Archive for August, 2009

Maybe it was the temp of 160F or the ammonia gas, but somehow I got the notion that I could cook in the compost bin and had to figure out IF and HOW I could pull it off.

How to get compost pile hot:

A hot compost pile is a delicate balance, and sometimes a freak accident, which is how I got this foolish notion of using it to cook food. It is the combination of ingredients, moisture, mass and air.

  • Ingredients: Entire books are written about the ingredients and ratios for compost. For hot composting, it takes lots of finely-chopped greens. I get a garbage can of grass clippings each week when Odilon, our friendly neighborhood gardener, happily disposes of our neighbors’ grass clippings into our compost bin. Grass is a nitrogen-rich “green” ingredient has to be mixed well with compost “browns” like dried leaves, wood chips, straw (preferably chopped). I have gotten very hot compost with materials like straw bedding from sheep, and mushroom compost (which is woodchip mixture used for growing mushrooms). I keep browns on the side and mix in.
  • Moisture: A balancing act between too wet and too dry. It should be damp. If you grab a handful, you should be able to squeeze a little water out. Others describe it as a damp wash cloth.
  • Mass: A small pile will never be able to get hot. I have gotten hot compost with as little as 2/3 of a cubic yard (3ft x 3ft x 2ft) This is enclosed in a bin which also helps retain the heat.
  • Air: Straw and wood chips also help form air pockets and keep the grass from matting up. Then I turn my pile from either twice a week or every other day to get more air mixed back in. To get hot, your compost pile needs a few days to sit and build up heat.

Why to NOT make compost that hot!

While having a compost pile at 160F/71C is good if you want to cook a meal, it is not as good if you want to use it for your garden. Somewhere above 130F you will start to smell ammonia. This is your compost pile releasing nitrogen into the air. But you want nitrogen in your garden, not in your disgusted SO’s nostrils! When I am not cooking dinner, I add dirt to my compost pile which helps absorb the ammonia and regulates the temp down to 120F. In his book “Gardening When It Counts” Steve Solomon has an excellent discussion on composting, and how dirt acts like the cooling rods in a nuclear reactor to control the process. He recommends compost piles to be about 5% dirt, and I probably end up at this amount when I keep adding dirt to cool it down.

What else could you do with compost at 160 degrees?

Beleive it or not, there are REAL trials being run on how to use compost heat being used on a farm. It’s a large PDF file to download, but really worth reading and very educational.

There were many other questions about this video that were asked on Twitter. If you want me to go into more details on other parts of the process, please add a comment and I’ll be happy to answer your questions, including (heaven forbid) post the recipe.

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For breakfast or tea time, maple walnut scones are a hit!

For breakfast or tea time, maple walnut scones are a hit!

This maple walnut scone recipe is a significantly-modified Joy of Cooking scone recipe. Scones can sometimes taste like dry icky biscuits, and it took quite a bit of experimentation to finally get it just as we love it, so we hope you’ll enjoy it, too!  I am writing this exactly as I prepare the scones. Scroll down to see the ingredients.

Grease and flour a cookie sheet.  Set aside.  Preheat oven to 425F or 218C.

In a small bowl, combine egg, heavy cream, maple syrup, and imitation maple flavoring (Alas, the maple syrup alone does not give it enough of a maple “zing” to come through!). Set aside in fridge.

In a large mixing bowl, sift flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar.  I use a dry whisk to mix it well.  Take butter out of fridge and cut up in little 1/2″ cubes; add to flour mix.  Once all the butter is cut up, I use my fingers to work it in the flour until the chunks are mostly broken up and incorporated in the mix.  You don’t need to go crazy to make this completely homogenous.  You just want to break up the butter, but do take care to keep the butter cold or the scones will not rise properly.

Add nuts to flour mixture and mix in with fingers till blended.

Make a little well in the center of flour/nut mix.  Pour in the egg/cream/syrup mixture that you took out of the fridge.  Set this small bowl aside as you may need it again (read on). With a large spoon, blend the liquid and dry ingredients till most of the liquid is taken up.  Do this gently as overworking the mixture will yield hard scones.

Now with your fingers, continue blending the liquid and dry ingredients till you’ve cleaned up the bowl of any dry clumps.  Gently work the ingredients together into a nice ball of dough, taking care NOT to knead the dough as you would with bread.  Kneading yields hard scones 😦 If your dough is too dry and won’t stick together, dab it along the inside of the small bowl that contained the wet ingredients to moisten it up.

On a floured surface, gently flatten out your ball into a circle about 9 inches in diameter and ~1/2 ” thick.  This may take a few “flips” of the dough to get it just right.  You’ll want to keep adding some flour to prevent it from sticking to the surface.  Cut up the circle into 8 triangle wedges as you see on the photo.

Place the wedges about 1/2″ away from each other on the cookie sheet.  Bake for 15 min. till scone is slightly brown on underside.  The scones should have risen at least 2x its pre-baking height.

While baking, prepare the glaze.  Mix the confectionary sugar, imitation Maple flavor, maple syrup, vanilla flavor till well blended.  Add 1/2 teaspn of water at a time till you get a nice viscous mixture, similar to ranch salad dressing.

When scones are done and still warm, brush the glaze over the top of each scone. I found a really cool silicone brush which does a great job and cleans out beautifully.

Serve warm with your favorite beverage.  ENJOY!


  • 2 cups sifted all purpose or pastry flour
  • 1 tablespn finely sifted baking powder (caked baking powder will NOT work, so I put it through a small mesh strainer like those used for teas)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 tablespns brown sugar
  • 6 tablespns COLD butter.  Leave in fridge until ready to use!
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup; keep extra maple syrup (about 1 tablespn) on side to make glaze
  • 1 1/2 tablespns imitation Maple flavor (from McCormick)
  • 1 cup finely ground walnuts
  • GLAZE:  1/2 cup confectionary sugar, 1 teaspn. imitation Maple flavor, 1 teaspn. vanilla extract or imitation vanilla flavor, 1 tablespn. maple syrup, a little water to add 1/2 teaspn. at a time

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No baseball zucchinis here!

No baseball bat zucchinis allowed!

It is summer time. The birds are singing, bees are buzzing and someone is standing by the side of the road looking for anyone driving by with a window rolled down so they can chuck a zucchini in it.

I have heard all the stories: “I just planted 1/2 the package of seeds. Who woudda thunk?” -or- “It was wee-sized on Friday, and when we got back from the weekend camping trip, we found a baseball bat in the garden!”

There’s only so much zucchini bread, cookies, parmesan, etc. that one can consume in the summer, so here’s one that you can enjoy in the colder months. I got this from my mom, who got it from my great aunt of German origin. So I can trace this back to at least the early 1900s. We don’t have zucchinis this year, so we won’t get to whip this up, but I have fond memories of this delicious relish as a young boy.

Zucchini Relish

  • 8 cups zucchini – grated
  • 2 cups onions – finely diced
  • 1 large green pepper – finely diced
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons of salt

Mix well and let stand overnight in a cool place or refrigerator. The following day, rinse well with cold water and drain.  Set aside.

Combine the ingredients below.

  • 1 1/2 cup white or cider vinegar
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1/2 tsp dry mustard
  • 3/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp celery seed

Cook until it starts to thicken. Add the zucchini mixture above and mix well.

Cook for another 20 minutes and seal in jars.  ENJOY!

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Ahhh, summer!  You’ve probably harvested several lbs. or meals of your favorite tomatoes, lettuces, beans, potatoes, and those lovely cole crops – broccoli, cabbage, radishes, chard!  The garden even looks glorious basking in that August sun.  But wait, there’s warfare going on in this idyllic scene.  WAR, you say?

Oh yes, just because you can’t see it, it doesn’t mean it’s non-existent.  The soil-bearing fungi are whetting their appetite to get those sugars from the leaves or roots and decompose the plant, but even more obvious are those critters you DON’T but CAN see … ONCE YOU TURN OVER THE LEAVES!

Check what's going on under the leaves.

Check what's going on under the leaves.

Yes, you’ve worked on the preparation, the maintenance, weeding, etc., but do not rest on your laurels as veg garden work is not complete till it reaches your mouth!  And that is what many new gardeners neglect:  touching the leaves, turning them over, trying to ID what critters are munching on THEIR dinner, and what they’re going to do about them.

Cabbage worms devastating broccoli leaf!

Cabbage caterpillars (not loopers) devastating broccoli leaf; aphid on right.

So hear’s an example of Roy looking under the leaves of the Calypso bean plant.  Hm, not snails.  Probably a caterpillar.  He looks for the culprit.  Gets out a book (see below) for ID.  Reads prognosis and treatment.

Moves on to the next plant. Broccoli. Ewww, found the critters. Caterpillar stage chewing up the leaves. A sole aphid in the corner. Roy’s thinking, maybe BT will take care of that, insecticidal soap for aphid or lacewing treatment.

To help you ID and do something about these garden pests, here’s a suggested list of references for the veggie garden:

And if all fails, just send us a tweet with photo on Twitter and we’ll try to help you ID your pest!

P.S.  Roy’s solution to the cabbage caterpillars is smushing them and applying BT tonight before the infestation gets worse.

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