2011-11-19_Compost-making

I think it rather fitting that my first post to the Garden Pages deals with compost making, for it is the first essential ingredient to any garden. Doesn’t matter if you’re gardening on alluvial clay, sand dunes, and old dump or, as in my case, on recessional glacial moraine… commonly called a gravel pit, that includes rocks of every size, from sand grains to refrigerator sized boulders. I actually found one like that, and it stayed right where I found it, and nicely buried. Everything else I uncovered that I deemed too big to grow carrots in came OUT… and usually with agonizing groans and moans… all from me. Sometimes the boulders almost won, but just almost. Anyway, onto my composting. We’ll return to rock removal another time.

I have been gardening the same land since 1974. I actually had the garden started before I finished building the house, and the first thing I did, simultaneous with screening the native “soil”, was to begin my compost heaps. In the early days of turning gravel into dirt, I built huge composts. I recall one trip with my old truck to get spoiled hay from a friend nearly 100 kms away. Wow, did that hay cook. I measured the temp at over 150 degrees F. I have also measured a lot of my “regular” composts in that heat range since. At one point, I had three bins, side by side, each measuring 5′ x 10′. I used to ask the local garbage collectors for leaves in the fall, which they would deliver, but never in the quantity I wanted. So I asked again… and they delivered a dump truck full… over 200 bags. Now that’s what I call cooperation. I was once one of the stops on the Sudbury Horticultural Society’s annual garden tour… not for my so-so gardens, but for my compost operation. Many folks ask how to get the heap hot… first it must be at least 3 feet (one metre) square. Municipal composters aren’t composters, regardless of what they call them. They are just a place to store a bit of kitchen waste while it rots, not compossts. Then you throw in brown stuff and green stuff whenever you get it… forget about layering. Then add the occasional shovel full of finished compost, manure or good garden dirt to provide bacteria… no, you don’t have to buy compost accelerator. Lastly, keep it moist. That’s all there is to it. One more thing, leave  your grass clippings on the lawn, at least some of the time. The only time I have a strong odor from the heap is if I get lots of fresh nitrogen rich spring grass clippings cooking. They will heat within a couple of hours. Try it. If you add grass, make sure you add some leaves from the stockpile you collected last fall. So far s I can tell, it’s the lack of carbon that makes the pile smelly.

These days I don’t make quite so much, partly because I’m getting older and don’t want that much work, but I’m also retired and just too darned busy to make that much compost. So the images that follow represent my current level of activity and what my “compost farm” looks like today. As you can see, I really like using old palettes for the bins. They are free, provide good aeration and last for years. I simply wire them together at the corners and when it’s time to turn the heap, I just undo the wires. On the front, I only put one wire at the top on each side and it holds quite fine.

Almost finished transferring compost to finishing bin. I started this pile last fall and it is still steaming hot and full of red Wriggler worms happily doing their work. Worry worms, ya gotta move next door. I add water as I go. It always needs it.

Bins are closed up and ready for winter. I use two pieces of plywood on each bin to direct the rainwater to the center of the piles. We don't get enough rain to cause any serious leaching so far as I can tell. I sometimes have to add water because the heat has evaporated it. The two boards also serve to keep the snow out in winter and the raccoons out in summer... with the addition of a heavy weight. I have never in 35 years of compost-making had a bear in the piles, and there are bears all around us on the edge of town.1200 square foot vegetable garden ready for a winter snooze. Underneath the leaves are many wheel barrow loads of finished compost. The whole works will get tilled in next spring.

Overview of the compost yard. The yellow tarp is the roof of my "drive shed". The walls are all salvaged palettes.

Another view of the compost yard from outside the entrance.

1200 square foot vegetable garden ready for a winter snooze

 

 

email Garth@GarthWunsch.com