The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

By Brianna Wray
the Times 

Gardener's Grove: Compost

Use kitchen scraps and lawn waste to keep your garden growing


March 19, 2020

Courtesy image

A dual chamber compost tumbler

EARTH-The seeds are practically burning holes in their packets. They're all sorted and ready to be put to work.

All the signs of spring popping up are exciting. The first flowers to bloom in my garden this year are Ice King daffodils, as daffodils are often the harbingers of spring. Of course, my neighbor's garden has been in full bloom for over a week now. [The daffodils are always yellower on the other side, such is life.]

In keeping with our garden preparation schedule, now is a good time to start fresh compost. Using compost as a soil amendment is a great way to kill two birds with one stone, as the adage goes. Household food waste is kept to a minimum, and gardens are replenished without (or with less) expensive bottled nutrients.

Admittedly, I always feel a pang of guilt when fresh fruit goes bad in the crisper. Sometimes it seems those raspberries are halfway out the door before they make it to the kitchen. But, knowing that their fate does not end with fuzzy refrigerator mold does make me feel better. Today's rotten raspberries are tomorrow's homegrown goodness.

The idea is to incorporate carbon-rich materials with nitrogen-rich materials from kitchen scraps, fruit and vegetable peelings, coffee grounds, grass clippings, and other fresh materials. Some ideal, carbon rich compost materials are: dried leaves, shredded straw or hay, sawdust, woody chips, twigs, nut shells, shredded newspaper, corn stalks and cobs, brown paper bags, paper towel rolls, crushed eggshells, and wool.

Composting can be achieved in a number of ways and at a number of price points. You may have access to cheap or free shipping pallets that might make a great stage for compost bins. Or you could succumb to the gardener's gadget lust that has taken hold of me.

At the end of last month, the biggest, most costly item on my garden wish list was an upright, dual chamber compost tumbler.

Have you seen these?

With two chambers, gardeners are able to fill one chamber at a time with "greens" which are fruit and vegetable scraps, egg shells, coffee grinds and yard waste, then follow up with "browns" such as fallen leaves, shredded paper, hay, etc. After filling the first chamber for two weeks, it can be sealed off to "cook," as the composting continues on the other side.

The ideal ratio of nitrogen "greens" to carbon "browns" is two to one [N:C = 2:1]. With too much nitrogen, compost will be smelly, with too much carbon, the contents won't break down.

The upright feature of this compost bin is what makes it a sure winner. Rather than straining to use a pitchfork or shovel to turn the compost for adequate aeration, the whole bin is a tumbler that can be spun easily.

It is recommended that the bin be spun at least twice a week, but it's so fun to do Vanna White impressions that I find myself spinning it daily.

Pro tip: Wait for water to drain out of the bin before you spin. Otherwise, you run the risk of having rank compost juice spin up and back at the user's face and clothing. It really only takes once to learn that lesson. Good thing I wasn't dressed like Vanna White when I learned it.

Another handy trick is to station the compost bin over a future garden site, rotating it seasonally. As runoff drains from the system, it enriches the ground below it.

If a compost heap is started on bare earth, worms and other beneficial organisms have fast access. In a tumbler, worms can be added manually, especially in early spring and late fall when the bin doesn't get hot enough to "cook" as often as in the blazing summer.

What should never be added to the compost is meat or bones, dairy, pet manure, weed seeds or anything with harsh chemicals.

Thanks to my mom who procured a deeply discounted tumbler from as a birthday gift, our composting adventure has begun. As this is my first attempt, I'll probably still need to purchase some consumer ready soil conditioner, but by this time next year I'm expecting to be dirt rich!

Grow challenge update: Our challenger, Carl Teller, is sure he's going to win and he may be right. At this point I'm afraid of what might happen if we end up with a thousand-pound pumpkin! I don't even like pumpkin pie. What are we going to do with all those seeds?! We'll cross that bridge when we get to it. Prizes will be awarded for biggest pumpkin and biggest watermelon. It will be a heap of garden goodies!


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