Friday, December 28, 2012

A compost turning = happy gardening in 2013!

The old compost pile by the shed was last turned in midsummer.
Last summer I turned this compost pile as part of the shed-moving project, and I've continued to add alternating green and brown layers* to the top since then.

Now, it was time to turn it again to access the bottom of the pile, which I guessed would be finished by now. I also had some old, mostly composted arborist woodchips to mix in with the unfinished compost to add some extra nutrients and more volume.

I cleared out the space for the new pile where I'd recently worked down to the bottom of my last compost pile.

At the bottom of the new pile a layer of leaves and pine
needles topped with a layer of the old woodchips.

Layering the new pile

Once a three by five-foot rectangular area was cleared and smoothed, I put down about a five-inch layer of leaves and pine needles. There is an unending supply this time of year. I added about a two-inch layer of chips and then a three or four-inch layer from the compost pile.

From there on, I alternated the materials from the compost pile with thin layers of old chips. By the time I was halfway through, the old compost pile, the compost was mostly finished. Yay! When it was clear that all the compost was finished, I stopped.

Finished compost is stored in a bin.

Storing the finished compost

I had a fair amount of finished compost from the bottom of the pile to store. I had dumped out the last of the old compost from the bin onto one of the layers in the new pile because it had dried out. I rinsed out the bin with rain barrel water and then shoveled in the fresh compost and put the lid back on the bin. Beautiful.

But I had more than the bin would hold, so I shoveled the rest of it out from its old spot. After I had filled the old wheelbarrow, I piled the rest on the ground in a holding spot while I cleared out a good storage spot.

I don't smile when I hit Smilax rhizomes even if they are red like this one.
I found a vigorous greenbriar (Smilax spp.) rhizome under the old compost pile and removed it. At least there are no prickles on the underground portions. This particular root was about ten feet long before I cut it off as it went under some nearby trees.

Oooh, I hate this pesky native plant and have spent many hours wrangling with it. I have the scars to prove it. Clawed by the cat-briar!  But this time I caught it before it sent up its prickly shoots.

Readying the storage spot for the finished compost.

Once I'd cleared and leveled the spot, I again laid down a good six-inch layer of mostly pine needles (where the leaf rake is) and then shoveled the compost from the pile (to the right of the rake in this photo) on top of it and dumped the wheelbarrow load, too. I removed any worms I saw from this pile and added them to the new compost pile. I don't want them to over-work the finished compost. Then I evened out the top of this new pile and covered it all with a thick layer of leaves and pine needles. I also covered the new pile with leaves and pine needles and I won't continue to add layers to it. I'll let it mature.

This photo is taken from behind the shed. In the foreground
is the pile of stored compost under a cover of leaves; in front
of that is the rest of the old chips; in front of that is the new
pile & the yard waste barrel, which now holds the catbriar.
And at the top of the photo, two of my six rain barrels.

Whew! A good afternoon's workout and my spring garden plants will be happy to have it.

I estimate that this compost will be done in time for late spring gardening. Our last frost is usually around the end of February, so mid-March is the time to set out the tomatoes. That way we can harvest a good crop before the summer heat stops them. It's time to start those seeds now. (More on that later.)

Until then, I'll use the compost for potting up houseplants, container gardens, seed starting, and garden bed building for cool-weather vegetables. I'll also use some compost as top dressing around the driplines of relatively newly planted trees and shrubs around the property to encourage outward root growth. Wide-spreading roots are more drought tolerant and more wind tolerant. Who wouldn't want that?

Alchemists would be envious of my Black Gold!

For centuries alchemists unsuccessfully tried to turn base metals such as lead into those noble metals (gold and silver) with magic potions and weird spells. We gardeners take waste products such as dead leaves and kitchen scraps and Mother Nature supplies the magic to turn them into compost, our black gold--no magic words are needed. Isn't that cool? Do you have your own Black Gold mine?

~ ~ ~

* I explained green and brown layers in "Composting for your garden."

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Winter Solstice and more...

The Mayan Calendar ends 12/21/12 6:12 am EST.
Winter solstice has been a cause for celebration (both pagan and religious) since man's earliest days for now is when the days start to get longer. And isn't that reason enough?

This year the day has new meaning, though, since the experts tell us that the Mayan calendar, which has been in effect for more than 5,000 years, will end.

Over on the Florida Native Plant Society blog, I posted a plea to plant a tree, because when you plant a tree, you believe in the future. So if the world does not end as predicted, it will have been because all those gardeners planted so many trees that the future just had to be there for them.

Read more of this post here.

Broccoli harvest

In the garden, we've been enjoying all the cool weather edibles, particularly the broccoli. Once we harvest the main head (curd), we leave the rest of the plant in place so it will grow new, smaller curds which we'll also pick, the side curds open much more quickly than the main curd, so it's important to keep an eye on them or you'll miss the harvest window.

Eventually, when the next batch of broccoli is producing, I'll let some of these plants flower, so the mid-winter butterflies and bees have a reliable supply of nectar.

After the main curd is harvested, we also use the leaves, which are somewhat sweeter than cabbage leaves, in soups, stews, and salads.
After the main head is harvested we leave the plant in place for more curds and for the leaves.

Chasing the chipping truck

The other day this truck, a chipper and its truck and a stump grinder rumbled down our street. My old pile of arborist wood ships was getting low and it was old enough that it was mostly compost anyway. So I walked down the road and asked what they were going to cut down and grind up. It was a mature and healthy hickory, which was dropping nuts on the lawn between the house and the lake. So these homeowners thought it was too messy and spent big bucks to have it removed. Personally, I would have removed the lawn and planted native understory trees and shrubs, but it wasn't my choice.
The tree guys said that they'd be done with the chipping around lunchtime. I cleared out the rest of the old pile. About ten big cart loads later, I was thinking that the pile wasn't really all that small, but now I have a new pile of wood chips, leaves and spanish moss.  I hope that there were no bird nests.

Two days after the pile was dumped, it was hot. You can see the steam rising in the morning sunlight. The odor is almost a minty smell. The fence out here is rigged so that one post comes out and the rails removed so the pile can be dumped behind the fence. It works very well.
I've lost count of how many piles of wood chips we've received over the years. They've all been absorbed into our yard in one way or another. Here's my post on chips Follow the Yellow Mulch Road.

Coral berry (Ardisia crenulata)

Coral berry

I found some coral ardisia in a wooded area out back. Although it's a lovely plant, which produces oodles of red berries perfect for holiday decorations, I yanked it out. It's highly invasive in Florida. I don't want to be part of the problem. Here's the FLEPPC (Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council) data on this plant.

I could have used it for building a wreath, but I'd already done all the wreath building I was going to do. So it went in the trash--not the yard waste. See my post:  Recycled Christmas Wreath.

I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a Greener New Year, if the world is still in tact. ;-)

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Monday, December 17, 2012

Scrubjay Trail Winterfest

A mocking bird surveys its space. Does it see that bug?
I did see some scrub jays, but they did not pose as well
as this mocking bird.
I attended the Scrub Jay Trail Winter Fest in Clermont, FL on Saturday. What a great event and the weather was fantastic. All for a good cause: the preservation and conservation of the habitat in and around the Scrubjay Trail.

All day long wonderful musicians filled the air with festive melodies, people took rides on the big cart behind two gorgeous work horses, kids were entertained by Ranger Rick and a slew of activities, people bid on the vast array of silent auction items, and more.

And oh yes, I was there talking to folks about my books, Sustainable Gardening for Florida and Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida and also about the upcoming Florida Native Plant Society's conference in Jacksonville in May.
A beautiful lake with the classic Florida afternoon cloud show.

Cathy Brown on the porch working out yet another detail of this great event.
Oooh, and all the zebra longwings...
Zebra longwing female laying eggs on the
passionvine leaves.

Zebra longwings on the beautiful native, scarlet sage.
Silent auction items. Say, isn't that a copy of my book there?
Children's art display

Start kids out right with copies of "Ranger Rick."

Swamp Girl Adventures thrilled kids with
her snakes and other animals.
Wow, just think of the balance required for yoga on a paddle board.

Musicians played throughout the day and into the evening.

A basket weaver demonstrates her craft.

An angora rabbit is soft to touch in a fibercraft
booth with a spinning wheel.

Planting some winter crops in the edible garden.

While zebra longwings were abundant,
gulf fritillaries have obviously been here, too.
Both of these butterflies require passion
vines as their larval food.
Ranger Rick meets with some boy scouts.
Beautiful draft horses pulled a large cart to provide rides down the Scrubjay Trail.
It's inspring to see the huge amount of effort put in by all the volunteers to produce such a top-rate event. People of all ages were educated and entertained and how fantastic to spend the day outside communing with Mother Nature. And of course, all to benefit the Scrubjay Trail in Clermont, FL.

So do you have a pet project that you'll be working on for Mother Nature in 2013? She needs all the help we can provide.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Friday, December 14, 2012

Bokashi Composting, a fast, anaerobic, fermentation process

Gainesville Compost Chief Engineer & Inventor Steven Kanner
mixes bokashi grain into UF Krishna Lunch food waste.
A guest post by Chris Cano

(I ran into Chris recently at Porter's Community Garden. You can read about this at The Gainesville community behind Porter's Garden. He talked about this different type of composting, so I asked him to educate us. Thanks, Chris.)

Upon running into Ginny at Porters Community Farm, I was excited to share with her about our Gainesville Compost initiative, particularly about a new food scrap fermentation solution called bokashi which we have been experimenting with at the Porters plot.

While the Gainesville Compost initiative collects hundreds of pounds of food scraps per week, we have normally handled this by way of traditional pile composting and vermicomposting (using earthworms). Recently, we learned about the centuries' old Japanese bokashi method of composting, which uses anaerobic bacteria to ferment food scraps, thereby reducing odors, reducing the volume of waste, and preparing the scraps to be more easily digested by microbes in the soil or compost pile.

During last week's workday, while many of the volunteers planted fruit trees, we were working on another project: handling an impromptu load of approximately 1,000 pounds of cooked food from the University of Florida's popular Krishna Lunch program, which serves about 1,000 students a day on campus.

While we have handled Krishna Lunch's pre-consumer food waste for nearly a year, their post-consumer leftovers have been going to a pig farmer. On this day last week, the Krishna Lunch coordinator gave me a call with an emergency request: "We have 44 buckets of cooked food waste in buckets, is there anything you can do for us?" So we decided to help.

Our last bokashi experiment proved to be fruitful. The process, as described below, resulted in a 40-percent reduction in volume in one week, a 60-percent reduction in volume in two weeks, and a virtually odorless end product, which after one week in our compost piles has nearly decomposed completely.

To make/use bokashi:

1. Start with a grain substrate. In our case, we've collected spent grain from a local beer brewery.
2. Inoculate your grain with a culture of microorganisms commonly known as "Effective Microorganisms" or EM1. (We purchased our first batch, but now we are maintaining a culture for future use.)
3. After one week, mix the inoculated grain into a container of food scraps. We went with a ratio of around 1:10 parts grain to food scrap. Seal the container.
The liquid drained from the bokashi process
is a microbe-rich soil amendment.
4. Throughout the following week, you should drain the liquid, which can be used as a microbe-rich soil amendment. Draining the liquid helps to reduce the volume and weight of the material as well as prevent the process from going sour.
5. After a total of two weeks fermenting, open the container and you will likely notice a surprisingly odorless mix that has dramatically reduced in volume. You can apply this food scrap (which visually resembles its original state) to the garden by burying right in the soil, or to the compost pile where it will rapidly break down.

We are excited about using bokashi to improve our process. Bokashi has the potential to be a great urban composting solution (mainly because of its odor elimination), but also an amendment and soil builder for rural agriculture. In fact, we've got a waiting list of local farmers who are eager to try it.

Happy composting!

If you'd like to learn more about bokashi and receive updates on our progress, visit

Chris Cano is "Compost Experience Officer" (CEO) at Gainesville Compost, a pedal powered community compost network in Gainesville, FL, which works to turn waste into sustainable soil for the urban agriculture movement.

Green Garening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Gainesville community behind Porter's Garden

I saw a notice on Facebook that Porter's Community Garden in Gainesville was looking for volunteers to plant donated fruit trees on Wednesday Dec. 5th. I was going to be in town for a couple of other meetings on that day, so I stopped by. What a great community project!

Intensively grown cabbage plants have
been mulched with straw.

The community behind the garden

The person who lives next to this plot donated use of the land and a greenhouse, which is still needs to be put together. The plot already had a water source, so it was a matter of clearing the weeds and bringing in some compost. A community fundraising effort raised $12,000 for expenses.

Ten 55-foot long rows are dedicated to raising food for St. Francis a nearby soup kitchen and homeless shelter. The goal is to raise one ton of vegetables annually for St. Francis and other local charities. In addition, six 4x8-foot raised beds have been constructed for families in this disadvantaged neighborhood. More will be constructed as needed to support the community.

The local Chestnut Hill Tree Farm donated $500 worth of fruit and berry trees, which was the reason for this planting session.
Two volunteers adding compost to a newly-planted peach tree. No compost touches the trunk.
Straw mulch is added on top of the generous layer of compost.
The large election sign in the background will soon be a sign for the garden.
Several good-sized citrus trees were already growing along the edges of this lot.

 FOG's Travis Mitchell standing in front of the compost bins.

Florida Organic Growers (FOG)  

FOG, a non-profit corporation established in 1987, promotes organic and sustainable agriculture by educating "consumers, farmers, future farmers (children & youth), businesses, policy makers and the general public." Porter's is one of their projects.

Travis Mitchell, a UF alum in organic agriculture and FOG's community project coordinator, was being interviewed and taped for a radio show when I drove up. So I talked to the other volunteers and interns who were working.

After the interview, he explained some of the details of this project to me before getting back to work. If you look at the second peach tree photo, that large election sign will be painted over and posted here, so people will know what's going on.

Gainesville Compost

Also onsite were a couple of guys from Gainesville Compost, a pedal-powered community compost organization, which makes sustainable soil from food scraps collected from local restaurants and distributed to local gardens. They now have a Compost CSA! How cool is that? A CSA (community supported agriculture) is where clients pay up front for a season's share of a farmer's harvest. Here, clients pay for a season's supply of compost.

Chris Cano (on the right in the photo below), the CEO (Compost Experience Officer) of Gainesville Compost, remembered me from my presentation for Gators for a Sustainable Campus three years ago. (See my post on that encounter: Green Gators: There's More to University of Florida Gators than Just Football... )

Chris posted a good summary and history of the Porter's project on his website: Porters Community Farm: Help Fund an Inspiring Urban Farm in Downtown Gainesville. He also promised that he'd write a post as a guest blogger here about bokashi composting, which uses a fermentation process of some kind. I look forward to that.

Gainesville Compost is a company that ditributes food scraps from restaurants to gardens via their pedal-powered trailers. Chris Cano CEO is on the right.  On the left: Steven Kanner, a senior environmental science undergraduate at UF and Chief Engineer & Inventor at Gainesville Compost. Chris met Steven when he was developing his custom bike trailer business called Kanner Karts.
I enjoyed this uplifting side trip to such a green and sustainable community project. I loved running into Chris and that he remembered me from that stormy night at UF when I was sure no one would come. But 40 or 50 students cared enough to show up. As I said at the time, "meeting these enthusiastic students and learning about their initiatives, gives me hope for the future." So now it is the future, and look what I uncovered. How Cool!

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Recipe for Failure: Long-day Onions in Florida.

I love winter gardening in north Florida. We can grow cool-weather vegetables including, lettuce, onions, garlic, cabbage and the other cole crops right through the winter despite the fact that we get 10 or more killing frosts. The soil never gets particularly cold, though because between those frosts we are likely to get some warm days--even up to the high 70s. I've started many of my cool-weather crops this year, but I hadn't started any onions yet. So it was time to start some.

On December 1, most of the onions for sale in a Home Depot here in North Florida were long-day onions! Any grade-school kid can tell you that the days are getting shorter until Winter Solstice, when they will slowly get longer. So if you plant onions now, you will not have long days any time soon and while those onions may grow, they will not form bulbs before our weather gets too hot for them. Long-day onions are for northern gardeners in places like Maine, who plant onions in the spring and leave them in the ground until the days grow long. So what is Bonnie Plants thinking?

I ranted about Bonnie Plants and their blatant disregard for providing the appropriate plants for their customers over on Garden Rant in March 2011: Unseasonable Offerings from Bonnie Plants

Here are more details on onions in my article: The Skinny on Onions

I harvested my sweet onion crop in May last year when the soil was bone dry.

I tied their leaves together with soft cloth strips and hung them to dry for three weeks in the garage. Then I stored them in a paper bag in a dark cool closet. We ate a lot of onions for more than three months.
So heed my warning: Bonnie Plants has a flawed distribution system. As a sustainable gardener, you need to know what to look for BEFORE you purchase plants. I was able to find some short day onion sets inside near the seed racks, so I will be planting a bunch of onions this week. Yay!

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt