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I’m a huge fan of compost. For me, it’s just about impossible to have too much of it. But the truth is, I buy most of my compost because I’m so lousy at making it. I’m one of those toss-it-and-forget-it gardeners who usually wait a year or even two until my compost piles have decomposed into something that’s usable.
But about a week ago, I decided to try my hand at making a real batch of compost. Why? Because compost, like everything else, is getting more expensive. I also felt that after such a challenging gardening season, my garden is more in need of compost than ever. We’ve had the wettest summer on record: fungal diseases gone wild; strange new bugs; root rot; nutrient leaching. My garden needs all the help it can get!
Right now, at the tail end of the gardening season, I had all the fixings I needed to make an incredible batch of compost. I’ve been piling up garden refuse and kitchen scraps since early spring and they were out there waiting for me in a soggy mass. I also went around the vegetable garden and removed spent peas, overgrown lettuce, and broccoli and Swiss chard that was past its prime.
The great thing about building a compost pile at the end of the summer is that once you’ve invested a couple hours to prep the pile, there’s still enough warm weather to get the cooking process underway before temperatures drop. Imagine next spring how smug we’ll be, with bushels of homemade compost to use whenever and wherever we want it!
Here’s how I made my Last-Call Compost Pile:
1. Set up the Bin. I built a classic layer-cake compost pile, and though I already have several other bins, I wanted to start this batch from scratch. I used a Big Bin Leaf Composter, though a Wire Bin Composter would work well, too. You can also make your own surround from chicken wire, reinforcing wire or wooden pallets (if your weather is dry, consider lining those bins with black plastic to retain moisture). I placed the composter on a piece of Pro Weed Mat to keep weeds from growing up into the pile (cardboard would work well, too). The Big Bin Composter has a 48” diameter, so it seems like it will yield quite a bit of finished compost.
2. Gather the ingredients. The kitchen waste and garden refuse that’s been accumulating all season, is primarily nitrogen-rich “green matter”. When assembling the pile, I wanted to balance this with brown matter, approximating a 70/30 balance of carbon to nitrogen. For carbon-rich materials, I used a combination of dry brown leaves from last fall and a small bale of peat moss. I also sprinkled on some organic All-Purpose Fertilizer, ground dolomitic limestone and some Super Hot Compost Starter. For a nitrogen kick, I stopped at a local stable and brought home a couple big Tubtrugs of horse manure!
3. Assemble the pile. The first layer was about 12-inches of the brown leaves. Next came two shovelfuls of horse manure and a sprinkling of limestone, fertilizer and Super Hot. Then an 18-inch layer of material from my regular compost bin, which included kitchen scraps, spent vegetables and vegetable plants. Last came enough water to get everything well moistened. The second, third and fourth layers were a repeat.
4. Cover the pile. Since I moistened each layer as I went along, I was sure the pile was wet enough to get the decomposition process started. After two months of rain, I’m going to be optimistic that we have a dry fall, so I covered the top of the pile with a tarp. Warm and moist = fast decomposition.
In a month or so, I’ll make a progress report on our blog. If you decide to take the plunge and build your own Last-Call Compost Pile, please visit the blog and let us in on your own tips and techniques!
For a quick refresh about all the composting basics (carbon, nitrogen, moisture, aeration, etc.) read Composting Made Easy.
Kathy LaLiberte has worked for Gardener's Supply since it began more than 25 years ago. She lives and gardens in Richmond, Vt. Read more of her Innovative Gardener essays.
Last updated: 7/9/19
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