Composting basics

Gardens are a great way to help lower your grocery bill, get you moving around for some physical exercise, and provide a sense of pride that, “Hey, I grew that!” It’s simply satisfying. And one way to ensure that a garden grows to its fullest potential is to fertilize it with a layer of composted dirt. Want to start a compost bin of your own? Here are some tips.

Compost being spread over dirt in a raised bed.
Compost being spread over dirt in a raised bed.

What to put into your compost:
– Fruit and veggie scraps, peels and rinds
– Coffee grounds and filters
– Tea bags and tea leaves
– Used paper napkins, plates (no waxy coating) and paper towels
– Newspaper and other non-colored paper with only black print (no colors!)
– Plain cooked pasta or rice
– Stale cereal, bread, and crackers
– Olive pits, nut shells (not walnuts)
– Wine corks
– Toothpicks and bamboo skewers
– Shells (eggs and crustacean)

What NOT to put into your compost:
– Meat or fish
– Bone
– Dairy products
– Grease
– Animal/human waste
– Weeds, diseased plants, roots
– Charcoal ash
– Plastic or glass

It doesn’t hurt to mix organic dirt or organically produced livestock manure for a good base as you build the rest of your compost. And it’s helpful to have a nice balance of wet (veggies, plants) with dry (coffee grounds, paper) materials.

Good luck, and enjoy your fresh dirt and future gardens!

Gemme’s famous “from seed” experiment

Well, for good or for ill, I have opened up four packets of veggie/herb seeds, and planted them in a starter situation to see what happens.

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I took spent newspaper rolls (biodegradable – and good for your compost bin, as well!), cut them in half and planted them firmly inside of a the bottom of an egg carton. I filled each half-roll with organic from-seed dirt, planted the seeds, took a deep breath (and yes, maybe even sped through a prayer), and set them aside after wetting them down.

It feels late in the season to plant. But in Arizona, there is no such thing as spring frost. So the weather is probably more than perfect to coax a seed to sprout.

Why am I so hesitant, though? Well, my sordid history with plants looks more like willful herbicide. I’ve taken home plants from the store all excited to repot and start my much-sought after garden. Yet within a week, most have bitten the proverbial dust. The best I did was an indoor ivy, before spider mites made a feast of it. And with three all-too-curious cats and very few light-heavy areas in the house, I just gave up on growing anything for a while.

But this year is the year, for some reason. So …

The sample specimen hopefuls are: Organic Genovese Basil (because it sounds aromatic, and possibly good for future recipes), organic beefsteak tomato (c’mon, the whole point of a garden is having tomatoes!), green onions (yum), and the queen of the crop, the wonderful smelling rosemary. Even if I don’t use rosemary for food, as it can be overpowering, just using it as potpourri will make for a happy household.

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Rosemary germinates within 14-21 days, so if I’m lucky, it’ll be ready to call a pot a home by April 21 or so.

Chives/green onions are 15-21 days, so it should be about the same time I see those shoots…if all goes well.

My belov’d tomatoes, on the other hand, are much more eager. Within a week’s time by next Sunday, I could see sprouts. God, here’s to hoping!

The basil is just as eager, with a 5- to 10-day germination period.

Once sprouted, I can transplant the seeds WITH the toilet paper rolls, which will eventually rot away naturally.

Many of the plants I’ve brought home in the past were boxstore-bought, and probably not the pick of the crop. Time after time, I’d lose them each one of them, no matter what tactic I tried. Not enough sun? Moved it? Oh maybe it’s too much – moved it again. Not enough water, too much sun?  Or maybe I should let it dry out, get LOTS of sun and….oh, plant, just TALK to me! What do you NEED?!

And so it went. I probably shocked them to death.

On the other hand, I’ve always been terrified of seeds. I can’t explain why. Growing from seed seemed so complicated and frightening. Seeds. Like babies. Breathing on them wrong could cripple their growth, right? Even opening the seed packets this evening made me shake my head in awe. When I usually think seeds, I think gigantic pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, bird seed even! But each of these seeds was something so small and insignificant, so tiny, I would never have looked twice at them out in the wild. To think this tiny wisp of organic matter that could fit three shoulder-to-shoulder through the eye of a needle would grow into such large plants is indeed amazing.

Despite their underwhelming size, they still made ME feel insignificant. I handled them like a frightened yet already proud mother seeing this tiny “creature” for the first time, depending on me for everything to make it grow strong and healthy.

So today, I am hoping with the right amount of TLC, growing plants from seed may be my salvation. I am hoping they’ll be stronger and more acclimated to my backyard. I want a garden in the worst way, but I’m starting off very small: Four potted plants

Baby steps. Talk to me in a week 😉