Composting Lessons: Be wary of the seed

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Well, now I know why they tell you not to put anything with seeds into the compost.

We laid down some of our homemade compost in with our fresh dirt for our two new raised beds back in March. For over a month, we’ve had fast-growing, gargantuan rogue plants popping up everywhere before a single seed we had planted breached the surface. And I mean everywhere! Both beds were constantly coughing up these succulent, determined little shoots.

While I am all for upholding the old adage of “live and let live,” not knowing what this alien, uninvited greenery could be┬ámade my partner and me leery. We’ve left this one grouping (pictured above) to continue to grow, but pulled every other one (at least 30 in count) for fear they would choke out the seedlings. And we still have no idea what these mystery plants could possibly be. I can’t remember anything we’ve eaten with seeds that were THAT much in number. All I know is that there is more compost where that came from… so there’s plenty more of these rogue food seeds ready to sprout when we build more beds next year and lay down another layer of compost.

Maybe come May or June, this plant’s fruit will solve our mystery. And maybe we’ll be pleasantly surprised. Or maybe not!

But until then, a word of warning to you: When making a compost, be sure to avoid putting anything with a seed. Because goodness knows what will sprout in your garden!

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Desert gardening

It’s spring! Well, at least it’s starting to feel a lot like it here in Arizona. We’ve had an unseasonably warm winter thus far.

And so, my partner and I have decided to FINALLY break open the boxes of raised beds I had bought several years ago, shovel out some of our compost dirt that I’d been working on (ongoing) for at least three years, buy some good organic dirt from a local nursery, and finally plant some organic food and herb seeds I’d had lying around the house for years.

My dream of a garden has been held off for so long, because I have been trying my luck with small projects first. But my first few projects did not bode well. My first ivy houseplant died due to an infestation of spider mites (which, I’ve learned, they’re prone to here in the desert). The subsequent ivy also died… mysteriously. My first tomato plant and pepper plant I bought just withered before my eyes once the scorching summer hit. My first two potted seed-start experiments were utter disasters.

It looked hopeless.

But about six months ago, my partner and I bought each other houseplants as housewarming gifts. Those two houseplants have grown to six (and counting!) and are thriving! So, my dream of being able to play in the dirt and dote like a proud mother on strong green plants may soon be a dream come true. I hope to be able to share with you the triumphant stories of my harvests in the next few months.

We planted spinach, tomatillos, beefsteak tomatoes, and cucumbers in one of the raised beds, and herbs in the other such as cilantro, chives, basil, rosemary, catnip, sage, parsley, and lemon balm.

And to think, it all started with a compost bin and some horse manure – and a dream.

Keep posted, as I provide updates on the pitfalls and prideful successes this new adventure in gardening provides! Eat clean, locally, and well, everyone.

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Want to start your own compost? Here are some basic tips.

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!