Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Garden update: focus on composting

Composting is one of my favorite parts of gardening. I find it fascinating to watch nature do its work and take kitchen refuse, shredded leaves, grass clippings, and other miscellany and turn it into rich matter that sends my veggies a growing.  There's simply no way to make enough.  In fact, it's only the first part of June and I've already used up all the leaves from last fall.

If you do not yet compost, here's the recipe:  1 part green + 2 parts brown.  Layer and wait.

Green refers to nitrogen-rich items like kitchen scraps (no meats or grease - veggie only), while "brown" refers to things like fall leaves, newspaper, and cardboard.

In my kitchen, I keep a one-gallon container into which go coffee grounds, veggie trimmings, and egg shells.  This sits under my prep table and gets taken out to the main pile about every other day. It doesn't stick or anything like that.  I do have a fancy stainless steel one, but it has a lid and just isn't as handy for me.  (Let me know if you're interested.)  I usually chop things up into smaller bits, especially if they don't break down quickly.  For example, pineapple takes a while, so I chop it up.  In contrast, tomatoes and bell pepper cores break down rapidly.

I find old ice cream buckets to be incredibly useful for compost as well as fermentation containers for bread-making.

My beloved food processor earns its keep in
so many ways: nut butters, slaws,
doughs, and compost making. 

Materials from the kitchen are then layered in on the compost pile, which is contained by three wooden pallets, rendering it about 3.5 feet square.  I shake out the bucket contents across the top and add grass clippings to complete the layer if MFD has recently mowed.  Then, I top that layer with a layer of shredded leaves, or other "brown" items such as shredded paper or cardboard to twice the thickness of the "green" layer.

In short order, the materials are broken down as shown by this forkful below.

I will build the pile to about 2.5-3 feet tall, then mix it by forking into an adjacent bin.  This will give it a good boost of oxygen and rev up the breakdown process.  The next pile will start.  A compost pile should never stink.  If it does, then there is too much "green" or it's too wet and you have some anaerobic decay, which is when oxygen is in short supply.  It will get really hot (think lawn clippings in a pile) and stink.   If your compost pile gets too hot, you may also kill the earthworms and other organisms working to break it down.  If it's too cold, then it takes much longer to break down into useable compost.  This is why the ratio is important. 

A note on the egg shells

Dad keeps a bunch of chickens on The Farm.  The Chicken Patrol roams the property munching grasshoppers and flies along with working the stable manure pile for larvae. Their work greatly reduces the pest problems and has the side benefit of multitudes of eggs and an occasional pot of stewed chicken.  The bounty is shared with us townies. Personally, I love eggs and often have them for breakfast.  I usually do them up as one yolk with three whites in olive oil topped with fresh dill and chives with a sprinkling of red and black peppers.  Then, I compost the shells.

Last year, I just crunched them up however it happened in the compost pile, but this year I've been a bit more industrious so that when I put the compost in the beds, the shells are bit finer in texture.  I put the shells in the processor, crunch them down a bit with a wood spoon, the turn it on for a few seconds, et voila! Nice, fine shells to mix in with coffee grounds and even the torn up scraps of the cardboard egg cartons.   (Yes, I could reuse those, but Mom says they have  basement full, so back to the earth they go for now.)

I put compost directly on the beds, about 1-2 inches deep, and plant. This pic shows the bush beans, emerging cukes, and the upper level has broccoli, herbs, and another variety of beans.  All last year's compost went into these two beds. The soil is much improved.

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