Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Tips for Making Winter Composting Easier

Image: Diego Grez/Public Domain
 Just because the snow is flying and temperatures are dropping doesn’t mean you can’t continue to add ingredients to your compost pile. There are a few steps you can take to make winter composting easier before and after winter weather sets in.

3 Tips for Composting in Winter

Tip #1: Mark Your Compost Pile

I compost directly on the ground meaning I don’t use a tumbler or bin. When fall rolls around and I’m ready to start the second pile of the season, I always pound 4 stakes into the ground to mark exactly where my pile is. This way when the snow starts to pile up, I have no problems locating my compost pile when I want to add scraps.

Tip #2: Buy a Kitchen Compost Bucket

Kitchen compost buckets are fairly inexpensive and a great way to collect kitchen scraps during the winter. Instead of trekking to your pile every day, you can store scraps in the bucket reducing the amount of trips you have to make outside to your pile.

These buckets are small and designed to fit on the counter or under the sink. They lock in odor and some come with bags to make keeping the bucket clean easier. Simply remove the bag or carry the bucket itself out to the compost pile to empty it.

Tip #3: Keep a Path to the Compost Pile Shoveled

I always keep a small path to my compost pile shoveled beginning with the first adequate snow fall of the season. I shovel it after every storm to keep up with the snow and to prevent myself from having to carve out a path when the snow is a few feet deep - a killer on the back.

I make a point to add my scraps to the pile at least once a week during winter and don’t worry about turning my compost until the spring thaw reawakens the landscape around me. I try to spread out my scraps evenly on the pile over the fallen snow. When the snow melts in the spring, my scraps settle into place where they resume the decomposition process.

Do you have any tips to make winter composting easier?

Guide to Backyard Composting
Choosing the Best Location to Start a Fall Compost Pile

Monday, October 29, 2012

Choosing the Best Location to Start a Fall Compost Pile

Image: Sten/CC-BY-SA
If you’re wondering whether or not you can compost in the winter, the answer is yes and fall is a great time to start a new compost pile. There are several factors to consider when choosing the best location for your compost and depending on the region in which you live, the amount of snowfall you get is one of them.

4 Factors to Consider when Choosing a Location

When scouting out the best location to start your fall compost pile, consider the following factors and choose a location that is convenient to you and one that won’t cause friction with the neighbors come spring.

Proximity to House: If you live in an area that gets lots of snow fall and you are planning on adding scraps to your compost throughout the winter, then choose a location that is close enough to your home so that you won’t have to trek through mounds of snow to reach your pile.

Spring and Summer Considerations: When choosing a location, keep in mind that when the snow melts your compost pile will be visible. Since it won’t be fully composted yet, make sure to choose a location you’ll be happy with come spring.

Proximity to Neighbors: Will your neighbors be able to see or smell your compost pile once the snow has gone? Consider the proximity to your neighbors property line and their field of vision and smell when choosing a location this fall.

Type of Compost Bin: If you use a tumbler, your best bet is to choose a location with some cover so you won't have to dig through a pile of snow to open the tumbler or give it a good spin. If your bin is on the ground, don’t worry about shielding it from the snow as snow won’t hurt the compost pile.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Is Decorative Corn Edible?

Decorative corn, also called ornamental or Indian corn, is known for its multi-colored kernels. During fall its used as a decoration on tabletops, wreaths and tied to lamp posts etc. The question is, is decorative corn edible?

To Eat or Not to Eat

Decorative corn is edible because there is nothing in it that will harm you if eaten. However, decorative corn is extremely hard and pretty bland.

Does Decorative Corn Taste Good?

There are lots of differing opinions about whether or not decorative corn is worth eating or even trying. Some people say they love it while others think its too bland and starchy when cooked and makes a better decoration than side dish. I personally have never tried it.

How is Decorative Corn Used Besides Decorating?

Decorative corn can be ground into flour or popped when allowed to dry correctly. You can even try boiling it to soften the kernels and eat it on the cob but remember its going to be bland, especially if you’re used to eating sweet corn.

Are you going to give eating decorative corn a try?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Fun Pumpkin Facts

With Halloween drawing near I thought it would be fun to talk about pumpkins in way that doesn’t have to do with carving or eating them. As I thought about the pumpkins growing in my own pumpkin patch I wondered about a few things myself. I put together a small list of common questions and fun pumpkin facts for my fellow gardeners and their kids to enjoy.

Why are Pumpkin Orange?

Pumpkin Fact: Pumpkins start out green in color and as they ripen turn that rich orange color we love during Halloween, but why do they turn orange instead of staying green? The fact is, pumpkins contain lots of nutrients including carotene. Carotene is responsible for giving pumpkins their orange color.

What is the Record for the Largest Pumpkin Ever Grown?

Pumpkin Fact: A new record was set in 2012 for the world’s largest pumpkin. The massive pumpkin weighed in at 2009 pounds and was grown by Ron Wallace of Rhode Island.

Which States Produce the Most Pumpkins?

Pumpkin Fact: Illinois, California, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan are the top 6 states responsible for producing the most pumpkins in the U.S.

How Much Money did The Top 6 States Make from Pumpkin Production?

Pumpkin Fact: According to the AGMRC (Agricultural Marketing Resource Center) the top pumpkin producing states earned a combined total of $113 million in revenue in 2011 from the sale of their pumpkins.

Where did the Name Pumpkin Come From?

Pumpkin Fact: We can thank the Greeks for the name pumpkin as we know it today. The word pumpkin originated from the Greek word “pepon” meaning large melon.

How Many Pounds of Pumpkins are Produced in the U.S. Every Year?

Pumpkin Fact: In 2012 1.1 billion pounds of pumpkins were produced in the top pumpkin producing states. The state of Illinois alone produced an estimated 427 million pounds of pumpkins.

Where Does the Tradition of Carving Jack-o-Lanterns Stem from?

Pumpkin Fact: The origins of carving pumpkins into what we call jack-o-lanterns today stems from Irish folklore. As the story goes, a man named Stingy Jack tricked the devil not once but twice. When Jack finally died he was not allowed into Heaven because of his “stingy” ways. The devil was upset with Jack after having been tricked by him and therefore would not let him into Hell either. Jack was forced to roam the earth thereafter. As a way to see, he hollowed out a turnip and carved it placing a piece of coal inside to light his way. As the Irish immigrated to America they brought the tradition of carving turnips with them. Since turnips weren’t as widely available in the U.S., people started carving pumpkins instead.

Pumpkin Recipes

How to Freeze Fresh Pumpkin

Monday, October 22, 2012

How to Freeze Fresh Pumpkins from the Garden

Image: Emilie von B├╝ttner/Wikimedia Commons
Pumpkins are for more than carving jack-o-lanterns, they’re for eating too. If you’ve grown your own pumpkins or have picked up a bunch from the local apple orchard or farmers market for eating, freeze them for later use in pies, soups and butters. Here’s how to freeze pumpkins in 7 easy steps.

Which Pumpkins are Best for Eating?

Sugar pumpkins or pie pumpkins taste the best. They’re a little sweeter and less stringy than those you carve for Halloween. When planning your garden, consider planting the following to use in your favorite pumpkin recipes.

  • Baby Pam
  • New England Pie
  • Winter Luxury
  • Gurney’s 
    Giant Magic Hybrid
  • Big Max

How to Freeze Fresh Pumpkin

Step 1:
Quarter pumpkins by cutting in half and then cutting each halve in half

Step 2: Scoop out seeds and save them for toasting or frying, remove strings attached to pumpkin flesh

Step 3: Place pumpkin halves skin side down in baking pan. Add about ¼” water to the pan, cover and bake for 1 hour at 300° F or until flesh is easily pierced with knife

Step 4: Uncover and let pumpkins rest until cool enough to handle

Step 5: Remove pumpkin flesh from skin and cut into 2 - 3” pieces

Step 6: Puree in food processor until smooth or freeze pieces as is depending on what pumpkin will be used for

Step 7: Let pumpkin cool before placing in freezer bags or containers. Measure precise amount of pureed pumpkin and label each bag with amount and date frozen. To freeze pieces of pumpkin, place on a cookie sheet uncovered and pop into the freezer. When frozen, remove pumpkin pieces from cookie sheet and pop into freezer bags, label and date. This method allows you to remove as much or as little pumpkin from the bag as you like and return the rest to the freezer for later use.

What are some of your favorite pumpkin recipes?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

3 Tips for Preventing Garden Pests beginning in Fall

Image: Wikimedia Commons
 If there’s one thing I cannot stand it’s people and pests going into my vegetable garden uninvited and doing as they please whether picking a vegetable that’s not ripe or munching on my plants. While I can talk to people, some of them require more than one polite talking to, there is no reasoning with garden pests. When it comes to dealing with pests, often called the “bad bugs,” I go at them pretty hard with a few tricks I’ve learned over the years starting with prevention in the fall.

Bad Bug Prevention: Fall To Do List

Tip #1: Weed the Garden

I know, I know, it’s fall and you’re more concerned with raking leaves than weeding the garden. Trust me, if you pull whatever weeds remain in your garden now, you’ll help prevent the bad bugs from invading in spring by taking their shelter away. You’ll also be taking away a convenient food source once spring rolls around and insects are hungry.

Tip #2: Remove all Plant Debris

That’s right, by simply removing all the dead annuals in the garden in fall, you can prevent garden pests in spring and summer. Many bad bugs will lay their eggs or borrow under piles of garden debris to stay protected from winter’s cold temperatures and harsh weather. By removing these make shift homes, bad bugs will move on and find another place to live.

Tip #3: Till the Soil

Tilling the soil in your garden in mid to late fall goes a long way towards helping to prevent garden pests. The tilling motion aids in digging up and exposing bad bugs, their eggs and larvae to harsh winter conditions which kills them off. Some of them may even be killed by the actual tilling.

Which “bad bugs” called your vegetable garden home this year?

Friday, October 12, 2012

3 Things I Learned from My Vegetable Garden This Year

Here in the north the vegetable gardening season has come to a close. In a way it's sad to see yet another season has gone by. On the other hand, it's nice to gain more expeience and knowledge from doing some hands-on gardening. Hopefully, after all the time spent in the garden, you walked away knowing a thing or two more than you did last year - I know I did.

Tomato Cages Don't Work for All Vegetable Plants

For starters, I know not to place tomato cages around my young broccoli plants in an attempt to provide them with support when they are big. After transplanting my seedlings, I dutifully provided them with tomato cages. The cages provided excellent support alright, but the inner leaves of my broccoli plants were forced awkwardly upwards.

This caused the outside of the main heads of broccoli to take longer to ripen than the centers. While patiently waiting for the outsides of the heads to ripen, the insides started to rot. What I learned? Next year I'll wait until my plants actually need support and then I'll stake them.

Check to See if Vegetables are of the Pole or Vining Variety Before Buying

I was excited to try a new type of bean in my vegetable garden this year, well new to  me anyway. They were called "yard long" beans and rightfully named because the beans grow up to a foot or more. After the drenching spring rains had passed by, which chose to fall after I had diligently planted my garden, I was delighted to see that a handful of my yard long bean plants had survived.

If only I had read the back of the seed packet a bit better before planting I would have realized they were vining beans. Next year I'll be growing this variety of bean again and I'll make sure to plant them along a trellis so I don't have to go searching for beans around and under other plants in the garden. What I learned? Slow down and take a minute to thouroughly read plant descriptions before ordering and especially before planting.

Make Sure the Manure I add to My Vegetable Gardens is Well-Composted

Hey, I already know this but the person spreading the manure in my vegetable gardens didn't. My father was nice enough to bring a bucket load of manure and dump it in my gardens and then, in the garden that was big enough to use the tractor, spread it for me. Little did I know the manure wasn't year-old, meaning it was still relatively fresh.

Fresh manure isn't good for all vegetable plants. It can burn the roots of some plants while causing others to focus on growing large and pushing out foliage rather than providing vegetables. Many of my cucumber plants didn't survive but my broccoli plants looked like they were on steroids. I'm happy to report my broccoli is still putting out side shoots, despite my caging, well into October. What I learned? Know exactly what I'm spreading in my vegetable gardens.

What did you learn from your vegetable garden this year?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Keep Broccoli and Other Cole Crops in the Ground in the North

Image: Gibby's Garden
October is here and most vegetables have died off or are on their way out, at least here in the north. Even though the tomatoes, cukes and beans have gone by, leave your cole crops right where they are – happily rooted in the garden. They love cool weather and will continue to provide fresh vegetables until a hard frost comes along and kills them.

What are Cole Crops?

Basically, cole crops are cool season crops. They are part of the Cruciferae or mustard family and for the most part, are cold tolerant. Cool season crops grow best when temperatures are below 80˚F during the day and 60˚F at night.

List of Cole Crops

  • Broccoli
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Cabbage (red and green)
  • Cauliflower
  • Collards
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi

For more information on cole crops including planting, care, harvesting and storage, please visit Here you’ll find a great guide about cole crops put out by the Iowa State University Extension. I recommend you read it if you’re interested in growing cole crops next year or want to gain a little more knowledge on the subject.

Here in Maine we’ve had a few slight frosts but my broccoli plants are still going strong. Each week I get lots of side shoots which I dutifully harvest encouraging my plants to keep producing. Sure my plants don’t look like they did this summer, I’ve snipped off quite a few yellow leaves, but the main plant stems are still healthy and I intend to leave them in the ground for as long as I can.

Which cole crops do you or did have in your garden?

How to Preserve Herbs and Vegetables

Friday, October 5, 2012

Too Many Green Tomatoes? How to Wrap, Store & Ripen Indoors


I don’t know about you, but my tomato plants are slowly dying off as we transition into fall. The problem is, I still have lots of healthy green tomatoes on my plants and I don’t want them to go to waste. The good news is I have a secret to ripen green tomatoes indoors and I’ll share it with you. Wrap them up and store in a cool, dark location to enjoy ripe tomatoes well into November.

What You’ll Need

  • Healthy Green Tomatoes
  • Pieces of Brown Paper Bags
  • Elastics
  • Magic Marker

Choose Healthy Green Tomatoes

In order for this secret to work, you really need to be picky about which green tomatoes you choose to ripen indoors. Only choose those that are healthy and firm and have no signs of rot. If they’re already beginning to rot on the plant, they’ll continue to rot indoors.

Make sure there are no splits as these can lead to rot as well. I always go a step further and inspect my green tomatoes for bugs picking off any I see and ensuring they haven’t left any damage behind, i.e. holes or bite marks that could lead to rot.

Wrap Green Tomatoes in Brown Paper Bags

I prefer to use pieces of brown paper bags that are a little thicker than some of the cheaper brands sold in stores. When fall rolls around, I save the bags I get from the convenience store when I pick up the odd gallon of milk and a couple of cans of cat food. Only use bags that are clean and dry - no grease stains from your favorite Chinese takeout or pizza joint.

Cut your brown paper bags into pieces large enough to wrap the entire green tomato. Leave a little extra room to tie the bags with elastics or to fold securely. Remove any stems, even the little nubs because these will begin to decompose and can cause your green tomatoes to rot while they ripen indoors.

Tightly wrap your green tomatoes with your pieces of bag without bruising or injuring the tomatoes in any way. Secure the tops of the bag pieces with an elastic or fold in a way that secures the bag in place - I haven’t figured this out yet so I use elastics. The point is to wrap your green tomatoes so no air can find its way in.

Choose a Dark, Dry & Cool Storage Location

Find a dark, dry, cool spot in the house to place your wrapped green tomatoes. I’ve found that a closet I use for storage and don’t go in very often works best for me. If you’re running a wood or pellet stove, choose an area as far away from the direct heat as possible - I learned this the hard way. One year I stored my wrapped green tomatoes in a closet directly above the wood stove and they rotted before ripening.

Place your wrapped green tomatoes in a single layer and make sure none of them are touching. If one happens to rot and is touching another wrapped tomato, the rot can quickly spread. Write the date you placed them in storage on the paper bags.

Check on your wrapped green tomatoes occasionally, about once a week after the first 2 weeks of being in storage. Unwrap them to check on their progress tossing any showing signs of rot. Re-wrap tightly once again and mark the date you checked them on the bag as a simple reminder. Lastly, be patient because it can take anywhere from a few weeks to a month to ripen green tomatoes indoors.

Do you know how to wrap green tomatoes tightly without having to use an elastic to secure the bags? I’d sure like to know and if you can teach me, please leave a comment below. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Organic Gardening Tips for the Month of October

Image: SB_Johnny

This time of year there may not seem like there’s much to do in the garden except clean up and put the tools away for winter. After the last of the vegetables have been harvested and before putting the tools away, there are a few things to do in preparation for spring. The work you put into the garden in October influences the start of next year’s growing season.

Tip #1: October Garden Cleanup

Once your plants have died off, pull them from the ground and toss them into the compost or bag them to put by the curb on trash day. Rake up any debris and toss that as well. Taking these extra steps helps to reduce the garden pest population next year. Many garden pests, “the bad bugs,” burrow under piles of garden debris to lay their eggs or set up home for the duration of the winter. Removing piles of debris from your garden in October encourages pests to hibernate elsewhere.

Tip #2: Till Compost into the Garden

October is the perfect time of year to till compost into gardens, especially in the north. Plants value the nutrients finished compost leave behind. Add about ½" of compost to existing garden beds and about 1" of compost to new gardens and to those that have never been fertilized before. Till the compost into the soil a good 3 - 4". Over the winter nutrients will leach into the garden bed where they’ll be ready to feed your plants for the new growing season.

Tip #3: Plant a Fast Growing Ground Cover

To minimize the amount of weeds that grow, even during the month of October, plant a fast growing ground cover. Ground covers blanket the garden crowding out weeds. Come spring, till the ground cover into the soil while preparing your garden for planting. Not only will you have fewer weeds, you’ll be giving your garden an extra boost of nutrients.

Tip #4: Clean and Put Away Garden Tools

October is a good month to clean your garden tools and tuck them away in the shed for the winter. While you’re in the shed, place snow shovels in an easy to reach place. Remove garden dirt and debris from your tools, oil them to prevent rust and sharpen any blades that need it. Organize your tools by hanging them up and placing them in storage racks so they’re kept out of the elements and easy to find next year.

One of the things I like to do in October is to sit on the porch drinking a cup of coffee, usually in a sweatshirt here in Maine, and think about my garden. What grew well and what didn’t? What will I keep the same next year and what will I do differently? I keep a garden diary, this year I posted it online, and I make notes for myself to remember next year. Maybe it’s a variety of vegetable that didn’t grow well or a certain insect infestation I had to combat. Whatever it may be, it helps me to grow an even more productive garden the following year. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Time to Dig up Outdoor Herbs and Bring them Indoors

Fall is here and we all know what that means; an end all be all frost is soon to follow here in the north. If you have potted outdoor herbs or any in the ground, now is a good time to bring them indoors. I've already dug up my basil plants, potted them and brought them in for the winter. Annuals, when brought in before the frost, last well into winter.

Which Herbs Should You Bring Indoors?

Before you put your shovel to work, take a good look at the herbs you want to pot. Are they healthy? Are they already knocking on death’s door? Only pot those that are healthy and aren’t showing any signs of dying off as these won’t last very long indoors. Checking for insects and keep in mind that small to medium sized plants transplant the best.

How to Pot Outdoor Herbs

Step 1 Choose the Right-Sized Container: Potted herbs benefit from well-draining containers and those that allow for ample air circulation. Untreated containers such as terra cotta and wood are porous and work well for potted herbs because they let air in and excess moisture out. Choose a container size that will accommodate the root ball of your plants. I prefer to use containers that are twice the size of the root ball of my plants.

Step 2 Dig Up Outdoor Herbs: On a cloudy day, give your herbs a good watering. Gently dig around the plants, about twice the circumference, and coax them out of the ground. It’s okay not to get the entire root ball. When transplanting from the ground to containers, it’s normal for some of the root system to be left behind.

Step 3 Potting Outdoor Herbs: Transplant your freshly dug up herbs to containers that are of the right size and filled with one part peat moss, 1 part sand and 1 part potting mix. Water your plants and move them to a shady spot outdoors.

Step 4 Acclimating Newly Potted Herbs: If the weather permits, let your newly potted plants rest outside in the shade for 1 to 2 weeks before bringing them indoors. This helps to acclimate them to indoor growing conditions. If need be, bring them in at night if the temperatures dip or the average frost date is growing near.

Step 5 Choose the Right Spot Indoors: Before bringing your potted herbs indoors, check them once again for insects. Inspect the leaves and stems of plants thoroughly and remove any insects or eggs you find. Next, choose a spot indoors that receives lots of sun. The sunniest spots of the house are usually those that face south.

Continue to water your plants as they need it. Harvest herbs to use fresh and dry any extras. It’s best to keep harvesting to encourage the plants to keep growing. Don’t worry if your plants look limp for a few days after potting or bringing them indoors; some may go into shock but usually they’ll snap out of it in a few days time. My basil plants wilted but after a good watering they came back a few days later.

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