Sunday, April 29, 2012

Scraps Garden Update: Re-potted and Pruned

Here is what remains of my early scrap garden, plus lillies for Ostara and unlabeled hanging flowers (white and pink) from Aldi to attract beneficial microbial life, bugs and birds. I have had better success since I have re-potted 6 of probably about 10 or so.

There was no luck with the mushrooms (though I did purchase fertilizer to give it another shot soon) but here is what I did discover:

1. Celery, onion and pepper stumps are successful for flourishing veggies just by planting in dirt and watering regularly. They even fair decently well in lots of rain and some cold weather.

2. Garlic wants to grow. Peel a clove, the sections of herb you are left with will sprout on your windowsill, in a cabinet or on top of a refrigerator. Plant it in dirt and it shoots up pretty quick.

3. Berries are difficult to extract from the source. I am going to try organic seeds but I am going to also try organic produce, thorough rinsing of fruit flesh and more soil. Birds ate what I put in egg carton planters.

4. It is possible to over do it with too many seeds in a small planter. These tend to be popular with birds but not sprouting veggies.

5. Plants like to come in from the cold at night (until it gets warmer is my hypothesis).

6. Pepper stumps produce a lot of sprouts very slowly and depending on how deep you plant it, a lot of the initial growth takes place below soil.

7. You can buy decent gardening supplied for cheap at the dollar store, but a bag of dollar potting soil will hardly fill a medium sized pot so buy a lot or try bulk at, say, Big Lots or even better: a local specialty store.

The aquaponic system continues to await materials and still a bit of research, but it is definitely on my list of things to do. I will update here and there as I add to the garden, but for now it is an ultimately slow process.

For frequent tips on your urban garden check out over 100 pins on my favorite pin board on Pinterest: Sustainability; Home & Garden. My newest project is awaiting debut still as my deterrents are finally filing away! Congratulate me on my involvement with the American Secular Census/Mainstream. I will be covering the presidential candidates with unbiased information to help you make your decision on voting day!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Happy Spring, To New Beginnings

There are a good many vegetables and fruits that you can grow from table scraps according to home gardeners of the inter-web. Anything, particularly organically grown fruits and vegetables, where you can acquire seeds, you can sprout seedlings with heat, sun and moisture.

In elementary school, we sprouted seeds from beans via a wet paper towel in a zipper bag left on a window sil. I wanted to try this with bell peppers, and so I have (that is what is in the bag).

When I moved into my apartment there was an abandoned window planter in the back yard. The problem is, that the back yard doesn't get much sun (could be a good place for fungus growth, perhaps?). We were going to toss it or recycle it for that reason, but today I decided to take some potting soil, old cans and containers I had been saving and some table scraps to start my own garden experiment.

I don't like to take a whole lot on faith being a lover of science, and so I took some info from UrbanFig & Healthy Houseplants and I planted a garlic clove that had begun sprouting, a celery stump, some onion, a mushroom (this is an experiment that I don't have much hope for, but I have to know) and an opened avocado suspended above a jar of water.

I will be updating throughout the progress of my little scrap garden. This is a project separate from the soon-to-come aquaponic garden that will be mobile in the back and front yards. My next post, hopefully, will be a review of the Aquaponics 4 You system, closely followed, we're hoping, by a video of our aquaponic project!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Thoughts on International Women's Day

What is it about the world that makes us want to "misbehave" to spite it? We open our mouths in anger and boldly proclaim: The Truth; as per visual and tactile evidence; and the system shames us in response. As a part of society, when we change, we change society. Women changed society by first believing that they were above the mistreatment they endured by men as well as other women. Society now accepts women as people, in theory, because of the first women who dared speak against her mistreatment and the first men who agreed. Daring to speak and daring to listen within reason is the best contribution we can give to society.
That which I have mentioned is why I learn, why I teach and why I struggle and why I encourage, not just other women and girls, but every person in the world who loves and feels strongly about something. Speak up, but make sure you listen in return. It is an intricate, complicated and beautiful world that you are missing when you close your mouth, your ears, your eyes and/or your mind.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Vacant Lot Ecosystems & Cleveland's Learning Gardens

Within the confines of cemented alley ways, sidewalks, driveways, fence posts and chicken wire, live the abandoned remains of homes and businesses of a time when the United States’ economy thrived. The longer the biological mass within is left unkempt, the more intricate and populated they become (Tortorello, 2011). According to an article in the August 3rd, 2011 edition of New York Time’s Home & Garden section, vacant lots are a collective ecosystem developing in major cities, namely along the Great Lakes.
The author, Tortorello, lists a few shocking statistics regarding government owned and maintained property that currently hold no merit for the communities that they inhabit. 5.8% of New York City is vacant (Tortorello, 2011). There are over forty thousand vacancies in Philadelphia and over twenty thousand in Cleveland Ohio (Tortorello, 2011). The abandonment listed is stifling, but what is more stifling is the cost of routine maintenance (Tortorello, 2011). A relaxed regimen, such as the 8-inch grass cutting in Cleveland, costs our government millions of dollars (Tortorello, 2011).
But the name of this article is “Finding the Potential in Vacant Lots,” and for good reason, because despite the ruins of our past economic dominance, we are left with many options to redistribute funds, housing and the exploration of modern science (Tortorello, 2011).

The National Scientific Fund rewarded researchers over a quarter of a million dollars for exploration of “Urban Long-Term Reseach Area,” or ULTRA, the coined ecosystems developing in the collection of vacant lots in Cleveland (Tortorello, 2011). The research team has taken the name “ULTRA Ex.,” to honor the ecosystem as well as the “exploratory (‘Ex.’)” fund (Tortorello, 2011).

The researchers interviewed outline an interesting process spawning from urban decline that “ends” with reforestation of the abandoned land. Undisturbed land is more likely to yield biodiversity (Tortorello, 2011). Rodents and insects will be drawn by any remaining scraps, gardens will over-grown with weeds interspersed, birds and other wild life will fertilize and bring seeds from indigenous plants, attracting more wild life, springing more biodiversity (Tortorello, 2011). One researcher made mention that quickly-growing tree species will begin to sprout promptly in the life of a vacant lot (Tortorello, 2011).

While the research is, of course, beneficial, is it really of value to the economy of Cleveland?

Well, the specific areas that the ULTRA Ex. Team is exploring, involve not just bird and insect species or plant life, but also the multiple-benefit practice of urban farming (Tortorello, 2011). Cleveland OH is home to 6 learning farms via their Green Corps program at the Cleveland Botanical Gardens (Tortorello, 2011). The Green Corps program cultivates 3 acres of previously vacant land, employing at least 60 teens throughout the planting, growing and harvest of the farms, and yield near 15,000 pounds of produce for donation and sales (Tortorello, 2011).

^This video takes you inside the learning farms and introduces you to some of the teens. You’ll notice that, in addition to farming, the Green Corps also bottles and sells some of their own products made from produce raised in the farms.

Here is a video from 2009 that goes a bit more into detail about the start of the garden and how it came to be:

The article covers the most recent efforts of the Ultra Ex. Team, an urban garden in the Buckeye neighborhood that grows kiwi against vegetative fencing, maintains a strawberry patch, raised beds and an herb spiral, and is hosted by the CBG.
Cleveland Botanical Gardens are not the only ecologically focused groups to make light of urban decline. Philadelphia Green maintains over five thousand vacancies in Philadelphia and is responsible for debris removal and all that goes into lawn maintenance for their vacant properties (Tortorello, 2011). Philadelphia Green is a non-profit organization that has been around more than 40 years and began their work organizing thousands of community gardens in the 1970’s. The work they do costs the government just $800,000 per year, which is less than a quarter of the cost of Cleveland’s passive maintenance regimen (Tortorello, 2011).

My goal, possibly this year, is to get funding to start an urban learning farm in my current location in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. All research leading up to taking the plunge will take place here. So please follow and spread the word to help inspire others.


(2008). Brief applause: Cleveland botanical garden's green corps. (2008). [Web Video]. Retrieved from

Tortorello, M. (2011, August 03). Finding the potential in vacant lots. Retrieved from (Tortorello, 2011)

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Skinny on Fertilizers (And why to go Organic)

Because providing extra nutrients to crops to furnish healthy growth will always be a necessity, fertilizers are considered an intelligent investment in agricultural industries all over the world (Ashman & Puri, 2009). With the dangers of pollution making headlines in the past decade, due to leaching, run off and global warming, bodies governing agriculture as well as the environment in developed countries have concocted guidelines and regulations for type, timing and amount of fertilizers applied during a growing season (Sample, 2004). Commercial farming is fingered in the battle to balance ecological effects with maximum yield, and in the U.S. the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) provides literature on “BMPs” or best management practices that local farmers claim are the practices of any learned, seasoned farmer (Griffith). The U.S Department of Agriculture provides guidelines for organic farming and test produce against them to label said produce “USDA Organic (U.S.EPA, 2011).” The EPA suggests that farms self-compost when viable, make use of agricultural wastes such as biosolids, manures, and yard trimmings when applicable, and apply fertilizers as a kind of last-resort supplement (U.S EPA, 2011). However, applying any materials, organic or other, in excess can cause severe damage to surrounding waters, plant life and the ozone layer of our atmosphere that blocks harmful ultra violet rays (Ashman & Puri, 2009).

Most literature suggests that timing is essential in effectiveness as well as contamination prevention. Plant growth at the start of a growing season is vulnerable to nutrient deficiency due to the rapid growth and development of roots, therefore an extra supply of nutrients is almost always beneficial (Ashman & Puri, 2009). The application of organic as well as commercial fertilizers for the rest of the growing season must depend on frequent testing of soil and plant tissue, most beneficially, before crops begin to show any sign of deficiency (Griffith).

Analyses should also be conducted annually for residues, rotation and crops grown (Griffith). Close attention need be paid to the temperature and rainfall before application of both organic and commercial fertilizer (Griffith). In addition to supplementation, nitrification and urease inhibitors can be applied in conjunction with fertilizers to preserve necessary compounds (such as those created by ammonia synthesis) and stretch their use, limiting application (Griffith).

The key components to nutrient supplement practices consist of nitrogen (nitrate), phosphorus (phosphate) and potassium, and are the basis of the commercial “NPK rating” which is based on the levels of each within a fertilizer (Office of Solid Waste, 2007). The U.S EPA’s Office of Solid Waste provides a list of organic components suggested for compost and fertilizer and their estimated NPK ratings for efficient self-fertilizing.

In the U.S, indoor cattle facilities (Animal Feeding Operations [AFOs] and Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations [CAFOs]) are estimated to produce 335 million tons of dry matter annually (Office of Solid Waste, 2007). Biosolids, which consist of the “end product” of raw sewage treatment that is then further chemically and thermally treated for use, were estimated at 8.2 million tons in 2010 with an impressive estimation of 70% of which that was applied to crops in the U.S (Office of Solid Waste, 2007). In 2004, the U.S produced a whopping 5 billion tons of poultry feather waste (Office of Solid Waste, 2007). Feather waste is the most common agricultural waste, rich in slow-releasing nitrogen, and an estimated NPK range of 13-0-0 to 15-0-0 (Office of Solid Waste, 2007). Other suggested materials for organic and commercial fertilizers and composting include alfalfa meal (2.5-1-1 to 2.5-0.5-2), blood meal (12.5-1.5-0.0 to 12.5-1.5-1), cottonseed meal (6-2-1 to 7-2.5-1.5), fish meal (10-5-0 to 10-3.7-0), meat and bone meal (2-28-0), poultry litter (4-2-3), soybean meal (7.5-0.7-2.4 to 6.5-1.5-2.4), and wood ash (0-1-3 to 0-1.5-5) (Office of Solid Waste, 2007).

A farm which makes smart use of agricultural wastes, being yard wastes (trimmings), food wastes (composting), municipal wastes and construction and demolition debris, as well as animal manures may never need a commercial fertilizer if practices are managed properly (U.S. EPA, 2011).

For the home farmer and gardener who wants to start out with nutrient rich soil or continuously add nutrient rich soil throughout the growing season, try a compost heap. They are great for the environment, economically viable, easy to maintain and can be done indoors or outdoors.

Outdoors, check it out:

Indoors, check it out:

Cold Weather farmers, check it out (thermophilic):

Need to know more about worms? Check it out:


Ashman, M. R., & Puri, G. (2009). Essential soil science- a clear and concise introduction. (pp. 136-150). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell.
Griffith, B. (n.d.). Efficient fertilizer use manual. Mosaic.
Organic fertilizer recipe (2009, January 12). Youtube. (2009). [0]. Retrieved from
U.S Environmental Protection Agency, (2011). Compost and fertilizer made from recovered organic materials. Retrieved from website:
U.S Environmental Protection Agency, Offices of Solid Waste. (2007). Comprehensive procurement guidelines appendices

Economic & Ecologic Benefit

Both in industry and in community sustainable farming is an economic and ecological benefit. While some financial preparation is necessary, money is quickly saved by implementing methods of recycling wastes, conserving resources and preventing loss of energy, water and nutrients for the soil and, therefore the crops (“Making the transition”).

Sustainable agriculture views farming as an ecosystem rather than a factory (Sullivan, 2003). In commercial agriculture, fossil fuels are conserved by implementing no-till methods of planting, therefore using multipurpose machinery, preserving soil aggregates and promoting biodiversity both in and above the soil (“Making the transition,”). In urban cases, fossil fuels are preserved by literally putting the market in your back yard, rendering traveling by vehicle unnecessary.

Erosion is prevented in commercial agriculture with such methods as layering mulch above topsoil; crop rotation; using perennial cover crops during the “off” season; utilizing animal manure as fertilizer and using biological methods of pest control (“Making the transition,”). The untilled land allows for undisturbed insect and microbial life and diverse porosity within the soil for maximum water retention during drought and flood prevention during periods of heavy rain (Ashman & Puri, 2009).

The environmentally conscious methods of sustainable agriculture naturally promote biological diversity throughout the food chain by including flowers, which attract beneficial insects; and trees and shrubbery which add to the necessary gas exchange for healthy crops (Sullivan, 2003).

The Urban Farming Guys have a revolutionary design for urban agriculture. Tame chickens and goats are cared for in their inner cities to supply milk and eggs (The Urban Farming Guys, 2011). Tilapia is bred and fed duck weed grown in baby pools in back yards (The Urban Farming Guys, 2011). Vegetables are grown and fertilized in the same tank that the tilapia are bred, and perhaps most importantly, food scraps are blended and recycled as worm food for nutrient rich soil (The Urban Farming Guys, 2011). There is even a method for extracting methane gas from tilapia waste to heat the greenhouses and convert electricity in generators (The Urban Farming Guys, 2011).

Check it out:


Ashman, M. R., & Puri, G. (2009). Essential soil science- a clear and concise introduction. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Black.
Sullivan , P. (2003). Applying principals of sustainable farming.National Center for Appropriate Technology.
The Urban Farming Guys. (Photographer). (2011). The urban experiment. [Web Video]. Retrieved from
U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Resource Conservation Services. (2000). Making the transition to sustainable agriculture. Watershed Science Institute.
(Image via google images and not the artistic property of Green Goddess)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

You knew it was coming.

So here it is. My new blog. This will be my little collection of pictures, videos, opinions and experiences as a mom, a student, and FINALLY as a homesteader, organic farming and global nutrition and simplicity advocate.

Keep up with me or get to know me as I adventure into the world of sustainability and continue to forge my purpose in the world by getting an education and providing a good one for my children and create various forms of art: paint, culinary, fashion, style, poetry, stories, videos, pictures and artistic edits.

Welcome to my world. (=