I’m an avid reader, if not an active poster, on the Yahoo! Gardening Organically group. And it won’t surprise you that the Gardening Organically folks are all about compost. So what do we do if we want to start a garden this summer but haven’t lived on the farm long enough to generate any compost there?
For the last year or two, Amanda and I have been dumping all kitchen food scraps other than meat and bones into a small cylindrical pop-top trash bin we bought at Wal-Mart. We always have to hide it when company comes, because people naturally think it’s a garbage can and throw things in it that don’t belong there.
Every week or so, or whenever it gets on Amanda’s nerves, I take it out and dump it in a shady spot in the yard where leaves settle naturally and where the air and rain can get to it; then I rinse it out and put it back in place for more scraps. I have no doubt that we’ve supplied enough leaves and food pieces that there’s some rich compost in the yard, although we’ve been totally unscientific about keeping piles discreet, which means we’re dumping fresh scraps and leaves on the old pile all the time.
The question is whether it’s worth it to get a pitchfork after it and try to load it in one of the Corollas and drive it down to the farm. I got out there this afternoon during a break between showers, and sure enough, underneath the top pile of leaves is a rich, earthy mixture that looks so fertile it almost makes me want to have a baby on the spot. Getting it scooped up into any kind of usable container is a challenge, though, so right now it’s just sitting there. And with the shower that we can count on coming tonight and tomorrow, it will stay wet and heavy.
The garden goes in two weeks from now. The maxim from all the knowledgeable voices in and around Tallassee is to wait until after Good Friday, and we will do that. So sometime between now and April 10, we will need to make the decision to fish or shovel compost. I shall keep you posted.
Our permanent plan for compost is a little more coherent, if no less informal. We will simply dump leaves, clippings, and kitchen scraps into a pile near the apartment where we will be living, and we will continue building the pile for a year before switching to another pile. No turning, no taking of temperatures, and consequently, no hurrying. We will build three piles. By the time we have been adding to the third pile for a few months, we should be able to take finished compost from the first pile and use it for food.
I have a loosely-formed plan to build a simple composting toilet for me (Amanda says no thank you, at least for now). I will of course save its product for compost, but it will be in a separate place and used strictly for ornamentals – no food.
That leaves unanswered, of course, what we use for compost for the next two plus years. We’ll probably try to make do scooping up God’s compost from various forest spots around the farm, but I’m not sure how we will do that, so I’m making no promises to you, to myself, or most importantly, to my beloved.
Regarding the composting toilet, if you haven’t already read Joseph Jenkin’s The Humanure Handbook, it is worth your while. Just google to read the on-line version. I’ve been using a sawdust toilet for years now, and wouldn’t hesitate to use the product on our food garden if it had sat for a year. I would be hesitant to do the same with compost that hadn’t went through a period of hot composting (ie. what results from nearly all commercial composting toilets).
And in any rural area, there are usually horse owners nearby with a manure pile. We raid these (with permission) whenever we happen to be passing by. Don’t underestimate how much compost/manure you will need to get started. Eliot Coleman recommends as much as 50 tons per acre to start. That is a lot, especially hauled by a Corolla!