Compost that is. What did you think I was talking about? At my suggestion in a recent comment, Carol at May Dreams Gardens asked if we would show our compost bins. I’ve shown RDR’s dirty underbelly before, and I’ll be glad to do it again if only to impress upon everyone that compost is the most important, basic structure to good soil.
If your native soil looks something like mine above, you need compost and lots of it. Compost is easy to make. You can work very, very hard at it if you want, or you can take the laissez-faire approach. I do a bit of both, but first, let’s talk about why that nasty red clay and sandstone needs compost. It’s as simple as nature. In forests, leaves fall to the ground and decay bringing nutrients to the forest’s understory, the ferns and other plants which grow in the shade of the trees. Compost isn’t only regulated to grand forests though. America’s beautiful prairies rely upon composted material to keep growing more beautiful year after year. Grasses and other prairie plants are both ideal for winter decay, and also, fire. Both created rich soil and attracted farmers to the plains. In Oklahoma, the fertile prairie isn’t deep though, and over-tilling, along with a severe and continued drought, caused the dust bowl of the 1930s.
My composting practices evolved over the years, starting with a large wired enclosure, which wasn’t very practical because the compost was difficult to turn. I moved on to black plastic bins, which I still use and like, but two of them don’t make enough compost for such a big garden. Organic Compost Tumbler also sent me a wonderful compost tumbler, but I need a new spot for it near more water. It is such an enclosed system, and our summers are so dry, that I can’t efficiently use it where it is.
It was my friend, Wanda, who turned me on to shredded leaf piles,and they remain my favorite form of compost. She also lived in a woodsy area in suburban Edmond, and she had two or three five foot tall wire enclosures where she put her shredded leaves and those of all her neighbors.
This is where I actually work for compost. My leaves fall in an interesting way. We are in our third leaf fall of autumn, and we need to again run the giant leaf vac over the grass. I will also use it to suck leaves out of some of my flower beds. This may sound easy, but it’s hard work. My dear son, HH and I all work like Trojans on leaf days. We have so many leaves that after two sweeps of the lawn, the giant container is packed full. One of us then takes the tractor and dumps the leaves into a pile. I don’t have wire containers because my crew would mutiny if I add even one more step. We repeat this process three or four times in the fall and then once in the spring because some of the oaks hold onto their leaves until then.
Why go to all this trouble? After six months of sitting, the leaves crumble in your hand, and earthworms crawl throughout the pile. This is pure, black gold and requires no screening. My other compost does. I also use the shredded leaves as mulch, and they are a great seed starting medium. Again, just think of walking through the forest and that springy soil under your feet.
Composted leaves, nature’s free gift.
In my other bins, I place all of my kitchen refuse, the things in the fridge which don’t get eaten and the salad leftovers, excluding any dairy or meat. I also collect my eggshells, crushing some of them, but also reserving some for tomato planting time. On top of the kitchen scraps, I place a layer of shredded leaves, and there is no smelly compost.
Like Carol wrote, if you have homemade compost, you will reap the rewards of your efforts. It doesn’t matter so much how you make it, just find a method which suits you.