VaLerie’s Blog

WINDOW FARMS: Grow food in your own window!
source: WindowFarms  posted by VaLerie K


“The material I’m working with is people — creating moments for them to be thoughtful,” says Britta Riley, whose window farms have been displayed in more than a dozen buildings in New York City. Riley and her collaborator, Rebecca Bray, are conceptual artists whose goal is to engage the public in developing simple solutions to vexing environmental problems. By artfully demonstrating how lettuce and tomatoes can be grown in even the most cramped urban spaces, they hope to inspire people to think about where their food comes from — and then take part in producing it. (1)

(2)  “The Windowfarms project broaches both immediate urban agriculture goals as well as a far-sighted shift in attitudes toward the green revolution. We are both starting a windowfarming craze in cities worldwide and hoping to accelerate the pace of sustainable design by having ordinary citizens think of themselves as innovators.”


No Comments »

Cement Gardens for the City
written by Valerie K

Believe it or not, all these blooms were grown either in pots or in a raised bed that has only about 6-7 inches of soil.

You may have seen BiG TeA PaRtY’s Elizabeth Fiend‘s garden and how gorgeous it is [to take a look click HERE]; an oasis in the grime of a big city.  But not every urban home has enough space for that much greenery, in fact most back yards where I live in South Philadelphia are covered in cement and cinder block, and it’s not always possible or financially feasible to tear up the cement and get back to the earth.

Despair not, city dwellers, with just a few feet of space there is room for a healthy, happy and beautiful garden!

My yard is about 14′ x 7′ of cement, enclosed by cement block walls, sounds grim doesn’t it?  But look what I got last year – this is mid-June during the second wave of blooming – mostly perennials highlighted here but a few annuals are spicing it up, like the hot pink Snap dragons in the left-hand photo

You don’t need soil that reaches down to the water table to grow flowers like those pictured above.  With raised beds sitting on top of cement, and a variety of pots and containers you would be surprised (I was!) how lush your yard can be.  And after a couple years it starts to really flourish if you get some good perennials going, and then it’s up to you how much work you want to put into it….

I took these photos this year (2011) on April 28th – and I hadn’t even planted anything new yet!

As you can see in the photos above, by the end of April a lot is happening even though I did not put much effort into it.  Sure, I pulled some weeds but I’ve been really lazy and at the time of that photo, I hadn’t added compost or planted annuals or started many of the containers that will fill out my urban backyard garden.  I had not even pulled out the dead stuff from last year until the day I took this photo (In the fall I like to leave most of the carcasses intact for birds and insects to feed on through the winter).

But my garden starts without me, ready or not, and what you see in that last photo grouping is the result of six years of work and experimentation – by this point I don’t really have to add more flowers if I don’t feel like it, the plants you see above would be just fine all on their own.  But I like to add splashes of color in the form of annuals, and try new varieties so that each summer my garden has a different look.

Of course you can grow food, but this article is about flowers.  If you want to grow vegetables, you need to do a bit more research to make sure your soil is healthy, your compost is safe for food and any non-food plants near your food are not toxic.

Personally, I’m in it for the flowers.  My goal is to look out my kitchen window and see life, color, green, hopefully some birds, some bees, maybe even butterflies.  Also my goal is not to work too hard at gardening, and with flowers you can be a lot more lax than with vegetables and herbs.

Read on to get some tips on getting started.  I’m not just being modest when I say to you: if I can do it, anyone can.



Happy New Year

from all of us at


Love, VaLerie Keller and Elizabeth Fiend


two elf heads are here to say happy new year to you from big tea party


No Comments »

Happy Holidays 2010 & New Year 2011

from BiG TeA PaRtY!!

card by Valerie

No Comments »

Last Minute Gift Giving:paperSM.jpg
Donate to LOCAL Charities

by VaLerie K

More and more people are giving (or asking for) the gift of a donation to charity for Chanukah, Kwanzaa and Christmas these days, rejecting the materialist mandate to buy more stuff.  Besides choosing national or international charities, consider picking something local.  Here’s some reasons why:

1. Seeing results first hand – rather than getting a newsletter from afar, the recipients of your gift can physically go and see the charity their gift is supporting, and feel a greater connection to why the gift is important.

2. Education – people can learn directly, such as getting a gift donation to a wildlife preserve, and then taking the kids to go see the animals and learn from the nature center.

3. Less junk mail, more trees – small, local organizations are less likely deluge you (or friends in whose names you donate) with mailings requesting more money, and if they do, you can call and talk to someone who will make it stop.  When I donated to a local animal rescue effort, I talked directly with the person in charge of donations, and we set it up so I could give everyone in my family an ‘adoption certificate’ in their names, but the donations would all be grouped under my address, so no one but me would get mailings in the future.


No Comments »

a holiday LINK OF INTEREST from VaLerie K:



Registry *

What do you say when your pals want to know what you want them to buy you this holiday season?

Well… what better Chanukah or Christmas or Kwanzaa gift than something that comes from New American Dream, an organization that “helps Americans consume responsibly to protect the environment, enhance quality of life, and promote social justice.”

New American Dream strives to “work with individuals, institutions, communities and businesses to conserve natural resources, counter the commercialization of our culture and promote positive changes in the way goods are produced and consumed.”

Live your ideals, share them with those who would shower you with gifts by using the Alternative Gift Registry.

No Comments »

BiG TeA PaRtY Member Volunteers
at Local Park Cleanup & Plant Tending Day

(and learns about sustainable approaches to storm water management)
by Valerie Keller


Here I am with some of the organizers standing in the ‘retention basin’ – I’m 2nd from right

I live near a few city parks, but this one is something special.

Last year this public playground was transformed from what had been a cement playground with outdated equipment, very little grass or other vegetation, and a traditional cement basketball court in the Pennsport section of South Philadelphia.

The old playground and pool was converted to a state-of-the-art green project, now called Herron Playground, that is a model site to demonstrate the broader plans for the greening of Philadelphia. It employs porous paving for sidewalks and basketball court, recycled material as playground surface, drainage beds and pipes to carry excess water into a retention basin full of native plant species, and islands of vegetation for retaining water and slowing runoff.

Herron Playground is a fantastic example of trying to mimic nature’s methods of dealing with excessive storm water in an urban environment where for generations most land has been paved over with impervious surfaces (cement or asphalt or other paving materials which water cannot penetrate), causing major problems when there is a heavy rainfall and water has nowhere to go, so it just sheets off into the street and rushes into the nearest storm drain, overloading the city’s sewer system often just from the first inch of rain of a typical rainstorm. 


1 Comment »

Spinach & Fruit Smoothies  by VaLerie K

I like a breakfast that is pretty light, but ideally packed with nutrients and this one definitely fits the bill.  In my world it has superceded steel-cut oatmeal with dried fruit, and flax waffles with almond butter and black-strap molasses to become top of my list of best breakfasts.

You really have to have a blender or a food processor for this (or I guess a lot of patience and upper arm strength).  I start with whatever fruit I have on hand, though bananas make a really good base because of texture so I try to keep a couple around when I’m in the smoothie mode.  Cut up whatever fruits you want to use, toss in the food processor, and now comes the spinach. 


1 Comment »

Natural Pest Control:

Keep Mice Away Without Cruelty

mouseinpants.jpgby VaLerie K

Got mice?  If, like me, you are not happy with the idea of killing or maiming mice to get them to vacate the premises, or if you are more callous and just don’t like the risk of them dying in your walls and stinking up the joint, I am thrilled to tell you that there is another way. 

Peppermint oil – an essential oil, meaning it contains the essence of peppermint leaves – is reputed to be utterly repugnant to mice.  Lore has it that in the essential oil form, it is too powerful for their sensitive noses.  Whatever the case, there are loads of testimonials out there from people who claim to have used this method with great success in garages, kitchens, basements and boudoirs, so I was eager to give it a try. 

Though I have not found an actual scientific article on using peppermint oil to repel mice, when I went to buy peppermint oil from my local natural foods store, and mentioned somewhat sheepishly why I was buying it, the saleswoman said, “Oh we sell more of it for that reason than anything else!”  And peppermint oil does garner a list of health benefit claims as well as the breath-freshening qualities we have all come to know.



Ecological Intelligence
One of Time Magazine’s 10 Ideas Changing The World by BRYAN WALSH


posted by VaLerie K

When it comes to going green, intention can be easier than action. Case in point: you decide to buy a T shirt made from 100% organic cotton, because everyone knows that organic is better for Earth. And in some ways it is; in conventional cotton-farming, pesticides strip the soil of life. But that green label doesn’t tell the whole story — like the fact that even organic cotton requires more than 2,640 gal. (10,000 L) of water to grow enough fiber for one T shirt. Or the possibility that the T shirt may have been dyed using harsh industrial chemicals, which can pollute local groundwater. If you knew all that, would you still consider the T shirt green? Would you still buy it?


1 Comment »