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Specializing in colorful, water-conserving gardens

Specializing in colorful, water-conserving gardens

Onions & Garlic: Underground Magic

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California Early garlic bears a subtle flavor.

California Early garlic, a soft-neck variety, bears a subtle flavor.

In the kitchen, onions and garlic are a magical combination. But for me, the real magic of the sweet and savory edibles is out in the garden, below ground, where the tasty orbs begin their lives in the dark.

Plant your onions and garlic this fall, and they’ll begin their journey from the earth to your table by next spring or summer. That may seem an interminable amount of time.

But neither crop requires much space. Winter gardens are often empty. These members of the allium family are excellent companion plants, offering safe harbor to beneficial insects and repelling pests. And they’re easy to grow.

What to Choose

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of growing onions and garlic is having the discipline to select the right types for our climate.

Italian Red Torpedo heirloom onions

Italian Red Torpedo heirloom onions are an intermediate-day variety.

Onions, especially, can be temperamental. They fall into three basic types based on how much sunlight they need to mature.

Over a span of about 100 to 110 days, short-day onions require 10 to 12 hours a day; intermediate-day or day-neutral, 12 to 14 hours; and long-day, more than 14 hours.

Long-day onions are out of the question. They’re geared toward northern states and Canada, which have very long summer days because they’re so far from the equator. Here, our 14-hour days run from mid-May through July, a total of 75 days at best. You’ll end up with a lot of neck, but not much bulb.

However, our 12-hour days span mid-March through September. That’s plenty of sunshine for intermediates, which include Stockton Red, Candy, Super Star and Italian Red Torpedo; and short-day types, which are generally sweet and include yellow granex, Texas Supersweet, White Bermuda and Contessa.

Nookta Rose, a soft-neck garlic, packs a pungent punch.

Nookta Rose, a soft-neck garlic, packs a pungent punch.

Garlic is grouped according to type of neck, which also aligns with climate.

Soft necks are typically grown in warm, mild regions across the United States, Mexico, Spain, Italy and France. Papery parchment encases the scale-like bulbs and runs up the necks, making them easy to braid or hang.

They grow well in coastal areas, including Ventura and Santa Barbara.

Hard necks have a woody stem and stiff neck, have been bred for northern climes with cold winters and hot summers, and are popular in Russia and Central Asia.

They’re not suited for the coast, but are worth a try in hotter, inland areas.

How to Grow

Onions sets at planting time.

Onions sets at planting time.

Onions come as seeds, sets or transplants. Garlic is usually grown from cloves.

Good drainage is essential. Without it, your seeds might not sprout and your bulbs may rot. Avoid heavy clay altogether: if you have it, plant in a raised bed or a container filled with potting soil instead.

Best is a site in full sun. At a minimum, the bed should receive four to six hours of direct sunlight during winter and even more in summer. Loosen the top 8 to 12 inches of soil, then mix in several inches of well-aged compost.

Next, for onions, dig a fertilizer trench to run between your rows. The trench should be twice as deep as the recommended planting depth for the seeds, sets or transplants. Sprinkle a high-phosphorous product, such as a 10-20-10, into the trench, then fill it. Plant your onions about 6 inches from each side of the trench.

Break apart the cloves for planting this Early Italian garlic.

Break apart the cloves for planting this soft-neck Early Italian garlic.

For garlic, skip the side-dressing and simply use your finger or a trowel to shape a furrow a couple of inches deep and several feet long in your freshly amended soil.

Break open the bulbs, then plant the individual cloves tip-side up, 2 inches deep and 4 inches apart.

Water the bed gently, then keep it moist until winter rains begin.

Within a few weeks, your onions should begin pushing up green stalks and sending out shallow roots. Your garlic may show signs of life, too.

Next spring, longer days and warmer temperatures will trigger the bulbs to start swelling.

When the rains stop, water the bed about once a week. If the leaves become soft and yellow, you’re watering too much. If the soil cracks and the greens wilt, irrigate more often.

Onions also like occasional doses of nitrogen. Apply a mild, liquid solution every 2 to 3 weeks until 3 weeks before harvest. Late in the season, too much nitrogen may cause the maturing bulbs to split.

Harvest

Count the rings on these Stockton Red onions. Yes, there are 13!

Count the rings on these Stockton Red onions. Yes, there are 13!

A full-size onion typically bears 13 leaves, which correspond to the number of rings inside.

But more important than counting leaves is watching what they do.

Three to four months after emerging, the stalks should begin to yellow and flop. No longer a watering issue, the yellowing signals that it’s time for harvest.

As for garlic: come spring, the bulbs will begin to produce strappy leaves.

If you’re growing hard necks, harvest the scapes as they rise. When the leaves turn brown in mid-May or June, stop watering and brush away the soil to check the size of the bulbs and the condition of their papery wrappers.

Fall 2013

Fall 2013

Harvest when the bulbs are plump and only a few of layers of parchment remain.

Use a cultivating fork or trowel to gently lift out both crops. Spread them on screens in the shade for a week or two.

After curing, trim the tops to an inch above the bulbs. Store them between layers of newspaper or screens. Or retain the stalks, then braid and hang them in a cool, dry place.

Don’t store onions or garlic in a refrigerator, where the moist air can hasten their deterioration.

This article was first published in the Fall 2013 issue of Central Coast Farm & Ranch.

Copyright, Joan S. Bolton. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text or photos in any form is prohibited without written permission.

Growing Hops: Time for Beer

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Pretty on the vine. Think of a caption later.

Roll plump hops between your fingers, then take a sniff. They smell wonderful.

“Fresh from the vine” is not a phrase usually associated with home-brewed beer. But grow your own hops, and you can claim just that.

In the garden, hops are fast-growing, perennial vines that can soar 20 feet tall in a flash. They’re also exceedingly deciduous, dying to the ground and vanishing each winter.

But in late summer or early fall, their female, cone-shaped flowers grow plump with lupulin — yellow, pollen-like granules — that preserve and add aroma and flavor to beer. The lime-green cones look similar to ornamental oregano and are quite pretty, even if you never harvest them.

Because beer-making is a year-round industry and fresh hops are available only during a slim window, brewers most often use bales of compressed, dried hops. But with craft beer enjoying immense popularity, some artisanal brewers have begun creating specialty “harvest” beers with wet or fresh hops.

Typically, wet hops go straight from the field to a brewpot within 24 hours, while fresh hops are dried, then used within a week. Either way, the idea is to capture clean, bright, grassy or floral aromas. Locally, the sweet spot for picking is August or early September. Further north, into Oregon and Washington, harvests may be as late as October.

Getting Started

Hops need at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight a day.

They also need very tall structures to support their exuberant growth. Commercial growers construct elaborate networks of cables for the vines to clamber. In Buellton, Bob and Colt Blokdyk at Windmill Nursery grow Cascade and Nugget hops on their suitably convenient, landmark windmill.

And yet another caption here

Simple A-frames and wire provide sturdy supports.

An even beefier commercial installation

An even beefier commercial installation.

However at home, heavy-duty twine attached to a south-facing chimney or flat, two-story wall will do.

Or use poles. In my garden, I pounded 12-foot-tall, round tree stakes 2 feet into the ground this past spring, to support new plantings of Cascade, Centennial, Liberty and Nugget hops. If all goes well, I’ll add extensions next year.

In addition, hops like loose, fertile soil. My garden sports heavy clay, so I dug holes 2 feet wide and 18 inches deep, worked in 6 inches of compost to improve the drainage and provide plenty of readily available nutrients, then mounded the mix so that each of my rhizomes had its own mini raised bed.

I finished by shaping basins around each, then began watering daily, as hops prefer consistent moisture, especially early on.

Think of another caption here.

Hops vines twist clockwise as they climb.

Ongoing Care

The first sprouts appear like wild, rambling berries, with each leaf a dark green, pleated and rounded at the base and pointed at the tip.

Then fairly quickly, the elongating stems exhibit twisting, twining characteristics, and up and out they go.

Once the stems are about a foot long, select the strongest two or three and use stretchy green garden tape to attach them to their supports, wrapping them in the clockwise pattern that they’re programmed to grow.

Snip off any remaining sprouts to encourage the plants to put all their energy into just a few vines, rather than many.

As the vines grow broader and taller, they’ll begin to shade their own roots and you can taper off watering. Just don’t let the soil dry out completely.

An inch or two of organic mulch will retain moisture longer.

Harvest & Beyond

Several weeks after the cones form, start checking the lupulin glands, which are hidden at the base of each overlapping scale. When the glands begin to swell and produce a strong fragrance, it’s time to harvest. To make sure, roll a few cones between your fingers to see if they release the powdery yellow lupulin along with an intense aroma. The cones should feel a little dry, make a slight rustle in the breeze and may even be turning light brown at their tips.

pretty is as pretty does

Almost — but not quite — ready for harvest.

Ideally, you should harvest individual hops as they ripen. But given that they’re intertwined with trailing stems and leaves that are busy scaling trellises or poles that are 15 to 20 feet tall, that may be rather impractical. Instead, yank down the vines and snip off the hops by hand. Chop up the stems and leaves, then toss them in a compost pile or use them as mulch.

Don’t get discouraged if your vines produce only a few dozen cones the first year. Yield will pick up the second year. By the third year, you should see peak production.

Add wet hops within moments of harvest to a batch of home brew that you’re already started. Or dry the hops for later use. Air drying is easy enough. Spread a layer of hops up to 6 inches thick on a window screen. Place it in a shady spot, out of the sun.

Fluff the hops daily to tease out the moisture. Once the cones are dry — which should take a week or two — pack them into heavy plastic storage bags. Store the bags in your freezer.

In early spring, just before your hops break dormancy, pull away the soil from their crowns and cut off any advancing roots or runners. Also continue to limit each plant to two or three vines when they sprout.

Do this faithfully every year. Otherwise, as your hops gain vigor, they may engulf your garden. Then add fresh compost to the soil mix and fresh mulch on top, and check that your trellising system is sturdy enough for another year.

Although the first year’s growth may appear puny, mature plants bearing ripe hops can weigh 20 pounds or more, which can easily snap thin twine or topple skinny poles. Mature plants also bear the equivalent of up to two pounds of dried hops. Just a few plants should produce enough to brew several very nice batches of beer. Cheers!

Seeds of Wisdom: Other Uses and a Warning

Fall 2013

Fall 2013

Aside from making beer, hops are a traditional herbal remedy and have been used for centuries as a sleeping aid and to treat restlessness. You can stuff a pillow with dried cones or brew a teaspoon or two of crushed hops for tea. Some folks even eat the fresh, spring sprouts like asparagus, which is an interesting approach to controlling the number of vines per plant.

But also note that handling the hairy vines can cause dermatitis, so you might wear gloves. Worse, hops are toxic to dogs and in certain cases have proved fatal.

This article was first published in the Fall 2013 issue of Edible Santa Barbara.

Copyright, Joan S. Bolton. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text or photos in any form is prohibited without written permission.

Push Back That Fence!

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It drives me nuts when people install a fence on top of their front-yard property line, or flush with a corner of their house. That is, unless there’s a compelling reason to do so.

Instead, I much prefer stepping back the fence a few feet, or sometimes pulling it forward.

Doing so creates a sense of depth, provides all sorts of planting possibilities and is far more interesting than simply erecting a flat, hard face against a sidewalk or in line with the exterior of your home.

While it may have been nearly a year since I wrote the following for Fine Gardening magazine, the advice still holds true today.

 

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Martha Garstang Hill, the very talented artist who drew the illustrations, granted permission for me to display her work here on my website. You can view more of her creations at Garstang-Hill.com.

The illustrations are also reprinted with permission © 2012, The Taunton Press, Inc., Fine Gardening issue #147, September/October 2012. You can visit the magazine’s website by clicking here: Fine Gardening.

Copyright, Joan S. Bolton, Martha Garstang Hill and the Taunton Press. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text, illustrations or photos in any form is prohibited without written permission.

Annual Herbs for Summer Gardens

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Summer 2013

Summer 2013

It’s easy to get focused on growing big, luscious summer vegetables. After all, who can resist just-picked succulent tomatoes, glossy peppers, sweet corn or tender zucchini?

But don’t overlook growing a few warm-season annual herbs, too. Fresh basil, dill, cilantro and the like are tasty in summer dishes. Dried, their leaves flavor winter meals. And while still outdoors, they attract beneficial insects and repel pests.

It’s Time to Get Growing

From seed or transplants, annual herbs grow fast. They’re quick to harvest, since you typically snip leaves, rather than wait for flowers. And they’re not terribly fussy, once you know what they need.

Some of these fair-weather herbs have shallow roots and grow well in pots; others send down tap roots and are best in the ground. Some insist on plenty of sunshine; others, a bit of shade. Watering needs vary, too, as does soil. A few require the fluffy, vegetable-quality stuff, while others are fine with whatever is on hand.

But regardless of their location — container or vegetable bed — they must have soil at least 6 to 8 inches deep. Don’t keep them in 3-inch or 4-inch pots, no matter how cute those pots might be. Tiny pots simply don’t provide enough room for roots below to sustain abundant growth up top.

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is one of the best reasons to grow annual herbs. Its aromatic leaves are the perfect complement to flavorful tomatoes and an absolute necessity in many Italian dishes.

Grow your basil in the ground or in a pot at least 6 inches wide. Either way, provide loose, fertile soil, frequent water and lots of sunshine. Sweet, purple and Thai basil are usually available as transplants. For anise, cinnamon, lemon and other flavors, sow seeds. Basil is often short-lived, so sow or plant every few weeks from now through August. Plants turn to mush in cold weather, although occasionally one might survive winter.

Oil is most concentrated in the leaves when flower buds begin to form. But pinch off fully formed flowers to prolong your plants’ lives. Once those flowers mature, your basil will decline.

Borage (Borago officinalis) is a beautiful garnish and edible flower, with both its fuzzy leaves and blue, star-shaped flowers tasting of mild cucumber. Or leave it in the garden next to tomatoes, squash or strawberries, where it will deter tomato hornworms and cabbage worms and attract green lacewings, which lay their eggs in the foliage, and bees.

Borage plants are difficult to find, but they’re easy from seed. Indeed, plant one and you may have borage for life, as it joyfully volunteers throughout your garden. Fortunately or not, it grows well in most soils, including poor and dry. To contain it, grow it in a pot surrounded by a paved surface.

Chamomile in its annual form (Matricaria recutita) makes a nice herbal tea. The dainty, upright plants sprout easily from seed, volunteer freely and bear small, white daisy flowers. For brewing, snip off the flower petals, then dry the yellow button centers.

Note, there’s also a perennial Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile), which forms a low mat and is popular grown between stepping stones. But it tastes bitter and is best used in potpourri, rather than as a seasoning or tea.

Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) does double duty, providing fresh leaves for salsa and fish early in the season, followed by coriander seeds for baking and making curry later on.

One of the tap-root annuals, it sulks in a pot. But in the ground, it grows up to 3 feet tall, albeit with a rather spindly look. However, with a touch of afternoon shade, decent soil and regular water, there will be plenty to harvest. Let it flower to attract beneficial insects, then harvest the coriander seeds after they go brown. A companion plant for both edibles and ornamental plants, it repels potato beetles, aphids and spider mites.

Dill (Anethum graveolens) is another tap-root annual, so again, plant it in the ground. It favors moist soil, especially early on, and some afternoon shade. Interestingly, the wispy plants do not like to be crowded and are prone to bolting if they’re not at least 6 to 12 inches apart.

From seed, dill may take several weeks to sprout. For transplants, choose the tiniest seedlings possible so that their fast-growing tap root isn’t stunted in the nursery container. Harvest the delicate, bluish-green leaves for seasoning and collect the seeds for pickling.

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is technically a biennial, since it takes two seasons to run its course. But it’s generally grown as a warm-season annual. Curly parsley, a popular garnish, is attractive in the garden, where it makes a nice, ankle-high, ornamental edging around flower or vegetable beds. Italian parsley bears flat, broad leaves and is much larger, stretching up to 3 feet tall.

Parsley is finicky from seed. You can eliminate the fuss by buying transplants. Like basil, it needs fluffy soil and regular water. It also prefers morning sun and afternoon shade.

Summer savory (Satureja hortensis) is surprisingly uncommon, given that it’s just as pretty as borage and certainly better behaved. Dainty pink flowers travel up erect, foot-tall stems all summer long.

Give summer savory full sun, occasional water and average soil. Harvest the aromatic leaves and flowering tops, then blend them with fennel, marjoram, rosemary, sage and thyme to create an herbes de Provence mix.

This article was first published in the Summer 2013 issue of Central Coast Farm & Ranch.

Copyright, Joan S. Bolton. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text or photos in any form is prohibited without written permission.

Conserving Water: Making Every Precious Drop Count

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Summer 2013

Summer 2013

In a grand sense, conserving water in the garden is imperative. Limited supplies, uncertain rainfall and drought are all very real issues on the Central Coast.

It’s easy enough to shift your ornamental plantings to a wide variety of California native and Mediterranean species that require little water or no water. But putting edibles on a water diet can be tricky.

Folks converting to edible landscapes often see their water bills rise after they plant their first crops. The natural inclination is to keep the plants well hydrated, and some edibles — including annual vegetables — need lots of water to sprout, grow and produce delicious food in short order. Sweet summer corn, for instance, is a water hog. I let mine go too dry too frequently last year. The result: stunted stalks and tough, shriveled kernels on the few ears that formed.

However, some veggies, such as garden-fresh tomatoes, actually benefit from reduced irrigation. So while you may use more water to grow your own food, you can also take steps to avoid wasting it.

Getting Started

Good soil prep is essential. Work at least 3 to 4 inches of compost into the top 12 inches of soil. Along with boosting fertility, compost acts like a sponge, retaining moisture and offering nooks and crannies for oxygen to reach the roots of your plants. In clay soil, compost works by pushing apart tiny soil particles to facilitate better air and water movement. In sandy soil, it encourages water to linger, rather than whooshing through.

Run drip irrigation or soaker hose between your plants to apply the water directly to the soil and the roots below. Or hand-water from a bucket or hose. Just don’t splash water everywhere. If you save warm-up water from your shower, store it in a rain barrel so you can water when you need to, rather than arbitrarily emptying a bucket every day. Shape basins around your edibles to prevent runoff, or plant on raised rows with furrows along each side that you can flood. Some water will evaporate, but not as much as if you use sprinklers.

Avoid sprinklers, which can throw water indiscriminately, lose significant moisture to evaporation and hit the leaves and fruit, possibly leading to disease.

Apply an inch or two of mulch to retain surface moisture. Use fine-textured compost, topper, straw or other loose, organic material. Some folks suspend lightweight, translucent row covers over their crops to slow down evaporation. I’ve not tried them, but they might work.

Ongoing Care

Whatever your method, water in the morning. Your plants will appreciate the moisture as they greet the day. And it’s generally cool and still, so any exposed water won’t evaporate as quickly as when daytime temperatures and breezes pick up.

Do not use an irrigation timer. Most veggies — even those that require regular water — don’t need the next round until the top inch of soil dries out. That moment depends on your mulch, soil type, wind and what’s happening overhead with brilliant sun or overcast skies. A timer is not a substitute for your personal touch.

Check the moisture with a screwdriver or hand weeder. Either one will slide right in if the soil is still damp, or be tough to poke if the soil has dried out. If your plants wilt mid-day, then rebound in the evening, you may not need to water. But if the leaves stay seriously limp, you’re not irrigating enough.

When you do water, soak the soil. As with permanent plantings, you want to promote deep rooting, which comes from saturating the soil, then letting the top inch or so dry out before watering again.

Low-Water Crops

Tomatoes easily top the list. For years, I’ve been promoting teasing out their flavor by limiting the water. Stingy irrigation is simply the best way to concentrate their rich, full taste. Your plants may look terrible, but your harvests will be fabulous. The technique works with tomatillos as well.

As for other summer veggies: once they’ve gained enough size to shade their own roots, peppers and eggplants haven’t been super thirsty in my garden. Potatoes don’t require much water, either. I grew a nice batch of reds this spring without irrigating at all — although a few rain showers undoubtedly helped. This season, I’m planning to limit water to my zucchini plants to see if that can slow down their over-abundant, late-summer production.

In your own garden, there’s bound to be trial and error. You don’t want to water so much that you dilute the flavor. But in withholding water to intensify the taste, you probably don’t want leathery, thick-skinned fruit that yields just a tiny blast of savory goodness.

Yet tinkering with those nuances is what many of us enjoy about gardening. It has a lot to say about how connected to nature we feel when growing edibles. And nothing beats getting it right.

Dry Farming

Santa Barbara County has a rich history of this centuries-old technique, which banks winter-time moisture for dry, summer days.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, local growers dry-farmed wheat, barley, hay, beans, corn, peas, potatoes, garden vegetables and fruit. With the advent of irrigation, first for alfalfa and sugar beets, then for vegetables and other crops, dry farming faded away. But not entirely — Stolpman Vineyards in Ballard Canyon dry-farms its grapes, and last year, I spotted a few acres of dry-farmed tomatoes in Carpinteria.

Dry farming takes prep, space and heavier soil that hangs onto every drop of water. While it’s too late this year, the following is the general idea for vegetable crops.

Grow a cover crop over winter. Next spring, while the soil is damp — but not saturated — till in the cover crop at least a foot deep. Till every few weeks, several more times. The goal is to push the organic material deep into the soil while bringing up residual moisture that’s otherwise locked in below.

A crumby “dust mulch” of dryer soil should begin to form on the surface. Tamp down the dust mulch in late spring to “seal” the soil, then plant your seedlings. Their emerging roots should seek out the subsurface moisture, then follow it downward, developing such a broad, deep network that they won’t need further watering from above.

Your yields may be smaller, but the flavor is often unsurpassed.

This article was first published in the Summer 2013 issue of Edible Santa Barbara.

Copyright, Joan S. Bolton. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text or photos in any form is prohibited without written permission.

Compost: Feed Your Veggies and They’ll Feed You

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Spring 2013

Spring 2013

One of the best ways to bring edibles to life is to work nearly dead material into the soil.

Indeed, decomposing matter, in the form of compost, is truly a wonder product. It adds nutrients, activates beneficial soil microorganisms, improves tilth and drainage, and boosts the vitality of your crops.

What’s more, you can make your own.

Getting Started

A simple setup consists of one or two bins measuring 3 feet wide, 3 feet deep and 3 feet tall. Store-bought kits are typically brown or black recycled plastic. Or you can build your own from four posts, enough broad slats or chicken wire to enclose the sides and a tarp to cover the top. Slits between the slats should be wide enough for air flow, but narrow enough to keep out rodents and inquisitive pets.

Where to site your bins is open to debate. Our two “cook” faster in the sun, although shade doesn’t bring the process to a screeching halt. Convenience is probably more important, as is a nearby faucet. You’ll need to water your pile regularly to keep the decomposition going.

Ingredients

The beauty of home-made compost is that the ingredients should already be on hand.

Indoors, collect fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and leftover grains, including stale bread, rice and pasta. Do not use meat, fat or dairy products. Home compost piles don’t get hot enough to kill pathogens that can contaminate the batch.

Outdoors, gather leaves, lawn clippings, yard trimmings and leftover potting soil. Don’t compost weeds bearing seeds or any potentially diseased material, such as spent tomato plants. Toss those into your green waste: commercial composters generate enough heat to kill contaminants.

You can also collect kelp. Harvesting seaweed in the water requires a sport fishing license and is limited to 10 pounds per day. But any that’s washed up on the sand is fair game. Just don’t do so right after a storm, when upstream pollutants may have washed into the shore water.

Whatever the material, chop, cut or break it into pieces an inch thick or smaller, to hasten decomposition. Throw a three-inch limb onto the pile and it may take years to break down.

The Mix

An ideal mix is three parts brown (carbon) to two parts green (nitrogen).

Brown waste is literally brown or tan, such as dried leaves, twigs and stale bread. Green waste includes fresh leaves, lawn clippings and produce scraps.

You’ll make the quickest compost by filling the entire bin at once. Layer the materials: a few inches of green, followed by a few inches of brown, and so on. Wet each layer as you go. Moist — but not sopping wet — piles decompose faster than those that are bone dry.

Cover the pile. It should begin to kick off heat within a few days, indicating microbes at work. If not, mix in more green material. Or if the pile smells like ammonia or any grass clippings appear slimy, mix in some carbon instead.

Dampen and turn your pile once a week. The components should start to break down in several months, then turn rich brown. Once the mix smells fresh and crumbles through your fingers, it’s ready to go into the garden. Sift out any larger chunks that haven’t decomposed and save them for your next batch.

An Alternative

Adding all the ingredients at once doesn’t account for ongoing contributions.

That’s why a second bin is handy. I save food scraps in a tight-fitting container on my kitchen counter, then add them to my first bin once a week, along with yard trimmings. Every few weeks, I water the pile and turn it. There’s little heat, but the material does ever so slowly degrade.

When the contents finally reach the top, I dig out a few shovelfuls of the most decomposed material, spread it on the empty bottom of bin #2, then begin my bit-by-bit process again. In the meantime, I occasionally water and turn bin #1. The compost is usually ready in 6 months to a year, which conveniently is just about the time that bin #2 is full.

Worm Composting

This is for folks who generate some kitchen waste, but little yard waste. The worms thrive on table scraps and produce worm castings — worm poop — which are a surprisingly wonderful soil amendment.

You’ll need a worm bin, special red worms that thrive in close quarters and a spot where the temperature stays between 55 and 75 degrees. Provide nesting material, such as leaf mold, shredded newsprint and a few handfuls of soil. Add scraps slowly at the outset, to give the worms time to build up their numbers. As with outdoor bins, avoid meat, bones or dairy products.

This article was first published in the Spring 2013 issue of Central Coast Farm & Ranch.

Copyright, Joan S. Bolton. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text or photos in any form is prohibited without written permission.

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