A Hill of Beans

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Posted by Angie Hong | Posted in Keeping water clean, Yards and Landscaping | Posted on 27-04-2011

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A coworker introduced me to the idea of Community Supported Agriculture about a few years ago, when she mentioned a friend of hers who farmed a small plot of land in Lake Elmo. “You buy a share from him,” she explained, “and then you get a box of vegetables every week during the summer and early fall.” That summer, my husband and I decided to give it a shot, splitting our share with another couple we knew. We quickly discovered the benefits of a CSA membership. We got a box of freshly picked vegetables every week, all organic and all locally grown. Each box came with a newsletter that had updates about the farm and recipe ideas for that week’s bounty. We found ourselves eating much healthier and trying quite a few new foods and recipes we never would have otherwise.

Eight years later, we are still members of La Finca CSA, although we now split our weekly box with a new set of friends and our farmers Charlie and Tzeitel have moved their operation to Bruno, MN, having finally saved up enough money to buy their own land. We’ve come to think of each week’s share as another “Vegetable Christmas.” We know that we’re likely to get spring greens and spinach in June and lots of squash and root veggies in September, but you never know when something new might show up in the box and throw you for a loop. Sometimes, the surprise is a beautiful heirloom tomato that is almost too pretty to slice, while other times you get a lump of coal, otherwise known as more beets.

If you would like to try out a CSA of your own, visit www.landstewardshipproject.org/csa.html for more information and a list of farms that deliver to the Twin Cities area. Of course, with all the new veggies you’re soon to be eating, you’ll want to think too about what to do with all those carrot tops, squash skins and turnip tips. Yes, it’s time to talk about compost.

In your garbage, compost will fester for a few days, attracting a fruit fly or two, and eventually contribute to the over 48 million tons of food waste created by people in the U.S. every year. In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, food waste makes up 17% of the garbage in our ever-filling landfills.

Lucky owners of garbage disposals may choose to shove the unwanted food down the sink. Another foul idea! Food soils and garbage disposal waste account for 4.2% of annual phosphorus loading to lakes and rivers in Minnesota. In other words, part of the reason that your local lake was green and smelly this summer was that your neighbors didn’t finish their dinners.

Backyard compost bin

Happily, backyard composting is a way to reuse your food waste in a way that protects land and water resources. Once composted, your kitchen scraps and yard waste become free fertilizer for your gardens and indoor potted plants. To begin, pick a spot in your yard that is all or partially shaded and at least two feet from your house and other structures. You can create a pile on the ground, build a bin with scrap lumber or chicken wire, or buy a bin at a local hardware store.

Next, add a variety of compostable materials to your pile. Start with a layer of browns, such as leaves, dried grass or shredded newspaper. To this, add greens, such as vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grounds and filters, tea leaves and bags, egg and nut shells, and green grass trimmings. Never add meat or dairy products! Water as you go, to ensure that your pile is moist but not wet. Continue to add food and lawn waste to your pile throughout the year and periodically turn it with a pitchfork or shovel.

Within a few months, you will probably notice that the waste in your compost pile has magically transformed into healthy, rich soil. At this point in time, you may want to start a new compost pile and begin using the compost in your old pile to improve your lawn and gardens. Give your grass a dose of vitamins by spreading 1/8 – ¼ of an inch of compost over the lawn and raking it in or use the compost to amend soils in your flower and vegetable gardens. The compost can also be spread around the base of trees and shrubs or added to potted plants. Used as mulch for landscaping, the compost will protect your soil from erosion and help to retain soil moisture.

To learn more about composting visit www.reduce.org/compost. You can also order a ready-made compost bin at www.recycleminnesota.org. Orders placed this week can be picked up on April 30 and May 1 in St. Paul, while orders placed later can be picked up in Chisago County or Rosemount. Whether your stuck with a hill of beans or a tower of turnips, composting will help you to make good use of your yard and kitchen scraps.

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