||After years of making compost, I am still bedazzled by the sheer and almost magic beauty of this process. It is still a wonder to me how yucky kitchen scraps - like coffee grounds, eggshells, burnt toast, meat and vegetable trimmings, and all the other assorted kitchen leftovers - can turn into the incredibly beautiful texture, and heavenly earthy aroma of fresh, well finished compost? It's a miracle; a miracle of the first order.|
But there it is; heavenly earthy stuff made from scraps. And although we now know all about it scientifically - about the decay bacteria, carbon and nitrogen ratios, aerobic and anaerobic decay, 'cooking' temperature, asf. asf. - it's still a miracle when one knows the yucky mess that went into it, and holds the incredible loveliness that comes out of it, in one's hands.
In a well made compost pile, this takes about 3 months in the summer, and a bit longer in winter. What we need is either a 3 x 3 foot, or 4 x 4 feet square and high enclosure which admits air on all sides, and can be opened from the front. These enclosures can be made of boards (cedar) with spaces between the boards, or from metal wire fencing material. The latter can simply be stood up in a circle, and have hooks in front to open and close it when necessary.
Two of these are best - one abuilding with our kitchen scraps and gardening refuse, the other full and 'cooking'.
Everything eventually decays, but it may take a year or so. So, in order to have a fast and efficient compost pile, we need to pay some attention to the carbon/nitrogen balance in a rough ratio of 3 to one, for best results. Generally speaking, all 'stiff' and 'brittle' materials, such as leaves straw, hay asf., are high in carbon, whereas all soft and mushy stuff, such as kitchen wastes, coffee grounds, fresh cut grass clippings, manure, asf., is high in nitrogen.
Start with a six inch layer of carbon-rich material, and follow with a two inch layer of nitrogen-rich material. Cover lightly with soil. Toss in plenty of seaweed, kelp meal or drench with fish fertilizer - for the cruciacially vital complete range of the 72+ trace elements, which will keep your gardens, and you in supreme health. They are also excellent rotting agents, and will accelerate the decay process. Repeat until your enclosure is full, and let 'cook'. Sprinkle it occasionally to keep it moist in the summer, and cover with clear plastic in winter to keep it from getting too soggy from the rain. The pile will quickly reach a temperature of 160 degrees F. in the interior, generated by an active decay process, which by the way, does not smell at all. If the pile gets smelly, it has switched to anaerobic decay, due to lack of oxygen (aerate with a pitch fork), and most likely, also not enough nitrogen (add a nitrogen fertilizer), When the pile cools down to ambient air temperature, it is done. And you'll have a truly wonderful pile of finished compost, with bits of eggshells in it. These take much longer to decay. Just toss them into the other, growing compost pile, or bury them in the soil.
Use this compost both as a wonderful fertilizer and soil conditioner in your gardens by raking it into the soil - and well mixed with the surrounding soil, under your transplants, as well in the propagating soil for your seedlings, and also for your all houseplants, hanging basket, and what have you .
Making compost sounds like more work than it really is. Other than building the enclosures, which will last for many, many years, it just takes a few minutes every day or two to take out the kitchen scraps and toss them into the pile. That's about it.
For those folks who just don't have the time for a compost pile, here are a couple of other quick and easy methods. The "ditch method" consists of digging a two feet deep and a shovel wide ditch at the edge of your garden. Mound the excavated soil up beside it. Toss your kitchen and garden wastes into this ditch as they occur, and cover the tossings with a bit of soil. When it comes to near the top, cover with a four inch layer of soil. In this manner, the ditch is slowly filled up and closed again. Repeat beside it with a new ditch.
The "hole method" is very similar. Just dig a two feet deep hole anywhere in the garden, and fill it up with kitchen and garden wastes as in the ditch method. Dig a new hole when the first is full, and repeat. Both methods will convert your garden into incredibly rich loam over time. What you loose with these methods is the use of compost for your seedlings and crops, and savouring the incredibly beautiful earthy smell of well finished compost.
Once the soil of your vegetable and flower gardens is in optimum condition, composting and using it in your gardens is all the fertilizers and soil amendments you'll ever need, and you'll never need to buy these again. Never, ever. After all, compost is the decay product of what once were plants - or plant-fed animal products - and therefore, contain everything - absolutely everything - any plant will ever need. It is the "perfect" and only "complete" fertilizer and soil conditioner.
It is also exactly the same process which Nature has used - only very slowly and much more haphazardly - to transform a once lifeless and utterly barren primeval Earth into the incredibly rich, beautiful and teeming biosphere that it is now, and which has spawned and nurtured our kind and selves for untold eons. And therein lies the greatest and deepest personal satisfaction. To know that one is working hand-in-hand with the fundamental forces of Nature, and indeed, of the cosmos itself. 'Tis powerful and heady stuff, indeed. Next, we'll get into growing bunches of asparagus.
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