Google Raising Bees at Corporate Headquarters in San Francisco

google logoUrban farming is a comprehensive way of life that incorporates farming lifestyle and country methods into our urban community.  Ideas like having chicken coups , rooftop foliage, hydroponic growing systems, vertical growing structures and multi-floored garden buildings, vermi composting, even window herb gardening,  can and are being incorporated into the urban household.  Now, my favorite search engine , Google,  has added urban farming into the lifestyle at their Corporate Complex headquarters in San Francisco, California.

Get the article straight from the horses mouth from the Google Blog.

See you on Main St.

Transplanting Tomatoes

Hello gardening friends!

Tomato and Ladybug

Here are some helpful hints how to transplant tomatoes successfully in Cincinnati.

1When you are purchasing tomato starts be sure to check the roots structure of the plants.  Any self respecting salesperson of starts will not mind, in fact they encourage, if you turn the tomato upside down to look at the roots.  To do this, press on each side of the pot separating the wwalls of the pot with the soil of the plant.  Cover the surface of the soil with your hand allowing the stem of the tomato to go between your fingers and turn the plant upside down.  Sometimes you have to press on the bottom of the pot as well.  The root ball should slide out and stay intact.  A healthy root system is made up of small micro fibers that move through out the soil holding the soil together.    Unhealthy root production has areas of soil that does not contain roots and might fall apart when you remove it from the pot.  Or, roots reach the edge of the soil and shoot straight to the bottom of the pot.  This happens when you overwater or do not have proper drainage; the roots mainline the water at the bottom of the pot and are never forced to create the micro fibers to go out in search of the water.  Root Rounding is the culmination of problematic root formation happening when you leave a plant in too small a pot too long with improper watering habits.  Root rounding is when the roots come out of the soil and wrap around themselves in circles enclosing the soil in.  Extreme root rounding can stunt your tomatoes growth when it is time to transplant.

This year OTR Homegrown found out that Brandywine and Yellow Pear tomatoes do not appreciate cold nights; above freezing but cold, high 30’s, low 40’s.  Our Brandywines and YP’s are stunted right now and we are not sure if they are going to grow for us even though we have them in the soil.

Of course be sure to check for damaged leaves, bug infestation, and anything else in particular about the start before you purchase it.

Tomato Stems Become Roots
These Bumps will become roots if permitted

Once you have your tomatoes at your garden with your double dug beds and perfect soil, 😉 dig your hole for your tomatoes.  NOW HERE IS A GREAT TRICK for tomatoes.  Tomatoes can be planted very deep leaving only the top leaves exposed and the stem of the tomato becomes a root stem.  Do you know how tomatoes have bumpy stems, well those bumps are roots trying to form and they will form if put into a medium.  Clip off the  lower stems of the tomatoes and plant the tomato as deep as you can.  If you do not have the depth to keep the tomato vertically you can lay the tomato down on its side and bend the top up above the surface.  This helps the tomato form strong developed roots which in turns increases it’s nutrient uptake making for a better plant and better tom.

When you have the tomato in the ground build a bowl shape on the soil around it so it catches the water.

This year OTR Homegrown will be dressing our toms with used coffee grounds, “urban manure”.

We clip the first flowers that bloom when the plant is still relatively small to allow the energy of the plant to go into the vegetation of the plant.



Buying Seed: Hybrid Vs. Non-Hybrid; Genetically Altered and Organic.

Seed Package Information
Planting Regions, Soil Conditons, Seed Package Information

The package seeds come in contain good information about the seed variety inside.  As much information that is included on the seed pack it is becoming more rare to see the listing of a hybrid or non hybrid. The terms described below identify if a seed is a hybrid, or an open pollinated variety.  These codes will not always be in the same location on the pack and sometimes are missing altogether.  Note in the picture the stamp on the left side of the pack signifies that this is a  H1 hybrid Sweet Basil packed for planting in 2009.
OP – Open Pollinated. This means the plant is a pollinator, will give you seeds next year. Op is what you are looking for if you are a seed saver.
H1 – H1 Hybrid, or, Hybrid 1.
H2, T1 More listings describing Hybrids.

OTR Homegrown supports one of our country’s most important institutions concerning seed saving and storing, “Seed Savers Exchange”.  Located in Decorah, Iowa, Seed Savers Exchange at  Heritage Farm saves over 2,000 strains of seeds growing 5,000 varieties every year to preserve these strains.  We will be saving as much of our seed as possible and the few hybrids that we are growing we are not going to let bolt, or flower.

More Information on a Seed Pack.

  • Time to Plant by Region
  • Seed Sowing Depth
  • Distance Between Rows
  • Plant Indoors and Transplant, or Plant Directly in the Ground
  • Soil Drainage Needs, Soil Depth Needs
  • Year the Seed was Grown, and or Year Grown For.  Most seeds have a four year shelf life, for onions it’s two.
  • But Not Always if a plant is full sun
  • Organic seed is seed that was taken from an organically grown plant.

Related Term Definitions In Lamen’s :

Hybrid and Non Hybrid

In the garden, a hybrid is a plant that has recently been cross pollinated by two or more other strains or varieties.  A hybrid plant will yield seeds that can grow but those seeds can grow to be a mix of any and all of the varieties that have been crossed into the mother plant. This makes seed saving of hybrids non-reliable and a less secure method of seed saving.

A non-hybrid, also know as “Open Pollinated” (OP), is a determined strain that has been established for years and that repeatedly continues to give us seeds that will be that same (slightly evolved) variety of plant.

Heirloom : The term heirloom in general refers to things that are older than 50 years in age.  As such in the garden, the category of heirloom refers to the variety of seeds that are older than 50 years; a category that encompasses seed varieties that have been around long before Jesus Christ and Mohamed, The Pharaohs, even all human life as we know it.

Genetically Modified (GM) : The process of genetically modifying a plant starts by removing some DNA or genetic material from one plant, then that DNA is mixed with a virus that has the ability to penetrate the genetic cells of another plant while carrying the new genetic material.  This virus DNA mixture is then inserted into the new plants using something similar to an air gun.   The seeds of the new plant are considered genetically modified seeds.

The most widely used genetically modified seed in the World is Monsanto Inc.’s Round Up Ready Corn, Wheat, and Soy.  The structural element of the chemical plant killer Round Up was shot into corn, wheat, and soy introducing the chemical makeup of Round Up into the genetic makeup and structure of the new plants.  The seeds of these injected plants will yield corn, wheat, and soy that has Round Up in it’s genetic structure; now farmers can dump Round Up on the fields and the Round Up Ready Corn, wheat, soy,*  does not die because it “is” Round Up.

* For more information on what Monsanto genetically modified varieties of plants are at what stage in development LINK HERE to go to /

Terminator Gene : Monsanto has developed and the U.S. has approved the use of a gene that enables all the seeds in a plant to be sterile.  This gene cuts the continuation of vegetable to seed to vegetable to seed process that human life has trusted upon since our inception.

QR Barcode Scanners Work Great To Look Up Seed Packet Information

Seed Package Bar Code
Scan the barcode to get product URL

It is not always listed on pack whether a plant variety is a hybrid or an open pollinated non-hybrid.  Other ways to find out more about a variety is to look it up online or in reference books.  For smartphone users or anyone else who has a handy bar code scanner hanging around you can scan the barcodes on most seed packs and get a link to the product information online:)

Most gardeners will buy seeds from a source that they can trust that the seeds are non-hybrid and in most cases organic like Seed Savers Exchange or Seeds of Change.


Only a few sunflowers were grown in 2009, but those that grew were huge!  Each “flower” is actually a head inflorescence, composed of many small flowers.  The yellow pieces that compose the flat surface in the center of the sunflower are considered individual flowers, known as disk flowers.

What most people consider the “petals” of the sunflower, are actually called ray flowers and each petal represents an individual flower.   Each disk floret turns into one seed.  And if the head of the sunflower is ever missing any seeds (noticed by gaps or holes in the head) it indicates improper or incomplete pollination.  The seeds of these sunflowers were harvested and will be used this upcoming year.  Photos taken by Quentin Koopman.

sunflowers (courtesy of Q. Koopman)
sunflowers (courtesy of Q. Koopman)

sunflowers (courtesy of Q. Koopman)
sunflowers (courtesy of Q. Koopman)

Rooftop Water Reclamation, SUCCESS!

No one realized how much water comes off a roof in only a short rain fall, but after the first rain we were all amazed! I marked the water line of one of our three 220 gallon tanks in an attempt to measure how much water we would collect from the rooftop reclamation system our University of Cincinnati engineering student interns designed and constructed. I figured that we might increase that tank by a few inches, maybe even a foot. In the morning after a pretty good rain I was dumbfounded to find that all three 220 gallon water tanks were full to the brim! Success! When you do not have water pumped into a garden location the alternatives are few, pretty much water has to be shipped in. Or, Sarah Seheb has to fill up a wheel barrel at her place and wheel it four blocks through city traffic 25 times to water the garden by hand. Not feasible.

Water Tanks, Interns, Micheal, OTR Homegrown Garden
Water Tanks, Interns, Micheal, OTR Homegrown Garden

Storing water from rooftops- What we learned

When we thought about it became clear that it doesn’t take much rain when you have 90 square feet of collecting rooftop space funneling into one tank. Just one 220 gallon tank could water the entire quarter acre garden three to four times; so it is a real blessing to have one of these tanks completely full. And get full they did. One thing that we learned is to ensure that the overflow outlet is piped back into the sewer drain to ensure adequate drainage. The foundations of a building are put at risk when water drains at their base.
Water Reclamation to Slow Runoff and Sewer Overflow
In Cincinnati, Ohio, like most cities in the United States, we have a sewer system that when it rains more than the sewers can handle there is a back flow of “natural pollution” released into tributaries of the Ohio River like our Mill Creek. Recently I was informed by the Mill Creek preservation organization that “natural pollution” from sewers overflowing is the number one pollutant of our Mill Creek. Our city, in a valiant attempt to catch the flood of water that runs into the sewers during heavy periods of rain has built a huge underground tributary under I-75 at exit 6 in St. Bernard. The theory is that we can hold enough run off until a large amount of the water is processed and then empty the underground holding area when our sewers have the capacity. Theoretically, if 25 percent of citizens collected run off in a large tank from their own roof during rains, then empty the tank when the sewers can handle the capacity, we could possibly avoid the dangerous toxic pollution that we have now extolling from our own sewer system during heavy rains..

Thanks to the Coca-Cola Company for donating the 220 gallon water tanks.

Harvest Celebration

Harvest Celebration at the OTR Homegrown Urban Farm

First peppers at the OTR Urban Farm
First peppers at the OTR Urban Farm

Sunday, August 30. 12 PM
Celebrate the success of the OTR Homegrown urban farm, discuss and understand the potential of urban agriculture, and be very, very suave at the OTR Homegrown Garden on Walnut St. in Over The Rhine.

Check out the Google map for directions to the farm.

Hope you are all eating as well as we are!

Picking and Storing Basil

Fresh basil is a delicious and powerful herb and the OTR Homegrown garden has a nice share of basil that will bloom all summer long. Many of our basil plants are producing large basil leaves right now; the more that we remove the large basil leaves the more the plant’s energy will go to the maturing leaves as well as allow for better air flow through the garden bed.

How to harvest basil

A healthy basil plant will have a variety of sizes of leaves on them. We want to pick the leaves of the basil plant that are the largest relative to the rest of the leaves; large leaves are thick and dark green, possibly several inches long. Simply holding the leaf firmly and pulling it off the plant will suffice. Pick the large leafs off of the plant leaving the medium and small leafs on the plant to grow large.

Storing Basil for the Winter

Basil is best served freshly picked. But to store basil for the winter follow these simple instructions. Pick the mature basil leaves and wash them. Dry well and add several tablespoons of olive oil (the amount of olive oil depends on the amount of basil leaves), use enough olive oil to coat the basil leaves. Turn the leaves with your hand to ensure that all of the leaves are coated with the olive oil. Then, stuff the olive oil coated basil leaves into Ziplock plastic bags until the bag can barely hold any more. close the Ziplock bag and put into the freezer. When you want to serve basil in December, thaw your basil and prep however you like. Remember to use small, serving size bags to store your basil, that way you are not having to thaw more than you need when you want basil.

Fungi in the mulch

Cup Fungi and tomato bug damage
Cup Fungi and tomato bug damage

Hello everyone.

Every garden season is a learning experience full of expectation, mystery, successes and failures; we have begun to identify this years fun learning experiences. This picture taken by Michelle on Sunday, June 14th, pictures the fungus that has grown on the mulch and particularly at the base of the tomato plants. Michelle’s picture of the fungus was a great resource in identifying the fungus. I called the Hamilton County extension service to talk to someone about identifying this fungus, ironically the office is located within the Civic Garden Center; links to both these organizations are listed as resources on this blog.

Thanks to Paul at the Hamilton County extension office we know we have “Cup Fungi”

Cup Fungi does not “feed” on live organisms like plants but instead feeds on dead matter, like mulch; why this fungi is growing at the base of the tomato plants is somewhat of a mystery. This fungi should be harmless to our plants but may be poisonous as edibles to humans and/or animals. To verify a poisonous nature we would have to determine the exact species of our fungi within the family of fungus commonly called “Peziza” which would require viewing the mushroom under a microscope. We should treat the fungus as if it is poisonous to humans and animals. Do not eat the fungi and keep away from your eyes, nose, and mouth. Dispose of the fungi in a garbage bag or can, do not put this in the compost pile in case animals are to eat it as well as this fungi will feed on the breaking down matter of our compost pile. If you see this fungi in the garden remove it when possible.

We have tomato bugs

Also pictured is the damaged leaf of a tomato plant from a bug that garden volunteer “van” has simply called “a tomato bug”; he has seen it before and is familiar with it but we lack the appropriate name. The leaf will exhibit many tiny holes in it and on the underside will have tiny nit link eggs that is the larvae of our tomato bug. Treatment for this bug involves simply removing the leaves that we see that have the damage from this bug. The bugs crawl up from the surface and generally attack leaves that are in contact with the surface or are low lying leaves. Throw away the leaves that you removed making sure that they are removed far from the garden.