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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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The Latest Dirt!

What happens when you pile bucket upon bucket of kitchen scraps into an open bin, add grass clippings and yard waste, and let the sun beat down and the rain pour in all summer? This is what you get:

Image

Rich, black gorgeous compost!  Here’s a close up of the dirt we (actually my ever-willing husband) dug out:

Image

We figured that this pile of compost represents roughly six months of “work,” which breaks down to approximately:

  • 1,000 hours of sunshine
  • 38.64 inches of rain 
  • a whole lot of earthworms (naturally occurring)
  • lots of other beneficial bugs and microbes
  • 120 buckets of kitchen scraps which could include:
    • over 100 eggshells
    • likely 100 tea bags (no string, tag or staple)
    • scrapings from about 100 carrots
    • scrapings from about 100 potatoes
    • at least 75 onion skins
    • probably 75 banana peels
    • most likely 75 lemon, lime, and/or orange peels
    • corn husks from at least 60 ears of corn (but no cobs)
    • core/stem ends of about 30 heads of lettuce
    • skin from at least 25 avocados (not pits)
    • grounds from at least 25 pots of espresso
    • peels from about 25 cucumbers
    • tough stems from about 20 bunches of kale
    • rinds from at least 12 whole watermelons
    • rings from at least 12 cantaloupes/honeydews
    • countless odds and ends from berries, tomatoes, hot & sweet peppers, broccoli stems, brussels sprouts, celery, garlic, and more
    • a variety of past-its-prime fruit, veggies, and/or herbs from my Toss-It Tuesday fridge clean-up
  • Plus:
  • 100 lawnmower bags of grass clippings (not all used)
  • assorted hedge & veggie garden trimmings
  • at least 1,000 spent rose petals & leaves
  • lots of spent spring annuals (pansies)

Phew!  Life is complicated enough without worrying about strict combinations of “greens” and “browns” or carbon/nitrogen ratios.  Like life, compost is a balancing act.  You provide the raw materials, Mother Nature provides the sun and rain, and by the end of the season, you’ve got compost to … start all over again.  If we can find time to do, you can too.

 
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Posted by on September 19, 2013 in Compost How To

 

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Chicken? Don’t Compost!

You probably already know that roasting a chicken for ONE meal gives you enough leftovers for TWO MORE meals.  So, pretend I didn’t tell you that.  Typically, I roast a chicken (always organic, pastured if I can get it) every week.  That might seem like a lot, but there is usually one gloomy day when we want comfort food.  And when there is not, I make a recipe like this.

This bears repeating: Do not compost chicken or chicken bones!  Don’t compost any of the herbs or citrus or anything you may have stuffed inside the cavity or veggies that you have roasted alongside.  If you want animals digging in your compost heap, adding protein is like sending out a hand engraved invitation to every raccoon, squirrel, and rodent within ten miles.  Also, it’s a potential source of pathogens and that’s even worse.  So, it makes sense to get every bit of use from that chicken before you have to dump it in the trash.

From these ingredients can you guess what chicken meals two and three were?

chicken stock 9.5.13

What you can see (clockwise from top):

  • Carrot peels
  • Pear core
  • Very yellow cucumber skin (lots of rain this summer, remember?)
  • Onion skin
  • Orange peel
  • Parsnip peel (also in center of bucket)
  • Lemon
  • Eggshell
  • Basil stem

From this bucket, I made a cool lemon chicken salad.  I simply picked off the leftover meat and mixed with a peeled & seeded cucumber, a handful of fresh sliced basil, juice & zest from one lemon, and a tablespoon of mayo.  Lots of pepper and a little salt along with a handful of arugula and piled on a little buttery sandwich bun.  I should have taken a picture.  It was an easy, pretty and YUMMY lunch.

I also made my indispensable, old standby chicken stock.  If you’ve never made stock before, get our your stockpot (or crock pot) and simmer a batch on a cool morning.  There any number of recipes but I’ll share my go to with you:

Chicken Stock

  • roasted chicken carcass with meat picked from bones
  • onion, medium studded with cloves, about 12-15
  • 2-3 carrots, peeled & trimmed, cut in 2-3 pieces
  • 1-2 parsnips, peeled & trimmed, cut in 2-3 pieces
  • 1-2 stalks celery, don’t remove leaves
  • small bunch of parsley if you have it
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • teaspoon each whole allspice & black peppercorns, tied in cheesecloth, or loose if you don’t mind straining
  • Generous tablespoon or more of real salt
  • filtered water to cover (4-6 quarts for my pot)

Add chicken to stockpot & cover with cold water.  Bring to a boil.  Immediately turn down to simmer and remove any scum from surface.  When water is clean, add all other ingredients.  Bring back to a boil, immediately turn down to a low simmer, cover with lid cracked to emit steam, and simmer for at least 4 hours, or for most of the day.  Make sure it is simmering at the lowest setting and not boiling or it will be cloudy.

When done, allow to cool.  Remove carcass and discard (trash).  My kids like to eat the root veggies, but I discard everything else.  Strain soup to remove any extra spices or debris.  Then you can add noodles and more veggies for a chicken soup, or use stock for any recipe that calls for chicken stock.  I keep this in fridge if I know I’ll use it in 3-4 days, or freeze it in wide-mouth mason jars for longer storage.

Homemade chick stock makes your house smell divine and tastes better than any store bought stock.  Plus, you can customize it endlessly. Switch out veggies and herbs.  I like to add chili peppers and a cinnamon stick if I’m making a spicy corn chowder, or leeks and garlic if I am making potato soup.

 

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My Bucket Overfloweth

And yesterday’s bucket included:Image

Things you can see (clockwise starting from top):

  • iceberg lettuce trimmings
  • corn husks & silks from five ears
  • yellow bell pepper seeds & stems
  • skin from two garlic cloves,

What you can’t see:

  • banana peels
  • strawberry tops
  • skin & stem ends from two onions
  • tomato stems & tops
  • cilantro stems
  • half of a lemon
  • two teabags

What did I make with all that?

  • Strawberry Banana  smoothies
  • Skirt Steak Fajitas with Grilled Onions, Grilled Peppers, Lettuce and Homemade Tomato Salsa
  • Two tasty cups of tea
 
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Posted by on May 14, 2013 in The Daily Bucket

 

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