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Archive for the ‘Composting in an apartment’ Category

At our last Garden Committee meeting the topic of “SOIL” came up.  Although we all have a pretty good idea that as gardeners, we know what soil is…it ain’t necessarily so!  My aim here today is to acquaint us with the REAL meanings, definition and uses of various types of SOIL.  They are definitely not all the same!

For instance, do you know that “dirt” is the stuff under your fingernails; what’s on your dungaree knees; the debris carried into the house on your sneakers after being in the garden; what the dog brings in; and in general, what you need to vacuum up to keep the house clean?  That is NOT the stuff we plant our posies in!

What we plant in, is SOIL!  But, there really are different types of soil.  As gardeners we should be aware of what they are and how to differentiate between them, so we use them properly.

We could start by calling it a “planting medium”.  The reason for that is that there are so many soil types.  Here is a site from the University of Maryland Extension Service.  After a fair amount of searching I found this one which is pretty basic.  No super charts, or long chemical connections…just the simple facts.  I will go into more specifics about what is available to you here at Horizon House.

We essentially have 3 (three) different soil types available for your use.  Remember you should NOT need to add much soil at all.  All the garden beds have ample soil right now.  Occasionally, you might want to top dress, or dig in a bit of compost (as an amendment).  If for some reason you really do need to add soil, it should be in the “top soil” category.  So, here goes!

TOP SOIL   is what you will commonly find beneath your feet, in any garden environment!  Top soil varies in quality, depending on where it is found.  The top soil on a mountain top will  be very different from that on a river flood plain.  So, unless you know where it originates, you really won’t know at all whether it’s any good at all for your garden.  But, having said that, the Garden Soil we get is in a bag. We can rest assured that it is decent soil.  It is NOT special potting soil, that often has amendments added; nor is it mulch or compost.  It’s just plain soil…nothing more, nothing less.  Here is a link about soil basics  that you might find interesting.

MULCH  is what you put on top of the soil, around your plants.  It provides protection from drenching rain; it holds moisture which your plants can access easily; it provides shade for tender roots lying just beneath the surface; weeds cannot find their way into your well mulched garden; it provides warmth, protecting roots from deep freezes.  Over the year(s), if it is organic, it breaks down, adding texture and nutrients to the soil below.  This means that you can add, probably SHOULD add, new mulch every year, either in the spring or the fall.  Go to this link about MULCH which will add to your understanding of this product.  And by the way, do not worry about the mulch getting into the soil.  It will break down and become compost in the soil.  It will also provide instant bulk and moisture retaining qualities. (There is also non-organic mulch which will not break down, like plastic and rubber.  We do NOT utilize non-organic mulch in our gardens here at Horizon House.)

COMPOST is what I define as “Black Gold”!  compost-handIt is naturally broken down organic materials.  These are usually composed of leaves, grass, discarded garden plants (NOT diseased) and even non-fatty kitchen scraps(fat attracts “critters”). It sits and decomposes until it’s totally broken down.  A process that takes about a year.  Here is a link that will explain the process of making and using COMPOST.  For our gardens at Horizon House, we get bagged compost.  We should use this as an AMENDMENT to our garden soil.  It should NOT be 100% of the soil surrounding your plants!

Ragan suggests a ratio of about 4 parts garden soil to 1 part compost.  I’d say that’s even a bit high, but it’s a good guide.  The compost can be worked into the soil around your plant roots.  When you plant new materials, work some compost into the soil.

So there you have it.  I hope that helps.  I’ll try to get that little chart we talked about at the meeting posted somewhere in the E level storage area.

 

 

 

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Here at Horizon House, we are definitely IN an URBAN setting.  Many of our gardeners here would like to have attractive vegetables growing in their raised beds, and on our gardening terraces.

Within the city

Within the city

There are things to be cautious about with urban vegetable gardening, mostly with noxious air and also noxious things in the soil.  Everything eventually gets into the soil, so it’s worth a bit of concern.

I don’t think we need to worry as much as those who live locally, and attempt to plant veggies right at the roadside.  Here at Horizon House, we have the benefit of using packaged soil or “compost” in our gardens.  We do not just dig in local soil, as do many of our neighbors.  BUT, there is still air, and rain borne chemicals that settle down into our soil.

This morning I read an interesting article on my NPR Home page.  It talks about what Washington, D.C. is doing concerning this.  The University of the District of Columbia is supporting a study on urban farming, and is in fact, the ONLY Land Grant University that deals with a totally URBAN focus.

Mchezaji “Che” Axum is the gentleman who runs the research farm for the U. of the D. of C..  “…instead of vast fields testing dozens of varieties of wheat, Axum’s research farm has raised beds, narrow hoop houses and even a shipping container. He gives growers advice on where to buy decent soil or how to compost their own, in case the land they plan to grow on has a seedy industrial past.”

This is GOOD stuff for the urban farmers within the confines of Seattle, and even the communities close by.

HH Herb Garden

HH Herb Garden

In our Gardening Terraces, some gardeners are growing pretty greens,  little tomatoes, kale, etc.  We also have an herb garden tended by two of our Garden Committee members.

The herbs are available to ALL who live at Horizon House.  It’s wonderful to be able to come down to the garden and pick nice, fresh herbs to use in our dinners and lunches.  In fact, the Garden Committee has also sponsored an herb garden for our chef, right outside the dining room, so the menu can now boast fresh herbs in our food!

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What IS composting, and why should we care???IMG_0057

“Composting is a great way to add nutrients to a garden while recycling table scraps and yard waste.”  This is the way a gardener looks at composting.  If you live in an apartment, in the middle of a city, with no garden, and no need for the final product, WHY should you care????

A definition of compost would read:  “Material derived from aerobic decomposition of recycled plant waste, biosolids, fish or other organic material.”  Let’s give that a big “Whoop”!  Again, who cares?

Well, WE should care!

Our planet is being turned into a huge garbage dump.  How is garbage different from compost?  Garbage is a collection of ALL our discards.  It could be left-over food, potato and carrot peelings, rotten salad (and other “goodies”) we’ve neglected to remove from the “fridge, plastic bags and bottles, cans, used paper towels and tissues, old tires, used up batteries, and junk in general.  All of this is collected and put into a huge landfill where it sits forever.  There is no way to use it because it is composed of mixed materials.  Some will NEVER break down, some will break down slowly, and others will break down almost immediately.  But in order to manage this we need to separate them.  Separating them after the fact is impossible.

That is where COMPOSTING comes into play!  And WE CAN BE INVOLVED.

Each of us should have three containers for “discards”:

  • One container would be for things that can be recycled-or used again for other similar products.  Things like glass and plastics come to mind.  Even plastic coated products like cardboard milk containers that would contaminate compost should be headed here.
  • Another container would be for compost.  In an apartment we have to deal with this just a little differently.  It is best to have a small container next to the sink.  You should line it with a “COMPOSTABLE” bag.  If you click that link, you’ll see a huge variety of usable bags.  Some of these can be purchased in the grocery store.  They are usually found where the plastic garbage bags are found.  The ones I’ve seen are labeled “BIOBAG” and are certified compostable.  The container is usually colored green.  (Surprise!)   These bags break down.  They are usually made with corn or vegetable products that decompose right along with your compost.IMG_0408  So, all compostable products can go into those bags, be collected; and when full, put into the “COMPOST BIN” in our Service Rooms here at Horizon House.  You CAN use paper bags because, as I’m sure you know, plain paper will break down and disintegrate!  NEVER use plastic bags (like grocery bags) to dispose compost in.  Use of plastic is counterproductive.  It does NOT break down.  Use of plastic bags may cause our entire Horizon House load to be rejected! 
  • The third container is for what we used to call the “garbage”.  These are things that can not be recycled easily, and are not compostable.

Our compost here at Horizon House goes to a commercial composting facility.  It utilizes what is called “HOT composting” which breaks down any disease, seeds, or oily compounds which would not be appropriate in a backyard compost bin.

Horizon House is trying VERY hard to be as conscious of our environment as possible.  We hope you’ll help in this endeavor.  If you are not able to sort your compostable materials properly, it would be better to just put it in the garbage…  But, as you can see, that is not a good solution at all!!!  Please help!

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