Friday, December 4, 2009

A great book, where to find free newspaper, and growing winter lettuce

If you're looking for a present for yourself or a friend, here's a very cheap and incredibly useful book: Country Wisdom and Know-How for just $20 at you local bookstore, this is a total steal. It's an oversized book printed on newsprint that is full of useful tidbits, recipes, and is an all-around great starter kit for just about everything.

Looking for newspaper for the stove?
If you're looking for newspaper to use as firestarting in your stove and you, like most of the US population, has moved away from daily paper delivery, Here's what I suggest. Go to any local business that you can get free monthlies/weeklies at. The theater I work at has them, so should local eateries, grocery stores, etc. Usually, at the end of the month, the paper distributers will drop off new ones and not pick up last months'. Generally, these get recycled. if you come in and let the business know you'll take the excess papers off their hands, they'd probably be happy to let you. Just come at the right time - generally, the first week of the month.

Home-grown winter lettuce
Next week I'm devoting myself to salad. I love salad. With a bit of chicken or tofu, over some rice or with crispy croutons, nothing makes an easier meal than salad. But in the long winter months the only salad to be had is grown in California, and as you may have noticed, i don't like grocery stores. I have, in my life, had winter seasonal salad replacements (cabbage chopped in very fine strips with grated carrot, turnip, rice and chickpeas is easy and delicious), but it's not the same!

So I'm building myself (perhaps 2 months too late, but still do-able) an indoor salad garden so that I can last the winter.


South-facing windows and/or a florescent light to rig up over your plants (which is a cheap grow-light - grow lights are a marketing scheme)

A table, or a home-build stand/shelf to keep the plants on - it's going to be dirty and potentially wet. don't use anything too nice. I'm building a standard shelf with L-brackets and e few leftover pieces of boards.

Containers to grow lettuce in - If you're going for individual pots, I'd go for a 6 inch pot - but it's easier, I'd say, to use a planter-type set up. I'm going to use some (ugly) window boxes I found in trash cans here and there. You can also use buckets (drill holes in the bottoms to let water escape), old drawers (just make sure they're not treated with anything), dish pans, troughs, etc. etc. generally anything you find lying around will work. just remember that you're growing food - so it needs to be food-grade. Anything that held petroleum products or was treated with excessive or poisonous chemicals (including pressure-treated lumber) is not food-friendly. I'd use something at least 6 inches deep.

Potting Soil - wherever you get it, just make sure it's not sketchy. You can dig up some of your garden soil, you can buy the bags, whatever. The best would be finished compost. And no matter what, incorporate some finished compost to add some nutrition to your soil. The soil in your container is what your lettuce will be eating all winter.

Something to use for watering - watering is important. Not killing delicate seedlings while watering is also important. If you have a watering can, great! If not, no sweat. get a quart jar and then either poke holes in the lid itself or in plastic that you can secure with the band part of the lid (we're talking canning jars here). Now it's easy to shake some water onto your seedlings.

Lettuce seed - I'd choose a nice winter variety if your house (like mine) is on the cold side - or tends to fluctuate to below-freezing levels (again, like mine). Otherwise, the sky is the limit. I'm sure there's an heirloom indoor winter lettuce variety out there somewhere. If you hear of it, let me know. I'd love to try it.

Now, combine the ingredients! - Pot on shelf, soil in pot, water in soil (very wet for first planting), seed in soil (not too deep. Seed planting is fairly intuitive. Plant the seed at two times the depth of its width). Plant extra seeds, and then, once you can pick out your favorites, thin to about 6 inches apart. If you're growing leaf lettuce (which I would recommend for winter grazing), 6" should be fine. For head lettuce, you'll have to thin out to a bit more, about 1 foot.

All done? keep that tray watered well and keep the cat out of it! I'm going to use a cover of hardware cloth to keep the cat out until the lettuce gets big enough to fight for itself. You can cover the tray in plastic to help keep down watering needs until the seeds germinate.

If the cat really loves plants (mine also like harassing my Meyer Lemon Tree), I'd go ahead and plant a little kitty garden for it with something it can eat - wheatgrass, catnip, whatever (I will be taking my own advice on this soon).

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