Q: Are the Obama's really going to plant a garden on the White House lawn? I saw Michelle Obama digging up sod the other night on the news. A garden that size is a lot of work — are they really going to weed and water it themselves? And will it be organic?
A: There is going to be something besides a swing set sprouting on the South Lawn at the White House this year. The popularity of growing vegetables isn't limited to America's back yards. Yes, the Obama family and their helpers are going to plant a vegetable garden at the White House, and yes, it will be organic. It is said that there will even be a White House compost pile!
There certainly has been a lot of talk about this garden being a "community vegetable garden." It won't be the first time the lawn has been used for community agricultural purposes.
The first vegetable garden was planted by the first resident of the White House, John Adams. Woodrow Wilson grazed sheep on the lawn during World War I. The last time the 18-plus-acre White House lawn was used for vegetable gardening was during the 1940s, when first lady Eleanor Roosevelt started a home-gardening movement that helped feed the nation during World War II. It was called a Victory Garden and gardeners across the nation followed suit to support the war.
Victory gardens were my first taste of gardening. My father ordered from the Burpee catalog and gardened after work each evening and every weekend, along with his neighbors, on a vacant lot across from the house they rented. My mother canned vegetables and the kids ate fresh peas, tomatoes and beans right on the spot.
So gardening at the White House won't be a new thing at all. Few people know that White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford has been growing herbs on the White House roof for several years. She is also committed to using organic and local foods whenever possible. When the Obama family has a vegetable garden, she'll have fresh, local veggies at her fingertips. But is it all just a photo-op? Do the Obama's even like vegetables?
We know a little about past-presidents' eating habits:
We know that George Bush, the elder, famously hated broccoli. George Washington, our first president, apparently loved fish and nuts. George Washington, despite the story about his admitting to chopping down the cherry tree, apparently really did like cherries.
Barack Obama is known to love pizza and chili, and is said to like his vegetables, especially spinach and broccoli. Tell your kids!
We would always recommend that any young family grow veggies that are healthy and also appealing to the kids — appealing, either because they taste good straight from the garden, like patio tomatoes or peas and beans, or because they're fun to grow, like bean teepee's or pumpkin patches.
The White House garden will be a large garden. It will take a lot of work, but I imagine there will be a lot of adult volunteers lining up to help. I would guess that the care and feeding of the garden might be done totally by volunteers from garden clubs in the area.
Who wouldn't want to be able to say that they gardened at the White House?
Q: My rose bush has a lot of brown branches on it. Is it too early to cut them back?
A: Rose pruning can generally be done in early spring, about the time that the forsythia starts to bloom. Prune them back, a bit at a time from the end, until you reach good green wood. If possible, the final cut you make should be just above an outward facing bud.
The American Rose Society recommends that you use a by-pass pruner, not an anvil pruner. Use sharp shears to make the cuts clean, not ragged.
Q: I want to try to grow a few tomatoes from seed again. I tried it several times in the past years, but can't seem to get it right. I usually start them in January/early February, and they grow beautifully, then they stop, turn pale and fall over. What is wrong?
A: The right time to start seeds is about mid-April. Figure your timing of tomato seeds this way:
Allow a few days for the seeds to germinate, plus about six weeks growing indoors under your most careful care. Now count so that the number of days will bring you to the end of May. That is plenty early for tomatoes to go outside if you live on the cool North Shore.
This Week's Dirt
A reader wanted to share some information about a Massachusetts farm with excellent stock. He's used them for a small home garden and had positive experience with their strawberries, raspberries, purple raspberries and blackberries. Contact Nourse Farms, 41 River Road, South Deerfield, MA 01373. Phone: 413-665-2658 http://www.noursefarms.com/
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Gardening is recession-proof business!
According to a survey of garden catalogs and Web sites, Americans are buying vegetable seeds and starter plants in record numbers. Sales of vegetable seeds are up from 28 to 60 percent from 2008, says Randy Schlutx of Mailorder Gardening Association.
"We're shipping seeds as fast as we can," said Jim Gerritsen, co-owner of Maine-based Wood Prairie Farm.
North Shore Gardener by Barbara Barger of Beverly is a regular feature of the Lifestyles section. Reach Barbara by e-mail at email@example.com or write to her c/o The Salem News, 32 Dunham Road, Beverly, MA 01915. Previous North Shore Gardener columns are available at www.nsgardener.com.