Black Gold ~ aka Compost Pile

The other day a friend asked me about starting a vegetable garden. My first thought was she needed to start a compost pile for next year. We live in the California High Desert where our compost pile is vital to healthy fruit trees, vegetable garden as well as ornamentals. According to my Sustainable Agriculture Professors at Cal Poly compost serves many purposes in our garden. It helps create a naturally fertile soil, helps the soil retain water, reduces the insect pest population, and provides a home for beneficial insects, while providing an organic atmosphere for plants to grow. The secret to a good compost pile is having a variety of organic matter. Garden clippings, manures, shredded paper, cardboard, and kitchen scraps.
Compost in our culture has become big business. We pay to have old papers, dead vegetation, livestock manure, and table scraps hauled to the dump to dispose of them. Then, the dump owners create a compost pile and the following year we buy them all back as compost. Save your money and build your own compost pile. All you need are garden clippings which can consist of leaves, vegetation remnants from flowers picked for your kitchen table and if you are lucky enough to have a lawn throw those clippings on your compost pile too. We also use horse and chicken manure since that’s what we have available. However, Turkey, Rabbit, Goat, Lamb, Beef and Fish manures are all beneficial to the compost pile. Manure from carnivores such as:Dogs, Pigs, Cats, and Humans are not generally recommended as they take longer to decompose and have strong odors.
Kitchen scraps include – spoiled fruits or vegetables, their peelings as well as their tops. These can be fed to the chickens or placed directly on the compost pile. We benefit twice once when we feed them to our chickens and again when we put their manure on the compost pile. We also put tea bags, coffee grounds and crushed egg shells on our pile. Shredding and adding old newspapers, even copier paper to the compost pile is ok. Not pictures though, or papers with photo graphs or shiny paper. However, you can add ashes from wood you’ve burned occasionally. Just make sure there are no nails in it, you don’t want nails in your garden.
We always cover each new contribution to the pile with a thin layer of soil. When we add our fruits and veggie leftovers we bury them in the pile. We never put meat or dairy products in the pile as we don’t want to attract rodents or other critters.
To stimulate decomposition we water the pile when we water our trees. It’s on our drip system. We aerate the pile periodically. It does get hot as they say the heat kills the seeds from lawn cuttings and other things such as hay and weeds. We don’t get daily or weekly rains therefore, here in the High Desert, watering our pile is a must since our winds and summer temperatures are so drying. We also cover our compost with a heavy tarp to help slow evaporation and drying due to the hot desert winds. To aerate the pile one can use a pitch fork, shovel or the tractor bucket; the latter is my preference, to turn our pile.
Normally, it takes about a year to break down the pile. Here in the High Desert it seems to take two to three years depending on the pile. Once our pile gets to be about 3 ft tall by about 3 ft wide, we start another one. Some people like to contain the piles using old pallets, some use wire, we had bales of straw – it worked well to separate the piles by years plus the tractor bucket fits in between the bales quite nicely. When worms appeared in our compost pile – its an affirmation of a job well done. Some people actually add worms to their piles, to speed up the process. The soil in your mulch pile will have a darker richer look when it’s ready to use. It will smell earthy.
I keep an old crock that has a lid on the kitchen counter; with a Folgers coffee can (plastic) which fits inside the crock and use that to store my kitchen scraps in overnight. Then take them to the pile in the morning. Leaving them linger in the house too long invites those pesky fruit nats.
The market is full of composting gadgets. Save your money. A pile gets heat from the sun, water from the rain/drip line and when you dig it up you aerate it. That’s all the care it needs. If you have to contain it for some reason use an old trash can – drill lots and lots of holes in the sides and bottom to enable drainage and air circulation.
Here are a few websites that you might find beneficial.
(1) http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/plants/other/compost_mulch/hgic1600.html
(2) http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/rrr/composting/questions.htm

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About Grandee

Grandee… that’s me Family is first and foremost to me. My husband and I are blessed with two children and their wonderful spouses who have given us five wonderful grand children. Hence my name “Grandee”… given to me by our daughter's first child.
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