Bitten by the gardening bug

Back in October, Alex and I moved into a new apartment. (We had spent only a year in our previous place. The apartment wasn’t bad but the landlord was greedy.) When apartment hunting, I specifically looked for one with outdoor space because I was hankering for some gardenin’. At a certain point, though, I’d given up on finding my dream place and started responding to ads without photos. (The shock! The horror!) As luck would have it, one of the apartments we went to see actually had a terrace! The apartment was also very attractive but the terrace was the clincher.

Now, eight months after moving in, I have what’s shaping up to be a dream terrace:

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I have two window boxes that are hanging over the railing that contain mint, parsley, and basil. (I had cilantro but it started bolting in the 70°F weather. Now I’m trying to see what happens when you plant store-bought scallions that have been kept in water…) I have several pots that contain tarragon, oregano, lemon thyme, and sage. I also have three elevated planters that house multiple okra plants and a dozen green bean plants.

I’m particularly fond of my adorable little bistro set on the terrace:

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The small begonia plant I picked up at Trader Joe’s this morning is so precious!

Did you spot the tumbling composter in the panoramic shot? It’s the black drum on steel legs. (Next to it is a non-operational vermicomposter–or “the green thing.” I may put it up on craigslist since I’ve never used it and I no longer plan on using it.) Instead of schlepping my vegan scraps to the farmer’s market, I plan on making and using my own compost. The bin is already full of scraps, getting nice and warm from all the nutrients breaking down. Alex says it’s also forming an earthy aroma. (“It stinks like garbage,” he says, “but not in a bad way.”)

Out front, I have another elevated planter that houses a handful of strawberry plants. (It’s so exciting seeing the berries form! Now to try to keep the squirrels and birds away from them…) There’s also room to plant more things but that may be a project for next year. I’m thinking a blueberry bush and a fig tree in a super sunny spot on the side of the house.

For a girl who thought she had a black thumb, all of this gardening is very exciting! I started slow (planting just the two varieties of veggies) not only because I’m a first-time gardener but also because Alex and I just signed up for the local CSA. I was afraid of being inundated with kale, tomatoes, and zucchini all harvesting season long. I’m eager to see how everything turns out but, in the meantime, I’m enjoying a cold beer on my terrace, watching ships sail across the New York Harbor.

Life is good.

I’m blinded by the sky

I have never gardened in my life and yet I feel a growing, nagging urge to start my own veggie garden. Of course, I don’t have room for a garden: I live in an apartment that doesn’t even have a fire escape* on which I can start a guerrilla garden. And the sunniest place indoors is in my bedroom, which is not really a good place for growing herbs or leafy greens. Plus I have a cat who likes to poke his face–and his paws–in places he doesn’t belong. I’m afraid of him digging up dirt and making a mess.

The lease on my apartment is up at the end of the month and I’ve been toying with the idea of moving into a new place where there would be room for some kind of garden: a balcony, a yard, a rooftop–or, hell, a fire escape. The trouble is finding that kind of an apartment in my neighborhood. While I don’t live in the greatest part of Staten Island, it’s been my home for the last year and I’ve grown fond of it. That and it’s super close to the Staten Island Ferry, which both Alex and I need to get to our jobs. Our commutes are already clocking in at 1 hour in each direction: I don’t want to move even farther away and increase our time on the road.

That got me thinking: How much would it cost to buy a house in this neighborhood? It would provide me with the land I’m lusting after and rid me of landlords who want to arbitrarily raise my rent. Perfect solution, right!? Except that I live and work in New York City: a single-family home in this neighborhood costs at least $300,000. And that’s for a dilapidated, run-down, pre-war construction–or a “fixer upper,” as the agents refer to it in listings. The good stuff costs more: $500,000 and above. That means I need to save up somewhere around $80,000 to offer as a down payment. And, astonishingly, I don’t have that kind of cash in my savings account.

So it looks like I’m not buying a house or condo any time soon. Instead, I’ve decided to move–for the last time in a long while, I hope–to a new apartment with a small terrace where I’ll start my garden. I’m planning on installing some raised planter boxes around the perimeter (for tomatoes, kale, cucumbers, Swiss chard, peas, etc.) and hanging flower boxes over the railings (for basil, mint, parsley, cilantro, etc.).

I’m also looking into composting my own food scraps. For years, I’ve been ferrying my food scraps from the freezer to the local farmer’s market. This was always for the benefit of reducing the amount of waste my partner and I produce. I’ve never seen any return on my investment. So if I can reduce my contribution to the landfill and get nutrient-rich compost for my garden in return, all the better! I’m looking into vermicomposting for its small footprint (most bins require a space less than 20″×20″) and the ability to compost indoors. (And who doesn’t want thousands of wriggly roommates!?) I was a little too excited to find a used Worm Factory 360 on craigslist, which I’ll be picking up this weekend before my move into my new place early next week.

I look forward to being able to pick sun-warmed tomatoes off the vine in my very own “backyard” garden. Assuming, of course, that I don’t kill everything in my garden and my vermicompost bin.

* It’s OK, it’s a small building. There’s no need for a fire escape.

Let them eat vegan!

For no other reason than “I wanted to,” I’ve adopted a vegan diet. I’ve been consuming less and less meat anyway… and I figured I may as well go 100% animal-free.

A few years ago, I gave vegetarianism a go and it didn’t turn out so well. (I binged on hard-boiled eggs one day. It wasn’t pretty.) However, I was young and dumb. I wasn’t yet living on my own so I didn’t do much of my own cooking. I just continued to eat the same foods only without the slab of meat on the side. Needless to say, I was lacking in protein (hence the egg-binging) and many vitamins. Things are different now: I cook every one of my meals (except the ones Alex cooks on the weekends when he visits) and I do all of my own grocery shopping. It was partially because of all the wasted groceries (mainly meats and dairies) that I decided to go vegan.

To aid me in my new culinary adventures, I sought out vegan cookbooks. The ones I ended up buying are by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero… and I love them to pieces. Every recipe I’ve made so far has been amazing! They’re appetizing even for those not following a vegan diet: pastas, risottos, sautéed veggies, sammiches, sauces, pancakes, French toast, ice creams … The list goes on and on!

Book cover: Veganomicon Book cover: Vegan with a Vengeance Book cover: Vegan Brunch

All of the recipes are seriously delicious. Here are some things I’ve already tried:

  • Banana-Nut Waffles (Veganomicon, pp. 75-76)
  • Israeli Couscous with Pistachios and Apricots (Veganomicon, p. 117)
  • Hot Sauce-Glazed Tempeh (Veganomicon, pp. 129-30)
  • Pineapple-Cashew-Quinoa Stir-Fry (Veganomicon, pp. 175-76)
  • Spiced Pita Crisps (Veganomicon, pp. 177-76)
  • Spaghetti and Beanballs (Veganomicon, pp. 189-190)
  • Classic Pesto (Vegan with a Vengeance, p. 132)
  • Sesame Scrambled Tofu and Greens with Yams (Vegan Brunch, p. 30)

…and I’ve only had the book for 5 days! I managed to take photos of some of the meals:

Israeli Couscous with Pistachios and Apricots (Veganomicon, p. 117)
with roasted veggies (Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, and red bell peppers)

Hot Sauce-Glazed Tempeh (Veganomicon, pp. 129-30)
with a baked sweet potato, sautéed kale, and fresh tomatoes

And this is what preparing one of these meals looks like:

Pineapple-Cashew-Quinoa Stir-Fry (Veganomicon, pp. 175-76)

Because I live in a tiny apartment in Brooklyn, I can’t compost all this biodegradable waste at home. But! The local farmers’ market collects food scraps! So I bought a 1.5-gallon compost pail that I’m hauling to the farmers’ market once a week.

…I’m such a hippie, biking to the farmers’ market to compost my vegan scraps. Oy.