What’s in Your Compost 3-23-14
Last Tuesday, March 18, I toured a local active composting facility in Trumansburg. I had never been to a composting facility before and was looking forward to the adventure. I do have three or four compost sites on my property, and in the fall, neighbors dump their leaves on the south side of my property, and Rosie, in the photo below, inestimable guard dog, is making sure that no one walks off with my leaves. So I know what’s in the compost I generate, but what about the bulk compost I buy – say at Cayuga Landscape?
Cayuga Compost (the facility in Trumansburg) has been collecting food scraps from Ithaca City Schools, restaurants and other businesses for about seven years, and this is what makes up most of their compost. As we were walking back to the facility, we got a view of the large totes – being cleaned — that Cayuga gives to its customers and collects then dumps out in the windrows—long rows essentially–300′ x 24′ x 10′.
Here is our group standing between two windrows of decomposing food scraps.
Workers using heavy machinery turn the food/compost in the windrows once-a-week during the winter, then once-a-day during the summer. Because of our cooperative wet climate, the windrows required a water input only once in the past seven years. The food inside the windrows slowly oxidizes – burns – and as it does, it generates heat which on this cold March day was visible as steam floating off the top of the piles. There are seven windrows, and as the windrows are turned, they successive move up the line, so that the windrow at the end of the row will have been at the facility for about a year. To the left is a view through two windrows, the windrow on the right with compost almost ready to go to your garden!
Temperatures at about 18” deep inside the windrows reach 140 degrees Fahrenheit, which is hot enough to destroy pathogens of concern. Food and paper will compost at that temperature, but what about the compostable cutlery? It turns out that “compostable” without a time factor doesn’t really mean very much. What it does mean is that the cutlery was made from cornstarch, potato starch or sugarcane—organic materials, but plastic non-compostable cutlery is also made from organic material. Oil. Plastic can take hundreds of years to degrade in a landfill, in fact, even food take years if it’s not exposed to oxygen. I remember reading about a 50-year hot dog discovered by garbologists (garbology: a new, exciting field of study!) from a New York City landfill. The hot dog was completely intact.
The compostable cutlery does not degrade in a reasonable timeframe, even with all the turning and high temperatures. Consequently this facility employs people (4 people) who not only pick out the compostable cutlery, but also stray pieces of plastic. Those supposedly compostable school milk cartons? Because they have a layer of virtually indestructible plastic between the cardboard and the milk, that plastic liner must be hand-picked from the windows, along with metal silverware, rocks, stickers on fruit, cups, straws and anything else that people unintentionally toss in a compostable bin.
Compost must be tested twice-a-year for nitrogen, heavy metals, phosphorous, sulfates, and more often for pH to ensure that consumers are getting a safe product. Like the compost at the facility, the source of Cayuga Landscape’s Amended Compost is mostly local too, starting out its life as say a salad on someone’s tray at Cornell or Ithaca College. This gives me an extra level of assurance that the compost I’m getting is a good product.
If you have any comments on my blog, feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Pat
Shiitake Mushroom Growing 3-20-14
I live on three-quarters of an acre on West Hill. My property is distinctive: stacked firewood and berry bushes on the north side of my house, fenced-in raised beds on the south, and a large veggie garden and fruit trees in back facing east. A goal of mine is to grow as much organically-produced and delicious food as I can, but with a minimum of labor. Although I grow fruit and veggies, I produce no dense solid protein food, which is why I’ve been investigating growing mushrooms. Among the shiitake mushroom – Lentinula edodes— attributes are its richness in protein, beneficial enzymes, vitamin D and vitamin B. Google “Benefits Shiitake Mushrooms” you will find more reasons to consider eating and maybe growing your own shiitakes.
So on a just above freezing day, March 15, 2014, on a Saturday morning, I found myself at Edible Acres (www.edibleacres.org) in Trumansburg for a Shiitake Inoculation Party.
What does it take to grow your own mushrooms? Hmm…..What skills are required? What materials do you need?
First, logs. Logs are culled from the forests nearby and that’s part of good forestry management. For the shiitake mushrooms, Red oaks and sugar maples are the gold standard, but there are other species suitable for shiitake cultivation too.
The ideal log is about 3’ long, 4” to 6” in diameter, fairly fresh (cut within 3 weeks of inoculation), and its bark is strong and unwounded. Logs should be handled gently.
Here’s Leo — notice safety equipment — drilling holes in the logs that are yes, about 3 feet long. In the background are stacks and stacks of logs just waiting to produce food.
Next Noel inoculates the logs with a shiitake sawdust spawn, using an inoculator designed just for this purpose. You can buy the sawdust spawn and inoculator on line.
After inoculation, Sean Dembrosky, founder of Edible Acres, positions the logs so he can cover the spawn and holes with a wax coating. Note the electric skillet of melted wax nearby and foam applicator. You want to make sure you cover the hole completely to retain the log’s moisture content and prevent invasion of competing fungi or critters! Shiitake territory only, please!
Once the wax solidifies, after a minute or so, you can stack your log and move them outside, keeping them off the ground. Pallets come in handy. You’ll want to keep your logs in the shade, and keep them hydrated.
It will take a year or so for the mycelium (vegetative part of the fungus, the network of white filaments) to colonize and start producing edible-sized mushrooms. Logs will produce for several years, and over their lifetime, produce a weight of mushrooms roughly equivalent to about 10 to 15 % of the log’s weight.
I came home Saturday with practical experience, a full stomach and a wealth of information on how to grow shiitake. Thank you, Sean!
Rosie guarding the inoculated log that Sean gave me.
For everything you need to know about growing shiitake mushrooms in and around the Ithaca area, check out Best Management Practices for Log-Based Shiitake Cultivation in the Northeastern United States, http://blogs.cornell.edu/mushrooms/factsheets/.
Interested in purchasing some logs or sharing your experiences? E-mail me, email@example.com. I will also be inoculating logs at my home on the West Hill in early April. Feel free to stop by. Pat
Starting Seedlings 3-14-14
On March 11, I decided to take advantage of the good weather, and not only did I bike into town (and back up the hill—I still can do it!) but I started my seedlings along with the help of woman’s best friend, Rosie, guard dog extraordinaire. As you can see, no one was going to come near my seedlings without a fight.
I planted Swiss chard, sunflowers, spinach (three varieties), thyme, catnip and fenugreek. Oh, so you’ve never heard of fenugreek? The info on the seed package says its “sprouts, leaves or ground seeds add a subtle, exotic, spicy flavor to salads, sandwiches and Indian cuisine.” I had to try this, being that an acquaintance of mine is especially fond of Indian cuisine!
Material requirements for the seedlings include seedling trays, potting soil (I used organic), seeds and water. This year, for my seedlings, I’m using water from my rain barrels (weather dependant, of course) or I’m filling glass jars with tap water, setting the jars in my windowsill for 24 hours and giving any volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as trihalomethanes the opportunity to vaporize. I also label my seedlings with seed, seed company, and date. When the seedlings germinate, I take a sharpie and note that on the label. As of March 14, some thyme, sunflower seed and fenugreek had germinated, which meant—to the windowsill.
Here’s what my south-facing window looks like today:
The large round container on the top shelf is full of greens, next to that is lettuce, and in the seedling tray, kale. The greens and lettuce are two months old, the kale about a month. I can snip off the greens and lettuce, and if I leave the root and about an inch of the stem, those plants will keep growing. The kale will go into my garden – if it ever warms up. Bottom shelf: more lettuce, two lupines, and beet greens.
For a list of seeds (all non-GMO) that Cayuga Landscape carries, go to our website, www.cayugalandscape.com and click on seeds.
Questions or comments? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
GOMBBS refers to greens, onions, mushrooms, beans, berries and seeds (nuts). These are nutrient-dense and healthful foods that you might want to try growing. In January, I planted some lettuce and other greens in seed starters and they’ve been growing in my greenhouse window since then. They won’t be transplanted outside until the temperatures warm, but I did sow spinach, lettuce, peas (soaked for 48 hrs) and carrots outside on March 10th. Temperatures were warm enough so that the upper few inches of soil were not frozen; today, March 21, second day of spring, the surface soil of my garden is once again frozen.
The onions of GOMBBS not only include the typical onion, but leeks and garlic, both of which are over-wintering behind my house. Although a big fan of mushroom cultivation, I haven’t grown mushrooms yet, but once I locate a source of sugar maple or oak logs (3”-6” diameter, 2’ long, cut within the last 2 weeks), I will begin experimentation and share my largesse with the log providers.
Beans are one of the easiest vegetables to grow, and they are very prolific, but shouldn’t be sown until after the last frost, probably mid-May. The pole beans like to climb, so have a trellis or other structure for them, whereas the bush bean plants spread out on the ground.
Berries. I can’t count how many articles I’ve read on the healthful aspects eating of dark colored berries. Grow them, and eat them. Three years ago I planted raspberries, gooseberries and blueberries, and all plants are thriving. They benefit from an acidic soil, and coffee grains. If you aren’t aware of the multitudinous benefits of coffee grains (nitrogen, calcium, magnesium, increased acidity, increased oxygenation, potential slug fighter, etc.) then go online and google “benefits of coffee grains to soil.” I do segregate my coffee grains from the rest of the table scraps (everyone composts… yes?) and then I periodically sprinkle the grains in the blueberry and raspberry gardens.
Not to forget the all-American strawberry! I’ve heard the strawberries sold in the grocery store once again have some flavor, but I prefer to grow my own organic and flavorful strawberries. I recently read in Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not so Wild Places) – my choice when insomnia descends – that you can collect strawberry leaves and make a tea from them. I will try this and let you know how it goes.
And last but not least, seeds and nuts! NEVER toss out any squash or pumpkin seeds: they are very tasty roasted in olive oil and kosher salt. As for nuts, I am in the initial stages of planting Chestnut trees, which means I’ve scouted out locations, but I need to amass the time and energy to properly prepare the soil.
Here at Cayuga Landscape we do have a huge variety of vegetable seeds including several types of lettuce, peas, beets, carrots, spinach and squash. Click here for our complete list. We have many varieties of blueberries. The new high and low Brazelberries which self-pollinate, have a vibrant fall color and do grow well as container plants. We also have in stock strawberries, raspberries, currants, gooseberries and elderberries and plan to stock Chestnut tree saplings.
Be sure to stop by Cayuga Landscape and take a look at our high-quality seeds and plants so you can start eating your GOMBBS today.
Starting a vegetable garden 3-4–13
Have the prices and quality (nutritional/taste) of fresh veggies finally convinced you that it’s time to start a vegetable garden? But you’ve gotten only as far as the idea because adding another obligation to your already stressed-out work week seems impossible? Well, read on: setting up one or two raised beds need not be the ordeal of the year.
I have 21 beds in my garden, nine of which are raised beds. If I had to do it all over again, I would have set up all raised beds and dispensed with the rototilling because tilling my clay soil brought up thousands of weed seeds, and not only that, but the numerous weeds that germinated have become deeply entrenched in my clay soil. A permaculturist will tell you there are no weeds—only plants in the wrong place. My advice to anyone contemplating vegetable growing: start with a raised bed. It will save you time in the long run. Whatever weeds that dare take up residency in the bed can be easily removed.
How does one set up raised bed? Location, location, location. Avoid the shade (unless you’re growing mushrooms—which I haven’t done yet, but plan to) and Black Walnut trees if you’re growing something from the nightshade family, such as tomatoes or potatoes.
Here in Ithaca and surrounding lands, a fence able to keep out deer and other varmints is a must. We at Cayuga Landscape design and build sturdy fences and raised beds. This attractive fence below is made from black locust wood which is locally sourced and milled. We use locust wood because of its strength, durability and longevity. This wood requires no chemical treatment and will last 40-plus years. Seneca stone borders will also stand the test of time.
Raised beds with Seneca Stone retaining wall edging, built in NE Ithaca in 2012.
Most of my raised beds, like those in the photo above, are 4 by 8 feet,, although two beds I set up last summer, and may not be ready for seedling occupancy this year, are 3.5 by 12 feet. Bed dimensions are based on accessibility and arm-reach: you don’t want to walk in the raised beds and compress the soil or compromise the soil structure.
What to use around the perimeters of the beds? I use local locust wood, pre-notched for 5 minute no-nail assembly, but you can use anything: old 2 x 4s, logs, stone, etc. just as long as your material has not been pressure-treated or treated with chemicals. Old logs that you haul from the back woods are free but will require replacement way before the 40 year expiration date.
As for the bed interior: I completely cover and kill the grass or other vegetation with a couple sheets of newspaper or cardboard, then I add wood chips, leaves, manure, table scraps, coffee grains, egg shells, some compost and earth. All in all, it’s about 7 to 10 inches thick. Decomposition of the materials into a suitable soil using this ‘lasagna method’ usually takes several months. You could also periodically water your lasagna. A year ago last September, I set up two beds in this way, and in May, I was able to plant tomato, pepper and basil seedlings. My tomato plants were six feet tall and my tomatoes were huge. The soil was not, however, mature or fine enough for sowing seeds.
You can also fill the raised beds with 1-1-1 planting soil which we sell at Cayuga Landscape. The 1-1-1 represents 1 part topsoil, 1 part compost, and 1 part coarse sand. You could fill your raised beds with planting soil in the spring and plant seedlings that day — if you wanted to. Other gardeners I’ve known have seeded their 1-1-1 beds and have been successful.
Raised beds with planting soil, designed and built by CLC.
Above is another series of raised beds designed and built by Cayuga Landscape, and filled with our planting soil. Most raised beds have a depth of 6 inches, this customer (who was very pleased with the outcome!) requested 2-foot-deep beds to facilitate easier gardening. Thanks to Dr. Erb for allowing us to use this photo.
Our Garden Center also stocks a huge variety of vegetable seeds including nasturtium, sunflower, lupine, pumpkin, squash, eggplant, peas, beans, beets, lettuce, carrots, peppers and more.
Next blog: ideas on what to put in your garden. Pssssst … .. GOMBBS.
Boxwood Leafminer, 4-7-12
The Boxwood is one of the most adaptable and widely-used compact evergreen shrubs—especially in the Ithaca area—because of its resistance to deer. There are Continue reading