Compost 101 – When & Why to Add Compost to Your Garden

Compost can be confusing. We all know it’s “good”, but good how? And when should we use it? Do we even need to use it? Here is a short good-to-know guide for when and why to add compost to your garden.

Compost is an efficient and practical fertilizer. Composed of decayed organic matter, compost is a basic tool for the organic gardener. Brown leaves, compostable materials like cardboard and newspaper, grass clippings, food scraps, twigs and more can all be broken down into compost. Compost is created through the process of thermal decay and then added as humus to the garden. Compost is home to millions of active microorganisms which help to continue breaking down organic matter into bio-available nutrients – food for plants!

Quite simply, compost adds nitrogen to a garden. Nitrogen is what contributes to a plants healthy, green growth. This is an excellent excerpt from an article on the role of nitrogen in the garden.


No two compost heaps, piles or bags are created equal, so the first question to ask about compost is – what condition is it in? Newer compost needs more time to break down, which keeps all those beneficial microorganisms busy decomposing. Essentially, this ‘ties up’ nitrogen as it’s being used by microorganisms to digest high carbon material, as opposed to being readily available for plants.

With older compost – that which has been more thoroughly broken down – the material has more nutrients readily available to plants.

Either way, it’s good to note that, once applied, all compost will continue the natural process of breaking down and decaying into rich, nutrient-dense soil. And remember, as microorganisms break down compost, nutrients are released and made into fertilizer available for plants.


With homemade, fully decomposed compost, the nutrients are more readily available to plants and can be added onto just-planted garden beds or soon-to-be-planted garden beds. For many urban growers, bagged compost is what is easy and available. If you’re using bagged compost, add in layers about 1 to 2 inches thick in early spring. Now (early March) is a great time. Dig in lightly with a bow rake, and leave the compost to rest a week or two before you plant seeds or starts.

When using homemade compost or if compost is thick with green matter and fibrous, add to garden beds in autumn. (You should also allow chicken manure some time to cure and age before seeding or planting directly.) The compost will be mostly decomposed by spring and beds should ready for planting. With backyard compost, get into the practice of adding 2-3 inches of new/fresh compost in the autumn (in lieu of cover crop) so that the compost can decompose over winter and into early spring.


If this is the first time you’ll plant in a portion of your yard, take extra time and effort to double dig in compost. Double digging contributes to a lighter, loamy soil and once you do it, you’ll never have to do it again. It can be back breaking work if you’re in a large space, but for most urban gardens you can get it done. Here is a more in-depth look at double digging from Rodale’s.


With crops that have over-wintered, or when applying compost well into the garden season, practice a technique called “side dressing”. Apply a layer of compost a few inches away from the plants, protecting delicate plant stems from active microorganisms. In this way, the compost is applied as a mulch and so it reaps multiple rewards; It offers nutrients to plants mid-cycle, will discourage weed growth, and it will retain water – a benefit of side dressing in summer. Multi-purpose compost!






HOW TO :: Homemade Apple Cider Vinegar

homemade apple cider vinegarLast year, my friend Ritzy went apple picking and brought home about 40lbs of apples. That’s a lot! I told her to drop them to me and I’d take care of half of them. Using the recipe below, though on a much larger scale, I made a HUGE batch of homemade apple cider vinegar that lasted me all year. It lasts because I make sure to use it only in raw applications – cooking the vinegar kills the live microbes and probiotics that are so good for you.


The resulting vinegar was apple-forward, and a bit tangy on the finish. While the nose was pretty vinegar-y, it would be great in a beverage – not offensive in anyway. It’s good to note that the I left one batch to ferment in the air for two months more after the initial fermentation period – the color was much darker, the flavor was stronger and it was a bit too alcohol-y and ferment-y, though it mellowed with age.


Apple cider vinegar is a soft, round vinegar that is slightly sweet. Perfect for
dressing salads or using in pickles, this vinegar lacks the hard bite of traditional
white vinegar. Apple cider vinegar is also a decent replacement for lemons when
you don’t have any around, and works well in a gravy or sauce.

homemade apple cider vinegar procedureIt is fairly easy to make your own homemade apple cider vinegar at home. You can use
scraps from apples—the cores and skins make great starters. Of course,
you can use whole apples, as well; just be sure to choose ripe ones, as they have a
higher sugar content than unripe apples. Choosing bruised apples, called seconds,
at the farmers’ market is an affordable option. This recipe forgoes any formal
procuring of brewer’s yeast, casks, and equipment, and sticks to using materials
found in most homes. Use a large nonreactive pot for this project—a large stainless steel
pot or a deep earthenware pot work well.

With vinegar-making, oxygen needs to be present—in order for alcohol to turn to
vinegar, it needs air. Oxygen on a liquid’s surface will help bacteria in the process
of converting alcohol to acetic acid, (the vinegar). You must watch for mold forming
on the surface of your solution. Mold is an indication that the balance of acid to
sugar is off; it generally will not form if the balance is correct. In the event that mold
presents itself on the apples’ surface, skim it off and keep an eye on the jar. If mold
develops again, toss the batch and start over—something may be off with the batch.

fermenting homemade apple cider vinegarMakes about 1 Quart

Scraps from 10 apples (cores and peels), or 5 whole apples, finely chopped
1/4 cup sugar
4 cups water

Put the apple pieces in a large pot. Dissolve the sugar in the water and pour over
the apple scraps; they should be covered completely. If they are not, make another
mixture of 4 cups water and 1/4 cup sugar and add to the pot, but only enough to
cover apples.

Cover the top of the pot with 4 layers of thick cheesecloth secured with kitchen
twine, and set it in a warm spot in the kitchen. The interior of a cupboard works
well, as does a countertop. (If you’re making vinegar in summer, secure the
cheesecloth tightly to prevent fruit flies from getting into the pot and laying eggs,
which will spoil the batch.)

Leave the mixture for 1 week to macerate and ferment. The liquid may darken
slightly and the apple mash will bubble—all signs of a good fermentation. After a
week, strain out the apple mash from the liquid by setting it in a mesh strainer over
a deep pot and allowing the mash to sit for 24 hours. Do not press the mash, as this adds apple solids to the liquid. After it has strained completely, compost the mash.

Return the apple liquid to the container, and cover it again with a
thick layer of cheesecloth. Put the container in a warm spot and let it sit for 2 to 3
weeks, allowing the sugars to convert to vinegar. Stir or swirl the liquid every few
days, to allow for air circulation and oxygen.

finished homemade apple cider vinegarAfter 2 weeks, taste a spoonful of your vinegar for doneness. If the vinegar still
tastes fruity and not acidic enough, let it sit for another week and taste again. After
3 weeks total, the liquid should be completely converted to apple cider vinegar.

To store homemade apple cider vinegar, strain the liquid with a fine mesh sieve and pour it
into clean, sterilized glass bottles. Store vinegar in a cool, dark place. Do not use
homemade vinegar in canned goods, as acidity levels vary with each batch. Homemade apple cider vinegar keeps indefinitely.

Weekend Getaway: Westcoast Food Tour

I was recently invited on a whirlwind food tour of the Fraser Valley, Surrey and White Rock, all of which are part of the Lower Mainland, sitting just north of the U.S. border and south of Vancouver. A hop, skip and jump from Seattle, particularly if you nab a train and make yourself some cocktails in a jar for the voyage (who me?), the American dollar is strong compared to the Canadian dollar making for a budget friendly adventure. The best! I grabbed a friend, hopped on the train and spent two days on a Westcoast Food Tour, eating a massive amount of food and learning. Here, a few highlights:

.The green goddess dressing (and entire menu) from Water Shed Arts Cafe in Langley. It was some of the best food I’ve had in a long time. Simple, healthy, delicious. Thank you to Tourism Langley for showing off your part of the world!

Water Shed Arts Cafe.A helicopter ride from Sky Helicopters in Pitt Meadows, who are currently running an AMAZING deal you should definitely, immediately take advantage of.

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Cooking & Growing with Herbs :: LOVAGE

_MG_6008Kitchen herb gardens are reasonably common around the city, but rare is the garden that contains lovage—a robust perennial herb that looks and tastes like celery. “It has a savory quality and is the kind of herb that gives food a depth of flavor and a deep, herbaceous vegetable note,” says Jerry Traunfeld, chef and owner of Poppy, on the north end of Capitol Hill.

That pop of flavor can be used to perk up vegetable stocks, enliven a bowl of steaming shellfish or fortify salads. Traunfeld often uses lovage as Continue reading

Common Garden Mistakes & How To Avoid Them!

If you’re a true gardener, these warmer temps and blooming crocus are a sign you better get your act in gear. For new gardeners, this means getting organized and figuring out what exactly you want to plant this year, but there is way more to it. Learn how to Avoid Common Garden Mistakes this year!

garden mistakesIn the Pacific Northwest, we get our first seeds in the ground right about mid-March and from there it is a fast ramp up to a full spring planting. This little breather gives us some time to make a planting plan, prepare any beds that need attention or build new structures, like these handy potato cages. This is also a great time of year to get started out on the right foot from the beginning – there is nothing worse than making a ton of effort for little reward.

With that, I was recently asked to share a few quotes about gardening and was inspired to write an entire post about Common Garden Mistakes and How to Avoid Them This Year! Do yourself a favor, and make these your mantas for 2016. With as much effort and time as gardens take PLUS the cost of water, I want you to have a super successful season!

Need some help? Hire us for a bit of one-on-one time or to install a new garden! For everyone else determined to do it alone, this is for you:

– Clean out your beds! In February or March, when the soil is not super wet, we get in there and work any unplanted beds to remove excess root balls, rocks and debris. I can’t tell you how many feet of cedar root I’ve torn from veg beds every spring – those things reach well away from the tree and will tangle up your soil impeding the growth vegetables, particularly root crops like carrots and beets.

– Purchase your starts. If you’re a new gardener, don’t worry so much about seed starting at home. Farmers markets are a great resource for starts and it’s also nice to direct seed some of your crop. Watching a plant grow from seedling to full size is a fabulous education – I highly recommend it. Unless you’re a seasoned gardener with grow lights and a penchant for being home to care for them, skip starting all your own plants.

– Sun, sun, sun! Your plants need sun. Often, gardeners put veg beds where they fit within the yards original/current configuration. For some, that means beds are close up to the house and face north. For many, beds are pushed against the back corner of your fence line. But guess what?? Houses and fences block the sun! You want to choose the sunniest spot in your yard for growing veg. Never mind what you think of looks best – you CAN get creative about changing up your yards structure and  you DEF don’t need to keep the same layout the previous owner(s) had. Please, for the love of all things holy, do not plant things on the north side of your house, right below your back window and tell me you can’t grow food. Commit this to memory; In order for plants to be healthy and put out delicious food you can eat, please know that 1. Leafy green plants need at least FOUR TO SIX HOURS OF DIRECT SUNLIGHT 2. Fruiting plants (tomatoes, cukes, zukes, squash) need at least EIGHT TO TEN HOURS OF DIRECT SUNLIGHT. Am I yelling at you?? Yes, I am yelling at you.

– Water, water, water! Hands down the error first time gardeners make time and time again is not watering enough, particularly when watering by hand. Test to be sure you’ve watered enough by waiting 30 minutes and digging 6-inches down. Too dry soil leads to compaction, stresses plants and sometimes sets you back for many months which can be a put off for new gardeners.

– You don’t own your garden, you garden owns you. Eat when greens are ready and fruits are ripe, not just when you feel like eating. It is a common mistake to harvest when you WANT food as opposed to when it’s ready leading to bitter lettuces, woody root crops or slightly fermented fruits. Loosen up your ideas of what you are making for dinner and let your garden be your guide!

More to come! This may just be a new column.


Dense Chocolate-Banana Bread :: Using Up Over Ripe Bananas

nutsWe’ve all been there. Bananas turn too brown to actually enjoy, so we hang on to them thinking ‘I’ll make banana bread.’ But that day doesn’t come, so maybe you toss the bananas in the compost or maybe, if you’re not repulsed by the glossy black sheen they have now, you’ll freeze them for smoothies.

About 3 weeks ago, I moved BLACK bananas to the fridge. I knew the cool temp would slow down the decay and I figured I’d make banana bread in the next day or so. But I didn’t. I don’t really eat wheat in my day to day life (and steer clear of sugar for the most part), so making banana bread was low on my list. (HIGH on my list, however, is not wasting food! Conundrum!)

Days went by, and the bananas started fermenting. You know bananas are fermenting when they start smelling boozy. Then I was leaving on a trip and thought – I have GOT to use these damn things. So I made a quick bread (the lazy bakers ultimate go-to recipe) and wrapped it up for my man to take to work. Of course, I did take 2 slices for the plane ride. Best. Idea. Ever.

A few notes about this recipe.

  • I did not precisely measure. I just scooped flour out of the bag without first aerating, tossed in a handful of this or that, didn’t measure with tablespoons, just used kitchen spoons etc which is all to say you need not be absolutely precise.
  • If you don’t have vanilla sugar, a) you should make some and b) just use plain sugar
  • you can use any streusel topping you like – I never measure and simply through equal parts of flour:sugar:brownsugar:butter into a bowl and start mashing. I added a bit of cinnamon, but you can add nutmeg, cloves, cayenne, cardamom, crushed chamomile – whatever you like.


Chocolate Banana Bread with Streusel Top

113 grams (1 stick) room temperature butter
½ cup vanilla sugar
1 egg
2 large very ripe bananas, mashed
½ cup plain yogurt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 handful chocolate chips

1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup pecans, chopped fine
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch salt

Preheat over to 350 F/180 C.

Lightly grease a 9×5 loaf pan. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar together until well combined and light. The sugar—butter combo should be light, white, and fluffy. Add the egg and until well incorporated, making sure to scrape the sides of the bowl.Add bananas, yogurt and vanilla and mix until well combined.

In bowl, stir together baking soda, cocoa powder and flour, then add to the mixing bowl and beat until just combined. Do not over-process. Add a handful of chocolate chips and fold in with a spoon. Pour batter into loaf pan.

In a medium-sized bowl, combine the flour, sugars, pecans, cinnamon, salt and butter. Using your fingertips, massage the mixture together until it forms a coarse crumb and larger clumps. Sprinkle over top of batter and lightly press into batter.

Bake until an inserted toothpick comes out clean, about 50 minutes to an hour. (Check after 30 minutes to be sure streusel topping is not burning – cover lightly with a piece of aluminum foil if need be.)

Photo from Urban Pantry, by the fabulous Della Chen

HOW TO :: Homemade Nut Milks

With health consciousness on the rise, more people are turning to dietary alternatives with the aim of avoiding allergens in their food. Why? Because many of these foods create internal inflammation of our tissues and joints and chronic inflammation can lead to disease and illness.

homemade almond milkCommon food triggers are wheat, dairy, peanuts, soy, refined sugar. If you’re following a paleo diet these and many more are on the no-no list. If you’re doing a detox cleanse, you need not be as strict. Many things have easy, healthy substitutes – instead of white sugar, opt for raw local honey. Instead of peanut butter, try sunflower seed butter.

Dairy gets a little tricky because many of the substitutes have OTHER allergens and ingredients to steer clear from. Most shelf-stable nut milks contain carrageenan, “a gum extracted from certain species of red algae (also known as Irish moss) has thickening, gelling, and binding properties. It is used to stabilize emulsions in dairy products; to improve the quality of foods such as soups, salad dressings, sauces, and fruit drinks; and to give a creamy thick texture to milk products,” states Prescription for Dietary Wellness: Using Foods to Heal by Phyllis Balch. Continue reading

Key Ingredient: SEAWEED

Sushi Kappo Tamura’s owner and chef dishes about the edible sea plant that packs healthy nutrients……………….

Seaweed, long revered in Japanese culture, is available as close as Puget Sound. But can we simply stroll down to Golden Gardens and harvest some fresh kelp for eating? “Yes,” says Taichi Kitamura, owner and chef at Sushi Kappo Tamura in Eastlake. “All seaweed is edible; it is just a matter of tasting good or bad.”

1215eatanddrinkseaweedSeaweed comes in various shapes and forms—pressed and dried into sheets for sushi rolls, salted in jars, dried whole and other preparations. “I like them all, but my choice is wakame,” says Kitamura. Dark green wakame is sold in both dried and jarred forms. Sometimes labeled as sea vegetables, it has an almost indistinguishable, subtle taste. The texture is satisfying. “It’s something in between melt in your mouth and chewy,” he says.

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Homemade Aged Eggnog

More nuanced then just-made ‘nog, aging mellows the boozy nose of this super spiked beverage and makes for a harmonious, blended flavor.

aged eggnog recieHow & Why to Make Aged Eggnog

Eggnog is made with eggs, sugar, a blend of spirits and milk or cream (or both). In a typical iteration, eggs are blended with sugar and booze creating a thick and sweet beverage, not unlike Baileys. From there, portions of milk and cream are added before serving. Some recipes call for whipped cream, while others fold in whipped egg whites. I took another route entirely and went for an aged eggnog recipe.

Alcohol is a natural preservative, killing off bacteria. I had heard of aged eggnog before—the process seemed so much easier than the last minute preparation required with other recipes. With aged eggnog, eggs and spirits (like rum, brandy, cognac, whisky, or bourbon) are blended and mixed with sugar, the alcohol killing any potential of bacteria from the raw eggs over the course of time. (In fact, some think aged eggnog is safer to drink.)

The real benefit to aging the eggnog, however, can be tasted with each sip. More nuanced then just-made ‘nog, aging mellows the boozy nose of this super spiked beverage and makes for a harmonious, blended flavor. Smoother-tasting than fresh eggnog, aging the drink also turns the consistency thin, a nice break from the thick and cloying versions we’ve all come to expect from the store.

To serve, you can of course fold in whipped cream, if you’re a frothy eggnog lover; just as you can use reduced fat milk if you prefer a lighter version. I add toasted star anise to the jar a few days before I plan to serve it—the warming spices embody all that is symbolic of the holidays in one.

Aged Vanilla Eggnog
Makes 8 lowball glasses | start to finish: 20 to 30 minutes

1 1/2 cups bourbon or whiskey
1/2 cup dark rum
1/2cup brandy
12 eggs
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean pod
2 star anise, dry roasted (optional)

To serve:
1 1/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
Whole nutmeg, for grating

Combine all of the spirits and set aside. In a large bowl or standing mixer, add the eggs and sugar. Beat on low speed until all of the sugar has dissolved, about 3 to 5 minutes. Turn the mixer to the lowest setting and slowly add the spirits, drop by drop at first to temper the eggs. When all of the liquid has been added, strain into a clean glass jar (using a strainer will catch any solid bits of egg), cover and store in a cool dark place. Invert the jar occasionally, or at least every three days, for at minimum of nine days and up to three weeks total. Five days before serving, add the vanilla bean pod and star anise, if using.

aged eggnog recipe

To serve: strain out the spices and place the eggnog mixture into a large bowl or container. Add the milk and heavy cream and stir to combine. To serve, shake a ladle-full (about ½ cup) of eggnog with ice until frothy. Serve immediately, over a lowball filled with ice and top with some freshly grated nutmeg.

Rosehip Recipes :: Homemade Rosehip Granola Recipe

baking granolaRosehips are bright red ‘berries’ that form on the stems of rose bushes and trees after the blooms die back. These fleshy globes encase seeds for the roses and can be eaten raw or dried. Rosehips form in mid-autumn and are best harvested after the first frost. This homemade rosehip granola is best served over yogurt with a spoonful of honey.

To learn how to harvest rosehips (November is a perfect month for it!), check out this post. For more rose hip recipes and inspiration, check out this post for Rosehip Sherry.

Rose Hip Granola

makes about 3 pints | start to finish: about 30 minutes active time

2 cups rolled oats
2 cups sliced almonds
2 cups raw, unsweetened coconut flakes
2 tablespoon untoasted sesame seeds
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup dried rosehips
1/3 cup crystallized ginger, chopped

rose hips for harvestingPreheat the oven to 350°F. Place the oats and almonds on a sheet pan and stir to combine. Put the pan in the oven and toast for 5 minutes. Add the coconut flakes and sesame seeds. Toss to redistribute, and spread out into a single layer.
Toast until the coconut flakes are golden brown and sesame seeds are fragrant, another 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle on the salt. Add the rosehips and ginger and stir well to combine. Let cool completely before filling pint jars.
washed jars • pantry storage