Archive April 2018

Everything You Need to Know About Composting

Everything You Need to Know About Composting

Gardening season is here! Few things help shake off the cloudy wintertime blues like getting your hands dirty and feet wet in the good spring earth! And, if you are an organic gardener or plan to be, composting is at the top of your list of things to do to get things off to a good start.

What is Composting?

Black gold? Plant superfood? Organic fertilizer? Planet saver? Compost is many things to many people.

For our purposes, compost is what happens when various decomposing organisms – bacteria, fungi, and other microbial critters – take organic waste streams and turn them into a nutrient rich soil amendment.

Compost is rich in organic matter, nutrients, and beneficial microbes. Yes, plants need probiotics too!

This combination provides plants with much to almost all – depending on the quality of the compost – they need to produce nutrient rich foods, save water, additional soil, and sunlight. You will need to ensure plants have the remaining three!

Note that compost is not a “more is always better” soil amendment. Too much compost can actually harm your plants and over time, even your soil by causing nutrient imbalances. So make sure you are doing an annual soil test on your growing space!

How to Compost

Compost is a lot like people. It needs four things to survive – food, water, air, and shelter! It appreciates a little love as well, but that isn’t crucial. Let’s look at each one of these separately.

Food: What to Compost

The microbial critters that transform waste into compost need two types of food, greens and browns. Generally, you want more browns than greens, in fact, about 3-5 times as much brown material!

You can add as much composting raw material as quickly and as often as you want. Just make sure that as you add food waste and greens, you also add ample browns to keep smells and other issues in check.

Examples of green material would be leftover bits from chopping vegetables and yard clippings. Examples of browns would be coffee grounds and wood chips.

While neither a green or a brown, egg shells are also excellent to compost. They add needed calcium.

What to NOT Compost

While you can theoretically compost anything, trying to in an urban environment isn’t always the smartest idea.

Meats, soups, stews, and other smelly, fatty, and liquidity stuff is hard to compost at small scale, dramatically increasing the likelihood that your pile will create bad smells and attract unwanted pests.

This may thus result in upset family members or neighbors, neither of which is generally in your favor.

Also, if you are using your compost for vegetable growing, cat and dog poop or other types of manure are not appropriate to toss into your compost pile.

Water

Bacteria don’t just need food, they need water as well. But like plants, both too much and too little water can cause problems for your compost. Too much can lead to smelly liquids draining from the pile (these liquids are sometimes called leachate, and in some areas you can actually be fined for having uncovered compost for this reason!) Too little means stuff won’t break down and your pile will just sit there, a dry dead lump of built up detritus waiting for water or rain to help it along and for the bacteria and other decomposers to get back to work.

To avoid too much rain, I suggest making a compost bin that is easily covered. You can use different things for the cover – a tarp, plywood, or my favorite, a piece of sheet metal. A slanted roof is better than a flat surface, since this allows water to naturally shed off to the side that makes the most sense.

Air

The process of breaking down stuff requires a great deal of oxygen for all our little bacterial and fungal friends. Without sufficient air, a pile may go anaerobic – a decomposition process that uses different bacteria that also create some strong smells among other unwanted effects.

To avoid this, some people will turn their piles. I try to avoid extra chores whenever possible, so instead, I suggest you build a pile so that it naturally get sufficient air flow. The design at the end of the article will give some options for you to consider!

Shelter

Yes, compost piles need shelter. Too much heat, too much cold, too much rain, too much sun, too much wind can all cause a compost pile to break down more slowly than it should. Excess rain is one of the biggest issues a pile faces. Don’t place your pile under the side of a structure where lots of rain or water will fall on it! Even if you follow my advice and give it a roof, you don’t want your pile located in a swampy or otherwise soaked spot! This can lead to bad smells and other issues.

One reason compost piles fail over winter is because they freeze. This is partly because many are too small (a note on that below!). It is also because they are placed in a cold, shady spot that gets wind. A frozen compost pile is just a pile – no composting is taking place! So instead of having nice compost ready come spring, you have a frozen block of partially broken down material that won’t be ready until late Spring or early Summer. Not ideal at all!

Does Compost need Starter?

Also, note what compost piles don’t need. They don’t need composting starter. You can spend money on a compost starter, but they are pretty unnecessary unless you happen to live in a very polluted area.

Compost bins don’t need additives and amendments – save those for applying directly to your soil after you know you need them because of a soil test. All compost needs is you to provide the 4 things listed above!

Mother Nature knows what to do. She’s been decomposing stuff for a long time. Just give her the basics and the rest will magically happen all by itself.

Go Big or Go Home

One reason composting doesn’t work for people is that they don’t produce enough material to make a sufficiently large enough pile. You need a big enough amount of material to create the kind of mass that makes compost magic take place. Here are a few solutions if you have trouble producing enough compostable material to make your pile happy.

Band together – Get a few other families involved with providing you with scraps and other compostable materials. They can be family, friend, neighbors, people from church, or strangers you shake down on the street.

Commercial Food Waste – Commercial composting companies like EcoScraps collect food waste from restaurants, grocery stores, and produce wholesalers. No reason you can’t get some of that for your compost bin as well. Just be sure the food waste is high quality. For example, waste composted from some restaurants apparently kills plants within 12 hours.

Coffee shops – An average small coffee shop produces 5 gallons (about 45-60 lbs!) of coffee grounds PER DAY! At one point, I was picking up over 2000 pounds of grounds a week from us a handful of shops in the city. A large city produces tens of thousands of pounds of coffee grounds each year. Sadly, most go to the landfill.

Coffee grounds are one of the BEST, lowest cost, and CLEANEST ways to build beautiful garden soil. They also make a great compost addition.

So if you need more bulk for your compost pile, call around to a few shops and see if they need someone to take some of their grounds on occasion. Skip fast food places that serve cheaper coffee and seek grounds from Starbucks and independent cafes that serve high quality brew.

The Best Compost

Plan to stop adding greens and browns to your compost bin about 30 days before you need it. You will know your compost is ready to use from the smell and the texture.

Compost that is ready has a dark color with a good consistency in your hands with no remaining visible signs of food or other scraps. It has a clean, earthy smell that is very pleasant!

If you wish to continue to add raw materials after the 30 day cutoff, it is best to keep two compost bins side by side. This way, while one compost bin finishes, the other can continue to be filled.

How Much Compost to Use in the Garden

Compost is generally applied at 1/2 pound or so per square foot. However, there are several factors that can impact this recommendation.
  1. How rich the compost is.
  2. The condition of your soil.
  3. Intensity of cultivation.

As mentioned earlier, an annual soil test is very important to help determine how much compost you will need in any given year.

DIY Compost Bin (simple, inexpensive)

My favorite small scale compost maker uses five wooden pallets and takes under thirty minutes to make. It looks nice and is easy to manage.

Four of the pallets are left whole, while one is cut in half to provide an easy to access front edge and to also make the make a slanted roof to protect the pile from rain. You can make the roof from wood, metal, or some other material. To attach the roof, we use rope, metal wire, or leftover baling twine.

The spot should be relatively level for where you locate the pallets and pile. Also, make sure that the spot in winter isn’t shady or windswept. Try to choose a spot that will get lots of winter sun and is somewhat sheltered from wind. This is especially important the farther north you are.

Once the pallets are assembled, it is best to layer a bunch of branches, sticks or similar material on the bottom, about 4-6 inches deep. This provides additional space for your compost pile to draw in air and helps reduce the need for turning. Another option for providing more air flow is to use pieces of scrap PVC pipe with ¼ inch holes drilled in them buried in the pile. The pipe should extend beyond the sides of the pile and they will draw in air to the very center of the pile, keeping things moving along nicely. Scrap PVC is easy to find and a very good way to reuse something that is rarely recycled!

Composting in the City

I often suggest for city folk to keep a large trash can full of wood chips or similar high carbon, brown bedding material next to their compost pile (with the lid on!).

This lets you easily add more browns anytime your pile could use more material to capture smells.

5 Simple Skin Care Recipes with Green Tea

5 Simple Skin Care Recipes with Green Tea

Did you know that you can harness the rejuvenating benefits of Green Tea externally? Green Tea helps reduce skin redness, protects and rejuvenates skin, and can assist with refreshing skin after a long day in the sun.

Learn how to take advantage of the properties of Green Tea with these skin care recipes:

GREEN TEA, LEMON BALM, & MINT FACIAL STEAM

Steams moisturize and relax the face by stimulating skin circulation. Also, they help clean the skin by by dislodging dirt from pores. This recipe is refreshing and rejuvenating.

  • 1/8 cup organic Green Sencha Leaf Tea
  • 1/4 cup dried organic Lemon Balm, increase the amount if using fresh Lemon Balm
  • 1-2 Tbsp dried organic Peppermint, increase the amount if using fresh Peppermint

Directions

Place Green Sencha Tea, Lemon Balm, and Peppermint into a large ceramic or glass bowl. Boil water and pour over herbs and tea, immediately placing a towel or lid over the bowl so that the oils being released from the herbs do not escape. Steep for 5 minutes. Place the bowl on a table or other surface where you can comfortably sit and hold your face over the bowl covering your head and the bowl with a large towel to make sure that no steam can escape. Make sure to keep your eyes closed and breathe deeply to inhale the properties of the herbs. Steam for 10 minutes.

GREEN TEA & ROSE FACIAL TONER

Toners help adjust pH levels, remove any residues left on the skin after cleansing, and moisturize.   This toner is gentle, nourishing, and beneficial for all skin types.

  • 4 oz organic Witch Hazel Extract
  • 2 oz organic Rose Hydrosol
  • 1 Tbsp Aloe Vera Gel
  • 1 tsp organic Green Sencha Leaf Tea
  • 1/2 tsp organic Vegetable Glycerine
  • 2-5 drops Rose or organic Geranium (Rose) Essential Oil

Directions

First, make an herbal infused Witch Hazel Extract by placing the Green Sencha Tea leaves and Witch Hazel Extract in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake the jar daily and allow the mixture to infuse for 2 or more weeks.  Once finished infusing, strain the Green Tea leaves out and reserve the remaining liquid. Mix the infused Witch Hazel Extract with all of the other ingredients, and pour into dark glass bottles.

GREEN TEA & LAVENDER FACIAL CLEANSING GRAINS

Facial scrubs exfoliate the skin and cleanse the pores. Some facial scrubs can be rough on the skin, but this recipe contains oats, almonds, and other nourishing ingredients.

  • 1 Tbsp organic Oatmeal
  • 1 Tbsp organic Almonds
  • 2 tsp dried organic Lavender flowers
  • 1 tsp French Green Clay
  • ¼ tsp organic Matcha Tea
  • 2-5 drops organic Lavender Essential Oil

Directions

Grind oats, almonds, and Lavender flowers in a clean coffee grinder until finely powdered. Sift through a mesh screen to remove larger pieces; larger pieces may be too abrasive for the delicate facial skin. Add clay, Matcha, and Lavender essential oil. Mix thoroughly, and store in a glass jar. To use, mix a small amount with water, milk, cream, yogurt, flower water, or tea until a smooth paste forms. Apply to slightly damp skin and gently massage with fingertips, avoiding the sensitive areas around the eyes and lips.  When finished, rinse off with cool water.

You can use this same blend for a facial mask!  Simply apply a light layer on the face, making sure to avoid the delicate skin area around the eyes and mouth. Leave on for 10 minutes or until the mask feels taught and dry, then rinse off with cool water. For dry or sensitive skin types, leave on for 5 minutes or less.

PEPPERMINT & GREEN TEA COOLING MIST

Use this mist whenever in need of a little cooling off.  Peppermint is very refreshing. Incorporating Green Tea into the blend helps reduce redness.

  • 6 oz distilled or purified water
  • 2 Tbsp dried organic Peppermint leaf
  • 1 tsp organic Green Sencha Leaf Tea
  • 1-2 drops organic Peppermint Essential Oil (optional)

Directions

Pour boiling water over the Peppermint and Green Sencha Tea leaves, and infuse until cool. Strain out the leaves and pour the remaining liquid into a 4 oz spray bottle. Add the essential oil (if using) and shake to combine all ingredients. Use within 1-2 days or store in the refrigerator up to 1 week.

GREEN TEA COMPRESS

Green tea has antioxidants which ease and nourish skin. Green tea compresses are beneficial various skin types.

Directions

To create a compress from Green Sencha Leaf Tea, make an infusion by pouring boiling water over organic loose-leaf tea and allow to cool completely. Once it has cooled, strain out the leaves and reserve the liquid. Soak a clean cloth in the infusion and then place saturated cloth on skin for 5-10 minutes at a time. This process may be repeated several times a day.