Welcome to Bepa's Garden!
This blog is about organic gardening, healthy eating and healthy living.
Each month I will be posting Garden To-Do Lists, Tips & Techniques, Garden Project Plans, Photos from the Garden, Recipes and Book Reviews.
I hope you enjoy reading and I hope I can inspire others to start a backyard garden!
Happy Gardening!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Going Green

We try to live as green as possible. We always bring our own cloth bags when shopping, we recycle, we heat our house with a wood stove instead of using oil, we grow our own vegetables and shop from local farms for the items we don't grow ourselves, so it only made sense to get rid of the noisy, gas guzzling, air polluting lawn mower for something quieter and more economical. After a couple years of considering and reading customer reviews to compare different models I finally bought a reel mower. I ended up getting a 20" reel mower with grass catcher from Lee Valley Tools.

We have a small 1/3 acre lot with about 1,200 square feet of vegetable gardens so I figured doing the lawn with a reel mower shouldn't be that difficult. Yesterday the new mower arrived so today, instead of working,  I decided to give it a try. I have to say I am pleasantly surprised at how nice it cuts and how easy it is to push! It is such a pleasure to mow the lawn without all the noise and fumes and the lawn really looks great!  Reel mowers are said to leave a nicer lawn because they shear the grass instead of tearing it like rotary mowers do.

There are a several reasons why I went with the Lee Valley mower. I wanted a larger mower (20") with a bigger range of height adjustment. I like to leave the lawn taller and the Lee Valley reel mower is adjustable from 1-7/8" to 3". It is also made in the USA. Some other mowers also make this claim but are actually made in China. The mower only weighs 30 lbs so it is light weight and easy to store. I ended up getting the grass catcher with it, but I don't think I will use it that much because it cuts the grass small enough to just leave on the lawn.

Other than the weird looks I got from the neighbors I am very happy with this mower. I never looked at yard work as work before, it is more therapeutic and relaxing for me because I am inside in my office working most days. Using a reel mower makes it much more enjoyable to do the lawn - you get a feeling of being a little more in touch with nature, a little more Zen.

Friday, May 13, 2011

It's tea time!!!

The seedlings are growing nicely in the greenhouse, the lettuce is planted and garlic and carrots that were started last fall are growing vigorously. Now it's time to start giving them a little added boost of nourishment with compost tea.

I start brewing compost tea in early May and apply it every 2 to 4 weeks. I use a 4-gallon brewer that I purchased from Compostwerks. They carry different size brewers which come with premium compost and the food source to add to the tea. They also carry refill kits if you don't have your own compost.

The Compost Tea Brewer

The compost tea brewer consists of a 4-gallon pail, 2 air pumps with air diffusers to aerate the mixture, a mesh bag that fits over the mouth of the pail to hold the compost, fittings and plastic tubing to connect to the air pumps.
Air diffusers in bottom of pail.

Mesh bag to hold compost.

Brewing the Tea

To brew the tea you first fill the bucket with warm water, about 78 degrees but not warmer than 85 degrees because you could damage the biology in the compost. If you are using tap water that is chlorinated you should run the air pumps for 15 minutes before adding the compost to volatilize the  impurities in the water. Chlorine will harm the organisms in the compost so this is an important step.

Next, with the pumps still running, you add the appropriate amount of compost and food source. Mix all the ingredients slowly to reduce clumping.

Brewing the tea.
Place the cover on the pail to help maintain the temperature and reduce splattering. The tea should brew for 12 to 24 hours - you get better results if you let it go for the full 24 hours. After the brewing cycle is finished, squeeze out the mesh bag in the pail and you are ready to apply the tea to you plants.

This is what the finished tea will look like.
Compost tea should be used within 3 hours of brewing because non-anaerobic organisms may dominate the tea and harm your plants. The tea should smell earthy and have no funny odors. If the tea smells like rotten egg, sulfur or vinegar then the anaerobic organisms have taken over and you should discard the tea.

Applying your Tea

The finished tea can be applied in 2 ways - either spayed on the foliage or poured at the base of the plants to drench the roots. I usually do both.

Applying to foliage - Compost tea contains soluble nutrients that the plants will absorb through their foliage. This is the fastest way for the plant to absorb the tea. It has been said that by spraying on the foliage it will help ward off pests and diseases. I have found that in the past two years of applying compost tea I haven't had any huge infestations of pests like I used to. Last year the only pest problem I had was a pesky mole. The ratio to the dilute the compost tea for spraying on the plants is 5:1 (five gallons water to 1 gallon compost tea). Apply to the top and undersides of the foliage every two weeks.

Applying to soils - The ratio to dilute for applying to roots is 10:1 (ten gallons of water to 1 gallon of compost tea). Drench the root zone of the plants and apply every month. If the soil is dry it is best to water before and after you apply your tea, or apply before a rain.

In Eliot Coleman's book, The New Organic Grower, he says if plants are healthy and strong they will be less susceptible to pests and diseases. I grow organically and do not use any commercial pesticides or synthetic additives. The only thing I apply to my plants is compost in the spring and applications of compost tea during the growing season. The plants seem to be healthier, more productive and I have had far less pest problems than I have had in the past. I am a believer that compost tea makes a huge difference in growing organically.

You can find more information about compost tea at Compostwerks.