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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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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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Composting Right Along …

In the past two months we’ve survived an eighth grade graduation, a high school graduation, and a master’s degree graduation.  I didn’t plan a prolonged absence from the blog but all that studying, stressing, prepping, playing, traveling, and celebrating took a lot of time and energy.  At least during those busy days we’ve been composting and spring gardening right along.   Planning meals and gardens, eating together at the end of the day – these were necessary ways to connect and nourish mind and body at the end of every long day.

Instead of playing catch up I’ll share the buckets and bag from our great graduation celebration.  My husband was kind enough to compost (in my house it’s a noun AND a verb) in the early morning rain before guests arrived.

Image

Can you believe I did not take a single photo of this party?  It might have something to do with a hundred people convening in my house early on a Sunday afternoon but it remains in my memory as one of the most enjoyable, celebratory, crowded, RAINY parties we have ever thrown.  Nearly everyone came to share in the fun and, yes, we had a LOT of fun!  Of all the many, many parties they attended, my boys said theirs was the best, so I accept the compliment and I’ll share the brunch menu with you.  It was filled with some of my high school grad’s favorite foods.

It all started at the front door with drinks in the dining room …

  • Cucumber Water
  • Sweet Tea
  • Sweet Lemonade
  • Iced Vanilla Latte
  • Mimosas
  • Bloody Mary’s

Now that you have a drink in your hand, follow me to the kitchen where you’ll find silver chafing dishes, trays and crystal bowls filled with:

  • The most amazing shrimp & grits (truly, I could eat a bowl right now)
  • Brown sugar bacon
  • Butter-fried chicken tenders to top fresh waffles (more in a minute)
  • Mini quiches filled with raw milk cheddar & shallots
  • Lots of fresh melon, pineapple and berries
  • Tortellini skewers with cherry tomatoes, sugars snap peas in a dill-mustard vinaigrette

Since it was just after twelve on a Sunday morning, we set up the kitchen island as a make-your-own waffle bar with four irons, bowls of batter and lots of mix-ins and toppings.  I’m sorry but you might have to wait in line …

  • Mix-Ins: pecans, chocolate chips, grated sharp cheddar, blueberries
  • Toppings: whipped butter, whipped cream, real maple syrup, berries, bananas and that tasty fried chicken for my son’s favorite Chicken & Waffles

And what’s a party without dessert?  I could serve a twelve course dessert-only meal, but I showed restraint and kept it to three choices:

  • A giant graduation “cake” composed of ten dozen (yes, one hundred twenty) Krispy Kreme glazed doughnuts stacked high.  The grads, especially my son, are HUGE KK fans.
  • With a nod to school colors, mini green velvet cupcakes with Bailey’s cream cheese frosting topped with mini fondant “parchment” diplomas and gold “cords”.
  • Espresso parsnip cookie thins filled sandwich style with dark chocolate ganache.  

Are you stuffed?  We were.  There was virtually nothing left to snack on at the end of the day (except cocktails, so we enjoyed them … and that’s an entirely different story)  When we woke up the next morning, we realized this punch bowl was left out all night and fit only for compost… Clearly cantaloupe is the least favored fruit.

punchbowl fruit

Next up: spring garden shots!  And back to the DAILY bucket!  Cheers!

 

 
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Posted by on June 16, 2014 in Musings, The Daily Bucket

 

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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?

Image

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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Leftovers … and Dryer Lint

After all that weekend sunshine, it turned C O L D again!  Brrrr!  Forty feels freezing when you’ve been frolicking in shorts and flip flops.  No garden work for me!  It was one of those days to curl up by the fire and read…  Or tackle indoor chores…

I’m a creature of habit.  Monday is clean up day: vacuum the carpets, mop the floors, begrudgingly clean bathrooms, change the sheets on the beds and lots of laundry.  Sound horrible?  Not really, since Monday is set aside for cleaning I’m not scrambling every day to fit in time to keep things tidy.  Off and on over the years I’ve had people to help with cleaning and it’s a luxury that I love, but it’s also one that it’s easy to cut out of the budget fore me.  There is something to be said for a shining clean house at the end of the day that you have scrubbed yourself and a pot of something delicious simmering on the stove.  I know that’s a little June Cleaver-ish.  Oh well, I be true to thyself, right?  And really, I never clean in heels, but I do wear pearls …

Back to laundry.  Did you know that you can compost dryer lint?  Technically you can, but I don’t.  First of all I have two big, barking, shedding dogs and I count on my dryer to remove most of that from my clothing.  I think I saved my lint I could quickly have enough fur for hair shirts or new dogs.  I don’t want that dog fur in my garden beds.

Secondly, while many clothing fibers like cotton and wool are eventually biodegradable, they take time a long time to break down.  Plus, so many natural fiber cloths are sewn with synthetic thread or are treated with flame retardant substances.  We try really hard to avoid all chemicals but we don’t live in a bubble.  I cut out dyer toxic dryer sheets years ago, but I’m still don’t want my dryer debris nurturing my vegetables.

On a quick side note, my dryer simply stopped drying today.  Crisis!  It was late and I had lots of wet soccer stuff that needed to dry for a Tuesday game.  Luckily I also had good neighbors with dryers.  We’ll see what the week brings!

But back to that little something delicious simmering on the stove.  Thank heavens I had leftover chicken in the fridge from my Sunday bird.  Luckily it still had lots of meat on it, so I turned that into a warming, bubbling chicken pot pie with a crispy rye crust oozing with carrots, summer squash, peas and potatoes … and I delivered  it to a friend whose hubby is in the hospital.  I also made a simple salad and a dessert of all sorts of citrus drizzled with honey.  For my family, I simmered those chicken bones into soup.  Lent (and sacrifice) is just around the corner.

chicken pot pie & stock 3.3.14

What you can see (clockwise top to bottom):

  • carrot scrapings
  • yellowed parsley leaves
  • hydroponic romaine lettuce leaves
  • sweet onion skin & stem ends (with a sticker!  Argh!)
  • potato peels
  • half of a lemon
  • summer squash ends

Here’s what the bucket looked like when I tossed the citrus peels in.  Aren’t blood oranges pretty?

citrus salad 3.3.14

Now I’m off to call appliance repair …

 

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Weather Alert Do-Over

Last week we were slammed with (inches of) snow and the city shut down, right?  So, yesterday when there was a twenty percent chance of rain and snow flurries, the fun part of high school, varsity boys soccer, got cancelled.  And there was no snow.  Better safe than sorry I suppose.  (Full disclosure: I did stock up on extra bread and milk, because everybody knows it’s a law that snow requires hot chocolate and cinnamon toast.)

When I was finally back in my kitchen trying to figure out dinner after a day of organizing team rosters, announcer duties and a big team meal (which luckily took place), I realized that a busy day equals less veggies in the compost bucket, more starch, and meals grabbed from the pantry.  If I liked math and data analysis a bit more I might plot it out.  But I don’t.  Instead I’ll tell you about my bucket.  It’s actually two days worth of stuff and it doesn’t seem very empty, but it FELT empty.  Does that make sense?

linguine clam sauce 2.6.14

What you can see (clockwise top to bottom):

  • banana peels
  • onion skins
  • lemon segments
  • apple core
  • spent spider mums from my husband’s semi surprise birthday party
  • more lemon  and banana skin
  • garlic paper
  • more onion skin
  • eggshells
  • avocado shell

What you can’t see:

  • more eggshells
  • a few squishy strawberries
  • some yellowed spinach leaves
  • three teabags
  • grapefruit rind (they take up a lot of space!)
  • carrot scrapings & stem ends
  • celery stem ends

What I made with all of that:

  • Spinach & Parmesan Scrambled Eggs
  • Blackberry Strawberry Smoothies (with the last of the berries we hand picked, goodbye summer!)
  • Carrot & Celery Sticks with Hummus (lunch)
  • Ham Sandwiches with Spinach & a side of Avocado (packed lunch)
  • Linguine with Clam Sauce (Wednesday night pantry meal)
  • Red Macaroni (Thursday night pantry meal)

Looking forward to the weekend where I’m planning lots of veggie love and, weather permitting, a peek into my garden.

  • tangerine peel
 
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Posted by on February 7, 2014 in The Daily Bucket

 

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