Rooting DC is an annual urban gardening conference held in a big, light-filled high school in Northwest Washington. The day-long event always leaves me awash with information and floating on good urban ag vibes. The 2018 conference, held on March 3, was no different. Here are a few lessons I learned in and out of workshops.
From “Garden Maintenance A-Z”
Presenter: Josh Singer
Epsom salts aren’t just for soaking feet. You can use the salts (aka magnesium sulfate) to reduce transplant shock. When you plant your seedlings in your garden, dissolve a few tablespoons of epsom salts in water and use that to water them in.
Burlap sacks are a great growing container for potatoes. Washingtonians can pick up free sacks at Compass Coffee’s Roastery on 7th Street. Start with potatoes (ideally seed potatoes) with sprouted eyes, planting them in a few inches of soil. Add soil to cover part of the plants as they grow. This will encourage the potato plant to send down more roots, which will grow more taters. Just remember to water the bags well, Singer reminded us. The soil can dry out quickly. You can also use a bin with drainage. NOTE: Sweet potatoes are a different story.
I’m not a weirdo for pruning my tomato plants. Yes, you should prune indeterminate varieties. A good rule of thumb, Singer said, is to snip any offshoots growing below the flowering part of the plant.
Same goes for anything growing in the armpit between the plant and an offshoot/branch. My way of thinking about it: Like trees, tomato plants develop sucker branches that take energy but don’t produce flowers or fruit. So prune away!
From “Discovering DC Food History”
Presenter: Dominique Hazzard
Hazzard is finding and documenting a crucial part of DC food history with her project Food Sovereignty in Black Washington, D.C.: 1950-2017. It is a collection of oral histories full of jewels. Here are a few points that stuck with me from the hour-long presentation by Hazzard and a panel of her interviewees.
A few decades ago, co-op grocery stores flourished in DC, especially in Wards 7 and 8. These were markets owned and operated by community members.
Dennis Chestnut, one of my personal heroes in community-building and urban agriculture, is among Hazzard’s informants. A clip of Chestnut’s oral history painted a mid-century Washington landscape where almost every yard had a fruit tree and a home garden.
One of the co-ops (I believe it was the one at Shepherd Street) had a grain mill on site. This definitely warrants its own item on this list. From writing about small-scale grain supplies here and there, I’ve learned that mills are the elusive final piece of the puzzle for local sourcing and processing.
Interviewee Boe Luther Umar, co-owner of Hustlaz 2 Harvesters, had words of advice on engaging kids in growing food. First off, know words that will resonate with them. “If you say ‘agriculture,’ they don’t know what you’re talking about,” Luther explained during the panel. “If you say ‘farming,’ they know it.” And then, of course, give the young helpers something to bite into. A mouthful of tomato or carrot, fresh from the garden, can make it all click.
From the fair
DC youth rock, part I: With Mighty Greens, students use products of their school gardens to make tea, salve, flavored salts, and other good stuff.
From “Urban Foraging: There is Such a Thing as a Free Lunch!”
This note leads me to my final piece of advice, which I found woven throughout the conference.