built + grown

View Gallery 5 Photos

Two new guides to going green in the home


Countertop Gardens: Easily Grow Kitchen Edibles Indoors for Year-Round Enjoyment by Shelley Levis, Quarto Publishing Group, paperback, $23.


It’s a tale as old as urban living: a city dweller residing in a cramped apartment dreams of a vibrant, sprawling garden. Shelley Levis found herself in just such a situation in her mid-20s, which is how her journey with indoor gardening began. Years of trial and error, studies in horticulture, and jobs as a garden designer and a retail garden center manager qualified Levis to write Countertop Gardens, a comprehensive guide to growing edibles indoors.

Readers of all gardening skill levels will find this book informative and easy to follow. It contains introductions to growing basics such as light, water, temperature, and humidity before delving into countertop-specific tips and tricks. No extra Googling required—each chapter walks you through the process from start to finish.

Countertop Gardens introduces numerous modern devices that make small-scale indoor gardening feasible. Including hydroponics and aquaponics devices, Levis has personally tested every countertop gadget she mentions. Especially interesting is a betta fish tank that recycles its water to the plants growing on its lid, providing nutrients to the plants and cleaner water for the fish. When your windows don’t bring in enough sun, you can learn about mini greenhouse kits that provide plants with the right variety of light.

If you’re not ready to invest in a fun-sized device, Levis describes ways to grow edibles in pots, planters, and glass bottles and jars. The book is packed with do-it-yourself methods like using plastic wrap to retain moisture while seedlings germinate and growing sprouts in a terra-cotta saucer with a muslin cloth (ready to harvest and enjoy in just five to seven days!). Other DIY projects teach you innovative ways to make the most of limited space, from hanging herb planters to creating terra-cotta pot towers.

Happily, because it focuses on edibles, such as herbs, greens, and mushrooms, Countertop Gardens is sprinkled with recipes featuring the plants it describes how to grow, including flavorful sandwiches packed with fresh sprouts to salad toppers starring homegrown radishes. Some recipes are quite simple—a dianthus syrup, which can be added to cocktails or drizzled on fresh fruit, only calls for water, sugar, and fresh clove pink flowers.

If you’re looking for a new hobby that will brighten your living space and provide you with fresh, homegrown food, Countertop Gardens is an essential guide. Like Levis, you may just find yourself on a lifelong journey. As she writes, “It’s not a job you get done, it’s an ever-changing opportunity to create.”Sarah Eddy.



Building a Sustainable Home: Practical Green Design Choices for Your Health, Wealth, and Soul, by Melissa Rappaport Schifman, Skyhorse Publishing, paperback, $25


Large-scale project management is a daunting business, especially when it comes to the myriad details involved in building a house. When Melissa Rappaport Schifman and her husband Jim decided to build their home, they (or really, Schifman) wanted it to be as green and sustainable as it was in their power and budget to make it, and LEED for Homes certified to boot. After poring through book after book on green building, Schifman realized there was no easy manual or advice blog that answered the basic questions that arise during any complicated project: Does X make more sense than Y for our size home? Is X more expensive than Y, and if so, is the cost worth it? Would you do X over Y? And, if you could give me one piece of advice, what would it be? That is to say,  the real story—“the process of decision-making, prioritizing against financial constraints,” says Schifman.

Naturally, she was unable to find such a practical, straight-answer manual. So she wrote one herself, for the next guy. Building a Sustainable Home is the result of months of research, soul-searching, and even blogging about her own LEED home building project.

Why would someone unfamiliar with the subject of green building voluntarily subject themselves to LEED’s 85, notoriously stringent, performance standards? For Schifman, the reasons were her family’s health, wealth, and soul, and she breaks down the book into chapters that deal specifically with each.

Writing in a frank, informative, and conversational manner, Schifman becomes that trusted professional we all wish we could rely on to give us the straight skinny on an expensive, time-consuming project. Though she uses specifics from her own home build as examples, every tidbit of advice easily translates to any build or remodel. That’s not to say all of the information is easy to process; Schifman delves into the really complicated and technical subjects, such as energy and water efficiency, green materials, and the intricacies involved with ensuring a house has truly clean water and air. A most telling chapter: The Worst Green Decisions We Made.

Schifman was unable to find a practical, straight-answer manual on green building. So she wrote one herself, for the next guy.

Ultimately, Building a Sustainable Home is a well-researched and thorough guide book, written by someone who’s been in the trenches. Schifman recalls how, while her home was being built, a local builder who was designing his own home called her for advice—even though he had LEED accredited professionals on staff. Why me? she had asked. “Because you write the checks,” he replied. “I have a dozen friends who can give me green advice, but you have experienced green building. And that is where the rubber meets the road.”—Amy Gross.