THERAPY – BRAIDING GARLIC

Garlic Braids 2020

I spent my Sunday handling the garlic crop, which loves our mountain garden. My husband plants bulbs in the ground in the fall then we leave the mountains for the winter. By the time we return in late spring, the crop is ready for harvesting. Several years ago, I discovered how to braid the bulbs with stalks as an edible decoration. Also, I believe hanging them this way allows for them to remain usable for months. Dry circulating air keeps the cloves from drying out.

We use them throughout the gardening season and beyond. Usually I start running low on garlic toward the end of winter.

Here’s how to do it if you should grow your own or find them at a good price at a farmer’s market.

Harvest garlic with leaves intact. Lay them in a cool and dry place—we used our porch and placed them on newspaper. After approximately two weeks, the green on the leaves begins to brown. Robert chose the bulbs with the biggest bulbs for planting in the fall. The rest I prepared for braiding.

Clean the bulbs. Remove any lingering dirt before you braid it. In some cases, you may be able to remove the dirt and other residue by brushing it away with your fingers. I used both my fingers and a slightly damp cloth. On some of the bulbs, I removed several layers of outer dry skin to get rid of dirt. Do not remove all the outer layers.

Trim the garlic. There are usually long, scraggly roots attached to the bottom bulbs, so cut those to approximately ¼-inch. Also trim away any of the leaves that are scraggly looking.

Soak the garlic stems. You want the bulbs’ leaves to be pliable so they’re easier to braid. There are two ways to do this, but most importantly, do not get the bulbs wet during this process. You only want the leaves damp enough to be flexible. You can wrap the leaves in wet towels and leave for 20-30 minutes or longer. I tried this the first year, and it didn’t seem to get them pliable enough. The second year, I used a different method, which I liked much better. Fill a bowl or sink with lukewarm water and soak the garlic so just the leaves are submerged. Soak for 15-30 minutes until they are flexible.

Select three largest bulbs and crisscross them. It is suggested that for the best braids, you use twelve bulbs. I’ve used less than that to good effect. As you’re sorting the ones that you’ll use, set aside the three largest bulbs to serve as the start of the braid. Lay them on a flat surface with one bulb in the center, one to its left, and one to its right. The center bulb’s leaves should be pointed at you, while the other two leaves are crisscrossed over one another to form an X over the center bulb. It helps to secure the place where the bulbs overlap with a piece of twine. Make sure that the piece of twine you use is long enough to knot over the bulbs with enough excess that you can secure additional bulbs that you place in the braid.

Start adding bulbs. Place a fourth bulb over the existing bundle, so it matches up with the center bulb. Use the excess twine to secure the fourth bulb to the stack to make it easier when you start to braid. Next, take two more bulbs and align them with the two diagonal bulbs in a crisscross fashion.

Begin braiding. With all of the bulbs’ leaves lined up, it’s time to start the braid. Make sure that you’re grabbing the two sets of leaves for each section as you begin braiding. Take the two leaves from the right side and cross them under the middle leaves, so they become the centerpieces. Next, take the two leaves on the left and cross them under the middle leaves. Repeat using twine to secure as needed. I only used twine on the fourth bulb and then at the end.

Add more bulbs. Once you’ve started the braid, you can add three bulbs. You should line the leaves up with the existing ends of the braids as you did with the second set, so one aligns with the left section, one aligns with the center, and one aligns with the right. Start braiding again for one or two passes and repeat the process until you’ve added all of your bulbs. I’ve used as few as six bulbs so I could give braids as gifts.

Finish braiding and secure the entire garlic braid. After you’ve added all of the garlic, you should continue braiding the leaves until you get to the end. Use another piece of twine to tie off the end and secure the entire braid. I then used the twine to help me hang the bulbs.

Note: The first year I braided garlic, my husband only had green twine. I used it, but it was very conspicuous in the braids. The next year I made sure I had brown which blends in better with the leaves.

The “recipe” for braiding garlic, along with many other gardening tips and recipes, can be found in my book, From Seed to Garden Growing, Harvesting, Cooking, and Preserving Food.

PROTECTING THE GARDEN AND STILL BE ORGANIC

Pests can ruin your vegetable crop, but they can be controlled if caught early enough. Here is an excerpt from From Seed to Table on dealing with them while still remaining as organic as possible.

The definitions on organic gardening differ. At its most basic level, it means gardening with native plants, using natural fertilizers and pesticides, with the addition of composted materials. I’m not going to label our gardening efforts as organic, even though we might qualify under some of the more loosely interpreted definitions. We plant vegetables that are well suited to the environment where we live. We prepare the soil using organic materials, such as compost and mushroom manure/compost, supplemented with sand to help loosen the clay loam, such as what we had in western Pennsylvania. However, we do use Miracle Gro® on our seedling plants to help them grow faster and stronger, but we do not apply Miracle Gro® on the garden. For pesticides, we use natural concentrates including rotenone—if available—pyrethrins, spinosyn A and D, found in Captain Jack’s Deadbug Neem® oil concentrate, and bacillus thuringienis (BT) for general purpose caterpillar control. These natural, organic products are diluted with warm water according to instructions that come with the concentrates. We spray the cole family of plants and beans every two weeks or as needed, based on damage from cabbageworms or bean beetles. We don’t pick those vegetables until at least a week after spraying. All of these natural pesticides break down quickly after a couple of days in sunlight. Rains will wash them off, so it should be reapplied after a substantial rainstorm.

Here’s a chart to help determine what types of pesticide work well for individual vegetables.

VEGETABLES

PEST

CONTROL

Beans – bush and pole (green, yellow, purple), lima and butter beans Bean beetles, caterpillars, aphids, white fly, stink bugs, leaf miners Pyrithins, Neem oil, Captain Jack’s Deadbug (spinosyn A & D)

 

Tomatoes – all kinds and colors Hornworm, aphids, white fly, stink bugs, fungi (early and late blights, powdery mildew), leaf miners

 

Pyrithins, Neem oil, spinosyn A & D, except for fungi use copper octanoate concentrate (copper soap), or mancozeb (manganese and flowable zinc concentrate

 

Peppers – sweet and hot Stink bugs – white yellow blemishes on pepper Pyrithins, Neem oil, spinosyn A & D

 

Cole family – cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, kale, collards, turnips, rutabagas, kohlrabi

 

Cabbage worm or moth Pyrithins, Neem oil, spinosyn A & D, or BT
Cucumbers – all sizes Cucumber beetles, aphids, white fly, fungi on leaves

 

Same as tomatoes
Squash – summer/winter Squash bugs Same as peppers
Spinach Leaf miners Same as peppers

#FREE Downloads – May 12-14, 2020

THE ART OF COMPOSTING

CompostHere’s something you can start at home without much effort. You might have all the ingredients right at your fingertips.

We start with either a plastic or metal garbage can for the outdoors bin. But for the kitchen I’ve used many different containers with a air-tight lid, until recently. When visiting a friend, I spotted a stainless steel container on the counter top that blended right in with the kitchen appliances. I was happily surprised when she told me it was her compost container complete with a lid with air holes and a carbon filter  to capture smells.

stainless steel compost

Stainless Steel Compost Bin

 

Here’s an excerpt from Seed to Table on composting.

Composting

I’ve been composting kitchen waste ever since I had a small rooftop garden in my efficiency apartment in Ann Arbor in 1979. Since then I’ve composted on a twenty-acre homestead, in an urban backyard, and behind the shed. It’s a simple process and begins with finding a container with a sealable lid to keep in the kitchen for the food scraps.

It’s not a complicated process, although many folks hesitate to begin because they believe it’s difficult. If you simply follow a few basic instructions, you’ll be rolling in the black gold of the gardening world as quickly as the tomato plants begin sprouting green fruit.

Not all of your waste from the kitchen makes good compostable material. Avoid the use of meat scraps, fish byproducts, cheese, bones, fats, oils, or grease because they attract wild animals, take a very long time to break down, and can spread harmful bacteria into the soil and infect plants.

Eggshells, coffee grounds, and vegetable matter make the best material to start the process of minting your very own black gold. We buy brown, unbleached, coffee filters, so we throw the grounds and the filter in the compost bin as well.

Once the container is filled with your kitchen scraps, empty it into the compost bin outside and cover with either brown or green organic material. Making the rich topsoil requires a balancing act between green materials and brown materials placed on top of the kitchen scraps. The green things are those still close to the live stage, such as grass clippings, food scraps, and some manures. Don’t use the manure from pets or pigs, as it will promote the growth of harmful bacteria. Chicken manure is the best kind if you can find it. The browns have been dead for a while and consist of dry leaves, woody materials, and even shredded paper. We use some of the ashes from our fireplace, too. Layering these elements, with the browns taking up the most space, leads to the decomposition of the materials. Air and water are essential in assisting in this process, but usually there is enough liquid in the compost container and in the air without watering the pile. If you notice the material in the bin looks dry, go ahead and water it.

There are composters you can purchase from shredders to rotating drums to three-stage bins. You can spend from $20 to several hundreds of dollars to make a compost bin. If you live in the extreme north, you may need to invest in the more sophisticated type of equipment to ensure the success of your compost. However, I’ve composted in Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina and managed to do it successfully without expending tons of money.

We use the simplest and cheapest compost bin possible. We bought a plastic garbage can for under $10 and cut off the bottom and drilled holes all over the lid and sides to allow airflow. You can spend a little more on a galvanized garbage can, but it will be more difficult to remove the bottom. Dig a hole about three-inches deep in the soil the diameter of the can and placed the bottom into the ground, filling around the outer sides to make it secure.

Cover the bottom on the inside with the dirt removed to make the hole. Don’t pack the dirt but keep it loose and airy. You’re now ready to throw kitchen scraps on top. We cover the scraps with leaves from the yard and put the lid back on the garbage can. Every time we put new material from the kitchen into the bin, we stir or stab at the layers with a shovel. It is very important to cover those scraps with the brown material, or you will attract insects, and maybe even wild animals because the scraps will begin to smell as they decompose. The dead material hides the process of decomposing.

In the spring, I fill flowerpots with the healthy rich soil from the bottom of the compost bin to assist grateful petunias, pansies, impatiens, and marigolds. We’ll gaze upon the blossoming colors on the patio and take satisfaction in making fertile soil that originated in our kitchen and garden. Our vegetables, herbs, and flowerbed plants will all receive a healthy dose of the soil as well, and then we start the process all over again.

Earthworms are the essential ingredient for turning the scraps into rich dark soil. If I see a worm in the yard, I’ll pick it up and carry it to the bin, but mostly the earthworms find it all by themselves. If you don’t see any in your pile, buy a small container of earthworms from the local bait shop and let them loose. They eat the organic matter, and quite graciously poop behind nice dirt.

I love the symmetry of composting. It’s a way to be a part of the cycle of nature without disturbing or destroying it.

CUKES & ZUCS – GARDEN MADNESS HAS BEGUN

 

garden06-23-2016

June 23, 2016

Suddenly, I’ve been thrown into overdrive in the kitchen attempting to preserve the produce starting to accumulate. The past two days found me dealing with the cucumber and zucchini madness happening right outside my door.

 

Yesterday, I decided I had enough cucumbers to do seven quarts of kosher dill pickles.

kosherdills

Kosher Dills

Wrong. I had enough to do almost twice that many, but my canner only holds seven. So today I used the rest to make my bread and butter pickle chips.

 

So far, the zucchini is under control, but still three good sized ones made four loaves of zucchini bread, which will be great for when we have visitors later this summer. Nothing beats coffee, fresh fruit and zucchini bread for an easy summer breakfast.

 

zucchinibread

Zucchini Bread

 

 

cukeskeepcoming

The Leftovers

 

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Bread & Butter

 

 

The tomatoes are starting to produce–mostly small varieties–but my husband tried a new variety this year, Black Brandywine. It’s gorgeous. Only two have been brought to the windowsill. We plan to eat them plain with salt to savor the taste, which hopefully will be as wonderful as their deep burgundy color.

blackbrandywine

Black Brandywine

 

From Seed to Table by P.C. Zick

Walnut Date Zucchini Bread

4 eggs

3 cups flour

¾ cup maple syrup

2 cups buttermilk (use regular milk and add 1 tsp vinegar)

¾ cup chopped walnuts

¾ cup chopped dates or raisins

1 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp nutmeg

¼ tsp cloves

3 cups shredded zucchini, drained

1 tsp vanilla

2 tsp baking soda

¾ tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

Mix together all ingredients until blended. Place in two greased loaf pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes or until brown on top and toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Seed1

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THE FIRST SALAD OF THE SEASON – #GARDENLOVE

IMG_0648We rolling in lettuce right now. Radishes are beautiful and tasty, too. My husband planted a variety of radishes, and the taste differences are subtle, but none of them are bitter as sometimes happens with older radishes.

I’m amazed at how fast the garden is growing. I’ll soon be pulling down the canning equipment from the attic and buying new jars to put up sauces, pickles, and relishes. I didn’t pack our canning jars from Pittsburgh — too much to move as it was. Time to stock up on freezer bags, too, for peas and beans that will surely come on quickly and soon.

The photo on the left was taken March 20, and the one of the right I took this morning, May 5. It’s a lovely, yet shocking, surprise. I guess my northern gardener adapted to gardening in the mountains with ease.

The bed with straw on top in the photo on the right is planted with approximately twenty-eight asparagus plants that arrived via mail the other day. We have to wait two years to enjoy their bounty.

Today, he’s building the last of the beds, and I’ve asked him to hold off on planting anything there. Fat chance. He has winter squash in pots ready for the ground. At least, I won’t have to deal with preserving those because they should store all winter long once harvested.

We went to the local farmer’s market on Saturday to see what others were offering in local food. They had about the same things we did. I should look into getting my own table at the market for later this spring.

How’s your gardening growing?

 

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From Seed to Table is FREE on Kindle through May 7, 2016. Grab your copy by clicking on photo or if you’d prefer the paperback, click here.

 

 

 

It’s Growing! #gardenlove

Beds2My husband rushed to put all of his seedlings in his newly built garden bed before we headed to Florida for a few weeks. The light began fading from the day as he tenderly placed the last plant in the soil he’d been preparing for a few weeks. And then the heavens opened up.

He raced to the porch just as the rain poured down on the plants. Now almost three weeks later, I’ll let you be the judge whether that was a good omen. The plants are all thriving here in the Smoky Mountains.

Before we left, we put together a simple, yet effective compost bin. We’ve been unable to compost for the past ten months, and it felt wasteful to throw away onion skins, broccoli stalks, eggshells, and coffee grounds. We put the new bin right next to the deck steps for easy access from the kitchen.Compost

Here’s an excerpt from my book, From Seed to Table, which contains a section on creating a place for your scraps from the kitchen.

Composting

I’ve been composting kitchen waste ever since I had a small rooftop garden in my efficiency apartment in Ann Arbor in 1979. Since then I’ve composted on a twenty-acre homestead, in an urban backyard, and behind the shed in my current home in Pennsylvania. It’s a simple process and begins with finding a container with a sealable lid to keep in the kitchen for the food scraps.

It’s not a complicated process, although many folks hesitate to begin because they believe it’s difficult. If you simply follow a few basic instructions, you’ll be rolling in the black gold of the gardening world as quickly as the tomato plants begin sprouting green fruit.

Not all of your waste from the kitchen makes good compostable material. Avoid the use of meat scraps, fish byproducts, cheese, bones, fats, oils, or grease because they attract wild animals, take a very long time to break down, and can spread harmful bacteria into the soil and infect plants.

Eggshells, coffee grounds, and vegetable matter make the best material to start the process of minting your very own black gold. We buy brown (unbleached) coffee filters, so we throw the grounds and the filter in the compost bin as well.

Once the container is filled with your kitchen scrapes, empty it into the compost bin and cover with either brown or green organic material. Making the rich topsoil requires a balancing act between green materials and brown materials placed on top of the kitchen scraps. The green things are those still close to the live stage, such as grass clippings, food scraps, and some manures. Don’t use the manure from pets or pigs, as it will promote the growth of harmful bacteria. Chicken manure is the best kind. The browns have been dead for a while and consist of dry leaves, woody materials, and even shredded paper. We use the ashes from our fireplace, too. Layering these elements, with the browns taking up the most space, leads to the decomposition of the materials. Air and water are essential in assisting in this process, but usually there is enough liquid in the compost container and in the air without watering the pile. If you notice the material in the bin looks dry, go ahead and water it.

There are products you can purchase from shredders to rotating drums to three-stage bins. You can spend from $20 to several hundreds of dollars to make a compost bin. If you live in the extreme north, you may need to invest in the more sophisticated type of equipment to ensure the success of your compost bin. However, I’ve composted in Michigan, Florida, and now Pennsylvania and managed to do it successfully without expending tons of money.

When I lived in an urban setting in Florida, I did the simplest thing. I bought a plastic garbage can for under $10 and cut off the bottom. I drilled holes all over the lid and sides to allow airflow. You can spend a little more on a galvanized garbage can, but it will be more difficult to remove the bottom. I dug a hole about three-inches deep in the soil the diameter of the can and placed the bottom into the ground, filling around the outer sides to make it secure.

I covered the bottom on the inside with the dirt I removed to make the hole, making sure it was nice and loose. Then I placed my kitchen scraps on top. I covered those with leaves from my yard and put the lid back on the garbage can. Every time I put new material from the kitchen into the bin, I stirred the whole thing with a shovel.

In Pennsylvania, we bought a simple compost bin from Lowes for under $50. It has small panels on all four sides that slide off for easy removal of the dirt from the bottom.image008

In the spring, I fill flowerpots with the healthy rich soil from the bottom of the compost bin to assist grateful petunias, pansies, impatiens, and marigolds. We’ll gaze upon the blossoming colors on the patio and take satisfaction in making fertile soil that originated in our kitchen and garden. Our vegetables, herbs, and flowerbed plants will all receive a healthy dose of the soil as well, and then we start the process all over again.

Earthworms are the essential ingredient for turning the scraps into rich dark soil. If I see a worm in the yard, I’ll pick it up and carry it to the bin, but mostly the earthworms find it all by themselves. If you don’t see any in your pile, buy a small container of earthworms from the local bait shop and let them loose. They eat the organic matter, and quite graciously poop behind nice dirt.

I love the symmetry of composting. It’s a way to be a part of the cycle of nature without disturbing or destroying it.

How’s your gardening going? If you’re not a gardener, what’s going on with local food at the Farmer’s Market? Always love to hear what’s going on in different parts of the country. We figure we’re about a month to six weeks ahead from where we were in Pittsburgh. Even though we’re in the mountains, it’s still the south! Happy gardening and eating the luscious foods of spring and summer.

S2T-6

Click on cover to purchase on Amazon.

 

Building the Garden Beds

 

DSC03560

Pre-Samuel

We began by hiring Samuel to bring his excavator out to the cabin to prepare the site for a garden. Tree stumps stood in Robert’s way to turning the soft clay soil. Samuel had no problem ripping them out of the ground and dumping over the other side of our small mountain (folks here call these hills or foothills).

 

We heard him before we saw him. He decided to unload his machinery down at the bottom of the hill and drive it up to the cabin. And then he got right down to work.DSC03568

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DSC03571

After three hours, Samuel finished the job, leaving the rest to Robert and another great guy, Peter, to start building the beds.

 

DSC03573

Cutting the boards for the sides of the beds

DSC03575

The inside of the boards were lined with plastic to protect the wood. Robert decided not to use pressure treated lumber even if it means replacing these boards in a few years. When that time comes, we hope to find a local supplier of boards made from recycled materials.

DSC03581

Making the soil: Layers of mostly decomposed bark, mushroom manure, top soil, more bark, more manure.

 

 

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Raking in more bark, a sprinkling of lime, and another layer of top soil. 

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Robert stained the wood to make it blend in with the surroundings.

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The side going down the hill.

 

Originally, we planned to build two beds – one beneath this one. But then we decided that the lower bed would actually be two or three smaller boxes to be built later in the spring. One thing that has been difficult is finding good top soil. We finally found someone who will be delivering a load this week, and that will finish off this first bed.

Robert wants the soil to rest for a few days before he begins planting the seedlings, although he’s going to hold off on the tomato plants for a few weeks.DSC03589DSC03587

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And my little herb garden – the two larger plants (rosemary and oregano) were purchased. The little babies were started by Robert from seed. The planters will be right outside on the deck so I can easily grab them during meal prep

I think this will be an excellent garden. I will keep you posted on the progress.

Robert’s retirement brings him to a place where he can pursue his passion for growing food full time. Next challenge for him will be to create a garden in our Florida home. He’s in for a huge learning curve as all of his gardening – since he was old enough to hold a shovel – has been in the north. Lots to learn in the coming months, but also food to eat and stories to tell.

 

From Seed to Table presents lots of gardening tips and recipes for meals and also for preserving the food from the garden. I wrote this book based on a northern garden. I guess it’s time to start creating another volume for gardening in the Smoky Mountains! Still, I think you’ll find lots of good tips no matter where you live.

S2T-5

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Happy Spring – Building a Garden

 

DSC03550

Cherohala Parkway – A frost in March that lingered

Living here in the Smoky Mountains during the winter made for some easy living. If it snowed, the sun shone the next day. If the temperatures dipped one day, we were in shorts the next. It’s been a lovely winter in our new home.

 

But now spring gradually spreads itself over us, and Robert has turned all of his attention to building a garden in the front yard of our mountain home. The first day we saw this cabin in May 2015, he jumped out of the realtors vehicle with his phone in hand with the compass app ready to go. He declared the side of the driveway (of course, on a hillside) to be perfect for a garden site as it faced south and receives the best of the summer sun.

DSC03586Onion seedlings ready to go in the ground. As usual,  he began his seeds several months ago, and now the onion plants are yearning to go into the ground. So are the other plants. Over the past two weeks, along with the help of some great folks, he’s been working every day to build beds and create a soil able to sustain vegetables during the growing season. It’s not cheap to build a garden from scratch in soil that is mostly clay, but it’s a one-time expense that will pay for itself within a few years of healthy harvesting of vegetables.The chosen spot for the garden before the heavy equipment arrived contained tree stumps we attempted to burn out to no avail. Let the excavation begin!

 

 

 

DSC03560

Next post – the building of the beds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy #Earth Day – Pay Dirt – #Composting

Happy Earth Day 2015!

Celebrating Earth Day is a little bit like giving canned goods to the homeless at the holidays as if that’s the only time the food is needed. Same with Earth Day. We get all warm and fuzzy inside thinking about doing things to help the environment, but then May comes along, and we forget that the Earth still struggles under the weight of human weight and consumption, just as the homeless need food as much, if not more, once January 1 rolls around.

Here’s something to do year round to help you, the environment, and maybe even those who have less than you do. Food banks welcome fresh produce and making compost surely helps you grow your own.

I’ve been composting kitchen waste ever since I had a small rooftop garden in my efficiency apartment in Ann Arbor in 1979. Since then, I’ve composted on a 20-acre homestead, in an urban backyard, and behind the shed in my current home in Pennsylvania. It’s a simple process and begins with finding a container with a sealable lid to keep in the kitchen for the food scraps.

Not all of your waste from the kitchen makes good compostable material. Avoid the use of meat scraps, fish byproducts, cheese, bones, fats, oils or grease because they all attract wild animals and take a very long time to break down. Egg shells, coffee grounds and vegetable matter make the best material to start the process of minting your very own black gold.

Once the container is filled, take it to the compost bin and put it inside and cover with either brown or green organic material. Making the rich topsoil requires a balancing act between green materials and brown materials placed on top of the kitchen scraps. Think of the green things as those still close to the live stage: grass clippings, food scraps and manures. The browns have been dead for a while and consist of dry leaves and woody materials and even shredded paper. We use the ashes from our fireplace. Layering these elements, with the browns taking up the most space, leads to the decomposition of the materials. Air and water are essential in assisting in this process, but usually there is enough liquid in my compost container and in the air to not worry about wetting the materials. If you notice the material in the bin looks dry, go ahead and water it.

There are products you can purchase, from shredders to rotating drums to three-stage bins. You can spend from $50 upwards to several hundreds of dollars. If you live in the extreme north, you may need to invest in the more sophisticated type of equipment to ensure the success of your compost bin. But I’ve composted in Michigan, Florida, and now Pennsylvania and managed to do it successfully without expending lots of money.

When I lived in an urban setting in Florida, I did the simplest thing. But it could easily have been expanded. I bought a plastic garbage can for under $10 and cut off the bottom. I drilled holes all over the lid and sides to allow air flow. A nail and hammer would have accomplished the same thing. I dug a hole about three-inches deep in the soil the diameter of the can and placed the bottom into the ground, filling around the sides to make it secure. I covered the bottom with the dirt I had just removed, making sure it was nice and loose. Then I placed my kitchen scraps on top. I covered those with leaves from my yard and put the lid back on the garbage can. Every time I put new material from the kitchen into the bin, I stirred the whole thing with a shovel.

Here in Pennsylvania, we bought a simple compost bin from Lowes for under $50. It has panels on all four sides that slide off for easy removal of the dirt from the bottom.

I fill my flower pots full of this healthy rich soil where grateful petunias and pansies thrive in the dirt that started in my kitchen. Our vegetables and herbs will receive a healthy dose of the soil when it’s time, and then we start the process all over again.

Earthworms are the essential ingredient for turning the scraps into rich dark soil. If I see a worm in the yard, I’ll pick it up and carry it to the bin, but mostly the earthworms find it all by themselves. If you don’t see any in your pile, buy a small container of earthworms from the local bait shop and let them loose. They eat the organic matter, and quite graciously poop behind nice dirt. Maybe that’s what I love most about composting. It’s a way to be a part of the cycle of nature without disturbing or destroying it.

When I began pulling together information for my book, From Seed to Table, my copy editor read the part on composted and was amazed that she could very easily start a small pile in her urban backyard. Just be sure to cover all the food scraps and keep a secure lid on the heap or you’ll have wildlife other than earthworms wanting to eat your scraps.

Do you compost? What’s been your experience? Any tips or suggestions to add?

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And in honor of Earth Day and in remembrance of all we lost during Deepwater Horizon, I’m offering an eBook sale (either $.99 cents or free on Smashwords) on my novel Trails in the Sand. This contemporary fiction chronicles BP’s oil spill in 2010 as environmental reporter Caroline Carlisle races to save her family from the destructive forces of their past.

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Click below to be taken to the purchase site of your choice.

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Smashwords (use coupon code FR84H)

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THE RITES AND RIGHTS OF SPRING

Tomato and pepper plants wait for warmer soil

Tomato plants wait for warmer soil.

It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want — oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so! ~Mark Twain

It’s a rite of spring around our house that my husband begins preparing the soil and putting in the ground onion seedlings and pea sprouts.

Onions are in the ground.

Onions are in the ground.

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Spinach babies seeking the sun.

Spinach plants come out from under the grow lights and into the sunlight of warmer spring days. Tomato and pepper plants begin peeping out of the soil in their pots and when tall enough transferred to larger pots, waiting for that day in May when the ground and air temperatures are warm enough for them to stretch their roots into the soil of the raised beds.

Alas, this year hubby promised he’d go easy. After all, our house is for sale with hopes for a spring or early summer buyer and move. Hubby’s had a heck of a year health-wise, with the doctors no closer to a solution than they were a year and a half ago. A very large blood clot in his leg that broke off and moved to his lungs put him on the disabled list this past week. That didn’t stop him. The doctors at the hospital said he could do some planting, but they didn’t know that my husband believes the rite of spring planting is his right of life no matter his state. Sunday found him in his garden planting two rows–each fifteen feet–of pea seeds he’d sprouted during the past two weeks.

Rows of peas are planted in raised beds.

Rows of peas are planted in raised beds.

Monday found him in bad shape and a severe lecture from our family doctor has taken not only his right of spring to plant, but his rite of the season is squashed for now.

As we left the doctor’s office, he said, “There’s nothing more to plant for a while anyway.”

The pansies are my offering to brighten up the yard.

The pansies are my offering to brighten up the yard.

Thank goodness or we’d be right back where we started.

As the days warm and the daffodils bloom and tulips push forward, we also hope for answers for my stubborn husband with the green thumb.

How’s your garden growing this spring?

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