Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy Solstice

My houseplant tomato is now the size of a golf ball & starting to become too heavy for the plant itself. I might have to rig up some sort of support system for the next few weeks as I wait for it to ripen. At least I hope it ripens on the vine! Would be a wonderful way to bring in the New Year!

It's also that time of year to start checking out all those seed catalogues that have been making their way through the chaos of cards & packages. I have 3 - somewhere around here! - just waiting for me to start dreaming & drooling & coming up with some fantastical plans for the gardens in 2012. I can't wait to see what new things are being offered!

Happy Solstice!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Getting Dirty Under the Finger Nails

 Today I decided it was time to empty the compost tumbler in preparation of a winter/spring batch of compost. The tumbler has proven to be very effective in composting our daily veggie, fruit & coffee/tea contributions, but it does require regular turning (of the crank handle) & occasional periods where we need to stop adding in order for it to compost down fully.

They do make these contraptions with 2 bins so that you can stop adding to one & start up another - wish I had known about that when I first invested in this device!

When I opened the lid, it was steamy & smelled rich, sweet & full of great growing goodness. I knew the steam was a bit deceiving - the thermometer I stuck in said the compost was only about 5 degrees Celsius - the same temperature of the soil in my greenhouse.

Unfortunately, the compost is rather water-logged; when I turned the handle to get the door in the proper position, all this wonderful compost tea started gushing out the air vents!! What a waste to have to let it just drain out & down the yard. Now this liquid is the stuff that smells rather strong - more like rotten vegetation & it's very thick. In the summer I will collect any that I can, water it down & use it to fertilize the gardens. But at this time of year, it's not necessary, nor a rather good thing to spread around. It doesn't do the dormant plants any good & just smells up the yard, inviting possible nimble fingered raccoons to come investigate. (I don't want to think bears...) I've left buckets of the compost tea sitting around the yard in 'strategic' places when it's super-smelly & find that it keeps the deer away for a while.

As you can see, not everything in here is fully composted & broken down. There are still the stems from the tomato plants I crammed in here in mid October & it looks like the trim job I did on my Christmas cactus are still green. The egg shells take a long time to disappear & probably would go quicker if I crushed them up before adding them.

Come spring when I add this to the gardens, I will pass most of it through a screen (sturdy wire attached to a frame) to break up the clumps & egg shells & hold back the stems & other large pieces that need more time to decompose. Those I just throw back into the composter.

There is enough room under the composter for me to put my wheelbarrow, but it the fit isn't perfect & most times clumps fall out & miss the wheelbarrow. I've tried using a spade to 'dig' out the compost, but unless someone is standing there holding the handle so the tumbler doesn't move, it takes a bit more effort.

This year I just dove in with my hands & hauled out hand fulls of the stuff to dump into some totes. It was such a nice, sunny day today that I didn't mind having the stuff splatter all over my pants, my shirt & when I reached into the tumbler - up to my shoulders, there were drips landing on my head & in my hair!

There are times when getting dirty & smelly are great!

I also got to see if there were clumps that weren't decomposing nicely & could break them up a bit. So now I have 3 totes that are about 3/4 full of slightly soggy compost. 2 will live covered outside & the 3rd is in the greenhouse. I will check on them through-out the winter to see if they are still decomposing, getting too wet & if I'm able, I'll add some shredded paper & try to mix it in. This time I didn't see too many worms - it might be that they were hiding really well in the clumps due to the chilly weather, or else I don't have as many in the composter as I did last year. I always leave a bucket-full of compost in the tumbler to help with the new material I will be adding throughout the winter - there are great microbes & bacteria & other critters in the old compost that will multiply & contribute to the new batch.

I wish more people would feel comfortable with composting their kitchen scrapes & grow their own soil!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Mystery Volunteer - final

Last night I decided it was time to eat the mystery squash.

Looks like the volunteer plant that grew from a seed in my compost that I spread on the gardens this spring was an acorn squash - possibly mixed with some of the other squash that were flowering at the same time.

Dish: squash soup with pears & Ethiopian berbere seasoning. Wonderful winter food!

The seeds went into the compost & I wonder what will pop up next year when I spread out the compost!