My Compost: Did it HELP my garden?

7 05 2012

Earlier in this blog, I wrote a fairly lengthy post on composting and how utterly radical it is:  Well, I’m happy to say that my composting set up is now finally a bit more permanent.

When I first set up a compost, I bought that very rigid black plastic perforated sheet with green sticks.  It would be absolutely IDEAL for holding leaves and letting them rot into the ground.  BUT, for heavier waste and kitchen waste, it was not rigid or strong enough.  So it would not be a permanent home.The plastic stuff (and the pile itself) ended up looking something like this:

Admitedly, uuuuuuuuugly!

The first year of our garden, we put that black plastic semicircle in the place where we were going to grow tomatoes the next year.  The thinking was that we’d get some GREAT leachate going through the compost pile into the soil and that we’d be able to fork some of the compost on the bottom into the soil after we moved it, making that soil “wicked awesome!”

I would STRONGLY recommend people do that!  I found that, with NO other real soil ammendments to speak of, the tomato plants did UNBELIEVABLY AWESOME!…. Right up until “The Blight” hit.  Something killed those plants in a matter of a couple weeks, six gorgeous, heavy laden plants were wilting, brown and gross.  For that reason, I would ALSO STRONGLY recommend that you put a GOOD mulch under your tomato plants (especially after having compost there the previous year).  There are so many microorganisms in the soil that are bound to cause you trouble that when rain splashes on the ground, they find a way to those bottom leaves and in no time, death.  So lesson there?  MULCH!  It so put me off tomatoes, I didn’t think I’d grow them in the garden again for at least 5 years (I was not happy).  Next year, I did the hanging tomatoes instead (last year’s posts discussed THAT success).

After the front corner that was the tomato home, I moved the compost to the back corner along the fence.  I had a Manitoba Maple (a tree that is an insidious weed) whose suckers I hoped to bury in gunk).  That only “kind of” worked.  Smothering the saplings with huge rhubarb leaves seemed to do much better, but even that was temporary.

As for that corner compost pile (still in that silly plastic thing), the plan was to put potatoes in that spot there the next year.  When completed, I found that the potato plants did absolutely NOTHING special that year.  Perhaps I wasn’t watering them frequently enough (a running theme it seems) but they actually seemed a bit gangly and unhappy looking.  The potato crop also wasn’t anything special to talk about (though I didn’t do any of that “building up” around the plant to increase the yields.

After the potato experiment, I figured it was time to give the compost a more permanent home.  I built a single bin last year openning into the garden.  It looked nice and functioned well but I didn’t turn it enough and didn’t think I was getting enough into my composter.  In it’s first, more permanent version, it looked like this:

So THIS year, I figured, the last change would be to put a second bin in so I would have stuff starting off and finishing up at the same time.  Now it’s settled and not moving any place.  I have two big ugly pieces of plywood to block out the look of the pile.  I plan to make a little painting on the boards so they look a bit more playful and far less “stark and dull”.

You see the pile of dead grass, leaves and straw beside that bin?  Well that is there for every time I toss a bucket of kitchen compost on the pile.  Into the pile goes about the equivalent weight of the dried stuff (realistically, probably only about 1/4 the weight but it appears to be enough.)  The blog post listed above provides a more thorough explanation of proper composting.

The first two years when I was more on top of my composting, it made some unbelievably great product.  It smelled like a mixture of earth with a hint of chocolate and fruit.  It was wonderful.  When spread on the garden, it did a wonderful job of getting nutrients to the soil.  I used (and continue to use) virtually no fertilizer past the first planting (when I put transplants in, I usually give one bath of a root stimulator and then that’s it).

As a last method of composting, I will be giving “composting tea” a try this year.  To make compost tea, you need a shovel full of almost all done compost; a pale (though I may use a wheelbarrow), a burlap sack or nylon.  Basically, you brew the stuff like you would tea (but you don’t heat it); just let it sit in there, and give it a VIGOROUS stir a couple times a day (this allows the microorganisms that are breaking down the soil and stuff to remain active and keeps the tea from becoming “anaerobic” (no oxygen) which makes it stink.  In lieu of a stir, I hope I can find someone with an unused fish bubbler that I can use for a few days.  I will post about that process (with some pictures) in about a month.  I’m excited for that because compost tea seems to be the most concentrated version of acommercial grade fertilizer you can make with completely organic gardenning.

The most important thing to note about composting is that it feeds dirt NOT plants.  The great thing about that is, if you have good dirt, you have good plants.  Fertilizers feed plants not dirt.  That does not improve the quality of your soil.  That makes fertilizer good for production but a terribly longer term solution to the problem of poor soils.

So did compost help my garden?  Absolutely yes.  But it helps it in slow and subtle ways; it creates a longer lasting (and deeper) cycle of life.  My FAVOURITE thing gardenning has taught me is the skills of delayed satisfaction.  Nothing wonderful happens right away and it all takes work.  Compost takes that to a new level.  Because it happens slowly and, while you know it IS good for the garden, you can never put your finger on EXACTLY how good.  You just have to trust that all those bacteria are doing the things that they were intended to do.





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