Nature has a process of creation and self renewal. A process that returns valuable nutrients to the soil, protects moisture levels, reduces soil erosion and compacting, and protects shallow and tender roots. That process is the natural composting and mulching easily observed in forest floors. This is part of the Great Design and an element we should bring into our own gardening if we are to have affordable, sustainable, and abundant life in our outdoor living spaces. Leaving nature to do the work instead of the application of petroleum based fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, etc. saves us precious time and money, and most people will find that they are more successful gardeners when they work within that perfect design instead of trying to bend it to their own will. While composting and mulching may not be your habit now, with a few easy steps, you can be returning to your garden what it desires most…..your leftovers! There are many ways to approach composting: easy and hard ways, cheap and expensive ways, labor intensive and near zero effort ways. All the choices depend on you and what you feel is right for your family and your garden. There is no shortage of information on the internet about composting and videos galore about how to make various composting bins. One can feel overwhelmed with all of the information. The key though is to establish the habits of composting. From setting up a container to collect food waste in the kitchen, to taking it to the compost pile, turning/watering the pile as needed, and then spreading the black gold you created into the garden before mulching. If you don’t develop the habits there’s no black gold at the end, so here are my recommendations for getting started in a typical suburban garden.
- Get the whole family on board. Choose and label the containers together, prepare the compost area together and help each other remember to put separate food and paper waste from other household waste. At first it will seem inconvenient or difficult, but with practice, in about a month or less, it will be as automatic as throwing all the stuff down the garbage disposal once was.
- Choose one of the simpler and less expensive methods to begin with, a simple open bin perhaps. I read, in Birds and Blooms, about a lady that just digs a different hole in her garden each time she empties her waste receptacle in the kitchen. Or you can do like my brother, who used all the fish waste he had from summer fishing last year and yielded an absolute bumper crop of tomatoes, okra, and corn this year! You better believe I will be doing that one this year at the new homesite. What he did was deeply bury the waste in the garden area all summer and then this past spring he tilled it all up and put in his seedlings.
- Don’t be tricked into buying chemicals, additives, or any other products to “start” or expedite your composting. Trust the natural processes that are at work and follow these simple guidelines: if its too wet, dry it out with brown materials (leaves and such), if its too dry, wet it by adding kitchen waste, grass clippings, etc. things with high moisture content. Don’t turn it too often as that actually interferes with the fungal elements that are necessary for composting to occur (remember the forest floor- no one is turning that every week!)
- Keep animal products and waste out of your compost pile (egg shells are okay) as most odor and pest problems come from the decay of this material.
- Take the time to chop woody materials before placing in your pile as this will make their composting go more quickly. This pile at the Hemphill homesite will take too long to decompose. Instead of chopping this wood, I am choosing to burn it and use the ash to amend the site’s soil.