DIY Plant Containers from Apartment Gardening

For years, I opted for homemade Christmas gifts for family and friends preferring the handcrafted to the purchased. This year marks the first year that I am actually purchasing most of the gifts for my family, however, and while I'm so excited for Christmas mornin I had a moment of regret whilst reading this article in the NYT.

"Bucketry" is a series of objects created by LA artist Matthias Merkel Hess and immediately reminded me of a DIY project from Apartment Gardening. His art is intense food for thought and is inspiring me to create something special for my apartment balcony. I hope it influences you as well. Send me pics if you make something!

Here is a little teaser excerpt from the "Salvaged Materials" section from the Chapter "Getting Grounded: Pots, Containers, Soil & Supplies". There are a LOT of other ideas in there! Happy DIY'ing.

Plastic milk crates: Much like the asparagus crates, plastic milk crates make easy planters. You will need to fill in the gaps with either a liner (like a gently used plastic shower liner with drain holes), Spanish moss, or some sort of fiber—coconut fiber or even hay. I like to spray paint my milk crates white—this gives them a very clean, modern look.



Kitchen Projects

My friend Gannon is always asking me to keep a video camera on my life because I always have a good story to tell. I've been thinking about keeping a book tour journal, instead.People make the coolest observations, sometimes, or ask awesome questions. In a departure from my typical posts where I hope to educate or inspire, here I'm just sharing a story. Last night, I gave a little chat to the Literary Group at the Rainer Club. They were seriously some of the most gracious people I’ve ever met. Incredibly polite, ladies crossing legs at their ankles kind of a crowd. They were incredibly enthusiastic and also very conversational. It was a great great night.

One of the woman in attendance (the one with the hot shoes!) asked me “How many projects do you currently have going?” I laughed out loud. No one has ever keyed in to the fact that my small apartment acts as a sort of laboratory. I constantly have things fermenting, drying, steeping and more. With that, here is a list of my current projects and experiments:

Vinegar steeped with Chamomile, Mint, Rose, Lemon Balm for FACIAL TONER

FENNEL BLOSSOM heads stuffed in a paper bag and drying for my spice cupboard.


HERBAL SUN TEA with tangerine sage, mint, anise hyssop, thyme & lovage in my fridge, finally. If you don’t get it in there fast, it ferments and tastes boozy

CHOCOLATE MINT steeping in milk for ice cream? Ganache? Haven’t decided.

LUCIA PLUMS that I picked from the tree I just noticed across my street. Think I’ll make jam tonight.

Mothers Day DIY Gift

I received an email from a Seattle elementary school the other day....... I'm writing to ask for your advice for our school garden club, it is rockin with lots of fantastic parent volunteers and looks great now. We have come up with a few ideas for how the kids can make gifts out of the garden and would love to do herb vingegars for mother's day, but what do you know about making vinegar? Is there a kid friendly process vs. a hot process that involves kitchens?

They wanted me to come down and show the kids and moms how to make herbed vinegars for a simple kid-friendly Mothers Day gift. What a great idea! Sadly, I couldn't make it to hang with the kiddos, but I'm posting the recipe here for them.....and you!

I absolutely love herb vinegars. They are easy to make, taste lovely and are a great way to use extra stalks from picked herb-branches and herbs about to flower. Here is a simple recipe, excerpted from my book, Urban Pantry..............

Mothers Day Herb Vinegar

Use fresh healthy sprigs and distilled white vinegar for the best results. Any herb can work—try mint, lemon balm, basil, or tarragon. Use two sprigs of herb for every cup of vinegar. Add the sprigs directly to prepared jars. (Wash and sterilize jars for 10 minutes in a hot water bath before using.) Heat the vinegar until just beginning to boil and pour over the herbs, leaving a bit of head space. Store the vinegar in a cool, dark place for three to four weeks, checking the flavor after two weeks. When the flavor is to your liking, strain and discard the herbs and store the infused vinegar in a cool, dark cupboard. Use glass containers that can be sealed with a lid or cork.

Herb vinegars will keep for three months, longer if refrigerated. Be mindful of any mold or fermentation bubbles—this means the batch is spoiled and should be thrown out. As vinegar has a high acid content, there is no risk of botulism; mold and yeast are the two culprits of spoilage.

June & July in the Garden

By now your gardens should be planted and sprouting and growing!  Summer crops got planted throughout May and June is now a month where all of us can take a big deep breathe and relax a bit as we wait for crops to come in.  This also gives us time to plan for fall - another big time of year for gardeners.  Tree fruit and edible perennials (artichoke, mustard plants, tea plants, etc) can be planted this fall - the last window to plant before spring. July is the month notoriously dedicated to tomato staking and supports. I'm not a fan of tomato cages, but instead I build a support system of bamboo in my tomato beds.  It's cheap and uber-efficient. These are also very important months for watering.  Whilst we typically consider July & August to be the hottest months (and they are!), days are actually getting shorter and plants will gradually need less and less watering.

Even if you're having cooler temps and cloud-covered skies, it's important to remember good watering practices. Namely, seed beds (those areas planted with seed) will need a constant misting so the soil stays moist and seeds are able to germinate. That means twice a day watering may be beneficial.  Keep an eye on the seed beds and make sure they don't go dry for extended periods of time (no more than 12 hours is perfect). This ensures germination!

For heat-lovers, especially tomato plants, it's smart to water in the morning before you leave for work. Watering in the morning leaves time for plants to soak it up before the heat of day and evaporation take over. Morning water also prevents a drop in soil temperature (which happens when watering in the evening) which the heat-lovers do not appreciate. You wouldn't like to go to sit outside in wet socks at night time, would you?  Same, same.

Follow these small steps to insure a greater harvest later in the summer!

Building & Keeping a Worm Bin at Home

worm bin illustrationWith the threat of charging to haul away household kitchen waste in King County, it's time to get serious about worm bins.  Worm bins are the new compost pile, people. I promise. Nine out of 10 clients ask me about setting up a system for home composting.  The biggest issue with composting on a small(ish) city lot is that we often don't have enough 'browns' and 'greens' to make up a successful hot compost.  And cold compost just takes so long!   The quick fix solution?  A worm bin.  It's cheap to set up, easy to store outdoors and will pepper your beds with nutrient rich worm casings.  Turn your trash into something useful!

Vermiculture is another great resource for making compost at home in a very small space. Vermiculture uses worms in a worm bin to break down food waste and bedding into compost. Worms produce castings: worm manure, also called vermicompost. These castings are then collected and used on plants and in gardens as lush, nitrogen- dense fertilizer.

A worm bin has the added benefit of being small; it can be stored inside or outside. So it’s an excellent option for apartment and condo dwellers who want to compost at home.

Worms can eat half their weight in food waste every day. If you start off with one pound of worms, count on their handling about a half a pound of kitchen scraps each day. There are a number of options for worm bins, from pricey commercial bins with multiple trays to plastic storage bins or homemade bins. (For instructions on building a worm bin and filling it with proper bedding, see Chapter 7, Do-It-Yourself Garden.) All systems need some method of drain- age, because worms generate liquid waste, and if conditions get too mucky, the worms will not be happy. The worms used in worm bins are not your garden earthworms, but a particular species—commonly called red worms or red wigglers—that would not survive for long in outdoor conditions. You can buy them locally or by mail order, but the cheapest (free!) source is from a gardener who already has a worm bin going.

It is important to note that a new worm bin starts off slowly, so you should add food waste in small amounts at first and monitor how quickly the worms are able to process them. They may ignore foods they don’t like; if so, remove these scraps from the bin so they don’t rot and give off odors. When you add food to the bin, lift some bed- ding and put food scraps underneath. This will help minimize odors. Additionally, when adding scraps you should utilize a different part of the bin than the last time, so the worms have a chance to process the older scraps before more waste is piled over them. Plan to follow a pattern, moving from left to right and then right to left, back and forth through the bin.

Worms can get finicky about what they will or won’t eat. A few finely crushed eggshells provide grit to help them digest, as worms do not have teeth. Do not give the worms proteins, dairy, oil, or oily products like vegetables cooked in oil or fried potato chips. Instead, include only plant-based organic matter like vegetable and fruit scraps. I have seen many a worm ignore citrus peels, but you can try them. Worms also love coffee grounds, and you can include the paper filters. Grains (stale bread, tortillas, and so on) are OK too.

Keep your worms in a temperate location, ranging from 55 ̊F to 75 ̊F; this means you may need to bring an outdoor bin inside during cold winter months.

After a few months, the worm compost will likely appear dark brown, like finely crushed cookie crumbs. This can take up to six months. To harvest your compost and re-bed the bin, move the entire contents of the bin over to one side. On the other side, refill the area with a mound of fresh bedding. Add some new kitchen waste to the new bedding side and wait for the worms to migrate over. This can take anywhere from two weeks to the better part of a month. Worm compost can be used on all potted plants and even indoor plants.

Top-dress your pots with a sprinkling of worm compost every six weeks or so. As worm castings are quite nutrient rich, you want to be sure not to add too much too often or you run the risk of plant burn from overfertilization.

As mentioned earlier, worms also expel liquid as they work to break down your kitchen scraps. You can collect that liquid and add it directly to plants along with the vermicompost. Or add equal parts water to the worm “tea” and spray or water your plants with this solu- tion. This also makes a great gift for any gardeners in your life.