Compost sources

I can never get enough of this stuff because I never have enough raw materials. But they’re out there; you just have to find them. Here are some tips from my experience:

            I’ve never lived anyplace where nearby horse stables didn’t have manure and bedding to give away. They may even load your pickup truck for you,  or you may have to fork it in to trash barrels in the car trunk.

            Same with dairy farms, but it can be a bit messier if the stuff hasn’t aged a bit. We were lucky enough once to have had an organic dairy down the road, which is ideal because you won’t find hormones or tons of chemicals in the manure.  Horse feed is pretty benign, but look into what they’re feeding their cows.

            Chicken, rabbit, and goat manure are also lovely additions to your compost pile, although I’ve found that those who keep chickens or goats use the manure for their own vegetable gardens. I’ve always had chickens, not just for the fresh eggs, but the manure. It’s a win-win thing, and you might consider it.

            Leaves. We rake our own, but it’s never enough so I call landscape contractors to deliver to me for free what they otherwise would have to pay to dispose. Just get out the Yellow Pages and start calling. These are the nicest people (outside of gardeners…). We got in over our heads on this one year when we had a half-acre of leaves piled 4 feet deep in a former horse pasture. It took a Bobcat to turn the stuff.

            Untreated grass clippings are also available from landscape contractors. The only thing here is that often the clippings show up wet, having sat in a truck for days, so the minute they’re delivered you’ll need to spread them out to dry lest the whole pile go anerobic and stink you out of the yard.

            Starbucks is renowned for offering their used coffee grounds to whoever shows up, and this is a nice source of nitrogen for the compost pile.

            If you live near the coast, or close enough for a few hours’ trip, get seaweed. This stuff is so rich in nutrients it cannot be beat – and it’s free. Takes a while to break down, but worth the weight (did I spell that right?).

            Our town offers free compost to residents by composting the leaves, grass clippings, and other organic matter that arrives every week (branches for example). It’s a nice service, so see if you can’t get your town to do the same thing. All it’ll cost is a front-end loader and wood chipper, both of which they already have.

            Kitchen swill, but you knew that. Some say that spoiled fish or dairy products shouldn’t go into the compost pile because of odors, or visiting animals — but my take is, damn, you can get too lifted-pinky about this. And if a raccoon shows up, he’s just going to stir up the pile and save you some work.

            Straw is a wonderful source of carbon, and doesn’t have obnoxious weed seeds because it’s the stalks of wheat and oats, mostly. The few weeds that do come up are readily dispatched. But where to find straw? It’s priced itself out of the market because of people wanting cute decorations for halloween.  Offer to go around and pick up their bales the next day. Stick a little sign in the bale with your phone number. Worked for me.

            Spoiled hay is the bane of every horse farm. Look on Craigs List, or post an ad there. The stuff is worthless to them ( horse farmers don’t have organic gardens; I don’t know why).

Just know that even rotten hay contains weed seeds, so be sure to” hot” compost this stuff (see “Compost” entry, which I haven’t written yet, but will shortly).

            Okay, time for dinner. Have a pleasant evening folks.

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About lifegrower

Peter V. Fossel has been gardening since he was nine, and has been an organic farmer for the last 20 years. His most recent book, “Organic Farming, Everything You Need to know” was published by Voyageur Press, Minneapolis, 2007. He’s written numerous gardening articles for Organic Gardening, Horticulture, Country Journal, Out Here, and American Profile among others. He was Gardens Manager for The Hermitage, home of President Andrew Jackson in Tennessee before returning to Cape Cod to start his newest organic venture, Swan River Farm in Dennisport, MA.
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