Compost Haiku No. 1

Dreaded compost heap!
Hungry microorganisms
eat our leftovers.

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Recycled Root Beer Float Glasses

I love root beer floats. And Sprite floats (sounds weird, but it’s delicious.) Yesterday when I should have been learning about gardening, I got distracted by the sunshine and headed out in search of a small side table and a trunk/bench/chest. I went to one of my favorite consignment stores in Charlotte, Fifteen Ten Antiques on Central Avenue. I did look at a nice glass side table and a sturdy wooden chest but instead bought these spectacular emerald-green root beer float glasses.

They were inexpensive and in perfect shape, they found a new home that isn’t a landfill, and our purchase supported a locally owned and operated business. What’s not to love?

We aren’t perfect at following the three R’s when it comes to a lot of other things like new clothing and kitchen appliances (for somewhat obvious reasons.) However, if you need convincing to pry your hands off the Pottery Barn catalog, I’ve thought of some half-baked reasons to shop more often at consignment stores.

  1. It’s cheap! Usually.
  2. You find one-of-a-kind items that you didn’t know you wanted, like emerald-green root beer float glasses.
  3. Less landfill, less demand for new items to be produced, shipped and stored, less pollution.
  4. You can modify purchases to fit your decor by busting out a can of paint and channeling your inner Martha Stewart.
  5. You are giving items a new life in your home where they will be hopefully be used and thus, be happy. Do you remember the lyrics to “Be Our Guest” from Beauty and the Beast? Well I do. Lumiere, the candlestick, sings about how sad they’ve been and how they just want to work and entertain. You too can anthropomorphize your dinnerware and learn that it doesn’t like sitting on a shelf collecting dust.

We are so lucky that we have so many options to buy gently used, good quality housewares from antique and consignment stores in Charlotte. Here are my favorites that I think everyone and their mama needs to check out:

  1. Fifteen Ten Antiques, 1510 Central Avenue
  2. Sleepy Poet Antique Mall, 4450 South Boulevard
  3. Classic Attic, 4301-C Park Road
  4. Recycle Boutique, 4301-D Park Road
  5. The other five thrift stores right next door to Fifteen Ten on that stretch of Central Ave. Go on a Saturday and buy yourself something pretty.

Gardening Books, At Last

It has happened. I finally made it to the public library to pick up my gardening books just in time for the weekend. Oh, the joy of Saturday morning when I can sit down, linger over my coffee, and start reading. Saturdays are the best day for reading because you aren’t rushed and you can pause at appropriate intervals and tell your fellow sloth factoids that begin with, “Did you know…?”

Here’s my pile of artfully stacked library books. You’ll notice that the second book in the stack says “You” at the top and features a graphic of a woman with a ponytail sprouting out of the top of her head. This book is called, You Grow Girl by Gayla Trail (I wasn’t lying in my earlier post) and it will probably end up being my favorite.

Here is the list of books I snatched from the library. They are all so pretty!

The Cook’s Herb Garden, Jeff Cox & Marie Pierre Moine
After just a cursory glance, I have already decided that I need to buy this book. It is an encyclopedia of herbs and edible flowers with pictures, descriptions, habits, and cook’s notes for all kinds of herbs including many that just tickle me with delight. Have you ever heard of the herb(s) Good King Henry/Fat Hen? It has such a delicious name I can hardly stand it! The book also has tips on how to dry and freeze herbs and recipes for salads, sauces, liqueurs, and tea.

You Grow Girl, Gayla Trail
I hate to admit it, but I love this book already. It’s like the Stitch ‘N Bitch of the gardening world. I like the sassy titles, the tips to make your pots grow moss so they don’t look store-bought, and all the sections titled make it, grow it, brew it. There is even a section on how to deal with the bugs and recipes for homemade natural bug repellent. I guess I’m going to have to face my fears sooner or later. :-/

Container Gardening Through the Year, Malcolm Hillier
Unfortunately, this is not a book about vegetable container gardening. Nope, it’s about flowers. Beautiful flowers in containers. This is what happens when you order books in haste. You can see evidence of my irrationality and crazy here and my rational, prudent side here.

Garden Anywhere, How to Grow Gorgeous Container Gardens Herb Gardens, Kitchen Gardens, and More–Without Spending a Fortune, Alys Fowler
I included the subtitle because this book is exactly what I’m looking for. We need an inexpensive and thrifty way to grow vegetables and herbs, because let’s face it, we might not succeed. I don’t want to have spent my hard-earned green on gardening and then have nothing to show for it. Eek. Things I like about this book: 1. the introduction is all about slowing down and not stressing out (I need to adopt this philosophy right now) and 2. there are lots of ideas on how to repurpose scrap wood into containers and how to use all parts of the garden, even the weeds!

Incredible Vegetables from Self-Watering Containers, Edward C. Smith
I started reading this book immediately because I was so interested in self-watering containers. I never even knew they existed, and wondered why doesn’t everyone use them? I quickly learned why. I don’t know if Jordan and I are crafty enough to build our own self-watering containers and we surely can’t afford to buy them. We’ll just have to resolve to be crafty and make at least one with the pretty cachepot that Jordan’s momma gave us. I’ll let you know how that goes.

The Container Kitchen Garden, Anthony Atha
Flipping through this book, it seems to be a nice introduction to container gardening. I should have started reading this one first. There is a lot of helpful info on choosing the pots and containers, a nice index of herbs and veggies in the back, AND a page of herbal beauty treatments. How sweet of this man to think of us ladies.

The Complete Herb Garden, John Stevens
When I opened up to the title page I found a label that says, “Presented to the Library by The Charlotte Herb Guild.” I didn’t know we had an herb guild. How fun! This is really a reference book and not so much a practical guide so I probably won’t actually read it. Too many words.

Any book or web resource that I should be reading that I’m not? Suggestions welcome!

Plant Zones Moving North, Charlotte NC Just Barely Remains in Zone 7b

One of my first steps before planning my garden is to determine my city’s plant/gardening zone so I know what plants and vegetables are mostly likely to survive on my deck. Unfortunately, the Department of Agriculture website and zone map doesn’t take into account my likely irresponsibility, whining, and fear of bugs–this is strictly a map of temperatures.

The big news is that the gardening map was redrawn for the first time since 1990 and on the new map many areas are now in warmer zones reflecting warmer average lows and earlier springs. Charlotte, NC is still in zone 7b (low 5-10°F) but it is right on the border of zone 8a (10-15°F) and this winter the Queen City has been masquerading as a 10a (30-35°F). Not that I’m complaining about the warm winter, but just choose a zone and stay in it already.

An aside: All this talk of winter makes me remember summer. I really don’t know how I will survive gardening in the middle of the summer. I might die. I really might.

The other interesting part of this map is that it actually factors in global climate change (obviously), pollution sources and plant stressors like acid rain, and all the advances in plant technology, of which I am ill-informed.

You can find your gardening zone and the gardening zones of your friends by visiting this link:
http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/

I suggest spending some time learning about the various zones and then using your obscure knowledge to greet your long-distance friends and family with, “Wow, yeah, the weather’s been brutal in zone 6a this winter, you must really be wishing you live in zone 10b right about now.” Or, “You know, it’s been pretty mild in zone 7b until our zone decided to act like a 4b. Yuck.”

Memory and Gardening from Books

When I suffer from a lapse in memory, I usually say, “Nevermind, I’ll look it up.” My answer to any question that I am not sure of has become, “Just google it!” When did “to google” become a verb?

I believe my dependent relationship on google as encyclopedia/dictionary is crippling my memory.  I was told this morning by my erudite other half that Plato once wrote, should men learn writing, “they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks.” Plato has a point.

So what would happen if the internet was disabled and our crops were destroyed from war or disease? Unfortunately, printed books are on their way out. In this fantasy/nightmare, the only people who would survive are those who know how to hunt and gather and grow their own food. That is, if our planet can withstand the destructive cycle of natural and man-made disasters.

My post-apocalyptic fears mostly come from those darn books and the news (I’d like to thank Margaret Atwood, Suzanne Collins and NPR,) and my own weirdo imagination. Nonetheless, they have all inspired me to reclaim knowledge and skills that used to be passed down from generation to generation and learned by all, not just those who grew up on a farm.

Since my first step to learning anything these days is using google, and since that didn’t pan out as well as I would have liked in the container gardening area, and since I don’t have a family member around to show me how it’s done, I went for my other source: the public library. In rapid fire succession, I reserved 5, 10, I don’t know how many books on vegetable gardening, herb gardening, container gardening, incredible vegetables, grow your own kitchen garden, self-watering containers, and a book titled, “You Grow Girl” or something equally embarrassing yet oddly appealing to my gender and generation.

I find myself feeling very literary about this somewhat mundane project. As I read these gardening books will I find myself reading as from a manual to be referenced or, by reading and participating in the process, will I commit the knowledge and skills to memory to be passed down to my future family?

Using Up Leftover Store Bought Parsley

Yesterday, I bought this beautiful bunch of parsley for the low low price of $1.79. The recipe I was making only called for a 1/4 of a cup of chopped parsley which can be gleaned from about 7 sprigs. Unfortunately, the grocery store only sells parsley in bundles of about 30 sprigs. And even though I am a neo-home economist and I will definitely find a way to use the parsley, I would venture to say that the majority of people would let the poor herb get brown and gooey and disgusting in the bottom of their crisper. Can I get an “Amen”?

I read a book last year called American Wasteland by Jonathan Bloom. He traces America’s food waste from the field where the produce is picked to the trip across the country where food spoils and get squished, to the grocery stores that throw away food before it even hits the shelves to our own refrigerators where we fail to consume all the food we purchase. How is it that we have the luxury of throwing away food when there are so many people starving in our own country?

Fortunately for my old-fashioned frame of mind, being clever with the way we repurpose an item, be it food or furniture, has circled back around and is now the trendy and praiseworthy thing to do. Who knew canning could be so cool? Maybe I’m just strange, but I can’t wait to preserve my leftover vegetables.

To the task at hand, what to do with the leftover parsley?

  1. Make Parsley Pesto, strange thought but people do it all the time
  2. Make Chimichurri, fun to say and fun to eat
  3. Use it as a medicinal herb to fix yo’ stinky breath
  4. Channel your Ancient Greek alter-ego, make a wreath out of the herb, and crown yourself champion of using up leftover parsley!

I also learned something else about the curly herb on the website Simply Recipes that’s sure to make Jordan wag his tail in delight. Parsley plants don’t attract bugs and slugs, perhaps because it’s considered a “bitter”? However, according to Wikipedia, it does sometimes attract butterflies and birds. What’s not to love?

I look forward to our life together Petroselinum crispum.

The Cost of Vegetable Container Gardening

Recently, while wearing my non-profit arts warrior hat, I was asked to write a cost benefit analysis (CBA) for a project I was researching. It was incredibly difficult and took me a shamefully long time to complete. The good news is that I completed it. And I learned how to calculate the payback time for an investment and got to imagine the intangible costs and benefits of turning my co-workers’ lives upside down. Fun!

What I’ve come to realize is that doing a CBA is really the prudent thing to do before jumping head first into this vegetable gardening thing. Maybe I’ll even learn something. No need to tell me I am probably over-thinking it. “Always be prepared,” I say! I never say that.

Cost Benefit Analysis: Vegetable Gardening

Implementation Initial Cost
Contract Labor 0
Capital Costs (i.e. reusable supplies) 80
Internal Planning Exorbitant sum/hour
Puppy Training Exorbitant sum/hour
TOTAL IMPLEMENTATION 80 
Ongoing Avg. Annual Cost
Maintenance (soil/fertilizer) 100
Operational Cost (plants & seeds) 90
Additional Water Cost 35
TOTAL ONGOING 225
Intangible Costs  
Loss of free time  
Heat stroke  
Increased inter-office conflict  
TOTAL COST $305
   
Ongoing Avg. Annual Benefit
Grocery Store Savings ($20 * 28 hopeful weeks) 560
TOTAL ONGOING 560
Intangible Benefits  
Feelings of self-worth and pride  
Connection to Ceres, goddess of grain and harvest  
Development of a positive environment of teamwork and cooperation
TOTAL BENEFIT (first year) $255
TOTAL BENEFIT (ongoing) $335
Payback Time (Months after initial investment) 9.96

As one can see from my listing of costs and benefits, it appears that container vegetable gardening will actually save us money once we purchase the obligatory pots, containers, gloves, tools, soil, seeds, and transplants. I do so hope that our crops will be bountiful and bug free!

Next step: pick up unknown amount of hastily ordered library books on vegetable container gardening and consume.

P.S. The peach plant with the bugs is disoriented about the season and has decided to pretend it’s autumn. Sad, unloved peach tree.

Vegetable Container Gardening 101

I woke up this morning and realized in a panic that I haven’t planned our container gardening schedule. And we have no supplies. And we can’t find a good online source to tell us exactly how and when to plant exactly what we want to eat. Now, it’s still January so I think we have plenty of time to get it together, but I fear that we should already be germinating little bean seeds in homemade egg carton planters. Sigh. Often I doubt Jordan’s and my ability to successfully grow a bounty of veggies and herbs based on several factors:

1) Neither of us really enjoy getting dirty. (Very early in our relationship Jordan remarked sincerely, “I’m so glad you aren’t outdoorsy!”)
2) We are both currently obsessed with other things, see About for more information.
3) We are both really bad at killing bugs.

However, we vow to conquer our fears of the dirt and creepy crawly things and to chronicle our successes and failures so that other sustainable lifestyle seekers can learn too!

My brother Chris is a green thumb and oh-so-generously gifted me two fruit plants for Christmas. I don’t think they will bear fruit any time soon but they truly represent the beginning of my food growing mission. Note the plant on the left with the droopy leaf. I believe it’s droopy because of 1) lack of water and 2) these tiny weird bugs that are happily thriving all around the leaves.

In an effort to destroy said bugs, I passionately sprayed them with some homemade household cleaner. They are still happily alive today. After examining the plant, I backed away and whined to Jordan, “Honey, will you throw away this plant for me?”

And so begins our adventure in vegetable container gardening.