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Compost Pile Gardening

August 23rd, 2016

A few years ago, I read in ‘Gardens of Plenty’ about growing curcurbits in the compost pile. “The glory of today’s potager are the compost heaps, built in long lines approximately 3ft wide, stretching from path to path. They grow as the spent vegetables are added, sometimes reaching a height of 5ft. Layer upon layer of leaves create stripes of different colours, making the heaps look like the best quality terrines. Left undisturbed for a year, the piles rot down to waist height, and at this point they become the most luxuriant beds for bright pumpkins, giving vertical height in the best jardin potager tradition. The long lines of giant leaves make solid shapes among the finer lines of other vegetables. After use as a pumpkin bed for a single season, the compost returns to the garden as a nutritious fertiliser.”
growing in compost piles 1
I was able to visit the A.I. DuPont garden at The Hagley Museum twice last year, once in June and one in September. The potager is quite lovely, it was wonderful to see in person the garden I had read about. The tour didn’t give a ton of time in the garden, so I only got a few photos. I was able to spot pumpkins growing in compost piles in the garden. You can imagine my delight to see in action something I had read about and seen photos of in a book.
ei dupont garden
ei dupont garden (1)
I’m not much of one to maintain the type of compost pile which is turned regularly, so this passage inspired me. Last fall I made a compost pile in the middle of the main edible garden, you can see it in the image below.
growing in compost piles
Early this summer, I seeded a zucchini in the pile. It quickly germinated and grew nicely ( I thought about growing pumpkins, but the pile was small and I didn’t want pumpkin vines taking over the garlic patch). We’ve had quite a drought here in Maine this summer, but I refrained from watering this plant. I wanted to see if the compost retained more or less water than the surrounding soil areas. Much to my surprise, the plants is doing amazingly well, producing loads of zucchini and has shown no signs of stress from the dryness.
growing in compost piles 2
My idea for this process of compost is to reduce the amount of time spent in some areas to give myself time to focus on other things. If I don’t have to turn a compost pile I can use that time to maintain a larger garden space. This compost en situ will also work wonderfully for raising the soil level in the areas of the garden that slope too much. My main vegetable garden is too sloped and thus rain runs off faster than I would like. When considering my options for leveling it out, I decided building up the lower areas of the garden with compost piles like this will be the least expensive and least labor intensive option. It will require time and patience, which I have plenty of.

What type of compost pile do you maintain?

Harvesting Compost

April 23rd, 2011

There’s something very satisfying about harvesting compost. Perhaps it’s the fact that you made something from the waste that many people throw away. Maybe it’s because you can almost see the rich nutrition for your plants. Or it might be that it saves you from spending money on compost from the store. I don’t know exactly which one of these I appreciate most, but I certainly enjoy the process of harvesting compost each spring.

I’m a very laissez-fair composter. I don’t turn my pile, or worry about rations of green and brown. I simply throw stuff in the pile as it becomes available. I do keep a pile of dry leaved nearby for layering in with kitchen scraps during the winter to avoid everything getting slimy and gross. I also add a shovelful of soil every now and then for added microbes and other goodness. I start a few new piles each spring when I harvest the old piles. I add to them throughout the year and the next spring I end up with about 1/3 of the each bin filled with compost (which amounts to a few wheelbarrow loads of compost). Some of this gets used to make homemade potting soil, and the rest of it gets used in the garden.

Do you compost? Do you turn your piles? When do you harvest compost?

Shredded Paper in the Garden

October 6th, 2010

I frequently use newspaper to smother weeds and grass when making a new garden area. I notice that the earth worms LOVE it when I do thes, I always find tons of them under the paper. Even though I was comfortable using newspaper in the garden, I used to be really leery of using regular shredded paper in my compost because of the chemicals used in it. Then I decided I’d rather use it here than send it away to be recycled.

Now I use most of my shredded paper in the compost or in the garden as mulch. I still don’t use heavily colored or shiny printed paper, but just about everything else that can gets recycled into my own garden. I figure if I buy straw to use in the garden it most likely contains more chemicals than my shredded paper since I know it wasn’t grown organically.

How do you feel about using shredded paper in the garden?

What’s In Your Compost Bowl?

March 27th, 2009

Our conversations about compost last week were fantastic. I really enjoyed reading everyone tips about what and how they compost. I thought we’d continue the conversation today and talk about what you put in your compost piles.
There are things that you shouldn’t put in your compost pile like oily and fatty things, dairy and a few other things. I buy locally pastured chickens and I bury the bones in my garden, I figure it saves me from buying bone meal. I have yet to have trouble with my dog or any other animal getting in to it.

We compost whatever we can, anything that is natural goes into our compost pile including things like:
My organic cotton balls. I use non-toxic natural products so I don’t have to worry about any chemicals that remain on the cotton ball. I also compost my q-tips and any paper towels I use.
We buy recycled toilet paper, so the wrappers and the empty rolls go into the compost pile as well.
You can add brown craft paper and newspaper to your piles as well. It does break down quicker if you shred it first.
We also try to buy things that come without packaging or packaging that can be composted (this helps reduce the amount of garbage we produce). The coffee we buy comes in compostable bags and the sponges we buy can be thrown into the compost pile when it’s worn out.
All of the crumbs from my bread board go into the pile.
As do all of my tea bags and even my dryer lint gets thrown in there (when I’m not drying clothes outside of course). My vacuum cleaner gets emptied into the bin as well and my compostable dryer sheets.
I’m sure there are things I’ve never considered adding to my compost pile that I could. Every now and then it dawns on me that I can compost something I’ve been throwing away all along, like old cotton rags.

So what’s in your compost pile? Do you compost anything we may not have thought of?

Compost Bowl

March 21st, 2009

I really enjoyed all of your comments yesterday about your compost bins & systems. Bridgett asked, “I am wondering if you all have ever seen the kitchen compost containers? You keep them in your kitchen and use it to collect your cooking scraps for a few days and then transport it out to your compost pile later. I love the idea (especially in these cold Ohio winters) but am wondering if they smell after a day or so???”
What a great question. Composting is something I grew up doing, so having a bowl on the kitchen counter collecting food scraps is very normal for me. Just about everyone I know that composts has their own system for storing kitchen waste that’s waiting for the compost pile; some hide it in a cabinet, some us a container with a lid, some us a beautiful little crock or container like one of these, and I’m sure there are ways that have never crossed my mind.
My compost bowl is an old bowl that’s cracked so I no longer use it for cooking, so it’s been demoted to compost duty. It’s always on the counter, I usually leave it there until it’s full. There are days I empty it twice a day, and some times it’s only a few times a week. I personally like having my bowl on hand right on the counter, I don’t mind it being in plain site. I actually like to advertise the fact that I compost to encourage others to do so as well.
There is one thing that I don’t throw in my compost bowl, and that’s egg shells. I put them in the toaster oven or oven and dry them out a bit, then I crush them in my mortar & pestle and add the crushed egg shells to my raised beds; I have found that they take too long to break down in my compost bin.
I should have cooked up a big dinner so I could show you a nice photo of my overflowing compost bowl, but alas we’ve been busy and only eating leftovers, so all that’s inside are a few tea bags.

Do you save kitchen waste & compost? What container do you use for this task and how often do you empty it? (take the poll)

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.