Hi All! I have been off line for a couple of days, no thanks to a whopper electrical storm that came through the mid-west and knocked out our Internet! Yikes, glad that we didn’t get the tennis ball sized hail and tornadoes that some of the surrounding counties got! My little flowers are still intact, but it makes me think that soon the weather will change and they will be heading for the compost pile anyway.
So, what’s a compost pile? Black gold! Literally, an in-dispensable item in any good garden! We were pleasantly surprised that our new home came with one hidden out in the tall grasses behind the house. However, it needs a little work. This is what it currently looks like:
Who ever started this pile had the right idea. It is made of open fencing on all 3 sides with the front left open for easy access and dumping. The fact that it has 2 parts is even better. One side should be the working pile, and the other side should be the compost that’s ready to use. This whole thing probably measures 12 feet wide and 6 feet deep. Perfect for our size family and large yard. In another corner of the yard we have another composting contraption:
This beautiful rusty container opens to fill with the food and garden scraps, then rotates to mix. The metal container heats up and cooks the scraps into soil. It’s a good idea, but frankly won’t give you enough compost to fill a flower box let alone a 1/2 acre of gardens. I haven’t quite decided how to get rid of it yet. Any takers?
This was the state of the vegetable garden when we moved in. If they only used a little compost, I can see why their garden just wasn’t very productive. We plan to compost and garden on a massive scale next year to feed our family of 6. We will also be moving the vegetable garden to a more suitable location. I love a good garden challenge!
So then, how do we go about “fixing” the compost pile? First step is to designate which side of the pile is which. Since all the flower beds around the house need large amounts of compost, as well as the new vegetable garden, we decided to make both sides into working piles, at least for this year. Most of the time you won’t need to have this much compost, but since we are essentially starting from scratch with very hard clay soil, we will need large amounts of compost. So we are adding all suitable ingredients to both sides.
Our pile is perfect because it has a bottom layer of corn husks and stalks. They must have gotten them from the field behind the house last year, or perhaps they are a previous years fall decorations. Either way, this makes a perfect bottom layer to get the compost started. Next comes a layers of grass clippings. Do not use grass clippings if you spray chemicals on your lawn. We do not, so we add this to the pile. On top comes any egg shells, coffee grounds, tea leaves and tea bags, vegetable peels and leftovers, seeds or fruit remains. Below is a quick list of possibilities:
carrot peels and tops
squash seeds, shells
celery pieces, leaves
coffee grounds, unused beans
tea leaves, bags or loose tea
lettuce or spinach
egg shells, old boiled eggs
onions, onion peels
garlic, garlic peels
root vegetables that began growing in your pantry like potatoes, onions, shallots
peppers and seeds
broccoli or cauliflower parts
turnip or parsnips peels and parts
melon rhines and seeds
tomatoes, peels and seeds
nut shells or pieces
apples, peels, seeds or cores
leftover coffee or tea
dried beans or legumes
any spoiled fruits or vegetables
organic yard decorations such as small corn stalks (if they are very large you will have to cut them down), gourds, pumpkins, pine cones, small pine branches
yard waste such as leaves, grass clippings, small pruning clippings, spent flowers and grasses
There are so many more possibilities. Don’t worry about cutting them up, nature will do that for you. Just chuck them in the compost bucket and dump them each day into the pile. I keep a pitch fork in the pile to cover the food scraps. I do not recommend adding anything with meat or meat flavoring to your compost, it will attract critters that you won’t like to your yard. Also, be careful of adding large quantities of pine cones or pine needles to your pile as they can change the acidity of the pile, and do not add citrus fruits of any kind for the same reason. I have also found that straw and hay do not break down very easily and tend to contain large amounts of weeds, so I don’t recommend adding those either. Some people do not add weeds to their pile. But if the pile has heated up properly, any weed seeds will be killed and will not reproduce, so it shouldn’t be a problem.
That’s really all there is to it. We will add to the pile all fall. I usually turn it several times per week, although you really don’t have to do it quite that often, every 2 weeks would suffice. We will add leaves as they fall from the trees, and will continue to add grass clippings, weeds, etc. until frost. I also dump spent, old flowers and the potting soil from the containers into the pile. This is a great boost to the pile, potting soil has lots of nutrients left in it. Manure is also a great addition to your pile. You can buy it in bags at your local garden center or get composted straight from the source (fresh manure is very strong and may burn your plants, it is better to use composted manure). Be sure and turn the pile occasionally to combine all the ingredients. If you live in a very dry climate, you may have to wet your pile down with a garden hose from time to time to help nature break things down properly.
We do not cover our pile for the winter, although I have read that some people do. You can cover it with black plastic which will heat up in the sun to get it really cooking. But even in the middle of a Wisconsin winter, the pile will heat up when it is uncovered and have steam coming off of it in mid-January. I must admit I am a fair weather compost-er. I refuse to trudge through 4 feet of snow in -30 degree temperatures to add to the pile. This is when the garbage disposal comes in handy. But by spring we will have lots more scraps to add to the pile. Just remember to keep your new scraps separate from the cooked soil. Hence, we usually have a “working” pile, and a pile that’s ready to use. Garden experts recommend 6-8 inches MINIMUM of compost added to your garden beds each season for beautiful, healthy black soil. It’s so rewarding to go and dig in a pile that is filled with healthy worms and put it in your garden beds!
Start today! Having a compost pile cuts down on your trash considerably. It is very healthy for the environment and not difficult to maintain. There are lots of simple designs on the Internet. You can use old pallets or doors, a metal or plastic garbage can, metal barrels, large plastic storage bins, bales of straw or hay, landscaping bricks, old boards, plywood, etc. The sky is the limit, be creative!