Tag Archives: compost

The Garden’s Food-Compost

When my grandmother was gardening, she had the most amazing roses.  I don’t even know what types they were, but the thick bushes were always filled with beautiful, fragrant blooms.  She had vases full of roses in the house all summer.  Her secret?  She would “feed” the roses.  She would dump coffee grounds, egg shells, even banana peels into the dirt, work it under the soil so it wasn’t unsightly or stinky, and over time, the “food” would break down for the roses.  And, while my grandmother never used the term “compost” or probably even knew what it was, she certainly knew about feeding the soil.

Compost ReadyFor those of you who have been gardening for a while, compost is probably old hat.  But if you aren’t currently composting, or haven’t heard much about it, let me make a suggestion…as Nike would say, Just Do It!  Compost is basically organic matter that decomposes into rich fertilizer.  As I tell my niece and nephews, you’re take trash and making dirt (or dirt food) out of it.  The added bonus is that you’re recycling a lot of your kitchen and garden waste, cutting down on actual trash that makes it to a landfill somewhere.  Also, it is easy to do if you have a spot in your yard for a pile.

PilesMany years ago, when I was in college, I built my first compost pile.  I was so excited, I did tons of research.  I read about the right proportions and what should be included.  I built a “pen” out of old wooden skids and filled it with the right mix of nitrogen rich green matter and carbon rich brown matter (suggestions are 1/3 green to 2/3 brown, but I don’t really follow that these days).  I added earth worms and shredded newspapers.  I watered the pile and turned it often.  It was perfect.  I can remember one cold September evening that first year when I could see the steam coming off of the pile, knowing that mother nature was hard at work, working her magic.  Then, one of my neighbors thought it was just a junk pile and dumped loads and loads of grass clippings into my pile.  It ruined my perfect balance, and, while I tried to clean it out and save my hard work, my enthusiasm was crushed.  I took apart the pile the following year and that was it.

StructureWhile my first attempt was a bit OCD, several years ago I created another compost heap.  With this go around, I have become much more lax, and much more successful.  The first thing I did this time around was create two piles side by side.  My thought was that the one pile could be for dumping “new” material while the other pile was decomposing the “old” material.  I used inexpensive metal fence panels to create the walls of my compost pile. As I mentioned before, I had used wooden pallets in the past, but the wood started to decompose as well, so metal seemed like a better choice.  Each panel is 36 inches wide and 42 inches tall.  And because the panels are open, there is a lot of air flow, which also is good for compost.  Because I was using the fence panels, I needed 5.  I left the front side for each pile open, so it was easier to turn the piles periodically, and they share the middle panel.

PileOnce I had my structure built, I was ready to start adding to it.  For a compost pile, you can add almost any organic material, with a few exceptions.  First, be careful with weeds.  If the weeds went to seed, then they could spread those seeds in your compost, basically meaning you’re planting seeds as you spread the compost out.  And do not include clippings of diseased plants.  Again, this could just pass the disease to other healthy plants when using the compost.  Also, don’t add any kind of animal products from the kitchen.  You can add egg shells, and they are great for compost, but don’t add any meat or vegetables that are cooked with meat.  This will only attract animals to your pile.  For the most part, that’s about it.  Everything else is pretty fair game.

I add all of my clippings and deadheading As I mentioned when I was cleaning out the garden, I also add all of the leaves and debris I clean out of the garden in the spring.  Most of this already has started decomposing, so it works perfectly.  I add any soil I’m getting rid of that was in pots from the year before (with the dead plant, why not).  My sister is a big fan of campfires, so I also add in the ashes she has after her big bonfires.  And I do add weeds. especially the young ones that I pull in the spring.

Kitchen CompostAs far as the kitchen, I always have a bowl on my counter that I use for compost waste.  I know there are fancy things you can buy, but I just use a bowl.  I wait till it fills up, or starts to smell, whichever comes first, and then take it out and dump it on the pile.  I add egg shells, vegetables, fruits, banana peels, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags, and even used paper towels (if just wet).  Most of the materials end up drying out a bit, so the bowl rarely smells…I usually just dump it when it’s full.

On Vegetable GardenOnce you start building up the pile, just turn it every few weeks or so to get air in it and get things moving.  As I mentioned earlier, throughout the spring and summer, I like to add to 1 pile, then the other is the one from the year before that may have some compost at the bottom, or may just need to sit longer.  You also want to make sure it stays moist, but I’ve found that summer rainstorms work pretty well for that.  After a while, you’ll notice that everything starts to break down and you’re left with a rich soil.  Use it wherever you feel your flowers, fruits, or vegetables need some extra nutrients.  I’ve been spreading mine on the vegetable garden before I till the soil, and it’s worked out really well.  I also add some to the hole when I’m planting any new trees or shrubs.  But wherever you use the compost, you’ll be rewarded.

And, if we’re being honest, back to the turning and watering, I’ve gone months where I’ve been busy and have completely forgotten to turn or water the pile, and it still works out great.  I’ve essentially ignored it, but I’m still rewarded.  The biggest difference is speed.  The more you turn it and take care of it, the faster you end up with compost.  However, I’m a patient person! 🙂

Garden Clean Up Under Way!

Even though there are some flurries falling, and there is a light coating of snow on the ground, I’m choosing to ignore it.  I’m focused, instead, on the nice weather we had last week.  The sun was finally shining, and the snow was melting.  I took this opportunity to go outside and start my garden clean up!

Beds BeforeFor me, March always means garden clean up.  I get excited knowing that the nice weather is approaching.  This year, with all of the snow we’ve had, I had to wait a bit longer, but I was able to get outside last week and clean up some of the beds.  It’s always great to pull out the old leaves and junk that filled the garden during the winter and see what’s starting to emerge underneath.

RakingThe first thing I do when I’m cleaning up after the winter is cut anything back that I didn’t cut in the fall.  I do go through and cut back in the fall, but often times, there are some plans that have interesting leaves or even the dried blooms have enough appeal that I want to keep them into the winter.  And my mums were blooming well into December, so I just let them go.  Cutting back now just cleans up the garden and gets everything ready for new growth.

DaffodilsThe next thing I do is rake.  This is really the biggest part of the spring cleaning in the garden.  I have a metal rake that is pretty flexible, so it won’t do too much damage, especially since I do rake rigorously.  I’m trying to clear out all of the dead leaves and branches that have fallen into the garden and gotten matted down from the snow.  The important thing to remember, though, if you’re taking this approach, is you need to do it early in the season.  As the plants start to grow, if you’re raking through them, you could do some damage.  Here, I had some Plants Emergedaffodils starting to emerge, and some chrysanthemums, but that was really it.  Both were small enough, so the rake didn’t do any damage.  But in some of the areas, I did reach in and remove the leaves and other debris with my hands, just to be sure.

Once the dead stuff is removed, you really have a better view into how things are progressing.  You may see a plant emerging that you didn’t want in a particular spot, or maybe you had forgotten about a bulb when you planted something else during the Clean Up Donesummer.  This is a good time to inspect and move things around if it’s early enough to do so.  I also love to just see what has made it through the winter.  The spring blooms are some of my favorite, especially since there haven’t been any blooms all winter.  It’s always so nice to see everything starting back up again.

The other thing I do while I’m doing the clean up is I inspect any of the bigger bushes or trees.  Some of these branches will need to be cut back because they are crossing another or just growing in the wrong spot.  This is a good time to do some of that pruning, early enough so that you aren’t impacting the growth.

DebrisFinally, this is a great time to take a look at any supports or hardscaping.  This year, as I was cleaning, I noticed my wrought iron supports around the porch that have roses, clematis, and wisteria growing on them are rusting.  I’ll need to sand and paint them this year.  Because I have plants that grow up these support, I’ll need to take care of this project soon, before the plants are covering them.  Hopefully in a week or so it will stay warm enough to get this done.

Ready for Compost PileOne thing that I want to stress about the clean up is please, don’t just trash all of the leaves and debris that you’ve raked and pulled from the garden.  This already decomposing plant material is perfect for the compost pile.  If you have one, definitely add it to the pile.  It’s already on its way to becoming amazingly rich food for your plants.  If you don’t have a pile yet, consider starting one, especially since you have this great material to start with.  It really is easy, just pile up the organic matter (get rid of any trash, plastic, or other material that may have blown into the beds) at this point…but don’t throw it away!  It’s good stuff.

I’m very excited that I have started the yard work.  I think my next project this week will be to start the seeds indoors.  Spring is almost here, and I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait!