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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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Lemon & Onion: A Perfect Pair

Have you ever noticed that my compost bucket contains onion skins or lemon halves and oftentimes both?  (Eggshells too, but that’s another post.)  Why?

lemons & onions 2.2015

Most days I make hot lemon water as a “tonic” before my morning cup of tea.  It’s very simple.  Add the juice and half of a lemon (or a quarter if it’s quite large) into a 12-ounce mug  lemon.  Add about two tablespoons (or to taste) unfiltered apple cider vinegar plus about a tablespoon of raw honey.  I often add a few thin slices of fresh peeled ginger and/or fresh peeled turmeric root.  If I’m battling a cold I use all those ingredients and also add in about a quarter teaspoon of cayenne pepper.  It’s definitely an acquired taste, but addictive once you’re used to it.

And the onions?  They are the one ingredient I always have in my pantry and the majority of my recipes include one.  In fact, when I’m creating a savory recipe I typically start with or add an onion at some point.  I still laugh when I think how opposite my sister and I are in this regard.  She said she always looked for another recipe if the one she was reading started with  “chop an onion …”

But why would lemons and onions be a perfect pair you ask?

Well, you know that chopping onions on a cutting board leaves the board and the knife with a distinctive pungent smell.  Even after washing with hot soapy water that smell can still linger, BUT if you scrub the cutting board with a piece of lemon, the citrus neutralizes the smell.  You can then wash as usual and the oniony smell is gone.  Rub it on your fingers to remove that distinctive onion aroma too.

Then toss the peels and the skins on your compost pile as usual.

 

 
 

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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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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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Toss It Tuesday: Blackberries

Did you ever notice that non-organic fruit seems to last FOREVER?  I bought this giant container of blackberries about two weeks ago and apparently they were not appealing to anyone while my house was fighting the flu.  Back to health, I pulled out the container, which looked perfectly fine, but one sample berry revealed that they were soft, squishy and perfectly horrid.  Onto the compost pile they go and I pledge not to be seduced by pretty fruit in giant containers again.  Even if it is cheap.  Ok, maybe especially when it is cheap, imported and non-organic.

toss it tuesday blackberries 2.2015

 

 

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A Bonfire and A Dutch Baby

What did you do with your Christmas tree this year?  Remember – I am catching up on posts – we took this down weeks ago!  Typically we pay a Boy Scout to recycle ours as a fundraiser, but this year no Scouts knocked on our door.  They always wince when they see the twelve foot tree so maybe it was for the best.

Everybody always asks “Why such a big tree?”  Well, I was allergic as a kid and never had a living tree until I was 21. We’re talking an artificial white tree with velvet bows arranged just so.  Quite lovely and very memorable but not exactly real.  Even the “kid tree” decorated with candy was plastic and white.  It was Florida in the 70’s and my parents defined hip.  Since then, my husband and kids have made up for my lost years by going BIG.

This year’s tree barely made it in the front door.  It was a monster, twelve feet tall and almost as wide. Let’s just say it had so much character the guys at the tree lot were thrilled to see it go to a good home.  Taking it out was a bit of a conundrum so we just did what any sane people would do; snipped off the lower branches, sawed it in pieces in the house and carried it out back to the fire pit.

Can I say it is downright SCARY to see how quickly a brittle tree is consumed by flames?  I always scoffed at the idea that a tree could catch fire in the house but I feel compelled to say keep your tree watered well and never leave the lights on when you aren’t home!

Just a few branches from this year's twelve foot tree. Brittle evergreens burn fast and hot.

Taking Just a few branches from this year’s twelve foot Christmas tree. Brittle evergreens burn fast and hot.

We usually roast some hot dogs on sticks followed by marshmallows over the embers but this fire was too hot and quick.  We opted for espresso (from my new Christmas toy) and an apple Dutch Baby.  We were still on vacation and it was great!

Apples and espresso grounds and eggshells, oh my.  Random banana peel too.

Apples and espresso grounds and eggshells, oh my.  Random banana peels too.

If you’ve never had one, a Dutch Baby is a fast, easy to make, puffy crepe-like pancake prepared in a cast iron pan, often with sautéed fruit.  It’s pretty to easy to eat the entire pan in one sitting.

A "Dutch Baby" pancake.  Serve this with a little heavy whipping cream or some good vanilla ice cream ... heaven.

A “Dutch Baby” pancake. Serve this with a little heavy whipping cream or some good vanilla ice cream … heaven.

I’ve almost memorized the simple Joy of Cooking recipe, but you can use this similar one.  Instead of preheating my pan in the oven, I sauté the apples in butter with a tiny bit of sugar, then add some extra butter so the pancake does not stick.  Give it a try on a lazy Sunday and see if it doesn’t put you in a holiday mood.

 

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