Posted on July 29, 2022 in Gardening
Making our own Compost at Seven Stones
“Composting is a way of using up what we have in abundance” (Campbell, 1998, p. 6). This is why we started the process of composting at Seven Stones. Each year as the fall approaches, we start to rake up the abundance of leaves that blanket our grounds. We fill a dumpster full each week as our deciduous trees continuously drop their orange, yellow and brown leaves.
The idea of composting began with the leaves, but we also were buying many bags of amended soil to add to our plantings each year, and we came to the realization that we could be doing better. We could be recycling these leaves, returning them back to the Earth, and creating our own supply of beautiful organic, nutrient rich dirt.
So last fall we built our first compost bin. This was easily done with some wood, and chicken wire.
That was followed by, “now what do we do?” We knew we were going to add leaves, but what else does compost need to break down to its most nutrient rich form? What do we have here? How do we maintain it?
The compost bin was very basic, four sides framed in with 2×4 wood and chicken wire as walls. We added plastic sheeting to the inside of the chicken wire to help keep the leaves and moisture in. We built it in a ditch on the south side of our property and created some access points to get to it. It ended up being about 5 foot tall, so a plywood ramp was easily created to be able to stand above it to turn over the decomposing materials weekly. This size could be easily replicated in a medium to large backyard.
After doing some research on what we could add to our abundance of leaves, it was eye opening to what is all around us! With the next biggest addition being grass clippings! Grass clippings are best added when they are still green to help heat up the pile. Another big part of our fall routine is mowing the native areas that are filled with flowers and grasses, adding even more fibrous nutrition! Due to our lack of moisture, we needed to add water to help the microorganisms start working at breaking down the organic material. Fortunately, our water is already filled with natural fish meal from our pond, adding much needed nitrogen and potassium. We had leftover bags of sheep manure that we added as well. Manure, along with water are both activators or “starters” that get things going microbiologically. “Trying to make compost without an activator is like trying to make concrete without cement” (Campbell, 1998, p 41).
An interesting fact found in our research is adding stone dust. We couldn’t help but think about all the stone engraving happening on each memorial. Unfortunately, our engraver said the amount of dust he creates is too small to add up to enough to save.
Coffee grounds are another addition we found that would provide a good source of nitrogen and encourage the growth of microbes. We made arrangements about once a month with our local Starbucks to fill a 5-gallon bucket of grounds for us. They are happy to see the bucket coming. They get discouraged that they must throw so much away each day. It takes about two days for them to fill the bucket! Did you know you can ask for individual bags of used grounds for your gardens or compost bin?
Aeration and heat are the last two important requirements to maintain the compost pile. Turning the pile is important to keep oxygen circulating for the tiny microbes. You can turn the pile every 3-5 days to keep it aerated. If it gets turned too often, the microbes are overly disrupted, and too much heat will be lost. It is very important for the pile to retain consistent heat. The box we built, along with the layers of grass, leaves and manure naturally traps the heat inside. Through our research there are even different microbes created and working at different temperatures! This means a dip in the temperature over the winter is still ok.
As the summer has moved along, surprisingly we realized the 4×4 box is not big enough to contain all the materials we found to add! It became too hard to turn because it was so full. So, we built on, making it longer. We kept the width the same because it kept the pile still compact enough. As we move into another fall, we should be able to use our compost for plantings and to enrich soil throughout our beautiful grounds.
We have learned so much in our first year! It has been eye opening to think we can give back to our beautiful land in a new way.
If you are interested in learning more about composting we highly recommend the book, Let it Rot: The Gardener’s Guide to Composting by Stu Campbell.
By Amy Lynch