Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Taking our Recycling to a whole other level!

Ever since I have been living with my husband we have faithfully recycled goods like paper, plastic, metal, and glass. Sadly, our local collection site has now decided that glass is no longer economical enough to recycle and has stopped accepting it. I guess I'm just glad that they didn't cut plastic because there is no where for that crap to go.
It never occurred to me to "recycle" our food waste to amend our soil until I read the "Chicken Tractor" book. We simply either threw it in the woods or put it down the garbage disposal in the sink. I cannot tell you how many times I've wanted to tear my hair out because a wad of wilted lettuce clogged the disposal drain. Shrimp shells were another culprit of such fiascos.
My initial efforts at composting were on the low end of the budget spectrum. I procured 4 half rotten pallets for free and bought some hardware fabric and planned to make a box to throw waste in faithfully and turn over with the shovel. Not...realistic. I dreamed of a Compost Tumbler system because that seemed so much easier than pitch forking things every few days. I finally decided to take the plunge this past winter when prices for a "small" one tanked out at around 200.00. I can't testify to the quality of compost yet but I will say that it is so much more convenient than walking down to the back shed in the cold. On the few warm days we've had when I've checked it, steam actually came out of the barrel when I popped the hatch! It is nestled right now on the near the edge of my current composted cow doo-doo heap.

I've recently also started a worm composter. I was initially not going to invest in the compost tumbler because worm composting seemed like a good cheap alternative. A friend of mine said that no, worm composting is not the same as regular compost and that the worms digest out some nutrients that would otherwise rot into the soil. In hind site, I'm glad that I now have both! The worms have already made a rich compost in the plastic house that I made for them and you don't smell a thing unless you take the lid off. That's my cat, Logan, by the way. She 18 and has to inspect everything.
I got my worms from a wonderful girl named Angel! She hosted the first meeting of a local skill swapping club in Charlottesville, VA! It was awesome to meet other people and to learn about the worms! I've promised to give a tutorial on book making. It's going to be cool!
Anyway, the worm house cost a total of 10.00 to make. I bought the large plastic bin and drilled holes in the top for the worms to breath. I bought four smaller plastic bins to sit inside the larger one. I cut some styrofoam cups I saved from a local restaurant (I wish they didn't use those things) in half and put them inside one of the small plastic bins. I rested the bin containing the worms on top of them. This will act as a drain for moisture so the worms don't drown themselves. I've yet to get any liquid though. I've drilled holes in the inner plastic bins so that the worms can crawl from one level to another. They have filled their first level pretty much up and I'm going to pop a new bin on top and hope they will crawl up and make more compost.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Obamas are starting a vegetable garden! Yay! I'm so glad!
I started my seeds a few weeks ago and am amazed at how fast they have come up! In years past, the seeds had started after maybe two weeks with the help of a grow lamp but a few days after I had put them down in the egg cartons the tomatoes popped right up. This year instead of purchasing soil and plats like I had always done, I used the several styrofoam egg cartons I didn't have the heart to throw away. I had intended to use them for my brand new chickens but my finances didn't support that little venture this year. :( I will be enjoying some nice vegetables this year, though! :) I mixed my own soil from half of the red clay that the house is built on and half of the black composted cow fodder that I acquired from my mother and her husband. It appears that most of the seeds love it! The above picture is of the Cilantro and Spinach I have started.
Now, mind you, the Cilantro seed was purchased from Integral Yoga (a local foods supermarket!) from their Southern Exposure Seed Exchange stand ( a local seed saving company!) a few weeks ago and the Spinach is from a big chain store from a gift package for growers that is about a few years old! I think the Spinach seed is tired but it's coming up anyway.

My tomato sprouts are doing gang busters and I think that I'm going to have to take the plastic off of them soon! They are pressing against the top even as the plastic is three inches away from the surface! I am starting two kinds of tomatoes. One kind is Amish Paste and I received them from a swap with a wonder lady we'll call J on the PiedmontGardenSwap Group on Yahoo. The other variety is good ole Radiator Charlie from the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange stand.

I am voraciously reading "Carrots Love Tomatoes" and "Garlic Loves Roses" and have decided to plant basil between my peppers and tomatoes. Here is my Large Leaf Basil (Gurney's) and my Sweet Genovese Basil (SESE) perking along. They aren't growing as fast as the tomatoes but they are definitely doing better than my ancient spinach seed. The Gurney's brand is a few years old and it is still growing about the same time as the SESE seed so I think they are both viable, just not as fast growers as tomatoes are.
Okay, now is the time to note my one failure! I planted a carton of Ademame beans from Jung Seed Company. I was beginning to worry after about a week and a half when the beans were not sprouting. They were in the same plastic as the spinach and cilantro. Upon inspection my fears were confirmed. A white patch of mold was spreading in the corner of the carton. Now, there were bits of mold on the soils of the sprouting plants too but I cleared those off and the cilantro and spinach continue to progress. All of the beans that I unearthed had rotted. I through the whole container out. I'm not worried. I bought two large packets of the seeds to sprout and that carton only held twelve beans out of one packet! I wanted to see if indoor sprouting were possible. I have a feeling that they are more suited to straight planting in the ground. Something tells me that temperature affects their germination and that maybe they need a little more heat to start out and stave off mold.
Notice anything about the plants I'm growing? MOST of them are heritage breeds that open pollinate. My ultimate goal is to have a diverse collection of seeds to sew of different varieties. Some people collect coins, some collect figurines, but I'd like to start collecting seeds. After all, diversity in crops is attractive and the Hobbits did it well!
I also saw the "Future of Food" film last night on LinkTV. It's directed by Deborah Koons Garcia and you can learn more about by checking out www.thefutureoffood.com. I'm not an alarmist. I've read and enjoyed the book "Genome: The autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters" by Matt Ridley and my husband is currently enrolled in the Bioinformatics class at UVA. Knowledge is power but unregulated GM products unintentionally cross contaminating the flora and fauna of the natural world is irresponsible..... like a lot of other things that human beings do.
Anyway, if you want to walk with me on the journey to Middle Earth start taking responsibility for your own food. You don't have to have a massive garden. Start a small pot of herbs for the kitchen in a southern window or find a local farmer's market to go to and purchase ORGANIC crops from. Remember, at least try and find a local seed saver or choose an open pollinating breed.
With all those tomatoes and basil I am going to make one heck of a pizza this summer! Now I need to learn how make mozzarella cheese!