Tag Archives: Compost

‘No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow.’

As drab February drags on, my thoughts turn to the shimmering promise of spring. Glorious days lie before me, filled with promise of the riches to come here in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley, I call ‘the Shire.’

“I love spring anywhere, but if I could choose I would always greet it in a garden.” ~Ruth Stout (Me too!)

spring flowers in the Shenandoah Valley

Seeds are ordered and hoarded–I have enough for a meadow–but can’t commence in my little greenhouse until the deep freeze passes. It’s only solar heated. I don’t start anything in there before March. Cruel frosts can strike us into mid-May, even later, so no tender seedlings go into the ground until the ‘Corn Planting’ moon is past, as some Algonquin tribes referred to it. Frosts often coincide with a full moon. Outside, hardy plant seeds go in the garden as soon as it’s dry enough. Not likely before March. Many lovely heirloom flowers, and some vegetables, reseed themselves freely. As do the weeds. Hardiest of the lot.

“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.” ~Anne Bradstreet (True, Anne, but we’d rather not.)

Farm garden with horse and buggy going by1

(Mounds of rhubarb in our garden with piles of compost and buggy going past.)

Each year, I declare THIS will be the best garden ever! I’m an optimist. Whatever comes, there will be bounty and beauty despite adversity, bugs, and blight. Daughter Elise and I are researching and rethinking which organic gardening methods and aides are best. We’re big into companion planting and expanding on that theme. Also using lots of compost. If anyone has any great ideas about battling the squash vine borer, that also attacks our beloved pumpkins, please speak up. It’s enemy number one. The hoard of squash bugs are enemy number two. We’ll be planting many more herbs and flowers in among the vegetables to attract the good bugs and repel the bad, plus trying floating row covers, and an insecticidal oil from Gardens Alive. I like their products and use various ones. I will report in and let you know how we fare with our schemes and dreams.

Spring 2015

(Snowdrops in bloom from last year. In bud now)

“Every spring is the only spring — a perpetual astonishment.” ~Ellis Peters

“I think that no matter how old or infirm I may become, I will always plant a large garden in the spring. Who can resist the feelings of hope and joy that one gets from participating in nature’s rebirth?” ~Edward Giobbi

Science has never drummed up quite as effective a tranquilizing agent as a sunny spring day. ~W. Earl Hall

Early spring in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia

(The Shenandoah Valley–image by my mom)

“The naked earth is warm with Spring,

And with green grass and bursting trees

Leans to the sun’s kiss glorying,

And quivers in the sunny breeze.”
~Julian Grenfell

“In the spring I have counted one hundred and thirty-six different kinds of weather inside of four and twenty hours.” ~Mark Twain


(Images by Elise Trissel unless otherwise noted)

How Important Is Organic Gardening to You?

And does it apply to your lawn?  Americans regard their pristine green lawns as sacred, but at what cost to human and animal health and the environment?

I believe in and practice organic gardening.  This means no chemical pesticides or fungicides (I never use chemical fertilizer) only approved products such as insecticidal soap, neem oil, the natural fungicides available like copper soap shield, baking soda, olive leaf extract and garlic…I mulch with compost, well-rotted manure and hay, encourage earth worms and other beneficial insects to make their home in my garden.  Some of my favorite flowers are naturally seeded wild varieties.  As are my weeds, but a weed is only a misplaced plant.  And I have plenty of those.

An excellent company that sells environmentally responsible products for the lawn and garden is Gardens Alive.  I like what I’ve tried from them and they’re expanding their product line to include seeds and plants.  They’re a bit pricey so watch for sales and special offers.   Making your own compost is FREE.  So are many other organic alternatives.   Worms multiply rapidly under the right conditions and they’re a gardener’s best friend.

My newest thing (and FREE for me) is to mix a little unpasteurized milk with my organic brews and spray or water the plants with it — like giving them a shot of the healthful benefits of yogurt with all the micro-organisms in raw milk.  Most people can’t do this because they don’t have their own cows (goat milk might work too…hmmm…)  Anyway, I’m seeing some amazing results.

Strangely the EPA regards milk as potentially toxic to the soil, while it’s actually beneficial to soil pathogens and plant growth.  If there’s any kind of milk spill the EPA freaks out and treats it like an oil spill.  All the dirt has to be dug out and disposed of.  The EPA is forcing more and more regulations on small family farmers like us, already hard-pressed to survive and in compliance with their environmental restrictions, while doing nothing to check the chemical pesticide, herbicides, and fertilizers that lawn treatment companies spread on countless suburban lawns.  They do nothing to regulate chemlawn and companies like them, even though the chemicals dispersed into the environment are proven hazardous to human and animal life, increasing the risk of cancer and other diseases and disorders.  The run off from all this stuff ends up in rivers and bays.  When you consider how many lawns there are in America, it boggles the mind.  Not to mention all the toxic stuff they dump on golf courses.

Farmers are strictly regulated as to what can be spread on their fields under a government approved nutrient management plan that also includes regulations of natural fertilizers like manure.  Soil samples, etc, are required.  Farmers must take into account under what weather conditions anything is applied or be held responsible for negligence, while lawn companies don’t have to meet any of these requirements.

I remember when a suburban friend called me in a panic because chemlawn had just been to her home to spray the lawn and it was windy that day and the whole place reeked of the herbicide called 2-4-D.   Sickening smell.  The spray had drifted onto her beautiful flower beds.  I looked on in horror and could only suggest she hose everything off, but it didn’t work and she lost plants.  She later developed a nerve related disorder from exposure to one of the chemicals.  Not just from that single incident.  The doctor felt it was the repeated exposure.  She’s gone organic now.

The evils of lawn companies fills pages on Google, so I won’t go into it all but you can see for yourself here.   There are organic alternatives to a healthy lawn. I found a link with helpful info: http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/organic-solutions/lawn-care

Our yard needs frequent mowing despite the lack of any care at all, just encouraging earth worm activity.  However, there are a number of weeds mixed in with the grass, especially after last summer’s drought, and we need to do some reseeding.  But I’m gradually expanding the surrounding flower and herb beds and seeding more wildflowers.   Far more interesting than grass and I love all the butterflies and birds they attract.   I’d also like to put in another water garden.  Lots of fun with fish and frogs, dragon flies and water plants.  Make your yard and garden ALIVE and filled with bird song.  Don’t spread or spray scull and cross bones stuff on it.  Read labels and discover what’s in those bags you use on your grass, and BEWARE of lawn companies.

*Pics of our farm & the valley, except for the first pic & that’s from istock.  On a perfect spring day our farm sometimes reminds me of Green Gables, in Anne of Green Gables.   I think she would not approve of poisoning our earth.

My Solution to World Peace

This will come as no surprise to those of you who follow my blog, but I strongly feel and emphatically declare the world would be a far better place if everyone had a garden.  I’m convinced when people are growing things, they’re much less prone to destructive behavior.  Granted, violent extremists (and serial killers) seem beyond redemption, but the rest of humanity would gain immeasurably from a connection with the earth.  To cultivate a garden is to commune with the essence of life and the source of all creation.

“The best place to seek God is in a garden.  You can dig for him there. ” ~George Bernard Shaw

I urge planting herbs, vegetables, fruits and flowers in an outdoor plot–convert a patch of lawn if need be–or as part of a community garden. This is a particularly good idea because it brings together people of all ages, from the very young to the elderly, and provides wonderful learning opportunities for children while tapping into the storehouse of knowledge many older people have.   The interaction between those joined in the common purpose of producing food and beautifying their neighborhood helps cultivate the people along with the plants.

Above pic from the site How To Start A Community Garden.

Our church has a communal garden with small plots for those who ask for them.  Folks garden side by side, sharing trials and triumphs and learning together.  More churches could do this if they tilled up part of their yard and put in vegetable plots  instead of only grass.

Sacrilegious?  I don’t think so.

Back to the garden, think sustainable methods, like making compost, and practice organic gardening.   Encourage beneficial insects, butterflies, and song birds to make their home in your yard.  You’d be amazed how many you can attract just by planting a patch of sunflowers and zinnias.

Anything that rots and hasn’t been sprayed with herbicide or pesticide can be used as mulch, although it’s best to compost the material first.  Old hay or straw make good mulch without needing to break down before using.   Different parts of the country have various natural material that can be used.  Organic matter feeds the soil and encourage earthworms.   Remember, as I tell my children and now grandchildren, happy worms make happy dirt.  Worms are the gardener‘s friend.  Non-hybrid, heirloom seed can be saved for next year and shared with others, and old-time flowers can be divided and spread around.

If digging in the earth isn’t an option for you, try growing plants in pots on a patio, deck, rooftop, sunny windowsill, or under fluorescent lights.  These can be fairly inexpensive to set up.   I used to have a stand with long fluorescent lights suspended over it about 6-10 inches above the foliage.   Raise the lights as the plants grow.  You’ll need warm and cool fluorescent bulbs for good plant growth, but not the more costly ‘grow lights.’  Although they’re good too.

“No two gardens are the same.  No two days are the same in one garden.”  ~Hugh Johnson

A film I really enjoyed about how gardening can reform and transform prisoners is Greenfingers with Clive Owen.  The movie is based on a true story which makes it even better, and it’s a love story, another plus, and the fabulous Helen Mirren co-stars.  I also really like actor David Kelly.  He’s wonderful.  The gardens featured  are gorgeous and I never tire of looking at Clive.   This is a feel good movie.

“Green fingers are the extension of a verdant heart. ” ~Russell Page

Environmental Musings

The following is taken from a letter my environmentally minded mom wrote to ‘Living on Earth,’ the program that comes on our local public radio on Sunday afternoons. She said: “In looking over the offerings of this week’s show, I thought how extremely depressing almost all environmental news is and has been in recent years. Any topic you look at, is depressing. Those of us who are trying to do something lose heart and those who feel they can’t do anything significant anyway, don’t even bother to try. We seem doomed either way.”


They sent me an email saying they’d been musing over this letter and wanted to read it on the air and have me reply to it, which, in fact, happened. In the time since I’d written the letter, however, I’d been to our denomination’s conference center in Montreat, NC, to an environmental conference, where I had visited Warren-Wilson College and become so excited about what they’re doing there, I had written a letter to Michelle Obama asking her to visit and spread the word. I told her about the new “eco” dorm they had built, including an article from the New York Times:

“Next fall, [2002] Warren Wilson College will open an ‘EcoDorm’ on its Asheville, N.C., campus. The residence hall is built almost entirely with reusable and recycled materials, such as wooden farm fences that were turned into siding. Solar fuel cells will convert sunlight into electricity and heat. Runoff from the roof, funneled through a converted 10,000-gallon railroad tank car, will provide water to the building and grounds. The dorm will also feature composting toilets and waterless urinals. Best of all for students hit with sudden hunger pangs, all the property’s shrubs and other plants will be edible.”

Additionally, we visited their gardens which include a gigantic composter, purchased second hand from a local penitentiary. (Seems the officials at the pen decided they would compost their scrap food to cut down on trips by inmates outside their gates.) Warren Wilson composts all the food from its dining hall. We saw it steaming away as it did its work. The compost then is moved to a large pile where it is finished, and then is spread on gardens all over the grounds. Healthy soil makes healthy plants which are better able to protect themselves from predators. Those who work in the gardens also practice companion planting, crop rotation, double dug beds, and use computers to plan their gardens for optimal production.

For years I have thought how terrible the food waste is from our schools, hospitals, retirement homes and other establishments in this country. If we could only go the compost route, it could be sold or distributed to local gardens instead of going to landfills.

One more point made by one of our speakers was to look at the website [StoryofStuff.com]. For some weird reason the writer visits landfills all over this country and others. She notes that “…we (Americans) are humongous waste makers…Nationally, we generate over 250 million tons of garbage each year, and that is only the municipal waste – or garbage – which doesn’t even include the much larger amounts of waste from industries, mining, and construction. We make enough garbage each year in the U. S. to fill a convoy of 10-ton trucks long enough to wrap around the earth six times!”
It’s too depressing to think about more than the one piece we can do. Try not to be discouraged, just do what we can.

Pat Churchman

*Pics are of EcoDorms at Warren-Wilson College.
The little cutie eating a tomato is one I added because I believe children greatly benefit from being part of the family garden.

Contributed by Beth Trissel for my mom.  I’m an avid gardener as well as a writer. We come from a long line of gardeners.