Category Archives: apartment living

Growing Fruit Trees From Seed

Husby and I have this dream where someday we have an orchard full of fruit trees. In our wildest orchard dreams we also have a greenhouse orchard with tropical fruit trees as well.

I mean really, delicious fruit and natural carbon sequestration? What could be better?

Because we try to live life in the now, (and because we’re a little bit crazy) we’ve already sprouted a number of our hopeful future orchard trees, which means we’re going to be moving with a car full of potted plants.

We’re currently working on sprouting pawpaw, mango, and avocado trees.

What’s that? You’ve never heard of a pawpaw? Well let me tell you about this delicious fruit. Pawpaws are native to the eastern United States. They thrive in USDA zone 6, although we’re hoping to grow some cold hearty pawpaws in zone 5. The fruit is about the size of a small mango, with a similar thick green skin. The fruit is described as an “American banana”. Inside the skin is a white fruit with a soft, custard-like consistency, with a number of dark brown seeds about the size of a grape inside. The flavor is similar to a ripe mango. Actually, the best comparison fruit is a cherimoya or custard apple, which you may have seen among the tropical fruits in your grocery store.

So why have you never heard of a pawpaw? Unfortunately, the fruits are delicate and don’t travel well, so by the time they would get to the grocery store many of them would have bruised or broken. They also have a short season (late September to early October depending on how far south they are growing).

Husby has been on the hunt for a pawpaw tree and the fruit for the past 4 years. We finally tracked down some trees last fall at one of the local state parks, and managed to find one small unripe fruit. Then, much to our surprise, the Detroit Whole Foods got a small shipment. We snatched up a couple of them, enjoyed the delicious fruit, and saved the seeds.

Our favorite food scrap growing resource, Don’t Throw It, Grow It!, recommended using Long Fibered Sphagnum Moss to start sprouting avocado seeds, and we’ve found it to be useful for a number of different fruits. In the case of the pawpaws, the seeds needed to rest for the winter before they would sprout, so we mixed them into a gallon sized zip-lock bag of damp sphagnum moss, and tossed the bag in the back of the refrigerator (to simulate winter inside our apartment). For avocados and mangoes, which like a more tropical climate, we buried the seeds in damp moss and placed the bag in a sunny, warm window.

In mid March, about the time that a pawpaw seed would naturally start to sprout, we planted our seeds in these root trainers, which are basically deep seedling starters, using Coconut Coir Brick for soil.  The pawpaw seeds developed roots first and now, two months later, are starting to push up sprouts.

The mango seeds and the avocado seeds we just saved from fruits that we ate. We placed them in the bags of sphagnum moss about 4 weeks ago, and every week or so have been checking on their progress. Earlier this week we saw two of our mangoes had sprouted leaves already, so we took them out of the moss and planed them in pots.

We put plastic bags over the pots to try to keep the environment humid for them, like they would experience in their natural habitat.

The avocado seeds have started sprouting roots in their sphagnum moss bag, but we’re supposed to wait until the roots are about 4 inches long before planting them in a pot, so they are continuing to sit on a warm window sill.

If you’re interested in other good edible gardening books, my favorites are Grow Great Grub: Organic Food from Small Spaces, and The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible, 2nd edition. I come back to these books year after year for instructions, tips, and tricks on organic edible gardening. Much like a well loved cookbook, my copy of The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible is soil stained and water marked from it’s time by my side in the garden.

Next we’re excited to try lemons and other citrus fruits!

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Our embarrassing hot water issue

We have a secret. A shameful, wasteful secret.

We live on the fourth floor of an old apartment building. The water heaters that provide our hot water are in the basement. In the winter it can take as long as 5 minutes of running the water in the bathtub to finally get hot water. The issue here is that old metal water pipes take a long time to heat up, so instead of the heat from the water coming out of the tank coming right up to my shower, it is “spent” heating up the pipes. And four stories worth of pipe is a lot to heat up.

Some quick googling tells me that a regular tub faucet turned on high lets out about 7 gallons of water per minute. Which means during the past 3 winters that we have lived in our old apartment building Husby and I have let 35 gallons of water run down the drain each time we wanted a hot shower. As a comparison, that is more water than I used in the average week while I was living in Tanzania. Ugh, I feel awful just thinking about it.

There are a couple things we do to try to lessen this waste. We stack our showers as often as possible, meaning that if one of us hops in the shower right after the other gets out so the pipes only have to heat up once. Or we’ll take our showers shortly after doing the dishes.  We don’t need hot water to do the dishes, so we can use the water that hasn’t heated up yet for that, and heat up the pipes at the same time in preparation for a shower.

In the summer it’s not quite so bad. The pipes aren’t as cold to begin with, so that don’t take as long to heat up. And we’re far more likely to jump into a cold shower in the summer as well.

If we had access to the pipes in our building, the other thing we could do to help lessen that amount of water would be to insulate our pipes, keeping them from getting so cold in the first place that it took so much hot water to heat them up again.

For now, we look forward to the warmer weather and do our best to reduce the amount of wasted water in pursuit of a hot shower.

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Recycling in Midtown Detroit

Recycle

Recycling.

I’ll admit it, we’re probably a little bit more nutty about recycling than most. Detroit doesn’t have city recycling, so we have to bring it in to a center ourselves. And at our particular center, when we drop off our goods, we have to sort them into the appropriate bins. The first few times we brought our recycling in, we had put all our recyclables into the same bag and then had to sort the bags at the center. This meant we were running all over the place when we would suddenly find a aluminum can in the midst of all our 1s and 2s plastic.

So we decided to switch our method and sort at home as we set aside our recyclables.  This doesn’t really take up any more of our time, but it does take up a good deal more space to keep a separate bag for each material. In fact we have a whole wall of our small apartment devoted to our recyclable bags. Also, Michigan has deposits on beer and pop containers (both bottles and cans) so we keep those separate from our general recyclables, because they will get returned to a different location to collect the deposit money.

Recently my mom came to visit.  Between the regular trash, the compost, all the different bags for the recycling, and the deposit recyclables, I think she had our system all figured out by the time she left, 2 weeks later.

All this to say, we’re a bit jealous of cities that have single source recycling. But you make time (and space) for what is important to you, and keeping our waste out of landfills (or in the case of Detroit, the incinerator) is important to us.

Reuse

Reuse.

The great thing about working to reuse things is that it also helps contribute to our ability to reduce. Reuse helps keep goods out of landfills for longer, and depending on what you are reusing, helps to reduce the number of less favorable by-products of manufacturing.

Husby and I are always pleased when we can get at least a 2nd use out of something.  Some quick examples of things we reuse regularly

  • Cloth diapers for our newest family member
  • Lots of hand-me-down baby clothes, blankets and toys. We requested for our baby shower that gifts be 2nd hand and got some of the sweetest, well pre-loved gifts to share with Cheeks McGee
  • We bring our styrofoam style egg cartons back to the farmers we buy our eggs from. (Cardboard style egg cartons get torn up and added to the compost)
  • I love to can produce, so each year I am able to reuse the jars and screw-tops for our pantry items

I mentioned in my post on reducing that we use reusable grocery bags and bring our own containers for bulk items.  I know this is an action that is always included on lists of how to “go green” and yet so many times I’ve heard friends and family mention that they just never remember to bring their reusable bags along with them to the store. Honestly, I don’t always remember either, but I’ve developed a couple habits that have helped get those bags to the store with me.

  • I try to always keep a reusable bag or two in the car, so if I find myself making an unplanned trip to the grocery store after work, it’s with me.  To help remind me to restock the car, I put the grocery bags right by our apartment door.  We have a small entry way, so there’s not much room there for extras, which means the bags won’t go unnoticed next time I’m headed out.
  • Since the grocery store is walkable for us, we make it a Sunday afternoon outing.  Having a set routine helps us to remember the bags.
  • We also buy milk that comes in returnable glass bottles.  Those bottles have a hefty deposit on them, making it worth our while to bring them back, and bringing back the bottles gets us to bring the bags along as well, to carry the bottles with us.

As for bringing our own containers for bulk goods, when I’m making my grocery list on Sunday morning I try to put the appropriate container into my grocery bags as I add it to the list. We also have a set spot in the kitchen where all of our empties go, so we know to pack them all with us for our trip to the store.

I think that bringing so much with us to the grocery store in the way of reusable containers and making planned, regular trips helps us remember it all and be sure to bring our shopping bags along as well.

There’s always room for improvement though. Around here we’re working on remembering to take those shopping bags with us to non-grocery stores as well.

Reduce

Reduce.

I know it is the most important imperative in the well-known triplet “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”, but in our consumer driven world it is also often the most difficult to practice.

Husby and I often reminisce about living in Tanzania. One of the things that I loved was the lack of pressure to have more stuff.  The cultural differences and terrible transportation options that came with living in a rural mountain village made it pretty easy to say no thanks to bringing anything other than the bare necessities home. This practice toward minimalism has stuck with both of us now that we’re back living in the States, but we certainly haven’t achieved it in its full expression.

But with the goal of reducing our impact firmly in place, we do have a few areas where we feel like we are succeeding.

Space

We currently live in a modest, one bedroom apartment.  It certainly wouldn’t be considered small by NYC standards, but it’s not a giant space either.  Because of this, many of our rooms serve multiple functions.  Our office area shares a room with our dining area, and our “nursery” minus the bassinet occupies a corner of our living room. And the new baby shares a bedroom with us. Our lease will be up soon, and we will be moving when it is, but we hope to be able to find another modest, one bedroom apartment when we do. Our old apartment also features two tiny closets – not much storage at all. To help us stash out of season things away, we have a few of those large storage bins serving double duty. One poses as a coffee table and two stacked on top of each other are just the right height for plants to enjoy our windows.

Location

We live in a pretty walkable neighborhood.  There is a grocery store just a couple blocks away and plenty of restaurants and boutiques within spitting distance. I can even walk to my hair salon and my CrossFit gym. Husby is a big fan of walking, so we also frequently walk the couple miles downtown and to the riverfront.  Because of this we are able to maintain a single car household even when both of us work outside the home.

Energy

I’ve written before about how we reduce our electricity use, and about Husby’s obsession with unplugging electronics that are not in use to reduce phantom loads.  Additionally we hang dry our laundry. When Husby had to do some traveling this past winter, he often chose to take the Megabus rather than renting a car or flying to his destinations.

Stuff

Certainly this is the hardest area for us to work on reducing, but also the area that provides the most opportunity. We work hard to reduce the amount of packaging we bring home. That means that we bring cloth bags with us to the grocery store, as well as bring our own refillable containers with us to stock up on bulk goods. We buy items that we use consistently and frequently in bulk – like buying our liquid soap by the gallon. We also are working to choose quality over quantity. Saving our pennies for higher quality clothing, furniture, and cookware to ensure that it lasts longer, and stretching the life of what we already have in the meantime.

One thing that helps me to focus on reducing the amount of stuff that we have is to constantly have a “to donate” pile.  We’ve been making frequent trips to the Goodwill to drop off goods that we no longer have any use for. Keeping a donation pile going reminds me to constantly edit my possessions and work towards reducing the accumulation of possessions in the first place.

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