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Category Archives: Gardening

Compost Springs Eternal

So, it’s been a year and then some since my last post.  Life, I guess.

What’s new?  We’re a year older, hopefully a year wiser.  Still composting right along.  Here’s the garden layout this year:

garden may 2016We’ve planted 24 tomatoes, 4 crookneck squash & zucchini, 8 assorted eggplant, beets, sweet potatoes, various cucumbers, edamame (ambitious), hot & sweet banana peppers, and basil, plus lots of seeds that haven’t sprouted yet including carrot sand bush beans.

Aren’t the roses breathtaking?  The red rose is William Shakespeare, a prolific, fragrant David Austin beauty and the gigantic pale pink climber in the trees is an old rose called Cecile Brunner.  In a true recycling move, my husband fashioned a trellis/canopy from two old teak garden umbrella frames to prop up this giant rose.  Ingenious, gorgeous and green.

Here’s the current state of the compost pile:

We hauled FOUR wheelbarrow loads of compost in early spring to enrich the vegetable beds and the roses (over 20 old bushes at last count) and I can report that the soil is absolutely beautiful in the boxes.  Rich, dark, loamy and full of earthworms.

compost pile 5.2.16But I digress.  Starting with an empty box in February, we’ve already built up a huge quantity of kitchen scraps, clean garden scraps, old leaves and more.  We’ve just started cutting the grass again, so the pile starts to build quickly.  Notice the squash (I think) sprouting in the front by the shovel.  I love re-seeds!  When it gets a bit bigger I’ll transplant to a garden box.

Of course, it’s always a balance between green and brown.  This time of year I’m keeping a pile of old leaves and dirt alongside the pile to balance things out.  I’ve also added compostable containers (cut/tear into small pieces), coffee grounds and lots and lots and LOTS of eggshells.

On the food front, I’m on Day 15 of a Whole 30 food reset.  If you’re a newbie, check out this link for all the details.  Simply stated, it’s a strict elimination-style diet of protein and vegetables/fruit.  That means a lot of scraps to compost!  I felt great before, but I feel even better now.  I guess my diet was pretty clean because I only suffered one day of discomfort and hit the “tiger blood” stage in the first few days.  Hooray!

Here’s the latest compost bucket:

daily bucket 5.2.16

If you’d like to check out my Whole 30 progress complete with food and compost photos, follow me on Instagram at #mydailycompost.

Happy Spring y’all!

 

 

 
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Posted by on May 2, 2016 in Gardening, The Daily Bucket

 

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Wacky Winter Weather

It was heartening to find some signs of spring today after gearing up for the second terrible winter storm that wasn’t.

Is it just me or do you think that society as a whole is universally freaking out about impending weather?  The Atlanta mayor actually declared a state of emergency in anticipation of potential snow, essentially shutting the city down.  We were repeatedly warned to be home by 4:00 pm and to stay in for the night.  No exceptions.

I’m a rule follower by nature (and a driver raised on Southern roads) so that meant that I had to forfeit tickets last night to the musical “Wicked” … only to wake to the same slush on my deck that  had been there since nightfall.  Clear roads added insult to injury.  Was I peeved?  Yep.

At least there was a tiny cheery snowman to greet my day.

snowman 2015

And here are the welcome bits of greenery bravely pushing up shoots in my backyard, some still in snow, some in weak sunshine.

sign of spring

My vegetable garden even held a couple of surprises.  Collard greens and mustard greens are always better when they’ve been kissed by frost. Notice the mesh netting to keep out hungry deer.  Sadly everything else in the garden is long gone.

garden greens collage 2015

We are DONE with wishing for a snow day.  We’re just waiting for spring in ernest.

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2015 in Gardening

 

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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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Trouble In Paradise

First, the bad news … Every single squash and zucchini plant (except one) in my garden is D.E.A.D.  No photos.  I couldn’t look at the withered leaves and the centipedes crawling all over the fruit.  Ugh.

The corn?  Practically flattened by a few days of strong, quick afternoon thunderstorms.   They are propped back up with stakes and string, but I’m not sure they have much of a future.  I feel like Ma in the Little House series when the thunderstorm has flattened the wheat or when the grasshoppers have eaten every green thing on the prairie and they aren’t sure what they are going to harvest this year.  Luckily I can go the farmer’s market or the grocery store.  Poor Ma must have battled some serious stress as a pioneer wife.

The green beans…notice they aren’t very green?  And my cucumbers are at once bloated and anemic.  We have a water issue.  I guess the daily rains are not providing quite enough moisture the garden, so I got the hose out this morning for a good long meditative manual soaking.  At least the unusual cool weather today is nice treat.  It was just sixty degrees and a record low for Atlanta today.  I’m sure this is a brief respite in all the standard southern summer heat.

beans & cucumbers need water 7.9.14

Now, the good news … while buying some squash from my local farm stop, I was moaning about my sudden squash death and a friend of the farmer confided an important squash tip.  Apparently, it’s a little known fact that in the South it’s very difficult to grow squash organically.  The farm trick is to plant seedlings every two weeks so that when the vegetable flowers and fruits once, they can be harvested, then pulled and tossed on the compost pile.  I felt so vindicated!  For years I’ve been trying to baby my summer squash plants through the summer, each year feeling like a failure when they are simply gone one fine summer morning with no warning.  Now instead of Ma, I’m feeling much more like Scarlett O’Hara, tomorrow (or in my case, next spring) is another day!

UPDATE:  Came across this excellent article for controlling squash bugs today … Excuse me while I grab some duct tape and head out to check my remaining squash plant…

 
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Posted by on July 16, 2014 in Gardening, Musings, The Daily Bucket

 

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Glorious Summer With Veggies

Glorious Summer With Veggies

Are you just reveling in S U M M M E R right about now? We keep switching between the signature Atlanta weather profiles: hot and muggy with a side of steamy OR breezy, blue and utterly blissful.  With an afternoon shower of course. Sixties in the morning, nineties (in the shade) in the afternoon, but heck, it’s July so I’ll take them both. I stay in Atlanta for the seasons and they rarely disappoint.

The garden is producing like crazy and we are knee deep (ok, I exaggerate but backyard farmers are like fishermen; always out to impress) in cherry tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and squash. Aren’t these colors gorgeous?

tomato basket 7.2014

 

I planted over a dozen tomato plants this year because I was tired of having just a few tomatoes rolling in piecemeal over the summer and the plan is working.  We harvest huge handfuls of cherry tomatoes (Super Sweet 100) every day (not including the sun-warmed ones we steal from the vines) and now the big fruits are starting to ripen.  The yellow variety is Lemon Boy and the lighter orange is Early Girl.  Although I’m not a huge Early Girl fan, they were they only reliable tomatoes to produce last year so I had to have at least one plant!  The small bright red tomato (upper right of basket) is a plum tomato and the vines are filled with these.  I have visions of one small jar of tomato paste dancing in my head …  Finally, those medium reds are Parks Whopper, which I find amusing since they are distinctly un-whopper in size.  The small purple green cherry tomatoes are an heirloom, possibly Cherokee Purple, but my tag is missing.

Naturally, the question is “what do you do with all those tomatoes?”.  Eat them, of course!  Tomato sandwiches, tomato tarts, tomato jam, oven-dried tomatoes, the possibilities are endless.  I rarely use a recipe and even more rarely have a plan for what to make.  I think you just have to look at the tomatoes and let them silently suggest a dish.  Hmmm, I like the idea of tomato meditation … a quiet communication with nature … Now that I ponder it, I silently admire them each morning as I water, letting the hose sprinkle them for exactly one Hail Mary per plant before I move on to the next one.  It’s pretty easy to pray the Rosary when the birds are singing, the sky is brightening, the water is gently streaming, and you are surrounded by the sheer beauty of the ordinary.  So many blessings right in front of us if we only open our eyes, but I digress.

One summer several years back, I made fantastic tomato marmalade from a huge harvest of tiny yellow pear tomatoes but I have never again either found that variety or gotten it to grow.  I’m wondering if I can turn my tiny red jewels into something similar  … hmmm … I can still taste that tart, sweet, addictive, weird goodness!  I’ll keep you posted.  And as a caution, if you are canning, please ALWAYS use a recipe!  Botulism is bad.

squash 7.2014

Aren’t the squash pretty?  I’ve been picking them small because we’ve got a lot of birds, rabbits, and caterpillars who would love to make a meal of these (and everything else of course).  We cut these up, tossed them with olive oil, soy sauce, garlic and salt then roasted them with sliced red onions in a grill pan on the grill for five minutes. Right off the grill I added a splash sesame oil and  second splash of soy.  You don’t need protein when you’ve got veggies that good!

One more photo of my meager bucket for the day …Remember every little bit of green adds up!

cukes & cauliflower 7.2014

What you can see (clockwise top to bottom):

  • homegrown cucumber peels & stem ends (a daily snack or salad component)
  • core & outer leaves of a cauliflower
  • banana peel hiding underneath

Less in the bucket means more on the plate, right?  I pan roasted some wild Keta salmon and paired it with oven roasted cauliflower with lemon & salt, plus baked sweet potatoes.  Normally, since we don’t drench the potatoes with anything rodent-attracting I compost those skins, but my dogs were acting like human compost machines yesterday.  They enjoyed both the salmon AND sweet potato skins.  Either way, no extra green waste hit the landfill!

Soon, I’ll post some photos of the compost pile.  It’s looking surprisingly like soil for the lack of effort I’ve been putting into it!  I’m feeling great things for the fall…

 

 

 

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Fruits of Our Labor

Since a picture is worth a thousand words here is a glimpse beyond my garden gate …

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Today we are picking lots of green beans, Kirby cucumbers and Abraham Darby roses.

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The corn is definitely “knee high by the fourth of July”.

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The squash is a little too small to pick, but we have a dozen plants happily growing.  We should be overrun soon!  Of course I spot a tiny bit of powdery mildew so maybe not!

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I think eggplant is the most gorgeous veggie in the garden.

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These are the reasons we compost all year long … literally the fruits of our labors.  Happy gardening!  Happy summer!

 
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Posted by on June 25, 2014 in Gardening, Musings

 

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Warm Weekend Sunshine

After months of unseasonably frigid weather, we’ve had a weekend respite.  Celebrate!  With temps nearing seventy we headed OUTSIDE for some warm Southern sun and a little lawn work.

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We left the head gardener in the middle of a painting project and while the boy begrudgingly tackled the front lawn (hatehatehatehatehate Bermuda), I went to work on the rose/perennial beds.

Luckily I had pruned back most of my old (these and these) and David Austin roses around Christmas so I only had to rake out some early weeds then tackle a little dead wood.  I happily snipped, then fed them (compost in the fall, this in the spring).

Are you a pruning fan?  I totally am.  I love to get my shears into a plant and visualize its best shape.  I spend a lot of time standing and looking.  It becomes very meditative, communing with the plant.  Roses, more than any shrub, really make you concentrate.  Watch out for thorns, carefully gauge the green from the dead wood, cleanly and swiftly cut, and watch out for the dead wood thorns.  Pruning is probably a metaphor for life.  You can’t prune mindlessly and for me, it’s a gift to be utterly absorbed.  And the promise of rosebuds is just around the corner… bliss.

If you remember to watch out for aphids.  But I digress.

Anyway, not sure how in the fall I didn’t notice that some of my Siberian and Japanese Iris are essentially out of control.  I pulled out the dried foliage but stopped short of dividing since I know old man winter isn’t finished with the South yet.  Although these plants are best divided in the fall, they are extraordinarily tough, and, in my neck of the woods, can be moved anytime that you can commit to watering them in after transplant.  But even that is not always necessary.

My large 4×3 mound is the result of a single small clump of iris that was rescued from a weekend weeding heap a few years back.  My husband accidentally uprooted some sad looking stalks and let them dry out in the sun before I realized what they were.  Yikes!   I hastily dug them into a rose bed with fingers crossed.  And then I forgot about them,  I honestly never watered them more than a time or two.  Mother Nature handled the rest and now I’m contemplating dividing them.  Soon.

But first, the lamb’s ears need some attention since they are similarly out of bounds.  I really love this perennial, even though it gets a little invasive and crowds out anything less hardy in its path.  It looks gorgeous with roses.  Every late winter I survey the beds with dismay wondering if winter has finally killed off that fuzzy foliage for good.  Every spring I find lots of new growth and I’m happy.  I guess I’m going to wait a few weeks to start grubbing out the old leaves because I’ve gotta say, this stuff looks REALLY bad this year.  I’ll check back in a few weeks…

Broken pots … argh!  I know terra cotta is not meant for winter, but honestly in all my twenty-five plus years in Atlanta, I’ve rarely lost a pot.  This year I lost multiples: several terra cotta, two cute ceramic giant “teacups” and some gorgeous blue pottery.  Clean up on aisle seven.  I researched ways to recycle this stuff, got rigorously honest with myself KNOWING that I am not making mosaic tiles from pottery shards (it hasn’t been high on the priority list even though I’ve thought about it for years) and with much guilt I tipped them into the trash. **gasp!**

I even said goodbye to some frozen stiff rosemary topiaries that never had any business being outside in the first place.  I replaced these with some bushy new ones that now bookend my kitchen sink and make me happy every time I see (and smell) them.  I’m happy all the time!

Spending all that time hauling clippings to the compost pile meant we didn’t spend much time inside.  Here’s the Friday-Saturday bucket, um, paper towel…

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What you can see (clockwise top to bottom):

  • blood oranges
  • lemons
  • onion stem ends & skin
  • more blood oranges (three words: blood orange margarita)
  • more lemons
  • some lime too!
  • limp cabbage outer leaves
  • garlic paper
  • brown banana peels
  • more lemon
  • clementine peel (I think I have citrus covered)
  • grape stems & a few hiding moldy specimens

What I made with all of that: Salmon Tacos with Cabbage Slaw,, Mango & Pineapple Salsa (bought at Whole Foods), Feta, Lime Cream and Crispy Onions, plus Blood Orange Margaritas, a couple of smoothies and lots of orange and grape snacks.

Bring on spring!  I’m totally ready for tacos and margaritas on the deck.

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2014 in Gardening, Musings, The Daily Bucket

 

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