In the garden

I spend a lot of time out here

Compost: A Love Story

I was doing my annual turning of the Biostack composter today, when my sister and her boyfriend walked over. Gin said, “Amy wants you to admire her dirt.”

“Dirt!” I sneered. “Dirt is the stuff you find on the kitchen floor. The stuff you grow plants in is soil. And this…this is COMPOST.”

It’s ok, though. I don’t really expect anyone except other gardeners to understand my deep and abiding love of compost. It’s like magic: you throw your kitchen scraps and weeds in a pile, and a year later, you have the most glorious soil amendment known to man. It nourishes plants. It provides microorganisms to the garden. It enriches the soil, allowing it to hold more water. And it’s free. How can you not love that?

Bette Midler, chanteuse and passionate gardener, once said, “My whole life has been spent waiting for an epiphany, a manifestation of God’s presence, the kind of transcendent, magical experience that lets you see your place in the big picture. And that is what I had with my first compost heap.”

Bette is my kind of dame, and not just because of her history of outrageous costumes and killer vocals.

The Biostack composter.

The Biostack composter.

The finished compost.

The finished compost.

The Biostack composter.

I bought this composter with my employee discount when I worked at Smith & Hawken. It’s great for composting my kitchen scraps, because it’s contained AND located right outside the back door. If I had to rely on my running to the other compost piles (you bet I have more than one), the kitchen scraps would never make it out.

It’s made of several tiers of black plastic, which makes it easy to turn. You take a tier off, drop it on the ground, and fork any still-recognizable chunks back into the tier. You take off the next tier and repeat.

The idea behind this turning process is to speed up the breakdown of materials into compost. I’m too lazy to do it regularly. After all, the stuff’s going to rot on its own, so why bother?

The photo above at right is what was at the bottom of my Biostack. Note that it still has recognizable chunks of grass and eggshells and whatnot.

The riddle.

The riddle.

Finished, sifted compost around the cherry tree. It's a thing of beauty.

Finished, sifted compost around the cherry tree. Gorgeous.

Finished compost.

Which is where the riddle comes in. A compost riddle is essentially a giant sieve. You slap it over your wheelbarrow, drop compost on top of it, then use a shovel to work it back and forth. The finished, smaller bits fall into the barrow, while the big chunks get caught in the riddle.

Once you’ve got the finished compost, you dump all the junk still in the riddle back into the compost heap to cook some more.

The astute among you may say, “That’s awfully big for a compost riddle.” That’s because it’s actually a window frame covered with hardware cloth my dad built to replace the glass window in the garage during the summer so the chickens don’t die of heat stroke. Farmgirl ingenuity, my friends. (Don’t tell my dad.)

I worked the compost into my vegetable beds, and I top-dressed the fruit trees with a load of compost each. The dark brown looks just gorgeous.

Compost. It’s a thing of beauty.

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Le Sigh.

Cherry tree on March 22, 2012.

Cherry tree on March 22, 2012.

Cherry tree on March 25, 2013.

Cherry tree on March 25, 2013.

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First Day of Spring…

…my dead can.

You may have noticed that it’s cold. Like freeze your nose hair off cold. I worked in the field on Monday and part of Tuesday, and that wind went through me like buzz saw.

Last year this time, the daffodils were blooming and my cherry tree was in full bloom. Today? Snow flurries. The ground is so hard that cleaning out beds is a major chore; the dead leaves are frozen solid.

I just can’t get motivated to get out into my own garden to knock down the last of the rye or turn the compost,and the soil’s too cold for spring planting. Instead, I am mostly spending my free time making garden lists, cruising Pinterest, and following the example of my cats:

When the cats aren't even bothering to make a break for the door, you know it's chilly.

When the cats aren’t even bothering to make a break for the door, you know it’s chilly.

 

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Peas and Potatoes by St. Patrick’s Day…

Last year, we had a series of 80 degree days in March. This year, we’ve had snow, sleet, freezing rain, regular rain, and mud. It’s freaking cold, and it’s also depressingly grey.

St. Patrick’s Day has come and gone, and I did not get the peas or potatoes in. Why? Three reasons:

1. I spent most of the weekend talking about gardening at the Indiana Flower and Patio Show and the Indy Winter Farmers Market.

2. I just took down my rye cover crop last week. Rye can inhibit germination of newly planted seeds, so I’m giving it another week before I plant in beds that had the rye.

3. The soil’s still a bit too cold. For peas and potatoes, the soil temperature should be at least 40 degrees; 45 degrees is better. Mine’s still just a bit colder than that.

What do you mean, how do I know? I stuck a meat thermometer in the dirt. Don’t judge me; I washed it off after.

I’ll get these Irish-y crops in the ground next weekend, provided we don’t have yet another March snowstorm.

In the meantime, enjoy this completely unrelated picture of pansies filling the back of the truck last year:

Picking up pansies at the nursery last spring.

Picking up pansies at the nursery last spring.

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Last (I hope) Winter Blast

So I’ve sown leeks, eggplants, and peppers inside. I’ve pruned the fruit trees and raspberry canes. I’ve got a planting plan and I’m not afraid to use it. I am ready for spring.

Then this happened.

The Fraudulent Farmstead on March 6, 2013. Note the recently pruned dwarf apple trees in front.

The Fraudulent Farmstead on March 6, 2013. Note the recently pruned dwarf apple trees in front.

A thick, fluffy, wet layer of snow, with a soupçon of ice underneath. Fortunately, I was able to shovel the walk pretty quickly and then take my trusty phone out for a few snaps.

Pa Ingalls taught me that a late snow is poor man’s fertilizer. It brings nitrogen down from the atmosphere to the ground, and nitrogen is the element that has the most impact on vegetative growth.

Of course, Pa plowed that snow into his fields. I am without a plow and team of oxen. So I’m just going to hope that the snow does my plants some good.

A late snow also makes the sugar sap run longer, which would be awesome if I had sugar maple trees. And a giant cauldron to sugar off the sap. And a huge amount of time. I learned that from Pa Ingalls too.

Pa Ingalls taught me a lot. I’m just grateful I didn’t have to follow him all over hell’s half-acre in a wagon to learn it.

Anyway, the late snow inspired me to start chronicling the seasons here at the Fraudulent Farmstead. To wit:

My dwarf cherry tree in front of the Farmstead, taken May 4, 2012

My dwarf cherry tree in front of the Farmstead, taken May 4, 2012

Same tree, taken March 6, 2013. On the upside, you can see the germander I planted to edge the vegetable bed.

Same tree, taken March 6, 2013. On the upside, you can see the germander I planted to edge the vegetable bed.

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