In continuance of my pledge to keep it real, and influenced by Margaret at A Way to Garden and Kathy at Cold Climate Gardening, I’m showing you my garden’s soft underbelly. It isn’t all blooms and ripe tomatoes here. There’s also compost, leaf mold and other rotting stuff. Not pretty, but essential.
Sure, you can grow veggies and flowers without improving your soil. I recently watched a NewsOK.tv story about a woman who does. She grows her veggies in what looks like straight Oklahoma red sand, and if you listen closely, you’ll hear the words “Miracle Gro.” Now, I’m not going to fault her for using the blue crystals. It’s just not my way.
Above is my compost area. I have three compost bins and a leaf pile. The leaf pile was once three piles, but I’ve used most of the leaves, and over the winter and summer, they’ve broken down into leaf mold. I absolutely love leaf mold. There is no greater substance to improve soil in Oklahoma. It’s slightly acidic, and we have very alkaline soil. It holds moisture and cuts down on weeds. It is a great medium to sprout seeds (including weed seeds,) but fortunately, leaf mold makes the soil so permeable that the weeds are easier to pull.
I don’t claim to be a great composter. In fact, when I was adding the veggy scraps from last night’s dinner to the pile, I was thinking about all the articles I’ve read about composting. I once wanted to be shown in the back of Organic Gardening and be given their composting award, but I never could keep up with all the rules.
Mrs. Greenthumbs, Cassandra Danz, was a writer and gardener I continue to admire, even more so since her passing. Her sense of humor and humility came through in every line she wrote. I loved her book, Mrs. Greenthumbs: How I Turned a Boring Yard into a Glorious Garden and How You Can, Too. In her essay about her lackadaisical composting habits, Mrs. Greenthumbs seemed somewhat apologetic when she wrote that she just put everything in a big pile, covered it with dark plastic and waited. When I read that, I breathed a novice gardener’s sigh of relief. Until then, everything I’d read on composting seemed so technical and had so many rules. I knew I couldn’t meet the bar.
Organic matter (i.e., natural stuff) left to the elements rots unless it is carried off by varmints. Here are my guidelines to easy composting:
- In the pile, layer brown matter: dead leaves, dead grass clippings, etc. The emphasis is on dead and brown. Then, add green matter: veggy food scraps, weeds without the seed heads if possible, garden leaves (except diseased leaves like black-spotted rose leaves or diseased tomato leaves.) Brown, green, brown, green. End with brown. Then, water the whole thing.
- Cover it with something. I like these bins. I’ve had them for years. My middle pile is not covered. That is bad. It doesn’t hold in the heat. However, miraculously, it still produces compost, although much more slowly.
- If you live in a very dry climate like ours normally is, water the pile every couple of weeks.
- You can turn the pile if you want. I don’t.
- Pick one pile and keep adding matter. I don’t really do this either. I just add to whatever pile I want. I know . . . it’s pure garden laziness, or is it rebellion?
- When you add green stuff, you might also top it with some shredded leaves or dirt. Keeps it from smelling bad.
- Don’t add dairy or meat products. This is a hard and fast rule. Otherwise, animals are attracted to your pile.
Whenever I want compost, like Mrs. Greenthumbs, I just dig into the center bottom of the pile and pull some out. In the spring, I turn over the whole pile and dig out the good stuff. I put the remaining stuff back.
Ugly? Dirty? Yes.
But, look at the beauty it helps create.