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I love Val Webb’s image and she and I both love COMPOST!  She says:  There’s an irresistible alchemy involved when you can start with garbage and end up with a wildly nutrient-rich substance that has been likened to Ghirardelli chocolate for earthworms.

Composting is EASY! Start Now!  Get your soil fat!  The sooner you plant, and plant in tasty soil, the sooner you get a great harvest!

There’s compost and vermicompost, hot and cold compost, compost in place, trenching, to name a few.  You have options!

Compost is decayed organic matter – poops – that’s manures, dry leaves and straw/alfalfa, wet grasses and kitchen wastes. Compost has a variable amount of Nitrogen in it depending on what has been composted and how the compost was made. Some studies show unturned compost has more Nitrogen than turned compost. Homemade compost can be up to 4 N, as is fish emulsion and chicken manure. Steer is 2, horse 1.7. If you need a quick boost for a yellowing N starved plant, go for bat guano, or easily assimilable blood meal, both at 10 N! Be careful with that bat guano, it’s hot and can burn your plants. And both are pricey. Get just the amount you need at Island Seed and Feed’s bulk bins.

Vermicompost is worm poop. Politely, worm castings. Simple as that. Red wriggler worms are easy to raise, will eat lots of things but do best with tender stuff, your green kitchen waste. They love cantaloupe and melon rinds, nesting in avocado shells, egg shells keep their pH neutral. Wrigglers are surface feeders not earthworms. If you put wrigglers in the soil, they die. Worm castings (vermicompost) have negligible N, about .05, are NOT A FERTILIZER, but do a lot of other good things for your plants. Highly recommended.

Hot compost has to be made carefully, have just the right mix, be tended like a baby, and defies many attempts to get it hot! If you don’t get the combo of your materials right, you are cold composting. The advantage of hot composting is it is fast, kills bad creatures and weed seeds. Also kills the good guys. But. Only in the parts of the pile that actually get that hot. The whole pile never gets that hot, like the outside of the pile. Even if you turn it so the outside goes inside, it’s hard to guarantee it will all get that hot, so be advised. It’s pretty cute to see all those little plants that spring up in the pile….

Cold compost is just throwing your done plants or trim, preferably not diseased or pest infested, into a pile or your compost enclosure, layering with some wet or dry material as needed. It might get hot, it likely won’t. It will decompose if you keep it moist. If not you have dead dry stuff, no nutrients.  Some studies have shown that cold compost is more nutritious than hot compost.  Makes sense since you aren’t burning off Nitrogen and other goodies including beneficial insects and microorganisms.  If your stuff doesn’t turn black and fluffy and smell good when it is decomposed to unrecognizable pieces, you don’t have compost. Perhaps you could use it as mulch?

Composting in place, sheet composting, Lasagna Gardening, is a time saver, no moving later. Chop and drop on the spot, add dry/wet materials as needed, amendments, red wrigglers, let nature do the work.  Especially add some chicken manure before you add your layers, because decomposition uses Nitrogen!  If you are starting on top of turf, using cardboard as your bottom layer, be sure to SATURATE the cardboard.  Don’t rush this part.  Really saturate it.  You want it to last long enough for the grass underneath it to die, to keep the grass from growing up through your pile; you also want your cardboard to decompose so your plants’ roots can grow through it when your pile sinks as the pile decomposes.

Trenching kitchen trim is traditional – cover it and forget it! Crushed eggshells, torn tea bags, coffee grounds. Six inches deep is all you need to do. Cover with the soil, water as usual, your stuff will disappear in about a week! Don’t put in meats or oils that attract digging predators, or grains or cereals that will attract mice. Leave out citruses and spicy foods.

Start Now! 10 Easy Steps to Make RICH COMPOST!

Make the most out of your finished plants or trim; use them for compost, organic fertilizer! A compost enclosure is a fine garden investment! Keep it humming! Dig your compost in around your plants, plant IN your new compost! Surface compost Nitrogen just off gases, so put a layer of soil over your compost to keep the Nitrogen right where you need it, in the soil feeding your plants.

1. Get or make your enclosure, a good working size for you, then layer, layer, layer! Half inch layers are ideal, but do what you can.  A pile 3′ by 3′ is your best minimum if you want a hot pile.  Enclosures can be free pallets on Craigs List tied together, plastic beehive types to keep the rats and mice out, the circular hard black rubber kind, to expensive rolling types, garbage cans with bottoms removed, holes made in their sides!  Do what works for you!
2. Dry stuff first so it will get wet from the stuff you put on top.  That’s ‘brown’ – dry ingredients such as dead leaves, wetted newspaper or cardboard, alfalfa/straw.  The formula is 2 dry, brown to 1 wet, ‘green.’
3. Layer up with your kitchen waste you saved, undiseased green waste from your garden or greens recycle bin. Avoid hard woody stems and seeding weed plants. Cut up large items, halve whole items like apples, potatoes. Tear teabags, crush eggshells.
4. Lay in a few yarrow leaves to speed decomposition. Grow yarrow by your composter for handy use.
5. Inoculate with a sprinkle of soil, living micro organisms, that multiply, munch and speed composting.
6. Sprinkle your layers with aged manure (keep a bucketful next to your composter) to enrich it.
7. Keep layering up to 3’ high or until you run out of materials.
8. Keep your composting materials moist, to keep them live and decomposing.  Don’t let them dry out – dry is dead, nothing happens, nutrients are lost, time and space wasted.
9. Cover with a large piece of *folded heavy mil black plastic to keep your compost moist, and dark so any worms that take up residence work up through the whole pile, to the top .
10. Keep adding to it, stir or turn often to oxygenate, weekly if you can.  Composting organisms need lots of air to operate.  Keep it moist but not drippy and drowning.  Some studies show compost is more Nitrogen rich if you DON’T turn it!  Hmm…read on.

If you are not able to do that much heavy turning or don’t want to take the time, simply, push a long stick into your compost, several times, in different places, to let oxygen in.  Or, if you are inclined, at intervals in your pile, as you build it, you can insert, horizontally or vertically, 2″ PVC pipes, that have had holes drilled in them every 6″ for aeration.  If you are going to insert horizontally, make your holes on one side only; put the holes side down to keep them from clogging.  Make sure both ends stick out so there is air flow through the pipes.  If you insert vertically, drill holes all around the pipe.  If you use a larger diameter, line it with wire mesh to keep it from filling with debris.  Once made, you can use your PVC over and over.  Other alternatives are to make wire mesh cylinders or tie a bundle of twigs together.

Your compost is finished when you no longer recognize the individual materials that went into it. If you are have a small compost batch, when ready, lay out your *folded plastic cover, pitchfork the still decomposing stuff on top of your pile onto your plastic.  Use that good stuff at the bottom where you want it. Or plant in the nutrient rich spot where your composter was!  Put your composter in a new spot, fork the stuff still decomposing back in, add new materials, recover, do it again!  The process slows down in winter, speeds up in summer, generally you have some compost in 6 to 8 weeks.

If you have time, throw a cup or so of compost in a bucket, fill with water, let sit overnight, voila, compost tea! Soak your seeds in it before planting!  Pour it round your plants or use your watering can to spray it on their leaves, both tops and bottoms – foliar feeding.  Your veggies will thrive!  If you have a lawn, make aeration holes with your spade fork and pour the tea down them.  You soil will start to live again!

Your soil and your plants thank you!

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Now, let’s look at July in more detail:  Definitely time to be gathering info about fall plant varieties, getting your seeds for August planting!  As plants finish, spaces become available, get that soil ready with compost and manures.  Get some hardware cloth and install some gopher barriers. 

Wise Harvesting!  Now that the initial rush of harvesting your new veggies has passed, and it has, at times, become a labor, it is not the time to slack off!  Harvest frequently to keep your crop coming!  Do not store on the vine.  Pick zuchs and cucs small and tender. 

Maintenance practices make a difference!  See June’s info for more details! 

  • Water & mulch.  Mulch for moisture, water deeply and less frequently.  Stick your fingers in the soil to see how moist it is.  Keep strawberries moist or they will stop producing.  Water short rooted plants, beans, lettuces, cucs, more frequently.  Keep seed beds moist, water twice a day if you need to.
  • Feeding!  Epsom salts your peppers, blood meal for yellowing Nitrogen needing plants.  Scratch in a little manure to keep lettuces fat and happy.  Seabird guano (NOT bat guano) keeps plants flowering and producing!
  • Pollinators!  That’s bats, bees, beetles, birds, butterflies, moths, and wind.  The creatures need year round food, shelter and clean water.  Selecting Plants for Pollinators – California Coastal Chaparral Forest and Shrub Province is a must see article!
  • Pests – insects and skunk prevention, gopher management.
  • Diseases – pick before you water, so you don’t spread disease.  Water in the AM to let leaves dry off to keep mildew at bay. 

Make compost, compost, compost now for fall planting!  Use trimmings, spent plants, plants that bolt, healthy but no longer wanted, in your compost!  In August we will start planting fall and winter crops, and they will be wanting your fine organic compost!  Chop things up so they degrade more quickly.  Keep your pile moist so it will decay.  A dry pile is a dead pile.  Add some red worms to the pile so you will get some worm castings as well, and your pile breaks down more fully.  Bring your kitchen trim!  Add a few sprigs of yarrow from time to time and that will speed decomposition.   

Instead of leaving the big air holes open in the rubber compost enclosures, you might decide to install a very large heavy mill plastic bag to keep your pile moist!  Put a few holes in the bottom for drainage.  When enough compost has formed, you can just remove the bag to a storage area out of the sun, or empty it where you want to plant next, incorporating it with the soil there.  Or if you don’t use a bag, just remove the enclosure and plant right there, right in your compost!

Bountiful Storage!  Freezing, canning, seed collecting, making medicinal products like creams and shampoos, teas, powdered herbs, candles, flavored oils & vinegars, or drying flowers, are all wonderful ways to extend the joy of what you grew, whether you keep them or give them as gifts!

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June blooms mean tasty veggies!

The first tomatoes have now been eaten at Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden, and one bell pepper!

June is not so much a planting month as a maintenance month and getting those first veggies!  You can continue to plant more rounds of your summer plants, especially the ones that don’t have continuous production like indeterminate tomatoes that will produce all season long.  Stoke up your soil, replace plants that didn’t make it, that are done already – mature or bolted chard, cilantro, lettuce, arugula, beets, or are ailing. 

Special Strawberry Tips!  Don’t let them dry out, they will stop producing.  Mulching is good.  This month they tend to grow more leaves, send out runners.  Clip off the runners for now, later we will let them grow.  Give your strawberries a little fertilizer in the 0-10-10 proportions; that’s phosphorus and potassium for strong roots and uptake of nutrients, blooms and fruits!  They love pine needle mulch, if you have some about, because they prefer slightly acidic soil.  Use the  cones to drape your berries over to keep them off the ground, away from chewing creatures. 

Same as last month….

Water deeply, specially as each plant needs.  That’s more frequently for short rooted beans, cucs and strawberries, thirsty lettuces.  Irregular watering = funky shapes; too dry = bitter, production can stop.  Water seeds/seedlings daily.  If they dry out once, they’re dead.  Immediately after planting and watering your new little plant in, sprinkle on some Sluggo.  Sprinkle Sluggo just before your seedlings come up.  Tiny tender plants are irresistibly delicious!

Side dress/fertilize, especially if leaves are looking pale or your plant is puny or slowing down.  Blood meal for a quick fix, otherwise, compost, a little manure raked in, liquid kelp & fish emulsion mix.  Epsom salts for your peppers, once when they bloom and again ten days later. Go very gently with beans, tomatoes and strawberries.  These are not leaf crops, you want fruit!  Too much N (nitrogen), and you get a lot of leaf, little production.  If your planting bed was too rich or you over fertilized, bee bop on out to Island Seed & Feed (if you are in the Santa Barbara CA area) and pick up some Seabird Guano (NOT Bat Guano!).  The Seabird Guano is high in phosphorus, promotes healthy root growth, greatly increases the number of flowers, increases the available phosphorus in the soil and enhances beneficial bacteria activity in the soil!  It is good to use generally just before your plants flower or you see the first flowers!  This inexpensive treatment is a wonder!  Imagine how many beans, strawberries….Yes! 

Now plant heat tolerant and slow bolting varieties of cilantro, and lettuces – Nevada, Sierra, Jericho, Slobolt, Black Seeded Simpson.  Bolting, a natural maturing phenomena – the center of the plant shoots up and forms flowers, is caused by accumulated light hours, warm temps, and water stress.  Another thing to find is varieties that are leaf tip burn resistant.  Might plant them under a bit of a canopy or in the shade of a larger plant?  As your big plants get up, clear the lowest leaves and tuck some lettuce or dandelion greens underneath?

Harvesting is not just for food!  Just like deadheading flowers, when you harvest, they keep coming!  Eat little zuchs flowers and all!  Pull beans and cucs continuously while they are young and tender.  No storing on the vine, or you plant will think it is done!  Continue to harvest your broc side shoots.  Once it goes to flower (they are edible – sprinkle them on your salad!), no more side shoots.                                                      

* * Plant special flowers, herbs, or veggies for summer Hostess gifts!  Friends getting married in June?!  Why not give them plants for their new garden together?!  How symbolic!  Plant a little extra all the time for ready gifts for any occasion!  

 

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