Friday, March 28, 2008

Compost Beds - The Inexpensive, Slow Method


Having some unused and poor ground next to the garden, I decided a few years ago to build some compost planting beds and to spend the least amount of money and time doing so. Free is always best so I'm continually trying to collect lumber pieces, concrete blocks and even railroad ties. Stacked rocks and bricks work also. Putting the word out that you need these things helps and often people are eager to get rid of these although right now I've used everything up and need more.

The beds are all approximately 4' wide. They don't need to be very tall and the width should be so you can reach the middle from either side.

OK, I use free pressure treated lumber when found. The risk is so small and I've got too many other things to worry about to pass up the free pieces. Railroad ties are lined on the inside with scrap pine or oak pieces to prevent any leaching from them.

After setting the materials in place and maybe a little digging to try and get them level, place a thick layer of newspapers or cardboard on the bottom. No need to remove any grass or even touch the bottom with a shovel. To hold the papers in place I usually place a layer of straw or grass clippings on top.

Now we're not going to get in any hurry. This is a slow compost method. It may take a year or more for what we're going to do to turn the materials we add to a fertile loam. If you're pressed for time build or buy a compost bin, turn the contents regularly and keep them moist, but that's a lot of work.

Just start adding all the organic material you have to the bed. It's best to try and layer them using the three parts carbon (brown) material to one part nitrogen (green) material. Brown sources include all woody garden waste, straw, leaves, a little sawdust or wood chips and shredded or torn paper products including empty paper towel and toilet paper rolls. Green sources include animal manure except for pets, grass clippings, green garden waste, kitchen wastes such as fruit and vegetable scraps, eggshells, tea bags and my favorite, coffee grounds. Starbucks is a good free source for these and I often pick up 50 to 100 pounds at several stops in the closest town. Add a little lime if you use a lot of coffee grounds.

Decomposition will be faster if things such as corn stalks are chopped up but it's not really necessary as it will happen eventually anyway. Every now and then throw a shovel full of soil from the garden in with the mix to add microbes. Add a few worms too.

You get the picture. Keep adding materials until the bed is full or even overflowing, it will sink as the decomposition progresses. Top it off with some soil and straw or grass clippings to hold in the moisture.

Now comes the hard part, the waiting.

You actually don't even have to wait until the bed is fully decomposed. Add a little soil and pop in a plant. Make sure you feed it with enough nitrogen fertilizer to compensate for the loss of nitrogen as decomposing takes place. Cottonseed meal is a good fairly inexpensive choice if bought by the 50 lb. bag. Fish emulsion always works good.

When decomposition is complete you'll have a nice rich black loam to plant in.

My beds aren't the prettiest but they're out of the way. You may want a better looking bed if you're close to a lot of visual traffic.

Just remember that growing is easy. Having a "green thumb" is just knowing what to do and following through.


Cabbage, Sugar Snap peas and early "take a chance on the weather" tomatoes growing.
photo 3-28-08

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