August 17, 2016

The Compost Pile: A Gift for Your Garden


My past attempts at composting? Piling wheelbarrow-loads of bedding and droppings from the goat shed in a pile, and harvesting the black soil a few years later.

Compost is a gift for your garden. Learn how to make your own.

I've told you before that my garden efforts haven't been very successful in the past, and I wasn't serious about composting either. That has changed this year.


Now I need a great deal of compost quickly, ready to use this fall so that I can fill the rest of the raised beds I'm building and double the size of my garden.

This spring I quickly used up all the compost I had access to. I started with a small pile from a previous shed-cleaning (hubby had robbed this pile in order to fill in the holes in the yard that the dogs had dug, serious holes that you might lose a pickup-truck in). I shoveled out the uninhabited buck pen. I deep-cleaned the chicken coop. I mixed in well-aged (but not composted) horse manure.

A pile of fresh grass clippings and other wastes can turn into rich soil.

All this barely filled the three raised beds I've built, and I had to buy several bags of commercial compost and what was called "top soil" to finish off the last bed. I won't waste my money on that stuff anymore, I wasn't at all happy with the quality of either the compost or what they called top soil.

So I've gotten serious about composting. I have seven more raised beds to fill as soon as the heat breaks this fall.

I started with a small pile of grass clippings, weeds, and kitchen waste, adding more material almost every day. Although you can make a container to hold your compost ingredients, so far I've just piled it on the ground. I turn the pile once a week and it's much easier if it isn't surrounded by a container of some sort.

Leaves, straw, food waste and more turn into rich compost for your garden.

After awhile the pile was large enough to begin working and it was hot inside! I was so excited that it was actually working.

Pet hair, feathers, eggshells, coffee grounds, goat/chicken/duck manure, autumn leaves, weeds I've pulled (without seeds), shredded paper, dead plants, more kitchen waste - anything and everything that can be composted has ended up in my pile. No matter how small the amount is, every day I use the pitchfork to make a hole in the middle of the heap and add whatever I've collected that day, then cover it back up. It's hot in there, and it makes me smile.

Even the soil underneath and around the pile has improved. It used to be hard to stick the pitchfork into the ground when I was finished using it; now it's easy to sink it into the soil.

My chickens aren't happy though. They used to get all the table scraps, and now they only get the ones that contain meat or dairy, which you're not supposed to put in your compost pile. The goats don't get as many treats now either, but I still give them the weeds I pull that have gone to seed, and the trimmings from the rosebushes so I won't be surprised by thorns when I turn the pile.

Compost is a gift for your garden. Learn how to make your own.

Although honestly, it's not going to fill seven raised beds. I need MORE. At our previous home in Michigan, our city had a composting facility where we could shovel up as much compost as we needed for free. I've asked our county commissioners, but we don't have that benefit here (although I'm trying to convince them we should!)

Without going into the science behind composting, in simple terms you can turn waste into great soil by mixing carbon and nitrogen together, add some moisture and air, and let microbes do the rest.

Ideally you should add at least three parts of carbon-rich materials, known as "brown" items, to one part nitrogen-rich materials, known as "green" stuff. I haven't been too scientific about it; as long as the pile isn't too wet and soggy or too dry, and it's hot in the middle, it's doing ok.

A mixture of "browns" and "greens" will turn into rich compost. Here's a list of what to include.

My largest source of compostable material is in the horse barn. It's extremely hot outside right now, but I'm spending time each morning working on the new horse-manure-and-spoiled-hay compost pile. Comfrey leaves are a great compost activator too. Once that pile starts "working" I should have a good quantity of compost in 6-8 weeks. My fingers are crossed.

I've caught myself driving past a yard full of fallen pine cones, or passing someone who is cutting grass and thinking what a good addition that would be to my compost pile. I've gone a little overboard, I think.

Do you have any compost tips? Leave a comment!





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27 comments:

  1. I'll admit, we are lazy composters. We just throw everything into a pile and when it eventually composts we'll use it. Posts like this would be perfect for the Waste Less Wednesday Blog Hop. http://skipthebag.blogspot.com/2016/08/waste-less-wednesday-blog-hop-1.html

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    1. Thank you, Katy. I'll go check it out!

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  2. If I were you, I'd still be feeding my veg scraps to the chickens. Either way you get scraps processed down into nutrients for your garden (compost or manure as the case may be) but with the chickens you also get eggs. Also I have more trouble finding "browns" for my compost than "greens" so I'd rather share my greens with the chooks so I don't overload the compost with them.

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    1. Thank you, Alex. That sounds like a good way to get more "browns".

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  3. I just harvested the last of my finished compost, but I have plenty more to get going! My biggest problem is keeping it wet enough.

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    1. Hi Kathryn! I check mine every time I water the garden so I can wet it down if it's needed. (Usually I need to!)

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  4. I'm lazy at tending my compost pile, but recently started applying myself to it and I am already seeing good results. We have meat rabbits which are great contributors for adding soil nutrients (rabbit manure can be applied directly to beds as top dressing without burning the plants). I would love to build up our composting efforts even more, and will work on balancing those browns and greens!

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    1. Michelle, rabbits are such an asset to a homestead!

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  5. I have found keeping my pile covered with a dark tarp or black plastic gets it going and done faster. I damp (not sog) it down, pile it up, cover it and wait 2 weeks. Then I move the outer to the inside, damping if needed as I go, cover and wait another 14 days. By then, it's about done, and the heat has killed any weed seed off. I don't add new to a composting pile...I have one pile done, one pile working and one pile waiting...
    This is how Charles Dowding suggests setting it up and I have never had more success in the garden.

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    1. I just got a dark blue tarp for this purpose. I'm thrilled to hear that you get finished compost that fast!

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  6. I live in an apartment and can't compost outside, but I do have a vermicomposting system and I love it! I love the worms, I have peaking in there and seeing all that gold and knowing I don't have to waste quite as much food. Composting is so fun! Thanks for your sharing your tips and experience!

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    1. Kayla, I love that you are vermicomposting in an apartment! Good for you for doing what you can where you are!

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  7. We always called it the mulch pile growing up. I have one, but I neglect it! We will be putting up a shed next to it in the next year or so. I will have to put a pitch fork in there for easy access. This is great info, especially the browns and greens chart. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Jamie, that neglected pile is just waiting for you to get serious and show it some love. :-) That pitchfork in the to-be-built shed will be handy, for sure.

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  8. These are great tips for composting. I have never had a compost pile before but it is something that I really want to try. Maybe next year I'll give it a try!! Thanks for the inspiration!

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    1. Brittany, don't let it scare you. It sounds all technical but it's really a lot easier than it sounds. Go for it!

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  9. Hubby takes care of our compost heaps--I just add kitchen scraps when available. I do know that he doesn't turn it very often, but it ends up growing great veggies and flowers! Good luck with yours. I do hope you find enough!!

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    1. Betty, as long as it works, I think he's doing it right!

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  10. We use direct composting, as we don't really have room to do more. It sounds like your efforts are paying off. I have read that some folks collect leaves from neighbors who rake in the fall. I'm sure they are happy to be rid of them and it benefits the composting for the gardeners.
    Thank you for sharing your outdoor post on this week's Maple Hill Hop!

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    1. Direct composting is a great method too, Daisy. I'm looking forward to the leaves falling from my trees this autumn; you know where they're going!

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  11. Very useful post, thanks for sharing with Hearth and soul blog hop, pinning.

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  12. Anonymous3:48 PM

    I composted for the first time last year and spread it on my new 'flower' garden this summer. My garden turned into a mystery veggie garden, with plants popping up from the compost. I have 5 tomato plants that are bearing tomatoes, and one mystery white squash-type plant, and another huge plant that is taking over my garden with large prickly leaves and large yellow blossoms. A friend said it is a pumpkin plant! The pumpkins are just starting to grow from it, but it is loaded with blossoms! What a fun surprise my garden turned out to be! Cindy Gill, Garnet Valley, PA

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    1. How fun, Cindy! Your compost pile wasn't hot enough to kill the seeds, but I would have been ok with it too as long it wasn't a hot mess of weed seeds.

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  13. I need to do this! Do you add compost to your garden after the season too? Or do you just save it for when you have plants growing it? Thanks for linking up to the Country Fair Blog Party!

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    1. Yes, Val, I will top off my raised beds in the fall too, then the beds will be ready for planting in spring.

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  14. If you know this but you simply do not have the time or the energy or even the desire to compost on your own, you may want to call in a professional garden waste removal service. Shredders for garden waste

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