I’ve always been a slack composter.
Sure, I know the rules, but lack of time, materials and general laziness have encouraged me to cut composting corners. Enthusiasm for planting, impatience, SOMETHING definitely overcomes me when I’m in a gardening mood. I’m all in for immediate results. I’ll do a sheet mulch style bed, but never add enough material to make up for the uncompelling substance masquerading as soil on this inner city block (most of our backyard being gravel back fill sitting over a clay plug).
But things are changing. My composting habits are reforming. I no longer want bins of nitrogenous muck, fowl bokashi backfires or uncomposted sheet mulching missions in my life. I want real compost, made the old fashioned way. I want my garden to have a continuous supply of new humus, so that I can refresh my garden beds every time the soil sinks down from too much rain, or after a bumper crop.
I am now a soil gardener. Here is my first compost heap.
It’s made from layers of fresh grass clippings (delivered to me by a local mower guy- I thoroughly recommend befriending one), organic extra, comfrey leaves, pulled weeds from my garden beds, some of my crap garden soil from around the edges of the heap and spent mushroom compost (also a good idea to find a local grower who needs to get rid of this often). I added a little of each compost ingredient, mixing it into the previous layer just a little with a pitch fork, and wetting the whole lot down with a hose as I built.
I made sure it was at least 1m x 1 m x 1m in dimension, so it had enough depth to build up heat.
Boy, did it heat up! Steam started coming off the heap about 3 hours after I made it and I could almost hear those weed seeds screaming in pain.
I turned it after 1 week. Already, the heap had subsided considerably, and I could see that the bottom of the heap was a lot more compost-looking than the top. Turning it takes all that outside material and gives it a chance at the inside for awhile. The more often you turn your heap, the faster you get compost.
This is my fully turned heap (above). And my cute little boy.
And this (below) is my heap after 2 weeks. See that stick in the middle? I put that in as I was turning the heap so that I could measure the temperature of the inside of the heap. Roughly of course. I just pulled the stick out of the heap and held my hand to it. It was so hot I couldn’t keep it there for even a second.
One result of all this heat is a lot of evaporation from the heap. Too much, actually. During the next turning I could see the results (below).
A white mould had grown on the compost, which supposedly is a sign the heap is too dry. If you get too much of this mould, it will actually repel water, so it’s important to act fast. During this turn, I added more grass clippings and organic extra and watered the layers well as I went.
And I covered the whole thing with black plastic (below) to keep the evaporating water from disappearing into the air. I recommend doing this from the beginning. Oh! and next to my old compost heap, is my new compost heap! This one’s made from sugar cane mulch, mushroom compost, comfrey, rotted grass clippings and some of my very old stinky bokashi. I think it’s going to take a lot longer to turn into compost as the sugar cane mulch is quite coarsely shredded. The finer you can get your compost ingredients, the better. (I’m currently praying to the garden gods for a mulching machine so I can shred my own garden waste into a super fine consistency.)
And here it is, after just 1 more week of composting. That’s a total of 4 weeks my friends. Just FOUR WEEKS until I had wheelbarrow loads of black gold to add to my parched garden beds. Sure, I could’ve left is a few more weeks, a few more turns, but I’m still an impatient gardener, and this is my very first compost heap.