Archives for posts with tag: compost bins

Finally, a crack in the ice, a fissure in the hard shell of cold that has been this winter.  With temperatures in the upper 40s and a splash of warming sunshine this weekend, winter has moved on, having overstayed its welcome by a week.

It left some baggage behind—there is still more than a foot of snow on the ground.  The continued warm weather will get to work on that, slowly, but it will be another week or two before it is all gone.  The mountainous piles of snow in mall and supermarket parking lots—some of them six feet tall or higher—will take even longer to melt.

The thawing is a reassuring reminder that the seasons do change and that soon enough (or maybe not, for some people) the polar vortexes will recede back into the artic where they belong.  Until then, we must continue to prepare for warmer weather and the outdoor growing season that comes along with it.

Of course, there is nothing yet that can be done outside in the garden.  Indoors, however, plenty of tasks need attending to.  The basil, rosemary and first sowing of lettuce have all unfurled their first set of true leaves.  By now, they have probably used up most of the energy stored in their seeds.  I mixed a little fish emulsion with water in a spray bottle and gave all of them a quick boost.  Not long from now, I will pot them up.

According to the seed sowing calendar, I am a little late starting the eggplant and bell peppers, but only by a few days.  I filled another half-tray with soil mix and planted six eggplant (Black Opal) and twelve bell peppers (six Orange Sun and six Quadrato d’Asti Rosso).  We now have one and a half trays of seeds and seedlings warming on the heating pads.

Gardening is not all glamor and glitz.  In addition to sowing seeds, repotting seedlings, building compost bins, and other photogenic activities, there are less tidy chores that must get done.  For example, before starting on the sowing today, I washed up the small plastic and terra cotta pots that were still dirty from last year’s use.  It wasn’t a pretty sight when I began but it was immensely satisfying to see the results of my spring cleaning.

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Leaves, leaves, leaves.

In an ideal world, they would all turn bright shades of orange, yellow and pink before falling.  Then, they would take a week or two to gradually flitter down from the trees in whimsical patterns across the sky, presenting a dynamic autumn tableau outside my window, before settling—just so—onto the landscape.  Somehow, the leaves would manage to avoid pathways, cars and rain gutters.

Once nestled artistically on the ground, there they would lie snugly, like an especially beautiful blanket over the hillsides, increasing the aesthetic value of the view as I walk from my house to the mailbox.

Then, in late October or early November, the leaves would gradually and magically dissipate, slowly fading from view, possibly in conjunction with the year’s first snowfall (an ideal version of which might be the subject of a future post).  Their disappearance would coincide nicely with the appearance of new mounds of fresh compost in the previously depleted bins (which, in this ideal world, have already been constructed).

In reality, there is a lot of raking and blowing to be done this time of year (and I still need to build those compost bins).

I’ve been using an old plastic container, the kind in which plants from the nursery are potted (that’s how we came into possession of it), as a waste bucket.  It is a convenient place to toss weeds, pruned branches, rotted vegetables and other green waste from the garden.  It sits on the ground near the hose bib and next to the watering can and is a much easier target than the ravine beyond the pool fence.

I started this practice a few weeks ago and by today, the bucket was full.  So I walked it over to the refuse pile and flung its contents on top.  What I immediately noticed as the mass of organic matter plopped onto the pile was that the material at the bottom of the bucket, which had been kept moist by rain and warmed by the sun, had already started to decompose.  After less than a month, the green garden waste had become a dark brown, granular mass, well on its way to becoming rich organic soil.

In other words, my waste bucket had turned into a mini compost pile.  If I had let it bask in the sun much longer, I could probably have simply tipped it back into one of the planters to replenish the soil’s organic content.  Presumably, there is a little more to the process—balancing different materials, mixing them together, aerating the pile—but the experience showed me how simple the basic operation is.

Also, how magical the process is, almost like alchemy.  It is very encouraging and will motivate me to find a place where a pile of garden discards can be transformed into a useful soil amendment.

Over the last few days, we’ve been throwing our rejected seedlings onto a refuse pile.  And all the while, I’ve been lamenting their loss.  If only I had a compost pile, then the loss would not be as great.  The seedlings might not be producing any vegetables but they would be contributing to future soil.

It has made me think, though, that perhaps my approach to the compost pile should be similar to the one we ultimately took with the paving project.  Instead of waiting to construct a carefully designed and detailed compost bin enclosure, why not just clear an area and start piling the stuff up?

It would be good enough (the soil and earthworms aren’t as obsessed with aesthetics as I am) and a quick start to the production of local compost.  Best of all, doing so would not preclude building the compost bin of my dreams sometime in the future.

Independently, Rachel and I both came to the conclusion that we should collect and use our rainwater.  She got the idea reading through a gardening book (the very useful and practical Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook by Ron Kujawski and Jennifer Kujawski).  I came to thinking about it after flipping through a garden supply catalog (I don’t remember which one).

We often get a lot of rain here, especially in the summer when passing thunderstorms can dump several inches of rain in a very short time period.  Sustained rains are great for gardens (assuming they do not cause flooding or damage anything with the force of the falling rain) and keep the plants’ thirst quenched for several days.  Theoretically, a garden that receives an inch or rain per week (on average) does not need any other irrigation.

But during the heavy storms, most of the rain goes down the drain, soaks into the lawn or washes into the ravine.  (Or, sometimes, fills the pool with roadway material.)  Three inches of rain, delivered all at once, does not keep the garden moist for three weeks.  If we can capture some of the excess rain and use it to supply the garden’s irrigation system, we can reduce the amount of water that we draw from our well.

We could buy a turn-key kit but, fortuitously, we have two old plastic garbage cans—don’t worry; they are very clean—that would be fine as reservoirs.  To convert them, we will need some sort of adapter to connect the downspout (from a roof gutter) to the cans.  We will also need to buy pipe and fittings to connect them to each other and to the garden hose.  Our house is located uphill of the garden so it would be a gravity-fed system.  We’ll be moving the adjunct herb garden from the stoop (see February 8, 2013, part 2) and if we locate the rainwater storage there, we will get an additional eight feet of pressure head.

Now, we must consider (optimistically) that some of the time, rainwater will accumulate faster than we can use it.  This means that there should be an overflow mechanism to allow excess water to spill out when the cans get full.  It might be as simple as a hose tapped from the top of the cans to direct the water to the lawn (where it now goes all of the time).  Or, we might make it fancy and attach a sprinkler head or fountain fixture.  Either way, the trick will be to keep the water under control.

And giving due respect to Murphy (and his law), we must also consider that we will not get enough rain for it to be useful.  This means that we should be able to easily connect the garden hose to the house’s hose bib to keep the vegetables watered during dry spells (or worse, a drought).  Convenience is a key factor here because if we fail to revert to the well supply, the garden could dry out.  I will look into ways to automate this but diligence will still be required.

Collecting our rainwater is something that we ought to do, like maintaining a compost bin.  I’ll add it to my list of projects…

We took down our Christmas tree today (yesterday was the Twelfth Day of Christmas so it is now safe to do so).  For the last few years, I have been cutting off the branches and using them to fill the window boxes.  It is a convenient way to add seasonal decoration to the house.  It brightens the post-holiday mood and helps smooth the emotional transition to normalcy.

I find that the boughs will last until some time in February which is about the same time that my thoughts are turning to spring and its early manifestations (such as forced forsythia branches; see February 17, 2012).  I would make a reference to last year’s blog post about decorating the window boxes but it would draw attention to the fact that I still haven’t constructed a compost bin.

It is remarkable how quickly we adapted to the presence of the Christmas tree when we put it up four weeks ago and what a hole it leaves now that it is gone.  There is a feeling of loss, of something missing, a void.  But in as short a time, we will adjust to the normal state of the living room.