Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Composting in place: Part 2

I scored a huge load of wood chips the
other day--mostly pines (with needles)
& oaks. This close to our 30th
load since 2004.

I wrote "Enrich soil for crops by composting in-place" back in 2019 about how I build soil and our raised beds for growing our vegetables, which includes the whole process from building the beds (without hard sides) to trench composting to add additional organic materials to the soil. While no gardener can claim 100% success rate in growing veggies, over all I've been quite successful over the years with these wide-row beds. Plus, this article has been one of the most visited.

This article is a follow-up to that piece and it's also centered around our vegetable beds, but this time I cover what's between the beds and how beautifully rich soil is also created there.

A new arborist chip dump

On our morning walk, I saw a tree company getting ready to work a couple of streets over from ours. I walked back over there and asked for their load of chips, they were happy to do so. They were just getting ready to drive their truck to the dump, as I walked the 1/2 mile back home, the truck passed me and I explained where to dump them, but the driver already knew where to go because he'd dumped loads there before. 

I thought I'd have time to clear the old load away, but no... the new load was dumped on top of the old one which had turned to compost over the months it had been in place. When I posted the top photo on Facebook, people were worried that it would attract termites. In all the loads I've received, there have never been termites or imported red fire ants, but sometimes large red pinching ants will nest in the pile, but not until it cools down. The pile will heat up within a day or two to 130˚F as the microbes work to digest the sugars. 

When the chips are laid on a path, the microbes working on the chips cause a nitrogen deficet in the soil and thus this kills weed seeds and discourages weed growth. So I never use fresh chips directly in my vegetable gardens, because we work so hard to enrich that soil to maximize vegetable harvests. I wrote about this in my most-read blog article, "6 reasons to use pine needle mulch in edible gardens."  

Harvesting path compost

The path between the beds had turned 
to compost. Since I had new chips, it
was time to harvest that compost.
I raked the compost from the old chips
and loaded this black gold into the cart.

The paths between the vegetable beds are too narrow for the cart. There was about six inches of beautiful black compost from the chips that had been laid there 3 or 4 years ago. But there were some large chips that had not been decomposed, so as I shoveled it into the cart, I tossed the biggest chips back on the raked space so they'd become part of the new chip mulch.

Dumping the first load of fresh 
chips. Note the dark brown chips: 
those were picked out of the harvested
I didn't use the whole load one the 
first day, so the rest were dumped 
by the shed behind the garage.

Meadow garlic

I dug the meadow garlic from this
path, and added it to my salad stuff
in the refrigerator.
New meadow garlic plants grown from
last year's bulblet drop into the path.

Years ago, I invited the native meadow garlic (Allium canadense) to my herb garden, which I wrote about in the FNPS blog: "A Native Herb Has Earned an Honored Place Amongst the Mediterranean Species." It was slow to start, but it spreads mainly from the bulblets in each flower head. To limit them to this one wide row,  I've been cutting off the flowers before the bulblets drop and giving them away at the local native plant sales each spring. But we were traveling last year, so I had a new batch start in the cross path. I dug them up, washed them off and have been using them in salads.

Just a note here on the stones and the downspout drainage tray and the raised sprinkler head.  Originally the sprinkler head was flush with the ground because it was lawn there, but when this became our vegetable gardens, we needed something that would spray over the heads of most of our vegetable plants. This is the back corner of the garage and we had set up 3 rain barrels there, but moved them. I wrote about this in "An unexpected drainage project."

There was good finished compost from
this cross path, as well.
I'd reset the stepping stones in the cross path. 

Finished paths

The next load of chips... The finished garden paths. And so, the
building of new compost begins again.
One and a half more loads of chips finished off all of the vegetable garden paths. In a few years, these chips will become black gold. 

Other mulched paths

For other paths, I do not harvest the compost. I add about 4 or 5 inches of chips on 
our various walking paths.

Other paths around our yard are more wooded and I do not harvest compost from them. The weeds are less of a problem in these wilder areas. So, I simply remove the volunteer native plants I want to transplant and maybe a few other persistant weeds such as catbriar (Smilex spp.) to add to the yard waste, and then, I lay 4 or 5 inches of chips on the paths. The new chips will reduce new weeds and perhaps kill off the others. 

Using the finished compost

I'd harvested onions from this wide
row a few days before, so I created 
a squash swale with finished compost
around the rim and unfinished 
kitchen scrap compost in the center.
A few days later, I planted "Magic Cushaw 
Pumpkin" seeds in the 4 corners and covered
the rest of the mound with pine needles.
This drawing shows the structure of a squash mound and is from
"Organic Methods for Vegeaable Gardening in Florida."

I had some kitchen scraps that I'd been composting with shredded paper and found worms, so I used a big wad of that in the center of the swale. I used some of my finished compost to enrich the rim of a new squash mound where I planted a new crop for us, "Magic Cushaw Pumpkin," which is the same species as Seminole pumpkin (Cucurbita moschata). This species is native to Mexico and Central America and had been traded northward by indigenous peoples and was being grown in Florida 500 years ago when the Europeans arrived. (I wrote about the Seminole pumpkin here.) The cushaw/ calabaza pumpkins had been traded south and had come northward through the Caribbean Islands, so they have a different shape. So I wanted to try these to see how they did. The gardening adventures continue.  

So I hope you're making and using black gold compost around your yard as well. I've written several other composting articles, which are listed first on the Green Resources page of this blog.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt 

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