Compost Courage

Composting is magical. Take some orange peels, too-soft-to-eat tomatoes, strawberry tops, kitchen scraps, dried up stems and leaves, and put them in your composter; moisten, toss lightly, and a month or two later, amazingly rich soil! But as incredible as composting is, there’s a creepy-crawly side to composting too; a side that may require something more from you than just your lovely leftovers and yard waste… it may also require you to be a bit courageous.

Insects and invertebrates and those that eat them are aspects of composting. Just give the compost a little stir and see lizards, spiders, beetles of all sorts, roaches, earthworms, and earwigs scurry for safe cover. Many of these are decomposers and do a vital job of breaking down larger cellular material, and the rest are the predators of these decomposers which keep the health and population of those living in your compost in check, but seeing way too many of any of these for our comfort level can give even the most earthy and eco-centered of us the heebie-jeebies.

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Worms are amazing decomposers, but what to do about the abundance of predatory insects and spiders that may be creeping you out?

So when your composter reminds you more of a horror scene in a film than nature at work, take a moment to collect yourself; this is the perfect time to do some detective work to figure out if what’s going on is normal or a sign that your compost needs your attention.

Composting can be its own adventure. Just open up a healthy and active compost bin and Oh My Goodness, all the life limp greens, onion tops, and  berries gone bad can attract!

Below are a few tips to help maintain a healthy balance in your bin and therefore increase the feel-goods you get from composting while minimizing the times you need to summon up your courage to bravely go tend an out-of-balance compost bin–eek!

  • Know the difference between Greens and Browns
    • Greens are fresh from your kitchen and yard: fruit, vegetables, beans, grains, kitchen scraps; but they also include green lawn clippings, freshly pruned leaves and stems, etc. from your yard.
    • Browns are dead plant matter: dried-up leaves, wood chips, straw, pine needles, etc.
  • Maintain a 4:1 browns to greens ratio in your bin if you can. Browns heat up your greens. Heat helps break down cellular material more quickly. Browns also help to ameliorate the odor coming from your decomposing greens, and too many greens will attract way more insects than you probably want.
  • Cut your greens up into small pieces. Before adding large or bulky greens to your compost collection, reduce their sizes. If greens are smaller, then there’s more surface area for the fungi and microbes to begin their work. Your amazingly nutritious greens will be broken down in less time; as a result, your compost bin will be able to support fewer insects, and attract less of them too, which will reduce the number of predatory creatures that come to eat the insects, like wolf spiders, centipedes, and earwigs.
  • Keep your compost moist but not wet. Just like your plants need moist soil to grow, your compost is alive with critters both visible and microscopic, and they need water to survive too. Moist compost that’s the consistency of a wrung out sponge allows enough room for air and water to circulate the heap and to provide your critters with all they need to live well, metabolize their meals, and stay active.
  • Eek! Are you seeing way too many creepy critters? Try to figure out why. Balance is ideal in nature; too much of anything is an indication that something is off. Is the compost too wet? Is it too dry? Is the browns to greens ratio off? Has the compost not been aerated enough? Try to fix the imbalance(s) in your compost and see if that makes a difference.

Composting can be immensely rewarding. The feel-good we get from keeping food waste out of our landfills is great, and the gift of amending our soil with rich, homemade compost is the kind of gift that gives back to us tenfold when we nurture the land on which we live.

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Happy Composting!

Additional Resources to help you find your Zen with composting:

“You Can’t Compost Meat (And Other Ridiculous Myths” Mother Nature News

City of Orlando’s Free Composter and Composting Guide

“Compost Pile Health Can Be Judged by the Company it Keeps” University of Georgia

Compost Orlando

Image sources:

Worms: http://catesgarden.com/bugs-redux-vermicomposting-worm-composting/

Hands holding soil: http://www.theresiliencyinstitute.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Hands-holding-soil.jpg

Simple Steps Toward Home Edible Gardening

Edible gardens are powerful places. They get us outside, give us reason to work the soil with our hands, and provide nutritious foods for us and our loved ones.12107069_832664683516826_5841770960524166993_n

Imagine, seeds pushing their little green leaves towards the sunshine; fruits fruiting, and you pulling up carrots like they’re presents from the earth; eating sweet peas right off the vine. Volunteering for Fleet Farming is a wonderful way to experience these things, but if you’d like to have these kind of experiences closer to home, then why not transition a little bit of your yard or your porch into an edible garden?

Some Things to Think About Before Creating Your Garden:
Know what kind of garden you want. There are all sorts of yard garden types: raised beds typically seen at community gardens, container gardening great for porch gardens, in-ground ones on Fleet Farming farmletts, straw-bale gardens where gardens grow out of the bales, and aquaponic gardens where fish and garden become one ecosystem, just to name five. Explore the options online or in a book. Which of the many types appeals most to you? Do you feel you can successfully manage this type and is it in your budget?

Know if you have good soil for what you want to grow.  10419510_685518611564768_8717027392192918568_nA soil test kit is essential when getting to know your soil and being able to check on it to maintain its health. Out of whack pH and low-nutrient soils, like the kind we have in Central Florida, need A LOT of good stuff added to them to build up rich and biodiverse soil. Healthy, established soil smells earthy, crumbles easily, and has worms, insects, microorganisms, and fungi living all throughout.

If you’re looking to make good soil, there are so many ways to go about this depending upon who you ask. Some recommend 1/3 manure compost, 1/3 vermiculite, and 1/3 peat moss; others suggest 1/3 top soil (rich with humus), 1/3 mushroom compost, and 1/3 vermiculite and peat moss. Soil making is like baking, people swear by different recipes for the “perfect and moistest” chocolate cake. It’s really up to what feels right to you, how much you’re willing to spend, and to which resources you have access.

Take your time. There are resources for you to explore online, in libraries and bookstores, and some at the end of this post to help you on your way to finding your perfect recipe.

Sunlight is essential. Find a place in your yard that ideally receives full sun for 6-8 hours a day, regardless of the time of year. Your busy plants need plenty of sunlight to manufacture their sugar. The sugar they produce provides them with the energy they need to flower, fruit, root, grow, and leaf.

Know which plants you want to grow and these plants’ requirements.  Knowing the needs of the plants you want to grow before you build your garden sets you up for success as a gardener. Does what you want to grow need a separate area for more acidic soil plants, like blueberries? If you want to grow edibles amongst larger edibles, like broccoli and cauliflower, how big of a plot would your plants need?10676248_685518434898119_6104554224350157295_n

Know yourself. If you are just getting into gardening, start small. Herb container gardening is a wonderfully satisfying way into edible gardening if fruiting plants feel too intimidating right now. But if you decide to build a plot, a manageable plot is a managed plot.

If you want a plot to garden, but you can’t garden in your yard due to too much shade, you live in an apartment or condo, or you just aren’t ready yet to build an edible garden, sign up to volunteer with Fleet Farming or join a community garden–both are incredible ways to join a community of gardeners and to explore, make new friends, and grow your knowledge of growing food. If you can garden in your yard and you’re ready to start, be honest with yourself when planning it out and keep it a size you can manage easily. Gardens can begin small, like 2 x 4 or 4 x 4, and then you can expand them when you’re ready to grow and manage a larger area.

Starting the New Year by being outside more, eating well, and making new friends in a community of gardeners is a beautiful way to bring more goodness and light into your life. Below you’ll find some gardening resources to check out that can help you along your way.

Happy Growing!

 

Resources:

Get Involved with Fleet Farming: Click here

Leu Gardens’ Gardening Classes: Click here

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Florida Fruit and Vegetable Garden is written by Leu Garden’s Director, Robert Bowden, and is a phenomenal resource for growing food in Central Florida. This title can be found locally at Leu Garden’s Gift Shop as well as at Bookmark It’s bookstore in East End Market.

And there are many community gardens in Orlando. A post will be posted on Fleet Farming’s website soon about the locations of them and how to get involved in Orlando’s local community gardens and slow food movement.

Audubon Park Garden District Gardening Volunteer: Click here

To receive your free composter (if you’re an Orlando City resident) and composting guides: Click here

Compost Orlando: Click here

This Old House: How to Build a Raised Vegetable Garden: Click here

And Square Foot Gardening is a wonderful resource to learn how to maximize yield in the gardening space you have. Just googling “Square foot gardening” will bring you in touch with many resources for gardening in smaller spaces and gardening smartly in the space you have.

 

Holiday Butternut Squash, Apple, Pecan, Kale Salad

Making colorful and flavorful salads at home does not have to be complicated – especially now that the holidays are coming! When putting together a salad, think about two things: the type of flavors you want and the ingredients you have at home. There is no need to stress about going to the grocery store or being wasteful. If you don’t have pecans, substitute them for almonds or cashews; if you don’t have butternut squash, use sweet potato or whatever you can find at the market! This sweet and salty combination is addictive and whether you eat this salad’s components tossed over a bed of massaged kale or some leafy romaine, you won’t be left feeling hungry.

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Photo retrieved from: http://www.smells-like-home.com/2013/10/sweet-and-salty-fall-harvest-salad/

Ingredients:
6 cups chopped kale
2 tbsp dried cranberries
1/2 – 1 apple cut in cubes
6oz. of brie cheese

For the butternut squash:
1 large butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed
1 tbsp olive oil
Pinch of salt and pepper

For the candied pecans:
½ cup pecan halves
2 tbsp cane sugar
½ tbsp butter

For the honey-lemon vinaigrette:
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp honey (can be substituted with agave)
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425° F. Spread the squash out on a large baking sheet and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil then sprinkle with some salt and pepper. Roast for 35 minutes, toss the squash, and roast for another 15 to 20 minutes, tossing periodically until the squash is browned and softened.
  2. While the squash roasts, make the candied pecan clusters. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. Heat the butter and brown sugar over medium heat in a medium nonstick pan until bubbling. Toss the pecans into the butter-sugar mixture until coated. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar liquifies and turns a dark amber color. Pour the pecans out onto parchment paper and spread them out with a rubber spatula. Allow them to cool completely before breaking them up into clusters.
  3. While the pecans are cooling, combine olive oil, honey, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar and salt and pepper to taste in a small mason jar or bowl. Shake or stir to combine the honey lemon vinaigrette.While waiting for the butternut squash to finish roasting, wash, dry, and chop kale and place in a large bowl.
  4. When the butternut squash is done, add the candied pecans, cranberries, cubed apples and brie to the salad. Then toss the butternut squash cubes on top and add the honey-lemon vinaigrette to the large bowl.
  5. Serve warm and enjoy!

Beneficial Bugs Building our Soil

In gardening, we try to harmonize well with the plants we choose to grow. But what about the bugs we find in our garden? Do we harmonize with them? We do—well, sort of. There are the innocuous bugs that disappear before us into the flora and soil.

Then there are the angels that fly into our gardens on fortuitous breezes. We welcome them to our yards, decorate our homes with their images, and have moments of Zen when we see particularly colorful ones flitting by.

But our adversaries… how can we harmonize with these that devour the plants? Without a second thought, we hone in on them and flick, crush, swat, or spray. And sometimes things may get so bad that we entertain engaging in chemical warfare on a micro scale just to give the plants we’ve tended to since they were seedlings or just tiny seeds in our hands a fighting chance.

Additional bugs that are beneficial to your garden!

Additional bugs that are beneficial to your garden!

But it seems the longer we’ve been gardening, the more we’re coming to realize that these pests, our Adversaries, are indicators of the state of our gardens and they are communicating something important to us. And if we take a moment to pay attention, we might remember that their goals and Nature’s goals do harmonize well with one another– and the more we plant and create a garden that harmonizes with Nature, the more we’ll be in harmony all the kinds of bugs it attracts. So, crazy thought…. what if by getting to know garden pests, our adversaries, they become our comrades in Nature, our partners in education, and help us toward becoming more knowledgeable growers and better skilled gardeners in the process?

This blog is new. We’re hoping it’s informative and interesting, too. We’re taking a closer look at what lies beneath our lawns and in our gardens so we learn together how to position ourselves better and align our goals to be closer with those of the plants we grow as well as with the bugs they attract–big and beautiful, small and important, microscopic and vital—so we can create a space where goodness grows, skills and knowledge coalesce, and harmony in and around our gardens and yards is more easily established and maintained.

Our first go at this task is taking a closer look at the humble pillbug, also known as the roly poly.

The pillbug is most commonly known for being that fun “bug” children collect in the palms of their hands and then gently coax into rolling up into tight gray balls. But calling pillbugs “insects” or “bugs” is a misnomer, because pillbugs are actually crustaceans, more closely related to shrimp, lobsters, and crayfish than to the many insects they live among in our gardens’ soils. Their shells (yes, shells) protect their soft and predominately water-based insides from tiny probing fingers to hungry predators, and they still breath through their gills, a remnant-organ from when they lived among their cousins in the sea.

So, these crustaceans eat a lot of things, and one of these things is the tender roots of your beloved plants. And there are an amazing amount of websites devoted to the eradication of this “bug” from gardens and potted plants for this reason. Pillbugs are typically found in soils where there’s organic material in need of composting, so where there’s soggy soil and decaying root systems, they’re probably there, too. They work along side garden soil royalty, like the amazing earthworm, digesting rotting plant material and converting them into food bits accessible to the fungi, protozoans, and bacteria in the soil, which then they convert into nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphates, and other elemental foods for your hungry plants to absorb.

And even though pillbugs are known for eating roots, they won’t eat enough to where they harm the health of the plant, as long as the plant is healthy. And frankly, I’m okay with sharing a little to keep these guys ’round. (Sorry!). Because, as scavengers and composters, they do two more remarkable things: 1) they help end the life of unhealthy plants to make more room for healthier ones and provide nutrients for them too; and 2) they decontaminate the soil. They remove toxic metals from your garden with their amazingly specialized gut that absorbs metals like lead, copper, and cadmium and render them less toxic or innert upon defecation; and because of this adaptation, they have the ability to thrive in soils that are way too toxic for most other insects and help to convert these toxic soils into habitable places where insects and earthworms can one day live, compost, and thrive.

Amazing!

About two years ago I took a vegetable gardening class at Leu Gardens with Robert Bowden. Robert said that bugs will eat your plants. That’s just what they do. And that’s okay. A little nibble here, a leaf or a few there. He said he doesn’t mind sharing. As long as the plants are healthy and he can harvest enough fruit for his family–that’s what matters. As so many of you know, a bug-free garden is a stagnant, sterile garden–and what good can grow there?

michelleSo next time you see a pillbug rummaging through your soil, maybe you’ll feel a surge of appreciation for the wonders it’s unwittingly doing and think, “Hey, thanks, buddy,” because this little crustacean is going about its business improving the health of your soil. And they really are fascinating little crustaceans. If you go to the article “Ten Fascinating Facts About Pillbugs,” I promise you will learn several surprising things you never knew about the humble pillbug.

Sources:
http://insects.about.com/od/isopods/a/10-facts-pillbugs.htm
http://www3.northern.edu/natsource/INVERT1/Pillbu1.htm

Written By: Melissa Lee

Summer Strawberry Kale Salad

Remember to be careful with all your sharp tools and use cutting boards to prevent scratches on your counter.

Remember to be careful with all your sharp tools and use cutting boards to prevent scratches on your counter.

For the salad – serves two:
1 bunch chopped kale
8 freshly, sliced strawberries
1 handful of blueberries
1/4 cup of shaved, lightly toasted almonds
Several slices of hand shaved parmesan – garlic and herb feta would taste great too!
*For extra protein and good fats, add 1 sliced avocado
**All fruits and vegetables can be found at your local farmer’s markets! Get fresh ingredients for more nutrients and a better taste!

Strawberries I bought from the Winter Park Farmers Market on Saturdays.

Strawberries I bought from the Winter Park Farmers Market on Saturdays.

For the dressing:
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice – depending on how acidic you want your dressing to be!
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon chia seeds
Salt and pepper to taste

How to:
1.  Add chopped kale to a bowl and sprinkle with sea salt and some olive oil.
**Something to remember: to avoid the bitter taste and harsh crunch, massage the kale with your hands until the leaves are darker in color and tender.
2.  Add sliced strawberries, blueberries, avocado, almonds, and gently toss.
3.  In a small jar that has a lid, add the ingredients for dressing. Give it a good shake and pour over the salad when it is ready to be served.
4.  After mixing the dressing, sprinkle the shaved parmesan cheese and then you’re ready to go!

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Voila! A simple, yet fresh and tasty salad ready to eat!

New Additions to the Fleet Farming Family!

The Orlando program of Fleet Farming is just now entering its second season. With almost double the growing space as last season, we have some extra hands on board to keep up with the farmlettes. We hope you are able to meet the new Fleet family members at one of our upcoming Swarm Rides, but in the meantime you can learn a little about them below!

Fleet Farm Manager
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Michele Bumbier, a native Orlandoan is a passionate gardener finding true joy working with plants. Fleet Farming encompasses all of the activities that she loves; sorting through garden goodies, working outdoors, installing beds for others, interacting with the community, bicycling for a cause, and supporting the sustainable movement. Michele is currently a Horticulture student at Valencia, a garden intern with The Florida School of Holistic Living as well as Edgewood Children’s Ranch, and a Permaculture Design graduate of The Green Education Center in Orlando. She occasionally teaches gardening classes, installs permaculture designs, speaks publicly about permaculture, and works with homeschool children in the garden.

11891154_951436584903115_214159385655414543_nFleet Research Apprentice
Melissa Lee is the Project Lead of Audubon Park Garden District’s (APGD) Community Garden for which she’s won the APGD’s 2015 Volunteer of the Year Award. Currently, she’s interning with Fleet Farming, learning about the Small Plot INtensive (SPIN) model of farming, and is raising her awesome kids with her husband in Audubon Park. If she could have one gardening wish granted, it would be to work the land with her community to help create a sustainable and vibrant, pollinator-friendly gardening culture in Audubon Park.

Fleet Farm Apprentice
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Fran Champin is currently an undergraduate student at Rollins College expecting to graduate with a double major in Business Social Entrepreneurship and Anthropology. She is involved in many organizations with the college like, cross-country, JUMP, yoga club, residential life, and more. She has a strong and enthusiastic passion for the environment and the endless opportunities it can provide for communities.
“Although I have had many learning experiences from my own garden at home, Fleet Farming never ceases to teach me something new and amazing!”

Homemade Acai Bowl

Ingredients:
– 1 frozen acai packet (I usually buy the Sambazon Unsweetened pack from Publix or Whole Foods – look at image 1 for a photo visual!)
– 2 cups of fresh strawberries and blueberries
– ½ cup of kale
– ½ cup of spinach
– 1 lime (squeeze out the juice – if you like more citrus flavors feel free to add more.)
– ½ cup of a liquid of your choice (I use either: water, homemade pineapple water, or fresh home squeezed orange juice depending on what I am in the mood for. Be creative!)

Sambazon PIcture Image 1. Sambazon Unsweetened Smoothie Pack; there is also the Original Blend which contains more sugar

Toppings:
– Organic, gluten free granola
– Kiwi (sliced at your own preference)
– Banana (sliced at your own preference)
– Agave nectar (or honey if you’re not vegan)
– Chia or flax-seed

Directions:
Break the frozen Acai blend while it’s still in the plastic. Then put the pieces into a high-powered blender and combine it with the berries, greens, liquid, and lime juice. Depending on how thick you want your bowl you can add ice or frozen fruit. Remember, buying frozen fruit is not always your best option. You can always pack and freeze your fresh Fleet Fruits in Ziplocs until you want to use them for your next bowl or smoothie! Empty the mixture into your bowls and top them with your sliced bananas, kiwi, granola, chai seeds, and agave… Violà! Enjoy the taste of fresh and natural every morning.

Acai Picture

A Kale Salad Fit For Summer

FullSizeRenderBy now, the only greens left in the garden that can tolerate the summer heat are the weeds, summer greens like Malabar and Okinawa spinach, and possibly some kale in the shade. If you can wrangle up enough kale to make a couple salads, we highly suggest giving this refreshing recipe a try!

 Ingredients:
Salad
½ cup pecans
A big ‘ol bunch of Fleet Kale (lacinato, dinosaur or toscano varieties work well)
½ cup dried cranberries (or dried cherries)
1 medium Granny Smith apple (or your choice of seasonal fruit – strawberries, peaches, etc.)
2 ounces soft goat cheese, chilled
Dressing
3 tablespoons olive oil
1½ tablespoons apple cider vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
1 tablespoon smooth Dijon mustard
1½ teaspoons honey
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Directions:

  1. Heat up pecans in either the oven or on stove top.
  2. De-stem the kale and chop the leaves into small, bite-sized pieces. In a large bowl, mix the kale with a small pinch of sea salt and massage the leaves with your hands by lightly scrunching big handfuls at a time, until the leaves are darker in color and fragrant.
  3. Coarsely chop the pecans and cranberries (or cherries) and add them to the bowl. Chop the apple or fruit of your choice into small pieces and add to the bowl. Crumble the goat cheese over top.
  4. In a bowl, whisk the dressing ingredients together (or shake it up in a mason jar) and pour the dressing over the salad. Toss until the salad is evenly coated with dressing. Serve immediately, or for even better flavor, let the salad marinate in the dressing for 10 to 20 minutes beforehand. *Don’t let sit too long or it gets a little soggy.

*Recipe adapted from Cookie and Kate.

Healthy Central FL Furthers Urban Farming through Fleet Fruits

The USDA just announced a new funding opportunity this week, through which they will allot $800,000 to local food initiatives. While federal support of localization is something we should all be grateful for, we are even more proud and appreciative of the support from our very own community!

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Ecstatic about our accomplishments made in our first year!

This past month, Fleet Farming was awarded $2,500 from the Healthy Central Florida Foundation (HCF) to further the reach of the new urban fruit gleaning concept, Fleet Fruits. HCF and community partners, Florida Hospital and Winter Park Health Foundation, have been vital to the success of Fleet Farming, as well as many other community initiatives. Fleet Farming was originally granted $5,000 from HCF last June to launch Fleet Farming. Since then, the relationships that have formed from this network have affirmed even more faith in the power of partnerships to accelerate change.

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The 2015 Healthy Central Florida Innovator Grantees

Anyone who has applied for a federal grant will tell you that it’s no walk in the park, so it’s so important that understaffed change-making organizations have the opportunity to apply for local grant opportunities like this one. IDEAS For Us Co-Founder, Chris Castro, says “We are grateful and delighted to be awarded this grant and to continue working with HCF on expanding innovative urban agriculture models in Central Florida!”

Photo by Ricardo Williams

Chris Castro, IDEAS For Us Co-Founder and Heather Grove, Program Coordinator. Photo by Ricardo Williams

More on the grant program and some words from Heather in the video below!

Locally Fresh Feature at Florida Film Festival

Thanks to a great group of filmmakers from Full Sail University, this short video was produced for the Enzian Theatre’s Florida Film Festival event, Locally Fresh. Four local producers were chosen, including Olde Hearth Bread Company, Lake Meadow Naturals, Palmetto Creek Farms, and us! Each producer had a short film followed by a cooking demo using their ingredients. The Enzian Chef featured some of Fleet Farming’s mint, which became part of a tasty cocktail!