Monday, June 13, 2016

Compost challenges and cures

Throughout the winter and spring, we've dumped banana peels, kohlrabi parings, and melon rinds into our compost bin. What's the result of such environmentally-friendly diligence? Have we been rewarded with the gardener's black gold: crumbly, fine-textured, and earth-scented compost? Sadly, no. Instead, I have a pile of slimy, wet, malodorous muck. It looks and smells like . . .  yes, that's right. You don't want this stinky, sticky stuff on your skin, on your clothes, or in your garden.

What to do? The solution is simple. The green/brown or nitrogen/carbon balance of my compost pile is out of whack.  The recipe should be 1/3 nitrogen to 2/3 carbon but, during the cold months when green nitrogen-rich kitchen scraps rapidly accumulate, that ratio is difficult to meet.  To redress the situation, I need to add carbon-rich, absorbent materials. I use whatever I have at hand:
  • Shredded paper towels and newspaper (no glossy inserts or magazines!)
  • Dried grass clippings or lawn thatch
  • Fireplace ashes
  • Shredded leaves
  • Pine needles
  • Dryer lint
Shredded paper towels
To re-charge the process of decay, it's important to aerate the compost. A handled edging tool is great for slicing down into the pile, twisting, and lifting. Once lightened up, a spading fork does the job just fine. Turning over the pile mixes up the carbon and nitrogen components, encourages the growth of bacteria, and provides a good upper body work-out. 

Well-mixed and warming up
I'm not a big fan of dumping unfinished household compost on garden beds--why have the smell of raw sewage compete with that of roses and lilacs?--but it can be done. Since adding a few loads of carbon materials last week, this pile is percolating. I'm hoping that by the time that fall top-dressing rolls around, my compost will be cured.

Self-sowing cantaloupe seedling peaking out of the bin.

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