Preparing for planting

I haven’t been able to do much in the garden since my encounter with the Land Rover, but this week I hired some help and we dug potatoes, weeded, spread compost and mulch. We left the parseley and a few onions.

Here is the first bed, ready for planting. Then the rains came and settled everything in. Soon this bed will have peas, lettuces and maybe a tomato or two.

The chickens lend a helping foot

Compost_optYesterday was the last Saturday of the month, which is the day of the great Berkeley compost giveaway. From 7:30 in the morning till it runs out, energetic Berkeley gardeners can shovel as much compost as we want into whatever vehicle or containers we bring.

This was the scene about 10 minutes before the official start of the process.  I was in the middle, so this is about half as long as the compost mountain stretched.  Nonetheless, people come early, as I did.

Then I spent the day carrying bags of compost downhill and spreading it in the unplanted sections of the garden.

Chicken dirt bath_optAs I have most of the growing sections fenced off, I decided to let the chickens participate.   They went right to it, picking out weed seeds and bugs, taking deep dirt baths, and generally mixing up the soil for me. For once, they did just what I needed, and left my seedlings alone.

Plus they were very happy to do it.

Holiday card

Bolivian PepperIn past years, I’ve sent holiday cards with a short letterpress poem. But this year, thinking about all those trees and not finding a poem I felt could justify that, I decided to create an online version here.

I was nudged further in this decision by finding this short video, Landfill Harmonic (thanks to Lynn Kiesewetter), about a youth orchestra in Paraguay whose young musicians play with instruments made from trash.

Recycled violins
“The world sends us garbage. We send back music.” Fabio Chavez, Orchestra director

This theme was instrumental (I really couldn’t resist–I tried, but I think it’s genetic) in my poem selection for the season:


Lemon rind, spines
and gnawed sheaths of artichoke,
coffee grounds, stale brownies, banana peels,
pit from the peach—intractable, but
thrown in anyway. Three months later,
turning the dirt, worms squirm
in the peach pit.

Meryl Natchez

Continue reading “Holiday card”

Watermelon Rind Gazpacho

When I clip recipes from the newspaper, I either make them right away, or they pile up for months. This one struck a chord as it comes from a blog section titled “Otherwise Trash.” As someone who invented a compost machine that makes food for my chickens, edible trash interests me.  This white gazpacho uses watermelon rinds–everything except the hard green outer shell–along with ground almonds. It’s unique and delicious.  I even had cinnamon basil in the garden for the garnish, something I learned about from The Savory Way, by Deborah Madison.

This was from Wednesday’s “Dining” section of the New York Times. As I’d never seen or tasted it, I pretty much followed the recipe blind, and I like how it came out–a nice variant on a summer staple.

White Gazpacho with Watermelon Rind

Adapted from Ronna Welsh, Purple Kale Kitchenworks

Time: 45 minutes, plus at least 2 hours’ chilling

 3/4 cup blanched, slivered almonds (I was a little short on almonds and added a few raw cashews, which worked fine)
1 cup loosely packed parsley or mint leaves, or a combination of the two (I included a little lemon balm, too)
1 stalk celery, cut into chunks
1 dozen cherry tomatoes
1 clove garlic
1 1/2 cups bread cubes, like ciabatta or sourdough, hard crusts removed
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
About 2 pounds cucumbers, preferably thin-skinned types like lemon or English (about 4)
About 2 pounds cubed watermelon rind, pale pink and green parts, hard skin removed (about 8 cups, from 1/2 watermelon)
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar or rice wine vinegar, more as needed
1 tablespoon salt, more as needed.

1. In a food processor, combine almonds, herbs, celery, tomatoes, garlic, bread and oil. Purée until smooth. Transfer mixture to a large bowl and return the used canister to the processor.
2. If using thin-skinned cucumbers, cut in chunks. If using thick-skinned ones, like Kirbys, peel and seed, then cut in chunks.
3. Working in batches if necessary, combine cucumbers, watermelon rind, vinegar and salt in the processor. Purée until smooth. Add to the other purée and whisk together well. Taste, adding salt and vinegar as needed. For a smoother texture, purée in a blender, in batches.
4. Chill until very cold, at least 2 hours or overnight. Taste for salt again before serving.

Yield: 8 to 12 servings. (I think more like 6-8, myself–it’s too good to skimp!)

Note: The total weight of cucumber and watermelon pieces should be 4 pounds, but it is not necessary to use precisely 2 pounds of each.

The Amazing Original Homemade Compost Buster

Okay, I have promised MacGyver-type solutions on this site, and here is the first one (if you don’t count the bee egg, which I didn’t invent): the amazing, fabulous, original compost and chicken food grinder, made for a total of under $100 out of a used stainless sink, a used heavy duty garbage disposal, and a new faucet and water line from the hose. You can read this or  see it live, captured by my amazing friend and documentarian extraordinaire, Yeh Tung.

Compost is pretty simple: kitchen scraps, garden waste, straw or leaves and if you have some animal manure, great! Layer it, water and turn it from time to time, and wait. This is fine if you have unlimited space and time.

The problem is, if you have a small area, there is always too much compost and it takes too long to break down, so there are always more kitchen scraps and garden waste than there is space. Even if you import extra worms, as I did.

Over the years I’ve tried plain, unprotected heaps (attracts rats, raccoons, possums and skunks), drums and plastic compost houses (fill up too fast), and even an expensive machine from Nature Mills that turned kitchen scraps in to a wet smelly mess that was too stinky for inside and attracted flies and bred maggots outside.

My solution is the amazing, easily home built compost buster, made from a garbage disposal.  For my prototype, I simply cut a hole in a piece of plywood, set it on a 2×4 stand, screwed the disposal onto it and put a bucket underneath. I used an extension cord and plugged the disposal in to turn it on. I put a strainer on top of the bucket, and used a hose to provide water.

Once I proved to myself that the concept worked (despite all advice to the contrary!), I added a length of old bicycle tire inner tube to the exit of the disposal, and put a cork in the intake valve. I added a sink, a faucet, and a big used Igloo container with a hose bib in place of the drink-dispensing valve.














The raw material goes into the sink, gets ground up in the disposal and drains into the strainer. The water goes into the cooler. I added a switch to turn the disposal on and off.

If it’s stuff the chickens will eat, I give the mash to them. This eliminates the litter of rinds and cobbs they usually leave. I make a mash of kitchen scraps.  I also let them eat corn cobs and rinds down to the nubs and then take the rinds and cobs out to mash up for the compost along with garden waste, citrus, and onions, where the worms make it into compost practically overnight. The nutrient-rich water goes onto the vegetable garden.

Effective, efficient, and as noted, has a certain (at least to me) poetic elegance of design.