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Category Archives: Compost How To

How Cold Is It? Frozen.

The high today in Atlanta was twenty-six with a wind chill of two degrees below zero.  Brrrrr!  I can’t remember EVER being this cold.

Just how cold was it?  I think my compost buckets from the week express it best.

On the deck:

Frozen Buckets

And later on the compost pile:

Frozen Compost 2.19.15

The entire pile was frozen solid so I could not even cover these scraps.  I’m heading inside for the rest of the day.  Stay warm and be safe.

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2015 in Compost How To, The Daily Bucket

 

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Grounds For Composting

There are a lot of adjectives you could use to describe me, but “cheap” is probably not one of them.  Today, however, I tried a really cheap trick.  And it did not work.  At all.

For years I used a classic stovetop moka pot and never thought twice about what to do with the coffee grounds.  They went in the compost bucket.  Well, for Christmas, my husband splurged and got me a Gaggia Classic espresso machine, possibly to cut my coffee shop habit.

After weeks of adventures in brewing espresso, including spraying boiling coffee and/or hot milk on floors, walls, appliances,dogs, etc. and incurring lovely brown stains on my white subway tile, I’m pretty proficient.  I have not mastered latte art (not for lack of trying either) but have decided that homemade espresso is infinitely better than drive through.  It’s a bit  more work, but just like anything else we make at home, it’s worth the time.  (My secret recipe is to sweeten the latte with a splash of pure maple syrup.)

I’m not sure why, but it kills me that all my shade grown, organic coffee grounds are going in the compost after just thirty seconds of brew time.    That coffee is expensive and you have to pack it in like crazy to make two (delicious) ounces.  Each time I brew I wonder if I can use the grounds twice…

coffee grounds 2.15

Probably most of you are laughing at me right about now.  I admit I never even considered re-using the grounds from a regular coffee pot or even the moka pot,  so I’m not sure why I thought this would be a good idea.  Maybe I’m in the reuse, recycle mode and am just trying to make the most of my foodstuffs.  Anyway, I gave it a try.

Ha ha.  The liquid, I can’t call it coffee, was the color of tea and the taste was absolutely disgusting; unbelievably bitter and burned tasting.  Big surprise, right?

Learn from my mistake, espresso grounds are not reusable, except in the compost pile.

 

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2015 in Compost How To, Musings, The Daily Bucket

 

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Can I Compost: Date Pits

Last night I was making this truly delicious salad and I had a small handful of date pits.  Trash or compost bucket?

date pits 2.2015

Ordinarily I do not compost pits from stone fruits or seeds from vegetables like squash, peppers, cucumber, etc.  The pits are rock hard and take years to break down, but the soft seeds tend to germinate immediately, take root and send up volunteers all over the garden.

Date pits are a bit different. Not too hard, not too soft, pliable, but still a really big seed.  Hmmm… I had to do a bit of research.  This info reminds me a bit of the old Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood “field trips” that fascinated me when I was five (and when I was the mom of five year olds). It’s definitely worth reading if you are interested in where and how your food is grown.

My verdict was: compost. I’m pretty sure I won;t be growing a date palm in my garden!

Here are the rest of my kitchen scraps for the day.

kale salad

 

What you can see (clockwise):

  • yellow onion peels and stem ends
  • strawberry tops (lunch box)
  • carrot peels (lunch box)
  • Lacinto kale stems (especially in a salad I’m not a fan of the big stem crunch)
  • apple peels (sautéed in butter and topped breakfast pancakes)
  • garlic skin
  • lemon half (morning hot lemon drink)
  • lime & mandarin orange halves (salad dressing)

But back to the dates… and the salad… my daughter refused to eat it because she is not a date fan, but guess what?  Neither of us could not stop eating.  It’s really a keeper.  Give it a try.  And if you do, substitute bacon for almonds (I was out of nuts) and be prepared to reach for seconds.

 

 

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Garden Dead But Compost Flourishing

We continue to be blessed with sunny skies in the South so, instead of simply looking out my window at the garden, I finally stepped outside for a look around.  Let me tell you it was not pretty.  Freezing temperatures have reduced my brave broccoli to brittle stalks, my kale to withered clumps, and everything else to unidentifiable leaves and mush.  Even my pansies, reliable winter bloomers in Atlanta, have suffered and died back and just a few brave blooms were soldiering on.

pretty pansy 2.15

The good news is, my compost pile looks marvelous!  (Except for the left side wooden support, which will require some mending come spring.)

compost pile feb 2015

This photo was taken after tossing three buckets of kitchen scraps on the pile.  I was busy prepping food for a ballet school cast party and since those buckets were filled with smelly onions, in my rush I put them outside (to keep from fouling the air in the house) and forgot about them for a few days.  Near freezing temps kept them from rotting in the buckets and luckily, since it’s not my habit to leave fresh scraps outside the kitchen, backyard critters missed a great salad bar opportunity.

It’s important not to leave food scraps sitting on top of the pile, especially in the winter.  Chilly temps will slow down decomposition, but more important, any kind of food is an open invitation to all the squirrels, raccoons, opossums, and more.  You don’t want any wildlife feasting in your compost!

I keep a pitchfork and a pile of raked, fallen, decomposing leaves right next to my compost pile.  This helps to balance the “browns” and “greens” of the compost pile.  More on this in a minute.  My standard practice is to toss the scraps on the pile, then liberally cover the scraps with a few forkfuls of leaves.  It should look like this.  Notice I also tidied up some bits and pieces that had strayed from the body of the pile.

compost pile covered up 2.2015

The science behind compost is fascinating, because “greens” and “browns” does not mean the color of the scrap but the property of the organic substance.  An easy test is to get scraps wet and wait for a few days.  If it smells awful it’s a green.  It not, it’s a brown.

Greens are high in nitrogen (or protein) and help the resulting bacteria grows quickly to help heat up the pile.  The hotter the pile the faster the scraps will decompose.

Browns are high in carbon (or carbohydrates) supply the energy and food the soil needs,  Plus the carbon helps keep any nasty odors in check while at the same time keeping the nitrogen from evaporating.  Carbon creates rich humus (not the kind you can eat).

You certainly can mathematically balance your compost pile, but that’s not my style.  I’m happy to toss equal amounts of kitchen and yard waste together, give it sun and rain and time and before you know it you’ve got new rich soil.

Want more specific info?  Here’s a book I highly recommend.  Happy composting!

 
 

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Toss It Tuesday: Pea Shoots

Aren’t these gorgeous?  Local, organic pea shoots.  I scooped them up in the grocery and couldn’t wait to get them home.  I planned my whole dinner around them because they were just enticing. So fresh, so fabulous.

Toss It Tuesday Pea Shoots 2.10.15

I roasted some small red beets.  You can do it too because they are infinitely better than the pre-cooked beets you can now find in the refrigerated cases.  Individually wrap each beet in a bit of foil and bake for about an hour at 400 degrees.  This method bakes and steams at the same time for perfect earthy goodness.  Cool, unwrap, and working one at a time, rub off skins gently with a paper towel.  Full disclosure: your hands will get bright pink, so work carefully with the paper towels or slip on some plastic gloves.  Slice your ruby red jewels into quarters and they are ready to eat.

For the salad I put a handful of pea shoots in a small bowl, added the sliced beets, some crumbled feta cheese and toasted pecans.  For dressing, I sloshed on a quick vinaigrette of sherry vinegar, dijon mustard, and walnut oil.  It was gorgeous.  (This picture does not do it justice because it was late in the evening. and there was no natural light.)

Beet & Pea Shoot Salad 2.2015

The salad was absolutely delicious; all the right notes of fresh, earthy, creamy, crunchy.  Whatever, with some crusty bread, it was a simple, satisfying meal.

About an hour later, my daughter complained of a tummy ache.  Then my husband felt a bit off.  Soon after, I joined them in feeling not terrible, but not good.  Nothing worsened, but we all agreed that all signs pointed to the pea shoots as the source of our ick. This episode kind of confirms my standard gut feel not to buy sprouted seeds.

So, on the compost pile they go. I kind of hate to toss them; they are still so pretty, but I like the idea of them quickly cooking away in the bottom of the compost pile.

Just so you know, the next time pretty, perfect pea shoots catch my eye at the market I am walking quickly by.

 

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Don’t Forget the Flowers

What brightens your spirits in the middle of winter?  My secret pick-me-up is a stop by the supermarket floral department (Trader Joe’s is my absolute favorite).  Flowers keep me happy when the sun is not shining and let’s be honest, a little bouquet of daisies or spray roses costs as much as a specialty coffee from corner shop and it lasts a whole lot longer.

My favorite treats are the mini potted individual bulbs of hyacinth, tulip, or daffodil.  You can find them everywhere this time of year.   I buy a few, pop them in my own white ceramic pots and “plant” them around the house for little bursts of happiness wherever I turn.  **sigh** Spirits lifted.

To be fair, we’ve escaped the bitter chill of winter in Atlanta so far, and it is sunny and nearly fifty degrees as I write this, but still.  There are a lot of gloomy gray days left in this season and I like to be prepared.

Back to the blooms … they don’t last forever but don’t be hasty and toss them in your trash. Now, I’m not suggesting you plant the bulbs in your yard.  It’s a time for snuggling on the sofa, not digging in the dirt.  Forced bulbs rarely bloom again, but they are a great treat for your compost pile.  They may send up a few leaves, but I can almost guarantee that unless you’ve got a hardy daffodil that simply has to bloom, you’ll only get a few leaves in your garden as a reminder of your bulb’s former glory.  Save yourself and feed your garden.  Compost.

Here’s a look at the pretty hyacinths that scented my kitchen for two weeks.

hyacinth bulbs

Are here is a glimpse of the leaves & spent pink blossoms from two bunches of stock (that’s really the sad name of a pretty, fragrant flower) that I have in my living room and foyer. Remember, to help cut flowers last as long as possible, change the water and trim the stems every few days.  I know that’s extra work, but it really helps extend bloom time.

You can also see butternut squash peels in the bucket. You can’t see the red onion skins, thyme stalks, dirty mushroom stems (ugh) and carrot peels but they are there.  I roasted all those veggies and mixed them with some brown rice, fresh arugula and a quick vinaigrette for a simple, filling but not heavy, school night dinner.

spent stock roasted veggie bowl

Here’s to sunny skies and fresh blooms in your neck of the world …

 
 

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Soup Pot or Compost Bucket?

Guilt is a powerful motivator in my world.  In fact, it’s the reason I started composting so many years ago.  Back when I scraped perfectly good kitchen scraps into my trash can (no garbage disposal due to septic system) I guiltily thought that those scraps could be put to better use.  Since I already had a tiny garden plot compost just made sense.

Fast forward to 2015.  Kitchen blogs have been posting a lot about reducing food waste.  Apparently, American households throw away as much as twenty-five percent of all the food they purchase. That’s A LOT of food to throw in the trash.  Of course, I’m feeling virtuous because not only am I composting my scraps, the mere effort of cataloging the waste has kept me more accountable.  Less and less food is finding its way to my Toss It Tuesday buckets.  Yay me.  I can wear the compost crown!

Not so fast.  Composting is cool, but finding ANOTHER USE for the scraps seems to be KING.  First I came across this article about eating your potato peels instead of composting them.  Oh my gosh, it was a food revelation.  I strongly suggest you plan to make potatoes for dinner tonight so you can try that trick.  I’ve done it countless times now and even made potato peels for a Thanksgiving “appetizer” where they went so fast half the guests missed it.

There is only one catch to actually eating your scraps.  You HAVE to scrub them first.  I subscribe to the lazy school of food prep; the whole ashes to ashes, dirt to dirt school of thought.  If I am going to peel my vegetables I figure they can go into the compost bucket dirty.  I peel, then wash.  Not if you are going to eat them …

Which brings me to this article.  Apparently I could be using all those carrot scraps, onion peels, and bits and pieces to make broth.  Another revelation!  Normally I make stock from fresh vegetables, but I gave it a try and this, too, has changed the way I look at scraps.  Stock from scraps was excellent.

Here’s a look at the scraps I put in the stock pot that made a super flavorful broth.

 

Stock Pot 1.2015

But these scraps seemed to belong in the compost bucket (along with the citrus, banana peels and strawberry tops).

soup bucket 2.2015

Of course, having multiple options makes for a lot of internal conversation … soup pot or compost bucket … hmmm, the answer is definitely whether I remembered to wash or not.  But, some habits take time to break.  I planned to use the scraps below to enhance some chicken stock I was making.  I got the water ready, tossed in the roasted chicken carcass and took a quick photo of the scraps.  But, instead of dumping the peels in the stock pot, I actually tossed them into a dirty compost bucket and walked outside to the compost pile before I stopped in my tracks laughing.  My beautiful WASHED scraps were going to be thrown out.  Argh!  At least they weren’t  in the landfill.

soup scraps 2.2015

How about you?  Do you prefer to compost or eat your food scraps?

 

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