Minimizing Kitchen Waste

If the best way to keep a neat and tidy house is simply having less stuff, I’m failing miserably because of my desire to use “waste” rather than throw it away.  This is especially difficult in my tiny kitchen because I’ve been trying to find a use for every food scrap.  My entire kitchen windowsill is full of herb cuttings and the root ends of vegetables that I am trying to sprout.  Whatever we can’t eat or use in some way goes into either the worm bucket or outdoor compost.  Besides not buying more food than we can eat and letting it go bad in the fridge (I let a sweet potato rot recently and was so sad), I’ve been consciously trying to minimize the amount of food that ends up in the compost.

My most recent waste reduction project was inspired by this post from the Kitchn on how to regrow food scraps.  I just happened to have many of these particular veggies in my fridge already! Continue reading

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.

IMG_3665

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?

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

Our First Pittsburgh Sustainability Salon

Two weekends ago, we attended a “sustainability salon” hosted by local green advocate/gardener extraordinare Dr. Maren Cooke.  On her blog, Maren describes sustainability salons as “basically a house party with an environmental theme,” including guest speakers, a potluck meal, interesting conversation, and a little music making.  The theme for this one, the fourteenth, was food: growing, sourcing, local, organic, etc.

I first heard about the sustainability salons through a lab-mate of mine.  I asked for information from Maren’s husband, a professor in the chemistry department here, and he put me in touch.

The salons are held in their house, an interesting and very green building.  Although the front looks like a normal house with an overgrown winterized garden, the main living area is a wide open space constructed from local wood.  The roof of the house is covered in both solar panels and raised-bed vegetable gardens.  We didn’t get to tour the roof because it was snowy, but I hope to see it soon.

Maren’s rooftop garden! Image from marenslist.blogspot.com

Continue reading

Composting at Olde Dartmouth Farm

This morning, Taylor and I visited a farm near my parents’ house in Massachusetts with a huge composting operation.  My father bought some fresh compost recently for his garden and brought us along to take a look at where it came from.  The main operation is a horse farm, run by the wife of the farmer we met with. They board 18 horses and give riding lessons.  The farmer, Tom, cleans out the stables every day and uses the manure to make compost.  He has four huge piles, and all he does is move the decomposing material from site to site every few months, which turns it over and allows it to air out.  The last pile is rich, dark, and earthy smelling.  He sells the compost to local gardeners, farmers, and businesses.

Tom also told us about his other green practices on his land, which he is hoping to improve with grants from the government.  The land is sloped to reclaim all rainwater that falls on it, forcing it into a little pond.  Tom is hoping to build a basin next to the piles of compost to let the water settle and filter before transferring it to the pond, and then he is planning organic gardens for the land around the pond.

He mentioned that he had wanted to install a huge wind turbine to generate power, but his neighbors made so much of a fuss about it being unsightly and the vibrations being disruptive that he gave up.  This is happening all over the area because a few poorly engineered projects have given wind a bad reputation.

Visiting this farm has inspired us to get to work on our own compost. (Worms are next!) It’s comforting to stumble upon green practices and people who really believe sustainability is important. Hopefully we can visit more green or organic farms in the future.