Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Great Giveaway! The All Season Indoor Composter

As we get our second batch of compost fired up, our first is processing in a new bucket out on the back patio, and awaiting its new home in the pit in the pit behind our stone wall. We, as many of you, are preparing for Hurricane Sandy, and I spent the morning taking in anything loose and cleaning up things that needed to be cleaned up, anyway.

Good news! I have another composter that I can give away to one lucky winner. It's a real gem, and you will love it.  If you missed my review of it, you can read all about it in my last post:

Adventures in Composting: The All-Season Indoor Composter

The All-Seasons Indoor Composter, $48 at UncommonGoods.

Win It Here!

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Monday, October 22, 2012

October 2012 Reader Survey

I thank you for being a reader of A Child's Garden, my nature study blog. Would you be so kind as to give me some feedback on your experience on this blog?

The survey is only 8 questions. You will not be asked to sign up for anything (if you do, please email me, as that means the survey link is broken). All information is anonymous. I want to make your experience the best that it can be, and appreciate the information that you have to share.

The survey will remain open for one month, then results will be tabulated.

No ads, just information for me. Thank you!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Adventures in Composting: The All-Season Indoor Composter

I am so excited! I just emptied my first batch of pre-compost from the All Season Indoor Composter, by UncommonGoods...

I first learned about UncommonGoods during a Mother's Day Pinterest board competition last spring. Because some of the pins were to come from their products, I had the chance to browse their online catalog. They were certainly uncommon, and right up my alley!


So when I was offered the opportunity to try out a product in return for writing an honest review of it, I had already started a wishlist. I found so many interesting, fantastic gift ideas here!

I was fascinated with the composter, for several reasons:

  1. I've been a "composter" for decades -- just feel good returning things to the earth...
  2. I currently use a small roaster with a lid to store compost prior to heading to the compost pile, and tend to pile it then set the lid on top of the pile, instead of emptying it promptly. Yuck.
  3. I need something that will fit under the sink, since my counter is too crowded for a countertop storage container.
  4. I was in the middle of a homeschool unit on mushrooms, fungi and other "composters" and the kitchen composter fit right into our studies.
A wonderful man named Rocky sent the composter to me, with a refill of the bokashi that fuels it. And the rest was history!

Here's our composting story...

The All-Seasons Indoor Composter, $48 at UncommonGoods.

The Composter

The composter isn't really a "composter." Composting is an aerobic process: bacteria, fungi and actinomycetes that love air break down the vegetable products into an organic material that you can use to amend your garden. In the All Season Indoor Composter, the process actually is fermentation, not composting, and is anaerobic: it depends on you depriving the microbes of oxygen. (See this YouTube video for the difference -- not sure about his claims that compost piles create environmental toxins, but he explains the difference between the two process well. The Compost Guy provides a little more balanced presentation of traditional composting vs. bokashi composting).

So why is this important?

How you use the composter, and how it's constructed, actually keep air out. (Those of you who compost, and are used to turning the pile to aerate it, will understand the difference).

The composter, itself, is a neat bin (about 5 gallons in size), with a tight-fitting lid, a handle and a grate that keeps the composting products from the liquid which collects with the fermentation process. The composter comes with a bag of bokashi, a mixture of wheat bran and molasses which is "inoculated" with fermentation bacteria, which break down your compost in the bucket. Rocky sent along a second bag of bokashi, but I didn't need it. The composter fit perfectly under my kitchen sink.

The All-Season Indoor Composter fits neatly under your sink.

Bokashi - the Fuel for the Composter

A little about bokashi (from my research)...

Bokashi is a mixture of wheat bran, molasses and a special blend of microbes called "effective microorganisms," or EM, for short.  If you read reviews of composters such as this one, some folks talk about the odor of the bokashi. Do you want to know what it smells like?

Cattle feed.

If you're not a farm girl or guy, it's hard to explain. It's sweet smelling, a little like taking a big sniff in a box of guinea pig pellets, but stronger. That's all. Not nasty. Very alfalfa-y.

Bokashi, the fuel that powers the All-Season Indoor Composter.

In fact, I'm thinking that, with the exception of the microbes, the mix is probably a lot like most animal feeds. My dog was very intrigued with the smell of the bokashi blend as I prepared the bucket.

You can make the mix yourself, or (conveniently) purchase bokashi refills from UncommonGoods, for $12.00.

Filling the Composter

It is extremely easy to use the composter:

Put a layer of bokashi on the bottom of the composter.
  • Remove all packaging from the composter.
  • Add a generous handful of bokashi to the bottom of the composter, taking care not to block all the holes in the bottom grate. 
The grate at the bottom of the composter lets the liquid that accumulates during the fermentation process drain out of the compost, and into a separate part of the composter. From what I'm able to read, this was an improvement based on consumer suggestions.

    Any kind of vegetable and meat waste can be added.
  • Add your organic waste to the composter.
The directions say that you can add the following items: any vegetable scraps, and small amounts of meat scraps. You are not supposed to add materials that have already begun to spoil.

What I added: stale cereal, vegetable scraps, used napkins and paper towels, coffee grounds and filters, small amounts of paper, egg shells.

Stir the mixture after each addition of waste.
  •  Dust surface of waste with more bokashi, then stir with a spoon to coat all.
The directions say to cut everything into small pieces. I didn't -- I wanted to compare what it did with materials that I would put into my compost pile as is. I know if I have to chop my garbage, I won't use the composter.

I was not brave enough to add meat scraps to the composter this time.

Add an additional layer of bokashi before sealing the bin.
  • Each time you add waste, coat the layer with a generous amount of bokashi. 
  • Stir after each waste addition.
  • Push down the compost to push out extra air.
  • Add another dusting of bokashi before sealing.
Don't be skimpy with the bokashi -- it contains the microbes that keep this process going without rot organisms, that cause bad smells.

Seal the mixture with a plastic bag or a plastic plate.

  • For added air-tightness, cover the compost with a plastic bag or plate, to keep air out.
I tried a nicer looking styrofoam plate, but didn't find that 1) it covered the whole surface of the compost or 2) sealed the mixture as well.

Oh, well...

  • Put the composter under the sink.
I have to say that I never noticed ANY smell from the composter. It seals extremely well. And I didn't use it exactly as the directions said (but DID use it the way I know I would use it):

  1. I tossed the materials into the bin, then added bokashi and stirred it at the end of the day, but not with each addition.
  2. I probably didn't always get the lid on tightly.

The Finished Product

After about 10 days, the composter was full (that seems typical for a family of three). The directions said to let the material process an additional 5 days before removing from the bin, so I did. Here is what we had after that:

The "tea" -- liquid that accumulates with fermentation.

The directions say that you can drain off the liquid periodically using the handy spigot at the bottom of the composter. I suppose this is more of an issue if you use a lot of juicy products (but they say to not add too much liquid to the composter, so...).

Anyway, this is all that accumulated in our bin (about 1/2 cup). I filled the rest of the little container with water, and used the mixture to water my rosemary plant.

The compost, after 15 days of processing.

After the 15 days, the mixture is not yet done. The directions tell you that you have to now bury the mixture in the ground to finish the process. I haven't done this yet (we just emptied it this evening), and wonder what I will do in the winter (you don't dig anything in the ground here in New England, in the winter).

I was impressed with the amount that the melon rinds, eggs shells and cucumber peels broke down. Good stuff.

Another view of the finished product. Nice, huh?

What I'd do next time:

  1. Dig the hole for the finishing of the compost ahead of time, so I could just dump it in the hole when I'm finished.
  2. Try to compost everything organic: paper from the office shredder, paper towels and facial tissues, shredded newspaper (why? because I normally compost all these things -- if I can't compost all the things I normally compost, I'll be disappointed).
  3. Try adding meat scraps to the compost.

The empty bin.

The directions tell you not to add anything that already has begun to spoil. That was a little disappointing. There's something a little ironic about throwing the rotten cucumber that hid in the back of the crisper, in the garbage, instead of in the composter. I think I might try it in the composter next time. I'll let you know what happens.

The smell at the bottom of the bin wasn't as pleasant as the top. But it wasn't as bad with the bokashi as most rotten stuff smells. 

My Recommendations

The All-Season Indoor Composter provides a spacious, odor-free way to store your compost inside until you can get it into the compost pile or pit. The bokashi makes the food waste break down much more quickly than it would in an empty container on your counter, and the pre-compost product breaks down to about 1/2 its starting volume during the finishing process in the bin. Although you have to then bury the product outside before using it as compost (it's not finished yet), the bin at least provides a convenient way to collect these scraps without mess, smell or pest problems in the house.

If you like feeling good about returning organic materials to the environment, then the All-Season Indoor Composter,  from UncommonGoods, is a perfect addition to your "green" living routines.

Mine is being refilled for another "go-around," even as we "speak."

Other Things on My Wishlist at UncommonGoods

There are so many great unique finds for girls at Uncommongoods -- I am particularly fond of the Periodic Table Building Blocks, being a science girl and somewhat of a geek.

But, their picks for guys are just as intriguing: a President Block Set (my history-loving youngest son would go bonkers over that), and the older two (who are former Rubix cubers and chess masters) would appreciate the Lab Test Games.

For myself, I love the one-of-a-kind garden accessories, in particular the Apple Anchor Hummingbird Feeder and the Butterfly Puddler. I know these would be perfect in my garden -- we get a zillion hummingbirds (they come to anything red or shiny), and the orioles and bluebirds eat fruit left out for them in the yard. I also have noticed many butterflies drinking out of the "puddles" in plant saucers, so the puddler would be a pretty addition -- like a stepping stone with a dual purpose.

I'll have to wait until spring for those things... sigh. I so miss summer already.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Signs of Autumn: Our Trip to the Orchard

[Submitted to the Simple Science Strategies October blog carnival and the Outdoor Hour Challenge blog carnival.]

We're Going to the Orchard!

No autumn is complete without a trip to the local apple orchard. We live near one of the nicest orchards in Connecticut, Buell's Orchard in a little town called Eastford, here in the northeast corner of the state.

Going to the orchard is always a treat. But, like I used to tell my third grader writers, it's better to SHOW the readers than to TELL them!  

(See if you can find all the signs of autumn that we observed... I'll list them at the bottom of this blog post)

Our Trip, in Photos

Rows and rows of trees, waiting to be picked.

The news folks are telling us that the apple crop will be smaller this year, because we had an incredibly mild winter (it really didn't snow, and it felt like early fall temperatures in January), which made lots of plants think that it was spring all winter, and the apples began to break about a month early. Unfortunately, this period was followed by a brief cold snap in April, which zapped many flower buds.

I can't really say that we noticed fewer apples, but, then again, when you're picking for yourself, you're only looking for a bag of them. I'm sure growers are noticing that varieties are running out earlier than they have.

When we went, they were picking Gala, Empire, Cortland and McIntosh. We (of course) had to get some of each.

The morning air had very crisp. so we brought our sweatshirts when we left for the orchard that afternoon.

Grandma enjoys the New England day.
We had an out-of-town visitor, my mom, who flew up from Florida to take care of me while I recuperated from thyroid surgery. This was my first outing after getting a little stir-crazy at home -- it couldn't have been a better one!

My mom doesn't get to pick apples like she did when they still lived in New York, so she specifically asked if we could go when she came up. Apples in the store in the South just aren't like the ones that you pick right off the tree. Heck, apples in the store in CONNECTICUT aren't either!

The temperature was warmer than we expected by afternoon, and we ditched our sweatshirts. We often are surprised by the wind that whips through the orchard, so it's better to be safe and have the sweatshirt, than cold and miserable.

Little Man was determined to pick his own bag.
Going to the orchard is one of our kids' favorite activities. Our oldest son had a soccer game, and the middle son had a social engagement, but the Little Guy is held captive by the fact that he is eight and doesn't drive!

He would have spent the whole day at the orchard. This year, he carried his own bag ("Because I'm a big boy."). An orchard trip is such a great family activity, because a fidgety kid can run up and down the rows (but not too fast, as he has to dodge apples on the ground), and there's free food wherever you go. Sunshine... outside... running... free food... play clothes... It just sounds like the formula for fun for little boys, doesn't it?

He dressed up especially for the occasion, in his favorite clothes: one of our tie-dye shirts from the summer, and his camouflage pants. Gotta love his style.

Want some apple experiments? Click here.
 We had a brief review of the apple-picking process: turn the apple like a doorknob so you don't pull off the branch; check it all around for holes and dents (don't take those); don't worry about the color (because the side facing away from the sun might stay green, even though the apple's quite ripe); fill the bag to the top...

I love the Galas for lunchboxes and snacks -- they are crisp, don't dent in the lunchbox as easily, and you can sometimes find these teeny tiny ones that are so cute and perfect. Just enough sweetness (they don't make your left eye squint, like Granny Smiths do to me! I know you know what I mean...).

The leaves on the Galas were spectacular -- this is what I envision when I see the word, "green."

There's Grandma... but where's the kid going?

On to the next variety: McIntosh. I explained to my son that Macs were good for apple sauce, but not so good for pie, because they turn to mush. I wasn't going to pick any, but I couldn't help myself. Besides, the apples all get mixed together in a "surprise" bag eventually.

One thing I love about orchard apples is they are so fresh, you can leave them out of the fridge and they still stay delicious for weeks. This always happens to me, since I always pick too many for my fridge to hold, and have to leave the bag out. [We made lots of Apple Brown Betty -- check out my recipe.]

It's been too warm to leave the bag outside. Besides, here in the country, there are lots of critters who wouldn't mind having a snack on the back patio, if we left them out.

I love farm life...

On the way to the Macs, we passed the garage where they kept the tractors. This one had been freshly hosed down, so we spent some time gazing at it. My eldest was a tractor expert as a preschooler, and had an incredible collection of Matchbox-style farm equipment. He could name all the brands, by sight: John Deere (this one), Farm-all, Caterpillar, Kubota...

The Little Guy was more interested in being independent, so we sent him back for four more Macs to fill up one of the bags. We gave him a brief on how to pick the best ones, and sent him off. He likes being asked to do jobs like that.

The pumpkin fields were just starting to be picked when we were there. I'm sure that pumpkin picking is in full force now. We told the child it was too early for a pumpkin. But I think a pie is calling me now...

Lots of bloom on this Empire.

As we looked over the apples, we noticed the differences in the varieties. The Galas had "feet" like Delicious varieties do, and a deeper red color (although not nearly as deep as Red Delicious), and the skin was a little tougher than the others (but not as tough as Red Delicious, again). The Macs were cute and almost totally round, and had more green on them. The Empires had the waxy bloom that rubs off on your shirt (love shining up an apple...). And the Cortlands were the biggest of all ("This one is HUGE!" exclaimed the boy.)

So is a Cortland as good as a Granny Smith?

We headed down the road to the orchard with the Empires and Cortlands. Empires are an in-between apple -- multi-purpose. My son was looking for his favorite Granny Smiths, but those are a later variety, and they weren't ready yet. I showed him the Cortlands, which are a good pie pumpkin, and explained to him that even though apple pie was sweet, you needed a tarter apple in order for it to taste just right. So he tried one, and declared it delicious (although Grannys are still his favorite).

I think that's so funny how little kids love Granny Smiths, which I find to be so sour, and they're not red. I wonder what it is?

I know that last year, when we were picking pumpkins, I let Little Man choose his, and he selected a cute green and white one. Not an orange one. Kids are funny.

You might have seen the photo to the right, on my "Favorite Photo Friday" post last week.

Crates ready for apple shipping.

There is something so "New England" about an orchard.

I took this photo of the storage facility, and when I looked at the photos back at home, I was struck by how much this resembles shots I have taken at the lobster docks in Maine. If you just glance at the photo, it looks like a big stack of lobster pots, doesn't it?

Whenever I think about moving elsewhere, I should look at this photo...

One more pass by the Macs before we hit the country store...

With our bags full (and already paid for), we loaded our apples in the car and headed to the store, to check out the fresh vegetables (I resisted the temptation to buy a Rubbermaid tub full of Japanese china that a gentleman was selling at a tag sale along the road -- I love dishes, and that can get out of control if I am not strong! I was...)

At the store, we bought fresh corn (FRESH FRESH corn), Italian frying peppers, orange and black bell peppers, and two "personal size" melons. Mmmm... We put the peppers to good use when we got home...

One more for the road...

Last fall, Little Man asked why orchard apples taste so good. I explained where we get apples here in Connecticut: fall are local, and tasty, winter are storage from here (not as tasty), spring are shipped from South America, where it is fall, and summer are storage from South America. I explained that stored apples lose some of the sweetness, and become a little softer and mealy. When apples come right off the tree, they are at their best.

He blinked at me as if I told him too much. So I summed it up: "Apples fresh off the tree still have the sunshine in them."

Do you know that is what he has remembered that all year? I love kids...

I am glad they don't weigh kids before and after they go to the orchard. Little Guy remembered that, last year, when he ate one of each variety (four then) he had a stomach ache. So he limited himself to three this time.

What Signs of Autumn Did We See?

Changes in the Weather

  • Chilly mornings and warm afternoons

Changes in Nature

  • Pumpkins ready to pick
  • Apples turning red
  • Apples on the ground

Changes in People

  • Jackets and sweatshirts in the mornings, t-shirts in the afternoons 
  • People going to pick apples and pumpkins
  • People making apple pies
  • Vegetable stands selling fresh vegetables
  • People visiting New England (for the changing seasons)

Did you find any others?


We are almost ready to empty out the first batch of compost from our All Seasons Indoor Composter, and are very excited about bokashi as a compost aid! Stay tuned -- on around 10/15, the compost should be ready, and we will be blogging about our project!

All Seasons Indoor Composter, by UncommonGoods