Organic Gardening
Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.

Tips for Surviving a Summer Drought

Continue to enjoy good harvests this summer – here are some tips to help you deal with drought conditions in your garden.

Watering 

When water is scarce, prioritize what you use it for. The most needy plants are young seedlings, leafy salads, fruiting vegetables, and anything growing in a container.

If watering using a watering can, try using two at a time – it will halve the amount of time it takes to water, and will help you balance as you walk back and forth too. Or if your water source is far from your beds, use portable tank to transport water to where you need it.

watering
Photo by Getty Images/Halfpoint

A strong spray from a hose can blast potting soil right out of containers. Avoid this by placing the end of the hose in a watering can so that it fills as you pour, meaning you can enjoy the convenience of a hose without wasting a drop.

Water pots from the bottom to save water and time. Fill up a container with water to use as your reservoir. Add any liquid fertilizer you want to use to the water. Place your containers in the reservoir and leave them to soak up the water for about an hour. You can speed things along by adding a splash of water to the top of your containers before leaving them to soak.

An automatic irrigation system using drip irrigation or soaker hoses to deliver water right to the roots of your plants, controlled by a timer, is the ultimate in water- and labor-saving. Set it to water early in the morning while it’s still cool. Fit one to your water barrels if possible to make the most of any rainwater you’ve collected.

Keeping Seedlings Hydrated

Getting seeds to germinate in hot, dry conditions can be tricky, especially seeds of cool-season crops such as lettuce. To improve germination, water the seed drill before sowing. Allow the water to drain, then fill and drain once again. Sow your seeds and cover them over with soil, but don’t water again until they’ve germinated.

Shade Your Seedlings

Young seedlings will cope more easily with the summer’s heat under the protection of some shading. Use shady areas of your garden for growing crops like salad leaves that prefer cool conditions, or use taller crops to shade shorter ones.

Shade cloth can also be suspended over plants to cast some shade. Remove it when the weather turns cooler.

Keeping Soil Cool and Moist

Using mulches of organic material such as compost, leaf mold or even dried grass clippings helps keep the soil cooler and reduces evaporation.

Water the soil well before mulching. If it’s exceptionally dry, water again a few hours later before laying the mulch.  Spread the mulch at least an inch thick all over the soil surface.

Get More Tips with These Great Gardening Resources

Our popular Vegetable Garden Planner can help you map out your garden design, space crops, know when to plant which crops in your exact location, and much more.

Need crop-specific growing information? Browse our Crops at a Glance Guide for advice on planting and caring for dozens of garden crops.

More Videos

Watch more videos on gardening techniques and other self-reliance, DIY topics on our Wiser Living Videos page.

Perennial and Annual Weeding Tips

Annual weeds sprout, flower and set seed all within one season. They’re not too difficult to control, but their short life cycle means they do spread quickly by seed. Perennial weeds will grow for years, and are harder to control.

To tackle a weedy garden, first cut or mow weeds to the ground. Cover them with a light-excluding mulch or fabric so that weeds can’t photosynthesize.

For very weedy spots, lay sheets of cardboard. Remove any staples or tape first, then overlap each sheet of cardboard generously on the ground to make it tough for weeds to force through. Weigh the cardboard down to stop it blowing away. You may need to replace the cardboard as it rots down to keep the weed-resistant layer.

Perennial weeds with deep or spreading roots may take a long time to die off – a year or more – but eventually they will rot down and help to enrich the soil. Dig out any resurfacing weeds, taking care to remove all of the roots.

Dispose of the roots away from your compost heap, or submerge perennial weed roots in a bucket of water for at least a month before pouring the sludge over your compost.

Use a sharp hoe weekly on established beds. Choose a sunny or windy day, in the morning if possible, so the weeds wither and die. Always aim to remove weeds before they flower to prevent them from setting seed.

weeding

Lay organic mulches such as compost or leaf mold around existing crops to suppress weeds and improve your soil, and sow areas of bare soil with a cover crop to out-compete weeds and add organic matter.

Intensive cropping with vegetables that produce a lot of foliage, such as potatoes, will exclude light and help keep weeds in check.

Inspect the containers of any bought plants for weeds and check that any purchased manure or compost is well-rotted and free of weed seeds too. Keep compost heaps and potting mixes covered to avoid windblown seeds from taking root. Keeping tools and boots clean will also help minimize the spread of weeds.

Get More Tips with These Great Gardening Resources

Our popular Vegetable Garden Planner can help you map out your garden design, space crops, know when to plant which crops in your exact location, and much more.

Need crop-specific growing information? Browse our Crops at a Glance Guide for advice on planting and caring for dozens of garden crops.

More Videos

Watch more videos on gardening techniques and other self-reliance, DIY topics on our Wiser Living Videos page.

Gardening in the (Northern) Southwest

Raised Garden Beds In Snow 

When most people hear “Arizona”, they think of saguaro cactus, blistering heat waves, lots and lots of sand, and dry heat. But that only describes the southern half of the state — where only about half of the state’s population lives.

Gardening in Northern Arizona isn’t like gardening anywhere else in the southwest. Here in St. Johns, our winter temperatures average between 0 and -10 degrees Fahrenheit, though we have had temperatures as low as -30 degrees in my lifetime. Our garden season runs from about May 20 to October 5 or so, but in recent memory, I have been able to have tomatoes in the ground as early as April 29 and have been able to harvest as late as October 27, though not in the same year.

You would never hear this when reading a gardening article about gardening in Arizona. Even the University of Arizona’s Master Gardener certification only deals with those conditions found in southern Arizona, so even taking that course does not net useful information for people in the northern half of the state.

Gardening in the ‘Other’ Southwest

Flooded Garden In Northern Arizona

So, what do you do when the conventional regional information for your area does not fit your particular microclimate at all? Well, you join or start a local garden club like I did in 2008, talk to other locals, become involved with local cooperatives, and do research for yourself.

The Gardeners with Altitude organic garden club focuses mainly on raising food for our families, but we have also discussed raising animals, preserving our harvests, companion planting, herbs, and much more. We focus only on gardening and living on the Colorado River Plateau and the White Mountains. We work together to improve the knowledge bank of people gardening and ranching with our unique challenges.

Red Clay and Poor Drainage

 Marigolds In Raised Bed Garden

We battle very different soil issues here than in much of the rest of the Southwest. While nearly all of the western United States battles with some variation of alkaline soil, much that is written about the southwest deals with sand. Right here where I live, sand isn’t the issue — it’s the dense, red clay.

In fact, the soil in my yard is so dense that a rainstorm will leave puddles that last for weeks. The soil just doesn’t drain. To combat that issue, I build raised beds. I mix our native soil with amendments and compost and run slow-drip water lines to allow the water that does fall onto the soil to drain down slowly, as the clay is able to take it in.

Raised beds also allow me to cater the soil nutrients to specific plants, something that is difficult to do when gardening in-ground in soil thick and heavy enough to suffocate hardy trees. Raised beds allow me to take the best parts of our heavy clay soil (water retention, high phosphorus) and add nitrogen, compost, and other organic matter, and make soil good enough and soft enough to raise amazing onions, something many local gardeners don’t even attempt anymore.

There are many other differences between Southwestern gardening lore and what we deal with on the Colorado River Plateau and the White Mountains. I love sharing my experiences on how I’ve learned to cope with these unique issues. Stick with me here on the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Organic Gardening blog and I’ll share what I’ve learned for this region.

Homegrown White Onions

Regina Hitchock is a high school biology teacher in St. Johns, Arizona, where she co-founded the Gardeners with Altitude organic garden club and brings gardening, aquaponics, aeroponics, hydroponics, and seed starting into her classrooms. She serves as Secretary for White Mountain Community Cooperative to promote food- and economically secure self-sufficiency in Arizona. Connect with Regina on Facebook.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Grow Tropical Edible Hedges with These Varieties

 

Pomegranate tree. Photo by rmac8oppo

Here is a great way to fit more food into the city, the edible hedge. Have a property line with nothing growing on the border? Have an annoying view of a road or apartment building? Plant for the future and plant an edible hedge with pineapple guava, pomegranate, and berries.

Pineapple guava. Feijoa sellowiana is a very special fruit. Originally from Brazil, it has the amazing qualities of being tropical and also quite drought tolerant. This versatility allows it to live in a Mediterranean design like the many I create in my design business, and yet also will grow fine next to a lawn. Its bark is stunning. Its flowers are not only gorgeous, but also edible! Its fruits are a sweet-and-sour combo that grows on you as you eat them. Even if you were not able to eat off this bush, it would be a great ornamental foundation planting if only for its aesthetics. Growing multi-branch and up to 12 to 15 feet tall, pineapple guava is a great candidate for a hedge that will give you privacy (and food!) without shading out the whole garden.

Pomegranate. As I mentioned in a previous gardener’s notebook, I am a huge fan of the Punica Granatum. Pomegranates are tough, grow into a strong, round or columnar hedge and give an abundance of fruit without much compost, pruning nor water. As they also get 12 to 15 feet tall, they are a great candidate for an urban edible hedge. I prefer the ‘Parfianka’ variety.

Multistory edible hedges. Want to mix up your hedge? Add these native plants around the fruit trees to create a mixed hedge of edible fun!

• Currant (Ribes spp)

• Elderberry (Sambucus Mexicanus)

• Salmon Berry (Rubus spectabilis)

• Thimble Berry (Rubus parviflorus)

Joshua Burman Thayer is a landscape designer and permaculture consultant with Native Sun Gardens. He is the Urban Agriculture Supervisor for Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation in San Francisco, Calif. Find him at Native Sun Gardens and read his other MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.

Wild Cherries: A Widespread and Tasty Summer Fruit

 

Wild cherries are one of the most widespread wild shrubs throughout all of North America, according to botanists. The Prunus genus not only includes all wild and domestic cherries, but also nectarines, peaches, plums, and almonds. This is a large group with mostly edible flesh, and seeds that can be either toxic or edible once processed.

These fruits have been used for food for a very long time. One of the first written historical accounts of the Southern California indigenous people eating wild cherries comes to us from Father Junipero Serra, who passed through the San Gabriel Valley area in July of 1769.  He noted that the local Indians (the Gabrielinos) used various fruits such as cherries, grass seeds, and other wild seeds, etc.

Identifying Wild Cherry

Many cherry bushes or trees are evergreen, meaning that they never drop their leaves in the winter. These often resemble holly, and hikers often guess that they are looking at holly bush. When I am conducting a field trip teaching about the uses of wild plants, I ask my students to take a cherry leaf and crush it. If they wait a few seconds, they can get a whiff of that characteristic odor. Most agree that the odor resembles bitter almond extract used in cakes. In fact, this sweet odor is from the presence of hydrocyanic acid (cyanide). This is why you do not make tea from the leaves.

Cherry fruits generally mature in late summer, so if you’re hiking around these bushes in late summer, there will invariably be fruit on the bush. Some will be ripe enough to taste. Most people —– like my hiking students — can look at the fruit, and guess that it is edible.

However, I strongly urge you to never assume any wild berry or plant is edible simply because you subjectively think “it looks edible.” That can be a quick way to get sick, or die. Never eat any wild plant if you haven’t positively identified it as an edible species.

When I find a ripe cherry fruit, I typically sample it and then let my students taste one before I tell them what it is. The taste is not identical to commercial farm-grown cherries. There isn’t quite as much sugar in the wild cherries, and they have a bitter under-flavor and a tartness that makes them uniquely enjoyable, especially when you’re in the back country with meager food rations. After a few bites, someone will guess that they are eating a cherry.

As with the commercial cherry, this fruit consists of a single large seed which is covered in the edible flesh. In wet years, there is a thicker, sweeter layer of pulp around the large seed. In dryer years, the pulp layer is thin — even paper-thin in drought years.

]

Leaves of wild cherry tree.

One July when I was leading a small group of hikers to explore some remote sites deep in the Angeles National Forest, we rested in the shade of a large hillside to get a drink. After everyone had a drink from their canteen, and had rested for a few minutes, I noticed that the tree we were resting under was full of red fruit.

“Hey,” I said to everyone, “look at all those fruits. Does anyone know what they are?” Everyone looked up with great interest, and one man picked one fruit off the tree and examined it. “Hmm,” the man replied. “It kinda looks like a cherry, but not quite.” I laughed.

“Yes,” I said with excitement. “It’s a native wild cherry.” I explained that the wild cherry is not the same as the cultivated commercial cherry, but it’s closely related.

“So is this one edible?” the man queried. I popped the dark red fruit into my mouth, chewed it, and spit out the seed. Everyone laughed, and then began to taste the fruits. The fruits were ripe, sweet, and slightly darker in color that a farm-grown cherry.

Before we continued on our hike, everyone ate about 10 of these sweet and delicious fruits.

On another occasion, I was taking a late August hike in remote hills in a Southern California forest on a trail I’d never been on before. There was no water along the four mile, uphill road that eventually led to one of the old, now-abandoned fire-lookout stations. Though I foolishly neglected to bring along a canteen, I collected many of the ripe and very sweet wild cherries along the trail, and I ate them sparingly along the way. I ate them sparingly, because if you consume a lot of the fruits raw, they can sometimes have a laxative effect. I ate about three dozen fruits over the course of about three hours, and suffered no laxative results.

Food Foraging and Processing Wild Cherries

Wild cherry is a common, widespread plant throughout North America, and it’s common where I live in California. People are often surprised to learn that wild cherries are so common in the West, because they do not think of this semi-desert area which rarely gets frosts as being able to support cherries. Yet, these varieties are well adapted to this climate, with deep roots, and thick — almost waxy — leaves so it can survive periods of drought.

And though the indigenous Indian population certainly enjoyed the pulp of these cherries in the past, they considered the seed as the more important food source.  Seeds were saved, and their thin shells removed. There is a solid pulp inside the pit, just the same as there is with the store-bought cherry pits. When you chew on that pulp, you’ll find a pleasant combination of that almondy-bitterness and sweetness. Though it might be OK to nibble on a few, these seeds were always shelled and leached if substantial amounts were going to be consumed.

The process of removing the hydrocyanic acid is similar to that of acorns: You shell the seeds, and boil the pulp for about half an hour, changing the water a few times. Generally, you will not need to process cherry seeds as long as acorns.In fact, three boilings of cherry seeds are sufficient to render them safe to eat.  According to Dr. James Adams, co-author of Healing with Medicinal Plants of the West, “Boiling the mashed cherry pits in water for about 30 minutes destroys all the cyanide.  The cyanide boils off.” The final product is then ground into flour, and mixed into breads, pancakes, soups, or other mush-type dishes.  It is good, and is a sweet flour. 

If you want to try this, you first have to eat the flesh, and then shell the cherry seeds. Then the seeds can be boiled whole, changing the water at least three times. Then they can be simply eaten as they are, or ground into a flour. This flour is then blended with wheat to make little pancakes.

Traditional Uses for Wild Cherry

The Cahuilla people of the desert in the vicinity of Palm Springs called this plant cha-mish, and today refer to it as a chokecherry. They did not typically use the leached seed for breads, but almost exclusively for soups or mush. Sometimes, for the purposes of storage, they made the meal into little cakes. When dried, they were quite hard and black. They could then be stored a long time, and would be reconstituted in water before eating.

One form of pemmican was also made by adding the fruit of these chokecherries with deer or elk meat.  Dr. James Adams adds applesauce to a cherry seed mush that he makes, and he reports that all his students enjoy it.

The inner bark of the wild cherries was also used for its medicinal value. A tea from the bark was used for diarrhea, stomach inflammations, and — among the Cherokee — the tea was said to help relieve the pain of labor during childbirth. This medicine was also listed in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia in 1820 as a sedative.

People of the 1800s and earlier would make syrup and soup from the cherries and use it as a medicine for whooping cough. The Miwok Indians of Northern California believed that eating the raw fruit was good for the voice. The bark of the cherries has been used extensively in cough medicines. The use of cherry fruit or bark in cough medicines was not just for flavor.

But like with so many old-fashioned medicinal remedies of the past, the modern counterparts that are now sold in stores are typically all sugar and artificial flavors. Thus, horehound candy rarely has horehound in it, marshmallows have no marshmallow extract, and even the “cherry” cough medicines do not always have real cherry in it. The price we have paid for our “advanced culture” is using more sugar, and concomitant health problems — but that is another topic.

This widespread plant was also used as a source of wood for various projects also. Long, straight branches of the various wild cherries are often used for making archery bows, backrests, baby cradles, and various other crafts.

Growing Wild Cherry in the Home Garden

If you prefer to grow native shrubs and trees in your yard rather than exotics, you might seriously consider growing wild cherries. With its shiny leaves, the cherry is an attractive plant. The leaf shape of the common holly-leaf cherry (P. Ilicifolia) is very much like a camelia leaf, a simple ovate to round leaf with fine teeth along the margin.

In the spring, many white flowers develop, and as the summer progresses, you will see many small green cherries as they develop. The fruits turn pink, then red, and then nearly black when they are ripe and at their best.

It’s easy to grow your own cherry trees. The seed readily sprouts, and I have occasionally kept the wild seeds which had particularly large or tasty fruits, and planted them in my yard or in pots.  I have several that sprouted and are now taller that I am, though I have not yet had fruit crops from these.

Though great as a trail nibble, there are many recipes that you can make from the seeds’ pulp, and the deseeded fruit. Uses for the fruit include jams and jellies, fruit pemmican, juices, and even ice cream.

Keep in mind when you are collecting your wild cherries that bears enjoy this fruit also. We’ve often observed abundant cherries in bear scat. So be mindful and alert when you’re in wilderness areas during cherry season.

Vickie showing the whole seed in bag and shelled seed in bowl.

Recipes for Wild Cherries

Wild cherry jam. You can make a wild cherry jam following a standard jam recipe. Begin with at least five cups of cherry fruits, which should be deseeded.  The flesh is then put into a pot with just a little water. A cup of sugar is added — and you can add one of the more healthful sugars rather than adding white sugar.  Add the juice of one lemon. Then cook it for about an hour or more, until it gets thick, and until it gets to 220 degrees f. Then put this into sterilized jars, and follow the standard procedure for canning. (If you’re uncertain how to do proper canning, get a book on home canning or check a website on the topic.)

Cooling wild cherry drink. Begin with approximately five cups of ripe wild cherries. Remove stems. Place them all in a pot and cover with spring water, or filtered water. Bring to a boil, and gently mash the fruits. Let the mix simmer about half an hour. Strain the liquid through a colander or cloth. Sweeten with honey if desired, and serve chilled.

Cherry seed meal. Most of the indigenous tribes of California used the shelled seed as a porridge or meal. The flesh was used by many, added to pemmican mixes for the sugar content. Stews, jams, and jellies were also made from the fresh fruits.

Christopher Nyerges has been leading Wild Food Outings since 1974. He is the author of Nuts and Berries of California, Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants, Foraging California, Extreme Simplicity, and other books. For a schedule of his classes, and information about his books, contact School of Self-Reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or on-line at School of Self-Reliance.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Confessions of a Seed Hoarder

Saving Seed Packets In Box 

Hello. My name is Stephanie. I’m a seed hoarder.

I’ve been a hoarder since I was a child. I’ve tried to stop, but fail every year. I’m obsessed. I’m passionate. I have a crazy compulsion for seeds. I’m an addict. Cold winter nights are spent under a blanket and several cats perusing seed catalogs, dreaming of warm dirt between my toes. When stores put out the first seed displays, I have to buy at least one packet every visit. Hope. A promise. Inspiration. A reason to live.

There’s a couple hundred dollars’ worth of seeds in that box pictured above. That’s just a small box — the ones I’m going to plant this year. There’s a giant plastic storage tote filled with seeds in my living room. I used to have two but downsized to organic and heirloom when GMOs were introduced to the market. (In my younger days, seeds were seeds. We didn’t have to worry about DNA from another species in them.)

Beginning Seed Collecting

I’m not sure when exactly the obsession began, but I was very little. I grew up spending much time with my grandparents and aunt. They provided for themselves with a giant garden, raising animals, harvesting and preserving their own food. Many a summer day was spent in their company in the garden pulling weeds, planting onions, watering and feeding all the plants and creatures; then in the kitchen with my grandmother and aunt as they processed, preserved and cooked the delicious beauty that was the product of their labors.

In kindergarten, I recall starting flower seeds in a Dixie cup to give as a Mothers’ Day gift and growing vegetables from discarded kitchen waste like carrot tops, potato peels and sprouting avocado pits. I couldn’t have been more proud with my projects. I was so excited to plant them.

My father built us a sandbox, square and orange with four triangular seats in the corners. I was a bit old for sandbox at 9. I decided to be practical and plant potatoes with remnants from my father’s project, the potato bin. His project was grand, feeding all our mouths with a tonnage of taters in a bin in the basement, the discovered downside too much moisture and a lot of sprouting spuds. I planted them in the sandbox. My folks were impressed when we ate the result for dinner.

Saving Heirloom Dill Seeds

Seed Saving as Memorial

I have a special box of seeds from my dad. He liked to try new and unique specimens. He’d collect and share, putting them in pill bottles with handwritten or labels made on a real typewriter. I treasure these — a tangible piece of my father, how he thought, things that inspired him. I planted and shared scarlet runner beans from that box for several years. We tried unsuccessfully to germinate blue meconopsis together. I get sad remembering as I fondle the containers and read his notes.

Then there are the coffee cans from my grandparents, rusty metal tins of history and fond memories, filled with ancient, unopened packs of beets, corn and rutabaga that were winter storage staples. I broke into the can of dill seeds, hand collected from their giant garden yesterday and scattered a handful in my newly planted wildflower bed. I would be so thrilled if even one germinated. Melancholy finds me as I scoop in my hand the viable connection to my elders and the cycle of life. I miss them all so. I keep photos of them in the garden on my nightstand. The seeds help keep them alive. They touched all these seeds. Their love and hard work is still ongoing, perpetuating, now in my hand.

Watching life emerge from these tiny bits of matter is nothing short of magic, stardust and dirt. How is it even possible? These tiny, little seeds are alive, waiting — waiting for someone like me to put them in soil, give them a drink, wake them out of their rest and help them emerge and transform.

Perhaps the desire is passed down in our DNA, we the keepers of specks of life that feed and beautify the planet. Perhaps it really is magic, the anticipation and celebration of new life that is the attraction, the interconnectedness of all living things that I cannot get enough of.

Stephanie Bishop is an award-winning floral designer, sustainable wedding and events planner photographer, gardener and author in Central Wisconsin. View thousands of her food, floral and animal images on her Facebook page at Stephanie Bee and browse floral design ideas at Bishop Wedding & Floral Art.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

6 Steps for Beginning Composting

Pole Between Two Hay Bales 

So you want to compost but have no idea where to begin? You are already halfway there. Making the decision to take on the task is the first and biggest step of the process.

Siting a compost setup. The first thing you need to do is decide where you will do your composting. There are many options for this: You can build a three- or four-sided bin or buy one from your local farm and garden store. You can also find many simple DIY plans on the web that use items such as plastic totes or barrels with drainage holes drilled into the sides — here’s one using pallets (with video). It’s best to start small and expand your composting operation as you grow in skill. Two things that are necessity are drainage and air flow, both essential to the compost process.

Brown vs. green content. Now you have a bin and are ready to start composting! The materials you will be using fall into two categories, nitrogen-rich greens and carbon-rich browns. You will need to keep the material inside your bin about 2/3 browns and 1/3 greens. Browns are dry, brown material such as cardboard, straw, hay, dry leaves, pine needles (used sparingly as they are acidic), saw dust, peat moss, wood shavings, corn shucks, and other similar natural material and non-shiny paper scraps. Your greens will consist of fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, weeds and grass clippings that have not seeded, egg shells, dried manure, and other similar organic items.

What to avoid. You should not include the following items in your compost bin: table scraps other than organic material, seeds from fruits or vegetables (they will germinate in your compost pile), yard clippings where domestic pets are kept or pesticides are used, or glossy or waxy paper products.

Feel free to toss in leftover or used planting materials, like coconut fiber liners used in wire baskets, or used or extra potting soil. You can also add worms to speed up the whole process. You can order worms from companies online or buy them in stores that sell live fishing bait. My preferred method is to grab a handful when I find them around my yard under a rock or log and just toss them in and let them work their magic!

Monitoring. The hardest thing you will encounter on this adventure is monitoring and managing the compost. The pile should be kept damp, but not wet. If you notice a foul smell coming from your compost bin, it is either too wet or contains too much green material. Either problem can be fixed by adding more dry, brown materials. If your compost is at a standstill and seems to not be progressing or "working", you can add more greens.

Turning. You will need to turn your pile at least a few times a week to help move the process along. This will mix the materials and help with faster decomposition. You will recognize the finished product as it will look like dirt! It’s fine if you see a few small particles or pieces not yet completely transformed into plant food. You can also sift the compost and throw larger pieces back into the compost bin. The process time will vary depending on materials used and size of materials. You can cut, shred, or tear it into smaller pieces for faster decomposition.

Time. The general time frame is three months to one year, depending on the many factors listed in this article as well as the season and weather.

There is also, always the option of just tossing everything into a pile and leaving it to run its course naturally, but hey, where's the fun in that? Happy composting!

Beth Smith and her husband decided to become full-time campers when their youngest child started college. The pair now travel every few months working as camp hosts and exploring old-growth forests, bouldering, viewing wildflowers, scoping out wild ponies, and photographing nature. Follow Beth on Facebook.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.