Vegetable Gardening 101: Compost and Organic Matter


Composting is purposely causing organic materials to rot, break down and turn into rich soil. You can collect your composting materials in a bin or just pile it some where not in your yard if you can help it. I keep mine in bins, my dogs (and raccoons) love compost materials and would have it spread all over the yard.

Compost bins can be very simple or very elaborate. I like to keep things simple. Mine is a wood frame with chicken wire mesh on the sides. You can use an old garbage can or barrel with holes drilled in the sides. You want air flow and water to  have access both in and out.

Once you’ve got your bin or pile site, just start adding your composting materials:
+lawn clippings (if there’s no seed, you don’t want to put grass seed in your garden)+leaves
+fruit and vegetable scraps
+coffee grounds and filters, tea bags too,
+egg shells
+wood ash (be careful with wood ash. We talked in “Soil” about how it will change the pH),
+plain cardboard, news paper (not the glossy print)
+manure (Chicken, Goat, Cow, Horse)

There is a difference between organic materials rotting to break down and organic materials turning rancid, then rotting and breaking down; because of this DO NOT add this:
-Meat of any kind
-Fats of any kind
-Diary of any kind (empty egg shells are ok)
-Vegetables or Fruit cook with fat or meat
-Cats and Dogs don’t produce manure, so don’t add “that”
-Glossy print paper
– The weeds you just pulled from the garden (do you really want them to come back with a vengeance?)

Now there is an exact science to composting but lets not over complicate it. You want your pile to be damp, not a sloppy mess and not bone dry. Give it a flip stir every month or so if you can and you will have compost in no time!

If you plan to use manure on your garden, do, it’s great stuff! There’s just one big thing with manure, it should sit for at least 6 months, a year is better. Following the cow around with your shovel, then throwing it in the garden immediately after will burn your plants and they will not fair so well.

Green manure is another great option. It works great for large plots, it may be more work than it’s worth for small ones but it will work. Green manure is planting a cover crop, usually alfalfa, oats, rye, or barley. Allow the crop to grow to almost full maturity, you don’t want it to go to seed. Cut the crop and leave it lay. After a few days, plow or till the crop under and allow it to turn to compost.

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Vegetable Gardening 101: Soil

Soil Sketch

There are a few essentials when it comes to growing vegetables, or any plants for that matter. Soil has many jobs in the life of a plant, holding nutrients, retaining just the right amount of water and supporting the plants by stabilizing the roots to name a few.

Soil is alive with all sorts of organisms. The four main organisms found is soil are as follows:
The Soil Crust- These guys live on the top the soil and are formed by living organisms and their by-products, creating a crust of soil particles bound together by organic materials. There are two types of crust, biological (what I just explained) and chemical/physical. Chemical/Physical which is an inorganic crust such as a salt crust or platy crust usually formed by trampling.
Nematodes- Earth worms! These are great little guys chow down on bacteria, fungi, and plants. Their “by-product” making excellent fertilizer. Their worm holes help to keep the soil from getting too compacted. They multiply when carbon is added to the soil, this happens from adding mulch, compost or growing a cover crop.
Bacteria- The presence of good bacteria keeps pests down, prevents plant disease and breaks down both living and non living matter into nutrients for growing plants. The benefits of good bacteria are endless.
Mycorrhiza- These are a fungi type organism who’s job is to help plants extract nutrients from the soil. They do this by growing into composting plants and animal stuff and convey their nutrients back to the plants roots.

Different types of soil are classified by the size of the particles that make them up. The goal type is “Loam” . Loam is neither too sandy or too clayey. This soil drains well but retains just the right amount of moisture. This type of soil can be achieved no matter where you live, it just takes time and lots of organic matter. Adding organic matter, every year between crops will improve your soil and in a few years you will have wonderful healthy soil. This is very important because soil feeds your plants and the plants feed you. Growing vegetables in nutrient void soil will result in nutrient void vegetables. You can purchase soil tests that will tell you if you soil is low on any of the main plant growing nutrients Phosphorus (P), Nitrogen (N) and Potassium (K) as well as the pH.

pH refers to the acidity and alkalinity of your soil. A good pH contributes greatly to a good harvest. If you don’t want to buy a pH test you can test your soil by taking 2 empty mason jars, fill each half way with soil and fill to the top with water. Shake to get everything well mixed. To one jar add a few tablespoons of baking soda, if this fizzes your soil is more acidic. To the other jar add a few tablespoons of distilled vinegar, if this fizzes your soil is more alkaline. If neither fizzes your soil is pretty well balanced. Adding some wood ash to your acidic soil will help to balance it.

Chemical fertilizer is usually a combination of P, K, N. It is water soluble, thus making a quick snack for plants. However, using chemical fertilizer over time will cause more harm than good. They tend to kill most soil organisms that produce plant nutrients naturally. Even though they are getting the three basic nutrients plants and humans need many different micro nutrients that are not available in a chemically fertilized soil. The chemical fertilizer, being water soluble washes away quickly and adds to ground water pollution as well.

Nitrogen is used by plants to build healthy stems and leaves. Plants lacking nitrogen will grow very slowly and be rather yellow-ish in color. Nitrogen is usually the first nutrient to leave the soil especially when crops like broccoli, cabbage and other brassicas as well as corn, are planted.

Phosphorus is needed for plants to grow a healthy root system and flower. This nutrient stays with the soil much longer than nitrogen and can be found in wood ashes as well as other sources.

Potassium is used by plants to resist disease, develop chlorophyll which allows them to convert sunshine to food, and strengthen their tissue. This too can be found in wood ashes as well as other sources.

Some plants use more of some nutrients and less of others by adding good organic matter and rotating your crops will ensure your soil to maintain it’s health and in time improve. Legumes could be considered  a bonus crop because most vaierties put more nutrition into the soil than they take out.

Weeds are another way of telling what’s going on with your soil. The weeds that show up in your garden can indicate the pH of your soil, how well your soil drains, if you have sandy or heavy soil, hard crusted or chemical/physical crust. Different weed prefer different soils.

So far we’ve talked a lot about soil types and soil nutrition, but lets say you live downtown and the closest thing to soil you see is what is in the pots of your house plants. Potting soil is a mixture of peat, humus and organic matter, in quantities that allow for good plant nutrition and drainage. Why people throw out their potting soil at the end of the season is beyond me! Adding some compost, compost tea or organic fertilizer is all it could be lacking. Plants with adequate water and nutrition will very rarely need repotting or get root bound. Plants send out roots for water and nutrients if what they need is readily available there is no need to go any farther.

A good rule of  thumb is healthy soil looks a lot like chocolate cake crumbs. Soil that is growing healthy looking plants (even if it just grass) is probably pretty healthy soil and with a little organic matter can produce some amazing vegetables.

I could go on forever about soil, but if I haven’t lost you already I would soon. This was just a brief overview of a very large subject. If you have specific questions I would be happy to do my best to answer them.

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Good Morning English Muffin


English Muffin Rings

There are three different types of English Muffins, the good ones and the really good nook and cranny ones and Sour dough English Muffins. My favorite is the Sour Dough English Muffins, then the Really Good Nook & Cranny ones, but I will settle for the other.

English Muffins as we know them have, as most things, come from a long line of evolution. Starting with a pancake type bread, that turned into a crumpet almost biscuit type, then they were made with crumpet and bread scraps. Finally when they came to the States we adapted once again to what we know today. History in a nutshell.

**If you don’t have English muffin rings tuna cans with the bottom cut out works well too.

Really Good English Muffins (cut out)
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Really Good English Muffins (cut out)
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  • 1 c Milk
  • 1 tbsp Sugar
  • 2 1/2 tsp Dry Yeast
  • 1 each Egg
  • 2 cup Whole Wheat flour
  • 1 tsp Kosher Salt
  1. Warm the milk and dissolve the sugar in it.
  2. Add the yeast and egg. Mix to combine.
  3. Mix in the flour.
  4. Knead for a few minutes and let rise for an hour.
  5. Once risen, knead in the salt and let rise another half hour.
  6. Meanwhile, heat a cast iron skillet or pancake griddle to medium heat.
  7. Once the dough has risen a second time gently pat down to about 1/2 inch thick. Cut with round cookie cutter or tuna can.
  8. Sprinkle the skillet or griddle with cornmeal and place the cut muffin on the meal. Let it bake for 7-10 minutes and flip.
  9. Bake for another 7-10 minutes.
  10. Let cool slightly and pierce side with a fork to split. (I usually don't split them, rather I cut them as needed)
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Really Good Nook and Cranny English Muffin
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Really Good Nook and Cranny English Muffin
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  • 1 tbsp Honey
  • 1 tsp Kosher Salt
  • 1 tbsp Butter
  • 1 cup Milk warm
  • 1 tbso Dry Yeast
  • 1/3 cup Water or Whey
  • 2 cup Light Whole Wheat Flour
  • Cornmeal
  1. In a mixing bowl combine the honey, butter, milk, and yeast.
  2. Mix and allow to sit until doubled.
  3. Add the water (whey) 1/2 tsp of salt and flour. Mix well and allow to sit for about 30 min.
  4. Add the remaining 1/2 tsp of salt.
  5. Place your English muffin rings on a cast iron pan, griddle or electric griddle heated to 300 degrees.
  6. Dust the pan/griddle with cornmeal and scoop the English muffin batter into the rings, about 1/3 c per ring. This may need to be adjusted depending on your ring size.
  7. Flip after about 5 minutes. Another 5 minutes and they are ready to eat!
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Sour Dough English Muffins
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Sour Dough English Muffins
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  • 2 cup Sourdough Starter see notes
  • 2 cup Milk
  • 3 cup Light Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1 cup Whey or water
  • 1 tbsp Dry Yeast
  • 1/2 cup Wheat Bran
  • 2-2 1/2 cup Light Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1/4 cup Molasses
  • 1/4 cup Butter
  • 1 tbsp Kosher Salt
  • •Cornmeal
  1. Mix the milk, starter and 2 cups of flour together and allow to sit for 2 hours. This is a sponge.
  2. To the sponge add the whey, yeast, wheat bran, flour, molasses, butter and 1 1/2 tsp salt.
  3. Mix well and let set for 1 1/2 hours.
  4. Add the remaining 1 1/2 tsp salt.
  5. Grease your muffin rings and place on a greased baking sheet dusted with cornmeal.
  6. Scoop the dough into the rings, about 1/3c.
  7. Allow these to rest for 1 hour. Then dust the tops with cornmeal.
  8. Bake at 400 for 40 minutes, flipping the muffins after 20 minutes.
Recipe Notes

Starter- Basic Sour Dough Starter
In a wide mouth jar combine 1 cup water and 1 cup flour and mix well. Cover with a flour sack towel and secure with a rubber band.
Allow this to sit for two days on the counter.
Day 3 add 1/4 cup flour and 1/4 cup water.
Day 5 add 1/4 cup flour and 1/4 cup water.
Day 6 the starter is ready to use.
If you don't use the starter on day 6 place the starter in the refrigerator. Continue to "feed" the starter every few days. After a couple feedings without use remove some starter or it can sour.

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Butterscotch Brandy

Well ice fishing season is in full swing. It’s been -50 outside for a couple days but in the fish house things have been pretty toasty. The pickled eggs are already almost gone, hopefully the next batch will be ready soon. The butterscotch brandy is hot and ready!

Butterscotch Brandy

Butterscotch Brandy
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Butterscotch Brandy
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  • 1 cup Brown Sugar
  • 1/2 cup Honey
  • 1/4 cup Clarified Butter
  • dash Vanilla
  • pinch of Salt
  • .75 ltr bottle Brandy
  1. Combine the sugar and honey in a small sauce pan.
  2. Slowly heat to dissolve the sugar.
  3. Bring to a boil for 2 minutes.
  4. Remove from the heat and add the clarified butter (regular butter will work, but your end product will be very cloudy), a dash of vanilla and pinch of salt.
  5. Mix this well and allow to cool.
  6. Stir in the brandy and serve!
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Vegetable Gardening 101: Introduction

Tool shed sketchIt’s been -50 here the last week, but, the first big seed ordered arrived yesterday, the garden has been planned for over a month and now I’m just waiting to see dirt. Until then I will just have to dream about it.

In my “Vegetable Gardening 101” series we will talk everything garden; soils, compost, planning, beds or pots and most importantly vegetables. Join me as I discuss the topics and more. Feel free to post questions, I will do my best to answer them.

Growing a vegetable garden is a rewarding journey. Starting with a handful of seed and a little dirt; some sunshine, water, weeding and a little patience; ends in a bountiful harvest.

Happy Digging!


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