Thursday, May 20, 2010

Fertilizer Friday -- Composting Part I - What is Compost

It's Friday, and that means a visit to Fertilizer Friday over at Tootsie Time.
Check out her blog party and see what other people have blooming in their gardens.

My 2010 Garden is temporarily on hold, since the garden area is currently under about 2" of water. That's down about 2" since last week, so I hope by the end of the month work can resume. This was part of the reason why I decided to build on top of the prior dirt instead of digging it up. I wanted, and still want, to elevate the level of the garden so it doesn't flood. This just happened to be a good wet year, that reinforced for me why that was important.
Ultimately, if things go according to plan, the level of the new garden will be about 8" higher than the old level was.

So, since I can't write about our vegetable garden, my fertilizer Friday post this week is going to be the first post in a series I am writing about composting.

Composting, after all, is the ultimate fertilizing.
"In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return."
Genesis 3:19 (KJV)

It’s the latest craze these days. Is it the newest thing to sweep the globe? Or the oldest profession since… well since the worlds oldest profession?

The bible verse above indicates that as it was common knowledge very early that organic matter, ie anything that came from the earth, would some day return to the earth.

In fact, nature has been composting for as long as there has been nature. A walk through a forest will show you that composting is going on all around us. people all around us doing it. Farmers do it. Gardeners do it. Big landowners do it. Apartment dwellers do it. In some countries, even the national governments do it.

But how long have people been doing it?

Gaius Plinius Secundus more commonly known as Pliny the Elder, who lived from 23-79 AD wrote about composting in his writings about agriculture around the world.

So why does it seem like it is a new and exciting invention?

People are funny. We often ignore the lessons of our forefathers, then, when we are faced with a similar challenge, we come up with a similar solution and pat ourselves on the back for being so clever as to invent a cure.

So, every generation or two, we rediscover the things our grandparents would have told us if only we had listened.

So it is with composting. My grandfather was a farmer. He composted automatically, without even thinking about it, and quite possibly without even ever calling it that.

There was no such thing as a garbage man back in the outskirts of Buhl Idaho in the early 1900’s. So household trash wasn’t magically whisked away every Friday.

It was separated.

Anything with Meat or Bones went to the dogs. Chicken bones included. I know they say you can’t give chicken bones to dogs, but they chomped em right down and never had a problem.

Anything vegetable went to the chickens.

Anything that would burn was burned. Glass bottles were reused, cans became drinking glasses, grain scoops, measuring cups, grease cans or anything else.

There was seldom any trash to deal with as things were used, reused, turned into something else and reused, until they fell apart. Then the parts were used to fix something else.

The chicken coops were shoveled out regularly, and the straw, and associated stuff that was in it was all piled in a big pile out by the garden. At the end of the year, after the first frost, when all the squash had been picked, the carrots dug, and all the edible food taken out of the garden, the pile of chicken manure would be spread all over the garden, and plowed into the ground.

The corral where the cows were kept while waiting to be milked was scooped out regularly with a bulldozer, into a big pile, which was loaded onto a wagon with a spreader in the back (I later learned it was actually called a manure spreader, ) and spread out on next years corn fields.

Lest you think that what I am talking about is manure, or fertilizer, and not compost, let me remind you what compost actually is.

Composting 101 says this:

Plants and organic matter are consumed by animals of all sizes, from larger mammals, birds, and rodents to worms, insects, and microscopic organisms. The result of this natural cycle is compost,

Now, most of us tend to think of compost in terms of the result from smaller animals. Worms Bacteria, microorganisms, that kind of thing. That’s ok, that is the main kind I am going to talk about today, but keep in mind that compost actually includes the entire spectrum.

Traditional compost as we know it is a mixture of digested and undigested organic matter that creates a soft rich, sweet smelling soil. Anyone can get compost, in fact, if you have any kind of plant ,matter in any quantity it will be hard to prevent having some. The key then is to effectively manage that process so as to intentionally produce the best quality compost in the shortest amount of time.

There are gimmicky things out there that will try to tell you that for just $199.99 plus shipping and handling you can get a magical miracle composter that will turn your kitchen scraps into acres of compost in just two short weeks.

If you are planning on buying one of these, please check with me first as I also have some incredible real estate for sale, with an oceanfront view from one side or the veranda, and a spectacular view of the Grand Canyon from the other. I will include the magical miracle composter absolutely free. (Just pay a small processing fee.)

Seriously, there are ways to produce compost faster, but they involve altering your ratio of Brown to Green matter, (More on what this means later) and altering your microbes so your final product, while technically compost may or may not be as good in your garden as the “real thing”.

Good compost takes time. Now is the time to start a compost pile so that you will have good compost ready and available for your 2011 garden.

It may be ready sooner, but if you start working on it now, it will be just perfect by next year.

So now that we have discussed what compost is, my next post on compost will cover how to get started.

But before I go let me leave you with a small reward for reading all the way through this long post.

I found this while researching compost and it just seemed to me to be something I had to share:
Check out the recipe for Compost Cupcakes found at the Cupcake Project.

And now, a quick peek at our Herb Garden.

The Chives are bloomin' and thrivin' I think I'll cut a big bunch of blossoms to take in and put in a vase...

The Oregano is going crazy, I have taken about half of it to plant swaps and it is still a big bush, I think it's almost time for the first harvest of the year.

I broke my own cardinal rule last year with the french thyme. I usually don't harvest a plant the first year I plant it, but this one looked so healthy I couldn't resist and I harvested some last fall.

This is what happened. You'd think I would learn...

The barrel with the Spearmint had a whole bunch of Catnip in it too. I dug it up and divided it into a dozen healthy plants to take to the plant swap this weekend.
I have heard that it makes good tea, but I don't want it competing with our Spearmint. Maybe when we have more room, we'll grow it again.

The Apple mint is looking good. You can see my dirty gardening shoes in the background, and of course my little helper.

The Peppermint is doing great
It doesn't seem to mind sharing the barrel with a strawberry plant.

The garlic is ready to be divided,
I wish the vegetable garden was ready so we had a place to put it. I dug up a few clumps to take to the plant swap.

~{@ @}~ ~{@ @}~ ~{@ @}~ ~{@ @}~
Be sure and join me each Tuesday for Tuesday Trivia Tie-in, where readers are invited to share trivia and show off their treasures.
Read all about it here


  1. I will follow your posts about composting. Love how all the herbs look so good. I like the barrels I may look for some of those. What is the blue thing in the middle? Curious minds want to

  2. Hello Troy, Nice post. Interested in reading your series on composting; I did a two-part series on composting myself last week and the week prior. I included photos of the new composter my husband built this spring. I am sorry your garden space is underwater! Perhaps raised beds would be an option there? Your herbs are looking great. I too am wondering what the blue items are in the center of your barrels. Have a wonderful weekend! Looking forward to your next post.

  3. I will be following your compost posts and I hope you have an easy to make ,not to huge , compost thingy to build. I am not much with a building materials but I can hammer a nail. I'm at the ready!!

    Roses can be easy to grow if you choose antique roses that others are growing in your area. They are so lovely to cut and stick in a little bottle by your sink.

  4. OOoh I love this! I started an offical compost bin this year so this article was great to tread. I would like to link you to my compost post on my blog if that is ok?
    Thanks so much for sharing, Paula from Idaho

  5. aloha,

    you have beautiful spring blooms coming out today, i love the compost lesson, great introduction

    thanks for sharing it today

  6. I'm still thinking about composting.... worried about critters and such. Love your herb post.

  7. Linda & Beth How very observant of you to notice my watering system. Each of my barrels has a milk jug buried in the center. There are small holes in sides of the jug, near the bottom. I water the barrels by filling the jug with water, it takes about a week to run out. This is great for when we are going to be away from home. I just make sure and fill them up before we go.

  8. I hope you get that garden raised up soon!!! I would be ticked if my garden flooded!!!
    I think I might be ticked off soon seems we are getting a very cold snap this weekend...I will be out covering everything and hoping and praying that it doesn't snow!!!
    I have been in the compost mess before...bought one of the "gems" that you warned of...and yea...they are crap!!!
    thanks for flaunting...and teaching and sharing with us this weekend...I wonder what those cupcakes will be like??? hahaha

  9. Hi Troy,
    Here is the link that I put your composting link on - it is a great article!
    Thanks for letting me link up withyou!
    Paula from Idaho

  10. Hi Troy,
    Thank you for visiting my blog and for your question. I'm glad that I found yours.I have found many craft/home blogs which I enjoy, but not many gardening blogs yet. I am going to reread your information on composting. I have a compost heap, but like most things in my garden, I haven't done it by the rules.:-)
    I love your watering system.
    About the hay blowing off, I've had thne newspaper blow off, but never the hay. I usually wet everything down as soon as I am finished. This time, thankfully it rained the evening I finished.I am using shredded hay on one bed and old stalky hay on another. I'll keep you posted on whether or not it stays down.