Composting has been a country gardening tradition for generations. It recycles kitchen, yard and farm waste into soil-like humus, which makes gardens healthier and more productive. Have a look at my family’s compost strategies to learn more.
My grandmother learned how to compost on her father’s farm. She used the pile system. Hers was a homemade, corrugated metal and wooden post structure with three sides, three bays and an open top, built adjacent to her garden. Fruit and vegetable waste, eggshells and coffee grounds were the primary ingredients, collected in plastic ice cream buckets. Following yard work, layers of chipped limbs and branches and grass clippings were added. She also mixed in horse and cow manure from her sister’s farm. Finally, she would turn the piles with a rake and shovel from time to time. The resulting humus became free fertilizer for her fruit and vegetable garden.
Today, compost is sold in predigested bags at the nearest garden center. I choose to make my own, but with a different system. My chopped carrot tops, orange peels and apple cores, layered with hand-crushed leaves, go directly into small pits throughout the garden. Any excess is deposited into a Compost Tumbler, which gets an occasional dose of compost starter (bacteria) to help the decomposition process along. In February and October, each raised bed gets a cup of red worms, because they expire in extreme heat and cold. These wigglers eat their way through a fist-sized pit of compost rather quickly. During cultivation and seasonal plantings, I check the pits and add more kitchen waste as needed. My raised beds and container gardens are now loaded with nutrient-rich worm castings and fluffy humus. My herb, fruit and vegetable garden is vibrant and booming with blossoms and produce.
The challenge with composting seems to be how best to collect it in the kitchen. As I said, my grandmother used plastic buckets, usually dumping them after dinner. Today’s country gardeners can choose from attractive countertop crocks and larger capacity, slim-line rubber buckets for under-counter use. Crocks require additional charcoal filters for odor management. Both models take biodegradable bags, which are tossed into the outdoor composter and keep your hands clean. I prefer my grandmother’s plastic tub method, storing scraps in the refrigerator until disposal.
Composting is a critical component of my country gardening equation. It reduces my total trash output, gives me healthier plants and more and better quality food. With these results, I plan to continue my compost practice for a long time to come. See my profile for more Country Gardening Tips.