Archive for December, 2007

Noel’s Sense of Snow and Compost

Monday, December 17th, 2007

Compost is integral to sustainable gardening practices. It is also a great way to get rid of kitchen waste without putting stuff into the trash stream. We’ve been composting for as long as we’ve been gardening and our system now is a pretty automatic routine.

All compostable kitchen waste is stored in a 2 1/2 gallon plastic bucket under the sink. Since we don’t eat any meat at home, most of our organic scrap waste goes into the compost bucket. That includes vegetable and fruit parings, coffee grounds, and leftover and spoiled foods that are not going to be eaten.

Dumping the raw waste directly onto the compost pile is not a good idea. Vermin are attracted to the decomposing food. It’s pretty unsightly and it sometimes stinks. We’ve developed a system that works quite well for disposing of the kitchen food waste.

I obtained some 55 gallon plastic food grade barrels at no cost from a local candy manufacturer. I cut off the tops of the drums and drilled about a dozen 1/4″ holes in the bottoms to allow for drainage. I dump the 2 1/2 gallon buckets of kitchen waste into the 55 gallon bucket. About 2 or 3 times a year, when the big drum gets full, I tip it over and layer the fragrant chunks, sometimes really stinky sludge, into a new compost pile.

Dumping the partially composted barrel into the bigger, drier pile really gets the pile cooking and eventually produces the very usable and good smelling material we know as compost, which is just about the most perfect fertilizer and soil amendment I know of. I have used animal manures in my garden occasionally over the years when it has become available, but now I don’t even seek it out. I don’t think manure is necessary for small scale growers.

When I tip over a 55 gallon drum of kitchen waste in the summer, it smells as rank as any manure pit. Our house in Minnesota was next to a dairy farm that milked 118 cows. I know what manure smells like. I’m coming pretty close to producing manure without passing it though an animal’s digestive system.

A thing I find very interesting about the compost in the barrels is that in summer, when the stuff is brewing and stinking up in the top half of the barrel, or even in the milder parts of the winter when the material in top of the barrel is frozen there is red worm activity going on in the bottom couple inches of the barrel. I never introduce these red worms. They just show up from the earth below the barrel and make their way through the 1/4″ holes to start feeding off the compost. I’ve emptied barrels and found the bottom couple inches of almost composted material thick with worms. Pretty cool!

In the summer, I clean out the 2 1/2 gallon kitchen bucket with dried plant residue or sometimes big burdock leaves. When the pail is really slimy or moldy I’ll wash it out using the garden hose and a brush. But I really like winters with lots of snow. Cleaning out the plastic bucket with snow is the least messy and easiest method of getting the bucket really clean without making a mess. The snow has an abrasive and absorptive quality that is ideal for loosening and holding the gunk. A little sloshing around and the pail is clean. I love a deep snow cover. It does my garden good. The past few years have seen very little December snow, but this year it is like the good old days. Lots and lots of white stuff. Our compost bucket is spiffy clean.

Ieneke van Houten's Gravatar What about attracting BEARS? Or other varmints.
# Posted By Ieneke van Houten | 1/19/09 5:50 PM
Noel's Gravatar Ieneke, There have not been wild bears in this part of southern Wisconsin for over 100 years. The varmints we do have include raccoons, possum, rats, and mice. Even the raccoons cannot climb the slippery sides of the barrel. When I mix the barrel contents into my compost, it heats up and breaks down quickly. Ive never had a pest problem.
# Posted By Noel | 1/19/09 6:38 PM

Snowed In!

Tuesday, December 11th, 2007

Well, we promised we would get those packages out today, and by golly we did! The snow may have kept our vehicles from leaving the driveway, but we only saw that as an opportunity for a little exercise. The walk is about two miles roundtrip, so it was certainly enough to get the blood flowing. It’s just too bad I don’t have a harness for the dog — I would have had her help me pull!

The Bookie’s Dilemma

Saturday, December 1st, 2007

What do we do when the garden is put to bed and the bountiful harvest is preserved? Besides savoring our “local” veggies all winter long we talk about food. I have been reading cookbooks and food-related articles for the past 37+ years — ever since my brother-in-law announced he was a vegetarian. We’ve belonged to food co-ops for over 33 years and at one point even provided our house as a ‘divide and distribute’ point. We now do most of our grocery shopping at Willy St. Coop in Madison, WI, one of the best co-ops in the country.

So when our local Cambridge Evening Book Club put The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan on their reading list I jumped at the chance to have a food discussion. I’ve long felt that people don’t know enough about where their food is coming from and what’s in it or not in it.

We had quite the lively discussion about food in general. It was a very thought provoking book about farming practices and food gathering and we found it very enjoyable to read. Non-fiction books can be full of interesting facts but not always very readable.

After reading the book, at least two or three of the omnivores in attendance began checking for local farms from which to buy their grass fed beef or free range chickens. One of the vegetarians has been trying to work with the local schools to get them to offer healthier lunch choices. The consensus of all was that it costs more to eat ‘healthy’ – no surprise here – and it takes more time to shop.

All of this discussion on food led to the list of the ‘dirty dozen’ – a compilation of the fruits and vegetables with the highest level of toxins or most pesticide residues. I can’t remember if this was mentioned in the book or not, but this book group lets our discussion topics go where they may. If you want to start incorporating the higher priced organic fruits and vegetables into your already stretched budget at least start with the ones from this list – or grow your own.

We topped off the evening with an apple walnut crisp made with organic apples from a friend. Oh, and one of the appetizers included dried tomato pesto using a recipe from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver …..but that’s another story.