Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Time for a New Compost Pile

If it's spring, it must be time to start a new compost pile. Here are some of our favorite ingredients: leaves collected in the fall and chopped fine in the leaf grinder, coffee grounds from Starbucks, and something new: horse manure.

For years I've been passing a small riding stables on our usual route to the in-laws in Annapolis but it only recently occurred to me to ask the owner if I could have some of her horse manure for my compost. She was eager to oblige and now lets me fill all the buckets I can handle.

I filled four large trash cans with chopped leaves waiting for this moment. A layer of leaves starts the pile.

Then I add a bucket or two of horse manure.

Plus about 10 pounds of coffee grounds. My local Starbucks packs the grounds along with the used filters (they'll compost as well) in the foil bags that their coffee beans arrive in. It's good to have a wide variety of materials in your compost pile, including kitchen scraps, garden debris, dryer lint, pet hair, shredded cardboard. If you have time, chop things into small pieces.

Toss a shovel full of soil or last year's compost to spread some bacteria in the pile to get the process started. Water each layer so it has the consistency of a wrung-out sponge: not too wet, not too dry. The organisms in your compost pile--bacteria, fungi, protozoa, mites, sow bugs, earthworms--need moisture as well as oxygen to survive.

We are aiming for about equal proportions of "brown" or carbonaceous ingredients such as leaves or shredded newspaper and "green" or nitrogenous ingredients such as manure, grass clippings, coffee grounds. But if you have any doubts, it's better to have more "browns" than "greens" to prevent the pile from getting too wet and driving out the necessary oxygen. What you don't want is an anaerobic pile: it will smell horrible.

Temperatures in the pile can exceed 140 degrees, indicating that your bacteria are busy. After the temperature peaks and begins to subside, turn the pile to inject more oxygen. We'll probably be turning this compost into our garden beds in the fall.

For a full tutorial on composting, take a tour of my Monkeysee video.


Sylvie, Rappahannock Cook & Kitchen Gardener said...

Manure from Rock Creek Park Stables? that's where we used to get it when we lived in the Washington DC area.

That is a nice simple but clear post Ed. Hope it encourages people to make compost - the single best thing you can do for your garden, in my opinion.

Ed Bruske said...

Sylvie, not from any of the stables in Rock Creek, but from a small, private boarding stable outside Annapolis. Last time I checked at the stables in Rock Creek (as well as U.S. Park Police) all the manure and bedding was being dropped in those big containers, like they use on construction site for demolition debris, to be hauled away by a company from Pennsylvania. You had to climb down into the container to get at the manure, and of coarse you got a lot of the bedding as well. Sawdust, I think.

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