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Volunteer plants
In this gardening season, we’ve had several volunteer plants make their presence known in our teaching garden. The most common have been lettuce, squash, and tomatoes. Volunteer plants are called so because they volunteer to start growing without any planting or sowing by humans. Most likely these are seeds that survived from seasons past, didn’t decompose in the compost, or may have possibly been deposited by birds.
These have been really exciting to find while weeding our garden. Seems to make pulling all the weeds worthwhile when you find an actual plant. Even though our plants are in nice, neat rows, I’ve let the volunteers sprout wherever they please. This is one of our lettuce plants that sprouted from last year’s lettuce crop. Since our lettuce did so terrible this year, I figured it couldn’t hurt letting this one grow (even though it’s in our tomato area).
Another interesting volunteer plant appeared in our middle bin of our compost. A full tomato plant appeared. It has now been transplanted to the proper tomato area and out of harm’s way in the ever-turning compost pile.

Volunteer plants

In this gardening season, we’ve had several volunteer plants make their presence known in our teaching garden. The most common have been lettuce, squash, and tomatoes. Volunteer plants are called so because they volunteer to start growing without any planting or sowing by humans. Most likely these are seeds that survived from seasons past, didn’t decompose in the compost, or may have possibly been deposited by birds.

These have been really exciting to find while weeding our garden. Seems to make pulling all the weeds worthwhile when you find an actual plant. Even though our plants are in nice, neat rows, I’ve let the volunteers sprout wherever they please. This is one of our lettuce plants that sprouted from last year’s lettuce crop. Since our lettuce did so terrible this year, I figured it couldn’t hurt letting this one grow (even though it’s in our tomato area).

Another interesting volunteer plant appeared in our middle bin of our compost. A full tomato plant appeared. It has now been transplanted to the proper tomato area and out of harm’s way in the ever-turning compost pile.

Our first group of the season!

Yesterday (5/7/2012), we hosted our first group this year utilizing our teaching garden. We had 60 rambunctious students from an afterschool program at Simmons Elementary in Versailles, KY. Students ranged from kindergarten to 5th grade. Students were able to experience the teaching garden, animal adaptation games, and the un-nature trail.

LACBG staff, Barb and Sarah, facilitated the group in the teaching garden. Grades K-2 started with a tour of the teaching garden. They then explored the world of compost using our compost demonstration area. Then they each became their favorite vegetable and jumped into our pot of “veggie soup”. Grades K-2 finished with an activity known as “what’s on your plate.” Students take a close look at fruits and vegetables that they may (or may not) be eating. Each is a specific part of a plant (stem, stalk, root, tuber, fruit, bark, etc…). Instead of veggie soup, grades 3-5 participated in seed, stretch, germination. This activity lets students discover the growth cycle of a mighty oak.

Seed-Starting Review (HTW Tip)

If you’re getting ready to start seeds for heirloom tomatoes (or any other seed), you need to make sure that you buy something that has “seed-starting mix” in its title. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, we used Pro-Mix and Espoma seed starter mix for our seedlings. Potting soil doesn’t cut it if you’re looking to start seeds. If you’re a composter, you can use compost for seed-starting mix as well.

To start seeds you want to make sure your seed-starting mix is wet using warm water. If you’re planning to plant a bunch of seeds, put some of your mix in a big pan or pot for easy access. Fill your containers or flats with the seed-starting mix and then put your seeds on top. Cap it off with more seed-starting mix that is also moist.

If you can create a set-up for your newly planted seedlings, it is best to water from the bottom. This allows the plants to draw up the water, which makes them hardier and prevents overwatering.

Another way to compost

Another way to compost is using a compost tumbler. We actually built our compost tumbler out of 50-gallon drum and some salvaged 2x4’s. We also added a coat of paint to make it fancier. We had hopes of painting the drum itself but once we started using it for compost, it became a little too heavy and dirty for painting purposes. However, if you plan ahead of time, you can paint a big drum to look prettier than a typical blue 50-gallon drum looks.

Anyway, you want to keep the same 50/50 mix of greens/browns in the compost tumbler. You do want to watch how wet your materials are that are added to the tumbler. Our tumbler has a habit of getting wet and staying wet, which makes rotating the barrel very difficult. We drilled many holes in our compost tumbler about ½-3/4 inch in diameter. If you have the supplies, cutting part of the ends off and replacing with screen or mesh would help keep the inside a bit drier as well.

In case you don’t want to build one yourself, you’re in luck. Many places actually sell these nowadays, even at big box stores, like

Home depot http://bit.ly/Kqcpmg

Lowes http://low.es/IAopXJ

Target http://bit.ly/JrP6tN

Still preparing…

Today, I weeded and took some more black plastic out of the vegetable garden. There’s an area to the left of our compost demonstration area that has always been an eyesore. It’s always been a mix of mulch, reindeer hay, weeds, and rocks. Today, I tossed the mulch pile and took most of the weeds out of it that had accumulated from last year. I’m also trying to work the reindeer hay into our compost now to get rid of it slowly. I’m hoping to have this area clear and useable in a couple of weeks

In addition to weeding, I hung all of our hand tools for students on the inside door of our new gardening shed. I still need to come up with a system to keep the doors open because they like to close when a gust of wind comes.

Today, the plants were moved to an area of the education building deck that is exposed to direct sunlight for a greater part of the day. I’m hoping to keep them there over the weekend in preparation for the transplant on Tuesday.

Composting problems, issues, and some solutions

If your compost pile becomes wet or smells bad, it means that there isn’t enough air in your compost. To correct this problem, turn the compost daily until it dries out and the bad smell goes away.

If your compost pile becomes dry, it means that the pile isn’t big enough or that water needs to be added. You can either add more material to your compost or add water. You don’t want to saturate your compost. It should be about as wet as a damp sponge.

If your compost pile isn’t breaking down or isn’t heating up like it should, it usually means a lack of nitrogen. Try adding nitrogen-rich materials such as grass clippings, manure, or fertilizer to help. A good compost pile should be warm. The warmth is created by the breakdown of materials.

If your compost pile is having unexpected visitors like rodents, it most likely means that something was placed in the pile that shouldn’t have been. Please refer to our earlier post on what should and shouldn’t be added to your pile. If you do have trouble with critters, remove any meat, dairy, grease, etc…

(Source: lexingtonky.gov)

Yard trimmings and food residuals together constitute 27 percent of the US municipal solid waste stream.

United States Environmental Protection Agency

What to add to a compost pile

We’ve been chatting about composting but we haven’t actually talked about what you can put in a compost pile. Let’s take a look back at what compost is. Compost is decaying or broken down organic matter. Organic just means that it was once living. This includes vegetables, fruits, and any vegetation.

Compost should be a 50/50 mix of greens and browns. Green material contains nitrogen while brown material contains carbon. A 50/50 mix is the best combination for any composting operation.

Greens include things like coffee grounds (and filters), egg shells, fruit, grass clippings, tea bags, and all vegetables (including peelings). Browns include things like dried grass clippings, leaves, newspaper (not glossy), sawdust or wood ash (from untreated wood), straw, and other yard waste. They are called greens and browns for a reason. You should be able to visually see a balance of green and brown colored things in your compost pile.

Now we’ve talked about what can go into a compost pile, let’s talk about what should be avoided. Charcoal, diseased plants, dog or cat feces, fats, oils, grease, meat, bones, cheese, pesticides, toxic chemicals, treated logs or wood, and weeds with seeds. These items are hard to break down, can attract animals, can smell bad, and may carry parasites/diseases.

Compost piles should be beneficial and enjoyable. They shouldn’t be a sore spot in your gardening experience. Keeping a good balance of these materials should start you on the road to enjoyment and soon provide you with a great soil supplement.

Free compost bins!

If you are a resident of Fayette County (Kentucky), you are in luck. You are eligible to receive a free compost bin from the Lexington Fayette Urban County Government (LFUCG). This helps reduced the all too common excuse that “composting is expensive”.

LFUCG has concocted a great way to get people more enthused in their garbage and recycling. Each one of their curbside containers has a name. I’m thinking this makes people feel more connected to their trash. Let’s talk about Herbie. Herbie is the container for all household waste that cannot be placed in either a Rosie or a Lenny. Rosie is the container for, yep, you guess it recycling. Now, Lenny is best used for your yard or lawn waste. This whole waste management gang helps Fayette County residents sort their waste properly.

After time, some of these curbside containers break down and are damaged. But LFUCG being the crafty folks they are have figured out what to do. They would never think to toss a damaged Herbie into a landfill, oh no! They actually upcycle old Herbies into new residential compost bins available to citizens.

We signed up for the list and were called a few months later to come pick up our prize.  We now have the old herbie aka new composter installed in our teaching garden to illustrate other methods of composting.

If you’d like to be added to the waiting list, please call LexCall at 311. It’s an amazing offer and a great way to test your composting skills.