Friday, March 4, 2011

Spring Garden

Ok I'm the first to admit that up until now I've had a black thumb. But that doesn't stop me from trying! I'm nothing if not adventurous!

This year we are trying to go even more green by starting container vegetable & herb gardens. We live in an apartment with little to no yard space, so planting an extensive garden is out of the question. But the boys are very excited to see something tangible come from our efforts (we We are also learning about making our own compost. This too is our way of going green.

Container Garden -

  • Building the Window box with dad & papa - using recycled wood we have found the kids are building these things. We also make sure there are a few holes in the bottom so we don't drown the poor plants.
  • Decorate the boxes. We have tons of paint and sealant once the kids are done decorating we'll throw on a few layers of sealant to be sure none of the pain washes away.
  • Start seedlings. I know many people just plant the seeds in the boxes but I'm not the best gardener, so I'm learning along with my boys. We are starting the seedlings in the biodegradable little seedling starters in our home. We are using egg shells as our planters - the kids will be decorating them and starting the seeds with their HS group in a couple of weeks.  (just click on the pic if you think you need directions)
  • Once the seeds have germinated and sprouted a bit, we'll transfer the whole thing (egg and all) into the window box. I have a plastic liner for the boxes that I got for like $1. Again there are several holes in the bottom of the planter and we start filling it with a layer of gravel/rocks the kids have been collecting.
  • I always throw a bit of grass starter over the top as well, so even while the little plants are growing or after harvest, there is something in the box.
After some research the 4 boxes we are making will have these plants (which are supposed to grow well together)
  • Box 1 - cucumber (space master), tomato (red Cherry), parsley & chives
  • Box 2 - carrots (short & sweet), lettuce (bibb) & peppers (sweet banana), Mint & Thyme
  • Box 3 - Greenbeans (french dwarf), Cabbage (Bok Choy), Sage &Basil
  • Box 4 - Cabbage (baby head) , Tomato (sweet 100), Peas (Early Patio), Rosemary
Starting your own porch compost -

Prep -
  • Select a plastic storage bin that has a top that locks on (this will help keep hungry critters away) - we used the 18 gallon size. NOTE - you need 2 tops although only 1 has to be able to lock on. The other goes under the container to catch the liquid that drains out, you'll need to re add it back to the compost and if you don't have any type of catch bin then it's totally wasted.
  • RUBBERMAID 18 Gallon Rough Tote Storage Box this is like the one we used.
  • Drill about a million holes through all the sides top and bottom. Air circulation is a major part of decomposition, so you need it to be able to flow through your container.  (first i had the kids paint the container until it was all purrty and I sprayed a sealant onto it to keep the paint from washing off, it will eventually chip/fade but the kids had a great time). The holes should be about 1-2 inches apart.
  • I then lined the bottom of the bin with a layer of gravel, then added a small amount (like a large pail worth) of rich soil, shredded newspaper and dried leaves. (but be careful on adding too much of the paper and leaves as these will help dry the contents of the bin, and you need it to stay fairly moist)
  • Whenever adding scraps to the bin, be sure to chop them small, otherwise they can take quite a while to decompose (trust me, our first batch was a big moldy mess). Great things to add to your compose? - leaves, weeds, fruit and vegetable peels, egg shells, coffee grounds, tea bags, and grass clippings.
  • Storing your bin. I actually keep a small pail in my kitchen where I can easily add scraps throughout the day, then before bed I add them to the bin. Some suggest keeping the bin just outside your door for ease of use, but I warn you, the smell of decomposition isn't pleasant. I keep my bin under my porch so I don't have to think about such things. After I add my daily pail, I put the lid back on then give the whole bucket a few shakes to mix things up. When I add my contents I also check to make sure everything in the bin is moist, if it's dry then I add a bit of water (like watering a plant). Maybe once every couple of weeks I add the drippings back into the bin so not much added water is necessary unless you live in a really dry environment. 
  • I use some chicken wire mesh to harvest my compost. Once you can see dark crumbly material, you are ready to harvest. Basically I get 2 large buckets. I lay the mesh over the bucket for the 'good material' and leave the other bucket for the 'not quite ready material'. Then I scoop the compost over the mesh. Everything small enough to fall into the bucket is good to use, the larger pieces go back to the compost bin to continue the process.  
  • When I put the remaining items back into the bin to complete the process I also add a scoop or two of soil again to help the balance factor (see below).
Keep in Mind -
  • Think of Balancing Greens and Browns in your compost - this will balance the microbes and make compost possible. The greens will be veggie & fruit scraps, plant clippings, coffee grounds, etc. The brown are dead flowers, dry leaves, small twigs (think the stuff on the forest floor), that's why I like to add a bit of rich soil to my mix.
  • Adding Worms. Worms help speed up the composting process, and some can live happily in our 18 gallon drum of compost. The most common for our type of composting are Red Wigglers (you can purchase them online). Just be mindful of the temperature. Worms are happiest between 40 and 80 degrees F. If it's boiling outside then your closed bin might get very hot and kill off all your little warriors. If you use worms in your bin this is called Vermicomposting.    

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