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Herbs for Inside

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

Starting Herbs at Home

Last week we looked at window planters for herbs, now let’s talk about getting your herbs started. Yes it’s January, and there is no way we will be starting these outside. Most of us have been led to believe that in order to start herb seeds, you need fancy equipment and lots of time. While it’s true that when growing plants from seed professionally, having lights, multiple flats with cells, special soils and maybe even warming pads work wonders, the truth is that before commercial sprouting of seeds, folks started their own seeds in their homes for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years and we can too.

Get the pot or planter you selected (because you read last week’s blurb on planters and went out and bought some that will fit on your window) and put some stones in the bottom for drainage, put a little fabric over the stones, and add some moistened commercial seed starting mix-ha ha small joke, not so easy to get that. Make your own by mixing 50% peat moss with 50% potting mix and fill your pots/planters with this stopping one half inch to one inch from the top of the pot.

Next, sprinkle your seeds lightly over the soil. For a 4”- 6” pot, you can sprinkle 3-6 seeds just to give you an idea of distribution. If you use less you run the risk of failed germination, more will give you a whole lot of sprouts, which is the lesser of two evils really. Cover the seeds with maybe an eighth of an inch of soil mix. Press the mix down with your fingers, and gently water or even spritz with water (you don’t want to drown the soil and have the seeds float to the top).

Take some saran wrap or similar product and cover the pot over. Seal it by putting a rubber band around the pot to hold the plastic wrap down. Next, set the containers in a sink filled with 2 inches of water until beads of moisture appear on the soil surface or until you are sure the soil is good and soaked. If a self watering pot, fill the well to capacity. Put the pot in a saucer if you did not get a self watering pot, and water the plant daily by filling the saucer with water or less often if there is still water in the saucer the next day. Seeds need moisture to germinate!.

Make sure you have the pot in a nice south facing window, or at least one that gets a few hours of sunlight a day, as the seeds sprout, they will look for light and you will want to cut back on the water somewhat. Probably you will want to water half as often, but this really is determined by how fast the soil dries, more soil can wait longer, less will need more frequent watering. When the seedlings touch the plastic, remove it. When the seedlings reach 2 inches tall, thin those started in small pots to one seedling per pot, or one seedling for every 2”-3” if a larger pot, by snipping off all but the strongest-looking seedlings.

For more on herbs and related links, follow our fan page on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/pages/New-Rochelle-NY/Greener-by-Design/150120836420?ref=nfReady to Germinate

Pots & Planters for Indoor Herbs

Monday, January 25th, 2010

Growing Herb Indoors: Pot Selection

Picking up where we left of last week, its 54 degrees today as I write this column. However, by the time you read it, it will be closer to 36 and any hopes of gardening this week will be dashed on the jagged rocks of winter despair.  A centuries old practice that sees an increasing revival as people epicurean adventures expand, and pocket books remain watched, it growing herbs indoors.

Growing herbs indoors will add a little green to your home and fresh herbs that you can harvest in a pinch. These can be grown in any sunny window, but most folks prefer the kitchen for ease of access.  Some say the sky is the limit when choosing containers for your herb garden but certainly not if it’s going to  be your window sill. Other limits are pots that are food safe. Some glossy colored pots may not be food safe as they may contain lead based coloring. Of course you can use plastic pots, or terracotta is excellent as it breathes.

We have a couple of 4” x 8”  wide terracotta rectangular planters that fit perfectly on the window sill over the sink and when in use have housed beans and grass sprouted by our industrious little herd. The problem with ours is drainage, they don’t have proper saucers, but the window box format allows more soil for rooting as opposed to individual round pots which though sweet, do dry out faster and can limit plant development. There are some great lines of self watering fiberglass planters on the market that can be ordered in custom lengths available through Brookstone (www.brookstone.com) and Flower Window Boxes (www.flowerwindowboxes.com).

Of course if you forgo the window sill experience and  have a nice large bay window you can put some full sized pots in, your yields will be much higher and there will be a lot more room for variety. We will be posting more information on herb gardening on our facebook fan page. Search Greener by Design and on facebook and become a fan for ongoing updates on this topic. In fact there is an interesting link to a video on hydroponic window gardening made easy up there from last week.

 

Dreams of Spring: Vegetable Garden

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

Veggies and Small Spaces

 

It’s particularly warm this week which generally inspires a little spring dreaming. Of course we will be back to ice and snow soon enough, it is only January after all, but in the mean time, let’s roll with it a little. I have wanted a vegetable garden forever. Ai remember one year in Brooklyn, growing tomatoes on my roof. I neglected them somewhat but at the end of the summer I had some amazing tasting tomatoes and of course more than I could eat all at once. Being a single guy, I made tomato sauce and it was incredible! Of course it would have been better if I had peeled the tomatoes first, live and learn.

So I have been researching small vegetable gardens and came across an article on the gardener’s supply website : www.gardeners.com. The whole article is a clever ad with links to gardener’s supply products throughout, but fortunately it’s a great little piece and deals with issues we in the ‘burbs come across all the time.

First is the vertical issue, many of us have small spaces, due to the size of our property, or just difficulty in finding un-shaded space. One tool for growing veggies more vertical is a product they call the “vegetable ladder” this also doubles as the tomato ladder by the way, a three post triangular upright with cross pieces that support foliage and veggies that is really quite simple and clever.

They also note that sub-urban and even urban gardens can be shared with locals like raccoons, skunks, and bunnies and recommend fencing them in. Really aggressive bunnies need buried fencing, but friends who grow veggies in Pelham tell me we don’t have any that hungry…yet. Another recommendation is some kind of weed barrier to reduce weeding, always an excellent recommendation. These can be U-pinned to the soil and mulched over to help hold the mmat down and reduce evaporation.

Studies show that raised beds are more conducive to vegetable production as they tend to be warmer, better aerated, and provide better drainage as well. So if you’re interested in a small plot, even 8’ x 8’, you will want to pick a relatively sunny spot that you can tend regularly. For more information on vegetable gardening, go to the greener by design fan page on facebook. We will be posting links to videos and articles for the next week or two. Just put “greener by design” in your facebook search box and it should come up.

All Them Holiday Lights!

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

Sustainable Holidays

The Holidays challenge the growing eco-friendly consciousness of our society. It is very hard to drive at night without loving the holiday lights so many homes sport and at the same time, one must wonder how much more carbon is being released into the atmosphere, how much more pollution, and how diminishing resources are effected by our current practices of firing up our communities every holiday season..

This column would never suggest to NOT celebrating. At the same time, in a society that is based primarily on non-replenish able energy sources whose usage degrades the environment it is hard to justify all the disposable sets of lights we use and the amount of time they are left on. Incidentally, the same argument carries over to landscape lighting and in all honestly I have balked at adding landscape lighting to my home for exactly the same reason.

Until we complete the conversion from a petro chemically based society to one  that relies on solar, wind, methane, and whatever clever new ways of harvesting clean energy emerge, we are all compelled to use less and use it wisely and so  compromise is to live by the “less is more” philosophy. If you already have your lights, buy a timer for them. Don’t let them run all night, instead set them to prime viewing hours, well after dark, and off before midnight or earlier. There are a huge variety of timers out there and they will increase the longevity of bulbs,  and save you money on electricity.

Considering limiting your displays on time to very short or no hours on weekdays, when folks are wrapped up in their day to day experience, and longer hours on the weekends, when more holiday visiting and travel occurs. Limit the number of lights you use. This is the antithesis of the “do your house up to beat the Jones’” philosophy. Only have lights in key areas that are the focal point of yourself and neighbors. Use LCD lights. Incidentally the LCD approach is a great landscape lighting compromise as well. LCD strands cost more up front, but use significantly less electricity than traditional strands and last more than ten times as long. Higher end LCD displays change color, and can be programmed with music.

Install your displays a little later, resist decorating after Halloween or even the day after Thanksgiving, and take it down early. This is the come late leave early approach to going to parties you ambivalent about applied to displays.  Finally, there is the no lights approach. Honestly my family is extremely resistant to this one and it is almost an impossible sell. You might pull it off with heavy use of natural (mulchable) greens and maybe  using candles in some way shape or form, but candles will require some real creativity to make it work without setting the neighborhood on fire.

Dog Waste Composting

Monday, April 21st, 2008

The war of the dog poop has been going on for more than a decade in our home. No one wants to walk the dogs so they tend to go in the yard. Though easy on the walker, we all know the problem with dogs in the yard, someone has to clean it up and indeed, whole businesses have sprung up around this need.

We won a strategic victory four years ago when we refused to let them go on the lawn and instead released them in the rear yard. However, this was a short lived victory as  they then proceeded to kill our shrubs and pachysandra (I didn’t think anything could kill pachysandra). After four years of watching the rear “garden” die, we finally had it. Either the kids were going to walk the dogs (and clean up after them) or something  would have to be done.

Anyone with children knows how well the “kid solution” works. Generally this solution has very limited applications….maybe once a day if you are lucky. If we were ever to regain our rear yard, something had to be done. A Google  search of .33 seconds turned up  “Pet Waste Composting”  at http://www.cityfarmer.org/petwaste.html. This site,  sponsored by the Canadian office of Urban Agriculture, had step by step, photo illustrated instructions on how to install a dog septic system. Basically, you dig a hole, take an old garbage can and drill holes in the bottom and sides, and bury it in the hole with the top exposed. Then you just scoop your dog waste, throw it in, add a handful of leaves, and add Septo-Bac, an enzyme-active biological compound formulated to increase the digestion rate of sewage. The dog waste decomposes and escapes through the holes where trees and shrubs feed on the processed waste. The site claims that the composter takes about six years to fill up and when it does, you can bury  the composted remains in ornamental beds. It also stresses to never use composted dog waste in  food crops.

We Googled Septo bac and ordered up a couple of months worth, and with the help of our five year old, we built two composters in our back yard and will fence off this area and mulch it  so that we have a dedicated dog run that will be scooped regularly. The dog run will limit how much yard the dogs get and having it be plant free will make it easier to spot and scoop. There are smaller commercially distributed dog septic systems available. One is the “Doggie Dooley” which you can find at http://store.lionscopetproducts.com/servlet/-strse-170/Doggie-Dooley-2000-Dog/Detail and also at Amazon.com.

 

Saturday, March 29th, 2008

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