Organic Gardening with Sue Robishaw
Four decades of Growing
in Michigan's Upper Peninsula
Compost and organic self-sufficient gardening go together so well one hardly thinks of one without the other. Having a compost bin of some type is so easy, makes a lot of sense, and is naturally satisfying. Whether in city or country, you can compost your scraps.
We went through a number of different types of compost bins in our
early years, from poles to snow-fence to chicken wire, until we came up with a
design that we liked and have used since. It works well and is easy to manage
and use. The original was made from materials salvaged from several redwood and
hardware cloth tomato racks we had built for our first garden back in the city,
years ago (we would never buy redwood lumber now) and lasted us for some twenty
years, with some plywood gussets added later for reinforcing as the panels aged.
It is basically a long hardware cloth and wood frame rectangle divided into
The management of the three bin unit is simple. One bin is current stuff -- all winter and all summer all kitchen wastes and some garden waste goes into this bin, however it occurs with no particular order or "recipe". In the fall this "current" pile will be covered and left to work, and a new "current" pile started. The second bin is last year's pile, just sitting there continuing to compost. Bin 3 is from the year previous and this is what gets screened and moved into the greenhouse for winter and spring potting soil. Whatever is left gets shoveled onto the "resting" compost in Bin 2. In the spring, I use this compost around transplants in the garden. If I have a lot, it gets spread on a plot that I think might appreciate a little boost, being sure to leave enough for the fall potting soil. The empty Bin 3 is now the new "current" pile. And so it continues.
The compost does just fine this way, and many years that’s all I do. There are always some pieces and chunks that aren’t yet decomposed when I dig it for potting soil or garden compost, but these are easily removed and thrown into the current pile. However, I sometimes get ambitious and shovel the contents of one or another of the bins into another bin to help the process along. It seems to help get the composting going faster. I’ve found this particularly helpful in a overly wet or overly dry year. Actually, the management of the bins is not as clearcut as I’ve explained above, it all depends on how the compost is coming and what and when I need it. I'm pretty laid back about the whole thing, leaving the compost to do what it does without interference, which it does very well.
You can do much more shoveling and fussing and management if you want -- it
does speed up the composting process and probably doesn’t hurt -- but it’s a
choice not a necessity. I’ve always found enough other projects to keep me
busy. There is no special compost recipe that I use, nor do I add any purchased
this or that. What we have is what goes in. On a "bad" apple year, a
lot of cull apples go into the bin. On a good year, most of the apples go into
sauce and dried apples and cider and vinegar, just the waste making its way to
the bin. When we had chickens, they got most of the kitchen scraps so our pile
was mainly weeds and garden plants. Then the chickens left and everything went
into the compost pile. Then I reread Ruth Stout and Richard Clements great book
"The No Work Garden Book" and picked up several points I had somehow
missed in earlier readings. One was -- Why carry half the garden to the compost
pile only to haul it back again to the garden? Why not leave it where it is and
let it compost right there? Why not indeed. That's how Nature does it, and she
is sure a much better gardener than I am! So I pretty much stopped hauling
garden plants to the compost pile. Now it's kitchen scraps and whatever I pull
out of the garden that I don't want, for one reason or another, to leave where
it is. Both the garden and the gardener are very happy with this arrangement.
And the compost is as good as ever.
© 2008 by Susan Robishaw
appreciate links to our site www.ManyTracks.com from appropriate sites, and we thank you for
Have you read "Frost Dancing - Tips from a Northern Gardener" ? A fun short read.
or "Homesteading Adventures" Creating our backwoods homestead--the first 20 years.
and "Growing Berries for Food and Fun" A journey you can use in your own garden.