So, it’s finally spring! As a pretty unseasoned grower, I’m unapologetically enthusiastic, to the point I want to squeal with delight at all the varieties of organic tomato seedlings at my local garden center. I’ve prepped my plot, raking last year’s leaves, adding compost and manure, and turning the soil.
I don’t just rake the leaves “away,” either. I put them into my compost. I’m relatively new to composting. I mean, I grew up with backyard compost in Las Vegas (that’s another story), but it was mostly grass clippings and egg shells. Fast forward to now. I’m all in. Going to turn my yard waste into soil fertility. Going to turn my food waste into… more food!
Last fall, I started my pile with yard clippings, vegetables that had gone bad in the garden, kitchen scraps and such. Thing is? It’s just not going well. You see, I have seedlings. In my compost! That darned pumpkin pumpkin from my kids’ Halloween is just growing to its heart’s content. It’s obviously loving what’s in my pile, but just as obviously, my pile isn’t doing its job of heating up and breaking everything down.
Did you know that there is an actual science to composting? You can’t just throw it all in and expect it to do its job. [Editor’s Note: actually, yes you can, but it’s not nearly as efficient or fast…] It has to be the perfect layers of wet (nitrogen rich) and dry (carbon rich) materials. Too wet and you’ll get a soggy mess that will stink in the summer. Too dry and it’ll just sit there. So. Here’s what I’ve learned:
1.Before you decide to put everything in a pile and call it a day, find a nice with exposed soil. This way the worms and beneficial organisms can make their way into your pile and aerate it.
2.Next create a layer of sticks or straw. Just a couple of inches. Something that drains well and doesn’t hold moisture. As I mentioned, wet compost is stinky compost.
3.Start adding your layers of different materials. You want both dry (carbon rich) materials and moist (nitrogen based) materials. Leaves, grass cuttings, branches, food scraps…just remember: dry, wet, dry, wet. You are aiming for a 2-to-1 dry: wet ratio.
4. Your compost should be moist. If you squeeze it and water is dripping from your hand, it’s too wet. If you run into this situation, add dry materials. Too dry? Give it a shower.
5. Turn your pile every 2-3 weeks. You want to aerate, and also to blend. Just like you need a balanced diet, compost bacteria needs one too. So mix it up! When everything gets mixed together, that’s when they bacteria thrive, your compost pile heats up, and everything breaks down. That’s how you get that beautiful nutrient-dense soil in months, not years…
So in conclusion, do it right, be patient, and your garden will thank you. I can already see my pile is not draining. There is too much dry on top and wet on the bottom. So I’m heading out back again with more kitchen scraps. But first, I’m going to have to transplant those pumpkins.