Once a month, I feature a chapter from my book and partner with the folks from MightyNest on a related giveaway. This month, we’re focusing on why and how to compost! If you are a gardener, you likely know that compost is awesome, but even if you are not a gardener, you’ll be doing the earth a big favor if you start composting. So read on to learn why and how to compost, and you could win one of three counter top compost collectors to get you started!
Over 30% of the food that’s produced on Earth goes to waste. Discarded food usually ends up in landfills: It’s a major cause of avoidable carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Composting isn’t a solution to the problem of food waste, but it does keep kitchen and yard wastes out of landfills (plus it’s really wonderful for gardening). Composting is easy, especially if you’ve got some outdoor space: I hope to inspire you to get started with composting if it’s not something you already do.
I have been composting for many years, and believe it or not, I am still in awe of the process. I think it’s beyond cool that I can take organic matter from my kitchen and yard (plus other surprising places), put it in a pile, and watch it break down into something that I can then add back to my soil to benefit the plants that have yet to grow. That’s recycling at its finest as far as I am concerned.
Composting really is that simple; you are, after all, basically putting things into a pile to rot. But you know what? I don’t like describing a compost pile as a mound of rotting waste, because that makes it sound disgusting, and a compost pile isn’t disgusting at all.
There are basically two ways to compost: the hot way and the cool way. Cool composting is a slow process (it can take months to a year or more for it to break down). Hot composting speeds things up (your compost is typically finished in one or two months).
My method is more cool than hot. I have a compost pile made from my kitchen scraps, garden and yard clippings, and spent chicken bedding, and I keep adding material to the top of the pile whenever I have it. I keep a container for compost in my kitchen, where I collect all my fruit and veggie discards, eggshells, used tea bags, and coffee grounds. (It’s very tightly covered, which is so important, particularly in the summer, as it helps to avoid fruit flies.) I dump these on top of the pile every few days, and turn my pile with a pitchfork whenever I remember. (It’s really important to aerate your compost pile; if you find that your compost doesn’t smell good, it’s probably not properly aerated.) And I water the pile whenever it gets dry. In the winter, I add things to the pile just as in summer, but decomposition obviously slows to a halt when it’s very cold.
I like doing things this way because it’s easy and free. It doesn’t smell bad, and it does not attract unwanted critters (something a lot of people seem to worry about). Remember to never add meat, fish, or any kind of cooked animal food to your compost, though (if you do, you may indeed see some uninvited “guests”).
If you’ve never composted before, you might get frustrated with how long it takes, and you’ll probably be astounded when you see how little compost you actually end up with from what initially seemed like a big pile. But oh, how dark and glorious that compost will be, filled with nutrients and wiggling worms, which are so excellent for organic gardening.
If you’re not into the idea of having a compost pile because you think they are ugly, you don’t have the space, or you’re just impatient, you might want to try the hot approach, and buy a bin designed for composting. These are generally made from recycled plastic, and are widely available online and at large gardening centers. In my town, you can also purchase bins at the municipal recycling center. Using a compost bin definitely has some advantages: Turning the contents is easier, so you can do it frequently (yes!). Plus the bin has a lid, so the heat is contained (the hotter things become inside the bin, the sooner you will end up with finished compost that you can use).
If you don’t have a garden, and don’t see the point of composting, just think of how much less garbage you’ll make if you compost the suitable items instead. I am sure you can find a gardening friend who’d be happy to take your compost off your hands, or you could use it to enrich the soil of your potted indoor plants.
City apartment dwellers: You are probably thinking that this info is not for you, but I beg to differ. Look into urban composters for use indoors.
Features of a Successful Compost Pile
- Your compost pile should be one-half to two-thirds “green”, and one-third to one-half “brown”.
- The green material (high in nitrogen) can include grass clippings; green plant trimmings; young weeds (best to avoid weeds with seeds); bedding and manure from chickens, cows, and horses; and food scraps, including all raw fruit and veggie scraps, cooked grains, used organic tea bags and leaves, coffee grounds, and eggshells (but no meat, bones, dairy products, whole eggs, or oils). Avoid adding large amounts of cooked vegetables or fruit to your compost pile, but a little is just fine.
- The brown material (high in carbon) can include raked leaves, straw, hay, waste paper and shredded junk mail, wood shavings, newspaper, and cardboard, including torn up pizza boxes and toilet paper rolls. (Somewhat surprising things you can compost include human and pet hair, dryer lint, and used tissues.)
- For adequate heating, it is best to make a pile about 3 ft/0.9 m square. Water should be added to keep the pile as moist as a wrung-out sponge (use a hose). Keep it covered with a tarp if it’s raining a lot and the pile is getting too wet.
- When building your pile, layer the greens and browns and add water to help jump-start their breakdown. Then keep an eye on the moisture level and turn the contents with a pitchfork every week or two to make sure it continues to decompose evenly. The more you turn the materials over and get things stirred up, the faster they will decompose.
Another option is to compost in a Worm Composter.
(Text adapted with permission from my book One Simple Change: Surprisingly Easy Ways to Transform Your Lifeby Winnie Abramson. Copyright 2013 by Chronicle Books.)
Do you already compost your kitchen waste or are you new to composting? To help you with the process, MightyNest will give three of my readers a Fresh Air countertop composting kit.
“When daily life is directly tied to the ebbs and flows of nature, as they are in agriculture, one cannot help but observe that life and death are forever in service to one another. We nurture the newborn livestock, and we process the ones that are ready for market. We harvest one crop, we plant seeds for another.”
- Shannon Hayes (from Long Way on a Little: An Earth Lover’s Companion for Enjoying Meat, Pinching Pennies and Living Deliciously)
Meat consumption can be a confusing- and polarizing- topic in the health community: many people seem to avoid meat because they believe it to be “bad” for them/”bad” for the environment/”bad” for animal welfare. I personally do not believe meat is “bad” (nor do I believe it needs to be avoided if you enjoy it) and I talk extensively about why in my book. To sum up, meat has a very rich nutritional profile (animal foods are a wonderful source of protein, but also contain additional nutrients that simply cannot be found elsewhere), especially when it comes from animals raised on ample pasture. In addition, I believe traditional animal husbandry is a humane and sustainable practice; I want to support farmers outside of the industrial factory farming system…farmers who truly care for/don’t confine their animals and who allow them to graze as nature intended.
I feel very fortunate that here in NY’s Hudson Valley where I live, I am surrounded by a number of farms where the animals and land are managed in a holistic way. These farms don’t confine the animals, nor feed them a grain-based diet, nor give them antibiotics or hormones. They allow the animals to roam freely in the sunshine and fresh air, grazing on nutrient-dense pasture.
One such farm is Full Moon Farm, and when the folks from the farm asked me if I’d be willing to develop some recipes with their products, I was really excited. Though I don’t post recipes for meat here on the blog all that often, meat is definitely a part of my diet, a diet that I consider to be quite health-promoting and balanced. So of course I said “yes”. This means that in the future, you can expect to see a few more meaty recipes!
Today, I want to share one of them with you: a roasted fresh ham that’s a really nice option for family dinner such as Easter.
About pastured pork/ham:
Unlike cows, pigs are omnivores. Pigs raised on pasture farms do graze, but they eat many other things, too (their diet is often supplemented with grain). Pastured pork is generally much more flavorful-and healthier-than commercial pork because they pigs have access to the outdoors and eat a much more diverse diet.
“Ham” refers to the hind leg of the pork. A roasted pastured fresh ham is very different from the cured/salty/overly sweet hams many of us are accustomed to, but it’s quite delicious in its own right. Keep in mind that a fresh uncured ham will have been frozen by the farmer, a step that is necessary to prevent food-borne pathogens in pork. A well-sealed/air-tight package of fresh ham should keep for 6 months before cooking.
A fresh ham may come in various sizes and may be cured, smoked, or roasted. This recipe calls for a boneless fresh ham that is approximately 4 pounds.
I’ve been a big fan of the blog Nourished Kitchen for a long time and I’ve always been tremendously impressed by Jenny McGruther’s work ethic. Not only does she share incredible recipes on her blog (many of which I have cooked), over the years she’s created online cooking classes and meal plans, as well. Now she’s also written her first book for print, and I am so excited to share it with you.
The Nourished Kitchen cookbook is a love letter to traditional foods. In Jenny’s words, traditional foods are the foods of our great-great grandmothers-the foods of gardens and farms. Indeed the book begins with a chapter called from the garden; subsequent chapters focus on the pasture, the range, the waters, the fields, the wild, the orchard, and the larder. This is an innovative way to organize a cookbook, and I adore it.
The central tenet of Jenny’s approach is that nourishing foods meet the following criteria: they are sustainable, balanced, traditional, and involve community. Jenny is deeply committed to these principles; they inform how she puts meals on her family’s table and how she lives her life. But while she is passionately devoted to traditional foods, something I appreciate very much about her blog and this book is that her writing lacks the dogmatic tone I sometimes see from folks involved in the “real foods” movement. Also, I also often see elitism in conversations about food quality (stuff like: “if you are not eating like us, you are eating wrong”), but there is no elitism in this book. Quite the opposite, in fact: Jenny is all about sharing, and thus reviving, the beautiful, delicious, and honestly pretty simple, food traditions of our past.
I love that this book is very much about balance. There are recipes for grains/breads and beans, fruits and vegetables, fish, muscle and organ meats, dairy, eggs, traditional fats and sweets. Foods are featured in their raw, cooked, and fermented states…and everything looks glorious: Jenny’s photos are absolutely stunning. (In this post are photos I took of a few of the recipes I’ve been making from the book).
Sourdough starter in process…the recipe is in the book
Bonny Clabber (“soured”/strained raw milk sweetened with molasses) in process…the recipe is in the book
Having read Nourishing Traditions years ago, I have been familiar with the Weston Price nutritional philosophy for a long time. It has very much inspired both my cooking and my nutrition/health knowledge (as is evidenced on this blog and in my book One Simple Change). Jenny’s recipes pay homage to the philosophy, yet her take is somehow fresh and hers alone (I don’t know anyone besides Jenny who can make a food like broiled kidneys sound quite so appealing!).
Because of the wonderful recipes, the incredible photographs, and all of the health-promoting wisdom contained within the narrative of the book, I know I will be turning to The Nourished Kitchen frequently in the future. I hope that you will buy the book, too, so you can enjoy all it has to offer. You will not be disappointed, I promise you that.
Strawberries in Vanilla Honey Syrup in process..a riff on Jenny’s Strawberries in Minted Honey Syrup
More reviews of, and recipes from, the Nourished Kitchen cookbook:
Roasted Beet and Walnut Salad with Spiced Kombucha Vinaigrette/My Humble Kitchen
Spring Vegetable Stew/Mommypotamous
Potato and Spinach Soup with Jalapeno/Tasty Yummies
Bone Marrow Custard/Healthy Home Economist
Red Fruit Custard Cake/Food Loves Writing
It’s Friday and today I’m going to try something new. Here’s a list of things I’m into this week…things I want to share with you. (I’m hoping that maybe this will “stick” and I’ll keep doing it on Fridays going forward.) Happy reading and enjoy your weekend!
Recipes I want to make:
Spicy Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Strawberries (The Tomato Tart)
Tea Smoked Shrimp Salad (Eat the Love)
25 Recipes Featuring Edible Spring Flowers (The View From Great Island)
Spaghetti Carbonara (Damn Delicious)
Boozy Green Lemonade (With Food and Love)
Homemade Marshmallow Peeps (Molly Yeh for Food52)
Books I am currently reading:
The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles
Health Food Junkies: Orthorexia Nervosa – the Health Food Eating Disorder
Cookbooks I am currently cooking from:
The Nourished Kitchen: Farm-to-Table Recipes for the Traditional Foods Lifestyle (I’ll be reviewing this one soon!)
The DIY Pantry: 30 Minutes to Healthy, Homemade Food(I’ll be reviewing this one, too!)
Long Way on a Little: An Earth Lover’s Companion for Enjoying Meat, Pinching Pennies and Living Deliciously
Giveaways of my book going on right now:
Gourmande in the Kitchen
Oh My Veggies
Are You Programmed to Enjoy Exercise? (New York Times)
Calorie Denialism: Why It’s Hurting Your Fat Loss Efforts (Tom Venuto)
Thanks for checking out my Friday shares. If you’ve got something you want to share with me, please tell me about it in the comments!
Disclosure: Links to Amazon.com are affiliate links. When you make a purchase via one of my links, I make a small commission. This helps me support my blogging activities…thanks in advance.
This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Organic Choice. All opinions are 100% mine.
As I mentioned in a recent post, we purchased our home because of the property: we were so excited by the gardening potential of our sunny lot. As we got going in our gardening endeavors, however, we quickly learned that the soil here isn't great… it contains so much heavy clay. So we built raised beds and we've trucked in a heck of a lot of good quality soil that we've amended in many different ways over the years. We've learned first hand that the success of a garden depends so very much on the quality of the soil.
In a future post, I will definitely talk more about how we amend the soil in our raised beds. But since not everyone has the space or inclination to garden in raised beds, today I want to focus on another form of gardening that's potentially more "do-able": organic container gardening.
Organic container gardening is great because the only thing you really need to get started is a bit of outdoor space (in the city, this could be a balcony or rooftop) and some sun (6-8 hours/day). Many people are accustomed to growing flowers and maybe herbs in containers, but you can absolutely grow organic vegetables in containers, too. The vegetables that do particularly well with organic container gardening include tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and zucchini (ratatouille, anyone?). Many types of greens including lettuce varieties and Swiss chard should also do well in containers.
A couple of things to keep in mind:
-Because plants such as tomato and eggplant can get quite large, look for varieties that are meant to go in containers. The names connote smaller stature such as "patio", "pixie", "dwarf", and "compact".
-Most herbs will be successful in containers, but I’ve read that dill and tarragon are two that prefer to be in-ground (unless you are able to use a very deep pot).
Choosing a Container
You can go with a standard plastic or terra-cotta pots for organic container gardening, or use your imagination: take your pick from gorgeous ceramic urns to food-grade plastic pails and buckets. I have heard of opening up a bag of potting soil and planting vegetables directly into it- you can't get much simpler or less expensive than that. And I've seen some fantastic vertical container gardens made with upcycled pallets: I took this photo at a Sustainable Living Fair recently. (This pallet garden was made by a local company called Earth Designs and features flowers, succulents, herbs, and greens.)
Make sure you have holes at the bottom of your container for adequate water drainage; if you don't, the roots of your plants may rot. It is often suggested that you line the bottom of your pots with something such as small pebbles to keep your potting soil from from escaping and to promote good drainage.
Note that tomatoes and eggplants need to be in large containers- figure about 5 gallons per plant. If you plant them in a smaller container, they may not be very happy. It is very tempting when the plants are small to want to put more than one plant into each pot, but for the most successful organic container gardening, refrain from doing this- your plants won't do well if they are crowded.