Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Walk to the Garden

This whole block is abandoned. The houses are so beautiful and crumbly.

Some First Pickins from the Bed

The little bed we put together has given us enough for two meals. It is the high point of my weekend....awesomeness. Last night we made an arugula and radish salad with roasted beets and goat cheese (the beets and goat cheese don't count because they came form the co-op). The radishes are really gnarly looking but they tasted good....really spicy. Tonight I am cooking up a bunch of the kale that I chopped down.

Keeping Compost Damp with Carpet.

I know.....this is really exciting news. It seems to really work! Put some remnants on top of the pile so you don't have to water it quite as much.

Drying Herbs in a Paper Bag

I hadn't really dried herbs before except by hanging them up in bunches, which totally didn't work. The sunlight drains the flavor from the leaves. So, I found some helpful tidbits online about drying. I like the paper bag technique. Cut some herbs with as long stems as possible. Poke some air holes in a paper grocery bag using a fork. Snip some little slits near the top, big enough for the stems from your herb bunch to fit through. Poke them stems from inside to outside and tape to the bag. The photos show catnip, lemongrass, basil, mint and sage. Oh, and in a day or a few days the stems will shrink as they dry and you'll have to re-tape them to the bag so they don't fall. Let them dry for two weeks. Some sources said to toast them in an oven for a few minutes to make sure there is no moisture left, but they seemed really dry to me after 2 weeks.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Herbs Close By

This year is the first year in many that I have had a proper space to make a garden. While living in Boston last year, I had stashed a few pots of basil and cherry tomatoes on the patio behind our apartment building. Soon after, construction guys and gals put up scaffolding over them and started pounding the mortar out from between the bricks on the wall for some sort of renovation. The tomato plants found a new home with friends and the basil plants were stolen in the night soon after. Happily, here in Wilkinsburg, PA, a lot a few blocks away has let us tuck a few vegetable and herb plants into bed in the rear part of it. However, it is really nice to have some herbs close at hand for when one needs them all of a sudden in the kitchen. For that reason, we have stashed a few in pots and window boxes on the back porch, which also is where I like to live for as much of the summertime as possible! The catnip I keep hacked back to a bare minimum since it has the wish to grow into a tree. I have put it in with the mint for the same reason. I learned that most herbs, especially annuals like basil, grow better and taste better when you pick them real often. Cut a stem right above a leaf pair and a bushier plant will soon make itself known. They also seem to like it rough. That is, not too much water or richness in the soil. The little bitty cilantro I think I planted too late since I know they don't like the heat and they are growing as slow as molasses.






Mexican Tarragon

Sage, Rosemary, and Lemongrass


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Worm Party

Do you wish that red worms would get busy under your sink in a plastic bin and turn your kitchen scraps into rich castings that your plants will love dearly? I did, and I found a simple way to make one in the book The Urban Homestead (see On The Back Porch posting). It's pretty easy, requiring only a plastic bin or two with lids, a drill, a pound of red worms, and shredded newspaper, a handful of soil for grit, and a pound of fruit and vegetable scraps a week. Drill air holes in the bin (top, bottom, and sides). Add the newspaper (dampened) and worms and leave them alone for a week, then start adding scraps. Keep everything damp but not wet and bury the scraps in a different location in the bin each week. After a couple months, you have the finished product. Separate the worms from the worm castings (there are a few ways to do this) and then use the castings as fertilizer. Add a bit to the soil around your plants, or soak some in water (1 part castings to 3 parts water) for 24 hours and water your plants with it. They will love you for it.

The Lot on Franklin Street

This lot was covered with ivy before our landlord, a few neighbors, and my boyfriend and I ripped it all out. A friend helped us truck in some leaf mold for mulch and topsoil for the beds from Agrecycle, an awesome composting haven in the Point Breeze neighborhood of Pittsburgh. We are just making a dent in the back of the lot for some vegetables this season, but hope even more community involvement next season can turn it into a real community garden and community space. I am posting a picture of the beds mainly for you, dad! My dad and I built raised beds when I was in middle school in eastern Tennessee because our "soil" was nothing more than red clay that crabgrass and kudzu liked to grow in, but not much else. Well, these beds are cobbled together with scrap materials and a tad shaky, but I think they'll last at least one season before we have to reassemble them. The warped lumber we found in an abandoned garage at the back of the property and the bricks and cinder-blocks we collected from the local construction-material-reuse center, Construction Junction, also located in Point Breeze. A few days ago we had a massive hail storm that did a little damage, but overall, i think the plants like their new home. This picture is a few weeks old, so the little buggers are bigger now, and the aphids and flea beetles are more prevalent. A soapy spray of water, a bit of castile soap, and a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil has kept them at bay though. It smothers the poor little guys, but it is a necessary evil before they smother the tomato leaves.

On the Back Porch

I live in Hamnet Place in the neighborhood of Wilkinsburg (part of Pittsburgh) PA. We are lucky to live next to Garden Dreams, a nursery that sells many different varieties of mostly tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, greens, and herbs. If you live in the area, look them up at: I bought a couple little guys in mid may and put them in pots on the porch. The tomatoes love the self watering containers that my boyfriend and i built and have grown much taller than i expected them to. We made the self-watering containers from plastic storage bins nested inside each other with a water resevoir in the bottom and a pipe to pour water down into. We got the plan from the amazing book The Urban Homestead by Kelly Coyne & Erik Knutzen, published by Process (their Self-Reliance Series), given to me by a good friend. In any case, it is June now and the peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, and herbs are enjoying their porch life. They take it pretty easy all day. The varieties are: Rosa Bianca (eggplant), Celebrity, Amish Paste, and Brandywine (tomatoes), Cherry Bomb and Thai Hot (hot peppers), and New Ace (sweet red pepper). Celebrity is good for pots, but actually all the varieties are doing well.

Herb Butter

Below are some pictures of herb butter before it is herb butter, and then herb butter after it is mixed on up and ready for the freezer. To make, just chop the herbs fine and mix 'em with the butter, or throw the whole lot in a food processor if you have one. Roll into a log on some plastic wrap and then freeze. Slice off a pat with a warm knife when you need it. A simple fix from the amazing recipes in the cookbook In Season by Sarah Raven.