Composting Conscious Consumer

Composting take two

I bet you didn’t think I had more to say about composting, right? Composting doesn’t need to start in your backyard. It can begin in the store, and it may be a lot easier than you think. Shopping for goods that are compostable enable you to live a greener lifestyle. It starts a cycle that includes our gardens, ourselves, and our lifestyles.

Perhaps you already make some green choices. You bring canvas bags to the grocery store; maybe you hopped on the organic food trend; or you shop thrift stores to upcycle your wardrobe. Maybe you’re completely confused and unfamiliar with any or all of these terms. That’s okay. Either way, I challenge you to educate yourself and become a greener shopper. Let’s get started with compostable goods.

Did you know you can buy 100%  compostable K cups? You can purchase compostable plates, bowls, cutlery, napkins, tissues, sandwich bags – the list goes on. Cutlery can be made from 100% birch wood, or corn, reclaimed sugarcane pulp and wood scraps. Products can also be made from bamboo or bagasse sugarcane. These products can help reduce waste when you need convenience. Check out the link below for more products to consider changing in your life.

Compostable Products

Composting goods in restaurants

I was eating lunch in the Smithsonian and everything was compostable – the plates, the cups and the cutlery. Maybe your favorite coffee shop uses compostable take-out cups. Or your favorite restaurant uses compostable food storage containers. Maybe you don’t know. When you are out shopping, eating, travelling, see if you can identify compostable goods. Then if this matter to you make it known to the establishment!

Let’s get crazy!

Ok, by now, we’re probably already there. But we can take it further – compostable toilets. You’re probably thinking: Gross! That has got to smell! I was right there with you, but my husband wants to install one for our guest house bathroom. And I’ve agreed. After more research, composting toilets are worth thinking about given the right environment. The water it saves is amazing! Check out the link below to see what it means to take composting to another level.

How a compostable toilet works

Why shop green?

Why should we care about compostable goods? The simple answer: Caring about what we buy and where it comes from or, in this case, where it will end means we care about ourselves. How we treat the world around us reflects how we treat ourselves. If we have more trash, we have more landfills, which means less natural land. Though the landfill may appear to be a giant green mountain, it’s not natural. The more trash we have, the more garbage trucks needed to drive to pick up this trash, which means more exhaust into the air we breath. So just by changing one choice in our life, we can impact other choices to how we live our daily lives.

Every action we take affects our world. Let’s choose to love the earth and remember that our choices can change how we interact with nature. We may live in the concrete jungle, but that doesn’t make us any less a part of nature.

Living green can mean different paths for everyone. Below is a link that may help you find what works for you and your lifestyle. For the love of your garden, don’t just plant green, live green!

Living Green

Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.

~ Chief Seattle

Wednesday’s Where the Wild Things Grow

Enjoy some fun photos from my landscape and a fun fall flower arrangement. Last week was back to school for the kids, and with that I feel as if there was a change in seasons. It’s doesn’t really feel cooler or less humid, so it feels much like summer. The mark of fall isn’t for another month, but I still feel like something has changed.

Living in Wisconsin and Illinois, there are distinct hints to each season. In fall, the corn stalks turn from a lush green to a dried straw color; the soy fields shine golden in the late afternoon sun; and the earth smells musty. Gardeners and farmers spend much of the fall harvesting the fields before the real cold settles in. I love fall in the North.

Florida has season changes too; they are just more subtle. If you spend enough time outside and pay attention to these changes, you realize there are more than just summer and snowbird seasons. So open your senses this fall, and watch the flocks of birds passing through, listen to the insect noises change, and smell the change in the earth. It’s almost spiritual.

Florida Gardening in August

August Gardening:

August is still very hot and humid. Rain is pretty predictable on a daily basis. This means the mosquitoes are still a big bother, so be sure to take daily walks and dump standing water. With the rains, the weeds are growing just as quickly as the plants. To keep up on the weeds, I pull as I do my daily plant checks. It’s too hot to stay out weeding for long. If you don’t have the luxury of a daily walk and can only get to your garden weekly, be sure to take breaks and drink lots of water. Sun safety is a must during the summer months. You can quickly become overheated. Wear sunscreen and a hat.

This month, I’ve been reassessing plant placement. I had to move my Australian tree fern (Sphaeropteris cooperi) because, I believe, it didn’t do well near the salt water. This is my second go on an Australian tree fern; the first placement was behind an outdoor grill, which I think fried my fern tree. I also transplanted plants that needed a change in light. I find that not all light in Florida should be treated equally. Full sun during the summer months is a bit much for many plants. Filtered sun can sometimes be a better choice. Some of my plants were burning in the sun, while others were getting shaded out by my gigantic lantana. I had some potted plants that were also ready to be moved into the ground. Because potted plants require more water maintenance, I like to plant in the ground as much as possible. This may not be an option for everyone, so be sure to repot as your plants grow to avoid root bound plants. Transplanting plants can be jarring, but with the consistent rains during summer months, the plants do pretty well.

This month I have continued to experiment with propagating to save money and to gift plants to friends. I’m propagating from my devils backbone (Pedilanthus tithymaloides), citronella geranium (Pelargonium citrosum), and cranberry hibiscus (Hibiscus acetosella). I’m also experimenting with sowing seeds from fruits or flowers. Pineapples have been my easiest and most successful; I’ve had a 100 percent success rate. You literally just cut the top off a pineapple from the grocery store, stick it in the dirt and let it root. (It will take a few years to produce fruit, but they make a dramatic statement in the landscape.) My marigolds and peppers seeds have been successful, but I’ve had random results from melon seeds. I sprinkled some sun flower seeds last week, let’s see what happens. These are fun experiments for the kids and cost nothing.

What’s growing in my vegetable garden:

My peppers are still doing well and watermelons have sprouted from the compost. August marks the month to start planting warm-weather vegetables. If you’re from the north, think late season vegetables. I’ve only tinkered with potted vegetables in Florida, so I’m excited to jump in at full force this year.

Things to plant:

At the end of the month I am going to sow squash and beans. Below are a few others to get started:

  • cucumbers
  • beans
  • squash
  • corn

You can plant in pots, raised beds or the traditional in the ground method. Choose what works for your home and your time. Be sure to prep your soil with compost before sowing the seeds.

What’s flowering:

My milkweed (Asclepias) recovered very well from its transplant in July and is sporting beautiful green leaves and yellow flowers. I found another pomegranate (Punica granatum) trying to fruit – seventh times a charm? The oleander (Nerium oleander) is barely flowering, but growing very well. My Jamaican cherry (Muntingia calabura) is flowering small white flowers. The elephant ears (Colocasia esculenta) are blooming! This is new for me. Also a crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia) I transplanted last month is budding.

My butterfly garden is still in bloom. We get a variety of butterflies every morning. The kids love this. I highly recommend a butterfly garden if you like color. The blooms last all summer long!

August is a month to reassess, clean up perennials, plan your vegetable garden, and try not to sweat too much. Keep experimenting and happy gardening!

Where flowers bloom so does hope. ~ Lady Bird Johnson

 

References:

Maccubbin, Tom. Month-By-Month Gardening Florida: What to Do Each Month to Have a Beautiful Garden All Year. Minneapolis, MN: Cool Springs Press, 2014.

Wednesday’s Where the Wild Things Grow – D.C.

I had the pleasure of visiting an amazing conservatory in the D.C., and even though I was some 900 miles north, the conservatory hosted many tropical plants that I have in my own garden! Most of these photos are thanks to my eldest daughter. Enjoy! Happy Wednesday! Stay tuned for what to expect in the garden during the still very hot and humid weather of August.

Don’t Throw that Away! Compost It!

Some people don’t realize the magic that is embodied in a banana peel or apple core. Others may see these as things to be tossed in the trash. There is a belief that it will decompose and find happiness in the landfill. Who are we kidding? Nothing finds happiness in the landfill. But happiness can be found in the garden and compost returns that happiness to your plants. According to David the Good, author of Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting, you can compost anything. I mean anything! He discusses composting bones, goat heads, human waste and other unimaginable things. His book is incredibly informative, and I would recommend if you’re considering composting. However, I had to draw a line at the goat heads.

Why compost?

Composting is a form of recycling and a free and sustainable way to enrich your soil. In my previous post about the importance of soil, composting is one way to amend unhealthy soil. Compost does this by returning nutrients to the soil, balancing acidity, and holding moisture in the soil. Compost also helps save money, time, and water – all especially good if you’re trying for a sustainable garden. All my yard waste just goes right back into my gardens. It’s a beautiful cycle.

You can easily start your own composting bin or obtain free compost from a curbside pickup facility. (Or just bike around and ask your neighbors if you can take their yard waste.)

*Note on curbside compost: Ask if the compost is hot composted. This means that most of the weed seeds and disease-causing organisms will have been killed. The compost may not be pesticide free, so do not spread this around your edibles.

How I compost:

I simply compost fruit and veggie scraps, egg shells, coffee grounds, newspaper, and cardboard. The most adventurous I got was introducing vermiculture. In my kitchen I have a special container that collects food scrapes. Once it’s full, which is daily, it goes outside to my two composting bins. I purchased both my bins. One is a simple free standing bin and cost $50. It has a lid that latches, which is important to keep out feasting rascals like racoons. This is the prepping bin and also where my worms are supposed to be living. (Honestly, they could have escaped because I haven’t been brave enough to dig to the bottom to see if they are still doing their thing.) I also have a tumbler, which cost $100. I tumble this daily, and it helps turn all those yummy scrapes to dirt. In nine months I have been able to harvest the compost three times. I then lay the compost on my gardens or where there is no grass and only sand.

How to start your own compost:

  • Choose a container – free standing or tumbler. These can be purchased or homemade.
  • Use equal amounts of brown materials – high in carbon (i.e., dead leaves, wood chips, pine needles) and green materials – high in nitrogen (i.e., weeds, grass clippings, coffee grounds, kitchen scraps, manure).
  • Avoid plant material treated with herbicides.
  • Avoid meat, dairy or oil products. This helps to keep critters at bay.
  • Keep your compost moist.
  • Do not use human or pet feces. This can promote harmful bacteria.

Compost Tea:

Compost tea can be used as a fertilizer and is good for container gardening, seedlings and epiphytes- air plants, such as: ferns, bromiliads or orchids. The tea helps to provide good soil microbes. Take completed compost and put it in a cloth or burlap bag. Then set it in a rain barrel or bucket of water for a day or two. During this time period, dunk the bag up and down to help ‘brew’ the tea. The tea will be dark. Dilute it with water to lighten the color and sprinkle the goodness on your plants!

*Note: If the tea smells bad, dump it back on your working compost pile and start over. Also, if using city water, allow to sit for a few days to let chlorine evaporate. Do not use water from a water softener.

Vermiculture:

Vermiculture is composting with a special earthworm. I bought red wrigglers or manure worms. These worms make a higher quality compost. If you want to get a good start, buy a lot of worms – I bought 1000. This may seem like too many, but for under $30 I had a real good start to my set up. The worm’s castings or worm poop are what you use as compost. The worms should be put in an airtight container to avoid their escape. You can feed the worms shredded paper and kitchen scraps. They also need sand to help digest their food. When you’re ready to ‘harvest’ the worm castings, lure the worms to a new food source and then harvest the compost.

Compost is the easiest and cheapest way to spread love around in your garden. Take it at your own pace and watch your compost pile grow just as healthy as your plants. I believe, no garden is complete unless blessed with compost pile, so get out there and start transforming trash into soil magic!

Never plant without a bucket of compost at your side. ~Elsa Bakalar

 

Resources:

Stibolt, Ginny. Sustainable Gardening for Florida. Gainsville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2009.

Florida Gardening in July

July Gardening:

In July the monsoon season is in full swing. This is a blessing for many gardeners after the dry winter and spring months. It’s consistently HOT and very humid. I spend very little time in the garden and only in the mornings. I walk my gardens daily to check for weeds, pest problems and standing water.

It is peak mosquito season. Be sure to dump standing water after each rainfall. This helps prevent mosquito hatching. Mosquitoes will hatch in any stagnate water. You can also try planting a mosquito garden to help deter this pesky insect.

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Zinnia Profusion Double White

What’s growing in my vegetable garden:

Not much! My raised beds look pretty pathetic. It’s too hot for most veggies. I have a few pepper plants, everglade tomatoes, squash, and a dill plant trying it’s hardest in this heat.

What’s flowering:

My butterfly gardens are doing wonderful.  My lantana, zinnias, and milkweed have thrived in this humidity. The butterflies visit late each morning and lazily flutter to all the colorful flowers. My periwinkle has been flowering for several months and the heat hasn’t hinder the blooms. My bromeliads are flowering, which is new and exciting.

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Periwinkle or vinca (Catharanthus)

I recently purchased a few more orchids and tend to them weekly. I repotted a few and make sure to fertilize and water them weekly. The orchids love this humidity and flourish well outside in Florida.

I weeded out my snap dragons that couldn’t take the heat and replaced them with vinca or periwinkle, which are the same thing (something I just learned minutes ago!). This may be confusing to anyone from the north since vinca is also a shade-loving ground cover. I also added some Pentas lanceolata, commonly known as Egyptian Starcluster.

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Egyptian Starcluster (Pentas lanceolata)

Fruit trees:

My fruit trees have tried to flower, but I’ve had some difficulty with my pomegranate in particular. I’m not too concerned because the tree is small and needs to concentrate on growing roots and branches. Every time a bloom pops out (which has happened five times), the bloom breaks off. My Jamaican cherry trees has a few blooms, but are also small trees. I’m not too optimistic on much of a yield. Otherwise, my fruit trees are growing and growing. I fertilize monthly to help promote growth.

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Jamaican cherry (Muntingia calabura)

Other landscape:

My biggest concern has been scales and now I’ve noticed white flies. The scales I was able to remedy with rubbing alcohol and some patience; it’s tedious work. The white flies don’t seem to be causing any evident damage, but can weaken the plant and make it susceptible to disease. The white flies can be conquered naturally with neem oil.

*NOTE: I prefer natural remedies for my garden. If you are interested in other chemicals, please be cautious what you use and talk with a professional. Some chemicals may quickly kill a pest, but it may also kill beneficial insects or be poisonous to children and pets.

Bring the garden into the kitchen:

My Jamacian cherry tree is fully stocked. I have picked the fruit daily and either throw the cherries in smoothies or freeze them for later. These ‘cherries’ taste like cotton candy. I had so many and decided to attempt a jam. I just replace sour cherries with my Jamacian cherries. It’s super sweet and excellent on pancakes or waffles with some whipped topping. Enjoy!

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Moringa (Moringa oleifera)

July is a time to find some shade, sip lemonade and enjoy the luscious green surrounding the gardens. When I’m not sitting in my garden, you can find me at the beach. Live fully and enjoy your season of life!

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need. ~Marcus Tullius Cicero