Puttering In The Potager – Week 1 of 2010
(Week 1 is January 4 to the 11th)
Using compost in caring for landscape plants is still touted in magazines and newspapers. What bothers me is the assumption in many of these articles that lots and lots of folks still make their own compost. In fact the opposite is true – few people make their own compost any more. Few use compost in their yards.
Backyard composting came into its own in the seventies along with recycling, exploding fuel prices, and communes. Back then I was sucked into the wonderfulness of making your own compost. Being an obsessive in most activities, I made lots and lots of compost each year; enough to more than fill a large pickup truck.
I worked compost into the soil in all the garden beds every year. I worked compost in my potting soils for plants growing in containers. Every year I laid an inch layer of compost under all the trees and shrubs on the property. I was a compost groupie of the first order. Thinking back I wasn’t obsessive. I was nuts.
Then about ten years ago, I had an epiphany. While it was obvious that all the plants on my property thrived with their annual hit of finished compost, I learned I could get the same results, healthy landscape plants, doing only 20% of the work. Talk about bursting one’s favorite bubble.
There is a composting technique called “sheet composting”. Today we call it applying organic mulch. As I’ve advised in this column for years, if you leave a 3 to 4 inch layer of organic mulch, such as chopped leaves, over the surface of all the garden beds, the critters living in that soil will pull those leaves down into the soil and guess what; they turn it into compost. Only it’s called humus when it is below the surface of the soil.
Stuff not appropriate for mulching such as twigs and sticks I collect each season and all the weeds that snuck up through the mulch is stored in an unobtrusive pile behind the garage. I need no bins. I don’t even need a shredder. The material in a passive pile will naturally turn into compost in three or four years. You harvest it by moving the top of the pile to the side and capturing the wonderful black gold, chunks and all, that has formed at the bottom of the pile.
Yes, I need more compost to perk up my gardens and lawn than I can make using the passive method. But I’ve learned that since I’m using mulch universally, the smaller amount of compost I need can be purchased in 40 pound bags at the garden center. For under $15, I can buy a high quality finished compost, such as Organimax, and my compost needs are taken care of (see independent garden centers including English Gardens and Bordines).
So, truth be told, I am still a compost nut, but I don’t spend much time making it.