Winter Storage Vegetables

September 3rd, 2009

It has been more than 10 years since I had a large garden and grew all of the vegetables for my family.  I currently live on a tiny lot in a small village and my garden is about 400 square feet.  This small space has been incredibly productive for me, supplying myself and my family with fresh vegetables from mid April to late in November.  But I am still committed to eating locally and seasonally and so for the past 10 years I have bought a supply of winter storage vegetables from a local organic farmer.  I have a small cold storage in my basement and this has worked amazingly well, despite sharing the basement with an oil furnace.

Buying from a local farmer has many benefits – the vegetables taste so much better than those available in the grocery store, they are often organically grown, and you can develop a friendship with and support those who grow our food.  I try to order my vegetables sometime in late summer so that the farmer knows what to expect from me.  In late August I make a trip to the farm and buy about 1/2 bushel of paste tomatoes which I either can or freeze for the winter.  I also buy my storage onions and garlic and  1/2 bushel of early carrots.  If the onions have not been cured (ask the farmer) then you must do this yourself.  Curing dries the outer skin of the onion and is essential for successful winter storage.  To cure, find a shady spot and lay the bulbs out so that they are off the ground but also have some air ciruculation.  I use an old wooden pallet and leave the bulbs out for about two weeks.  If the sport is sunny, you can cover the bulbs with a light cotton sheet, held down by some rocks.   If there is going to be a lot of rain, cover with some plastic or bring the bulbs inside until the weather clears.  Once the bulbs have dried, put them in an open basket or better still, a mesh bag.  The more air circulation, the better they store.

The rest of my order I pick up in late October or early November, once the weather has really cooled off and my cold storage has cooled down.   The following list should give you an idea of what I order for a family of now 3.

  • 1 1/2 bushels onions
  • 2 bushels carrots
  • 1/2 bushel beets
  • 1/2 bushel parsnips
  • 1/2 bushel leeks
  • 2 bushels potatoes
  • 6-8 rutabagas
  • 8-12 cabbages
  • 30-40 bulbs garlic
  • 15-18 winter squash

This order usually costs me about $200 but it is far cheaper than buying the same amount of vegetables in small quantities from the grocery store.  It takes me the better part of a day to pick everything up, bring it home, and get in all into cold storage.  There are some tips for successful cold storage, that I can cover in a later blog.  For now, find a farmer and transform a small corner of your basement to a cold storage area.  You only have to eat ‘real’ carrots once to realize that it is well worth the effort!

Why I like transplants so much

August 20th, 2009

In From Seed to Table I try to make a pretty strong case for making transplants as much as possible in one’s garden.  I start making my first transplants in March, when I start tomatoes and peppers as well as a large flat of early spinach, lettuce, green onions, beets, and endive.  I also like to start any brassicas and squash family plants a few weeks early and then transplant them into the garden.  There are many advantages to transplants – an earlier harvest, good germination, seedlings that are a few weeks ahead of the weeds and better able to cope with pests, eliminating the need for thinning later on, to name a few.

But what really makes a difference for me in having a steady supply of vegetables all summer long is that I also make a flat of ’salad’ transplants around the middle of every month from April to August.  These are some combination of salad vegetables and greens – kale, swiss chard, basil, spinach, lettuce, endive, green onions, beets, fennel, collards, this year I tried cutting celery.  The flat holds 48 cells and I fill it with whatever combination of vegetables takes my fancy.  By making this one flat every month, I know that I will have a small but steady supply of vegetables that mature evenly throughout the summer.   I find it easier to discipline myself to start the flat than to direct seed in the garden every month.  But more importantly, I don’t have to worry about watering and getting seeds to germinate in the garden, instead I have a small tray to keep moist and care for once the transplants are up.  I can keep the transplants in the tray anywhere from three to five weeks, depending on how busy I am and also on the weather.  And almost every transplant that I put in the garden matures into something that I can harvest.

These past few weeks in Southern Ontario have brought home to me the benefits of transplants.  In early August I started my last ’salad’ tray – a flat with only spinach in it.  The seeds were up within about 5 days of planting and I moved them outside to a small structure – I call it a mini greenhouse – that I use for my transplants.  Then we had our first real heat wave of the summer,  which lasted about 10 days.  During this time I was able to move the flat to a shady area in the heat of the day and one quick pass with a mister and it was well watered every day.  To me, this is so much easier than caring for small plants in a garden space.  Now that the heat is over, I can transplant them on a rainy day and they will hopefully thrive without much care.

I try to help people to grow a lot of food in a small space without too much work. For me, once you are in the habit of making transplants, they are quick and easy to do and make for a much more successful garden.

Thinking about winter storage

August 13th, 2009

I thought I would spend a bit of time talking about winter storage.  I find my garden pretty well takes care of itself this time of year.  I have a few flats of spinach that are just starting to germinate, they will go in the garden at the end of August at which time I will also direct seed some salad greens.  And then….THAT’S IT FOR THIS YEAR!!  Hard to believe that we will soon be heading into fall, but that is my favourite time of year so I look forward to it.

I do believe that if we want to be committed to eating locally and seasonally it really helps to have one’s own cold storage.  There is not a great selection of local vegetables in the grocery store in February and March and what is there is seldom organically grown.  Not only that, if you can get bulk winter vegetables from a local organic gardener, you can usually get them for a reasonable price and the quality and taste are just so much better.  Anything that is packaged is always more expensive, so for example I see a bundle of 3-4 Ontario leeks sell for $4 in February, the half bushel I bought in November cost me about $20.

I have never built a root cellar in a finished basement so I can’t offer too much in the way of advice.  I have built two in unfinished basements, both of which had an operating oil furnace at the other end.  Basically you are looking for a cold, dark space that is about 6′ x 8′ in size.  It should be as far away from the furnace as possible, preferably on the north side of your basement.  The floor and the walls to the outside (in my case, stone) do not have to be insulated, but everything else should be, including the ceiling and the door that you build.  You want to try create a space that stays between 2-8 Celcius if possible.

A few other things to consider

  • humidity – traditional cellars were often dripping water from their ceilings.  This is seldom the case in modern houses, but root vegetables can be stored in damp sand and this provides the moisture they need
  • air circulation – the advantage of low humidity is that air circulation is seldom an issue.  As long as you don’t see mold growing on your produce, the natural circulation in your basement is probably all you need.
  • darkness -  this really does need to be total – cracks of light will cause vegetables to sprout.
  • storage containers – you can build wooden bins if you feel inspired.  I use open bushel baskets for leeks and cabbages, 7 gallon plastic pails layered with damp sand for beets, carrots, parsnip, and turnip, and mesh bags for onions and garlic.  Potatoes can go in open baskets but they should also be covered to stop them from drying or out  seeing the light! Cloth or newspaper works.

If you have a space that is less than perfect, don’t be discouraged.  You might be amazed at how well it performs.  Or it may give you a good supply of vegetables for the coldest months and that is certainly better than nothing.  In my converted cistern I am able to keep carrots in sand until late May with great quality.  This was far more than I expected when I first insulated the area – I thought the heat from the furnace would cause far more problems than it has.  Some ideas for other spaces that friends have looked at are under porch stairs and in a garage or shed that butts up against the house, preferably on two sides.  I suggest that they buy some sort of thermometer with an alarm so that they can know if the temperature is approaching zero.  At least until they get a sense of how the space will perform.

Thank you to all who have sent such positive comments – they are greatly appreciated and inspire me to keep writing.  I had tried for every Thursday but it seems to be working out at every second Thursday.  Hopefully that is enough!!!!

August Musings

August 6th, 2009

I started a few flats of spinach today, to go in the garden towards the end of the month.  I like to grow a fall garden, I will also plant some salad greens in early September.  That plus my kale, swiss chard, endive, lettuce, beets, green onions and some herbs should get me through the fall.  Later this month I like to go to a local organic grower and pick a bushel of tomatoes which I freeze.  I also give him my order for winter vegetables for which I am so grateful.  I do not have the space to grow my own potatoes, onions, carrots, etc. in this tiny front yard, but I am lucky enough to have a space in my partially finished basement that serves as a surprisingly successful cold storage.  Buying a winter supply of vegetables is my second best choice and has worked for me for ten years now.

But that is not what I wanted to muse about.

I attended a music festival this weekend, its called Blue Skies and it is held on a large expanse of fields and woods north of Kingston.  About 3000 people attend, there is music, dancing, lots of interesting workshops, and wall to wall tents.  The festival has been running for over thirty years, I am not a die hard fan but many people never miss the long weekend.  To me, one of the things that makes Blue Skies special is its commitment to being as environmentally low impact as possible.  There are recycling stations everywhere, plastic water bottles are not allowed, everyone has to bring their own plates and cutlery because the cook shack will not give you anything disposable.  The festival runs with volunteers, volunteers to take the recycling to the local waste disposal site, volunteers to add peat to the outhouses, volunteers to deal with the bins of compost, volunteers to set up and take down the canvas tents that protect the stage and workshop areas.  In many ways it is a great deal of work, but it is work done within a community of friends.  People give of their time so that in the end there is very little garbage and very little permanent impact on the site.  This year there was a workshop about how to make Blue Skies carbon neutral and there was talk about funding a solar power installation in a nearby town that would put clean energy into the grid as a way to help offset the miles that people drive to attend the festival as well as the small amount of electricity that the festival consumes.  I am always amazed at what can be accomplished when there is commitment and conscious intention.

Many years ago I subscribed to a left wing magazine about world politics and events.  I had to give it up because it was just too depressing.  Of all the issues that I read, the one that has stuck with me for all of these years was one full of stories about people that were actually ‘getting it right’.  I remember reading about workers in Argentina who had reclaimed a closed factory and made it profitable, a city in Bolivia that had made a real commitment to public transit and their successes,  and a community called Gaviotas (look it up if you have time) that had won a United Nations award for Right Livelihood.  To me, in that sea of sad news, these successes have so much to offer all of us because they give hope and direction for positive change.

Out problems are immense, but if we focus on the positive and find ways to accomplish positive change in our own lives, we really can turn this world around.

Food Choices and Food Dollars

July 23rd, 2009

Many of us become interested in growing some of our own vegetables out of a desire to eat food that is both fresh and organic.  If I were to purchase only organic vegetables for my family, I think I would be looking at a very hefty grocery bill.   Without my garden, those beautiful summer salads that we enjoy almost every day would not only be expensive, but would also involve either a drive to the Farmer’s Market in Kingston or a trip to the local grocery store for imported greens that are almost always grossly overpackaged.  With my garden, my vegetable food choices always seem to be easy to make.

But when I look around me as I walk down the aisle of a grocery store, I know that in many ways food choices have not changed much in the past 20 some years.  Kingston still only has a small percentage of health food stores or local and independent groceries.  Local, organic, minimally packaged food is a drop in the commercial food bucket.  As much as many of us would like to see a revolution in food and agriculture, things often appears to be getting worse, and not better.  One must also take a look at government policy if one wants to truly understand the make-up of our food choices.

I think it is very important that we understand the way in which government policy affects the availability and cost of the foods that we buy.  When one talks about buying and eating locally, one must decide what products one wants to focus on finding a local source for.  In my experience this can include vegetables, fruit, eggs, meat, honey, maple syrup, some dairy, and a very limited amount of grains and legumes.  For me, almost all of it is purchased outside of the grocery store, from local farmers, small butchers, a small cheese factory, and one small independent food store.  I see very few local products at Loblaws or Foodland.  Buying policies and government regulations affecting processing facilities make it almost impossible to sell local foods to big stores.  If we look at meat, most large groceries will only buy from federally inspected abbattoirs.  There are fewer and fewer small, provincially inspected abbattoirs in Ontario that process local meats and the regulations for a federally inspected abbattoir are so costly that these facilities must be large in order to be economic.  Similarly, new rules affecting cheese factories will probably spell the end of what few local ones remain in Ontario.

If we go one step further and look at agricultural policy, the picture gets even gloomier.  The U.S. Farm Bill doles out some $25 billion in agricultural subsidies a year.  The bulk of these subsides go to mega farms that grow wheat, corn, soybeans, rice, and cotton.  As a result one American food dollar will buy 1200 calories of cookies or potato chips but only 250 calories of carrots. It will also buy 875 calories of soda but only 170 calories of orange juice.  If we want those carrots and the orange juice to be organic, well, hopefully you have a very small appetite.  We cannot begin to make large scale changes in our agriculture unless we address government policy.  We also cannot hope to come to terms with issues such as obesity and diabetes,until we insist that the interests of quality of food, versus quantity and centralized profit, are given priority.

The Challenge of Eating Seasonally

July 16th, 2009

Sometimes it is really hard to incorporate change into one’s life.  For those of you who would like to begin to eat locally and seasonally, wether for health, community, or environmental reasons, it is often hard to develop new habits within an ongoing busy lifestyle.  After a day at work, it is often easier to cook something familiar and easy than it is to go to garden or search the grocery store for food that is local.  For those of you who are struggling with this, I offer a few suggestions:

  • I have always been a firm believer in the ‘cold turkey’ approach to change.  Many years ago I decided I did not want more plastic grocery bags.  After forgetting to bring my own bags for a few weeks in a row, I told myself that if I forgot the bags, I did not buy the groceries.  Success!!!  This method works very quickly for me.
  • I try to set myself progressive challenges.  I started with trying to grow my own food, this progressed to finding more ways to use my own food, then finally to making a commitment not to buy vegetables that were not local or seasonal.  At first I tried to make 2-3 meals a week with vegetables that were completely from my garden, then I gradually increased this until I would say that 80-90% of my vegetables are either my own or are local and seasonal
  • Realize that with each challenge, you will find answers.  That is the beauty of the challenge.  If you have a garden, forego the grocery store and it doesn’t take long to find ideas.  Tell your friends that this is what you are doing – I have been given some amazing recipes and ideas from so many people.  If you don’t have a garden, make a trip to the farmer’s market or a local food store, buy what is available, and then make the commitment to using it and not buying something else.  For me, necessity is very often the mother of invention, but in our perhaps overabundant society, one must almost artificially create the necessity.
  • Feel the beauty of being creative, enjoy and bask in your success.   Remember that each success makes you feel better about what you are accomplishing and feeds your ability to create and overcome more challenges.  I tell people that I really try to make this whole exercise into a bit of a game. Have fun with it.

So, here is an example of my process.

It is early July. I have snow peas, green onions, lettuce, and green garlic in the garden.  Beans, cucumbers, zucchini, and tomatoes are not ready yet.  I like trying new grains and one of the ones that I enjoy is quinoa.  I have some pork in the freezer.  So, before I begin this process, I have no idea what I will create, I just have an idea of what I want to use and what I have in the garden.

So, I cut the pork into small pieces and marinated it for several days in tamari, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and finely chopped green garlic.  (I know the condiments are not local, but it is the refrigerated transport of fruits and vegetables that are the huge environmental killer – I decided long ago that I was not going to martyr myself – just do my part!).  After  3 days, I cooked the pork with all of the marinade.  Then I soaked and cooked about 1 1/2 cups of quinoa.  I washed a head of lettuce and cleaned and chopped some green onions.   Snow peas were harvested, washed, and very lightly steamed.  Put the lettuce in the bottom of a large and pretty bowl. Mix the quinoa with the vegies and add the cooked meat and juices.  Taste, add abit more rice vinegar and some salt and spoon on top of the lettuce.  When my daughter asked if I would make this again, I knew that I had succeeded.

This ‘recipe’ might work with pasta or rice, other kinds of meat, tofu, shell peas or sugar snap peas, beans later in the summer.  Much of what I cook are variations on a theme, after all the garden is somewhat limited – especially when it is very small as mine is.  But it is good, nutritious, pretty economical, and fun to come up with.

Last kick at the can for fall vegetables

July 7th, 2009

I start my last major flat of transplants before the middle of July.  These are planted in the garden in early August and mature towards the end of September.  Many of these vegetables will keep their quality, without growing bigger, through into November.  This timing works for me in Southern Ontario at around 45 latitude.  The big factor in the timing is the way in which growth rates are affected by the decreasing light levels.  You want your plants to mature to full size but not to grow past full size and begin to bolt – if I plant one week earlier or later, then either of these scenarios are what happens.  If I plant between the 10-15 of July, I generally find that they grow to be just right (said the little bear!)

I like to start lettuce, endive, kale, beets, and green onions.  Often I will try a few broccoli as well.  Sometimes I have wonderful luck with fall broccoli – with nice heads and side shoots into December.  Multi-plant tranpslants are desribed in detail in the March chapter of my book – for green onions each transplant cell holds 8-10 green onions and is planted out as 1 bunch.  Try to do 1-2 dozen transplant cells of green onions as these will grow into the fall and easily survive the winter.  They are then up and growing in early April and ready to harvest in May – far earlier than any that are seeded indoors in spring.

Other plants that will often survive the winter and provide some early greens are spinach and kale.  I like to direct seed spinach into my garden in early August, again going for a large planting.  The area that my peas occupied is now open and so there is ample room for a second crop of something here.  Try putting a light mulch of straw on half of the spinach plants in late fall and see if these survive better than those that are not mulched.  Kale does not need any special care, it is always a dependable early spring plant in my garden.  If you let it, will go to seed in its second year. sometime in early June.  I have two plants in seed in my garden this year, the seed pods are fully formed right now and will dry over the next month or so.  They can then be harvested and stored – one or two plants allowed to go to seed with provide you with enough seed to last many years – it is one of the easiest seeds to harvest and will maybe get you wanting to learn more.

Garlic Scapes and other gardening stuff

July 7th, 2009

One of the wonderful things that can be harvested this time of year are garlic scapes.  The idea of eating garlic scapes is perhaps new to many gardeners, but they are becoming popular and can even be found for sale at many farmer’s markets.  For those of you who are new to them, garlic scapes are those curly tops that shoot up from the center of hard necked varieties of garlic plants.  They are quite slender with a small round section which is where little bulblets form – that part is not good eating.   The scapes can be broken off from the main plant – some people say this encourages a bigger bulb of garlic but I am not sure.  At any rate, it does not harm the bulb.

There are several different ways to use garlic scapes:

  • they can be lightly steamed and served with butter
  • they can be coated lightly with oil and roasted in the oven
  • they can be made into a pesto – take either fresh or roasted garlic scapes and puree them with olive oil and ground almonds.  Serve with pasta and parmesan cheese – fantastic!
  • garlic scapes can be frozen, simply chop into 1-2 inch sections and place in a freezer bag – no preparation necessary.  They can be defrosted and used in soups or stews throughout the winter
  • Pickled Garlic Scapes – parboil the scapes for about 2 minutes. Drain and place in sterilized Mason jars.   Add some fresh dill and a few hot pepper flakes to the jars.  Make a pickle with 1 cup white vinegar, 3 cups water and 1 tbsp pickling salt (or multiple thereof, depending on how big a batch you are making).  Bring to a boil and pour over the scapes.  Add lids, rings and process as desired.

A few other things to think about at this time of year are

  • getting some mulch down in your garden.  I like to use straw to mulch around most of my plants, the straw helps to keep the moisture in the soil and also works to keep the weeds down.  It looks like we are going to have another very wet summer here in Southern Ontario so moisture conservation is probably not a big issue, but the straw does help to prevent the soil from splashing up onto your plants – especially important for tomatoes which can get a fungicidal blight from the soil.
  • I like to do a thorough weeding at this time of year, the soil is still damp and the weeds are easy to pull.  It is also the time of year when many weeds begin to go to seed – this is something you really want to avoid!
  • do some pruning on your tomato plants.  If you are growing heirloom varieties they are usually what are called indeterminate – meaning they will grow very big and sprawl with many stems coming out from the base of the plant.  Really you do not want so many stems – in fact many people train their tomatoes up a string and prune the plants so there is only one main stem.  At the very least, try to keep the plant to less than five stems – this opens up space so that light can get to the fruit and it can ripen.  The larger your plant, the more fruit you will have but they will be smaller.  A pruned plant will give a very nice harvest of larger sized tomatoes.  It is also much more likely that the stake you use will be able to support the plant!

Replanting in the Garden

June 23rd, 2009

One way to harvest a great deal of food from a small space is to replant several sections of your garden in June, July and August.  My garden is only 300 square feet, which translates into 4 beds that are each 15 feet long.  In April I plant a bed with peas and a bed with salad greens, spinach, lettuce, beets, green onions, and endive.  In May I plant a bed with some beans and more of all the same salad vegetables.   Without replanting, that would leave me with only one bed for the rest of the summer.  Hard to imagine that I can grow enough to feed my family into November in that one bed. Hence the replanting, which I thought I would talk about in some detail.

If I look at the April beds around the first week of June, the peas are just flowering and will be in the garden for at least another few weeks.  But in the “salad bed”, the greens and the spinach have been finished for some time now.  The greens were dug under and the spinach plants pulled and put on the compost.  The remaining lettuce, beets, green onions and endive are all ready and somehave been harvested and others are still waiting.  This bed is perfect for planting tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and zucchini in.  In the space that is wide open – where the spinach and greens were – it is easy to see how to replant this area.  Neither tomatoes nor peppers need a great deal of compost so the whole bed does not need to be composted.  It is enough to put a small shovelful with each individual plant.  The rest of the bed calls for what I call ’strategic harvesting and planting’.  Harvest your salad vegetables so that there are gaps between what is left in the garden.  So say you have a section of lettuce – harvest every second one.  The space that is made available between them, assuming they are 1 foot apart, is about 2 feet.  Perfect to fit a small cucumber plant where that lettuce was just taken from.  Use a hand shovel to work the area up and again, add some compost before you plant the seedling.  By the time those cucumbers start to grow and sprawl, the rest of the lettuce will have been harvested.  I do this with all of this section of my garden and fit my cucumbers and zucchini into my strategically harvested blank spaces.

There is still a fourth bed that is open and that I use to plant my June salad bed – lots of basil, some dill and coriander, some more beans, and the usual flat of lettuce, green onions, beets, endive, and fennel transplants.

I try to start a flat of what I call ’salad vegetables’ every month.  In July I will plant that flat in the area that the peas were growing in.  They are usually finished in my garden by mid July.  The advantage of starting your lettuces, etc. in flats is that if the peas are still producing, you can delay the transplanting for a week or two.  Finally, the bed that was planted in May with salad vegetables and beans can be replanted in early August with more salad vegetables, some salad greens, lots of spinach and some more herbs.

My last planting is in early September – I find a blank space and plant a 6-8 foot section of salad greens.  As long as they go in by the end of the first week of September here in southern Ontario, they will produce a long harvest that will often last into November or early December.  Lots of food from a very small space!

Fertility in the Garden

June 18th, 2009

As part of the work that I do I teach a series of nine monthly workshops that are essentially based on the material in From Seed to Table. I have about a dozen people in each workshop and once a month I bring a meal of local and seasonal foods, we eat together, talk about gardening, and then have a small discussion on a related environmental topic.  The workshops are hosted at someone’s house – they provide the space, dishes and tea and coffee, and a vacant garden.  In return the host gets the workshop for free and, along with the other participants, I plant their garden.  Through the course of the workshops we watch it grow, and eat from its harvest.  I really enjoy these workshops, both because I have met many wonderful people but also because it is really rewarding to see how much people love to grow their own food.  People seem absolutely thrilled by the whole process.

As a total aside – I do think that growing one’s own food is an integral part of our humanity, an essential part of life.  I think that over the past 60 years we have had so many of our essential tasks taken from us by science and by business, tasks such as growing food, cooking food, caring for and feeding our children, and understanding our own health.  I am not quite sure why we have embraced science and professionalism quite the way we have – to the extent that we have lost our own power and knowledge – perhaps our ancestors experiences during the war and the depression were so difficult that they were happy to have someone else ‘take charge’.  But what I see is that many of us feel empty without these tasks and find incredible fulfillment is rediscovering them.  It always brings me joy to hear the excitement that people get when they harvest those first garden vegetables, the pride they have in what they have done.  It reaffirms my belief that growing and nurturing are so important for human health and for the health of this planet.

Back to the original point of this Blog!!!

In our workshop last week my hosts showed me their 500 or so square foot garden.  The section that we had planted in April looked beautiful, lush and green, with peas, salad greens, green garlic, lettuces, and beets.  However the rest of the garden looked somewhat sad.  When we talked about it, it turned out that the April bed had been fertilized with quite a few bags of purchased sheep manure.  The remainder of the garden was fertilized with some compost from a nearby horse farm.  My host said she felt that the compost ‘did not look quite right’ – good for her for understanding her intuition.  She showed me the remainder of the pile and it certainly did not look that good.  There were no worms in the pile and the colour was dull.  To me it looked like a pile of decomposed shavings with some manure in it – which it probably was.  I ride horses and get most of my manure from horses, but I do know that different stables have vastly different management practices.  Some are very frugal with the shavings that they use for bedding, so the poop to bedding ratio is high and others throw away a large amount of shavings for a small amount of manure.

There were many parts to this learning experience.  First of all, look for healthy compost, dark and rich with lots of life in it.  Second of all – at least in my part of Southern Ontario – it is almost impossible to find  animal compost that does not have shavings as the bedding.  Shavings do not provide the dark, rich compost that straw or grass does.  Similarly, many municipal compost facilities provide compost that is very high in leaf matter, again this lightens up the soil but it does not provide much in the way of nutrients.  Both shavings and leaf matter are acidic, and eventually they lower the pH of your soil to where it is not optimum for growing vegetables.  You can compensate for this by adding agricultural lime to your soil, but in my opinion, you are still undermining the overall health of your soil.

So what is the answer here.  For years I brought home shavings and manure which I added to my compost along with straw and kitchen and garden waste but I began to see a change in the look of my soilI.  I now only bring home the poop, but this means I do not get any urine in my compost mix – a major source of nitrogren.  Anyone who I have seen that has used the purchased sheep manure has had a beautiful and bountiful garden, but this can cost a significant amount of money each year.  And organic farmers, as well as many conventional farmers, know that their manure is valuable stuff and needed on their own fields.  As more and more people begin to grow some of their own food, where will we find an economic and viable source of fertility?  At the rist of being controversial, I would argue that we need to think about human waste.  If organic farming is about closing the nutrient cycle and recycling nutrients, then we as a culture have ignored one huge part of the nutrient cycle.  We mix our own compost with toxic chemicals, pharmaceuticals and water and send it out into the oceans, instead of returning it to the ground where it belongs.  Composting toilets, anyone?