When someone mentions gold, you might think of the bright, shiny pretties you wear on your fingers. Or what Todd and the boys from Gold Rush dig up. Or an Olympic Medal. Or flour (Gold Medal). But, between you and me, I have gold right here at my house. Gardener’s Gold.
My gold is black. It is very light and some would even say it looks like dirt. Well……..it kinda is. Only this dirt is loaded with extra special treats that plants love. You see, in a gardener’s world, gardener’s gold is also known as compost.
As a child, I remember my grandmother letting me toss her vegetable scraps in the garden. I thought that was the funnest thing ever. Just how far could I throw that cantaloupe rind? If we had quite a bit, she’d let me get the shovel and dig a hole for it. We were actually composting and didn’t know it. But, she knew those scraps would break down and become part of the soil, and that’s what composting is all about.
I’ve composted for several years now. My first compost pile was just that….a pile. I had grass clippings, fruit and veggie scraps, twigs, and dead garden plants (no diseased ones please) in one big pile. It worked ok but not much was happening within the pile. One day, I noticed several old pallets by the barn and decided I would build a more confined space. This worked better. Why? Because, for compost to happen, all those materials need to heat up to break down and decompose. The more confined area provided a better environment for this to happen. Today, I use these composters to do the job…
These babies really heat up quick and break down the contents quicker than anything I’ve ever used. I started with one but could tell right away I would need another. I also like the fact that it looks nice and sits on a base so I can turn it easily.
Ok, let’s make some gold.
First of all, if you don’t want to invest in a composter, you can start by making a pile where it will get lots of sunshine. The pile should be no bigger than 3 ft. x 3 ft. x 3 ft. In that pile, you need to add green matter (nitrogen) such as grass clippings, (as long as no pesticides were applied) kitchen scraps, or coffee grounds. You do NOT want to add grease or fat, milk products, meats, or pet droppings. These just make your pile stink and might bring unwanted animals around.
Next, you add brown matter (carbon) such as small twigs, dried leaves, dried corn stalks, or old straw. It’s best if you can cut these in pieces (it will break down faster if you do this but you don’t have to.) In a perfect world, you should have about 25 parts of carbon material to 1 part nitrogen material for the quickest breakdown. I don’t get that technical with my pile. Most of the time you will have more brown than green anyway so don’t stress about it.
Mix together. Add one shovel of soil. (FYI, you don’t want to call it dirt in front of a horticulture professor unless you want to stand in the corner with a rotten tomato.) It’s SOIL.
Mix again. Add a little water just to moisten. Walk away from the pile.
Return to the pile in a week (or when you remember) and mix (turn) it again. I used a small pitchfork for this but use anything that will bring the bottom to the top. With the composter above, just turn it 3 or 4 times. Let sit for another week and repeat. If you do this in the summer, the sun should heat up the pile or barrel quite nicely. Add water as needed. You don’t want the water sloshing around, just moistening it.
The next step is the hardest.
It takes time for all this to happen. Months. That’s another reason I have 2 barrels. One is almost ready and the other I have added to all summer.
So….why would I do this?
Number 1 reason: It keeps all those items out of the landfill! I have been known to pick up people’s bagged leaves from the curb. The office I work at and the office next door save their shredded white paper for me. Once you get in a compost mindset, you really see a lot of things that could be used to make compost instead of throwing it away.
Number 2 reason: There are many beneficial organisms that thrive in compost. These microbes eat and multiply and release nutrients that plants can use naturally. I like to use my compost mixed with potting soil for my containers and as a side dressing for my plants. Compost is very light but has the ability to act as a mulch as well. You can also make a compost “tea” by steeping some compost in a bucket and then watering your plants. I honestly feel my plants survived this summer heat with the help from compost.
This is a great time of year to start your compost pile. Gardens are finishing up and annuals will be pulled. Coffee will be drank and the grounds just waiting to be repurposed. Look in your fridge. I bet you can find some old fruit or wilted lettuce waiting to contribute. Let’s start thinking like a compostologist and use this basic info to get started. Before you know it, you can proudly say……I have gold!