We are eating our back yard!!

29 05 2013


The cutest helping hands ever!

Our apartment complex did something wonderful and prepared raised beds for the tenants, we requested one and they even made a little plot for our two year old! He is so excited about it! I think this is such a wonderful experience for all of us, not only we get to eat fresh veggies but he also will learn a lot about nature, gardening and responsibly taking care of plants.


You cannot get any more local than this!

I have never gardened before, so this is a learning experience for me too. So far I’ve had herbs and other plants in pots, our tomatoes attempts indoors failed each time, so this is certainly a lot of learning.

Initially I planted corn, okra, three different tomatoes, different color bell peppers, two eggplants, zucchini, cucumber, rosemary, parsley, thyme and basil seeds; only to be hit by a surprise late frost and lose our okra and

cucumber the first week. I planted another cucumber plant and some cilantro and thought it would be best to start reading about the plants I chose, because obviously just watering them was not going to work.


Our first tomato! I am so excited about this that it is silly!

So next week I mulched the beds. This is a process that took three sessions… incredible how everything can take so long when you are hauling a baby and a two year old! But the mulching got done, and to keep it green I used grass that was just cut and from the grounds in our apartment complex. Not only it would protect the dirt from overheating and losing moisture too fast, but it should also bring back nutrients to the dirt and attract animals that might be beneficial for our plants (Hello, little spider!).

Ignacio wanted a gnome, now he gets showers :)

Ignacio wanted a gnome, now he gets showers 🙂

Last weekend though, I found my eggplant was attracting flea beetles, so I went to the interweb again to try to find a solution for that problem that

would be viable with my green living ideal. So on Monday I went over to the nearest Starbucks to get some coffee grounds that I promptly placed around our two eggplants. I hope it works!

Our plants are growing strong and healthy, except the cucumber that keeps getting hit by low temperatures at night, which come out of nowhere. My basil seedlings are starting to grow and soon I’ll be thinning them and choosing a few vigorous plants to keep… the rest might become salad 🙂

Are you gardening already? How do you deal with pests, do you have any suggestion for flea beetles?


Flea beetles… boo!


Organic farming is a profitable alternative.

21 10 2011

While we hear news that Monsanto will be allowed to sell GM corn in the aisles of the supermarkets for human consumption, even though some studies point to the fact that direct consumption can cause health problems, a new study published by the Rodale Institute supports organic farming as a sustainable and economically profitable alternative to traditional farming.

stock photo provided by http://lossovidiu.deviantart.com/

The study was performed over 30 years, observing both traditional and organic fields, the organic crops have shown to yield comparable volume, plus they replenish the soils because of rotations. Former studies claiming that organic farming is not profitable nor produces enough to support the demands of a growing world population. These studies have analyzed short term data, however in the current Rodale’s study, this conclusion is not supported. Organic farming not only would yield similar amounts, but because of the price of organic foods the farmers break even sooner than their traditional counterparts.

Additional benefits are the health of the ecosystems, through the replenishing of the soils, the lack of insecticides damaging the watershed, protection from erosion and creation of buffer areas. Economic benefits also arise through the potential need of labor to tend for the farms.  And let’s not forget, human health, after all it is not good to be eating poisons in your food every day.


Sergeant’s Green. The day I learned to read reviews first.

11 08 2011

Sebastian was an outdoors cat that adopted us very willingly and soon became outdoors/indoors. One time, having been in the house next door’s yard, which counted with an unkempt shed full of wood and rats, he came back full of fleas. And since I’ve always tried to go for the non chemical approach, I started to look for alternatives to the well known flea control treatments, as Advantage or Frontline. Because, you know, the cat ends up licking his fur, and the chemicals are on the fur… and though the toxins do not kill the cat nor make them sick at the moment, well, who knows what the cumulative effects can be?

Sebastian, in Lafayette, wearing a flea control collar that he lost promptly, one of may things we tried on him.

So off we went to browse for less aggressive alternatives and we found Sergeant’s Green, natural flea and tick control. The idea was interesting, the liquid was made of natural herb oils, including peppermint, cinnamon, cloves, lemongrass and thyme oil. Herbs are well known to carry their oils in order to prevent herbivory, and though fleas are not herbivores, many times what works against one insect will also work against the others. And if it did not work great… at least the cat would smell like heaven! 🙂

So we cam home, talked to Sebastian and applied the liquid in the little tube. Yes, Sebas did not like it much, but I cannot blame him, for the smell was quite strong. He ran away and left the house smelling wonderfully, peppermint, thyme, it was a wonderful smell all around! And I was happy. That is until a few hours later, when I went see him. His hair was greasy, but that was expected since the product is based on oils, but I saw that his neck was getting bright red. By the evening his hair was falling! And the irritation was worse. So I brought Sebastian in the bathroom and shampooed his neck to remove the oils. Suffice to say that I still feel terrible about that. His neck kept loosing hair for some days after that.

I was also quite unimpressed with the costumer support of Sergeant’s, since when I communicated with them about the problem we have had… I don’t know, expecting to give some feedback on their product… I was told that obviously my cat was very sensitive and I should have read that the box said some cat could be allergic to it. Wow. Thank you Sergeant, you were helpful. I went to our trusty internet and I found dozens of bad reviews telling horror stories of screaming cats, hair loss and irritated skin. That was the day I learned to read reviews before buying a product.

So, how did the story end? I went ahead and bought some Frontline. After all, it is an uncertainty if the accumulation of chemicals will ever hurt my cat’s health, but it was very evident that Sergeant’s All Natural was causing a damage in that moment.

Natural pest control. How to keep ants off!

8 08 2011

I am quite the Pocahontas kind of girl. I don’t mind sharing my life with what most people may call pests as long as they are not disruptive of life or threatening. That is how our apartment becomes the winter residence of stink bugs (which happens in every Pittsburgh home, by the way, we just don’t stress out over it) and in summer we have the ants. Now my husband, Greg, is not quite of my opinion but he is a very good sport and takes me in stride, putting up with many of my crazy natural ideas. Until now. The ants were really getting to him! There were too many ants in the kitchen floor, carrying cat food around and he was starting to lose it.

Now, while I might accept that something needs to be done I am not willing to poison my house with chemicals. Our cat, Briar, eats bugs all the time and I will not lose her to intoxication, plus now we have a little baby that will start crawling in a few months and there is no way I will expose him to anything that may hurt him! Therefore, traditional insecticides are banned from my house. Even those that are ‘pet and kids friendly’ because the fact that the neurotoxin is not going to kill your cat does not mean that long time exposure to it is peachy.

Also, I am more of the idea of using insect repellents instead of insecticides, I rather not kill them but deter them from entering the apartment. After all, if they do not come inside, objective met, right?

Cinnamon can be used as an insect repellent.

So when my husband was repeating daily that the ants were a real problem I suggested to check natural pest control alternatives. I knew that my friend Jenny Heidewald have had some success using cloves, and I am a fan of spices and using their many properties. He headed over to the trusty internet and found out that cinnamon can be used to keep ants away. I asked sadly “Will it kill them?” And I got The Look… So, cinnamon it was! The next few minutes were spent adorning the kitchen floors with ground cinnamon where they meet the walls and where the ants were seen emerging. Also the cat bowls got fringed… the next day he headed over to the store to buy a cheaper brand of cinnamon.

How did it work? Well, ants seem to dislike cinnamon and stayed away for about two or three days, then they found a way around to the cat food. So again he sprinkled the area, making sure to add a very thick layer of it!

In a few days, though, the ants had put the work into removing the cinnamon and making a little trail to go between two newly formed mountains :/ plus our other cat, Sebastian, started to show signs of GI problems. We cleaned up

Yeah, ants hate cinnamon so much that they shove it aside making a little valley to keep working.

the kitchen floor and Greg drove to the store to get a less natural but not too chemical pest repellent, one that has done the work for us of finding the right herbs to use. We are in the process of testing it now. Sebastian is doing much better now.

Have you tried a natural pest control method? Has it worked? I am really wanting to hear success stories of non aggressive methods that are useful for apartments.