Monthly Archives: June 2012

Growing Your Own Food in an Urban Environment: Part II

By Leah Kaminsky

In Part I of this series, we learned how to use recycled or re-purposed containers and a windowsill to grow an urban garden. Today we’ll look at two other great routes—raised beds and grow bags.

For those with a little more space (or the willingness to give up the whole patio), raised beds are a great way to grow a full and vibrant garden that can feed the entire family. Raised beds are freestanding structures made with wood, stone, concrete or any easy-to-use building material. They’re filled with soil and compost and customized to fit the dimensions of the available space. The beds need to be at least eight inches to three feet in height according to the needs of the produce you’ll be growing there.

Raised beds are an easy way to make spaces arable that normally aren’t. If you live in an apartment building and have access to both a balcony and rooftop, you can grow produce with high sunlight demands on the roof and those with lower demands on the balcony. In that way, raised beds increase the versatility of the food you grow.

If building your own bed (or hiring someone to do so) sounds too complicated, you might want to buy a grow bag at your local gardening center. These relatively inexpensive bags are durable yet flexible, accommodating a range of spaces even when filled with soil. Try enlisting other tenants in your apartment building to purchase several dozen for the building rooftop. You can plant just one crop or several and have your own rooftop farm. Once harvest time rolls around, celebrate community work with a big cooking party or barbeque.

No matter what route you take, urban gardening is a wonderful way to create a self-sustaining garden and have a little fun while you’re at it.

Growing Your Own Food in an Urban Environment: Part I

By Leah Kaminksy

Stay tuned for part two!

Just because you live in a city or on a small plot of land doesn’t mean you can’t grow your own food. In fact, the less space you have, the more fun you can have getting creative.

First matter of business: try to find old materials that can be turned into containers. This can be anything from used tires, wine barrels, kiddie pools, buckets, big mixing bowls, and so forth. As long as it’s round and relatively deep, you can work with it.

Buy a rich, dark soil from your local gardening store or if you have the space, make your own compost from food scraps. Line containers accordingly, making sure to leave a two inch gap at the top to allow room for water. Then plant any fruit or vegetable that does well in your climate. Greens like lettuce grow in most environments, as do turnips and peas.

Shallower containers like wading pools dry out more quickly than deeper containers, so make sure to water regularly.

If making room for a used tire garden puts you into hysterics (“A used tire? In my apartment?”), all is not lost. You can still grow a garden even if you’re only working with a windowsill–preferably one that gets six to eight hours of light each day. All you need is a smaller container that maximizes sun capture (open bowl, good; closed watering can, bad).

If you’re nervous about a big undertaking, start with herbs and then work up to tomatoes, lettuce or small root vegetables.

Shop your local hardware store for cheap shop lights to use on cloudy days.

No matter which strategies you choose to grow inexpensive, pesticide-free food, approach your garden with a new set of eyes. See possibilities, not problems. This is, after all, a creative problem solving challenge. Think hard, have fun and play!


Tune in next week for more ideas in Part II of this urban gardening series.

The Great Natural Giveaway

It’s summertime and the giving’s easy. (I couldn’t resist.) is sponsoring a very cool DAILY giveaway of an array of products, many of which are from Martha Stewart’s Annual Whole Living Healthy Skin Awards. Yes, I said daily!  Just go to EVERY DAY and enter for a chance to win one of our favorite skin care products being featured that day. Winners (hopefully you) will be announced at the end of June… and prizes will be delivered to your door. Told you it was cool.

NO SUBSCRIPTION OR PURCHASE REQUIRED TO ENTER OR TO RECEIVE A PRIZE.  Legal residents of the 50 United States (D.C.), Age of Majority or older,  Ends 06/30/12.  To enter and for Official Rules, including odds, free methods of entry and prize descriptions, visit: Void where prohibited.

The Real Price of Cut Flowers

By Leah Kaminsky

Though Mother’s Day has come and gone, it’s taken nearly a month for me to clear all of those “50% off Mother’s Day Flowers” emails from my inbox. Flowers are, after all, the go-to gift for Mom, and I feel just a little bit less guilty about living far away when I know I can brighten my mom’s day with the click of a button.

But have you ever wondered where these flowers come from and how they find their way to their destinations? Stephen J. Dubner at Freakonomics did, and what he found may dull your enthusiasm.

Turns out, 80% of all cut flowers sold in the United States come from places like Colombia, Ecuador and Costa Rica. These flowers must be refrigerated immediately and shipped, first by air and then by truck.

That adds a lot more carbon to the atmosphere than going out to the garden and snipping a rose. And as Dubner points out, it’s a little strange that we care so much about high “food miles” when cut flowers are crossing the nation, causing extra pollution as they go.

So what’s an eco-minded mommy-lover to do the next time Mother’s Day rolls around? If you live far away, you have a couple options:

1. Send money to your mother’s partner, sibling or friend along with a nice card asking them to make the flower purchase from a local grower.

2. Try one of the new plastic flowers, which, according to Dartmouth geographer Susan Freidberg, are lightweight, great looking, made relatively near you and will last indefinitely. The same goes for Christmas trees, but we’ll save that for another post.

Or, you could think of other gifts altogether, like a new painting from that local artist you know she loves.

Reducing the carbon the cut flowers business produces is well within our reach. We just have to be honest about the environmental impact and get creative.

Are you allergic to Grandma’s candy dish?

I would wake up and I cough like a ninety year old man.  In the shower, my eyes would itch. And, pouring a cup of coffee usually spilling it all over me because of my non-stop sneezing jag.  Sound familiar?  I was allergic to my life; turns out that having an allergy is the most common denominator among people of all ages, sex and ethnicity. In fact it’s estimated that approximately 40 million Americans suffer from some sort of allergy.

Here is a short list of things I did that made my life less of a sneezing, coughing, itchy-fest.

  • No fresh flowers.  Sad, I know, however they are often the culprit
  • De-clutter. Knick knacks are fun — but seem to collect every speck of dust on the planet
  • Vacuum your mattress and cover it with a hypo-allergenic mattress pad. Unless you are allergic, the best materials are cotton and bamboo
  • Use unscented soaps, shampoos, conditioners, deodorants, moisturizers and lotions
  • If you want to use room deodorizers find an organic fruit spray. They are a lovely alternatives and have been proven to be effective at killing viruses and bacteria without harmful side effects
  • Brush the dogs outside and often

The more you about common allergens in your life the less Kleenex, nose sprays and pills you’ll need to buy.