Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Balcony Garden: Growth While I'm Gone

This bean hadn't even sprouted before we left to go to the cottage! It and 5 others came up.

The Romaine and Buttercrunch lettuces are coming up great, especially that second sewing.

We're having some of the Mesclun mix (above) in a salad for dinner tonight.

The Spinach is fattening up.

I was worried that the plants wouldn't get enough water over the 4 days we were gone and watered them well before we left. They looked great, however, when we returned. What a relief!

Cottage: Plants & Composting

Forget-Me-Nots, Trilliums, and Lily of the Valley

Composting at the cottage - Green Cone and Leaf Pile

Our Cottage: Candid & Green:

This composter is well used, almost year round. Although the compost from this composter never really gets used in the gardens and beds around the cottage, I still feel good that our family has always diverted a lot of material from the landfill this way.
Water is a resource we conserve more at the cottage than in the city. It has a septic tank system and water is pumped directly from the river. We bring water jugs of Toronto tap water up to use for drinking and cooking (sounds backwards). There are plastic bins lining the kitchen sink basins to divert water from the septic tank. The water they catch is then thrown on the grass by the road. The shower head has an on/off switch to allow for maximum water conservation. We shower less up there. We do not flush for number one.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Compostable Materials

Here is a basic list of what you can add to your composter or vermicomposter. When you compost, you are decomposing organic biodegradable matter - keep this in mind when deciding whether something should go in your compost bin or not. You want a good balance between adding materials that are considered 'green' (break down quickly, high in nitrogen) and 'brown' (dryer, tougher, high in carbon).

-any vegetable & fruit material you can think of - maybe produced from preparing your meals or might have gone bad prior to you being able to eat it. If vermicomposting, beware of adding too much matter from the onion and citrus families, as many worms don't like these items as much as others.
-egg shells
-tea bags
-coffee grounds
-plant and grass clippings/trimmings


-dried/dead plants stems and flowers
-dry straw and hay
-paper towels (depends on what they soaked up, see below)

Things to avoid putting in a small scale composter:
-fats & oils
-prepared foods
-pet waste
Not only do these items not break down as easily, they can also attract unwanted rodents and animals to your composter.

Composting really gets you thinking about your diet and what you're eating daily. It motivates me to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables as anything not used from them can be composted. Natural packaging, for a example a banana peel, orange peels and melon rinds can be converted into useful compost for the garden instead of entering a landfill via a tightly closed plastic garbage bag. It's really an empowering process. If you have a backyard it's easy to get a composter for your home. If you don't and your community doesn't, talk to neighbors and organizations to try to start one up. What a great way for a neighborhood to reduce its waste, come together, and produce useful compost for gardens in the community.

I am continuing to use my community composter in the nearby park as well as my worm composter on my balcony. I am using the container in the photo above to store food scraps in until I empty them into the composter. I keep it next to the kitchen garbage under the sink and access it easily when preparing meals. It serves as a good visual reminder of the amount of matter I am diverting from the waste stream. The lid can screw on so there are no fruit flies or odours.

Repotting Peas

Today I repotted the two pea plants I have growing into a larger pot. I built a structure for them to climb on out of sticks I found in a forest trail near by. Growing peas and beans puts nitrogen back into the soil and enriches it for future crops.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Apartment Recycling: Taking Action

I'm tired of tenants (at least on my floor of the building) leaving their recyclables in the disposal chute room for building management to take care of. Earlier in the week the room was absolutely filled with recyclables to the point where I could not even enter the room (granted, it is a small room). My sister and I were talking about it and she gave me the idea to create a sign to post in the disposal chute room to see what, if any, effect it has on tenant's recycling habits. I may, if successful, post it on all floors of the building, but will start with my own for now. It reads as follows:

To: All Tenants

Re: Recyclables in Disposal Chute Rooms

Please refrain from leaving your recyclables in the disposable chute room. All recyclables must be taken down and disposed of in the Recycling Bins available at the rear of the building. If more bins are needed, please inform building management. Thank you for your recycling efforts.

I will be checking to see if the sign is taken down, if recyclables are still being left, or if they're not being left. One concern is that if it's laziness that prevents them from recycling properly, they might just put everything down the garbage chute. I guess that's the risk I take. They're half way there, so they may as well go the full mile.

Balcony Garden Growth Above City Below

Peas are growing strong and will need to be re-potted soon.
I love those curly shoots they send off.

Mesclun mix is starting to look really delicious!

The true spinach leaves are really starting to come up now.

The tomatoes are hardening up, especially now that I have everything out on the balcony.

Garlic chives are funny little growths.

Here's a shot of a city square block taken from my balcony. It's nice to see all of the trees in bloom as it takes the edge off of the city's rigid appearance.

Click to enlarge

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

City Park Comes to Life

Over the weekend I noticed that the small shed structure by the composter in the park by my apartment building was open and a person was inside trying to organize its contents. Sheets were also posted on the outside wall of the shed, detailing a project list for the park and a need for volunteers to fill positions, such as compost master and label master. Another poster had a sketched map of the park and said that special watering was needed. The park has a butterfly garden with a path going through it, and a corn, bean and squash circular garden, as well as a bed at street side that the city plants annuals in every year. Other than the annual bed, all of the other gardens as well as the composter, over the past two years I've lived here, have been neglected and litter strewn. The composting bin lid fell of at one point, and wooden slats are missing along the front. It never seemed to get tended to. I've been wondering how to get involved in rejuvenating the park so this sudden activity, both with this woman in the shed I've seen used for the first time since I've lived here and with a couple of people raking the park and picking up litter the week before, really excited me. I think it's important that this park is well maintained, especially considering the neighborhood it is in. The street running behind can be a bit scary at night, and I've witnessed violence. Cops cruise by regularly.
The next day I bumped into the same lady who was in the shed by the composter while I was adding my food scraps and I let her know my interest in rejuvenating and maintaining the park. She seemed excited to have someone interested in helping so I hope she calls. The park and its gardens are a project by Evergreen.
Their site has excellent resources, including a comprehensive native plant database and information about starting community garden projects. Check it out.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Balcony Garden Grows

My balcony garden with the city looming in the background.

It was a beautiful day today and we accomplished some tasks in our balcony garden: separated the 4 tomato seedlings (cherry & pomodoro) and repotted into slightly bigger pots, erected 2nd trellis on opposite side of balcony door and planted Scarlett Runner Pole Beans in planter for this location, planted some more Morning Glory (to replace what our cats ate), Marigold (some died off), and lettuce seeds (the Romaine never came up and the mixed salad greens made a weak appearance - I think due to being older seeds), sowed new Romaine lettuce seeds and Buttercrunch lettuce seeds, planted some native Columbine in large pot (brown eyed susans & sweet william were in this pot last year but died off - we mistakenly left them out during Winter - we'll take it in this year).

Mesclun mix (above) and Spinach (below) are growing well.

Morning Glories are striving to climb.

Worm Bin Update: Castings & Red Spider Mites

I've been vermicomposting for about 3 weeks now. The worms are doing well and are producing many castings which is exciting. I am feeding them about twice a week and am feeding more organic matter than when I first got them, working them up to their full composting potential.
I have been adding more layers of hay after feeding to help cover it up, and to make sure there is enough "brown" matter to balance all of the fresh "green" matter I add to the bin. I also make sure to keep the bin moist. So far no liquid has drained out of the bottom of the bin, so I hope the bin is moist enough and that the drainage holes are not blocked. Sometime soon I am thinking of giving the bin a good mix to help aerate and to check the drainage holes to make sure they're not blocked up. The bin is not smelly at all, as all food matter added is buried under the layers of newspaper, hay, and soil. It has a pleasant earthy smell. There's some beauty to the bin:

Rich worm castings are being produced!

I have noticed some tiny red spiders crawling all over my worm bin, both inside and out, walking all over the lid. They appeared about 1-2 weeks after I started the bin. My initial thoughts were that they must be involved in the decomposition process in some way, just like the worms are. Even when I had to have my worm bin indoors due to cool weather, these mites did not leave vicinity of the bin indicating to me they were attracted to the contents of it.

This is a photo of one of the Tetranychus urticae inhabiting my wormery.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Gluten-Free Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes

Batter can also be used to make a cake. Makes 12 cupcakes.

Preheat oven to 350 F

1½ cup all-purpose Gluten Free flour
1 cup sugar
½ cup cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
3/4 teaspoon Xanthan Gum
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. white vinegar
1 cup room-temperature water
1 cup chocolate chips (optional; mix into batter last)

Grease a muffin tin or line with baking cups.
Beat all ingredients in a large bowl until well-combined. Makes a thick batter.
Spoon into muffin liners, filling to 3/4 full, and bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Let cool.

Basic Icing Recipe

½ cup butter (or margarine), softened
2 cups icing sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

Cream the butter and vanilla.
Gradually mix in icing sugar.
For chocolate icing add 1/4 to ½ cup cocoa powder.
Store in fridge.