Monday, November 25, 2013

The First Lady's White House Kitchen Garden Is Ready For Winter With New Hoop Houses

The garden on Sunday, the coldest day since last March
The protective covers were installed just in time for the season's first snow...The White House beehive is now dormant, but produced close to 300 pounds of honey this year...
Washington, DC - Freezing weather blasted through the nation's capital this weekend, with the season's first snow swirling around the White House late on Saturday night just as President Barack Obama addressed the American people, speaking about Iran.  

But First Lady Michelle Obama's White House Kitchen Garden was ready for the icey onslaught.  Just as the temperature plummeted on Saturday, National Park Service gardeners finished installing four hoop houses over the raised garden beds, as well as one plastic tarp cover.  

The aluminum frames were put in place last Thursday.  On Saturday morning, the plastic tarps that focus and intensify the day's solar heat were added.  These keep the vegetables warm, and prevent the soil from freezing.  Also called low tunnels, the hoop houses are installed annually to protect the Kitchen Garden's winter vegetables.

Hoop houses covering winter lettuces & root vegetables
Though Saturday's snow didn't stick, winds gusting up to 45 miles an hour ripped through the District on Sunday, the coldest day of the season with a high of 34 degrees, and the coldest day since last March.  

The hoop houses held steady, with sandbags and stone tablets holding the plastic covers in place.

The covers are atop vegetables transplanted into the garden a few weeks after Mrs. Obama's Fall harvest event on Oct. 30th.  Following that crop-plucking party, the 1,500 square-foot plot was completely stripped of remaining summer vegetables, and new crops were installed.  

Current vegetables include a variety of winter lettuces, red Swiss chard, spinach, Napa cabbage, Ruby onions, green onions and carrots

Kale, Napa cabbage & chard with uncovered hoop frames & empty beds
Yellow Swiss chard, a big bed of kale, artichoke, and a chef's dreamscape of herbs, including cilantro, rosemary, thyme, and a hearty, tall bay tree remain in the garden, continuing on from a planting that took place after the government shutdown ended in mid October, when the garden was being restored following more than two weeks of inattention.

Carrots & lettuces last week, under uncoverd hoop frames
Some of the heartier crops remain outside the hoop houses, while those that will suffer in frosty conditions are inside.  The rest of the garden's raised beds are now barren. 

The garden will do fine in freezing weather:  Thanks to the hoop houses, Mrs. Obama's four-season plot continued to grow through historic snowfalls in 2010. 

The Kitchen Garden currently gets full sun between 7:30 AM and about 3:15 PM.  The winter plot plan, with many beds left unplanted, looks very different than it did on the day of Mrs. Obama's autumn harvest.   

Then, she was surrounded by lush greenery as she was joined by Muppets Elmo and Rosita and 24 elementary school children invited from Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and the District.

Ruby onions, front, before being covered with the plastic tarp
A potted dwarf papaya tree that sits among the garden beds in the summer months has now been moved inside to the safety of White House warmth.  It was laden with fruit during Mrs. Obama's harvest.  

Trellises and netting that once supported beans and squash are now gone.

So, too, is the big bed of broccoli and the very productive pumpkin patch Mrs. Obama harvested with her helpers just in time for Halloween.  

A long view of the garden with hoop houses; click to enlarge
This year's pumpkin crop, planted with multiple varieties, was the biggest in the garden's history, according to Let's Move! Executive Director Sam Kass).  One pumpkin Mrs. Obama harvested was bigger than a basketball.

A long view of the garden with just the frames; click to enlarge
Also gone now are a wide variety of peppers, very tall okra plants, a huge lemongrass plant, purple mustard plants, eggplant, beds of sweet potatoes, and the different varieties of tomatoes that the busy White House squirrels feasted on during the government shutdown in early October.

The White House Beehive
The Beehive  was very productive this year...
The White House beehive is now dormant for the season.  The first ever on the grounds, the hive was built in 2009 at Mrs. Obama's behest.

The very busy bees produced "close to" 300 pounds of honey in 2013, East Wing spokesman Hannah August told Obama Foodorama. That is almost double the amount the hive produced in 2009 and 2010.  

The bees were still active in mid-October, when it was unusually warm for part of the month.  The hive now has six frames remaining, down from nine in high summer.  

The honey is used by the White House chefs--including to make President Obama's beloved home-brewed beer--and also given by the President and Mrs. Obama as gifts to special visitors.   Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses and Assistant Pastry Chef Susie Morrison help retired White House carpenter Charlie Brandts maintain the hive. 
CLICK HERE for links to all Kitchen Garden posts.

*Photos by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama