Friday, July 11, 2014

How to Counter Top Compost

I've been making counter top compost for years. Since I cook almost everything from scratch I tend to use more of my food stuffs than other people, but I always have things that can be used to make compost. Coffee grounds, banana peels, the occasional pile of potato skins. These are all food waste that flowers, trees, and vegetable plants love.

There are counter top compost bins you can buy in high end kitchen and garden stores, but I've found the following tools work much better.
Large Steel Bowl
Old Food Processor, or Juicer (that's lost it's basket)
Sturdy bowl scraper
Bag of peat most
The idea of counter top compost isn't to make super rich soil or basic fertilizer, like with regular compost. It's to make plant food that you can give to your plants and trees on a daily or weekly basis.
The point is to make a mild plant food that uses up at least the majority of the raw food waste that your kitchen produces in a day. There are certain things you don't want to add to counter top compost, like seeds. Things with seeds can be added to regular compost because it takes time to mature the compost, constantly turning it every day, so that the seed ends up wasting it's sprout before it takes root. The aborted sprouts then become nutrients for the soil.
With counter top compost, however, there is no daily turning to keep the seeds from successfully sprouting, so we don't add them.
Keep the steel bowl in a well ventilated area that is easy to access. I keep mine on a small end table in the corner of my kitchen, and store it's food processor underneath.
As you go through your day toss in usable food waste, like used coffee grounds and tea leafs, potato skins, banana peels, wilted salad greens and other vegetables, used herb sprigs, etc. Every time you add something use the bowl scraper to mix it up.
At the end of the day, or if the bowl fills up, run the contents through the food processor, making a course mix. Toss in a handful or two of peat moss, and mix. The peat moss helps the counter top compost become adsorbent so that it doesn't dry into moisture-resistant clumps around your plants when the first hot, dry day comes up. In arid regions like here in Phoenix that is an extra special concern. Coffee grounds and tea leaves are fantastic for plants, but they can dry into lumps that shunt water away from the roots of you plants. The simple fix is to add a small amount of peat moss.
There will be things that work better when added after the grinding in the processor is done as well. Egg shells should be smashed up and added to the counter top compost post-processor. This allows the egg shells to act as organics that help funnel water through the plant food, keeping it moist as it feeds your plants. Hair should be added afterward, simply because it will clog up your processor if it's added before. Snip the hair into short lengths so that it mixes easy.
10 Great Things to Make Counter Top Compost Out Of
1. Coffee Grounds - nicely acidic, with a perfect base texture for solid plant food.
2. Tea Leafs - usually acidic, packed with antioxidants that will keep your plants healthy.
3. Banana Peels - Full of minerals and other elements that help flowers and fruits grow well.
4. Wilted Salad Greens - rich in heavy minerals that plants need lots of, but in a completely consumable form.
5. Potato Peels - one of the best, and well rounded food waste items for any form of compost.
6. Clean, Untreated Hair - human and pet hair is full of nitrogen that releases at the right speed to help plants grow strong roots.
7. Egg Shells - number one calcium supplement for plants that also acts as a great texturizer to help with water flow.
8. Used Herb Sprigs - even after they've been cooked herbs like rosemary, parsley, and sage are packed with vitamins that help plants grow strong stems.
9. Vegetable Trimmings - carrot tops, celery leafs, and other vegetable trimmings give plant food a well rounded nutrition content.
10. Flat Beer - Yes, beer that's gone flat and warm can be added to plant food for an extra punch of vitamins. The darker the beer, the better it is for plants.

What You Should Know About Oregano

The most common mistake people make when buying or growing fresh oregano to season things like pizza or red sauce is getting Italian oregano. Most people get it home, or into the kitchen, then find out that it doesn't taste quite right. In fact, Italian oregano tastes a lot more like mint. But, it says it's Italian oregano, so what went wrong?

The problem is that the taste we look for when we choose to use oregano is actually found in the Greek variety, not the Italian. In truth, Italian oregano isn't even Italian. It's native to North America, and is more closely related to peppermint and marjoram. Which is why it tastes like an extremely mild version of them. Which way the taste leans depends on the climate it's grown in. In more humid climates it will taste more like marjoram, and if grown in arid climates it will taste more like peppermint.
True Mediterranean cooking is done with Greek oregano, which has a very different, and far sharper flavor. Also in the mint family, it has a robust, peppery flavor which goes well with vegetables such as tomatoes, onions, and mushrooms, which is why it's used as a key spice for many Mediterranean recipes, which call for these ingredients. In America we most frequently use oregano in pizza. It's the second most important ingredient in the sauce, right behind tomatoes.
Over the centuries, Greek oregano has also been used medicinally for calming indigestion and treating coughs. When combined with other herbs, such as horehound and lemon grass it can be used as a tea to treat dry, scratchy throats and settle upset stomaches. There are a lot of health benefits in eating Greek oregano as well, since, like most herbs, it's packed with antioxidants.
So, what can you do with the minty Italian oregano? Believe it or not, it combines well with other 'desert' mints, such as spearmint and chocolate mint to flavor teas. It also pairs well with lemon grass, grape leafs, and raspberry leaves. For desserts Italian oregano can been used as a background flavor in heavy cream sauces that call for the zest of citruses such as lemon or lime.
If your Italian oregano tastes more like marjoram it can be used to substitute for it in recipes. Italian oregano has a far milder flavor, however, so one should double the amount called for when using it as a substitute.
Most prepackaged oregano that you find in stores, whether fresh or dried, is going to be Greek oregano, even if it's labeled "Italian". But, if you're planning on growing your own make sure the package says "Greek". Even then, sometimes it will be mislabeled. One sure fire way to know it's Greek is to get cuttings instead of seeds. Italian oregano reproduces via seeds, but not cuttings. Greek oregano reproduces both ways, but the seeds tend to be weak and are hard to propagate. Cuttings for Greek oregano tend to grow more easily.
So, next time you open up the oregano and find it tastes like mint, don't despair. You're not crazy. Just pop it into the tea kettle instead.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Let it rain!

Rain! We finally got rain... and hail. While the rest of the country was pretty much snowed in and frozen over, the American southwest has had an unusually warm, dry winter. While this is cause for happiness in suburbia, it’s reason for farmers to become concerned.

Last year’s drought was a nightmare. 2013 was a bad year for Arizona’s natural disaster crews. First, the drought dried everything out. Then lightening set everything on fire. And then the monsoons rolled in and flooded everything. All the burned areas and dead tundra became churning rivers of debris.

There was a lot of damage done last year, and only a hard, cold winter could make it right. But, we never got that winter. In fact, it was like winter never came. We saw a few freezes, and few light snows, but nothing remarkable. And they were broken up by exceptionally warm spells that tricked the trees and perennials into waking up just long enough to think it was safe. Then another 'cold snap’  would hit and make everything sick.

But now, we have rain and hail in the middle of Spring. This is a good thing. We desperately need the precipitation. As long as the hail doesn’t become dangerous (or snow) we’re good to go. A nice 3-day storm is just what we need to get everything kick-started on the farm and surrounding wild acreage.

A good greening will help the world from catching on fire again this year and hold the soil together when the much heavier monsoons do come in mid-late summer.

So, here’s to the rain and the hail. May it stick around for a few days and make our world brighter.