Mar 172015
 
Lettuce and drip irrigation

by Avis Licht

row cover and drip irrigation

In warm weather you can cover your beds with row covers, and irrigate with drip irrigation

California is in its fourth year of devastating drought. All of us need to pay attention to our water use. But this does not mean that we have to give up growing some of our own food. Quite to the contrary, we can grow fruit and vegetables with much less water at home than large scale agriculture.

I have just come back from a road trip that took me to the east side of the Sierra Nevada mountains and then south to the Kern River and across the San Joaquin Valley, the agricultural center of California. It was an eye opener for many reasons.  Owens Lake held significant water until 1924, when much of the Owens River was diverted into the Los Angeles Aqueduct, causing Owens Lake to dry up.[2] Today, some of the flow of the river has been restored, and the lake now contains a little bit of water. Nevertheless, as of 2013, it is the largest single source of dust pollution in the United States.[3] 

To learn more about this read Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner. Each action we take to conserve water, DOES make a difference.

We saw large reservoirs that were at 5 percent of capacity. Nearly empty. We saw farmers using huge machinery to take out fully grown orange trees and throw them on the ground to die because they don’t have enough water for irrigation. It was unbelievably sad to see.

But there are ways for you to grow food, that are water conserving and healthy for the environment and for you.

Here are 5 easy ways to conserve water for your garden and grow delicious food. Good for you and good for the earth.

1.Prepare the ground by loosening the soil and adding humus, in the form of compost and/or manure. The quality and health of the soil is vitally import to the health of your plants. Compacted soil will not absorb or retain water very well. This is a very underrated activity for water conservation. Building raised beds with wood or stone and then filling with organic topsoil is one way to do this. Another way is to dig the soil and add humus.

Small vegetable garden

Raised beds make for a healthy soil

2. Create paths and walkways through your garden. DO NOT WALK ON YOUR BEDS! I mean it. The fastest way to ruin your soil is to walk on it and compress it. You remove the air pockets and prevent air and water percolation. Try it. Step on the ground and water it. It will puddle and then most of the water will evaporate. Trust me on this.

3. Mulch, mulch, mulch.  Oh, and did I say mulch? Yes, this makes a huge difference in the evaporation rate of water through the soil surface. There are many kinds of mulch. Read about them here.

4. Plant some of your smaller herbs and veggies in pots and containers. When a pot is close to the house, it is easy to remember to water and you can use the left over water from the sink, or the shower.  I have had great success with herbs, carrots, lettuce, and peppers in containers. You can use self watering containers that let you go away for weeks at a time without worrying about your plants drying out.

A good harvest in a small place, with very little water.

A good harvest in a small place, with very little water.

5. Drip irrigation is the easiest and uses the least water of any method of irrigation. Done well, it puts the right amount of water directly to the roots of the plants and has the least evaporation rates. Check out the book by Robert Kourik on Drip Irrigation. It’s great. Combine drip with a water controller and weather station and you will be golden for putting the right amount of water on at the right time. Many water districts give rebates on these controllers.

There are other ways to gather, store and conserve water in the garden. These are five easy ways to start. Don’t worry, I’ll talk about more ways to save water in future blogs. Right now, it’s important to get started from the ground up, so to speak.

the water at the top drips down to the plants at the bottom.  Great use of space and water.

The water at the top drips down to the plants at the bottom. Great use of space and water.

Edible landscaping

Enter the Edible Landscape using a PATH.

Feb 172015
 

by Avis Licht

An organic gardener’s success is based on a few basic necessities. I think the health and quality of one’s soil is right at the top of the list. After that comes sufficient sunlight, appropriate water and healthy plants.  Today I want to talk about some simple ways to fertilize your garden and improve your soil’s growing  capabilities.

Compost and mulch make a beautiful cover for the sil

A beautiful garden grown with compost, manure and mulch

An organic fertilizer refers to a soil amendment derived from natural sources that guarantees the minimum percentages of nitrogen, phosphate, and potash. These include plant and animal by-products, rock powders, seaweed, inoculants, and conditioners.  These minimum amounts can be very small. For example, horse and cow manure  often have less than 1% nitrogen by weight. This is not to say it’s not a good fertilizer, it is. But depending on your plant’s needs, you may need to add other sources of nitrogen.

One word of caution. An organic fertilizer means it comes from natural materials, BUT it doesn’t mean it’s organic.  Cottonseed meal comes from a plant, but cotton is one of the most heavily sprayed crops.  There will be pesticide residues in cottonseed meal unless it specifically says it comes from organic cotton.  Bloodmeal and bone meal take a great deal of production and energy to produce these fertilizers. Plus you don’t know how the animals were raised. It can seem very complicated to stay fully organic. When possible ask for the source of your fertilizer.

We take a short break from our program to let you know about this important news. The Spring Garden Made Easy, by me, Avis Licht, is now available for all you enthusiastic gardeners that want to get your Spring garden planted with the least possible problems. Yes, now you too, can have the Garden of Eden in your back or front yard. Or maybe a few lettuces and tomatoes. It’s all in this 20 page ebook, with easy to follow suggestions.  Links in the book will lead you to much more detailed information.  Try it, you’ll like it. Only $4.99.

Spring Garden Made Easy

This is the cover to my book.

Spring Garden Table of Contents

 

Different manures have different nutrient values based on the animal, what it ate, how much bedding is in the manure and so on. In another post I’ll talk about the relative merits of different manures. For now, let’s just agree that manure from herbivores that is composted, is a good organic fertilizer. I say herbivores, because we don’t want to use poop from meat eating animals like dogs, cats or humans.  There is risk of parasites or disease organisms that can be transmitted to humans from meat eating animals. For ease of listing, here are Vegetable fertilizers: alfalfa meal, cotton seed meal, green manure, sea weed, wood ash. Animal by-products include: manure, blood meal, bone meal, fish meal, feather meal and bat guano. Mined minerals include: rock phosphate, green sand, gypsum.

compost bin

Compost bin for a family of 4 – 6 people

The easiest fertilizer is compost that you make at home from material in your yard.  But it takes a LOT of material to make a little compost. You’ll probably have to bring in compost or topsoil when you first start your garden. This is not terrible, it just costs money and uses outside resources.  Sometimes we have to do that.

Soil amendments are materials that don’t have a minimum amount of nutrient, like compost.  They can be worked into the soil or laid on top. Amendments are important for the humus they add, the tilth, and aeration of the soil. Without proper soil aconditions, it doesn’t matter how much nutrient you put in.  Roots need air, water and microbial activity, which all comes from adding organic amendments.

Mulch is material laid on the surface and does not add nutrient to the soil until it breaks down over time. Mulch protects the soil from compaction, erosion and keeps the weeds down.  It also conserves water. Even though we don’t call it a fertilizer, it’s a very important part of the garden and soil and plant health.

The Four Major Elements to Fertilize Your Garden:

1. Nitrogen: For Vegetative Growth:  Bloodmeal, Cottonseed Meal, Liquid Fish, Fish Meal, Pelleted Fertilizers, Feather Meal

2. Phosphorus: For Flowering and Fruiting: For fruit, flower, and root development. Use Soft Rock Phosphate. You can also use Bone Meal.

3. Potassium: For Vigor and health. Use Sulfate of Potash or Greensand.

4. Calcium and Trace Minerals: For Health and Resilience: Almost all soils test low in Trace Minerals. Add Compost, Kelp Meal

In previous posts I wrote about legumes, which fix nitrogen and wood ash.  Keep coming back, as I’ll go through the whole list of fertilizers. In the mean time, dig up your beds, or sheet mulch them, and then add compost and/or composted manure.  You’ll be off to a good start.

Jan 292015
 

Red Poppies

by Avis Licht

The historic drought we are having in California has us thinking deeply about how to use less water in our daily lives, including, or maybe, especially in our gardens.  My passion in the garden is growing food beautifully.  Many of my clients and friends have said they won’t be putting in a vegetable garden due to the drought.  But this is not necessarily the best or only way to reduce our water uses.  Last summer, I was tempted to reduce the size of my veggie garden, but couldn’t bring myself not to plant it.  By careful observation of weather and soil conditions, and excellent use of drip irrigation, I managed to reduce my water use by 30 percent and INCREASE my yield. It’s all about paying attention.

Here are five easy to follow and powerful methods for reducing water use:

1. Soil: Incorporate compost and or manure into your soil and then mulch it.

The more humus you have in your soil, the better water and air retention you have – the healthier your plants will be and you will use LESS water! Read this post to learn more about compost. Here’s information on mulching.

Worms make beautiful, healthy soil

A little kitchen leftovers, a few worms, a small box, and voila – beautiful soil.

2. Sun: Put the right plant in the right place.

This may sound obvious, but many people do not actually notice the path of the sun in different seasons. Put sun loving plants in full sun, and partial sun plants in protected areas.  By watching where the sun is and where shadows fall in different seasons you will find that you are much better prepared in properly plant placement.  In the winter the sun is much lower in the sky than in summer and will cast different shadows.

lavender in the Edible landscape

Lavender

3. Wind: Wind causes plants to transpire more water.

The windier the day, the more water the plants use.  Consider different methods of wind protection including: fences, hedges, buildings, and row covers.

row covers

Row covers protect from wind, frost, sunburn and even insect damage

4.Drip Irrigation: The right irrigation system will make a huge difference in the amount of water used.

Drip irrigation needs to be done correctly to keep the plants healthy.  You need to divide your garden into different zones, so that plants with similar needs are together. Of course, you will then have to set the timer for the right amount of time for the water you need. And yes, this will take some time to figure out.  There seems to be no end to the information necessary to make good choices. Robert Kourik has written a wonderful book on best drip irrigation practices. You can buy it straight from the author.

Drip irrigation, raised beds and intensive planting

Growing food in well prepared beds, with drip irrigation and intensive planting use water wisely

5. Smart Controllers: Weather controlled irrigation timers automatically adjust for temperature and rain.

Not everyone can get a smart controller, but if you live in drought areas, you might really want to think about getting one of these. Some controllers operate from a site based weather station that comes with the timer or from a satellite feed. They read the temperature, the rain fall and automatically adjust the watering amounts.  You need to program your controller by hand for the optimum water needs of each station, then the timer can adjust the times.

This Hunter is what I use most often for my clients.  It is easy to set up and very reliable:

These are the easiest and most effective ways to start saving water and keep your garden healthy and strong.  Of course, there are many more parts to keeping the garden growing sustainably that I’ll talk about in future articles, including the pros and cons of rain water catchment, grey water and container planting.

Stay tuned and keep coming back for more.

Jan 222015
 

by Avis Licht

I never get tired of talking about compost. Those around me might become a little weary of my composting enthusiasm, but when it comes to alchemy and transformation, compost is right at the top of the chart. To the list of amazing contributions composting makes to the soil and plants, you can add that it is a mighty weapon against climate change. I am not making this up.

Worms make beautiful, healthy soil

A little kitchen leftovers, a few worms, a small box, and voila – beautiful soil.

An experiment in Marin County has uncovered a disarmingly simple and benign way to remove carbon dioxide from the air and potentially turn the vast rangeland of California and elsewhere into a means of sequestering carbon into the soil and mitigating the effects of global warming.

According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle in October 2014, if compost from green waste were applied to just 5 percent of the state’s grazing lands, the soil could capture a year’s worth of greenhouse gas emissions from California’s farm and forestry industries.

The effect is cumulative, meaning the soil keeps absorbing carbon dioxide even after just one application of compost. Plants pull carbon dioxide from the air through photosynthesis and transfer a portion of the carbon to the soil through their roots. Soil microorganisms then turn the carbon into into a stable form commonly known as humus.

This not only sequesters the carbon but improves the soil’s fertility, boosting plant growth and capturing more carbon while also improving the soil’s ability to absorb and retain water.

To find out more about sequestering carbon through rangeland composting, read the full article here.

This illustration comes from the Marin Carbon Project website. Find out much more about carbon farming  and it’s immense possibilities for doing good.

And don’t forget to compost your own green wastes at home!

Need some suggestions? Read about them in my blog: Easy composting.

Need a compost bin? Get one right here: Composting Resources.

Mar 172014
 

by Avis Licht

All the good food in a week's box in Live Power Farm's CSA

All the good food in a week’s box in Live Power Farm’s CSA

This winter I went to visit Live Power Community Farm, in Covelo, California. This farm is part of a movement called Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, for short. The idea for this model, is that the people who eat the food support the farmers by guaranteeing them a fee for the food every week, so that the farmer is not left out on a limb of growing and then not knowing who will buy their food.  This model shares the risk involved with farming and allows the farmers to get on with their job of growing the best food possible.

Live Power Community Farm, the first CSA in California, is a unique model of how to sustain a farm through the power of relationship, community and a transformative economic model.  In effect, the community of people eating from the farm are not simply buying food, but also partnering with the farmers to sustain the farm. They deliver to the San Francisco Bay Area from May to November.

  They write: 
If you would like to be a part of this vibrant community farm, there are harvest shares available for the coming season.  The CSA season begins May 10th, 2014 and continues every Saturday till November 22, 2014.  

Live Power’s vegetables are biodynamically grown with a low carbon footprint. Where else can you get vegetables that have been grown without a tractor?  Keep Live Power’s horses employed, join the community! 
 
Horse drawn plows

Using draft horses and old fashioned plows, the Decaters, gently work the soil.

And did I mention: all of the vegetables taste fantastic!  They’ve been picked usually less than a day before they arrive in your basket.  You get to try new foods and always eat what’s in season.  Particularly rewarding, you and your children can get to know the farmers and can even visit the farm (located in Covelo, Mendocino County).

Gorgeous, beautiful broccoli, fresh from the farm to you

Gorgeous, beautiful broccoli, fresh from the farm to you

How does it work? You sign up for a share. You will then be grouped into a cluster with others that live near you.  Each cluster sends one person per week to the sort, which will take place at the Waldorf High  School in San Francisco this year.  From 8:00 – 9:00 a.m. on Saturday mornings, the sort group joins together to distribute the vegetables and fruit for all members. The sort is a fun, community-building event. After the sort, each sorter delivers the baskets to the other families in their neighborhood, and most of the rest of the 29 weeks their basket will be delivered to them by the rest of the members in their cluster  
 
Each share is responsible for doing the sort about 5 – 6 times per year.  Some families split a share, meaning picking up baskets filled with veggies from our porch every other week and going into the City to sort 2 – 3 times per year.

For a list of the projected and actual quantities and varieties of vegetables received last year, please go to http://www.livepower.org/csa-overview/bay-area/ and look under the Live Power Offerings.  Also, attached is a list of prices.

If you have any questions, please feel free to call one of the delightful farmers, Gloria Decater, at (707) 983-8196 or livepower@livepower.org or one of the SF Bay area members, Amy Belkora at 415-596-2866 or abelkora@gmail.com  
Row after row of compost, from their farm, feeds the soil and powers their food.

Row after row of compost, from their farm, feeds the soil and powers their food.

 

Mar 132014
 

 

Borage in the rain

Borage in the rain

HOW TO HAVE A SUCCESSFUL GARDEN
  Hands – on workshop 

 If you love to garden and want to have the most luscious, successful, beautiful garden, then don’t miss this great opportunity to study with Avis Licht; gardener, farmer, author, teacher, landscape designer and lover of worms. Avis has been a successful gardener and landscape designer for 40 years. 

We’ll cover all the topics you need to start your garden or get your existing garden in peak shape. You’ll get to take home all the plants you sow, divide or make cuttings from.

 

DATES: Saturdays -April 5, 12, 19, and 26th –  from 10 am to 1 pm.

COST:  $50 per class or $160 for all four classes 

LOCATION: Classes will be in Woodacre, Ca

Contact Avis at:

avislicht@gmail.com

Directions given when you sign up

Jan 242014
 
Hemerocallis - Edible flowers - look good and taste good

posted by, not written by Avis Licht

I make it a rule to only post what I write unless I have a guest blogger.  A friend sent me this story about lawns and drought and some other crazy garden behavior.  We haven’t been able to find the author but hope you enjoy the story.

Japanese Maple leaves resting on the ground in the Fall.

Japanese Maple leaves resting on the ground in the Fall.

Of Lawns and God

GOD: St. Francis, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there in the USA? What happened to the dandelions, violets, thistles and stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect, no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honeybees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now. But all I see are these green rectangles.

ST. FRANCIS: It’s the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers “weeds” and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.

GOD: Grass? But it’s so boring. It’s not colorful. It doesn’t attract butterflies, birds and bees, only grubs and sod worms. It’s temperamental! Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?

ST. FRANCIS: Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.

GOD: The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.

ST. FRANCIS: Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it, sometimes twice a week.

GOD: They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay?

ST. FRANCIS: Not exactly Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.

GOD: They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?

ST. FRANCIS: No, sir — just the opposite. They pay to throw it away!

GOD: Now, let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. And when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?

ST. FRANCIS: Yes, sir.

GOD: These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.

ST. FRANCIS: You aren’t going to believe this, Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.

GOD: What nonsense. At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. Plus, as they rot, the leaves form compost to enhance the soil. It’s a natural circle of life.

ST. FRANCIS: You’d better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.

GOD: No. What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter and to keep the soil moist and loose?

ST. FRANCIS: After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something which they call mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.

GOD: And where do they get this mulch?

ST. FRANCIS: They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.

GOD: Enough! I don’t want to think about this anymore. St. Catherine, you’re in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?

ST. CATHERINE: “Dumb and Dumber,” Lord. It’s a real stupid movie about . . .

GOD: Never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from St. Francis.

Source: Unknown

Plant food not lawns!

Plant food not lawns!

 

Jan 222014
 

By Avis Licht

I’ve enjoyed the music of Laurie Lewis for years and then lo and behold she wrote this song called Garden Grow. I think it’s a hoot and  want to share this great tune about her love of the garden and making it grow better. I announce this as my new anthem. Please enjoy her wonderful singing, playing and great good humour. Posted with her total approval.  Visit her site at: Laurielewis.com

Garden  Grow

Laurie Lewis

Oct 302012
 

by Avis Licht

Whether you plant edible crops for the winter or not, there are a few things you can do to keep your garden healthy and protected for the winter.

Clean up under your fruit trees and mulch with compost

 

 

1. Clean out the old beds and if you have room, be sure to compost your old foliage.  There are a lot of nutrients in those plants that  came out of your ground and you can put those nutrients back into the soil. Composting is an important part of garden health.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fava beans make a wonderful winter cover crop

 

 

2. Plant cover crops to protect the soil from erosion and add nutrients as well as humus to the soil.  Fava beans and bell beans can be sown even in cold, wet weather.

 

 

 

3. Sheet mulch to cover large areas to improve the soil, get rid of weeds and prepare for future planting without having to dig the soil.  Sound too good to be true? Well it really works. Here’s an article about sheet mulching in my own back yard.

 

 

 

Mulching around plants

 

4. Mulch the soil around plants. This is one of the most important things you can do in the winter to protect the soil from erosion, hold moisture, protect roots from extreme weather and add nutrient. There are many types of mulch. Leaves, straw, wood chips, compost, and manure are some of the most common and easiest to use. As with everything else in the garden, there’s always lots to learn.  Different mulches  work better in different conditions. Check out my article on best mulching practices.

 

Frost on fallen leaves

May 302012
 

 

worms in the bin

by Avis Licht – I really love worms.  Some people think I’m a little crazy about my worm love, but when you know more about them, you’ll love them too.  It’s hard to believe such a small creature can do so much heavy lifting.   Check out these facts:

1.When compared with soil, worm casts also contain:

5 times more nitrogen;
7 times more phosphorus;
1.5 times the calcium;
11 times more potassium;
3 times more exchangeable magnesium.

2. Worm compost is organic, non-burning and rich in nutrients.  Vermicompost contains eight times as many microorganisms as their feed, which promotes healthy plant growth.

Be sure to sign up with your email to get all my posts. Go to the right column and you’ll find the sign up spot. I never share or give your emails to anyone else. Don’t miss any important gardening information.

3.Worms tunnel deeply in the soil and bring subsoil closer to the surface mixing it with the topsoil. Slime, a secretion of earthworms, contains nitrogen. Nitrogen, as we all know, is an important nutrient for plants. 

4. When expelled, worm casts consist of granules, surrounded by a mucus, which hardens upon exposure to air. When granular castings are mixed into garden or houseplant soils there is a slow “time release” of nutrients. However, the hardened particles of mucus do not readily break down. Instead, they serve to break up soils, providing aeration and improving drainage. Worm casts therefore provide an organic soil conditioner as well as a natural fertiliser.

5. The casts are also rich in humic acids, which condition the soil, have a perfect pH balance, and have plant growth factors similar to those found in seaweed.

Worms live where there is food, moisture, oxygen and a favorable temperature. If they don’t have these things, they go somewhere else. Don’t let this happen to your worms!

Here’s how to provide your worms with a happy home:

1. Get a multi layer worm box.  It allows the worms to travel to new food in the next layer, keeps the rain out, collects worm juice at the bottom and lets you collect finished castings without sifting.  The worms move up to the next layer when they’ve finished the food in the first layer.

Multi level worm bin

2. Layer bedding material in the box.  It can be torn newspaper, sawdust, leaves, dried leaves or any biodegradable, carbon based material. You can use horse or composted rabbit manure. Earthworm bedding should retain moisture, remain loose, and not contain much protein or organic nitrogen compounds that readily degrade.  Don’t put the box in the sun. It will get too hot for your worms.

torn newspaper for bedding

3.Add moist materials like composted manure, soil, leaves and worms. I got these worms from Urban Worm Composting.

Worms for composting

These worms are from Urban Adamah in a composted material. Lay them in the box.

4.After worms are added, keep the bedding moist but not soggy. If you’re using kitchen scraps, cut them up into 2″-3″ pieces. It’s easier for them to eat.  Feed them 2 or 3 times a week, a few cups at a time. If you leave on vacation, don’t worry, they’ll be fine.  Just make sure they have a little food before you go. Cover the food with cardboard or shredded newspaper. It keeps them moist.

food for your worms

Egg shells, banana peels, lettuce, coffee grounds – all good.

5. What NOT to feed your worms: 

Use Caution When Adding These:

Breads — can attract red mites
Potato skins, onions, garlic, ginger — get consumed slowly and can cause odors
Coffee grounds — too many will make the bin acidic

Do Not Feed:

Meat, poultry, fish, dairy — protein attracts rodents
Potato chips, candy, oils — worms do not like junk food and these attract ants
Oranges, lemons, limes — citrus has a chemical substance (limonene) that is toxic to worms

Let me know if you have problems.  There’s usually a simple solution.

Gotta love those worms!

Earthworms galore

Earthworms galore

 

Feb 202012
 
Spring flowers

by Avis Licht –

Coffee, especially organic

Drink your morning coffee, then put it in the compost.

Great news for coffee drinkers in the gardening world! Although many people love to drink coffee, it has often gotten a bad rap about its health effects.  Well, I’m here to say that a very reputable source has reported that coffee is very good for your health.  Especially if you’re a woman.  What has this got to do with your garden? Keep on reading!

Here’s what Dr. Sadja Greenwood has to say about coffee in her health blog.

“Positive news about caffeine and coffee is on the rise! Annia Galano, a Cuban chemist, recently published a paper suggesting that coffee is one of the richest sources of healthful antioxidants in the average person’s diet. It scavenges free radicals that can have damaging effects on the body. Here is a summary of recent research.Less Cognitive decline: A study found that women over age 65 who drank over three cups of coffee a day showed less cognitive decline over 4 years than those drinking one cup or less. No such relationship was found for men in this study.(Too bad for you guys.)  Decaf coffee and caffeine alone did not give this protection.” That’s the good news about coffee drinking for us coffee lovers.
The better news about all those extra coffee grounds is that they are fantastic for your garden.
  • They contain nitrogen, and provide generous amounts of phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and copper.
  • It is a myth that used grounds are highly acidic.  The acid in coffee is reduced by the water when the coffee is brewed.  What’s left is not highly acidic.
  • Grounds are best used in the compost, or mixed into the soil. Don’t use them as a mulch on the surface, as the grounds tend to grow moldy and get hard.
  • Worms love coffee grounds. You can safely put them into your worm bins.

Here’s a link to another article on composting and coffee. It has lots of information:Coffee grounds in the garden.

Spring flowers

Enjoy a cup of coffee while walking around your garden in the morning

Dec 122011
 
Glass teapot

Glass tea pot is elegant and beautiful

In a previous post I wrote about herbal teas from the garden and the fun of having nice tea pots.  Here is a glass teapot that really shows off your tea.

There are many  wonderful reasons to grow your own food. But when we harvest the bounty of onions or potatoes, we’re also left with the problem of what to do with the food that’s piled up on the kitchen counter.

One way to store tubers and bulbs is in a beautiful basket. These baskets work for onions, potatoes, small winter squash, yams and garlic.

Good looking and tidy basket storage

There are different ways to store your harvest. Baskets are great.

Another vexing problem can be fruit flies.  When you bring in a basketful of tomatoes or apples you can find your kitchen visited by fruit flies. Extremely annoying. These pretty glass containers will take care of those pesky flies with no harmful chemicals.

fruit fly trap

Lures contain yeast, sugar and other natural ingredients

I’ve saved the best for last though. We’re always looking for a good way to store composting scraps in the kitchen and finally someone has made a bucket that fits under the sink with a good tight top. I mean really, it’s about time. You can find all these useful kitchen helpers at Gardener’s Supply Company.

Under counter compost bucket

Finally a good compost bucket to store out of sight

Dec 072011
 
Sheet mulching removed the old lawn
Sheet mulching

Layers for sheet mulching

Sheet mulching is the simple act of layering greens,(weeds, garden greens, kitchen waste), cardboard, manure (although not absolutely necessary) and mulch. By doing this over the winter, you allow decomposition of weeds and the proliferation of worms under cover of cardboard.

Use sheet mulching instead of digging.  It saves your back and brings new fertility and health to your soil.  By using manure, you introduce worms into the soil and they proliferate under the protection of the cardboard.

You can use this method for both large and small areas. Sheet mulching around fruit trees keeps down weeds and will add fertility in the Spring when the tree comes out of dormancy.

In large areas, you can use it to remove that old, tired lawn. At my own home I replaced the backyard lawn that the kids and dog had used and abused and no longer looked good. I didn’t want to dig it up; that would have killed my back.  Instead I sheet mulched it.

Earthworms in compost

Earthworms can turn your weeds into beautiful, healthy soil

  • I mowed the lawn, leaving the clippings on the ground.  I rounded up all the other weeds and greens from the yard and laid them down over the lawn.
  • I laid down approximately 3 inches of manure over the whole lawn.  If you don’t have access to manure, just use as many fresh greens and kitchen compost as you have.
  • Next comes the cardboard. I went to an appliance store and picked up large cardboard boxes, free, of course. Be sure to overlap the edges to keep the weeds from sneaking through.
  • On top of this I put another layer of manure and then covered all of this in 6 inches of mulch.  You can use free shredded tree trimmings  from your local tree service, or lay out straw from bales of hay.
  • If it is dry in your part of the country, be sure to give the area a good soaking to get things decomposing.  Then let the winter take care of the rest.  Come Spring, you will find that the area is ready for new plantings.

Take a look at my back yard.  I promise you I did not dig up one square inch of the lawn that used to be there. Worms did the hard work.  You just have to invite them in with a little manure and cardboard.

Sheet mulching removed the old lawn

Without digging up a spadeful, I turned lawn into this edible landscape

P.S. If you prefer to use custom made fabrics for your sheet mulching, Amazon and Gardeners Supply
icon sell some good products. Both of these links I’ve provided will take you directly to fabrics for sheet mulching.

Nov 302011
 
compost pail
compost pail

Make sure you have something that looks good to hold your kitchen scraps

It’s always a challenge to get those kitchen scraps and old food from the refrigerator into the compost pile. You need something right on counter to throw those trimmings into until it’s time to take the long walk outside.  Actually, it shouldn’t be a long walk. If it’s snowing or raining, you want that compost bin easy to get to. However, you don’t want it so close to the house that there are smells or flies. (Of course, ideally, there shouldn’t be any smells or flies, but, alas, life is not always “ideally”).

 Positioning your compost bin is almost a fine art.  It needs to be near the kitchen, out of site of window views, away from outdoor sitting areas, and accessible to get the finished compost.

Positioning also depends on the size of your bin. How big is your family and how much waste do you produce in the kitchen and from the garden?

Small enclosed composter

This small composter keeps out all critters and fits on a deck or small area easily

If you have 1 or 2 people and a small garden, you should consider one of these round bins that take up very little room and work quite well. This bin is large enough to accommodate regular contributions from both the kitchen and a small garden.

The main concern is food scraps that may attract unwanted pests. The best way to deal with this is to use an enclosed bin and have leaves or sawdust to add each time you add wet kitchen garbage.

The most deluxe composter available is this electric one, which you can put in the garage or on a porch. It really does the work and gives you finished compost in two weeks.

electric composter

This composter works fast and is really easy to use

 
Click Here For Great Composting Supplies

Sep 272011
 
Inside a rolling composter with worms

Inside the composter, worms eat the food and make soil

Composting is one of my favorite subjects. How many ways can you take garbage and turn it into gold.  The only way I know is by composting your kitchen and yard waste and getting Garden Gold as the result.

There are few additions to the garden that are as useful as compost.  You can’t use too much of it, it won’t burn your plants like too much nitrogen and it increases the entire health of the soil as well as the plants. It is easy to put your kitchen wastes and some dried leaves in the bin and let the worms do their thing.

Small enclosed composter

This small composter keeps out all critters and fits on a deck or small area easily

In the picture on the left, you put the food in the little trap door. Mix your wet garbage like food scraps with dry matter, like leaves, weeds and  sawdust at the rate of 1 part wet to 4 parts dry. Introduce worms into the bin, either by putting some topsoil from your garden into it, or buying some earthworms from the nursery. You can also find that a little manure added will get your compost going fast.

The difference between a “hot” compost pile and a “cold” pile is the rate of decomposition and the heat generated by the breakdown of nutrients.  In the bin on the left, regular additions of kitchen waste keep the pile cool, and worms find that they like this atmosphere just fine. Piles that get too hot do not have worms. Both kinds of composters work. It is more a matter of how you use your pile that decides which way it goes, hot or cold.

Big Mother

Happy worms can get big

Worms in the compost

Worms in the compost

 

This set of photos shows a partial break down of the food. Worms did all the work.

From this point on you can put the compost into the soil around your plants.  You’ll also be introducing more worms into the soil which is a spectacular thing to do.

There is lots more to know and learn about composting and worms, but I really just want you to get started. Here is an interesting article that will tell you more on worms. Never throw another banana peel away. Your edible landscape will be healthier and produce better tasting food using this free garden gold.

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