Beginner’s Guide to Home Composting

Clean Gardening: Beginner’s Guide to Home Composting

composting bin

Compost can be made in a simple wooden frame

Shared by: Greg Wiszniewski

Nature has been composting since the beginning of time. Take a walk in any wooded area and look at the ground: Bend over and feel that dark, earthy material called compost. Compost is essentially the accumulation of decomposed organic matter. It can take roughly a thousand years for compost to naturally occur in the wild. Humans have sped this process up over time to use it in agriculture. Today, humans use composting methods to grow healthy backyard gardens.

All About Composting

Compost is a dark and earthy material used to promote a healthy and well-balanced soil environment for plants. It is rich in a variety of nutrients, minerals, and soil organisms. In many cases, gardeners use compost as a suitable replacement for commercial fertilizers. Compost improves the physical and biological properties of soil. It also makes nutrients much more available to plants than fertilizer does. For this reason, many gardeners refer to compost as “black gold.”

Composting happens at a slower pace in nature: In fact, it takes about a thousand years to create an inch of humus-rich soil. But today, humans have mastered the art of composting so that it requires only a matter of months to create useable compost. The best part of composting is that people already have all of the necessary ingredients around their home, such as food, raked leaves, and grass clippings.

Composting

A simple wire cage can easily be made from scratch and to empty it, just lift it up

Compost yields several benefits for gardeners. First, it recycles organic material that would otherwise be thrown away. It improves the physical, chemical, and biological properties of soil. It saves gardeners time, money, and resources. Composting also makes gardening easier. It is good for the environment and introduces micro-organisms back into the soil. Lastly, composting yields more micro-nutrients than commercial fertilizer. This alone makes home composting worthwhile.

How to Start a Compost Pile

There are many different ways to create a compost pile at home. The easiest method requires a designated spot in a dry, shady area. After selecting a spot, collect brown and green materials and add them to the chosen spot. Be sure to chop or shred larger pieces of organic material to make the process faster. Next, moisten the dry materials with a water hose. Add fruit and vegetable waste under ten inches of compost material after establishing the compost pile. Cover the top of the compost pile with a tarp to keep it moist. Turn the compost pile with a shovel to use the material at the bottom of the pile. Only use the material at the bottom of the compost pile if it is dark and rich in color. The entire process usually takes between two months and two years to complete.

What to Put in a Compost Pile

Building a compost pile creates more anxiety and obsession for gardeners than any other activity. It does not need to be a difficult task. In fact, home composting should come naturally to most home gardeners once they know what to put into it to make it worthwhile. When adding ingredients, consider if the material is organic and biodegradable. Add green foliage to a compost pile, such as vegetable scraps, grass clippings, weeds without the seeds, algae, and dead houseplants. Do not add green foliage that came from a chemical-laden lawn. Add brown ingredients such as corn and sunflower stalks, tomato vines, hedge prunings, twigs, leaves, pine needles, and straw. Chicken manure also adds beneficial nutrients to any compost pile.

How to Maintain a Compost Pile

Compost Bin

A more sophisticated bin allows for multiple batches to be breaking down at the same time

Maintaining a compost pile does not require a lot of work. In fact, no-turn composting systems require zero maintenance. Hot-pile composting does require effort to aerate the soil because the micro-organisms use up a lot of oxygen. Cool piles also benefit from occasional turning. Turning refers to mixing a pile with a pitchfork or shovel. Turning a compost pile aerates the soil and cycles the material to the active center. Gardeners should turn a compost pile every three days until it stops heating up. Resist the urge to turn it every day. This disrupts the fungi that keep the pile from heating up completely. Use a compost thermometer to test the temperature of the compost pile. A good hot pile should read 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Turn the pile once the temperature falls to 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

How to Know When the Compost is Done

Gardeners should look for a dark brown, rich material that looks and smells like a forest floor. This indicates that the compost is finished. Not all of the material decomposes equally: Put any material that has not decomposed back into the pile. Take the finished compost over to the garden area and spread it out evenly. Compost aerates clay-based soils and helps sandy soils hold moisture. Gardeners can also spread compost around trees and shrubs, use it as mulch, or use it as a tonic for sickly plants. Container gardeners can also use it as a potting mixture.

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Recipe Pesto Cheese Roulade with Sun dried tomatoes

This Pesto Cheese Roulade with Sun dried tomatoes recipe is fantastic!

Sun Dried Tomatoes

Find Sun Dried Tomatoes marinated in olive oil and herbs

This is one of my favorite recipes of all time.  You can’t imagine how this is devoured at a party…great for a BBQ, Wedding reception, Cocktail party or just as a snack.  The Sun Dried tomatoes in oil need to be well drained (I squeeze them in several paper towels to remove most of the oil.  Marinated Sun Dried tomatoes are even better with a bit more herb flavor.

Mix your cheeses or go economical and use cream cheese.  Fresh Basil Pesto is always best but I have used frozen or even a good jar pesto…look for bright green color.The Sun Dried tomatoes should make a thick layer and so should the pine nuts to completely cover the cheese.

Pesto Cheese Roulade with Sun dried tomatoes

8 oz cream cheese and 4 oz. of goat cheese (or 12 oz. of cream cheese or 12 oz. of Goat cheese)
2-3 tablespoons fresh Pesto sauce (or use jar pesto to save time)
1/2 cup sun dried tomatoes packed in oil, squeezed dry and chopped finely (I do mine in a mini food processor)
1/2 cup pine nuts, chopped

Put cream cheese in between two sheets of plastic wrap and roll into a rectangle shape about 1/4″ thick or so. It is important to make this as even as possible to help keep the roll consistent. Remove the top sheet of plastic and spread the pesto sauce over the entire rectangle. Sprinkle the sun dried tomatoes on top in a smooth layer. Carefully, beginning on one long side, roll the cream cheese over onto itself as tightly as you can using the plastic wrap to lift it up and press it over.

Once the roll is complete, wrap it entirely in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. Meanwhile, toast the pine nuts in a skillet or in a low oven until lightly golden brown. Chop into coarse pieces and spread onto a sheet of plastic wrap to about 3″ wide and as long as your cheese roll without any gaps. Unwrap your cheese roll and place on top of the pine nuts with the seam side up. Press the cheese into the nuts until it is covered entirely. Chill another 30 minutes and serve with bread or crunchy croutons.  Truly delicious.  Find more recipes here.

Checking pH for successful vegetable gardening.

Checking pH for Successful Vegetable Gardening

Soil pH in the vegetable garden

Checking your Soil pH in the vegetable garden

Checking the pH of your vegetable garden is one of the most important parts of growing a successful garden. Normally for grass and shrubs we don’t have to spend too much time worrying about pH levels, they are not that sensitive and will not show signs of distress from being a bit too far in either direction.  In the vegetable garden, it can make a very big difference and will actually prevent your plants from taking up nutrients which allow them to grow, sometimes stunting their growth or even killing young tender plants.

Soil Test Kit

These Soil Test Kits let you know if you need lime or gypsum added to your garden soil to correct your pH as well as the NPK content of your soil.

It is always a good idea to check your pH before you plant your garden and even better is to check it in the fall or early winter so you can add Lime or Gypsum to correct pH well before you plant anything.  Here is a great article on soil pH in the vegetable garden and best methods for correcting it.

Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC: Raising and Lowering the pH Levels of Your Soil

These simple test kits can help you to determine the pH of your garden beds and even how much to feed your plants. Tomatoes need to have the soil pH between 5.5-7.0 in order to produce good fruit. With these simple to use kits you can test your soil up to 10 times.

Compost is the best soil additive

Adding compost to your garden every season is really the best way to keep your soil pH in the neutral range.  If you can do it regularly, it will keep your soil happy and in the perfect range for your vegetable plants.

Lime and Gypsum what do they do?

These two products, Lime and Gypsum primarily, help you with correcting soil pH to bring it back to neutral.  Generally if you are in an area that gets lots of rainfall (or snowfall), your soil will eventually go more acidic over the years and require Lime to bring it back up, in dry climates, your soil will generally be more alkaline as years go by and will require Gypsum to flush the alkaline from the soil.

Lime and Gypsum

Lime and Gypsum are great for soil correction

Cherry Tomato recipe-Small fruit with powerful punch.

Why are there so many cherry type tomato varieties? They are great in any recipe but especially the one below!

Sugary cherry tomato

A cherry tomato sweet as sugar called Sugary!

Because they are so sweet, very easy to grow and so fast to mature, you can eat some every time you go out to the garden!   This one is called Sugary and we have 9 more varieties in our catalog for you to grow.  Sun Gold, one of the sweetest, is bright orange and so prolific!  You can even grow “mini” Roma types such as Juliet and Blush, best for holding up to cooking and are perfect for roasting or drying. Order our combo of tomato plants called Bowl of Cherries for a treat of 6 different varieties!

Here is a great recipe for a quick pasta with these lovely treats:

1 lb.  pasta such as Bow Ties, Penne or other fun shape
1 lb. cherry “Roma” type tomatoes, sliced in half
2-3 cloves of garlic
3-4 large leaves of Basil
1 cup of Fresh Mozzarella Ciliegine ( the fresh little balls in water) drained or cut larger size pieces to bite size.
good extra virgin olive oil
Spinach, broccoli florets, asparagus, zucchini or any type of vegetable you like and have on hand.  Quick cook to just tender, fresh spinach can be added without cooking.

In a large pot of salted, boiling water cook your green vegetables until just tender, drain and set aside.  Bring water to a boil again and add pasta to cook according to package time.

Black Cherry Tomato

Black cherry has the flavor richness of larger Black tomatoes

While cooking pasta, mince garlic cloves and add to olive oil in a large skillet over low heat for 3 minutes.  Add tomatoes, vegetables, basil, fresh ground pepper and sea or kosher salt and toss together gently until tomatoes just begin to get very hot and juices come out.

Add a large spoonful of pasta water and cook over low heat for 3-4 minutes.  Drain pasta and add to skillet cooking a minute or two more.  Pour into a large pasta bowl along with the cheese balls and toss well.  Serve with Parmesan cheese for sprinkling on top and good bread for soaking up the juices of those sweet tomatoes!

Gift Ideas For Gardeners Who Love Vegetable Gardening

Gift  Ideas for Gardeners – Vegetable Garden Special

It can be very hard to figure out ideas of Christmas gifts gardeners would like but some unique products can be found that may not have immediately come to mind.  We recently had an order where someone sent a gift of fertilizer to her father, an avid gardener.  While I don’t recommend doing that necessarily, there are some nice, more tasteful gifts that will do the trick. Continue reading

New Season! Tomato plants for 2014 available for pre-ordering now!

Our Tomato plants for 2014 are available for pre-ordering now!

Pink Berkeley Tie Dye Tomato plant
With over 200 plant selections and 55 tomato varieties this year we have the best selection of plants on the web! We had a blast choosing our new varieties this year with some really fun ones for you to try. Check out the Pink Berkeley Tie Dye which is striped on the outside, luscious pink on the inside and so tasty. Continue reading

Vegetable Gardening How to Get Started

vegetable garden designs

Vegetable gardening How to get started?

The focus on Vegetable Gardening and Herb gardening in the past several years has been on growing more flavorful, nutritious, and fresher produce than can be found in your local grocery store. Our mouths water for the fresh herbs, garden ripened tomatoes, spicy ethnic peppers, and veggies of all kinds that we see in farmer’s markets and high end grocery stores. But growing your own vegetables is easy and fun and produces a more flavorful harvest for your cooking. We often get asked by beginner gardeners, “How do I get started?” or “I don’t know what to do!” Continue reading

Tomato Seedlings Online Early Ordering Now

Ordering Tomato Seedlings before Christmas??? Seeds startingWe know it can seem like a strange thing to do but there are a lot of good reasons to start your spring garden shopping online early! By ordering your tomato seedlings online with us early, not only does it help us pay for our seeds, heat and supplies, it also helps us make sure we have enough plants for everyone at the perfect time for planting. Continue reading

The Importance of Vegetable Gardening

The Importance of Vegetable Gardening

Vegetable Gardening

The Tasteful Garden

Vegetable Gardening is such an important part of our lives and it used to mean survival for families who lived before us.  Without the food they grew in the garden and the few animals they kept, they literally would have starved to death.  Of course we don’t starve in this country anymore because we don’t have a garden but it does make you think about the hardship families went through in seasons with poor crop results.

Continue reading

Correcting your soil pH and soil nutrient levels

Fall is a great time of year and is a great time to correct your soil nutrient levels deficiencies.

pH correction is so important to all vegetable plants’ success and so many of us forget to add lime or other corrective minerals to the garden before springtime hits.  Doing these tests now and getting the additives in now gives them time to break down and do the job.  Look in our catalog for pH correcting products and also add lots of compost too! Continue reading