Monday, October 22, 2012

Making Compost Is A Bit Like Panning For Gold...

...after much labor, a precious substance. (But not very much.)


The compost turned out pretty good this year! It's hard to believe that all the stuff that was pulled out and chopped down has condensed itself into a small pile that will just barely be enough to feed the vegetable garden.


This year I worked quite a bit harder than usual on the compost since I was planning a Winter garden and needed it to be broken down enough by Fall to plant seeds in. I turned and watered it fairly regularly throughout the year and it even felt hot to the touch a couple of times. A word to the wise here: when you pull up tomato and squash vines in the Fall, take the time to cut them into manageable chunks. If you don't, turning your compost the first few times will be a bit like lifting a 900 pound forkful of spaghetti. In July, I sifted quite a bit out with a nursery flat to give the vegetable garden a little midsummer snack. I felt just like a prospector shaking that flat back and forth over the wheelbarrow, collecting the precious black gold. I stopped adding new material in August, except for lawn clippings and kept turning through the heat even though I didn't want to and felt like dying a time or two. Why would I do this? Why go through the pain and discomfort of composting when I could just go to the feed store and have the nice young man load several bags of ready-made compost into the back of the truck. Do I need to build my character? Maybe. Do I need awesome biceps? All of us older ladies could use a little help there, for sure. The reason I do this is because homemade compost is different than anything you can buy. There is a quality to soil that is fed this way that soil scientists would have a hard time quantifying. It's alive!


Feed your soil well and your plants will be fine.


What's that Mr. Earthworm? You like your compost extra twiggy? We aim to please. In the garden, you're not alone, and you're not really in charge. Everything is built upon the backs of little creatures we can't even see. When you feed the soil, you're feeding them. They're the ones who really feed your plants. You can't put that in a bottle and sell it. Decomposers also help feed the microorganisms. Their presence is a sign of healthy soil.


Larger creatures are a sign of a healthy garden overall. Here's a good friend of mine. He had a happy home under the squash vines.


But I'm afraid it's that time of year again. Time to start a new batch of compost, time to get ready for Winter.


Here was my poor, worn out Summer garden a few days ago. Not pretty anymore, but there was still a lot of good stuff to be gleaned.


After gathering up all that was left to harvest, I tore out most of the plants.


I felt like such a murderer of infant vegetables.


But a box had arrived. Garlic and shallots. I've never even tasted a shallot, but I feel ever so fancy now.


The strawberries put out a ton of runners that needed a better home. So I tore up the first two beds and replanted them for the Winter.


When I got to the third bed, I just couldn't do it. Would you look at what's going on in there? The Rooster Spur pepper came up on its own. I'll have to pot it and bring it in. The lettuce is almost too pretty to pick. Last year a seedling volunteered in the driveway. (That being the area that you can drive on, differentiated from the dirt/mud on either side by a fairly thick layer of rock.) It grew through the Summer with no water at all. Even the crabgrass around it died. It flowered and set seed. So I took the seed from this miracle lettuce and shook it out over the last bed around the end of August. It had no problem coming up in the heat. It even tastes good!


There's also at least a dozen heirloom tomatoes that could possibly ripen if they don't freeze.


Plus, the sunflower's still alive.


These guys are too small to transplant anyway, so it's not like I have to pull those plants up. Okay, I admit it, I can't kill the sunflower. It's that last little bit of Summer that I'm not ready to give up yet.


So, here we are today. The first bed is garlic, peas, strawberries, and asparagus. The second bed is shallots, parsnips, carrots, and radish. In a couple of weeks, the third bed will be leeks, spinach, and lettuce. I plan on putting the various brassicas around the edges of all three beds so that some of their enormous size can be accommodated by the walkways. Can you see that it's raining? It feels so good to have our first rain watering in the freshly planted garden.


Here's the little apricot tree I thought I'd killed last year. It looks like it's on fire! Whether it's Fall or Spring where you are, I'd like to take a moment to say thank you, blogging gardeners. Your ideas and encouragement have opened my eyes to many possibilities. Not that many people care about gardening anymore. It's becoming a bit of a lost art. You are treasures, all of you.

P.S.
Please join Daphne and friends today for Harvest Monday. What a nice gathering of gardeners from all over the world!

22 comments :

  1. Wow, well-done Kate! Your 900 lb fork of spaghetti made me laugh, mostly because I have totally been there. What a beautiful harvest you had-- I love the lettuce story. Brilliant to have captured the seeds!

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    1. Hi Linnie!
      Thanks, I do feel pretty good about that compost and hope to avoid a hernia next year as well. I will definitely keep saving seeds from that extraordinary lettuce.

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  2. Fabulous harvests. I used to be good and I turned over my pile more. Now I just let it sit for a year. It isn't quite as good as that fast compost, but it does the job.

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    1. That's what I usually do too. Just plop it on top the beds in the Winter, then mix it in a bit. It's really nice by Spring that way. But this year I couldn't figure how to plant the Winter seed in such rough compost.

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  3. You are totally right, gardening was a hard job and now is an hobby for caring people. I'm a rooftop gardener, and I get small harvests from my containers, but they always make me so proud and happy!

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    1. Hello!
      I hope gardening comes back in style. It's such a loss for people to have forgotten this crucial connection with the Earth. Like you say, it's not about the quantity at all.

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  4. That is one fantastic harvest you still ended up with. Your compost looks great. The toad is just too cute, would love to have some more here.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

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    1. Thanks Cher!
      There was a lot more food hiding in there than I expected, that's for sure. I love the toads too. Did you know they talk when you pick them up? It's a soft little chirping sound. Adorable!

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  5. Thoroughly enjoyed your writing, put a bright smile on my face.
    That is a fantastic harvest. Sounds like you are able to garden year round, how fortunate. I too hope gardening will come back in style.

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    1. Thanks Norma!
      So glad to make you smile after your bad week. Gardening here in the Winter just depends on the weather. I've only done a Winter garden once before. As I remember, there was plenty of spinach and collards all Winter, but everything else just sat there until Feb/March,then came bursting up all at once at the end of Winter. That's okay, it's too cold for other things until May or June anyway.

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  6. I'm moving two compost bins at the moment to make way for a chicken house and I am finding so many things living in them - worms of course but also ants, earwigs and the most digustingly enormous slugs I've ever seen - really really gross.

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    1. Haha! They are gross, aren't they? Slugs are the one thing I can't hold.

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  7. As a fellow murderer of infant vegetables, I feel your guilt...

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  8. Maybe these crimes against vegetation will be balanced out by our many other benevolent horticultural acts.

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  9. Always enjoy how your garden progress each season.
    Beautiful black gold. When we have our own place need to earnestly start our own pile of compost too. Very healthy soil you have with big fat worms.
    Good Luck with shallots!
    Its an essential ingredient in most of our cooking.

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    1. Thank you MK girl!
      I'm really looking forward to cooking with shallots. They're something I've never been able to afford at the market. I like the way growing something new opens up so many fun cooking possibilities. Not that I'm any sort of great cook, but it's fun to try.

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  10. What a lot of work you do turning over all that stuff to make compost. I have 3 compost bins. But I'm way to lazy to bother turning it so much. I turn them over twice a year in spring and in fall. After the long winter I peel the undigested stuff off the top and throw it into another bin to start again. The rest is mostly composted. I put it around the vegetables, it makes a great mulch. I try to remember not to put anything that has gone to seed on the compost. In fall I use compost, digested and undigested, as a bottom layer for sheet mulching. I also layer it on top of the gardens. When the snow melts in spring it's disappeared into the soil. Rotted down. Enjoy your shallots. i've got them on my list for next year.

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    1. Hello Melanie,
      Your easy compost methods are sounding pretty good to me right about now! If there's a hard way to do something, there I'll be, sweating and cursing. Sheet composting is still a fairly new concept for me and I haven't yet figured a way to integrate it into the intensive raised bed system without lots of down time. That's why I haven't really done that much with gardening in the Winter. I do hope there will be lots of shallots to enjoy!

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  11. What a wonderful and informative post. I'm trying small scale composting for my patio garden with the use of red worms using the Worm Factory from mastergardening.com. They claim you cam even use in an apartment. Will document through my blog.
    I'm so ENVIOUSa of your raised beds. Best I've ever seen.

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    1. Thank you Patrick! Glad you like the raised beds. I take that as a great compliment since you are quite an expert on container gardening and the beds are pretty much just giant containers. Those red worm bins are really great. Our county recycling coordinator put one in the back room at the library where I work. She fed them shredded documents and various kitchen scraps and leaves. It didn't smell at all except one time when she threw some old brussels sprouts in there. The resulting compost was very nice. Her only problem was that fishermen who knew what was in the bins kept stealing the worms!

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  12. I haven't made a homemade compost yet. I think it is totally precious.
    I envy your healty garden,and the frog in your picture is quite plump and cute.
    So by the way, you said your sunflower is still alive. To my sadness, as for my sunflower ,this year ONLY it's LEAVES is still growing thickly,or it didn't come to flower. Oh my Gosh! Soil might not be healthy, or I planted it in a place facing west,so it might not have flowers at all.

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    1. Hi Kumittyi!
      I hope I've encouraged you to try composting in your garden. There really is nothing better for your plants and every little effort helps the landfills out a lot. I'm sorry your sunflower never bloomed. They do need lots of sun. Also, sometimes when plants only grow lots of lush leaves, but don't bloom it's because the nitrogen levels in the soil are much too high. Is it planted near a green lawn that was fed with a high-nitrogen lawn fertilizer like sulfate of ammonia?

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