February 29, 2012

Avocado Update: Slow Growth

This week is shaping up to be a week of indoor gardening projects! We had a few requests for an update on the progress of our avocado plants. It's been 4 full weeks since our last update and I'm happy to say the plants are still growing, but sad to say not very much...

We would have hoped to see much longer stems and maybe a few little leaves at this stage in the game, but realize these things take time and our area isn't likely the best temperament for these plants.

Last time we checked in, the roots were growing and beginning to form additional roots from their main root. We weren't sure whether or not to plant them in soil, leave them be or transfer over to larger glasses. You can see slow progress below:

We ended up transferring them to larger, wider wine tumblers to allow for more root growth. The roots have continued to grow and strengthen while the stems seam to have slowed way down — though they are getting thicker and tougher (more like a trunk).

Here's a comparison of the smaller and larger pits, which have pretty much caught up with one another at this point:

For now, we're keeping an eye on them and maintaining their water/sun supply daily. Quite possibly by the next update we may decide to transfer them over to potted containers to see if this helps. We've been hesitant thus far since we've read it's best to transfer once a few leaves have sprouted from the stem so we shall see!

All in all, this isn't the most exciting of updates, but we are happy at this point they seem to still be alive! In keeping with this week's indoor planting trend, we've got the beginnings of another project to share tomorrow!

P.S. We're thrilled to be named among many blogs nominated for the Apartment Therapy "Homies Awards" in the DIY blog category. Should you have the time to spare a vote, we'd love yours for 17 Apart! Click here to vote. While over there, be sure to check out the plethora of other awesome DIY focused blogs — it's a pretty amazing list. Thanks to all that voted for us already!

February 28, 2012

How To: Regrowing Bok Choy

Tim was cooking in the kitchen as he usually does and sliced the bottom of a Bok Choy off and asked, "Can we grow Bok Choy like we did celery?" Of course after surprisingly being able to regenerate onions and celery from their cut bases, I said, "why not, let's try it!"

Because Bok Choy is so similar to celery in shape and since we'd be pitching its base in the compost bin already, we figured we had nothing to lose by trying — and as you can see, we sure are glad we did!

Just like the celery growing tutorial, we simply chopped the Bok Choy we'd be using for dinner from the base and placed it face up in a small bowl of warm water to sit.

Even more quickly than the celery, the Bok Choy began regenerating itself from the center of the base virtually overnight. This particular Bok Choy was over a few weeks old and still regrew itself like magic. In over a week's time, our Bok Choy is still in the bowl of water and already looks like this:

It's that simple, and that amazing.

We'll soon transfer this newly growing Bok Choy over to a container of its own to continue growing in soil. Tim has just the recipe in mind for this little guy from when we both took a two week vegan challenge and made this Stir Fried Bok Choy with Mizuna.

Since it's the first time we've tried regenerating plants like these, we're not sure how many times over it works, though being able to save 2-3 purchases over time is worth it enough for us!

Projects like these are also a great way to teach children in a fast way how plants and food can grow. If any of you have had luck regenerating other vegetables in a similar way, let us know since we are having too much fun giving them a whirl!

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P.S. We're thrilled to be named among many blogs nominated for the Apartment Therapy "Homies Awards" in the DIY blog category. Should you have the time to spare a vote, we'd love yours for 17 Apart! Click here to vote. While over there, be sure to check out the plethora of other awesome DIY focused blogs — it's a pretty amazing list.

P.P.S. A few folks have been asking after the progress of our avocado pit plants — we'll pop in with an update on them later in the week!

February 27, 2012

Weekend Planting: Outdoor Containers

While accomplishing many things this weekend, our focus centered around outdoor container planting. We've been starting many seeds indoors and are just about getting to a temperate point here in Richmond where we can safely plant outdoors.

Still unsure of where our final plans for cultivating will end up, this year we're simply planting as much as we can in various containers to find out where our best sun falls throughout the day and just generally get an idea of what is and isn't working in our space.

Indoors we've sprouted broccoli and leeks, both of which we've transferred over to outdoor containers with a little more room to grow. The broccoli will need single containers of their own once they take root further and we can determine which to thin out.

Transferring as many varieties outdoors is also beneficial to allow for natural air flow and movement — even subtle yet steady air movement can help strengthen plants by providing the necessary resistance they need to thrive. Think of it like resistance training – the more resistance you are working against, the stronger your muscles condition; it's the same with plants!

So far, here's what we're looking like:

As you can see, all of our containers are hanging out on our upstairs landing where we know we're getting full sun. I had to makeshift a "baby-gate" of sorts to keep you know who from tearing everything up. Here he is trying his best to look innocent beyond the barrier, but we're not quite buying it...

Right now we've got the following plant varieties either in seed form or early sprouting stages: broccoli, leeks, mesclun greens, carrots, radishes, 2 different types of peas, and green onions.

I was also able to install two trough planters along the middle section of the landing for later planting:

These were much easier to install than I imagined — they hung right up after nailing supports on either side and seem to be sturdy enough to hold the weight of planting to come. We're pretty excited at the extra vertical space these trough planters provide outside the railings of our landing and hope to install more soon.

After installing the trough planters, we realized we'd need to do some heavy pruning of the trees out back to allow for more light to shine through in optimal areas. Many varieties of plants can grow in areas that don't get full sun — a good rule of thumb is leafy crops can stand some shade while fruiting crops will need full sun. We're not 100% sure what we'll plant in these planters yet so I clipped as many over hanging branches as I could reach while there.

We also had a chance to start a few indoor herb planters leftover from a kit we had from Restoration Hardware at Christmas along with a few other indoor growing projects we'll share later in the week:

While we've got dreams of beautiful edible landscaping, we're more excited to just be able to say we've got things going and moving forward here in the 17 Apart gardening department.

February 23, 2012

How To: Make Sweet Potato Dog Chew Treats

After making and sharing two variations of natural dog treats for Basil (apple treat recipe here and carrot & banana treat recipe here), we had a few requests for some gluten and grain free natural variations. We've pined here on the blog before over our love for Sam's Yams natural sweet potato dog treat chews, and this past weekend we tried our hand at making our own version.

We've LOVED dehydrated sweet potatoes as a treat option for Basil for many reasons. They are completely natural and made from a healthy whole food for starters. Other benefits include the fact that they actually take him a while to eat (he has to work at them) and they can "regulate" his system in times of need, if you catch our drift... Sam's Yams brand sweet potato chews have been our choice so far since they are the straight up sweet potatoes — no added fillers or supplement claims. They also come in large packages with the giant thick chews. All of this being said, these packaged sweet potato treats are pretty expensive — enough so that we get them in limited quantities and every single time we do buy them we ask ourselves why we couldn't make them ourselves.

Up until this point, we've always thought we couldn't make them since we don't yet own a food dehydrator. That being said, we made a batch of homemade fruit leather this past fall in our own oven that called for a slow dehydrating process — so we thought we'd try the same process to try to dehydrate some sweet potatoes!

So, while picking up groceries at Ellwood Thompson's this weekend, we loaded up 3 ginormous organic sweet potatoes and promised ourselves this would be the weekend we tackled making these dog treats. They actually came out great and we couldn't wait to share our method here on the blog for all of you that might be interested in making them for your own pups!

What you'll need:
  1. Large sweet potatoes
  2. Mandoline or sharp knife
  3. Cutting Board
  4. Baking Sheets
  5. Aid of your choosing for greasing the pans
  6. Oven

Preheat oven to lowest setting; ours went all the way down to 175 degrees. Meanwhile, slice one top off sweet potatoes to make for easier balancing when slicing. Carefully cut thick lengthwise slices of the sweet potato using a sharp knife or mandoline, about 1/3 inch thick for larger chews (we went with the crinkle cut setting on our mandoline and chose to leave the skin on). Trust me, you want them thick — when dehydrating, the slices are going to lose the majority of their thickness.

Grease you baking sheets and arrange slices on flat surface of pans. Place pans on top racks inside oven and let them do their thing...for a looooong time.

We let ours slowly cook and dehydrate over a period of about 8 hours, give or take. The higher your heat setting, the less amount of time you will need, though the lower the setting and longer the time, the better the overall outcome.

 Here's what ours looked like about 4 hours into the process:

You can take your dehydrated chips out of the oven when they have reached your desired doneness; less amount of time for softer/chewier treats and a longer amount of time for dryer and tougher treats. We opted for longer and turned our oven off when they were almost fully dry to the touch. They were still a tad moist and pliable at that point so we just let them sit in the oven turned off overnight — the next morning they were perfect.

You can really see the difference before and after being in the oven:

While a little bit thinner then the store bought treats we're used to, we were really happy with the outcome and simply made a note to cut thicker slices next go round.

Update: We actually did make thicker ones a little later, see the "meatier" outcome here.

The final test laid in the hands (er, paws) of Basil's approval:

...and check!

He liked them so well it was hard to get a still shot of him when he had one. This is how he really felt about them:

Now that we've successfully made a batch of these dehydrated sweet potato chew treats for Basil, we're thinking this same process could translate over to other fruits and vegetables like apples, bananas, and more. This process is a great way to make natural, gluten free and grain free treats for your dogs — and save a little money while you're at it!

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February 22, 2012

Growing Celery Indoors: Never Buy Celery Again

Remember when we tested and shared how to grow onions indefinitely last week? Well, at the same time, we've been testing out another little indoor gardening project first gleaned from Pinterest that we're excited to share the successes of today — regrowing celery from it's base.

We've figured out how to literally re-grow organic celery from the base of the bunch we bought from the store a couple weeks ago. I swear, we must have been living under a rock all these years or just not be that resourceful when it comes to food, but we're having more fun learning all these new little tips and tricks as we dive deeper into trying to grow more of our own food.

This project is almost as simple as the onion growing project — simply chop the celery stalks from the base of the celery you bought from the store and use as you normally would. In our case, we had a particular homemade bean dip that needed sampling!

Instead of tossing the base, rinse it off and place it in a small saucer or bowl of warm water on or near a sunny windowsill — base side down and cut stalks facing upright.

We let our celery base hang out in the saucer of water for right around one week, give or take. Over the course of the week, the surrounding stalks began to dry out significantly, but the tiny little yellow leaves from the center of the base began thickening, growing up and out from the center, and turned a dark green. The growth was slow, but steady and evident.


After the 5-7 days were complete, we transferred our celery base to a planter and covered it completely save for the leaf tips with a mixture of dirt and potting soil.

We watered it generously and after planting in the soil, the overall growth really took off. Not only do we have celery leaves regenerating themselves from the base, but you can see clear stalks making their way up and out. It's truly fascinating what we have not even a week after planting in the soil:


A few notes:
  • Change out the water every couple of days while in the "saucer" phase of the project. We also used a spray bottle to spray water directly onto the base of the celery where the leaves were growing out. 
  • The tutorials we saw showed planting the celery directly into the dirt outside — you may want to go this route if you live in a temperate area or want to be able to harvest outdoors. We went with an indoor planter since it's still pretty cold here in VA, we have limited outdoor space in the city, and the space we do have is currently unprotected from our curious puppy.
  • Continue to generously water the celery after planting to keep it thriving.
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Update 1: After a few more weeks of growing time in our sunny window, our celery has continued to thrive. The leaves have grown out generously and bushy and the celery stalks underneath have really taken shape:

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Update 2: Here's how we are looking at almost 3-4 weeks of growth:

Find the full 3-4 week update with even more pics and details on the progress in this post.

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Update 3: Here's how we are looking at almost 5 months of growth, still indoors and still in the same planter:

At this stage, we've been actually been able to cut off stalks as needed in recipes and the celery continues to regenerate leafy stalks from the center of the plant. Find the full 5 month update with even more pics and details on the progress in this post.

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For anyone wondering about the planter, we made it by recycling a tin of steel cut oats we'd since finished. We simply cleaned it out well, then punctured holes along the base to create drainage for the plant.

We placed a thin layer of mulch at the base to help with drainage, followed by a thick layer of dirt/potting soil mixture. After placing the celery base snugly in the planter, we filled the remaining space with more dirt/potting soil to completely cover the celery base. We kept the top to the oats tin and flipped it over to place the new planter on top of it — the lid is a perfect custom fit to the base and catches any runoff from regular watering.

As usual — we'll be sure to keep you posted on the progress of our container celery and hope you'll let us know if you decide to try it out for yourself! If you've tried this before, what other types of vegetables have you known to be able to regrow itself in a similar way?

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February 21, 2012

Free Urban Gardening Classes in Richmond, Virginia

Last week we received a note from our neighborhood email list alerting us to an upcoming urban organic vegetable gardening class series. Being right up our alley, we made plans to attend the first session over the weekend to find out what it was all about.

The classes are free to the public, every Saturday from 11am - 12:30pm for 6 weeks and are taking place at the North Avenue Richmond Library. While we are most interested in learning techniques to make our personal urban space thrive as a garden, we were pleasantly surprised at how much information was given on the topic of community gardens and their overall benefits to the city.

We got there about 10 minutes early which was great since the class filled up so quickly there weren't enough seats for everyone. Upon arrival, we were instructed to take one of the provided large buckets and begin collecting compost for a project we'll later undertake in the class.

Victoria Campbell from the Department of Public Works helped lead this first class and even brought along one of her own backyard hens named George. Mary and I would still love to try our hands at raising 3 chickens of our own, but alas, the timing still isn't right and unfortunately it's still illegal given the space parameters of our property and the fact Basil would go nutso. We do, however, look forward to learning more about raising urban chickens firsthand in the event all the stars fall into place down the road.

Duron Chavis of Richmond's Noir Market in Battery Park also helped lead this first class, really laying out the social benefits of eating healthy and coming together as a community to build something from the ground up. For example, other than lowering pollutants in the air, did you know statistics show that neighborhoods who have participated in maintaining a community garden actually see lower crime rates?

This first class provided a good overview of things to come: composting, soil testing, benefits of using and saving heirloom seeds, keeping bees, making rain barrels, and learning techniques for contained gardening — like bulk potatoes. We learned where Richmond's "food deserts" are and how to become involved in organizing a new city community garden.  It was also interesting to see that food deserts also follow high crime areas.

The class was a great way to meet others in the city with similar interests to ours and we're looking forward to learning more as the class progresses. For those of you in the RVA area, we hope to see you there next week!
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