My $20 Greenhouse/Shed Makeover & Garden Updates

Recently, my husband and I sat down and went through and organized our lists of projects that still need to be completed for our house. We prioritized things into URGENT, high priority, medium priority, and low priority. One of the things on my list was that I wanted a new greenhouse (made out of the recycled windows that I have been collecting), and I wanted a cuter garden shed. Once I realized that we literally have over 50 items on our project to-do list, and those two fell pretty low on the list, I decided it was time to be happy with what I have for now, and make the best of them. Eventually we will probably get around to building my dream greenhouse, but in the meantime, I am happy with my little popup greenhouse. I made the inside much better which helps!

The greenhouse and shed are in our downstairs yard, which is actually a secondary lot joined to our property. You can see the before pictures here. My little plastic raised beds have been moved around a few times since we moved here, but I think I am finally settled on their location. I am addicted to finding free stuff from Craigslist that I can upcycle into something cute for the garden, and the bench and bench cushion below were some great Craigslist finds. 🙂 The bench looked awful when we got it (the previous owners left their kids alone with some paint samples and the kids went wild on the poor bench), but a can of spray paint and it is now a cozy little area under the apricot tree. When we moved in, you actually couldn’t even see that poor little tree because it was being strangled by vines! I am so proud to have rescued it. 🙂
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The metal shed was a rusty eyesore. I had some leftover paint from when I painted our patio furniture, so I decided to start painting the shed. The only thing I bought for this greenhouse/shed makeover was a couple of extra cans of spray paint and suddenly they are both much better! We also recently got a second compost tumbler (found here). We loved the first one so much, and realized now that there are three of us, we are generating a whole lot more food scraps! The one bin was getting a bit overwhelmed so it is nice to have two now. We are also in the process of putting in another large wooden raised bed in this downstairs area (getting dirt down there is a tedious process and my husband is building a ramp which I need anyway).
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Inside the greenhouse is my favorite part of the transformation. I had lots of cute decor things that I have made for photoshoots over the years, and have been storing them away in my office. I typically hate reusing the same props over and over, but didn’t want to get rid of a lot of these things since I worked hard on them. I couldn’t find a spot in our house for everything, but they made the perfect (free!) decorations for my little greenhouse!
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I realized that my pitcher plant was not doing well because apparently you are only supposed to water it with distilled or rain water! Ooops! It is getting some love in the greenhouse for now while it recouperates. I also gave it a spray with some watered down fertilizer. The other plants on the shelf rack are things that need some extra love (after getting trampled by my son for example), or things I have recently propagated. 🙂
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I made a pathway out of pieces of slate that were removed elsewhere in the backyard. In case you are curious (since people always ask me), you can find his cute moccasins here.
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A little chandelier makes everything better.  🙂
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My ferns and some other plants are not always in here, but they needed a bit of extra TLC after being at the fair all week. They came home fine, but just a little sad and droopy after being in a cold, air-conditioned building all week.
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The little star lights are battery operated string lights I got at Ikea many years ago. When my husband saw them, he got upset thinking I was trying to hint that I needed electricity in there. I assured him they were just for decoration, and any time it is dark, I won’t be in the greenhouse because I close it up at night. 🙂
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My little baby staghorn fern won 2nd place at the fair, even up against big huge ones! 🙂 It is a very happy, healthy little guy.
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I am addicted to propagating new plants from cuttings. I love having lots of plants and making more for free is the best! I have found great results with starting cuttings dipped in rooting hormone, then placed in a jar of water, and then transitioning them to moist potting soil once they have roots established.
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This thermometer is the best since it also gives humidity percentage. So important to keep an eye on the humidity levels in a greenhouse. You can find it here.
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I couldn’t get E to look at the camera today. He fell again and got another nasty cut right above his eye and he is quite upset about it. He has been sad when he sees himself in the mirror.aliciainwonderlandblog

I cleared out all of my lawn care tools, which left me some room in the shed to get organized! Most of the shed is actually taken up by my husband’s stuff, but now I have my own little organized corner. 🙂 I have been having a hard time with the wildlife chewing through my bags of fertilizer, so I got this dresser to stash my bags (the dresser was another free Craigslist find!).
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Our raised beds are coming along, even though they got a really late start this year. I have recycled doors placed at the ends of the raised beds for now (to keep the dogs out), but they will be going up soon and make the area look more our style. 🙂
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My cucumbers and peppers have not been doing as well as I would have expected. They have consistently perfect moisture, no signs of disease, perfect soil fertility, full sun, and yet they were struggling. I finally figured out the problem (besides the fact that they were planted so late in the season). The darn Japanese beetles have been burrowing under the soil and munching on the roots of my veggies. I just sprayed everything with neem oil which should help deter them, and also gave the plants a folliar treatment of an organic fish/kelp emulsion to help perk them up.
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My husband keeps getting frustrated that I planted the raised beds “so sparse”. I assured him that lots more will be poking through soon. 😉 I filled up all of the extra spaces with carrot and beet seeds.aliciainwonderlandblog aliciainwonderlandblog
Our son is a tomato fiend. He knows exactly when to grab the tomatoes too. I can guarantee that he will find this one tomorrow.
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I can’t wait for this guy to ripen. 🙂
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I planted tons of corn seeds very late in the game. It will be an experiment to see how they do. 🙂
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This is another one of my mystery squash plants that came from the compost in the flower beds. This was the only transplant survivor. I am so curious to see what kind of squash comes from this one. 🙂
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My monster squash plant is starting to try to take over the whole flower garden! That is just ONE squash plant!
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After my recent miscarriage, I cut all the roses in the garden and put them where we buried that tiny little baby. The garden seemed sad for quite some time after that. It finally started getting blooms again, and just in time for the last week of the fair. My flowers won a few ribbons (more on that in another post soon).
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Remember my post about the wasp problem and disease on this rose bush? The rose bush is doing much better thanks to diligent application of neem oil, and the wasp problem is gone thanks to the Waspinators! I was very skeptical but it seems to be keeping the wasps away!
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Last but not least, it is time to start seeds already for the fall/winter! I am starting snapdragons, stock, violas, pansies, and calendula for flowers. For veggies, I am starting lots of cool season foods like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, broccoli raab, cauliflower, onions and leeks. I will also be planting lots of carrots, beets, radishes, kale, mustard, and other root vegetables and leafy greens straight into the raised beds in the downstairs garden. I use the raised beds downstairs for cool season plants since it has a cooler microclimate down there thanks to the pine trees and the way the ocean breeze comes through there (our upstairs back yard stays much hotter year-round because of the way the concrete retaining walls block the breeze).

I used to start seeds indoors, but we don’t have any sunny windows in this house where I can set up flats of seeds. Also, the last time I started seeds indoors at our old house, our pets got to the sprouts in the middle of the night and had a party. I woke up one morning and found baby veggies and dirt all over our living room. Not a fun day. I am trying out seed starting with these portable little greenhouses (found here). I have them in our patio, under the pergola for now, but like the fact that I can easily move them around if I need to. I have been closing them in the late afternoon to try to keep the temperature fairly even. I am hoping this works out! I have a variety of seed starting trays, but I like these best. Also, make sure you always use organic seed starting soil for starting seeds, not potting soil (here’s a great option).
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Plants Are Like People…They Can Get Sunburnt Too!

When planning a garden, timing is crucial. It is important to plant in early spring or fall so that the plants can establish themselves before dealing with any extremes in heat or cold. The past couple of months, I haven’t done too much blogging since I have been so busy trying to make sure all of our new plants are comfortable in their new environment. With the exception of just a few plants, I selected only things that are very drought tolerant since we are in Los Angeles (we are currently in the middle of a really bad drought here in Southern California).

This week has had extreme temperatures here in L.A., definitely way out of the normal range for spring. Hot even compared to our normal summer temperatures. Like 105 degrees in the shade, just a few miles from the ocean kind of heat. Some of my plants were definitely not ready for this kind of heat. Yesterday was the worst heat all week, and when I went outside in the evening, a lot of my new plants were wilting and looking quite miserable. The nasturtiums in specific surprised me the most…some of them literally got burnt to a crisp! I was surprised since nasturtiums grow wild here along most of the horse trails nearby. However, we don’t normally get that kind of extreme desert heat here!

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Some of my sun-loving succulents also got a bit crispy as well. 😦

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This one surprised me the most…I moved most of my houseplants out of the living room so I could keep the dark drapes closed and keep as much heat out of the house as possible. I relocated all of my houseplants to our two patios so they would still be able to get some sun. These jade plants were placed in the south facing, covered patio and got pretty burnt. I guess the change was too much for them since they had been indoors previously. My outdoor jade plants are all doing okay.

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Last night, after seeing how droopy everything had gotten, I gave everything a good deep watering, and I mixed up a super-revive solution for all of our new plants. I made a diluted mixture of compost tea, seaweed emulsion, fish emulsion, and expired breastmilk that had to be cleaned out from the freezer anyway. I know it sounds crazy, but expired breastmilk does wonders for wilting and depressed plants! It is packed full of nutrients, and whenever I have some to spare, I feed it to whichever plants are most in need of a pick-me-up! This morning, everything looked much better (minus the crispy bits). 🙂

And just for fun, here’s our little cutie, trying to stay cool inside the house. 🙂
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10 Months of Cloth Diapering Using gDiapers

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Our little guy is now 10 months old, and we are still going strong with the cloth diapers over here! I know the thought of committing to cloth diapering can be overwhelming to some new parents, so I wanted to post an update to reassure those considering it that the process is way easier than you would think!

Over the past 10 months, I have come up with some useful tips that new parents might find helpful. If you missed my earlier post on using gDiapers, you can find that here, and my post about what I keep in my diaper bag here.

Here are the tips I have learned over the past ten months:

  • Instead of trying so hard to make sure you get out each and every poop stain, just use the clothesline out in the sun to dry the diapers whenever possible. No pre-treatment, extra soaking, stain removers and stress needed. Let the sun do the work for you!
  • Since we live near the ocean, there are plenty of days where the humidity level outside is a bit too high to dry the diapers on the clothesline. On those days I just use the dryer on low, and I’ve tried not to stress myself out about the diapers looking “perfect”. Early on, I spent way too many hours trying to pretreat poop stains and driving myself crazy. Don’t do it.
  • Now that our baby is a bit bigger and definitely consumes more fluids than when he was a newborn, I have found that doubling up the cloth inserts in the outer shell works best for us. It provides enough to absorb without being too bulky.
  • Likewise, at night we needed some heavy duty action. We have found that doubling up the biodegradable inserts works best for us at night. Yes, I know this will make many cloth diapering purists angry at me again, but I don’t care. I got some angry hate mail after my last post from crazed cloth diapering extremists who were angry that I was promoting the biodegradable inserts. If you can do 100% cloth 100% of the time, good for you. I can’t…I know that I can’t and I own it. We love gDiapers because they are a HYBRID system. If we had to do 100% cloth diapers all the time, we would not stick with it. We lead very hectic lives and the convenience of the hybrid system is what works for us.
  • When I am out of the house all day, I hate lugging around poopy cloth inserts. The biodegradable inserts are a lifesaver for me whenever we are outside of the house.
  • As much as the purists hate the concept of the non-cloth inserts, I have found an amazing benefit to them. The inserts with just pee on them are compostable. I have to tell you all, my compost has never been better! It is rich, dark, and absolutely the best compost I have ever made in my life. I have been composting since I was a kid, and I am actually going to be a little sad once we no longer have a baby in diapers to help enrich our compost!
  • Aren’t you going to do laundry anyway? I usually wash our diapers with our sheets and towels, every other day. I would be washing the sheets and towels on pretty much the same schedule anyway, so it’s really not any extra work!
  • We very rarely have any trouble with diaper rash thanks to using cloth diapers.
  • The gDiapers sizes last for a really long time, which is awesome! We have been using the size medium for what feels like forever, which is definitely appreciated…less stuff to buy!
  • Plus, there’s always the added bonus that cloth diapers are way more adorable in photos than traditional disposable diapers. 😉 If you want to see more adorable photos of our little guy in his gDiapers, there are tons of them over on my photography website http://www.apluscphotography.com.

Hopefully this will help inspire some new parents to give cloth diapering a try!

What Happened to the Garden?

For those who have been following my blog for a while (or have browsed through my older posts here and on Tumblr), you may be wondering what happened to our garden since I was laid up for so long. Between the miscarriage just before E, my long pregnancy bed rest, and my difficult postpartum recovery from my symphysis pubis dysfunction, our garden has been very neglected for about a year now. My husband had the overwhelming burden of taking care of literally EVERYTHING while I was laid up. In addition to his long hours at work, he had to be responsible for all of our shopping, errands, laundry, cleaning, cooking, and caring for me. Considering I could not even bathe myself for much of that time, the load on his shoulders was quite heavy. Somewhere in the midst of all that, he also found the time to finish our kitchen remodel, remodel the baby’s room, and deal with all the stress of getting that house in Texas sold. Worrying about our yard was not high on his list of priorities.

At one point, my husband brought up the idea of hiring a gardener to take care of things while I was laid up, but I hate that idea. It may seem weird, but I can’t stand anyone else messing with my plants. We tried that when I was in bed with pneumonia for over a month (about two years ago), and they pulled out most of my herb garden, claiming they thought it was all weeds. It is bad enough that someone dug up and stole a bunch of my plants here while I was in the hospital after E was born. I would have been pretty mad if even more had been dug up or mistreated.

Surprisingly, our front yard held up relatively well considering the total neglect. It was looking very embarrassing for quite some time, but I am glad that the majority of my plants survived. Buying drought tolerant and native plants really paid off! This past weekend, we spent as much time as possible getting everything more in order both in the front and back yards. We pruned dead growth, trimmed and shaped plants, pulled out tons of weeds, cleaned up lots of pine needles, relocated plants that were running out of space, dug out plants that did not survive, fertilized everything, worked in compost, and added new wildflower and grass seeds. It was a lot of work but so worth it. These pictures were taken at the end of our cleanup. They will be a good reference point to see how quickly everything starts to perk up!

Lately we have been trying to stick by our weekend rule of one day of projects for the house and one day of something fun. E will only be little for so long, and we don’t want to look back and realize we didn’t enjoy this time because we worked too hard on our house. We made an exception to that rule this weekend since we were all enjoying bring outside. E even joined in a little in the Moby wrap (Instagram pic at the end).

Pictures of the back yard will be coming soon as well…as soon as the baby naps long enough for me to finish pulling out the last of the weeds. 🙂

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Composting 101

There are so many different opinions out there about the proper way to compost.  I am not going to tell you that my method is the absolute truth, but I am going to write about what has worked best for me (and what has not) over many years of gardening.

Pile Composting:
When I was a kid, we had a vegetable garden in our backyard and a compost pile.  We would compost using the traditional method, alternating layers of greens and browns, and my dad would turn the pile periodically.  This tried and true method worked, but with somewhat slow results comparatively.  It is a lot of work to manually turn a large pile with a pitchfork, and it can be difficult at times to keep critters away from the pile.  Since we lived in a fairly urban setting, I don’t ever remember wildlife critters being much of an issue at that house.  Where my husband and I live however, we are close to a lot of wildlife preserves and undeveloped areas.  Racoons, skunks, possums, squirrels, and many other wild creatures are regularly roaming the neighborhood, and I decided that an open pile would not be a good option for us at this house.

Trash can composting:
If you can’t afford to purchase a fancy compost bin, a simple plastic trash bin can be used as a composter.  You just need to drill small holes throughout, and be sure that it has a lid.  I used this method for many years with good results.  In order to mix the composter contents, I turned the trash can on its side and rolled it around.  This got to be a little bit of a hassle as the trash can got increasingly heavy.

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Compost tumbler:
This is by far my favorite method of composting.  My husband bought me the awesome compost tumbler pictured above in the first picture when we were at our old house.  I noticed an immediate difference when I made the switch from using the trash can method to the tumbler method.  It is so much easier to mix the contents in the tumbler, which leads to a more rapid decomposition process.  I usually add equal amounts of greens and browns, lightly sprinkle with a bit of water from the hose, and turn the bin frequently.  During the hot summer months, I have gotten an entire bin full of nicely broken down compost in just a few weeks.  I now am storing my excess compost in my old trash can bin as a reserve for when the composting slows down a little in the colder months.

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Worm composting:
When I was using the compost tumbler at our old house, I did not get a lot of full sun in many parts of the yard year-round.  During the cooler winter months, full sun areas were scarce in our old garden, and I decided to use the compost tumbler as a large worm composter during the cold months.  I added a bunch of earth worms in with my kitchen scraps, and got tons of great earthworm castings (that I ended up bringing with me to our new garden!).

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Now that we have a much larger yard, and areas with full sun year-round, I wanted to have the ability to continue to use the compost tumbler as its intended purpose year-round, and still be able to get some of those great earthworm castings.  I have read that certified master gardeners often do not use commercial fertilizers, and that most of them just feed their gardens with compost, earthworm castings (worm poop), and worm tea (worm pee).  While I had been trying to sell my husband on the concept, we came across a booth at the Orange County Fair, and I let the salesman do the pitch for me. 🙂  I came home that night as the proud new owner of a worm composter.  Now most of my fruit and vegetable scraps are going into the worm composter (except for citrus scraps which they do not like).  I still have plenty of composting material for the compost tumbler too!  Worm composting (or vermiculture) is also a great option for people with limited space.

Some composting lessons I have learned over the years:
1.  Browns = dried leaves, dried grass clippings, dried chipped up twigs, shredded newspaper or other paper (not the glossy pages), hair, lint from the dryer lint trap, torn up strips of cardboard, and stale bread and crackers.
2.  Greens = vegetable and fruit kitchen scraps, used tea bags, used coffee grinds and filters, fresh grass clippings, fruit juice, wine, deadheaded flowers and other fresh yard waste.
3.  To keep a good ratio of greens to browns, I make a pile of fresh yard waste that I allow dry out when I do not have enough “browns”.  During the fall, I save all of the fallen leaves from our trees in piles to add in periodically, as needed.
4.  I initially made the mistake of using dried pine needles from our new house in the compost bin, only to find out that they decompose very slowly.  These are now being repurposed as mulch in the garden instead (original post here).
5.  Contrary to popular opinion, earthworms do not belong in the compost bin when it is in full sun.  They cannot survive in hot temperatures, and the natural decomposition process of a compost bin will naturally get hotter than what they can handle.
6.  Compost bins or piles must be placed in a warm area with full sun in order to get up to a temperature hot enough to facilitate the decomposition process.
7.  Despite what you may have read on the internet, placing weeds in your compost bin is not a good idea.  In theory you can place them in the bin, but expect those same weeds to show up wherever you place the finished compost.  Weed seeds need to be heated at a temperature higher than what most compost bins and piles will ever reach in order to prevent them from germinating.  Most are quite stubborn.  I do not just throw my garden weeds away though…I use them to create my own homemade compost tea fertilizer.
8.  Even the worst quality soil can be improved with the regular addition of compost.  At our old house, the soil was quite sandy and poor quality since we about two miles from the ocean.  After much diligence with double digging the soil and adding compost regularly, I was able to make a huge difference in the soil quality.  I can only hope the new tenants enjoy gardening as well. 🙂
9.  Dairy and meat products should not be added to either a traditional compost pile/bin or a worm composter.  I do not recommend feeding dairy scraps to cats or dogs, but our pets are great about cleaning up any meat scraps. 🙂
10.  The compost pile should be kept moist, but not damp.  If you start to notice maggots in the pile (which happened to me once), this is a sign that you need more dry ingredients in the pile, and quickly.  The maggots are harmless other than their ick factor. 🙂  If the pile is too dry, you can add a little moisture in by sprinkling some water with a hose.
11.  Do not compost any pesticide/herbicide treated materials.  Since I had no idea what had been initially used on the lawn and plants when we moved here, I did not use any of the early waste for the compost bin.
12.  Feces from animals that eat meat products cannot be composted.  Which means, unfortunately for me, dog and cat poop cannot be used.  Waste from animals that are strict vegetarians can be used.  I hope that someday we will have a few chickens around here to help add nutrients to the compost bin. 🙂  My husband finds that pretty strange since I am allergic to eggs.
13.  To make the decomposition process go even faster, it works best to cut the material into small pieces.  I use the chipper to break up some of the dry goods, and hand cut some of the greens to make sure I don’t put things in that are too large.  The larger the pieces are that you put in, the longer it will take for everything to break down.
A special note regarding storing compost:
Composting has gotten a bad reputation lately as reports of people getting sick from homemade compost have surfaced in the media.  One thing that I noticed from my own research on these stories is that these people were not storing their compost properly.  Compost is a living, breathing material, and should not be stored in enclosed plastic bags.  If it is stored in that manner, it will become moldy, which can be dangerous.  If it is properly stored with adequate ventilation (as pictured above), it poses no health risks.  I have been making compost since I was a young child, and have never had any health issues as a result (and I was born with a somewhat weak immune system).

Gardening Lessons Learned the Hard Way: Composting

I have created compost using a variety of methods over the years, and I have never struggled to create rich “black gold” until we moved into this house.  You can see my composting at our old house here.  At our new house, I made a few assumptions that ended up being disastrous lessons learned.

1.  A compost pile or compost bin needs a mix of “greens” and “browns”, freshly cut greens, and dried out “browns”.  Previously, I have created a large pile of leaves in the fall that I add in periodically with grass clippings and kitchen waste to find that right balance.  When we moved into this house, my husband thought I was crazy when I asked if we could bring a pile of leaves from the old house to the new house, and refused.

The majority of the “browns” at our new house were dried pine needles when we moved in.  I made the incorrect assumption that they would work in a similar manner as regular dried leaves.  I put them into my compost tumbler along with grass clippings and kitchen scraps.  Weeks went by and nothing decomposed at all.  I knew that something was not right, and then learned that pine needles take a really long time to decompose, making them better as mulch than compost material.  I emptied the compost tumbler out, and decided to start again.

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2.  I started again with an empty compost tumbler.  I still didn’t have any dried leaves, and could not locate the box where I was saving all of our used newspapers (which can be shredded and used as “browns”).  My husband stopped me from transporting the dried leaves, and my backup plan of the box of newspaper could not be located at the moment.

I tried doing an experiment of adding in only “greens” and some compost accelerator (a powdery substance purchased at garden centers).  No luck….nothing happened.

3.  I had by now trimmed back some of the ivy in our new yard, and left the clippings in a pile to dry out.  For my third attempt at making compost at this new house, I added in dried ivy leaves along with the usual grass clippings & kitchen waste.  Things started to finally show signs of breaking down, and then I added in more in the tumbler.

When the compost tumbler got too full, signs of decomposition halted.  I decided I needed to start a secondary compost bin since I obviously have a lot more green waste at this house than I had at our old house.  I am using a regular trash can with holes drilled in it for my backup compost bin.  Once the compost tumbler had room again, things have finally started to break down properly.  Hopefully I will have homemade compost again soon!

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How To: Eliminate the Green Waste Bin

When we first moved into this house, the yard was very neglected.  I spent weeks filling up the two green waste bins and it felt like I would never catch up with getting rid of all the piles I had around the yard.  I started researching other ways that I could start reusing some of the waste from our yard instead of sending it to the city.  I have now found a use for everything I was throwing away in the green bins previously!

1.  This is something I have always done anyway, but grass clippings go into the compost bin.

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2.  I have always heard that pine needles do not make good mulch for vegetable beds because they are acidic.  I spent so much time filling up those bins with pine needles.  I then read a recent study at a university testing the actual impact pine needles have on the pH of soil.  The study found that pine needles that have been sitting out for at least 3 weeks have no impact on the soil pH.  Now, instead of throwing all the pine needles out, I gather them into a pile and let them age into good mulch for my vegetable beds.  While I am waiting for them to be ready to use in the vegetable beds, I use them as mulch under the pine tree in our backyard.  Now I have enough to keep all of my vegetable beds nicely mulched!

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3.  Instead of throwing out branches, twigs, and some dried ivy leaves from the trees and vines I have pruned, we decided to pile it up for making more mulch.  I let it all dry out, and then I chipped it up to make more mulch.

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4.  Instead of tossing out the weeds from the garden beds and grass, I am using the weeds to make a type of compost tea (original post here). Everything has really been flourishing since I started feeding them with this as an added supplement!

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