Sunday, April 24, 2011

Eww! Rotting Vegetable Matter and Funky Banana Water

By Christine Clark

Pity my poor family. They must live with me and my gardening projects. For about 18 years, fruit and vegetable matter in various stages of rot has greeted my family from a container on the kitchen counter, in the sink, or a dark place under the sink. I now limit the container to someplace visible. It was a bad idea to hide it under the sink. I’d often forget about it until I’d open the cabinet to add more juicy materials and just about swoon from the stench.

The "Compost" Bowl
We call this collection of vegetable peels, apple cores, coffee grounds, and eggshells compost, as in “Take the compost out, it’s disgusting,” but it isn’t compost, yet. Whether it’s disgusting is relative to how long it’s been inside. It’s what will become compost after I take it (and its various non-human friends—think fruit flies, mold, bacteria) outside to the compost pile, where time, heat, grass clippings, and manure work their magic and turn the decomposing soup into the best dirt on the planet.
Composting is a great way to recycle and to add excellent organic matter and various beneficial microbes to the garden. I like compost. I like the way a finished batch crumbles like soft, fresh-baked cookies when I squeeze it in my hands. I love the rich, earthy, moist dirt scent. I wish I had yards of it. But, I don’t, and must continue to, as my daughter says, “Make your own dirt.” So, the compost bowl is a permanent fixture in my kitchen; it sits in the sink until I take it outside, fruit flies trailing in my wake. (I’m trying to get better about taking it out everyday, but I sometimes forget.)
Unusual juxtaposition of Battenburg Lace and Banana Water
Unfortunately for my family, another gross gardening project has joined the compost bowl in the kitchen. Funky banana water is now part of my gardening repertoire. A few months ago, I got my first staghorn fern. I have no trees in which to place said fern, so it’s hanging on my patio. It’s healthy and happy. As a gardener, though, I want it healthier, happier, and bigger. I recalled that staghorns love bananas, so I Googled for more information. Some gardeners recommend that banana peels be dried and then added to staghorns. Several Web sites advised soaking banana peels in water and using the potassium-rich liquid to water the ferns. (Since then, several successful staghorn growers have told me they use the entire banana.) Potassium, hmmm, I thought. I know tomatoes need potassium and wondered if the banana water would help my struggling Roma tomato seedlings. Onto the counter went a jar of water and banana peels. After a few days, the water turned yellow-beige and the peels got soft and floaty looking. I carefully poured the liquid onto the staghorn and my ailing tomato seedlings.
Two weeks ago, my tomatoes were about an inch high and yellow. Today, thanks to several dousings of banana water, they are six inches high, green, and thriving. The staghorn keeps growing and growing.
The kids never said a word when the jar of banana peels and water materialized on the kitchen counter. They probably wondered, but decided, “No, it’s probably not even safe to ask.” At least I haven’t gone as far as Bailey White’s mother, the subject of White’s hilarious book, Mama Makes Up Her Mind ( Unlike White’s mother, I don’t have worms and a bowl of worm casings hanging from the light fixture in my kitchen. (Worm casings are excellent for the garden, but no… I just can’t.)
My sister is a bit braver than my kids. When she walked into the kitchen yesterday and spied the jar of banana peels and water, she said, “What is that? Some sort of science experiment gone terribly wrong?” I suppose the peels with their black spots look a bit like snakes in a jar. She relaxed after I explained. She, too, was impressed with the tomatoes and, like me, loves to garden. Maybe there’s a banana water jar in her future. And my kids? I imagine when they all have their own homes, they might say, “No compost! My mother always had something gross in the kitchen, and we’re not having that here!”

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