Being homebound should allow us to turn some “to-do” list items into “just-dones.” The possibilities are fascinating and endless: cleaning behind the refrigerator, knocking down cobwebs in the basement, and organizing the toilet tissue collection all come to mind. Gardeners also keep outdoor to-do lists, so last weekend I tackled sorting out my compost bin. Putting it to rights has me set up for the coming growing season and given me the deep satisfaction one gets from cleaning a bicycle chain or recycling old socks into dust rags.
My compost bin is a long narrow affair, about four feet wide and 20 feet in length. I’ve added organic matter, including plant clippings, weeds (without seeds), fall leaves and kitchen scraps for years. Finished compost, that dark, rich, boundlessly useful soil amendment, forms in the bottom of the pile. On Saturday morning, my elongated pile consisted of three zones, running from left to right. Zone One was a heap of finished compost, entirely broken down and waiting to be used. Zone Two had a mass of almost woody stuff – ornamental grass stems and other tough perennial plant debris from the past few years – sitting on top of more finished compost. Zone Three was last fall’s clippings and a good heap of kitchen scraps. The goal was to make three new zones, one of finished compost, another of actively decomposing debris and a third left empty for future use. Since there is no app for this, it was going to take some muscle.
Using a short-handled digging fork, I first moved Zone Two’s almost woody stuff to the side. This revealed the compost beneath, which I shoveled onto Zone One, making a massive heap. Having a big pile of ready-to-use compost is the gardener’s version of a pre-COVID stock portfolio, but there is little chance my black gold will suddenly disappear. With Zone Two empty, I began re-filling it with all of the plant debris on hand. Since the kitchen scraps are the quickest to break down and can potentially draw pests, I mixed them thoroughly with the almost woody waste as well as last fall’s clippings, using a tossed salad approach on a rather grand and dirty scale. In clearing off Zone 3, I found more compost underneath. This stuff was rather chunky, so my plan is to pass it through a screen (1/4 inch hardware cloth), put the bits back into Zone Two and put the compost to use.
My methods run somewhat counter to the composting advice found in gardening books. There we are told to build a compost pile using layers of soft, green materials (such as weeds and grass clippings) alternating with brown materials (fall leaves and woodier stems). I never have these materials at the right time and quantity, so my compost pile is more of a catch-as-catch can affair. We’re also told to aerate the pile by turning it, which hastens decomposition. For me, turning is as rare as cleaning behind the refrigerator. Yet, like things in life, compost happens. I'm not sure this final photo does justice to all my hard work, but I think my compost pile ended up looking absolutely fabulous.