Saturday, February 28, 2009

Compost Central

Though flowers and vegetables often get the limelight, the real heart of the organic garden is the place where compost is created. Our composting site is somewhat hidden, and certainly doesn't get much glory....but it plays a very important role in the overall health of the garden.



Our compost spot is about 50 yards from our front door...far enough away for its sights and smells not to be distracting, but near enough for frequent trips to deposit vegetable scraps and garden waste. It is located behind our chicken coop, which we aren't using currently except for storage. (That could change this year, as we are considering having laying hens again.)





A close up of the two Earth Machine composters. These were in my daughter and son-in-law's back yard, and since they weren't being used, I volunteered to use them. :-) This is where kitchen scraps go..... layered with shredded leaves, which are stored in the covered garbage can on the left. I rarely turn the material in these, maybe once in the Spring. I can pick them up, move them and fork the contents back in. It takes a year or more for finished compost in these, but it is very rich from all the vegetable matter.





I bought a recycled plastic compost ring at a yard sale a few years ago and liked it so well, I added these two updated GeoBins last year. The first one is still in the chicken yard, but will be set up next to these two after I harvest the finished compost this Spring. They are lightweight, but sturdy enough to hold lots of material, and though they are perforated for air flow, they still maintain good moisture content. You simply lift and set up in a new location, and turn your material back into the bin. I try to do this a few times a year, in order to help aerate the compost for faster decomposing. My plan for the three bins is to put the rough material in bin one, then transfer to bin two as it breaks down some, with the third bin used to finish the compost.





In spring and summer I use mostly straw or saved leaves for carbon material and grass for nitrogen, but in the fall when there is no longer grass available to heat up the piles, I use these Alfalfa pellets for their nitrogen content. They are cheap, and available at most Feed stores. Another good addition, that helps get things cooking is coffee grounds, saved in a 5 gallon bucket for us by our local Espresso shop....they call us when the bucket is full and we pick it up and bring them a new bucket. Worms love coffee grounds! It attracts them to the pile, where they help aerate and add their rich castings to the mix, and when I put the compost on my garden beds, the worms go, too. I alternate layers of dry garden waste or leaves, alfalfa pellets, more garden waste, then coffee grounds, and so on...repeating the layers. When I turn a partially broken down pile I add pellets and coffee grounds to help get it working again, and then leave it to sit over the winter.




This post wouldn't be complete without featuring my new favorite garden tool, the Flowtron Leaf Eater/Ultimate Mulcher which I got last Fall. It does a great job of shredding leaves, as long as you change the strings when they wear down. (And, I might add....it is ever so much more convenient than having to shred leaves by running them over with the lawn mower, as I did previously.) I save some of the shredded leaves in large lawn bags, stored in a dry place, to use for compost. The rest go onto my garden beds to cover them for the winter. I push the leaves aside when I'm ready to plant in the spring, in order to let the soil warm up, but use the shredded leaves again as mulch around plants in summer when the weather gets hot. This really helps keep moisture in the soil, and cuts down on watering chores.



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That about sums up the outdoor composting set up here. I also compost indoors with redworms and have done so for many years. Nothing beats pure worm castings as a fertilizer and soil conditioner for the garden. BUT... that is another post! :-)



19 comments:

Just Jenn said...

90% of gardening is about the "dirt" - so of course it should have a place of honor! Lovely post.

Tatyana said...

I am impressed by the scale! I have one composter and two compost piles. Good post, thanks!

Gardeness said...

All your composting options are awesome. I've got three ... and one third if you count the newly acquired worms.

GardenJoy4Me said...

Now this is one heck of a system Connie .. wish I had you for a neighbor girl ! LOL

Cat said...

Thank you for the 'tour' of the composting options you have! I'd forgotten about the alfalfa pellets you told me about last year. Thank you!

Heather said...

Connie, I thought I had a good set up. You win! Very nice. I will be adding a little more to my compost area this spring as I need more of the wonderful stuff all the time. I am anxious for your vermicomposting post. I just haven't gotten brave enough to take the plunge. Do they stink?
-Heather

perennialgardener said...

You have a nice composting system going there. Sometimes the workhorse area of the garden doesn't get any glory, but it should. ;)

ChrisND said...

You have a great compost operation...We have a smaller yard, so our compost pile doesn't get that big - and it is just a pile that is turned a few times. I need to find a better way to handle the scraps in winter.

Nancy said...

One of my favorite posts! Seriously! I fell in love with your first photo; your property looks so surene. What a wonderful place! It's hard for us to think spring yet, but eventually. I'll come to your composting post to get some ideas for expanding mine.

Connie said...

Heather - No, my worm box doesn't stink. :-) The only reason it would develop smells is if you add too many food scraps for the worms to handle in a timely matter. I have heard of some people actually vermicomposting in their kitchens, but mine is in the basement in a storage room.

Me said...

Wow - you have quite the set-up for your composting - I have two bins and a worm bin and I too collect coffee grounds...

That said, I agree with Tatyana - I am impressed by the scale

O.I.M said...

that is a great set-up, connie. I'm going to use your idea of a garbage bin filled with leaves next to the compost. I always have plenty of food scraps but in the middle of summer there are no leaves. this year, I'll save them during spring clean-up. thanks for helping me improve my composting.
irena

Roses and Lilacs said...

Most of my composting is on sight. I'm a big fan of alfalfa pellets and meal also. Used to get lots of coffee grounds at my Starbucks but they are becoming reluctant to deal with the extra work. I'm sorry about that.
Marnie

inadvertent farmer said...

What a great post! Compost does so much for the garden yet it is something we seldom post about. Your compost area is just beautiful...seriously cool!

I still do the lawnmower thing...I will have to look into you handy new tool, it looks much easier. Kim

Barbee' said...

I enjoyed reading your interesting post about your composting system. I think it is so interesting to see how other gardeners do things. I look forward to your post about composting by worms.

Ginger said...

Great post! I find composting so gratifying, too. I have two proper piles/bins, and also a huge pile of leaves that I can let do their thing, or add to the piles/bins as needed.

Kylee said...

What a great composting system you've got going there, Connie! I'll have to remember the alfalfa pellets thing.

Jan (Thanks For 2 Day) said...

Holy cow, I am impressed! This is completely foreign to me--I hate to admit that, but it's true. Unfortunately I'm living the suburban lifestyle with not a lot of 'natural' living! My dad and his father owned a Feed Service Co. and it was my life as a child. We raised chickens and I had a pet duck (we ate him later:( I used to go with my dad in his pickup around the countryside to deliver feed to all the farmers. We used to visit someone who had chickens inside their house. I was very little then so don't remember all of that period, but do remember my dad hanging chickens, cutting their heads off, draining the blood, etc. I still can conjure up that scent when I think of it. Not bad, really...hmm. Another lifetime ago:)
I don't compost. I should. I think about it though and am reading everyone's posts...
I do have a lot of leaves in the fall, which we get up...but leave quite a lot around the garden areas. They do help as a cover for plants, etc. Most of them I get rid of in spring so I can work in the garden. I supposed they be a nice mulch if I just let them stay.

Thank you for such a nice, informative post on composting and showing your bins, etc. I found it very interesting!

texasdaisey said...

Great post. I love seeing how others compost. I am really interested in that leaf eater. I may need that for mother's day. hmmmmmmmmmm. Now how to drop the hing. lol.
Debbie