Monday, August 26, 2013

Quick update: Tomatoes and Radishes

Just a quick little update:

First of all, for the cherry tomatoes -- pruning off all those sucker leaves was TOTALLY the right thing to do.  All of a sudden, I have a dozen or so more cherry tomatoes blooming.  This has actually been really invigorating and has gotten me excited again about this garden.  Fingers-crossed on the strawberries (all suggestions welcome).

Also, the radishes are coming in nicely.  This picture is from after I pruned a bunch of radish shoots...and let me tell you, I might just grow shoots and not even wait for radish bulbs.  The radish shoots/greens taste just like radishes, and I've been using them in salads.  Seriously, these took just about a week and are so much more satisfying!

Hopefully I will have some more good news soon!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Long-Overdue Garden Update (It's not pretty)

I'm not going to rule this experiment a complete failure.  It certainly had it's challenges -- cat litter jugs as garden pots, growing on a fifth floor fire escape, a relentless heat wave.  I think it turned out the best it could have, although I wish I had yielded more fruit.

Let me break it down.


Yep, this one went down for the count.  I guess the whole thing started with the heat wave -- it started yellowing, and I had to bring it inside.  It seemed like it was doing ok, but it took a turn for the worse and there was no saving it.

One thing I have to mention is that this plant had a bunch of great looking leaves and two green tomatoes on it for the longest time (I think I commented on this in previous posts).  I did a little bit of research, and found that Miracle Grow (which I had used a couple times) is full of nitrogen, which is great for leaf growth.  However, tomatoes need phosphates, and I ended up going to Home Depot for a separate tomato plant food.  Once I added that in and stopped using the Miracle Grow, the tomato turned red in a matter of days.

Unfortunately, I was only able to eat one of the tomatoes.  The other one was attacked by a mysterious creature.

To this day, I have no idea what ate the second tomato.  And, I almost don't want to know what monster crawled up a fifth floor fire escape.  Anyway, sads.


Sort of a blurry picture, but you can see the cherry tomatoes are doing pretty well.  This picture is from a couple weeks ago -- since then, Carl and I had a nice salad (although we basically used all the fruit).  Here's another picture from last week:

It's still very green, and a couple more tomatoes popped up.  As I was doing research about yielding more fruit, it occurred to me that maybe on the fifth floor there aren't enough bugs to help pollinate the tomato flowers.  I tried to help it along by using a small wet paint brush (a suggestion from one of the sites).  Also I did some research about pruning, and I took some time this morning to clip some of the "sucker" leaves.
There are a bunch of new flowers towards the top of the plant, so I'm hopeful that I'll get a second crop out of this plant.  Will be monitoring this for sure.


These plants are actually doing pretty well.  They've been the best producers all summer.  Unfortunately Blogger is being weird and won't let me bring in a picture here, but you can see them in some of the pictures above.



These were the most fickle of all the plants I started this summer.  Super sensitive to heat -- I had to bring them into the house constantly.  They only yielded a couple snow peas at a time.  I loved the idea of this, but it took up a lot of my time.  I wasn't so upset at losing these plants.


Ok, you can see these in the pic above, in the white jug.  I'm not entirely sure what kind of peppers these are, my friend Lynn's parents gave them to me.  They look great -- but they haven't grown more than 6 inches in the last two months that I've had them.  I've been watering them, but I haven't done too much research about care.  Since the snow peas died, and now that I think I have the cherry tomatoes under control, I might focus more attention on these.

I've started over with these.  They didn't really do well to start - again, I think because of the heat wave - but I have a packet of seeds that I've barely used and I decided to plant some on Friday.  You can see I already have some growth -- what I like is that radishes have a full germination of 22 days, so it really doesn't take a whole lot of effort.  I'll keep you updated on these.

I have no idea what's going on with these.  The leaves look great, and I  even had some flowers (I posted a pic a few posts ago).  But they really haven't progressed.  Again, I blame the heat wave, although I need to do a little research about these.  I know that they are late bloomers, and recently I've had a lot of new growth on these.  No new flowers though.  Ugh.

* * * * *

So, that's about it.  A few dead plants, some consistent herbs, and some staggering tomatoes, peppers and strawberries.  Summer's not over, and we're getting some great weather these days.  I'll be keeping an eye on all of these, and hopefully will have an update again soon!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Faux Wood Chandelier

Or, actually, wood faux chandelier.  Real wood.  Faux chandelier.  Well, composite's not solid pine or anything.  Still real.

So, I was home watching Open House on NBC one Sunday morning - not a huge fan of the show, feel like it really interrupts my Sunday morning news gathering.  But what caught my eye was a segment on Sabrina Soto's (from HGTV) NYC apartment, and she had this awesome faux chandelier in her bedroom.

I did some research, and I actually found a replica on Etsy for like $60.  Well, those of you who know me know that it pains me to spend even $60 on a good pair of jeans (seriously, where can I find a good pair of jeans for $20??), so there's no way in hell I was going to buy this on Etsy.

Since I wasn't about to buy this on Etsy (actually, there is very little that I'd buy on Etsy that I wouldn't make myself - thoughts on this?), I decided to do a little materials-browsing at Michaels and see if I could create my own wood faux chandelier.

And I was in luck -- I found these frames that were on clearance, and had a great shape to them that I thought I could deconstruct and put together in a nice arrangement.  The big frames were $1.99 each, and the small frames were $.29!!  I love a good clearance sale.  (I ended up using just the two large frames, and one small frame.)

I took a bit of time to figure out the construction on this - and honestly, if I wasn't such an impatient person, I probably could have spent more time to make a solid structure.  Basically I relied on the strength of Elmers WoodGlue Max.  Gotta say, pretty strong...

I used the two big frames and deconstructed them using my Swiss Army knife.  The first piece was not so easy to cut out, but after I had a template it was easy to score and break apart the rest of the pieces -- I did some pretty deep scoring, and left the rest to some sand paper to smooth it out.

The bottom half of the chandelier was easy to glue to the dowel connecting it all.  The top half was a little tricky, and included the use of some butterfly clips and stray yarn (separate project, in the works).  Eventually I got all the pieces glued together, and it was time for some paint.

The paint I chose was some leftover Behr Paint-and-Primer-in-One.  I don't recommend this paint, it went on spotty and required multiple coats, despite the fact that its name seems time-saving.  Eventually I got it done, and I'm pretty pleased with the results.


Again, I could have taken my time and thought more about the construction, but overall I'm pretty pleased considering this project cost me $4.29 and some leftover paint.

(Btw, got that bed-set on sale from Macy's for $99 - great apartment-warming present from my mom!)

What do you think?  What sorts of DIY house projects have you done?

Also guys - don't forget to like my Facebook page!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Presto Pesto

Is there anything better than basil?  My bsail plant is doing really well, and some of its leaves were getting pretty big.  I haven't needed basil for anything I've cooked lately, but I knew I had to prune the leaves to keep encouraging new growth.  So, off with the leaves...but how do I not let them go to waste?

I looked in my cupboard and saw I had one small clove of garlic left, and I decided to make a pesto.  I chopped up the garlic, washed and julienned the basil leaves and tossed them both in my mortar and pestle.  No pine nuts, so I substituted those leftover almonds again - they've been coming in quite handy.  A little salt, pepper, and drizzle of oil, and I was off to work.

That plant looks pretty great, huh?  And that was after pruning.  I know I'm going to have to trim it again in a few days.

Using the mortar and pestle, it took 7 minutes or so to grind everything up into a paste.  It's more work, but I wasn't making enough to be able to use the food processor.  And using the mortar and pestle made me feel a little old school.  ;)

So now with the pesto made, I had to find a way to store it for future use.  I've seen my mom use the ice-cube tray technique before, and I thought it would be a great way to store the pesto in individual portions.  I lined the tray with some plastic wrap and scooped in the pesto.

So there you go.  Homemade pesto, with some substitutions, and I didn't need anything from the grocery store.  I love that part!  This little garden is really starting to pay off!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Tin-Can Lantern

This little birdie says CHEAP-CHEAP, CHEAP-CHEAP.

I've been wanting to add a little chic to the Cupboard.  Simple project, slightly time consuming, and great use of the chick pea cans I've been collecting from making all that hummus!  Seriously, at $.89 a can, this project has Poor Man's Cupboard written all over it.  Couple of tips:

Use graph paper to make your template.  This makes it so much easier to make it even.  I measured the can and then cut out a piece of graph paper to fit.  Then I divided the graph paper into two panels: a left panel and a right panel.

I found my template online, and drew half of the image onto the right panel of the graph paper.  Then  I folded the paper in half, traced the image on the back side of the left panel, then opened up the paper and traced the copy onto the front side of the left panel.

Now I had a perfectly even template, I just needed to punch the holes.  I taped the template to the can and started punching away.  I had a test can to try different methods, and the end I used a wood boring bit, the kind with the sharp point.  It was easy to hold, and easy to be accurate with my punches.  

Not going to lie, this was a time consuming process.  I didn't even bother with the corner florets on my template...the birds and the center vine probably took me about an hour to punch out, mostly because I was taking my time and trying to be as accurate as possible.

In the end though, it's pretty satisfying.  I have the template, and I plan on making at least one more to make a pair.  I might choose a less complicated template and make a second pair of these.

I have a coffee tin, too; although I don't make that much coffee at home, and it's still half full.  But I thought it might be fun to make an outdoor citronella candle out of.

Also, I saw one suggestion online to pour water into the cans and freeze, so that you don't dent the can when you're punching the holes.  I tried this with my first test can -- and as I was punching the holes and holding the can, the ice started melting and seeping through the holes, and the paper got wet and was hard to handle.  I think as long as you take your time, you can skip this step and just be careful with the can.  Mine came out totally fine without the ice.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Chipotle Hummus

This was inspired by a hummus plate I had the other day in the city.  There were three types of hummus, and the chipotle hummus was the best by far.  It's been on my mind ever since and I've been wanting to recreate it.  I have to say, I think mine is better than the original.

(Somewhat) standard ingredients - chick peas, garlic, olive oil, fresh lemon juice and lemon zest, salt and pepper.  Really good hummus calls for a dollop of tahini...but this is Poor Man's Cupboard and tahini is expensive.  To get a similar nutty tone, I use leftover slivered almonds from last Christmas' biscotti marathon that have been hanging out in the cabinet.  Totes legit.

Also, shelling the chick peas is essential for making a really creamy hummus.  It's time consuming, but I pop them out of the shell and right into the food processor.  Feel free to deposit the husks onto any Chinese food container lid you've been hoarding (can't beat free tupperware).

So for this recipe, I just got a can of chipotle peppers and popped them in.  I probably used about half the can, or 4 peppers.  I also poured in maybe a tablespoon or so of the chipotle sauce.  I wish I had some cilantro in my garden, but instead I pulled a couple sprigs of parsley, and got to mixing.

Look at that color!  The one I had in the city wasn't as vibrant.  It's so good, too - it's got quite a kick.  And look - A&P was out of pitas, but they were selling this bag of "crutons" for $1.54...perfect for hummus scooping!  My afternoon just got a whole lot brighter.  :D

My Big Fat Garden Update

It's been about a month now since I first "planted" my garden.  I can't believe how fast that went!  There's been some really cool progress, and also some learning curves.  Let's dig in and break it down, shall we?

1.  Goliath Tomatoes

That picture above is like my pride and joy of this project.  That little guy popped up about 5 days ago and he just keeps getting bigger and bigger.  You can see below that there are some more flowers, so I'm hoping for a decent crop.

2. Cherry Tomatoes

No fruit as of yet, but there is definitely some flowering going on.  It started off as sort of a runt of a plant, so I'm glad it's making progress.

3. Parsley, Thyme, Basil

These guys are doing great!  The other day I made a little pesto with the basil for a lunchtime pasta, and made thyme chicken and parsley salad for dinner.  So good!

4. Radishes

These are by far my biggest disappointments.  These are the original starter plants my mom got me -- they haven't really gotten any bigger.  But then all of a sudden, literally in a 24-hour period, this one radish stalk grew like 5 inches and made a pretty little purple flower on top!  It's the craziest thing.  I think I'll keep it and see what happens next.

I planted some radishes from seeds and they were looking really great -- until I put them outside and fried them in the heat.  I need to start a new batch from seeds, but I've just been a little busy (and lazy).   I'll probably tackle that today.

5. Strawberries

Also a little disappointing.  I planted 10 strawberry plants in this container, and only 3 of them are growing.  I'm not really sure what to do with this -- if I should just let it be, or dig up the the ones that aren't growing and replant the good ones farther apart from each other.  I'm going to do a little research on this.

What's promising is that one of the good plants has begun to flower.  Still has a long way to go, but I knew that this was going to be a late-harvester so I'll continue being patient.

6. Snow Peas

These guys have been the most work.  I've continued building the lattices up, and every morning I inspect the plants to make sure the tendrils are latching onto the lattice and not onto each other (I've had to do a little tender untangling).  When the heatwave hit last week, I had to bring the plants inside.  They were getting dried out and yellowing up quite a bit at the bottom.  And with all the rain, I've kept them inside because they seem so fragile.  Today is their first day back outdoors.

Even with just the indoor sunlight, the snow peas have been doing really well!  They've been flowering, and we've even got some pods.  I 'snapped' one off this morning and tried it -- super crunchy and sweet, perfection!

So that about wraps up the update.  I'm going to do some research now about the strawberries, and later I'll sow another batch of radish seeds.  Will post again soon! 

Monday, May 20, 2013

We've got tendrils!!


I was away this weekend, celebrating GWU's graduation commencement (headlined by the most perfect everything, Kerry Washington -- check out her commencement speech on YouTube).  I left Friday morning, and didn't get home until way late last night.  Before I left, I was nervous about how the plants might fare without monitoring or watering -- I've noticed that outside in the sun, in the cat litter planters, my garden plants get dry pretty quickly.  So in order to minimize any damage my absence might cause, I brought the plants indoors and watered them the morning I left (also, to minimize any damage that Mickey might cause, I sett the plants up as high as I could...Mick loves his greens).


I got home late last night, and was so tired that I didn't really do any garden diagnostics.  Instead, I made sure Mickey hadn't somehow knocked them over and then went to bed.  This morning I did a thorough check, and found the snow peas have started to latch onto the homemade trellis!  Woot, exciting!!  A little shot of confidence that things are going alright.  And it's sort of amazing how quickly, almost overnight, that happened.  Small miracles of the universe, life happening.

Next I need to do a little research about pruning.  I've noticed some of the leaves at the bottom of the snow pea plants are yellowing.  I'm assuming those leaves aren't useful anyway, and that they might be drawing water away from the top of the plant.  I'll look into that and report my findings.

Anyway, good start for the week.  Happy Monday everyone!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Poor Man's Garden

Woot!  Spring is here!!!  YASSSS!!!   Been ready for quite some time now for shorts, flip flops, and outdoor happy hours.  And also a little gardening.

My mom always had a garden when I was growing up, and there's nothing quite as satisfying as going to the backyard to grab some fresh ingredients for dinner.  I've been wanting to tend a garden of my own for years now -- my work friends in Skillman know one of my dreams is to have my own hundred acre farm someday -- but my residences as of late have not been conducive for crops.  This spring I am taking matters into my own hands and creating a fire escape garden.  And before you get concerned, I've left plenty of room for egress should an actual fire occur:

I'm excited for this, something to keep me busy during the summer.  I hope I'm not being overly ambitious, but I've planted a bunch of stuff.

                            Top row: Heirloom tomatoes, parsley, thyme, basil, cherry tomatoes
                            Bottom row: Snow peas (3 containers) & radishes

I also have another container, not in the picture, that I planted strawberries in.  Those are going to be late harvesters, but hopefully worth the wait.

 And this is very tried and true Poor Man's Cupboard project.  Those containers are empty cat litter jugs (that were collecting in the apartment because I was too lazy to bring them downstairs to the recycle bin).  I just cut the tops off and filled them with organic potting soil.  So essentially the pots were free, and I spent about $20 altogether on the plants and the soil at Home Depot (shout out to Mom for the snow peas and the radishes, I got those from her).  Not bad!

I went to a couple stores to find trellises for the snow peas.  But the cheapest ones I could find were $7.99 each, and weren't that tall.  I knew that I could do better (read: cheaper) on my own, so I went back to home depot for some dowels and twine.

Once I devised a system and got the first one done, the second two took no time at all.  Dowels were $.89 each, and the twine was another $3.  Awesome!

Aside from the tomatoes (I love tomatoes, I will eat them like apples), I'm really excited about the radishes.  The ones in the containers are starter plants, but I'm also growing some from seeds.  They only take 22 days to harvest from seeds, so I planted some seeds in an egg carton that I will transfer to the pots once the potted once are ready for harvest.  Then I can sow new seeds, and keep alternating for the rest of the summer.

I actually already harvested some of the starter radishes.  They were popping up out of the soil, and I wanted to make some room for the smaller ones.

So good!  This is a really exciting project, and I hope to be blogging about it all summer.  And I hope you stay tuned to read all about it!