Composting for Superb Gardening

Why Garden?

To be truly sustainable as a society, we all need to garden and compost to reduce waste and be more self sufficient. It helps us to appreciate nature’s pristine delicacy and get back to our roots.  Personally, I sit at a desk all day, I enjoy coming home and smelling the fresh outdoors to check on the garden.

It teaches our children where their food comes from. They may try more vegetables if grown in their own backyard. My 3 year old son tried parsley and lemon balm last year. We enjoyed going into the garden together, watering the plants, and smelling all the herbs.  My favorite memories last summer were from gardening with him.

Sustainability and Appreciation of Nature

Yard waste materials such as grass clippings, leaves, and yard trimmings make up approximately 10% (by volume) of the municipal waste stream, according to Indiana’s Department of Environmental Management. Yard waste can account for 50% or more of residential solid waste during the active growing season. [1]

Let your children help you pluck herbs or plant seeds. It’s a very enjoyable experience you can do together.

My son thought it was hilarious when our sweet potatoes ended up like this:

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The sweet potato fiasco made me realize, our soil was not conducive to root vegetables (hard clay soil). The raised bed did awesome, we need to till a lot this year and add compost to work the soil looser and to provide it with the elements it needs to give nourishment to what we plant. Also to allow the root vegetables to grow properly and separate underground.

Our first real garden last year was flooded several times, we learned a lot, lost a lot, and truly appreciate more now how food is grown and ends up on our table. It’s why we are attempting to buy more locally and waste less.

Container Gardening if you lack space…

There is an explosion in container gardening ideas right now on the internet, you don’t need much space to garden (or compost!) You can create garden beds out of reusable (untreated) wood using ideas found on Pinterest, as well as ideas for making small compost bins.


Composting for Successful Gardening

Composting is a naturally occurring process that breaks down organic materials into a soil-like material. Finished compost is an excellent soil amendment that improves soil structure as well as adds some nutrients. All organic materials will break down eventually, if given the proper environmental conditions. [1]

imageWe used our raised garden bed for our compost “heap” this year.  We covered it with a think double layered tarp and anchored with metal pins. This spring,  I will build a covered bin to keep close to our home.

“The basic ingredients for successful composting include organic materials, microorganisms, and the proper balance of carbon to nitrogen, water, and oxygen.” [1]

There are items you can compost and items you should never add to your compost bin that could disrupt the breakdown of materials.

Composting DoDont

Below are the basics of layering your compost. These are basics and I’ve found resources that indicate more particulars, but here are the basics. I  used Purdue Universities Composting articles to obtain my information.  [1] and [2]

Compost Basics Best

We simply place our “green matter” (carrot tops, banana peels, washed egg shells, compostable coffee filter with coffee) in a large old coffee tub (covered) and every few days empty it into the compost heap.

A friend of mine who is composting remarked, “Our trash can doesn’t smell anymore since we have been composting.”  This same friend is using an old commercial soap bin that she washed thoroughly  for her outdoor compost bin. Her kids are old enough to take the compost trash (kept under her sink) out to the bin for a chore.

image

If you test your soil and have the correct ratios, tend to your plants accordingly, and keep it organic you should have a successful garden. Compost adds to reducing your household waste and providing extra nourishment to your soil.

“The smaller the particle size, the faster the organic materials will break down. Materials which have been chopped or shredded will compost more quickly. Kitchen wastes such as vegetable and fruit scraps, egg shells, and coffee or tea grounds can also be added. These materials should be buried in the center of the compost pile to avoid attracting insects, rodents, and neighborhood pets.” [1]

I’m personally planting more herbs this year than last and I’m going to attempt better freezing practices for saving some herbs for the winter months. I may try to dry herbs out myself and save in bundles.  I found myself using my herbs more than anything. Fresh basil, cilantro, and parsley were our staples last year.

This year I want to plant yarrow, rosemary, calendula, german chamomile, feverfew, and sage to name a few.


Organic Gardening

By all means, your garden must be organic, or else what is the point of it being healthy if sprayed with fertilizers and chemicals?! I am no expert yet, but this is what I’ve learned about organic gardening…

  • Companion Plant- Map out your garden before hand.  Certain plants repel bugs that harm other plants. You will have more success if you companion plant.

Examples: Garlic deters Japanese beetles, Tarragon is disliked by many pests so you may plant throughout your entire garden, Marigolds deter many bugs such as nematodes.

  • Say NO to Chemicals:  Do not use any treated soil, pesticides or bug sprays!
  • Use Essential Oils and organic gardening sprays to keep pests away. Spot test one area, wait overnight to see how it affects the plant.
  • ID pest problems early and treat immediately. I misdiagnosed my squash issues with a mold (we had heavy rains and I thought it was mold, but it was squash borer insects destroying and leaving behind a substance that looked like mold).
  • You WANT Bees and Butterflies to pollinate your garden! Check out this article on Attracting More Bees and Pollinators.
    • For example, plant native plants to attract native bees. Also plant some exotic plants to supplement… Think nectar and pollen. Choose several colors, plant flowers of different shapes/sizes in clumps. Bees favor sunny spots protected from winds and rain. [3]

  • Join an organic gardening forum for tips and tricks. Join a local group to obtain better information for your local climate and soil conditions.
  • Compost to enrich soil and consider adding worms.

How Compost will help your Organic Garden…

[Composts]unique physical and chemical properties provide a number of benefits to soil, including:

Improved soil fertility

Improved soil structure

Improved water-holding capacity

Reduced erosion

Reduced levels of plant pathogens, insects, and weeds [2]


What do I Do with the Compost When It is Ready?

Your compost is ready when the internal temperature remains at a level comparable to the current outdoor temperature. If it’s still biodegrading it will produce more internal heat, so wait until it’s done “heating” essentially.  You will no longer be able to discern plant or material items (i,e. you won’t see any distinct banana peels or apple cores). The compost will appear as a rich and dark soil, easily worked and crumbly.

If you apply  or use compost before it’s truly ready it could actually harm your plant growth.

If you want to work into your garden soil or into your containers:

“Apply at least 1/2 to 3 inches of compost to gardens before planting every year — this will improve soil fertility. Spread the compost on the surface (a practice called topdressing), or mix the compost with the upper 4 inches of soil.” [2]

You can also make a compost tea:

Another way of using compost is to extract the nutrients into water, then apply that tea-like, nutrient-containing water to plants about every two weeks.

“To “brew” compost tea, fill a burlap or cloth bag (like a pillowcase) with finished compost, then place it in a 5 gallon bucket of water for one to three days. Agitate the bag a few times each day, just like a tea bag. Compost can be reused several times in this process.” [2]


Final Thoughts from Genbumom

 Keep it simple your first year, try about 10 varieties of plants and herbs. Map out your garden  to help you companion plant prior to planting seeds.  Your first year, also try using starter plants. Starting from seeds is a little trickier.

Try a few containers near your home for easy to access to common cooking herbs, like parsley or chives.

Happy Gardening!

 

 


 

Sources:

  1. Purdue Department of Horticulture. Managing Yard Waste: Clippings and Compost. Accessed February 2016.  hort.purdue.edu
  2. Home and Environment: Purdue University Extension. Household Composting: Methods and Uses for Compost. Accessed February 2016.   www.extension.purdue.edu
  3. Lannotti, Marie. Bee Plants: Attracting Nore Bees and Pollinators to your Garden. www.gardening.about.com

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