Friday, March 8, 2013


Looking at this makes me realize we must be getting a good mix of vitamins from this very multi-colored food assortment!

Last year I started to have some concerns about our soil.  I wish I could say that this was based on something scientific, or the result of an actual soil analysis... but really, it was because our soil is not black.  It is mostly brown.  Every spring we rake the heck out of it, add the 10-10-10 fertilizer that some book told me to add, in an amount roughly equal to "part of a coffee cup," and for a little while it looks like soil.  But shortly thereafter, it just looks like...dirt.  I don't know what a botany textbook would tell me, but I think there is a difference between soil - the healthy, black stuff that makes plants grow, and dirt, which is what gets stuck to your shoes. 

I've learned through some reading (and then had that knowledge reinforced when I attended a class about soil) that compost is a really essential element, much better for your soil than a fertilizer that comes in the form of pellets.  So, in the dead of winter, I decided to start a compost pile.

Well, okay, a second compost pile.

Because we sort of have (had?) one, in the very back of our yard.  It is where the grass clippings and any plants that I pull up tend to go.  It has things growing out of it and I think it is more like a hill or small mountain than a properly-maintained compost pile.

Plus, did I mention it is in the very back of the yard?  Like, too far to walk when it is snowy?

So, on a very cold day in January, I headed to a certain unnamed home improvement store and purchased a bucket.

I set this up near our back door (on that particular day, having to dig a hole in some very deep snow to make room for it), topped it with a brick (to keep it in place in strong wind and to keep critters out) and began regularly throwing fruit and vegetable scraps into it.  It became evident after about a week that we were going to outgrow the bucket relatively soon.

So, on a balmy 37-degree day a few weeks later, when there was no more snow in the yard, I set up a little "compost bin." 

I used the garage as one "wall" of the bin, and put together some cement blocks that we already had.  I collected a bunch of dead leaves and grass from around the yard and placed these in the bottom, then poured the colorful contents of the bucket on top.  To protect it from the elements, I simply placed a plastic tarp (which you can see, just barely, on the left side of the photo above) and anchored it in place with a few more bricks.  I also placed a little rake next to it to facilitate a no-fuss mixing of the contents every now and then.

I'd read all kinds of stuff about compost online, and let me tell you, there are some pretty fanatical composters out there.  People who use thermometers, and insulation, and... stuff I didn't have much of an interest in.  I just decided to do it this way, and the worst thing that could happen is we'd have a pile of rotting vegetables to clean up this spring.

But guess what?  I checked it out the other day and it is totally working.  There were still several recognizable pieces of fruit (um, possibly cutting pineapple tops into smaller pieces would have been a good idea), but there was also a very satisfying layer of black sludge, and many broken-down-beyond-recognition chunks of... stuff.

I'm learning that it is important to have a mixture of green (vegetable, fruit) and brown (leaves, dead grasses) ingredients to the compost.  So, I recently did another sweep of the flower bed and edges of the yard and picked up a lot of leaves.  I threw those in before adding the most recent bucket (which is what you see in the first picture up top).  I'm not really sure this will be usable this spring (i.e., I am not sure the pineapple tops will turn into sludge in the next few weeks), but it's clearly on its way.  And in the meantime we will probably look into purchasing some compost to add before planting this spring. 

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