Well it has been awhile since I blogged about composting. I have been composting hot and heavy all spring and summer, with my four bin compost system, making literally a couple thousand gallons of compost in my normal sized suburban yard.
How is this possible? I simply collect hundreds of bags of leaves each fall which I use to compost as far into the summer as the leaves last. Why is it so important to have leaves stored? In the summer you have an abundance of green material (lawn clippings), but you have a shortage of brown material (spent plant material and leaves), as everything is green and luscious. This leaves the only brown source being dried grass clippings which works well but it shrinks down to very little actual compost. Leaves shrink down but the amount of organic material you have as a finished product is considerable.
This summer I spoke to hundreds of people at the farmer’s market about composting. People asked a lot of questions regarding whether or not you can compost in the shade and how to compost in the winter. To answer these questions, sunlight is not essential to composting. What makes the heat in a compost pile is the right ratio of brown and green materials, air and water. Sure a compost pile will get even hotter in the direct sunlight but it is not essential in the summer months. The sun does help to keep the top layer of compost workable in the winter months but the chemical reaction of the materials, over the winter, will still be in play in the middle of your compost pile.
To get ready for winter I screen out all the compost I can from my bins and spread it (top dress) throughout my flower and vegetable beds. The dark rich compost not only makes the soil improved but it instantly makes the bed more visually appealing.
I turn my bins from left to right so I will move all my freshest material from the first bin to the last bin in the next couple of weeks. This leaves the first three bins empty. I then collect all the grass clippings I can and with the leaves falling I will try and make three entire bins of new material with the right ratio of ingredients (three parts brown and one part green). I make my brown layers about ten inches deep and use about three inches of green material. I wet the material as I go and I heap the material in each of the bins. By spring all four of my bins will have shrunk down to about a half bin each. In the spring I will combine piles and I will make the far left bin empty to start new material. With all four bins composting over the winter (even without turning), the material will finish composting quickly in the spring once you start turning the material. You will then have compost for your spring vegetable planting and plenty for the summer planting.
I hear a lot of people talk about starting a garden next year. Gardening is expensive at first having to buy compost as well as plants and seeds. Wouldn’t it be better to have more money for plants and seeds if you did not have to spend half your budget on soil amendments? If you want to make this a reality you need to take advantage of the fall season and get a multiple bin compost system and get it going. If you wait until next year to start composting you won’t have the finished material in the spring and early summer when it is needed, thus that garden dream may be another year away. Composting takes some time and work but it saves a lot of money and you will be effectively using material that you know where it comes from to grow the tasty and healthy food you will be feeding your family.
And turning your compost gives your chickens something to do.
And as an afterthought, I picked the rest of my second planting of potatoes. I did not have a huge harvest but they are tasty.