Saturday, February 28, 2009

Compost Central

Though flowers and vegetables often get the limelight, the real heart of the organic garden is the place where compost is created. Our composting site is somewhat hidden, and certainly doesn't get much glory....but it plays a very important role in the overall health of the garden.

Our compost spot is about 50 yards from our front door...far enough away for its sights and smells not to be distracting, but near enough for frequent trips to deposit vegetable scraps and garden waste. It is located behind our chicken coop, which we aren't using currently except for storage. (That could change this year, as we are considering having laying hens again.)

A close up of the two Earth Machine composters. These were in my daughter and son-in-law's back yard, and since they weren't being used, I volunteered to use them. :-) This is where kitchen scraps go..... layered with shredded leaves, which are stored in the covered garbage can on the left. I rarely turn the material in these, maybe once in the Spring. I can pick them up, move them and fork the contents back in. It takes a year or more for finished compost in these, but it is very rich from all the vegetable matter.

I bought a recycled plastic compost ring at a yard sale a few years ago and liked it so well, I added these two updated GeoBins last year. The first one is still in the chicken yard, but will be set up next to these two after I harvest the finished compost this Spring. They are lightweight, but sturdy enough to hold lots of material, and though they are perforated for air flow, they still maintain good moisture content. You simply lift and set up in a new location, and turn your material back into the bin. I try to do this a few times a year, in order to help aerate the compost for faster decomposing. My plan for the three bins is to put the rough material in bin one, then transfer to bin two as it breaks down some, with the third bin used to finish the compost.

In spring and summer I use mostly straw or saved leaves for carbon material and grass for nitrogen, but in the fall when there is no longer grass available to heat up the piles, I use these Alfalfa pellets for their nitrogen content. They are cheap, and available at most Feed stores. Another good addition, that helps get things cooking is coffee grounds, saved in a 5 gallon bucket for us by our local Espresso shop....they call us when the bucket is full and we pick it up and bring them a new bucket. Worms love coffee grounds! It attracts them to the pile, where they help aerate and add their rich castings to the mix, and when I put the compost on my garden beds, the worms go, too. I alternate layers of dry garden waste or leaves, alfalfa pellets, more garden waste, then coffee grounds, and so on...repeating the layers. When I turn a partially broken down pile I add pellets and coffee grounds to help get it working again, and then leave it to sit over the winter.

This post wouldn't be complete without featuring my new favorite garden tool, the Flowtron Leaf Eater/Ultimate Mulcher which I got last Fall. It does a great job of shredding leaves, as long as you change the strings when they wear down. (And, I might is ever so much more convenient than having to shred leaves by running them over with the lawn mower, as I did previously.) I save some of the shredded leaves in large lawn bags, stored in a dry place, to use for compost. The rest go onto my garden beds to cover them for the winter. I push the leaves aside when I'm ready to plant in the spring, in order to let the soil warm up, but use the shredded leaves again as mulch around plants in summer when the weather gets hot. This really helps keep moisture in the soil, and cuts down on watering chores.


That about sums up the outdoor composting set up here. I also compost indoors with redworms and have done so for many years. Nothing beats pure worm castings as a fertilizer and soil conditioner for the garden. BUT... that is another post! :-)

Friday, February 20, 2009

My Mother's Garden

Today is the 2 year anniversary of my Mother's passing, so I thought it would be a fitting tribute to her memory to post some photos I was pleased to come across recently in one of my albums. I took these pictures with our first decent (for those days) 35 mm camera, in 1977. They show my Mom's abundant garden on our farm, located on the North Dakota prairie.

Mom, in her garden with Benji, the dog. Since it is a cool, northern zone 3 there, nothing can be planted until after Memorial this is probably around late June or early July. The Corn is up and growing , with Peas in the foreground. (Click on photo to enlarge)

The next three photos were taken in the fall of the same year. Here you can see the Corn...tall and tasseled out, with Squash plants on the right and Cabbages in the left foreground, along with the yellow flowers of Dill in the center. Her garden was not weedless, but it was very productive! I remember Mom enticing us kids with spending money for the County Fair, in exchange for weeding 'X' number of rows in the garden. :-) Some days, supper hour would come and go....the kitchen was silent, and Mom was no where to be found, until we realized she was lost in the garden. I now find myself doing this....there is much to do and time passes so quickly when you're working in the garden!

A huge Cabbage, with two of my (then) little sisters flanking either side. I was the big sister.....the oldest of 6 girls. I have both an older and a younger brother, too, bringing the total to 8 children in our family. These photos were taken on a visit home to the farm, when I was 22.

The flowers at the edge of Mom's garden were beautiful! This old scanned photo simply doesn't do them justice. ( Please click on photo to enlarge and see detail ) Many returned as volunteers from the previous years self-sown seed. There were Bachelor buttons, California Poppies, Marigolds and Zinnias. Behind the flowers is what looks to be Potatoes and a Cucumber patch. We always had dozens of jars of dill pickles on our pantry shelves!

So....there you have it. Proof that I come by my love of growing things quite naturally. Is there such a thing as a gardening gene? :-)


Mom, your memory is blessed. You were a wonderful example to me in all things, not the least of which was the love and labor you put into your garden and the countless hours spent preserving its bounty to feed and nourish your family. You are dearly missed!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Nature Valentine

I was so excited to share a photo of a heart shaped Sunflower on my Valentine's Day blog post last year. As I was contemplating what I should post this year, I was pretty sure I couldn't top that. But as I searched through my photo folders, I came across one from Fall of 2007, that seems fitting for this special day.

The tiny red heart-shaped leaf was one of the last clinging to a branch of this shrub, so I turned it upside down and held it up against a larger, yellowing leaf to show off it's color. It was just something that caught my eye at the time. I guess it has just been waiting there in my folder, for such a time as this. :-)


Happy Valentine's Day!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Form vs. Color

I recently gave myself an assignment. It was to take some outdoor photos in black and white only. It was a good lesson, because it forced me to view things differently. Color is usually the first thing to grab the attention, so its absence causes one to look more deeply at scenes and see and realize the beauty of form, in the absence of color. Below are some images from my self challenge....

A Locust tree in our neighborhood.

The swollen buds of Forsythia.

The skeletal remains of Queen Anne's Lace.

Sun setting behind the mountain.


"There's something strange and powerful about black-and-white imagery."

Stefan Kanfer

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Welcome February

I enjoy changing the pages of my calendar, and especially so when I can welcome February and say good-bye to our longest, coldest month. :-) On my daily walk a few days ago, I captured a few scenes from the neighborhood to commemorate this new month, in which we begin to see and sense the beginnings of Spring!

I've often photographed this barn in our neighborhood, but today my eye was drawn to the barn door and the darkness of the opening beside it, as seen from behind the horizontal lines of the corral fence. There's still some snow on the ground, as well as a little clinging to the wooden shingles of the roof. I love how the yellowish green moss on the bottom rail of the fence gives a little color to the otherwise neutral tones of this scene.

This horse,who is being pastured on our neighbor's property, was friendly enough to come up to the fence and greet me. Her name is Kiola, and she is a beautiful animal... from the pretty white star on her forehead and dark mane, to the subtle coloring of her face, which grows progressively paler towards the area of her nose and mouth.

Grazing in the pasture...where the snow is nearly melted, and patches of green are becoming visible amidst the brown.


"February is merely as long as is needed to pass the time until March."

- Dr. J. R. Stockton