compost


This is high season in my garden, it’s hard to know what to write about.  For all my loyal readers, I have to let you know that I’ve been having computer problems for the past couple of weeks, plus DH has been home in the evenings a lot for the past 3 weeks, which is unusual.  Thus my posts have fallen off a bit.  But I haven’t given up, we have an appointment at the Genius Bar this weekend, plus DH is back to his usual schedule.   I thought you’d all like an update on Robin’s Nest 2.  The above photo is of one of the current clutch who fell out of his nest this morning.  I heard flapping from the hops early in the morning, but didn’t get a chance to investigate until around 3 pm.  And there he was, although he was gone by the time my almost 10-year got a chance to check it out at 7:30.  He wondered where the baby Robin could have gone, and we can only hope that he finally got his wings and is in a tree somewhere.  He might have found a better hiding spot low down, or heaven forfend, a cat got him.  It was really hard to just leave him there, but that is what the experts recommend.

Today was also the first day that raspberries were ripe.  I probably could have left them for another day, they were a little tart.  That raspberry patch is probably the best thing I have done in the garden.  Every year around this year I get the most amazing raspberries, and there is nothing like the flavor of sun-ripened raspberries eaten off the brambles.  Because of how I have them planted, along a fence, most of the birds have a hard time getting them, so I have little competition.  The catbird is most expert at eating raspberries, and it really is a specialized skill.  We had one catbird who was here for years, enlivening our yard every summer with his charming song.  He was quite fearless of us, swooping in over our heads to gobble up raspberries.  I think he’s passed on, though he’s left behind some progeny.  We have a beautiful, young catbird now in residence, but I don’t think he’s quite mastered the art of eating raspberries.  Last summer I recall a baby catbird who tried really hard to eat the raspberries, but wasn’t too successful, and I think it may be the same bird.  Raspberry brambles are a lot of work to manage, plus they are very prickly.  For 2 weeks of summer bliss, I think it’s worth it, but be forewarned.

At the end of last summer I had moss growing in my main veggie bed and was concerned that I may have had a pH problem.  In February I got a pH and nutrient (NPK) test kit, and tested all of my veggie beds.  It was a huge project, but I discovered that the acidity was in the right range (6.5 to 7.5).  However the tests showed that the nitrogen was nonexistent and through further research I discovered that low nitrogen can cause moss.  So I went on a campaign of fertilizing my main be, adding all of our kitchen compost, plus Steve Solomon’s Complete Organic Fertilizer.  It wasn’t until later that I read that you can’t test soil for nitrogen too early in the season, because before the microorganisms kick into action with the warmer weather, little nitrogen is released.  Well, the fertilization seems to have done the trick.  That bed is simply out of control, everything growing in it is supersized.  I just noticed today that I already have beans forming, and each bean plant has about 40 blossoms.  And the squash, holy cow!  For those of you interested in the great sqash borer campaign, I will tell you that I have been spraying them religiously, after every rain.  It’s getting to be really hard, though, as the squash plants get huge.  I found myself hugging them today, those prickly devils, wondering if there isn’t a better way.  Maybe getting all my squash needs met at the farmer’s market?

One of the magical, yet mundane, tricks of a beautiful and productive garden is this commonly repeated gardening rule.  It’s very direct, yet somehow mystical.  Feed the soil?  But what does soil eat?  How does it eat?  The fact is, soil is kind of a multi-species organism, a kind of meta-organism.  It’s kind of funny, because soil, otherwise known as dirt, has the aura of being inert.  After all, it just sits there under our feet.  It’s not unreasonable to think of it as just the medium that holds plants in place.  But when you get right down into it, examine it and get to know it intimately, you start to bond with your dirt.  I once took a class at the New York Botanical Gardens called Soil Science I.  Yes, there was a Soil Science II.  As a matter of fact, I just looked it up and there are 63 colleges in the US that offer majors in soil science.  There is even a Soil Science Society of America.  You’ll take my word, then, that caring for your soil is serious business.  Okay, so how do you feed your soil?  It’s a simple practice that can become a somewhat arduous, occasionally all consuming, enterprise.  Once you start feeding your soil organically you begin to understand the appeal of Miracle Grow, electric kool-aid for plants.  For those of us who want to garden organically, but need an instant boost, we have Fish and Seaweed Extract.  If you’ve never used this, trust me, you are in for a treat.

Basically, the way you feed your soil is to add compost.  Every gardening book under the sun will tell you to do this, and how to do it, ad infinitum.  So just do it, you’ll be glad you did.  We were afraid of rats when we started gardening here, so we started just making leaf mold, basically taking all our fall leaves, putting them in a bin and waiting about a year and a half.  Well-rotted leaf mold is pretty sweet.  But a couple of years ago, we just couldn’t bear to throw away our kitchen scraps anymore.  We bought a couple of plastic compost bins from our town, got a good intro to town composting from our town’s environmental affairs officer, and away we went.  At first, the most satisfying part of starting to compost our kitchen waste was seeing how much we were reducing our contribution to the landfill.  When composted, veggie scraps just seem to melt away.  And then, after about 9 months, jackpot!  Nice brown food for our garden.  There are probably about as many ways to compost as there are gardeners, so you’ll have to create your own system.  There’s even a very informative book, dedicated to composting, called Let It Rot.

One of my organic gardening gurus, Steve Solomon, says in his book Gardening When It Counts:  Growing Food in Hard Times,  that simply using compost from your own garden and kitchen will not return enough nutrients to the soil to grow the most nutritious food.  Why?  Well, for one, if we eat out of our garden, we remove nutrients from the soil and don’t return them.  Crudely, we pee and poop the nutrients from our garden into the sewer system.  Steve says “I compost only to recycle garden and kitchen waste.” (p. 180)  In addition to his own compost, he adds well decomposed feedlot manure as well as small amounts of what he calls COF, complete organic fertilizer, an organic soil amendment that he formulated to increase the nutritional content of homegrown vegetables.  I won’t print the formula here, but it is on page 21 of his book, go check it out at the library, surreptitiously copy it at the bookstore, or even buy his book, which is awesome.  Steve Solomon is the slightly cantankerous garden gramps that many of us don’t have, but could sure use.  In addition to his gardening books, he started a cool website, called the Soil and Health Library.  I use Steve’s COF, my own leaf mold and compost, Fish and Seaweed Extract, and more recently, Vermont Compost Company’s Manure Compost , which Richfield Farms in Clifton carries. Since I don’t have access to manure, nor am I really interested in finding one, this is one way that I can add manure to my garden.  It’s not cheap, though, so when the Hard Times that Steve predicts come, I’ll have to find another system.  Maybe Humanure will become more appealing then.