spring things

I decided to move the compost bins down the row and plant the area where they sat last year. Why not? I think I’ll put peppers in there, since they’d be least upsetting to me if something went horribly wrong. The piles needed turning anyway.

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It was exciting to see a little steam rising from last fall’s pile of shredded leaves and coffee grounds. It’s coming along well, and should be ready for use by mid-summer.

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The fall-planted garlic is poking through the shredded leaf mulch nicely…

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And every Spring a pair of geese or ducks makes our pond their honeymoon suite. We were walking the grand-dog and were surprised when a mama goose popped up from the edge of the pond honking, leaving her nest with four or five eggs.

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I’m not sure how bright geese are. Last year they built their nest right on the edge of the water, and when the pond rose the nest flooded and none hatched. Their nest is pretty close to the water again this year, so I hope it’s not a real rainy month.

tomato holes and water lines

After 51 days, our water lines have defrosted.  A testament to the brutality of this past Michigan February.

But now, the thumb-twiddling, mid-40s, dreary Spring. It make a person antsy. It make a person look for things to do. We’ll start by filling up the space under the grow lights…

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And instead of thumb-twiddling, I decided to do what could be done. Starting with aspirin. Last year was the first year I tried spraying the tomato plants with an aspirin-in-water solution. Whether it helped or not I’m not certain, but I do know I had far fewer tomato disease problems than ever. So why not?

Aspirin sprayed on tomato plant leaves is supposed to poke their immune systems, I guess sort of like smallpox vaccines do for humans. The dosage I use is four 83 mg tablets per gallon of water (or in this case, one tablet in a quart). I started spraying a little later on last year, but I wanted to try it on my seedlings. I shouldn’t pretend to recommend this; I’m not a doctor. But I think it’s safe and it worked for me. I crunched the pill with a pestle and dissolved it in a little warm water.

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(It needs to sit a little bit. This isn’t fully dissolved.)

After getting rid of tomato headaches, I unburdened myself of the stash of pulverized, dried banana peels that I’ve been hoarding all winter, saving back some for the tomato holes.

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And since I was outside, I decided to get my two early tomato holes cooking. First, a deep dig to loosen things up.

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peat moss to mix in with the soil from the hole

Supplies gathered:

  • about a tablespoon of banana peels for potassium per hole (sort of a guess) because my soil test recommended more potassium
  • a tablespoon or two of Epsom salts (also tried last year) to help absorb the excess phosphorus in my soil. It also contains sulfur, which was something that my Extension agent said would help lower the soil pH
  • a couple of cups of worm castings
  • a shovel full of compost
  • about a cup of used coffee grounds (just wanted to…bad reason)
  • and a shovel full of peat mixed into the soil that I removed from the hole. I’ve not read anything about peat in tomato holes, but it worked well for me last year. Our soil is alkaline, peat is acidic. Our soil is sandy, peat soaks up moisture.

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It seems reasonable to me to get these potions into the planting hole early so they can start doing their things for a bit before the plants go in.

I don’t know. It’s sort of scientific, but also kind of voodoo. Science is too exact for my pea brain, so I usually end up just swinging. Something to do when there’s nothing else to do.

at least something’s thawing

The clock says springtime and the thermometer said 13° two nights ago. Someday I won’t have to go out at night and disconnect the hose to keep water flowing in the house. Right?

At least the compost piles aren’t bricks any more. The late fall pile of shredded leaves and coffee grounds has started to thaw out, and it’s so nice to turn the top layers.

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The chicken run got a final dose of framework, and tomorrow it’s on to a couple of doors. I’m afraid of doors. Doors and me stare each other down, and then the doors win.

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the coop

Since this blog was started in November, I haven’t experienced being busy outside and blogging simultaneously. That will be changing now that the temperatures have risen above freezing every so often.

There’s nothing that can be done in the garden yet; it’s covered in snow. But it’s good weather for working anyway, and today I jumped into converting the outhouse into a chicken coop.

I’m really not very good at carpentry. After decades of home improvement, you’d think it would come naturally now, but it doesn’t. It’s like a foreign language to me, and I don’t think I’ll ever get the accent down.

But I do have the will, and in the end things usually turn out sturdy and good. It’s just not a pretty process.

Here’s today’s progress:

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The 3-seater’s covered, nest boxes installed, the poop board frame is up and the roost is ready to go. It’ll be interesting to see how well I’ve judged our needs and the space. There’s still a long way to go.

And yesterday I added to the used coffee grounds collection.  Just waiting like I am.

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jk!

I’m afraid that as winter drags its claws through these last weeks, my blog is becoming all ‘Yesterday I pick d my nose and wiped it under the seat omg!”

Or said a better way maybe… lacking in insight and information. But i can’t give what I don’t have, so the blog is turning into more of a garden/life/nonsense diary. Hopefully it’ll become a little more informative once color and scent return to the earth.

So like yesterday I totally made this chicken water heater thingy and it worked but then it leaked a little around the nipples (omg!) so I like put this white tape stuf around them and some sticky stuff yuck, and now it’s awesome!!!!!!!!!! 😉

An I got a whole ginormous bag of coffee grounds and a new thingie to put chicken feed into.

ttyl

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stockpiles

The garden is mostly indistinguishable from its surroundings, covered in white. The compost piles are blocks of ice. I do enjoy snow, and if I didn’t I probably wouldn’t be living in Michigan. But it’s hard to be locked out of the garden for so long.

You do what you can, when you can.

Winter’s the time I turn to stockpiling, to quell the boredom and to prepare for goosing the garden in a few months. If I were to look at my stash from an objective viewpoint, I’d probably think ‘Sanford and Son’. But I’m not objective.

A few things I hoard over the winter months:

Half-gallon milk jugs. I like this size for tomato and pepper seedlings. A lot of folks use whole gallon jugs, but they simply take up more room and use more growing medium than I think is necessary.

milk jugs

Vermicompost, the harvest from my indoor worm bin, composed of worm castings and decomposed organic matter. I store mine in an unsealed 5 Gallon bucket indoors. There is life in this stuff that needs warmth and air to keep it active till spring. It makes a powerful addition to a homemade potting mix.

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Plastic net apple bags. This is a little personal niche that no one else probably cares about. I use them to support melons grown vertically.

Pulverized banan…I said I wasn’t going to bring these up. Oh well, I lied. I’ve been drying and pulverizing our banana peels to use as a measurable potassium supplement in next year’s garden. So there.

pulverized banana peels

Coffee grounds, wonderful worm food and compost nitrogen source

Pulverized eggshells. See previous paragraph, replace potassium with calcium.

pulverized egg shells

Liquid laundry detergent jugs, for making garden markers. We don’t go through that many jugs, so I need to catch my wife before they go into the recycle bin.

Cardboard boxes. Worms love corrugated cardboard, and it really helps keep weeds down under a mulched garden path, as well as being a source of carbon in the compost piles. Cardboard turns flaccid and non aggressive as soon as it’s been soaked.

Most people stock up for the winter. I stock up for the spring.

a quick trip

With our nights in the 20s and days in the 30s, I was feeling like visiting a warm, relaxing place.  Maybe two.  So I headed out to the compost pile and experimental outdoor worm bed.

Ahhh.  First stop, the worms.  Sunny and warm with highs in the mid-seventies.  The sunken water bucket warmed with a 25w aquarium heater seems to be holding its own against the cold.  Hopefully the worms are too.

worm bin temperature

Then off to Fabulous Compostapulco.  Those Starbucks grounds I picked up last week are having a party with my moist, shredded fall leaves, and things are heating up!

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What a vacation.  I’m pooped.  Now for a siesta.

used coffee grounds, continued…

Is it proper etiquette to post more than one blog entry concerning used coffee grounds in the same month? Try to look that one up.

Yesterday I hefted another 60 lbs. of used coffee grounds home from Starbucks. What a great feeling.

But as chance would have it, a comment from Julie (who has a great blog called Julie’s Garden Ramblings) made me envious and curious. She said that I would laugh if I saw her stack, and that she’ll never run out. I’ve been trying to moderate my excess garden enthusiasms. Could I ever have too many coffee grounds?

I suspect that there probably isn’t a definitive answer to be had on the Internet. Too many LOUD ‘EXPERTS’ and not enough quiet experts. But you learn to pick your sources. If you can’t believe a research manager at Rodale, you’re a bigger skeptic than I am.

Anyway series of articles at Green Talk were very informative.  All about coffee grounds and gardening, and I think from one of the quiet experts.

A few of the juicy bits below:

Rodale Institutes’ Respond to the Coffee Grounds Dilemma

I reached out for Rodale Institute since it was more likely they would have an answer for me. (If the name, Rodale Institute, sounds familiar to you, it is because many of you may know the name through the magazine, Organic Gardening, one of my favorite gardening magazines.)

Luckily I connected with Dr. Paul Hepperly, the research and training manager at the Institute, who is a well known authority in organic agriculture. Surely, he would know. (Fingers crossed.) He explained that once the coffee grounds are added to the soil, they start to decompose, and in turn, their acidity neutralizes. Ultimately, they are only adding nitrogen to the soil.

His suggestion was to side dress the plant with no more than one inch at a time. He further caution to not add more grounds until the original grounds had decomposed. Coffee grounds are solely a soil amendment and not a fertilizer.

He further explained that soil should have an organic matter of five to eight percent. At some point, there is a diminishing return if you keep adding coffee grounds, and your soil has already reached the eight percent threshold of organic material. It will not hurt the soil, but may not help much at that point. It is best to take a soil sample during the year to see what your soil needs.

As for compost, he suggested one volume green material to three volumes of brown. Coffee grounds are viewed as “green” material. (Whew. I was relieved that this matter was settled.)

My uses for coffee grounds are A) as worm heroin,  B) as composted green matter, and occasionally C) as a top-dressing around the raspberry bushes.

One problem with using coffee grounds in the worm bin is the moisture content.  In my experience it tends to make everything in the bin a little sloppy. Other than that I do believe that the worms would happily live in pure grounds.  Fact way back when I was a little shaver, my neighbor kept his fishing worms in pure coffee grounds, and they looked very happy.

As far as garden compost and coffee grounds, the 1 to 3 ratio suggested confirmed what I had experienced as an effective ratio in my own piles.  I rarely add un-composted grounds directly to the garden, and if I do, it’s with plenty of time allowed for their breaking down.

So in my long-winded way, the question has the same answer as my ‘Too much compost?’ question…moderation in all things.  Boring, I know.

piles

60 pounds
Of coffee grounds.

Almost a good start for a Dr. Seuss book.

I’m pretty sure that nobody cares about some yahoo in Michigan picking up free used coffee grounds for his compost pile. But the thing is, there’s a small possibility that someone is just waking up on a Saturday, clicking through blogs with his morning coffee, and there’s a new opening for a Dr. Seuss book or something. Isn’t Dr. Seuss dead?

Another sentence or two and he’s reading about free coffee grounds and free shredded leaves converting themselves into free groceries. It’s morning; coffee’s just kicking in. Isn’t it possible that even though he immediately forgets about the dork who thinks people want to hear about his free garbage, something sparks for a guy who ends up getting his own

60 pounds
Of coffee grounds

And has the best garden ever?

I was thinking about this on my way home from Starbucks. It’s expensive stuff, coffee. I buy unused grounds at the grocery; I know. But imagine all the money all those folks at all those Starbucks paid for all those grounds to be made into all those cups of coffee.

And then imagine all those expensive coffee grounds being plopped into a huge, expensive garbage truck by a company who pays guys to dump crap at an expensive dump site into a pile that is basically nothing but a pile.

Maybe somebody who’s never thought about piles reads this with his morning coffee and decides to save his own 60 pounds of coffee grounds from the silly universe of expensive piles.

60 pounds of coffee grounds

used coffee grounds

In case you haven’t heard about this, Starbucks has a ‘Grounds For Gardens’ program. They’ll set aside their used coffee grounds for you if you call ahead.

Used coffee grounds are a wonderful addition to the compost pile or worm bin. They’re not very acidic; they have a slightly lower than neutral pH. Most of the acid was transferred to your stomach when you used the grounds the first time. They contain about 2 per cent nitrogen, but they’re not a nitrogen fertilizer per se. In fact, you should add nitrogen when using UCG (we’ll just call them that since they’re our buds) directly in the garden, because the grounds encourage the growth of microorganisms that use nitrogen.

I incorporated quite a few UCGs into the soil of my raspberry stand early this spring. The plants came on green and vigorous, my best crop ever. Could have been the worm tea or the fact that I curtailed Japanese beetle activity with Neem oil, but my best guess is the coffee grounds. I also put a few into my tomato holes.

raspberries

And of course, into the compost pile. Being in the country, the nearest Starbucks is 30 minutes away. But luckily, my daughter and grandbaby live 2 minutes from the store. So every visit the car smells like used grounds. I run in and pop out with a 50 lb. bag-full.

One man’s waste is another man’s treasure.