Gardening season is upon us. Really. No, I mean it really is!! I skipped out to the greenhouse today to take a quick peek, and let me tell you, there’s green there!!! There are little peat pots with Sweet William growing. You have seen the dill already!! There are some peat pots with little green tips poking through the dirt and promising Shasta Daisies! And there’s more! I promise to take more pictures soon! In the meantime, I want to talk to you about a topic dear to my heart.
I promise, composting does NOT have to be a stinky, four-letter word. No. Compost is black gold for a garden. Way back when, when The Little Wild Garden was first coming to be, I discovered the magic of composting. Reading a few articles, hearing local gardeners talk about it, I realized it was an inexpensive thing that I could do myself, to enrich my garden, to keep waste out of the landfill, and give back to this earth we walk on, live by, and eat from! Why would we put apple peels in a heavy plastic bag to go to the landfill when the earth is crying out for it, to feed herself, so she can in turn feed us again?
I don’t personally have a huge in-depth knowledge base about composting. If you begin reading about it, you will find that there are many methods and many thoughts on composting. It can even vary from country to country and culture to culture. From my own personal experience, however, I can tell you that it is basically taking organic food scraps and lightweight, paper-based materials from your kitchen and putting them in a place in your yard where they will decompose. Over time, this decaying food and disintegrating paper matter becomes part of your soil. It will enrich your soil with beneficial bacteria, nutrients, and just a certain “body” that your soil likely has lost over time in its natural state, especially if you garden without putting anything back. In just a minute, I will talk more about the paper-waste contribution to my compost bin.
Let’s talk about the real definition of organic.
1. Of, relating to, or derived from living matter.
When you think of waste to put into your compost bin, think of adding things that once were alive. Orange peels, coffee grinds, paper towels (trees), apple cores, egg shells. BUT NO MEATS. NO ANIMAL PRODUCTS. That’s a biggie. Now, I will be honest here. In the past, I have put meat and other baked food scraps from the kitchen into my compost bin, but it drew in neighborhood dogs and I believe the bacteria from decaying meat is not something you want in your garden. I just don’t do that anymore.
Let me share with you a few tips on how I created my own compost bin or “pile.” You are quite in luck, as I just created a new spot in my new yard this past week. You will be seeing it from the ground up! (hardy har — no pun intended)
I leveled a spot for some cinderblocks to create a screen, hiding the compost from the house and the driveway. I placed the compost ditch close to my greenhouse so that, when it’s ready to use, I can get soil directly from here for my plants. I dug out a ditch about two feet deep and two feet long to fill with scraps. If rodents are a problem, one could layer each bucket of dumped scraps with some dirt. You can also opt to keep your compost wet. Just water it. Most critters don’t like to hang around in mushy wet places.
When the ditch gets full, I will take the dirt from the other half of my leveled area, the mound of dirt that was originally dug out of the ground, and I will place that on top of the ditch. I will dig a new ditch in the clean spot, the same size, and begin to fill it up. After several cycles of this, which can take weeks to months per cycle (depending on factors of how many ditches you have, the size of the ditches, how much dirt you use between layers, etc.), there will start to be usable soil, where everything is decayed back into the soil. I am hoping for rich, dark soil!
As far as the “wall” above, I am planning to totally level that block to the right. I can’t stand that it’s off a bit. I will also fill those holes with dirt and plant something noninvasive to pretty things up a bit!
Now, the inevitable question. What do I use as a compost bucket, and where will I keep it? Oh, and will it stink?
I have always used one of two things. Right now I am using an enamelware pot with a lid, actually exactly like this…
But in the past I have used plastic buckets (think ice cream buckets) with tight-fitting lids. One of the pros of the enamelware is that it’s pretty. But the lid is loose, it can smell, you know, not really horrible because it’s fruits, etc., but not so great either. You have to empty it frequently. Of course, this means that one of the pros of the plastic bucket is that it locks in the smell. The con? It’s unsightly. Unless you find something other than an ice cream bucket! I keep my bucket on a mat next to my kitchen sink, but I have seen people keep them on counters close by, under their sink, etc. It’s up to you.
Now, get this. For those who want compost but do not have a spot to make it themselves or maybe do not have time to work with it, did you know there are now places that deliver compost? My kind supporter, Compost Direct, offers compost directly to your door (in the U.K.). In fact, they even have a fun calculator where you can figure out how much compost you need for what you are doing. For you dear readers who are not in the U.K., get out your metric math skills, because you’ll be measuring in metres. Fun! I also love the page that talks about the benefits of the garden compost soil conditioner. Compost Direct lists benefits such as nitrogen release and moisture retention. They say it better than I could!
Getting back to that paper waste I said I’d talk about. I am picky about this, and some are even pickier. You never want human waste in your garden, so paper from the bathroom is a no-no. I do place my coffee filters (unbleached paper) into the compost bucket because it’s just so stinkin’ easy. (I bet I’m crackin’ you up with the puns today, peeps!) I also will put lightly soiled paper towels in. The downside of this is that they can blow across the yard if they are not covered. The upside is that it keeps more out of the landfill.
Finally, I want to talk about one other thing relating to compost. You can also put your weeds and clippings into the compost, but honestly that is something that I do not do. I would so love to get something already matured from a place like Compost Direct, but in my own yard I don’t really have the space to accommodate branches, clippings and weeds. I feel like that takes more time, fills up my ditches more quickly, and I also worry about the roots and seeds from invasive plants not dying completely. There again, if it’s your preference to use the clippings and weeds, you would have the option to separate things out and just discard the things you are unsure of.
Composting, friends, is a very personal matter!
Please feel free to chime in and share your ideas about composting! Let’s make this a resource for everyone!!