Cooked Food in the Compost is Bad?

cooked-food-in-compost

D wasn’t happy with the free composting guide I give away to newsletter subscribers:

“You say I your compost guide to use cooked food!!! Isn’t that just asking for rats and maggots to come in invade giving them a invitation! Also I didn’t know you were in the USA lots of the things your talking about mean nothing to me so sorry I’m deleting your guide.”

You can’t win them all, but really – this is just silly.

Why would you NOT use cooked food in your compost? Do you think rats are particularly attracted to cooked vs. non-cooked food? No, rats love just about anything you throw their way, as do maggots.

Soldier fly larvae are maggots and they are great composters!

And rats? Come on. Bury things deeply, as I do in my “melon pits:”

Other gardeners are picking up the melon pit idea as well:

That’s an easy way to add cooked food to your compost if you’re really afraid of rats and other vermin.

Or you can just compost in a closed bin.

I mean really… why throw potential soil fertility away? Compost everything!

Or just go ahead and delete my booklet. Not everyone is ready for extreme composting.

Or basic composting, as the case may be.

David-the-good-books-revised

Making Another Batch of Dave’s Fetid Swamp Water(TM)

making-fermented-plant-juice

As shared in my book Compost Everything, this method of feeding plants allows you to stretch fertility a long, long way and re-use “waste:”

Many people have written in to say how much they appreciate this simple method for creating liquid plant fertilizer.

As Gardener Earth Guy commented on the video:

“This is the absolute best garden trick I’ve learned in a long time. My banana have gotten giant, sweet potato have rope vines, and loquats are getting giant. What doesn’t get a chop n drop goes in the bin.”

You can throw in weeds, fruit, kitchen scraps, urine, manure… just find organic matter and throw it in. I like a wide mix. This is a pretty simple batch, only containing moringa, compost, cow manure and urine. I did get some Epsom Salts after making the video and will throw that in next. A 55-gallon drum like this can easily feed 10,000 square feet of corn for a growing season. I know – I’ve done it!

It beats making “normal” compost and having to spread it all around.

David-the-good-books-revised

Urine is a Great Fertilizer… EXCEPT FOR DRUGS!!!

pee-wee-crack

Seriously, is EVERYONE on drugs these days?

I mean, I’ve been known to drink coffee all day and sometimes chain-smoke my pipe while writing, then have a cocktail before bed… but pharmaceuticals? Not for me! CLEAN LIVING, man!

For years I’ve advocated the use of urine as a fertilizer. It’s truly an excellent plant booster and a free source of garden fertility. I believe God designed it that way on purpose.

Go ahead, water your plants!

Yet the question always comes up – “what if a person is on drugs?”

As Sheila wrote earlier this week:

Something to remember for your viewers. If they are on any
medications they may want to forgo the pee until they are off the
drugs. It all comes out through the kidneys.

Yeah, well… PeeWee Herman had something to say about that:

Don’t do drugs!

Actually, on second thought, maybe most of the “drugs” questions aren’t really about crack.

Some pharmaceuticals aren’t a lot better, though.

Anyhow, let’s think this through.

Drugs in Urine – Bad for the Garden?

Well, that’s a tough one.

Your plants are likely to be unaffected by the drugs that pass through your urine. I don’t like the idea of adding pharmaceuticals to the garden, but in my completely unscientific opinion, I would say it’s pretty unlikely that beta blockers, for instance, are going to mess up your beets.

Or Oxycontin render your carrots too sleepy to make roots.

Or heroin cause your tomatoes to start playing grunge music, then die at age 27 in a filthy hotel room.

Oh, sorry – I guess heroin is no longer a “legit” pharmaceutical. That was a few years back.

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Anyhow, yeah… the drugs are targeted at human physiology, which is quite different from that of plants.

Yet it gets worse… drugs are polluting our water supply. One of the worst is “the pill:

“After the active ingredient in most birth control pills has done its duty preventing pregnancy, it begins a second life as a pollutant that can harm wildlife in waterways.

Not only is ethinyl estradiol quite potent — creating “intersex” fish and amphibians — but it is very difficult to remove from wastewater, which carries it into natural waterways. 

Since women around the planet take the pill, this is a global problem. The European Union is the first entity to seriously consider mandating the removal of ethinyl estradiol, also known as EE2, from wastewater. However, as researchers pointed out in Thursday’s (May 24) issue of the journal Nature, the question of whether to remove the pollutant is not simple.”

Personally, I think banning the pill is a great idea, but that’s unlikely to happen any time soon.

Personal Use

The question of using urine as fertilizer when drugs are in play is a personal one. I think it’s blown out of proportion.

Are you using urine as fertilizer, then feeding the produce to other people? Well, that’s NASTY!

Seriously, though – if it’s your own garden and you’re already taking these toxic substances medications for various reasons, I don’t think the little bit you might get back in your salad is a big deal. I wouldn’t want to take any pharmaceuticals if at all possible and wouldn’t want to eat produce contaminated with them, but if I were already on, say, meth proprotein convertase subtilisin kexin type 9 inhibitors, I wouldn’t worry about a tiny bit of it coming back to me via the garden.

My two cents.

You’ll find a lot more on the use of urine as fertilizer in my book Compost Everything.

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Composting Success in Washington

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Imagine gardening here:

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Stunning!

That’s a picture from Sheila in Washington.

She writes:

“I just wanted to touch bases with you about composting. The weeds in a bucket then add water. Works so well! The tea is wonderful. All my
plants are greening up and say thank you! I have many little buckets
of this to water and feed my plants weekly. Still doing the pee as
well. Something to remember for your viewers. If they are on any
medications they may want to forgo the pee until they are off the
drugs. It all comes out through the kidneys. But it is working so well
for me. Now to get the home owners to OK my having a chicken. Yes I live in a neighborhood with restrictions. They just don’t know what they are missing. Maybe they do. Not sure. But I have neighbors that are OK
with them but the other neighbors are not on board yet!

So thank you for the information about composting. It works! No money
to buy fertilizer! I love it!

Sheila

(P.S.) This is my side kick.

gardening-help

We do everything in the garden together. He is like a three year old that does not talk. Keeps the birds away from eating my garden plants too! If it isn’t birds its bugs! Happy gardening.”

 

Beautiful view, beautiful dog, beautiful echinacea… and composting success!

Hard to beat.

The method of composting she’s discussing is my favorite “fetid swamp water” anaerobic barrel method of turning weeds, urine, manure and various “wastes” into liquid fertilizer for the garden.

It works like a charm.

You can learn more about it and many other composting methods in my book Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting.

As Bill Cantrell writes in a recent review:

Very fun, easy read with a lot of humor, interesting stories and knowledgeable insights. People often over-complicate things but David The Good does a great job simplifying and explaining the process and benefits of composting. Growing up in the suburbs without a garden, I always thought of grass clippings, leaves and branches as waste. I think differently now!

Potential soil fertility is everywhere – don’t let it pass you by.

I’ll address the “problem” of drugs in urine in a future post. That issue crops up a lot.

David-the-good-books-revised

Brazilian Pepper Composting and Mulch: Good or Bad?

brazilian pepper composting

Brazilian pepper composting or use as mulch? Good idea or bad idea?

I have spoken in the past of Brazilian pepper’s usefulness as a “chop and drop” species to cut over and over again and toss as a rough mulch around fruit trees and other perennials.

If it’s going to be a pain-in-the-neck invasive that’s almost impossible to kill… use it to feed the trees you actually want!

Put that regrowth to work and turn it into humus!

Yet… there may be a dark side to Brazilian pepper trees. It’s well-known that they’re toxic, yet they may also be allelopathic.

As Ronald Allan commented on one of my recent videos:

“You mention using (Brazilian Pepper) in chop and drop, but I’ve heard conflicting reports that it can have negative effects on other plants growing. have you had any problems with it?”

No, I haven’t… but there is a rabbit hole worth following here.

So – what’s the deal with using Brazilian pepper in compost and mulch? Good idea or bad idea?

Brazilian Pepper Composting

When I was a kid, we had a Brazilian pepper tree show up behind my dad’s shed. Dad cut it back multiple times but it kept coming back. I was impressed by the tree’s tenacity.

Finally, Dad cut it to the ground again and poured gasoline over the entire area.

That finally killed it – yet I never forgot how fast they grow and how good they are at coming back from the ground.

Sometimes problems can be turned into opportunities.

If a tree really wants to grow and if you always need more fodder for the compost pile, why not keep cutting and composting the invasives?

I’ve done this with weeds and grasses, mimosa trees and Brazilian peppers. Chop them into chunks and throw them around other trees to feed the ground.

But This Doesn’t Look Good

That said, there are reports that Brazilian pepper can suppress the growth of other plants. Cindy McNatt writes in The Orange County Register:

“I have to admit that I’m often on information overload. Ideas, plans and promises whiz by so fast that I can only reach out and grab a fraction of what’s coming my way.

And then there was this: an email from Jerri Arriola asking about compost and his Brazilian pepper tree. It caught my eye because I also make speedy compost with these tiny brittle leaves that shower down in wheelbarrowfuls on a quarter of my backyard.

The zinger? He added that Brazilian pepper tree leaves are allelopathic and asked if they were OK.

Time stood still for a moment while I thought about this. You see, “allelopathic” means that this plant suppresses the growth of other plants by exuding oils and other toxic compounds that eliminate competition.

It explains why hardly anything grows under the canopy of these trees – perfect for an area of my driveway where digging weeds would be a drag. Two pepper trees there do the trick to keep it weed-free, although I always thought their deep shade had something to do with it.

As for the large pepper tree in my backyard, I’ll have to say that only the sturdiest plants grow nearby: rhaphiolepis, pittosporum and ivy.

This breakthrough information also explains why I’ve had the worst vegetable garden the past 10 years. Not only is the tree just 10 to 15 feet away, I’ve been composting the leaves like crazy and adding them to my raised beds!”

Uh-oh!

But is Brazilian Pepper Allelopathic?

There’s the question.

I have chopped Brazilian pepper trees up and tossed them into The Great South Florida Food Forest Project without seeing any issues.

That said, the allelopathic effect could have been buffered by the rest of the brush I threw in at the same time. We piled up palm fronds, schefflera leaves, grass clippings and all kinds of things together.

I didn’t notice any problems with the fruit trees after doing so.

However there may be a risk!

According to the Smithsonian Marine Station at Ft. Pierce:

Allelopathy (chemical inhibition of potential competing species) has long been suspected in S. terebinthifolius, based on the well-documented ability of the leaves, flowers, and fruits to produce or accumulate chemical irritants (Gogue et al. 1974, Morton 1978, Ewel et al. 1982). Morgan and Overholt (2005) demonstrated that aqueous extracts from the leaves of Brazilian peppers could suppress germination and growth of some native Florida plant species under laboratory conditions. Field evidence confirming allalopathy and quantifying its contribution to the competitive success of S. terebinthifolius remain lacking.”

It’s not proven, but there are suspicions.

Brazilian pepper mulch is common in Florida as the trees are regularly shredded as people try to claim back sections of woods from this incredibly invasive species. Even if the mulch isn’t pure Brazilian pepper, if you get tree company mulch in South Florida, the chances are that it will have some Brazilian pepper in it.

Final Thoughts on Composting Brazilian Pepper

Personally, I hate to throw out anything that could be potentially composted.

With the possibility of Brazilian pepper mulch or compost being bad for the garden, well, why not just throw it aside to rot down first? Often allelopathic substances will break down in composting.

Fresher compost is more likely to cause trouble, as will higher concentrations.

Diluting the Danger

Though not performed with Brazilian pepper compost, one test performed at University of California with allelopathic plants reported:

“On the basis of these experiments, it appears that there may be an allelopathic effect on some seedlings when grown in undiluted eucalyptus, black walnut or live oak composts. With increased dilutions, the effects become less severe, suggesting that under natural conditions- where the dilution factor would be far greater than 25 percent-there would be little or no damage from these leaves and that possibly other factors might be the reason for growth failure under these trees.”

My Verdict on Brazilian Pepper Composting

The two factors that are your friends: time and dilution.

I would still use Brazilian pepper as a chop-and-drop tree and compost addition, as well as a mulch, but I might be wary of using it in large quantities.

Nature has a way of breaking down toxins and recycling almost everything into a form plants can use. Brazilian pepper composting is still on the table for me.

As I wrote in my popular book… compost everything!

 

*Image at top via Everglades NPS. Creative commons license.

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“Dry” Compost Tea?

BeautifulWeeds

Last week’s Homegrown Food Summit 2017 was awesome. Lots of great comments and interaction, plus I picked up many new readers.

Welcome aboard, everyone.

My presentation Seven Ways to Feed Your Garden for Free! (you can get it here, along with dozens of other presentations) featured Rachel at one point demonstrating our amazingly stinky anaerobic compost tea.

Compost_Barrel

Some people don’t like the smell, though the plants don’t care.

In the comments on my presentation, Jill Nicholls shared with me a “dry compost tea” method she’s been using:

“I have found that making ‘dry’ compost tea eliminates the smell. It works best with soft leafy green material such as comfrey or rank weeds. Just put into a lidded container dry(doesn’t need to be sealed just covered). Leave until rotted. This varies with temperature, a few weeks in summer, longer in cooler months. Add water as you use the now thick slick compost. I find a ratio of 20 water to 1 compost tea works for me.
It begins to smell only after water is added. prior to that it smells a bit like sweet hay.”

I imagine the materials must be at least slightly damp or they wouldn’t break down at all, but this sounds like a method worth trying. Why not?

I think I’ll cut some weeds and give it a try.

If you’re interested in diving much deeper into the composting rabbit hole, this book is for you.

Have a wonderful Sabbath rest.

 

*          *          *

 

I will love You, O Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer;
My God, my strength, in whom I will trust;
My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised;
So shall I be saved from my enemies.

The pangs of death surrounded me,
And the floods of ungodliness made me afraid.
The sorrows of Sheol surrounded me;
The snares of death confronted me.
In my distress I called upon the Lord,
And cried out to my God;
He heard my voice from His temple,
And my cry came before Him, even to His ears.

Then the earth shook and trembled;
The foundations of the hills also quaked and were shaken,
Because He was angry.
Smoke went up from His nostrils,
And devouring fire from His mouth;
Coals were kindled by it.
He bowed the heavens also, and came down
With darkness under His feet.
10 And He rode upon a cherub, and flew;
He flew upon the wings of the wind.
11 He made darkness His secret place;
His canopy around Him was dark waters
And thick clouds of the skies.
12 From the brightness before Him,
His thick clouds passed with hailstones and coals of fire.

13 The Lord thundered from heaven,
And the Most High uttered His voice,
Hailstones and coals of fire.[a]
14 He sent out His arrows and scattered the foe,
Lightnings in abundance, and He vanquished them.
15 Then the channels of the sea were seen,
The foundations of the world were uncovered
At Your rebuke, O Lord,
At the blast of the breath of Your nostrils.

16 He sent from above, He took me;
He drew me out of many waters.
17 He delivered me from my strong enemy,
From those who hated me,
For they were too strong for me.
18 They confronted me in the day of my calamity,
But the Lord was my support.
19 He also brought me out into a broad place;
He delivered me because He delighted in me.

20 The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness;
According to the cleanness of my hands
He has recompensed me.
21 For I have kept the ways of the Lord,
And have not wickedly departed from my God.
22 For all His judgments were before me,
And I did not put away His statutes from me.
23 I was also blameless before Him,
And I kept myself from my iniquity.
24 Therefore the Lord has recompensed me according to my righteousness,
According to the cleanness of my hands in His sight.

25 With the merciful You will show Yourself merciful;
With a blameless man You will show Yourself blameless;
26 With the pure You will show Yourself pure;
And with the devious You will show Yourself shrewd.
27 For You will save the humble people,
But will bring down haughty looks.

28 For You will light my lamp;
The Lord my God will enlighten my darkness.
29 For by You I can run against a troop,
By my God I can leap over a wall.
30 As for God, His way is perfect;
The word of the Lord is proven;
He is a shield to all who trust in Him.

31 For who is God, except the Lord?
And who is a rock, except our God?
32 It is God who arms me with strength,
And makes my way perfect.
33 He makes my feet like the feet of deer,
And sets me on my high places.
34 He teaches my hands to make war,
So that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.

35 You have also given me the shield of Your salvation;
Your right hand has held me up,
Your gentleness has made me great.
36 You enlarged my path under me,
So my feet did not slip.

37 I have pursued my enemies and overtaken them;
Neither did I turn back again till they were destroyed.
38 I have wounded them,
So that they could not rise;
They have fallen under my feet.
39 For You have armed me with strength for the battle;
You have subdued under me those who rose up against me.
40 You have also given me the necks of my enemies,
So that I destroyed those who hated me.
41 They cried out, but there was none to save;
Even to the Lord, but He did not answer them.
42 Then I beat them as fine as the dust before the wind;
I cast them out like dirt in the streets.

43 You have delivered me from the strivings of the people;
You have made me the head of the nations;
A people I have not known shall serve me.
44 As soon as they hear of me they obey me;
The foreigners submit to me.
45 The foreigners fade away,
And come frightened from their hideouts.

46 The Lord lives!
Blessed be my Rock!
Let the God of my salvation be exalted.
47 It is God who avenges me,
And subdues the peoples under me;
48 He delivers me from my enemies.
You also lift me up above those who rise against me;
You have delivered me from the violent man.
49 Therefore I will give thanks to You, O Lord, among the Gentiles,
And sing praises to Your name.

50 Great deliverance He gives to His king,
And shows mercy to His anointed,
To David and his descendants forevermore.

Psalm 18, NKJV

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Composting Fish Right in the Garden

composting fish

Composting fish? You bet.

Jim comments:

“David the Good you are an inspiration. I am a brother gardener with similar methods but with a tenth of the knowledge and experience as you.

Since you are focusing on the wonderful world of rotting stuff I wanted to relate a recent experience to you and your fans.

We garden in Alaska and the whole composting thing is a big challenge for us. Because our average temperature is so low it literally takes years to compost material.

Last year we unfortunate had a chest freezer go bad and it sat for a week before anyone discovered the problem. It was full of red salmon fillets and buffalo meat from that we had harvested the previously.

After we cried about the 250 lbs. of rotting meat we did what a lot of coastal Alaskans have done for 100’s of years. We added the meat to the garden.

We garden in raised beds so we dug out the dirt and placed the fillets (half of a red salmon each – about 2 pounds) in the bottom of the bed. The salmon was layered in the beds about 6 inches apart over the entire bottom of the beds and covered with 10 inches of dirt. We put approximately 20+ fillets (10 whole fish) in each bed.

We planted potatoes, peas and broccoli in the beds and away we went. Luckily the bears left the beds alone and the plants prospered.

We got a bumper crop of peas and broccoli and the potatoes were the largest we have ever seen. The potatoes were the fancy purple kind and they grew 3.5 feet tall with 1” stalks.

They gave us a surprise by producing potato berries in large bunches. These berries are like large grapes. Unfortunately they were everywhere and the dog ate some and proceeded to vomit toxic berries for two days.

Lesson learned there!

So rotting stinking fish flesh worked wonderful and the plants did not show any over fertilizing problems as you would think.”

Oh heck yeah.

When life gives you ruined meat… turn it into potatoes!

In a related idea, a reader emailed me this:

“My uncle told me a planting method for the papayas in which you dig until you reach water (which here it only takes about 6 feet), refill the whole until there is no water showing, start a wood fire at the bottom of the hole, and fill the whole with organic matter.”

Another place for composting fish, perhaps?

I’ve not heard of that precise method and it sounds like a lot of digging, but it’s not all that different from the melon pits I discuss in Compost Everything. That book also contains details on how to make fish emulsion in a barrel… just in case you don’t feel like digging.

Nature composts everything… why not do the same? Composting fish really isn’t that crazy. Remember the Pilgrims and the Indians? Why have we forgotten what our ancestors knew well?

Just go for it. Giant potatoes!

 

*Image at top via Maarit Lundbäck. Creative commons license.

David-the-good-books-revised

Easy Lasagna Gardening the FREE Way

Patricia Lanza’s book Lasagna Gardening inspired a lot of people, including myself.

I was reminded of the sheet-mulching / lasagna gardening method a couple of weeks ago when I re-watched Geoff Lawton’s excellent film Permaculture Soils.

There’s a spot out back near our gardens that often gets soppy wet in the rainy season. It also has hard clay and rocks beneath the grass. Yet I wanted to do some gardening there.

The solution? A quick bamboo-sided “lasagna gardening” raised bed.

lasagna gardening

Easy Lasagna Gardening on the Cheap

Lasagna gardening is all about making lots of layers – here’s my latest video demonstrating this easy way to build a garden fast!

Are you ready to build your own lasagna garden?

It’s all about the layers… let’s get layering!

Layer 1: Manure and Seaweed

I started with a thin layer of cow manure and seaweed to encourage the soil life to eat up the grass and start loosening things, plus to provide nutrition.

lasagna gardening manure

Geoff Lawton throws down just manure, but I have lots of seaweed available here and it’s loaded with good stuff.

For those of you in the states… watch out when using manure. It can destroy all your hard work!

Layer 2: Cardboard Weed Block

I bought Rachel a chest freezer… and it came in a great big cardboard box!

Naturally, I had to find a way to use that in the garden. Weedblock it is!

First, I laid the cardboard over the bed to get a rough size:

lasagna-gardening-cutting-cardboard-weedblock-layer

Then I stomped it into place. I wanted it all the way to the edges of the bed so pesky grasses won’t come through.

lasagna-gardening-stomping-down-cardboard

Layer 3: The Random “STUFF IT” Layer

After the cardboard was in place, it was time to start throwing down some biomass.

I used pigeon pea bushes and heliconia leaves.

lasagna gardening pigeon-peas-layer

You can also use whatever brush you have lying around. Leaves, shredded paper, chunks of wood, whatever.

Layer 4: Kitchen Scraps

lasagna gardening kitchen scraps layer

Why not?

Layer 5: Kitchen Scraps

The next layer was a thin one, made from sifted soil from my chicken coop.

lasagna-gardening-kitchen-scraps-chicken-manure

This is manure and compost-rich dirt with bits of biochar in it. You can see this composting method here.

There’s not a lot of rhyme or reason to these layers so don’t overthink things. Just throw in the compostable material you currently have available and let nature do the rest.

Layer 6: The Final Compost Planting Layer

And, to top it all off, I added a bunch of mostly-finished compost:

lasagna-gardening-final-layer

You really don’t need to fill the whole top layer with compost, though. You could just mulch with grass clippings or leaves over the whole top, then fill some pockets with good compost and plant transplants in those… which reminds me, that’s what I did next. Transplanted!

Transplanting into the New Lasagna Garden Bed

I had some bird peppers and a single tomato seedling ready to go… so they went in!

lasagna gardening

And then they were nicely watered in to settle the roots:

lasagna-gardening-wating-in-transplants

I watered them with compost tea for a little extra “juice” to ease the shock of transplanting, but that’s not really necessary.

If you have lousy soil, a poorly drained area, a lot of pesky grass you want to cover without digging, or if you’re just interested in the idea, give lasagna gardening a try. It works and the area where you throw down cardboard and organic matter like this will become one of the richest areas in your entire yard.

Everything in this bed was free. Granted, I did have to buy a chest freezer to get the cardboard, but hey – you can get cardboard anywhere!

Finally, I have more on this and other methods of composting in my book Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting.

Get your copy here.

And if you’ve done the lasagna gardening / sheet mulching thing in your own gardens, how did it work for you?

Let me know in the comments.

 

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lasagna gardening

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