Category Archives: Green Living

Food Inc. Documentary

Last night I saw this film at the Magnolia. It was screening as part of the AFI Dallas Film Festival.

It’s an expose about the sad and dangerous way most American food is made. My takeaways:

  • It’s pretty obvious from all the salmonella and e-coli outbreaks that our food is not safe. This movie shows why in disgusting detail — from cows who wade knee-deep in manure their entire miserable existence to a processing setup that allows beef from a thousand cows to end up in a single burger.
  • Is chicken as appetizing when you know it’s been genetically engineered to have breasts so large it’s organs fail and it’s legs break when it tries to walk?
  • The part I knew least about was how litigious and secretive food producers have become. Just a few companies process the vast majority of what we all eat, and they appear to have ruined many people’s lives in their efforts to silence critics and protect their business interests. It has a tobacco-like feel to it.
  • The issue of cost came up a lot. Better food no doubt costs more. I like cheap food too. But something one farmer said struck me as true — if you don’t buy the cheapest car, why would you buy the cheapest beef? Why do you care if organic, free-roaming eggs are $3 a dozen if you are willing to buy a $3 latte?

It’s not surprising that this has a similar feel as Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth,” as the director said the same group of people produced it. I predict this movie, which opens in wide release in the summer, will be much bigger. Not everyone believes in global warming, but we (nearly) all eat the same burgers.

My First Big Rose Bloom of the Season

Duchesse de Brabant, originally uploaded by espeedy123.

This fall I planted five different types of “Earth Kind” roses in my front landscape, all of them pink. I already had one in the ground from the year before, and it did so well I gave her some friends. Earth Kind is a classification awarded by the Texas A&M Extension, and it means the rose is easy to grow and doesn’t require pesticides, fungicides or a ton of fertilizer.

This particular variety is called Duchesse de Brabant. From the Antique Rose Emporium:

Teddy Roosevelt made this rose his favorite, often wearing a bud or flower as a boutonniere. It is very nearly our greatest favorite, too. The cupped pink flowers have a cabbagey roundness to them, as if they were picked from a luscious old rose painting. Nearly continuously in bloom, these roses can be counted on for a rich whiff of fragrance at absolutely any time of the day, even in the hot Texas sun. The apple green leaves are slightly wavy.

An image of a bouquet from their site:


Inexpensive, Eco-friendly Shelf Organizers

Garage Organization Project, originally uploaded by espeedy123.

A couple weeks ago Oprah and her organizing guru Peter Walsh started a “clean up your messy house” series. Their goal is to help viewers organize and get rid of clutter.

I am a bit of a clutter bug myself. Not horrible, like some of those they had on the show. But I do have a lot of project tools and estate sales goo-gaa’s and stuff I pick up out of brush-and-bulky collection. At some point the glue gun and the compost tea aerator and the spare twist-ties and the lamp harp end up in the same garage pile. That’s when I can’t find any of them.

So Oprah and Peter motivated me to start cleaning up the garage. I have built in shelving, but it’s so open and deep that stuff just gets piled up. I needed something to help me separate and manage items.

The solution? The free product display boxes from Sam’s Club!

At the back of the shelves I set a row of sturdy boxes upside down to act as a raised platforms. On top of those, and in front of them on the actual shelf, I arranged more of the boxes to hold and display tools and other items. It creates a second level of shelving and allows me to see everything. Free and fabulous!

The people at Sam’s let me take as many as I wanted, and I even found some uniquely shaped boxes good for separating tools:

Cheap Tool Organizer

Most of these boxes are incredibly sturdy, and I know from watching how much work Michael puts into product packaging design that someone really thought about how to design each box. At first I thought all the different package printing would look junky, but I have come to think of it as an ode to Warhol. It’s my green reuse of something that otherwise represents excess consumerism. Perhaps that’s overthinking it. They seem to work well either way.

Makeshift Greenhouse

Makeshift Greenhouse

I’ve grown more attached to my little veggie garden recently. It’s done much better this fall than it did in the spring. I’m getting a few small red tomatoes every day, mainly off the “porter” and “momotaro” plants. The “homely homer” tomato has a ton of large green tomatoes on it, several of which are nearly red.

Unfortunately it’s starting to get pretty chilly, and a hard freeze could be just around the corner. It’s supposed to get down into the 30s tonight. How can I bear to let this fun end? I know I can ripen some tomatoes off the vine, but I’d like to keep them all going as long as possible. Since I had already built a frame around my raised bed using electrical conduit, I decided to take it one step further and make it into a mini-greenhouse!
I bought two rolls of 6 mil. clear painter’s plastic from Home Depot and attached it to the conduit frame using clothespins and big utility clips they sell for around $2 each.

Utility Clip

It’s not pretty, and I am not certain of the outcome, but it should help extend my season a bit. I understand from talking with a couple others who’ve done this that the plastic shouldn’t touch the plants, as plastic conducts the cold and the plants will freeze. That may become a problem for me, as my plants tend to spill over the sides of the box.

The most awesome general resource on DIY greenhouses I’ve found thus far is the Gardenweb forum on the topic.
More great greenhouses I found online:
So many options!

Fall Leaf Chores = Free Compost Material

Shredded Leaves, originally uploaded by espeedy123.

On Thursday last week a story I wrote about leaf collecting tools ran in the newspaper. The timing was good because that very day was quite windy, and everywhere I looked outside there were leaves whirling in the air.

More than a couple gardeners told me this year that they add leaves to their beds every fall. The decomposing organic material is a natural fertilizer.  My large tree is a live oak, and it doesn’t lose its leaves in a typical way, so I’ve been hoarding and whirring up leaves I find bagged on the sidewalk waiting for brush-and-bulky pickup.

It’s amazing how many leaves one can collect in this way. I could build a leaf mountain with what I saw out by the sidewalk last week. Unfortunately I have only the room for a leaf molehill or two.

Chipping Leaves

Thus far I have processed probably a dozen bags of leaves. I suggest being picky when choosing discarded leaves. Go for the bags that are clear so you can see what’s inside. The fewer twigs the better; the drier the better.

Fall Bagged Leaves

For this story I tested a leaf chipper sold by and a Black & Decker leaf vacuum/chipper/blower. Both were efficient at chipping leaves but probably not worth the extra dough if you already own a mulching mower.

Thus far the leaves have gone into my various composting piles where they are mingling with manure and various microorganisms. They have shrunk considerably, taking up about a fourth or less than what they originally did all bagged up. I am hoping that during this next go-round of leaf collecting I will find and process enough to cover the beds in my side yards and around the perimeter of the backyard.

Fall Harvest Eats Continue

Nov. 4: Bowl O Green Beans, originally uploaded by espeedy123.

I’m continuing my experiment to eat something from the garden each day during November. I celebrated Election Day with this big bowl of string beans. These are the “Kentucky Wonder” pole variety. I have about 6 or 7 plants that I grew from seed, and they are producing a lot. Enough had grown since Tuesday that I had another bowl today.

During the days in between I’ve been focusing on (and eating) fall tomatoes. This is a smallish Porter tomato, and I ate a couple of these every day this week:

Little Red Tomatoes

I have one interesting tomato plant I bought at Calloway’s called “Homely Homer.” It’s the oldest plant of those out there now. I planted it as a replacement for one of my spring tomato plants that died in early July. It took until late September for it to start setting fruit, and now there are at least a dozen large tomatoes like this one on the plant, but they refuse to turn red:

Big Green Tomato

It’s a problem because freezing temperatures are on the way, and that would be the end of red tomatoes for me, unless I intervene with more drastic climate control measures.

November Challenge: Garden Eats

Nov. 1: Greens with Breakfast, originally uploaded by espeedy123.

To connect better with my garden, I’m challenging myself to eat something from it every day during November. Ideally, I would automatically do this. Unfortunately it’s often much easier to choose alternatives or not go to the trouble of harvesting daily, especially if what’s available is just a few (frequently bitter) leaves or beans.

Goals for this experiment…

  1. Understand the garden better
  2. Move toward higher yields and better produce in the garden
  3. Eat fresher items, even if it’s only in little bits
  4. Take better garden notes
  5. Blog more about the garden

Nov. 2: Salad with Dinner

Salad with Dinner

Nov. 3: Fall Tomato

Fuzzy Fall Tomato

Look What I Found in the Brush-and-Bulky Piles!

It seems the economic meltdown hasn’t stopped people from discarding valuable items.  I was on the prowl recently for good bagged composting leaves and ended up picking up all this stuff people put out for bulky garbage collection:

Free Stuff

Six 75-foot long soaker hoses.  These were all in one giant pile in front of a house in the next block.  I tested a couple out and it appears there is nothing wrong with them.  Just a couple weeks ago I bought a pair of these at Sam’s Club.  Unfortunate timing, but I will eventually find a good spot for all of them.  At Home Depot yesterday I priced this long variety at around $14 for each one!  What luck!!
A 10-foot section of steel edging.  I continually buy this product at Lowe’s as I work my way around the front landscape beds.  Each 10-foot section is $10, so this acquisition will save me enough to ….. I dunno, buy some junk on craigslist?!?!  🙂  It appears to be in good shape, so who knows why someone got rid of it.
Several large, tubby plant containers.  These were out in front of a house someone is flipping.  It appears they held some Indian hawthorn from a nursery, based on the tags.  I like that they are short for their overall size.  I stuck them in a row out behind the vegetable garden where they will eventually grow something useful or beautiful.

Free Pots

Container Planting Area

And the grand prize …… a vintage Queen Anne solid wood coffee table by Bassett furniture.  Odd, right?  Seriously this was next to a bunch of grass clippings and lawn garbage.  It is solid wood and in pretty decent shape with just one chip on the top.  It was next to a box from West Elm, no doubt a cheap replacement that will last a fraction as long.  I don’t really need this table, but it is growing on me.  I may paint it, I may offload it on craigslist, I just couldn’t let it go to the dump.

Free Coffee Table

I also got a ton of leaves, which has become my new favorite pastime.  I’ll detail that in a later post.  Happy trolling!!

Veggie Tales

There’s nothing better than a few good before-and-after photos to show progress.  I suppose in the garden it’s more like a neverending movie than before-and-after, since the plants are always changing.

Scene: Girl builds box…


She fills it with soil and plants…


The plants become snobby and won’t drink tap. She gives them a rain tank, and a trellis to climb on.


The beans …

Yellow Beans

… and cukes …

Baby Cucumber

… and baby tomatoes …


… and the solitary pepper …




Girl ponders the leaves-as-big-as-her-head and wishes she’d stuck the big suckers on the ends. She begins to doubt the wisdom of her square-food-gardening book.

Live and learn, and tie them up with a bunch of string. Reconsult that book. The veggie garden goes on another day.

Veggie Garden May 21

Rain Filling the Tank, Live!

Thank you Apartment Therapy Chicago for featuring my rain tank!!! And greetings to all of you who’ve made it here by way of that great site. The huge jump in my traffic stats made my day, so don’t be shy and let me know who you are and what you have to say!

I plan to keep posting about the cool rain tank and veggie garden progress, so keep visiting. 🙂  The tank, by the way, was just about completely full after that 15 minute rain shower that happened when I shot this video early last week.