Thursday, February 24, 2011

Wisdom teeth - after

Well it took longer for the laughing gas to take effect than to do the actual tooth removal.  The most painful part, so far, was getting the novocaine shots.  Total time in the dentist chair was just under an hour.  I was a bit nervous going into the procedure so I took my Ipod and a sleeping eye mask.  Both helped me relax and manage my anxiety during the procedure. Everything went fine and hopefully the recovery will be without problems.

Now I am going to lie down on the couch and read.  I'm reading Michael Pollan's The Botany of Desire.

Wisdom Teeth

So today I get my wisdom teeth taken out.  If I don't post for a few days, that is probably why.  They say you should not do vigorous exercise for several days after the procedure, so that means no turning the compost, or hunting for wild pigs.  Wish me luck.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Where to get ingredients for compost for not a lot of money

A comment on the "Compost" post I made a few days ago made me realize that not everyone can or wants to go around picking up yard waste to add to their compost pile.  So I will list several sources of cheep or free compost materials that most people will have access to.  For those who don't know the importance of compost, let me give you a few reasons.  Adding organic matter into the soil supplies more nutrients to plants without resorting to chemical fertilizers.  That same organic matter encourages biological  diversity in the soil. Earth worms to break down the organic matter, aerate the soil, and increase the capacity for holding water.  There are several other beneficial organisms that can help control pest and promote healthy plants. Compost, when brought in from many sources, add to and balance the trace minerals in the soil.  Trace minerals are a small but important part of cell activity in plants, animals, and humans.  While some farms or areas might be lacking in some others might have the same mineral in abundance, but be lacking another.  By gathering your compost ingredients from a wide range of sources you tend to balance the levels of minerals in your own soil.  Having enough of these can make your plants grow faster, be sweeter, and more nutritionally available.  There are about two dozen widely available minerals that you can buy mixed as a supplement, but those are just the ones science has decided are important.  There are between 50 and 200 trace minerals depending on who you ask. a cheep source of this is rock dust.  Most places that make gravel or other crushed rock products have lots of rock dust that is not useable.  While they might not give it to you you can usually purchase some for very little money.
Back to compost most people will tell you to shoot for 1 part nitrogen to 2-5 parts carbon.  I don't know what works the best and in different areas a different ratio might work better than others.  So instead use your nose, If your compost pile does not smell and is getting hot in the middle then you have a good mix of greens and browns.  If it does not smell, but you are not getting heat, then you might need more nitrogen rich ingredients or you may not have reached a critical mass.

Leaves, carbon, help a friend or neighbor rake leaves in exchange for leaves.  If your landscaper has leaves from other property ask that he bring you some.

Most cities will let you pick up yard waste, grass (nitrogen) and Leaves (carbon) from the city dumpsite, they are usually free or only a small fee.  Sometimes the compost pile is large enough that it is already finished compost. There is also wood chips, carbon, at these sites from limbs and trees that people discard.  They break down more slowly than leaves and grass in a compost pile, but they are carbon rich if you have too much nitrogen compost in your pile.  They are also an inexpensive mulch for flower beds and shrubs.  It is the same thing that you pat $10 a bag for, but it does not have the dye to make it red or black.

Pine straw, carbon, is slow to break down but can be added to your compost pile.  Many people will tell you that it will make your soil acidic, but this is not true when it is composted with several other ingredients.

 If you need more compost or fertilizer go to a local horse farm and ask for manure.  Green or fresh manure, nitrogen, is a good fertilizer and many farms have piles that have been there for years and is already composted, no smell other than that of rich black dirt. Why pay $4 per cubic foot for composted manure when many farms will give it to you to haul away?  Bagging and selling is only worth while if you have a large enough operation.

Another free farm option is spoiled hay, carbon.  This is hay that has gotten wet or moldy and can not be fed to livestock.  Many times if a farm has some they will be happy to have you haul it away.

While it does cost money, Peat moss is an organic carbon source that you can add to your compost pile.

Sawdust (carbon), never from treated wood, can be picked up for free from many sawmills, cabinet/mill work shops, or furniture manufacturers.

Straw, bales made from the leftover stalks of grains, are usually $3-5 per bale, and a great source of carbon if you have too much nitrogen in your compost pile.

Grass clippings, nitrogen, If you use a bagged mower, just add this to your compost pile.  If not city dumps are a source and another is landscapers who often have to pay to dump clippings so ask if they will give you a load and most will bring it by and cary it to your compost pile for you.

Corn cobs (chopped), carbon, If you know someone who grows corn for feeding to livestock ask for the cobs after the corn has been removed.
Corn Stalks, carbon, are another good source of brown material to add.  Just remember to chop them up with your lawn mower so that they will break down quicker.

Seaweed/Kelp, nitrogen and lots of trace minerals, If you live near the coast most states will let you harvest what washes up onto the beach.  Check the local statutes before doing this one though.

Wood Ashes, potassium, if you burn a wood stove, fire pit, camp fire, or a BBQ with lump charcoal (you are using a chimney starter and not lighter fluid aren't you?) just take the left over ashes and sprinkle them onto your compost pile.

Pruning and garden waste, varied, when you prune your flowers, shrubs, and trees or pull up a plant out of your garden don't throw it out, add it to your compost pile.  Now the woody stuff might need to be run thru a chipper before it is small enough to break down in a reasonable amount of time, but a chipper is a good investment anyway.

Two things that can really help with a compost pile, and yard work in general, are a pitch fork and a wheel barrel. The pitch fork makes it much easier to lift, move, mix, and turn a compost pile.  Use one once and you will never want to use your shovel for it again.  A good one will cost about $40 new, at least in Georgia, but if you cant afford it or don't want to buy another tool then a shovel works just fine.  The wheel barrel is great for moving stuff around your yard; bags to the compost pile, manure, compost, plants, soil, rock dust, mulch, and many other uses.  It is also handy to have when doing home repairs.  Good Luck and good composting.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Has Spring Sprung?

Has spring sprung?  Probably not yet, but it is close.  We have not used our heater in a couple of days, but it has remained comfortable in the house.  The false citrus bush/tree in my back yard and perfuming the air with a wonderful sweet citrusy aroma.  If you have never smelled one of these they are wonderful plants.  It is an evergreen that blooms in spring and fall and has one of the most fragrant and sweet smelling blooms that I have ever experienced.

Just today the camellia bush in my front yard has gone into full bloom!  These are usually one of the first plants to bloom in late winter, but still it means new life for the spring.

Now I fully expect blackberry winter to set in sometime in the next few weeks, but that one cold snap should be the last of our cold weather.  For those who don't know blackberry winter is where the weather warms for a few weeks, then the temperatures turn cold for 4-10 days before spring fully takes hold.  In the fall when the opposite happens it is called Indian summer.  My thermometer, which is on the north side of our house in full shade, reads 78* this afternoon.  Whether spring has sprung or not, I am loving this weather.

Monday, February 21, 2011


While picking spinach out of the greenhouse today I noticed 2 strawberries already.  This is a plant I bought at the end of last season because it had several runners and I thought I could get it to multiply.  I now have about a dozen plants with some sending out runners, and some fruiting.

Onion dropped onto the floor

So the other day I dropped 1/2 an onion onto the floor, which was dirty at the moment.  So instead of tossing it into the compost bucket, I decided to try planting it in my green house.  So far there are two sets of greens coming out of the onion.  I will try to remember to keep you updated on how it goes.  You can see some "young" onions planted near this one.  Those are ones I bought last year, that never did anything besides produce the greenery that you see right now.  So I decided to dig them up and plant them in the softer and richer soil in my raised bed/green house.

Edit:  See this onion bloom in late April.  


Last year, I built a compost pile out of leaves, stuff I pruned out of the flours and shrubs, garden waste, kitchen waste, etc.  While it did produce some compost, enough to help fill my raised planter/green house, it did not do a great job.  I think I didn't have enough green matter and I never reached a critical mass.  This year will be different.  I have been picking up bagged yard waste to add to my compost pile and I have been turning it regularly.  Now I know bagged yard waste does produce some concern when it comes to pesticides and other chemicals, but I think I have limited the risk.  I never pick up from yards that have signs warning that they have been sprayed, and I picked up most of it during winter.  Most homes don't fertilize or spray during winter.  There are two kinds of bags, ones filled with leaves and ones filled with trimmings from a bagged mower.  The ones from the bagged mower contain some grass clippings and some leaves, about 2-3 parts leaves to 1 part grass.  These I add directly to my compost pile.  The ones with just leaves go to mulch around trees and shrubs mostly.  Some do get added to the compost pile, but not before they have been run over by my push mower a few times and mixed with straw bales that have been chopped by the mower too.

As you can see by the size of my compost pile it has absolutely exceeded  the critical mass point, usually seen as 1 cubic yard (3'x3'x3').  I have 6 pallets placed in the corner of the yard against a chain link fence.  At least once a week I turn half the pile and add a few more bags of yard clippings.  As of this morning the temperature inside the pile was over 140*.  I hope to use this compost in 6-8 weeks to build some lasagna gardening beds.

Tips:  Check bags for pine cones, sweet gum balls, and magnolia leaves or seed pods.  These do not go well in a compost bed, but may be found in yard waste.

Starting seeds in my green house.

Our weather has been great, lows in the 40-50* range and highs from the mid 60's to 80*.  So I decided to start some seeds for the garden.  Our last frost date is April 14, about 7 weeks away, and usually April 1 is safe.  I checked the ground temperature this morning and it is already 54 degrees!

I don't need many of most plants, and I hate to buy the little 6 or 9 packs knowing I only need 2 or 3 plants.  So what I did is save those 9 pack trays and start my own seeds.  To keep track of what is where I decided to number each tray.

I used the side I numbered to orient a grid of 1 thru 9.  Then I wrote down what I planted in each tray.  For the most part I planted 3 of each type of plant, except the last tray where I planted ones and two's.

Before I planted the seeds I took some old pots with a vermiculite mix and mixed the soil with some peat moss in a bucket.  Then I filled the trays full, wet the soil, and gently packed the soil down.  Then just to make sure the soil was fully wet I let the trays sit in 1/2" of water for 15 minutes.  When I brought them into the house the soil was moist, but not wet.  I used a sharpened pencil to make holes for those seeds that needed to be buried.

I have had limited success in starting seeds before.  My problem seems to be that I am planting too many types in one container, a zucchini will hit the top of the tray's plastic lid before some other seeds are up.  The leaves of the zucchini then start to die because they are wet, or if you open the top the other seeds dry out and don't do well.  So instead of placing the trays under a tray cover, I placed them in my green house.  This is not a big expensive green house, just the opposite in fact.   I had a raised bed that I screwed tomato stakes to, then I covered it with clear plastic.  That simple.

Ok, maybe not.  My cat keeps jumping on top of it and poking holes in the plastic, and I have to cut a hole in the side to access anything.

It does not look good, but the stuff it has grown for us this winter has been great.

The cabbage, garlic, strawberries, butter lettuce, and spinach have done the best.  I also recently transfered some parsley, cilantro, onions, and carrots in there too.  There is also rose mary, and some pineapple tops that I rooted.  Not bad considering I spent less than $20 to build it.

I put the seed trays where I have harvested the lettuce and some of the cabbage.  Hopefully, in a few weeks I will be transplanting lots of great stuff; Sage, Thyme, Lavender, Lemon Basil, Lemon Balm, Flat leaf Parsley, Rosemary (a different variety than what I already have), Bush Spicy Globe Basil, Genovese Basil (*H), Butter Lettuce, Sungold Select II Tomato (*H), Ground Cherry or strawberry husk tomato (*H), Purple Tomatillo (*H), Arkansas Traveler Tomato (*H), Money Maker Tomato (*H), Cherokee Purple tomato (*H), Cayenne Peppers long thin (*H), Serrano Tampequino peppers (*H), Red marconi peppers (*H), German green tomato (*H), Great white tomato (*H), Pineapple tomato (*H), and chives.

All of the heirloom seeds came from Baker Creek Seed Company in their large souther seed package.  The package has 25 types of plants and 60 total varieties of heirloom seeds for only $102 shipped!  I went thru their magazine and marked what i "wanted" and then decided that I wanted more than I could afford or had the room to plant.  So I decided on one of their packages that come in a metal tin for storage and let them pick which 60 types to send me.  About 35-40 of the 60 packs were ones that I marked in their magazine.

(*H) - The *H stands for an Heirloom variety.