Friday, June 4, 2010

Playing in the Dirt

So you know that large green bin that was turned into a compost bin, it turns out that I have many of those bins lying in random places in my house. So I decided to use them as giant pots. This way, the plants could be in the part of my backyard that gets the most sun (porch), and if I ever needed to leave I could take my plants with me in the back of a pickup. To make these giant bins into pots, all I needed to do was fill them with the compost that I had procured at the farm. Then I took the plants out of their plastic containers and planted them in the tubs alongside their plant friends. The whole process was quite simple, and fun. Nothing like playing in the dirt. Now lets see if I can nurture these plants into adulthood and then eat the fruits of my labor.

Dirty Work

Now you may or may not have noticed, depending on your ACT scores, that composting takes 3 weeks or so to create some soil. That means, if you want to start growing the plants you just bought at a farm, you need to get some soil or compost. Today, I went over to Allendale farm to do just that, procure some compost. It's a dirty job, but someone has got to do it. At first I was mildly overwhelmed, who would have thought there are so many varieties of soil and compost? So I went for what looked like regular compost, that is approved for growing organic vegetables. I wanted to give my vegetables a nice taste of compost before they begin eating my compost. After the nice people helped me load 3 bags of compost into my car (surprisingly heavy bags), I was ready to begin planting.

Grow Me Some Sustainability

Now that it is summer, its time to grow some noms. Now some may feel overwhelmed by the idea of growing their own food, but there are many shortcuts you may take.

Look at all of these plants, all these green leaves. Well, these are all different types of produce that have already started growing that you can buy and put in your own garden. I bought tomatoes, basil, eggplant, and bell peppers from Allendale farm (greenhouse pictured above), but you can buy whatever plant you want from whatever farm or hardware store calls to your soul.
These are some words you may encounter while buying plants, here is what they mean:
Determinate: Plants that can grow without support, ie they don't need a fence or a pole to climb up, they can just grow up on their own.
Indeterminate: Plants that need support to grow, ie a lattice, fence, or steak to climb up.
Heirloom: A variety that has been passed down for several generations because it has a desirable trait, such as taste or color.
Hybrid/ Field: A plant that was bred for certain attributes such as disease resistance.

Now that you know what all of those words mean, go ahead and select some plants. Be sure to read the little stick of plastic in each one so you know where to plant them. Some like lots of sun, some like less, some like to be close to their plant neighbors, others really need their space.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Composting: Stirring Your Way To Soil

Now that you have a beautiful compost bin working, its time to fill it and actually make some compost. Composting requires two ingredients, better known as greens and browns. Greens are high in nitrogen, and include things like kitchen scraps, green grass clippings, weeds, and green leaves. Browns are high in carbon and include dried brown leaves, dried grass, and straw. Both are necessary to feed the microorganisms that convert the pile of trash into soil. The ideal composting mixture is 4 parts browns to 1 parts greens. Ratios outside of 4:1 take longer to compost, and do not give the microorganisms the nutrition they need. The microorganisms also need water and air, which come easily in the form of rain and wind when you are using an open bin composter. So once you collect 4 parts dead leaves and 1 part banana peels and rotten romaine lettuce from your kitchen, put them in the same chamber of your compost bin. Every day, until soil forms, your job is to go out to the compost pile and stir it around. Most of the microorganisms will be inside the pile, cooking the trash at 160’. You want to make sure all of the leaf and lettuce scraps make it to the inside of the pile so they too can be cooked. The compost usually takes 2-3 weeks to fully cook into soil, so you best be out there stirring it often until a soil like consistency is achieved, that means no pieces of lettuce or tomatoes are visible in the compost. Many composting enthusiasts’ websites recommend using tillers or large forks or other fancy tools to stir their compost. I decided, as usual, to recycle again, and went in the backyard to procure a large stick which I have dubbed my stirring stick. So if you need me during the next 3 weeks, I will be out stirring my pile. Soil, here I come!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Packaging Purpose

Have you ever noticed how much packaging is on food? Now even non processed foods come in containers. Organic bananas are shrink wrapped in plastic, tomatoes are in nets or plastic boxes, and just about everything else seems to be in a pint container or a glass jar. Here are some ideas to reuse these wrappings before you recycle them.

Brown paper bags: coloring surface, book cover, giant paper airplane, wrapping paper, origami swan, and a stuffed animal tent

Plastic bags, this includes the one the bread is in and the blue one surrounding the oreos: trashcan liners, protecting paper and books from the elements, doggie poo bags, gloves, holding toiletries, preventing wet bathing suits from making everything wet, long term storage, freezer storage, and rain apparel for the stuffed animals inside the tent.

Plastic containers, such as pint containers, the box the lettuce comes in, or the tray that holds the Oreos: Tupperware container, leftover food storage, sailboat, hat, bead holder, keeping wet clay soft, pen organizer, loose bolt storage, noise maker, salad shaker, jewelry collector, and hot tub for stuffed animals.

Glass jars: sauce holders, cups, travel cups (note the lid), pen holders, candle holders, storage of small but precious family heirlooms, preserving food, kaleidoscope, glitter storage, rubber band collector around the outside, and a side table for the stuffed animals.

The stuffed animals will sure be glad you choose to reuse.

Composting: Turning a Plastic Bin Into a Maker of Magic

I spent a good portion of today researching composting bins, and I came to the following conclusion. You can either drive out to the hardware store and spend money on a compost bin, or you can fashion one on your own out of wood, chicken wire, or recycled plastic. So, I did what I usually do in all situations, I recycled. In my shed, we have these large plastic shipping bins. I do not know why they are there, they just are, its something I’ve accepted. Anyways, I took one of these bins and made it into a compost bin. This required no effort, all I had to do was announce to the world that this lone green bin now had a purpose, and it was composting. Most composting systems have chambers, that way you can always be adding more rotten tomatoes and dead leaves in. So I built two chambers in my green bin, with some tools known formerly as old plastic bag, hunk of cardboard, and shiny duct tape. I put the cardboard in the plastic bag, so it wouldn’t start composting itself, and then duct taped it in place. I must say, the whole thing looks quite beautiful and I’m quite excited to start using the compost to power my garden.

Composting: Turning Trash to Treasure

Composting, according to the kind people over at, is a mixture of various decaying organic substances, used for fertilizing soil. Now, this may not sound very exciting, but in fact, it is quite exciting. Imagine taking that pile of leaves in your backyard and turning it into food. Or using all the lettuce that has gone bad to grow new lettuce. With composting, that is essentially what you are doing. You are creating nutrient rich soil that allows plants to grow without pesticides or fertilizers. And that soil grows a beautiful, healthy, and organic garden of vegetable delights. Composting is also very sustainable and environmental friendly, because it keeps food scraps and yard waste out of landfills. It’s a win for your garden and a win for the environment.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Fried Rice

So all those veggies that were left over from your raw veggie and dip plate at your Memorial Day cookout/ pool fiesta, they have a place to go. Its called a screaming hot frying pan. And that, along with some culinary magic, will turn them into fried rice. You Need:

2 cups diced raw veggies. Anything goes here, brocolli, peppers, cellery, cauliflower, etc.
1 cup rice
3 tablespoons the asian sauce of your choice. I used pad thai sauce, but you can use peanut sauce or simply soy sauce
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 eggs

Bring 2 cups of water to a boil, pour in the rice, turn off the heat, and cover. While the rice is cooking, find a large skillet and put it on the stove. (If you have a wok, use that.) Dump the veggies into the skillet, along with the sauce and the vegetable oil. Put the stove on high, and stir fry the veggies until they are al dente, almost done. When the rice is complete, scoop it into the veggie skillet on high heat. Then crack the eggs into the skillet. Stir everybody around until the egg is cooked and each grain of rice is coated in saucy goodness. Not only did you just make a delicious meal, side, or snack, you saved homeless vegetables from going to waste. Go you!

Memorial Day Hangover

Ah Memorial Day, good times. There were hot dogs, veggies and ranch, and maybe the occasional s’more. Now that the good times are over, you may be left with some random food items. Possibly a few hot dog buns that don't have a home. A few cups of random raw vegetables. However, I doubt you have any leftover s'mores. If you do, we are no longer on speaking terms. Here is a way to get rid of those homeless hot dog buns, make ‘em into croutons.

First, preheat the oven to 400'. Then take the hot dog bun and slice off the bottom part where the two openings connect. You should be able to take the openings apart, there should be three slices of bun. (See the beautiful photo above). Then slice each bun chunk into crouton sized squares. Try and make each square the same size. Arrange the squares on a greased cookie sheet. Then brush a little olive oil over each square. You don't want to drown the squares, more give them a wipe down. Then sprinkle the spice of your choosing. I used lemon pepper, but feel free to give any herbs or spices a try. Pop 'em in the oven for 20 mins or so, until there nice and toasty. They are so good, you may eat them all plain before you make a salad to toss them on.