During the week of summer weather we had in mid-March this year I did the kind of clearing, raking and cleaning that many gardeners like to do in the fall. I like to say I want to keep the echinacea seed heads upright for birds over the winter or let the stems capture snow to “mulch” over the winter cold, or let the dead plant stuff stay as hiding places for good bugs and critters.
The reality is that as a teacher I don’t have time to clear out dead stalks and do a last weeding or edging because fall is syllabus-writing (and apple-picking, applesauce-making) time. So when I do that in the Spring I end up with large piles of stalks and even more maple leaves. We decided to create a compost bin to hold these. We already have a small bin out in the vegetable garden. You can see it is not full enough for real composting.
To make our bin for holding leaves and stalks we stole a long length of metal page wire fencing from our vegetable garden–like you see in this photo if you have good eyes–to make a round bin about four and a half feet in diameter and four and a half feet tall, which is awkwardly tall for turning but does hold a lot of brush and “garden scraps”. (I took a picture of it but I’ll have to post it later–I can’t find it at the moment on my various technical bins–computer “blog” files, laptop, flash drives, camera–I feel very high-tech and disorganized! Do computer files self seed??)
We are not very good composters at my house. We know all the key rules: 1. a good balance of “greens” and “browns” (green=high-nitrogen, fresh, wet stuff like fresh grass clippings or kitchen (non-meat) scraps; brown=high-carbon, dried up, old stuff like last year’s leaves, newspapers shredded, hay); 2. enough moisture but not too much; 3. air, which means turning the pile now and then, and 4. enough mass, at least a 4 foot by 4 foot pile. But we ignore and neglect our compost pile. Blue jays, rodents, raccoons all get more out of it than we do, plus the cats love to hang around there watching the parade of critters steal from it. I admit we like watching it,too. It isn’t covered so it gets drenched or dries out depending on the weather. We throw anything in so it has either too much green or too much brown. We never turn it. The secret is time, I guess: we just wait and eventually somehow it manages to turn itself into compost. If we followed the rules, we’d have great compost much, much faster. In later posts I’ll do an illustrated tour of friends’ compost piles. My friend Eleanor has the best compost pile I’ve ever seen. I’ll take photos of it and tell all about it in a later post. Her pile is so active it gulps down whatever you throw into it–you can almost hear those microbes going at it. The best gift I can bring her is a muck bucket full of old horse manure from my pasture.
Back to our ten-minute compost bin of wire fencing: We set it on a corner of the lawn, threw lots of newspaper in to cover the entire bottom in many layers of paper, including under the edges out to a foot. Then we put a half a bale of old bad hay on top of that, and put two more bales’ worth of hay in sections (“flakes”)around the outside. On top of that I just forked all the old weeds, stalks, and leaves from my garden clean-up. I kind of jabbed at it now and then to mash it down. I’ll keep tabs on it and document it with pictures as the summer goes along.