Saturday, September 20, 2014

People's Climate March

Come join me and thousands of others at the People’s Climate March in NYC tomorrow Sunday September 21, 2014!

Wordle: People's Climate March NYC

Or find a People’s Climate event near you! There are People’s Climate events happening world wide in over 160 countries. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Harvest Monday: Tomatoes, parsley and tabouli

I love seeing the progression of cherry tomato development along a stem.  

Heirloom cherry tomato Gardener's Delight
Lycopersicon lycopersicum

This week, we've been eating lots of cherry tomatoes, which I love.  Lately I've found myself even eating a few with breakfast, which has been surprisingly satisfying.  

Ready-to-eat cherry tomatoes (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)

It's a good thing I like cherry tomatoes so much, because our Brandywine tomatoes have a while to go before they'll be ripe.

Brandywine tomato 

Thanks to our trees, we have a lot of shade in our garden...

Shagbark hickory trees (Carya ovata) and others, shading the garden

so sun-loving crops (such as those Brandywine tomatoes, eggplant, squash, and other large-fruited crops) take longer to mature.    However,  we have enough sun for smaller fruits, and we've been harvesting lots of cherry tomatoes and green beans.  The strawberries have also had a good year.  

Green beans, cherry tomatoes and strawberries

The butternut squash that I planted also has a long way to go.  I always feel lucky if I get to harvest a few squash before the fall frost.  

The tiny butternut squash is hidden under the leaves

We often have a few surprise volunteer cucurbits growing from our compost.  I always let a few of them grow.  Last year, I thought a cucurbit growing from compost in a raised bed was going to be a pumpkin, but it ended up being a delicious cantaloupe!  

This year I am letting a volunteer cucurbit grow right out of one of my compost bins.  It looks like it might be a pumpkin, but maybe it will end up being a cantaloupe.  

Volunteer growing out of the compost bin.
The dark-green fruit is against the bin.  

The parsley and chives continue to thrive.  We harvested a basketful of parsley

added some of our garden chives and garlic, and my husband made some delicious red quinoa tabouli (with the help of a farmer's market yellow heirloom tomato).

Quinoa tabouli salad

 (This post was shared on Harvest Mondays and Green Thumb Thursday.)

Monday, August 4, 2014

Basil, pesto and crop rotation (with a side of green beans, wineberries and tomato)

Yesterday my son and I harvested basil to make pesto.  We were able to quickly harvest about 6 cups worth of basil leaves while barely made a dent in the basil we have growing.

Basil from the garden

This was great news because for the last two years our basil did not do so well.  I had been growing basil in the same spot in our garden year after year.   The last two years were a far cry from the plentiful basil harvests we had first gotten, and I was wondering if the lack of rotation was contributing to the problem.  

So this year, I tried growing basil in several new locations:

I'm growing some basil some in a container on our front porch, I'm growing some interspersed with perennials along the front path, and I'm growing some in a small raised bed where I grew beans and melon last year.   The result is a lot of healthy looking basil, and hopefully a lot more pesto to come.  

Basil growing in a container on our front porch

There are several great resources that provide guidance on crop rotation (such as these articles from Organic Gardening and Mother Earth News).   In general, it's best to avoid growing plants in a location where plants of that family have grown within the last three years.  Soil-borne diseases and pests are often specific for one family of plants.  If the same family of plants is grown in the same location year after year, the populations of those pathogens and pests may build up in the soil and can lead to poor harvests of those plants.  By rotating where plants are grown each year, the pest and pathogen populations stay in check.

Another reason to rotate plants is because different plants have different nutritional needs.  Legumes like peas and beans actually add atmospheric nitrogen to the soil thanks to their symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing rhizobia.  Other plants, such as leafy and fruiting crops, are heavy feeders and use up a lot of nitrogen.   Alternating these types of crops allows them to thrive.

For those with small gardens, it can be hard to figure out how to rotate crops.  This is especially the case when there are other constraints, such as making sure taller plants are not shading shorter plants, or making sure climbers such as pole beans are next to a fence. Using containers on my porch allowed me to expand my options (and my garden!) Luckily the local critters (rabbits, woodchucks, deer) did not venture up onto the porch to munch on the basil which was grown without fencing.  An additional raised bed also allowed me to expand my crop rotation possibilities.  The end result for this year is a healthy basil crop.

Pesto is a huge favorite in my house.  Here is the recipe that we use.  We used the fresh picked basil and garlic that we harvested last week.

Pasta with pesto
Basil Pesto
6 c basil leaves
1/2 c pine nuts
1/2 c grated parmesan cheese
4 cloves garlic
1/2 c olive oil

Add all ingredients to a food processor and chop!
Toss on whole wheat pasta and serve with fresh cherry tomatoes.

Also harvested from the garden this week: green beans, green beans and more green beans.  These green beans are from the black beans that were planted here.   The scarlet runner beans that were panted at the same time are flowering but have not produced any beans yet.

Green beans growing

Green beans

cherry tomatoes  
Cherry tomatoes growing in the garden

And locally foraged wineberries:
Wineberries (Rubus phoenicolasius) growing along a trail

This post was shared on Harvest Mondays and Green Thumb Thursday.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Harvesting garlic

Just outside of my fenced-in vegetable garden, I grow garlic, onions, chives, several herbs and asparagus.  So far the deer, rabbits, woodchucks and other visitors have left these plants alone.   I harvested most of the garlic scapes earlier this summer, but I left a few of the garlic scapes on the plants to form garlic bulbils - tiny garlic bulbs that form in clusters at the end of the scapes.

Garlic (Allium sativum) growing in between oregano and chives, outside of the fenced-in vegetable garden.  Note the pink bulbils on one of the garlic plants.

Garlic umbel with bulbils and flowers.

Garlic bulbils

The bulbils formed are clones of the parent plant, produced asexually.  They are not seeds.  I generally let the bulbils fall to the ground to start new plants wherever they land, but the bulbils can also be collected and planted wherever you would like new garlic plants.

Usually the flowers on the umbel die before pollination and seed production can occur.  For those interested in growing true garlic seed, see this detailed article, which describes how the bulbils and flowers on a garlic umbel compete for resources.  Removing the bulbils from the umbel with tweezers allows the tiny flowers to develop without withering, so that seed production becomes possible.

Garlic harvest
Garlic is ready to harvest when a few of the bottom leaves have turned brown, but the top leaves are still green.  

Garlic that is ready to be harvested.

Garlic ready for harvest

This weekend I harvested about half of our garlic.  Since it had not rained in a while, the soil was dry and loose.  I simply grabbed hold of the plants and pulled them out.  It is best to wait for a dry day to harvest garlic.  Depending on your soil type, you may need to loosen the soil before harvesting your garlic plants. 

Harvested garlic

After harvesting, I placed the garlic on a slatted wooden bench on a covered porch.  It's important for the garlic to cure in an area with good ventilation that is out of the sun. Some folks like to make garlic braids.  I find the slatted bench method works just fine and is a lot quicker.

Garlic curing on a slatted bench.

The harvested garlic bulbs are different sizes.  I suspect the smaller ones have grown from bulbils.  

Garlic curing

We still are enjoying garlic from last year's harvest, which means we made it the whole year without running out of garlic!  After I cured the garlic last year, I cut off the stems and stored the bulbs in paper bags in an unheated basement.  The basement stays cool all year - not quite a root cellar, but good enough for storing garlic.

Elsewhere in the garden:
We've been harvesting the last of the Cascadian snap peas, the first of the green beans, a few early cherry tomatoes, Red Russian kale, and the ever-constant chives.  The green beans are from the black beans I planted in June that I had saved from last year's harvest (see this post).  We harvest many as green beans, but we will also let some mature into black beans.  

Green beans, peas and chives
Red Russian kale, Gardener's delight heirloom tomatoes, chives, green beans, strawberries

This has been one of our best years for strawberries.  We've had a steady stream all season. 

More strawberries!

This is what our asparagus patch looks like now that we've stopped harvesting it.  (See here for what this patch looked like in the spring.)   Photosynthesis in the fronds takes place all summer and nourishes the roots, allowing the plants to send out new asparagus spears next spring. The fronds are over four feet tall and beautiful.    Don't make the mistake I made of planting asparagus along the south side of a garden where it shades the garden.  
Asparagus foliage.
A few years ago, my daughter planted a packet of wildflower seeds.  Every year they come up and make me smile.  Here are some photos of the Echinacea purpurea from that patch:

Echinacea purpurea

(This post was shared on Harvest Mondays, Green Thumb Thursdays and Healthy, Happy, Green & Natural Party Hop.)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Sustainability R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and More

This week I heard an educator for sustainability from the United Arab Emirates talk via skype at the CELF summer institute about the 6R’s of sustainability, rather than the more familiar 3R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle).  Respect and refuse were two of the additional R's she listed, but I could not recall the 6th R.  I immediately googled 6R’s and found that rather than a standardized list of 6Rs, there are a whole slew of sustainability R’s offered on different web pages.  That got me thinking, how many sustainability R’s should we have?  Which are the most important? 

Here are some of the contenders I found (starting with the big 3):

1.     Reduce
2.     Reuse
3.     Recycle
4.     Respect
5.     Refuse
6.     Replenish
7.     Rethink
8.     Repair
9.     Reinvent
10.  Recover
11.  Responsibility
12.  Replant
13.  Restore
14.  Rot

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
The classic 3R’s of sustainability were on all of the lists I found. 

By reducing the amount of “stuff” we obtain, we decrease the energy needed for manufacture, transport and disposal.   We also cause less disruption to the ecosystems where the materials originate, are transported through and are disposed.  Life on a finite world, with finite resources, always involves limits.

The more we can reuse items and avoid single use items, the better.  Take a look at my earlier post on the humble handkerchief vs. the throw-away tissue.  

There has been a huge shift across the country from throwing most waste into the trash, to recycling a large portion of it.  Single-stream recycling is changing the amount of recycling done by many households.  Check out yesterday's post on recycling.  

The new Sustainability R’s:
Here are some of the additional sustainability R's I found in my search.

Respect and Responsibility both ask us to think about the ecosystem, including the people who live around the world, and think about any effects our actions might have.

To me, refuse fits within the category reduce.  By refusing items, we are essentially reducing our consumption.  This month of July, many in the sustainability community are encouraging others to refuse single-use disposable plastic items.  At ReduceFootprints blog this week’s #CTWW challenge is to refuse plastic bags.

Replenish, replant, restore, recover all seem to convey a similar theme: trying to leave the world as we found it for those who come after us. 

Rethink/reinvent promote divergent/out-of-the-box thinking.  As is often attributed to Einstein, "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."  This is a critical part of sustainability and one that I think should definitely be highlighted.  By rethinking, we also make sure to view actions from different perspectives and consider how they will effect different constituencies of our planet. 

Repair/renew might be lumped together with the replenish  group in terms of repairing the environment for future generations.  However, they can also be thought of as repairing or renewing an item so that it may be reused. 

Rot – I found this on a list of R's  to represent composting, mulching and other parts of the cycle.  Growing up, my family collected kitchen scraps for our garden well before composting became remotely fashionable.  

Here are some more R's I’ve thought of:
Reflect, Realize, Relate, Rotate, Remember, Return, Remediate

I like Return, because it conveys a sense of a full circle, rather than a linear path.  I think ultimately we should be thinking “cradle to cradle” for all items we use, in other words, consider the entire cycle so that there is no “waste” product at any point.  This will be the subject for a future post.

What would your sustainability R’s be?
Are there any R's that are not mentioned that you would include?

(This post was shared on Healthy, Happy, Green & Natural Party Hop.)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Recycling: A dramatic change!

Large recycling bin used for single-stream recycling

When I was a girl, there was no recycling in my NYC neighborhood.  Everything disposed of was thrown into the trash and ultimately went to the landfill.  I used to imagine an invention where I could insert a used piece of paper in the top, and out the bottom would come a clean, recycled piece of paper.

In the last year, I’ve noticed an explosion of recycling efforts around the country.  Suddenly, single-stream recycling is everywhere, and many people can now recycle the majority of their waste. 

In my town, we can now recycle an incredible array of items.  Take a look at everything that can be recycled.   

Wanting to find out the limits of our new recycling, I sent queries: 

1.  Could I recycle the plastic bags with zippers that sheets are sold in? YES
2.  What about plastic burritos wrappers? YES
3.  granola bar wrappers? YES
4.  Al foil backed paper that enclose some individual tea bags? YES
5.  What about if there's burned on food from grilling on Al foil? STILL OK TO PUT IN

Here is a great article that describes how the recycling facility sorts and prepares for selling the single-stream recycling that is collected.  It's actually cheaper for trash haulers to bring single-stream recycling to the recycling facility than it is for them to dump it as trash.  When in doubt about whether an item is recyclable or not, it is best to recycle it.

If you have single-stream recycling in your neighborhood, make sure you are taking full advantage and are recycling everything that is allowable.

In the past few months, many households in my neighborhood have gone from having a huge trash container and a small recycling bin, to having a huge recycling container and just a small amount of trash for the landfill. 

In NYC public schools and many other schools around the country, students can now recycle metal & foil; glass bottles & jars; rigid plastics; milk & juice cartons and drink boxes and paper in their school cafeterias.   The NYC neighborhood where I grew up now recycles paper, cardboard, metal, glass, plastic (rigid plastics) & cartons (for food and beverages).

It’s been amazing to witness this monumental shift from large scale dumping to large-scale recycling.

It’s important to remember, however, that items that are recycled still incur energy and pollution costs to the environment from manufacturing and transport.   Of the classic 3R's, reducing and reusing are preferred to recycling.

(This post was shared on Healthy, Happy, Green & Natural Party Hop.)

Monday, July 7, 2014

Foraging for blueberries

We went hiking at Anthony’s Nose yesterday.  It was such a beautiful day for a hike. 

About five years ago, we hiked there in early July, and in addition to the gorgeous view on top, we were met with an abundance of ripe low bush wild blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium).   We haven't managed to replicate the timing for blueberry foraging since then.

Yesterday, most of the blueberries at Anthony’s Nose were not yet ripe.

Low bush blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium) at Anthony's Nose,  not yet ripe

But we did find a few that were delicious.

Blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium), Anthony's Nose

Another thing I love about hiking Anthony’s Nose is getting to hike on the Appalachian Trail.  Yesterday we met a young woman who had started hiking in Georgia on February 14th and was headed for Maine.  Hiking the entire Appalachian Trail is definitely on my long-term to do list -not in the cards for now, but hey, you never know.

For detailed information about hiking Anthony's Nose, check out Hike the Hudson Valley's post on Anthony's Nose.

(This post was shared on Healthy, Happy, Green & Natural Party Hop.)

Friday, July 4, 2014

The humble handkerchief: Thinking about reusable vs. disposable items

When I was in college, I spent a semester in Costa Rica.  For part of my time there, I lived with a host family that had a small farm with six cows.  Every morning neighbors used to come to buy milk, bringing whatever containers they happened to have –old plastic soda bottles were common.  Items were reused over and over again.

Over the years, my family and I have eliminated many single-use, disposable items from our routine. When I was a girl, I used to pack my sandwiches for school in disposable plastic baggies.  My own kids now bring their sandwiches in washable containers.  Back then, every purchase came in a paper or plastic bag.  Now at my local supermarket, I see more and more people (myself included) bringing their own bags.

Interestingly, in some instances, the trend has been in the reverse direction.  If someone had a fever, we used a reusable glass mercury thermometer to measure temperature.  My family now uses a digital thermometer that comes with single-use disposable plastic sleeves.  Even better would be a washable reusable thermometer that has the safety and ease of use of our digital thermometer. 

When I conducted research in a biology lab, there was an enormous amount of single-use disposable equipment, ranging from disposable gloves to micropipette tips.  Similarly, there’s an enormous quantity of single-use disposable items used in health care.  Think about all of the disposable gloves, syringes and  plastic sleeves for thermometers that are used in many health care facilities. It would be interesting to compare the safety and carbon footprint of single-use equipment (including manufacture, transport and disposal) vs. the safety and carbon footprint of autoclaving or otherwise sterilizing and reusing equipment. 

Every week  Reduce Footprints blog puts out a #CTWW(change the world Wednesday) challenge.  This week’s challenge is to stop using a disposable, single-use product for a week.   When thinking about the disposable single-use items that I use on a regular basis, I was struck by how many of them are related to bodily fluids: tissues, toilet paper, tampons and sanitary napkins, to name a few.  I think many folks have an automatic “Yuck!” reaction when it comes to bodily fluids.  Year ago, I had a friend who was adamant that all new parents should use cloth diapers for their babies, but she herself was using disposable items rather than handkerchiefs and cloth sanitary napkins for her own bodily excretions! 

I have taken on this week’s challenge, and instead of using single-use tissues I will revert to the humble handkerchief. My husband always uses handkerchiefs, so we have a supply in the house that I can borrow. 

What about you?  I’d love to hear about any changes you’ve noticed in terms of using single-use vs. reusable items in your life.