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Perfect Compost

by Ysanne Spevack

OrganicFoodee gardeners know that home-cooked food creates home-made food waste, and this stuff can be turned into fabulous organic compost for your garden.

Composting waste food is easy peasy when you know how. All you need to do is layer your compost pile lasagna-style, with each layer no more than 6 inches deep… one ‘green’ layer, one layer of food waste, one ‘brown’ layer of brown leaves or paper, and one thin layer of soil… one ‘green’ layer, one layer of food waste, one ‘brown’ layer of brown leaves or paper, and one thin layer of soil… again and again, all the way to the top of the pile. The main thing to know is exactly what kinds of food waste is good to include, and what stuff is going to spoil the fun. The brown layer can be dead leaves, torn up cardboard boxes, or old newspapers as long as they’re printed with vegetable inks (the New York Times is, I think also The Independent in the UK). The soil layer is thinner than the green, food and brown layers, and is there to add tiny soil microbes into the layers.

Ultimately, what we’re doing is creating an awesome home for the soil microbes to live so they get busy with eating the vegetable spread you’re providing and in doing so, break it all down into a beautiful, light, nutrient-rich soil.

All of this composting can take place in a fancy structure or simply in a round of chicken wire. It’s up to you how elaborate the compost bin are is, but really, it’s basically an aesthetic design thing. As long as the compost materials are contained enough to get to know each other, and as long as air can circulate around the pile so it doesn’t get moldy, your soil microbes aren’t a fussy bunch. They’re just as happy living in chicken wire as they are in a fancy place. But, if you’d like to see a sharp-looking bin in your garden instead of something potentially more unsightly, there are a ton of ready-made compost bins that can do the job.

Okay, here’s my definitive guide to which kitchen scraps are destined for composting and which aren’t.

COMPOST INGREDIENTS

1. Do not try to compost these things:

Meat
Dairy
Fats
Bones

In theory, there are advanced methods for composting these items, but for now, do not ever add these things to your regular compost pile.

2. Compost loves fruit and vegetables, and is also very happy to have some grains and bread.

3. The main ingredients in compost waste are raw fruit and vegetable waste, but it’s also great to include:

Coffee grounds
Tea bags, with the paper but no staples or string
Citrus peel and pulp from organic fruit
Bread and toast (even if it’s spread with a little butter)
Cooked grains, e.g. rice and pasta
Cooked fruit and vegetable waste
Greens
Cucumber and zucchini (these seeds aren’t mature, so no problem with them sprouting)

4. Don’t include anything hard that would be super difficult to break down, e.g:

avocado stones
mango stones
pineapple tops

5. No fruit or vegetable skins from non-organic produce, as they may be covered in a layer of pesticides that would then be in the compost, e.g:

lemon rind from non-organic lemons
pineapple rind from non-organic pineapples

6. No fruit or vegetable waste containing growable seeds, as they could grow in the compost and make baby plants… I’ve seen it happen many times! Wasted cooked seeds is fine, like sesame seeds baked in a piece of bread crust, but don’t throw any raw seeds into the compost like these:

tomato seeds
pepper cores with seeds
melon seeds
raw peas and beans
lemon pips
etc

7. Cut big chunky waste into small compostable pieces, i.e. nothing thicker than an inch maximum, nothing longer that 3 inches, e.g.

broccoli stems
pineapple cores
thick asparagus ends
whole spoiled fruit
corn cobs

8. Cut roots and tubers into pieces so they also won’t grow in the compost, e.g.

leek roots
onion bulbs
potatoes

9. Remove any metal or plastic from the kitchen waste, e.g.

tag staples and strings from tea bags
metal ties from greens
plastic stickers on fruits and veggies, including certified organic stickers!

10. If you’re in a rush, you can try adding some compost starter to the pile, and also you can try turning the pile occasionally to speed things up. But personally, I’m never in a rush for compost, as there will always be a need for great soil nutrients however fast or slow nature is with each compost pile. I prefer to let the process take place at it’s own pace, and I have a hunch the finished compost may be richer in nutrients if it’s a slower process to make.

Angels in the garden

I’ve often wondered why my thumbs and fingers are a deeper shade of green than other peoples. Gardening comes so naturally to me, it’s just effortless and easy for me to grow organic food… but I’ve noticed this isn’t necessarily the case for my clients and friends!

I put it down to angels and the power of intention. This isn’t as quirky or as hard to prove as it may appear to be at first glance. My gardening technique involves practical researched knowledge, hard physical work, and an internal lightness of touch. An openness to nature and God. An ability to listen. An awareness of how my own spirit is connecting with the living plants that I am nurturing.

Also, I’m acutely aware that plants are closely related to people, more so than I’d ever imagined before spending time in the garden. They’re sensitive to our moods just as we are sensitive to theirs. Appreciate the unusual shaped leaves, smell the enchanting fragrance, taste the delicious fruit and the plant will enjoy you right back.

Take these artichokes, for example.

Artichokes are basically big, bad thistles, huge enormous thistles that have massive thistle flower buds that taste amazing when steamed and drizzled with olive oil! Being weeds at heart, they grow very well without much input from the gardener, withstanding bad soil and irregular watering without drooping or producing less chokes.

However, nasty infestations of black bugs, aphids, earwigs and other creepy crawly and wiggly pests are standard issue for artichokes, because anything we like to eat, pests like to eat. This is the rule of the garden, period, which is why edible plants are so much trickier.

If it tastes nice, you’re not the only one that wants to eat it!

So it’s spooky that artichokes that don’t get any love from a gardener grow big but get blighted, but artichokes in the same garden that get high quality love beamed at them on a regular basis, including love up close, and love from afar… well, the loved chokes don’t get buggy. They stay strong and healthy, their own defenses protect them, and their prized buds remain unscathed and waiting for us to pluck and enjoy.

Call me a little bit witchy-poo, but I have tried this. Even more profound was an experience I had last year with a potato patch.

The heirloom potatoes planted in this particular garden were a rare and more vulnerable variety known as Stellar Blues. I spent a lot of time looking after this garden, it’s a very special place and I felt a deep connection with this land. But the potato patch was tended by an eleven year old girl named Stella. She felt a deep connection with the potato patch, in the way that only children can.

Anyway, she came and visited the potato plants as they grew pretty much every day, spending a little moment to dream by them and just check in to see how they were doing. May I add that this little girl was a very special person, a talented musician and someone who has a rare quality with younger children. So her attention and love is particularly good.

The potatoes new it. There were no bugs. There were no diseases. And they went crazy, sprouting immense tons of foliage, and later on, buckets and buckets of blue potatoes.

More potatoes than I have ever seen come out of a potato patch! More tasty! Tons of them!!

It’s all a matter of high quality love and attention… that’s what makes plants and people flourish.

Time at the Table

Between 20% and 25% of all meals in the USA are now consumed in the car, a horrific fact for physical health and human emotional connections. What’s more, research has shown time and again that whether a family eats together or not has a greater impact on a child’s well-being than race, gender and economic status.

Time at the Table is an extraordinary organization reconnecting families one table at a time. Based in the Brooklyn, New York, Time at the Table recognizes the challenges families face, from the classic traditional family unit to single adults, college dorms and every type of grouping in our modern culture.

I’m delighted they reached out to me for an interview, now available as a podcast. The interview lasts about 40 minutes and covers organic food and organic gardening as well as detailed questions about my personal life and, of course, my music career.

If you’re in Los Angeles, please make a note of April 16th, as I’ll be talking at the Los Angeles Convention Center at Go Green Expo. Meanwhile, listen in to the podcast and you’ll hear a competition question…

The first 10 people to answer the question in the comments section under this blog post will receive complimentary tickets for Go Green Expo, including the full day of my talk and the entire program.

70% raw, 30% wood-fired

Last night, there was a severe storm in the mountains where I live. Waterfalls appeared like a Disney landscape from nooks that had passed unnoticed last week. My road became separated from civilization by a huge fallen oak tree, perhaps torn down by the wind, perhaps struck by lightning. The road itself became a river, the creek a raging torrent.

And so, the best plan was to stay home, light a fire in the old wood-burning stove, and create a superb organic chicken and organic sweet potato stew by candlelight.

While I generally prefer the taste and texture of raw ingredients, now and then I crave the comfort factor of a good old-fashioned home-cooked meal. The stormy night added the poetry we sometimes crave to my cast iron Dutch oven, bubbling gently for a few hours on the ancient heat of the fire.

To create balance and add vibrancy, I served the hot stew on a bed of tender English pea shoots, wild spinach and crisp mustard greens. The heat of the stew wilted the leaves in a fabulous way, tenderizing them and releasing their green flavors. The stew itself was flavored with an unusual blend of dried tarragon, savory leaves and bay leaves with harissa, smoked paprika and Himalayan salt.

And so, as my friend Brandon said, I made a delicious lemonade out of the lemons I was given last night… and suddenly being stranded up a mountain on a stormy night seemed like the best possible way to spend the night.

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