Thursday, September 11, 2014

(Compost) Tea Time

I’m thinking about making compost tea. I like tea and I like compost so it seems like a natural next step. Compost tea helps make the benefits of your compost stretch farther in your garden (yay), provides soluble nitrogen and beneficial microorganisms to your plants immediately (yay), and it seems very easy to do (double yay).

So I steeped myself in compost tea videos and compost tea articles. Lots of great information out there but with one problem  there are as many different ways to make compost tea as there are flavors of Celestial Seasonings (that’s a lot for you non-tea drinkers).

In lieu of how-to, step by step instructions, I’ve prepared a piping-hot list of the most common tips to consider when making compost tea:

1. Use de-chlorinated water. Set your bucket of water out for at least a few hours before adding the compost.

2. Add compost. Vermi-compost is best but you can use regular compost as well. You will want a good shovel-full for a five gallon bucket.

3. Only use sweet-smelling finished compost.

4. Stir in about 2 tablespoons of molasses (a spoon full of sugar helps the bacteria grow, the bacteria grow-oh…)

5. Aerate. Either stir it occasionally or buy an aerator to get it nice and frothy.

Oh, and the best tip of all, don't drink compost tea. Even with two tablespoons of molasses, it will still taste like dirt, literally.
Most sites I looked at said to give it 24 hours and then use it on the plants. One video had the great idea of using an old pair of pantyhose to hold the compost in the water like a tea bag. Another explained in detail how you should use a garden stake to create a whirlpool vortex to stir the compost tea every twenty minutes.

I couldn’t find one video I really loved, so I would recommend you peruse and choose your own method.

Well, let’s get this par-tea started! Is anyone going to try making compost tea with me?

I pity the fool who doesn't enjoy compost tea.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Location, Location, Location

Guest post from Belinda Bankes Frykman

Several years ago I decided to venture out and start backyard composting. My backyard is rather small and I wanted to make sure to keep any furry friends out of the compost, so purchased a compost bin. I cleared out a level space behind my detached garage that was discrete and protected from winter wind. I kept a pathway through the small wooded area next to the bin maintained so I could get to the bin. The first year or so, it worked well. I didn’t have a lot of material to put in the bin, but felt good not wasting what scraps I did have.

Then, as does happen, I got busy. I started clearing the path less often, didn’t take scraps out to the bin nearly enough and my kitchen collector got really gross. Like furry mold and maggot-filled gross. (I kind of forgot I sat it on the steps next to the back door.) I tossed the putrid kitchen collector and vowed to start fresh in the spring.

Only spiders can access this compost bin!
This spring brought lots of beautiful new growth in the wooded area behind my garage. My postage stamp-sized yard became my own little slice of heaven. The problem was, my compost bin was also surrounded by lush greenery, literally. There were several vines wrapped around the bin and access to the little door on the side was impossible. Not that I needed to harvest the compost—after neglecting it for over two years, there wasn’t much going on in there. It was basically a spider hotel. Behind the garage is a great location for a spider hotel, but not for an accessible compost bin.

So last weekend, I grabbed my garden gloves and pruning shears, and got to work. I cut the vines from around the bin, pulled back the ground cover, trimmed honeysuckle branches out of the way, and carefully avoided the poison ivy. The thick ground cover didn’t give me easy access to the plastic screws that secure the bin to the earth, but I kept trimming until I found them. Once the screws were removed, the bin lifted easily. I rinsed the spiders off from the inner walls (sorry guys) and scouted out a new location for my cleaned-up bin.

Two 8 oz. glasses of juice produce all these scraps!
After years of neglect, my compost bin deserved a good location for it’s new home: shaded, level, somewhat protected from wind. And this time around, I wanted to make sure it wouldn’t get swallowed up by my little slice of heaven. More than anything, I wanted easy access to my bin. I’m making my own vegetable and fruit juices, which tend to have a decent amount of unusable scraps, and I just can’t send all those colorful scraps off to waste in the landfill!

It's super easy taking scraps out to my compost bin now!
I chose a spot close to the edge of my property line, near my green space, but not in it! I can see the bin from my kitchen window—a good reminder to use it. And now the bin is only a few yards from my back door. No more hacking through a small wilderness just to drop a few rotten berries into the bin! I know my compost will be happier and healthier in its new location. And so will I—now that I can juice with abandon and not feel guilty generating a mound of unusable scraps every day. My compost bin will certainly welcome all the vegetable and fruit scraps I have to give…along with other yard and food scraps, of course.

Now I’m off to the farmers market to gather the ingredients for my next delicious juice creation. Cheers!
Delicious and nutritious!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

How Composting Helps Fight Food Waste

I’m Megan and I’m a food waste fighter. I hate wasting food. Hate it. It breaks my heart to see food that was once perfectly good, get trashed. And it’s not only the food – all the resources it took to grow, water, transport that food was wasted too. I know, I know, this is a blog about composting, not food or waste reduction or anything else. But for me, composting and food waste go hand-in-hand.

Once I started composting, I really began to pay attention to my food waste. All those moldy and slimy fruits and vegetables past their prime were there, staring at me from the compost collector. I just can’t bear it.

I’ve learned to pay attention to my fruit bowl and crisper drawer. I’m using up odds and ends for salads and casseroles. Anything that’s really starting to go gets tossed in the freezer for use in soups or smoothies. Food waste 0. Megan 1.

Most of you smart readers are already doing this though, right? Well, here’s my favorite way to avoid food waste and also add material to my compost pile.

Vegetable stock.

Plain and simple.

Here’s what I do:

  1. Save all the odds and ends from veggies such as onion and garlic peels, ends of carrots and celery, mushroom stems, parsley stems, etc. Keep them in the freezer until you have enough to fill a pot. 
  2. Put your vegetable scraps in a pot and fill with water. Add a bay leaf and some salt and pepper if you’re feeling saucy. 
  3. Bring to a boil and then let simmer for about an hour. 
  4. Strain.
  5. See all the vegetable mush left in the strainer? Add it to your compost pile!

Food waste 0. Megan 100 million. Victory!

Vegetable scraps make some delicious stock to use in soups and stews, but also add nitrogen to my compost pile to keep it balanced. Once it breaks down, I add the finished compost to my vegetable garden. Those vegetables eventually end up in the stock pot and then … you guessed it – more material for my compost pile!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Why I Like Composting Better Than Gardening

Don’t get me wrong, I like gardening but, honestly, composting is my true love. Why? Here’s my top four reasons I prefer composting over gardening:

1. Composting Requires Less Time

Even in my small yard, I always feel like there is more work to be done. Weeds popping up, beds to mulch, landscaping to plan. My compost bin is relatively simple. I put stuff in, do as much “work” as I want with it, and out comes my beautiful finished compost.

2. Composting is So Productive

If you consider the small footprint of a compost bin compared to the rest of your yard, the compost harvest outperforms the harvest of tomatoes, peppers, and raspberries. And it is arguable just as beautiful.

3. My Compost Bin is Forgiving

I can be lazy with my compost and he forgives me. If I neglect my garden it starts to resemble a jungle or a parched desert depending on how much rain falls.

4. Composting Makes Me Feel Like a Rebel

This one is hard to explain. I can’t help but feel like an old lady as I plant petunias in my window boxes. Gardening is a pastime of responsible people. Composting makes me feel like I’m cheating the system. Down with the establishment! I’m going to keep my food scraps and make something awesome!

I know they are interconnected. My compost pile adds to the garden and the garden, in turn, gives back to my compost (cue “Circle of Life” soundtrack).  

Somehow I am more proud of my compost than I am of my garden. That black box full of rotting banana peels and dead plants holds a special place in my heart. J

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Waste Not, Want Not and Other Old Sayings that Helped Me Compost.

Hi, I’m Cher – Michelle’s guest blogger for today. I grew up in the country, and my family never raked leaves unless we wanted a pile to jump in. In 1993, I purchased a home on a residential street in North College Hill and after watching my neighbors dutifully rake all their fall leaves, I followed suit. 

But raking wasn’t the only problem. At the time, North College Hill had a pay as you throw waste program. There was no extra charge to recycle, but you had to purchase stickers for every garbage can you put to the curb. I was house-poor, but knew I couldn’t put leaves in the recycling bin. So I called the thriftiest person I knew, my grandfather (“Peepaw”), for advice. 

Gordon Maham "Peepaw" with a giant turnip
Peepaw’s favorite saying was “a penny saved is a penny earned.” He was a smart man and an avid gardener and told me to just make a pile in my backyard where the leaves can decompose instead of paying to throw them away. He said in a couple of years I could dig up the compost to use in my garden, which went right along with another of his favorite sayings, “waste not, want not.” 

I got right to work wheelbarrowing all my leaves to an appropriate place in my back yard, because Peepaw said, “when a task is once begun never leave it till it’s done” (I always hated that saying). I could have turned , watered, and balanced my carbon rich leaves with some nitrogen rich material to speed up the decomposition process. But I remembered my Peepaw always saying “let’s simplify more,” so I just left my pile alone to do its thing in its own time.

A couple of years later, I removed overgrown bushes that had been planted decades ago.  The soil was almost completely clay, so I mixed wheelbarrows full of my leaf mold compost. It added nutrients, improved the soil’s structure, and increased water retention before I planted some beautiful flowers and hostas.
I saved thousands of pennies by avoiding landfill costs and not having to buy top soil or compost, produced no waste, and best of all, it was really simple. 

Can you think of any other old time saying that relates to composting?

“Be a Peaceful Planet Person” -Gordon Maham

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Confessions of a Lazy Composter

Guest Post from Nate Stroup

I, like you folks reading this blog, think composting is a worthwhile endeavor with plenty of benefits.  Because of this, I have all of the “necessary” tools to compost:
  • Two black plastic composters behind my garage, near the vegetable gardens, where the compost gets used the most.
  • White ceramic compost crock to hold the kitchen scraps.
  • Compost turner – long handled tool to keep everything aerated and working in the composters.

This must mean that I always keep on top of my composting, right?  Wrong. 
Actually using the tools to get the composting done would help. I confess to being a lazy composter. Someone who just keeps filling the crock and not emptying it until it is overflowing.  I don’t always bury my food scraps.  I don’t work the compost enough to get the heat going.   The good news is, even when I’m lazy my compost pile is still hard at work.

Years ago, I was taking the compost crock out back and while going down the stairs, the lid fell off on the walkway and shattered. Well, my laziness got the best of me and it took me a few months to buy a new crock.  In the meantime my kitchen composting was relegated to when I felt committed enough to take scraps to the composter immediately (a.k.a. when the weather was nice and I wanted to go outside). 
And yet, my compost pile was still out there, decomposing without my help.

Once I bought another crock, it was smooth sailing for a while, until- OOPS- my son made the same mistake causing yet another hiatus in our food-scrap composting. New house rule: we no longer keep the lid on when we move the compost crock off the counter. 
And still my pile composts on.

Careful guys, don't drop that crock!
And just when you thought we solved our compost crock drama, a new problem arose:  the filters from my compost crock ran out.  These round filters do a great job of keeping fruit flies from finding their way into the full crock and keep odors from making their way out. So, I buy the filters online but I also do many other “important” things online, like update Facebook, check my fantasy football team, and search for videos of funny dogs.
Guess how long it took to buy new filters for the crock – a year!  That’s right, a whole year of depriving my composters of valuable materials to make wonderful soil additives. But my composters are still there, patiently waiting for more food scraps and working on what little I do give them.

Well, seeing these blog entries in my inbox enough times reminded me that I really needed to order the filters (with some help from my wife, who was ordering other garden supplies).  I am happy to say that we are back in business, making compost for our gardens and diverting some waste from the landfill.

Whew!  I feel much better having confessed that for the entire internet to read.  So don’t feel bad if you get off track.  Forgive yourself, find the system that works best for you, and you will again see the benefits of composting!

Now, if I could just remember to use that compost turner to get all that stuff heating up a little quicker…

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Composting Canines

Guest post from Joy Landry.

I confess. I was one of those people who was hesitant to compost. My head was full of what ifs: What if it’s smelly? What if it doesn’t actually decompose? What if my neighbors find the compost pile unsightly? What if the compost attracts wildlife?

I wasn’t too concerned about wildlife pillaging my new compost pile as my two intrepid golden retrievers had chased all the birds, squirrels and rabbits from my yard.

The one “what if” I didn’t really consider was what if my dogs get into the compost?

I thought I had that covered. I used a four-foot high plastic coated chicken wire to construct my compost pile in the corner of the backyard. Historically, my goldens respect barriers – even the two-foot baby gate they could easily vault to get into the guest bedroom. So for the first few years, I had no problems. Although they would often escort me to the compost pile, noses in the air, checking out what I was throwing away, Rocket and Duke generally ignored the compost pile. Chasing wayward squirrels or running the fence-line with the neighbor’s boxer was more fun.

One lazy summer afternoon, I carried the reusable compost container filled with chopped up cantaloupe shell and unceremoniously threw it atop the compost pile. I was in a hurry and neglected to cover, much less bury, the discarded fruit. Gravity had its way and slowly, some of the cantaloupe slid to the bottom of the pile, landing tantalizingly along the inside of the compost fencing.

Later that evening, when the dogs uncharacteristically didn’t come running with their floppy ears flying when I called, I took a stroll to the backyard to see what kept them.

There was Duke, craning his long skinny neck, muzzle shoved through the wire, desperately and yet happily licking at a chunk of grass-covered cantaloupe shell. Rocket pranced nearby, tail wagging, impatiently waiting his turn.

If you are a composting dog owner, you should know that compost can be poisonous to your canine companion so it is best not to tempt them with fresh, unburied treats such as apple cores, banana peels and cantaloupe shells. For your dog’s health, and to discourage wildlife from visiting your compost pile, be sure to completely cover your food scraps. You may wish to save a bag of fall leaves for just that purpose.

How do you keep pets out of your compost bin?
Mmmm, is that melon I smell?