Category Archives: environment

The Rooftop Garden in Brooklyn Thrives!

We have a great garden growing on our rooftop in Brooklyn overlooking the construction of the new stadium at Atlantic Center. While watching them build the stadium, we’re growing some good ol’ Brooklyn produce.

At first, we planted in clay pots and plastic pots. We have cucumbers, tomatoes, peas, green-beans, green peppers, serano chiles, and lots of herbs.

Tomatoes and Squash

The best growth we’ve had is with our kale. It grows wonderfully on the roof. Here’s a shot of the kale growing and a shot of cooked kale with garlic and hot red peppers:

kale

Brooklyn Kale

Kale with Garlic and Hot Red Peppers

Kale with Garlic and Hot Red Peppers

I also tried a new method of growing tomatoes using a Sub Irrigated Planter (SIP). The idea is to water the plants from the bottom instead of the top. It’s far more efficient and you use a lot less water.

There are a lot of websites that help teach how to make your own SIP system. I like Global Buckets a lot. There’s also a company called Earthbox that sells kits. It’s not that hard to make one yourself – I recommend it so that you can really see how it works.

We made our SIPs out of plastic buckets. In the photo at left, you can see Anya (wearing safety goggles of course!) drilling a large hole into one bucket. A smaller hold is also drilled next to the large one.

In the photo at right,  you can see that a chinese food container with little holes drilled in it, is inserted into the large hole in the center of he bucket. A plastic PVC pipe is inserted into the smaller hole. It’s important that when you cut the plastic PVC pipe, one side is cut at an angle. The side with the angle is inserted into the bottom of the bucket. The angle is important so that water can flow through the tube into the bottom bucket.

The bucket is then inserted into another bucket. We drilled two holes into the lid — one for the PVC pipe and one for the plant to stick out of.

The top bucket is filled with soil and whatever you are planting. You water by pouring water through the PVC tube. It fills up the bottom bucket and wicks into the soil through the chinese food container and then up to the roots of the plant. At left is a finished SIP.

We have two SIPs working with cherry tomato plants that are doing wonderfully. It’s really not hard to build them and it’s a fun construction project. Anyone interested in container gardening for your rooftop, deck or even backyard should try to build these. Our finished SIPs are at right.

Below, I’m including a youtube video that explains how the construction process of a SIP more clearly than I did above. Enjoy!


October in Napa, California

I just came back from a great weekend from one of the meccas of all things food and wine: Napa California. I went to visit my friend Ari who is a winemaker living in both Napa and Israel. I had the pleasure of staying in an incredible house on the top of a mountain called Twin Sisters. If you have about $10 million handy, the house is for sale. Check out the house’s website: http://1700twinsisters.com

Below is a slideshow of the house and of the new vineyard where Ari is making wine:

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One great winery and vineyard we visited on this trip was Palmaz Vinyards. It’s a gorgeous winery and their wine is great.  I’ve been to lots of wineries in Napa and this is at the very top. If you visit Napa, I recommend getting a tour. Their website: http://www.palmazvineyards.com

Let The Great World Spin

The rooftop garden in Brooklyn is flourishing: spinach, zuchinis, cucumbers, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, snap peas, green beans and a whole bunch of herbs. To get to the roof there’s a ladder and then you open a hatch and out into the blinding light. It feels like leaving a spaceship and walking on a whitewashed moon.
We have a view of the statue of liberty and all of lower Manhattan.
We got sick of lugging bottles of water up for the plants and bought a hose. Now, we run the hose from the kitchen sink, out the door, down the hall, up the ladder and out the hatch. For a secret rooftop garden, we have a lot going on. Hopefully the landlords won’t catch on. We’ll probably end up like that children’s book and have tomatoes growing in our closets.
The plants love getting drenched. There aren’t enough bees in Brooklyn so Anya had to pollenate a lot of the plants using Q-Tips. Too bad city pigeons can’t be taught bee tricks so they can have a use. We’ve harvested the first tomatoes and snap peas- delicious. I’d like to grow sunflowers too. It would give the people on Flatbush Avenue something nice to look at.
On a side-note, I just read a beautiful book by Colum McCann, Let The Great World Spin. If you live in NYC, ever lived in NYC, or hell, live anywhere, it’s a good one. It captures a lot.

More cheesemaking soon….

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The Bees and The Bees

Honey Bee

Honey Bee

Although we see them all the time, it’s easy to take the honey bee for granted. We avoid them or shoo them away, but rarely do we take a moment to appreciate what the honey bee does for us.

The honey bee, apis melifera, is one of our most important partners in growing fruits, veegtables and nuts. According to the National Resources Defence Council, “the list of crops that simply won’t grow without honey bees is a long one: Apples, cucumbers, broccoli, onions, pumpkins, carrots, avocados, almonds … and it goes on.”

The San Diego Zoo website has a good explanation of bee pollination:

“Bees were very similar to carnivorous wasps millions of years ago. But when flowering plants appeared on Earth, bees became vegetarians, eating only nectar and pollen taken from flowers. Pollen is a well-balanced food with many of the essential nutrients bees need to survive. Female bees have a structure on their legs that no other insects, including wasps, have: a pollen basket. The basket is made of rows of stiff hairs that arch to form a hollow space on the outside of the bees’ legs, usually her back legs. When a bee visits a flower, she combs grains of pollen into her baskets. Pollen from the flower also sticks to the bee’s hair. Males do not collect pollen, so they don’t have this special body part. Leafcutting bees carry pollen in a brush of hair on the underside of the abdomen. And a few species, such as parasitic bees, have no pollen basket.

What about the flower’s nectar? Bees have a special tongue that sucks up the sweet nectar and a crop in their throat for storing it until they get back to the hive. Here the nectar is turned into honey. They can store large amounts of the honey in their hives to use as food.

All bees fly from flower to flower, sipping nectar and collecting grains of pollen. Many plants depend on bees to spread pollen, helping them to reproduce. Fruits and vegetables we like to eat, such as oranges, tomatoes, and squash, need bees to distribute the important pollen. When these crops are ready to produce their flowers, farmers often hire commerical beekeepers to deliver bees to their fields. The beekeeper places bee hives near the field for a few weeks. The bees harvest pollen and nectar for their hive, and the plants get pollinated in the process.”

Even in this age of big agribusiness, we still need and use bees to pollinate most of our vegetables. In the United States, there are large commercial bee-keepers. The National Honey Board reports that there are “approximately 1,600 commercial beekeeping operations in the United States which produce about 60 percent of the nation’s honey.  Many commercial beekeepers migrate their colonies during the year to provide pollination services to farmers and to reach the most abundant sources of nectar. ”

Commercial beekeepers truck their hives all over the United States and are paid top dollar for their bees’ pollination services. The almond harvest in California is perhaps the most impressive “bee operation.” The San Francisco Gate has a great story about how in February more than 40 billion bees are broughton semi trucks to the California Almond country.

In 2006, beekeepers began to report an alarming trend: the bees were disapearing. Unexplainably, masss of bee hives were empty and the bees were nowhere to be found.The phenomenon was termed Colony Collapse Disorder and it’s estimated that up to 1/3 of all honey bees in the United States have disapeared. What’s going on?

Watch these two 60 Minutes clips to get the latest thinking on what is happening. It’s so disturbing…

As of yet, there is no officially diagnosed cause of Colony Collapse Disorder. A lot of the papers and scientific research suggest that CCD could be caused by a confluence of different factors — articificial hives and breeding, chemicals that are used in beekeeping, chemicals and fertilizers that are used in agribusiness, and more.

For a full list of resources on Colony Collapse Disorder, see The MidAtlantic Apiculture website.

For a good explanation of the life of bees and of the functioning and social order of the hive, have a look at the National Honey Board website.

After learning about bees and their travails, I doubt I will ever look at them the same again.

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Women in Cheese in NYC

I found this from my friends at Slow Food NYC. I’ll be there on January 6th. If you’re not familiar with the Slow Food movement, check out their website here and then look for them locally in your city.

“Do you love cheese? Have you ever thought about why so many women are making such good cheese?

Join Slow Food NYC Jan 6th for an evening filled with local women in cheese. On hand will be local cheese purveyor Anne Saxelby, of Saxelby Cheesemongers, leading a discussion with Karen Weinberg of Three Corner Field Farm, Betsy Devine and Rachel Mark of Salvatore Bklyn, Angela Miller of Consider Bardwell Farm, and Lisa Schwartz of Rainbeau Ridge.

Hear the story behind the cheese and how this diverse group of women got into the business. They will discuss the cheese making process from the pastures to the shelves and what makes each of their cheeses so wonderful and unique. And of course each participant will also bring plenty of cheese to try, paired with local New York State cider.

Proceeds from this event will help support the activities and programs of Slow Food NYC.

Where: Astor Center – 399 Lafayette St. (at East 4th St.); Manhattan

When: Wedesday, January 6th, 2010 – 6:30 to 8:30

Tickets Available at:

http://www.astorcenternyc.com/class-slow-u-women-in-cheese.ac

Slow Food Members: $25 – use promotional code SFNYCMEM
Non-members: $35 – use promotional code SFNYCNON”

The End of Food

I recently read a very good book called The End of Food by Paul Roberts which is a very interesting read for anyone interested in the history and dynamics of the global food economy. If you like Michael Pollan’s books, you will enjoy this as well. What is most interesting in this book is the detailed history and analysis of Agri-Business and how we’ve comodified our calories  and how we’ve (both the farmers and consumers) given away our connection to food to  companies like nestle, kraft, unilever who have found ingenious ways to “add-value” so as to make a profit. This process has been going on for hundreds of years.

Thank god I live in a city (NYC) where farmers markets abound. Check out Local Harvest to find farmers markets near you. They have a cool interactive map too. It’s much nicer to buy fresh fruit and vegetables straight from the local farms near New York.

New York is definitely known for its foodies. Check out foodie nyc for a cornucopia of complicated recipes ranging from soft shell crab, corn shoot and lovage salad toa rosemary, ginger, smoked paprika bloody mary. I have nothing against the gourmet lifestyle or the gourmands always seeking out the next best dish or chef. I also appreciate the restaurants that are increasingle featuring house-made dishes. See this News week article on the new house-made phenom.

What I really like, however, is the new urban-homesteading movement. More and more people live in cities — in 1800 only 3% of people lived in cities. In 2008, more than half the population of planet earth are urban dwellers!

It only makes sense that we will feel disconnected from our food supply. So – more and more of us are looking for ways to re-connect. Everyone makes choices about how to connect in the best way for them. For some people it’s farmers markets, for others it’s eating local, and for others, it’s cooking more and being conscious of the food they eat. For those like me, who like to do-it-ourselves, there’s urban homesteading. Even in dense NYC you can find ways to grow and make your own delicious foods.

Read about an urban-homesteading couple in Los Angeles at Reality Sandwich. There’s even a book for sale on Amazon: The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-sufficient Living in the Heart of the city.

If you’re in NY and are interested in learning more, a good resource is The Local Fork, the locavores guide to NYC. I also like Leda’s Urban Homestead blog.

If you’re like me and like to make things that ferment (cheese, wine, beer, pickles, etc.) check out leeners — you can get just about anything from them.

I’d like to meet others in NYC who are interested in house-made / home-made / local / urban-homestead foods and the folks who make ’em. Send me a note and we’ll see if we can’t get a group of us together.

A Man Staring at Goats

The Men Who Stare at Goats

Well, it’s official – goats are everywhere. The latest Clooney movie is The Men Who Stare at Goats. According to Wikipedia, the film is about:

The book examines connections between paranormal military programs and psychological techniques being used for interrogation in the War on Terror. The book traces the evolution of these covert activities over the past three decades, and sees how they are alive today within U.S. Homeland Security and post-war Iraq. It examines the use of the theme tune toBarney & Friends on Iraqi prisoners-of-war, the smuggling of a hundred de-bleated goats into the Special Forces command center at Fort BraggNorth Carolina, and the connection between the U.S. military and the mass-suicide of members of the Heaven’s Gate cult in San Diego.[1]

Rabbis Goats and Other Characters

Then, I notice a neighborhood artist, Jonathan Blum with a new goat exhibit

If I could have a goat in Brooklyn, I would buy one right now. They are smart, nice and will eat just about anything. Then, I would be able to milk them twice a day and make my own cheese! Bliss. But where to put the goats? They’d be a mess on the streets of Brooklyn.

I got an idea while visting Georgia last summer. About an hour from Atlanta, in Tiger, GA,  I found a rest-stop/restaurant called Goats on the Roof. Below is a video I found of the place:

I think I could do Goats on the Roof in Brooklyn. What do you think?