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Compost Pile: Going Native January 22, 2009

Filed under: organic gardening — Thinking Woman @ 10:19 pm

I’ve been feeling like I had to organize my compost. At first, I secured a second hand black plastic composting bin. You put stuff in the top, and, in theory, compost comes out this nifty door at the bottom. Only, in actual fact, that is not what happened.

According to the “Humanure” book, which should be read for the wealth of composting information, even if you don’t plan to compost your own poop, it is absolutely not a requirement to turn your compost. There is no point discussing this with any gardener who thinks otherwise. As with people who practice straight line gardening as compared to square foot gardening, some people are entrenched in what they (think they) know. So no. Clearly it’s not necessary to turn compost as evidenced by the fact that when I poured my bucket out today, its contents were steaming. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.

Composters feel you must have some sort of a bin. But when I was growing up, we dumped everything on a huge pile, which, magically, stopped growing. I absolutely adored taking food waste and putting it on that pile next to our garage. I expected a mountain with all the stuff I was stealthily scraping off plates (I was a very picky eater) but in fact no mountain ever materialized. This mystified and disappointed me then. Now I think it’s wonderful! It fully demonstrates that compost works all on its own and does not require being dug nor turned nor, in fact, fussed with at all.

Back to my foolish bin. Knowing I didn’t need anything that turned and that I would eventually have compost, I happily added to the top and waited for rich compost to come out the bottom. I took the temperature a few months ago and was disappointed to find only one hot spot; the rest was at air temperature. And when I managed, with much effort, to slide the door at the bottom open, I found it crawling with large scary insects but the stuff did not in any way resemble ripe compost. As I have some fruit trees that will go in the ground in the spring, I really am needing my compost to be ready sooner rather than later.

After a great amount of struggling, interspersed with running away because of the big scary bugs, I managed to lift the compost thing off my heap of compost. Much to my relief (composters do get excited about strange things, don’t we), I did observe some steam rising off the lower parts as the pile slid apart. Most of it was too solid and absolutely disgusting for me to even think of using a pitch fork or in fact anything to muck with it. So I simply used my handy dandy rake to gather up some leaves from around my garden and bury the pile. I have learned from the Humanure book that if compost smells offensive, all that is required is to cover it. They recommend sawdust but I can’t see the logic of spending money and I am not composting poop, so I use what’s readily available: leaves. This works brilliantly. My plan with this pile is to simply leave it a few more weeks and see how it goes. I expect it’s zipping along nicely under its cover. All those bugs tell me good stuff was going on.

Meanwhile, because I need something within a few months, I started a new pile so I can leave my current one undisturbed. I have heard from a few sources that a great way to make a nice pile is to take four pallets and wire them together to make a cube. That is a very large cube! And then, perhaps, a second cube so there are two piles going; one to use and the other in progress. But really? Must compost be contained? And if it were contained in an open structure like this, how would you get the cover material on top which so nicely cuts down the odor?

I am going native. I didn’t have the four pallets so I kept putting off starting my new compost pile. Then time ran out when I had the looming deadline of the spring tree planting so I just started a pile in the back corner of my yard under a tree. Of course it stank the first time I dumped my bucket so I put an extra rake near it. I dump my bucket about once a week, it seems. It takes a few extra minutes to rake some leaves on top of the pile. As I dumped the contents today, I saw lovely steam rise up. I bedded it all down nicely with natural (and free!) yard waste, and with some time and some luck, this pile will mature nicely by the time I need it. Starting a new pile will be a matter of choosing location. I see no reason to do anything other than help it keep its shape. I certainly don’t feel inclined to try to haul things up and over the top of sideways place pallets and especially not yard rakings. And I most certainly don’t intend to go buy sawdust to put on my compost to keep the odor down.

Perhaps large scale operations need neat and tidy bins. But for just our little family, the pile seems the way to go. I can’t wait to be proven right!

By the way, the buckets I am using are brilliant. When I bought the Humanure toilet (as insurance in case, for whatever reason, we ever find ourselves without plumbing, not because I actually intend to use it), it came with four or five lovely large covered plastic buckets. I am using one of these for my compost and it’s much better than the previous container I had which attracted a house full of flies when used on the counter, filled my freezer when placed there, and was just too darned small to be convenient. Plus it required me to keep buying foolish compost liners which may well be biodegradable, but still, they cost money! The buckets I now use hold five gallons. I simply rest the lid on top so it’s very convenient to add to it. The mouth is wide so it’s easy to scrape plates in without missing. The handle is comfortable so I don’t mind lugging it outside when it fills. Brilliant! And we are blessed with occasional warm days even in winter so I am able to keep up with it. But as I have 4, I know I have the option of starting up a second bin if I need to. I could see that happening in the long muggy hot summer or during the rainy season when I won’t want to muck in the mud.


Square Foot Gardening January 9, 2009

Filed under: organic gardening — Thinking Woman @ 8:16 pm

I just finished the new Square Foot Gardening and now I am totally seeing the light about sitting around in a rocking chair (or, in my case, a hammock). I’ve only ever done what he calls “row gardening” before and I had already “cheated” in a lot of the ways Mel suggests; I could never ever see the point of planting all my seeds and then thinning so I’ve always been very sparing with seed usage. And I’ve always planted way closer than recommended. But other than that, there  has been a lot of work.

My garden has been in the ground a few weeks and I’ve been wondering what I’m supposed to do. Besides the easy to spot weed and harvesting some lettuce and herbs and perhaps some other greens, really, there isn’t a thing to be done. I thought I was doing something wrong. But nope! That’s it! I can not recommend this method highly enough!

There are some very neat ideas in the revised edition and I intend to get creative. I accidentally planted a watermelon when we first moved here. In my constant weeding, I saw fit to spare the interesting looking vine and was thrilled to have a free watermelon that I never expected appear. But it took a whole lot of ground and two plants only yielded one, rather small fruit. It was yummy and extra so because it was a gift.

According to the revised book, you can plant vines up so long as what they grow up will support them. The mind boggles! Rather than build things along the north side of my boxes, I am thinking of what I can use that is already here and get creative. Surely, I can dig up some of the perfect soil mix, pop it into a container, and plant that next to my metal fence which gets great sun.

He also has instructions for some herbs that have a way of taking over by shooting out roots. I have plants like that in my back yard. I call them weeds. Nasty things. Digging up one plant, weeds and all, takes around an hour and leaves my lawn trashed. It seems to me if I did want to plant something like mint in my box, I should stop the roots from doing that; why not create a barrier? Or take a pot, scoop in some of of the special soil, and put it in my garden? But I’m not going to do either of those. The last thing I need is huge gardens of mint where I thought I had fruits and veggies.

No, what I am going to do is use things like mint or thyme to intentionally take over my back yard. Things that can be trampled on, stay low, and are not full of thorns like what we currently have. And, most importantly, that do not require mowing. I don’t mind if they are a bit higher in places so long as they don’t get too high. And since many herbs will grow in crappy soil and revive themselves from the dead, I think these are going to make a wonderful lawn. What I might do is get a patch established right in my lawn with Mel’s soil mix, but once it grows out of those boundaries, it should quickly start to take over. I hope!


Books I’m Reading/Have Read January 6, 2009

Currently Reading:

Conversations with God Spiritual. All the answers are in this book! I didn’t know all the questions. Good things have started happening since I started reading this!

Square Foot Gardening I’ve got a square foot garden all planted up! Now to learn how to maintain it! I love the ideas in this book. I have always wondered why plant a whole packet of seeds only to thin them down; I’ve always “cheated” on that and saved most of the seeds. I love it when people can “think outside of the box”. Ha ha. Mel puts himself into a box by thinking out of the box!

Hands of Light/Light Emerging I hope these books hold some answers for me. I don’t intend to become a healer to others, just myself and my family.

Nourishing Traditions Learning to eat in the ways of many traditional cultures. How to prepare our own foods naturally and get the nutrients/minerals. The beginning was a bit dry for me but there are loads of great tips and other cool shorties interspersed with the recipes. I’m learning tons!


Unconditional Parenting By far my most favorite parenting book.

The Highly Sensitive Person

The Highly Sensitive Child

More later!


Confessions of an Overwhelmed Gardener January 5, 2009

Filed under: health,organic gardening — Thinking Woman @ 4:25 pm
Tags: , ,

I’ve got three raised bed gardens. But they’ve actually been causing me a lot of stress and guilt even before most of the veggies are ready to harvest. I think I am finally figuring out why this is.

I got the whole shebang as part of a package deal and they didn’t pay all that close attention to my preferences. I was very clear that I don’t use certain things which include kale and cauliflower. I just don’t like those. Most of what’s in there is great; there are quite a few broccoli plants and a reasonable number of lettuce of a few varieties. I know we’ll have no trouble using those up. But some of the scary greens are making me feel like a failure before I’ve even begun!

I am not sure what I’m going to do. Make the effort to force myself to choke down things I don’t like? Perhaps juice them? Maybe that will be a good solution that avoids guilt.

Last week, I bought a load of locally grown vegetables that I normally would not use. They were very inexpensive. Well, not so much so if I don’t use them. I tried making a soup with most of them and dumped the pot. I could  not even bring my girls to try it. That’s a shame as it was quite a soup. The stock was from a chicken and prepared according to the Nourishing Traditions recipe so supposedly quite healthful and full of minerals. All those additional veggies probably made a very healthy concoction but it went to waste. I do so hate to waste food and especially food I know is so healthful.

I hope to learn more and meet my ridiculously high standards for how we eat.


Sour Tangerines – Zest and Juice December 28, 2008

Filed under: organic gardening — Thinking Woman @ 11:46 pm

Zested a bucket full of tangerines. The zest is in the dehydrator. It took me over an hour. They are tricky to zest! Then peeled (that’s quick!) and juiced but oh, so sour! Used some in a smoothie that went straight into the compost bucket. Still at a loss what to do with these sour tangerines!


My new garden! December 17, 2008

Filed under: organic gardening,unplugging — Thinking Woman @ 11:12 pm

One week ago, I had three 5′ X 8′ raised garden beds installed and planted them about half full with baby plants using the square foot gardening method.

All the babies look lovely and today it was time to start harvesting the lettuce. My older daughter and I carefully picked  lettuce leaves  and then some of each spice. We’ve got soft mesclin lettuces and something like bok choy, plus sage, oregano, parsley, cilantry, chives, and dill. When it’s a little warmer, I’ll plant basil and make pesto.

I also squeezed the juice of one of our citrus fruits over the freshly washed greens and added some olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It was a very flavorful and fresh salad. The girls didn’t care for it so I’m going to have to work on figuring out what salad dressings appeal to them but my husband found it very interesting and it made him really happy to have some of this first salad from our garden!

Soon, the lettuces will be much bigger. I know I’ve got some mesclun salad mix seeds around here somewhere. They are probably 5 years old so I do hope they still work!
I’ve also got basil, dill, and a few other things plus what I think is scallions from a workshop I attended a few months ago. I can’t wait to get every square filled in.

Many of the plants are broccoli, which is a favorite of the whole family. We also have some cauliflower which will challenge us to expand our horizons as well as some collards which are downright scary. We’ve also got a few red cabbages which will also be a little challenging but I’ll juice them if I have to! I can’t remember what all else is planted. I do hope I recognize everything as not everything is labeled.


Storing foods without destroying them November 21, 2008

Filed under: organic food,organic gardening,unplugging — Thinking Woman @ 5:23 pm

Thank goodness for the Nourishing Traditions book. People have been raving about this book for so long and I have not been opening my copy. Finally, I am having more of a dig through it and finding amazing answers. I was so turned off in the beginning because the book was so heavy and rather boring, but the recipe section has short helpful blurbs in bite sized chunks.

Not only can I now easily start making my own yogurt starting with raw milk, but I feel confident I will be able to store excess bounty from my future garden. My garden is going to be installed in just two weeks and I know from experience that once things start coming, often there is much more than can be used all at once. And then it’s gone! You can’t give away zucchini when everyone has watermelon sized ones already. Weeks later, you’re back to craving the sweet gentle flavor.

Breaking news! As I’m in the middle of this blog entry, I come across more info on how to store garden produce! Ah, more research to do to get the puzzle pieces to all fit together! Mrs. Green is recommending a book called How to Store your Garden Produce. There. I’ve added it to my Amazon Wish List. Once I get $25 worth and qualify for the free shipping, it’ll be mine! (Gee. What I should really do is get it from the library if available and if not, request that my library order it. Do I really need my own copy? Some books are must haves, but many on my shelves are one-time reads.)