Saturday, July 30, 2011

Use This Insstead: Essential Oils

Essentials oils, extracted from plants, can be strong enough to kill bacteria and mold.  They are very potent so don't go overboard.

Clean your combs and brushes with essential oils. Soak combs and brushes in a container filled with 11/2 cups water, 1/2 cup distilled vineger and 20 drops of tea tree oil, lavender or eucalyptus for 20 minutes.  Rinse and air-dry.

To remove spots on floors, apply 2 to 4 drops of tea tree oil, wipe off excess with a cloth and rub in distilled white vinegar.

Use orange oil (apply with a cotton ball) to clean up gum encrusted items.  If using on fabric, launder fabric immediately.

Use lemon oil twice a month to keep the grime off of shower doors.

Mix 2 teaspoons of tea tree oil and 2 cups of water in a spray bottle then spritz inside the rim of your toilet and let sit for 30 minutes and scrub.

Use 10 drops of lavender or lemongrass in 2 ounces of water to wipe grime off of your windows.  Oils may repel those pesky flies than unfortunately show up in the summer months when windows are open.

Get more cleaning ideas from The Naturally Clean Home.

Friday, July 29, 2011


Food scraps make up about 25% of the waste produced in New York City.  Unfortunately, when organic waste ends up in solid waste landfills it decays into methane.  Methane is a pretty potent greenhouse gas that does even more damage than carbon dioxide.  On top of that, transporting organic waste from New York City to landfills costs us taxpayers a pretty big penny.  One of the great ways to decrease the amount of organic waste ending up in our landfills is by composting.

Composting has many great benefits.  One being the obvious reduction of organic material clogging up our landfills.  Another is that it is great for our gardens.  Compost collected by the city of New York is made available to local nonprofits for soil mitigation, habitat improvement and in many of the community gardens you see all over the city.

Check the GrowNYC site for food scrap composting drop off sites at Green Markets all over the city until December 31.  Some of these sites collect beyond December 31st.  Check with your local drop off point to see if they collect beyond that date.   Just about any food scrap can be composted from leftover rice and banana peels to coffee grounds and teabags to that houseplant that just didn't make it.  Please be sure to leave the following out because they cannot be composted: meat, chicken, fish, greasy food scraps, fat, oil, dairy, dog or cat waste, kitty litter, coal or charcoal, coconuts, diseased and/or insect-infested houseplants/soil or biodegradable/compostable plastics.

If you would rather make your own compost--purchasing compost at the garden center can get pretty pricey--you can do so at home with vermicomposting, a great teaching tool for kids, which involves using earthworms to create compost.  Check out directions here on how to produce your own vermicomposting bin.  There are also some great pointers here from the Brooklyn Botanical Garden.  The Lower East Side Ecology Center frequently has workshops for as low as $10 on making your own worm bin.

If worms are just not your thing, try creating your own compost bin in your backyard--if you have one.  New York's Department of Environmental Conservation has info here on creating a backyard compost bin.  And check the Planet Green website for pointers on smaller scale compsting for inside apartments. also has information on composting larger things like Christmas trees, fall leaves and lanscaper waste.  And if you're worried about the expense of purchasing a compost bin or any other composting supplies, the city sells low cost bins and other supplies for New York City residents here.

So get out there and get composting!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

What's On Your Plate?

"the documentary about kids and food politics"

Check the website for locations of future screenings.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Grow Your Own Herbs & Save Money

Picture courtesy of flikr

Once in a while you're going to find a great recipe that calls for fresh herbs.  Now you can either head over to the grocery and buy one of those plastic packs of herbs for two or three dollars or you can get a bunch wrapped in a rubber band.  Either way you are going to usually end up with more herbs than you need, and since they don't keep you'll be throwing the rest away along with the packaging.
There is another choice though.  Potted herb gardens.

Lots of herbs grow happily in small pots.  Seeds cost no more than $2.50 for a pack that could easily result in fifteen or more plants or purchase a small plant for usually no more than five dollars.  And many can be kept on your fire escape or in a window box to be used for years to come.
 Both the flowers and leaves of Pineapple Sage
are edible

Some great perennial herbs to grow in a small space are rosemary, sage, oregano, tarragon and thyme.  They all come in many varieties (especially sage and thyme) and produce beautiful flowers in the spring that will attracts lots of lovely bees and butterflies.  Annuals and bi-annuals like cilantro, dill, basil and parsley can also be grown in pots.  Parsley will attract the swallowtail butterfly and its caterpillars.  Perennial tropical varieties of sage (pinapple sage for example), basil (holy basil) and oregano (Cuban oregano) can't take our long winters, but they can be brought inside over the winter time and then taken back out in the spring (it's just important to keep an eye out for spidermites that can kill a plant when it gets too dry with the heater on in the winter time).  There are lots of great edible flowers that can be grown in a pot also, like nasturtium (flowers and leaves have a peppery taste similar to that of watercress), bee balm, lemon balm and anise hyssop.
Another great thing you'll see in the fall is that after your basil plants have died and dried out, you will get some lovely migrating birds coming to eat the seeds from the once lovely flowers on your plant.
If growing on your fire escape, make sure you leave enough space to walk in case of an emergency.  And don't heavily block your window that leads to the fire escape.
 Catnip can be used to make teas with
fresh or dried leaves and flowers
There are lots of hardware stores that carry window boxes you can grow flowers and herbs in.  Make sure to add extra drainage holes.  Place a screen (like that found in windows) at the bottom to prevent soil loss when watering.  Next put in about a one inch layer of styrofoam peanuts, broken pottery or rocks for extra drainage.  Finally, add potting soil with a little extra vermiculate and perlite mixed in.  Then start planting.  Remember to fertilize (monthly during the growing season) and water regularly.

Most all perennial herbs can get as large as the space you give them to grow.  They can grow happily in pots as small as eight inches or as large as fifteen inches or more.  Just keep an eye to make sure they are aren't getting too dry in the hot summer months.  If using a large pot you can also sometimes put more than one plant in a pot.  Thyme grows nicely with just about everything.
 Chocolate Mint has strong scent of
milk chocolate

Grow from seed or just purchase a plant at your local greenhouse, farmer's market or hardware store.  Sometimes even grocery stores carry fresh herb plants.  Silver Heights Farm, found at the Union Square Farmer's Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays, carry a wide range of herbs you may have never even heard of before and they are certified organic.

Check here for other container herb garden how-tos.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Safe Insect Control

With the current heat wave comes the bugs.  Mosquitoes, ants, roaches, silverfish; they're all coming in waves into your home when the mercury goes up.  Sure you want them gone now and they're lots of chemicals available for doing it fast, but we don't want to do it in a way that can damage your health or our eco-system.  Thankfully, they're great alternatives to the harsh chemicals.

Borax-Works as an insecticide against ants, roaches and fleas.  Pour directly into any ant nest found or any other cracks the bugs may be coming through.  Find at your local hardware store or the cleaning section of your grocery in powder form.

Diatomaceous earth-aka DE.  Great for controlling roaches, silverfish, ants, flies, fleas, box elder bugs, scorpions, crickets, and many other insects in the home. Also can be used against bedbugs, though this could take weeks of application.  Can be used in garden to take care of slugs.  Use to fight fleas, ticks and lice on your pets too!  Purchase at flower nurseries or greenhouses, and hardware stores.  Use only food grade diatomaceous earth, pool grade will be useless and is DANGEROUS.

Vinegar-Great for getting rid of the fruit flies that want to eat all your tasty summer fruits.  Mix 1/4 cup any type of sweet vinegar like apple cider or balsamic with a few drops of dish soap.  Leave out in a cup or bowl for a day or more in your kitchen or wherever else you have fruit flies.

Remember to watch out for standing water in and around your home to protect against mosquitoes.  Also remember roaches love moist humid, areas and keep foods that attract bugs in plastic containers.

There are lots of great plants that also repel insects, check some out here and here, and mosquitoes here.

Save Money & Eat In Tonight: Stuffed Fried Squash Blossoms

1 zucchini or summer squash, shredded
1 carrot, shredded
2 garlic gloves
1/2 tsp white pepper
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 lb raw shrimp; cleaned, de-veined and chopped into small pieces
2 tsp mirin
2 tsp corn starch
4 eggs
2 cups panko flakes
15-20 fresh squash blossoms
oil for frying

Combine zucchini (or summer squash), carrot, garlic, salt and pepper, shrimp, mirin and corn starch in a bowl.  In the meantime, heat cooking oil (at least four inches deep) in a thick bottomed cooking pot.  As oil is heating, gently open each squash blossom and fill with about 1 tbsp to 1 1/2 tbsp of mixture then put aside.  Beat eggs, add additional salt and pepper if desired.  Place panko flakes in a plate.  Once oil is heated (between 345–375°F or 175-190°C), dip first blossom into egg mixture, next roll in panko flakes until fully covered.  Finally, drop blossom into oil.  Fry until golden brown.  You can fry as many blossoms as can fit into pot.  Once golden brown, remove blossom and place on napkin or towel to drain excess oil.  Sprinkle with salt to taste.  Left over should blossoms can be fried without stuffing since they do not keep for very long.

Serve with Spicy Orange Sauce or any other desired sauce.

Our Disappearing Diversity

Traveler's Palm
National Geographic had a great article on the decreasing diversity of seeds and animals that have been feeding us for centuries.   Previously, we only grew seeds that had been proven to grow to our specific region.  Years, sometimes decades or more, were spent by farmers discovering which seeds could handle the local climate, diseases and other various issues unique to where they grew.  But in the forties came the Green Revolution.

Black Silkie Chicken
Stem rust was slowly ravaging the wheat supply causing terrible famine in the developing world and threatening to spread to the first world.  Norman Borlaug was able to cross several wheat varieties to create a new variety resistent to stem rust.  This "green revolution" helped bring modern industrialized agriculture to the developing world.  Unfortunately, this has led to many farmers becoming dependant on high-yield crops broadly adapted to a wider market rather than the unique environments they grow in.  Stem rust has now made a come back in the form of Ug99 (for Uganda where it was discovered in 1999).  With monocropping, the world's wheat supply is now in danger.

Texas Mountain Laurel

Check out the article Food Ark by Charles Siebert at the National Geographic website to learn more about what is happening to the vast diversity that once existed in our food supply.

And check out Seed Savers Exchange, Botanical Interests, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (this company also carries many tropical seed varieties) or Trees of Antiquity (specializing in heirloom fruit trees and shrubs from all over the world) for heirloom varieties and help save our food supply.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Volunteers needed in September

With the coming of higher temperatures in July and soon in August, we are moving the Brooklyn Park Glass cleanup to September when hopefully the weather willl not be so sweltering.  We want to help not only clean up a lot of the broken glass in Fort Greene Park but also get that stuff put to better use.  Please still contact us if you would like to volunteer.  Just email us your information with the word 'volunteer' in the subject line to  We also still have lots of Bumble Bee Habitat seeds to give away too!

Slippery Slope Farm

Today, Slippery Slope Farm was featured in the Edible Manhattan segment of NY1.  Slippery Slope Farm is a rooftop microfarm located in Gowanus Brooklyn that uses a sub-irrigated planter system to produce higher yield of vegtables per square foot than most other growing systems.  It is both a water and time efficient system just about anyone can copy.  Check out the Slippery Slope Farm website for more information on how you too can grow your own vegetables in a small space or contact them for a consulation.  And watch the Edible Manhattan segment at NY1.