Tag Archives: gardening

Food for the Soil: Compost Update

A few years ago I blogged about compost…and the DIY project that went along with it. If you missed those posts, or if you never had the opportunity to read them the first go-round, here are the links:

DIY Compost Bins
Composting 101

After a few years of composting I wasn’t sure how enchanted I was with the dang thing. I got everything set up, and made sure to keep the balance of brown and green just right so as to avoid having my backyard smell like a landfill on a hot summer day. I turned the compost every so often to keep it all mixed up and jivin’ in the way that it does to break down into something delicious for my soil. And it just seemed to take forever. Some things didn’t break down all that well, there didn’t seem to be much in the end result and maybe it was my general lack of patience but this project felt like a whole lotta work for not a whole lotta reward.

This winter I resolved to re-purpose the barrels for growing potatoes and just be done with it…until something magical happened.

Okay, magical might be a stretch, but it was mind changing and turns out, I am enchanted with making my own compost. Who knew?

When J dumped the barrels this spring, for what I thought was the very last time, I spied something quite pleasing to the eye. I raced from the deck to the garden to get a better look…that compost was so rich and wonderful I was actually quite beside myself. I only regret that I didn’t get a picture snapped before he tilled it in. Rats!

And so, I’m back to composting.

Turns out, what seemed like not very much compost in those barrels once it had broken down is in reality more once it’s been dumped out. Funny how looks can be deceiving. I can get on board with that.

And here are some lessons learned — because why go through the pain of it yourself if you can just learn from someone else??

  • The plan I had for ‘turning’ the compost in my original “DIY Compost Bins” post didn’t work as efficiently as I had hoped. I found it was just as easy to turn the compost with a pitch fork right in the barrel.
  • I didn’t follow my own advice about keeping the compost wet. While you don’t want it sopping wet, moisture is part of the compost making equation. Mine was too dry, I’m sure, which is likely the reason it took eons to do its compost thing. I’m leaving the lids off the barrels going forward and will let Mother Nature have at it. As long as there’s ample drainage opportunity, which mine have, it should be fine.
  • A few foods didn’t seem to break down all that well for me so I’m no longer adding them to my compost as part of the ‘green’ mix. Those are: corn cobs, & avocado skins and pits. Even egg shells didn’t break down quite like I thought they would but I’m still adding them, I just crush them up before tossing them in the barrel. And in some instances, coffee filters, but because I know the benefits of coffee grounds in compost, I’ll continue to add them and those that don’t break all the way down are easy to pick out once the barrels are dumped and the compost is spread out with a rake.

For more information on what not to add, what to add and how much, etc. visit my Composting 101 link above. And if you have any other bits of wisdom about composting DIY, please share in the comments section below! I am clearly not the expert on this – heck, I just had to talk myself back in to continuing!

H

 

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Mid May Already??? And Seedling Update!

Hi Friends!

It’s been more than a minute since I’ve even logged on to my blog. A couple weeks ago I thought I was getting my feet back under me, only to totally disappear all of last week again. Ugh! I’m soooo sorry!

Life happens tho. Am I right? Anyone else totally surprised to fully  partially comprehend that we are officially half way through the month of May? If I’m honest, I think part of my brain is still stuck in late March.

So much is happening around here. It is Spring, after all! And with Spring comes much to be done. Battling Colorado weather (you never know what you’re going to get), I’ve been trying to take advantage of every opportunity to get outside and get things rolling in my veggie and flower gardens. I’ll have much to update you on in the coming weeks…

I think I promised many, many weeks ago, an update on the seedling project. With Spring planting upon us the seedling project has mostly wrapped up so this is more a final post on the project than it is an update, but as I indicated above, time is flying by.

I’m quiet pleased with how the seedling project ended up. There were lessons learned, for sure, but it was mostly a success. A success very much felt <by my bank account> as I checked out at the nursery last week. I had to buy very few plants — and if I hadn’t had a total lapse in judgment, I’d have bought even fewer than what I ended up needing. As I said, lessons learned.

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As my seedling project wrapped up, I took care to acclimate my plants to the outdoors before sticking them in the ground (a step I’ve mostly neglected in the past – and likely the reason my previous attempts have been such a disaster).  I think a solid week of acclimation is the way to go. Find a place that gets some sun (but isn’t blazing hot) and is somewhat protected from the wind and just let the plants sit. Remember that being outdoors will also likely mean you need to water a little more frequently – but only do so when the soil has mostly dried out.

Where I went wrong was with my veggie plants. My tomatoes were struggling anyway (for reasons unknown) but my pepper and cucumber plants were going crazy….and then I put them outside too early. Well, not too early, but had my head been on straight, when the weather cooled off again (and didn’t warm up for 2 straight days) I should have brought them back in…which I didn’t….which is the reason I had to buy new pepper and tomato plants (GRR!) and will be a month and a half behind with my cucumbers (double GRR!). Oh well.

Everything else is doing wonderfully – I’ve even planted quite a few of my seedling babies and they are going strong. Aside from a couple plant varieties that didn’t come up at all (?) I’d mark my first run at this project a HUGE success and will probably look to expand on my efforts next year!

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Did anyone else take on a seedling project? Any final notes or updates from your end?

Happy Planting!
H

 


Fall Planting

Each spring, as I’m cleaning out the garden and flower beds and preparing for all the new planting I vow, “this year, no excuses, I’m going to get Fall planting done”. Fall comes and goes — without any planting. I’m generally burned out and tired by the time Fall rolls around and haven’t the brain power to plan, let alone purchase and then plant bulbs for Spring flowering. And then, Spring returns and I’m disappointed that I let the opportunity for Fall planting pass me by.

This year I got way ahead of the game. I planned – and ordered – bulbs for Fall planting in August! I figured it would trick  force me into finally addressing this outstanding chore. There wouldn’t be any way I would spend the money, have the bulbs here ready for planting, and let the opportunity slip by. And, I was right!

Turns out I got a little crazy with the ordering. When the package showed up and I opened it to assess what I was really dealing with, 124 bulbs came spilling out into my life. Oh gosh! 124 bulbs really isn’t a lot when you consider the size and number of landscaped areas in my yard – but – oh gosh!

And then, when I went to pick up some mums to plant as well (because if you’re going to do Fall planting, DO Fall planting, right?) I had a momentary lapse in judgment and bought another package of tulips…because they were unique and like nothing else I had ordered…and because, well, I momentarily lost my mind!

Fall planting in Colorado can be tricky because the weather is super tricky. Temps are all over the place and it’s anyone’s guess what sort of precipitation will fall from the sky. In the past couple weeks we’ve had two torrential downpours, complete with thunder, lightening and hail! That’s right, in October. It is for this same reason that deciding what to wear in the morning is a total guessing game – and inevitably, you end up uncomfortable (either too warm or too cold) the majority of the day…but, I digress…

So, playing the weather and juggling work and other household responsibilities, completing this project played out over the course of several days. I am happy to report that it’s FINALLY done. I can’t wait until Spring 2016 rolls around and I can share with you all the splendor that only Spring can bring — with 130+ early season blooms — compliments of all this hard work in the Fall.

In the meantime, let’s enjoy the pops of color in the Fall that mums are so famous for:

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Wishing you all an incredible week – do whatever you can to make it great!
H


Garden Check-In

Hard to believe that we are in to our second week of Sept, and that Fall is fast approaching.

I know, I shudder at the thought myself. Can we rewind to July 1st please??

How are things going in your garden?

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My gardening experience this year is bitter sweet. I’m thrilled with the production that has kept us eating fresh and healthy for a while now.

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I am disappointed, though, that we aren’t getting enough at one time to ‘put up’ for winter eats. Next year I will need to tackle in a whole different way.

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I may be headed to the Farmers Market one weekend soon to stock up on tomatoes. I just don’t know if I can stomach NOT making that delicious homemade pasta sauce I experimented with…and loved…last year.

For now I will be overly thankful for what we’ve gotten…but I’m curious to know…how are your gardens coming along? How do they compare to past years?


Composting 101

Barrel

During my undergraduate studies I had an instructor who said something in class that has forever stuck with me. A pile of compost gets so hot, one could cook a turkey in the middle of it. I can’t remember what course that was, or the instructors name, or even what he looks like. It’s odd, the things that stick in our brains. This tid-bit probably stuck because I was horrified at the thought of cooking a turkey in the middle of a pile of trash. I never intend to try, but there you have it.

About a week ago, I finally got things started in my compost bins.

You can read about my DIY compost bins here.

Today I am going to share with you what I’ve learned through hours of internet research on the topic. I’m not the expert, not even close, but decomposition of organic materials is a process that occurs without instigation in nature, so I figure I can’t mess this up too badly.

Speeding up the process, from that which occurs in nature, requires a simple recipe:
Air + Water + Green Material + Brown Material = Compost

Air and water are easy and require no explanation, but here’s the low down on “green” & “brown” material:

Green: these materials are high in nitrogen and provide protein for the micro bugs that ultimately turn this waste into amazing nutrition for the garden.
Typical green materials include:
fresh grass clippings (green)
kitchen scraps (fruit, veggies, egg shells, coffee grounds, tea bags, etc)
green leaves
leftovers from the garden

Brown: these materials are high in carbon and provide the micro bugs energy to do their job.
Typical brown materials typically include:
brown, dry leaves
brown, dry grass clippings
straw
sawdust
shredded cardboard and paper

It’s important to keep the mixture damp (not wet), and the ratio should be about 3 parts brown to 1 part green.

People often think “yuck, compost piles have got to be stinky, and messy, and gross”. When done right, there is little to no odor. I can see where this thought process comes from though – have you smelled a barrel of fresh grass clippings that sat for a week through hot temperatures, and 3 rain storms? It’s putrid!

If your compost pile is smelling like a pile of rotting garbage, it means that your brown to green ratio is off and you need to add more brown, stat! It may also mean that your mixture is too wet. Check that you have adequate drainage  in the bottom of the barrel.

There are also some materials that should NEVER be added to your compost, those include:
meat, fish or animal fat
ashes from the BBQ grill (you can add ashes from a wood burning stove, but in very small amounts)
dog and cat feces (you can add manure from grass fed animals…cows, chickens, etc.)

I think a good rule of thumb is that anything that came from the garden can go back in via compost. Anything meat, or waste from meat eating animals is a no-no.

So…here’s what my plan of attack has been, and will be, for this first batch of compost in the making:

I collected a barrel of brown materials while doing yard work. I have read over and over that the best brown material is dried leaves. There were quite of few of those hung up in the planters around our new home so I took advantage and put them in a barrel that goes back in the shed (keeping it dry) to be used in this composting process.
I will collect green materials throughout the week as I prepare meals. There are always the parts of the fruits and veggies that end up in the trash…peels, skins, cores, etc. I will also keep used coffee grounds (filter included), tea bags, and egg shells. To prevent having to run outside to the compost bin after every meal preparation, I am keeping a large bowl with a lid in the fridge. Once full, I will run it out.

I started the bottom of my compost bin with a layer (about 3 inches) of brown. I lightly watered it down with the hose, then added a layer (about 1 inch) of green material. I will continue this process until the barrel is full.

The holes and brown material in the barrel will help with the flow of air. Additionally, you will need to ‘turn’ your compost every so often. I am going to wait until my barrel is nearly full before I get too crazy about this. While the barrel is filling I will give the mixture a stir with a pitch fork every month or so. Once it is full, and by full, I mean about ¾ of the way so there’s room for movement when stirring, I will knock that barrel over and roll it around the yard every 2-3 weeks. Keep in mind that once the barrel is “full’ you will still need to keep it moist so it will require a bit of watering down every so often.

Making compost takes time. How much? I’m not sure. It depends on a lot of things – weather (i.e. heat), how small/large the materials in the pile are, the right mix of brown/green, and the list goes on and on…

I’m not in a rush because I know this first batch won’t be ready in time for spring garden compost addition anyway. That needs to happen in the next few weeks. This first round is really an experiment.

Anyone inspired to try their hand at composting? I will continue to share my journey, but would love to know if anyone else is along for the ride in making their own! Composting is so good for your garden, potted plants, planters and it is also the environment. I wouldn’t consider myself a ‘tree hugger’ but I take a lot of pride in the fact that with our recycling and composting efforts we are sending only 1, not even full, bag of trash to the landfill, weekly. Impressive, huh?


That’s All She Wrote

After the cold front that came through our area a couple of weeks ago, bringing snow and freezing temperatures, I think it’s safe to say that the garden is donezo.

I didn’t bother putting the top back on the greenhouse and a heater inside to battle this cold front. With my upcoming move, I had to face the facts and let it go. I wasn’t going to be around much longer to deal with the garden so one way or another, it was going to happen.

The garden has been reduced to this…

…an empty, open space. I cleaned out the sad looking plants and we took down the structure the weekend before my move.

I have to say that I’m pleased with the bounty from this season. I should have kept better track so I had a more accurate count to report to you but I have plenty of tomato juice, canned tomatoes, and pasta sauce in the pantry. I also ate SO MANY fresh tomatoes and gave countless away so others could enjoy as well. Additionally, I ate zucchini until I was tired of it. Same with broccoli. The green beans gave up early (I think they got a bug that did them in) but I enjoyed lots of those green fellers before they were done. I wasn’t as pleased with the pepper production this year. Sadly, all the plants had tiny peppers on the vine before the snap of freezing weather. If only they’d had another month…

What’s the status of other gardens out there? Still producing? Cut off by the cold weather? You gave up and pulled everything because you were over it?