August 14th, 2012
Uncovering My Gardening Joy

By Ben Hulac—
It was early June, and my editor had given me a tomato plant. And he’d even offered me pepper plants, as well. On top of it all, I’d been sent home with a massive box full of chunky peanut butter samples. I thought to myself: “Perhaps this is how they pay their interns at Rodale. They reward work with random product samples left around the office. What an odd system.” I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with my tomato plant, let alone where I could get a pot, soil, fertilizer, and a tomato cage, but I knew I’d make it work. My goal—naïve greenhorn gardener that I was—was to be picking red, juicy tomatoes before school started in August.


As I left work that day, I thought about how, a few months before, I had applied for one of the internship positions at Organic Gardening out of curiosity. I had also submitted my résumé for other spots at Rodale with Bicycling and Runner’s World, but at the end of my first day with OG, I was pleased to be spending the summer working with a publication dedicated to something I know very little about—gardening. I knew I’d made the right choice. And, as a bonus, no one would have to be horrified by my pasty legs in biking or running shorts.

Now, my gardening knowledge to date had come from planting a few tomato plants with my uncle as a child, mowing around the house, and munching on stolen blueberries at summer camp. So, with what limited knowledge I possessed, I’d planted my tomato plant in a thin, light green plastic pot and filled it up with some potting soil from a local store. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten to buy fertilizer or a tomato cage. As I stared down at my little creation, melting in the summer Pennsylvania heat and its split-pea-soup-like humidity, I wasn’t worried about those silly details. After all, how big can tomato plants get?


Big. That was the answer I soon discovered after just a few weeks of growth. As the July temperatures continued to climb, my plant began to resemble a marathon runner on the home stretch of his race: wilted, dehydrated, overcome, and just about ready to collapse. I didn’t know what I’d done wrong. I had faithfully watered my plant, pruned away any dead leaves and stems, broken up the roots before planting, and researched tomato plant care online. I’d even gotten a cage and fertilizer. To put it mildly, I was getting a little frustrated with my plant. I’d put in lots of time and effort, but my work hadn’t borne fruit.


As I write this—almost 2 months after planting—my internship is coming to a close. I have fewer than 10 days remaining, and I have yet to eat anything off of that feisty plant of mine. Yet while the growing process for my tomato plant has been less than spectacular, I’ve nonetheless enjoyed the process. In fact, there’s an interesting parallel between growing my tomatoes and interning with a gardening magazine. Coming into both situations, I knew very little. During my first day on the job, I was intimidated by all of the terminology in the gardening realm. Going to buy supplies at the gardening store was a boondoggle. During the first weeks of work at Rodale, I forgot minor but important details while editing and publishing articles. Even now, after researching watering tips and various growing methods, I doubt I’ll be able to eat more than a handful of tomatoes. Even months into the job, there are still countless topics within the digital publishing world I have yet to grasp.

Gardening, I’ve found, seems to be a sort of twisted hobby. It’s something I think many outsiders view as perplexing. Why grow your own food when you can easily buy high-quality produce at the store? Why go through all of the effort to plant, grow, and harvest your own crops when there are so many additional tasks that come along? Why waste your time in the sweltering summer heat? Well, after interning at Organic Gardening, I can answer all of those questions.

Gardening can be tiring and time-consuming, but the benefits surpass any cost. Gardening at home lowers your carbon footprint in many ways; your food isn’t shipped across the country, or perhaps even the globe, with the help of polluting fossil fuels. Tending your own garden is good for the community. Not only is it a sustainable activity, but the food from local gardens generally tastes better and is better for you than store-bought food. Gardening is also a good skill to have and a great gift to pass down to your children. Also, if done properly, growing your own fruits and vegetables can lower your grocery bill significantly. Gardening, particularly when done locally and organically, is an investment in one’s health.


This summer has helped me appreciate the beauty of nature and the never-say-die attitude of farmers and gardeners. This summer, with the help of this internship, has cultivated a grand warmth toward gardening within me. All in all, I’ve lost money, water, fuel, sweat, sleep, time, and energy over my stubborn fruitless friend. But without a doubt, I will do it again next summer. Wherever I am in the world, I’ll grow something. I guess that’s the joy of gardening.

Ben Hulac is a political science and journalism double major at Lehigh University. His time at Organic Gardening has helped cultivate a growing interest in environmental and agricultural issues, as well as a desire to pursue degrees in law and environmental studies.

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August 6th, 2012
Front-Yard City Farms in Portlandia

Homesweet Homegrown Tour continues…

Our next stop took us to Portland, Oregon, home of food trucks, kombucha on tap, vegan minimalls, pedal-powered coffee roasters, and speakeasy style pickles. Put a bird on it—we were in love.


City Farm, located in North Portland, Oregon, specializes in medicinal and edible varieties.

We trekked down to City Farm, a new urban nursery in the St. John’s part of town. Owner Nikki Hahn opened City Farm last February and is already off to an amazing start—this little shop is packed with everything urban homesteaders need to get their garden on, including a full line of canning supplies, organic mulches, soils and amendments, composters, bins of cover crops available by the pound, ducks, chicks, coops, bees, beneficial bugs, and a beautiful selection of books to get you started on basically any food/farm project you can think of. Oh, and the seeds!


City Farm owner Nikki Hahn.

As a self-described “plant nerd,” Hahn has a fantastic variety of rare medicinal seeds, annuals and perennials, eclectic heirlooms, fruit trees, flowering plants, and more—all with a focus on hyperlocal, sustainable, and organic growing. City Farm even has a whole wall dedicated just to local seeds, featuring seeds from Nichols Garden Nursery and Wild Garden Seeds, two Oregon-based companies.

When Hahn bought the house right next to City Farm last April, the first thing she did was rip up every last bit of lawn and start growing food.

“It was all sod as far as the eye could see,” says Hahn.

Well, not anymore. In its place, she planted a massive front-yard garden featuring potatoes, tomatoes, hot and sweet peppers, eggplant, kale, herbs, edible flowers, and raspberry bushes. Melons now grow in the big, cooked-down pile of sod, and tomatoes climb bamboo trellises along the sidewalk out front.


Owner Nikki Hahn removed all of the sod in her front yard to build a massive garden.

It’s this vision that Nikki used to helped transform this little industrial corner of Portland into a thriving urban nursery store. Today in true Portland style, the store even has its own food truck parked out front—The Garden Well—which serves up local brew from St. John’s Coffee Roaster and Free Salad Fridays, featuring greens and edible flowers grown in the City Farm garden.

“The building itself used to be a muffler shop, and before that it was a Harley shop, so it’s been a lot of fun to take a space that was so machine-based and so mechanical and turn it into something green and repurpose it,” says Hahn.

This is definitely a running theme in the city, and it’s so refreshing to see people turning vacant spaces into something beautiful (and tasty). As we walked around Portland, I was amazed at all of the ways Portlanders were fitting in food—nasturtiums along the side of storefronts, trellised cucumbers along the front sidewalk, and raised beds built up around curbs.


A beautiful example of a front-yard garden at 22nd and Pine Street in Portland.


Emily Townsend picks salad greens from her front-yard raised beds in Southeast Portland.

Thanks to a new program we saw in Portland called Farm My Yard, there will be even more gardens popping up in Portland (and hopefully across the country). This genius program pairs urban farmers with vacant lawns and unused spaces throughout the city. It’s pretty simple, actually: If you have a patch of lawn that you’d like to offer up, you just put a Farm My Yard sign out, and an interested gardener can claim your space. Both parties sign an agreement, and the homeowner gets a share of all food grown—it’s a total win-win. Spread the word, and you can help bring a little bit of Portland’s front-yard garden charm to your neck of the woods.


Farm My Yard signs have started popping up in Portland.

Next Stop: Portland, Part II: Heirloom cocktails and restaurant farming at Besaw’s.

All Photos by Paul David, except the Farm My Yard, courtesy of

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July 24th, 2012
Homesweet Homegrown—First Stop: Seattle!

About Homesweet Homegrown:

Written by Grow founder Robyn Jasko, and illustrated by Jennifer Biggs, Homesweet Homegrown is a new DIY food book that empowers people everywhere to grow their own organic food, whether they live in a high-rise city apartment or an acre in the suburbs.


About the Homesweet Homegrown Book Tour

To launch a national book tour for their new book Homesweet Homegrown: How to Grow Make And Store Food No Matter Where You Live, author Robyn Jasko and illustrator Jennifer Biggs created a Kickstarter campaign which catapulted to almost 400% past their goal, with the help of gardeners and DIYers around the globe. So, this summer, they hit the tracks on an epic Amtrak book tour to host signing events across the country.

From Seattle to Philadelphia, they met with urban farmers, front yard gardeners, city beekeepers, community gardeners, farm to fork foodies, and hung out with countless city chickens.

Here are their experiences from the road.

First Stop: Seattle!

After just making our plane by a mere 4 minutes, we were en route to Seattle, WA to kick off the Homesweet Homegrown book tour. Our first stop was June 21 at the Village Green Nursery in southwest Seattle to sign books, chat with fellow gardeners and host a demo about making tasty heirloom cocktails from the garden featuring spirits from Bainbridge Organic Distillery.

heirloom cocktails and book signings

Heirloom cocktails made with spirits Bainbridge Organic Distillery, antique roses from Village Green, and rosemary simple syrup. Photo by Joseph Geiger

The event began with joint talk with Colin McCrate and Brad Halm of Seattle Urban Farm Company, a company they started in 2007 to answer the question: “Does anybody need help setting up an edible garden?”

Since then, McCrate and Halm have started hundreds of gardens throughout the Seattle area, and have even begun working with local restaurants to create rooftop gardens in the center of the city. Their new book Food Grown Right, In Your Backyard, helps readers at home set up their own little microfarm, anywhere.

group shot

Group Shot: (from left to right) Hilary Dahl, Colin McCrate, and Brad Halm if Seattle Urban Farm Co., Vera Johnson of Village Green Nursery, and Robyn Jasko and Jennifer Biggs, of Homesweet Homegrown Photo by Joseph Geiger

“We structured the book based on with what we go through with any customer during their initial consultation,” says Halm. “We started with the initial site analysis where we take you on a walk through your yard and find the best sun exposure and a good microclimate for growing vegetables. Then we move on to the process of building the garden, adding shade or winter coverings, trellises, organic practices, pest management and more.”

Halm and McCrate are also expanding into other realms of urban agriculture.

Village Green

Village Green. Photo by Joseph Geiger

“Right now there is a huge growing interest in people wanting to connect to the food that they are eating,” says McCrate. “In an urban setting, you have limited space, but there’s still alot you can do. We figure out the best way to make that happen on their property. It can be a combination of vegetable beds, fruit trees, strawberry bushes, grape vines—anything from a couple of containers on a deck to an entire landscape renovation of edible plants.”

They’ve also begun to set up rooftop gardens for restaurants in the center of Seattle, most recently at Bastille Cafe and Bar.

“In a part of the city with pretty limited growing space, Bastille can grow enough food for the restaurant to be harvesting year round. They pick produce that afternoon and serve it that same night,” says McCrate. “We are really trying to promote projects like that. Any new, creative way to produce food out of Seattle is our ultimate goal.”

I also had a chance to meet up Vera Johnson, owner of Village Green Nursery, who has created a rare gem of a city nursery, with organic, local and rare varieties of perennials, annuals and antique roses on more than 2 lush acres right in the heart of Seattle.

“Since I bought it, I’ve really turned it into my own space,” she says. “I started keeping honeybees, chickens. We started an organic kids vegetable garden,” says Johnson. “We are a perennial nursery, but with the strong interest in growing your own food we’ve started focusing on edibles as well.

Throughout the season, Village Green hosts several classes and educational programs for the community, from urban chicken keeping to making your own compost tea. On Fridays, they invite children from the neighborhood to be part of the kids learning garden, start seeds, dig, weed, feed the chickens, and do whatever needs to be done. All of their perennials, herbs and annuals are grown organically, and they source their plants from as nearby as possible.

“Organics, sustainability and keeping it local is my focus,” says Johnson. “If I can’t grow it myself, I try to find the product that I need within 50 miles. And, if I can’t find it within 50 miles, chances are really good that we are not growing it here on Seattle and it’s not going to thrive or survive here anyway.”

Next Stop: City Farm and Besaw’s in Portland, OR!

Smixing up heirloom cocktails

Robyn mixing up Heirloom Cocktails. Photo by Joseph Geiger

About the Author

Robyn Jasko, is a local foods activist, community garden starter, and co-founder of Grow Indie, a site promoting sustainable lifestyles, homesteading, eating well, and living local. Her first book, Homesweet Homegrown: How to Grow, Make and Store Food, No Matter Where You Live, was published on May 1, 2012.


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June 5th, 2012
Learning to be a Professional Gardener

By Michael Rolli—

I am a Professional Gardener student at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. Originally from West Caldwell, New Jersey, I have a degree in sociology from Penn State University. Before I came to Longwood, I worked as a seasonal gardener at Greenwood Gardens in Short Hills, New Jersey, a former private estate surrounded by scenic protected woodlands in its final stages of its restoration and transformation into a public pleasure garden. My primary interests in horticulture are native plants, sustainable landscapes, and organic gardening.

The Longwood Gardens Professional Gardener Training Program is a 2-year, tuition-free immersive program that offers horticulture education through traditional classroom-style learning and practical experience. Graduates of the program have ended up in various horticulture industries, from floriculture enterprises to nurseries to public garden management. There are two classes of about eight students each enrolled at all times. The class of 2012 is the “senior” class, while my class, the class of 2013, is the “junior” class.

The 2013 class of Professional Gardener students, or PGs, is made up of eight students of various ages, geographic locations, horticulture experience, and interests. For the next 2 years, we will be alternating through 3-month cycles of work rotations and classes. Work rotations are essentially month-long internships in different parts of the gardens; so far I have worked in indoor display (in the conservatory), production, and arboriculture. Classes are structured similarly to college semesters, where we learn everything from math and chemistry to landscape design and how to manage a greenhouse.

Housing is provided in the form of duplexes that date back to Pierre S. DuPont’s time, when he decided to keep his staff his close by. Living within the grounds of Longwood Gardens makes for an incredible learning environment.  PG students, interns, international trainees, and some staff members live on Red Lion Row (or simply, The Row), which is a straight road with houses on one side and garden plots on the other, tucked away behind Longwood’s production greenhouses, the Forest Walk, and the Meadow.


Each PG student is provided her or his own 16-by-50-foot garden space, divided into a 240-square-foot ornamental plot and a 560-square-foot vegetable plot. We have an ongoing garden practicum that provides a few guidelines for our ornamental plots but allows plenty of room for creativity and experimentation. The vegetable sides of our plots, however, are dedicated to what has been affectionately dubbed the “Veggie Venture.”

Never having grown my own vegetables before, I’m pretty excited by the Veggie Venture. We grow and sell organic produce to 1906, Longwood’s fine dining cafeteria, which is open to guests of the gardens.  One of the senior PGs is in charge of creating an accession sheet based on a list of vegetables, including specific cultivars, requested by the chefs of 1906. We grow what they ask for, they pay us for what we grow, and we put all of the money toward our trip to China in 2013. We each grow several different crops in our plots, oversee a certain category, and harvest when ready (for example: right now I’m growing lettuce, snap peas, Swiss chard, and peppers, but I am in charge of overseeing all pepper crops and their harvesting).

As a guest blogger, I will be writing about my experiences with organic gardening as a student at Longwood Gardens and as somebody who is completely new to gardening. More specifically, I will be writing about how my class is growing vegetables and cut flowers and pursuing other creative ways of raising funds for our trip to Shanghai, China, in 2013. I will also try to include “Top Three Things I Learned This Week” (about gardening, that is) and “My New Favorite Plant.”

The Top Three Things I Learned This Week:

1. Groundhogs will eat kohlrabi!

2. If you tell somebody at the supermarket that you are a gardener, he or she will assume that gardening is your hobby, not your profession or field of study.

3. Back up everything on your computer so that when your hard drive crashes you don’t have to write the same blog twice!

My New Favorite Plant:

Night-scented stock (Matthiola longipetala ssp. bicornis)


My neighbor grew some night-scented stock for our porch, and I couldn’t have asked for a better neighbor. Not only does this plant have little white and purple flowers that bloom at night, but they are more fragrant than I could reasonably expect for such small flowers. The flowers look wilted when I come back from class or work at the end of the day (as do I sometimes), but by the time I’ve eaten dinner, the flowers are wide awake and offering a pleasurable scent to anybody who happens by it.

More information: Professional Gardener Training Program

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June 4th, 2012
The Virtue of Forgetting

By Alex Norelli—


Perhaps it was outright laziness, but at the end of last year’s dedicated season, it didn’t really seem all that unpardonable to leave a few surplus onions laying about unharvested. The worst that could happen is they’d be wasted (really only returned to the soil), and the best that could happen, well…that I didn’t know.

Let us out of here!!

Let us out of here!!

So I left them there with about as much thought as I’d give to pulling out a nondescript weed. After months of dealing with groundhogs and enjoying the harvest, my thirst for gardening felt quenched and I was looking forward to winter’s break. What I didn’t foresee is that an abnormally mild winter would not sunder them, and a precocious spring would give them more than a head start. Its not even June and I am met in my garden by the bulbous head-high minarets. Within their thin sheaths bundled clusters of tiny blooms press against the barrier, forcing its expansion and eventual rupture. Their ascending stems looked serpentine, as they kneeled in support of their nearly insupportable height.

Strange, Wild, Wonderful…the onions of this garden!!

Strange, Wild, Wonderful…the onions of this garden!!

The color of the conical unopened blooms once the sheath has ruptured is an icy blue, like that of a glacier in the form a golf ball, but with the opposite of dimples. About a year ago I visited Landcraft out on the North Fork of Long Island and they were growing Okra as an ornamental, its large-petaled Hibiscus-like flowers a soup for the eyes to drink in. Ever since then I’ve been trying to let plants show me their attributes, to approach them without any preconceived notions of what they are. Yes, maybe they are a vegetable, but that is not all they are. For me an onion was something in the ground, but now, after letting them grow an extra year, they are something reaching for the sky, inhabiting another atmosphere.


At the other end of my garden, the globe Allium were in heady bloom, though not long ago they looked similar to the onions. They too had the translucent minarets filled with eager buds. The resemblances are pretty scarce from there though…the allium have broad vaulting foliage radiating from the ascendant stalk, and their “onion” is a bulb usually planted about 6 inches underground. Apparently, if you go by Wikipedia’s estimates, there are somewhere around 750 varieties of allium, and Allium in Roman times was actually Garlic.

I really I just forgot to take them inside after I picked them…there were so many last year!

I really just forgot to take them inside after I picked them…there were so many last year!

Maybe next year I will choose a place in my garden to plant my surplus onions, and turn the fruits of happenstance into the tools of expressive gardening. But then again there will be something I let go at the end of the season if for no other purpose than to see what it will do when I cede my will to its own, and allow it to show me something.

ARtist, poet, Gardener

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