Sunflower, Squash and Sweet Potato Stew

First let me say right upfront this is NOT a recipe. Instead it is a tribute to a rather unlikely combination, a stew of sorts, that we created here in the last few days.

empty compost bin, waiting to be filled

About a week ago I emptied our two compost bins, sifting out about 15 bushels of finished compost in the process. Compost is like a magic elixir for gardens, and it is highly valued by most gardeners – me included. One of my goals here at HA is to make as much compost as possible. To accomplish that we compost every scrap of organic material we can lay our hands on, and try and keep the bins working year round.

finished, sifted compost

There’s a lot of good information available about starting and maintaining a compost pile, and I’m not going to get into the nuts and bolts of composting here. Lately I’ve been re-reading Wendy Johnson’s great book Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate and in it she has a chapter titled “Life Into Death Into Life”. There she offers both an ode to the wonderful art of composting plus detailed information about the science behind it. It makes for fascinating reading, and I highly recommend the book to all gardeners and nature lovers.

According to her, every compost pile is unique and has its own character and charm. At the Green Gulch Farm Zen Center in northern California, where she lived and gardened for many years, they even named some of their most memorable compost heaps. I liked the one called “Holy Shit”, which was a pile that was largely comprised of  fresh horse manure.

Inspired by her book, I have decided to name our latest compost creation. After thinking about all the materials that went into it, I called it Sunflower, Squash and Sweet Potato Stew. We shredded all the materials that went into this pile with our chipper/shredder, and in doing so we combined both old and new ingredients that were available.

For example, underneath a bunch of blackberry trimmings I found a lot of dried squash vines that we pulled up from the church garden at least a month ago. They went into the shredder, and onto the pile. So did the blackberry trimmings. We also cut down the dried Lemon Queen sunflowers, which the finches had pretty well picked clean of seeds. The shredder made short work of the thick stalks. And some of the last things to get shredded were the green sweet potato vines that were left after digging the sweet potatoes this past weekend.

That’s not all that went on the pile. We also had some branches from Lynda’s shrub trimming frenzy from a week or so ago. And I took all the stuff that didn’t make it through the compost sifter and ran it through the shredder. Things like corn cobs and peach pits were reduced to shreds, and went back for another trip in the Brown Gold Yugo. I finished the pile two days ago.

steamy hot compost pile

This morning I went out to check and see if the pile was heating up. I dug my hand a few inches down into the moist material and quickly drew it out. The pile was steamy hot! I hope to be able to turn it over into the second bin in a week or so, and start another pile in the first bin. That is, if my back recovers. Yesterday morning it cried “Uncle” and went into a spasming fit of pain.

Since then, the heating pad has become my new best friend, and I have been taking a break from heavy work. Perhaps I should have named the pile “Oh My Aching Back”. I guess I needed a break, and this is a good excuse. Maybe it will give me some time to think up possible names for the next compost creation!

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2 Responses to Sunflower, Squash and Sweet Potato Stew

  1. Daphne Gould says:

    Oh ouch. I’ve got pallet piles in back too. I want to get a couple more up so I can collect leaves in the fall easily.

  2. This is one area on our ‘to-do’ list for next spring, to build a larger compost bin system that we can get the front-loader of the tractor into. Just not possible to have too much compost. We found through freecycle.org a nearby stable that is willing to make compost pile contributions, and all we have to do is haul it. There’s not much green-waste around here that doesn’t get composted…although I must admit, some of it gets recycled through the chickens first. I do hope your back recovers soon. Maybe a back brace next time you’re turning the pile…or hire a lithe 20-year old to help 😉

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