Saturday, November 3, 2012

Worms, Worms, Worms

Hello everyone! Sorry for the long wait... grad school things. You know how that goes.

But I finally did something that I've been threatening to do for years... I started my own little worm compost bin for the apartment!

Vermicompost, or composting with worms, actually lends itself really well to indoor spaces like apartments or houses, and it seemed the logical way to go since my third floor apartment doesn't come equipped with a backyard compost bin. It doesn't get smelly - if properly maintained, that is - and a pound of worms can eat up to a pound of food per day! Which is fantastic, since over a third of American household waste is from food, and I like to think I am doing my part by letting the little worms turn all my food waste into nutrient rich worm castings for my container herb garden.

There are tons - and I mean tons - of online resources for worm bin making, and some of them can get quite complicated. I decided to keep it simple.

Item One: Plastic Bin, with a lid.

I poked holes around the top to keep it ventilated. A lot of folks say to poke holes in the bottom and put another lid or bin underneath to catch any drips, but a woman I spoke to said the problem is usually letting it dry out too much, not getting it too wet.

Item Two: Newspaper.

These, you tear into strips for the worms' bedding. No glossy pages with colored inks, if you please - the full color ink is toxic. You dip the strips into a bowl of water and squeeze them out, then fluff them up in the tub until you get half-way to three quarters up the sides. Toss in a couple handfuls of sand or dirt so the worms can have some grit for their digestive systems.

Item Three: Food.

I went with some spaghetti squash rind, all cut up and shredded. When you put in food, you want to cover it up in the bedding - this helps prevent smell and fruit fly infestations.

Apparently there's a little controversy over whether or not you should feed the worms immediately - I've seen some websites say you should give them a couple days to adjust to their new environment. Other sources I've seen or talked to have said that if you do that, the worms might escape out of their bin. I really didn't want that to happen... so food it was.

Item Four: Worms!

You can purchase these online by the pound, but I managed to get some from a lady who was getting rid of her worm bin and was giving them away.

For the final touch, you put on the lid (they don't like the light), stick the bin somewhere that has a regulated temperature that does not get too hot or cold, and wait for the little guys to work their magic.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Tiny Balcony Garden Update

I finally purchased a trowel!

I am really excited about this decision, guys.

Then I immediately put it to use to pot... my new rosemary plant!

Last Saturday, some friendly folks at the Allegheny Green + Innovation Festival gave me one! Since that Saturday was my birthday, I decided that the universe was subtly wishing me all the best.

I also used my handy new trowel to add fertilizer to my previously potted plants, since a few of them were starting to look a tad yellow. I've never done container gardening before and I'm sure I will kill a few things before I get the hang of it.

I did, however, bring them inside, since the nights are starting to get a little bit brisk. I know that much, anyways.

Does anyone have any other recommendations for yellow-looking plants? According to my Agroecology texts, plants turn yellow when they have a nitrogen or phosphorus deficiency. Hopefully the fertilizer will take care of that, but is there anything else I should be considering?

I have a sad skill in killing houseplants in cruel and unusual ways. Hopefully this time will be different.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Our Food, Our Right: My Birthday Surprise

In an unexpected turn of events, I received a book this week that I had (I thought) never even heard of. This book has a poem I wrote published in it.

Most curious.

I think what happened is that about a year and a half ago, I saw a call-out for food-related artwork and poetry on a farmer blog somewhere, so I sent them a poem and then forgot about it until now.

The book itself is pretty cool. The title is Our Food, Our Right: Recipes for Food Justice, with a forward was written by Raj Patel, the author of Stuffed and Starved. Published by Community Alliance for Global Justice, a Seattle-based organization, it includes essays about a variety of food and community topics: food sovereignty, race and gender in farming, organizations in the Pacific Northwest that are creating "positive solutions," Seattle-area farmer profiles, global issues concerning food justice, and a nice little collection of recipes. It certainly dovetails quite nicely with what I'm learning this semester in my Food Systems and Food Access courses.

At any rate, it was certainly a nice little belated birthday surprise.

And for those who are curious, here is the poem:

The Farm Job

Why are you going to Virginia?
asked my grandfather.
I can find a farm for you to work on here in Indiana.

Why are you working on a farm?
That was the unasked question.

I didn't know how to answer him,
but just as I took my college education for granted,
never did he question the heft of a shovel,
or the sun on the back of his neck.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Tiny Balcony Garden

A few days ago, I ran into the grocery store to grab a few things, and saw that they were selling herb starts and potting soil. My mind raced back to the apartment, where a stack of empty pots I stole from home were sitting, empty and sad, on the balcony.

Oh, heck. So much for not succumbing to impulse purchases.

But you know what? I really can't find that I have even one tiny shred of regret.

Really, when you think about it, what is the point of trying to live sustainably when you don't even have a single potted plant in your apartment? It's such an easy step to take. I'm not in a position to grow much of my own food, but I can certainly manage a few herbs... I hope.

My bounty includes basil, thyme, golden oregano, chives, sage, and Italian parsley... more or less the heavy lifters of the culinary herb world. Well, my culinary herb world. No rosemary, this time around. One day.

Ideally, I would have my own compost made from my own kitchen scraps... but I've only been here five weeks. It's on my list of stuff to accomplish. One day.

I've read a lot of how-to container gardening articles and books that say you need to have layers of pebbles, sand, pottery shards, etc as drainage material, and you need extra fertilizer, and this and that. I pretty much ignored everything they said, and did the following:

Potting soil in pot. Dig hole. Insert start. Fill in with dirt. Water. Admire handiwork.

So now I have a respectable little herb garden on the balcony. It will have to make its way indoors soon, however, since the temperature's due to take a sharp drop this weekend.

So there it is... one of my first forays into sustainable urban living. And there will be much more on the way.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

New Communities: Or, Why I Haven't Been Updating

I realize that it has been over a month since my last post. All I can offer are sad excuses, like "But I was moving to Pittsburgh and starting grad school and everything was going really fast and it was super hard and it will never happen again I swear!"

Well, they do say not to make promises you can't keep, so I will avoid saying that never again will I avoid this blog because I have, I don't know, a thesis due or something. But I can promise that I will be making a concerted effort to regularly update this tiny slice of the internet so all my lovely friends and family can see what I am doing, where I am going, things I'm learning, stuff I'm accomplishing... I'm sure you get the idea.

To be honest, I was inspired this weekend to update my blog. By this lady.

This weekend was the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, Pennsylvania, a mere 90 minutes down the interstate from here. Fortuitous, no? And in exchange for manning the Chatham University table for a couple hours and participating in the Farmer Olympics (my team came in second to last... but we get a year's subscription to Mother Earth News so it's hard for me to be too sad about it), I got free admission to the fair. Which was only $30, but I am a poor graduate student. And while it was very cold and I was so unprepared to the point that I failed to even bring a jacket (AND we camped out Saturday night... you can thank my 20 degree sleeping back for my continued existence), I did enjoy some of the workshops and keynote speeches. Especially the indoor ones.

One of the speakers I had the pleasure of seeing was one Jenna Woginrich, a lady homesteader, writer and blogger from upstate New York. Her keynote speech, about the importance of community, was particularly poignant for me, considering that I have completely uprooted myself (again... it's what, the fourth time in as many years?) and moved to a completely new place with completely new people to do something I've never done before.

She discussed the various levels of community... the community we come with (family), the community we choose (friends, folks with similar interests), the communities we hire, brush against on accident, seek out intentionally... there are many, too many to describe really.

Yet here I am, deliberately putting myself into a new community of people who, like me, value food and learning and making positive change in the world. By reading books and blogs, by attending conferences, by deliberately moving away from what I thought I should do and choosing a world that was unknown to me but infinitely more exciting, I am building my own community around me, a little bit each day. It's a very exhilarating time, to feel like I'm where I need to be and making the best choices I can make. How can it get any better?

So thanks to all of you who every come to this blog - my family and friends, my neighbors, my long-lost acquaintances who Facebook-stalked me and found this, and you, person who randomly found me because you Googled "sexy girl on a tractor". Thank you for making yourself part of my community, even if it was only for the briefest of moments. I am indeed blessed.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A Pasteurization Explanation

This video, part of the Cooking Up A Story series, gives an excellent explanation of the different forms of pasteurization, particularly the kind used by Clear Spring Creamery, where I just wrapped up my internship.

The speaker, an organic farmer at Lady-Lane Farm, describes a form of pasteurization known as "vat pasteurization" that more small-scale, organic dairies are beginning to use.

In vat pasteurization, the milk is heated at the lowest legal temperature for thirty minutes, which preserves the flavor and the fresh taste of the milk... and according to this guy, some of the enzymatic activity that pro-raw milk folks tout as the biggest benefit of drinking the non-pasteurized stuff.

Given how many times I would be asked every week at market about our pasteurization process, this video would have been great to watch a few months ago. C'est la vie!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Goodbye, Clear Spring Creamery

Yesterday was my last day working at Clear Spring Creamery. No more milking cows, no more fencing, no more bottling yogurt, no more farmers markets, no more delicious milk.

Mark and Clare, as well as their kids, Paul and Paige, were a joy to work with for the past five months. I learned an enormous amount through their example and their guidance. They were always very generous with their time and their home, and I really enjoyed getting to know them.

I'll write a longer post later with my reflections on this summer... but for now, I just wanted to say how grateful I am that I had this opportunity.

And that I will miss the cows.