Compost is an integral part of every garden operation. I have a small, urban garden and even though I’m an avid composter I don’t get a lot of compost each season. Not enough to fully cover every bed. This is why I also plant cover crops in the fall to build my soil.
However, I still believe compost is the key to good gardens. First of all, it’s free. Literally. It is your waste, not going to the curb, but to your back yard. Simply set aside all your plant based scraps and find a place to put them. It doesn’t have to be some fancy container, it can just be a pile. I actually advocate a pile because it is so much easier to turn, use and fill.
That, is my freshly turned pile. I add in leaves which help provide carbon for the disintegration process. The way I do compost at the moment is that I have two piles. The fresh pile that I add to daily, and the aging pile. Each fall and spring before and after the growing season, I put the aging pile on my beds and then I turn the fresh pile over to where the aging pile was…the fresh pile becomes the aging pile and is filled with oxygen and leaves. Then I begin a new fresh pile.
Last year was my first year gardening here. My soil was rough. Really rough. Compacted, hard, crumbly and devoid of nutrients. Going straight from lawn to a garden is not an immediate success. Throughout the growing season I piled on mulch, manure, compost soil around the plants. I knew this wouldn’t fix the compaction but it would give me a head start for winterizing and would be beneficial for my cover crops.
Then I planted those cover crops.
I was super big pregnant at the time and only managed to plant two beds before calling it quits but in those beds, my soil was hugely improved. I let ALL the cover crops rot and become a part of the soil.
Now that it is spring, I’ve been covering my beds in a thin layer of compost and then turning them under. Once I turn it under I do a once over with my hands to break up all the big clumps and then it’s ready for planting.
Good soil is dark, moist, and springy. The beds I planted cover crops in have sections, that are beautiful. There is still some clay there. The beds I did NOT plant cover crops in are in rough shape. Better than when I started last year but still have lots of clay and some compacted and crumbly areas. I added some carbon producing material (leaves, dead and dried plant stalks, etc) in the fall and now I’ve added compost for the nitrogen (and many many other trace minerals, enzymes, bugs, worms and what not). So all my beds are currently in better shape than they were last year when I planted, which feels good.
I read about a bazillion books on soil last spring and now that I can recognize the different issues I’ll be able to work on them.
I’ve started planting greens and will be doing a few herbs soon too. This nice weather has really been killing me because I want to plant all things right now but gardening is about cycles, patience and letting nature do it’s thing and so I’m trying to keep calm and let the warmth become consistent before going crazy out there.