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Posts Tagged ‘compost’

It’s hard to believe we have been in our house for more than five years. We started our garden the spring after we moved in and our raised bed frames have become a little worse for wear. The wood was splitting and cracking, and they generally looked dilapidated.

Our plan this year was to make the beds themselves a little taller, adding another layer on top. Matt suggested replacing the entire frame with new wood, and I’m glad we did. The wood we bought was 6 inches tall and then 4 feet long, and we overlapped each end to make an even square. Just the wood makes our garden beds look so much better!

Because these were so much taller than our other beds, we needed to fill them with soil. This year we decided to follow Mel’s Mix from the square foot gardening method. It was fairly expensive to get all the ingredients, but they say the mix will last for years, with a little top off of compost each year. Also, our garden is pretty big if we consider it all together — 112 square feet — and you’re supposed to fill the beds 6 inches deep. It’d probably be less expensive if the garden is smaller.

Mel’s Mix is one-third each of compost, peat moss and vermiculite. The compost (you’re supposed to have at least five different kinds to not overload on one nutrient) provides the plant nutrition and the vermiculite and peat moss help keep the soil workable and hold water.

It was quite a task to make this mix by myself — Matt was on a work trip and I needed to get plants in the ground — but I made it work!

We did end up saving the old garden boxes and are planning to use them as mini greenhouses to start the seeds I saved from last year’s plants.

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I wrote this in November and forgot to post it. But instead of re-writing it, I’ve decided to put it on the blog anyway. We haven’t been keeping up with the in-bed composting as often as we planned, mostly because we haven’t been collecting kitchen scraps and our stash of leaves is soaked from the snow. 

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A couple weeks ago we did some major fall clean up in the garden. It’s always sad to rip everything out, but what wasn’t diseased was cut up and tossed into the compost bin.

We were able to save some of the herbs and preserve them for the winter (more on that later). As I mentioned in other posts, we have lots of beautiful trees on our street. In past years, we’ve shredded them and added the leaves to our garden beds to decompose over the winter. But I recently learned many of the pests that plague our garden – most notably the cucumber beetle – overwinter in leaf debris, so we’re switching it up.

I know it will be impossible to keep all the leaves out of the garden, but I don’t want big piles on each bed, so we’re trying in-bed composting. The basic concept is digging a big hole and adding your green material (plant debris, vegetable scraps, etc.) and brown material (dried leaves, shredded paper, etc.) and burying it. The idea is it will breakdown over the winter and add nutrients directly to the beds.

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With all of the issues we had the past two summers, something had to give in our garden. In an earlier post I wrote that we’re going to switch focus from disease/pest management to creating good soil and growing conditions.

From all my research the obvious place to start was compost, commonly referred to as black gold.

So where do we begin? We needed a bin of some sort to store all the organic material because our property is a small city lot without much extra space. But after that, was it really as easy as throwing in food scraps and dried leaves? For the most part, it actually is.

Our kitchen collector is filled with everything from banana and onion peels to tea bags and vegetable scraps.

Our kitchen collector is filled with everything from banana peels and tea bags to vegetable scraps.

We’re lucky that our county offers free composting classes for beginners and has a great website to answer any questions. I attended a class last spring and walked away with a good amount of information on what makes a successful compost pile.

As an added bonus, we got a free countertop container for our kitchen scraps and a coupon to buy a discounted bin.

The basics are easy: mix nitrogen-rich material with carbon-based material and let the microbes or earthworms do the dirty work. I’ve read a few conflicting “recipes” on what ratio makes the best compost. We’ve generally been following 2:1 – two parts carbon and one part nitrogen.

Though different ingredients have different carbon or nitrogen ratios, we don’t worry about that. It’s basically one bucket of fruit or vegetable scraps to two buckets of leaves or shredded newspaper.

Nitrogen-based: grass clippings, fruit or vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, plant trimmings, etc.

Carbon-based: dried leaves, shredded paper, wood chips, etc.

So far it seems to be working. When we started our compost bin it was filled to the brim with food scraps, dead plants from the garden and shredded leaves. Now it’s roughly half the size, and more and more of it looks like finished compost.

We’re considering getting another bin to make more compost and let the other one keep cooking for the spring.

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