Sunday, November 30, 2008

Michael Pollan+Bill Moyers=Grow Your Own

Anyone else watch Michael Pollan on Bill Moyers' NOW this week? If you missed it, click here.
One idea with real merit is for the president-elect to hire a White House chef who would source food from local farms.

And naturally we support turning at least five acres of the White House lawn (lawn? that's ridiculous...) into an organic farm.

A friend asked how our greens were doing upstairs, so here's an update. (Double-click photos for larger views.)

The sub-irrigated planters (SIPs) are growing beautifully. It's about 50 degrees F on the second floor (about 32 degrees F outside), an ideal temperature for cool-weather greens. I rotate the planters every few days to accommodate the single southern exposure light source.

Here's a close-up of one planter. We're getting a nice salad or stir-fry for two every other day. I'm amazed it's working, but then I still marvel at the power of a few minuscule seeds to deliver this much food. This after 50 years of growing stuff.

One issue with the Pollan/Moyers program: it took them a long time to get around to suggesting that people start a garden to grow their own food.

As you know if you read our blog, you don't need a turned-earth plot to do it. And you don't need a rooftop either--SIPs can be positioned anywhere on the ground where you have sun. Some people even put them in a wagon so they can be moved into the sun.

And as Bruce says, you can also view growing your own food as political act. Pollan and Moyers touched on that too.

At left is a view of one of the sub-irrigated pop-bottle planters seeded in October. It won't be long before it too becomes a windowsill salad generator.

I don't pretend that everyone can haul bucket planters inside and grow food in Chicago during the winter. But if you've got a window with strong light, these pop bottle planters are an amazing demonstration of sub-irrigation in action. For more on all things sub-irrigated, go to Bob Hyland's site Inside Urban Green and have a look around.

Finally, I reuse the small plastic Earthbound Farms boxes to hold our harvest. It's a good reminder of the $2.99 we save each time we cut and savor this beautiful food.

Conservatively, that's $9.00 per week plus the cost of transport, which in our case means giving the legs a good work-out on the stairs to the second floor.


Bruce said...

I'm a little jealous of your smaller, meaning mobile, containers. And of the space you've got to put them in.

Any plans to supplement the weak winter light with fluorescent lights? Or are you going to wait and see how much sunlight you get?

H2 said...

You could try the pop-bottle planters in your west window or under your light set-up, Bruce.

We're going to play it by ear re light. With the sun we've been having, the plants are growing. Check back in a month or so...

Russ C said...

Great work Heidi. As you know, I've transplanted some herbs to pop bottle planters a few weeks ago and they are drinking water like crazy. The parsley isn't doing so great (just slow growing) but the rosemary and thyme are still going. I'm glad to see things are working on your second floor. Keep us posted!

H2 said...

Thanks Russ! Glad for your update too, since we've been wondering how your pop bottles were doing. I think the woodier herbs like rosemary and thyme do better inside during our winters. Parsley and basil seem to need more sun and warmth than most of us can give them outside a greenhouse.

Brandon said...

Thank you so much for this blog which is very inspired. I have two SIPs going based on your 2L bottle and 5 Gal designs. The link you have posted in a few places as a good source for food grade buckets ( seems to be broken, so I'm wondering if you know of another good, inexpensive source for those. Thanks again!

Bruce said...

Thanks for bringing the broken link to my attention.

Walton Feed still sells food grade buckets, though they aren't cheap--$8 plus shipping.

A basic search on "food grade buckets" turns up a few more possibilities.

To get around the cost of the buckets, I'm wondering if there's a way to use a cheap food grade plastic liner inside an old construction grade--read free--bucket.

H2 said...

Check out this link if you're in the Chicago area. Food grade buckets for $3 each via craigslist.

Ricardo said...

Quick question on the pop bottle planters, as I have seen them for quite a while...

Do you water from the bottom, or water from the top? I do not remember ever seeing that explained.

Bruce said...

Hi Ricardo,

You add water to the top of the soil until it shows up in the reservoir. Since there aren't any overflow holes, you don't want to overdo it.

Brandon said...

I'm starting to get some really nice looking mixed greens using the Renee's Garden seeds you recommended, so thank you for that!

There are a fairly large number of tiny green bugs all over the lettuce leaves. Do you have any experience with these and do you have any recommendations on how to deal with them?

Thanks as always!

H2 said...

Hi Brandon:
Are you growing outside and if so, in what climate?

Glad the Renne's mix is coming up for you. Let me know more about where you are and maybe we can figure out the bugs...

Brandon said...

Yes, I am growing outside currently. I live in San Jose, CA so the temperatures are pretty moderate. I started the greens from seed back in about late October just to see if leafy greens could go through the Winter. They grew pretty slowly, but I was surprised to learn how well they handled the few frosts we have had. Here's what they looked like a few weeks ago.

We've actually just started harvesting a bit of greens, which taste amazing by the way, and the bugs are a very recent development. If you have any tips on organic products or any other strategies for getting rid of them, I'm all ears.

H2 said...

Nicely done! You have a burgeoning bucket of greens and I'll bet that's part of the bug problem.

They may need thinning out so they can breathe a bit. Harvest several leaves from each plant and maybe even pull a few plants out by the roots to thin.

Then spray with a dilute solution of tabasco and water and see if the bug problem improves. Keep us updated...wish we could share your salad.