Compost: Nice and Easy

Nothing benefits a garden like a few buckets of nice, fluffy compost. It enriches the soil by adding nutrients and improving the texture. To that end, I decided to take the logical approach and do some research. One book explained the whole compost scene in one thousand pages. After two hundred pages, my brain raced with factiods, chemical components of about fifty different grasses and far too many rules.

For me, gardening is fun. It’s art, exercise and home improvement. That, combined with fresh air and sunshine, makes gardening spiritually liberating. So, refusing to be intimidated by my compost pile, I decided to wing it and make up my own rules.

Rule 1: If it’s disgusting, avoid it.

Real garbage such as wizened vegetables, rotten bananas, and forgotten casseroles with weirdly colored stuff growing on it is disgusting. Don’t use it. Besides, it will draw rats. But some household refuse just seems a darn right shame to throw away. You’ve got to admit that coffee grounds, used tea bags and (rinsed off) egg shells aren’t so bad. In they go. Along with hair, whatever you’ve picked up in the vacuum bag (which probably came in from outside anyway), wood shavings and peanut shells.

And there’s more. All that shredded paper you’ve accumulated in an attempt to avoid ID theft makes a nice, fluffy layer. It’s clean and breaks down quickly. Though you should avoid the addition of used Kleenex, toilet paper and greasy paper towels. Once again, adhering to the disgusting rule. Never use glossy magazines. You don’t know what they put in that ink and all those ads are, frankly, disgusting, interfering as they do with a relaxing perusal of your favorite topic and tempting you to spend your hard earned cash.

Let’s move outdoors. Grass clippings are famously pleasant for scent as well as color and if you let your lawn grow out a bit too high, all the easier to rake up, which is good exercise. Grass is a good source of nitrogen but we were not going to get too scientific here.

Dried garden trimmings in the fall produce a nice layer for your compost. Weeds may not be disgusting, but can be annoying – infuriating sometimes, like the ground ivy that keeps creeping over from next door and makes your lawn look disgusting. So it’s ixnay on weeds. The roots and seeds may not break down.

Another sad waste that aggravates me every fall is all those bags of leaves set out on the curb. Simply dump several bags (the more the merrier) in a heap and run the lawn mower back and forth a few times. Piling the leaves near a wall or fence prevents the shredded leaves from blowing all over the place. You may be surprised that such a huge pile, with a few passes of the mower, is rendered to a few buckets full. You may want to procure additional leaves by snatching up other curbside bags. The neighbors will look askance but wait until they see your garden next year!

Now, it may seem obvious, even to the non-agroscientist, that a heap of dried plant material and coffee grounds won’tmagically turn into the rich compost your garden deserves. So let’s move on to

Rule 2. Some things aren’t as disgusting as others.

Manure produces heat and sets certain chemical reactions in motions. That’s all there is to it. If you’ve ever gone to a country fair, you’ notice that area containing cows, chickens, and horses are not as disgusting as pig sties or dog kennels. The excrement of garbage or meat eaters if a definite no-no as is used cat litter.

You can purchase dried manure or you can be thrifty and scout out your own source. While it may seem like a good idea to follow a parade with a bucket and shovel, your family might not appreciate the ride home in the car. Plus, the professionals who perform that task may resent your intrusion.

Nowadays, what with the big Eat Local movement, everybody sooner or later, runs into a farmer. I like fresh eggs so fell into conversation with my egg man, sang high praises of his eggs and the rural life then deftly segued into my desire to procure some nice, fresh chicken poop. The egg farmer was willing to share his bounty. So, one cold February day, I showed up at his beautiful farm with some heavy duty trash bags and attacked the steaming pile.

Rule 3. Layer, aerate and moisten.

It makes the compost so nice. It’s best to layer the ingredients so borrow you mother-in-law’s pitchfork and have at it. Mix that stuff up. Dump a bucket of water to moisten not saturate than wait a week or so and repeat the process.

Bone meal may be added to the mix for phosphorus, good for flowers and fruit. I have not yet figured out a way to dry bones and grind them up but there is a limit to doing things yourself. Now back to Rule 1.

After the compost heap heats up and aerates, notice how it changes. If it begins to smell disgusting, you’re off track. If the odor reminds you of a walk in an autumn woods, or fresh turned earth in spring, then the process is working as well as it would if you actually knew what you were doing!

If you start in autumn or winter and follow these simple procedures, by early spring, you’ll have a nice pile of dark, fluffy compost.

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