more compost, please

With the expansion of the garden and the dud results there this year (more next time–if I remember), we definitely need more compost.

We could simply buy organic compost by the ton from our local Agway. (We should probably buy stock in Agway because we spend so much money there.) They have good compost and we have bought some in the past.

But there is something really strange, dissatisfying, and maybe even ironic about buying organic compost. True, the store is located about eight miles from us. We’d buy it in bulk–probably 10 cubic yards (or a dump truck load). We’d gain efficiency there. Yet it just seems strange to buy organic compost that comes from who-knows-where and truck it eight miles (uphill) here.

Once it became apparent around the 4th of July that the corn and squash patch was not doing well (again, more later–maybe), I knew we needed to ramp up compost production.

Yet another irony. Ramp up compost production??? We’re not making widgets here. And the thing about compost is that it takes organic material and time. Yes, you can speed things up by having these new high-tech methods that artificially heat the raw materials and then it breaks down more quickly. I understand why cities need to do this to process everyone’s compostable materials in a timely fashion. And it’s way better than the alternative (more landfills). But it seems so antithetical to organic gardening and homesteading. Even the concept of “ramping up” compost production is odd.

Consequently, we–meaning mostly I–went old school. I tried to collect more materials to put in our compost bins this summer, even more than usual–weeds, dead plants, leaves, kitchen scraps, poopy chicken straw, and poopy sheep hay. There’s only so many new materials, however, one can add. After all, our kitchen scraps are pretty much constant. The garden is the same size so we’re not pulling that many more weeds (thank heavens!?). About the only area for growth was wheelbarrowing more leaves from the forest and making sure some livestock manure and straw got into the bins. That’s pretty much what I’ve been doing since July, layering various materials–“greens and browns” in compost-speak–into the compost piles for months.

Thanks to my compost diligence, I was able to get more stacked up by Thanksgiving and continuing well into December for two reasons.

First, the weather. We’ve had an unusually mild winter this year. We had two dustings of snow–that was the grand total–until last night. We had some cooler days and nights, but it was 65 on Christmas Eve and 55 on Christmas this year (!). It’s looked like early November (or early April)–no leaves on the trees, everything a muddy shade of brown, green, or gray–since, well, early November.

Normally I manage to get some garden cleanup, some leaves, and some animal straw into the compost bins until around Thanksgiving. Then new additions stop except for kitchen scraps. But given the mild weather, I was able to do more garden cleanup in both the vegie garden and landscaping beds. Plus I schlepped more leaves from the woods than usual. I tend to get lazy with that task, but it’s an easy and free way to make more compost. And this year I was motivated.

Second, the compost was already doing its magical thing. One of the amazing things about compost is that you toss some stuff in a pile and 6 to n months later, it’s turned into rich dirt. I generally roll my eyes at all The Compost Rules. Make something too complicated, no one will actually do it.

That said, I’ve been adding mostly unplanned layers of organic material–dead tomato plants, leaves, chicken straw, dead grasses from the garden, deadheaded plants from the landscaping beds, sheep hay, etc.–most weekends. The stuff compresses from gravity, rain and snow, and the magic of decomposition. As the compost has sunk in our very high-tech (not) bins–free pallets roped together!–I’ve keep adding more organic material, probably six weeks later than normal. Given the mild weather, I suspect decomposition has continued much later into the fall and winter.

I now have two very full compost bins with a last layer of poopy sheep straw on top. Given the extra layers that I added Thanksgiving through yesterday, and the fact that it has probably kept decomposing until around last night, I am pretty confident that we’ll have more compost come April.


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