An easy DIY green wall

February 3, 2012 § 6 Comments

As soon as I whispered under my breath that I would post EVERY day in February, I promptly skipped a day.

But I have a great excuse. Really, I do. I was working.

Now, I don’t normally share my work stuff here. I’m making an exception, however, because a) I feel I need to make up for yesterday and b) I spotted a pretty cool product that is applicable to both food and garden topics. Trust me on this, it’s something you’ll think is neat. And you may even be inspired to buy one.

First, the details. Where was I? I was at a trade and educational show here in Boston called New England Grows. Lots of inspiring seminars with landscape designers, plant breeders, horticulturists, arborists, etc etc. And it has a pretty big trade show attached to it, too, with aisle upon aisle of vendors exhibiting everything from plants and pavers to forklifts and whimsical garden art. The trade show is the reason I go—to find new stuff.

Green Walls Made Simple
Green walls—whether outside along the side of a building or installed on an indoor wall—are a big thing nowadays, very trendy. I’ve seen them in stores, in and outside restaurants, in botanical gardens, in museums and all sorts of places. And they’re usually large and decorative and have intricate irrigation systems. But really, can these things be everyday items for everyday people?I had serious doubts.

But a product I saw yesterday has made me reconsider. It’s called GroVert. And it’s simple, really. It consists of a plastic tray with a number of cells. Think of it as a big ice cube tray with the cells angled a bit. When the tray is filled with potting soil and hung with just two screws on the wall, the cells, because they are angled downward, don’t lose any of the soil.

GroVert vertical garden

GroVert vertical garden

Within each cell you can plant small plants—whatever plants you want, but ones that stay kinda small are best. If the GroVert will be installed outside, then any type of colorful bedding plant will do, or fill with small evergreen groundcovers. If the GroVert will hang indoors, then the typical houseplants will work best.

Here’s a culinary twist: Plant herbs in the cells and hang near your outdoor grill or on the wall in your kitchen. Brilliant!

How do you water it? Another simple concept. Above this tray is a water reservoir. I’m not positive how it works, but I think the water slowly drips from there, trickling downward from cell to cell. And there’s a basin at the base to catch anything that leaches through.

Another cool thing about GroVert is that you can buy a wood frame that fits over and around the tray and reservoir, basically covering the black plastic and turning it into a living piece of art.

Why stop at one? Place two or more together to expand the footprint of your GroVert green wall.

The things I like about GroVert are: 1) it seems easy to install, 2) maintenance is basic enough, 3) there’s options to expand and 4) if the plants don’t do well, removing individual plants and replacing with new ones seems simple.

Where do you find GroVert? Good question! This is a new product and should be appearing in local garden retail stores soon. If I hear of where you can find it, I’ll try to let you know.

Think this will inspire you to create your own green wall? Flowers, foliage or herbs? Leave me a comment and weigh in on the subject!

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Start Seeds This Weekend

April 15, 2011 § 1 Comment

What kind of crafty, homey, cooking, gardening type of person do I think I am if I can’t find somewhere in our condo to grow some seeds??

Yes, we live in the “garden level” unit (think Laverne and Shirley). Yes, we have zero natural light. Yes, we have your average city person’s complaint of lack of space. BUT! What Dainty has is a will to get things done and a complete hatred of whining that I can’t do something.

So, instead of letting another spring pass by during which I complain about not being able to start my own veggie seeds, I decided to create space somewhere, anywhere.

While we have your typical South End rowhouse-type one-floor apartment that has VERY little storage, we do have a 3-ft. wide by 18-ft long storage closet that is a GEM. It’s unbelievable. Storage like this is unheard of here. And, it’s one of the reasons we bought the place. It’s stuffed to the gills with pantry items, jackets, sporty-spice stuff, a small freezer, bins of guest sheets towels, and even our wine. There had to be some extra space in this room to start a bunch of veggie seeds. And I found it.

seed starting area

This is a small space about 18 inches wide and tall and about 2 ft deep. I had a bunch of duffel bags sitting on top of some towel-containing storage bins, in a Metro Shelving-type coat rack kinda space. Just to the right of the bins are hanging a bunch of jackets. If I remove the duffel I get a nice flat surface.

Next I bought an 18-in. long fluorescent light, some chain and some S-hooks. I hung the light from the top rack using the S-hooks. It’s important to have the lamp hanging like this so when the plants grow taller, you can move the light up. Having the light at the very top to start with will make the little seedlings “leggy”, that is, they’ll get thin and stretchy. Not good. You want the light close to the seeds when the germinate.

Okay, next I planted some seeds in some pots. Got an old plastic yogurt container? Old milk container? Old pots? You can use anything that can contain soil, so use it. I happen to have a bunch of Cow Pots—yes, they are made out of cow poo but they don’t smell, check out their web page—so I used those. Oh, and they are plantable, too. The seeds will germinate in them and when the plants are big enough you can plant the entire thing into the ground or into a patio container. Pretty cool.

I filled the Cow Pots—which are 6 connected little pots better known as “packs”—with a special soil for starting seeds. I happened to pick up something from MiracleGro. Any good quality potting mix should do the trick. Then I put the filled 6-packs onto an old baking tray and then filled the tray to the rim with water. The pot and soil sucks up the water. Capillary action, remember that from school? Anyway, give them about 30 minutes to absorb the water in the tray.

During that time, plant your seeds! All I do is make a little divet in the soil with my pinky. The larger the seed, the larger the divet. These little pots are about 3 inches square. I made three divets in each cell. And I put two seeds in each divet. Am I even spelling divet correctly? Hmmm … Be sure to label what’s in which cell. If you’re mind is going like mine is, you’ll forget what you did within the hour, so make a record of it.

Once the water was all absorbed, it was safe to move the trays and pots to their new home. Voila! A seed starting area set up and going in nowhere and in no time at all. Now, all I have to do is wait.

Seed starting area

What Did I Plant?

It’s still cold outside folks. Nights still get chilly here, and only some plants can take it. Chard, spinach, beets, carrots, lettuce, cabbage and such can be planted outside now. Seeds can be sown directly into the soil, too.

But, the big bonanza plants just can’t survive quite yet. Those would be veggies like tomatoes, squash, peppers, melons, zucchini, beans, pumpkins, corn. You can sow their seeds, but the chill isn’t going to do them any good. Better to start them inside now – or even a couple of weeks ago – so they’ll be a good size to plant out in the garden at the end of May. That’s right, I said end of May for most everyone here in the Northeast. It’s not that they’ll die at even the slightest chill. They just really really prefer to grow with some heat. Wouldn’t you? Anyway, the weekend before or during Memorial Day is a good time to plant these outside. You could and can do it a bit earlier, but I prefer to give them optimal growing conditions. May’s it for me.

I’ll post updates of my little babies as soon as they hatch!

Clover Food Lab

March 24, 2011 § 3 Comments

Guys, I’d love for today’s post to be more of a discussion. I don’t know much about Clover and I’d love for you to chime in.

I met friends at the Clover Food Lab in Harvard Square for lunch yesterday. Like I said, I don’t know much about it—except these two things:

  1. This particular brick-and-mortar location developed from a wheels-and-engine business. Am I right about that? Clover was originally a food truck, I take it, and there are a herd of them now in the Cambridge/Boston area.
  2. They serve all (or mainly?) vegetarian food.

Food trucks are on fire right now. And to see that a nomadic business can settle in and put down roots seems pretty cool. I mean, that’s how “civilization” started. (Hey, I used air quotes, and I’m not saying that today’s nomadic societies aren’t civilized.) I would have loved to try the Clover food truck experience first.

My friend Deb, on the other hand, had tried the food truck first. Raved about it. Loved the food. And when she saw that I’m eating “veganish” she suggested we meet up with friend Sonya to try out the steady digs.

What did we think? Here are my quick impressions as a first-timer, and an observation from Deb as a food truck customer:

The electronic “sandwich boards” as you walk in: Interesting technology there. It’s a vertical flat screen. Rather than erasing and re-writing a sign, they erase and rewrite something on their computer in the back (?) and reload or whatever. What’s the point? Not sure, except when you don’t need two “menus,” you can switch one of the screens to whatever it is you want. When we walked in both boards were menus. When we walked out, one was a menu, one was Clover’s website/blog.

Clover's Chickpea Fritter with a side of Brothy Barley & Spinach Soup. (See the indentation where my falafel ball once sat?)

I ordered the Chickpea Fritter – aka, falafel – in a pita. It came highly recommended by Deb. It was awesome. The slaw was tasty, as was whatever Mediterranean-esque sauce that was in it. The falafel was nicely done, still moist inside. There were a lot of things inside my pita I couldn’t quite pinpoint, but that was okay because I loved it all. Especially the pickle slices. BUT, folks, DO NOT put a falafel ball right on top of the stuffed pita. Mine did an “On Top of Old Smokey” thing and rolled onto the floor. Sad face.

Deb ordered the Egg & Eggplant pita. She loved that, too. Looked good. Can you get that without the egg? Next time.

We all ordered the Brothy Barley and Spinach Soup. Do you know what the word “brothy” brings to mind? Broth. A clear, flavorful liquid. No broth in this soup. If you want to be alliterative, try Burly Barley. Because it was a burly soup—any soup in which a spoon can stand straight up in (without assistance) is burly. As for taste … I’m a barley lover, and I did enjoy it. Add a touch of salt. My companions weren’t very fond of it. Oh, and where was that spinach? (Add more.)

Rosemary fries for the three of us. Yum. Dude, they were awesome.

I love that “city water” was on the menu and listed as $0.

Deb was a bit disappointed that the restaurant menu was the same as the food truck. I think she was expecting a few other choices.

If you’re going to serve pitas that are hefty and stuffed, maybe provide “holding docks” at each table—things like the U-shaped diner napkin holders. So, when you’re settling down into your seat, taking off your coat, etc., this thing can hold your pita without the food falling out (and rolling onto the floor). Just a thought.

The space needs a living wall either in the front windows above, or on that back wall. I know there’s those supports on the back wall and it looks like there’s grape ivy being training on them. Long, slow process. Clover may be looking into this—but, I do know a little something about living walls and know people in the biz. It doesn’t have to be complicated. AND, how cool would it be if they grew their own herbs and salad greens right there on location? It’s possible. Plus, as you may not know, plants “clean” the air, provide oxygen, and also help regulate temperature. Like I said, I know a little somethin’ somethin’ ’bout the topic.

Dainty Rates: 3 out of 5 Dots.

Paperwhites: Fresh Color For the New Year

January 8, 2011 § 2 Comments

“I don’t do well with houseplants.”

Really? Is that really your excuse for not adding some living color – literally, living color – to your home? Come on, having houseplants isn’t like doing brain surgery. And, if you do mess up with a houseplant, you can always get another one. Another brain? Not so sure about that.

But specifically, let’s talk paperwhites, aka Narcissus tazetta (I had to google that, don’t be too impressed). Houseplants? Not really. They’re actually bulbs, and the bright, papery-white mini daffodil-shaped flowers will eventually die, the green leaves will fade. Rather than label them houseplants, let’s call them temporary residents, instead.

You see paperwhite bulbs for sale beginning any time after Thanksgiving and into January or so. Why? It’s just the right time of year to force these bulbs into bloom. Forced early in December, the bright white flowers go well with the Christmas holiday decor. Set against the red of a poinsettia, and the white makes the red look even more Christmassy. They make a good pair.

Paperwhites really do make the color of poinsettias pop.

Wait – I think I have to define a word here, “force,” just in case you don’t catch my meaning. You’re not actually using force (or anger or intimidation) to make these bulbs pop their buds. To “force” means to … encourage, yeah, that’s it … you’re encouraging these bulbs to produce leaves and flowers for you at a time when Mother Nature would dictate they sleep for the winter instead.

Okay, back to business.

Begin forcing paperwhites in mid December, and they’ll bring you a whole different experience. At least for me. As you’re dismantling your tree, taking down the decorations and removing all hints of the Christmas holiday round about New Year’s Day, the paperwhites are pushing out their petals. The house is not suddenly stale and cold. There’s life in full flower on the windowsill.

Plant up some paperwhites every weekend from mid December through mid January or whenever your bulb supply runs out, and the narcissus blooms should take you right up until Valentine’s Day, when a color of another sort may appear if you’re lucky.

Paperwhite How-Tos

You don’t have to plant your paperwhites as I do. This technique – potting up the bulbs in water – works for me. And is a lot easier to clean up than potting the bulbs in potting soil.

For one container of paperwhites:

  • three paperwhite bulbs – I found mine at Mahoney’s Garden Center in Brighton.
  • glass vase big enough to fit said bulbs
  • polished stones, glass or similar from a craft store

-I use any sort of clear-glass vessel I can find that has a) an opening big enough for me to squeeze my hand through and b) is at least 6 inches deep. An 11-in. tall vase – the standard kind you get with a nice bouquet delivery – is ideal and I’ll tell you why later. An 8-in. vase is a tad too short. Explanation to come below.

-Place stones/glass/whatever in the bottom of the vessel to create a layer at least 2 or 3 inches deep.

-Place each paperwhite bulb on top of the stones, nudging them in just a bit. Don’t bury the bulbs, just make sure they are securely on the stones. Bulbs can touch, don’t worry. Oh, and place the bulbs GREEN SIDE UP! Your bulbs should have a visible root side and emerging green stemmy-looking side. If you put the green side down, god help you son.

-Place on a windowsill or somewhere they can get some light – they are plants, after all.

-Add water to the vase to just about the bottom of the bulb. The bulbs can sit in a bit of water, but don’t flood them.

-Next, watch them grow.

 

Even the paperwhite roots are cool to see. Looks like I need to add some water to the vase!

Got a cat or dog? Adding water to their water bowl? Well, check if your pet paperwhites need water, too. It may take a week or so to see some activity. You’ll see it first in the water – brownish white roots will emerge from the bulb. That’s a good sign. Once that happens, the top will start elongating and long leaves will grow by leaps and bounds each day. And eventually a stalk will pop out of the bulb with a thin membrane-encased bunch of baby flowers. Ah, birth!

So, the explanation for why I prefer an 11-in. vase. Simple. These leaves and flowering stalks get pretty tall. The shorter the vase, the more easily the tall stuff slumps over. My paperwhites in the taller vase don’t even think of slumping. Looks much neater. However, if you like the paperwhites-gone-wild look, go for it.

A tall vase helps keep the stems and leaves stand straight.

What Can Go Wrong?

Good question.

-One BIG bummer I experienced last year was a batch of bad bulbs. Not sure what happened to them, but they didn’t emerge more than an inch or two, and they never did flower.

-You can add too much water and your bulbs will get icky. Icky as in moldy and soft.

-You can have too many bulbs in too shallow a container. And your top-heavy flowers will tip over. Is it apparent I’m speaking from experience?

-Not that this is too horrible of a problem but … check out this photo. The emerging leaves and stems couldn’t quite make it up and around the curve of the vase. They had nowhere to go but where they were. So, I ended up with flowers inside the vase. Actually, it looks pretty interesting to me.

These paperwhite flowers couldn't quite make it out of the vase.

Oh, one thing you may want to be aware of: Paperwhites have that same effect on people as cilantro – you know, where people either like the taste of cilantro or think it tastes like soap. The paperwhite fragrance is kinda/sorta the same way, except it’s not soap it will smell like. But don’t let this dissuade your trying paperwhites. It was my duty to tell you.

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