September 8, 2013

The weeks since my move-in post have flown by. I’ve been settling into a routine in my new home, devotedly working to uphold my No Trash habits. Composting my food scraps is one of the most crucial components of the equation and as I had anticipated, establishing the practice here in NYC has been one of the more challenging steps in my transition.

I’ve come to realize that I was a pretty lazy composter in Rhode Island. I had a large open bin made of 2x4s and chicken wire. It provided me with a little over 15 cubic feet of space to fill with my nitrogenous green kitchen material and carbonaceous shredded paper and cardboard. I used a pitchfork to aerate the pile, but that was about all the work that ever went into maintaining it. Here, without the luxury of yard space, I have to construct alternatives to my big old bin. As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve placed a compost container on the fire escape outside my bedroom. It’s a small galvanized steel ash can with a lid. The volume of the can is little more than 1 cubic foot, so I need to supplement it with other compost systems, especially as the cooler months approach and the metabolisms of the microbes in aerobic compost that eat the rotting food and paper start to slow down.

I did some research to locate a compost drop-off site near me. If you live in New York City, you can view Build It Green‘s list of food scrap drop-off locations to find one near you. I reached out to the Red Hook Community Farm through the contact page on their website and a gentleman named Ian replied to inform me that they do indeed accept kitchen scraps and that they compost them there at the farm, which is a short 5 minute walk from my apartment. Drop-off hours are on Fridays from 9am – 12noon. Since moving here in August, I’ve been bringing some of my kitchen scraps and shredded paper material to this site.

The newest part of my personal composting program is my red wiggler (Eisenia fetida) worm crew. I purchased them from the Manhattan Compost Project, an operation run by the Lower East Side Ecology Center. I called them up and asked about purchasing some red wigglers to try vermicomposting in my apartment and they put me down for an order of a pound of worms and told me I could pick them up from their stand at the Union Square Greenmarket the following week (they were sold out for the current week). The Union Square area happens to be where I am going to school so after class on the day of my scheduled pickup I walked with a curious classmate to purchase my worms. A friendly woman, who had been expecting me, handed me my pound of worms in a repurposed half-gallon almond milk container, which I later recycled. They were protected from the elements by some peat moss bedding. I paid about $20 for them. Later that evening, as I stood packed into a crowded subway car, I had a daydream about dropping and spilling my worms on disgruntled commuters. I tightened my grip on the carton, widened my stance, and braced for jerky train car movements. Luckily, there were no such accidents and the worms made it safely back to my apartment.

Readers who have been following my project for a since the spring of 2012 may recall that I attempted vermiculture once before while living in Providence. Though I was already set up with an adequate compost bin, I wanted to try keeping worms so that I could harvest the castings (worm poop) to fertilize my container garden. Unfortunately, the experiment was a bit of a disaster. I kept the bin outside and  sugar ants, which are a natural predator of red wigglers, invaded it. I opened the bin one day to find it crawling with ants and not a single worm remained. Hopefully I will have less tragic results indoors.

I’ve been keeping my new roommates in this old enamel washbasin until I can come up with a better housing solution for them. I have ideas for a homemade “worm factory”, but that’s a project that will take a fair amount of planning and time to create. Meanwhile the worms seem pretty happy. Though there was some tribulation one night when I accidently let their bedding get too dry (the weather is shifting here in the Northeast and the humidity has dropped considerably), which unfortunately led to some casualties. In search of water, a brave few attempted a great escape and perished in the arid landscape of my front room. I awoke in the morning to find about 10 shriveled worms stuck to the wood floorboards surrounding the washbasin. Stricken with guilt, I vowed to be more diligent in regulating the moisture levels of their bin. Worms breathe through their skin and require an environment that is neither to dry nor too wet. I’ve been covering them with shredded brown paper that’s been soaked and then squeezed of any dripping water. This seems to help keep the peat moss bedding moist. A lidded bin would also help the cause.

If optimal conditions are maintained for moisture, pH balance (not too acidic), and temperature (between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit) variables, the worms can eat up to half their body weight in a single day. That means my pound of worms can consume about a half a pound of food stock per day. They dine on both nitrogenous and carbonaceous materials as long as the food itself has some moisture—they cannot eat dry paper for instance. I’m finding that burying the food stock in the bedding helps keep the material moist, cuts down on any odor from decomposing organic matter, and keeps fruit flies at bay. Over time I’m sure I will learn more nuances of maintaining a healthy and efficient worm bin and will share what I discover as the relationship develops. I’m excited to engage in such a direct symbiosis.

August 15, 2013

This week was an exceptionally busy one. I have a bit of overlap with my leases in Brooklyn and Providence so even though I’m still wrapping up work in the Ocean State, I took some time to move most of my stuff down to my new apartment. With help from my incredibly generous friends and family, I spent the last several days packing, schlepping, unpacking, painting, cleaning, and setting up my new home.

My last move was just across town, so relocating without producing any trash wasn’t very difficult. I made many trips back and forth, wrapping things in blankets, strategically placing them in my car or a borrowed pickup truck, and I took care not to hit any bumps or make any hard turns. This time around I have a 3-4 hour drive between my old and new home so packing without boxes, bubble wrap, newspaper, and tape required some more careful consideration. My best friend and I rented a 4’ x 8’ U-Haul trailer and hitched it to his small pickup truck. We managed to fit the bulk of my belongings in this rig. My bed and breakfast table pack flat so that helped a lot. I wrapped some of my fragile ceramic and glass kitchen wares in my sheets and comforter and placed them into my small blanket chest. I was really satisfied with that parcel. It traveled well.

I own quite a few glass jars and bottles, in which I store dry and liquid bulk food and hygiene goods. I transferred those in some borrowed milk crates. The crates that were tightly filled and placed at the front of the trailer (closest to the hitch), like the rectangular one pictured above, made the drive without a problem. But I did have some casualties in a smaller square crate that wasn’t quite Tetris packed like the others. The items in that crate had a little bit of room to rattle against each other. It was also at the back of the trailer, which means it probably had a bumpier ride than the others. It was also one of the last things to go and by that point, already tired from packing and loading and eager to get on the road, I’d gotten a little careless. But I really should have taken the time to stuff some clothes into the gaps between the fragile objects to prevent them from jostling around, because unfortunately the broken glass can’t be recycled and now it will end up in the landfill. Plus, one of the vessels that broke was a bottle of red wine vinegar, which made quite a pungent mess in the trailer.

Still, all things considered, I am pleased that I didn’t have to wrestle with a single cardboard box. My place is scrubbed clean and painted with low VOC paint. I will recycle the empty paint cans and the roller will likely become trash (couldn’t figure out a way around using one and I’m not sure that I can get it to come clean even with the most thorough soaking). My mom always says that any place we choose to live is basically just four walls, a floor, and a roof, it’s the things we chose to fill that box with and how we decide to arrange them that make it feel like a home. I thought about that sentiment this week, as I hung my ceramic planters in the windows and art on the walls (all made by my gifted, beloved friends).

I thought about it as I set up my new kitchen. I took the doors off the cabinets so that I could see all my tableware, stainless steel containers, and jars full of ingredients. I find that having open shelving makes my kitchen more functional. Besides, having cabinet doors that swing open in a space as narrow this one is a little cumbrous. Heads are bound to get bonked. Eventually I would love to remove the cabinets altogether and replace them with extended open shelving. It will give me more storage room and I think it might make the space feel a little bigger. In good time. For now I will make the units that are there work for my purposes.

Setting up my bed and unpacking my clothes were two other tasks I needed to tackle before I could feel settled. I placed some herbs and a small compost container on the fire escape outside the bedroom window. Today the dry breeze carried the smells of a backyard barbecue and the nearby water through the apartment. Little by little the space really is starting to feel like home. Now I’ll be able to focus on starting school, knowing that I have a great spot to return to each day.

August 3, 2013

This week I signed a lease on an apartment in Brooklyn. Though I’d been amply warned about the challenges involved in finding a place to live in NYC, the undertaking proved even trickier than I’d anticipated. As a student, I will only be able to work part-time and my modest budget limited my options from the get go. Securing a dwelling that met my requirements took a good deal of time and energy, but in the end my tenacity paid off.

Feeling comfortable and at ease in my immediate space has always been important to me. But in addition to finding an agreeable, clean, functional, sunlit interior, there were many other factors to consider before choosing a place to call home in a city as large as New York. My desire to live without making any trash further complicated my decision. Of course, the proximity of my home to my school and access to public transportation are both of great importance. I was also thinking about access to resources, like bulk food vendors. And with each space I looked at I also had to consider whether or not I would be able to compost at home or nearby. Trying to familiarize myself with these factors as an out-of-towner was no easy feat. Nor was it easy on my feet. Despite my best effort to employ a daily blister prevention program of strategically placing paper medical tape on my toes and heels, while hoofing it from neighborhood to neighborhood on some of the hottest (sweatiest) days of July, I wound up with some rather raw dogs. But all the walking was worth it. I’ve started to get to know some neighborhoods, trains, eateries, and grocery stores in Brooklyn. After several weeks of searching I was able to settle on an apartment that seems to be a good compromise on everything I was looking for in a home.

I found a reasonably priced, no broker fee apartment in sleepy Red Hook. I really love the neighborhood. There’s an excellent grocery store that stocks an impressive variety of bulk foods and organic produce, an impressive community farm, some lovely garden centers, and a handful of great restaurants. One drawback to the location is that there are no trains that go directly to the neighborhood, which means that I will have a longer walk, a short bike ride, or a bus ride to get to and from the train into the city every day. But while I was hemming and hawing over whether or not I could tolerate the commute, a dear friend pointed out that I happen to be someone who is willing to pass on certain conveniences in order to experience other things of value that support a good quality of life. Hearing this from someone who knows me well made me realize that I’m quite capable of making the best of my time there. Of course it’s possible that come wintertime, I may grow weary of the commute, in which case I may choose to relocate for my second year of school, but for now I’m just excited to give it a try.

Meanwhile back in Providence again, I’m finishing up work projects, and preparing for my move. Being without my car has been great so far. I took my bike for a tune-up and replaced the synthetic squishy, leaky gel saddle with a quality leather one. I returned the gel saddle to my friend who built my bike for me. He said that despite the tear he could still make use of it. So far I’ve found the leather saddle to be a lot more comfortable than the gel. I don’t feel like I’m slipping and sliding the way I felt on the padded seat. Now that it’s the only vehicle I own and because it will ease my daily commute to the train once I’ve moved, I’m more focused on taking great care of my bike.

July 16, 2013
Some progress to report: today I sold my car. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time, especially since I moved into my current apartment, which is only 3 blocks from my office at Brown. The vehicle was good to me for years, facilitating trips to the beach, visits with family, and co-op stock ups. But now that it’s gone I feel a tremendous weight lifted as I am no longer financially responsible for maintenance, repairs, insurance, car taxes, registration, and of course fuel. Oh, and parking tickets. All that has been transferred to a very nice man from Cranston. He bought the car for his daughter who, as he brags, just graduated from high school at the top of her class.
I’m left with my feet and my bike, which are more than sufficient modes of transportation for the remainder of the summer here in Providence and certainly all I’ll need once I move to NYC. It’s a lovely season for the extra exercise. Now that I’ve sold the car I can justify tricking out my bike. Just kidding. But I am going to invest in a nice saddle. My friend who built the bike up for me chose my current saddle. Much of my ride was assembled with components he had lying around the shop he works in, which was a fantastic money saver and I’m pleased he was able to repurpose so many used parts. But unfortunately my overstuffed gel seat is starting to deteriorate and ooze sticky synthetic material onto my backside while I’m riding, especially on super hot days. It’s not a good look. So I’ve begun searching online (mostly craigslist and ebay) for a lightly used leather saddle. There seems to be a pretty good inventory out there.
Little by little, the pieces required for my transition are starting to fall into place, and I grow more excited as my first day of class draws nearer.

Some progress to report: today I sold my car. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time, especially since I moved into my current apartment, which is only 3 blocks from my office at Brown. The vehicle was good to me for years, facilitating trips to the beach, visits with family, and co-op stock ups. But now that it’s gone I feel a tremendous weight lifted as I am no longer financially responsible for maintenance, repairs, insurance, car taxes, registration, and of course fuel. Oh, and parking tickets. All that has been transferred to a very nice man from Cranston. He bought the car for his daughter who, as he brags, just graduated from high school at the top of her class.

I’m left with my feet and my bike, which are more than sufficient modes of transportation for the remainder of the summer here in Providence and certainly all I’ll need once I move to NYC. It’s a lovely season for the extra exercise. Now that I’ve sold the car I can justify tricking out my bike. Just kidding. But I am going to invest in a nice saddle. My friend who built the bike up for me chose my current saddle. Much of my ride was assembled with components he had lying around the shop he works in, which was a fantastic money saver and I’m pleased he was able to repurpose so many used parts. But unfortunately my overstuffed gel seat is starting to deteriorate and ooze sticky synthetic material onto my backside while I’m riding, especially on super hot days. It’s not a good look. So I’ve begun searching online (mostly craigslist and ebay) for a lightly used leather saddle. There seems to be a pretty good inventory out there.

Little by little, the pieces required for my transition are starting to fall into place, and I grow more excited as my first day of class draws nearer.

July 1, 2013
It’s been nearly three weeks since my last post. My longest update lapse since I started blogging in October 2011. There are lots of changes taking place in my life right now and I’ve been taking time to wrap up chapters and plan for the adventures ahead. I’ve decided to go back to school to study sustainable design and waste management. So I am stepping down from my wonderful position as a film archivist at Brown University, and moving out of my beautiful 230-something year-old Providence apartment to get after graduate studies in New York City. It’s a bittersweet departure for me. I’ve loved my time in this little city and when I think about leaving, it’s easy to get sentimental about the relationships I’ve forged, and the fantastic projects I’ve been a part of. Leaving my job, home, and friends in the twilight of my twenties to become a full-time student again is a bit nerve-racking, but the idea of staying still, unchallenged and unchanging, troubles me more than the idea of taking risks.
I’m excited to engage in new modes of thinking in the company of faculty and fellow students. I hope to work to carve out initiatives that can change patterns of behavior that lead to waste—particularly food and packaging waste. I’m looking forward to the challenge of taking my No Trash Project to New York, a city that moves at the speed of convenience, where disposables spatter daily life at an astonishing rate. Here in Providence, I’ve hit my stride with this project and I’m quite comfortable in my routine. I know that certain Zero Waste practices (like composting food scraps) may prove more difficult in the big city, but if there is one thing I’ve learned about myself over the past 26 months, it’s that I can be very determined and resourceful. Luckily, there’s no shortage of resources in NYC, so I know for sure that I will be able to find vendors who stock package-free goods. Actually, I’ve already begun researching trash-free grocery sources and I now have a growing list of businesses to visit once I’m down there.
Meanwhile, there’s plenty to do in the coming weeks. I need to finish work projects, sell my car, pare down my belongings further, find a place to live in Brooklyn, and move. It’s a lot but I’m making progress. As a Rhode Island School of Design alum, I have the privilege of holding tag sales on campus. Foot and vehicle traffic is pretty busy at the permitted locations. In the past, when I timed it right, I have managed to do pretty well there. So I’ve been combing through my cupboards, bookshelves, dresser drawers, and closets pulling objects for the pile. Faced with the question, “Do I really want to move this thing?” decisions about what to keep and what to put back into circulation become clear. I will donate whatever I’m unable to sell.
I’d love to pledge to reestablish my regular posting routine, but that may be an unrealistic commitment at this time. However, I will say that sharing my trials and triumphs on this blog has been one of my favorite aspects of the project. It’s been rewarding as a journaling exercise but even more so as a means of communication with people around the world. I am habitually snapping photos of all things trashy and trash-free, writing posts in my head. Making the time to actually compose them has been tricky lately but I intend to continue share as much as possible. Besides there’s so much uncharted territory ahead (no trash moving, for instance) that I think is worthy of the humble NTP spotlight. So to those readers who are still with me: Many, many thanks. You motivate me to get busy chasing my dreams.

It’s been nearly three weeks since my last post. My longest update lapse since I started blogging in October 2011. There are lots of changes taking place in my life right now and I’ve been taking time to wrap up chapters and plan for the adventures ahead. I’ve decided to go back to school to study sustainable design and waste management. So I am stepping down from my wonderful position as a film archivist at Brown University, and moving out of my beautiful 230-something year-old Providence apartment to get after graduate studies in New York City. It’s a bittersweet departure for me. I’ve loved my time in this little city and when I think about leaving, it’s easy to get sentimental about the relationships I’ve forged, and the fantastic projects I’ve been a part of. Leaving my job, home, and friends in the twilight of my twenties to become a full-time student again is a bit nerve-racking, but the idea of staying still, unchallenged and unchanging, troubles me more than the idea of taking risks.

I’m excited to engage in new modes of thinking in the company of faculty and fellow students. I hope to work to carve out initiatives that can change patterns of behavior that lead to waste—particularly food and packaging waste. I’m looking forward to the challenge of taking my No Trash Project to New York, a city that moves at the speed of convenience, where disposables spatter daily life at an astonishing rate. Here in Providence, I’ve hit my stride with this project and I’m quite comfortable in my routine. I know that certain Zero Waste practices (like composting food scraps) may prove more difficult in the big city, but if there is one thing I’ve learned about myself over the past 26 months, it’s that I can be very determined and resourceful. Luckily, there’s no shortage of resources in NYC, so I know for sure that I will be able to find vendors who stock package-free goods. Actually, I’ve already begun researching trash-free grocery sources and I now have a growing list of businesses to visit once I’m down there.

Meanwhile, there’s plenty to do in the coming weeks. I need to finish work projects, sell my car, pare down my belongings further, find a place to live in Brooklyn, and move. It’s a lot but I’m making progress. As a Rhode Island School of Design alum, I have the privilege of holding tag sales on campus. Foot and vehicle traffic is pretty busy at the permitted locations. In the past, when I timed it right, I have managed to do pretty well there. So I’ve been combing through my cupboards, bookshelves, dresser drawers, and closets pulling objects for the pile. Faced with the question, “Do I really want to move this thing?” decisions about what to keep and what to put back into circulation become clear. I will donate whatever I’m unable to sell.

I’d love to pledge to reestablish my regular posting routine, but that may be an unrealistic commitment at this time. However, I will say that sharing my trials and triumphs on this blog has been one of my favorite aspects of the project. It’s been rewarding as a journaling exercise but even more so as a means of communication with people around the world. I am habitually snapping photos of all things trashy and trash-free, writing posts in my head. Making the time to actually compose them has been tricky lately but I intend to continue share as much as possible. Besides there’s so much uncharted territory ahead (no trash moving, for instance) that I think is worthy of the humble NTP spotlight. So to those readers who are still with me: Many, many thanks. You motivate me to get busy chasing my dreams.

June 9, 2013

I’m not sure what I enjoy more, growing my own food or having generous friends who grow and share food with me. These chive flowers and salad greens were a gift from a bestie. Grown in his Bristol, RI vegetable garden. It’s lunchtime and I’m feeling pretty darn fortunate.

May 29, 2013

This past weekend I got into a project I’d been scheming on since the start of spring. My landlady generously offered me a bit of space to grow some food in by the cement wall/iron fence that surrounds her backyard garden. The sunny spot is located in the small driveway off the alley by which I access my apartment. Two cars fit snuggly in the lot so building anything with substantial depth would have blocked vehicles from pulling in and out. Inspired by readings and projects from the Urban Agriculture class I took at Brown this semester, I decided to try my hand at some vertical gardening. I had seen DIY pallet garden projects in books and online and thought that might be a good place to start. I figured it would be economical too. A couple weeks ago I picked through some discarded samples behind a paper supplier in Pawtucket and found a few good specimens that I could pull apart and rebuild into a Franken-pallet. Gorgeous weather, a visit from my enormously talented woodworker/furniture maker friend, and the day off from work on Monday gave way to a perfect opportunity to finally get busy.

We started with a sturdy 3′ x 4′ pallet that boasted tightly fitted boards on one side. This would serve as the retaining wall on the back of the planter. Then we framed the sides and bottom of the planter with wood from the other dismantled pallets and some leftover scraps that were available from an ongoing home repair project (a new floor being laid in the laundry room/entrance to my apartment). Next, we mapped out the spacing of the boards that would enclose the front of the box. I decided to leave 2.5″ gaps between the boards to plant in. It seemed like a good amount of room for my herbs to grow but not so much space that the soil would forever be spilling out.

After lifting the basic frame into the right location/position and wiring it to the iron fence posts, we built the garden layers from the bottom up. We filled the pallet with soil, laying in and watering each plant,  then nailing boards to the frame. We collected sticks from the property (last summer’s cuttings from my landlady’s hedges) and pressed them in between the plants to try to create a webbing that will help retain the soil until the vegetation fills in. To give the plants a good  start, we mixed in worm castings as we worked our way up.

Above is the finished garden. Nine rows (including the row planted in the open top) currently hold twelve different edible plants. I’m growing rosemary, oregano, sage, two different kinds of marigolds, dill, cilantro (coriander), three different kinds of basil, tarragon and nasturtium. Marigolds, rosemary, cilantro, and basil are all pest repellent crops. The plants were grown from seed in my windowsill and purchased at the Southside Community Land Trust plant sale. I’m pleased with the look of the garden and I think its’s a great use of the very narrow space. I’m not sure how well everything will grow in this planter. I wonder if there will be enough soil for all the root systems that will be vying for water and nutrients. And properly saturating each layer with water may prove to be a bit tricky. There’s already been talk of a piped in irrigation system for the next pallet project. For now, I’m very happy about what we were able to create with the resources around us. The garden is an experiment and I’m excited to see how well it works over the course of the growing season.

To reward ourselves for a day of work in the sun, we bought some take-away and headed to the coast for a sunset feast on the beach. With a bunch of stainless steel containers in tow, we hit-up East Side Pockets and the grocery store salad bar for some good eats. We also packed some water, fruit, and trail mix to snack on.  My trusty 17-year-old Block Island beach blanket served as both a nearly sand-free surface to sit ourselves and our delicious meal upon, and later as a much appreciated wrap to keep warm with after sundown.

May 21, 2013

I recently ran out of the powdered laundry detergent I buy in bulk at my local co-ops, so I decided to make my own. An internet search for homemade laundry detergent usually yields a wide variety of sources for a basic recipe that calls for washing soda, borax, and grated bar soap. But there’s also quite a debate raging online about the potential health risks of using borax for home and body care. Some sources adamantly claim that the median lethal dose of borax is no higher than the median lethal dose of table salt (about 3 grams per kilogram of weight), making it a perfectly safe laundry detergent ingredient. On the other side of the argument, studies indicate that borax powder is a skin, eye, and lung irritant and if ingested it could cause vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, and lethargy. There is also concern that high or prolonged exposure to borax can lead to infertility and damage to an unborn child.

While wading through some of this information, attempting to sort out factors like the credibility of sources and the dates of each study, it occurred to me that perhaps I was barking up the wrong tree. At some point I realized that I’d rather err on the side of caution and I refocused my energy to try to find some recipes for homemade laundry detergent that didn’t include borax. As it turns out, there are indeed several borax-free recipes floating around on the web and many are just variations of a few basic elements. Baking soda, washing soda, grated bar soap, citric acid, epsom salt, table salt, and white vinegar were the ingredients I came across the most. I’ve begun experimenting to see what mix I like the best, based on what I’m able to acquire within the package-free parameters of my project. For this particular venture I’ve decided to make an exception for products packaged in paperboard or paper bags that are compostable. But to start I did manage to make a completely package-free batch of detergent from one cup baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), one cup washing soda (sodium carbonate), and one grated 4oz bar of unscented glycerin soap.

I was unable to find boxed washing soda on any local store shelf so I decided to make my own. In my research of each ingredient listed above, I discovered that it’s easy to make washing soda at home by simply heating baking soda in the oven. Baking soda’s chemical makeup is NaHCO3 (one sodium, one hydrogen, one carbon, and three oxygen molecules). Washing soda’s chemical makeup is Na2CO3 (two sodium, one carbon, and three oxygen molecules). When heated, the glistening, grainy baking soda gives off water and carbon dioxide, leaving dull, powdery washing soda behind.  I spread a thin layer of bulk-bought baking soda in a shallow pan and baked it at 400 degrees for one hour. I agitated it about a halfway through the bake time. I’ve only done a couple loads of laundry with my baking soda, washing soda, soap mix, but so far my clothes and linens have come out clean, odorless, and not too stiff. An there doesn’t seem to be any soapy residue left on my fabrics. I should mention that I’ve not yet tested this mix on any tough stains, though I’m sure it won’t be long before an opportunity arises.

I saw some recipes for soapless detergents, which call for baking and washing soda, epsom salts (magnesium sulfate), and table salt. Epsom salts are a natural surfactant—a wetting agent that reduces the surface tension of a liquid, allowing it to better penetrate solids. Today, surfactants made from a variety of petrochemicals (derived from petroleum) and/or oleochemicals (derived from fats and oils) are used in generic detergents to render water less likely to stick to itself and more likely to interact with greasy, organic soiling. Considered non-toxic, epsom salts are commonly used in homemade beauty treatments and cleaning solutions. Magnesium sulfate is also used in organic gardening and farming as a soil conditioner/fertilizer. Magnesium helps strengthen cell walls and improve plants’ uptake of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfer. And sulfer is critical to production of vitamins, amino acids (therefore protein), and enzymes. The other day while I was in the grocery store, I spotted some epsom salts in a paper carton and decided to purchase them. I transfered the salts to a glass jar, then shredded and composted the packaging. I’m looking forward to experimenting with them in my homemade detergent concoctions and I will post about my findings.

May 12, 2013
I’m feeling very fortunate to have been able to spend today with my mom. My gift to her was an experience. No object gifts, no cards, no trash (she’s come to expect those terms from me). I took her to a concert held in an incredible space at one of her favorite museums. Nine violinists, four violists, three cellists, and two bassists played a program of classical and contemporary music in a small, “round” theater (it was actually more cubic than round). The acoustics were amazing. Later we went out for dinner. It was a great day.  I’ll never forget it.

I’m feeling very fortunate to have been able to spend today with my mom. My gift to her was an experience. No object gifts, no cards, no trash (she’s come to expect those terms from me). I took her to a concert held in an incredible space at one of her favorite museums. Nine violinists, four violists, three cellists, and two bassists played a program of classical and contemporary music in a small, “round” theater (it was actually more cubic than round). The acoustics were amazing. Later we went out for dinner. It was a great day.  I’ll never forget it.

May 7, 2013
There’s quite a show happening on the hill in Providence right now. A remarkable variety of flowering trees and shrubs are in bloom. The cherry tree outside my bedroom window has opened and the fragrance is incredible. The blossoms are about three weeks  later than they were last year. Where ever it falls on the calendar, this blooming period is my absolute favorite time of year in this little city.

There’s quite a show happening on the hill in Providence right now. A remarkable variety of flowering trees and shrubs are in bloom. The cherry tree outside my bedroom window has opened and the fragrance is incredible. The blossoms are about three weeks  later than they were last year. Where ever it falls on the calendar, this blooming period is my absolute favorite time of year in this little city.

May 6, 2013
One of my turnips from this weekend’s farmer’s market has an especially nice hourglass figure. I wonder what biological factors caused the variation in the shape of this usually spherical root vegetable. I love turnips. They’re members of the Brassicaceae family (along with kale, cabbage, radishes, etc…). I usually eat them thinly sliced in a fresh salad. To store them, I remove the greens, which will draw water out of the root if left attached. Then I float the turnips in a bath of water in a container kept in the refrigerator. They’ll stay fresh and crunchy for more than a week this way, though they never last that long in my house because I eat them so quickly. The greens needn’t be tossed out—they’re edible, and quite tasty. They can be used raw in salads and stir-fried as a stand alone dish or with other ingredients. They can also be added to soups or used to make a broth. I get such a kick out of growing, shopping for, and eating plants that can be consumed in their entirety. Roots, stocks, leaves, flowers, fruit, and all. No pealing or shucking required.
During a class discussion on recycling in my Master Composter Training course, I learned that food storage plastic wrap (Saran wrap, Clingwrap) is not a recyclable plastic film. Plastic film receptacles are located at major grocery stores and pharmacies across the state of Rhode Island to collect stretch plastic poducts like plastic bags, which shouldn’t go into your bin with your other recyclable items. I thought that plastic wrap fell into this category and would sometimes deposit rinsed pieces that had been used at catered events at my office. Learning that the material cannot be processed to become resource material (plastic lumber for decking or park furniture for instance) secured plastic wrap a place at the top of my list of household trash “offenders”. In preparation for a No Trash Talk I gave recently, I spent a lot of time thinking about ways to present basic tips to people who are interested in reducing their waste output but don’t know where to begin. At the end of the talk I encouraged audience members to start in the kitchen, and I tried to impress upon listeners that one habit we should all try to break is purchasing and using plastic wrap. I really think it’s a completely unnecessary product and a waste of money. I’m not sure what case can be made to suggest that using plastic wrap is easier than using a container to store leftovers. Besides, who wants to futz with that stuff anyway? It’s always clinging to itself and it never stays put. Food storage can be effective, efficient, and convenient without disposables!

One of my turnips from this weekend’s farmer’s market has an especially nice hourglass figure. I wonder what biological factors caused the variation in the shape of this usually spherical root vegetable. I love turnips. They’re members of the Brassicaceae family (along with kale, cabbage, radishes, etc…). I usually eat them thinly sliced in a fresh salad. To store them, I remove the greens, which will draw water out of the root if left attached. Then I float the turnips in a bath of water in a container kept in the refrigerator. They’ll stay fresh and crunchy for more than a week this way, though they never last that long in my house because I eat them so quickly. The greens needn’t be tossed out—they’re edible, and quite tasty. They can be used raw in salads and stir-fried as a stand alone dish or with other ingredients. They can also be added to soups or used to make a broth. I get such a kick out of growing, shopping for, and eating plants that can be consumed in their entirety. Roots, stocks, leaves, flowers, fruit, and all. No pealing or shucking required.

During a class discussion on recycling in my Master Composter Training course, I learned that food storage plastic wrap (Saran wrap, Clingwrap) is not a recyclable plastic film. Plastic film receptacles are located at major grocery stores and pharmacies across the state of Rhode Island to collect stretch plastic poducts like plastic bags, which shouldn’t go into your bin with your other recyclable items. I thought that plastic wrap fell into this category and would sometimes deposit rinsed pieces that had been used at catered events at my office. Learning that the material cannot be processed to become resource material (plastic lumber for decking or park furniture for instance) secured plastic wrap a place at the top of my list of household trash “offenders”. In preparation for a No Trash Talk I gave recently, I spent a lot of time thinking about ways to present basic tips to people who are interested in reducing their waste output but don’t know where to begin. At the end of the talk I encouraged audience members to start in the kitchen, and I tried to impress upon listeners that one habit we should all try to break is purchasing and using plastic wrap. I really think it’s a completely unnecessary product and a waste of money. I’m not sure what case can be made to suggest that using plastic wrap is easier than using a container to store leftovers. Besides, who wants to futz with that stuff anyway? It’s always clinging to itself and it never stays put. Food storage can be effective, efficient, and convenient without disposables!

May 1, 2013

Hummus, stuffed grape leaves, and zaalouk from Tea in Sahara on Governor Street. I took a break from work and biked over to the café save my growling stomach. The the owner very kindly agreed to put my order in my stainless steel containers. A woman sitting sipping tea inside admired them and asked where she could find some. I gave her a list of sources. When I thanked the owner for honoring my special request, he said “No, thank you!” I left smiling from ear to ear.

Hummus, stuffed grape leaves, and zaalouk from Tea in Sahara on Governor Street. I took a break from work and biked over to the café save my growling stomach. The the owner very kindly agreed to put my order in my stainless steel containers. A woman sitting sipping tea inside admired them and asked where she could find some. I gave her a list of sources. When I thanked the owner for honoring my special request, he said “No, thank you!” I left smiling from ear to ear.

May 1, 2013
On the way home from my Worm Ladies field trip and the beach, I made a stop at the Alternative Food Coop. I knew I’d be driving through Wakefield so I planned ahead and packed my car with a shopping kit (a large canvas tote filled with a couple swing top bottles, a couple jars, and some bulk bags). It’s been about a month and a half since my last co-op restock trip and even though I wasn’t completely out of the few package-free supplies I can’t find within walking or biking distance from my home, I decided to fill up then to save from having to make another trip in a couple weeks. I go through a lot of cooking oil. Generally speaking, I use canola oil to cook with and olive oil to dress dishes. Canola has a neutral flavor and a high smoke point (the temperature at which the oil begins to smoke… a point of interest because when an oil starts to smoke, nutrients are destroyed and potentially health-harming compounds are formed). It’s also rich in alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fat. I can get great bulk olive oil Providence, but not canola. When I entered the co-op I noticed immediately that their bulk oil station looked revamped. They seemed to have more stainless steel fusti dispensers and a larger variety to choose from. A lovely co-op employee approached me and asked if I needed any help. I told her that I would need to tare my swing top bottles before filling them and she informed me that in order to comply with the Rhode Island Department of Health, the co-op devised an new system for the liquid bulk food items. To reduce the risk of contamination from shopping with containers brought from home, customers are asked to use the sterilized funnels provided at the filling station and then deposit each used funnel in a basket to be rewashed by co-op employees. Or customers may use any of the free vessels (pictured above on the bottom shelf) that have been donated by customers and sterilized at the co-op), purchase a clean mason jar to fill, or use a free number 5 plastic container (as seen on the top shelf). Signs posted at the station clearly explain the new system and thank customers for their cooperation. Because they weren’t very busy, the employee I spoke with offered to sterilized my bottles brought from home. This was another way to ensure that there wouldn’t be any contamination from potentially harmful pathogens coming in contact with the fusti spigots. She disappeared with my two large bottles and returned with them washed a couple minutes later. She tared them at the register for me and I was ready to fill.
I had a chance to speak with co-op Manager Rosemary Galiani, about the new system. She explained that the change was spurred by a Department of Health inspection, which determined that the old, funnel-less operation was not up to food safety standards. I think it’s so wonderful that rather than removing the liquid bulk food items, the co-op chose to work with the DoH to come up with several convenient shopping options for customers, and a manageable sterilization system for co-op employees. Yet another reason to support this wonderfully small business.

On the way home from my Worm Ladies field trip and the beach, I made a stop at the Alternative Food Coop. I knew I’d be driving through Wakefield so I planned ahead and packed my car with a shopping kit (a large canvas tote filled with a couple swing top bottles, a couple jars, and some bulk bags). It’s been about a month and a half since my last co-op restock trip and even though I wasn’t completely out of the few package-free supplies I can’t find within walking or biking distance from my home, I decided to fill up then to save from having to make another trip in a couple weeks. I go through a lot of cooking oil. Generally speaking, I use canola oil to cook with and olive oil to dress dishes. Canola has a neutral flavor and a high smoke point (the temperature at which the oil begins to smoke… a point of interest because when an oil starts to smoke, nutrients are destroyed and potentially health-harming compounds are formed). It’s also rich in alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fat. I can get great bulk olive oil Providence, but not canola. When I entered the co-op I noticed immediately that their bulk oil station looked revamped. They seemed to have more stainless steel fusti dispensers and a larger variety to choose from. A lovely co-op employee approached me and asked if I needed any help. I told her that I would need to tare my swing top bottles before filling them and she informed me that in order to comply with the Rhode Island Department of Health, the co-op devised an new system for the liquid bulk food items. To reduce the risk of contamination from shopping with containers brought from home, customers are asked to use the sterilized funnels provided at the filling station and then deposit each used funnel in a basket to be rewashed by co-op employees. Or customers may use any of the free vessels (pictured above on the bottom shelf) that have been donated by customers and sterilized at the co-op), purchase a clean mason jar to fill, or use a free number 5 plastic container (as seen on the top shelf). Signs posted at the station clearly explain the new system and thank customers for their cooperation. Because they weren’t very busy, the employee I spoke with offered to sterilized my bottles brought from home. This was another way to ensure that there wouldn’t be any contamination from potentially harmful pathogens coming in contact with the fusti spigots. She disappeared with my two large bottles and returned with them washed a couple minutes later. She tared them at the register for me and I was ready to fill.

I had a chance to speak with co-op Manager Rosemary Galiani, about the new system. She explained that the change was spurred by a Department of Health inspection, which determined that the old, funnel-less operation was not up to food safety standards. I think it’s so wonderful that rather than removing the liquid bulk food items, the co-op chose to work with the DoH to come up with several convenient shopping options for customers, and a manageable sterilization system for co-op employees. Yet another reason to support this wonderfully small business.

April 29, 2013

Over the weekend I went on the final field trip of my Master Composter Training course. Saturday morning we visited Nancy Warner of The Worm Ladies of Charleston at her beautiful south county home. Nancy came to visit our class a couple of weeks ago to talk about vermiculture with Eisenia foetida or red wiggler worms. In her backyard garden we got to see her impressive composting operation in action. I first met Nancy at the open house she hosted in honor of Earth Week almost exactly one year ago. At that time she sold me a half a pound of worms to get started with my own vermiculture setup. I’m sorry to report that the effort failed. What started off as a seemingly healthy worm bin, soon turned into a site of epic predation when the black sugar ants that lived in my tenant garden got into the bin and ate my poor wigglers. I lifted the lid one day to find the worms completely gone and thousands of ants in their place. I wasn’t sure the ants had eaten the worms (I thought perhaps they came in to eat the food scraps and simply drove the worms out through the air holes) until Nancy confirmed that the ants are indeed predators of the red wigglers. There seems to be quite a huge population of ants living around the exterior of my apartment (and they sometimes like to crawl up the side of the brick house and in through the windows looking for food). Ants and aphids have a mutualistic relationship and for gardeners and farmers, this dynamic duo is a real nuisance. If I’m going to give vermiculture another shot, I need to deal with the ants first. I’ve thought about trying to separate my worms from the ants by keeping my bin inside under my kitchen sink, but I’m afraid that will just lure them indoors. So as much as I’d love to just coexist with all these buggers, if I am going to grow my own food and experiment with organic waste management techniques I may have to give extermination some more serious thought. A slow acting homemade pesticide of borax, sugar, and water is said to be a very effective bait.

In the meantime, I decided to hold off on bringing more worms home from Nancy’s place. Instead I purchased a gallon of castings (worm poop) from her to use to fertilize my developing container garden, once the time comes to transplant my seedlings and harden them off to spend the summer outside. It’s a wonderful organic soil conditioner that will surely give my veggies and herbs a fantastic start. Without hesitation, Nancy let me empty one of her pre-packed ziplock bags of “black gold” into my own glass jar, which I brought from home. She is able to reuse the bag.

Then, just as I did a year ago, upon leaving Nancy’s house I headed down the road for a walk and a nap on East Beach. The weather was gorgeous. My first beach day of the season.

April 24, 2013
This week marks a significant anniversary for me. It’s been exactly two years since I started my No Trash Project. I’ve been reflecting on the milestone as I engage in activities aimed at advancing my Zero Waste practices. This evening, my Master Composter Training class met at City Farm to learn about the different composting systems in place on the 3/4 acre Southside plot. The farm produces 2 tons of food (over 70 different crops) per season. It was warm and sunny in Providence today—a stark contrast to yesterday’s frigid, rainy weather, so I was excited to be outside. City farmer Rich Pederson gave us a tour of the several composting sites on the property and spoke about the practices and holding bins that have worked best for the farmers. It was really valuable to hear about his experiences with the varied setups, especially since his perspective is that of someone who is composting in an urban environment, which requires slightly different considerations than rural compost operations, namely rodents and potentially concerned neighbors. Rich described himself as a “lazy composter” and said he chooses a “lasagna” layering approach with his carbonaceous and nitrogenous materials. To aerate the compost, he plunges a digging bar into the pile to agitate the material and allow oxygen to enter, but he doesn’t “churn” up the pile with a pitchfork or shovel. I like his approach. It’s a lot more manageable for spaghetti armed folks such as myself. Rich also talked about their tumbler composter, which he especially likes to use during the winter months. I’ve always wondered how well they work as they seem like a good option for urban composters who need to completely seal off their compost from opportunistic city dwelling pests.
Before leaving the farm I snapped this photo of some baby salad greens and herbs. I can’t wait for the Annual Rare and Unusual Plant Sale in May!

This week marks a significant anniversary for me. It’s been exactly two years since I started my No Trash Project. I’ve been reflecting on the milestone as I engage in activities aimed at advancing my Zero Waste practices. This evening, my Master Composter Training class met at City Farm to learn about the different composting systems in place on the 3/4 acre Southside plot. The farm produces 2 tons of food (over 70 different crops) per season. It was warm and sunny in Providence today—a stark contrast to yesterday’s frigid, rainy weather, so I was excited to be outside. City farmer Rich Pederson gave us a tour of the several composting sites on the property and spoke about the practices and holding bins that have worked best for the farmers. It was really valuable to hear about his experiences with the varied setups, especially since his perspective is that of someone who is composting in an urban environment, which requires slightly different considerations than rural compost operations, namely rodents and potentially concerned neighbors. Rich described himself as a “lazy composter” and said he chooses a “lasagna” layering approach with his carbonaceous and nitrogenous materials. To aerate the compost, he plunges a digging bar into the pile to agitate the material and allow oxygen to enter, but he doesn’t “churn” up the pile with a pitchfork or shovel. I like his approach. It’s a lot more manageable for spaghetti armed folks such as myself. Rich also talked about their tumbler composter, which he especially likes to use during the winter months. I’ve always wondered how well they work as they seem like a good option for urban composters who need to completely seal off their compost from opportunistic city dwelling pests.

Before leaving the farm I snapped this photo of some baby salad greens and herbs. I can’t wait for the Annual Rare and Unusual Plant Sale in May!

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