Does Compost Tea Work?

If you’d like to pick an argument in the mostly staid world of gardening, I can’t think of a better subject than compost tea. I’ve, somewhat cowardly, tried to stay out of the fray and leave the debate to Linda Chalker-Scott and Jeff Lowenfels. If you forced me to pick a side I’d lean towards Chalker-Scott’s skepticism.

Thankfully, I can now point towards the eXtension.org webinar on making and using compost teas that I’ve embedded above. I’ll oversimplify things a bit with a few of my own bullet points inspired by what Dr. Lynne Carpenter-Boggs, Associate Professor of Sustainable and Organic Agriculture at Washington State University and Catherine Crosby, a Ph.D. candidate in Soil Science at Washington State University had to say in the webinar.

  • Due to a lack of research no peer reviewed recommendations can be made on the use of compost tea.
  • Nobody agrees on what compost tea is or how to brew it. What kind of compost do you use? Do you have to aerate it? How and for how long do you aerate it?
  • Compost teas have been shown to both solve and cause disease problems.
  • Compost tea shows promise as a fertilizer.
  • If you add sugar to your tea you need to be very careful about food safety issues.
  • You must dilute compost tea before using.
  • The compost going into tea must be mature and of high quality.
  • You might be better off just applying normal compost to the soil.

My personal conclusions are that if I were a farmer (which I am definitely not), compost tea might be worth looking into as a fertilizer or, in certain specific circumstances, for disease control. As a home gardener, however, I’m going to wait until there is more research before I spend money on a subject that is still so unresolved.

Let us know what you think–leave a comment!

Our new front yard, part 2: theory

just railing

Erik’s Sketchup rendering of the front yard.

In my previous post, I discussed the history of this little patch of slope which we’re trying to redesign. Now I’ll talk about the ideas behind the redesign.

What do you do with a slope?

Our front yard has always been a bit of a puzzler, because it tilts up. I’ve envied folks with flat front yards, because you can sit in them. You can host a party out front. Our slope has always seemed like a space which we had to take care of–but which wasn’t very fun or useful. It’s not built to be accessible by humans (which makes working on it real fun.) That might be one reason why the idea of making it into an orchard had so much appeal.

When garden design books bother to address hillside gardens, they always feature much bigger hills than ours, and these hills feature expensive hardscaping, like artfully arranged imported boulders, fancy staircases which sweep along the contour of the hill, or dazzling water features. Nobody designs in 15 foot wide spaces stuffed between a staircase and a garage. There’s just not a lot of room in our yard for sweeping gestures. I’m afraid our space is inescapably boxy, dorky and pokey.

Continue reading…

Our new front yard: history

our front yard

Our front yard a couple of weeks ago. This is a “before” picture.

Recently we posted my enthusiastic review of Planting in a Post-Wild World by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West. In it, I mentioned that I was using this book to help guide the redesign of our front yard, and promised to post about that process.

In the hope that our process might be of some use to somebody considering their own landscaping, I’m following through on that promise. In a more selfish way, I like to have records like this of both our actions and our thought processes, because inevitably Erik and I will forget when we did things– and sometimes even why we did them!

In the unlikely event you want to learn the history of our front yard while you drink your coffee, read on.

Continue reading…

A Plea to End Daylight Savings Time

800px-Peterborough_Cathedral_sundial

Peterborough Cathedral sundial. Image: Wikimedia.

Can we please stop this changing the clocks business? I swear I’d support a Kim Kardashian presidential bid if she’d make ending daylight savings time a campaign platform.

Anyone who keeps chickens knows that this time change nonsense has nothing to do with farming. The hens look to the sun as their cue to start their working day. The same goes for the cats who are, as I write this, staging a loud protest in the kitchen to let us know that breakfast is an hour late.

It’s bad enough that our clocks are an abstraction of solar time. Why do we need to add another layer of abstraction by changing our clocks rather than adjusting our lives to the passage of the seasons? This is the time equivalent of taking honest labor, abstracting it into money and then turning that into a collateralized debt obligation. As the layers of abstraction accrue, we lose touch with the rhythms of the rising and setting sun. We lose sleep. We piss off the chickens and cats.

Get working on that campaign, Kim.

How to Seed a Pomegranate

In lieu of a podcast this week, I thought I’d offer a short video on my favorite method for seeding a pomegranate. While there are as many ways to accomplish this tedious but rewarding autumn chore as there are roads to Rome, I’ve found this particular technique the easiest.

First choose a large bowl to prevent splatter and subsequent spousal arguments. Then slice the pomegranate in half along its equator. Take a spatula or other sturdy object and then spank the back until the seeds release (this sounds more erotic than it actual is). If I’m lazy I just pick out the pith from the bowl. If I’m more thorough I’ll fill the bowl with water so that you can easily skim off the pith which floats to the surface.

Our tree gifted us with an abundant crop, so this has been a daily practice for the last month. This is also confirmation of my theory that the easiest things to grow make the most work for the cook.

What’s your favorite pomegranate seeding method?