Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Testing Compostable Products–The Start

Testing Compostables

I’ve been wanting to do this test for a while now. More and more products seem to be labeled as compostable or biodegradable which I really like, but I wonder, do they really? How long does it take? Will they compost in my backyard composter or do they require industrial composting?

I’ve been collecting items for about a year now. First up, two 100% cotton shirts. I’ve heard these compost nicely. I was cleaning out my closet and donated several large bags of old clothes, but I kept these two to experiment with. I expect them to decompose. I wonder how long it will take.

Testing Compostables

I also added:

  • plastic bag
  • plastic paint sheet
  • several cups (6)
  • one cup lid
  • takeout tray
  • sample cups
  • bamboo bowl
  • 3 forks
  • a spoon
  • plastic wrapper for fork
  • 2 dryer sheets (used)

Testing Compostables

It looks like trash! All the products are proudly labeled compostable, so I hope this works. I put them into the middle of a new compost heap I was creating. It was mostly shredded leaves with a few buckets of kitchen scraps. The test material is in the middle of the bed. The bed itself is 42 inches (107cm) in diameter by 36 inches (92cm) high.

I was torn if I should shred the items first, but I thought this would better more authentic to leave them whole. It might make finding them easier later as well if they don’t compost. I’ve been composting the dryer sheets for a while now, so I know they work. I think the plastic might as well since it is thin. I’m excited to see what happens.


I set it up in my new geobin with a pile of shredded leaves on top. Then I watered the entire thing thoroughly. I plan on checking on the items in a few months to see if there is any change. Stay tuned!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Soil Block Update and Microgreens

Seedlings in Soil Blocks

As you can see my soil blocks are growing nicely! I feel like the seedlings are getting a tad leggy, so I want to move the light a bit closer to them. The plants above are broccoli and kale. Kale doesn’t mind being a bit cold, so I can plant it a bit earlier than most.


The microgreens are growing great. I’ve already harvested one whole tray, and will start into the others soon. On the left is some broccoli and in the center some sunflowers. I have these growing in my basement under a light as an experiment. They aren’t growing nearly as fast as in a window, but they are green and healthy. I have a 23W light on them 16 hours a day. It is costs a few cents of electricity a day for this setup.

Have you started planting for Spring yet?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Starting Seeds–Germination With The Wet Cloth Method

Starting Seeds

There is a huge variety of seed starting methods as many as there are gardeners using them. The different methods all have their pros/cons. It is up the individual gardener to figure out what works for them given their unique sets of skills, time, and resources. I’ve tried several over the years with mixed results.

Last week, I watched a video on youtube about starting seeds on a wet cloth. When I talked to my gardening friends, they had all heard of it. Where have I been?! This sounds like a great idea. It is frustrating to bury the seed and not be able to watch the progress. Sometimes they germinate and sometimes they don’t. Growing my microgreens has really made me value and enjoy watching the seeds germinate. With this method, I feel like I can maximize my seedling growing area because each spot has a growing plant.

Starting Seeds

This method is pretty simple.

  1. Start with a paper towel or cloth cut or folded down to size.
  2. Soak the towel until it is thoroughly saturated. A few minutes should do. Starting Seeds
  3. Place the towel on a waterproof tray with at least a small lip. I found through some experimentation that more folds (3-4) seem to work better than just one or two. The extra folds hold more moisture and don’t dry out as fast.
  4. Place some seeds on the towels and label them
    Starting SeedsStarting Seeds
  5. Put in a warm spot and then keep the towels moist. Do not let them dry out. I check them each day. If they are starting to get dry, I spray them with a spray bottle or pour a small amount of water between the towels. They will wick it up.
  6. When the seeds begin to germinate, you will see them sprout. This is the main reason I really like this method. You only plant the seeds that have sprouted. The Cosmos seeds below started to sprout after only four days.
    Starting Seeds
  7. Very carefully pick up the sprouted seeds and plant them as you normally would in a seed starting tray or soil block as shown below. Seeds in Soil Blocks

How do you like to germinate seeds? Let me know in the comments below.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

More Seeds!

Seed Packets

I love looking through seed catalogs. The variety of the different plants is amazing. There are so many colors, shapes, and sizes. I enjoy finding varieties I’ve never heard of in addition to those I’ve only read about.

I plan on using the comfrey for a living green mulch. I’ve read it is a great nutrient accumulator. The blue indigo has a deep tap root. The strawberries will be a good cover crop. All of them are perennials, and I plan on planting all of them around my fruit trees to help them grow as a plant guild. More on this idea later.

I bought this bunch from Amazon:

If you want to help support this site, use the links above or the graphic below to make a purchase from Amazon.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Composting with Wood Chips

Wood Chips in Compost Buckets

I have two decent sized compost bins in the backyard. I also have a wormbin in the house. The worms aren’t eating enough of the food waste yet, so I continue to store compost in buckets in the garage. Once they are all full, I haul the buckets to the big bins in the backyard. Not much is happening since it is so cold outside. Only one of the piles is slowly shrinking.

I usually put some shredded paper or leaves on the bottom of the buckets to soak up the juice and to provide a bit better balance of browns/greens in the mix. I watched a YouTube video last week about using woodchips in compost. It seemed like a great idea since I’m out of leaves. I made a trip to the county woodchip pile. I picked up a couple buckets for free.

My plan is to use them on the bottom of the buckets as a liner. I think they will work better than the leaves or paper which had a tendency to mat down and stick to the bucket once they got wet. I’ll throw some in the middle and on top as well to help control bugs and smell. I use the compost in my gardens for both the annual vegetables and the perennials.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Dead Bees

Dead Honeybees

During the winter there isn’t much I can do with or for the honeybees I have in my backyard. It has been a normal cold Minnesota winter. During the winter, the bees move through the hive in a tight ball to keep each other warm eating the honey. If they do it right, they will be alive when the temperatures warm up in spring.

When I last checked on my hive, they seemed to be thriving and had a lot of honey stores. I didn’t take anything as that is their food to survive winter and other times of struggle.

I hiked through the snow to look at the hive a few days ago. I am not sure what I was looking for. I just wanted to look at it. The scene at the hive entrance has made me nervous. I am hoping they are still alive inside. There were several frozen, dead bees on the threshold. If I open the hive now to look, I will destroy their insulation. It’s too cold for them to reseal it. I don’t think there is much to do except wait until spring to see if they made it and let nature do it’s thing. I hope they are ok.