Most gardeners, whether they be new to the hobby (or profession) or not have heard of composting and the many wonderful benefits of it. What I’ve found in researching the topic is that there are so many different styles and methods of composting that to decide which is the best can be slightly overwhelming. It’s like trying to figure out which curriculum to buy if you’re homeschooling or more on the current side of things, what is the truth about COVID-19 – which is a truly overwhelming topic all on its own and not one I want to tackle.
Composting really is not rocket science, but there is a “science” to it. Basically, it’s a chemistry lesson that is actually fun and not so hard to do. The results may vary, but no matter how you go about creating useable organic compost that can ultimately feed your garden will be a plus rather than a bust.
If you have read anything I have previously written concerning my style of gardening, you will remember that I use the Ruth Stout no dig method. Last year, my husband tilled the garden a couple of times and I was not necessarily pleased with the results. Sure, it got rid of weeds in a hurry and the soil was nice and fluffy. Problem is, nice and fluffy is not always what you want.
By using a rototiller to break up the soil, gardeners also inadvertently break up microorganisms and the entire soil structure. Weeds seem to be gone, but they quickly sprout up and become more and more prevalent. When a person steps on the fluffy, tilled soil, they squish and mess up everything under their feet creating havoc on the tiny particles and microorganisms that make up and feed the soil.
Walking on soil that is undisturbed does not harm the organisms hiding underneath the top of the garden. The soil is firm and undisturbed and weed seeds that sprout upward are easily pulled and discarded, and they don’t continually pop up.
But don’t expect that if you choose no dig next spring after having tilled for a length of seasons before, that you will only pull a few weeds here and there and then never have to pull weeds again. It takes a couple of seasons or more to get to the point that weeds are a thing of the past. Namely, it takes undisturbed garden beds that have been mulched heavily with compost to really control weeds.
That’s where you come in with compost (broken down organic matter). I don’t have a nice, pretty compost bin but I do have compost containers. Last summer I read about a woman in Canada who lives in Zone 3. I live in Zone 4b. This gal doesn’t have a lot of time in any one growing season before she sees a heavy frost and then piles and piles of snow.
I relate to the snow.
The Canadian gardener in Zone 3 found that it was too much to trudge out too far from the house in deep snow to throw out compostable kitchen trimmings that would freeze anyway, so she cut the bottom out of a dark plastic garbage can and put it right outside her door, Whenever she had a bit of composting matter to throw into the bin, all she had to do was brush snow off the garbage can lid and throw in the scraps. The dark plastic helped the winter sun to heat up the contents and, in the spring at planting time, all she had to do was tip over the garbage can and scoop the compost into a wheelbarrow to remove to the garden.
I liked that idea. Tossing whatever composting trimmings (coffee grounds with paper filter, vegetable and fruit trimmings, egg shells, etc.) I had in my coffee can that sits under the kitchen sink worked well this past winter, or should I say spring. More on that a little further down in this post.
My only complaint is that my husband didn’t like having that compost garbage can sitting next to the house anywhere. I still had to walk to the garden in the snow. However, it wasn’t that bad because he kept a plowed trail for me to walk on.
My garbage compost bin is not black or very dark. It is a light blue and the lid doesn’t match. It isn’t dark either. It’s a tan color. My compost does not heat up with the winter sun (which we rarely see in northern Michigan winters anyway). Come spring, my compost material in the bin was frozen and looked fresh. I left the lid off in the spring except for at night (animals in the rural areas here are notorious for getting in compost bins – bears in particular, which is another story for later). It really didn’t take long for the material to break down once the weather was warmer and the sun stronger. By summer’s start, I was able to tip over the can and start filling it again. As of today, the compost garbage can is pretty full with all sorts of organic matter that is breaking down nicely, but winter is coming….
The other compost “bin” we have is simply chicken wire around a large, and I mean large, pile of “used” straw, wood chips, and hay out of the animal pens. We have made the mistake of using that large heap as a shooting target backdrop this spring and summer. I’m going to have to take out some spent bullets before spreading it all over my garden.
And that brings me to another point when it comes to composting. Don’t put materials in your compost that you don’t want in your body. That includes things like chemicals from non-organic vegetables and fruits, non-compostable products like tin foil, bullets, and plastics, among other items. Whatever you put on your soil will seep into your produce.
Apply compost and mulch all over the garden in the fall (for us in the frozen north) and let it sit over the winter. Mulch is a little different from compost. Mulch is not so broken down. In Ruth Stout’s method, it usually means rotten hay. In the spring you will have healthy soil full of wonderful worms and other organisms that work to the benefit of the garden.
If you have thoughts and ideas concerning fun compost bins and methods, let me know in the comment section. I love experimenting in the garden. It’s what makes gardening such a fun way to feed and nourish my family.