My Organic Urban “Guerrilla” Container Garden

Living in a rented apartment with only north facing windows has made gardening a little difficult, but my plant babies are off to a good start for the summer.

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I’ve tried to start simply, but it’s hard not to try to grow everything.  I’ve got a variety of herbs, lettuce, tomatoes, green onions, green chile, and cucumber started, as well as a spider plant and a small sick avocado tree. (Help, anybody?) They’re all growing in pots on the cement back patio of my apartment building.  When we move to our new condo in July, I intend to put the tomatoes and other sun loving plants on the rooftop deck, where they will hopefully get full sun and not bother anybody (this is the guerrilla part). The rest will go on our little west-facing balcony.

Tomato baby!

Tomato baby!

We started our seedlings indoors with a grow light, which we still use to grow lettuce. We chose a fluorescent T5 lamp with a reflective housing. Fluorescent lights do contain mercury, but they are the most affordable, and the T5 is the most efficient of them all.

We used Burpee’s Growing Pellets for our seedlings, and we hated them because they dried out and compacted easily, harming the roots of the plants.  They’re ok for very young seedlings started in eggshells or other similarly small containers, but growing herbs or anything in them for more than a few weeks is bad news.

To keep my plants happy in their big containers, I mixed my own soil using a combination of organic potting soil from Home Depot, worm castings from Whole Foods (will hopefully be able to use my own soon!), and perlite.  I tailored the contents of the soil to the preference of the plants.

My go-to guide for container gardening has been Gayla Trail’s Grow Great Grub: Organic Food From Small Spaces, which I have had checked out from the library for at least three months. It’s an amazing book. I love that it tells you which kinds of plants grow best in containers, and which you can plant together.

Creeping Red Thyme from a local garden market

Creeping red thyme from a local garden market

I think my two favorite aspects of container gardening are that I can move my plants around easily and that there is no weeding.  We had a late frost last weekend and just moved the plants indoors for two nights.  It’s also pretty easy to repurpose containers as pots, such as our lettuce growing in Earthbound Farms Organic salads greens bins (first picture, on the left).  10-12″ plastic pots are only a few bucks at Home Depot, but I’ve found quite a few discarded by the side of the road.

Any advice for my first urban container garden?

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Adventures in Composting

Since we’ve started composting, I’ve realized that food waste makes up most of what Taylor and I throw out every day. Food scraps that end up in landfills are a complete waste (bad pun intended) of composing potential as they rot slowly surrounded by plastic, generating methane. We may only take out the trash a few times a month now, but our compost bag gets full and stinky quickly, and we have to cart it across town to dump it in Taylor’s compost pile. To make better use of our food scraps, we’ve started vermicomposting in my apartment.

Rewind. Yes, there is a plastic bucket of worms in my living room right now, and they aren’t smelly or gross, but don’t tell my landlord.  Certain types of worms (I’m using red wigglers) will live happily in a dark box with some organic matter to eat.  Their poop, also know as castings, are nutrient rich and will make my veggie plants very happy. Continue reading

DIY Cloth Napkins

IMG_3633I’ve been meaning to make these cloth napkins FOREVER.  Every time I use a paper towel as a napkin, I feel super guilty for killing trees and producing waste.  Before I got around to making these, Taylor and I tried to go napkin free, but that didn’t work very well.  Finally we have some soft daily use cloth napkins!

Here are a few different ways to make cloth napkins for any occasion.  It’s a really easy project, even for beginner sewers.  Of course if you don’t sew but still want to have pretty cloth napkins, there’s always Etsy.

Continue reading

Non-toxic Shower Curtain

I’ve decided it’s time for a new shower curtain, and I definitely want a nontoxic one.  I don’t even know what my old one is made out of because it was in my apartment when I moved in, but my new one will definitely not be made out of PVC.

PVC, often called “vinyl” in shower curtains, is bad for both you and the environment in so many ways:

  • PVC is made from the highly toxic vinyl chloride monomer.  To learn more about the shocking history of vinyl chloride, check out the film “Trade Secrets.”
  • It is softened with the use of phthalates, known endocrine disruptors, which are not chemically bonded to the polymer and can leech out.
  • Burning PVC generates dioxins, a carcinogen and one of the most toxic synthetic chemicals out there.
  • “New shower curtain smell” is actually a mixture of VOCs, organotins, and phthalates, all of which are toxic and will make you sick.

The good news is that there are many alternatives to PVC shower curtains. Continue reading

Happy CSA Season!

Happy spring everybody! I have been a terrible blogger recently because I have had so much school work, but the semester is winding down and I am ready to get back to it.  There are so many things I want to write to you about!

First of all, in April we started getting weekly baskets of local food from our CSA! For those of you who are unfamiliar with Community Shared Agriculture (CSA), it is a way for people who love fresh local produce to buy directly from farmers.  It’s sort of an investment in a specific farm or group of farms, and you get a basket every week of what they might otherwise be selling at the farmer’s market.  It’s usually produce, but can also include dairy, eggs, meats, cheeses, grains, flowers, etc.  We’ve signed up for one of the biggest CSAs in the area, so we have gotten a whole variety of local food.  Our CSA suggests recipes for the food in each basket, which I have enjoyed as well.

polenta with mushrooms

One of my favorites so far was polenta made with organic corn meal topped with gruyere, chives, and crimini mushrooms sautéed in white wine, and broiled to melt the cheese.  Here is the recipe, directly from our CSA’s blog.

This week, my box included garlic ramps, a sort of wild leek.  I have never eaten or cooked with ramps before, and they seem to be a local spring delicacy around here, so I am excited to give it a try tonight.  I’m planning spaghetti pan-fried with ramps and basil, a variation on this recipe, served with broccoli.  Ramps also sound like they would be great with mushrooms and in risotto or quiche, so hopefully I will get more next week to experiment with!

To learn more about CSAs or find one near you, check out LocalHarvest.org