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Composting into the New Year!

Home / Garden / Composting into the New Year!

The new year is 6 days old, and I’ve been quietly enjoying the transition from holiday hectic to let’s get a move on with all those new projects and goals.  The kid are back in school, the house is empty, and I’ve taken the time to clean my desk and set up the 2015 calendar.  Perfect, now I can go outside!

Early to mid January is when we usually enjoy a few weeks of mild weather and sunshine, and boy does it feel good!  This is when my busy season in the garden begins, I’ll be raking, cleaning, pruning, weeding, digging, planting and fiddling with irrigation until June.  It’s easy to get overwhelmed this time of year with the massive amount of work, so I find the best thing to do is start small, and start at the beginning.  The compost piles.  We use the 3 bin composting method and all 3 bins need attention before I can add any new yard waste, so that’s how I spent my afternoon.  Notice the lovely black soil under all that straw, yummy!

compost pile

Composting is just about the best thing an average person can do for the health of the planet, and it’s easy too!  All living things break down into dirt eventually, so you really can’t mess it up.  Composting kitchen scraps and yard waste reduces waste to landfills, brings all kinds of bugs and worms together to make the soil healthier, and you can use it to feed your garden without the use of chemicals.  Basically, anyone with a little dirt can make a difference.

Over the years, we’ve tried lots of different methods, what works well for our 1/4 acre-ish lot is the 3 bin method I mentioned before.  Basically we have 3 piles next to each other, bin #1 is for dumping the fresh stuff on top, after a few months we turn it over and shovel it into bin #2.  When it is mostly dirt, we turn it again and move it to bin #3, which is pretty much done.

3 bin compost

I’m in the middle of moving the leaves and rotting pumpkins over to the middle pile, which is bin #2.  The chickens love it when we turn the piles because they have easy access to millions of tiny bugs.  Foraging chickens make the healthiest eggs!

compost bugs

Those little guys are taking all this back to the beginning, turning the rotten slop into glorious soil, arguably our greatest treasure because it brings new life.

composting apples

Now that bin #1 is completely cleaned out, and turned over into bin #2, it’s time to start a brand new compost pile.  New year, new compost pile, right?  These apples had lots of worms, so they never made it into the kitchen, now they are the base of the pile.  Be careful not to add diseased clippings to your pile, or it will spread throughout the garden.  My roses are always battling blackspot, mildew and aphids, so I send those clippings off in the green waste bin (because I don’t have enough land to burn them).  Also, be wary of dead plants loaded with dried seed heads.  The  seeds might not be totally destroyed through composting and you could end up with lots of volunteers.  Consider the green waste bin for those as well.

compost bins

So, here we go again!  I’ve got lots of leaves and clippings to add to this pile of apples, not to mention the kitchen scraps that come out by the bucket-load (except for what goes to the chickens, of course).  But what will really transform this pile is the weekly dose of manure and straw bedding from the chicken coop.  When building compost, you want to layer brown stuff (leaves, branches, straw, cardboard) which is carbon, over green stuff (kitchen scraps, plant and grass clippings, coffee grounds, chicken manure) which is the nitrogen.  Continue with the layering until you run out of room, then start turning the pile every few weeks.  Both carbon and nitrogen are necessary for healthy compost.  Also keep in mind that anything with pesticide spray on it (banana peels) will contaminate your soil.  Organic all the way, baby.  Pretty phat pile in bin #2, right?

compost shovel

This is what we have in bin #3, just about ready to go.  Can you believe less than a year ago it was dinner scraps?  I sift out the pine needles and sticks before I use it, and it is gardener’s gold!

If you’ve never tried a compost pile before, give it a go.  Make a resolution, why not?  Start small, experiment, and see what happens, at the very least you’ll be reducing your carbon footprint.  Happy New Year!

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