Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Compost Happens

Isn't this supposed to grow in the dirt?

It finally stopped raining here for a few days which allowed me the chance to go outside and tend my garden compost pile. I have a few in various stages, but only one "active" one that I add to at least weekly. I try to limit my compost pile chore to once per week usually on the weekend. I save my kitchen scraps in a cheap plastic 1 gallon container with a lid all week and then put them in the compost pile and layer them with other things like dried brown leaves, twigs, weeds & grass. Sometimes I sprinkle some chicken manure and wood ashes into the mix.

Here's a photo of the various plastic containers filled with "compost in waiting".

Compost containers filled to the brim!

When I first started composting here in the mountains, I read everything I could on the subject in magazines and books. One of the best books I found was called Let it Rot, by Stu Campbell. I had read about many different styles of composting bins, barrels, stacks and piles. Some looked really fancy and neat. Some not so much. Some would take time, effort and expense to build. They were all designed to keep the pile contained while still giving it proper air circulation and hopefully keeping the curious and hungry wildlife from scattering and destroying your "pile in progress". And we do have plenty of wildlife! Around here we have hungry deer, hungry raccoons, hungry possums, hungry rabbits, hungry squirrels, hungry birds and various other little creatures and bugs. There is also the occasional bear that goes through the neighborhood, but luckily I haven't had any problems with them getting into my compost. Good thing too, because I have never seen a compost pile enclosure that would keep a bear out.

After all of that study, I decided to go with the cheapest and easiest method of composting that I have found. I just use the "pile" method. I make a pile near my garden (the garden that is destined to receive the finished compost) by layering "brown dry stuff" consisting of dead leaves, twigs and any dried up weeds or straw that are lying around, and "green stuff" which is kitchen vegetable scraps, green weeds, plants, leaves & grasses. I alternate thin layers until I have pile that is about 3 feet across and however high it becomes after I layer all the available compost ingredients on it. I then add to it week by week as I collect stuff. After making the initial pile or adding to it, I always wet it down thoroughly with the garden hose. This is more important in the dry summer months as the pile will dry out pretty quickly in the heat of summer. Too dry and the pile stops "working" and ants invade it. Too wet and the pile will just turn to moldy, smelly mush and slow down it's "working" process.

To keep the hungry and curious critters out of the pile, I simply cover the whole mound with a big square of 1 inch grid chicken wire and weight it down on the perimeter with anything that is heavy and available such as rocks, bricks, logs, lumber etc. The chicken wire cover allows for good air and water circulation while keeping the animals from scattering the pile and eating its ingredients. The birds still sit there and peck at the seeds or fruit, maybe eating some bugs or trying to eat any worms they can find.

Speaking of worms! It's a good idea, although not a necessity, to add a handfull of live earthworms to the middle of the pile near some of that good juicy kitchen scrap material. They will love the food scraps, eat it and make some of the best dark loamy compost you have ever seen. The worms will thrive in your pile if you make sure to keep it moist but not too wet. They will multiply and produce generation after generation of compost creators for you. Just take a handfull of worms from an existing pile to use when you start a new one. They are good in your garden soil too.

I rarely turn my compost. I usually just add to it each week, water it and then turn and sift out the big chunks just before I apply it to my garden in early spring or fall. Works great and is relatively low maintenance. Composting is good for your garden and for the earth. It also reduces the amount of garbage that you must take to the dump or otherwise dispose of. Saves money that way. Happy composting everybody!

Low maintenance compost pile

© Copyright 2008 Mountain Harvest Basket


rmke1nf said...

Great posting Farmer Jen. You make composting sound so simple, giving nature most of the credit.

I liked your photos a lot,and you sound much more chipper than last week. Your cold must be subsiding. Springtime is just around the corner.

Farmgirl_dk: said... you are a subscriber to the "cold" compost method, as opposed to the "hot" compost method. Can you tell I've been doing *my* compost reading? It's all very interesting....I've been struggling with how to make this whole compost-thing work for me. I'm the type who wants-my-compost-and-I-want-it-now, but I also want to continue to add my kitchen scraps to the pile the whole time. Apparently, this is a no-no. But, I'm like you, after surveying all the gizmos, gadgets, containers, buckets, and spinner things - I just put all my stuff into a big old pile, no framework around it whatsoever.
If I understand correctly what I've read, however, the hot compost method is to add everything at one time and then let it 'stew' for two to three months, keeping it moist and turning it occasionally. If I want to keep adding things (like my kitchen scraps) every couple days, then I need to create a cold pile, which will take up to a year to make black gold for me. Ah, why is nothing ever SIMPLE? :-)

BTW, your sink buckets of kitchen compost look just like mine! :-D

Farmer Jen said...

Hi Bob,
I do think nature really does most of the work in composting, you just have to help her a little bit. Thank you for the compliments and encouragement.

Hi Danni,
I've done both compost methods you describe, but I usually find it easier and less time consuming to just gather enough ingredients to start a pile by layering and then add to it a little at a time after that. I think the addition of the earthworms really helps to speed up the compost making process. I also notice that it goes faster in the warmer months than in winter.

It sounds like you have already been creating some great compost for your garden. Keep up the good work! I never have enough for all of my gardens and trees even with friends contributing their kitchen scraps.

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