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garden prep and compost FAQ

We are probably moving this year.  It is all still a big question mark, but we’re about 90% certain.

I had decided not to try to start seeds indoors this year and not to purchase any seeds at all.  We’ll be selling our home, right?  Why spend the time?

Then spring started to happen.  My dad gave me some of his leftover seeds.  I starting thinking about growing kale the first time, which would be planted now.  In the end, I just couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t not grow things. I’m going to start seeds–which should have happened weeks ago–and I’ll take my chances.  The seedlings will either come with us to our future home, they’ll be taken care of by future owners here, or–worst case scenario–our house will sit on the market and we will get to harvest what we grow.

Aside from starting seeds indoors (ps. get on that quickly Zone 5 and 6 if you haven’t yet), the first step is getting the soil ready.  For me, that is emptying the dark, rich soil from the compost bin into the beds.

compost bin
Of course I had help from a two year old with a beach shovel, so I can’t say I did it alone.

DSC_0093

 

DSC_0094

It is hard to believe that all of the scraps from the kitchen last year turned into such gorgeous, nutritious soil.  Here’s a view inside the bin.  The only bits that didn’t completely break down were egg shells, a really defiant root (that white stringy blob on the right), and a few grocery store stickers that got left on fruit skin.

compost bin 2

The soil is SO full of good things and natural fertilizers.  This is why compost is sometimes called “Black Gold” by gardeners.  You can see the difference between the depleted soil from last year vs. the Black Gold.

Black Gold
And just because I’m so obsessed with pictures of dirt at the moment, here’s another shot of this stuff.

composted soil
I did work the compost into the top layer with a good old fashioned hoe.  Yup.  Bring on the hoe jokes now.

Again, I had some help.

soil
We work em’ hard around here.
DSC_0102
I also sprinkled in some soil helpers: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (brand: Espoma).  During the summer, I stick to Neptune’s Harvest, though I do hit everything up with nitrogen again mid-season because my soil can’t seem to hang onto it.

Next up in garden land:
* Starting tomato seeds indoors
* Direct seeding things that can handle spring weather, such as peas and kale
* Mulch the heck out of the flower beds

For those of you who are new to composting, here are a few beginner composting FAQs.

What can I put in my compost bin?
You can put in so many things that you’d normally throw in the trash such as apple cores, uneaten leftover string beans, dead annual plants, egg shells (mental note for future – crush them more), coffee grounds, grass clippings, the skin of your avocado, even the cardboard carton your eggs came in. In terms of your kitchen, all those veggie and fruit scraps should be composted!

What can’t I put in my compost bin?
No dairy or meat and definitely don’t even put veggies in if they happened to be cooked in oil because you wouldn’t want anything fatty in there. Don’t put tomatoes or potatoes in the bin either, as they can easily carry a highly contagious (to other plants) blight that is hard to kill and will utterly wipe your crops out.  Yard waste that has been treated with chemicals and pesticides is also out.  Avoid composting any plants out that have gotten a disease as well.  For example, if your squash succumbed to some kind of icky mold, don’t put it in with your compost.  Just throw it away to prevent spreading disease.

What kind of bin do should I buy/build?
There are many different compost bin types.  I have a round bin with a handle that turns (and you are supposed to give it a turn pretty often).  I live in a fairly urban area and if I didn’t have the compost contained, I’d have a wild raccoon and skunk feast and party in the yard.  If I lived outside of the city and had more space, I’d like build a little square, wire fence and simply the compost within the fence.  Eventually, the bottom of the pile becomes dirt.

Do I have to do anything to my compost?
Compost needs to have “brown” matter in it.  Be sure to add paper, cardboard pieces, twigs, etc. every so often.   It also needs water, so make sure water can get into whatever you have your compost in.  If your compost seems to be taking forever to turn to dirt, then you can actually speed it up a bit with an accelerator.  I’ve always used Espoma Bio Accelerator, now called Compost Starter.  Lots of organic gardeners say you don’t need this, but I have actually found that it helps speed the process up quite a bit, and when you have a smallish bin like ours, we need it to move along, you know?

Doesn’t compost smell?
No.  Not at all.  It smells like earth.  If it smells, you may not have enough brown matter or maybe you have mold or something even more gross.  I’ve never had smelly compost.

If you have any other questions about composting beyond a contraption like mine, I can find out from master gardener, Bob (aka my dad).  Just  ask your question in the comments section below.

Back to the moving bit.

We intended to have our house on the market by now, but it still is not.  It is hard to pull the trigger and I’m not even referring to all of the work and uncertainty involved (like, “What if my house sells and we haven’t found a new one and we’re homeless with three cats and a toddler….”).  The thought of moving, though exciting, also makes my heart ache because I love this town.  I love the life we’ve created for ourselves here.  I love the many plants I’ve squeezed into my little yard: the grapes that gave us jelly, the raspberries that never seem to end, the red leaf plum tree out front, and all of the perennials we’ve painstakingly planted over the years.

Most of all, I love my community. My neighbors are like family to me.  The only people who have watched Anderson in his two years–other than immediate family–are these people.

I haven’t even gotten to the friends we’ve made via Anderson’s daycare that we ADORE, or the park we spend time at, or the chats I have with the guy at the gas station frequently because he knows someone I know (that is how our town is – everyone knows everyone), or the clam chowder at Belle Isle Seafood, spending time on the beach whenever we want, and the list goes on and on.   It is a special place, this seaside town.  The least I could do is give my garden here one last go.

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