April 30, 2012

My preferred methods of composting are BokashiVermiculture, and Tumbler composting.

Regardless of method, the key to healthy compost depends on three things:

Aeration – Most methods of compost depend on aerobic microorganisms which benefit from good drainage and slits or holes for air to pass through. The main reason you turn a compost tumbler or pile is to aerate it. You can’t turn your compost too much. Do it whenever you think to or whenever you add new material.

Drainage – The bottom of the composter should have holes or slats to drain. Ideally, there will be a spigot and a method of collecting the drippings, called Compost Tea which can be diluted 1:100 as fertilizer and microbial innoculant for houseplants and gardens.

Carbon:Nitrogen Ratio – The proper C:N ratio for compost is approximately 30:1.  If you have too much carbon, the compost will take forever. If you have too much nitrogen, your compost will stink and become disgusting. Increase carbon by adding paper towels, newspaper (not glossy), raked leaves, straw, sawdust, yard waste, or peat moss. Increase nitrogen by adding food waste (NO animal products or oils) or grass clippings.  Coffee grounds have a C:N ratio of 20:1. Adding coffee grounds to compost can help speed up a slow compost pile.  Useful Chart of Carbon:Nitrogen Ratios

What to Compost: Any plant matter, food scraps, yard waste, newspaper (not glossy), paper towels, wood chips, saw dust, used guinea pig or rabbit bedding, coffee grounds, egg shells, spent brewing yeast, old kombucha cultures

What NOT to Compost: Oils, meat, dairy, seedy weeds, waste of omniverous animals such as pet dogs, cats, rats, mice, or humans

Using Finished Compost:

Your compost is finished and ready to use when it is more or less homogeneous in consistency, room temperature, and mostly odorless.  You may wish to sift the compost through a frame of hardware cloth or fine gauged chicken wire to remove any remaining large pieces or undecomposed matter and make the compost easier to spread and distribute.

Using Compost Tea:

Collect the liquid that drains from the bottom of your composter and dilute 1:100 to water your garden or house plants.  This ‘compost tea’ is a fertilizer which also includes symbiotic microorganisms which make nutrients more available to plants and improve plants’ disease resistance, an advantage over chemical fertilizer.


Edible Flowers

April 19, 2012

This season I’ve focused on edible flowers, most of which I intend to plant in self-watering containers on my roof garden, but many of which I have enough to share.

Bachelor’s Buttons

  • Excellent cut flowers, brilliant colors, delicious on salads, and a quarter a pack for seeds.  I haven’t started these yet because I intend to sew them directly.

Bergamot/Bee Balm

  • Not only great for pollinators, bee balm can also be used as a medicinal tea.  Don’t confuse it with the bergamot used to flavor Earl Grey tea, which is a type of orange.  Bee balm has a deep, earthy flavor similar to oregano.  Like oregano, it is very tenacious: it spreads and comes back every year.


  • Beautiful orange flowers have anti-inflammatory and anti-septic properties, are high in vitamin C and A and other antioxidants.  Calendula has anti-viral and anti-carcinogenic properties and helps support the immune system.  Flowers are tasty and beautiful on salads, make a stomach-soothing tea, or can be added to acne-reducing skin creams.


  • Chamomile makes a lovely tea known for its calming effect.  Chamomile tea reminds me of being read Peter Rabbit as a child.  Peter’s mother makes him drink chamomile tea after he’s caught ill from hiding in Mr McGregor’s watering can without his coat.  I’ve been very successful with chamomile this year and have many seedlings to share.


  • At a dumpster diving meetup last fall, I got a ton of chrysanthemums from behind Trader Joe’s and planted them in my lily/tulip/mint bed.  They’re all coming up again this year and their flowers shall grace my table both in vases and on salads.  Mums grow easily from cuttings.  I have plenty to share.
Day Lilies
  • Big, orange lilies are sweet and delicious and look amazing on salads or cakes!  I got mine from a local gardener who thinned her beds two summers ago and they’ve spread and adapted nicely to my yard.  I spread a lot of compost around them last season after they didn’t bloom.  This year they seem much happier.
  • Not the tastiest, but certainly lovely to add to salads.  I’m mostly growing these for cut flowers and natural pest-repellent.


  • Big, bold, spicy edible flowers!  We’re planting climbing nasturtiums to grow over arches along with heirloom cherry tomatoes and purple, yellow and green pole beans.  Kids will be able to walk under the arches and pick a rainbow of tomatoes, nasturtiums, and beans to munch!


  • Lovely in salads, also excellent as cut flowers.  I’ve been very successful with snapdragons this year and have many many seedlings for my roof garden and to share.


  • Young sunflower leaves and petals can be used in salads.  Some varieties have delicious seeds.  I’ve planted a bizillion sunflowers this season and want to see them everywhere this summer.


  • Deep purple edible flowers on a shade loving ground cover with beautiful heart-shaped leaves?  Yes please.  Violets are easy to grow and do well in shade.  I was given most of mine from a local gardener who thinned them from her beds last summer.  They spread well and come up as volunteers.  Their flowers taste delicate, can be candied and used to decorate desserts or fresh on salads and are my favorite color.


  • I’ve never actually eaten zinnias but I’ve planted a ton of them this season and apparently they are edible.  One of my favorite memories is of sitting among my father’s zinnias in full bloom, each flower visited by a butterfly on a beautiful summer day.  Zinnias come in so many shapes, sizes and colors and they’re easy to grow.  I have many to share.

Other Edible Flowers I Have Known and Loved:

Borage: cucumber-tasting, bright blue, star-shaped flowers are frozen into ice cubes or added to salads.  I saw them used in landscaping all over Columbia, Missouri.  I didn’t grow these this year because the plants easily become spindly and awkward compared to the tiny flowers, and I found that people would only eat the flowers upon my insistence.

Carnations: despite being edible, beautiful and one of my mother’s favorite flowers, these are too difficult for me to grow and do not taste good.

Gladiolus:  I simply do not have enough sun to grow these.

Lavender:  I have not had good luck keeping lavender alive, though I love it.

Violas: adorable, like miniature pansies.  Great for salads, or for decorating desserts, but I decided violets were enough for me this year.

The following plants I am growing this year also have edible flowers, though I am not growing them for their flowers:

anise hyssop, basil, chives, cilantro, dill, mint, peas, radish, squash

Also edible, though you don’t have to plant them:  clover, especially red clover, which is also good for tea, and dandelions, which are high in vitamin C and can be used to make a honey-like syrup or in dandelion wine.

Homemade Absinthe

December 11, 2010

I have some lovely wormwood plants that I’ve been cutting and drying several times a season, just before they flower,  then freezing.  I’ve accumulated several ounces of wormwood, lemon balm, anise hyssop, mugwort, and mint for macerating, soaking in grain alcohol, and distilling into absinthe.  I also purchased anise, fennel, star anise, and calamus for the absinthe.

When I did not distill after soaking the herbs but merely strained them out, the result was unpalatably bitter.  I found it agreeable mixed with sugar and ice water and the bottle was quickly consumed, perhaps too quickly, by myself and some random folk. I saw no more fairies than usual, but I did find myself pleasantly intoxicated. I’m curious to see how distilling improves my second bottle.

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Late August Roof Harvest

December 11, 2010

Amaranth, nasturtiums, peppers, purple beans, lemon basil, genovese basil, anise hyssop, mugwort, thai basil, and blue corn from my roof top container garden.  This is one of several small harvests.  Herbs seem the most productive thing to grow in containers on my roof.  The broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts did not do well in the increased heat and rate of evaporation the roof provides.  I got a pretty big butternut squash and a lot more peppers.

The advantages of container roof gardening are the additional space and sun and the reduction of pests and diseases.  The garden was beautiful and made spending time on my roof deck more appealing.  The disadvantages are the attention which must be paid to keeping things watered and fertilized and the increase in heat and in the difference between day and night time temperatures.  Next year I plan on using self-watering containers, fertilizing more regularly, and focusing more on herbs and tomatoes.

Brambleberry Jam

December 11, 2010

I am fortunate to have moved into a home with established concord grape vines.  Every year, and especially thanks to the extra nutrients and water from the ducks’ kiddie pool, I’ve been able to harvest upwards of ten pounds of the most flavorful, not-too-tart, not-too-sweet grapes which have never come into contact with herbicides, fungicides, or pesticides.  I make jam!

The recipe I use is simple – sugar, lemon juice, and grapes.  It’s labor intensive – each grape must be peeled, but the jam is delicious and the process is fun.  Just about everyone in my house helps.

There’s something very special about eating homemade jam made from grapes from our yard on freshly baked homemade bread.  The experience is priceless.

Last year I added wild black raspberries from Land’s Sake farm – part of my ‘payment’ for volunteering with their summer camp.  This year, my housemate Laurel suggested I leave some of the skins unprocessed for added texture.  I think last year’s jam was better – it was a prettier color and the half pound of black raspberries added a lovely flavor.  But this year’s is delicious!

Container Grown Corn

December 10, 2010

Most corn grown today is standardized, transgenic feed corn.  Most of the rest is hybridized sweet corn.  If all we’re concerned about is calories/acre and marketability, that’s fine.  For the hobby gardener, there are some varieties of hybridized sweet corn that taste much better than what you can get at the super market.  For the more experimental and organic-minded gardener, there is a largely overlooked host of heirloom corn varieties, specifically tailored to your climate (whatever it is) that, unlike hybrized sweet corn, can give support to companion crops such as pole beans and which are unlike any corn you can get from the super market.

My task last season was to find one variety of corn that would grow well in containers on my Cambridge roof top and one multi-purpose (good fresh or ground to flour) variety that would thrive in a Three Sisters Garden at the Cambridge Community Center (for maximum educational benefit).

After much research, I settled on Rainbow Inca for the Community Center and Baby Blue Jade corn for my roof garden.

The blue corn grew beautifully on my deck and produced about five 5″ long ears per plant.  I planted six plants in each of two 20 gallon rubbermade bin.  Because each kernel of corn must be individually pollinated, it’s important to grow several rows of corn fairly close together.

The plants grew about five feet high.  I harvested the ears when the silk turned brown and left several ears on the stalk to save for next year’s seeds.  The advantage of open-pollinated, heirloom corn over the more common hybrid corn is that seeds can be saved to grow next year’s crop.  The disadvantage is the taste.  Unfortunately, the corn was tough, chewy and not very sweet, and somewhat bland in flavor.  Many ears were insufficiently pollinated and had only a few kernels.  While I would like to repeat the experiment, I do not think growing corn in containers is a practical use of energy and space.

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Extremely Delicious Granola Recipe

January 9, 2010

One of my housemates brought home some very delicious, very expensive granola which rapidly disappeared from our cupboard.  It was replaced by the honey nut variety from wholefoods.  This was disgustingly sweet and not very crunchy.  I decided to make my own.  I found it to be extremely easy, quick, inexpensive, and delicious.

Here is a recipe that closely approximates the expensive pumpkin spice granola:

Preheat oven to 350

Mix in large bowl:

4 c mixed hot cereal grains (oat, rye flakes, barley – I got a big canister for $2.29 from Trader Joe’s, you could also use just oats)

1 c raw pecans

1/3 c brown sugar

1/4 c honey

1/2 c apple cider

1/4 c canola oil

1/2 t vanilla

1/4 t salt

2 t pumpkin pie spice

Spread out over a rimmed baking sheet and bake on the middle(ish) rack for 25 minutes.

It’s important to stir the granola after 10 minutes and again after 20 minutes or it will be burnt in parts and not crisp in others.

Add 1/2 c pepitas before the last five minutes of cooking.

Granola should be crisp and golden brown.

Variation (pictured):

Preheat oven to 350

In a large bowl, mix:

1/3 c brown sugar

1/4 c maple syrup

1/3 c apple cider

1/4 c canola oil

1/2 t vanilla

1/4 t salt

2 t cinnamon

1/8 t cloves

1/8 t nutmeg

1 t ginger

Add and then remove: 1/2 c chopped apple (small pieces)

Place chopped apple on a foil or parchment-lined baking sheet

To the wet mixture, add:

4 c mixed cereal grains

1/4 c finely chopped candied ginger

1 c pecans

Arrange grain/pecan mixture on another baking sheet.

Cook the same as above, also stirring up the apples when you stir up the grain mixture.

Add the apples when they have almost no moisture left in them (otherwise your granola will be soggy).

Because of the added moisture from the candied ginger, this may require an additional 5 minutes or so of cooking.  Cook until it’s crisp and golden brown.

Three Ducks in a Tub

January 7, 2010

For a treat, the ducks got to come in and use the tub instead of their kiddie pool.

(After the ducks went back outside, the bathroom was thoroughly cleaned with bleach.)

Potting Rooted Cuttings

January 7, 2010

When my friend Maeve visited she brought with her a few lovely gifts including a lemongrass plant, a shiso (perilla) plant, daikon radish seeds, and a cutting of Cuban oregano, Plectranthus amboinicus.  The lemongrass is under a growlight in a sunny window amongst myriad houseplants.  I was promised that the shiso would seed itself and come back like crazy next year, so I planted it outside.  The radish seeds will wait until spring to be planted.  The Cuban oregano I stuck in a shot glass full of water right away and it promptly set out roots.  Ever hungry for gardening activities in the winter, I decided it was time to pot my Cuban oregano as well as one of the cuttings of Lesbos basil I took last fall. 

Check out the roots on that Lesbos!!

Something Wonderful: Polypores!

January 7, 2010

“Wildman” Steve Brill and Paul Stamets said that there are no known poisonous polypores Reishi mushrooms are an example of a polypore widely considered to have medicinal properties and it is not alone.  The chaga mushroom, Inonotus obliquus which grows on Syberian birch trees, concentrates the medicinal properties of birch bark.   It’s probably a bad idea to go gathering bracket fungi willy nilly and cramming them down your gullet; you’d probably end up with a stomach ache.  But it’s nice to know that if you ever got stuck without food, this type of fungi is ubiquitous and available year round to make into a (probably) nutritive and healthy tea.