Sunday, September 22, 2013

the compost challenge

Compost is not my strength. In fact, you could say that I am mostly a failure at it. When I was a teen in California, we had wire fencing to hold in the piles of organic material that we collected during the season. Then we used shipping pallets to make open bins. I dreaded turning the compost piles, which were smelly and difficult to turn, all the big pieces getting stuck in the fork tines. Nothing ever seemed to happen. We would never make soft fluffy compost to dig into the soil no matter how much compost starter we used, how much it was turned, how much I tried to get the moisture content right, or how much I tried to balance the ratio of carbon to nitrogen. The next year was always just a bigger pile of rough organic waste. The only way we would deal with it was when my father would haul out the old chipper shredder, and shovel the stuff into it, making some finely shredded stuff. I’m sure my hearing was damaged from that, as we had no concept of hearing protection back then.

Here at TMHG, there has been a lot of organic waste to be dealt with in the clearing out of all the old overgrown or dying plants. A lot of this waste is now turning to compost in a landfill somewhere. Very sad. So I have tried to make compost. I ended up with an ever growing pile of clippings, cut up branches, grass clippings - all the usual stuff of organic garden and kitchen waste. I was determined to make compost. I dreamt of soft, fluffy, well rotted material that would make my plants so gleefully happy, that they would grow beyond my wildest dreams. I ended up with a pile of dried plant material.

I figured that it was because of the dry climate. I tried irrigating more, with increasing guilt as the drought wore on. I covered the pile with a plastic tarp which blew around in the wind until I placed firewood on top. My weekends were spent removing the firewood and plastic, then turning chunky piles. There was no change, other than a collection of icky cockroaches living in it, which made my skin crawl. There wasn’t even mold. I dreamt of burning the pile. I placed irrigation sprinklers on top of the pile, under the plastic. No change. In desperation, I sprinkled the pile with high nitrogen fertilizer, then bags of steer manure. I began to suspect that a family of mice were living there, having parties with the cockroaches. The plastic tarp went away.

The late summer monsoons arrived. Finally! Compost here we come! Or not. At least there was a bit of white mold on a few spots. At least turning the compost was good exercise. I made sure my tetanus shot was up-to-date.

I had had enough. There was enough precipitation that my lavenders were rotting, but the compost pile remained the same. I imagined how many garbage bins it would take to get rid of the pile. Then I would have to buy compost and use fossil fuels to transport it to my garden in order to get organic material into the soil. Sigh. Then I thought that if the lavenders were rotting, how could I duplicate those conditions? I would need to bury the compost. I would have to dig a huge hole, put the pile in it, the put the soil back on top. Yes!

But no. Can you imagine digging a hole big enough to put a 5x7x3 foot compost pile in? Not in my backyard. I tried. I ended up trench digging. I dug a trench next to the pile, packed as much organics into it as I could (which ended up being branches and twigs sticking out of it in all directions), which exposed the soil next to it for another trench. Sounds very organized, but it turned out to be rather  haphazard and messy. I watered it well and waited a couple of weeks even during some of the rains. Then I realized that I would have to turn the pile.

Did I get Compost (capital C)? Well not really. But at least there was a hint of rot. I’ve turned the area 3 times now, and it’s getting closer.

No comments:

Post a Comment