Monday, November 28, 2011

The White House Kitchen Garden, Ready For Winter With Hoop Houses

First Lady's South Lawn vegetable plot will continue to grow through the cold months...
Wondering how the First Family's Thanksgiving menu featured fresh produce from First Lady Michelle Obama's Kitchen Garden, despite chilly November weather? The 1,500 square-foot plot is a four-season garden, and grows vegetables all year thanks to hoop houses. Five hoop houses--aluminum hoops covered with plastic sheeting--have just been installed in the Kitchen Garden, protecting a wide variety of herbs, lettuces, spinach, Collard Greens, Swiss Chard, and root vegetables in their raised beds. The temperature in Washington, DC, has fluctuated wildly recently, getting up to a balmy 68 degrees last week, and dropping down to 34 degrees, thanks to driving wind and rain. But the hoop houses provide ample protection for the Presidential vegetables. (Above: Two of the hoop houses, beside the special beds in honor of President Thomas Jefferson, at right)

Hoop houses, also called high tunnels, are akin to temporary greenhouses, and used by home gardeners and farmers alike. They provide a low-cost and easy way to capture solar heat: The sun warms the interior through the covering, keeping the soil from freezing and allowing vegetables to thrive during cold months, so fresh produce can be had year-round. In 2009, hoop houses helped the Kitchen Garden continue to grow through two record-breaking blizzards, dubbed Snowmageddon I & II by locals. In 2010, the winter was milder, but still had snowfall, and the hoop houses worked swell then, too. (Above: The full view of the Kitchen Garden, with the five hoop houses that are currently installed)

There are 32 boxed beds in the Kitchen garden, and two berry patches. Vegetable beds that are not being used during the cold months have been seeded with a cover crop of rye, which provides nutrients for the soil, enriching it for next Spring's planting.

"What excites me every day is being able to go down to the First Lady's garden and being able to cook out of that. I mean it's just such an honor, number one, but two, as a chef, it's the best way to cook," Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives Sam Kass (l), the mastermind behind the First Lady's garden, said last week.

"I can go down and pick whatever looks the best and is the most ripe, and then bring it up here and be putting it on the plate in thirty minutes...there's always something new getting ready to be harvested in the garden, so that's just been great."

This year, the Kitchen Garden produced more than 2,600 pounds of vegetables, which are used for everything from the First Family's meals to State Dinner menus. In 2011, all the beds were fully boxed for the first time, a major change from 2010 when there were just six boxed beds. In June, Mrs. Obama installed a special Three Sisters garden, which utilized traditional Native American planting techniques. Beets were planted in the Kitchen Garden for the first time ever during the March 2011 Spring Planting.

About one third of the Kitchen Garden vegetables are donated to Miriam's Kitchen, a DC social services agency that provides daily healthy meals for the needy. (Above: An aerial view of Mrs. Obama harvesting the Kitchen Garden for Fall on October 5, joined by student helpers from Bancroft and Tubman Elementary Schools)

The White House Beehive, located adjacent to the Kitchen Garden, is now dormant for the winter, but in 2011 produced about 234 pounds of honey, according to an aide.

The First Lady's book about her Kitchen Garden, "American Grown," will be released in April of 2012. (Above: The Kitchen Garden layout for 2011)

Excellent seasonal White House recipes for the cold months:

1. Roasted Pumpkin Squash Soup

2. Winter Garden Salad with Honey Herb Vinaigrette

3. Turkey and Spinach Lasagna

4. Broccoli Soup

5. Roasted Apples with Blue Cheese

*Check the sidebar for more recipes.

*Photos by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama. Aerial photo by Chuck Kennedy/White House