composting

Squashing Compost Myths

“Compost piles stink. I would never have one. because I couldn’t tolerate the stench, I don’t have the time, and I DON’T want the rodents.”

black gold compost

Forget the black gold that a compost pile will deliver. Forget the organic treasure trove of nutrients this soil amendment will provide for your plants. Forget the health of the planet. Composting is crazy.

compost cross-section

Ever heard this sentiment before? I have. Often. And it’s because many people have a misconception about composting. It doesn’t have to be stinky and messy, attract bugs and wildlife. Quite the opposite. It’s an easy, simple, very worthwhile endeavor. Not only do the plants in my vegetable garden love it, my pile grows a few of its own veggies for me! Look at this gorgeous pumpkin plant. I didn’t do a thing to grow it, except dump the Halloween pumpkins onto the pile. Amazing.

compost pumpkins

Remember the incredible sweet potato I harvested from the pile a few months back? Stupendous. More

Grisly Discovery

So what do you do when you stroll out to your garden and you’re hit with an awful, horrible smell?  Well if you’re me, you may ignore it, assume it’s a small rodent nearby and continue setting up for your morning lesson.  Until that is, the first child runs out to the garden, stops short and calls out, “Hey Mrs. Venetta–there’s a dead in cat in our garden!”

What?  I whirled around and my heart stopped.  There in the middle of our row was a poor kitty in the midst of decomposition.  Oh no… Suddenly the odor becomes sickening. 

“Can we compost it?” he asked.

“No.  Definitely not.”  Germs, bacteria–I’m imagining all sorts of horrific things and none of them pretty.  Or healthy.  Or compostable, at least in this garden.  As the other children began to arrive, I sent this boy to the office.  “Let them know what’s going on out here, will you?”

“You bet!”  And with a smile, he was gone.

Kids.  Sometimes you simply can’t faze them.  Amaze them, yes–but not faze them.

Needless to say our morning garden experience didn’t go as planned.  I wasn’t about to have these kids get anywhere near the dead animal so we discussed what we “planned” to do instead.  Crop rotation kids.  Follow your fruits with beans for good organic rotation.  Okay, that’s all for today boys and girls.  See ya next week!

Within the hour the cat was removed, the weed paper (that he was laying upon) as well and the following morning I dug the surface layer of dirt up and out of the garden.  Perhaps this was overkill but I’m an overkill kinda gal.  No germs, no how–not when it comes to kids and seeds, anyway!  

Confident all was well, the next group of kids planted black beans provided those working the “disturbed” section of the dirt bed wear gloves.  Inch deep and a hand length apart!

Great fun was had by this crew and next week we’ll make it up to upper elementary.  But this is a lesson for them in coping with the unexpected (or something like that). But take heart, your beans are climbing up a storm!

To round out the week, the primary students planted their butterfly garden.  Teaching the wee ones how to transplant was quite the whirlwind of activity but I think they all thoroughly enjoyed themselves.  And because it’s located in the small courtyard behind their classroom, they’ll get to enjoy it every day.  From what I understand, garden work is a favorite among the students.  (Doesn’t surprise me.  These kids are smart!)

What did we plant?  Details on how and what to plant for attracting butterflies will be featured on Monday’s post.  There’s actually a lot more to it than you might think!

Anatomy of a Compost Pile

Ever wondered what it looked like beneath that pile of fall leaves?  You know, the one you formed with dead leaves and garden waste?  The one I told you would provide excellent organic matter for your soil?  If you build it, dirt will form?

Yes, that one!  Well in Florida it’s time to use our compost or more specifically our dirt again for fall planting.  Yep, you guessed it–my compost pile has turned a pile of crumbly brown leaves into the most gorgeous black dirt you ever laid your eyes on and I’m ready to use it.  Just look at this treasure!

This photo represents a cross-section of my backyard compost pile.  One of my backyard piles.  I have two, right next to each other.  This one is my “easy” pile.  The one I never turn.  The one I never water.  I let it sit there week after week, month after month until I’m ready to use it.  Well, I’m back in the garden planting and I need soil amendment!  Where do I go?

I go to this pile of compost.  Digging deep into the center, I struck gold.  Black gold.  Can you see it there towards the bottom?  Deep, organic and beautiful black dirt.  Oh, but I can hear my beds jumping for joy already!  The hardest part about this compost pile?  Scooping each shovelful into my wagon and hauling the heaping mass down to the garden.  And no, for you Curious George’s out there, I didn’t build this thing.  That credit goes to lawn guy, a.k.a. my husband and once a year garden helper. 🙂 They do good work!

My active duty pile is the other smaller pile behind it.  This is the one where the kids and I dump the contents of our cute in-house compost jar.  From leftovers to stale bread, from eggshells to green weeds, we use this pile for a more well-rounded source of organic matter. 

After each deposit made with kitchen scraps we cover it with a layer of brown leaves taken from the prior pile.  This way we manage to achieve some semblance of the recommended ration of carbon:nitrogen which is 30:1.  Key word:  some.

But it works!  My vegetables are happy and my soil is ecstatic. Just be sure to rinse your compost jar before returning it to the kitchen.  Cuts down on the ick factor.  Cause Moms don’t like ick in the kitchen! 

Now here–carry this out to the compost pile.  We’re growing dirt!

Confessions From a Worm Bin

This week I cleaned out my worm bin.  Well, cleaned “out” doesn’t really tell the story.  Exactly.  Though it may…

Up to my elbows in worm poop–excellent fertilizer for the garden and the only reason you’ll EVER find me up to my elbows in poop–I harbored some treacherous thoughts.  Dispatch came to mind, as did fishing.  With my worms.  Meaning no more plant food.  How did I get to this awful spot?  Well now, the beginning is always a good place to start.

For my birthday I received a worm bin. Now, you can imagine the excitement when I first laid eyes on this contraption.  Showed up on my doorstep complete with live worms.  Well heavens to hillsides, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven!  A worm bin–woohoo!  Alert the media, share with the bloggers–we’ve got worms!  Immediately I set out to work getting it set up and my wiggly babies settled into their new home. 

Over the next couple of months, I fed them, watered them and generally fussed over these gorgeous little pumpkins of mine all the while knowing that if I treated them well, they’d treat me well and poop up a storm!  Well, poop they did.  And pee.  Sorry to be so graphic, but this is “nature” talk–totally okay for the kids. (Better than some of the stuff I’ve overheard on the playground, let me tell you!). 

Any-hoo, we were off to a good start until I realized my worms weren’t migrating upward as they should.  In the instructions, it was quite clear:  continue to add bins and fresh food and the worms will migrate up, leaving their poop down below and easy to “harvest.”  Read:  scoop out and allow to dry before storing. 

Hmph.  False advertising, if you ask me.  These worms were having no such thing!  They were swimming in the bottom bin full of their own “you-know-what” and leaving me no choice but to pluck them out one by one–if I wanted the black gold they had so kindly produced.

Have you ever tried to pluck a worm from slimy goop?  It’s not pretty.  And it’s stinky.  I’ll be honest with you.  I was wholly prepared to call my son and allow him to “harvest” some of the worms to use as fishing bait.  In fact, I was fantasizing about doing so myself.  Pretty mean with a pole, I know I could catch some real beauties with these red wrigglers (that is what they’re for, other than pooping).  Oh yes–it’s true.  In the midst of the nasty mess, I was prepared to quit.  And I hate to quit.  But this worm bin was proving a challenge and beyond my gardening limits.

But I didn’t quit.  Not yet, anyway.  I can still be trusted with the worms well being, keeping them active and fruitful. 

Whether it was that half-gallon bag of poop I secured or the mere fact I didn’t want this project to get the best of me, I still have worms and I still have a bin.  Though come to think of it, they might do wonders for my compost pile… 

Anyone else thinking relocation?  Sure would solve the aggravation factor. 

But not the fertilization one.  For now, I’ll keep my bin, but with this heat, I can’t guarantee for how long. Stay tuned!  Better yet–give me some positive reinforcement and helpful suggestions and I may not sneak out for a quick fishing trip. 🙂  Maybe.

 

Meet Ashley

Meet Ashley.  When she heard her friend Julie was taking part in our new garden venture, why don’t you know she went straight to her husband and suggested they build a planter box?  I use the term “they” quite loosely here, though she did help.  And–she prepared nice snacks for him and the boys, smiled pleasantly as she held the boards so he could nail them in place and assisted where possible.  (This is all excellent wife behavior and it works–most of the time, anyway.)

Would you look at this amazing piece of engineering perfection?  It’s a veritable masterpiece!  Compliments help, too.  🙂

Note to building crew:  lining your planter is a fine idea, but keep in mind your plants’ drainage needs.  Soggy roots are like soggy fruits–not delightful.  Be sure your planter is capable of draining.  Then, add a load of fresh dirt and you’re on your way!

For her first garden, Ashley chose a few of her family’s favorites; another wise move.  Growing vegetables that are easy and fun but no one cares to eat is a losing proposition.  Trust me.  Watching your fruit wither on the vine–literally–is a sad day, indeed.  (Kinda gross, too.)  For starters, we have beans, squash, melon, carrots and potatoes. 

How is she fitting all those veggies in there?  I’m glad you asked.  Organization 101.

Prior to planting, it’s a good idea to lay those colorful packets out across the dirt.  This way, you can eyeball their placement, keeping in mind their friends and foes.  Plants have their favorite companions, you know, and they’ll simply wilt and whine when planted too far apart. 

If you must squish a few “squabblers” together, so be it.  One thing I’ve learned is that Mother Nature appreciates enthusiasm.  She’ll give you a pass without fuss the first time you break her rules.  She won’t punish you with rotten diseases or nasty infestations to ruin your moment, but next season?  You’d better get another box.  Oh, honey…!

Once you’ve decided where everyone will be residing, dig according to your seeds’ needs.  Rule of thumb:  tiny seeds prefer shallow surface planting while larger ones go deeper.  And potato tubers?  We dug them a special section situating them lower than all their neighbors.  Important, because as they grow, you’ll want to continually mound them with dirt.  This forces greater potato production and we do want to produce, don’t we?  Yes, we do. 

Speaking of produce, Ashley’s gone crazy excited and decided to try her hand at composting, too!  Leftovers no longer go in the garbage–they go in the sink!  (Until we find a more attractive alternative.)  Then, her handy-dandy-super-helpful young sons will transport this bin to the outdoor compost pile.  Neat system, isn’t it?

Boys love composting, because it can lead to great worm hunting.  And any boy worth his sea salt knows:  if you plan on catching the big one, you’d better have some worms on hand.  Could there be any more fun than finding them on your own?  I think not.

Finally, spray a little water over your planter to get your new seeds settled in and then it’s off to the picnic.  In no time Ashley will witness an explosion of sprouts across her planter followed by leaves and veggies and harvest and–

Whew!  I’m excited just thinking about it!

For those of you wondering how Julie’s garden is coming along, well, you know, life, spring break…  Well, life just plain happens.  In the real world, our best intentions can easily be sidetracked by a few rows–but not to worry–she’ll be looking for a mini excavator rental company and digging into her yard in no time!  Tanned from the beach, to boot. 

While we’re on the subject of gals in the garden, check out BloominThyme’s new garden series at Galtime.com in the Living section.  Join us, won’t you?

Compost and Crop Rotation

Calling all kids!  Calling all kids!  It’s time to turn the compost!

Talk about a good time–I don’t know which they enjoyed more–shoveling dirt or handling tools!  New toys, is more like it.  Young people are always looking for the latest and greatest and if they can’t find that, well then, they’ll settle for something new.  New to them, that is. 

Fine with me.  Our middle schoolers and upper elementary students had a field day with the job of turning their heap of hay and weeds AND they were being productive.  An awesome combination in my garden journal.  Better yet, as they worked their way through, they were amazed by the dirt they had “grown.”  Composting is pretty cool.

While these composters were at work, another group  was busy pulling out the broccoli.  The broccoli eaten, the plants bolted, it was time.  Besides, it was time to plant our scallions.  As part of our crop rotation plan, we will follow our “leaves” with “roots” as in bean, leaves, roots and fruits.  If you dance around and repeat this order in a sing-song tone, the kids tend to remember it.   They also roll their eyes, snicker, giggle and refuse to dance with you–but they do remember it.

But of course, before we can plant we must remove the weeds.  A job more fun when done with friends.  Avoiding roots and other buried treasures in our dirt bed, the kids planted their onions and covered them with a nice layer of soft dirt. 

Peering into the bag of leftover onions sets, one boy asked if he could have them.  As in, take-them-into-your-classroom-hide-them-in-your-locker-and-cause-ruckus, have them?  

No.  He wanted to plant them in his home garden.  I smiled.  There was no way I could resist that kind of enthusiasm, so of course, I handed him the bag.   

Moving right along, the lower elementary kids descended upon the garden and I had to give them some bad news.  It’s not always “sunshine and candy” in the garden.  Nope.  Sometimes gardeners (a.k.a. me) miss weather cues (too busy to watch the weather channel) and are caught off guard by surprise frosts.  Not good when you have fragile vulnerable Lima transplants in the ground.  Yep, you guessed it.  Frost-bitten.

Back in the old days, farmer kids had to rely solely on their garden for food.  Lucky for us, we don’t have to rely on our crop for survival.  But hey–look at our potatoes!  Heads turned.  See how wonderful they’re growing?

Ooohs and aaahs abounded as they forgave me, then we toured around the garden for a focus on the positive.  Our carrots are sprouting, our sweet onions are doing well…

Then, to make it up for my error, I suggested we engage in a bit of transplanting (one of their favorite things to do!)  We began with oregano.

Discovered this little guy along the way.  Ugh.  Unwelcome in our garden, he was dispatched to another section of the yard. 

Added some lavender.  One child mistook it for rosemary, whereby we did a “smell” comparison.  They touched the rosemary with one hand, the lavender with the other and compared.  Spicy, strong, soap, perfume…  We had lots of observations, to which I added, “One smells like the kitchen, and one smells like mom.”  

All in all, it was a good week in the garden.

 

If this cabbage isn’t a testament to the glory of a garden, I don’t know what is.  Simply gorgeous.