If you are a gardener, April is probably your busiest month.
While picking up sticks from beneath the trees, pruning dead stalks and general yard clean-up are obvious, there are a few spring garden chores that sometimes get overlooked. One of these is the compost heap.
I have one compost bin at the back of my yard near the vegetable garden, and we toss everything onto the top of the pile. Everything goes there, except bones, meat and oils, including leftover salad that contains salad dressings. I toss in tea bags, coffee grounds, egg shells and even the shredded paper from junk mail, provided it isn't the shiny, petroleum-based paper and ink used in a lot of advertising circulars. During the season, weeds that I've pulled go into the bin as well as spent flowers from deadheading plants. At the end of the season, grass clippings and leaves go on top.
The basic recipe for making good compost is simply a combination of two basic ingredients, green and brown. Green is the living, wet matter from kitchen vegetable clippings and freshly pulled weeds. Brown is the crispy fall leaves, dried corn stalks, straw and a little sawdust from the husband's woodworking shop. I go easy on the sawdust because too much will lower the PH of the soil.
If you think your plants aren't doing as well as they should be, pick up a soil test kit from the Trumbull County Extension office in Cortland and find out your numbers. Recommendations will come in the mail to add nutrients as needed.
I know we are advised to turn our compost piles once a week or once a month or whatever, depending on the writer of the article, but I don't have time to tend to my compost heap so diligently. My heap gets turned once a year whether it needs it or not. Usually in spring when I'm getting ready to plant the majority of the garden after I think it's a pretty safe bet there won't be any more frosts, I'll go through the compost heap.
First, I move aside the stuff at the top of the heap that hasn't decomposed until I get to the middle or bottom where almost everything has been reduced to rich, loamy soil. With a wheelbarrow that I've covered with a framed, mesh screen, I'll start to dig out shovelfuls of compost and toss it onto the screen. What falls through into the wheelbarrow goes into the planting holes of young seedlings.
While I don't have a huge garden, there still isn't enough decomposed material to cover the entire garden. I sometimes toss in compost from bags I've purchased from the hardware store when I'm in the mood or have the extra cash. If I can snag some free manure from local sources, I'll put that on the garden as well.
After I've confiscated all the rich, compost I can find at the bottom of the heap, I turn what's left, thoroughly mixing it as though I'm stirring a large pot of soup. Throughout the year, more debris is added to the heap and next spring, I do it again.
When I was growing up, my parents always had a huge garden, but they didn't keep a compost heap. After dinner every night, either I or one of my brothers would carry the big bowl of vegetable clippings outside to toss on the garden. This was a fun chore because it didn't involve digging or pulling weeds. We stood somewhere among the plants and give the entire bowlful a toss. Sometimes my brothers would dump it all in one lump, but I liked to twirl around in a circle and watch as the cucumber and potato peels, carrot ends and celery clippings flew as far as I could get them to go. I remember some occasions when I had to pick up clippings that flew a little too far and ended up in the lawn.
There are gardeners that tend to their compost piles as if they were the most important part of the garden soil, and the rich, decomposed soil is pretty important. Some compost heaps have elaborate homes, from intricately built sectional bins that get alternated every year to expensive barrel-type containers that turn with a handle and open up underneath to release the black gold. Some gardeners simply pile their debris on the ground without any containment whatsoever.
There is no right or wrong way to make compost, as long as the end result is using leftover plant material to enrich the soil rather than sending it to a landfill in a huge plastic bag.