Archive | May, 2012

Hey lady

Ladybugs and ladybug larvae feed on aphids. The larvae look nothing like the glossy winged adults. I’ve always thought they have a prehistoric look with their spiky bodies. I found this little guy (or girl?) crawling around on my kumquat tree, which as far as I can tell is quite free of aphids. I moved him over to my infested tarragon plant where he immediately began feasting. You can see the carnage pretty well in full screen mode. After a couple weeks of eating he will attach his backside to a leaf and begin the transformation into an adult ladybug.

This biological pest control has worked well for me in the past. Luckily, there is a bush near my office that is usually filled with ladybug larvae at this time of year and I’ve transferred many in a jar to my plants that have fallen under aphid attack. Ladybugs are often for sale at garden centers and even through mail order sites, but I’ve read many accounts from people who’ve attempted to introduce the adults to their gardens and then watched them all fly away. When it comes to this kind of interference with nature for the sake of growing my own food, I feel better about transferring them locally (I collect them within a couple miles of my home) than I do about the idea of bringing in a bunch of bugs from far away—except for the red wigglers of course which are contained and cannot survive without a supplied food source.

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Aphid season

As the warm, humid weather rolls in and the plants and trees fill out, bugs are hatching in masses. They descend on our gardens and our homes looking for food and water. In large numbers the “intruders” can threaten the structural stability of buildings, contaminate food supplies, and pose health risks. Reports in the national news suggest that the mild winter we had will likely lead to higher than average insect populations this summer, and extra precautions may be required to fortify our homes and protect our bodies— particularly from mosquitos and ticks, which are known to carry disease. Those of us who grow food fight these tiny enemies on yet another frontier. These next several posts will be about my attempts at chemical-free, trash-free pest control.

Above is a calendula plant from my garden. If you look closely you can see that the bud and the new leaves are covered with aphids. If I leave the parasites untouched, they will most likely devour the plant, so I am forced to take action. I want to choose a method of extermination or deterrence that is natural and effective.

My golden fennel is also covered in aphid larvae. I did some research and I found a ton of useful information. One fact that really caught my attention is that ants “farm” aphids for the honeydew they produce. The ants will actually keep the aphids in their nests during the winter and then bring them out to host plants in the spring. The ants will carry the aphids around from plant to plant to continue feeding. I have always noticed little sugar ants near and around aphids, but I never knew what they were up to! I have seen a ton of ants around the property I live on—in fact I’m also working finding ways of keeping them out of the apartment (more on this soon). So it turns out, one line of defense against the aphids is to figure out how to keep ants away.

Other natural aphid repellent tricks include:

Squashing a few aphids around the infested plants to release a chemical signal that makes the other aphids drop from the plants and leave.

Sprinkling a barrier of charcoal powder, calcium dust, or bonemeal around the base of the plant.

A mild soap spray can be used to strip them of their protective wax coating, dehydrating them. Mix 1 tablespoon of Castile soap to 1 gallon of warm water. Adding a teaspoon of neem oil to that mix can make it more potent. To the aphids, the neem oil has a bitter taste, so they will not eat the leaves treated with it. And the oil will prevent the larvae from growing into adults. I’ve used this mixture in the past on my tomato plants and have found it to be effective, but I’m not too keen on using the neem oil directly on the edible parts of plants because it’s difficult to wash off. For this reason I avoid using it on herbs.

A forceful spray of water is often enough to knock the aphids off the plant and may discourage the ants as well, but this is only a temporary fix.

Burying shredded banana peels at the base of infested plant seems to be method that many gardeners swear by. I try to limit my consumption of bananas because of the great distance they have to travel to get to my local grocery store, though I haven’t cut them out of my diet completely yet. They are a great source of potassium, which I know I need as a runner. I decided to try burying a shredded peel around my calendula to see if it’s at all effective in discouraging aphids from feeding on the plant’s life-giving sap. The peels give the plants a shot of potassium too. However, I do wonder if this trick is not recommended if you have an ant problem!




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Bulk Medjool dates at long last! This precious package-free treat came from the co-op in Wakefield. They’re kept in a jar in one of their refrigerators.

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From The Local Catch.

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Pea greens

From the City Farm stand at the farmer’s market.

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Babes in terracotta

Sweet, lime, and dark opal basil catching the last bit of sunlight in the evening. They’re starting to come along.

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Fingerling potatoes

From Wishing Stone Farm. These are so delicious and they have an incredible texture. I’ve eaten them stir fried, stewed, and baked this week and I will definitely be looking for them again at tomorrow’s market.

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Spent another day shooting inside the Materials Recycling Facility. Videos of materials in motion still to come…

Meanwhile check out these aluminum can bales, bundled together with wire, ready to be shipped.

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From Wishing Stone Farm in Little Compton, RI.

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Materials Recycling Facility shoot

Today I returned to the Materials Recycling Facility at Rhode Island Resource Recovery to shoot video of materials being sorted through the new single stream system. The facility is currently running tests with materials collected from a few select towns. All of Rhode Island can expect to receive information on transitioning to the new system by mid June. This pile of materials had just been unloaded from a truck. As you can see, the recyclables are all mixed together. After traveling across belts, past sorting employees, through tumblers, sifters, and scanners, the materials are baled to be sent off to separate processing facilities.

Guided by Recycling Program Manager Krystal Noiseux and Operations Supervisor Brian Dubis, I carried a camera and tripod to the many sorting stations throughout the facility. We wore hard hats, reflective vests, safety glasses, and headsets (the sounds of the machinery and the materials in motion were incredibly loud). For safety reasons, visitors will not be allowed inside the sorting facility, so monitors inside the observation rooms will display the videos we collect of the stations and actions that are not visible from the viewing windows. I feel very lucky to be able to see firsthand all of the planning, labor, technology, and energy that goes into sorting Rhode Island’s recyclable materials. What happens inside the MRF is just one of so many steps involved in recycling our waste.

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Sea robin

From The Local Catch.

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City Farm

Today I visited the Southside Community Land Trust City Farm (at the corner of West Clifford and Dudley Street) for their anual plant sale. I had never been there before and I was absolutely amazed to see how much is growing on the city block plot. The sale was from 10:00am to 2:00pm today and for those of you who live near by but weren’t able to drop in, you’ll have another chance tomorrow (Sunday) when the sale happens again at the same time.

The weather couldn’t have been more perfect and the farm was buzzing with people of all ages. Volunteers were always nearby to answer questions about the plants for sale and how to care for them.  Annuals, perennials, medicinal and culinary herbs, fruits and vegetables were spread out all over the grounds.

Something is growing out of every nook and cranny of the farm. These starter greenhouse boxes are pretty great.

Live music played while shoppers picked and mingled.

The farm welcomes returned pots and they will happily reuse them. Everything was well labeled with popsicle stick tags and color-coded plastic tags that indicate the price of each plant. When customers check out, the plastic tags are collected in separate bins to be reused again and again. When I payed for my plants I ended up becoming a member to support the cause and enjoy growers benefits like free compost! This event is very special. It’s exciting to see so many people supporting urban agriculture in this town. Check out a complete list of the SCLT 2012 events here.

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Arugula flowers

Delicious and beautiful arugula flowers from New Urban Farmers. I never knew that so many greens could be eaten in their flowering stage. I always assumed that once plants like arugula and kale shot out blooms, they were past their peak. These are great in a salad or as a garnish. Spicy, peppery, and delicious!

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Rubber bands

Finding completely naked produce isn’t easy. Plastic bags, mesh sacks, cellophane, twist ties, tags, stickers, baskets, boxes, and even Styrofoam trays fill the display stands and shelves of nearly every grocery store in the country. Even at my local farmer’s markets, some venders use plastic bags to parcel out salad mix and berry boxes to hold berries and cherry tomatoes.

I’ve learned to avoid all of these offenders and still eat a huge variety of fruits and vegetables, but I decided a while ago to make an exception for the rubber bands that tie together bunches of herbs, dark leafy greens, beets, radishes, and stalky vegetables. A rubber band is a useful thing, but I’ve found that I seldom have a reason to use them and I’m having trouble finding anyone else who does. The grocery store won’t take them back, and I have stocked my office supply closet at work with at least a year’s supply for the entire staff. I’ve also been trying to pass them off to other artists in the building where my studio is located, but no one seems to be chomping at the bit for rubber bands.

I plan to ask venders at the farmer’s market this Saturday (the first outdoor market of the season!) if anyone can reuse them. The best case scenario would be to return them to the source. I’ll post an update when I find a solution.

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Snack stack

These “date bars” recently appeared in a local bulk bin and I’m really excited about them because they taste a lot like Lara Bars, a packaged food I used to enjoy. Just like a Lara Bar, this snack has is made from very simple, healthy ingredients. Dates are the base ingredient—a fruit I love but have not been able to find in bulk. Buying these is far more economical than buying individual plastic wrapped bars.

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Baby beets

I’ve been enjoying these Schartner baby beets raw and thinly sliced in salad.

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Started some jalapeño peppers in a pot in the garden below my kitchen. My landlady left a few containers for me to grow things in. I noticed that she doesn’t use organic potting soil so I tried to top my designated pots off with as much organic soil and compost as possible.

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Beautiful rhubarb from the Schartner Farms! I love relying so heavily on the farmer’s market for groceries because it means buying local, seasonal foods. My ingredients shift based on what’s available at the moment and I’ve been inspired to try a wider range of food than I used to when I did most of my shopping at the grocery store. My meals are made with fresher, more flavorful foods because they aren’t being trucked in from far off places.

Aside from strawberry rhubarb pie, I am not very familiar with this stalky vegetable. I think I’ve always been intimidated by the idea of having to cut the tart taste with fat and/or sugar. But I did some browsing through recipes and tips online and I am looking forward to experimenting with this batch. I saw some rhubarb and spinach salads on several sites that look pretty good. I will post what I come up with.

Look at these perfect baby radishes from New Urban Farmers in Pawtucket. Whether you live near by or not, I strongly recommend checking out their site. The farmers are doing amazing things in their Garden of Life. They even have three geodesic dome greenhouses, and the largest is equipped with two aquaponic systems.

This salad mix is also from New Urban Farmers. Are you seeing the color theme of this week’s market bounty? The purple leaves are amaranth! I never knew that little grain produced such a beautiful and delicious leaf. I think it tastes a little bit like chard. I read that you can even sautée the leaves when they mature. I wonder if I could get the amaranth I buy in bulk to germinate? I’d love to grow some this summer.

Asparagus from Schartner Farms.

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Worm bin

An update on the worm bin.

A little over three weeks ago I took a trip to Charlestown, RI to visit the Worm Ladies. I came home with a half pound of worms to start my own bin. They are currently living in a found restaurant tupperware container in the tenant garden. There are instructions on the Worm Ladies’ website on how to get started.

So far, they seem to be doing well. I’ve been monitoring the moisture balance and the food scraps every couple of days, but overall they are pretty low maintenance pets. I’ve noticed a lot of babies wriggling around. Eventually I will move them into a bigger container and perhaps share some worms with friends interested in vermiculture or sell some back to the Worm Ladies.

I cant wait to harvest the castings to fertilize my plants.

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This weekend my brother visited from New York. We took advantage of the beautiful weather on Sunday and headed over to Four Town Farm in Seekonk, Massachusetts. I’ve always heard great things about it, but had never been before yesterday. They have a wide selection of herbs and vegetables right now. My landlady has agreed to let me plant a small section in the tenant garden below my kitchen. I’m really excited to have a piece of ground to grow things in because since I’ve been renting in Providence, I’ve only been able to have a container garden. For the past week I have been daydreaming about what to grow in my little bed.

While walking around Four Town, I was thinking about how buying plants this season is going to be tricky because of all the plastic that is often involved. I asked a woman who worked there if it was possible to return the containers for reuse. She told me that unfortunately they could not accept them back because they would need to be sterilized before planting anything else in them. I’ve been told the same thing by employees at other greenhouses before, but a few venders at the farmers market have told me they welcome returned containers.

The plastic packs and pots that I most often see young plants in are either number 5 or number 6 plastic. As far as I know, the plastic identification/care tags are not recyclable. I could bring the containers to the Whole Foods recycling bins, but I’d rather find a way around the plastic completely. I did see a lot of plants in coir pots at Four Town, which are compostable. I’ve also seen plants sold in recycled paper pots.

Of course one way around the containers would be to grow things from seed. When I moved last summer, my container garden was disassembled and much of it abandoned and I didn’t save the seeds from my tomatoes and herbs the way I have in the past, so I would have to purchase them. Though I am seeing more and more seeds packaged in thick plastic pouches, seeds in paper envelopes are still widely available. It’s still early enough in the season that I could start some things.

Meanwhile I’m keeping my eyes peeled for compostable/biodegradable containers. I love every aspect of growing my own food and hope to take full advantage of the season.

After wandering through the greenhouses, we walked around the fields a bit, which are filled with young peas!

…and rhubarb!

We also passed a field of strawberries. The Four Town Farm website indicates that the Pick Your Own (PYO) season for strawberries starts around June 20th. I will certainly be there!

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