One morning on a walk, I spied a neighbor's pile of old fence posts, and asked him if he'd like me to take them off his hands. Before long, I was stacking the posts Lincoln Log style in the back garden, to make a compost bin.
I layered garden refuse, soil, and manure, into the finished bin, feeling like a wizard concocting a special brew. Since then, I've never tired of making compost and our roses and garden are ever the richer. Just look at those juicy red worms.
In our California garden, roses receive two or three heaping shovels full of fresh compost each March. Around mid-March, I usually give them a dose of MaxSea 16-16-16 organic fertilizer. A layer of shredded redwood mulches the roses and the entire garden, amended where necessary. Leaves (above) from our silver maple, wait in plastic bags to make more compost. When the bin is half empty, I sometimes put the remaining compost in pots, for easy transport to small garden tasks.
Twice a year, I make big batches in the 6’ x 6’ bin. Since I don’t turn my compost, it’s frustrating to have to wait six months to use it. Then it dawned on me to try making small, quick batches in large nursery pots. Many compost products are available for purchase, but if you’d like to try making your own, here are some of the methods I've used.
Quick and Easy Compost
1. Collect your kitchen waste. I keep a 1-gallon stainless steel bucket, with a lid, in my kitchen sink. Tea bags, coffee filters, eggshells, and all vegetable scraps, except citrus peels (they take too long to break down) and avocado seeds (they germinate quickly into little trees) go into the bucket.
2. Find an empty 5, 10, or 15-gallon pot. You probably have a few left over from planting rose bushes or trees.
3. Add two or more shovels full of soil to the bottom of the pot. This is a good way to make use of poor soil discarded from garden bed or planting hole preparation.
4. Put in the kitchen waste with layers of soil, grass clippings and or leaf prunings. I also add a special, optional ingredient–bulk used coffee grounds. (Starbucks and Peets will bag them up for the asking.)
5. To this mix, I add a few earthworms and then more kitchen scraps, as they’re available. The volume reduces as the concoction decomposes; continue to add scraps until the pot is full.
6. To deter insects, seal the kitchen scrap additions by placing a layer of grass clippings, soil, or used coffee grounds on top. Keep it moist.
After only a month or so, you’ll have compost for your roses–rich, soft, sweet loam full of earthworms.
Even Quicker Compost
Kitchen waste decomposes very quickly in soil. A friend, Jolene Adams, told me how her mother bypassed compost making altogether. Through the year, each of her rose bushes, in turn, received fresh kitchen scraps dug directly into a hole, at the base of the bush.
Compost by the Slow Method
Above I mentioned my 6’ x 6’ bin of compost. If you’d like to know exactly how I make it—read on. Keep in mind that it’s not the scientific kind, which burns weed seeds and bacteria. However, it has enriched our garden, without harm, for many years.
The quick method uses mostly kitchen scraps. The slow method can handle everything, except citrus peels, avacado pits, reseeding annuals, weeds with seed heads, rose prunings, and diseased prunings. Autumn leaves, grass clippings, old potted plants, sod, castaway perennial and grass clumps, prunings cut small, kitchen scraps, and more can go in the pile. If you have a shredder, you’re a step ahead of the game.
I buy cheap steer manure from Home Depot ($1.50 per 5 lb. bag) and make layers. Here’s one layering formula:
1. Garden prunings in a layer about a foot thick, or more.
2. Thin layer of garden soil or purchased mulch or compost.
3. Thin layer of steer manure
Water it in and repeat layering and watering. After 6 months, your compost should be ready to use. It's a good idea to periodically water the batch, to keep it moist, when there are no rains. Kitchen waste is buried within the mix every other day or so.
More About Fertilizer
Whatever fertilizer you use, organic or not, it's important to follow the directions and water the soil before and after fertilizing. Last year, I only fertilized once– I'd much rather let the compost and mulch provide health to our roses and our garden in general.
I'll write in more detail about mulch in a future post.
What about pesticides?
As far as I'm concerned, they don't exist. A healthy garden attracts helpful insects. Click for more info.