Garden Spotlight: Compost

Six.  That is the number of places I have lived for more than one year.  It’s also the number of places I have kept a compost pile.

Thanks, Dad.

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Pile.  That’s the word for it.  No matter the way one’s kitchen-, garden-, and yard refuse is kept—such as seen, below, as I now toss it inside some fencing—it’s a compost pile.

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Last autumn, after I rototilled back yard leaves into my garden, I tossed the rest onto my compost pile.  By spring, they had reduced by half.  After using them two times in my composter, they were almost gone.  When I empty and refill the composter this autumn, the bin will be empty and ready for this year’s leaves.

Don’t let this short-of-glorious word, pile, give any less than impressive impressions, because what eventually emerges from the pile is worth more than its weight in pizza.

Tending the pile as Dad used to—which was the way I did it until some friends offered the composter, seen in the photos, which they no longer used—occasionally turning it over, introducing air and moisture to what is underneath, produced black, rich, decomposed matter in a year.

Using the composter, I have been getting three loads a year.  I snapped the shot, below, after refilling the composter in August, only the second time I took from it after filling it to the brim last autumn.

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What goes on the pile?

All of our kitchen scraps, including coffee grounds (filter, too) and egg shells, go into the bucket that we keep under the sink.  No meat, fat, dairy, or mixed matter goes into it.

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“Doesn’t it smell?”  I’ve received that question many times.  Because it’s all vegetable matter, it does not create a stink.  Rarely, when working at my compost pile, do I smell anything.

There are other items which I do not compost.  From the garden, I don’t put in full plants when they are done producing.  Yes, they will decompose, but because of their size and composition—many stalks have a woody quality—they take too long to break down.  I also do not compost flower plants.

I do not put oak leaves on my pile.  While I have recently learned that they are not as acidic as I had been told years ago, they decompose slowly.  So, the leaves from our front yard oak get bagged and hauled away.  Our back yard has two maples, a beech, and a tulip tree, and those leaves decompose nicely.  In the autumn, I cover the garden with a few inches of them and rototill them in.  When I rototill in the spring, they are almost totally broken down and mixed into the soil.  The rest of the leaves go on the compost pile to get mixed in with the vegetable matter.

Why bother with composting?

When I got my own home, my first garden already existed.  The woman had been known for her lovely yard.  I was the happy inheritor of her good work and the healthy soil she maintained.  Dad suggested where my compost could go, and I was on my way.

Every other place I have lived, I have had to create my garden from the lawn.  The soil has ranged from pretty decent, to quite hard, to a lot of clay.  After rototilling it many times, I was able to garden in it, but it needed a boost.

Decomposed vegetable matter does many good things.  It is lighter in nature, so when it is mixed with dirt it helps loosen it and keep it from getting so hard.  This requires patience; the process takes several years.  I had thirteen years of gardens in Port Hope.  Man, did I have that soil in great condition.

I did a test this year, to prove to myself how much help my composted material provides.  Last year, my potatoes did not do well.  The plants and spuds did not grow large, and many of the potatoes were poorly shaped.  The ground was too hard.  This year, I dug extra large holes for the seed potatoes and plopped in a nice amount of compost—which looked exactly like the stuff, below—and then placed the seed into it.

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Before I ever dug a spud, I was confident that my trick had worked because the plants grew tall and thick, as I was used to them doing.  And, sure enough, each plant gave me a good number of potatoes, many of which were nice and large.

The other important reason for putting decomposed material into one’s garden is the number of nutrients provided.  Nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium are the three major nutrients.  Thus, compost provides natural fertilizer.

You need not be vegetable gardener to benefit from composting.  Any gardens—and what homeowner doesn’t have flowers and shrubs adoring their yard?—will benefit.  One can keep a small compost pile in an out-of-the-way spot in the yard.  It takes little maintenance and little space.

If you are a conscientious recycler of plastics and such, think of composting as recycling vegetable scraps.  That’s exactly what it is, recycling what came from the earth back to the earth.

Not only do you receive benefit, it’s good for the world.