The Secret of a Green Thumb…

I’ve been growing plants for a long time thanks to my mom’s influence.  When I was little, she told me, “We’re Jamaican. We grow things.”  I had a strawberry patch (which was eaten by squirrels, to my infuriation) when I was little and I’ve grown something almost every year since then.  My list of plantings includes so many things on the continuum of everyday vegetables to exotic flowers in my mom’s and then my garden.  The total plants over my lifetime could probably fill a huge farm.  So, believe me when I say that there really is no such thing as a “green thumb.”  While I’ve had decades of experience with growing, I’ve also killed more things that could fill a farm.  My list of failures far exceeds my list of successes.  The difference with people who think they have a “black thumb” is they don’t hide their mistakes.  The secret of a “green thumb” gardener is a compost heap filled with things that didn’t go right the first or first few hundred times.  They use their old mistakes (buried in the compost heap) to feed their future successes (which is all you see).

So, here’s the thing… I’m a huge fan of compost for several reasons.  One is, that it takes all the stuff you have and want to get rid of and gives you free fertilizer that works a lot better than the chemical crap.  (Oh and less on the garbage bill) Early warning… I stick to all organic plant food and fertilizer in my garden.  I have a serious issue with chemical herbicides and fertilizers since there are so many easier, cheaper, and healthier ways to do the same thing with organic treatments and garden gadgets.  There are tons of studies out that show that chemical herbicides act as endocrine disruptors and can affect human and animal fertility.  To be fair, there are studies that dispute this… but why chance it if you can just use something natural (and did I mention compost is free)?  As my mom says, “Why bother growing your own food if you’re just going to use the same chemicals as the ones you’re buying in the store?  Your home produce should be special.”

There are tons of ways to make compost and most of them involve things you’re paying someone else to haul away.  There are compost purists who closely regulate what goes into the pile.  Our bins are more of a little bit of this, little bit of that balancing act.  I toss in just about everything in the yard and most things from the kitchen.  I added some composting redworms to my piles when I started them and they’re in charge of eating most of the kitchen scraps.  If you’re squeamish about worms.  I can tell you that I never see them.  There have been a few times over the years when I had to ask the hubs if I needed to buy some more to put in there because I didn’t see any.  They hate light so unless you’re really digging around, they’ll hide from you, but they can eat their weight in food scraps and weeds so I think they’re a good addition to the pile.   Pretty much anything in the kitchen that isn’t fat/animal can go in (well, it can go in, but the smell will likely attract scavenging animals which is why I avoid it).  Here are some of the kitchen things that go into mine:

  • veggie scraps (carrot shavings, cucumber skins, the hard end of the celery, onion skins, garlic skins, etc.)
  • dead veggies (the mixed salad greens that never seem to last more than 2 days in the fridge, the cucumber you forgot you bought, etc.)
  • tea bags
  • coffee grounds and the filter (coffee grounds from Starbucks are a good way to get extra [they’re more than happy to give it to you so they don’t have to pay the garbage company to take it away])
  • leftover coffee without any cream in it (sugar is fine)
  • egg shells (rinse them in really hot water before you put them in)
  • vegetarian meals that have no cheese

There are some things that I put in that some compost purists do not agree with (clearly… I don’t care).  My pile… my rules:

  • shredded paper/newspaper (if junk mail has my name/info on it, I drop it in the “secure disposal” pile [I figure if someone wants to dig through rotten veggies and worms and then piece the cross cut shreds together, they probably earned the information])
  • little pieces of cardboard
  • old bread (anything with yeast in it isn’t technically supposed to go in…)

You can also throw just about anything from the garden in there:

  • Shredded leaves (and I’ve been known to take the shredded leaves my neighbors put out on the street for the township to pick up)
  • Cuttings and trimmings from plants throughout the season
  • End of season plants without disease
  • Weeds without flowers/seeds showing

About the weeds: I weed selectively.  I either do it in separate rounds or use separate containers for the weeds that have seeds or flowers showing vs. the ones that don’t.   It’s possible for seeds to hibernate in a compost pile so I apply some unkind treatment to the ones with seeds and seal them in a 5 gallon bucket with some comfrey and a little water and stick it where it can heat up in the sun.  The purpose is to get these seeds to either cook and die or germinate in a closed environment and then kill the resulting plants with extreme heat before I add them to hibernate in my compost pile.  It may be possible for this method to kill the disease in some plants, but I wouldn’t risk it so I throw those in the garbage.

The thing most people ask about compost is… Does it smell?  If it smells, then something is wrong, but it’s easily fixed.  The balance of compost is brown material and green material.  Brown material is dry.  Green material is wet.  If it smells, it’s probably too wet, add some dried leaves or shredded newspaper or pieces of cardboard (Brown material).  If it looks kind of dry, more food or fresh weeds or clippings from plants go in (Green material).  If it doesn’t look like it’s breaking down, add some grass clippings or comfrey to heat it up.

You can also get a compost thermometer and check the heat of the pile.  I haven’t gone there yet.  The pile is best between 135 and 160 degrees and so I figure that if there’s steam coming off of it, then it’s hot enough.  If it’s not moving quickly enough, I add a layer of freshly cut grass or comfrey (more about comfrey in another post) or compost accelerator to heat it up.  There is a garden gadget out there for every task you can think of.  I love gadgets and when I’ve bought all the rest of them, I will probably end up with a compost thermometer.

Now, before I go any further (and I warn you this will not be my last post on compost [lol]), I should let you know that there seems to be a strange phenomenon when it comes to compost.  While I was the one who went out to the store and bought the three massive compost bins on a Sunday morning so long ago, it is now my husband who has claimed the compost as his.  I started it because when we moved in, the previous owners were “kind enough” to leave us all the unraked leaves and weeds from several seasons.  I will never forget one day when we were out getting the outrageous cleanup job started, one of the neighbors came out to give us some background about the previous owners… “He never was one for the yard…  He’d come out at the beginning of the season and pick up a stick or two, but that’s about it.”  And from the state of the yard, I believe it.  But my husband is now the one who turns the pile and adds all the different ingredients.  It seems that the idea of crap turning into garden gold was what did it for him.  I’ve also heard from other gardening wives that this is not uncommon.  Something about making dirt brings out the kid in husbands and one day you hear, “Are you sure that should go in my compost?”

Comments
  • Debra says:

    We live in a condo so gardening is a little out of my scope but I did buy a mini rose bush he bloomed orange roses so I named him Garfield. I loved Garfield but in condo’s (mine anyway) April the heat goes of and the air conditioner comes on (to your discrection but no heat) and October the air goes off and the heat comes back. So because even though its spring its still cold so i started to turn on a space heater for Garfield so he would’nt die because he was already getting sick. One day last week I came in and was talking to Garfield and happen to look down in the dirt and see some little tiny white bugs walking in and out of the dirt. I got out a bag walked down to the shoot and threw Garfield’s ass right in the dumpster! LOL Sorry but i can’t be breeding no bugs in my home. So good luck to you! LMAO

    • Monique says:

      Poor Garfield… Well Deb, Mini-roses are notoriously hard to take care of. Kudos for keeping the little guy alive as long as you did!

  • Omoro says:

    Compost is my friend.

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