by High Country Gardens

compost
Creating Compost

Composting is the decomposition of once living things to make an excellent garden soil amendment. Dark and rich, it's everything that the Santa Fe soil doesn't have.

So, I bet you’re eating lots of watermelon, cantaloupe, salads and all kinds of vegetables this summer. The season seems to call for it. But what do you do with the rinds, the skins, the leftovers put them in a compost pile. Composting is the decomposition of once living things to make an excellent garden soil amendment.

I’ve been actively composting for nearly 20 years now, and the soil I’ve come up with is luscious. Dark and rich, it’s everything that the Santa Fe soil doesn’t have.

Information on composting can be rather intimidating. I mean, figuring out the carbon to nitrogen ratio, mass to moisture ratio, and air circulation. It doesn’t need to be all that complicated if your mind doesn’t work that way. My friend, Art, just tosses his rinds and such out the kitchen window and every few days throws on some dirt. It can be that simple.

What I’ve made is a square bin of stacked cinder blocks, three high. I’ve turned the blocks so they alternate the closed and open ends. On the open ends I’ve bent pieces of wire mesh to let the air in. Seems to work, primitive as it is.

How to do it

The basics are—just toss in ingredients, cover with straw or leaves and keep watered.

What to use

  • Kitchen waste
  • Melon rinds
  • Banana, apple and onion peels
  • Cabbage leaves
  • Celery stalks
  • Carrot tops
  • Old lettuce
  • And any other vegetable and fruit scraps
  • Yard waste
  • Dead flowers and leaves
  • Pine needles

Adding Nitrogen

What helps to get things “cooking” (breaking down) is the addition of nitrogen, which comes in the form of manure, or even grass clippings. I’ve used horse, steer and sheep manure. Now I prefer sheep.

Adding Carbon

This is why I use straw. It also keeps the new soil that’s being formed from compacting. Some people also add shredded newspapers.

What not to use

  • Potatoes (unless you want potato plants all over your garden)
  • Dairy products
  • Meat and fish
  • Oils
  • Foods (such as bread, crackers, cake etc)
  • Weeds
  • Sawdust and shavings from chemically treated woods
  • Diseased plants
  • Water
Be sure to keep the compost wet. If it dries out, the microorganisms can’t do their job.

Equipment

A shovel or pitchfork

Odors and Pests?

I’ve never noticed any adverse smells coming from my compost pile, and the only pests I have is the occasional raccoon.

Turning the Pile

Some people turn their pile once a month, but it’s not necessary. I stir things up only a bit when I dig a hole to add more material. Spring time is when I do the serious turning, when I rake off the top stuff that hasn’t decomposed to get at bottom tuff that is ready for the garden. Then I put the former top stuff on the bottom, and the pile is all ready for new garbage. The true test that you’re doing things right is when worms begin worming their way through the pile. Also, you’ll know your garbage is truly lovely when it smells earthy, fertile and sweet. There’s nothing like it.

A good site for more information about composting is http://www.vegweb.com/composting/demo.shtml