Friday, December 17, 2010

Compost Musings

YES I compost, YES I do, YES I compost, how about YOU?

Sorry.  Some of the enthusiasm I occasionally run into when I talk about composting within earshot of the WEE crowd (Wild-Eyed Environmentalists) brought to mind an old cheer from high school basketball games when I thought about starting this particular blog, and that led to memories of friends and classmates who were high school cheerleaders or "pom-pom" squad, and that, of course, revived other old enthusiasms and left me mentally wandering....but I digress.

Actually, to be truthful, I was late to the composting game as a gardener and I still do it haphazardly.  For the first years of my gardening life, I was fond of throwing the weeds back down where I pulled them and letting nature do the work (I still do, to the chagrin of my wife, if I'm weeding far from the compost pile).  I am certainly not a religious convert to the organic-only mindset and, forgive me Gardener, but I routinely sin and don't compost many items which are compostable.  I don't, for instance, walk my wife's coffee grounds down the hill in the freezing Kansas wind to add them to the pile.  Nor the banana peels, or eggshells, or wilted celery.  My desire to compost, I'm afraid, ends at the onset of cold weather.  Just last week I read a locally-written article on how we should turn our compost piles every month in the winter.  Really?  I don't know about you, but here in Zone 5B, my compost pile has been frozen rock solid for the past three weeks and it'll likely remain that way through March.  I wonder if the local writer has really gotten out and tried to turn his compost pile lately, or if he was reading and passing on information written in Britannia or southern Texas?

Towards my salvation, though, over the past several years a good friend who lives amidst the trees has provided me with as many bags of fresh  fallen leaves as I can drive away with.  Routinely, that means that in making the compost pictured above in my makeshift compost pile, I've added about 50 large bags of leaves to the mix annually.  In fact, as you can see pictured below, I have several bins where leaves remain half-rotted until I begin cutting summer grass and pulling weeds.  I mix in the leaves with the green fresh material as it becomes available, and then turn the pile back and forth between bins until finally, all those bushels of leaves and grass become the pictured half-bin (2X4X4) of mostly compost.  

I certainly don't make great compost, however.  Somehow, I never reach the black, crumbling texture described in all the books, even though my soil thermometer tells me that I reached the prerequisite temperatures at least twice this year.  Perhaps, being intrinsically lazy, I don't turn it enough since I probably only turn it completely about 3 times in a summer.  Sue me, I just can't face turning the compost pile when the July sun is high and the temperatures start at 90F and end up at 109F.  And I probably don't water it enough. Although I try for the "wrung-out" sponge dampness, I mostly see repeatedly watering the compost pile as a bit of a waste of water in a landscape where water is a precious commodity during the summer. And maybe I fail because I mix in whole leaves and grass clippings and I don't chop them up fine enough. 

But, even half-finished, the plants don't seem to complain when they're mulched with my meager offerings.  And I trust the ingredients of my compost enough to put it on my vegetable garden, in contrast to the local municipal compost.  The latter, while free and available in large quantities, tends to have a bit of gravel, bottle tops and rubber items occasionally mixed in.  I might not mix my partially-aged compost into the soil for fear of losing a little available nitrogen, but the worms seem to appreciate its presence as a mulch. 

I'll leave you with this very deep thought:  however reluctantly and imperfectly, I suppose all gardeners eventually compost.


  1. Your compost system looks exactly like the one I had at our last house ... bins of wire and pallets, and a haphazard system of managing it. Are you sure we're not related?

    When we moved here, my husband asked (politely) if I would please find a different way to compost. I responded by not having a compost pile at all here. Autumn leaves are vacuumed and chopped and used immediately as mulch, we don't bag the grass when we mow, and the only garden clippings I have are rose-related, which I can't compost anyway. All of the stuff we have here is large stuff, like fallen limbs, and we have a brush pile for that. Maybe there's compost at the bottom of the pile? I'll just have to imagine it, because I'll never see it.

  2. All compost is good oompost :-) Keep up the good work! Your plants will continue to thank you! Compost cures what ails ya!

  3. Compost is a favorite thing for me. But I don't turn it so it takes a long time. I have three bins built by my spouse and everything except branches of trees goes in. I drink loose leaf tea so I separate out the tea leaves and coffee grounds in a big bowl and they are distributed weekly where ever I'm inclined. Sometimes when I'm mulching or planting I'll go get banana peels from the pile and tear them up in bits and dig them into the ground. It just makes me feel good that I might be helping microorganisms and worms. My compost is hardly ever the fine stuff; I'm often sifting out big things to go back in for more decomposition. But I Love compost. Jane

  4. Hehehehe- I reread your post and the final sentence. Jane

  5. Hello Prof! And, Merry Christmas!

    I diligently compost until the bins are buried in snow. Then I generally skip it until the weather is more cooperative. And, I never get the best compost... too many coffee grounds - my flowers have the jitters.


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