Veg Loves GF Episode 2: Make Your Own Rules in Apartment Gardening and DIY Veggie Stock

The Fucking Tomatoes:

We didn’t move to our new apartment until July.  I’ve been looking for a job since we moved, and I really missed the window on planting tomatoes.  It’s not like I didn’t want to start; I just didn’t have the time (and I was kind of already too late).  One of the reasons I fell in love with this apartment was because there is a beautiful fire escape outside the bedroom window, which I knew would be perfect for plants.

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Mandatory IG Photo of Our Fire Escape

Once we were settled in, I decided to get my act together, tomato-wise.  I knew that I wanted to grow the tomatoes vertically (like in one of those upside down hangers that they sell on late night TV, but home-made) so I started doing my research.  Since I knew I was too late to start tomatoes from seeds (I’m a dumbass newbie gardener, but I did know that much) I set out in search of a starter plant.  I checked Adams Fairacre Farms, local plant stores, even Home Depot and WalMart.  Nobody had any tomato plants (or any seeds or starters of any kind). No vegetables. And, to be perfectly honest, everyone seemed a little judgmental about it, like I was some hopeless dummy who like saw a supercute tomato plant on Pinterest and wanted to like grow it or something?

I was truly disheartened.  Two more whole months of summer were stretching out before me, and I had no gardening to do.  I contemplated waiting another ten months before I could even start a container garden, and my spirits sank further.

The Celery Scrap:

And then I found out about scrap gardening.  Instead of throwing away the base of a vegetable, you can nurture it in water and then plant it! No seeds required! No side-eyes from garden store employees! AND FREE! I hate waste, so the thought of repurposing what I previously thought of as garbage was really appealing.  I started small.  I wanted to make sure it would work before I really set my heart on it.  Just one celery plant.  After eating all my celery (sometimes dipped in hummus, sometimes plain, sometimes blended into chickpea salad) I cut the bottom off of the plant, and put it in a saucer of water, and put the saucer of water on the kitchen windowsill.  I regularly sprinkled some water on the top of the cut celery, and changed the water every other day.  Slowly but surely, new growth began to appear.

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I was completely overjoyed!  I had done it! I wasn’t a dunce of a gardener after all!  I planted my celery in a home-made container (a can that formerly held chickpeas, with a few holes punched through the bottom with a hammer and screwdriver for drainage) and added organic container mix.  I watered it, put it back on the windowsill, and sat back to watch it grow.  With the kind of gentle, slow magic that only plants have, the celery grew faster.

Windowsill Gardening

So, now the little celery plant on my windowsill has a few friends.  There are two more celery plants, two romaine plants, green onions, garlic, ginger, basil, and aloe (all organic, natch).  Once my babies start to get a little stronger, I’ll put them out on the fire escape and see how they fare.  I even cut some mint sprigs and put them in a jar, because I’ve read that they will (eventually) re-grow a root system if watered properly.

As far as cost goes, the only thing I spent money on was the container mix.  I got eight (dry) quarts of it at Home Depot for $6.  The brand is called Vigoro, and it’s organic.  Everything else was produce that I was buying already, and cans from food that I was buying already.  It’s pretty amazing to contemplate; your food comes with a free startup garden!

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But What About the Tomatoes?

My internet research has led me to believe that tomatoes can be grown in the winter, indoors in containers, though there seems to be widespread internet agreement that out of season tomatoes don’t taste as tomato-y.  In the continued spirit of scrap-gardening, I took some tomato seeds from some fresh tomatoes and planted them in little mini “starter pots” made from eggshells.  By the way, this idea is not original to me, it’s been floating around the internet on a lot of gardening blogs.  The idea is simple: Cracked eggshells (washed!), with a little scoop of container mix, stored in the egg carton. I poked a couple tomato seeds into the mix and plunked them on the window sill.  The eggshells nourish the seedlings, plus you can just plant them right into the ground (or the larger container), because they’re compostable.  I also ground up a couple eggshells with our mortar & pestle and sprinkled them into our other containers.

I am so glad that my original tomato disappointment didn’t deter me.  Even if these little tomatoes don’t make it (though I have faith that they will), I have a garden! I can’t stress enough how important it is to not be tied down by the rules.  I didn’t go to college right after high school, we don’t eat the Standard American Diet, I cut my own hair, and I plant vegetables whenever and however I want to.

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Doing things your own way ensures a custom fit, and allows you to truly know your passions, inside and out.  One of the best custom fit recipes is for vegetable stock.  While the foundation of stock is generally celery, onions, and carrots, known in French cuisine as mirepoix, where you go from there is entirely up to you.

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“Go Your Own Way” Vegetable Stock

You Will Need:

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 large organic carrots

2 large organic onions

4 organic celery ribs

3 cloves of garlic

1 tablespoon of coarse sea salt

1 teaspoon of black pepper

8 cups (½ gallon) of water

Additional herbs—your choice! We like to add ground turmeric (which makes the stock a vibrant orange), ground coriander, and whatever fresh herbs happen to be on hand.  Last time we made this stock, I threw in whole sprigs of thyme and marjoram, and then fished them out with a spoon when the stock was done.

Throw in any greens that you like! If you have some of the less cute scraps of vegetables from another dish, throw* them in.  They will give the stock flavor and nutrients.  Last time, we threw in some loosely chopped sweet and white potatoes.

Give the first three ingredients a loose chop (big pieces means that it’s easier to fish them out when the stock is done) and throw it in the pot with the oil on medium heat.  Note: I don’t peel the carrots, if they’re washed and organic, it’s fine.  Why waste?

When the onions have softened, throw in the seasonings, ground herbs, etc.  Cover with the water put a lid on the pot, and reduce the heat to low.  Let it simmer for at least 30 minutes.  The longer the better.  Three hours seems to be the magic number, but I know you have a busy life.  Invest in a slow cooker.  I got mine (still in the box!) at Goodwill for $12.

When your stock is done (aka, when it tastes good to you) pour it through a strainer, or fish out the veggie pieces with a spoon.  I have yet to find a way to save these afterwards, other than composting (which we don’t do, because we live in an apartment, though we do stick some food scraps into the container garden).  If anyone has any ideas, please let me know!  I’m also thinking about test-driving a 100% scrap stock (no waste!), a la Stone Soup.  Did anyone else love that book as a child?

Freeze your stock and use it as the base for soups (like the Garlic Soup!) or sauces, or just drink it straight up out of a mug if you need some quick veggie nutrients.

Eat well, be yourself, grow some veggies, and tune in soon for more recipes!

*Though I say it often, I do not advise that you actually “throw” anything, because it will get messy.

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