Category Archives: Compost

Compost Veggie Stock

compost_stock_bagSeveral months ago, I started a veggie stock “compost” bag in the freezer. Instead of throwing the ends of an onion or carrot into the compost bin, I put them into the bag in the freezer. This weekend, I made the most delicious stock from the bits and ends that might have otherwise gone to waste. It was super simple to throw together and is the most delicious way to put veggie waste to use.

stock1You can add a lot of veggie bits to your freezer compost bag – just know that strong-tasting vegetables like those in the brassica family (broccoli, kale, cauliflower, etc.) may end up being an overpowering flavor in your stock. So, you may want to leave those out.

Compost Vegetable Stock

A gallon-size ziplock bag of frozen vegetable bits
1-2 cloves of fresh garlic, peeled and slightly smashed
a sprig or two of thyme
½ teaspoon salt
~ 8 cups of water

Combine all the ingredients into a large stockpot. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat. Simmer for at least an hour. Remove from the heat and cool completely before straining and transferring to clean jars or containers for storage in the freezer.

Makes about 2 quarts of stock (with head room for expansion when they freeze – about 7 cups)

Coincidentally, I discovered that King County recently launched a campaign to educate people on ways to reduce their food waste. They teamed up with PCC and made a couple of videos with simple food waste reduction tips and tricks. I am totally making an “Eat Now” box for my fridge!

Midwinter Merriment: Feed Your Soil

Here it is – a countdown til spring. From now until the first day of spring, I will post ways to make the dreary days of midwinter a little more merry.

Day 10: Feed your soil.

17_CompostBefore I go any further, I’ll admit that today’s post, which to me makes midwinter more merry, is the ultimate proof of my garden nerdiness. Only a true garden nerd gets this excited about compost. And this isn’t the first time I’ve gotten all excited about soil – it’s getting to be a thing.

17_Bunny_compostIt’s just that when it is too early to plant anything, I know that I can at least get outside and get my soil ready for go time. Most of my raised beds have been slowly preparing all winter, breaking down spent legumes and soaking in chicken manure compost. But now, with the help of June, the beds that will be planted with spring greens are getting a big dose of bunny poop, a nitrogen powerhouse! I can’t wait to see how abundant my harvests are this year!

Check out this article, which also sings the praises of using rabbit poop in the garden.

Day 11: Chicken gawking.
Day 12: Plant identification with kids.
Day 13: Plant your backyard berry patch.
Day 14: #dirtonmyiPhone
Day 15: Start seeds indoors.
Day 16: Sew a sassy garden tool belt.
Day 17: A class that keeps on giving!
Day 18: Buy yourself some flowers.
Day 19: Go to the park and play!
Day 20: Plant peas (and sign up for my free newsletter!)
Day 21: Take a gardening class.
Day 22:Plant bare root.
Day 23: Sign up for Seattle Seedling’s Spring Fling!
Day 24: Plant primroses.
Day 25: Get yourself a doughnut and make it “for here.”
Day 26: Frequent the Farmers’ Market
Day 27: Eat Root Vegetables Disguised as Cake!
Day 28: Be a Garden Show Goer.
Day 29: Drink more hot chocolate.
Day 30: Create a springtime “advent” calendar.

What Every Gardener Ought to Know About Soil

Soil is the basis for everything we do in the garden. It provides our plants with critical elements that they need to thrive: nutrients, water, air, and physical support. If you want a prolific garden and bountiful produce, it starts with the soil. Having some basic knowledge about soil under your belt can help you be the master gardener I know you are!

IMG_1308Soil 101

Consider this your soil Cliff’s Notes. You’ll be better prepared to tend to your soil if you understand what makes it so complex and important to your plants’ survival. These are some soil fundamentals all gardeners should know.

Soil has Structure

Ideally, soil is only about 50% solid material by volume – the rest is pore space, which allows your plants’ roots access to water and gives them room to grow. Like me, you’ve probably grown carrots before that were not the long, slender cylinders you were hoping for, but instead orange shorties. Right? That’s all about pore space and airy soil!

MathWarehouse-piePores

There are two kinds of pores in the soil: macro and micro. Macropores, which are created by earth worms tunneling through your rich soil, allow for the movement of water and provide drainage. Micropores help soil to hold water, which is especially helpful during warm months when it rains less frequently. A well-structured soil is like a sponge, holding water that your plants need through micropores and allowing excess water to drain out through macropores.

Soil Particles

Soil is a mixture of particles, which are different sizes:

  • sand = coarse, visible to the eye, largest of the three particles, gives the soil a gritty feel
  • silt = smaller than sand, about the size of a particle of flour
  • clay = the smallest, one particle could be seen under a microscope, usually feel very hard when dry

A loam, which is what makes the ideal garden soil because of its balance of macro and micropores, is a soil with roughly an equal mixture of each of the three types of particles. A good loam holds moisture, but allows for good drainage too! Score!

image_earth012Soil Levels (Horizons)

Soil structure builds in layers, or horizons. Topsoil is the layer closest to the surface and the lower layers below are called subsoil. The topography and climate of an area majorly influence how soil is formed. Soil structure builds slowly over time.

Soil Organisms

Most gardeners know that even though it looks like a unliving material, healthy soil is teeming with microorganisms and is very much living. It’s a good thing too because that action in the soil is what makes it possible for your plants to get the nutrients they need to survive. The thing is, nutrients in the soil that plants need are not in a form that are readily available for plants (i.e. in their soluble form) until nutrients that come from the minerals in the soil are weathered or until organic matter in the soil is broken down and those nutrients are released by helpful organisms like bacteria, fungi, and insects.

Caring For Your Precious Soil

So, as you can tell, there is a lot more to healthy soil than meets the eye. Good soil takes time to build and is the cornerstone of a productive garden. Here are three easy ways to take care of it.

Avoid Compaction (A.K.A. Don’t walk on it!)

Compaction destroys the fragile macropores that allow water to circulate and drain out of the soil. Compacted soil also makes it difficult for roots to penetrate the soil, which means they’ll have less access to the nutrients they need and will possibly be stunted in growth (think about those carrots again). You can easily avoid this by not walking on your soil. I’ve intentionally built raised beds that are just wide enough for me to reach into and work. You don’t want to squish those beneficial pores you’ve created in your soil.

Watch Out for Wet Soil

Working the soil when it is wet can damage soil structure, so it’s best to wait until a few dry days to dig. Alternatively, you can lay a tarp over the site where you plan to dig a few days before you do the work. This will both help the soil to dry out a bit and will warm up the soil, which is important for good seed germination. Also, if your soil is really wet or you notice big puddles of water in one area, it might be a sign that there is not adequate drainage in the area. You may need to come up with a plan to divert excess runoff that may be affecting your garden or use raised beds for plants that need well-draining soil, which most do.

Add Organic Matter

It is a sign of healthy soil to see earthworms squirming around in it, not just because they help aerate the soil, but also because they are helping the plants access the nutrients they need by consuming organic material and excreting (we’re talking worm poop here) water-soluble nutrients that are ready for plants to absorb. There’s nothing worms like more than rich organic material, like compost. When organic matter decomposes, it forms humus, which binds and strengthens soil particles. Organic matter for the win!

Soil nutrients, pH and fertilizer are topics for another article, but are equally important soil-related issues to consider when gardening. For more information on these topics or on soil in general, check out this link for an incredibly helpful list of resources!

Reference used for this blog post: Sustainable Gardening: The Oregon-Washington Master Gardener Handbook, October 2008
Soil horizons image from here

The Lazy Gardener: Beans

Beans are the coolest. The are a nitrogen-fixing plant, which means the plant naturally produces nitrogen, a nutrient we often add to the soil in the form of fertilizer. The way I understand it, the nitrogen the bean plants produce actually end up being used up by the plant rather than adding a ton of additional nitrogen to the soil. But it’s almost like they do since they do not really need additional nitrogen nor will they pull a lot of it from the soil, which could be used by surrounding plants.

Besides that beneficial characteristic, they seem to be pretty innocuous when it comes to disease. They don’t seem to be nearly as susceptible to detrimental diseases and pests that kill the plant and live in the soil. It was with that in mind last year that I put my bean raised bed “to bed” the lazy way, allowing me to add more nutrients to the soil as the plant broke down over the winter with hardly any work at all.

When you’ve harvested all your beans and your plants start looking like this, follow this process for a raised bed that will be ready for planting in the spring!

Cut down the bean plants and roughly cut up large stems. Leave all of the plant material covering the soil in the bed – the leaves especially!

Give it a jump start by watering the bed a bit and then cover the entire thing with burlap.

Leave it be over winter and come spring time, it will look like this:

You’ll have to remove some of the big, stringy sticks that didn’t break down, but you’ll be surprised how much decomposed.

Then, you’re done and ready to begin planting! Being lazy might not be such a bad thing after all.

* Remember, this would not be an appropriate technique to use with plants that already have some disease or are generally susceptible to soil-borne diseases and pests that could over-winter. My brassicas (broccoli, kale, cauliflower, cabbage, etc.), solenacea (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant), and cucurbits (summer and winter squash) always come out and are composted. I never leave those leaves or decaying fruit in my raised beds so as to not perpetuate disease and pests in my little farm. The general rule is that sanitation, or good garden clean-up, is one of the best ways to prevent pests and diseases in your garden. So, remember to keep that in mind!