October 27, 2009
Joe Henry loves the compost. In this picture, he just finished helping me turn a pile we built a couple of months ago. You can see our two-compost-bin system in the background. We use old pallets to keep the piles contained. You don’t need a compost container to build a compost pile, but sometimes it’s helpful. You can build containers out of cinder blocks, wire fencing or just about any other found materials. A two-bin system is nice so that you can always have a pile cooking. Making compost in your backyard is easy and fun. If you save raw materials for building a compost pile and build an active pile that is at least 4 feet wide, 4 feet long and 4 feet tall, you can have finished compost in a few months. Here’s how to do it:
1. Collect and store as many raw materials as possible before you build your pile. The easiest materials to use to build your pile are leaves, kitchen scraps, and grass clippings. It is a good time to collect leaves in our Austin neighborhoods because many folks rake and bag leaves this time of year. You can stockpile your kitchen scraps in buckets (like the one in the picture) – just make sure you keep a lid on them until you’re ready to use the scraps. It is a good idea to have at least 6 5-gallon buckets full of scraps and about 5 large bags of leaves set aside to build one active compost pile. I use the term active because a 4′x’4′x4′ pile that you build all at once will heat up and turn into compost faster than a cold pile (this is a pile that you dump things on as you collect them – it will never heat up as much as an active pile.)
2. Start your pile with a layer of leaves or other “brown”, absorbent materials. You can create your own compost recipe but as a general rule, I recommend incorporating about 3 times the amount of browns (leaves, shredded paper, dried grass clippings, etc.) as “greens” (kitchen scraps, freshly pulled weeds from your garden, green grass clippings, coffee grounds). So, once you’ve added a good, thick base of leaves, then add some scraps:
and be sure to keep watering the pile! Compost piles need a lot of moisture – notice how I have my sprayer set up in the pallets so that I can have a continuous stream of water running into my pile. So, just keep layering greens and browns, keeping the green to brown ratio at about 1:3 until your pile is at least 4′x4′x4′.
3. Finish your pile by adding a layer or “skin” of brown materials for good insulation. Your pile will heat up from the inside, thanks to all the micro- and macro-organism activity. You can buy a compost thermometer to monitor the pile’s temperature – a proper pile should heat up to around 130º for several days or weeks as it cooks. You can also monitor your pile’s heat by sticking a wooden pole or stick into the pile; leave it there for a few hours then pull it out and feel the end. If it is hot, your pile is active!
4. Once your pile cools down, it is a good time to turn it. Simply use a garden fork or a shovel and turn it to a new spot or bin. This adds air to the pile and give those compost-making organisms another go at it. When you turn your pile, you might need to add more water as well. Your pile should be as wet as a wrung-out sponge. Once your turned piles sits for another few weeks, it will be ready to sift and use. I use a plastic milk crate to sift my compost (see the picture below).
5. In a few months, you will have finished compost to add to the top 4-6 inches of your soil. Once you spread your layer of compost onto your garden bed, use a garden fork to sift it in and you’re ready to plant!
October 21, 2009
This was a pleasant sight on our collards. I noticed a few aphids on my collards last week but I also noticed several ladybug larvae chowing down on them. The ladybug larvae actually eat way more aphids than ladybugs. So, I let nature-in-my-garden be and today, I found no aphids, several ladybug pupa and some very healthy and happy collard plants.
October 12, 2009
I have more workshops coming up this fall. Check them out!
Saturday, October 31st (Feel free to come dressed up as your favorite veggie!)
Container Gardening Basics: Growing Organic Vegetables & Culinary Herbs – In this workshop you will learn how to grow organic vegetables and herbs in containers. Workshop topics will include garden planning, selecting appropriate containers, using potting soils & compost, good container varieties, watering, fertilizing, growing throughout the seasons and more.
When: Saturday October 31st 10am-1pm
Where: American Botanical Council
Cost: $30 per person includes handouts
Registration: Email EatWild@gmail.com to register
Sunday, November 8th
Organic Food Gardening Workshop: How to Build & Plant a Biointensive Vegetable Garden for Small Spaces – This hands-on, backyard workshop will give you the confidence and knowledge to start your own organic vegetable garden. You will learn garden planning, soil preparation techniques, composting, planting, watering and more.
When: Sunday, November 8th, 10am-1
Where: A backyard in Mueller
Instructor: Amy Crowell will lead this backyard workshop. Amy is a vegetable garden designer and consultant and has taught organic food gardening workshops in Austin for 15 years. See www.edibleyards.com for more details.
October 3, 2009
While we’re waiting on our fall gardens to mature, there are ripe things to collect and eat around town. Last week, I found several trees full of ripe Mexican plums (the little pink, round fruits on the plate). Chris found tons of wild mountain grapes up along Bull Creek and acorns are starting to fall. I would recommend using the grapes and plums to make things such as jams, breads, wines and juices. Once processed, the acorns can be eaten like any other nut. Start collecting them now and check out my upcoming article in Edible Austin on how to process and eat them.