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Composting Love

It’s no surprise that I’m a big fan of Sunday supper, where everyone can come together to share the day, rehash the week and enjoy a delicious meal.  It’s something I try to serve up each week, regardless of who is sitting around the dining room table, but with kids in all directions and one out of the house, those times when our immediate family is all together are infrequent and all the more precious when they happen. This week, due to college schedules, we got to enjoy Saturday breakfast instead.

The day dawned rainy, which was just what my family needed.  Not just a balmy drizzle but a cool, pouring rain, satisfactorily hammering against the windows.  The kids were snug in their respective beds, my hubby was snoozing on the sofa with a dog, and I was enjoying one of those great moments, an unexpected gift of grace.  How lovely to have my all kids home, asleep on a rainy morning, with no immediate pressing schedule (time enough for that later) and me awake to enjoy it.  The only way to improve the morning would be a great breakfast to start the day.  After a bit of quiet time, I started frying bacon.

It had the intended effect.  My husband opened his eyes and we shared a “wow, life is pretty great” moment.  I popped some cinnamon rolls in the oven.  (I had this in the fridge; not homemade but not bad.)  Kids started coming downstairs and flopping on sofas.  I started scrambling eggs with shallots and spinach and arugula.  Orange juice and cups of tea, our definition of cozy, were consumed.  A little sweet cantaloupe.

We didn’t all sit at once and we didn’t all actually eat, but we shared the morning and our love of rainy days and a whole lot of unspoken love.  And then it was time to pack up my oldest and get him out the door for a two week trip.  The spell was effectively broken, but my middle boy loaned his brother his own nicely tailored blazer for the conference and THAT was a silent act of love.  His sister folded all his tee shirts.  I put a warm loaf of homemade bread in hands as he climbed into his car and we stood in the drizzle waving goodbye.  I don’t know what everyone was thinking, but I was thanking God for those little fleeting pockets of time.  And for the inspiration to start frying bacon.

Here’s the breakfast bucket…

Saturday Breakfast 7.19

What you can see (clockwise top to bottom):

  • cantaloupe seeds (I normally don’t compost seeds but these local melons were so delicious I wouldn’t mind some volunteer plants in my spring garden)
  • cantaloupe rinds
  • lots and lots of eggshells, a dozen to be exact
  • shallot skins and stem ends (hiding under all those eggs)
  • a whole lot of love (hard to see but you know it’s there)

I wonder if all that love will compost … actually, I think it’s the ingredient that really makes our compost great.

 

 
 

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Trouble In Paradise

First, the bad news … Every single squash and zucchini plant (except one) in my garden is D.E.A.D.  No photos.  I couldn’t look at the withered leaves and the centipedes crawling all over the fruit.  Ugh.

The corn?  Practically flattened by a few days of strong, quick afternoon thunderstorms.   They are propped back up with stakes and string, but I’m not sure they have much of a future.  I feel like Ma in the Little House series when the thunderstorm has flattened the wheat or when the grasshoppers have eaten every green thing on the prairie and they aren’t sure what they are going to harvest this year.  Luckily I can go the farmer’s market or the grocery store.  Poor Ma must have battled some serious stress as a pioneer wife.

The green beans…notice they aren’t very green?  And my cucumbers are at once bloated and anemic.  We have a water issue.  I guess the daily rains are not providing quite enough moisture the garden, so I got the hose out this morning for a good long meditative manual soaking.  At least the unusual cool weather today is nice treat.  It was just sixty degrees and a record low for Atlanta today.  I’m sure this is a brief respite in all the standard southern summer heat.

beans & cucumbers need water 7.9.14

Now, the good news … while buying some squash from my local farm stop, I was moaning about my sudden squash death and a friend of the farmer confided an important squash tip.  Apparently, it’s a little known fact that in the South it’s very difficult to grow squash organically.  The farm trick is to plant seedlings every two weeks so that when the vegetable flowers and fruits once, they can be harvested, then pulled and tossed on the compost pile.  I felt so vindicated!  For years I’ve been trying to baby my summer squash plants through the summer, each year feeling like a failure when they are simply gone one fine summer morning with no warning.  Now instead of Ma, I’m feeling much more like Scarlett O’Hara, tomorrow (or in my case, next spring) is another day!

UPDATE:  Came across this excellent article for controlling squash bugs today … Excuse me while I grab some duct tape and head out to check my remaining squash plant…

 
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Posted by on July 16, 2014 in Gardening, Musings, The Daily Bucket

 

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Toss It Tuesday: Garlic

If you are composting, it’s likely that you don’t use a lot of processed products, right?

We try to keep processed things to a very bare minimum around here and when we do buy packaged items we choose the highest quality, least processed products, without any added chemicals, and especially without high fructose corn syrup.  Of course, every now and again, I find a convenience item that I just can’t pass up.  In this case it was fresh whole peeled garlic cloves from Whole Foods.  Bad move.

Long ago I gave up the jarred chopped garlic.  For one thing it doesn’t taste like garlic.  For another thing it smells like formaldehyde to me.  Plus it has a shelf life of … forever.  That’s not my idea of “fresh” food, so I take the time to peel garlic cloves every time a recipe calls for it.

I buy and peel a lot of fresh garlic, so when I noticed this little tub two weeks ago, I thought, why not give it a try?  The ingredient list reads: garlic.  Although the flavor doesn’t seem too off, it’s not as good as fresh from my pantry.  Maybe it’s just that keeping garlic in the fridge isn’t optimal.  Whatever the case, yesterday when I opened the container this is what I found:

toss it tues garlic

Yuck.  Furry garlic.  I didn’t even toss this in the kitchen bucket but took it out and buried it deep in my compost pile.  Peeled garlic might be convenient, but it’s not worth the cost and certainly not worth the compromise for me.  How long had this mold been brewing?

Do you have any “fresh” convenience foods that you regularly use?

 
 

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Keep It Clean

You might find this a good reminder or an utterly unnecessary suggestion, but I feel compelled to remind you to clean your kitchen compost bucket regularly.

Unless you are ferrying scraps to your compost pile in a plastic bag that you subsequently toss in the trash, your kitchen container can get mighty germy.  I had some super slimy mushrooms that got pushed to the coldest side of my fridge & froze.  When I tossed them in the bucket they decomposed immediately in one day and the slime I dumped on the compost pile was enough to gag me.  Clearly this bucket needed an immediate wash.  For obvious reasons I have also spared you a photo of this disgusting mess.  

clean buckets

Cleaning is simple.  Fill your bucket, whatever kind you have, with hot water.  Add a squirt of dish soap and a slug of bleach.  Let it sit until the water cools (I usually leave mine in the kitchen sink overnight and scrub the sink afterward).  Dump out the water, swipe any bits off the insides and top with a paper towel, rinse, and air dry.  Good as new.  Wash whenever things start to look grimy, when you have a surprisingly slimy bucket or about every two weeks.  If you have the kind of bucket that has a charcoal filter on the lid to keep down any smells, make sure to change that according to your bucket instructions.  Remember, while you want good bacteria to break down the contents of the compost pile, you don’t want bad bacteria growing in your kitchen!

 

 
 

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Coffee Please, For Compost

If you’ve never considered them, coffee grounds are a great addition to your compost pile.  If you are a home brewer, you can simply toss the used grounds in their paper filter right onto your pile.   If you’re more of a drive-thru kind of coffee drinker like me, your local coffee shop will gladly give you their used coffee grounds.  I often see the brewed grounds bagged up and free for the taking at my local Starbucks.  Now, if they’d trade me a free drink for taking those grounds off their hands that would be even nicer, but sadly I pay for my coffee habit.

Every day my routine goes something like this:  (me) I need coffee.  (practical me) It’s not good for you.  It makes you jittery.  (whining me) But I love Iced Hazelnut Machiattos.  (scolding me) They’re expensive.  AND they’re made with crappy milk.  (petulant me) I want one.  I’m already in drive-through.  (realistic me) **sigh**  Now, run this scenario every day around three o’clock if I’m out and about.  Last summer this conversation involved a salted caramel frappucino, a terrible drink that’s bad for me.  Did you know you could have SIX KRISPY KREME DOUGHNUTS instead. of that drink?  Whoa.  I would MUCH rather have six doughnuts than one sugary drink.  Hence, my current iced milky coffee habit.  Lots less calories and added sugar.

But in the summer I crave something frozen, coffee, and sweet.  Years ago, I perfected a great “pseudo-cino” recipe but it’s more like a bottled frap and while satisfying, sometimes it just doesn’t get the job done.  Enter the  Coffee Banana Date Smoothie that I found on Pinterest.  What a cute blog!  What an awesome drink!  I’m totally hooked!  And, I the end result is I get good espresso grounds to add to my compost! I think we can call this a win-win for everybody but the coffee shop.

The coffee grounds:

coffee grounds

The newly addictive drink (note the knock-off cup and green straw, haha).

date almond coffee freeze

Wondering why used coffee grounds are good for your compost pile?

  • Even though they are brown, grounds are considered a “green” compost additive, meaning they’re a source of nitrogen.
  • Coffee grounds are high in nitrogen (20:1 ratio), which gives the bacteria in your pile the energy it needs to break down your scraps.  Manure, which is a great jump starter to break down organic matter, has the same carbon ratio.  Most home gardeners (myself included) avoid manure and animal products since they attract rodents and can harbor dangerous bacteria and pathogens.  Coffee grounds are a good substitute.
  • Brewed coffee grounds are relatively pH neutral (beans are acidic, but the acid is water soluble so it brews out).
  • Worms seem to be drawn to coffee grounds, which helps to aerate and further break down your scraps.
  • Grounds help to enhance soil structure.

The next time you indulge your coffee habit, remember to pick up some used grounds!  But be responsible.  If you decide to perk up your compost with substantial amounts of coffee grounds, be sure to layer it with equal amounts of grass clippings and leaves.

 

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Glorious Summer With Veggies

Glorious Summer With Veggies

Are you just reveling in S U M M M E R right about now? We keep switching between the signature Atlanta weather profiles: hot and muggy with a side of steamy OR breezy, blue and utterly blissful.  With an afternoon shower of course. Sixties in the morning, nineties (in the shade) in the afternoon, but heck, it’s July so I’ll take them both. I stay in Atlanta for the seasons and they rarely disappoint.

The garden is producing like crazy and we are knee deep (ok, I exaggerate but backyard farmers are like fishermen; always out to impress) in cherry tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and squash. Aren’t these colors gorgeous?

tomato basket 7.2014

 

I planted over a dozen tomato plants this year because I was tired of having just a few tomatoes rolling in piecemeal over the summer and the plan is working.  We harvest huge handfuls of cherry tomatoes (Super Sweet 100) every day (not including the sun-warmed ones we steal from the vines) and now the big fruits are starting to ripen.  The yellow variety is Lemon Boy and the lighter orange is Early Girl.  Although I’m not a huge Early Girl fan, they were they only reliable tomatoes to produce last year so I had to have at least one plant!  The small bright red tomato (upper right of basket) is a plum tomato and the vines are filled with these.  I have visions of one small jar of tomato paste dancing in my head …  Finally, those medium reds are Parks Whopper, which I find amusing since they are distinctly un-whopper in size.  The small purple green cherry tomatoes are an heirloom, possibly Cherokee Purple, but my tag is missing.

Naturally, the question is “what do you do with all those tomatoes?”.  Eat them, of course!  Tomato sandwiches, tomato tarts, tomato jam, oven-dried tomatoes, the possibilities are endless.  I rarely use a recipe and even more rarely have a plan for what to make.  I think you just have to look at the tomatoes and let them silently suggest a dish.  Hmmm, I like the idea of tomato meditation … a quiet communication with nature … Now that I ponder it, I silently admire them each morning as I water, letting the hose sprinkle them for exactly one Hail Mary per plant before I move on to the next one.  It’s pretty easy to pray the Rosary when the birds are singing, the sky is brightening, the water is gently streaming, and you are surrounded by the sheer beauty of the ordinary.  So many blessings right in front of us if we only open our eyes, but I digress.

One summer several years back, I made fantastic tomato marmalade from a huge harvest of tiny yellow pear tomatoes but I have never again either found that variety or gotten it to grow.  I’m wondering if I can turn my tiny red jewels into something similar  … hmmm … I can still taste that tart, sweet, addictive, weird goodness!  I’ll keep you posted.  And as a caution, if you are canning, please ALWAYS use a recipe!  Botulism is bad.

squash 7.2014

Aren’t the squash pretty?  I’ve been picking them small because we’ve got a lot of birds, rabbits, and caterpillars who would love to make a meal of these (and everything else of course).  We cut these up, tossed them with olive oil, soy sauce, garlic and salt then roasted them with sliced red onions in a grill pan on the grill for five minutes. Right off the grill I added a splash sesame oil and  second splash of soy.  You don’t need protein when you’ve got veggies that good!

One more photo of my meager bucket for the day …Remember every little bit of green adds up!

cukes & cauliflower 7.2014

What you can see (clockwise top to bottom):

  • homegrown cucumber peels & stem ends (a daily snack or salad component)
  • core & outer leaves of a cauliflower
  • banana peel hiding underneath

Less in the bucket means more on the plate, right?  I pan roasted some wild Keta salmon and paired it with oven roasted cauliflower with lemon & salt, plus baked sweet potatoes.  Normally, since we don’t drench the potatoes with anything rodent-attracting I compost those skins, but my dogs were acting like human compost machines yesterday.  They enjoyed both the salmon AND sweet potato skins.  Either way, no extra green waste hit the landfill!

Soon, I’ll post some photos of the compost pile.  It’s looking surprisingly like soil for the lack of effort I’ve been putting into it!  I’m feeling great things for the fall…

 

 

 

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