Monday, November 24, 2014

The end of November

Welcome back to another episode of Lost In The Farmer’s Market. As all of you who read this web log have noticed we are in the midst of a holiday week and for those of us still in college we are in the grips of finals. Last week’s episode did not occur because of a lack of time to devote to a proper episode and so last week’s and this week’s episodes will be combined into an uber holiday episode.

The garden topic for this post is the holy grail of composting; leaf mold. Leaf mold is a byproduct of the composting process that occurs when a layer of leaves from hardwood trees or broadleaf conifers is compressed at the bottom of a compost pile into a compact golden-brown material similar to peat moss. There are many ways to create leaf mold but there are few ways to get the nutrients in the material just right. Typically what would happen is that a gardener might have a three-bin compost pile and during the fall they would collect and place Maple and Oak leaves in the two empty bins then use the contents of the full bin to make a soil cap over the leaves. The later addition of other leaves, soil and grass clippings in the spring would normally create the perfect atmosphere for the creation of leaf mold at the bottom of the bins. Typically it takes 10-12 months to create good batch of leaf mold.

The Sand Hills region unfortunately is somewhat erratic on plentiful sources of good hardwood tree leaves. For instance the area of the test gardens has no access to Oak, Maple or any serious supply of Ginko leaves. As proven in earlier posts pine straw will compost and from a leaf-mold layer but it’s more acidic than peat moss which is something I am trying to avoid for the obvious reasons. For today’s post I’m going to show you how to use a local substitute and how leaf mold is made in a container no less. In the case of this leaf mold project I used Fig Leaves, Compost, spent Potting Soil, this week’s fallen leaves from the lab and, the residual liquids and solids from cleaning out the French press. But below is a step by step guide to the process for your consideration.

The fig leaves are down due to our cold weather making for a useful resource.

Why Fig Leaves? Well, firstly I have an abundance of them also in prior years it was found they break down nicely in the pre-composter. I realize that figs are not a hardwood plant but neither is Ginko and from what I understand Fig leaves impart a bit of alkalinity to the soil where they decay so they may help the process of producing balanced leaf mold.

The act of crushing up leaves for composting can be done by a lawn mower with a bag attachment on or you can just run over piles of leaves with the mower set at its highest cutting height.
Crushing up the Fig leaves in this case is optional; I did it to mimic the process of crushing and or moving the leaves to the bin. I started with a cubic foot or so of fig leaves and crushes them up by hand to less than a quarter the volume and lined the bottom of the container with them. This is where the leaf mold should form in a few months.

Scraps from the lab and eggshells from the kitchen.
Inevitably all gardeners have a compost bucket, and the one that’s used in the lab is on the left in the picture above. The materials in the bucket are already growing mold and are in a state of decay which acts as an inoculant for the leaves. The contents of the bucket go on top of the leaves so that these decomposing molds are introduced to the pile of “food” in the bucket. The eggshells are introduced in the next step.

A steel pestle and Mortar can render eggshells to dust rapidly especially if they are dried thoroughly first.
I add pulverized eggshells as a source of calcium and as a soil enriching agent in the process. Adding them whole only takes up space and does not allow for a distribution of their benefits across the whole batch of leaf mold.

Spent potting soil and other disposable organic matter goes in next.
In this picture I’m shaking the soil off the roots of a dead Okra plant. You can see a rotting sweet potato in the trash can and now the active layer is beginning to take some shape. The potting soil is added as sort of ‘bedding’ layer for the decomposers such as the worms, millipedes and, pill bugs that inevitably came in with the leaves. It also acts as a moisture sponge for the entire mix.

A substantial layer of actual compost is the next part of the formula.
Someone might ask at this point why I am ‘wasting/using’ perfectly good compost at this point in the process. The answer is simple; compost is packed with microorganisms and decomposer critters. The use of an active agent in the mix ensures that the compost will continue to break down over time and will remain on track to completion.

More spent potting soil.
These two plants obviously died of exposure but their soil is likely to be full of critters that can help decomposition in the leaf mold. So another layer of inoculant is added. As most gardeners know you are supposed to layer your compost as is and this formula may seem a bit heavy on the browns but ultimately it’s supposed to mimic the act of composting during the winter when no greens are available.

The remnants of cleaning out the French Press a few times.
Even if you do not realize, the water and grounds left from cleaning out a French Press coffee maker are an idea and ultra-cheap fertilizer. The coffee-water itself will help feed plants but when you wash out a French press with dish soap you’ve added trace amounts of alkaline compounds which plants react to as though it was fertilizer. Believe it or not dethatching formulas are often recommended for accelerating decomposition in compost piles with excessive amounts of green matter. Using this coffee-water is almost the opposite we’re trying to decompose the brown materials so we’re using a differing material. After this point the can‘s lid is placed on securely and the can is placed in a sunny location in the lab.

In a few months I’ll have a nutrient rich material that can be used to transform a few square feet of the garden.  All of this is done at virtually no cost to me save for the price of patience and a place to site the compost container. When I crack this container in spring you can expect a write up about it here.

This holiday week is a pretty big week because on Thanksgiving is on Thursday, but also I have three public events this week and they are as follows and all are located at the Fayetteville Transportation Museum on 325 Franklin Street in Downtown Fayetteville.

City Market:     Wed, 12:00 pm – 4:00 pm
(Possible rain in AM only)

Dickens Holiday: Fri,  1:00 pm – 5:00 pm
(At transportation Museum)

City Market:     Sat,  9:00 am – 1:00 pm
(Sunny Weather)

So yes basically a busy holiday week, you can expect that I will have surprises at the booth on all three days and the list below will not completely reflect what may show up on any given day with exception to the cold-season plants and the sweet potatoes.

Southward Skies: A northern guide to southern Gardening
Southward Skies is a pocket-sized guide to gardening in the Carolina region. It will guide you through the process of having a productive garden in our region using a year-round format that matches the timing of what you should do and what time of the year you should do it. Unlike a lot of garden guides Southward is written in a way that can help even the most discouraged gardener to find success. Southward Skies has been tested by gardeners in other states ranging from as far south as Naples, Florida, as far north as Dorset, Vermont and as far west as Reno, Nevada. As a general guide you can’t lay hands on a better collection of tips, tricks and methods. The book is available on as a digital book for the kindle and makes a good gift in print or digital format. The book costs $25.00 and we do take checks for this item, you can even have it signed. During the month of December we will wrap copies of the book at your request if you intend them as a gift.

Cold Season Crops
6x Mustard Greens, India - 3.5” pot ($3.00)
6x Mustard Greens, Japanese Red Giant - 3.5” pot ($3.00)
6x Cabbage, Copenhagen Market  - 3.5” pot ($3.00)
6x Cabbage, Savoy – Perfection Drumhead  - 3.5” pot ($3.00)
4x Collards, Georgia Southern Creole - 3.5” pot ($3.00)

Fresh Foods
Our ‘wilderness’ sweet potatoes are packaged in 2lb lots for $2.00 each in brown paper bags for your convenience. Novelty sized potatoes cost a little more but the bragging rights are totally worth it.

3x Novelty-Size, Sweet Potato (For pure bragging rights and silliness) – ($3.00)
2x Huge-Size, Sweet Potato (Good for use in pies)
3x Large-Size, Sweet Potato (Good for baking)
3x Medium-Size, Sweet Potato (General use)
2x Small-Size, Sweet Potato (For Recipes)
2x Tiny-Size, Sweet Potato (For recipes)

Holiday Splendor

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