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Food in the City and Subirrigation

24 Feb

I was recently invited by Shaunalynn of sprout & co to speak at the Food in the City Spaghetti Dinner about my experience with subirrigated gardening.  Subirrigated gardening is a way of growing plants that conserves water, preserves fertilizer, and simplifies watering.  I regularly consult the Inside Urban Green blog for information on subirrigation which is authored by Bob Hyland, founder of the Center for Urban Greenscaping and the definitive subirrigation guru.  Other topics for the evening included raising chickens, Sam Katz-Christy on his Somerville yogurt co-op, Tai Dinnan from Groundwork Somerville on maple tree tapping and syrup making, and Mike Nagle on window farming in urban areas.  Live illustrations were created by Isaac Bell during the talks which reflected the topics at hand.

I’ve been interested in making my own yogurt for some time now and learned a lot about the process as Sam fielded an array of questions from the crowd.  The co-op operates from the industrial kitchen of the Clarendon Hill Presbyterian Church and sources milk regionally from Crescent Ridge Dairy. Crescent Ridge Dairy delivers in glass containers which helps reduce plastic waste when making yogurt in large batches;  Sam’s simultaneous consideration for the environment and community was inspiring.

Sam Katz-Christy fields questions about yogurt making and running a co-op.  Photo by Meaghan Boyle.

Sam Katz-Christy fields questions about yogurt making and running a co-op. Photo by Meaghan Boyle.

My talk reviewed the principles of subirrigation including 2-liter soda bottle designs and larger planter designs based on corrugated drain pipe which are more suitable for growing vegetables.  The planter below was built from a 3-liter bottle and housed a couple of happy basil plants.  Herbs do very well in these 2 and 3 liter designs.

A 3-Liter planter that I built to grow basil.  Photo by Meaghan Boyle.

A 3-Liter planter that I built to grow basil. Photo by Meaghan Boyle.

For growing tomatoes and peppers, the corrugated pipe planter designs are the easiest and most reliable to build.  Below is a section of the corrugated and perforated pipe cut to fit in the bottom of the clear container shown to the right of me.  I would use this planter to grow one tomato plant or two pepper plants.  Clear containers allow you to observe water levels without detriment to the plant.

Showing off corrugated and perforated drain pipe for building planters.  Photo by Meaghan Boyle.

Showing off corrugated and perforated drain pipe for building planters. Photo by Meaghan Boyle.

There was a great turnout for the talks.  The picture below by Chris Connors shows a small fragment of the assembled crowd;  I really enjoy hanging out after talks at hackerspaces to meet new people with similar interests.

The crowd at Sprout as well as live artwork being projected behind me.  Photo by Chris Connors.

The crowd at Sprout as well as live artwork being projected behind me. Photo by Chris Connors.

I am working on finishing a Make Project page which will include details on fertilizer, pesticide, and other concerns.  For more information on subirrigation I highly recommend the Inside Urban Green Blog as well as the EarthBox Forum.  Now is the time to order and start your tomato seeds for the upcoming season!

If you’d like to stay in touch with sub-irrigators in Somerville, MA and Boston, join the Sub-irrigate Sprout google group.

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Hawaiian Sweet Bread with Laser Cut Flour Stamp

10 Feb

I’ve been working on a technique to use flour to stamp breads with laser cut designs and  have finally found a technique that works acceptably well for intricate patterns.  The breads below were made with this Hawaiian Sweet Bread recipe.  Here is the result after baking:

Finished Loaves with Flower of Life Flour Stamps

Finished Loaves with Flower of Life Flour Stamps

The pattern I chose is called the Flower of Life.  It is a six-fold symmetry made with overlapping circles.  Here is a video of the cardboard stamp being cut:

Once you have a cardboard stamp, you can moisten it with water to curve it slightly to fit the loaves.  I did this by using a rubber band placed around the pattern and a can of corn meal.  About 10 minutes before baking, while the oven is preheating, use a spray bottle with water to wet both the slightly curved pattern and the bread.  Shake flour over the wet side of the laser cut cardboard pattern.  Apply the pattern flour side down and press gently.  Here is a picture of the flour coated wet cardboard being applied to the moistened bread.

Flour stamp being applied to a bread

Flour stamp being applied to a bread

If you’re careful, it should look like this before putting it in the oven:

Bread Stamped with Flour Ready for Baking

Bread Stamped with Flour Ready for Baking

I’ve heard that rice flour mixed with normal flour improves the outcome.  You can also create these patterns with an X-acto knife in cardboard to achieve the same effect.  Have fun tagging your loaves of bread!