Look, Ma! I made dirt!


I really like growing things.

Eating and canning vegetables and fruits that I’ve grown myself is one of my favorite and most rewarding experiences.

Since I live in a duplex and don’t have a yard or much space to call my own, we’ve had to get creative with small gardening strategies and containers. This works pretty well for most types of produce, but you have to take extremely good care of your soil.

Plants need more than just sunlight and water to grow. They need nutrients, too. The soil is a plant’s food source and has its own ecosystem that needs to be nurtured and maintained.

Healthy dirt, healthy plants.

The easiest way to do this is compost. Compost is your friend. It’s a great way to recycle your garden, in the form of food scraps, and is cheap and easy to create. Once you’ve got compost, you can mix it into soil before you plant, or spread it around the bases of existing plants to allow the goodness to seep into the soil as you water.

To start a compost heap, you’ll need a container with good drainage. I use an old recycling bin because it was free, it’s sturdy, and it had drainage holes already drilled into the bottom. You could also buy an inexpensive garbage can and drill holes into it, or build a bin out of chicken wire, fencing, or pallets. There are a ton of excellent ideas and templates on Pinterest, if you need help getting started with that part.

Green, Brown, Blue

To create awesome rotten stuff, all you’ve gotta remember is green, brown, and blue.

Green items, which are rich in nitrogen, are fresh things such as veggie scraps you collect when you food prep, grass clippings, the leaves/stems/roots of plants, and manure from herbivores (such as horses, cows, and rabbits).

Brown items, rich in carbon, are items such as dead leaves/plants, shredded newspapers (avoid the glossies and multicolored pages), pine needles and cones, wood shavings/chips, sawdust, potting soil, and dried flowers.

You’re looking for a ratio of one part fresh green things to two parts dry brown things.

Blue represents water. Your compost pile has to have moisture! You’ll want it to be like a damp sponge. Too much water will drown the sweet little microbes that eat your leftovers. Too little water will stop them from eating altogether.

The Dirty Work

Turn your pile periodically. Your microbes need to breathe! If your container is cylindrical, this is a simple as tipping it on its side and rolling it around. If its square or stationary, you can reach in with a garden spade or hand cultivator and mix everything up.

Compost takes about 4-6 months to break down, so be patient! But once it’s ready, it should smell earthy and slightly sweet. You’re looking for a dark brown mess with a loose, crumbly texture. It looks like dirt but it’s SO much better! You can mix it in, spread it around, or create a compost tea! Your plants will thank you.

Surprising Extras

Along with the usual culprits, there are some other (surprising) things you can add to your compost. Egg shells (rinse them well!), coffee grounds and filters, tea bags, stale crackers/bread/cereal, wine corks, old herbs and spices, fruit preserves such as jam or jelly, dryer lint, and paper or cardboard such as cereal or pizza boxes can all be recycled to feed your garden!

Savings your scraps is easy, too. I use a small galvanized metal feed bucket with a lid that snaps firmly in place. When I make coffee in the morning, when I prep vegetables for lunch, when I finish munching on an apple, even when I make scrambled eggs (just be sure to rinse the shells really well) I toss it all into the can! Having a convenient container to throw my leftovers in makes it easy to be consistent with my recycling.

Keep contributing to your pile, making sure it has enough water and turning it about once a week! I hope you make great amazing rotten stuff!


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