We are so excited to start a compost pile! We have built our compost enclosure and started to add a mixture of things to it to get it started. Composting is an easy way to reduce your carbon footprint, create incredibly rich soil for your garden and help you live your happy green life!
Starting a compost is simple by following these easy steps:
Size: A compost pile should be a minimum of 10 feet around and 3-5 feet tall. This allows it to have enough room to decompose properly by creating the proper temperature and air flow.
Location: This is very important! Make sure to pick a good location for your compost pile – away from common areas and play areas. Compost will have a mixture of decaying materials in it and will have that ‘compost’ smell – so you will want to put it somewhere out of whiff.
Materials: There are numerous ways you can create a compost area. You can simply start a neat pile and leave it as is to rotate and maintain. If you want to create a more defined area for it you can build one from plastic fencing or wood. You can also purchase a composting bin at your local hardware store.
What to Compost: Vegetation, grass clippings, leaves, fruits and veggies, paper, coffee grounds, and egg shells all add value to your compost pile. These items will lead to a nutrient rich soil to plant your garden in. Make sure to follow a ratio of 1:1 brown vegetation to green vegetation when creating your compost. Brown materials include leaves, manure, newspaper, cardboard. Green materials include hedge and grass clippings, coffee grounds and fruit and vegetable peals.
What NOT to Compost: Meat, dairy, eggs, pet feces. These items can attract rodents to your pile and will not add to your piles nutrients.
After you get your pile started you let it sit. It will get hot – between 90 and 140 degrees - and you should see steam coming from it! It is very important to turn your compost pile every 4-7 days.
Now that we have started our pile we are excited to see it work! We will update on the progress as it starts cooking and starts the magic of turning into dirt!
Happy Green Composting!
The Farm Is Ready!
Our farm is ready! Two weeks ago the Happy Green Life crew (and some other friends) got our garden ready for our fall crops! Like I mentioned before we started off by contacting our friend Farmer Eric and asking him what we should do. We were instructed to rototill the area that we wanted to plant, test our soil, add fertilizer if we needed it, then remove any large rocks and clumps of grass.
We had some options for how we wanted to plant the garden. My parents plant in raised box beds, they build boxes and then fill them with soil and fertilizer, this seems to be an easy way of doing it but we didn’t want to spend the money on boxes so we went a different route. The last three years I planted directly in the ground (I didn’t raise my beds), this works but I had a little trouble with flooding. So we decided to do raised soil beds. We marked out our beds, 3 feet by 18 feet, and 18 inches apart. We did this by hammering posts into the ground where the corners of the beds would be, then tying string to them, this way we had a perfect guide for our beds. Next we dug a walk way around each of the beds and threw the excess soil into the beds. By doing this we were able to raise our beds approximately 2 feet from the ground and create walkways that double as trenches for water so that our beds don’t flood.
Once we had enough soil in the beds we turned the soil with a fork and then flattened it out with the back of a rake-making sure that we didn’t pack the soil just smooth it flat. Once our beds were ready we measured out where we wanted to plant. For our brassicas (lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and kale) we staggered our plants between three rows 8 inches apart. This leaves them enough room for a medium to large plant.For our root plants, carrots, beets, radishes we planted in straight rows dropping our seed throughout. Once they have begun to sprout we will thin the rows out allowing the plants enough room to grow approximately 2 inches (some plants up to 8 inches, check the seed pack to see how much space they need).
We have seven beds left, five will be planted with wheat and peas and two will go to herbs (our tomatoes are currently in them). We will be “nicking” the sweat peas outer shell so that they can absorb more water and then planting them 2 inches apart. For our wheat we will be spreading it out across the beds (no rows for this stuff). We will have enough wheat to make approximately 40 loaves of bread!
After everything was planted it was time to water. Farmer Eric taught us to check our soil by taking a handful and clumping it together, if it clumps into a ball then it has moisture, if you are unable to break it up in your hand it has too much moisture and you should hold off on watering. We are to water our veggies once a week for about an hour.
Once our veggies are grown we will be rotating our plants around so that we can add nutrients back to the soil. It will take approximately 60 days to see some veggies. In the meantime we are growing some veggies from seed in the house so that they are ready to plant after the first harvest. We will keep you updated on our farm, wish us luck!
Our Happy Urban Farm
I am getting ready to graduate with my masters in environmental studies and as my classes and projects get more intense so do my desires to live sustainably. Like I have said before I grew up on a mini farm that practiced sustainable living but my poor husband did not. He grew up in the city; his closest interaction with farming was mowing the 5x10 foot lawn in front of his mom’s house.
When I decided to go back to school he was very supportive, I had originally studied government and had talked a lot about law school so he was all smiles at the thought of us boosting our family income. But then I broke the news that I was going to pursue environmentalism. He smiled and said, “Whatever makes you happy, I support you,” but he was thinking, “I have married a hippie lunatic!” He thought this again when I informed him that we were going to tear out his precious back yard lawn and start an urban farm!
So this is our new project, we are going to start urban farming. Our current garden measures 3 x 10 ft. (it runs along the side of our house), but our new one will be 10 x 30. We are starting off with 20 vegetables beds and then a 10 x 10 patch of wheat. We currently have four fruit trees along the back perimeter of our yard, by next summer we plan to have added 10 more. We also plan to add chickens in the spring for eggs and meat. We want to grow enough food to feed the entire Happy Green Life Crew and our extended families, and maybe someday have enough to sell at the farmers market.
What is exciting, besides the prospect of never having to go grocery shopping again, is that all of our family and friends want to be a part of it. All of our friends and family have offered to come and help us. Even friends of friends have gotten excited by the idea of us doing this and have offered to help; we even had offers of land if we find that our dinky back yard is holding us back!
We are so excited, and a little scared, after all this is crazy! Remember my husband is a city boy and while I may have grown up on a farm I spent the majority of the time watching 90210 in my bedroom-far far away from any farm like activity. Luckily we have friends with knowledge! My husband is in the military and one of his fellow soldiers is a member of the Farmer-Veteran Coalition. This group offers training and grants to veterans who want to become farmers. Our friend Eric has been working for the last two months with us getting all of our preparations for our urban farm. He has taught us everything from soil testing and PH levels, to layouts and crop rotations. This weekend along with the whole Happy Green Life crew we will be putting in our first winter crop! We are all very excited! This is going to be quite an adventure for all of us. After our first crop is in we will be learning how to harvest and then rotate, and then as the spring gets near we will be looking into what to plant as the season changes. We will be looking into chickens and how to build a coop and our resident chef Michael will be teaching us green ways to cook with our garden!
I am so excited to share this crazy adventure with you guys. I am sure it is going to be full of ups and downs but I think it will be fun.
How to Compost
I grew up on a little farm (at least that is what my brother and I called it). We had sheep and goats, chickens, and turkeys and tons of gardens. In addition to the apple and plum trees that covered the property, my mom had vegetable gardens which produced enough for us to live off of. Nestled in the back of the property was the compost pile. My brother or I would collect the coffee grounds from breakfast and the veggie scraps from the day’s meals and take them up to the compost pile. That is where my contribution to the compost ended, I had no clue how the grounds and peels became lush compost (and to be honest as a teenage girl I didn’t really care). When I planted my own garden last year I had no clue how to fertilize it but I knew it could somehow be done with compost. So I looked it up and built myself a pile!
You know your compost is done when it is a lush dark brown color!
So how do you do it? If you have a large enough yard you can simply make a compost pile or construct a bin; our family uses an old wine barrel planter. If you don’t have room for a big pile or bin you can try worm composting (this is great for apartments).
If you have the room begin by looking for you location, you will want it to be a level, well drained surface. This can be in the sun or shade-I have read that you don’t want it to be in direct sunlight but ours is and as long as we make sure it stays moist it is ok.
Add approximately 60% leaves or browns and 40% grass and food scraps. Add water as you build up your pile. You want to make sure that the moisture is evenly distributed throughout your pile, and that it is about as moist as a wrung out sponge.
Now mix it up! Periodically you need to turn your pile, this adds oxygen which is needed by the organisms that break the matter down to survive. It also reduces the odor and break up the compacted material.
A worm bin is basically the same. Take a bin with a lid and drill some holes in it. Add some dirt and newspaper and then your worms. Feed your worm’s fruit, vegetables, cereals grains and other organic items. It is smart to cover the food with a newspaper or cardboard to keep the bin dark and moist, this will also discourage fruit flies.
You will know your compost is ready to be added to your garden when it is a lush dark brown color!
Here are a few things that you can add to your compost bin:
Vegetable peels, raw veggies, teabags, lawn cuttings, twigs, leaves, old flower, shredded newspaper, cardboard, junk mail, shredded documents, egg shells, coffee grounds, and lint from your dryer.
Make sure you do not compost meat, dairy products, laminated plastic (juice cartons and magazines) oils or fats.
Happy Green composting!!