In 2001 when I moved into this house hardly anything was growing, not even the grass. There were a few shrubs and some perennials with potential. The patio had a raised garden bed built into the back side of it but the dirt was packed so hard and dry I could barely dig an inch in it. The former owners had three kids, three dogs and four cats.
We have three large Norway Maple trees so the first fall I decided to use the leaves to start a serious compost pile. I bought some chicken wire fencing and 3’ fence posts and made a 10’ x 5’ rectangular enclosure back by the garden shed. I bought a leaf vac/shredder. The month of November is all about collecting leaves for me. The leaf vac makes is possible for me to get all the leaves shredded and into the pile without overworking myself.
I started collecting coffee grounds, egg shells, and vegetable and fruit peelings. I use a plastic bucket and lid recycled from a laundry soap that holds about a half gallon. It holds a week’s worth of coffee grounds and peelings, which is just about right for me.
I learned from a friend at work about a horse barn nearby that was happy to share manure with gardeners. I bring my old kitty litter buckets by the barn every fall and cart a load home. It makes the car stink a bit but it is worth it. Manure is the best thing you can give your garden. For a while my sister kept rabbits and their droppings are really good too. Often the big coffee shop chains save their coffee grounds and give them away to gardeners. Coffee is another golden ingredient in rich compost.
So I layered the chopped up leaves with all the organic matter and let it heat up. Every week or so I turn it with a pitch fork. If you turn it a lot and have the right balance of dry “brown” (leaves) and wet “green” (manure, kitchen waste) mixed with moisture and air you can get “black gold” in a month or two. I have a hard time getting out there to mix it on a regular schedule what with little kids underfoot and work and all, so mine takes about six months to mature. I spread the resulting mulch on all the gardens either in the spring or fall. It keeps the weeds down, keeps the moisture in and feeds the soil. It is about the best all around thing you can do for your garden. If I had a spreader I would scatter it over the grass too. It is far better than any chemical weed/feed product you can buy.
About a year after I started this I saw an ad in the paper that our state farm extension cooperative was doing free composting workshops in the area. They were giving away free bee hive composters. I got my dad to sign up with me and we both went. We learned about how to compost and all the benefits. We learned about worms and the little micro-organisms that turn the leaves into good rich dark mulch. We brought home our large black dome-shaped plastic composters and were happy campers. A couple of years later he decided he was not going to continue composting so he gave me his dome. Now I have the wire enclosure and two black plastic domes to collect leaves. My trees fill all three in the fall and my gardens love the mulch coming out in the spring or summer.
In the past four years I have been pretty casual about keeping up with it all. Since I have two little ones under five years old I just don’t have the time or energy to play farmer. But even doing it halfway gives me great benefits. Have you done any composting? What tips or strategies can you share?
It’s time for my Sunday Garden Stroll. If you have a post up in the past week or so about your garden please put a link in Mr. Linky below. I’d love to hear what is going on in your garden and yard.