Composting is Not Brain Surgery

When we moved into our new home there were a lot of things left behind by the previous owners. They were thoughtful enough to leave us instructions on how to care for the pond ( which we ended up getting rid of ), the waterproofing warranty for the basement, and my favorite thing of all, a big old compost bin!

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My compost bin. Looks are deceiving.

When we first discovered the bin, we’d planned on just getting rid of it. It’s not the fanciest container and it’s dirty and kinda ugly. But when I got more into my gardening and did more research, I realized this ugly container was worth more than gold.

I must admit that I did not know anything about composting until I actually needed compost. It all started when I learned that my tomato plants were lacking in calcium. The biggest indicator was the sign of blossom rot on the bottom of some of my tomatoes.

char_calcium2_03Seeing the black bottom on some of these tomatoes was a huge shocker to me. I wondered what I was doing wrong since all of the soil was store bought.

I figured that this new soil would be full of nutrients since I’d mixed together, organic soil for gardening, manure, and top soil.

What I did not know is that I should have mixed in some of my native soil but being that this bed was a new bed, there was little available at the time so buying was my only option.

Not sure if the native soil mixing would have helped, but it definitely would have made the purchased soil a little firmer. I read that light soil is good, but I think mine may be a little too light.

When I began to do my research about the black bottomed tomatoes, I learned that this could be easily fixed by mixing egg shells and compost into the soil. I had used Miracle Grow as my fertilizer in the past, but somehow the thought of putting a blue liquid on my garden no longer seemed right.

My fiancee then reminded me of the ugly bin of compost that the previous owners had left behind. I figured why not try it since it was available and free. My only concern was rather or not they had put dog feces in it or something else not desirable. I decided to put my paranoia aside and hope that was not the case.

In the event that they did put dog poop in the bin, it had been sitting from at least the previous year so, by now it would be safe. Needless to say I mixed some of the compost with the surrounding soil around my plants and have not had a problem since.

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A bountiful mixture of beautiful veggies from my garden. We love fried green tomatoes in my family!

Now I have become a composting maniac. I constantly mix in the vegetable scraps, grass clippings, leaves, eggshells and the coffee grinds I come across daily. Because the bin is a little awkward and requires some strength to mix the bottom, I have my partner turn the compost every couple of weeks with a shovel.

I do plan on investing in a better container that is better looking and easier to turn in the future, but for now, this ugly bin has become my best friend.

Please visit the below link for things you can put in your own compost bin.  

http://www.liverenewed.com/2013/05/composting-101-21-things-to-put-in-your-compost-green-in-365.html

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The Uninvited Guests

This past week has been a whirlwind of hot and humid days. We’ve had some crazy thunderstorms mixed with heavy winds, that have left my garden with muddy vegetables and soaked soil. It seems that summer is going out with a bang and a shout.

My newly planted fall garden is now three weeks old and although it is still in its infancy stage, it has been through some rough changes requiring some quick action on my part. Some of the issues could have been avoided, some not so much.

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The four leaves are two separate bean plants. On the right shows how they were separated and replanted.

One thing that had to happen since my blog “Fall Gardening” was once my bush beans reached about two weeks old, I noticed that each bunch of seeds had sprouted into two separate plants. I had hoped to have avoided having to thin them out by trying to space the two seeds the recommended 4-6 inches apart upon planting. This still did not stop two plants from emerging.

Luckily I left space in the front of my box because I planned on planting in succession, but now this space will be utilized for my additional bush bean plants. The second issue that occurred was an attack on four of my seedlings by my dog Scooby. I accidently left the entrance to the box open and his curiosity got the best of him. He dug up a few of my mesclun lettuce plants and a spinach plant.

Luckily the damage was minimal and I had some leftover seeds so I was able to replant them with ease. This will only assure that those Items will need to be harvested a little later than the others, so I guess that’s a good thing.

My biggest problem and concern is that there seems to be some culprit who is nibbling on my greens and bean plants. I am not certain rather it is an insect or some sort of critter, but steps have to be taken to save my veggies.

Damaged mustard greens, green beens and turnips.
Damaged mustard greens, green beens and turnips.

My first step was to dust my plants with a preventative powder. Because I am trying to use natural ingredients, I have decided to use diatomaceous earth as the means for controlling insects.

Diatomaceous Earth
http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/degen.html

The type of diatomaceous earth that I use is a food grade powder that does not affect the taste of the vegetables and is completely edible. Since this is my first time really using it, the jury is still in session.

What I dislike so far about it, is that it is quite messy and I have to wear a mask when applying. It is not recommended that this powder be inhaled.

If in fact it is some sort of small animal that is invading my garden, I have started to sprinkle the dirt and surrounding areas with good old fashioned cayenne pepper. This too looks messy but always seems to work. The downfall of it is that once it rains or I water the garden it has to be reapplied. Lucky, for me I can buy it at my local dollar store so the cost is minimal for the most part.

Three week fall garden
Fall Garden at three weeks old.

So that’s it for now. Please be sure to follow my blog for updates on my progress as I continue on my journey of being a Top Shelf Gardener.

Murder of My Children

I lie in the bed at 7:20 a.m unable to go back to sleep. I have been up since approximately 6:47 and although I didn’t go to bed until after midnight, I am no longer tired. I decide that is is time to get my day started, for lying in the bed wide awake is much like lying in a coffin waiting to die.

I am very careful not to wake my family because I simply love my quiet mornings alone. I like to work fast in the a.m and pace myself into the afternoon. There is nothing better than not being disturbed while I am working.

I go downstairs to my dining room where I do most of my writing and thinking. I open my curtains and look out the window at my “work in progress” yard. Everything looks pretty good on my side except the dead vines hanging on the cable wires that remind me of the privacy I once knew. I take a deep sigh as I stare at the rusty shed that is totally ruining my view. This eyesore is something I can’t control.

I try to consider (for the hundredth time) how my neighbors would feel if I offered to paint it for them. I have never spoken a word to the strange people on the other side of the fence. Why strange you wonder? Because they keep dropping air conditioners out of the same dang window! It’s quite a funny thing to see and it reminds me of an episode of Laurel and Hardy. I giggle at the thought.

I again wonder would they be insulted or would they be glad for the free labor? I decide not to be a busybody and continue to keep this dream to myself. Next year, we will put up a privacy fence but until then I will just have to deal with it.

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I begin my morning routine….

Coffee check, incense check, shower check. Now time to check the weather forecast for today. Whoa!!! A wretched high of 87 degrees (which usually means at least 90) and it will be 77 degrees by 9:00 am. Guess I better go water my babies.

First thing I do is visit my three-week old fall garden. “Goodmorning,” I say as I gently begin spraying my tiny seedlings with my new super long water hose. The smell of the water somehow soothes me.

I usually water my garden at night so that the water does not burn the plants or dissipate too fast, but it will be super hot today so I will probably do a light watering again in the eve.

Now that the ground is wet and the worms may come out, I begin to worry about the birds bothering my poor plants. I decide it’s time to wake up my trusty sidekick “Scooby” to keep away the predators.

He grudgingly obeys as I yell to him “get the cat”. This always makes him run around in circles like a madman. Scares the heck out of anything in the yard even me sometimes.

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The nice thing about having a super crazy, I mean, intelligent dog is that he will chase away just about anything. The other day he tried to gently attack my daughter’s new beau. I haven’t seen that kid since.

Next I tend to my two petunia hanging baskets. They are really dry and brown at the bottom but still have some pretty blooms. I wonder if it is time to just let them go. Nah, maybe next week, as I finish watering my backyard and head to the front.

The front of my home has been sort of neglected lately. About two months ago I decided to plant pumpkin seeds in my front yard since I didn’t have an appropriate full sun space in the back.

I had the brilliant idea that I would have some beautiful vines and pumpkins once Halloween got here. There were only a few perennials in this space and most of my annuals would need to be pulled up soon anyway. This seemed to be an ideal spot until this happened.

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The vines look pretty I think. Honestly, I am not certain how I feel about them which is why I kept putting off pruning them! But today is the day!

Once I read that I could cut the vines to lessen the length and then the plant would concentrate more on making larger pumpkins instead of a lot of pumpkins, my mind was made up. I have only noticed one pumpkin in all of this mess and this lucky guy is on the driveway and side I want to keep.

Driveway pumpkin
Driveway pumpkin

The clock is ticking now and if I don’t get moving soon it’s going to be a sweltering hot miserable project! I decide to start with the smallest patch on the left side and work myself to the right. I dig down with my shovel and it comes out easily. I realize I don’t really need tools at all. What a strange plant it is with barely any roots.

Just when I get going, here comes Mrs.Busy Body from next door. “Oh, I see your plants are taking over Aye,” she says. I nod my head in agreement, “My squash are dying and I have no idea why,” She waits for me to tell her.

I glance over to the front of her yard and as usual, a hot mess. I see her sorry pumpkin vines that are struggling for survival in all of her chaos and I want to scream “WATER THEM LADY,” but instead, I offer a few umm-hmms as she jabbers about randomly. Her conversation is very similar to her yard with all kinds of random things being thrown about.

I start to zone her out and keep it moving. It is just too hot for chatter. Just when I think she is getting the picture, her husband walks up. I decide to say good morning since I don’t want to appear to be too rude. To be quite honest, I kind of like this guy. He barely talks and he minds his own business. My type of neighbor.

The most interesting thing about him is the fact that he always looks like he is going out for a pack of cigarettes never to return. I think it’s only a matter of time.

He gives her a look and they head off towards their home. I am grateful that he intervened since the last time she talked to me for over an hour and I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. I will never understand why people come up to you just to have a conversation with themselves.

As I continue to work and pull up the prickly vines, the bees start to chase me. I run in circles looking like a maniac in my moo-moo, sweat socks, and rubber shoes. I dodge there every attack not caring how foolish I must look. I will not let them bully me away from my garden today.

When that fiasco is over, I then notice that the vines I have removed have tiny baby pumpkins on them. Where the heck did these guys come from? At that very moment is when I realized, in all of my haste, that I am a murderer, and I have killed my own children!

I fed and took care of them just to snuff them out when they were no longer convenient. What started out as a trim became a full blown massacre. I hurriedly shoved them into the paper bag of death hoping no one will ever know just what I have done…

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When I am finished the front looks sort of bare again and I feel a little empty. But now, I am happy that I can see my Japanese Maple and rose bush again. I was somewhat worried that a .99 cent pack of pumpkin seeds was going to choke the life out of my overly expensive tree.

Now I can concentrate on putting more fall colors in the front and getting ready for my favorite holiday. I have made the right decision. I think…

Grandma’s Garden

As a child growing up in the 80’s, my siblings, cousins and I used to spend part of our summer vacation at my grandmother’s house on the east side of Detroit. If you know anything about Detroit, you know that traveling from the west to the east side is like going on a journey to a different country.

At that time, in Detroit, at 8850 Treadway Street, most of the neighborhood surrounding grandma’s house was beginning to see the early signs of what some call “Urban Decay“. I remember visiting my first abandoned school during one of these summer visits. The building was still of a sound structure with high ceilings and tall sturdy entrances. But, the rooms looked as if they had been paused in time with books and supplies strewn about.

Being that there were plenty of abandoned buildings and land in my grandmother’s area, she decided to use the vacant lot, which was adjacent from her home, as part of her own yard and garden. Grandma’s entire extended yard would now be filled with all types of healthy things to eat.

She would dig up the pretty grass that was once there, and plant rolls of tomatoes, green beans, squash, mustard, turnips, collards, cucumbers and more! I remember, even as a child, being in awe by this beautiful garden.

Grandma Deason and her garden
My grandmother Lucinda Lawson Deason. Date unknown

As time went on, it seemed that everything grandma grew and eventually cooked, would taste delicious and much better than the store-bought vegetables that were available in my own neighborhood. With more and more experience, my grandmother would soon learn how to preserve her harvest for the winter.

She would make her own jams, pickles and even eventually discover how to make wine from the vines she planted on her fences. As children, we would love when the holidays arrived because even us kids were allowed to taste this sweet homemade grape wine.

When I was a child, I did not know that my grandmother once worked full time and was a divorced mother who raised seven children alone. I learned as I got older that for most of her life, my grandmother was financially very poor.

Since she always had very nice things, which included the best china, linen, and furniture you could imagine. I never suspected that her garden was such a vital part of her and her family’s survival.

As I grew older, my mom told me stories of how while she was growing up, they had always had a garden. She even said that on many occasions during her childhood they would eat nothing but vegetables.

So much that one of her classmates asked her if they were vegetarians. My mom said she thought everyone had the kinds of meatless meals her family often enjoyed.

Needless to say, my mother and her six siblings were very strong healthy kids. The meals her family shared had been not lacking nutritionally from what she has told me. Even my grandmother who lived to be 85 was still able to catch the bus and tend to her garden for most of her years.

In my life, fortunately, I have not had to work as hard as my grandmother did although I still have inherited the drive and desire to do so. I love to watch the emergence of a new sprout or feel the earth between my fingers when I work in my garden. Having the ability to control one’s own source of food is something that I too hope to accomplish in the near future.

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My Garden July 2015

As for now, I can only dream of having the skills that my grandmother did. In the meantime, I will continue to keep reading, learning and growing, as I press forward and tread my own way towards my journey to being a Top Shelf Gardener!

© 2015 Topshelfgardener

Weather Worries

Living in Michigan we often have our weather ups and downs. Our weather is so bipolar that you can leave out in the morning wearing a sweater and long pants and by noon you could have changed into a tank and shorts. Even though summer is ending faster than a speeding bullet, I have not quite got my feel of gardening for the year. As I mentioned in my previous posts “The Beginner Gardener” and Fall Gardening”, I have started a new garden from seeds in the middle of summer.

Ten days ago, when I direct sowed my seeds, it was a blazing 90 degrees. Today ( Which is 8/26/2015) our high will only reach 64 degrees and our low somewhere around 57 degrees. With this crazy and mixed up weather, my gardeners anxiety has started to kick in. I began to worry rather or not this fall gardening thing was such a great idea? The maximum amount of time needed for my longest maturing vegetable is 60 days. So if the estimated dates on the packages are accurate, then I should be able to harvest around the 14th of October and even earlier for some items.

That should be plenty of time under normal late summer and fall weather, but then again, this is Michigan. What will happen if we get an early snow fall? I know that our average frost date is 10/09 and the items I planted are supposed to be pretty hardy but what if, what if, what if???

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Bush beans ten days after planting seeds.

Another great concern of mine was, what if the birds eat the seeds before they even started to sprout? Every morning, after I planted I would get up and go check my garden. To protect my seeds, my only option was a good old-fashioned scarecrow. I read that I could use hay to cover them, but I wondered if that would slow down the growth and then when I tried to find hay, none of my local stores even had it in yet. I guess there isn’t quite a demand in the city for hay in the summer.

I decided in order to decrease the likelihood of the birds eating the seeds, I would water only at night (since birds aren’t nocturnal for the most part) and that way, I wouldn’t have to worry about the worms coming out, and the birds noticing that a smorgasbord was waiting for them slightly under the ground.

So far this approach seems to be working. I now have little sprouts at every planting site. I guess all of the worries and paranoia may be in vain. I have always been one for a challenge so I will continue to challenge myself with new veggies, techniques and all around gardening. Be sure to follow me as I keep you updated on the status of my first fall garden.

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Fall raised garden ten days after planting seeds.