Compost: The Gardener’s Gold

I love compost. It gives me great satisfaction to divert veggie wastes to our three-bin system outside rather than pitch them into the garbage. It also means we pay less for trash removal (those banana peels add up quickly!), and every few weeks in the summer—after the microbes and worms have finished their work—I get a free supply of high-quality fertilizer, the gardener’s gold. Plus, harvesting that “gold” gives me a full-body workout.

Here are a few tips I’ve picked up over the years for making compost:

What to Put In

Throughout the year my husband Phil and I throw organic kitchen wastes—everything from coffee grounds to apple peels--into a large plastic pitcher with top that I keep under the sink and bought for 2 bucks at the Dollar Store. You can buy specially made containers for this purpose, complete with filters to keep the smell down, but they’re expensive. And I don’t intend to keep the waste indoors long, anyways. Every few days—even throughout the winter—I dump a full pitcher into a compost bin outside.

A pitcher's worth of veggie wastes added to the compost bin.

During the growing season, I also add plant refuse from my gardening chores—grass clippings (I don’t use herbicides), faded iris stalks, etc.—to the bin.

Key things NOT to add include meat waste (they attract undesirable critters) and manure from animals that are not vegetarian. I’ve read that the latter (dog poop is a good example) can carry pathogens, plus it’s just plain icky.

Another “no” for compost: some types of weeds, especially those that have gone to seed. This can be a learning experience. I actually compost many different types of weeds, but found out the hard way NOT to compost whole clumps of onion grass. Phil warned me against doing so, but I didn’t listen and paid the price. The tiny bulbs of the weed could survive a blast furnace, let alone the heat generated from decomposition in a compost pile, and I found myself removing them by hand from what was otherwise perfect garden gold.

A funny (to me) aside: I was reading a new book on organic gardening when I got to the chapter on composting. Among its suggestions for what NOT to add to your compost pile: glass or plastic. Um, duh?

A Zillion Systems

There are a zillion different systems for composting. Our house came with a three-bin system (see picture that leads this post), which allows you to move the top layer of older compost from one bin to another using a pitchfork (my full-body workout). Moving the compost around is key because it brings air into the system. And oxygen, of course, is key to the worms and other wee beasties that turn peels into gold.

Nothing much happens over the winter, but when the weather warms up micro-organisms begin to feed on and decompose the veggie wastes. In the summer I remove the top layer of the oldest compost every month or so with a pitch fork, revealing the gold below (that top layer goes into an adjacent bin). I then shovel the bottom layer into a wheelbarrow and quickly remove small stones and twigs by hand (some folks use a sieve). That leaves the dark, sandy-like loam that plants love.

A few days ago I harvested three wheel-barrow loads of aged compost from one bin. I distributed it around lots of veggies, including my lima beans and garlic. I also threw handfuls across my flower beds.

Over the years, that practice has helped keep all of my gardens productive and happy.

lima beans, compost
Newly harvested compost around my lima beans.
kale, compost, lima beans
Compost around kale (left) and lima beans (right). I didn't bother putting it in the row between the plants.

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