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Gardener’s Gold: Making Your Own Compost

Posted Jun 23 2009 10:41pm

Thyme for the Garden

“The Lord God planted a garden eastward…Then the Lord God took the man
and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it.
(Genesis 2:8, 15 NKJV)

Tending the Garden of Eden must have been a lovely weedless occupation with friendly animals roaming free fertilizing as they went. No matter all the scientific effort put into developing fertilizers and soil enhancers, nothing can replace God’s design for gardening. The life cycle of a garden is best enhanced with natural, organic practices that include using compost.

Part of our responsibilities as Christian stewards of the earth is good land management. Way too much household waste is put into landfills every day. One major solution is to learn to reuse much of the biodegradable scraps we produce in our every day living. Vegetable and fruit scraps, egg shells, coffee grounds and filters, and tea bags all make fantastic additions to a home compost pile along with yard debris such as grass clippings and fallen leaves.

Indoor Composting

Compost-crock My dad saves his coffee grounds for me in gallon ice cream containers and brings them to me every month or so. The coffee grounds can go right into the compost pile outside, filters and all.  I reuse the ice cream containers to save my kitchen scraps and then I dump the container on the pile. Garden Supply Company has a variety of composting pails for use in the kitchen. The green one is pretty and has a replaceable carbon filter to prevent odors from escaping.

Avoid composting meats, fatty food wastes, milk products, and bones as these will attract pests. I rinse egg shells and crush them before adding them to my compost pail to aid in their break-down. I also like to chop banana peels and melon rinds.

Another fun choice for indoor composting is vermicomposting – composting with worms. This is a great method to use in an earth science curriculum for homeschoolers. Hands-on teaching is a great way for kids to learn. I will be incorporating vermicomposting as part of our four-year-old grandson’s education starting in August. He already has a simple worm habitat we purchased. We will be expanding that with our own homemade worm composting bin made from a plastic storage bin. You can see where we are starting at the Santa Cruz County website. This site has complete directions no matter how involved you want to get.

Outdoor Composting

Composting can be as simple as piling your yard and kitchen waste in a heap and leaving them to break down over several months. Or you can speed the process up by actively working with your compost pile.

Bin-1 You can find directions for constructing several different types of compost bins online. I found a particularly helpful place at the University of Wisconsin Extension website. My particular favorite type is a 3-bin unit from Lowes that allows a lot of turning and working of the decomposing matter. I collect grass clippings from my parents’ and daughters’ yard to add to my compost during the slower growing times. Right now with all the rain in early June, we can hardly keep up with the grass in our own yard so we are not actively seeking yard waste from anyone else.

According to Montgomery County, Maryland website location is very important to a healthy compost pile: “Before starting, determine an appropriate location for the compost pile. Vegetable gardeners should set up piles or bins in the vegetable garden itself, thereby allowing any nutrients leaching out of the pile to enrich the garden's soil and feed surrounding plant.” (Note from Patricia: You can also disguise your compost pile by planting taller vegetables around the perimeter.)

The pile needs to be away from wooden structures and tree roots, but near a water source. If you incorporate a good base of a 6 to 10 inch layer of brush using “a variety of twigs, branches, corn stalks, and other coarse material on the ground to form a crude mat” you can assure air movement under the pile.

Alternating your layers helps the break-down of compost ingredients. I keep a bit of used potting soil to put in-between layers of grass clippings. The layers should be 6-8 inches deep, except for grass clippings which should be 2-3 inches deep since they tend to mat. You want air and water to move through your layers easily. If you don’t have access to animal manure (not from dogs or cats!), you can add a 10-10-10 fertilizer layer each time you add your green (yard and kitchen waste) and brown (soil, dry leaves) layers.

Be aware that your compost pile will be hot. Basically, to produce the rich, dark, crumbly organic material you want, the pile must “cook” at 110-160 degrees. If the pile temperature falls below 110 degrees, you can turn the pile and it will heat back up. Maintaining the temperature will ensure that your compost is ready to use in 4 to 6 weeks.

When the compost is ready, it will smell like the dark soil under trees in the forest. Spread it generously around your plants or use it to start new raised planting beds. Your garden will thrive while weeding and watering tasks will be reduced—all because you decided to become a responsible steward of the gifts God has given you, your home and garden.

Patricia Marie Warren

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