Can it really be possible that the first day of fall is only one month away?
At the farm, the transition from profuse summer growth to slower and less abundant yields has begun, and plantings of cool season crops such as brassicas and roots are slowly taking the place of cucumber, squash, and peppers. The crisp mornings and cooler night temperatures along with spent and withered plants in the rows confirm that summer is indeed winding down.
Which makes it the perfect time to revel in those fleeting summer flavors. This week at the girl & the fig, the seasonal, three-course Plats du Jour featured a fitting fusion of robust summer flavor with fall-like comfort foods; “farm project” produce had a starring role in the Provençal Vegetable Tart with garden vegetables, farm egg, tomato vinaigrette. Almost too pretty to eat. (Almost.)
The landscape of the farm is changing as well, and with the withering of the vines in the cucumber and squash beds, it’s time to begin preparing one of the most essential components of our organic garden: the compost pile.
Compost is everything in organic farming. It adds organic matter, nutrients, beneficial microorganisms, and helps the soil to retain moisture (imperative in our current climate). There are three basic types of composting: aerobic, anaerobic, and vermiculture.
Anaerobic is the type of “compositng” that’s happening all the time in nature; it’s composting without aerating the pile. Slow-working bacteria and fungi gradually break down a pile of organic matter over the course of months or years. It works, of course, but not fast enough for a gardener’s purposes.
Vermiculture (worm composting) is a fantastic tool for composting kitchen waste (learn more here), it doesn’t involve turning (the worms simply go to work for you), and you can include items that might not otherwise be able to go into a pile, such as food waste.
Aerobic composting is what most gardeners use. www.benefits-of-recylcing.com states that “high nitrogen waste (like grass clippings or other green material) will grow bacteria that will create high temperatures (up to 160 degrees). Organic waste will break down quickly and is not prone to smell.” It’s the ideal scenario for turning organic matter into usable compost in the shortest amount of time. It just requires a few key components (see What to Compost here).
First, a good balance of “greens” to “browns” – that is, nitrogen-rich materials (as in vegetable scraps) to carbon-rich materials (as in dry leaves). Once you’ve accumulated enough debris to start your pile, layer these greens and browns at a roughly 2 parts “brown” to 1 part “green.” Like so:
Layered “greens” and “browns,” Image Credit: www.growveg.com
Water your pile down thoroughly, and keep it watered (it should maintain a moisture level similar to that of a wrung cloth). At this point, happy and hard-working bacteria will begin their job, and very soon your pile should start to radiate heat.
From this point forward, the pile should be turned regularly (about once per week). If you notice that the warmth emanating from the pile diminishes more quickly, turn it more often. (Cooling indicates that the bacterial activity is slowing and you want to kick it back into gear.)
When your compost is rich and crumbly and smells like sweet soil, it’s ready for the garden! Our staff is specifically trained on how to collect kitchen scraps for proper composting, and since beginning we’ve reduced our waste in the restaurants by 25-30 percent!
This is what our hard work is rewarded with:
With fall’s approach, there’s ample fodder to begin composting for the spring planting season.
Stay tuned for more fall garden prep next week, and come enjoy the fruits of our labor very soon at “the fig” and cafe!