Next year, make plans to attend one of the Grow It Eat It Open Houses at the Agricultural History Farm Park in Derwood, Maryland. Grow It Eat It is Maryland’s Food Gardening Network, sponsored by the University of Maryland Extension. Managed by the Montgomery County Master Gardeners, all volunteers, the Grow It Eat It Open Houses are a great way to learn how to grow edibles in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area. This year, there was an Open House in March, May, and on Saturday, last weekend.
For this particular Open House, there were three concurrent “tracks.” One track was a series of presentations by Master Gardeners or Extension staff. I attended the first presentation entitled “Keeping Your Animals Out of Your Garden” in the conference room for an hour. Master Gardeners Erica Smith and Terri Valenti had an excellent powerpoint presentation and a very informative handout but what really added value was the fact that they have years of experience growing edibles despite many different animals in their area. They could answer questions easily, offer lessons learned, and were more than willing to spend time talking to people afterwards. Erica is responsible for many of the unique vegetables in the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden and writes for the Grow It Eat It blog. Terri has many years of experience growing a wide spectrum of edibles, including fruit trees. The second presentation was “Low Tunnels—How to Build and Use” by Master Gardener Gordon Clark. Gordon showed us how to erect a low tunnel, which is a method of erecting plastic over a garden bed to extend the growing season of small vegetables. Because he had been growing greens in the winter with this method, he was able to relate his experience and show us the materials he used. Starting from scratch, he pounded the rebars in the ground, erected the PCV pipes, and covered them with plastic in no time. It was easy to understand and easy to relate to the relatively low cost. I missed the third presentation on “Pests and Diseases” by Pat Lynch because I spent too much time in the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden looking at new veggies to try next year and talking to Master Gardeners. According to the brochure there was a presentation on food preservation by Faculty Extension Assistant Karen Basinger (the only presentation that had a fee and required registration), but I also wanted to hit a few farms on the Montgomery County Farm Tour and Harvest Sale so I had to leave early.
Concurrent to the other tracks, “Everything Tomatoes,” was attracting attention in a conference room/kitchen down the hall. Tomato enthusiasts were cutting many different types of tomatoes so people could taste and rate their favorite tomatoes. People were invited to share seeds, tomatoes, and recipes, sample tomatoes, learn how to save tomato seeds, and listen to cooking demonstrations all morning long.
The last track took place outside in the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden. The gardens themselves were very informative, people took time to make sure most of the plants were clearly labeled (which I always appreciate), and some signage had large timelines and photos depicting the plant’s growth. There were vegetables in containers, in beds, climbing up nets, and sprawling across arches; herbs in pots and in the ground; fruit shrubs; intensively planted beds; salad tables; straw bale gardening; flowers and bees and butterflies everywhere. A Master Gardener answered questions about composting; staff from the Montgomery County Recycling Center offered free compost bins and thermometers; and people demonstrated how to make trellises from bamboo. There were tables set up for Master Gardeners to distribute information on pollinators, gardening tools, starting seeds, and diagnosing plant problems. We had great weather and I came home with lots of handouts, ideas, and new veggies to try next year.