Category Archives: compost

What a difference composting makes

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Just a warning, this is a motivational post on composting. Motivational hopefully for you, but also for me to keep going on it this weekend! A two or three months ago we ordered a whole truckload of compost and have slowly been spreading it out here and there. The front lawn got a layer raked in and some flower beds got an inch laid down too and oh what a difference it has made. So much so that I had to share. Above is the front lawn that we got the compost down on, below is the back lawn which we haven’t gotten to yet. What difference!
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These two pictures are of one flower area, above is to the left side of the path, where I got the compost in, below is the right side, which hasn’t been touched yet. A major difference! I utilize compost similar to a mulch, just layer an inch on the dirt and water it in well and leave it. Look how large and lush the plants are above compared to how spindly and little they are below!
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Healthy robust composted calendula.
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Spindly in-need-of-nutrition calendula.

We of course make our own compost, but every few years we order a few yards to really give the garden a good boost. In the past we’d always gotten mushroom compost from Sonoma Materials in the past, but we got a tip from our favorite nursery, Sonoma Mission Gardens, to order from Sonoma Compost (and yes, if you own a business in Sonoma, you seemingly must start your business name with ‘Sonoma’!). And so we did, we got 10 yards of the Organic High-Test Compost and we are thrilled with it. The compost is cheaper, though the delivery fee higher, so that is why we ordered as much as we did. If you live in Sonoma County, I highly recommend giving Sonoma Compost a try.

And after you’ve ordered your compost, head over to the plant sale tomorrow (Saturday, April 28th) at the Sonoma Garden Park from 9am to 3pm. We’ll be there picking out our peppers and other goodies!

Happy composting!

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Things to Know Before Starting Your Spring Garden

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Spring fever has hit hard around these parts. The weather has been sunny and in the seventies. This weather has spurred us to order 15 yards of compost, 15 yards of mulch and 1000 feet of drip tubing. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us! The past couple of weeks I’ve been collecting a great little list of links for you to peruse before you start your spring garden. Have you found any good gardening links lately?

My parents recently went to go visit Annie’s Annuals in Richmond, not too far from here and they brought back last years catalog. Stunning! The most beautiful plant catalog I’ve looked through. Annie’s Annuals focuses on both annual and perennials that do well in our California climate. My mom has been slowly collecting California natives to plant in her backyard and Annie’s is a great source for her. Please go sign up for their catalog, it’s gorgeous! Even if you are not in California, it’s worth getting the catalog and I’m sure you’ll find one or two things that can grow where you live.

What veggies are the most profitable to grow? I’ve often thought about that as we’ve chosen what’s going to go into our garden. Not that we are in it to make a profit, as we’ve never sold anything we’ve grown. But if one of the reasons you garden is to save money, doesn’t it make sense to skew your seed purchases towards things that are expensive to grow in the store yet easy to grow at home? This blog post gives a breakdown of what’s most profitable to grow at home. Cilantro…who woulda thought.

I LOVE this site. You simply enter in your zip code and it tells you exactly what seeds to plant this week. It even gives you a sneak peek into what to start in future weeks so you know to stock up on seeds. Brilliant! I have it set to Sonoma, but you can change it to your zip code.

Do you know what zone you are in? It’s a good thing to check before the growing season begins. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (I’d say they’d be a reliable source), we’re in zone 9b. (via Urban Farm & Beehives)

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Getting the garden ready for next year

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Nothing is more motivating, garden speaking, then a visit to the Sonoma Garden Park. It’s been a while since we’ve visited, but I’ve been missing it. And since our attentions are starting to turn outside-wards, I was looking forward to the inspiration. Oh yes, nothing is more humbling and motivating than a visit to a beautiful garden. It wasn’t more than a few hours before we got home and got our hands in the dirt. First up was to attend to this row of berries, to get them up and off the ground. A couple of stakes, some twine, some weeding and a good mulch of compost and we’re ready to be deep in boysenberries next summer!
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This above patch was the watermelon patch, which we put our seven year old in charge of. He pulled up all the old watermelon plants, dug up the dirt, smoothed it out and hauled the compost from the front of the house and laid a thick layer on top. He got a very big ice cream cone after that, believe me!
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This patch was my patch to tackle last week. We had wanted to lay a good cover crop, but it was overwhelming to know where to begin. We should have planted the fava beans weeks ago, but every time we walked out there, the job just seemed too big to tackle. So I put on a watch, grabbed my gloves and a shovel and just started digging, for 10 minutes. Then I went back inside for a while to work. Then back out to dig. Then back inside to tackle laundry. Then started hauling compost to dig in, for 10 minute segments. Then spread out gypsum to cut the clay soil and fava. Then another thin layer of compost. All in 10 minute segments. Got it done in two days. Of course this is only a tiny segment of what we hope to dig and put in cover crop, but hey, it’s a start! I just realized that my 7 year old works faster than I do…hmmm…guess that’s why I’m still waiting for my ice cream cone!

p.s. We had another jar lid pop this Sunday. Again on a Sunday. Strange. This time from something canned two years ago with a different batch of lids….

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Tend to the Compost (Day 18 of 30 DTABG)

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Today’s garden tip is a reminder to tend to your compost pile. If you don’t already have a compost pile, there’s not time like the present. There are all sorts of fancy compost bins that you can buy or construct, but we’re pretty basic around here, we just have piles on the ground in the back of the yard. So if you don’t already have a compost system in place, go take your days worth of vegetable and fruit scraps and walk it back to a forgotten part of your yard and just put it in a pile. Then read more about composting here.

If you do have a compost pile, go turn it today. Yes, I know, it’s can be a big job, but it’s worth it. You need to stir things up and add oxygen to the mix to help everything break down. Take your kids out with you (if you have them) to discover all the fantastic bugs that creep and crawl around. It’s a great time for a little lesson in decomposition. After you turn it, water it down until it’s damp, but not soggy.

Tomorrow we’ll be using finished compost, so go ahead and make sure it’s in good shape! Then go take a long hot bath, you deserve it!

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How to Grow More Vegetables…Part Three

As promised, today I’ll explain about how this Grow Biointensive way of planting as explained in How to Grow More Vegetables can improve your garden. As I mentioned this style of gardening has been rediscovered and studied for over thirty years by Ecology Action, up in Northern California. But it’s originally the ancient 4,000 year old Chinese Biointensive way of farming which is patterned after nature’s own intensive biological plantings.

Scott and I figure, if its worked for the Chinese for all those years, it might just in fact make our garden a better place. And while we don’t follow the method exactly, we add a little bit more of the method’s theologies every year. And it has improved our garden greatly. The man who initially brought this method to attention in the States, Alan Chadwick, wisely said, “Just grow one small area, do it well. Then, once you have got it right, grow more!” So, let’s learn this method already, okay?

Here are the components:
Deep Soil Preparation. This is the most important part. Loose soil structure enables the roots to grow deep down in the soil and a steady stream of nutrients can flow into the stem and leaves. Double digging your soil is admittedly back breaking, but it can be done is small steps and the benefits last for years and are certainly worth the effort.

Composting. “In nature, living things die, and their death allows life to be reborn.” (See, Compost really is proof that there is life after death!) Composting is an important way to return carbon, nitrogen, magnesium, sulfur, calcium, phosophorus, potash, and trace minerals back to the earth. These elements are all necessary to maintain the biological cycles of life that naturally exist. So ahead make that compost pile, it’s easy!

Close Plant Spacing. Nature doesn’t grow it’s plants in long, spaced out rows, why should we? We waste a lot of space growing things so far apart.

Companion Planting.
This is a fascinating subject to explore. It’s one of our favorite garden explorations. Basically, you want to grow things together that will enhance each other, such as beans and cucumbers.

Plant Carbon-Efficient Crops. Planting your garden in about 60% of the growing area with seed and grain crops will produce large amounts of carbonaceous materials for compost and provide significant amounts of dietary calories. Have you ever thought about growing crops for not only your consumption, but also to return back to the soil? That’s a new one, isn’t it? But a great one.

Plant Calorie-Efficient Crops. Remember, this methodology is taught to show people how to grow their entire diet in one 4,000 square foot plot (a vegan diet of course). So thinking of planting the most calorie rich vegetables is important. You want to plant about 30% of your garden to potatoes, burdock, garlic, and parsnips which produce a large amount of calories for your diet.

Open-Pollinated Seeds. Use these to preserve genetic diversity.

A Whole, Interrelated Farming System.
This Grow Biointensive food-raising method is a whole system and it’s components, when used all together create high yields that nourish not only yourself but the earth.

Cool system, isn’t it? What I’ve written about is only a taste of what you find in the actual book, How to Grow More Vegetables. Its full of incredible information on starting from seed planting with lunar cycles, charts like you wouldn’t believe, and diagrams of how to lay out your garden. Step by step illustrations on how to start small and eventually grow a plot into a 4,000 sq. foot self sufficient garden of Eden, or Garden of Eatin’ as it were.

I can’t tell you how much you need to read How to Grow More Vegetables. Add it to your Amazon wish list or check it out at your local library. You’ll love it too!

Read Part One & Part Two.

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7 Things to Improve Your Soil

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We’ve been thinking a lot about dirt lately. Or, rather ‘soil’ as we gardeners like to say. We’ve been thinking about weeds and learning about how you can tell a lot about your soil by what weeds grow in it. We’re just starting to learn about this so we’ll keep you posted. But it’s gotten me to think about how as gardeners we are truly stewards of the soil. Any organic gardener knows that your plants are only as healthy as your soil, so its important to take excellent care of it. The best way to ensure your soils health is to add plenty of organic matter. Sure, we know that the three big soil nutrients are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, but macro and micro nutrients are also critical because those are are what break down the organic matter to release the nutrients to your plants. Here’s a list of things you can easily do to improve your soils health.

  • 1. For new garden beds, mix one inch of compost or 3 inches of grass clippings into the top 6 inches of soil.
  • 2. Mulch around plants with 2 inches of grass clippings, coffee ground or compost which will slowly add nutrients to the soil and encourage earthworms and other soil organisms
  • 3. Apply a spray of compost tea. Compost tea is low in nutrients but high in micronutrients
  • 4. Plant a living mulch this summer such as oats or white dutch clover around your vegetables. Their roots will loosen compacted soil and concentrate nutrients for your vegetables to feed on.
  • 5. Dry out eggshells and crumble them into the soil for a boost of calcium and micronutrients. (via katrina)
  • 6. Start a compost pile, bin or vermiculture box.
  • 7. Double dig your soil about 2 feet deep, blending in compost as you go. The benefits will last indefinately. This will improve drainage, aeration, improve root growth, encourage earthworms and allow nutrients to be evenly spread through the root zone.
  • All these ideas are pretty easy things that you can do this weekend. I hope you try a few!

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    Will this coffee cup really compost?

    Will it really compost?
    One of our favorite places to stop for a coffee here in town is the Fig Pantry. Not only is the cutest little spot to stop, but their lattes and pastries are incredible. Recently we’ve found that they made the switch to these compostable cups. We were intrigued so after we’d finished our lattes we tossed the cups into the compost pile on top of the favas and grass clippings. I’ll report back and let you know if the truely do compost.

    I did a bit of research and the web address on the bottom of the cup led me to this page here. It seems as though they are building the inside layer with corn instead of with a petroleum product. Great! So now when we forget to bring our cups at least we don’t have to feel quite so guilty.

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    Compost

    I mentioned the other day that I would talk about our compost pile. Or should I say ‘piles’. We use the pile approach as opposed to putting it in a bin. I think because it’s easier, we have the room for them and it makes them so much easier to turn. We put our kitchen scraps in it, our grass clippings, leaves and any other weeding and pruning we do. They say a good compost pile should have a ratio of 25 parts brown, carbon-rich materials (such as dry leaves, straw and wood chips) to 1 part green, nitrogen-rich materials (such as kitchen scraps and grass), but we are more relaxed than that. We’ve never been very scientific about our ratios and we seems to come out with a good mix.

    We usually have three piles going. One that is finished compost, like the picture above, one that is actively composting, and another one to throw new materials into. In the fall as the leaves drop, Scott will just mow over the leaves, to break them up before adding them to the pile, this helps them to start composting faster instead of matting up and turning sour. You know when your compost isn’t actually composting when it smells. A properly behaving pile shouldn’t smell at all because the complex arrangement of organisms of worms, bacteria and insects will keep it breaking down naturally.

    Now that spring is here and we are preparing the beds, we keep a custom made (by Scott) wood frame with wire mesh over the wheel barrow to sieve out any big pieces before we wheel it to it’s intended bed. Using our compost and supplimenting with some mushroom compost we’ve purchased (we have a big yard!) has greatly improved our soil. When we first moved here, our soil didn’t retain moisture at all, but now I think we’ve got it at an ideal stage. It holds moisture long enough for the plants to soak it up, but without being muddy and clay like. Perfect for growing.

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    Oh what a beautiful weekend


    What a gorgeous weekend. The sun was out, the light spring breezes were blowing and the tulips were up. We spent the weekend working away outside at every moment we could. And now we feel it. You know how you feel that first weekend you garden in spring? How the next day you feel sore muscles in places were you didn’t know you even had muscles? Scott’s ankle is sore, my elbow is tweeked and my back muscles are reminding me of all the digging that was done yesterday.


    It felt good though to have dirt under my nails again, the energy (after four solid years of being pregnant and nursing) to dig up that impossibly hard dirt in our front garden, and to get that patch of fence fixed.

    Scott turned our compost pile last at the end of the day yesterday and as I predicted this morning he said, “my left arm hurts, do you think I’m going to have a heart attack?” He says each and every time after he turns that huge pile. It’s a big job, a lot of pitch fork work, but it’s worth it for how incredible it’s made our soil over the years. I’ll write more about our compost soon.




    In the meantime, enjoy this beautiful weather, even if it’s snowy, rainy, or sunny because soon enough the first radishes will be ready, lettuce will be asking to be picked, and you won’t know what to do with yet another zucchini.

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    Filed under compost, our weekends, what's blooming