From Compost to Potting Soil; part one

Finished compostThere’s quite a bit being said about composting.  It’s almost the first thing out of the mouths of garden enthusiasts when you ask for a list “must do” tasks.  There’s more to composing than letting something rot in a compost heap for a year and tilling it into your garden.  For the purposes of the prepared gardener, coming up with enough material to might be difficult.  Composted material is expensive if purchased.  Potting mix is more expensive than compost.

So, what exactly is compost?  Compost is needed to help combat soil problems.  Compost is rotting or rotted vegetation material.  Animal material may be composted, but that process is for another post.  For most gardeners, getting enough vegetation to compost is difficult.  Grass clippings, falling leaves, trimmed tree limbs and so on, but lets face it.  You can only mow the lawn, rake the leaves you have, and trim so many limbs before you run out of sources.  For the person who is making a small garden in their backyard, this could be enough material.

However, for the prepared, most likely it won’t be enough for the family farm.  Depending on your location, soil condition and the amount of conditioning your soil requires, finding enough matter could be a challenge, especially if you don’t want to spend large amounts of time tending to your neighbors’ lawns too.

Go to the dump.  Depending on where you live, your local landfill will have leaf, grass and tree trimmings.  Call them to find out if they sell mulch, double ground mulch, compost and other things you might want for your garden.  The price is minimal or free and usually sold by the pick up truck load.  In some cities they deliver.  If your landfill doesn’t have what you need, check with other counties.  One of them might have the product.

Go to the barn.  If you have animals that use hay or straw, or just make a mess on the barn floor, you are in gardener’s heaven!  Rake the muck and put it into bins for composting.  Regularly rake the chicken coop and put down fresh hay.  Not only will the birds appreciate it, but fresh chicken poop and hay is an excellent ingredient to add to the compost heap.

Go to the feed lot.  Pick up cow patties.  They’re just grass and water.  Adding a cow patty or two to a compost heap speeds up composting Cow Pattieswhile adding needed nutrients.  Don’t add too many or your compost pile could start fire.  Ask a neighbor if you can have some of his cow patties.  He’ll enjoy watching you get them.  Have cow muck instead of cow patties?  Take a bucket and a shovel instead.  You’ll know where to dig.

Start composting.  How you compost is up to you and depends on how much work you want to put into the job.  Small gardeners often spend $200 for a black barrel on stand that easily rolls to stir the compost easily.  Some people line a box with black plastic and fill it with compost material and cover with black plastic.  Every now and then they go out and stir it to keep it active.  But, the oldest way is to choose a place in the back yard and put the vegetation matter there.  Every week go out and turn the pile with a pitch fork and hose it down to keep it moist.

compost tumblerThe barrel method works fastest and is the easiest, but produces small amounts of compost at a time. This causes bags of material to sit around at least a month waiting for its turn in the barrel.  It might be necessary to buy multiple barrels or not have enough compost for all your purposes.  Using the barrel usually kills off any plant seeds and unwanted insects.  Instead of spending $200 for each barrel, some people make their own barrels from 55 gallon drums and wood.

The box with black plastic is limited only by the amount of black plastic and boxes you have.  It can be difficult to manage since poking holes in the plastic while turning the pile slows down the process.  If done properly, black plastic can get rid of any plant seeds and unwanted insects.

The back yard pile is slowest.  There is nothing to keep the moisture in so watering is important.  The pile must be turned well and often.  It can be difficult work if the pile is deep.  Making an unlimited number of piles makes keeping them sorted by age easy.  Having many piles going at once then becomes faster than the barrel method unless you have access to many barrels.

Tomorrow’s post will continue discussing composting, mulch, and making your own potting mix.