Archives for category: compost

Like onto my new arugula bed. The seeds won’t germinate in the dark! (Well, maybe they will. But the plants won’t be happy!

Just reminder to myself hurry up and sheet mulch everything!

The leaf-mulched soil, however, was beautifully soft, dark, and moist, even though the surface was dry.

Above is the existing arrangement. You see the problems: I don’t know why I put the bin there, but whatever the reason, it wasn’t good enough to steal the afternoon sun from even the weediest, ugliest patch. Also, since the compost bin has a wire frame, weeds grow enthusiastically on the outer surface of the aged layer. So I decided to move the bin.

First, I flattened a new area for the bin. I don’t know why I ended that path where I did, but it’s where I should have put the bin in the first place.

Then I laid down weed blocker. I used FedCo’s paper weed blocker because I wanted to hang onto the plastic weed blocker for the bottom layer of more paths. I know the paper will rot, but I’m not sure plastic would be a ultimate solution (and then, if I didn’t want the plastic, I’d have to cut it away).

Then I opened the bin to get the compost out. Notice that contrast between last year’s aged layer, and this year’s. Notice also the weeds. Annoying and ugly!

Having ready my shovel, I moved this year’s compost into a wheelbarrow (not shown).

Then I took the bin apart and moved it to the new location: Three of its edges are hinged, and I closed the forth with twisties, pegging the edge in place with a bamboo stick. (The weight of the compost will stabilize the bin, so it does not need to be staked, but I didn’t want it to moved around when I was filling it.)

Then I shoveled the new compost out of the wheelbarrow into the compost bin at its new location.

Here is the aged compost from the old bin. It’s retaining its cubical shape, much like a chocolate cake does when you remove it from the cake pan!

Nice and dark. I now draw a merciful veil over moving the aged compost to what I hope will become the daikon patch, because I overturned the wheelbarrow.

Here’s the more-or-less completed job. The bin is relocated, so the sunflowers have light. The bin rests of blocker, which hopefully acts as a No Weed’s Land. There is now a convenient path to the compost, with a (rather unfinished) entrance. (Also, in the project that got me going on this project, the nasty weedy area is covered with blocker, so the weeds don’t invade the clover and head for the garden.

I say almost finished because I seem to be doing construction this year, rather than planting, and… Look at the area around the sunflowers. It’s neither edible nor beautiful. Something has to be done.

Estimated time: 3 hours, including the weed blocker.

I figured I’d better get at least the bushes into the ground ASAP, so I planted the Rosa Rugosa immediately; no rosebush can possibly be truly happy with its roots in sawdust wrapped in plastic. I used the same process I used for the trees, so if anything fails, it will not be for want of consistency: Hole big enough to fit all roots without bending them (how would you feel?), hole deep enough so the crown is level with “the ground,” seafood compost packed tightly round the roots, clay-y soil cap over the compost, and enough water. (I put the hose nozzle right into the soil and blast; when the soil moves, I know there’s enough water. And never too much. Because I don’t think there can be too much.)

And here is a close-up of one of the roses, showing some compost, the clay cap, and, above all, the thorns. These thorns, just like the raspberries’ thorns, form a living fence against invasive animals: Humans who want to walk in the garden, and the occasional deer who wanders across the street.

Last fall, I stripped the garden of vines and threw them in the compost. But that may have been a mistake, since striped cucumber beetles winter over in the “debris” and emerge in the spring. So I’m belatedly removing the vines from the compost.

Now, I didn’t see any beetles last year, but maybe I missed them, and I bet it only takes a few in the spring. So if they emerge, I’ll know why.

Oh, and I’m very happy with the wire frame compost bin for green manure. Food, not so much.

Literally! Because sheet mulching with newspapers does just that: It covers the garden with words. Maybe that’s why I like to use newspapers and not cardboard or leaves.

Except the raspberry patch pictured here I never did sheet mulch, so where that upside down “of” came from — word, sentence, or page — I don’t know. Except that it came from somewhere else.

In the growing season, these beds I covered with seafood compost, and over that I laid down long cut grass from the remaining lawn-like areas. (I don’t use a mower because that’s too much like work; instead, I let the grass grow long and cut big swatches of it with garden shears for green manure and a light block, both together). The raspberries were happy, and the weeds were well controlled (though you can see evil Norway Maple seed pods trying to gatecrash by hiding in the straw). The straw I laid down at the end of the season, along with leaves.

And now it’s spring again, and here come the violets, poking up through the straw. And now I have to start buying the paper again!

Right now it’s 64° F (on March 18). So I thought I’d get ahead of myself a little and see whether the soil could be worked. I got a pitchfork from the barn and turned over the compost, and then shoved it into a squash mound to see how deep the tines would go before they hit something solid meaning frozen.

About an inch and a half. So I guess I don’t have to be checking the milk jugs for sprouting seeds any time real soon.

On the bright side, a week ago the compost was frozen. So the pile is generating heat, which is a win. Also insects — probably fruit flies from the coffee grounds — but that’s another story.

Here, the light snow ups the contrast to show some cuke vines I didn’t rip up last fall. Maybe I should, though; apparently I shouldn’t leave “crop debris” lying about, because bugs winter over in them. Dang. Something to watch for.

Guess I should clean out this compost bin, too, especially since the vines aren’t rotting at all.

Here’s the old setup at right. The wire-mesh compost bin worked fine for weeds, leaves, stems, vines, but didn’t work so well for kitchen scraps. Especially when the snow has melted, the compost bin looked like a pile of garbage. Not only did vegetables spill out from the mesh, the bin was so unsightly it could have given rise to comment by those passing by on the street. Worst of all, the spilled vegetables could attract critters, especially as it gets warmer.

It's still winter, and the compost pile is frozen solid. (Probably that means I'm not a very good composter, but let that pass.) So a new and better bin is out, because I can't afford to rent the jackhammer to break up the pile. What to do? After a little research, I discovered the GeoSystems GeoBin Composting System, which is a sheet of sturdy black plastic with holes in it to aerate the compost. You're meant to form the sheet into a cylinder and stake it into the ground. Not on, since the ground is still frozen, so instead I wrapped the plastic around the mesh bin in situ, and then tied it tight with weatherproof braided nylon cord.

Problem solved! No spillage, no comments from the town, and no critter access.

As a bonus, notice the light on the bin! It's a bank shot from the western sun off the side of the house.

At least I think deer left these tracks. The trail starts off-shot, where the critter entered the garden after crossing the street. Note to real photographers: Look! An S-curve!

Here’s more detail on the compost bin. I’d guess the deer was attracted by the unrotted squash vines on top of the heap, and not the ready-for-spreading near-soil at the bottom.

Strange, the ceaseless activity of living beings that we would never have sensed, were the snow not to have instrumented the garden. Strictly from hunger…

Oh, and maybe I should worry about those dried-out but not rotted squash vines. I wonder if I’ve created a nice habitat for pests to set up house and home in?

The coffee splatter pattern is really the washings out from a couple of buckets of coffee grounds the local cafe kindly gave me, and which I dumped in the compost bin. Food for worms, hopefully!

One of those things that seems obvious as soon as somebody says it: Coffee grounds add acid to the soil. As my stomach could have told me. Anyhow, I’m on a riverbank bluff, so I’ve got clay-y soil, and adding acid makes the soil less alkaline, which leads to happier plants. Or so I’m told.

So, the soil amendments for my clay so far this winter are: A few scuttlefuls of ashes from cleaning out the woodstove, coffee grounds, and lots and lots of leaf mulch cycled from the previous year’s banking. In the spring I hope to add a yard or so of seafood compost (i.e., not not not “municipal solid waste”). I have no idea whether any of these amendments will “work”; soil amendment is really an art verging on science that I haven’t even begun to master. Nevertheless, I keep stumbling into good solutions even out of ignorance, so perhaps my patch of land and I are in tune in some pre-scientific, mythologically structured way.

Every scientist should keep a lab notebook; I guess this blog is mine.