I grew up a country gal. I stepped on skunks and opossums on the way to the outhouse at night, listened to owls hoot and frogs croak as I went to sleep, and played in corn fields and woods during the day. Okay, the outhouse was only for those times the septic tank quit working, but it was pretty regular *no pun intended here!*. I also grew up with a huge garden as big as the entire property I now live on, and we had a compost pile just outside of it. I remember the dreaded chore of taking compost out no matter the weather, even in waist-deep snow and soggy rain. It never seemed to grow, despite the amount of stuff we threw in it every year. Of course, with all the wild (and domestic) critters stealing all that “good food” out of the pile it is hardly any wonder!
Now, phase into the current century. I am married and gardening for my own family in a pretty urbane setting. I don’t have dirt to move to other spaces, and I can’t dig down due to wires, pipes, and rock depending on the spot. I have to use raised garden beds, but they get expensive to fill if you have to buy dirt, plus the one time we did that the soil was awful! For years now I have composted in varying ways. First we had a pile much like the one I grew up with, and it went about the same too. Basically, I never got any dirt.
Next I tried burying the stuff in the garden. That works… sort of. It doesn’t tend to fill a lot of garden beds though. I did successfully turn mulch into compost by leaving it in the garden or on paths all summer and winter, then turning it in, but with the crab grass I just tended to make the weed grow faster and farther. Of course, about this time we started getting livestock (maybe 5 years ago now?). Livestock make manure which makes great compost… right? Yeah. And the bedding of course. Ummm…. it still needs a step here. I tired adding chicken wastes to the garden. Some plants thought that was fine while others died tragic deaths and rot and pest ran all over the garden.
Then we got goats. “Yay!” I thought! They say you can put THAT waste right in your garden! Well, yes, you technically can put it in the garden right away, with the straw/hay/shavings you use for bedding, however it will stink. And oh, did anyone mention the weeds? I was quite amazed to discover plants I didn’t find in miles popping up in my nice, fertile, stinky garden beds. Yep. Thistles, brambles, things with roots so deep you have to dig to China to get them out. Yep, that goat manure is awesome thrown right on the garden.
Obviously my composting methods were a little lacking. Seriously, how hard can this be?! So, next I made a nice big pile of oat straw near the goat pen, stuff they had wasted. It was huge and long. And in the summer it got really nasty. Did you know straw/hay, without being mixed with other stuff, just mats down and stinks? And if you place it on plastic and make it a soup pot, it really, really stinks? And so do you when you finally wake up to the stench and the fact it isn’t going away and try to fix the mess. And wow, the flies…. oooohhhh, boy….. And of course there was the fiasco with the yellow jacket nest, and the time where the chickens made sure I didn’t get any of the compost, and ….. well, you get the idea.
Well, I finally did it! I made a compost pile along the fence line. And outside the neighbors window, but they are really nice about it. They said they thought there was something really rotten in the trash cans until they realized it was our yard. Yeah. Okay. It really did work, it just took a day or two 😉 What I finally did was place a wooden pallet on the ground and enclose it with other pallets. These are for ventilation and to keep pets and livestock off the pile (chickens like to spread your compost pile to kingdom come). Then I took hay mess, mixed with pine bedding and goat poop and all, and stirred it up good as I layed it on the pallet. After every wheel barrow load I wet the pile down before adding another layer of hay/poop. I mixed in a few twigs, but mostly it was just bedding. I had a few buckets of kitchen scraps I mixed in too, but the dog tore a way in to the pile to steal those, so I don’t know if they count. A dog that eats banana peals, sigh….
Anyway, that was about a week ago, maybe two. Today I went out to turn the piles and attempt to bury more scraps in them. When I dug the pitchfork in and turned the compost over it steamed!!!! It had never done that before! I was so excited I had to dig deeper. It was so hot it would burn to touch the compost in the center of the pile, and water made a hissing sound as it hit. I felt like I was standing before an oven heated to 450 degrees F with the door open! Oh, the wonder of it all! Already the matter is so broken down I could use it quite happily. I can hardly wait to see it in another 2 weeks! It makes me want to go clean all the barns again so I can get more! I am quite excited about the whole thing, and no plastic required. 🙂