The weather has been fair and there was a break in the rain this morning, and I’ve been meaning to add compost to my raised beds while they’re empty. There’s no better day than today, right? So my compost has been a long time coming and I’ve included some pictures below to show what I’ve done and how I’m using it. I figured what I’m doing certainly pertains to my never-ending quest for super soil and I thought I’d resurrect this thread and add a little update.
So it’s feels like spring, it’s been in the 60’s and even 70’s for several days, but is still very much winter according to the calendar. Today is February 22nd. The last few years I’ve been sowing seeds in my garden in march and planting my indoor started plants in late march, so I need to get busy getting the garden ready. Spring seems to come earlier now than it did twenty years ago. Our almanac last frost date for my area is April 15th, but the last frost date has been coming in March for a number of years now.
To get ready for the new growing season, yesterday morning I sprinkled Sea-90 on all my beds, and we got an inch and a half of rain yesterday and overnight. All the sea-90 has been dissolved as I couldn’t see any little white particles today. With the break in the rain this morning, I headed to the compost pile and figured I’d add a 5 gallon bucket of finished compost to each bed. You’ll see in the pictures my compost bin setup with my supervisor overseeing my work this morning. I use pallets stood up on end and screwed together, as they were free and took about a half hour to put together. So the bin on the right is where I started in about January/February of 2016, dumping chicken coop bedding, food scraps, autumn lawn mower clippings full of chopped leaves and grass (when I happened to get around to raking) and garden debris. That pile grew and shrank as I added to it over the course of that year and then I stopped adding to the right side in November of 2016, and proceeded to start filling up the left side. I utilized the dreaded big blue tarps to cover the piles occasionally during excessive rainy periods. I also left the right side essentially covered for a good portion of 2017 and even so far this year, but I would pull the tarp away and fluff the aging compost about once a month, just to keep oxygen in there. This pile shrunk at glacial speeds from what it was to what it is today. Today it looks dark, has a crumbly texture, and smells really good and earthy. This is what I’ve been waiting so long to achieve - a finished compost, with hardly any identifiable pieces of what was originally put in there. I’ve read this can be achieved faster, but I’m a sort of lazy composter, with compost being on the back burner so-to-say, just letting it go at it’s own pace in the background. The pile on the right looked like the pile on the left in November of 2016, and now I’ll spread it in the garden, and stop adding to the pile on the left, start a new pile on the right, and leave the pile on the left untouched to slowly finish at natures pace for a year (though I’m moving this fall so it will be the next guy’s small pile of gold).
The picture with the fork in the compost tries to show something that I was not expecting. I have terrible, dense, hard clay soil here. Even with all the soaking rain we’ve been getting it's still very firm and I can not push that fork into the soil out in the yard. Beneath the finished compost, that terrible soil turned into something completely different. It’s soft, somewhat crumbly, even after all this rain, and I was able to easily with minimal effort push my fork into the earth. The tines are in the native soil about 4 inches deep. This was a surprise for me this morning. It’s a great example of how adding organic matter, not even working it into the soil but merely having it on the surface, will with time, improve the soil beneath, just like how adding wood chips on top of soil will, again with time, improve the soil beneath.
The picture of my raised bed is how I’m applying my compost. In fall of 2016 I mulched my raised beds with straw and I sowed and planted in that straw spring of 2017 (as seen in the pictures above). Today I’m sprinkling a 5 gallon bucket of finished compost right on top of the straw (which is really beginning to break down now), and over the course of this coming week, I will cover this straw and compost sprinkling with wood chips from the giant pile that I got the other day by virtue of the tree trimming guys happening to be working down the road and stopping to ask them if I could have the wood chips when they finished for the day. They were more than happy to give them to me so they didn’t have to pay to dump them, and I was more than delighted to get 30+ yards of wood chips that the guys said was mostly red & white oak with a little sweetgum and a bit of hackberry and pine.