Sunday, January 25, 2009


Although this photo of Susan JOhnson in Brooklyn was taken last fall, it oculd have been here in Winston-Salem yesterday. It was in the mid 50 degrees and sunny. After several days of temps in the mid 50's it was a great day to work the soil Such a day gives a healthy dose of spring fever! I ventured into my garden to take soil test samples. I'm sending four to the Ag Extension Service in Raleigh (see my column on soil testing). I took samples from each of four gardens; rose garden, little forest area, perennial flower border and vegetable garden. It was great to dig in the soil. But, the real excitement came from harvesting compost! We put all our kitchen cuttings and coffee grounds (filters and all) into the compost on a regular basis. However, the fall leaves are the biggest part and I had to plow through a pile of them to get to the rich compost at the bottom of the bin. (Yes, I know I should be layering the leaves and the kitchen material to get a proper carbon nitrogen mix, but I will do that task later). I have a three level bin made of recycled plastic (purchased from Smith and Hawken) so I took off the top section and removed the contents then the second section. I got to the compost in the bottom section. Rich, finished and full of earthworms. The sight of the earthworms gave me the biggest thrill because that tells me the compost system is really working. I removed about 30 gallons of finished compost and put that into our vegetable beds (we have raised beds) as well as several large containers which I will spread into other parts of the garden. The photos are ones of the compost harvest in the Schaef Earth Garden. I will add some photos of my compost here in North Carolina asap.

Compost is the supreme soil amendment to add structure and organic material to your soil, something we DESPERATELY need with our clay soil here in North Carolina. It enhances plant growth, helps with water retention (especially to create a drought tolerant garden) and is easy to make yourself. Winter is a great time to add to the garden before the spring rush of planting.

Home composting saves money too and you know what's in it because you put it there.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Winter Sowing Containers

I decided to see how many different kinds of containers I could use. And, I wanted to recycle as many different things as I could. Now, I look at every container to think about it's potential to plant seeds. The ones I have used so far are:

Large clear plastic container (as you put under your bed to store sweaters) with plastic baggies. I removed the plastic top but be sure to put it on and to drill holes in the top. Photo 3.

Other examples: Ice cream cartons, Soda bottles, Empty Canola Oil bottle, Styrofoam cups, strawberry container from grocery store. If you go to the winter sowing website they have more details and even more container options. Photo 2.

The first seeds that sprouted were mesclun seeds (took about ten days). The temps have been below freezing all the way up to the 50's but it doesn't seem to matter. Chard is also coming up. Don't forget to keep the containers covered with a baggie but make little vent holes.

Also, these styrofoam cups in photo 2 were cut in half and I will use both the tops and the bottoms.

Winter sowing is addictive. This is my first year and I'm already convinced it works. It's so much easier than seed starting indoors as you are letting nature take care of all the guesswork, etc. For a comparison I'm also planting seeds indoors of similar or same varieties. Will try to see what does best and is the most successful. Watch for future reports.