Waste Not Want Not. Right?

I came across this blog and her ideas about accepting personal responsibility for our food consumption AND WASTE is compelling. I have heard the stat that she quoted before: that 50% of food produced in US ends up as waste (!!). Extraordinary!  And truly shameful.

I know I am guilty of not planning meals out properly and allowing veges to mould in the back of the fridge before I use them. I have over ordered at restaurants, maybe even taken the leftovers home but left them on the counter instead of refrigerating them, thereby allowing them to spoil. My kids pour too much cereal into their bowls and don’t finish it. In my weaker moments I allow them too many afternoon snacks which ruins their appetites for dinner.  My sorry list of wasteful confessions could go on and on.

I think being more mindful and aware of how much we really do waste is a good step in a sustainable direction.  But it takes commitment, right?  Being mindful is one thing but following through with action is what really matters.  And firing up the compost heap! I do feel like the spoiled cucumbers aren’t a complete loss of they go back into the garden at some point … right?

Hmm, this post has got me thinking.  What do you do to minimize food waste at your house?

Small Town Soul, Big City Brain

Ever since I watched Dive! (http://www.divethefilm.com/) a few years ago, I have been ultra-concerned with the amount of food we waste. I learned that about 50% of all the food produced in the U.S. ends up in the dump. When students approach me about writing on GMOs “because they are going to save the world,” I’m the (annoying) teacher who challenges their thinking by forcing them to consider the amount of food we waste as a potential solution to the food crisis. My request is logical: Do not overstate the impact of any one solution on world hunger. I must admit that my ulterior motive is to save myself from reading another paper on the GMO debate, primarily because the issue is a confusing mess from which no one has derived a clear definition that distinguishes genetically modified from hybridized organisms. After all, humans have been hybridizing crops since agriculture began. Only one of my students has addressed how…

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10 Mid-Winter Ways to Prepare Your Spring Garden

 My Mid-Winter Top Ten

The days are dreary and cold and there isn’t much growing in the garden.  Perhaps this is Mother Nature’s way of giving rest to the weary gardener after the hard year just past.  I find this sounds great during the holidays but come New Year and I am itching to do something in the garden again.  Here in Charlotte, NC (USDA 7b) we are blessed to enjoy relatively mild winters.  We may have a few days of snow but nothing that sticks for longer than a day or two.  Our ground doesn’t freeze either which means that Winter is the perfect time for us to be preparing our garden beds for the upcoming growing season.

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My sad and weary Mid-Winter vege garden; deflated potato pot in the foreground, empty raspberry barrel in the back.

Here is my TOP TEN List of Mid-Winter Activities to Prepare Your Spring Garden

  1. Clean out anything dead or diseased.  Compost the dead leaves and spent remains of the vege garden but do NOT throw anything diseased in the compost.  You don’t want the virus spreading through the rest of your garden.  Dispose of it in the municiple trash instead.
  2. Add compost to replenish and revitalise the garden.  Doing it mid-winter gives it time to mature and season so will be ready for Spring planting.  While you are there turn your vege garden soil over to refluff and to seive out any roots that remained behind after the old plants were removed.
  3. Mulch over tender perennials such as hydrageas and over root crops that will be stored underground for the winter (potatoes, carrots, turnips)
  4. Wrap young fruit trees in burlap to protect them from frost and cold (fig, pomegranate).  Once they are established the winter shouldn’t bother them anymore.
  5. If you are not planing a winter garden plant a cover crop such as winter wheat or clover. Cover crops convert nitrogen gas in the atmosphere into soil nitrogen that typical vege garden plants can use next season.
  6. Transplant or divide larger plants or perennials such as rhubarb and artichoke.  Winter is generally a good time to transplant as plants are already dormant and it reduces transplant shock.

    "Rheum rhabarbarum.2006-04-27.uellue" by Dieter Weber (User:Uellue) - own work, photo taken in a private garden in Kiel. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rheum_rhabarbarum.2006-04-27.uellue.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Rheum_rhabarbarum.2006-04-27.uellue.jpg

    “Rheum rhabarbarum.2006-04-27.uellue” by Dieter Weber (User:Uellue) – own work, photo taken in a private garden in Kiel. 

  7. Start planning for the coming growing season and dream.  Order catalogues.  Think about what you want to grow.  What did well last year?  Did your family actually eat what you grew or did they refuse it?  Order seeds now.  Think about your hardscape plans.  Do you need more space?  Do you need new beds?  Want some chickens this year?  Now’s the time to build that coop in preparation for the Spring chicks.
  8. Check your systems.  Did your irrigation system work well?  Are there cracks or leaks in your water barrel?  Does anything need adjusting before the new growing season?  Once plants are in the ground hardscape adjustments can be difficult.
  9. Raise seedlings indoors to get a head start on Spring plantings.
  10. Make repairs to gardening tools ahead of new Spring season.  Naval Jelly, steel wool and elbow grease will bring your rusty tools back to a brand new shine.  Make a note of any that need replacing.
  11. BONUS: Think about putting out some bird feeders and birdbaths to help our feathered friends through the cold winter months.  The cardinals and blue birds have recently returned to my garden and it is so nice to see their bright colours flitting around the glum garden.

With a little forethought and planning your efforts now will pay dividends when the busy Spring planting season rolls around.  And above all enjoy your garden!  There is still much to learn and see even during its quiet and still season.

"Cardinalis cardinalis -Columbus, Ohio, USA-male-8 (1)" by Stephen Wolfe from Columbus, OH, USA - Northern Cardinal IUploaded by Snowmanradio. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

“Cardinalis cardinalis -Columbus, Ohio, USA-male-8 (1)” by Stephen Wolfe from Columbus, OH, USA – 

A Lesson in Alchemy: How to Make Your Own Black Gold

Composting 101

Do you compost?  Have you ever tried?  It is really easy and apart from being very eco-chic it one of the best things you can do for your garden.  Like most things, commercial compost just isn’t the same as that which you make yourself.  The reason why is because the bags you pay Lowe’s mucho dinero for are generally based around a single material, such as mushroom compost or animal manure.  The diversity of nutrients just isn’t present and your garden will show the difference.

Homemade compost is made up of so many different base ‘ingredients’; lawn clippings, shredded newspapers, mouldy veges you’ve left in the bottom of the fridge for too long, spent coffee grounds and dead tea bags.  Each ingredient brings a different set of nutrients to your compost mix evolving over time to become the perfect, richly complex, blend for your garden just as nature intended.  Compost harvest is a pretty exciting time.  Look what we made and all from stuff that normally gets thrown away!  It is the epitome of recycling.

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Today’s compost harvest ready for the vege garden.

You need a few things to make good compost:

Air – composting is a natural process, one which relies on bacteria and microbes to do the ‘breaking down’ for you.  These friendly little guys all need air to do their job.  A good compost pile needs to be fluffy with pockets of air throughout.  Turning a pile which has compressed and gone flat will refluff the pile and get the process going.

Water – the microbes need water, too.  But there’s a catch!  Too much will make the pile soggy and leave a stinky nasty mess.  Too little will slow the decomposition process or stop it all together (there’s a reason mummies have survived in the dry desert for so long).  Just like Goldilocks you need just the right amount.

Carbon – often referred to as ‘browns’.  The little microbe-y guys use carbon as a source of energy which can be found in just about anything that was once alive but now dead, like fallen leaves, shredded newspaper, torn up cardboard boxes, egg cartons and straw.  Guinea pig bedding makes great composting browns, too.

Nitrogen – generally green, plant matter.  Nitrogen provides the proteins the microbes need to build their little bodies and can be found in things like kitchen scraps, lawn clippings and animal manures.

C:N ratio – broadly speaking, you need twice as many carbon materials to nitrogen materials to have a happy compost pile.

Time – mother nature does her best when she is not rushed.

Now, I know this sounds complicated but it really isn’t.  I mean, entire dinosaurs disappeared back into the earth eventually! You just can’t get it wrong.  Whatever you do to your compost pile, regardless of the ‘rules,’ it will eventually turn in to Black Gold if given enough time.

I have two tumbler bins that I use to make compost.  Here’s what my set-up looks like.

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Harvesting the latest batch.

I bought both bins second hand on Craig’s List – score!  I like the tumblers because it takes a lot of the yucky parts and work out of the composting process. The closed system prevents critters from digging around in the pile looking for snacks and the work of turning the piles is as simple as a quick spin around the axel.  Easy.

My method is dead simple: I chuck in leaves to fill the tumblers all the way to the top, toss in kitchen scraps as they come up and spin the barrel every so often (maybe once every two weeks or so?) to stir things around.  Then one sunny day, two or three months later, I remember my compost tumbler and I go have a look.  Yahtzee!  Inside is compost ready to harvest.  It looks like this:

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Shiny new compost!

You know your compost is ready when you can’t recognise anything that went in to make it.  The Halloween pumpkins, egg shells, and bags of lawn and leaf clippings have all magically turned in to the most fertile, healthy, rich loam from sun drenched Tunscan hillsides you can ever imagine.  It doesn’t smell of anything much, just sweetly earthy.  Definitely not offensive.  Black Gold.

Each year I save a few bags of autumn leaves to turn in to compost later on when compost browns are hard to find.

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Autumn leaf clippings anxiously awaiting their turn in the Magic Compost-A-Majigger.

It’s magic, I tell ya!  Alchemy.  Your own Black Gold mine right in your own backyard.  Have a go!  Your veges and roses will thank you for it!