We have chosen to have a 100% organic garden without the use of fertilizers so composting is our natural alternative. Although it can take some time, it is one of the most nutrient rich ways to cultivate your garden. You can start to compost in the kitchen by saving common kitchen scraps. You are making healthy compost and reducing your waste at the same time. It’s a win win.
In the winter months, when there is no produce to harvest, we buy organic lettuce from the store. An organic spring mix (pic above) normally comes in a plastic bag inside of a plastic box. Once you take out the lettuce, this box becomes the perfect spot to store your kitchen compost scraps. I normally go through one box of lettuce a week during the colder months and stockpile the containers for when our current one gets gross. I keep this under the kitchen sink or on a shelf in the pantry until it is full and ready to be emptied (usually twice a week).
Common kitchen scraps you can use for compost (cutting/crushing first will help them to breakdown faster):
- All your vegetable and fruit waste, (including rinds and cores) even if they are gross and moldy. Corn cobs and husks. All leftover pulp from juicing.
- Coffee grinds, tea bags and paper filters
- Egg shells, crushed well
- Most anything made with flour. Stale bread, cookies, crackers, pasta as long as they haven’t been mixed with meat, oils or dairy.
Things to leave out:
- Meat, fish and bones
You can buy compost bins from your local home improvement store. They range in cost from $50-$300. Or you can build them and they’re completely free…woohoo! This is the first of many things Greg made from used palettes. Most commercial businesses will have a pile of these every week after receiving deliveries. They may keep a few, but the majority get thrown away. All we do is ask and most times they are happy that we are helping them get rid of their garbage.
To make this bin he took three standard palettes and assembled them in a “U” shape using standard screws. The slots that are already built in to the palettes are perfect for holding the rake you’ll need to turn your compost.
The pic above shows two bins side by side. We started with one and now we have four across. Greg will keep one bin empty to make it easier to rotate the compost from one bin to another. If you don’t have the space for that many bins, you can simply use one and rotate the soil within the bin.
We initially set these up in the far corner of the yard thinking that when the temperature rose we would smell anything that may be “composting”. It turns out the slots in the palette provide good enough air flow to allow the compost to properly decompose.
Last year, we spent DAYS weeding the garden. Literal weekends were consumed with pulling weeds. Although we knew it would be a big task, we decided that when the weather became tolerably cold, we would start the whole garden from scratch. The picture below shows the garden last year.
We started by removing all of the existing raised boxes and extended the garden area by about 50%. Next, we laid out long rolls of weed barrier. Someone at Greg’s job was throwing it out and it was a big money saver.
We put all the old boxes back in but decided to try to keep a square shape to the garden compared to the mish mosh we had last year. Greg built a few new boxes (the lighter colored ones) out of scrap wood.
As the weeks went on, Greg found more great wood pieces that were being thrown away by one company or another and brought them home. He added the too large boxes below after he drove by a company that had just had an enormous window delivered. They were throwing away the packing crate it came in; so he scooped it up. He added trellis to the back of the crates because he knew he would be planting cucumbers and tomatoes in there. The bamboo was added to beds that would house the beans and other sprawling plants. Once everything was finished, we added a combo of organic soil and compost to the boxes and organic black mulch to the walkways. Voila! A new garden.
Last season our tomato plants produced a total of 156 edible tomatoes. I’d say we had another 30-ish that were ruined by insects. This was our most successful year yet. After two years of trying different locations in our yard we finally found the perfect space for the proper sun and shade.
I think the most influential thing on our garden this year, was the nutrient rich compost that Greg makes. We maintain our supply year-round by constantly rotating the compost (in our homemade compost bins) with the house scraps we save, and adding from our stockpile of leaves and grass clippings.
We also learned a valuable tomato lesson from a good friend. Pick the tomatoes when they are GREEN. Put them in a brown paper bag and store them in a cool, dark place. Check the tomatoes every few days and in a about a week they will be a beautiful red. The last two years we would wait and wait and then all of sudden they would turn and it was too late. Once they turned red and got sweet, we would have a problem with the bugs eating them.
This was one of the last tomato pulls we had of the season (October). All of these tomatoes were pulled green and turned using the brown bag method.
In the beginning the flow was pretty steady and we would easily eat everything we picked on a weekly basis. As soon as the weather turned from warm to cool (Sept-Oct), I pulled 62 tomatoes in two weeks. I had to learn how to can…and fast.
I found a few canning recipes online since this was my first time and experimented with two. (I had also watched a canning demo at the tomato festival this summer) One recipe was for crushed tomatoes and one was for a sauce. The crushed recipe was a lot quicker but now that we’ve been eating them I prefer the sauce recipe more. I think I needed to “wring” out the tomatoes a lot more before crushing them because those cans came out very watery. Below is a pic of the tomatoes cooking down to make the sauce recipe.
The 62 tomatoes produced enough for 27 jars, half crushed, half sauce. I only have 6 left. It better warm up soon.