compost

Recycle: Grass

Cue the Vivaldi and Rolling Stones…Spring has officially arrived! Your plants are waking up after their long winter nap, and so is your landscape grass. You are also probably scheduling your home yard service to start cutting your grass again on a routine basis (or perhaps you’re flexing your muscles and doing it yourself – good on ya!).

In this Garden to Table to Garden blog, we’d like to remind you of two important things:

1.     If you are using the right mowing height and frequency, you don’t need to bag your grass clippings. They can be mulched right back into your grass, which will help it retain moisture and nutrients. To further chop up long clippings, use a mulching mower or run the lawnmower over an area twice. Read more about that here from our friends at Texas A&M Water University.

2.     If you DO choose to bag your grass clippings, remember that fresh cut grass is a wonderfully important nutrient in your backyard compost. Green grass is a pure source of nitrogen in your backyard compost pile. Reminder, the four main ingredients in compost are: brown stuff (carbon sources like mulch, leaves, pine, and branches), green stuff (nitrogen sources like grass, food scraps, and coffee grinds), air and water…Even if you just saved your brown leaves and fresh grass clippings and layered them at home in an outdoor container, you will have easily created a rich compost for your soil by recycling what nature provided you.

Most of us are used to thinking about bagging grass clippings and leaves as waste for the landfill. We want to challenge you to rethink these natural resources in your home landscape.

PS, does your landscape turf need a little TLC after winter? sprinkling a fine layer of compost (called “top-dressing”) will surely help. Read more about that here.

Cook: Stock

My kids are always eating carrots and celery so I keep all of the ends of them in a ziplock bag in the fridge.

If you have any recipes that require vegetable/chicken/beef/fish stock, use that extra celery and carrots to make a stock that can be stored in the freezer until needed. Today, I will be making a vegetable stock.

I’ll chop up some onion and gather the seasonings that I plan on using to make a sachet (you can be creative: I used clove, parsley stems, black pepper, and bay leaves). The appropriate term is sachet d’epices which is French for “spice bag”, often called “sachet” for short. (If you don’t want to make a sachet, you can still cook the sachet items in the pot, just strain it carefully after…).

Once the sachet is made, I’ll tie the string on the lid of the pot, add the vegetables and pour enough water to cover them. I’ll place the sachet in the pot and cover with the lid, then let it simmer for at least 3 to 4hrs on medium heat.

After 4hrs of cooking, turn off the heat and let the stock completely cool off for storing.

Your needs will determine how you decide to store the stock. Whether you pour it in several containers or 1 big container with a proper cover/lid, remember to label it. If you put it in the fridge, it’s good for up to 3 days but if you decide to freeze the stock it will keep for months.

I’ll be making some broccoli cheese soup with this!

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Plant: Onions

Onions are one of the easier vegetables to grow in your urban backyard garden (or patio containers). They are also one of the first (and only) vegetables you can plant outside in January/February and not worry about the cold temps.

Now is the time to purchase and plant onion transplants in our local garden nursery stores. We bought one package of white, and one package of red (fyi, they are readily in stock at Redenta’s, North Haven Gardens, Ruibal’s). One bunch was plenty to spread amongst several homes and friends.

Here are three basic planting tips:

  1. Find a sunny spot (they need at least 6 hours of sun/day) and loosen the soil where onions will be planted (use a trowel or spoon to break up any compact spots; if soil is hard and dry, moisten it).    

  2. Plant each onion base (the part with roots) in the soil approximately four inches apart from each other. Don’t plant more than one inch deep.

  3. Water the soil deeply around all of the onions you’ve just planted. Keep them watered every week in the spring until they get growing. But do NOT overwater!

You should have mature onions somewhere between May and July. Here’s a helpful tip sheet from Texas A&M on planting and growing onions.

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Recycle: Leaves

Every year around this time you’ll see them on most curbs – bags of leaves waiting for pick up by the bulk and brush trucks. Instead of sending these leaves to the landfill, you can recycle them at home, and turn them into a valuable soil amendment to put back onto your plants – leaf mold. You heard us right – leaf…mold…(though we prefer some important official organization rebrand it to “leaf gold”).

So, leaf mold is an incredibly valuable type of compost to create and harvest back into your urban yard. Soil that has leaf mold added to it can hold moisture 50% better than those without it (think about how valuable this is in our hot Texas climate). It creates better soil tilth (fancy word for structure), and it helps to attract beneficial microbes (a wonderful cast of characters inside the soil that we can’t see, but they are making magic at a microscopic level).

Leaf mold is created simply by decomposing leaves, aided by fungal activity that is created when water and oxygen are combined with the leaves. Here’s the shorthand formula: leaves + water + oxygen + time = leaf mold.

You can get really creative with how you build your leaf mold bin; here are the supplies we used:

·      14 inch bolt cutters or a combo pliers/snip tool.

·      Roll of galvanized steel garden fencing material with 2x3 inch mesh opening.

·      Leaves. Lots and lots and lots of leaves…

Now, to build your bins,  simply roll out the fencing (we walked on it) until you have your desired length to create the circumference of the bin. Use your tool to cut the piece twice (once, along the vertical; second, along the horizontal edge). This creates a simple hook action that will make this cylindrical marvel.  

Here’s how you fill the bin:

1.     Add leaves. Water that layer of leaves.

2.     Repeat step one until you reach the top of the bin.

3.     Now, wait for nature to do its work.. (If you shredded your leaves, they will break down faster into compost. If you put the leaves in whole, they will take longer.)

Enjoy the step-by-step photos of how our team turned 2000 pounds of leaves from a community leaf drive into leaf mold bins. It sounds like a ton of work, but four ladies built all of this in four hours.

We hope you will try this, too, in your urban space. We’ll keep you updated on the results of our leaf gold process and product as the year progresses.