Last month, I suggested that falling leaves and pine needles should be kept on your property as a soil amendment. It was suggested that you mulch your leaves and leave them on the lawn or in beds to add nutrients. This month, if you have the time and energy, I would like to suggest you give composting a try. Time management is so important in all of our daily lives. Composting does not take much time, but it does require that you spend a few minutes most days on the process.
Making compost also does not take lots of talent or fancy equipment. Anything organic will eventually rot. The remaining residue, the result of composting, is what is sometimes called black gold.
Composting is nothing more than speeding up the natural decomposition process so that you get this natural fertilizer more quickly. If you just pile your leaves up in a corner of your yard and do nothing else, you will eventually have compost on the bottom of the pile. If you think of what happens in a forest, leaves and branches fall to the earth and decompose over time. No one goes out and fertilizes or waters those trees. The earth and the decomposed organic matter are all the fertilizer they need. You can duplicate that condition in your yard.
On your property, no matter how big or small, you can adapt an area where you can process your organic matter into compost. There are all sorts of enclosures you can use or you can just pile it up. I suggest at least two bins about 4 feet square with chicken wire for sides. One secret to making fast compost is reducing the size of the raw materials into small pieces. For instance, if you are using oak leaves or pine needles, mulch those with a mulching lawnmower and you will reduce their volume significantly. Use a pruner to cut up small branches and twigs. Follow the recipe for making compost and you will most likely be successful. If you do it right, it won’t stink. If it stinks, you did it wrong. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!
Here is the recipe – no big secret! To one part of green stuff add two parts of brown stuff. Mix in air, keep moist, and add a source of microbes. That is it. Green stuff is newly cut grass, weeds without the seeds, small trimmings, kitchen fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, etc. Brown stuff is dried leaves, pine needles, newspaper, dead plants, etc. Air is added by mixing the pile. Rain will usually keep the pile moist, or an occasional sprinkle from the hose may be necessary. Microbes can be added by putting in a few shovels of garden soil, compost or manure from a horse, cow or chicken (not the dog or cat). Here is where the few minutes a day come in. Mix the ingredients with a pitchfork or turning tool every day. Add green stuff and brown stuff in alternating layers no thicker than six inches.
Always cover kitchen scraps and green stuff with some soil or brown stuff. When your bin is full or at least 3 feet high, stop adding new materials.
Up to now, the microbes have done most of the work, munching up the nitrogen in the green stuff and the carbon in the brown stuff. Now it is your turn to have a good workout early some morning by turning pile one into pile two. For a few weeks keep mixing and soon you should be able to harvest compost from the top of bin two. Proceed to refilling bin one with new materials for a continuous supply.
Composting is not for everyone, but it is a really great way to reduce what you send to the landfill and to turn a waste product into a valuable resource. Like any skill, you need practice to hone it. Keep working at it until you find what works for you. Once you get that first batch of black gold, you will be hooked. Your plants will be happy! And, if you are growing vegetables, they will be so much healthier for you than if you use chemical fertilizers.