Harnessing heat from the compost heap

I’m supposed to be working, but I  just can’t concentrate so I’m making a blog entry.

I never got around to doing a hoop house.  In fact, my enthusiasm right now is so low that it’s almost not there.  (Family stuff).    I did start some seeds already.  I’m leaning towards the soil blocks because they take up less room.  But before I decided on  doing the soil blocks, I started some mustard seeds in an egg carton.  (The sprouted seeds in the little container are asparagus seeds).

I started the mustard seeds in a little flat, and then I took the time to divide the egg cartons into semi-individual compartments (a little obsessive, I know), and then I thought about the soil blocks.

I started the Rainbow Swiss Chard in the egg cartons too, but later transplanted them into a window planter and after that into individual peat pots that fit nicely into the window planter.

I did make some soil blocks and planted/transplanted some herbs (parsley, sage, rosemary, lavender), lettuce, broccoli, brussles sprouts, tomatoes (brandywine and sweet 100), bell peppers (green and yellow), asparagus and godetia (thanks, Granny).  They’re all growing just fine.

I also planted egg plant, nasturtium, a few snow peas, cauliflower and marigolds into the soil blocks, and I’m waiting for them to germinate.

I didn’t do a hoop house, per se, but last fall I made a compost pile out of leaves and grass and soil from any pots that the plants had finished.  I surrounded the pile with fencing and threw a tarp over it.   In the front part of the bed I planted some swiss chard plants that my mother-in-law gave me and piled the compost ingredients in the back of the bed.   Before I got a chance to pick any of the swiss chard its snowed on them and I threw them out of my mind.

A couple of weeks ago when the weather started warming a little, I went out to check on the compost and noticed it was a little warm.  I mixed some alfalfa pellets into the pile to hopefully get it heating up a little faster.  Just for the fun of it, I took the dead looking swiss chard and planted them on the top of the compost pile.   A few days later I plucked one of the plants out of the ground and saw it was growing new roots.  Joy of  joys, they’re putting on new leaf growth now.

I wish I had taken a picture of the dead looking things I started with.  Anyway, I figured if the compost pile is putting out heat, if I covered the area it would be enough heat for the cool season things.  So, I put out the swiss chard first, and it did fine.  Then I put out the little tray of lettuce (the first planting), the spinach, the second planting of lettuce, the herbs, broccoli, brussles sprouts and the asparagus.  I have no idea how the asparagus is going to do in soil blocks, but it’s an experiment.  (They’re the ferny looking things in the lower right of the first photo).

The temp this morning was 36  (brrrrrr! ), but my plants were basking in a cozy 60 degrees.  Midday it was up to 70.   I fluffed up the compost pile, mixed in a handful of alfalfa pellets, gave it a drink of water and brought out the tray with the warm season stuff.  Instead of running the lights and the heating pad in the house and running up my electric bill, I’m using the free heat from the compost and the free light from Mother Nature. 

I know I’m taking a chance, but if all else fails and the plants die, I’ll just have to buy bell peppers and tomatoes. 

Here’s where the plants are living until I take the time to put them into the ground.

Not very pretty, but it serves the purpose.

Happy Gardening!!!

Garden Update

Five weeks is all it took to go from this



To this…


One of the ladies from the Building Urban Gardens class that we took at the Garfield Park Conservatory stopped by to get a few plants.  She pointed out the fact that what I have been calling turnips are actually mustard greens of the slick leaf variety.  My brain said they were turnips, so my eyes said, “Okay.  If that’s what you say.”  It’s a good thing I actually like mustard greens.

So, yesterday was the first harvest of 2009.


6.8 ounces.  Yay!!

The “hoop house” really made a difference.  The whole bed was planted on 3-15.  The same day I planted the bed with the cover, I planted seeds in the spot I reserve for my elephant ear.  100_0097

There’s a world of difference between the two.  (Left to right:  lettuce, spinach, raddish, beets)

The “hoop house” even outproduced some of the lettuce I started in the house in a long window type planter.  Some of the lettuce I kept in the long planter and some I transplanted into paper pots , which didn’t work out so well because they never really grew much in the paper pots.  I later transplanted some of the planter lettuce  into the yard.  They’re in the first four rows.   Most of the lettuce that germinated was the red lettuce, and they’re kind of hard to see against the dark background.  They’re growing, but slowly.


The lettuce didn’t grow well in the paper pots, but they didn’t die either.  On 4-14 I transplanted some of them into this self-watering container that was sitting outside from last year.


They just started putting on a little growth over the last week (during those warm days).

Well, I guess we have the results of one of my garden experiments.   Newly germinated cold tolerant seeds that get snowed on will continue to grow with the help of frost protection.

The results were so nice, I had to do it twice.


And it’s working great.  In this bed is the chives and garlic chives, the Egyptian walking onions, the few surviving garlic plants, and the strawberries from last year.  Once the cover went on, the strawberry leaves got larger almost over night.  I planted about six tomatoes and a globe basil in the tomatoes’ squares because I read that the basil enhances the flavor of the tomatoes.  I planted the borage, one squash, onion bulbs, I seeded a couple of squares with carrots and a couple of squares with turnips…really, turnips, not mustards.   I planted a few of the lemon cukes and a couple squares with bush beans.   A few marigolds went in and a couple of petunias. 

The third bed is planted with broccoli interplanted with lettuce; kale, which hasn’t hardly grown since it got it’s true leaves; collards, which aren’t doing much better; bell peppers; corn; potatoes.  That’s a lot going on into 32 square feet, but we’re supposed to be able to plant “intensively,” aren’t we?

I may have a raspberry or two…


(containerized raspberries al la Free Cycle)

I may have a blueberry or two…


(containerized blueberry I ordered)

This blueberry plant looks pretty good, but the buy one/get one free for just about $10 looked so bad to me that I complained about them.  They sent me two more replacements, but they weren’t much better looking.


The two on the left were the original and the two on the right were the replacements.  Had I known that these plants would have been so small I would have gotten something else.  But they’re mine now.  Hopefully they’ll start growing.

Here’s a shot of the perennial bed.  The bleeding hearts are doing especially well this year.


The seedlings.  They’re holding their own.  I’m truly tired of shuffling them in and out, and it makes even less sense now since I’ve planted every square foot in the raised beds.  Very soon, I’m going to pass a few on to my mother-in-law, my cousin and a couple neighbors.  I still feel compelled to make sure they’re hardened off before I pass them on.  I’d hate for them to die after all the work I put into them.

And last, but not least…



Happy Mother's Day

Micro Mini Greenhouse_Recycling Plastic Bags

You ever buy any comforter sets? They come in those nice clear plastic bags with the zippered top. They make excellent micro mini portable greenhouses for hardening your seedlings.


I had a piece of hard cardboard that I used to make a bottom so that the plants wouldn’t fall over when I moved the little greenhouse. Then I eyeballed an aluminum pan that would hold the cups, so in they went. And I knew I didn’t want 100 percent of the sun’s rays beaming down on these babies that have hardly ever left home, so I wrapped the aluminum pan in another plastic bag for insulation. And because I didn’t want the plastic to collapse on top of the seedlings I happened to glance over and saw the homemade plant markers. I grabbed a few of them and stuck them in the four corner pots and a couple in the middle.

Viola…micro mini portable greenhouse.


Yeah, I know it looks a little ghetto, but it serves a purpose. It’s easy to pick up and move around the yard. You can unzip it to let in a little air when it’s warm.


On second thought, it looks a lot ghetto, but it still serves a purpose. It’s eco-friendly (recycle and repurpose) and the price is right. Economical savviness at work again.

You could get real fancy and put some permanent supports in the corners. I didn’t have the time or the energy to make it pretty. I’ll save that for another day.

Happy Gardening!!!!

Mother Nature isn’t so bad after all.

I checked the hoop house this afternoon. It’s been elevated from hoop shack back to hoop house. The temperature inside was …(picture me doing the happy dance)…54 degrees.


I feel better now. Nothing was kneeled over on the ground, so I guess we made it through the hump. Here’s a quick picture.


I don’t know why the peas on the left have spotty germination, except maybe the squirrels or the birds got to them. But since I never had any luck with peas before I’m a happy camper.

Experiment Update:

  • Row covers/hoop houses will aid in seed germination before your last frost date, especially in a raised bed
  • Row covers/hoop houses will protect young plants from freezing weather
  • Row covers/hoop houses will raise the inside temperature as much as 20 degrees
  • Newly sproutedpea plants, turnip plants and onion plants can survive at least one snowfall

Happy Gardening!!!!

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