Composting a compost pile
For those of you into composting (and I highly recommend it if you can find the space), it’s time to check out last years’ compost heap. If you haven’t turned it in several months, there is probably a layer of nice dark brown usable compost on the bottom with lots of dry stuff on top. You can scoop out the usable compost and spread it over flower and vegetable gardens to finish breaking down and prepare beds for spring planting or as a top dress at other times of the year. Leave the rest as a base to start the composting a new compost pile. Or you can mix the two together, virtually putting most of the un-composted material on the bottom where it can warm and stay moist to break down in the next couple of months. If you have one of the prefabricated barrel composters, don’t for get to give it an occasional turn. Turning the compost is the only way to get oxygen distributed throughout the heap. If the compost dries out, has too little oxygen, or falls below 40′ the microbes and other little critters chewing all that refuse into gourmet garden goodies will stop work. Usually there is enough heat generated by the work of these creatures to keep the inside of your compost warm and active (albeit a bit slower than other times of the year) even during much of the winter if the temperatures are above 40′F.
I have several thoughts to pass on about composting and compost piles. First, do not locate your compost heap too close to the house. Yes, you do want it close enough to be convenient. If you have to hike too far you’ll be unlikely to use it regularly for daily kitchen scraps. On the other hand, if it is too close, you’ll be attracting insects and rodents too close to your home. Not the best of ideas. I have never felt the need to add any commercial compost heap stimulants to my compost. Alternating green and brown garden materials with a dash of whatever would otherwise be rotting in my kitchen ’til trash day, has always been a very efficient recipe. I’ve never had any bad smells to contend with since the breakdown is nothing more than a condensed version of what is going on outside, anyway. You are more likely to have odor problems, however, if you put meat products into your compost pile. You also may be encouraging disease, will interrupt the plant breakdown cycle and certainly will attract undesirable wildlife by doing so. Pet feces (from cats and dogs) are also discouraged for the same reasons since most are meat based. If you do use a compost heap, you’ll find you don’t have to drag out your trash cans for collection so often, your kitchen can smell cleaner, and you’ll save yourself the expense and effort of hauling bags of compost from the stores. The lean, hungry soil of many areas will welcome all the well-rotted compost you can give it. Use the compost from your pile as a mulch to protect vulnerable roots from heat and cold then mix it in at planting time to welcome flowers and vegetables (it can’t burn roots like plant foods, nor split root crops like manure). Compost makes a handsome top-dressing between shrubs, and encourages aerating worms. It is the cheapest and safest way to recycle because it’s exactly what nature does!
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