Tuesday, October 1, 2013

An early fall compost pile

Some of the new chips had been sitting in the truck for a few days so they'd
already started composting. They were steaming hot and had turned gray.
Normally I do my major compost building later in the fall when we have lots of dead leaves on hand, but several events occurred this year to speed up the process.

1) I'd depleted my compost supply in building the new edible beds and I had saved a pile of sod that we'd removed, which was waiting to be composted.

2) Some of chips we received last week had been on the truck for several days and had already heated up and turned gray with fungal spores.

As we moved the chips from the county right-of-way, we used the gray chips for a couple of fill jobs and I saved one cart load for compost. Since it had already started to decompose, it would serve as a good starter for a new pile. This part of the load was filled with pine needles, leaves, and small twigs.

Most of the load consisted of excellent fresh wood chips with very few leaves, which we carted off to use for mulching. It took a couple of days but now the fence in back in place and we still have a good-sized pile out there behind the fence to use in a more leisurely manner.

We had plenty of grass clippings, but I used them sparingly.
3) My husband experimented with the timing of the lawn mowing to see if he could wait three weeks at this time of year. He waited, but it generated a lot of extra grass clippings and then it rained.

The clippings are a good "green" material for the compost pile, but since these were so wet and clumped together, I'd need to spread them out thinly in the layering of the pile.

Building a compost pile

As I described in the compost chapter in Sustainable Gardening for Florida, building a pile with alternating layers of "green" and "brown" materials within a week or two ensures the proper ratio and speeds the composting process.  I call this a medium maintenance pile because after I get it built high enough I'll let it sit for a month or so and then I'll turn it once. Three or four months later, depending upon the original materials, I'll have good compost. Meanwhile, I'll throw newly collected compostable materials in a holding pile until I start the next pile.

I use the garden fork to even out the pile and make sure
there are connecting pathways between the layers.
I emptied one watering can of rain barrel water over the whole pile.
And so the first phase of the pile will sit for a few days
before I add the next set of layers on top.
I start a pile by scraping the ground so that it's even and weed free. The size of this footprint is about five feet by two and a half feet.  The piles are supposed to be no narrower than three feet, but my potting bench is behind where I'm standing and I wanted maneuvering room.

The first layer was pine needles and small sticks. Then I alternated layers of the removed sod, spoiled wood chips, grass clippings, and dead leaves. Since leaves haven't started falling here in great quantities, I raked leaves from under wooded area next to the driveway.  Normally, I would not bother raking here, but I needed them to provide a completely dry layer.

By the end of this stage, the pile is about sixteen inches high ending with a layer of the chips. I have grass clipping and sod left over, but I used the whole load of chips.  Now I wish I'd dumped one more of those loads of spoiled chips here. I'll work on adding more to the pile next week after I complete some other tasks. By the time it's done, the pile will be at least waist high.  The pile needs enough mass to heat up.

The veggies are growing

Most of the seeds have sprouted, but not the spinach or parsley. At this point the seedlings are vulnerable so it's crucial that they receive extra irrigation unless there is a good rain and that the weeds are pulled.

It's possible that all of the sugar snap peas have sprouted even though they were packed for the 2009 season. They are growing tendrils now so sometime this week, I'll train them to climb the tomato cages. We are looking forward to eating this sweet and crunchy crop.
The sugar snap peas are up!
A tiny green tree frog sat on the porch rail in its streamlined mode all day. This may be the one that visits my office window at night to dine on the bugs attracted to my light. We're a team--he gets free bugs and I am entertained.

And so October begins--it's the last of our five wet months for the year. Enjoy the fall.  It's a wonderful season for gardening here in north Florida.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

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