We’ve been sort of feinting in the direction of composting for over a year now. I built a handy dandy compost bin that’s basically four square frames with wire siding. The bin breaks down into two pieces, each composed of two of the frames hinged together. To set it up, you make a cube of the two pieces and attach them via eye-and-hook hardware. It’s sufficiently sturdy to hold a fair amount of compost, but it breaks down easily and is pretty easy to move around.

So we’ve been throwing vegetable matter into the composter for over a year now. This year, we accidentally grew a bunch of tiny pumpkins from last year’s jack-o-lantern guts. The seeds had settled into the ground before we moved the composter a few feet away to turn it, and the soil I guess was pretty fertile. We haven’t given our compost much real thought, though. We haven’t tried to make any really useful garden material from its contents. It’s been more a waste vanisher than a composter.

As my interest in the quality and origin of the food I’m feeding my family grows, naturally my interest in growing some of my own grows, and so this week, I began to pay a little better attention to the composter. I moved the bin this weekend for the first time since the move that resulted in our pumpkins. When I removed the frame, here’s what I saw:


I have a similar picture from last year (half of the composter is visible in this one, in case my description above falls short), though the leaves aren’t piled nearly as high. To give the stuff a really good solid turn, I set the bin up just to the left of the pile (its original spot and where the pumpkins had grown) and started inverting the pile back into the bin. To my surprise, when I got to the bottom of the pile, I found this:


That’s rich, bug-filled dirt-like compost! There were I’d say 4-to-6 inches of the stuff. It looked a lot like dirt, but clumpier, and if you examined some of the clumps, you could tell they were really compressed rotted leaves. I enriched part of one of our beds with this and planted some garlic in it. The rest I spread in another bed that I’m thinking I might plant some herbs in (our sprawling rosemary plants are lonely).

With this minor, accidental success, I’m now more interested in composting for real. The plan for the moment is to water and turn the stuff twice a week. I don’t know that I need to do the full move and turn each time. I think that if I just give a good solid stir and then add some water to keep it moist, the stuff will take care of itself. Guess we’ll see.

2 thoughts on “Dirt!

  1. Gabriel. says:

    I was just looking for composters this week… They seem rather ridiculously expensive ($100-200 for a trash can w/ no bottom??) Maybe I’ll just make my own… Hm…

  2. Ah, I see you have not yet read Four Season Harvest. In it, Mr. Coleman points out that leaves should be composted separately than other organic matter. You’ve heard the term “leaf mold”? Well, it turns out that molds decompose leaves. Bacteria work on the other stuff. Don’t worry, I only learned this myself in the last year and I’ve been gardening for many years. I suggest you make another wire bin and place all your leaves in it. Stomp them down and keep them moist then just leave them for a year or so.

    Now this leaves you with your kitchen scraps and not much else, right? I suggest you do 2 things: (1) start buying straw and layer this in with your kitchen scraps. And (2) find someone in your area that will give (or sell for cheap) some manury hay or straw. This will just help you with the volume you need. As your gardening projects grow, you will have much more organic matter to work with.

    Also, since you don’t have much compost yet, look into planting cover crops (a.k.a. green manure). This will help build your soil more rapidly. This is also covered in Four Season Harvest. Or do a little googling!

    Way to go on the garlic planting!! Now get yourself a bit of floating row cover and a lettuce mix and plant that too.


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