Starting Off Right

I’ll be nice since the holidays are coming; I’ll begin my new Pittsburgh blog with a pat, but lest you worry that you’ll be caught in the treacle, I’ll pan something soon.

The praise goes to Right By Nature, Pittsburgh’s new organic grocery in the Strip. I haven’t been there yet. They opened last week and according to the press coverage, the store intends to supply organic food, including freshly cooked items, at very reasonable prices.

Attracted by a recent Post-Gazette article, I called to ask if they had electric scooter carts for those of us who can’t navigate on our own. My phone call was answered by a (gasp!) human, and a nice, friendly human to boot. This person told me that they were still in the throes of opening week hubbub, and the carts haven’t arrived yet, although they are on order.

She offered to check on the ETA, put me on hold briefly until another human, equally cordial and helpful, picked up and assured me that she would keep my name and phone number and call me when the carts arrived. If this is the way Right By Nature intends to do business, all I can say is whooopppeee!

Experience leads us to expect corporate-speak idiocy or indifference from customer service most of the time. Cheerful, bright people who actually know how to communicate are so rare that this call left me bubbly with good feelings toward Right By Nature.

Reasonable prices for organic food are almost too much to expect and I can’t wait to shop there. Sure, Whole Foods is grand; the produce, bakery and prepared foods sections make me delirious, but who can afford to shop there? Well, I guess the Shadyside 30-somethings whose BMWs jam the parking lot can, but I can’t.

I’ve limited my shopping to the Giant Eagle Market District for more than a year, and they do many things well. Their staff is a cut above other Giant Eagle employees. Once, when I thanked a bagger for his helpful attitude, he told me that only one out of 100 Giant Eagle employees qualified to work at the Market District. It’s great to shop where the cream of the crop works, but unfortunately, that also means the curdled part populates the other Eagles.

On my last trip to the Market District, I was stunned by a $1.99 price for a single grapefruit. This was for a conventional, not organic grapefruit, so I was really dumbfounded. Last week, my son and I gazed at lovely, plump oranges priced at 2 for $3.00, and, feeling like a Dickensian orphan, I asked him if he might try to save up and give me an orange for Christmas.

I understand that the pervasive economic horrors have as much to do with prices for both organic and non-organic foods as any corporate Giant Eagle policies, but as a result, I have to reluctantly turn away from most of the organic offerings at the Market District. Earlier in the year, I got into the habit of treating myself to rarities like chicken and beef unsullied by antibiotics and growth hormones, but I can no longer afford to eat food that isn’t killing me.

Now that Right By Nature has opened, maybe that will change. Clean, wholesome food for the masses: what a concept!

Precipice of Bounty

Just like last August, my vegetables are on the tip of really producing a lot of yield. And, just like last August, I am leaving for a business trip – thankfully only for a week this time instead of a whole month. That means I will be able to take part in the harvest this year. I am happy about that.

Right now I have both a baby pumpkin and a baby watermelon! The pumpkins were a surprise from where I had left last year’s farm-bought Halloween pumpkin. The gourd rotted and the seeds just took hold in the soil next to my compost bin. They spread out across the walk way and are now trying to crawl up some shrubs along the property boundary.

Garden 2008

The second year garden has a head of steam on it and seems to be doing quite well. I already have two crops grown, eaten, and done. Check out this year’s sowing:

  • eggplant
  • watermelon
  • squash (two varieties)
  • cucumber (for pickling)
  • potatoes
  • peas
  • bush beans
  • bok choy
  • cabbage
  • tomatoes (6 varieties – pig pen, josephine, early girl, cherry, …)
  • corn
  • lettuce (mescaline and butter crunch)
  • broccoli
  • beets
  • radishes
  • carrots
  • onion
  • garlic
  • hot peppers (3 varieties)
  • Jerusalem artichoke
  • strawberry
  • sunflower seeds
  • basil
  • cilantro (failed)
  • spearmint
  • pumpkin

I also have two nice flower beds and a third area beneath my sunflowers where I put some annuals.

The potatoes are going bonkers. The peas and cilantro are not going to make it, I think. My mescaline and radishes are already done for the season. I have also eaten some beets (two, the bulb and the greens), a strawberry, and some basil. I am not sure when the rest will bear for me.Let’s keep our fingers crossed. I have been watering with an occasional treat of worm compost tea.

I Am A Closet Vermiculturist

Yes, i think it is time I admit the truth. I have worms living in my basement.

It was only a few months ago that I purchase 500 Red Wigglers and put them into a series of stacked, black plastic bins in my basement. Then I began to feed and water them – modestly at first. But more and more each week until all at once I realized I was obsessed. The worms grew right alongside my passion. Bigger and bigger – and not only did they grow bigger. No, they multiplied. And still I continued with the reckless feeding. Soon I was hording food particles from work and ferrying them home for my worms. My worms, my worms, my babies. My pets living in mud and food waste, churning through my kitchen waste and crapping out that fool’s quest -the fertilizer of all mothers. Yes, I speak of Black Gold. And I got a plastic bin full of it in my basement.

If that isn’t enough for you, lately I’ve caught myself in the catacombs of my crib mixing wormbrewed tea. I know what you must be thinking – but listen: it calls out to me, I tell you! I have to release the spigot and release the dark flowing tea of all teas! the plants love it. How can I say no?


I left work early today to go listen to a vermiculture lecture I had heard about. When I got to the place, it was locked up tighter than a buckeye in a squirrel’s left cheek. I got soaked in the rain. My notes on the lecture: no worms, lots of rain.