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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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Don’t Forget the Flowers

What brightens your spirits in the middle of winter?  My secret pick-me-up is a stop by the supermarket floral department (Trader Joe’s is my absolute favorite).  Flowers keep me happy when the sun is not shining and let’s be honest, a little bouquet of daisies or spray roses costs as much as a specialty coffee from corner shop and it lasts a whole lot longer.

My favorite treats are the mini potted individual bulbs of hyacinth, tulip, or daffodil.  You can find them everywhere this time of year.   I buy a few, pop them in my own white ceramic pots and “plant” them around the house for little bursts of happiness wherever I turn.  **sigh** Spirits lifted.

To be fair, we’ve escaped the bitter chill of winter in Atlanta so far, and it is sunny and nearly fifty degrees as I write this, but still.  There are a lot of gloomy gray days left in this season and I like to be prepared.

Back to the blooms … they don’t last forever but don’t be hasty and toss them in your trash. Now, I’m not suggesting you plant the bulbs in your yard.  It’s a time for snuggling on the sofa, not digging in the dirt.  Forced bulbs rarely bloom again, but they are a great treat for your compost pile.  They may send up a few leaves, but I can almost guarantee that unless you’ve got a hardy daffodil that simply has to bloom, you’ll only get a few leaves in your garden as a reminder of your bulb’s former glory.  Save yourself and feed your garden.  Compost.

Here’s a look at the pretty hyacinths that scented my kitchen for two weeks.

hyacinth bulbs

Are here is a glimpse of the leaves & spent pink blossoms from two bunches of stock (that’s really the sad name of a pretty, fragrant flower) that I have in my living room and foyer. Remember, to help cut flowers last as long as possible, change the water and trim the stems every few days.  I know that’s extra work, but it really helps extend bloom time.

You can also see butternut squash peels in the bucket. You can’t see the red onion skins, thyme stalks, dirty mushroom stems (ugh) and carrot peels but they are there.  I roasted all those veggies and mixed them with some brown rice, fresh arugula and a quick vinaigrette for a simple, filling but not heavy, school night dinner.

spent stock roasted veggie bowl

Here’s to sunny skies and fresh blooms in your neck of the world …

 
 

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Keep It Clean

You might find this a good reminder or an utterly unnecessary suggestion, but I feel compelled to remind you to clean your kitchen compost bucket regularly.

Unless you are ferrying scraps to your compost pile in a plastic bag that you subsequently toss in the trash, your kitchen container can get mighty germy.  I had some super slimy mushrooms that got pushed to the coldest side of my fridge & froze.  When I tossed them in the bucket they decomposed immediately in one day and the slime I dumped on the compost pile was enough to gag me.  Clearly this bucket needed an immediate wash.  For obvious reasons I have also spared you a photo of this disgusting mess.  

clean buckets

Cleaning is simple.  Fill your bucket, whatever kind you have, with hot water.  Add a squirt of dish soap and a slug of bleach.  Let it sit until the water cools (I usually leave mine in the kitchen sink overnight and scrub the sink afterward).  Dump out the water, swipe any bits off the insides and top with a paper towel, rinse, and air dry.  Good as new.  Wash whenever things start to look grimy, when you have a surprisingly slimy bucket or about every two weeks.  If you have the kind of bucket that has a charcoal filter on the lid to keep down any smells, make sure to change that according to your bucket instructions.  Remember, while you want good bacteria to break down the contents of the compost pile, you don’t want bad bacteria growing in your kitchen!

 

 
 

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Coffee Please, For Compost

If you’ve never considered them, coffee grounds are a great addition to your compost pile.  If you are a home brewer, you can simply toss the used grounds in their paper filter right onto your pile.   If you’re more of a drive-thru kind of coffee drinker like me, your local coffee shop will gladly give you their used coffee grounds.  I often see the brewed grounds bagged up and free for the taking at my local Starbucks.  Now, if they’d trade me a free drink for taking those grounds off their hands that would be even nicer, but sadly I pay for my coffee habit.

Every day my routine goes something like this:  (me) I need coffee.  (practical me) It’s not good for you.  It makes you jittery.  (whining me) But I love Iced Hazelnut Machiattos.  (scolding me) They’re expensive.  AND they’re made with crappy milk.  (petulant me) I want one.  I’m already in drive-through.  (realistic me) **sigh**  Now, run this scenario every day around three o’clock if I’m out and about.  Last summer this conversation involved a salted caramel frappucino, a terrible drink that’s bad for me.  Did you know you could have SIX KRISPY KREME DOUGHNUTS instead. of that drink?  Whoa.  I would MUCH rather have six doughnuts than one sugary drink.  Hence, my current iced milky coffee habit.  Lots less calories and added sugar.

But in the summer I crave something frozen, coffee, and sweet.  Years ago, I perfected a great “pseudo-cino” recipe but it’s more like a bottled frap and while satisfying, sometimes it just doesn’t get the job done.  Enter the  Coffee Banana Date Smoothie that I found on Pinterest.  What a cute blog!  What an awesome drink!  I’m totally hooked!  And, I the end result is I get good espresso grounds to add to my compost! I think we can call this a win-win for everybody but the coffee shop.

The coffee grounds:

coffee grounds

The newly addictive drink (note the knock-off cup and green straw, haha).

date almond coffee freeze

Wondering why used coffee grounds are good for your compost pile?

  • Even though they are brown, grounds are considered a “green” compost additive, meaning they’re a source of nitrogen.
  • Coffee grounds are high in nitrogen (20:1 ratio), which gives the bacteria in your pile the energy it needs to break down your scraps.  Manure, which is a great jump starter to break down organic matter, has the same carbon ratio.  Most home gardeners (myself included) avoid manure and animal products since they attract rodents and can harbor dangerous bacteria and pathogens.  Coffee grounds are a good substitute.
  • Brewed coffee grounds are relatively pH neutral (beans are acidic, but the acid is water soluble so it brews out).
  • Worms seem to be drawn to coffee grounds, which helps to aerate and further break down your scraps.
  • Grounds help to enhance soil structure.

The next time you indulge your coffee habit, remember to pick up some used grounds!  But be responsible.  If you decide to perk up your compost with substantial amounts of coffee grounds, be sure to layer it with equal amounts of grass clippings and leaves.

 

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Compost Pencil Shavings?

My son takes AP Art.  My daughter home schools.  My pencil sharpener overfloweth.  Can I compost the pencil shavings?

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Yes, of course.  But I’m feeling iffy about this one.   On the one hand there is no lead in pencils.  It’s actually graphite and the pencils are made of wood.

On the other hand, my shavings are mostly from colored pencils, which are colored with what?  I have no idea.  And they aren’t graphite either.  They are made from chalk, or clay, or wax, or a combination of those items and some other things.  Hmmm …

Even though the wood would not be harmful and the amount is practically minuscule in my large pile, I tipped this container in the trash and continued without regret on my happy way.

I think this item is a personal decision.  So, the burning question is, do YOU compost pencil shavings?  Why or why not?

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2014 in Compost How To

 

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Playing Catch Up

Lots of beautiful buckets, lots of interesting stories … all sidetracked by not enough hours in my busy, super busy days.  So, let’s play catch up and get back on track, shall we?

This gorgeous little bluebird of happiness has been visiting my backyard with great regularity and I hope he (or she) is building a nest somewhere so that lots of pretty little bluebirds will be flying around soon.  Is that not the prettiest color in nature?

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The weather in Atlanta has been fickle: warm one day, literally freezing the next, but on a beautiful Saturday, while my guys spent the day roofing and framing at Habitat For Humanity, I was baking up a gorgeous Meyer Lemon Pound Cake from a favorite old recipe …  fresh chilly were breezes pouring through the open windows and opera was pouring from the radio.  Realizing we need more than just cake for dinner, I also whipped up a last minute Summer Squash Quiche with homemade rye crust (it’s a new flour kick I’m on).  Even the bucket filled with yellow scraps echoes the sunshine.

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Another gorgeous Sunday called for a bit of leisurely yard work (this is Sunday rest in my house) and grilling.  We spent a few hours prepping our back deck for resurfacing, which meant drilling out all the old fasteners.  Hundreds of them.  Naturally my husband was a pro and could zip out a dozen screws in a minute.  Not to be outdone, I gave it a try too and held my own with a much slower work rate but a very satisfactory bucket of nails to show at the end of the afternoon.

Naturally a day in the sunshine called for a meal eaten outdoors.  That go-to meal is grass-fed burgers.  I dressed them up with homemade tomato jam, arugula, avocado and caramelized onions.  Triple yum.  We topped off the leftover Meyer Lemon pound cake with a sweet gingery strawberry sauce that was kind of like this.  Blissfully delicious Sunday Supper with grandparents and good times.

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Here are some shots of the tomato jam production.  It was just so vibrant and smelled so fresh I had to keep snapping away … chopped tomatoes, jalapeños, ginger and spices … very heady stuff.

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When it started cooking down it smelled spicier and sweeter than ever.  I may have tasted it a few too many times.  And burned my tongue for the efforts.  Note to self: bubbling sugary jam is HOT.

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Skip a week and we’ve got double buckets.  Temps dipped back into the twenties and three soccer games made the week fly by like the wind.  We cut as many daffodils as we could carry so the cold did not wilt their lovely little faces and at least all was sunshine inside.  We feasted all week on fresh strawberries and citrus and on Sunday my oldest boy came home for a few days of spring break.  (Family complete.  Life is good!)

I pulled out all the stops with a recipe straight off the cover of this month’s Bon Appetit: Beef Short Rib Pot Pie.  Mine looked just a perfect as their picture.  My only beef (haha) was the crust, which, even though it was too dense for my taste, mopped up the juices perfectly.  With mashed potatoes, carrots and a really tart lemony mixed green salad it was the perfect Sunday Supper.

Dessert was an utterly forgettable Strawberry Milkshake Cake from Pinterest that seduced me with its spring hue.  Plus, I’ve never had or baked a “poke cake”.  Take my advice and just enjoy the pretty picture.  Even though I freshened it up with sweet strawberry puree and whipping cream in lieu of Cool Whip, the artificial preservative taste came shining through.  Not even is it not a keeper, half of that cake is still in my fridge a week later.  **sigh**  If a cake is untouched in my house …

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That brings us to Toss It Tuesday … I cleaned out the produce drawer in the fridge and came up with this sad moldy citrus and a few wrinkled soft old apples.  I tired to think of how I could use them but decided the compost pile would be happy to have them so I chopped them up and tipped them in.

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Have you noticed my lack of eggshells?  Just wait until you see what I’m up to …

In the meantime, I hope the bluebird of happiness is flying around your neck of the woods!

 

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