Compost Bandit

I take our kitchen bucket of scraps out to the compost bin every few days.  The bucket is made for kitchen scraps.  It seals tightly enough, and it has a carbon filter on it keep the odor down.  We don’t usually notice the bucket, except when it isn’t there, meaning I forget to bring it in after emptying it into our outside compost bin.  I do need to empty it, or fruit flies set it.  The scraps consist of lime rinds and the stale ends of toasted bagels and onion peels and pasta that fell on the deck during dinner and other rot.  It is pretty much stuff we don’t want to or really can’t eat.  Not everyone feels so timid about digging into the ort, however.

Every time I head outside to the compost bin to empty the bucket, there are bits scattered about the ground.  I scoop them up and add them to the top of the pile, but they come back again.  Some critter gets in there and roots around and eats stuff and makes a general mess.  It is stealing our future dirt.  It is a compost bandit.  Recently what finds its way out of the wire mesh of the bin is corn husks.  We have been trying to eat corn on the cob lately as often as we can.  Fresh corn season only lasts a few weeks, after all.  I did add a few cobs to the pile the first couple of times we ate local corn, but they take forever to break down, so I often get creative after dinner–read, toss them into the woods.  If the squirrels are going to nibble the cobs anyway, why invite them to dig through the scrap pile?

The thing is, although I have to clean up after them, the squirrels (they are most often the culprits, although turkeys have been knows to find the pile as well) do me a service, despite their slovenly ways.  Whenever they search for bits to eat, they dig, and digging means they move stuff around, and this means they add air to the pile.  They help aerate things so it all breaks down faster.  I do stir the pile whenever I add to it, but they make sure it happens more frequently than I might get to that task.

In the end, the animals can have their bits.  I will not feed them on purpose;  I will always do my best to hide things from them.  But if the critters find something upon which they enjoy dining, they can have it, as long as they have to stir things up and help me out in the meantime.  I don’t mind tidying up their spills.  I can accomodate some quality labor, even if it does make me forget to bring the bucket back inside on occasion.

Garden Woes

Ready for Planting

Ready for Planting

We started our garden at the house in which we now live in 2007.  That garden was limited.  We dug up some lawn and gathered some compost and got going.  We planted tomatoes and carrots and lettuce, pumpkins and strawberries.  Last year we expanded, adding more compost and digging more beds.  This is year three.  That first summer we had no problems at all.  Everything grew like gangbusters.  Now the troubles have started.

One mistake was getting compost from a new source last year.  It was filled with weeds and contained the larvae of cucumber beetles.  Cucumber beetles eat the roots of young plants and then, after they hatch, eat the leaves of the same plants.  I have had to replant zucchini and yellow squash and cucumbers, and the melons are pretty much bumming.  I have done nothing yet to get rid of them this spring so our problems persist.  I thought turning the soil late in the fall would help.  I turned it all again early in the spring.  No dice with that simple plan.

I planted peas for the first time this year.  They started off well but now the rabbit that hangs out in the woods has discovered the plants.  It keeps whittling them down to nubbins.  The pea plants are no taller than they were six weeks ago.  Then our cuddly friend discovered the carrots and the lettuce.  The little pecker is nibbling down our salads.  And a squirrel is eating our strawberries.  These critters are killing me.

I planted popcorn today.  Last year I had to plant corn three times.  The first time the turkeys ate the sprouts just as they emerged.  Then the crows did the same after I put up a scarecrow (can you say misnomer?).  Finally I hung a string across the bed with old CD’s hanging from it.  Those spinning reflectors kept the birds away.  I hope that this trick will keep them away again.  The popcorn was one of our best crops last year.

At this point the onions, at least the ten out of 26 that survived (no idea what was up with that) are healthy.  The leeks (except for the handful some crazy bird yanked out but left on the soil) are shooting up, and the pumpkins are spreading.  The tomatoes and peppers (planted a few days ago) are still alive but my optimism is wavering.  We will have some food out of this endeavor but not as much as we might.

I’m not all that upset, really.  I am disappointed, of course, but not upset.  This gardening adventure is about persistence over the long term.  I planted red zebra tomatoes the first summer.  They grew well but were not the sweetest.  I may plant them again as sauce tomatoes, or I might consider trying to grow them over a few years to breed sweeter fruit, but I learned that another variety might be better.  I also have not had much luck with melons.  They need warm weather and lots of it.  The beetles snacking on them don’t exactly help.  So melons will require much more trial and error (hopefully with diminishing error).

I have had luck with seeds I saved for peppers and pumpkins.  I will try more of that this year.  I like the idea of keeping the cycle going–planting seeds from plants that grew the previous year, then doing that again.  It is amazing that it works at all.  Plant a few seeds and they grow into plants that provide food?  That is plain old miraculous, really.

So I do what I can to keep things growing.  I weed and water and hang old computer discs.  I need to get on the cucumber beetles.  They haven’t hatched yet, but I know they won’t wait for an invitation to sit down to dinner on my cucumbers.  Their social graces, it seems, are less than refined.