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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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Toss It Tuesday: Snow Day

A year ago this week, Atlanta was in the midst of “Snowmageddon”, a once in a decade storm that shut the city down completely.  What were the chances that we’d wake up yesterday to another snow day?  Excellent as it turns out, even though there wasn’t any actual snow; just plenty of ice on trees … which made them fall and take down power lines and shut down roads … you get the picture.  We had the good fortune to escape all that messiness around town and simply enjoy the blessing of a free day.

How to spend the time?  Baking of course.  What’s a snow day without sweets?  Especially on Fat Tuesday?  I rummaged through the fridge and pantry, grabbing ingredients for cinnamon bread.  Instead, I found some homemade pie crust and detoured with blackberry jam “pop tarts”.   Apparently I baked the same thing for last year’s snow day AND the year before, so I guess it’s a tradition at this point.

Thinking ahead to lunch,  I found  fig jam, blue cheese, and fresh thyme and turned the remaining pie crust into savory tarts for lunch.

pastry collage 2

Opting for relaxing instead of achieving (actually harder than it should be), we buried ourselves with books and snuggled doggies for a while, but soon discovered that the dogs were out of treats. Horrors!  Bake to baking, but for the dogs this time.

In the spirit of Toss It Tuesday, we turned a bag of sprouted wheat flour (that we were probably never going to finish) into two varieties of delicious (to them) dog treats: Chicken Cheese (on the left) and Almond Butter Oatmeal (on the right).  The dogs were literally camped out at the counter most of the afternoon begging for just one more.

PicMonkey Collage

You’d think that after all that food we’d be stuffed, but you’d be wrong.  You see, we took a long, LONG,  brisk walk amidst all the ice coated trees and worked up quite an appetite.  Again, trying to use up items in the fridge close to expiration, I cooked up a vegetable lasagna with whole wheat noodles, ricotta, asiago cheese, carrots, dried mushrooms, onions, cabbage and a butternut squash sauce.

Here is what the Toss It Tuesday bucket looked like:

Toss  It Tuesday: Veggie lasagna 2.15

What you can see (clockwise from the top):

  • old, wilted stock flowers
  • outer cabbage leaves
  • dried out & browned sage leaves
  • carrot peels
  • onion skins & stem ends
  • stalks from flowers

What you can’t see:

  • lemon peels
  • lots of loose tea leaves
  • espresso grounds

Interesting, with all that baking and cooking, I never did end up with any sweets.

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2015 in The Daily Bucket, Toss It Tuesday

 

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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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