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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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Grounds For Composting

There are a lot of adjectives you could use to describe me, but “cheap” is probably not one of them.  Today, however, I tried a really cheap trick.  And it did not work.  At all.

For years I used a classic stovetop moka pot and never thought twice about what to do with the coffee grounds.  They went in the compost bucket.  Well, for Christmas, my husband splurged and got me a Gaggia Classic espresso machine, possibly to cut my coffee shop habit.

After weeks of adventures in brewing espresso, including spraying boiling coffee and/or hot milk on floors, walls, appliances,dogs, etc. and incurring lovely brown stains on my white subway tile, I’m pretty proficient.  I have not mastered latte art (not for lack of trying either) but have decided that homemade espresso is infinitely better than drive through.  It’s a bit  more work, but just like anything else we make at home, it’s worth the time.  (My secret recipe is to sweeten the latte with a splash of pure maple syrup.)

I’m not sure why, but it kills me that all my shade grown, organic coffee grounds are going in the compost after just thirty seconds of brew time.    That coffee is expensive and you have to pack it in like crazy to make two (delicious) ounces.  Each time I brew I wonder if I can use the grounds twice…

coffee grounds 2.15

Probably most of you are laughing at me right about now.  I admit I never even considered re-using the grounds from a regular coffee pot or even the moka pot,  so I’m not sure why I thought this would be a good idea.  Maybe I’m in the reuse, recycle mode and am just trying to make the most of my foodstuffs.  Anyway, I gave it a try.

Ha ha.  The liquid, I can’t call it coffee, was the color of tea and the taste was absolutely disgusting; unbelievably bitter and burned tasting.  Big surprise, right?

Learn from my mistake, espresso grounds are not reusable, except in the compost pile.

 

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2015 in Compost How To, Musings, 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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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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Composting Love

It’s no surprise that I’m a big fan of Sunday supper, where everyone can come together to share the day, rehash the week and enjoy a delicious meal.  It’s something I try to serve up each week, regardless of who is sitting around the dining room table, but with kids in all directions and one out of the house, those times when our immediate family is all together are infrequent and all the more precious when they happen. This week, due to college schedules, we got to enjoy Saturday breakfast instead.

The day dawned rainy, which was just what my family needed.  Not just a balmy drizzle but a cool, pouring rain, satisfactorily hammering against the windows.  The kids were snug in their respective beds, my hubby was snoozing on the sofa with a dog, and I was enjoying one of those great moments, an unexpected gift of grace.  How lovely to have my all kids home, asleep on a rainy morning, with no immediate pressing schedule (time enough for that later) and me awake to enjoy it.  The only way to improve the morning would be a great breakfast to start the day.  After a bit of quiet time, I started frying bacon.

It had the intended effect.  My husband opened his eyes and we shared a “wow, life is pretty great” moment.  I popped some cinnamon rolls in the oven.  (I had this in the fridge; not homemade but not bad.)  Kids started coming downstairs and flopping on sofas.  I started scrambling eggs with shallots and spinach and arugula.  Orange juice and cups of tea, our definition of cozy, were consumed.  A little sweet cantaloupe.

We didn’t all sit at once and we didn’t all actually eat, but we shared the morning and our love of rainy days and a whole lot of unspoken love.  And then it was time to pack up my oldest and get him out the door for a two week trip.  The spell was effectively broken, but my middle boy loaned his brother his own nicely tailored blazer for the conference and THAT was a silent act of love.  His sister folded all his tee shirts.  I put a warm loaf of homemade bread in hands as he climbed into his car and we stood in the drizzle waving goodbye.  I don’t know what everyone was thinking, but I was thanking God for those little fleeting pockets of time.  And for the inspiration to start frying bacon.

Here’s the breakfast bucket…

Saturday Breakfast 7.19

What you can see (clockwise top to bottom):

  • cantaloupe seeds (I normally don’t compost seeds but these local melons were so delicious I wouldn’t mind some volunteer plants in my spring garden)
  • cantaloupe rinds
  • lots and lots of eggshells, a dozen to be exact
  • shallot skins and stem ends (hiding under all those eggs)
  • a whole lot of love (hard to see but you know it’s there)

I wonder if all that love will compost … actually, I think it’s the ingredient that really makes our compost great.

 

 
 

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Trouble In Paradise

First, the bad news … Every single squash and zucchini plant (except one) in my garden is D.E.A.D.  No photos.  I couldn’t look at the withered leaves and the centipedes crawling all over the fruit.  Ugh.

The corn?  Practically flattened by a few days of strong, quick afternoon thunderstorms.   They are propped back up with stakes and string, but I’m not sure they have much of a future.  I feel like Ma in the Little House series when the thunderstorm has flattened the wheat or when the grasshoppers have eaten every green thing on the prairie and they aren’t sure what they are going to harvest this year.  Luckily I can go the farmer’s market or the grocery store.  Poor Ma must have battled some serious stress as a pioneer wife.

The green beans…notice they aren’t very green?  And my cucumbers are at once bloated and anemic.  We have a water issue.  I guess the daily rains are not providing quite enough moisture the garden, so I got the hose out this morning for a good long meditative manual soaking.  At least the unusual cool weather today is nice treat.  It was just sixty degrees and a record low for Atlanta today.  I’m sure this is a brief respite in all the standard southern summer heat.

beans & cucumbers need water 7.9.14

Now, the good news … while buying some squash from my local farm stop, I was moaning about my sudden squash death and a friend of the farmer confided an important squash tip.  Apparently, it’s a little known fact that in the South it’s very difficult to grow squash organically.  The farm trick is to plant seedlings every two weeks so that when the vegetable flowers and fruits once, they can be harvested, then pulled and tossed on the compost pile.  I felt so vindicated!  For years I’ve been trying to baby my summer squash plants through the summer, each year feeling like a failure when they are simply gone one fine summer morning with no warning.  Now instead of Ma, I’m feeling much more like Scarlett O’Hara, tomorrow (or in my case, next spring) is another day!

UPDATE:  Came across this excellent article for controlling squash bugs today … Excuse me while I grab some duct tape and head out to check my remaining squash plant…

 
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Posted by on July 16, 2014 in Gardening, Musings, The Daily Bucket

 

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