For a while there, I was fearful for the daffodils sprouting up around the city—sure, it’s been a mild winter, but a last-minute snowstorm could crush their little blooms! But it’s going to be a downright balmy 70 degrees tomorrow…they’re probably home free.
Even though we’re apparently skipping spring and jumping right into summer, I can’t help but crush on this sweet, citrusy tulip arrangement (via Angela Hardison). The paper flowers look so lovely suspended above the lush blooms. Inspired to recreate this look at home? Snag some lanterns from pearlriver.
I think there’s something really rejuvenating about sinking my hands into soil, but dirt’s definitely not a prerequisite for happy plants. Last weekend, I checked out a presentation by Windowfarms, a company that designs hydroponic growing systems designed to help landless urban farmers harvest produce.
Here’s how it works: aspiring growers build (or buy) a contraption rigged up with recycled plastic bottles, plastic tubing, and an air pump. Water travels throughout the tubes and deposits liquid nutrient solutions to the plants, which are nestled in mesh containers surrounded by clay pellets. A pre-fab setup will run you back about $100.
Think that hydroponics is only synonymous with pot? It’s actually at the forefront of the “farm-to-fork” movement, which champions locavore eating habits. Just pluck a basil leaf from your window and wrap it in some fresh mozz. The Times published a piece about trendy soil-less methods last summer.
Windowfarms might be a great option for cramped urban dwellers, but are they better than planting in a container or a bed? Yields for small crops like herbs are pretty comparable to other growing methods, but—at best—you can coax some dinky squash and tomatoes: anything else is too heavy for the frame.
Have you tried hydroponic growing techniques? What did you think? Any converts?
A Mite-y Pain
I know that parents aren’t supposed to play favorites, but I do. My golden child? My gorgeously-varigated croton, veined with rich orange and red hues. After 11 months of good behavior, it’s been throwing some tantrums lately.
In my old apartment, it perched proudly on the windowsill in my living room, where it basked in streams of bright light all afternoon. My new apartment is draftier and much less humid, and the plant seems slightly stunned by the change. The only window with light bright enough to coax out the dramatic stippled leaf pattern is also so freezing—the plant, which flourishes in balmy tropical conditions, looks dusty, sparse, and spindly. It’s pretty sickly—over the last few days, 5 leaves have dropped off in my hands. These fluttering leaves are reminders that change is hard, and the plant is having some separation anxiety.
This afternoon, as I bent down to water the plant, I noticed a tiny maroon critter scuttling across its leaves. The red spider mite is definitely not a welcome addition to our new place. Here’s how I’m kicking it to the curb:
Tips for Slaughtering Spider Mites:
- Isolate the plant from its comrades (move it 3-5 feet from other plants to minimize the chance that the mites will travel)
- Rinse the leaves with soapy water (use dish detergent, and make sure to squash any webs or colonies of eggs; check the undersides of leaves)
- Blast the plant with cold water
- Repeat for about 12 days, or until there are no more signs of the invaders.
Wanna see something amazing? Put some bulbs in water. They’ll sprout slowly, developing roots and little hints of buds, and then—all of a sudden—eye-blink quickly. One day, seemingly overnight, you’ll have full-blown blooms…all without soil. And if you have a kiddo (or just a sense of curiosity), it’s a great opportunity to demonstrate how plants grow: put the bulbs in a clear glass vase, and you’ll be able to see every stage of the process. Get some expert tips for forcing blooms here.
Home sweet (new) home. On New Year’s Eve, I moved 40 blocks south to Sunset Park, a half-block away from the highest hill in Brooklyn (and a five-minute walk from Costco, which, if you’re a suburbian transplant like I am, is a pretty exciting, familiar perk). But that’s not the best part.
I love to plot. Not in any kind of sinister way (I hope), but in a methodical, checklist-style manner. It’s creative: you have to think logistically about macro- and micro-level details. But it’s also romantic: you can let your imagination have a field day before your pragmatic alter ego brings you back down to earth. That’s why, as soon as I moved out of my cozy second floor apartment into a sprawling garden-level abode, the first thing I did—long before putting away my suitcases of clothes or, you know, buying forks and cleaning supplies—was start to fantasize about my future garden. Come spring, I’m going to dig in. For now, I’ve got months to plan. How many flower pots do I need for the front patio? Where do I go in the city to find mulch? I can’t wait to sink my fingers into the ground and bring some green to life.
Growing things is an optimistic gesture. You don’t plant a seed unless you think you’ll be able to see it sprout and grow. I lined the windowsills, bookshelves, and mantle with carefully-tended pots. I photographed the plants’ progress through the seasons like a proud parent making a family album. But then I stopped being able to care for myself, let alone the living things I’d grown.
A year ago, when I graduated college, moved across the country, and slaughtered my first ivy, I felt like I had failed at adulthood. To me, being a grown-up meant knowing how to fix things: a leaky faucet, a loose fixture, a browning leaf or wilting flower. Butchering the plant despite my best efforts to keep it alive brought back to the surface deep-rooted anxieties I’d tried to bury beneath the musky, peaty soil: I didn’t know how to be an adult. If this plant couldn’t survive in this new, unfamiliar place, how could I? If I couldn’t nurture it, how could I sustain myself?
Slowly, I learned. It wasn’t elegant. I scorched pots trying to make risotto, and plucked cactus spikes from swollen fingers following a poorly-conceived potting session. I’ve cobbled together a (very) modest income through a hodgepodge schedule of part-time jobs. I’ve learned to make a mean stir-fry out of whatever’s in the fridge. But I still feel like I’m winging it. Maybe, instead of learning how to flourish, I’ve just learned how to not totally keel over.
This fear got worse when I got sick. One day, I fainted. A few days later, I threw up. The next thing I knew, I had infections in both of my kidneys, a fever of 104, a heart rate of 200bpm, a catheter, and countless IVs. I couldn’t get myself better. I took my prescriptions, I rested, I hydrated, I slept, and got some exercise. It didn’t matter. A few weeks after my first hospitalization, I was back again, and worse than ever.
I started having dreams about all of my healthy, green plants shriveling around me. All of the leaves I’d cultivated shrinking sadly off the stalks and collecting on the floor, ever-increasing evidence of my black thumb and inability to take care—of myself, or of anything else.
But sowing seeds is an inherently forwarding-looking activity, and I haven’t gotten less excited about what’s on the horizon. I’m feeling better. I’m still pretty tired and weak. 100 applications later, I still don’t have a full-time job. But I’m smart, resourceful, and, suddenly, pretty damn good at container gardening. Sometimes I still feel like a kid playing dress-up in an adult’s clothing, but I’m starting to think that’s natural—just as natural as my plants continuing to grow, and bend towards the light.
Yes We Can
Whether you’re trying to preserve the bounty of your backyard garden or farm share or just starting to squirrel away wintertime snacks, fall is a great time to stuff food in jars.
There are many ways to preserve food, including curing, salting, or smoking meats and cheeses, dehydrating fruits, and pickling veggies. Modern canning was developed in 1795, when Napoleon sponsored a competition to devise a way to prevent military supplies from spoiling. When done correctly, the canning process destroys fungi and prevents mold growth. The little dude’s plan to out-eat the enemy didn’t lead to victory for his troops, but it does enable us to eat pickles today. Vive la France!
Canning might conjure images of perfectly-coiffed 1950s housewives, and there definitely is something quaint and delightfully nostalgic about the practice of “putting up” fresh food. But even if you’re not into prancing around in an apron, there are lots of reasons to can. When you preserve your food yourself, you know exactly what’s in it and where it’s coming from. This means that there are no surprise preservatives or veggies that have spent most of their life trucking across the country. Jars of veggies also make great (and cheap!) homemade gifts. Just dress them up in their holiday finest with some hand-stamped labels and some colorful yarn or twine.
Eugenia Bone eloquently articulates another reason to can in her lovely book Well-Preserved: “The craft of home canning slows down my relationship with food. Preserving is not about immediate satisfaction…It’s about anticipation. And in that sense it’s an act of optimism. Yes, the world will be here in two weeks when my marinated artichokes have finished seasoning. And no, life is not slipping away unacknowledged or un-revered.” There’s a kind of meditation in working with your hands, experimenting within a recipe, and yielding something sustaining.
Ready to give it a try? I was psyched to attend a gratis Greenbridge workshop at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, where I learned how to pickle green beans and tomatoes. Similar workshops are held at community gardens throughout the city. Want to go it alone? Check out this yummy dilly bean recipe. Follow the instructions carefully, and be sure to maintain the rolling boil—this ensures that the water has heated up enough to kill pesky bacteria that can cause dangerous (and unappetizing) botulism. These delicious pickled green beans can sit on your shelf for months to soak up the flavors of the garlic and dill—just hide them from impatient snackers.
This gorgeous photo reminds me of one of Irving Penn's iconic, saturated still-lifes against a stark background. Beautiful and surprising.
These blooms weren’t flattened by last weekend’s torrential downpour. Instead, they’re fuller and brighter than ever.
These lily pads floating in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden conjure memories of Monet’s dreamy water lily paintings.