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Posts Tagged ‘compost’

Water Small Kitchen Garden Perennials

There wasn’t much “structure” to the root systems of my young fruit trees when I planted them in the fall. They’ll need plenty of water as they come out of dormancy this spring.

I’m poised to plant my small kitchen garden, having finished late-winter pruning and grafting in my fruit trees. I’m poised, but holding. March teased early with some very warm days, but then plunged into barely-tolerable cold.

The soil has thawed, so a more rugged gardener could have planted peas, lettuce, spinach, and other cold weather crops by now. I tend to wait until April for those, and sometimes am simply too busy to plant them until late April. But this year there’s something else that’s very important for me to do in my garden: water young perennials.

Fall Planting Time Bombs

Back in mid-Autumn, I argued in this blog that you should plant fruit trees in the fall (this goes for most perennials, but if they’re not going to feed you, don’t waste your energy planting them). I shared my experiences of trying to find fruit trees at local nurseries, I explained that I ended up buying via mail-order, and I showed how I planted my young trees in mid-November.

Among the advantages I listed for planting perennials in autumn: you don’t have to water, and you can omit fertilizer. Dormant plants aren’t demanding.

Come spring, those young perennials emerge from dormancy and require the creature comforts you denied them in the fall. If you had plenty of rain or snow over the winter, your soil will thaw and be moist; your perennials will be happy. However, if your neighborhood is emerging from a dry winter, your perennials may awaken to desert-like conditions. This is especially bad for the young ones.

What’s more, even if your ground thaws wet, you need to make sure the young plants don’t dry out along with the soil. Unless you’re experiencing substantial seasonal rainfall—or massive snow melt—you should start watering when the ground thaws.

How Much Water?

In early spring, water deeply once or twice a week (again, don’t water if Mother Nature is doing a good job of it). As plants (any plants—not just the perennials you planted in autumn) emerge from dormancy (you see leaf buds plump up), increase your watering to once daily unless the soil is obviously saturated.

When you plant perennials, you should soak them till the soil can’t hold more water. This helps you work out air pockets and get the soil up against young roots. Subsequent watering needn’t saturate the soil. Your goal is to keep everything damp, not to maintain a mud pit around your tree.

When leaves emerge and you see vigorous growth, cut back the water to two or three times a week, and keep it up until fall. Skip watering if there’s a decent rainstorm.

Especially if you planted bare root trees in the fall, they need a lot of moisture in their first year to help them develop strong root systems. But temper daily watering: the point of planting in autumn was to reduce the amount of water you had to provide. Especially in March and April, the soil may stay wet for several days between watering.

Fertilizer?

It’s good to provide fertilizer as your young fall plantings wake up in the spring. Best of all, mulch with compost (but don’t let the compost rest against the plant). If that’s not an option, provide a light feed of 10-10-10 chemical fertilizer.

For my older fruit trees, I’d always driven holes in the ground with a crow bar, and then filled the holes with fertilizer. A friend who runs an orchard told me he prefers to broadcast fertilizers on the surface and let them dissolve into the soil. For young trees, just dust fertilizer on the loose soil around the tree trunk—a small handful at most. With all the watering, it’ll soak in quickly.

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Essential Gifts for the Small Kitchen Garden

If you’re shopping for the custodian of a small kitchen garden, perhaps you’re overwhelmed by your options. Here’s a list of essential gifts any one of which is appropriate for a kitchen gardener. For each gift, I’ve included thoughts about why the kitchen gardener in your life will be happy to find that gift under the tree.

Sprouts: an Indoor Kitchen Garden

Anyone with a home kitchen garden will appreciate a complete kit to grow fresh salad sprouts indoors. This is especially satisfying where winter forces gardeners indoors: watching your sprouts emerge and eating them in salads, sandwiches, and garnishes provides a mid-winter lift. If you’re splurging, give the Deluxe Sprouting Starter Kit. If you’re on a budget, your gardener will be thrilled with the Sprout Garden 3-Tray Kit (below).

Click here to order.

Indoor Kitchen Garden on a Budget

If the Deluxe Sprouting kit is a budget-breaker, then give the Sprout Garden Family Sprouting Kit. It’s a great starter kit for a modest budget.

Click here to order.

A Hydroponic Small Kitchen Garden

For the winter-bound kitchen gardener, home hydroponics offers a gardening adventure. Hydroponics is the science of growing plants without soil and it leads to healthier plants with higher yields than you get from traditional gardening. The AeroGarden hydroponic system is one of the most often-reviewed gardening items available through Amazon, and reviewers are enthusiastic! Provide your gardener with a season-stretching scientific marvel: the AeroGrow AeroGarden.

Click here to order.

Compost Helpers for the Small Kitchen Garden

No matter how rooted in tradition a gardener might be, he or she will come to love a compost tumbler. This is the high-technology of garden composting. A lightweight, easy-to-turn barrel can convert kitchen scraps, garden waste, and lawn clippings into compost in four-to-six weeks. Get the popular Tumbleweed Composter here.

Click here to order.

Compost Helper on a Budget

If a compost tumbler is out of your price range, you can still find a great gift for anyone who already has a compost heap, bin, or tumbler: a kitchen compost bucket. This bucket is attractive and functional: it sits on the counter to collect cores and peels until it’s convenient to carry them outside. A good compost bucket includes a tight-fitting lid and charcoal filters to limit odors. This one has been rated well by Amazon.com customers.

Click here to order

Most Outrageous Gift for a Gardener

Want to give a home kitchen gardener a gag gift that’s actually useful? Imagine the look on the face of your loved one when the wrapping paper comes off to reveal a worm farm! Purists call these vermicomposting systems. Such a system can sit on your kitchen floor, in a closet, or in virtually any convenient place. You fill it with worms, cardboard, and kitchen scraps! The worms eat the cardboard and kitchen scraps, leaving behind rich castings: organic gold for a vegetable garden. Few gifts will elicit more dramatic reactions than a worm composting system.

Click here to order

Outrageous Residents for the Outrageous Gift

When you order a worm composting system, make sure you order some worms as well. And, when you click over to Amazon.com to place your order, read the reviews; one reviewer had a particularly creative sense of humor… or was it?

Click here to order

Super High Tech for a Home Kitchen Garden

You don’t need a reason for this one; it’s just too cool to pass up: it provides an interface between your garden and your computer! The EasyBloom Plant Sensor sits in your soil and measures temperature, sunlight, and moisture. Then you plug it into a computer’s USB port and it guides you to ideal plant selections, or it helps diagnose problems with whatever you’ve already planted. New this year, the EasyBloom has enthusiastic users. The EasyBloom web site includes a plant library with information about just about anything you’d want to grow. Give an EasyBloom Plant Sensor to you favorite gardener who is also a geek.

Click here to order

Reduce a Small Kitchen Garden’s Water Bills

Most serious gardeners I’ve asked about it have said they either have or want to have rain barrels. Of course! A rain barrel collects runoff from the roof of your house so you can use it later to water your garden. Installing and using a rain barrel reduces water bills and reduces a garden’s (and a house’s) impact on the environment. Give your gardeners rain barrels and they’ll think of you every time they water their gardens.

Click here to order

Watering Convenience for a Small Kitchen Garden

Except in a very wet climate, or an unusually rainy growing season, all gardeners water their gardens. At the very least, you must add water immediately after planting seeds and seedlings. When you’re running a garden hose, it is crucial to have a good nozzle to control the flow when you’re away from the shut-off valve (the faucet). A nozzle that can produce several spray patterns is especially handy. This set includes three high-quality nozzles your gardener will love.

Click here to order

Digging in a Small Kitchen Garden

Who gives shovels and pitchforks as gifts? People who understand gardeners do. This particular garden fork has received only five-star reviews from customers. It looks nice, it’s inexpensive, and it’s the pitchfork I’d like to replace the one whose handle snapped last spring. Score big points by getting one for the gardener in your life.

Click here to order

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Using Compost in a Small Kitchen Garden

I once heard a master gardener decree that you should never add sand to your small kitchen garden to improve the quality of soil that is primarily clay; add only humus. I respectfully disagree. One of the finest kitchen gardens I ever saw was planted in a sandbox—my dad took over the sandbox when I and my brothers outgrew it… and it produced fine tomato crops year-after-year.

The argument against adding sand is that you can add humus instead, and humus improves the texture of soil while providing nutrition for plants. Humus, however, breaks down over time. In just one season, your clay-heavy garden soil can revert back to its original condition; you need to continue adding humus year-after-year to keep clay from re-expressing itself in your garden.

Sand for a Lazy Garden

Even if you’re not lazy, consider this: when a greens keeper at a golf course builds up a tee box or a green—or even a fairway—he or she lays down a mixture of sand, clay, and silt. The greens keeper is planting perennials (grass) and will not be able to add significant amounts of humus to the soil in ensuing years. The preferred soil mix drains quickly, but not too quickly, and it doesn’t compact easily (ensuring air-flow to roots). When I see a scoop of this stuff, I wish my whole yard was built on it.

Even when I add humus to my clay-heavy soil, at the end of the growing season, the soil is crusty and hard to penetrate with a shovel… if there were more sand in the soil, this would be far less of a problem. Here’s a link to a web site that discusses what should be in your soil, and at what percentages: Organic Vegetable Garden

But what about Compost?

OK, this is a discussion about using compost, but I’ve rambled on about soil composition. Please forgive me. Here’s how I use compost on my small kitchen garden:

Mulch

I don’t use compost as mulch. I mulch with lawn clippings throughout the growing season. Being lazy, I don’t mow often enough, so I dump a lot of grass seeds, plantain seeds, and dandelion seeds on my garden.

Off-season soil amendment

At season’s end, I cover the garden with all the leaves we rake off our lawn. The grass clippings and leaves reduce to a thin organic layer by spring.

Fertilizer

I don’t till my garden, I till my planting areas. So, for example, when I set in a new tomato, I dig a hole about two feet in diameter and 12 to 18 inches deep. That’s where the compost goes. I put a generous amount of compost into the tomato hole and add about as much loose soil. I mix the two together, filling the hole so it is only about four inches deep. Then I put the tomato’s root ball in the hole and cover it over with soil. The upshot is that each tomato plant gets its own bowl of compost-rich soil two feet in diameter and eight to twelve inches deep.

This is my approach for whatever I plant: dig a hole or a trench, lay in a generous heap of compost and mix it together with soil, then plant something on it.

Weeds?

Does my garden have a weed problem? Well… it’s weedy, but it’s not a problem, and it has nothing to do with my composting habits… it has to do with my laziness. When I mulch with lawn clippings, I heap them deep. In a particularly rainy year, I might put 18 inches of grass and weed clippings on the garden seven or eight times. In a dry season as this one was, I get only two or three such heepings.

In either case, if weeds do come up through the lawn-clipping-mulch one week, I bury them in more mulch the next week. By the end of the season, the only weeds in my mulched areas are rooted in mulch and they come out with a relatively gentle tug.

Weeds grow out of the holes where I plant desirable plants; this is unavoidable because the conditions that make my vegetables want to grow in those places make weeds happy as well. For a month or so, I keep the weeds down by pulling them when they’re small. Eventually, my enthusiasm flags and the weeds have their ways… but by then the vegetables are well-established, and the weeds don’t overshadow them. Despite the weeds, I’m very satisfied with the food-production. I pull bigger, more annoying weeds—especially if they look like they’re going to flower—but generally I let them go.

What’s right for your small kitchen garden?

Is there a right way to do compost? Sure. But the right way isn’t necessarily practical, and in a very limited space, you may not have many options. In upcoming entries, we’ll explore design and planting schemes for home kitchen gardens. Your garden’s design will help determine the best composting scheme for you.

 

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Compost for My Small Kitchen Garden

In my last post, I suggested three advantages of compost, and mentioned different composting strategies to fit both your space and your intensity of involvement with your small kitchen garden. I also promised to tell you what I, in my lazy garden manner, do about compost. But first, I want to expand on the three advantages of composting:

I mentioned that composting reduces the amount of garbage you pay to get rid of, and that it produces nutrition and humus for your small kitchen garden. What I want to emphasize is that if you don’t continually add nutrition and humus to your garden soil, the soil will eventually cease to support worthwhile food crops. So, while composting saves money by reducing the amount of stuff you throw out, it also saves by reducing or eliminating the need to buy amendments for your soil. Here’s my lazy garden approach to compost:

Compost for a lazy garden

You can do better than what I’m about to tell you, and we’ll explore better in later blog posts… but you don’t need to do better. I promise, this works, and I can’t imagine spending any more time at it than I already do.

My Small Kitchen Garden Compost Heap

I have a compost heap—no container, no bin, no phased plasma inverter. The heap is right at the end of my garden. It used to be under a gorgeous blue spruce tree, but the tree blew down in a thunderstorm about five years ago, so my neighbors and visitors can clearly see my compost heap.

Here’s how my heap works: I picked a spot and started heaping stuff there. At first, it was lawn clippings, raked leaves, and weeds. As my yard maintenance generated these waste products, I collected them and threw them on the heap. During the growing season, I also threw peelings, pits, and mash from the kitchen onto the heap. These included cherry and peach pits, apple cores and skins, strawberry caps, the mutilated raspberries and other fruits I’d juiced to make jellies, and random vegetable parts that we didn’t want to eat (those outer leaves of lettuce heads and the thickest parts of broccoli stems, for example).

Occasionally (and I mean, maybe, twice a year), I tossed a few shovels full of soil from the garden onto the heap. When I did pull weeds (almost never), I didn’t knock soil off the roots—I tossed the weeds on the heap along with any attached soil.

My Compost Scorecard

Throughout the summer, the heap would grow until is was four feet above the soil… and immediately after rain, it put out a very strong odor of decaying grass—especially if it rained within a day or so of mowing. Over winter I added a lot of ash from my wood furnace, but by spring the heap would subside three feet or more.

Superficially, the heap looked like dead, dried grass and leaves. However, when I turned up the edge with a pitchfork in hopes of finding nutrient-rich humus, that’s what I found! Depending on rainfall in the preceding season, the compost wasn’t always fully-reduced; after a dry summer I could still recognize the shapes of grass and other items at the bottom of the heap. Knowing I could have better compost, I still used whatever came out from under the dry cap on my heap.

Today’s Compost is Easier

I’ve gotten lazier with age, and my compost heap has gotten more unruly. Here’s why: I no longer compost the “light” stuff on the heap. By light stuff, I mean grass clippings and fallen leaves—they break down very quickly, and here’s how I use them:

I use grass clippings as mulch throughout my small kitchen garden… and at the end of the growing season, I cover my planting beds with leaves we rake off the lawn. By spring, the semi-decomposed grass clippings and leaves form a scant one-eighth-inch layer on the soil, and they nearly vanish when I turn the soil over in preparation for planting.

The other stuff—weeds, expended vegetable plants, kitchen waste—still goes into the compost heap. When I think of it, I toss some soil on the heap, but otherwise, I ignore it… until I need some extra humus in the spring. Then, at the very bottom of that heap, I find beautiful, dark-brown compost for the job.

But Wait, There’s More

I can hear the purists pointing out the flaws with my composting scheme: I’m dumping weed seeds on my vegetable garden. I’m not cooking the compost hot enough. I’m not stirring it around enough. I’m putting stuff in my heap that shouldn’t be there. In my next blog entry, I’ll explain more about how I use compost in my lazy garden, and highlight factors to help you decide which composting strategies you should apply.

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Compost for a Small Kitchen Garden

If you want to start a lively discussion, ask the experienced owner of a small kitchen garden about compost. With as many opinions about compost as there are gardens, the whole topic can be mind-boggling. It might seem as though compost is a magical garden elixir that requires incantations by compost wizards to produce. But it just isn’t so.

Compost is what it is

Compost is decayed organic stuff—usually organic stuff that decays easily. (The dry compost in the photograph started out as grass, autumn leaves, wood ash, and vegetable peels.) Throw the right organic stuff into a pile where it’s exposed to moisture, warmth, and what lives in soil, and it’s going to decay. In fact, moisture and warmth is enough to promote decay, but things that live in soil accelerate composting.

The advantages of composting are few, but considerable:

  • Composting consumes garbage (lowering dumping charges)
  • Composting produces plant food for your small kitchen garden
  • Composting produces humus that can improve the texture of your garden soil

Your composting efforts can be as simple or as involved as you want—pretty much in line with your gardening efforts. If you’re a passionate owner of a home kitchen garden… or you really want to become a compost wizard, then find a cooperative extension office in your area and learn what they teach about compost. Our local extension service occasionally runs seminars at which they give away compost barrels, and yours might too.

Different Methods for Different Spaces

Depending on the space you can afford for compost, and the amount of organic waste material you produce, you’ll have specific challenges with specific solutions. For example, if you barely have space for a small kitchen garden, it may seem you have no space at all for compost. But you can compost on a very small scale by becoming a worm farmer, which we’ll explore in-depth in a later post.

You can also find composting machines designed to work in your kitchen. These can be fully-automated with computerized environment controls and filtering to promote appropriate decay with minimal odor. If price is no object, a composting appliance might the perfect addition to your small kitchen garden.

On a slightly larger scale, compost barrels are handy in limited spaces, with an added advantage that they can significantly speed up composting. After that you’re into compost bins and heaps, and these can be relatively small or as large as you’re willing to let them become.

Your Compost Philosophy

Are you going to compost everything you possibly can? Can you wait for compost, or do you want it yesterday? Do you enjoy chemical testing, stirring, turning, and putting dirt through a sieve? Oh, you can do it all… but you don’t have to.

Being lazy, I encourage you not to put a lot of energy into compost, but my approach isn’t for everyone. In my next post, I’ll describe my composting activity, and point out its advantages and disadvantages.

Here are some articles that provide further perspectives and tips on composting:

  • PLANT FOOD RECIPE: Making Compost – SUPPLIES One 4 foot x 4 foot x four foot container Pitchfork Watering can or hose. INGREDIENTS. 2-3 wheelbarrow loads of green stuff such as grass clippings, weeds, kitchen plant material 2-3 wheelbarrow loads of brown stuff, …

  • Mistakes Making Compost – wet-heap-july. Another wet and rainy day and all I can think about is the compost heap (well may be not all). We all slip up, drop clangers and get it wrong so I thought I would list some of my own errors or lash-ups. …

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