Friday, December 28, 2012

A compost turning = happy gardening in 2013!

The old compost pile by the shed was last turned in midsummer.
Last summer I turned this compost pile as part of the shed-moving project, and I've continued to add alternating green and brown layers* to the top since then.

Now, it was time to turn it again to access the bottom of the pile, which I guessed would be finished by now. I also had some old, mostly composted arborist woodchips to mix in with the unfinished compost to add some extra nutrients and more volume.

I cleared out the space for the new pile where I'd recently worked down to the bottom of my last compost pile.

At the bottom of the new pile a layer of leaves and pine
needles topped with a layer of the old woodchips.

Layering the new pile

Once a three by five-foot rectangular area was cleared and smoothed, I put down about a five-inch layer of leaves and pine needles. There is an unending supply this time of year. I added about a two-inch layer of chips and then a three or four-inch layer from the compost pile.

From there on, I alternated the materials from the compost pile with thin layers of old chips. By the time I was halfway through, the old compost pile, the compost was mostly finished. Yay! When it was clear that all the compost was finished, I stopped.

Finished compost is stored in a bin.

Storing the finished compost

I had a fair amount of finished compost from the bottom of the pile to store. I had dumped out the last of the old compost from the bin onto one of the layers in the new pile because it had dried out. I rinsed out the bin with rain barrel water and then shoveled in the fresh compost and put the lid back on the bin. Beautiful.

But I had more than the bin would hold, so I shoveled the rest of it out from its old spot. After I had filled the old wheelbarrow, I piled the rest on the ground in a holding spot while I cleared out a good storage spot.

I don't smile when I hit Smilax rhizomes even if they are red like this one.
I found a vigorous greenbriar (Smilax spp.) rhizome under the old compost pile and removed it. At least there are no prickles on the underground portions. This particular root was about ten feet long before I cut it off as it went under some nearby trees.

Oooh, I hate this pesky native plant and have spent many hours wrangling with it. I have the scars to prove it. Clawed by the cat-briar!  But this time I caught it before it sent up its prickly shoots.

Readying the storage spot for the finished compost.

Once I'd cleared and leveled the spot, I again laid down a good six-inch layer of mostly pine needles (where the leaf rake is) and then shoveled the compost from the pile (to the right of the rake in this photo) on top of it and dumped the wheelbarrow load, too. I removed any worms I saw from this pile and added them to the new compost pile. I don't want them to over-work the finished compost. Then I evened out the top of this new pile and covered it all with a thick layer of leaves and pine needles. I also covered the new pile with leaves and pine needles and I won't continue to add layers to it. I'll let it mature.

This photo is taken from behind the shed. In the foreground
is the pile of stored compost under a cover of leaves; in front
of that is the rest of the old chips; in front of that is the new
pile & the yard waste barrel, which now holds the catbriar.
And at the top of the photo, two of my six rain barrels.

Whew! A good afternoon's workout and my spring garden plants will be happy to have it.

I estimate that this compost will be done in time for late spring gardening. Our last frost is usually around the end of February, so mid-March is the time to set out the tomatoes. That way we can harvest a good crop before the summer heat stops them. It's time to start those seeds now. (More on that later.)

Until then, I'll use the compost for potting up houseplants, container gardens, seed starting, and garden bed building for cool-weather vegetables. I'll also use some compost as top dressing around the driplines of relatively newly planted trees and shrubs around the property to encourage outward root growth. Wide-spreading roots are more drought tolerant and more wind tolerant. Who wouldn't want that?

Alchemists would be envious of my Black Gold!

For centuries alchemists unsuccessfully tried to turn base metals such as lead into those noble metals (gold and silver) with magic potions and weird spells. We gardeners take waste products such as dead leaves and kitchen scraps and Mother Nature supplies the magic to turn them into compost, our black gold--no magic words are needed. Isn't that cool? Do you have your own Black Gold mine?

~ ~ ~

* I explained green and brown layers in "Composting for your garden."


  1. Thanks for the inspiration, time to get my compost spread.

  2. Yes, Greet the new year by turning old leaves. :-)