Category Archives: the garden indoors

A Post-TG Treat: Compostables

Sometimes compost awareness goes out the window with holidays. Under pressure to prepare lots of food, people forget to separate organic scraps and toss them in the garbage can or visiting cooking helpers might be confused about what to do and discard it all.

It doesn’t have to be that way. A nice thing about even the most traditional of Thanksgiving dinners is that, apart from the turkey centerpiece, much of the fixings are vegetable based. That means lots of good, fresh food scraps for the compost bin. So why not proceed as you normally would? The extra load of scraps may mean adding more dry leaves and other carbon-based materials. Fortunately, there are lots of dry leaves to be had right now. If you’re saying, I haven’t started a compost bin yet, then use this holiday feast time to motivate you to start.

Start this weekend. You have a day and a half left. For a step-by-step guide to setting up an outdoor bin, read my June 2015 post ( and send questions if you’ve got them. For those with limited space, I recommend a worm bin, which I have on my balcony (they are also designed for indoor use). You can find instructions for setting up a worm bin at NYCzerowaste ( At that same site, New Yorkers can find a listing of compost drop-off stations. The city has made a lot of progress in organizing compost collection in just the last year. For Hell’s Kitchenites, West 57th Street and 9th on Saturdays and West 23rd and 8th on Tuesday and Thursday mornings are probably the closest. Check the hours and seasons. The West 57th Street location usually stops some time in December. Finally, if you’re a community gardener, but your garden doesn’t yet compost, now is a very good time to establish a bin before winter sets in and while you have plenty of leaves to supply “browns.”



Fruit and veggie scraps ready for a trip to the Clinton Community Garden food-scrap compost bin.


The Garden Inside

Late last fall, I found fresh trimmings from the garden’s grape vines in the compost pile and decided to experiment. I made cuttings, put them in a jar of water on the kitchen counter, and let them be. Over the course of a couple of months, these sticks began to bulge with roots and

Grape vines growing on the kitchen counter.

then shoots—and now leaves of a delicate pale green. Decoratively speaking, they make a lovely living centerpiece for the table. I’m hoping I can eventually get them to grow more permanently in a pot on our balcony as well. I have in mind the stories of homegrown wine in Greenwich Village: Italian families bringing grape vines from Italy, growing them up the outside walls of their buildings, and pressing their own wines. A truly local production.

Other winter projects are taking place on windowsills, inside cabinets, and on top of the refrigerator. For instance, I’m growing ferns! Thanks to a class in propagation, I now have a mound of fern prothalli growing in a sealed plastic cup. These heart-shaped, leaflike organisms are where eggs and sperm meet (given a droplet of water falling exactly in the right spot for a sperm to swim to an egg) and reproduce to form a sporophyte that grows into a fern plant. The spores of the Osmunda regalis are startlingly blue-green (though only the green shows up in the photo below) and thus photosynthetic.

Fern spores

Fern spores

Fern prothalli

Fern prothalli

Oyster mushrooms occupy the top of the refrigerator where it is warm and dimly lit. These sculptural fungi are highly decorative. I put them on a table in late afternoon and the setting sun flamed out around their votive-like caps. Quick and easy to grow, they also make an

Mushrooms fruiting out

Mushrooms fruiting out

excellent indoor gardening project for preschoolers. Oyster mushrooms have a fairly strong smoky—and of course, oyster-y— taste, so they are not necessarily ideal for the taste buds of young children. For everyone else, I’ve found preparing them in a vegetable broth with some miso and wine (I happened to use sherry in a recent concoction) helps balance the smokiness while bringing out the intense earthiness of this mushroom.

Oyster mushrooms grow out of their mini farm.

Oyster mushrooms grow out of their mini farm.

In the cabinet over the fridge, a bulb-forcing operation is taking place. In the same plant propagation class, I learned to scoop a hyacinth bulb. By wounding all the scales with a sharpened spoon edge or pen knife, a wound response is triggered, leading to the growth of

Hyacinth bulb scooped to propagate "babies," or bulblets.

Hyacinth bulb scooped to propagate “babies,” or bulblets.

adventitious bulblets. A sealed baggie keeps the bulb happily humid although it also makes for a nice environment for fungi. When mold developed, I thought that would be that, but a dusting with fungicide gave the bulblets a chance to grow.

When a friend needed to bring her summer garden indoors, she invited me to handle the succulents that she could no longer fit on her apartment windowsills. That has been inspiring me to understand them better, learn their names, and create miniature succulent scenes. It’s a little like setting up a dollhouse—and presents another way to engage kids with plants during the winter. Placing stones and shells is something three- and four-year-olds can’t seem to resist.

Another tiny world.

Tiny world.