The White House Vegetable Garden

OTU ¿ White House Garden
On March 16, 2011, Better Homes and Gardens Senior Associate Garden Editor Jane McKeon went to the White House to witness spring planting day in the kitchen garden. First Lady Michelle Obama invited a crew of schoolchildren to help her. Come along and learn as the garden grows.

White House Garden: The Beginning

Before the Obama family moved into the White House in January of 2009, fresh produce for the First Family's meals and state dinners came from local markets. Top on the agenda of First Lady Michelle Obama (shown): Plant a kitchen garden. That spring, a 1,100 square-foot plot was dug up in a sunny corner of the South Lawn for the White House Vegetable Garden.

Photo courtesy of Eddie Gehman Kohan/

History Revisited

Not since the 1940s, when First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt's WWII Era Victory garden promoted self-reliance in response to food shortages, has a White House Vegetable Garden been in the national spotlight. Today, the kitchen garden supports First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative, which raises awareness of exercise and healthy eating in an effort to combat childhood obesity.

Photo courtesy of Eddie Gehman Kohan/

Planting Day at the White House Garden

Spring White House Vegetable Garden planting day 2011 was cool and cloudy, but nothing was going to dampen the excitement of two-dozen fourth and fifth grade student garden ambassadors from Washington, D.C.'s Bancroft and Harriet Tubman elementary schools.

Let's Move

"You guys are helping do something that's really important to me and that's be a part of a program that we started called Let's Move!," Mrs. Obama said. "It's not just about planting good vegetables; it's about passing the information on."

Photo courtesy of Eddie Gehman Kohan/

Raised-Bed Gardening

In its third year, the White House Kitchen Garden sports a new, tidy look for the 2011 growing season -- 34 raised beds now are contained in wooden boxes stained with a nontoxic dye. The garden also was expanded to 1,500 square feet.

White House Garden Raised Beds

The White House Vegetable Garden raised beds vary in size, and most are reserved for one specific crop. The First Lady and two helpers plant spinach in a 3x12-foot garden.

Heirloom Varieties

Two of the raised beds in the White House Vegetable Garden are devoted to heirloom varieties grown in the 1800s by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello, including 'Early Blood Turnip' beets. "It's a wonderful connection to one of the most influential gardeners in American history," says Sam Kass, White House chef and senior policy advisor for healthy food initiatives.

Spring Prep

To prepare the raised beds in the White House Vegetable Garden for spring crops -- including Swiss chard -- soil is replenished each spring with organic amendments, such as compost from the White House composter and crab meal from Chesapeake Bay.

Food Prep

Sam Kass, who oversees the kitchen garden team of White House chefs and groundskeepers, preps the kids for planting. Even the Secret Service has a role: rabbit patrol.

Planting Time

Plants for the White House Kitchen Garden were started from seed in the Executive Branch Greenhouse. On planting day, White House chefs space the potted transplants in the garden for the junior gardeners to plug in. This year's spring crops include spinach, lettuce, arugula, Swiss chard, cabbage, and kale.

Planting Time

Mrs. Obama coaches one of her helpers on planting spinach. A child's hands are perfect for cradling a seedling as it leaves its pot in preparation for being planted in the garden. In the background students armed with trowels dig holes the size of a small nursery pot.

Watering Well

Sam Kass stands by with a watering can so the seedlings in the White House Vegetable Garden can get a drink as soon as they are nestled into place. The kitchen garden is watered regularly throughout the growing season. "We drag out the hose, just like any good gardener does," Sam says.

Photo courtesy of Eddie Gehman Kohan/

Organic Remedies

The White House Kitchen Garden is completely organic. Natural pest controls, such as ladybugs, shown, and praying mantises, are released each year to handle insect pests.

Mulch to Stop Weeds

A thick layer of straw mulch spread around plants in the White House Vegetable Garden shades out weeds and holds moisture in the soil. It also breaks down gradually, adding nutrients to the soil. Plant labels help White House chefs keep performance records of particular varieties.

Sharing Success

May 5, 2011: The garden planted this spring is thriving! To date more than 2,000 pounds of fresh produce has been harvested from the White House Vegetable Garden. None of it will go to waste. What garden bounty can't be used by the White House is regularly shared with local homeless shelters.

Picnic Prep

This is a big day for Better Homes and Gardens® and the First Lady. We've invited a group of Harriet Tubman students back to the White House for lunch on the Lawn, with dishes harvested from the White House Vegetable Garden.

Fresh Food

The First Lady and children enjoy the First Family's garden favorites, including carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, broccoli, and sweet potatoes. The kid-pleasing recipes were developed by the Better Homes and Gardens Test Kitchen and prepared by White House chefs using produce from the White House Vegetable Garden.

Tasty Treats

It's unanimous: Just-picked vegetables are full of flavor! "The garden is a demonstration that fresh, whole foods -- vegetables -- actually taste better," Mrs. Obama says. What's the best way to get kids to eat their vegetables? Grow a garden!

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