You may have heard the term ‘Black Gold’ in reference to composted soil. I am still attempting to attain some of this precious material to bolster my silty clay soil. Living in a semi-arid (<7 inches annually) climate I have had to relearn how to maintain my compost pile. When the snow melted this spring I was quite dismayed to discover my compost heap in much the same state it was late fall. It was dry rather than wet from the snow – which really surprised me. I began watering it with a slow trickle of water for several hours every couple of days. This year I didn’t preserve pickles or fruit and we didn’t use whole fruit to make wine, which limited the amount of material going into the heap. Turning this small pile frequently seemed to defeat the heat producing effect necessary to break down the finer materials, so I didn’t do it as often this year.
Studying for my Master Gardener training last week, I read all of the chapters and watched the videos about composting. This last Saturday my love and I went to an hour long composting ‘class’ put on by the local solid waste company. I had guessed right to water the compost pile, this is such a dry climate that there isn’t sufficient moisture for the little critters to move through the pile and chew it up. But my laziness in turning it was not good; to this I heave a huge sigh – this is going to be a challenge for me. But the black gold at the ‘end’ of the process is certainly going to be worth the effort.
Due to the dense soil we have, we had the lawn thatched and aerated late last week. I had the guy put all of the grass into the compost pile – oh my, was that a lot of grass! What I lacked in kitchen waste didn’t matter there was so much green material that day. To balance the green material with some dry, bulking material, I shredded newspapers and egg cartons and ‘stirred’ them into the pile. With the dried mint cuttings from last month the volumes of nitrogen rich green, or wet, vegetation, are close to the carbon rich brown, or dry, vegetation. Soon I will put the garden to bed for the winter and chop up the dried and semi-green stems and branches further balancing the pile.
Proteins and fats do NOT go into the compost pile as they attract rodents and smell
bad, but all vegetative materials (tea bags, coffee grounds & filters, bread, cereal, crushed egg shells, and cut flowers, fruit and vegetables – cooked or uncooked) are fair game. When I weed the garden, weed seedlings that have no buds or seed heads go into the compost pile, but larger weeds go in the trash to ensure I do not re-seed the garden with weeds after working hard to eradicate them. Chopping large pieces of woody stems or branches into smaller ones helps provide more surface area for the good garden critters to break down what you put into the pile. When I prune my woody herbs through the summer, I put them aside to dry, chop them up, and then add them into the pile as my kitchen waste provides plenty of green matter and I do not have a ready supply of brown to balance it.
Compost is nutrition, moisture control, and soil texture amendment all in one; why would you not compost your kitchen and garden waste to recycle it back into your yard for better health in the plants you grow? Inexpensive, if you do not count the hours of turning the pile, as it is all prepaid for material. Keeping it out of the landfill, along with all of the other glass, paper, plastic, metal, etc., that is recyclable, means your trash can doesn’t get filled as quickly, you make less trips to the landfill, and you are a better steward of the earth.
Next spring I look forward to spreading my black gold over as much of the yard as possible and building another compost pile. Happy plants, lovely flowers (that last longer when cut), delicious fruits and vegetables full of nutrition are the goal. My thriftiness makes this a no-brainer, must-do.