Green Bean Pickin’ Time

green beans 7-6-13

green beans 7-6-13

It’s hot and humid in early July in Missouri and that means it is time to harvest the green beans.  We started our first harvest from 2 beds today. We picked and snapped for several hours and were pleased to have 3 gallons of fresh green beans at the end of the day!

Well….we had a fourth gallon, but we were so anxious to taste the garden produce that we steamed them all for lunch.  Yummy!  Our little boys like canned green beans the best, but I prefer steamed or stir-fried with almonds.  Every year we can and freeze our beans to cater to the families’ different tastes.

We still have one more bed to complete for the first picking.  There is a great satisfaction when the picking, snapping, cleaning and preserving is done.  I have a greater appreciation for my grandparents who ate all winter long from their summer canned produce.  It is hard work, but satisfying knowing we are eating healthy home-grown goodness.

What has Your hard work in the garden produced this year?

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5 Secrets to Making Rich Compost Consistently

alfalfa compost pile

alfalfa compost pile

Experienced gardeners know that rich compost is the key to all natural gardening and soil building.  Rich compost provides your plants with the nutrients they need for fertile growing and lush, healthy vigor.  Plus, and more importantly, rich compost feeds the soil organisms that make for long-term soil health and vitality.  And soil health is really the key to great gardening.

So let’s go make some compost.  Well, if you’ve ever tried to make compost, you know it is often a challenge to get it right.  It seems like it should be so easy.  Put ingredients in. Give it some water.  And you should get great compost, right?  Not necessarily.  Sometimes you get a stinking pile of muck.  Other times, the pile sits there and does nothing.  How frustrating.

Making good compost does take some skill and practice, but it is something you can get the hang of.  There are various ways to make compost and I have tried many of them over the years.  Yet through much research, reading books, watching videos and trial and error, I’ve found these five secrets to be the key to making good compost consistently and with less effort:

  • Right ingredients
  • Pile Size
  • Pile Structure or layering
  • Moisture
  • Time

Let’s go through the secrets.

Right Ingredients

All experienced composters know that you need the right mix of brown and green materials to make good compost.

Browns can include leaves, straw, sawdust and the like.  I personally like straw the best and especially the tall rye grass straw I grow myself when it’s available.  We strive for as much on-farm sourcing as we can get.  Straw provides very good air space and mass for the pile.

alfalfa harvest

alfalfa harvest

Greens can include just about any green material from weeds without seed heads, to grass and clover to name a few.  To me, there is no better green ingredient to great compost than fresh alfalfa.  Alfalfa is high in nitrogen and also provides good mass and structure for the pile.  Last year we started growing several alfalfa beds to provide our own source for this key ingredient.  The beds have grown very lush this year with all the rain, and this past week we built two compost piles from our first cutting.  I also like to use some fresh cut comfrey to help the pile heat up quickly.  This is another great green material for the pile and one we grow on our farm.

A third key ingredient that is often overlooked is soil.  A thin layer of soil on each layer of  the pile provides an injection of soil bacteria to get the pile going quickly.  Bacteria are the creatures that drive the decomposition process that makes for rich compost.  Recently, I’ve been cutting out pathways between the raised garden beds with my little tiller and use the dirt for the pile.  This has worked great.

Pile Size

With the right ingredients at hand, secret number two is getting a good sized pile.  If the pile is too small, there won’t be enough mass for the bacteria to really get going decomposing the pile.  The minimum pile size is generally known to be a three feet cube—three feet wide, three feet long, three feet high.  I like a little bigger pile, so I have good success with a four by four by three pile.  The biggest difficulty I have in making a bigger pile is getting enough brown material.  Many times I have to purchase straw bales for my brown source, but these can get expensive.

Pile Structure or Layering

Secret number three to making good compost is the pile structure.  I have the most consistent success with the layering method.  Layering provides good air flow for the bacteria to breath—they are living creatures that need air—and a good food source up and down the pile.   I start with lightly breaking up the soil where the pile will be placed to expose the soil bacteria.  I then add a six inch or so layer of straw, then a six inch layer of green material—either alfalfa, comfrey, weeds/grass or some combination of these—and then finally a thin layer of soil.  I repeat this layering of straw, green, soil until the pile is three feet tall.   I cap the pile with a final layer of straw on top of the last soil layer. This method is really very easy to remember and gives very consistent results.


The fourth secret to making good compost is moisture—water.  The bacteria need a damp environment to thrive and move around in to breakdown the materials.  The pile cannot be too wet or the bacteria will not get air to breath and die.  This is why piles will start to stink.  Also, the pile cannot get too dry.  Not enough water and the pile just sits there doing nothing—it’s too dry.  When making my piles, I give a generous watering to each layer—brown, green, soil—as I build it, but not too much to water log it.  This is where you will have to experiment a little to get a good balance.


The final secret for making good compost is time.  The pile needs time for the bacteria to do their thing.  I used to spend a lot of time turning my piles to speed up the decomposing process. You can do this, but I found that to be too much work.  Now I just let the piles sit without touching them with the expectation of having compost six to twelve months later.  This has really worked well for me and is a big labor—and back—saver.  I just try to have several piles in various stages so I have compost for planting time.  I don’t always get around to this though.

How do you know when you’re making good compost?

After getting the pile to the proper size with the right ingredients and moisture, it should heat up at first to around 120 to 140 degrees, and then settle in to around 100 degrees for several days.  You will notice that it will begin shrinking rapidly during this stage as it decomposes.  It will then slowly cool down, rest and decompose more slowly over the waiting period.  It will be ready when it is dark and very little of the source material is identifiable. I water the pile during the early stages if it seems to be dry and slow down and we won’t have any rain coming soon.

There you have it, my five secrets to making rich compost.   What secrets do you use for making rich compost?

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Yummy Greens

Yummy greens in bacon grease

Yummy greens in bacon grease

Our garden has produced several rounds of mustard greens and arugula.  The family has sold several bags at the Farmer’s Market.  This week the weather has topped 90 degrees and I think the greens have run their course.  I was happy to be able to fix them twice this week, knowing it will be in the fall before we have them again.


Everyone has their favorite recipe for cooking greens.  I like cooking them on the stove in a cast iron skillet.  I sauté 3 or 4 pieces of bacon until mostly done and then throw a chopped onion into the skillet.  After the onion is soft, I add ¼ cup of water and stir.  Place greens in skillet and cover.  I keep the temperature around medium to medium high while the greens are rendered down.  I usually cook them for about 10-15 minutes, or until soft.  Give them a good stir, making sure to incorporate the bacon and the onion.  Serve with vinegar if desired.


What is your favorite greens recipe?

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Rye Grass and Hairy Vetch Cover Crop Update

Rye and Vetch bed

Rye and Vetch bed

The cover crops this year have gone wild with all the rain and storms we’ve had this spring.  In fact, I’m writing this post just after another severe storm has hit our area with tornados touching down close by.  The picture above shows what happens when I plant too much hairy vetch in with the cereal rye cover crop bed—the heavy rains weigh down the dense vetch and knock down the tall rye grass. This most recent storm has knocked the crop down even more.  The good news is that this will provide a great amount of high nitrogen bio mass for the compost pile.  The bad news is I won’t be able harvest clean rye grass for straw out of this bed.

hairy vetch up close

hairy vetch up close

I planted this bed before I got the advice from Cindy Conner to be careful of planting too much vetch in with the rye grass.  You can check out my review of her great cover cropping video here where she talks about this caution.  It’s a good lesson learned for the future.

I end this post with our prayers going out to the folks in Oklahoma ravaged by the storms there.

How have your cover crops faired this spring?  Are you getting good results?

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Simple PVC Irrigation System for Raised Beds


simple pvc irrigation 1

simple pvc irrigation 1

Simple PVC irrigation systems are a great low cost way to water your garden.  I’m always on the lookout for different PVC irrigation designs, and when we went to a friend’s house for dinner recently, he showed me his very simple PVC system.  He has small, 8 foot raised beds that he buries a 2” PVC pipe about 6” under the soil.  The pipe has holes spaced laterally on both sides of the pipe to allow the water to seep into the soil.

simple pvc irrigation 2

simple pvc irrigation 2

Before burying the pipe, he puts a cap on one end and a 90 degree elbow on the other end.  In the elbow, he inserts a 3 to 4 foot extension that he then fills with water.  The water will slowly leak into the soil at the root zone of the plants—very ingenious.  There you have it, a very simple, but effective PVC system for small raise beds.

For more advanced PVC irrigation systems, check out this post on my own design and my review of the advanced Juab County system.

I’d love to hear about any PVC systems you’ve designed or used.  How did they work?

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Jumbo Blueberry Muffins

IMG_3252Since we have been doing the farmers market for a couple weeks now we are starting to learn what sells and was doesn’t sell. We sell three types of jumbo muffins, but we have found that blueberry muffins sell the best. I thought I share the recipe with y’all because it’s really fun and easy to make. You will need a giant muffin pan.


Recipe: (makes six muffins)

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ oil
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 5 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 cup drained blueberries

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

With wire whisk, combine the wet ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside. Mix dry ingredients in another bowl.

Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry. Stir till combined.IMG_3234Fold in the blueberries.





Scoop batter into greased muffin tin. Finish them off by sprinkling sugar on top.IMG_3244

Bake for 15- 20 minutes or until when toothpick inserted comes out clean. Enjoy!



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