Monday, March 30, 2009

Composting: "Black Gold" for Free!

During the tight times we are having now, I was interested to read that home vegetable gardens were growing in numbers. Plant nurseries were doing a booming business selling seeds and bedding plants for the home gardener. One important element of a successful home garden is making sure you have a healthy soil and that involves composting.
Compost is an important soil amendment that you need to grow successful vegetables. You can either buy a compost mix at the home/garden centers or, better yet, you can make your own for FREE!
Basically, here is what you need, a pitch fork, plant waste, sun, air, and water.
That is it. Now you can get fancy and build or buy a composter, we call this “gourmet” composting, or you can have a “casual” composting pile. A casual pile may take longer but it will still work. Composting bins help heat up the pile faster than just a casual pile, so that will speed up how soon your compost is ready. You need the temperature to be about 140 degrees for a speedy compost (2-3 months). What is necessary is that you have the right recipe for the compost mix to work. Let me explain.
You need a layer of “green”, like grass clippings or other yard/kitchen waste. When I say kitchen waste I am talking about anything plant based. NO MEAT IS ALLOWED in a compost pile. The only exception is egg shells. These decompose great! All of these products are high in nitrogen. Next, you need a layer of “brown”, like dirt or dried leaves and twigs, which are high in carbon. If you have built a composting cage, or have bought a composter, just make a few layers of these and then get it wet.
The moisture level is very important. If your compost is too wet, it will decay and smell awful! If it is too dry, it will not decompose. You need the same amount of moisture as if you have a sponge that is wrung out.
Once you have your layers and watered it, then you need to mix it really well. Then every few days, you will need to turn it with the pitch fork to keep it “aired”. The only thing to remember is that if is starts to STINK, you have it too wet and need to dry it out some. It should have a fresh smell like good soil smells.
In Arizona, because of the heat, you can have finished compost within 6-8 weeks. You can also add worms to speed it up but here is Arizona, I have never had to do that. Also, if you call Mesa City, they will deliver old black garbage bins to Mesa residents, for a small price that you can use as composting bins. You just need to drill holes in the sides for some air flow to happen inside. Check with other cities to see if they also have this service. Composting is really one of the easiest things in gardening to do and you can save a lot of money by making your own compost.
Have fun getting your hands dirty!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

How to Grow Better Tomatoes

After weeks of planting countless tomatoes for myself, friends and clients I feel confident in saying that I have placed the last tomato in the ground for the season. Although I have not been able to implement all of the valuable advice that I gathered from Love Apple Farm, I thought some of you might be able to take advantage of Cynthia Sandburg’s remarkable, garden knowledge. Cynthia manages the kitchen gardens for Manresa Restaurant near San Jose, California. This woman is serious about her tomatoes! She starts with a two foot hole, adds a raw fish head, a couple of crushed egg shells for calcium, bone meal for a phosphorus source, and an aspirin to increase disease resistance. She then adds worm castings, an organic fertilizer and a root booster! Take a look at Love Apple Farm’s website to find more interesting details.

Friday, March 20, 2009


This is the most delicious salad dressing and you will love it over all of your fresh garden greens. I tend to like sweet over savory so this really hits the mark.

Raspberry Salad Dressing
1/2 c sugar
1 c salad oil
1/3 c red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp salt
8 raspberries or 4-6 strawberries mashed (the more berries you add the thicker the dressing)