Posts tagged ‘Add new tag’

Too Much of a Good Thing Revisited

In yesterday’s post, I asked readers if they had any suggestions for freezing vegetables, particularly the delicate leafy greens like spinach and Swiss chard and things like watercress and parsley. 

My friend, John, wrote in with a neat idea for freezing parsley that he’d heard of but never tried.  Here’s what he wrote:

“I’ve heard of people freezing parsley in water: they’ll mince it and place it in water in an ice-cube tray and then simply add that into whatever recipe it’s called for (ie chicken soup). I still haven’t gotten around to trying this myself as I seem to finish off all the parsley I grow.”

Bits of parsley encased in ice cubes?  How cool is that?  I’ll give it a try, and if it works I’ll give up on the idea of growing parsley on the roof.


July 17, 2008 at 1:05 am Leave a comment

City Gardeners Grow for Themselves and Others

They’re tucked away in the city’s outer boroughs in places people barely notice – behind or between old buildings, in abandoned lots, or buttressed against the walls of elevated subways.  All together, 30 food-producing gardens – some as big as 2.5 acres – are bringing people together, providing produce-deficient neighborhoods with fresh veggies, and supplying local pantries and soup kitchens. 

Last weekend I visited two city farms in East New York, Brooklyn:  United Community Centers Garden, a half-acre garden founded in 1994 and the slightly larger Hands and Heart Garden, which opened last year.  I set out to find and meet some of the resident gardeners and farmers.  I was lucky.  It was Saturday, one of two days the gardeners hold a small farmers market. Some produced enough to sell and earn good money at the market.  Others cultivated a few plots just for themselves, with one woman harvesting enough vegetables that she no longer needed to shop at supermarkets. I’d like to introduce you to three of the urban gardeners I met that day: 

Selling for the Community



United Community Centers Garden is part of a coalition of gardens that makes up East New York Farms! in Brooklyn.

United Community Centers Garden is part of a coalition of gardens that makes up East New York Farms! in Brooklyn.

Jeanette Ware had a table with a good selection of nice-looking produce – string beans, cucumbers, scallions, garlic, sweet onions – purple, white and yellow – and bins of collards and kale.  At Hands and Heart, she and her husband, James, also grow mustard and turnip greens, ochre, carrots and lettuce. She sells her produce, she said, “for the community,” noting that fresh vegetables were hard to find by in East New York.  People had to take buses to supermarkets and most of the produce there, she pointed out, “has chemicals.”  Everything she had, she said with pride, was organic, grown with nothing but compost and rainwater. 




I bought the kale – an oversized bunch that filled the bag – for $2.  Jeanette was a good businesswoman, encouraging me to visit the market again and to take orders for my friends.  Given the amount of kale I received, I probably would do just that on my next visit.      

Jeanette told me how to get to Hands and Heart, a 15-minute walk from the market, where her husband was working.  “He’ll show you where we picked everything,” she said. 

No Kind of Cides

James, her husband, had just closed the gate to the ½-acre farm, when I arrived.  I introduced myself.  “I was hoping you could show me around,” I said. “I hope you’re not too busy.”

“No,” said James, who sounded and looked like Morgan Freeman, “I’m not too busy.” 

James pointed to the two rows he and his wife planted.  They were green and vibrant, packed with a rich mix of crops, from peppers to garlic and mustard greens.  Two women a few rows over quietly tended their crops. 



James Ware, a gardener at Hands and Heart Farm, prides himself in growing organic produce.

James Ware, a gardener at Hands and Heart Farm, prides himself in growing organic produce.

James and Jeannette were among the inaugural gardeners at Hands and Heart, which opened last year.  They had a bountiful harvest, so much so that they decided to double what they planted, using all the space that was available to them.  James was stunned, he said, when he learned that he made a little over $2,000 selling his crops at the market.





“Hopefully next time we doubled what we did last year,” he mused.

The prospect of extra cash is not what originally attracted James to the urban farm.  He was simply looking for something to do, “not realizing that it was going to evolve into this,” said the soft-spoken retiree. 

James, a native of Charleston, South Carolina, grew up on a farm and dabbled in farming as a kid but hated it.  It wasn’t until years later that he began to enjoy it, and ever since he’s returned to his roots in farming at Hands and Heart he’s “happy, happy, happy.”

Like Jeanette, James prides himself that everything he and his wife grow is organic.  “No pesticides, no insecticides,” he said with a pause, “no kind of cides.”

My Little Therapy

I met Joyce Dixon at United Community Centers Garden, where I was snatching photos for my blog.  She told me not to take pictures of her two small plots, because she said they “don’t look too good,” not like the verdant rows of callaloo – a Jamaican vegetable in the spinach family – tended by another gardener. 



Joyce Dixon sees vegetable gardening as “her little therapy.”

Joyce Dixon sees vegetable gardening as “her little therapy.”

Joyce hobbled about on her metal cane, using it to hold down overgrown plants and uncover hidden squash.  She pulled a handful of purslane – a leaf vegetable – from her plot, and proudly showed it to me, explaining it can be cooked or used in salads.  “It’s good for the memory,” she said.





Joyce, a longtime resident of East New York, grew up on a farm in Jamaica.  She doesn’t spend nearly as much time as she once used to on her two plots.  These days, she’s there just once a week.  “It’s my little therapy,” she said.  “It’s my passion.”

July 12, 2008 at 2:12 am 6 comments

Grease Power

Soon after my post about grease thieves, a man affected by the banditry wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times.  Greg Melville, the driver of a grease-powered 1985 Mercedes station wagon, procures his grease on the up and up from a restaurant in this neighborhood.  “Waste oil banditry,” he writes tongue-in-cheek, “makes my own fuel search more difficult.”

Mr. Melville converted his car to “free fuel” a few years ago when gas was around $2.20 a gallon.  For $2,000, he had a 15-gallon tank installed in the back of his wagon that heats the grease he picks up weekly in five-gallon containers.  The wagon, which gets 20 miles per gallon, made it cross country from Vermont to California in six days. 

For all the promise grease holds, Mr. Melville notes that there isn’t enough of it—no matter the number of bandits—to power every car in the country. 

The piece is a definite must read, and a fun read at that. I highly recommend it.

June 16, 2008 at 11:36 pm Leave a comment

Worm Condos Go Up in City Pads

Picture this:  a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Manhattan during Memorial Day weekend.  Gathered in a community garden are 45 people, at least – all sitting politely on benches waiting for three women to speak.  A performance perhaps?  A poetry-reading?  A talk maybe on how to grow peonies?  

Guess again.  The folks that Saturday were there to learn about indoor composting.  Yes, that’s right. They were planning to set up composting bins in their apartments, complete with 1,000 squirming red wiggler worms, the champions of food decomposition. 

Any worries, you ask, about odor?  Or worse, fruit flies? 

Not this bunch.  If they set up and maintained their composting bins properly, they were assured they wouldn’t have any such problems. 

“You know you’ve messed up if it smells,” said Carey Pulverman, a striking young red-head from the Lower East Side Ecology Center who ran the composting workshop. 

Carey walked the group through all the steps needed to build the perfect odor-free, bug-free composting bin, a place where worms could live and “be happy.” 

“Don’t over-feed the worms,” she advised.  “The worms won’t be happy.”  Carey explained that worms consume about three pounds of food per week, roughly equal to a 10-cup container. 

When the workshop ended, people lined up to buy their $10 composting bins, euphemistically called “worm condos” in the promotional flyer.  The bins looked like the plastic storage bins you’d find in The Container Store, except that it had four air vents.  They also received vouchers for a start-up container of the red wiggler worms.  The bin and the voucher cost $10, a bargain.  Ordinarily they go for $45. 

While the number of New Yorkers that are composting indoors is not known, workshops such as this one consistently draw big crowds.  According to Carey, the workshop usually fills to capacity.  Similar workshops at the botanical gardens are equally well attended with a good percentage of participants buying the $10 bins.  The Queens Botanical Garden, for instance, reaches about 300 people per month. 

The workshops are part of a citywide program—the NYC Compost Project – to reduce the garbage that winds up in landfills.  According to the Department of Sanitation, the average household discards two pounds of organic waste a day, adding up to 1 million tons of organic material a year.  At that rate, food gets compacted and doesn’t decompose to the same grade that it otherwise would, said Karla Osorio-Perez, manager of the Brooklyn Compost Project at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.  Worse, when discarded in plastic bags, food scraps don’t get a chance to decompose at all. 

Penelope Cruz of Williamsburgh, Brooklyn, one of the participants attending the workshop at the Manhattan community garden, has been dropping off her food scraps at a community garden for years.  “I hate throwing things away,” she said, adding that she now wants to make her own compost in case she starts a garden in the parking lot near her home. 

Carey, the workshop leader, explained that an indoor composting bin requires four essential ingredients:  food for the worms, water, air and lots of “fluffy bedding” or moist newspaper strips loosely scrunched up.  The bedding should always cover the food scraps. 

Getting it all right sometimes takes time.  If the newspaper strips are too wet and “not fluffy enough,” it will cause the bin to smell.  So will meat, dairy and oily products like leftover Indian food.  Too many food scraps can also cause a stinky bin. 

“What about orange peels?” someone asks. 

Orange peels, Carey explains, are OK, provided the bin is not overwhelmed with pounds of peels at once. 

“The worms,” she says with an infectious smile, “won’t be happy.” 

For more information about composting workshops in New York City, go to

June 8, 2008 at 1:20 pm 1 comment

Still Dreamin’ of Rooftop Herbs

Remember my post on March 2?  I was going to ask Mike, the super, if I could plant basil and parsley on the roof.  Well, I did.  Long story short, my request was denied.  I had to take it to the board of my co-op building, who after deliberating the matter at one of their monthly meetings worried that other people would want to do the same and eventually sully the look of our beautiful roof deck.   But I was not to despair.  They said they’d look at ways that they might accommodate other aspiring rooftop gardeners. 

At least there’s hope.  I think of all the great things that could come out of being able to grow a few herbs on the roof.  Bragging rights, for one.  When someone tells me that they get their parsley from such and such farm, I can best them and say that I get mine from my roof.  How much more local can one get? 

I think of all possibilities for neighborliness.  I’d offer my basil and parsley to friends in the building.  And if other people started growing other herbs, we’d have a full stable of fresh ingredients for our kitchens. 

I know I’d experiment a whole lot more with my cooking if I had fresh herbs at hand.  I’d consider trying all those recipes that call for just a few tablespoon’s worth of parsley, like chicken saltimbocca and lentil soup. 

What most appeals to me is not having to buy the herbs at the supermarket.  As I said in my earlier post, I rarely need more than a sprig of parsley or a leaf or two of basil for the cooking I do.  I hate to see whole bunches of the herbs go to waste in the frig.  I really do.  I don’t like to think of myself as taking more from the Earth than I know I’ll need.  We should go easy on Her. 

Oh, to think what a few herb boxes on the roof could do for the environmental problems of the world!

June 3, 2008 at 1:23 am 5 comments

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