This time of year in Texas I'm dreaming of the veggie garden. Oh yes, I've been working on my garden planting layout for a few days now. I'm planning for crop rotation and companion planting. I'm also using repurposed cardboard tubes to plant my heirloom seeds in my "indoor greenhouse" so when the time's right I'll have seedlings to lovingly place into that prepared garden soil. It's true that even before gardening season there's lots of gardening tasks to complete.
But sometimes the opportunity to get my hands in the dirt happens earlier than I planned. And sometimes that opportunity comes by way of fresh produce getting past its prime for any kind of kitchen deliciousness. But in past years when I'd toss that failing produce into the compost bin, these days I'm doing something different. I'm planting my compost! A couple of easy and early-gardening examples presented themselves in my kitchen recently.
Garlic Past Its Prime is Full of Opportunity
I didn't get to that fresh clove of garlic before I noticed the cloves were starting to spread apart. Then gradually they started showing tiny green sprouts at the top of each clove. The time is right in our planting zone 7 so I'll just plant it in the garden. Heck, it's already gotten a head start, right? Then this one clove of garlic will be magically transformed to many cloves of garlic for future culinary delights in my kitchen!
So I take the sprouting garlic to the garden and gently pull apart the cloves. Then, I take my garden hoe and make sure any early-sprouting spring grasses are removed and fluff the soil a bit. I then use the edge of my hoe to make a shallow trench and place each sprouting clove of garlic (sprouted side up) in a line about 8 to 10 inches apart from each other.
Now I gently tuck the soil around my newly planted garlic cloves and top with spent hay from around our hay ring. The hay mulch will keep the soil below from drying out and becoming hard. That will help these garlic bulbs grow nice and fat.
Note About Using Hay as Mulch
Now sometimes using hay as mulch causes problems with hay seeds and I'll admit I do have some seed that will sprout where I've used it in my garden. But the benefit of the hay mulch far outweighs any seed issues.
First, it's free and plentiful. I'm a big "Use Whatcha Got" fan. Secondly, this hay is made up of winter rye so there won't be much sprouting during the hot summer months anyway. And finally the thick layer I use keeps most seeds from sprouting in the first place. Diligence with removing any new sprouts takes care of any rogue hay sprouts easily and quickly.
For that small amount of maintenance I'm rewarded with mulch that helps my veggie plants with moderated soil temps, reduced irrigation needs and reduced weed pressure. Then at the end of the season I simply allow the decomposed mulch to continue improving my garden soil. Since I typically seed my dormant planting areas with winter rye as a cover crop anyway, if those hay seeds sprout when it turns cold there may be nothing else needed until spring. Talk about efficiency.
What About Those Sprouting Potatoes?
Another past-its-prime example in my kitchen recently is that bag of red potatoes I bought a few weeks ago. Unexpected travel plans and unplanned activities kept me from using the whole bag before they started sprouting. And lately, I've been on the lookout for seed potatoes to plant, but I was only finding standard white varieties. We really prefer red potatoes at the Taylor Homestead. But there's no need for me to search out those planting reds, I've got several in the pantry that are just aching to be planted.
I take those sprouted potatoes and cut them into chunks, making sure at least one sprouting eye is included on each chunk. Then, I'll let the chunks air dry for a day or so.This cures the cut edges to help keep the potatoes from rotting once they're planted. I've recently read after the initial curing time it's helpful to dust the potatoes with wood ash, so I'm trying that this year as well.
After a couple of days curing and a good dusting of wood ash, I'm ready to plant my red potato pieces. I've decided to plant them in a large cattle-trough planter I have at the end of our porch. The potato foliage is thick and bold — I think it will be beautiful greenery added to this planter. I'll use the same spent-hay mulch I used with my garlic to cover the potato vines higher and higher up as the greenery grows. This will allow the plants to put on lots of potatoes all season long. Then, when it's time to harvest, I'll simply remove the hay mulch and the potatoes from the planter and boom! Fresh, homegrown red potatoes from produce that would have just been wasted.
So next time you sigh with regret at seeing your fresh produce has gone too far to consume, think outside the box. Can it be planted instead of composted? If so, go ahead. Plant your compost!
Tammy Taylor lives and works on a Northeast Texas ranch, where she writes about home cooking, gardening, food preservation, and DIY living on her ~Texas Homesteader~ blog. Connect with Tammy on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram. Read all of Tammy's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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