Gardening's not-so-secret ingredient
Start Where You Are
In the beginning, there was an old, unused dog kennel. Located on the property line and not too far from the house, this seemed an ideal place to start a compost pile. The garden needed a fair amount of cleanup which became the initial layer, and we kept piling it on over the year. I bought a small compost bucket, put it under the kitchen sink to collect egg shells, coffee grounds, and other food scraps, and diligently dumped full buckets onto the pile (although I admit temporarily losing interest during the coldest part of winter). This spring we were pleased to see the pile had (mostly) broken down. There was just one problem.
We had dirt, but it wasn’t the. best. dirt. This home soil test kit told us our compost was sorely lacking in nutrients. Fortunately our local garden center was happy to deliver enormous quantities of compost, and a soil test confirmed the superiority of their stuff. We filled the raised beds with a bit of both. I’m sure it will be fine, but we know we can do better.
The first step was to relocate the compost pile to a spot behind the barn, closer to the beds and out of the line of sight from the house (okay: the dog kennel and shed are still in our line of sight, but their days are numbered).
We began with a small amount of compost left from the old pile and a resolution to be more mindful of balancing the “green” and “brown” elements of a healthy compost pile. We raked up grass clippings from a recent mowing of the orchard.
Our Fargo-style chipper (IYKYK) went to work on some sticks, which we have learned do not break down well on their own.
We put all of this on the pile along with some other green stuff from here and there, and resolved to be more mindful of our compost, in hopes of creating a better mix for next year.
At this point, nature will take its course. The compost should heat up as these materials break down. But if we want to improve on our first attempt, we need to pay a bit more attention than last year, and get out there with a garden fork to turn the pile over from time to time. And even though the optimal mix contains more brown than green material, I think we had too little green last year, and too many sticks that didn’t break down. With all the enthusiasm accompanying any new year’s resolution, today I plan to deadhead daffodils and tulips and present them as a gift to the composting gods.
Now, over to you. It’s easy to get started with composting. Bins come in a variety of sizes for different situations. Small gardens and window boxes benefit just as much as larger plots, and for non-gardeners, composting has environmental benefits. Some municipalities offer curbside collection or drop-off facilities, which reduce the waste going to landfills. And at their best, they reward your efforts with bags of compost during the growing season.
Do you already have a compost bin or pile, or have you considered starting one?