Composting Surprises, A Poke At The “Dirty Job” Folks

A few days ago I posted on several social sights, garden groups, and just asked folks in the street, a query. Simply put it was, “What was the weirdest thing you have ever found growing in your compost?” The results were numerous, as well as humorous. Some folks were actually wondrous of what they had found before. Some had just quit, because.. So here’s the compiled list, and I’m sure I will be adding more later. So here it is.

What is the weirdest thing you have ever found growing in your compost?

Black Soldier Fly larvae,  mushrooms, Snakes, Grubs, Peach trees, this years garden from old seeds, baby Rabbits, Mice, Rats, Raccoons, various Snakes, more snakes, Pumpkins, 6 kinds of Squashes, 9 types of Tomato, Melons, Potato, “Squashcumbers”, Zucchini, Apple tree, Avocado, Peanuts, Coyote, well, it was on the poll, Dahlias, Amaryllis, Day Lillies and other assorted bulbs, Juan Valdez’s donkey, (I guess there was a lot of grounds there), Almond tree, Cherry tree, Peach tree, Mango, Marijuana, (hmm, really? I need to check in on that soon?), Peppers, various Herbs, Praying Mantis, Hornets, Turtles, Opossums, Gourds, Toads, re-sprouting House Plants, things they thought were dead, Strawberries, several types of knives, and funny, a few said when it was missing, they knew it was in the compost, and found it, the “compost turning tool”, a t-shirt, old plant tags, supposedly “biodegradable trash items, kitchen utensils, an egg to see if it boils in 140 degree compost (bored gardener?), it did, trowels, 4 times the right glove, never the left, wedding ring (whew!!), Worms, and Lizards. Then there were 9, “nothings”. They had access to free composted horse and cow manure. Hmm. Wondering about where the livestock owner gets their hay, if there was 2-4D involved with the crop.

Funny, the one thing no one said, and I have never seen it either, was someone else, turning the pile, just me. Some said, they just quit the garden bed, and let Ma Nature grow in the compost, and had spectacular gardening pleasures just from the “grab bag” idea. Things germinate as the weather permits. My experience is if it’s growing in there, I leave it or transplant it. I’ve never seen Ma Nature shop in a “box store”, and I know, I worked as the on site Garden Specialist at one for over 13 years. Never waited on her. Most people are ad followers, and simply over-comfort their gardens to failure. Sometimes, benevolent neglect, is the key.

This was a fun poll, especially since I had over 350 responses in 2 days from all the groups and face-to-face encounters. Most were seasoned gardeners, and knew their dirt. The beginners were wonderful in admitting their failures, and are learning, “eh, just toss it in” techniques. Wait until those folks learn “Soil Solarization”, like composting on steroids!! So thank you to all the likes and answers, obviously, this is a matter that needs to be enhanced on.

March and a “Gardenistic” Approach to “Gardenology”

How Many Times Does It Take?

So it’s March. In about 4 days, we will see two more hours of daylight, we will turn our clocks back, we will see Forsythia soon bloom, and we have made our plans for the upcoming garden season. We’ve cleaned our tools, started seeds indoors, shoveled enough snow exhausting ourselves into oblivion. Ran out of projects for “snow day kids”…. Or have we?

For me, as a garden coach, it has been great. Most of my clients have been, like me, chained inside because of this weather Ma Nature has tossed at us this long Winter. Our homes are so clean inside for lack of anything to do outside because of the newly named, “Polar Vortexes”. I have enough exes, don’t need another with a fancy name. OK, back to my clients. Most have gotten the message about “home grown” food. Most have gotten very creative about finding a place to start seeds indoors. Some found a closet and rigged lighting, some just a table, some, found racks for free at stores like I suggested. Now the good part about the weather. Parents have gotten their kids interested in growing indoors as “snow day” projects. I have received a lot of cool feedback on my previous posts about how they made something fun, productive, and a good learning experience for their kids. Funny how the young gardeners don’t realize the “Gardenology” class they are attending while out on a snow day. I think some can’t wait till the next one to add to their crops!!

While at a clients home recently, who I knew they had a “Grow Room”, they showed me some interesting ways their kids were getting involved. They all had their own flat of seeds started, personal garden journal, plot picked out in the garden bed, and yes, they have to “grow” bigger this year, and what each was going to produce for upcoming menus for the season. It was kinda funny, that the youngest was “allowed” to be the Cold Crop Queen!! She’s 6. And her flat was up and going. I had a chance to chat with them about transplanting, feeding, irrigation, soil amendments,  last years bugs, etc. They were into it so far, they’re stuck, as gardeners… Or is it, “hooked”? Either way they are in for the long haul of a life of great memories and peaceful therapeutic progress. Nice way to grow, and the parents didn’t realize they were cultivating 5, yes 5, new gardens within their kids. “Gardenology” is something to practice. I understand, from my clients, that their kids, can’t remember the last time they played a video game. When they call the kids for dinner, they come running out from the grow room where there are crayon pics of charts on the wall, on the wall now, not on paper, dates, plans and all “organic” treatments. We talked about companion plantings, succession planting, crop rotation, NPK, and phenology. I think my “new” clients are putting their WII and games on EBay to purchase new garden tools. I talked to the really chatty 11 year old a lot about my big time garden writer friends on Facebook, and thought she’d be the next big garden speaker.

Yeah, it’s March. What did you do with your “snow day kids”? I bet this crew, won’t buy any veggies at all this coming season. I will go back to this home-turned-greenhouse, and include them in my upcoming garden lectures. I kind of have to. Ya see, I started it with the parents, 2 years ago, and they had never put a seed to soil in their lives. This year, they are going total edible landscaping. If they can’t eat it, they ain’t plantin’ it.

Veggie Seeds in Richmond

Here it is, seed starting time again! Love this time of year. Trying to plan out what I want to plant, what to try, what not to plant, where everything goes… We always overgrow everything here anyway, usually give away a bunch. But its time to start with basic timing facts.

If you are starting indoors this year, then you should have some basics down:

On the packet of seeds, there is a germination or emergence time, and a harvest time in days. In the description of the plant, most will tell how far in advance to start, like Tomatoes, Egg Plant, Onions, and Peppers take the longest. Our last average killing frost is around April 15th. Notice I said, Average..  Me? I’m in the ground on the 15th, no matter what. I’m not afraid to cover a couple of times for frost, I eat first in my neighborhood. So back to the packet info. There’s also a Planting Chart for zone info. We are Zone 7a here in Richmond, Sunset Zone 32. Parts of Oregon are 7a, but different Sunset Zone. That’s just a mathematical equation for length of day, angle, intensity which sometimes comes into play for planting times and longevity of the season. That’s why I also do “succession” planting on the really fast harvesting veggies like Radishes, Green Beans, etc. Some I am picking thru Thanksgiving. That’s why I bought a freezer last year.

So starting indoors will be in about a week for me of Tomatoes and Peppers, maybe a few Eggplants. I have my racks set up already which is very simple. I have a 2 gang flourescent fixture and a 4 gang on 2 racks. I don’t use grow lights. All you need is different bulbs in them, like a soft white and a cool light, or any combination, just as long as they are different. Why? Because any two different tubes will give the same spectrum of light as a Grow Light, but way cheaper. My racks are on wheels so I can roll them out later in March on warmish days to harden them off before transplanting, which I have several ways of doing.

Here is the scenario:

Have your light fixture in place over your seed starting tray at about 2″ from the top. If you are us

ing the store bought starter trays, make sure to keep a slight gap in the lid or you may get a fuzzy black fungus growing in there. Use only a seed starting mix. Not potting mix. You don’t want any fertilizer to start, makes them lanky. As the seeds germinate, there will be only 2 leaves for a bit, they are not “true” leaves. They are looking for intense light to convert sugars to the roots. After the 3rd or 4th leaf appears, now the plant is looking for food. Some folks topdress with a potting mix at this time, or use a water-soluble fertilizer with an N-P-K of like 18-18-21 or so. Others just sprinkle a bit of 10-10-10. For the Organic approach, Fish Emulsion works great.  You still want the light at about 2″ from the top of the plant. If it’s too far, the plants get tall and lanky, then collapse. Dont forget to keep the soil moist, it does dry out quickly under light.

Simple huh? So while the seedlings are getting ready for transplanting in about 8 weeks, you should be prepping the bed. I usually compost layer my garden through the Fall, toss a bit of lime on it, and maybe a thin layer of manure and let it “cook” over the Winter. In early March, I will till all the goodies in, rake it out smooth, 10-10-10, water, and cover with clear plastic until early April… See my “Solarization Made Simple” entry. You’ll see why. But we’ll get to that later.

3 Weeks From Transplanting…

We are almost ready to transplant, and I’m sore already!!

   In a few weeks, the seedlings will be in the garden. Then it will be up to Ma Nature to decide. I have been trying to help, but in the end, it’s all in her hands. I just hope she sees how hard I’ve tried this Winter. Today I turned in some very nice cooked compost, along with some good Winter Rye. I will apply some wood ash and 10-10-10 in a day or two. We’re heating up here already, and the babies are almost ready for real soil. The drip irrigation I will install afterwards will help out a lot, I hope. I think I did a really good job gardening my soil this past Fall/Winter.. Didn’t spend any money on it, but it looks like the stuff I could get like $50.00 per 5 gal. bucket with plenty of worms, and not the first grub…. I’m just a proud dirt farmer..

Heres some pics.

www.picasaweb.google.com/Kevinthegarden

Spring 2011 albumn.

Trial Thingy with Seeds

OK, you may think I am jumping the gun on timing here, but I have been saving Dryer Lint the whole Winter. I didn’t know why, but it hit me today, of, why… I started some Tomato seeds in my garage, some in regular starting mix, and a few in, well, Dryer Lint…  I used to put it out for the birds, and they haven’t been that active in the ball of lint this year, I think they were smarter than me, and went South.. WAY south! But the Crows! Oh man I have never seen so many here.. Quick! What Phenological reason is there for Crows massing up?

So I have this supply of clothes mulch leftovers, from the dryer.. So I’m thinkin’, veggies….  A few pots, I used it as mulch, a few, I used as the media, a few, I used straight soil…  Whats next, the stuff I get off the top of the ceiling fan? There’s some good stuff there too.. Somehow, I like to think the matter is a part of me.. John Travolta in the “Phenomenon”? The apple bite? Take it with you through eternity? I need to go check the vacuum cleaner. There may be gold in there too, plus a marble and a green Army Man or two, thanks, Jake.. I mean, You aren’t eating the floor debris, although the ten second rule may need a re-config here on growing from the root.. I dunno. I’ll let NASA figure that one out.

OK, Hell, they’re just Tomatoes and Egg Plant.. We’ll see who does best or the same or fails… I will let you all know.. But make NO mistake about it, I will eat it if it grows out of my shoe, as long as I know, it was my shoe…. I will keep them separate, for those who know me. When I bring you veggies, I will give you the ones from dirt and cow manure, like that makes it tastier…  I will enjoy the ones in the lint.

OK, Again, It’s Time To…

Hey Folks, never guess what I’m doing today. Yeah, besides taking down Christmas, tossing old stuff, and stuffing myself with Vodka Tonics, and listening to Led Zeppelin. I am setting up my seed starting racks… Hot Damn!! Yeah, this year, I will amaze even myself. I am still eating last years veggies, how about you?

I will be starting the Garden Coach sessions early this year, just because I believe we will warm up pretty good this year. Oh, and BTW, I am getting back into my old watergarden business again, BUT, in an unusual way… See, It’s gonna be a hydro-vegetablegarden-sunken bed.. Raised beds are done to death. I will be using the fish waste, for my fertilization process. Did it years ago, by accident.. Best tomatoes in the neighborhood.  I will post pics soon, and, you will be jealous.. Well, in my head you will be.. Thats how my ego rolls..

I hope all my gardening pals got some good stuff for your Holidays. Gardening presents, even a gift card to a box store, are great for the dirt-diggin fools, like myself.. Me? All my peeps gave me recipe’s and cook books… They know my “Mobile Chef” business is going good, and, most important, their gift to me will reward them with gifts, through the year.. Pretty slick ain’t they?

I will be busy for a few days in the garage.. Funny though, how everyone disappears, when the labor needs to be done. Promises made, promises undone, yeah, I hear ya… Yeah, tomatoes, green beans, cucurbits, onions, herbs, peppers, beans, fruits, 97 degrees, evening thunder, weeds, bugs, longer daylight, friends, wine, tiki torches, fresh cut grass, “ah-ha” moments with a cherished lover….. Pics coming, well, some pics….. My life is going to get better, only because of my actions. I just won’t disappear into that gentle good-night..

Rage…… Rage against it.. It’s time. Time to get on your knees, and get dirty.

Solarization Plain and Simple

Still some random weeds in there. The "pile" will be used as top dressing for another composted bed.

Still some random weeds in there. The "pile" will be used as top dressing for another composted bed.

 

    First of all, let’s get some requirements listed. Food, light, moisture, soil. Basically, that’s it. Anything will germinate or hatch. Maybe not healthy, but we don’t care for now.

    Now, we need to introduce those to your late February garden. We are gaining daylight nicely at this time. Almost 1-1/2 hrs. Soil temps are going to climb slowly, but then it will heat up nicely. Time to hurry it up a bit. You will need some basic items. A garden hose, enough clear plastic to cover your garden space, a balanced fertilizer like 10-10-10 or so, and a garden rake.  Time to get dirty.

    First you will need to pull out most of your weeds. I rake out what I can, but I don’t worry about getting all of it. I won’t break a sweat.  Next you will need to kind of get it evened out and neat. Then spread some of your fertilizer lightly around the whole plot. Sometimes I will put down about 1-1/2 inch of manure instead, mostly just enough so I can’t see the old soil. Now water it pretty good. A nice sheen on the top should be sufficient. Last thing, pull your plastic over the entire bed, lag it down with some timbers, bricks, sod staples, or whatever you have. It needs to remind you of a shallow terrarium when your done. For million dollar veggies this season, do this right.

clean-enough-to-solarize

Clean enough.

   In a few weeks you will see things happening. Volunteers will germinate, weeds will spread, and bugs will hatch. That’s great! You did it… You are gardening! Now comes the really satisfying part. In late March (watch the weather now, that’s my disclaimer) the weather folks always post frost or late freeze warnings for covering your tender plants. You want to go out that afternoon, pull off the plastic, and let ol Jack Frost burn the heck out of everything, Bugs will die, plants will fry. In a few days, you will see the nice browned out everything in the beds. Rake it out, prep, you will be transplanting soon afterward.  (Just a note, if you are gonna use cloches, start saving your empty 2 liters and gallon milk jugs. We’ll talk later). If you are gonna row cover, save the plastic for later.

   For the Black plastic comments I know I’m going to get, wait a sec. Clear will allow the sunlight in to promote germination, photosynthesis, etc. Black plastic is great for over heating plant life, and starving it for light. Killing off a grass section for a new bed for example. Lay black plastic on it in late June or July and wham! It’s dead, but the seed is still there.

   It’s late February, and here in Richmond people are buying up the Pre-emergents like mad because of the warm spell last week. You will see things sprout where they don’t belong, Gnat storms and other bugs, weeds that weren’t there yesterday. It snowed here yesterday and they are calling for it again Saturday night along with 20 degree lows… Wow, Ma Nature is doing her own solarization. Watch and learn. The new bugs will die, and most of those weeds will burn. Don’t jump the gun…. Forsythia!

   Get dirty this week-end. If you don’t know how, get a Coach, we’ll show you how.