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Chinquapin Organic Gardens Spring 2011 Newsletter

In this issue:

• Welcome from the Chinquapin Organic Gardens Advisory Board
• Gardening season now under way: Regulations updated
• Tillers for hire: 2011 gardening season
• Registration update: Waiting list in effect
• Gardening seminars planned: Send in your topic ideas
• Manure: Sign up to be part of the truckload
• Stay up on what’s happening at Chinquapin through newsgroup
• Volunteer to woodchip the garden paths on April 2
• A historical find at Chinquapin Organic Gardens: Gardener discovers piece of antique plow
• Bee hives being planned for Chinquapin Organic Gardens
• Deer sighted at Chinquapin
• Wildflower symposium to be held in Blue Ridge Mountains May 13-15
• Wondering when to start planting? Check out the planting calendar


Welcome from the Chinquapin Organic Gardens Advisory Board
Surprise! How quickly the 2011 season has crept up on us. This will be the best year. The Chinquapin Organic Gardens Advisory Board is active and gardeners are planning a lot of community spirited activities.

As chairman and vice chairwoman of the board, we want to welcome returning and new gardeners! We trust that you existing gardeners will shower the new folks with all of your seeds of learning and assist in their growth for the garden season. And we know that some of our new gardeners will bring a wealth of information to share as well. We will continue offering advice through our garden mentors  and hope to add new ones to our list.

Because of the long waiting list for garden plots, we are proceeding with a new idea of plot sharing, which will allow gardeners who are overwhelmed to keep up their garden plots. If you are willing to share your plot, meet energetic newbies, share new ideas and improve communication, please contact me, Kathryn or John Walsh with the City of Alexandria, as we have already assembled a list of those wanting to partner. It will be up to those willing to share to contact those on the list and make all arrangements.

The advisory board is also going to be taking an aggressive stand regarding those gardeners who do not attend to their plots, or do some minimal planting and do not abide by the Garden Regulations. We are also encouraging the city to complete the expansion of 16 or so plots which were planned but not started last year.

Please take time to visit the T.C. Williams High School Discovery Garden up at the top of the gardens. Introduce yourselves to the students, and to Amber Kim Dewey and Brad Kukuk, our gardeners who are assisting them in so many ways, and see if you can help out. Watch for plant exchange opportunities during the season. They continue to come up with innovative ideas for use of produce that they raise. It is impressive what they are doing with raised beds, composting and improving on what was very difficult soil. The bottom line is the Discovery Garden needs your help.

Last month, several board members conducted a tour for a food system researcher and writer from Santa Fe who found the gardens online and requested a visit! He was impressed with the gardens, especially the Discovery Garden.

We are working on a memorandum of understanding between the Chinquapin Organic Gardens Advisory Board, a volunteer group made up of gardeners like you, and the City of Alexandria. The board, which issues this newsletter, runs a website and holds an annual picnic, was formed more than 10 years ago to represent gardeners and help the city with the gardens.

The advisory board welcomes your participation in the board activities and the board meetings, which are held typically the third or fourth Tuesday of each month for one hour starting at 7 p.m. The next meeting is scheduled for April 19. There is a lot to be done and we welcome your ideas and assistance.

Marlin G. Lord, chairman, and Kathryn A. Brown, vice chairwoman

Gardening season now under way: Regulations updated
March 1 was the official start of the gardening season at Chinquapin. Quite a few gardeners have already begun work on their spring planting.

As you head out into the gardens and put in your seeds and plants, be sure to take a look at the official Garden Regulations, which spell out the "dos and don’ts" of gardening at Chinquapin. Remember that all of our gardens are organic and that chemical pesticides or weed killers are not allowed.

In addition to the longtime regulations, the board has added two new items: Metal cans, which some gardeners have strung up to scare away deer, are no longer allowed. The board plans to research other natural solutions for repelling deer and communicate them to gardeners. The board also agreed to ban bird feeders and bird baths, as they attract rodents and mosquitoes.

Gardeners who do not follow the regulations may lose their plots without a refund. Read the full 2011 Garden Regulations online now.

Tillers for hire: 2011 gardening season
Looking for help with the weeds in your plot? For a fee, a tilling service will come to your plot and help you out.*

Carl Gatlin, who is at 703-836-3911, told us he is offering his services this year. Also, John Schilling, who is at 703-901-1969, posted a note on the bulletin board in the gardens offering his services.

*Does not imply endorsement by the City of Alexandria nor the Chinquapin Organic Gardens Advisory Board. Individual gardeners contract with tillers at their own risk.

Registration update: Waiting list in effect
The registration process for returning gardeners is now complete. The City of Alexandria reports that there is a long waiting list of residents who would like a plot at Chinquapin Organic Gardens.

For the first time, the Chinquapin Organic Gardens Advisory Board is facilitating plot-sharing at the gardens. If you would like to share part of your plot with another gardener, see the welcome article in this newsletter for details.

If you find that you are no longer able to garden at Chinquapin, please let city staff know you would like to give up your plot so it may be reassigned to someone else.

If you are one of the people the waiting list, the City of Alexandria will keep your name on the list and contact you if a plot becomes open. Plots can open up at any time during the garden season.

Gardening seminars planned: Send in your topic ideas
Plans are under way to create a series of informational seminars for Chinquapin gardeners. Gardener Jim Torretti is working with the Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia to create a seminar lineup.

If there is a particular topic you would like to see covered in the seminars, contact Jim.

Manure: Sign up to be part of the truckload
Manure is a tried and true natural fertilizer. Gardener Louis Tremante is paying to have a truckload of composted horse manure delivered to Chinquapin and is opening up the delivery to other gardeners. The price is expected to be $10 to $20. The manure will be delivered to the garden this spring.

If you are interested in taking part in the manure delivery, contact Louis.

Stay up on what’s happening at Chinquapin through new newsgroup
Chinquapin gardeners have a new way to stay up on what’s happening this year. Gardener Louis Tremante has set up an email discussion group via Yahoo called Chinquapin Community Gardeners.

The group is for people interested in community gardening, specifically (but not limited to) gardeners in Chinquapin Park. The group will provide a forum to share community knowledge about gardening, including news, tips, ideas and other relevant community gardening topics. To become a part of the group, send an email to

Come out and help woodchip the garden paths on April 2
Help make Chinquapin Organic Gardens a more attractive, weed-free setting! Come out to the gardens on Saturday, April 2, and help spread wood chips on the garden paths. The work day will be held from 9 a.m. to noon.

This has been done by volunteers in previous seasons and has had a great effect on the gardens. Contact Louis Tremante for details, which will also be sent out via the new Yahoo group.

A historical find at Chinquapin Organic Gardens: Gardener discovers piece of antique plow
Like other longtime gardeners at Chinquapin Park, I’ve found my share of real marbles (not the plastic ones), toy soldiers and coins of World War II vintage while spading earth at the community gardens — small relics of the days when Chinquapin Village existed to house the Torpedo Factory workers and their families during the wartime “forties” and beyond. But in July, I found a larger and more exciting artifact from an earlier era — what may well have been farmer John McGinnis’ horse-drawn plow used during pre-Chinquapin Village days.
I discovered the rusty but still intact steel farm tool along the woods adjacent to the service road just below Chinquapin Organic Gardens. Its location previously has had a lot of honeysuckle vines, poison ivy and debris that was removed early last summer by some T.C. Williams High School students who were putting in volunteer time. While cleaning up there not long after that, I noticed part of the tool protruding just slightly out of the soil, so I uncovered the rest of it.
Considering its possible historical significance, I contacted Alexandria Archaeology about the find and, as a result, the plow is now on display at the Alexandria Archaeology Museum within the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Old Town. City preservation archaeologist Francine “Fran” Bromberg came out to Chinquapin, photographed the area where the plow piece was found and accepted the implement for further research and display.
Some of Alexandria Archaeology’s publications tell of farmer John McGinnis, who lived in a house near the tennis courts and had a spring that can still be seen along the nature trail below that point. A leaflet, “Discover Archaeological Clues to the History of Chinquapin Park,” issued for Earth Day 1995, tells of the recollections of Mrs. Elizabeth Douglas, who has lived in the area all her life since 1918. She remembers McGinnis, an African-American farmer who in the 1930s (and possibly before) grew many vegetables, but also sorghum.
After harvesting the sorghum, McGinnis would harness his horse to a mill stone, the leaflet says, and crush the stems. Then he would load up his horse-drawn cart or wagon with the resulting syrup in containers, ride to market in Alexandria to sell it and have it processed into molasses and sugar. He sold produce there and brought some of the sugar back. Another leaflet, “Archaeology at Chinquapin Park,” issued for Earth Day 1997, discusses McGinnis’ farm operations, as do some of the signs on the nature trail below the gardens and bordering Taylor Run.
Mrs. Douglas’ oral history is on the city’s website. It gives a fascinating account of life at Chinquapin as she was growing up. It also serves as a starting point for further research into the life of a resident — John McGinnis — who may well have left some clues, including possibly this plow, to help us in that “History Detective”-type quest to learn more about earlier life in the area where we do gardening.

— Dale May

Bee hives being planned for Chinquapin Organic Gardens
Bees play a vital role in pollinating flowering plants and vegetables. Chinquapin Organic Gardens is lucky enough to be getting its own set of bee hives. The hives, which are expected to be set up this spring, will be kept in a fenced enclosure at the gardens. Bee on the lookout!

Deer sighted at Chinquapin
The last few years there have been sightings of deer at Chinquapin Gardens. After the August 2009 picnic, I saw a mother and fawn — around 4 p.m., an unusual time — grazing in the plots at the lower end. How cute, I thought, and board chairman Marlin Lord was able to take some great close-up photos. That was the only time I saw them, but others also have reported sightings.

Last fall, as I took down my fence as part of the end of season clean-up, I worried about an azalea clipping that I had rooted and was finally mature enough to bloom the following spring. I worried that the deer would return, and know they love azaleas. I placed a tomato cage next to the plant, and hoped it would protect the plant. Whenever I stopped by the plot during the winter, it looked safe. A week ago I moved the cage and cleaned out the leaves that had accumulated during the winter. I did not have time to put up the fence, and was a little uneasy about leaving the shrub exposed.

To my dismay, sometime during the following week, a deer found the plant and ate the tips. No blooms this year! I reminded myself that they need to eat, but why didn’t they eat the lush, green winter rye growing in the plot next to mine?

So now I am ready to take action. There are lots of natural and organic methods available to deter deer, but I have been told that the scent-based repellants work great and are not that difficult to use. Commercially available products such as Repel (a liquid) and Deer Scram (a granular material), are made out of eggs, blood meal, garlic, red pepper and other not so tasty ingredients. They are either sprayed or scattered around the plants — maybe placing them around the perimeter of the plot would be sufficient — and although they are pricey, they last for weeks and through rain and watering. Homemade formulas can be found on the Internet.

Good luck and hopefully the deer will find some greener pastures to graze in.

Lori Hartmann 

Wildflower symposium to be held in Blue Ridge Mountains May 13-15
What’s springtime without flowers? The Wintergreen Nature Foundation at Wintergreen Resort in Wintergreen, Va., is again holding its annual Spring Wildflower Symposium. The three-day symposium, to be held May 13-15, will include workshops on harvesting and breaking dormancy of wildflower seeds, how to grow ferns from spores and how to grow native shrubs from cuttings.

Regional artists will be on hand to share their work and offer workshops with nature and wildflower themes. Speakers will include experts who work with Virginia’s rare plants as well as those who grow them. Many workshops will focus on successful and sustainable wildflower propagation. Visits to local gardens will showcase natural wildflower gardens and the best of springtime bloom.

View the complete symposium schedule by downloading a PDF brochure. Registration is available by mail or by calling 434-325-8169.

Wondering when to start planting? Check out the planting calendar
Ever wonder when's the right time to plant your tomatoes at Chinquapin Organic Gardens, or when it's too late to put in peas?

A free planting calendar on the Chinquapin website can help you decide the best time to plant. Created by the Maryland Cooperative Extension, the calendar covers everything from parsnips to pumpkins. While the calendar was created for central Maryland, it can generally be applied to Northern Virginia gardens as well.

Thanks to the Maryland Cooperative Extension for letting us post their chart!


Volunteer to write an article for this newsletter!

This newsletter is produced and written by volunteers who garden at Chinquapin Organic Gardens. New writers are welcome! If you’d like to contribute an article to the newsletter, e-mail Michele Late, newsletter editor.

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