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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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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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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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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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Can You Compost Char?

I’m not talking about charred wood (don’t compost) or charcoal (definitely don;t compost) or artic char (no fish either).  I made a perfectly wonderful roasted chicken and potato dish with a lemon caper sauce, put it in the oven for dinner and left on a quick errand.  The boy at home had instructions to remove the pan when the timer rang.  But it didn’t work out that way.  I quote, “Mom, how can you expect me to write my paper AND listen the timer?”  Let’s just not touch that, ok?

The chicken dish was black.  I’m talking charred.  Lemons, potatoes, garlic, capers.  All black.  All mostly inedible (we found a few potatoes and a tiny bit of dry chicken to gnaw).  I had to toss it all in the trash.  I fleetingly wondered compost, but no.

Did you know cooked vegetables have very high water and nitrogen content?  They don’t just decompose.  They rot.  And then they smell.  Hence, the directive not to compost cooked food.  By now, you know that meat, fish and dairy are all compost no no’s.  Be prudent about the cooked veggies.  I make exceptions sometimes for sweet potato skins or steamed pea shells, but draw the line at anything buttered or sauced or especially charred.

Here’s the daily bucket …

Image

What you can see (clockwise (top to bottom):

  • Hiding under the paper towel are some onion and garlic skins
  • Red pepper stem ends & ribs (no seeds, this was not organic)
  • Fennel core
  • garlic paper
  • yellow onion skin & stem ends
  • tulip stems & leaves (they were whispering spring at the grocery store)
  • basil stems

What I made with all of that:

  • the ill-fated Roasted Lemon Chicken & Potato dish
  • a kind of weird Pasta Meatball Bake, an after-soccer meal that was just … fine

Three cheers for char!  Have you ever had a cooking disaster like ours?

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2014 in Compost How To, The Daily Bucket

 

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