Archive for the ‘Composting’ Category

We are blessed with a LOT of trees here in the Pacific Northwest.  We have not only evergreens which we are known for, but we also have lots of deciduous trees.  This means we have lots of leaves to use in our gardens each year.

The leaves that fall at home I shred and use directly on the garden beds each fall…it makes a great winter mulch along with grass clippings.

The leaves that fall up at our lake cabin are a different story.

As we don’t have a garden at the cabin, and not wanting to waste such a great resource, I rake them, bag them, and haul them back home.

I take all my bags full of leaves out to the garden.  Then I add a scoop of garden soil into each bag.  I then poke a few holes in the top and a few in the bottom for drainage (wet Northwest winters) and I’m done…there they sit all fall and winter.

Leaves that are not shredded will take between 6 to 12 months to break down completely.  I, having no patience what so ever, use mine at the 6 month mark.  In the spring I open up my bags and find the leaves to be reduced by about half.  I also find that a few worms have moved in through my drainage holes!  I then use my leaf mold in my trenches, mounds, and pots in the garden.

Leaf mold itself does not have a lot of nutrients like compost does.  But it is a marvelous soil conditioner.  It improves your soil texture and helps tremendously with water retention.  Leaf mold also is great for providing habitat for soil critters like earthworms and even beneficial bacteria!

Leaf mold is simple to make and free!  So if you are lucky enough to have a tree or two…or a hundred…go get out your rakes and make yourself some leaf mold…your garden will thank you!


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Making Mulch

Leaves make the best all natural mulch for flowerbeds and your edible garden beds. The worms love it and it does a wonderful job of keeping weeds at bay and it does wonders to help retain moisture. Leaves also help improve the soil over the long term as the worms turn them into the soil. The best part is that they’re FREE! I’m lucky that our gardens are surrounded by giant trees so I have leaves in abundance, but we also collect leaves from our neighborhood leaf drop off center as I don’t think you can ever have too many!

I prefer to chop the leaves up with a mower as this makes a better mulch. I find that they don’t get matted down and slimy in the spring when you do this. Adding some green material also helps the mulch break down faster and I have found that it helps insulate my garden better since the two mixed together seem to provide a little extra heat.

I often spread a 3-6 inch layer of mixed leaves and green material on all my garden beds in the fall. In the spring I leave it on some garden beds, mainly the ornamental ones as it helps prevent weeds from germinating. I usually mix them into the soil in my edible beds when I’m getting ready to plant.

Do you use leaves in your garden? What do you like using for mulch?

I can also be found at Chiot’s Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, beekeeping, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Simple, Green, Frugal, Co-op, and you can follow me on Twitter.

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Lately I’ve been thinking about things I can do to save time in the garden and I decided trench composting would be a great way to do this. I started composting directly in the garden areas that need the most help. Now I don’t have to worry about nutrients leaching from the compost pile, which is something I’ve been reading about. If your compost pile isn’t covered, the rain will leach nutrient from the compost into the soil below. Why let all that hard work get leached away? I started trench composting a couple months ago. My parents used to do this when I was growing up. It’s a quick and easy way to compost all that stuff from canning.

All you have to do is dig a trench in the garden area and add a layer of your compostable things. Then back fill with the soil you removed. By spring it will have turned become compost and the worms will have distributed it in the garden. No turning, no layering, it’s quick and easy! You can dig one long trench and simply fill along as you add the compost items.

I still have my regular compost pile for the large amounts of garden waste, but I’m thinking of starting to put this pile in the garden areas I need to amend, that way any nutrients that leach out with the rain will at least be going into a garden area I’ll be using in the future.

Do you practice various forms of composting?

I can also be found at Chiot’s Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, beekeeping, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Simple, Green, Frugal, Co-op, and you can follow me on Twitter.

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I love old books…the yellowed pages, the stained covers, the old book smell.  There is something about an old book with out of date writing style and pictures of people from long ago that I just adore!

My favorite bookstore to hunt for old books is Powell’s Books.  If you old book obsessed then Powell’s Books in Portland Oregon is truly a spiritual experience,  if there is a bookstore in heaven it will be Powell’s!  A few years ago when I was wandering its maze of aisles I found myself in the gardening section…ok I admit that is usually where I end up!  I spotted among the new and shiny garden books, with their covers of perfect cabbage roses and sophisticated Japanese maples,  this plain water stained cucumber green, enormous but squat book. It had  nothing on the cover but the words “The Complete Book of Composting by J.I. Rodale and Staff”  My first thought is how in the world could there ever be over 1000 pages worth of information on just composting?  My second thought is darn this is one ugly book!  I flipped to the Introduction page,

“Compost is the core, the essential foundation of natural gardening and farming.  It is the heart of the organic concept”

Across the page was written “SIXTH PRINTING-DECEMBER 1969”.

I didn’t know that there even was an “organic concept” in 1969!  Next I checked out the Table of Contents, here are just a few of its 27 chapters:

The History Of Compost,   The Basics of Compost,   Composting Methods For The Gardener,   Applying Compost On The Farm,  The Earthworm’s Role In Composting, Personal Experiences,   Compost And The Health Of Animals and Man,   Humus-The End Product, and even Compost And The Law

I was hooked, its old, its about composting, and not just a superficial look at composting either but a 27 chapter 1000 page behemoth of composting . With its great old black and white pictures and price tag of only $8.95 how could I resist?

After owning this for years and referring to it often I can say that anyone who has either an old book, or compost fetish that this is a great addition to your library…if you can find it!


Never judge a book by its cover!


You’ve got to love a woman who composts in a dress with her hair done up!  Very attractive compost bin.


I thought this was a novel idea.  A compost bin with a cement floor that slopes down to grooves that funnel the rain water turned ‘compost tea’ in sunken cans in the ground.  With the amount of rain we get around here I would need a couple of 5 gallon buckets instead of little coffee cans!

So do you collect old books?  How about old garden tools?  Maybe even great old farm signs…

Kim can also be found at the inadvertent farmer where she raises organic fruits, veggies, critters, kids, and… a camel!

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Compost: is there any other way to get free, nutrient dense, loamy soil with minimal effort? There are many ways to compost waste, but there are three major types including aerobic, anaerobic and vermicomposting. Any way you do it, the end result is the same that you’d find in any woodland – a rich, dark, soil that will fix up almost any type of problem dirt in your garden and help strengthen your plants.

Aerobic: Also known as “hot” composting. This type of compost usually requires a bit of manipulation. Frequent turning will aerate your pile keeping microbes very active and raise the interior temperature and thus speeding up the decay. Many additives are available to aid in raising the temperature from peanut meal to manures. Grass clippings and other high nitrogen “greens” will do the job as well. There are no foul odors associated with a well-maintained aerobic compost pile and therefore should not attract any unwelcome guests in the way of critters or insects.

Anaerobic: This is what happens on the forest floor or when you create a compost pile or bin and allow time to decompose the waste. Over time the weight of the waste will compact and most of the air will be eliminated. Slower working microorganisms decompose this type of compost and it can take several years to get any results.

Vermicompost: Using worms to decompose your kitchen waste. Special bins are available to house “red wigglers”. They feed on your scraps on the top of the bin and leave their castings and decomposed materials behind to sift out of the bottom.

I won’t attempt to rewrite any of the many books or articles available on compost. Instead, here are a few informative sites that you may find extremely helpful.

The Garden of Oz – The Basics of Composting

Benefits of Recycling – Types of Composting

Ecocycle – Composting Made Simple

The Compost Gardener – Balancing your nitrogen and carbon (greens and browns)

Compost Info Guide – 10 tips to better compost

Compost This! – Search engine for compostable items

You can purchase or build a container to house your compost. I leave mine in an open pile, shaded by the woods and delineated with logs. My mother-in-law has a large hole dug in her yard – complete with a lid. You can use chicken wire, wooden pallets, or fencing to keep your pile intact. I know someone whose homeowner’s association does not allow composting. She’s dug a hole in her garden deep enough for a large trash bin complete with drainage holes and no one knows the better of it.


So, do you compost – and if so what type of composting do you use?

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I friend of ours Michelle posed the question over on the message board asking for ideas to use for teaching an after school gardening class for Kindergarten through 6th grade.  The class would be for 1.5 hours once a week.  She has asked for some ideas on things they could do.

So here is where we all come in.  I will throw out some ideas and would love it if you could too…I think together we can think of some things that may just get some kids interested in gardening!  This could be the perfect way to start out the new year/decade by recruiting the next generation of gardeners!

When I was an active WSU Master Gardener (before I couldn’t keep up with volunteer hours due to having babies) I specialized in children’s gardens for the county extension.  I would go around and talk to parents groups and help set up gardens at elementary schools.  By far and away the favorite thing I demonstrated and helped promote was worm boxes.

Setting up a worm box is easy, it requires only a container, bedding, food, and of course worms!  Here are a few of the things that you could do with a group of kids with a worm box…

  • Set up the box including shredding the paper and gather food such as kitchen veggie scraps
  • Measure worms and chart sizes
  • Observe worms with magnifying glasses or microscopes
  • Observe and then draw worms with the older kids labeling the parts of a worm
  • Discussing the role of worms in the garden
  • Charting each week how much the worms eat
  • Discuss the role of soil in the garden emphasizing the importance of organic practices for the sake of beneficial helpers including the worms

If anyone wants a great book on vermicomposting it is ‘Worms Eat My Garbage’, both the original book and the classroom activities book which is packed with  fun ideas for working with kids and worms!

Now it is your turn…what are some ideas that you might have for working with kids to get them excited to get out and garden later in the spring?

Kim can also be found at the inadvertent farmer where she rasises organic fruits, veggies, critter, kids and…a camel!

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I don’t know about you but at the end of the main growing season I always have all these notes in my head about what I loved and what I would do differently next spring.

So instead of taking the time to go try to find some paper that isn’t wrinkled and scribbled on and a pen that actually has ink…and then try to keep track of the list for 9 months…

I am going to make my ‘notes to self’ right here on the blog…hope nobody minds.


  • Tomato cages are wayyyyy better than this…it worked well for the cool spring but tomatoes need cages to grow up in…those tunnels did not control them nearly enough.

tomato tunnel

  • Remember to build more tomato cages before next year.
  • Yarn does NOT work as well as twine for green beans, it stretches in the rain and all the beans fall down…so don’t be lazy and go find the twine next time!
  • Put a self-closing hing on the garden gate…the dog likes cucumbers.
  • While we are on it…cucumbers do well with water.  Bitter is not the best flavor.Plant more flowers…


  • Make more compost.
  • Growing peppers and eggplant in tunnels is an EXCELLENT idea, please remember do this again.

eggplant plate3

  • Pumpkins are great fun to grow…more are needed next year.  Try some new colors.

blk wht pumpkins

  • Squash takes up a LOT of room, remember this so the compost bin doesn’t get covered with vines.
  • Barrels are great for potatoes but you would need many, many more to have a large harvest.
  • Plant out gourds sooner…

spider grd1

  • Plant out cantaloupe later.


  • Yum, yum peppers are simply the cutest and sweetest peppers ever…grow lots more!
  • 6 foot wire fencing is perfect for growing peas.

pea picking1

  • Chickens fly…chickens escape…chickens invade!
  • Chickens love young pumpkins, which will grow up to be ugly hen pecked pumpkins.


  • Remember to enjoy the process…
  • Always, always  involve the kids…even when they annoy you.

tomato napper1

  • And don’t hate the camel for doing what a camels does…


Which is anything he can do to try to reach your precious garden.

  • Reinforce the garden fence!


Remember why you do this every year…

For the health of your family and the health of the planet.


Its fun!

So fellow gardeners…what notes have you made to yourself for next year?

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