Category Archives: Growing & Giving in the Community

Making Compost is Simple? Not!

Making compost is simple: vegetable waste + water+ heat = rot and (eventually) soil. The tricky part comes when we realize that what we put into the compost doesn’t always rot into something that’s healthy. ( School compost programs should think carefully about how to compost: see for example compost.css.cornell.edu/faq.html for examples of ways that compost can become a problem.)

To share my own story: when I first started composting I didn’t realize that the bins let the rats and raccoons in. I fed them, made my neighbors mad, and didn’t get much compost for my garden. There are other issues with compost: it needs to be really hot to kill some kinds of the fungi and plant bacteria that ruin our plants. Many home compost systems are just too small to get that hot.

So whose advice to take? It’s important to find information that is about the area where you live. Information from a University that’s in your part of the country is a good way to start. There’s lots of resources on the web but evaluating them is pretty hard – look for articles written after measuring and recording observations. I also try to find advice from local resources and publications which report information from evidence, or the critical evaluation of information and experience. And I ask knowledgeable neighbors: master gardeners – thanks for your advice!

Here’s some Pacific Northwest resources that I found:

Backyard food composting:
your.kingcouny.gov/solidwaste/garbage-recycling/backyard-composting.asp
Washington State University: such as Whatcom.wsu.edu/ag/compost/mrcprogram.htm (The WSU extension program looks objectively at the science behind the recommendation, and tests it to see how it works in the real world.)
Another link would be found at Gardening.wsu.edu — search “backyard composting” and look for publication EB1784E

Several local groups teach composting in the Northwest. I’d check the credentials of the program before signing up. (A shout-out to school and after-school programs teaching gardening, composting, and research. Deb and Rachel, thanks for asking, and for sending an article to review.)

Food and Faith Programs

We’ve met involved gardeners with the food and faith initiative these last couple of years. Sometimes the folks are growing food for the public food banks, sometimes supporting their own kitchen-based feeding programs. More information about the these groups (and resources for starting or for maintaining your own) can be found on Seattle Tilth’s site. The Food and Faith Initiative provides support for faith-based organizations who want to grow veggies: including information about incorporating food gardening into existing ministries, education and training for congregations, ongoing technical support, guidance on volunteer engagement that will sustain these gardens for many years.

Theft from P-Patches

Safety, Vandalism, Theft in the Garden  was recently shared online by P-Patch@talk2.seattle.gov which hosted a very active discussion by gardeners about theft of veggies: carefully nurtured tomatoes, carrots, and fennel bulbs being some of what was stolen; also anything copper or brass (useful for recyclers), themometers, ladders, and gardening tools.  Gardeners shared strategies:

  • physical barriers (a short two foot fence; planting the desirable stuff in the back of the patch so it’s hard to reach and keeping hoses and tools in a locked shed)
  • signs;
  • codes of conduct;
  • engaging those who walk through the garden in dialogue;
  • deliberately labeling a part of the p-patch for public harvest;
  • keeping the garden neat and tidy to discourage those who feel that the gardener has abandoned the plot and that it needs to be gleaned
  • An example of signage:  Enjoy our garden sign fr magnuson p patch

But I must say something else: thank you for keeping on with your gardening and growing for the community, despite discouraging moments. Your work is appreciated.

(I try to summarize interesting discussions here, but feel free to sign up at the city of Seattle website to participate directly in the discussion.)