Archive for January, 2008

A new house, a new compost pile

Monday, January 14th, 2008

This morning the lid on the compost bucket in the kitchen would no longer close, so it was time to make the first compost pile at my new home.

Unlike my dad, Noel, I prefer to build my compost in layers first with materials high in carbon, then a nitrogen layer, followed by a cap of soil, repeating the process until the pile gets to be three to four feet high. I have to mention here that I learned a large part of what I know about composting from my gardening mentor, Bruce Blevins.

I layer in soil for two reasons: both to inoculate the pile with the micro-organisms already existing in the soil and also to prevent odor and keep out potential flies and critters, the latter being critical in my Austin city lot.

I get the soil by excavating the area where I am going to build the pile down three to four inches and creating a pile of soil next to the compost pile so that it will be available as I need it.

I also loosen up the ground beneath the pile with a digging fork to allow better soil-compost contact.

Next I add several inches of carbonaceous materials. I love to use straw for the structure that it give the pile, but given that I am not on a farm and have three mature pecan trees in my backyard, leaves it will be. As I pack down the leaves, I try to make sure that the pile maintains a defined, rectangular shape. A well constructed, free-standing compost pile can be an object of great beauty in the garden and does not need to be hidden.

On top of the leaves I add the kitchen scraps. Here I would also add green weeds, lawn clippings or manure if I had them but since I don’t this layer will be a little light on the nitrogenous material. Ideally it would be about half as thick as the carbonaceous layer.

Finally, I cap off the pile with a layer of soil just thick enough to cover the kitchen scraps and then start the process over with more leaves. Austin has been dry for the last few weeks, so I also need to add a little water.

This pile will not be ready for several months, but luckily I have large bucket of worm castings generated over the last year to tide me over for a while.

Shallot: a type of onion with long, pointed, pear-shaped, aggregated bulbs.

Friday, January 4th, 2008

I say shal-uht, he says shuh-lot. When Geoff started talking about shuh-lots one day I crinkled my eyebrows. Isn’t that what mothers do when they’re perplexed? I wasn’t really perplexed but I had always said shal-uhts. So when I decided to write about our garden shallots I figured I should check out the pronunciation and definition. It seems that both pronunciations are correct. Most online dictionary sources indicate shal-uht as the first choice but according to “The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations: The Complete Opinionated” By Charles Harrington Elster, shuh-lot was the only acceptable choice until the mid 20th century.

So there you have it, either way shallots are a wonderful addition to the larder, an alternative medicine in food (so I’ve read in my research) as well as a fantastic keeper! I don’t know if I should admit this but I’m still using shallots from the 2006 season (pictured above). In fact I used one today in the corn bread along with some frozen corn from this year’s crop. Granted, the shallots haven’t all survived – some have gone poof in the night (dried up to powder inside) and some have gone moldy but the one I used today was very firm with barely a tiny sprout in the center. They’ve been stored in a mesh onion bag in a kitchen cupboard.

Shallots are definitely worth growing, they’re tiny but mighty. If you already grow onions just add a little patch of shallots. If you don’t have the room for onions, shallots might just fill the bill.