifuge, according to research by Algaeventure Systems and Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Doing It (Together) - New Jersey and K Street SE

DCGG Mission #2: COMPLETE. Outcome? Fan-freakin'-tastic!
Sunday turned out to be another chilly day for the D.C. Guerilla Gardeners, but ain't no wind and chill gonna keep us down! Oh no. We arrived amped and ready to roll, excited that another tidbit in our bit of the world was transitioning from drab to fab.

And oh, how drab it was.
But oh, how fab it became!
The spot backs up to an abandoned lot, having once belonged to a mechanic's shop. What this meant for us guerillas was lots of buried treasure in the form of bolts, spark plugs, metal bits and doodads, the occasional chicken bone, and yards of decaying fabric.

The good news about all of that "buried treasure" was that we uncovered enough bricks to build our garden its own partition. Take THAT, you dumpin' mechanics! We turned trash into treasure. BOO-YA!

And if all of the debris wasn't enough to make the site memorable, then the rock-hard dirt was. That solid-as-a-rock site was all Ashford and Simpson (the thrill is still hot, hot, hot, hot, hot, hot, hot, hot) though we were able to bust it up with our tenacious tenacity and some serious elbow grease.

When all was said and done, the D.C. Guerilla Gardeners tilled the soil, removed the debris, mixed in some compost, planted some plants, mulched, watered, and rejoiced that another forgotten spot had gotten some much-needed love.Enjoy, residents and workers around K Street and New Jersey SE. The DCGG was looking out for your part of the District. Now it's up to you to keep it beautiful. Those plants will take root if you take an interest, so go ahead and play in the dirt. I promise you that it will be worth it.

Thanks to the dedicated guerillas who braved the wind, to the new friends who stopped by to say hello (Hey, Hannah! How was church?), and to the people we have yet to meet in the course of our mission.

Stick around for our next group event, coming soon to a spot near you!

Have a suggestion for a spot that needs some attention? Email the D.C. Guerilla Gardeners.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Garden Market - Cow Manure Tea

All natural - from her ranch to your backyard
Written by Sarah Kessler of Inc. Magazine - May 2010 edition, page 23

How much would you pay for a box of tea-bag-like pouches filled with dried cow manure? Lots of people are forking over $21.95 for a packet of nine such bags, made by Authentic Haven Brand in San Juan Capistrano, California. The product is the idea of Annie Haven, who grew up on her family's ranch. For years, the Havens provided local farmers with fertilizer. As the farms gave way to suburban houses, Haven hit on the concept of packaging her cows' manure in small brewing pouches - about 3 inches by 5 inches - and selling it as fertilizer online.

Authentic Haven is just one of many companies riding a wave of enthusiasm for gardening. In 2009, the number of vegetable gardeners in the U.S. rose 14 percent, according to the National Gardening Association. As a result, other natural fertilizers, including worm castings and bat guano, are also gaining popularity.

But dried cow manure has its advantages. It weighs just a fraction of bagged fertilizer. And each pounch makes 5 gallons of liquid fertilizer when "brewed" in water. Sales of Haven's manure bags have grown 30 percent a year since 2005, with orders from as far away as Singapore and Spain. Another selling point: Haven's cows roam openly and eat only organic feed. "My family name is on my product, so I'm very picky about it,"she says.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The D.C. Guerilla Gardeners SECOND-EVER Event!

The D.C. Guerilla Gardeners are at it again, but this time we're taking our sneaky guerilla green thumbs to the SE corner of the District. Grab your shovel and join us on Sunday, May 9, 2010, at the intersection of K Street SE at New Jersey Avenue SE. We're turning a mucky overgrown corner into, well... an unmucky, undergrown corner. Also, it will be pretty. And healthy. And generally nicer all around.

Sunday is Mother's Day, which means I could technically pull the Mother Earth card - see how I did that? - but I won't. Instead I shall suggest that you bring your mom to the event! Guerilla gardening is a great way to bond with your mum. There's no better way to say, "I love you, mom," than by pulling up weeds and sifting through urban detritus.

  1. What: The SECOND-EVER D.C. Guerilla Gardeners Event! Woo-to-the-2!
  2. When: Sunday, May 9, 2010
  3. Time: 10am to Noon-ish
  4. Where: K Street SE at New Jersey Avenue SE
  5. Metro: Location is two blocks north of the Navy Yard Metro stop on the Green Line.
  6. Bring: Your preferred garden tools, gloves (gardening and/or plastic to avoid the ick), a 1-quart plant (preferably Mid-Atlantic native perennial) or seeds to include in the project. Plants should resist drought, tolerate partial shade to full sun, and thrive in poor soil with inadequate drainage. If you are unable to bring a plant but still want to participate, no problem! Enthusiasm is the DCGG's only requirement.
  7. RSVP: If you're so inclined, let D.C. Guerilla Gardeners know you're coming so that we can be sure to bring enough snacks. But this time? NO OREOS. For reals.

The Site - K Street SE at New Jersey Avenue SE

Event Flyer - PDF version available by request.
Want to join in the guerilla fun? SURE YOU DO! Don't be shy, just come on by. Gardening experience is not required.