Understanding the nature of your soil is integral to building a fruitful relationship with your garden. Once you know what you have, you cn begin to improve it. Whatever soil type you have, sand, clay, loam, regular additions of compost will improve its structure. Compost increases a soil's ability to retain water, improves the friability, and provides neccessary nutrients and organic matter that support the complex life-web that exists right below our feet.
Compost is decayed organc matter. It is that simple. Mother Earth is quite single-minded in some respects. Pretty much anything that falls to earth, She tries to turn into dirt. Leaves, paper, apple cores, whatever it is, once it hits ground a process is begun to return the object back into bits of dirt. Dust to dust indeed! As participants in a spiritual tradition that recogizes the innate divinity of the Earth, our mother, why would we not work with Her to this end? Our contribution? COMPOST.
A fancy tumbler or just a pile in the corner of your yard--compost is simple, will reduce the volume of what you send to the landfill, and gifts you with a most valuable garden amendment.
How do you brew up this magic potion? easy.
decide where you will begin your compost. You can just make a pile (3' x 3' is the minimum for cooking up good compost) or you can build/buy a compost bin. Regardless of your container (or lack thereof), the process is the same. Compost consiss of Browns and Greens.
Brown matter is generally dry and provides carbon to the compost. Common browns are dry leaves, paper,straw, woody stems and, small branches.
Green matter provides nitrogen. Common greens are grass clippings, kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, and (despite its actual color) manure.
You'll want more Browns than Green. A ratio of 3:1 is most often recommended but you don't need to be too exact.
When adding kitchen scraps you'll want to avoid meat, bones, and grease. These things will attract pests, break down too slowly, and smell bad. Also, many expert recommend avoiding large amounts of citrus peels. They are slow to decompose and can raise the acidity of your compost to a level unhealthy for many plants.
Once you have some Browns and Greens, layer them together. Adding some water after you have the pile started is a good idea. your compost should have the consistency of a wrung-out sponge. Piles that are too dry or too wet won't decompose properly. Turning your pile with a rake or pitchfork will speed the process along.
What is happening in there? Simply, magic! The compost spirits are turning straw into gold. Micro-organisms are consuming the raw materials you assembled and breaking them down into smaller and smaller composite bits. They need water and air to live which is why you don't want a too-wet pile. The compacted sogginess creates an airless environment (called "anaeobic"). Matter will decay under anaerobic conditions, but the process is very very slow, and usually smelly. Keeping your pile well turned keeps it aerated.
Your pile will heat up. Even in winter my compost pile steams gently and melts the snow right off! If your Brown to Green ratio is skewed, your pile might not heat up very much. Dn't worry, the Compost spirits are still working,a cold pile still creates lovely compost, it will just take longer.
When your compost looks like soil, it is ready. Even is some bits are still recognizeable, you can still use your compost. The uncomposted parts will continueto break down in the garden. You can add compost any time, but it most effective when added at planting and as an early spring mulch.
A Charm for Turning Compost
From blessed use to blessed use
The Mother Turns
And all things turn
Soil to root to fruit to soil
soil to root to fruit to soil
soil to root to fruit to soil
Magical Ingredient Sourcing
Much of the material for you compost pile can come from your garden and home. In fact, one line of thought holds that this is preferable as it keeps everything in a closed cycle. What you produce goes back into your land to be renewed again. However, once you are won over to the magic of compost, you will likely find that your life does not produce enough material to satisfy your compost desire! Here are a few recommendations of sources for additional material:
Coffeehouses- most coffee houses will give you their grounds and filters free of charge. The filters(Brown) are just as compostable as the grounds (Green).
Grocery Stores- your neighborhood market probably cycles out its produce on a particular day of the week. Ask the Produce Manager if you can collect what will be thrown away. All of that waste produce (Green) is excellent compos fodder.
Neighbors- they might look at you strangly, but your neighbors probably won't mind handing over their lawn clippings(Green) and/or fall leaves (Brown). Just make sure they don't use herbicides on their lawn.
City- many cites collect fall leaves and you can probably get them at no charge. Put in a call to your City Trash Collection or Streets Division and ask how to get the collected leaes. Some cities will dump them in your yard for you. Other places will require you to come pick them up yourself.
Stables- A few calls to area stables could produce as much manure (Green) and used Straw (Brown) as you can haul. You may be surprised how many stables are around you.
Small Space Solutions
No yard? No problem! You can still compost. Let me introduce you to one of he most valuable nature spirits, the Worm. In the garden these gyus can do you tilling for you and they aerate the soil while adding valuable nutrients while they go about their mysterious worm business. Even if you are a patio container gardener, the noble worm can be an invaluable partner.
Vermiculture is the raising and production of earthworms and worm casting. A bin on your patio, or even under your sink houses your worms. You toss your kitchen scraps, shredded paper, coffee grounds, etc inside the bin, the worms eat it happily, then you collect their nutrient-rich castings to nourish your plants. A simple online search will offer you a wealth of vermiculture options from high-rise worm condos to the wrigglers themselves.