In my last post, I suggested three advantages of compost, and mentioned different composting strategies to fit both your space and your intensity of involvement with your small kitchen garden. I also promised to tell you what I, in my lazy garden manner, do about compost. But first, I want to expand on the three advantages of composting:
I mentioned that composting reduces the amount of garbage you pay to get rid of, and that it produces nutrition and humus for your small kitchen garden. What I want to emphasize is that if you don’t continually add nutrition and humus to your garden soil, the soil will eventually cease to support worthwhile food crops. So, while composting saves money by reducing the amount of stuff you throw out, it also saves by reducing or eliminating the need to buy amendments for your soil. Here’s my lazy garden approach to compost:
Compost for a lazy garden
You can do better than what I’m about to tell you, and we’ll explore better in later blog posts… but you don’t need to do better. I promise, this works, and I can’t imagine spending any more time at it than I already do.
My Small Kitchen Garden Compost Heap
I have a compost heap—no container, no bin, no phased plasma inverter. The heap is right at the end of my garden. It used to be under a gorgeous blue spruce tree, but the tree blew down in a thunderstorm about five years ago, so my neighbors and visitors can clearly see my compost heap.
Here’s how my heap works: I picked a spot and started heaping stuff there. At first, it was lawn clippings, raked leaves, and weeds. As my yard maintenance generated these waste products, I collected them and threw them on the heap. During the growing season, I also threw peelings, pits, and mash from the kitchen onto the heap. These included cherry and peach pits, apple cores and skins, strawberry caps, the mutilated raspberries and other fruits I’d juiced to make jellies, and random vegetable parts that we didn’t want to eat (those outer leaves of lettuce heads and the thickest parts of broccoli stems, for example).
Occasionally (and I mean, maybe, twice a year), I tossed a few shovels full of soil from the garden onto the heap. When I did pull weeds (almost never), I didn’t knock soil off the roots—I tossed the weeds on the heap along with any attached soil.
My Compost Scorecard
Throughout the summer, the heap would grow until is was four feet above the soil… and immediately after rain, it put out a very strong odor of decaying grass—especially if it rained within a day or so of mowing. Over winter I added a lot of ash from my wood furnace, but by spring the heap would subside three feet or more.
Superficially, the heap looked like dead, dried grass and leaves. However, when I turned up the edge with a pitchfork in hopes of finding nutrient-rich humus, that’s what I found! Depending on rainfall in the preceding season, the compost wasn’t always fully-reduced; after a dry summer I could still recognize the shapes of grass and other items at the bottom of the heap. Knowing I could have better compost, I still used whatever came out from under the dry cap on my heap.
Today’s Compost is Easier
I’ve gotten lazier with age, and my compost heap has gotten more unruly. Here’s why: I no longer compost the “light” stuff on the heap. By light stuff, I mean grass clippings and fallen leaves—they break down very quickly, and here’s how I use them:
I use grass clippings as mulch throughout my small kitchen garden… and at the end of the growing season, I cover my planting beds with leaves we rake off the lawn. By spring, the semi-decomposed grass clippings and leaves form a scant one-eighth-inch layer on the soil, and they nearly vanish when I turn the soil over in preparation for planting.
The other stuff—weeds, expended vegetable plants, kitchen waste—still goes into the compost heap. When I think of it, I toss some soil on the heap, but otherwise, I ignore it… until I need some extra humus in the spring. Then, at the very bottom of that heap, I find beautiful, dark-brown compost for the job.
But Wait, There’s More
I can hear the purists pointing out the flaws with my composting scheme: I’m dumping weed seeds on my vegetable garden. I’m not cooking the compost hot enough. I’m not stirring it around enough. I’m putting stuff in my heap that shouldn’t be there. In my next blog entry, I’ll explain more about how I use compost in my lazy garden, and highlight factors to help you decide which composting strategies you should apply.