A Composting Story

Two weeks since my last post – time flies! I’ve been busy clearing up the garden and preparing my two new projects: an Urban Food Forest workshop (9th May) and (if council allows us) an urban farm. Plus, of course, my day job at Commonsense Organics and other little occupations. I guess your days are just as full and that you would like to get away with the least possible work in the garden – and be able to enjoy and relax while doing it.

For me, gardening is part of my mindfulness practice. As I know what needs to be done each week, I don’t need to plan everything in detail. Just put on my boots and go out there, when the weather allows, and start doing it, calmly, methodically. I enjoy the fragrances of the garden, right now it’s grass, earth, the humid and rich smell of decaying plant matter. The clear autumn air and the emptiness once the compost was made was absolutely heavenly. All seasons are beautiful and enjoyable in my edible oasis.

Tuesday I made my big winter compost heap. First I got out the weedeater and mowed the little bit of lawn we have, raking it into a pile on the path next to it. Then, I had a wander around pruning everything that needed pruning (mainly our ginormous hydrangea) and putting it in a pile next to my composting area. Next, I went and cut off all the spent plants at ground level: runner beans, last corn, some flowers, parsley in seed. And finally I weeded the wildest-looking areas to complete the piture and get some extra “greens” for the pile.

Ideally I’d have a mulcher (and I know I can borrow one from neighbours) but as this was done pretty much on a whim, I didn’t. I broke or cut all the woody bits in pieces about 10-20cm long – ideally they would be smaller but I didn’t want to spend the whole day and they will break down in the end I’m sure. I layered the woody bits, the lawnclippings, the weeds and the dead plants in even layers in a square about 1m x 1m. Using the straighter branches to form the sides helps keep it square. But you can do it round just as well!

In between layers, I also added comfrey leaves, which grow just next to the composting area. And also some hay and rabbit poo that I get from a neighbour who raises rabbits for the SPCA. Sometimes, I added a bit of soil from the bottom of the last compost pile or from the garden beds.

In the end, the pile was about 1,2m high and I was very satisfied. Had a look at the time and the whole thing had only taken about 90 minutes. Ah, half an hour before I need to go to work… let’s relax… I made a cup of tea, sat on the steps overlooking my suddenly tidy garden and… oh noooooo! I see my beautiful compost pile leaning, leaning more and… pouf! The top half falls off and lies in a mess on the ground!

Well well, the tea can wait. It only took about 10 min to get it all up again. And I’ll remember next time to not put bent hydrangea branches in – they act as spings!

To do this weekend (last quarter moon):

  • Double dig or broadfork all remaining beds for winter crops or compost crops
  • Feed brassica – manure or lots of compost
  • Pick & store kumara, pumpkin, dry beans, apples and pears (if you grow them – I don’t!).
  • Transplant the last winter seedlings
  • Prepare strawberry bed
  • Feed everything, including trees and bushes with calcium (gardeners lime or nano-cal), Nature’s Garden or RokSolid fertiliser, and water in with seaweed liquid/wormwee.
  • Mulch everything well – 20cm of fluffy material with a good carbon-nitrogen balance
  • Tie up canefruit (raspberries, loganberries, blackberries, boysenberries)
  • Trim blueberries & chilean guavas/cranberries if you grow them
  • Collect leaves to make leaf mould
  • Collect pine needles to much the future strawberry bed with

To do from monday 20th:

  • Prep onion/garlic beds – need to be freedraining so I double dig mine
  • Start transplanting strawberries
  • If any more beds need preparation for spring, do it now. Last lupin/oat sowing chance.
  • Sow mesclun under cloches or in the hothouse
  • Sow calendulas, larkspur, love in a mist, hollyhock, violas, pansies, heartsease, poppies and snap dragons for spring flowers
  • Sow broad beans in trays & transplant when first leaves appear
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