Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Urban Indoor Gardening



Urban Indoor Gardening

I will offer no excuses this time as to why it took me such a while to write this blog entry other than sheer idleness. I’ve finished writing it, however, and I did it just in time for the first day of spring. Granted it’s snowing outside right now (and I should add that all the meteorologists this morning said it was going to be a “passing flurry”), but I shouldn’t be all that surprised considering the kind of winter we’ve had.
I guess I should start this, by talking about the inspiration for this particular entry. It was just a little over a month ago that my cousin invited me to a get-together over at her house in Long Island. It was yet another frigid winter day and we were barely going to make it into the thirties. When I got to her house, my aunt told me that I could place my coat and bag in her bedroom. As I walked in a caught a glimpse of what was a pretty delightful sight. She had nothing short of a mini-farm growing at the foot of her bed. There was a massive avocado plant, a couple of tomato plants, and several pepper plants all grouped together and growing very nicely, especially considering that her bedroom only has one small window and not that much light. She told me she grew all the plants from seeds that she had gathered from vegetables and fruits she bought at the market.
It was amazing to see how she managed to make the most of her small bedroom space. It really made me realize that just because many of us live in cramped and possibly dark N.Y.C apartments with no backyard; it doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy all the perks that come with having your own garden. What perks exactly? Even a small indoor garden can help clean up the surrounding environment by absorbing CO2. An indoor garden can also provide you with naturally pleasant herbal scents as well as be a source of organically grown produce which will taste infinitely better than anything you buy at the local grocery store since you get to taste it at its ripest and freshest. Best of all the variety of plants that grow well indoors is quite extensive so you can try out different plants each year, completely changing your home d├ęcor look at a very small cost, especially if you grow your plants from seeds.
There are lots of starting points. One of the most convenient and economical is just taking the produce you bought from the supermarket and getting the seeds from them. In doing this you’re definitely getting the most from your trips to the market. If you’re going to get your seeds this way, you might want to splurge a little to get some organic produce, either at your local grocer or a farmers market since most of the produce you find at larger supermarkets are hybrids or have been genetically modified and as a result their seeds won’t be that great for growing. Once you’ve gathered some seeds you have to let them soak for about 48 hours in a shallow dish of water. Discard the dried up seeds that float to the top and take the seeds that sink to the bottom and place them on a towel to dry out. Be sure NOT to throw away the produce container since they make for really good planters for planting the seeds in.
If growing plants from a seed isn’t quite what you’re into than an even easier process starts once again at your local grocer or farmers market. Right about now many local grocers and farmers markets are starting to bring out various herbs and vegetable plants for growing at home. If you want a really easy, low maintenance and very useful plant to start with, definitely go with the herbs. They are beautiful, grow very quickly, are great for adding to recipes, and can leave your house smelling amazing. Better yet, herb plants love a good trimming and will actually grow more vibrantly as you use them in dishes and aromatic bouquets. BE WARNED, HOWEVER!! I learned the hard way that you can definitely go overboard when it comes to cutting your herb plants as I did with a poor dill plant which I cut beyond repair. Some popular herbs to consider growing indoors are Rosemary, Thyme, Spearmint, and Lavender, just to name a few.
There are also several vegetable and fruit plants that are easy to grow at home, my favorite being strawberries. This particular plant grows like crazy and from all directions, so be sure to have a really large planter ready for it. You can also let it grow in a hanging container and let the vines flow downward. It looks beautiful. Best of all they’ll give you the sweetest berries from the very first year. By the way, you can snip the runners and give them to your friends to pot in some soil so that they can grow strawberries of their own. I can’t compliment this plant enough! But many other fruits and vegetable are a pleasure to have as well, so you might also want to consider tomatoes, peppers, lettuce (they grow in low planting beds), and eggplants (your actually better off growing eggplants indoors, since experience has taught me that squirrels can’t resist them and they will eat the flower buds before they even have a chance to produce a fruit).
Once you start growing you plants it’s really important to develop a plan for ridding yourself of some nasty plant pests. It won’t take long for all sorts of harmful insects to appear and attack you growing plants, but luckily there are many natural bug repellants out there. For starters you might want to consider growing some bug repelling herbs like Rosemary, Bay leaf or Lemon Basil next to your more vulnerable plants. The smell these plants give off will scare the bugs aware. Another option is creating an organic bug repellant spray made with water and a few drops of herbal essential oil (try citronella,rosemary, or cinnamon, just to name a few) placed in a spray bottle. Doing this should help keep the spider mites, aphids, and white flies from nibbling at your plants.
It’s never too late in the season to start bringing plants into your home, but the best variety of plants can be found right about now, so they’re no day better than today to start working on the indoor urban garden.

NEXT INSTALLMENT: A Guide to Urban Wildlife

Urban Home Composting

The Urban Recycler:

Urban Home Composting


I was planning on starting my compost heap a few weeks ago, but unfortunately my backyard has been covered in snow and ice all this month, which wasn’t really conducive to composting, or anything else for that matter. It’s all thawed out now, so I can now begin my first step to recycling my kitchen waste.
Now ideally, I’d be the owner of a sprawling estate, and I’d have plenty of free land to dedicate to my gardening, and of course I would reserve a chunk of space for a large compost heap which I would just leave out in the open at the mercy of the elements and regularly dump more of my trash on… I don’t have that. I have a petite backyard which also serves as a parking space for my brother’s car, a pepper-growing patch for my dad, and an outdoor party space for all of my relatives, so I don’t think a smelly massive compost heap would be practical. Most New Yorkers don’t even have this, so I should count my blessings. This compost heap will therefore have those with some serious space restrictions in mind.
Since we are on the topic of waste, it should be good to mentioned the fact that the amount of food waste N.Y.C. households produce on average is nearly double the National household average, measuring 7.1 pounds a week compared to 4.1 (2004-2005 NYC Residential and Street Basket Waste Characterization Study). This is a real shame since this number can be easily reduced through composting along with changes in household habits. I think I really ought to take a second to stress the latter, since I should admit that I sometimes tend to buy and cook more food than I’ll ever be able to eat and ultimately end up throwing it away. So by just taking the time to make sure I’m only buying and cooking the amount of food that I know I can eat, I’ll be doing quite a bit to reduce the amount of food waste I produces. Doing this should also have the wonderful effect of saving me plenty of green, which certainly comes in handy in these times when money is so tight and food prices continue to skyrocket. Who knows, maybe the money I save over time can be used as a down-payment for that new hybrid car I’ve been hankering for, which will definitely help the economy as well as the environment J
So OKAY, I’m aware of my wasteful food habits and I’ve begun altering them, as for the food scraps that I’m still creating, I shall return my attention to that compost heap and the small backyard. Well my compost heap won’t be a heap since I don’t have the space for that. It’ll have to be a bin, and I don’t have the space for a massive bin, so It’ll have to be a petite bin. When it comes to petite compost bins, just about any relatively large container can do. A trash can with some holes drilled into it, a large laundry basket, or my favorite a milk crate which I got from my local grocer. It’s tiny but extremely functional and didn’t cost me a thing (do ask your grocer if they have a crate to spare before you go and grab one, cause they might just start disliking you if you take one without asking). If you do decide to make your own compost bin you might want to cover it to keep the squirrels, pigeons, rats and other critters out of it and be sure to drill some holes into the cover to let rain water in, otherwise you’ll have to remember to add water to your bin to keep the compost moist.
These bins might seem fairly small and to be honest, they are. Like I said most NYC residents don’t have much space, so a large compost bin is just not feasible, it’s either a small compost bin or none at all. With a compost bin of this size, however, I most likely won’t be able to compost all the kitchen scraps I produce, but I believe every bit helps, so I’m not going to give in to an “all or nothing” mentality and give up on this endeavor. I’ll compost as much of my kitchen and household waste as my bin allows and once the compost is ready I’ll remove it from the bin to make room for more composting.
With that said, what are the requirements and needs of my mini-urban compost bin. I’ve already noted that every compost been needs water. It’ll also need plenty of food. With the exception of meats, fish, and fatty foods, such as cheese and butter, I can put just about any kind of kitchen waste into my compost bin. This includes used tea bags, coffee grounds, egg shell, fruit and vegetable scraps, as well as other household waste such as shredded newspaper, dried leaves and grass clippings. When I place my kitchen scraps into the compost bin, I’ll definitely cover it up with plenty of leaves and dirt (I don’t have any grass in my yard, so no grass clippings for me) in order to minimize any odors which might attract some extremely unwanted guests like those mutant NYC jumbo rats that are always roaming around my neighborhood looking for an easy meal.
As soon as I catch one, I’ll also definitely throw a worm or two into my bin, since they aid in the decomposition process (I’m happy to say I recently completely removed worms, slugs, and snails from my list of bugs which I am deathly afraid of… roaches and water bugs, however, are still very much on the top of that list and they’re not going anywhere anytime soon!). Stirring frequently to aerate it, I should have plenty of great quality compost within 6 to 12 month which I plan to use for both my indoor and outdoor plants. I’m specifically looking forward to slathering some on the bottom of the Roma Tomato plants I’m planning on growing in the yard this summer next to my dad’s peppers. If this has made composting seem remotely alluring to you, there’s plenty of more information available at: http://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/materials_minerals_pdf/compost.pdf
You can get valuable tips as well as troubleshooting advice from the NYC Department of Environmental Conservation Guide’s “Everything You Have Ever Wanted to Know About Home Composting”.

-Sincerely,
Maria Isabel Olivera

Next Installment: Urban Indoor Gardening