Friday, June 6, 2014

Compost, glorious compost

When all else fails in the garden, there is still compost, glorious compost.  One of the basic tenets of good gardening is taking care of the soil, and compost can play an important part in that.  Most any primer on composting that I've read gives the obligatory mention of greens and browns which supply nitrogen and carbon respectively.  I'm by no means restricted by a rigid formula.  Adding what I have when it's available seems "organic" to me.  One writer used the word desultory to describe her composting method, and I've adopted that word with pride.  Since I don't fret over green/brown ratios, I don't worry about the compost going through a heat.  Cold rot works for me.  In my fifth edition of How to Grow More Vegetables, John Jeavons speculated that a cold rot compost pile might actually end up supplying more humus in the long run.  (I don't know what his research since then has concluded.  If you know, leave a comment.)
I save my raw vegetable scraps and peels and sometimes add used paper towels in a container in the kitchen.  Periodically I dump the container into a lidded bucket on the deck.  I might line my compost bucket with newspaper at times.  Caleb has been tasked since he was a wee fellow with dumping the compost bucket and covering the contents with soil or at least compost from another section of the compost pile.  I've always paid him a quarter for that chore (and sometimes a bonus for a good attitude).  Weeds get added to the pile.  Bermuda grass gets added after the roots have lain in the sun for several days to completely dry them out.
Here is how the pile looked just over a week ago.
You may be able to see that I have spread cardboard underneath to smother any (especially Bermuda) grass that was under the pile.
I had moved this pile from another spot about a month ago.  I transplanted the six tomato plants that my brother had given me to the place where the compost pile was previously located.  As you can see, the tomatoes have utilized the nutrients left in the soil from the compost pile.  Besides compost, the only fertilizer they've had is one application of water soluble fertilizer.
Here is the compost pile after I added the weeds and bolted kale from the last garden bed we cleared.
I used my trusty manure fork to move the materials.  (I think this fork might deserve a post all its own, so instead of going down that rabbit trail now, I'll save it for another post.)
When I moved the pile to plant the tomatoes, I screened out a little of the compost.  As you can see, it was nicely decomposed and even had an earthworm in it.
In addition to the compost pile I have for the vegetables, I also have what I call the "ornamental compost pile."  That appellation refers to function and not form.  I use the compost from the "ornamental pile" to fertilize my flowers, trees, and shrubs.  We once got free mulch from the county landfill.  I later worried that maybe it had some contaminants in it that I might not want on my veggies, so I just put the weeds from the mulched area into a separate compost pile.


My desultory manner works well for the ornamental pile.  I do on occasion turn the pile, but mostly I just let it sit and when I need some compost from the pile, I thrust a shovel in at the bottom and bring out compost.  A piece of wire mesh which I picked up for free, set over a bucket, works to screen out the larger pieces that aren't sufficiently decomposed.
I sometimes wonder if there was decomposition in the Garden of Eden.  Things rotting seem a little less than perfection, don't you think?  But when you think of how the cycle of rotting things helps replenish the still living things, I think I glimpse a little redemption.  Compost, glorious compost.




  1. I never paid any attention to dad and mom's compost. I do remember most of the year the scraps went to the hog. Dad was not as organized as you are here, and I do know he used cow manure when available and I do know he called that compost in the 40's and 50's . I think the word has evolved some, but not sure.

    I do know on the AT, some of the shelters have 'composting toilets'. Not sure what the results are used for.
    Interesting post. Does Caleb still get the quarter? Just asking. (smile)..

  2. Yes, Caleb still gets the quarter! I told him I felt a little strange giving a grown man a quarter for a chore, that it had basically been a little lesson when he was a kid to associate doing a job with earning money, but he doesn't seem to mind. The little corner store sells orange sherbet/vanilla ice cream bars for 35 cents, so with that quarter and a little more, he can get a treat.
    The thing is I think I dump the bucket myself more often now since he has other places to be.
    Yes, the results of the composting toilets probably could be used to fertilize something. Some crops are sprayed with a sludge that comes from treated waste water. There is a question of the level of heavy metals in waste sludge, so it seems a little sketchy in my opinion.