Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Garden Update and Compost Stuff

Today, I planted my tomato seedlings in the ground! They're actually pretty far beyond "seedling" stage and I think they were getting as desperate to get into the ground as I was to put them there. We've had a lot of wind and rain lately, so I wanted to make sure they weren't going to topple over. Plus, we went out of town for three days, so I needed to wait until we got back to make the big move. Well, here they are! Hooray! They look pretty happy, I think.

Last year, I learned a lot about tomatoes. Much to my surprise, I learned that tomatoes are not native to climates like we have on the Gulf Coast. They like warm, dry areas and they need cool nights. So, in order to get a good crop of tomatoes down here on coastal Alabama, they need to be planted pretty early in the Spring. They are not, in fact, a middle of July type of veggie for this area. I did not know this. But last year I sent a tomato seedling I had grown with my sister down to her home in South Florida. Her tomato plant did much better than mine. Why? Because, even though South Florida is hot and humid, they have cool nights in the summertime. We do not. When it's 95 degrees here, it's still 95 degrees at 10:00 at night. Also, last summer was particularly hot for us and we got basically no rain. So....this year should be different for my maters. I started early, so the temperatures are not too hot, and they're looking awesome so far.
I've done a lot of things differently this year. I've enriched my soil with some great compost from friends, and have some fish emulsion (which is as gross as it sounds) to fertilize everything with. I ordered my seeds from a different place this year, just to try something new. They're from
Seed Savers Exchange. I'll probably get my seeds from them again next time, I've had such a positive experience. I really like that they give you a bit of history about each variety of seed. I have a variety of beans that were developed right here in Mobile! That's neat, I think. I also used a new seedling tray (called Speedling Tray) that has been fantastic. Each pod is pyramidal rather than squared off, so the roots grow in a downward direction. This keeps the seedlings from becoming root bound (with their roots all swirled around themselves) and also encourages that downward growth when you plant them in the ground. The seedlings I've pulled out of the tray so far have had beautiful, healthy roots nearly 6 inches long, all in a lovely straight ribbon. No tangles or swirliness! The tray looks like this:

Those are seedlings of JalapeƱos, sweet red peppers, and basil. The peppers and eggplant ready for bigger pots, but it's still a bit early for them to go in the ground. They like pretty hot weather. So, the garden stuff is going really well this year and I feel really excited and encouraged. I was worried I wouldn't have the time or energy to devote to the garden with Lucy in the picture now, but actually the opposite is true. I find myself more motivated to do it because I only have little slivers of time when I can, which are during her naps. Her naps are only about and hour each (maybe two, if we've had a big day), so I have to sort of be ready to go outside when she goes down for nap, then run out and tend to my plants with the monitor on my hip. I seem to get more done when I know that my window of opportunity is small.
Anywho, on to compost. We started our compost bin and I was really frustrated and discouraged at first because it was so yucky. Every time I went out to dump our kitchen scraps in the bin, I was totally bombarded by fruit flies. Then, we had a terrible time with fire ants invading the bin and had to resort (more than once) to dumping boiling water on the compost pile to kill the ants. Thank goodness for being able to find what to do on the internet, right? The fruit fly problem was an easy fix. I realized I wasn't covering up the kitchen scraps with "browns," like I should have been, so I started adding dead leaves and pine straw each time I added kitchen scraps. This didn't eliminate the flies, but kept them from being in my face when I went out there. And we took care of the ants by finding a new home for the bin, on the ground instead of raised a few inches, and by dumping boiling water on them. So now, we finally have a nice, not-as-gross compost pile. We don't quite have usable compost yet, but the pile continues to shrink, so that's a good sign. Here's our bin, which we made by drilling holes in a $20 heavy-duty trash can with a tight-fitting lid:

We collect our kitchen scraps in a little plastic bin that we keep under the sink. If we don't take it outside often enough, it does get moldy, so how often you need to take it to the bin depends on your tolerance of mold growing under your sink. My tolerance is surprisingly high, if you wanted to know. I can't go to the bin with Lucy because of all the bugs and the fact that I need both hands. I do not like walking to the compost pile in the rain. I'd rather let the mold sit another day. And that's that. Here's our kitchen bin:

So much stuff can go in the compost. We mostly put kitchen scraps (leftover pieces of chopped veggies, egg shells, coffee grounds, old bread, etc.) but occasionally we'll add paper towels and such. And between composting and recycling, we have virtually no trash. I think it would probably take a month or longer to fill up our 13-gallon trash can. It's so great! And very rewarding. Hopefully, I will very soon have news of my first little tomatoes sprouting!


  1. Great info! I can't wait to grow our own little organic garden, but I think we'll have to wait until next year. This year is all about learning and getting our compost started. I'm sending this to Drew to read right now!

    P.S. Dude...babysitting?

    1. It's not too late to start this year! Beans and squash grow really well here and don't have to be transplanted. You can just plant the seeds directly in the ground. Doug's working a ton lately, but we'll be wanting a night out soon! ;)

  2. So jealous of/impressed by this. I need to be schooled in gardening. I can't keep anything alive.

    1. Ha! I used to have a pretty black thumb, actually. I once killed a bamboo plant, which is pretty much the lowest maintenance house plant in the world. I'd be totally lost without the internet to guide me.