#2 – Let It Rot

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I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “You Are What You Eat”, but have you ever considered that you are what you eat EATs?

If that expression leaves you with more questions than answers, let me put it another way, if you eat conventionally grown plants or animals, with a lot of synthetic inputs, then you are eating what the plant or animal was able to receive through water and chemical fertilizer. If you eat plants and animals that eat what nature intended, thousands of inputs from soil minerals, vitamins, and decaying organic matter, with a network of underground foragers supporting your plants, then you are getting the resources that they can bring forth.

Feeding your soil helps your plants to be the best version of themselves. 

Soils act as a pantry for plants, storing and cycling essential nutrients and minerals that plants need to grow.  

Soils store water for plants. In fact, according to the USDA, “every 1% increase in organic matter results in as much as 25,000 gallons of available soil water per acre.” That’s a lot of water! Soils maintain adequate aeration for plants, providing oxygen for microbes, insects and plant roots.

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We recommend the book “Feminist Weed Farmer” by Madrone Stewart, find link on resource page, and I agree with most of her book, to start simple, but by adding compost to bagged soil you can eliminate most of your need of pesticides and fertilizers. An addition of a layer of compost gives your plant’s roots the tools they need to help the plant thrive, kinda like eating your spinach. Throughout my many years of plant-scaping, I’ve observed that plants that have all the nutrients they need, do not get diseases or pests, and if they do, which I’ve found to be rare, it is minimal.

Buying bagged soil for your first year is probably the most doable situation, I will help you work towards making your own soil in subsequent years. I’ll provide homemade soil recipes in later posts. But to have the best start possible to growing mindful medicine, the addition of a layer of compost to bagged soil will make miracles happen. Your plants will thank-you and you’ll have the knowledge that you are truly creating mindful medicine. Medicine that drew its strength from a soil microbiome teeming with life, ready to share its health promoting bounty with you.

If you agree with the premise that “You are what you eat, eats!” and if you ingest plants that only consume chemical fertilizer and water, you are missing out on many trace elements. We are talking about depletion. All life depends on soil health. To promote soil heath, for us at Merry Jane Gardening Club it’s all about compost.

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The singer/songwriter Maria Rossoto gave us exact instructions in her song “The Rot Thing To Do”. Sing it with me! You can find her song on the CD pictured below.

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I understand your reluctance to start a big, stinky compost pile if you live in a small space like an apartment, tipi or trailer. So with you small space dwellers in mind I’ll give step by step instructions, (a how to video below), on how to create a plastic tote compost bin. If space is limited, consider getting a large shallow tote that will fit under your sink or in a closet. With the lid on, the smell of decomposition is minimal. All bets are off when you take the lid off, so I’ll keep that in mind while devising a plan to DO THE ROT THING!

1. To start, get a package of 2 gallon plastic bags with zipper enclosures. As you make scraps like coffee grinds, tea leaves, egg shells, vegetable and fruit peels, etc.- put these in your plastic bag and zip tight, as you add table scraps also add used paper towels, used tissues, shredded newspaper, shredded junk mail, pine needles, fall leaves run through the blender- dry stuff. You can tell if the dry and green contributions are in correct proportions by how fast decomposition happens. If you have too many greens (table scraps) vs browns (paper and leaves) you’ll have a slimy mess. This slimy mess is still a very valuable addition to a garden bed. But to get the earthy smelling compost that you’ll love, make sure the ratio is about 3-4 parts browns to 1 part greens. Just remember greens are fresh and browns are dried. Don’t panic if your ratio is off, just tweak it… it’s all okay, it will DO THE ROT THING! Here is a link to a chart of browns and greens, the browns are carbon and the greens are nitrogen.

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2. After you fill a gallon plastic bag, add enough leftover tea or water to make all ingredients evenly moist then add 1 Tbsp of Molasses and 1 Tbsp of Raw Apple Cider Vinegar, you can use honey or agave nectar in a pinch. Seal and shake, (the molasses or other sugars will jumpstart the microorganisms that will do all the work of decomposition). Then put it in a covered plastic tote, that can be stored under your sink or in a closet.

Start another 2 gallon plastic bag and continue. If you can get your hands on some horse or goat manure to add, that will up the ante. Manure is considered a green, so keep those green vs brown ratios! Continue filling plastic bags this way until your plastic bin is full.

3. Every week or so, check your bags and add approximately 1-2 cups of old tea or coffee to keep compost evenly moist, but not sopping wet, then stir it all up with a long handled wooden spoon, be careful not to puncture your plastic bag. If you puncture your bag that’s when wayward smells happen, they’ll just seep out of the bag and into your space. Don’t let this happen, or your composting days will probably be numbered. You can continue filling plastic totes til you have no more space. When you open your bag to rich brown soil (about 2 months depending on temperature) you’ve found a way to make black gold out of things you might normally throw away.

If you don’t need all the compost you make, compost is a welcome gift to any grower, better yet start a seedling, by putting the compost in the bottom inch of a container and finish filling to the top with regular soil. A seed has all it needs for germination, but when the roots reach down they will get super-charged by some great goodies (microorganisms). Start you seeds in upcycled containers and gift them. Your gifts will be positively POPULAR!

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seedling in up-cycled container with compost

Step-By-Step Video:

Again, we love feedback, email us (merryjanegardeningclub@gmail.com) with pics of your creative versions (visions) of this project. Let us know if we can post your pics and videos.

Susan

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