Eco-Saturday: Grow your own vegetables

Note to subscribers: You may have gotten a notice early this morning about a password-protected post. Ignore it; I’m just using that post as a parking place for materials related to a mural project I’m doing this spring.

I’d grow a garden even if I didn’t care about the environment, because storebought tomatoes, cucumbers and herbs simply don’t taste as good as heirloom varieties harvested half an hour before the salad goes on the table. The fact that organic gardening is better for the planet is just a bonus.

From an environmental standpoint, homegrown vegetables eliminate three sources of waste: transportation, packaging and pesticides. From an economic standpoint, they also conserve cash, as produce from the grocery store tends to get rather expensive.

Thanks to a little advance planning, all I had to buy for this year's garden was a couple of bags of potting soil and some heirloom seeds I wanted to try.
Thanks to a little advance planning, all I had to buy for this year’s garden was a couple of bags of potting soil and some heirloom seeds I wanted to try.

If you’re planning to grow tomatoes, peppers or other plants that require a little coddling to germinate, now is the time to start them. A few tips:

1. Use decent-sized pots. Peat pellets are convenient, but they’re also worthless; your plants will get rootbound and require repotting within a couple of weeks. Save yourself the hassle by starting the seeds in bigger containers to start with. Tin cans, yogurt cups and old disposable coffee cups all work well for this purpose, or you can recycle newspaper into biodegradable seed-starting cups.

2. Give them plenty of light. If you don’t have big south-facing windows, invest in a mini-greenhouse and as many growlights as you can afford. I gave $16 for a mini-greenhouse last year, and I spent another $75 or so on six small growlight fixtures, which I connected to a power strip and plugged into a timer to simulate night and day for the plants.

Less than $100 gave me a nice planting shelf that provides light, warmth and humidity for seedlings. If I were starting peppers, I'd add a heat mat to one of the shelves..
Less than $100 gave me a nice planting shelf that provides light, warmth and humidity for seedlings. If I were starting peppers, I’d add a heat mat to one of the shelves.

3. Don’t drown them. The soil should feel damp but not wet. Too much moisture can rot young plants at the root.

I recycled a plastic shoebox into a worm bin. When the worms outgrew it, I used it to corral old malt syrup cans full of potting soil.
I recycled a plastic shoebox into a worm bin. When the worms outgrew it, I used it to corral old malt syrup cans full of potting soil.

4. Find your planting zone, and DO NOT plant vegetables outside before the last frost date, or you’ll regret it.

5. Buy interesting heirloom varieties that are suited to your area. My favorite sources for heirloom seeds are Baker Creek and Seed Savers Exchange. Save seeds from the plants that grow well, and you can replant next year without having to buy more.

What are you planting this year?

Emily

P.S.: Here’s Day 11 of my Lent project:

I like bajas, but I have way more of them than I need, and for some reason, this one makes me itchy.
I like bajas, but I have way more of them than I need, and for some reason, this one makes me itchy.

Vegetarian Friday: Mushroom-asparagus pasta

My mother-in-law makes a terrific pasta dish with mushrooms and asparagus. Her version contains ham and is a bit more labor-intensive than this vegetarian variant I pulled together one night while trying to use up some asparagus I picked up at the farmer’s market.

Ingredients
1/2 box linguine
1/2 lb. mushrooms, sliced
1 bunch fresh asparagus, cut into bite-sized chunks
3 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 stick butter, cut into pats
1/4 c. heavy cream
Half a cup or so of grated Parmesan

Prepare linguine according to package instructions, drain and toss with butter to keep the noodles from sticking together. While pasta cooks, put asparagus and about a tablespoon of water in a casserole dish, cover and nuke for five minutes or so. Ideally, you’ll end up with asparagus that’s bright green, crisp-tender, and not shriveled up. If you don’t live on my in-laws’ farm, you’ll probably have to use some tired old asparagus that’s been sitting around the grocery store for a few days, as I obviously did — hence the slight shriveling you see in the picture. It still tastes OK, but the fresher asparagus is, the better.

Saute mushrooms in olive oil and toss pasta with mushrooms, asparagus, cream and Parmesan.

Makes four reasonable or two ginormous servings.

Emily

P.S.: Here are days 8 through 10 of my Lent project:

Theoretically a space-saving way to burn calories without leaving the house or spending a lot of money on a stationary bike. In practice, this doesn't work well on hardwood floors, so we ended up buying a real exercise bike and assembling it in the basement -- but this might be just what someone living in a carpeted apartment needs. Onto the giveaway pile it goes.
Day 8: Theoretically a space-saving way to burn calories without leaving the house or spending a lot of money on a stationary bike. In practice, this doesn’t work well on hardwood floors, so we ended up buying a real exercise bike and assembling it in the basement — but this might be just what someone living in a carpeted apartment needs. Onto the giveaway pile it goes.
I think the author of this book wants to be Jenny Lawson when she grows up. I don't think she's going to succeed. Maybe somebody else will think she's funny.
Day 9: I think the author of this book wants to be Jenny Lawson when she grows up. I don’t think she’s going to succeed. Maybe somebody else will think she’s funny.
I really like this fruit basket and its built-in hook for keeping bananas unblemished, but it took up a lot of real estate on my counter, so I replaced it with a set of hanging baskets a couple of weeks ago. It'll look great on somebody's kitchen island, though.
Day 10: I really like this fruit basket and its built-in hook for keeping bananas unblemished, but it took up a lot of real estate on my counter, so I replaced it with a set of hanging baskets a couple of weeks ago. It’ll look great on somebody’s kitchen island, though.

An announcement

If you’re thinking of buying Route 66 for Kids for your Kindle, wait a couple of days for me to post the new edition. I couldn’t find the option to upload the new edition, and in the process of looking for it, I republished the current edition under a description that makes it sound as if I’ve updated it. Amazon has to review and approve things before you’re allowed to go back in and edit them, so I have to wait 12 to 48 hours to fix the problem — and then another 12 to 48 hours to get the fix approved. If you accidentally buy a copy that claims to be the fifth edition in the description, but the copyright date isn’t 2015, email me, and I’ll send you the corrected edition as either a Word file or a PDF.

In related news, as soon as I get this crap sorted out, I’ll have a new edition of Route 66 for Kids available on Amazon. I’ll blog and tweet something as soon as the real update goes live.

Vegetarian Friday and my latest Lent items coming shortly. It’s been a week.

Emily

Lent, Day 7

Day 7 of my giving-up-random-objects-for-Lent project:

lent7

I bought this to heat-set henna after I moved. I used it maybe three times before I discovered my gray was finally coming in at an acceptable rate, whereupon I stopped dyeing my hair, as I’d always promised myself I would do just as soon as I had enough gray to make it worth the effort of growing out a dye job.

I haven’t used this dryer in over a year, and I’m not planning to use it again. It needs a new home, where it will be loved and appreciated, and I think I know just the place. We have a terrific organization here in Cape called Safe House for Women. Safe House provides all kinds of services to victims of domestic violence — including, as the name suggests, temporary housing.

I feel fairly confident that an organization designed to serve women can put a barely used bonnet dryer to good use one way or the other. If the residents don’t need it, they can stick a price tag on it and sell it at the thrift store to raise a few bucks. Either way, it’s a good dryer that isn’t doing any good for anybody on a shelf in the basement, so away it goes.

This project really is a lot of fun. The total randomness of the objects I’m clearing out of here is amazing.

Emily

Lent, Day 6

Day 6 of my giving-random-objects-up-for-Lent project:

lent6

Ignore the terrible photo quality; my iPhone was having a temper tantrum. Focus instead on the coolness of this find: Four unused CFLs I found under the kitchen sink. I think I bought these on sale several years ago and never used them because LED bulbs got a lot better and a lot cheaper before I had a chance to install the CFLs.

Although they pay for themselves over time, both LEDs and CFLs are still a bit out of reach for a lot of people, so these will go to a food pantry, where someone who can’t afford a $5 lightbulb can install them and see an immediate drop in the power bills.

I think this is my favorite of all the stuff I’ve put in the giveaway box so far.

Emily

Sustainability on a shoestring

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