Compost notes

I’ve mentioned about the tumbler before, but it may be worth repeating, and I’ll get more into compost as the season chugs along.

You can build a compost tumbler for about $30, although I used it for mixing potting soil, not compost. Look on Craigslist for a 55-gallon food-quality plastic drum for about $20. They’re everywhere. Mount it on a sawbuck – made of two lengths of 2-by-4, about 4 feet long, fastened with carriage bolts in the middle to make two Xs, then fasten these around the bottom fopr stability, the Xs about two feet apart. The drum rests atop the sawbuck, as in a cradle, with 4 rolling casters fastened to the sawbuck to help it roll. Cut a door in the drum, hinge and latch it, and you’re done.

To make compost, I find bins too constrictive so I do it in the open, building circular piles about 5 feet in diameter and four feet high. I start with the rough stuff, cornstalks or straw, then add a layer of green weeds, more straw, rotten hay (I know, I know), each layer 2-3 inches thick, watering each down as I go. To keep the sides vertical, I pile fodder in the middle, then tease it toward the outside with my pitchfork, always leaving a low spot in the middle. More straw, leaves, horse manure and bedding, and up it goes. I never cover it.

It’s a thing of beauty in the end because of the vertical sides,looking like an old-fashioned haystack. And is beautiful inside as well, nicely simmering away. In a week, or less, I re-build the pile a few feet away, starting at the top or the original and working down, watering as needed. If I don’e have enough green weeds, kitchen swill, or grass clippings to provide enough Nitrogen, I sprinkle on a little blood meal or high-N fish emulsion. It doesn’t take much at all.

If I’m on my game and have the right materials, I’ll have compost in two months or less. What hasn’t decomposed goes into the next pile. The nice thing about this is learning how to make a stack with vertical sides. That’s just my thing, and the results are lovely.

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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