“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.” ~ Margaret Atwood
Flippin’ Gardening Gets Me Flippin’ Excited
This may be my favorite time of year. You can’t see my toenails and fingernails, but I can tell you they. Are. Dirty.
The spring garden season at DirtNKids always starts with a compost flipping exercise which always (and quickly) ends with a planted garden. It’s just hard to stop the momentum once the clean-up begins, and I find myself yearning for the immediate gratification of a walk-able garden space once again.
If you’re like me, you do this twice a year — once in spring, once in fall — to enjoy both the summer and winter fruits of your labor. Here, compost piles aspire to become the next season’s edible garden. Instead of bringing the compost to the garden, I like to put the garden right into the compost.
Case in point. Aside from the various squash or gourd plants who have popped up around my garden, here’s a nice-looking tomato ‘volunteer’ coming up in the keyhole garden’s compost cage. I have no idea how it will do, but I must say I’m curious which variety it is. It will grow right where it is.
Look who’s tucked in for the season! Hi, Mr. Mater.
There really is something to this, so like any good recipe, I’m sharing my recipe card with the world. Your worms will squeal with delight, and your body will thank you for all those tasty veggies harvested from nurtured yet un-perturbed soil.
Lasagna gardening is what I’m doing — a layering of materials like nature would do. Rather than make a run to the garden supply store for all my [expensive] supplies, I am the crazy lady collecting brown materials from curbs on the off season, to be temporarily stored for when the green explosion comes in the spring. I’m always amazed at what people throw to the curb these days (opening photo).
In anticipation, I’ve already pulled a few unwanted annual weeds from around the yard (seed heads removed) which will be the ‘green’ base for the new compost pile. Yes, I use the weeds; they’re the only prolific grower in the late winter, weeks before I can catch grass clippings with any regularity.
Stored bags behind pretty jasmine curtain
(So the neighbors don’t have to see)
Unlike my friends in the north USA who are apparently still the deep freeze, spring arrived on the Gulf Coast right on schedule, just a few weeks ago. So I gassed up the push mower, cleaned off the pruning shears, and geared up to start collecting green for the garden.
It’s bed-building time, and feeding my wriggly worms is what it’s all about.
To flip a compost pile from the previous season, you’ll need a pitch fork or shovel and (perhaps) a wheelbarrow. I prefer the pitch fork because it tends not to slice my wrigglers in half in the process. You can’t be afraid to get dirty or burn calories. Getting that bikini body ready for the beach is the ultimate goal, right girls?
I can always tell when a pile is ready. Just below the surface, I begin seeing lots of movement, worms galore feasting on their latest kitchen additions!
4-inch Grubs, 7-inch Earthworms
Dozens per shovelful
Since the Black Gold is on the bottom where the pile sits, only the top part of the pile gets ‘flipped off’ into a different location, to cook just a little longer. The bottom is rich with nutrients and moist like a wrung-out sponge, thanks to all the beings that broke down the organic matter slowly. This site will become this season’s new bed into which tasty edibles will grow.
A 4-cubic-square screen enclosure contains the compost pile of my large yard. It’s the perfect size for the amount of waste produced, and it’s easy to remove and move later. Use anything else or nothing at all (a/k/a a pile) — wooden crates, chicken wire, T-posts, concrete chunks will all suffice. There is really no hard-and-fast way to do it — just use what you have. The important consideration is that the pile is exposed to air and weather.
Keyhole Garden (left), compost bin (center),
newly-built bed (right)
The Recipe for Garden Success: Lasagna
This season, I used all new materials and built a compost from all recycled materials from scratch: leaves, newsprint, weeds, kitchen waste, and shrub trimmings. The base of which is sitting in the screen enclosure in the photo above. The previous season’s pile (directly behind the bin) gets flipped directly to its left to enrich another bed, also to be planted in directly. It’s a two-for-one exercise.
Next season, this new pile will get flipped in the fall, onto where the leek and onion patch is currently, visible to the right, and will become a new winter garden bed. Only a little planning and forethought is required; looking ahead one season isn’t too much of a stretch.
It is layered from bottom to top with these ingredients:
- Cardboard boxes, soaked in water — neon sign that says, “COME AND EAT, WORMS!!”
- Twigs loosely laid
- Annual weeds with the seed heads removed (freshly pulled from yard…NO grass rhizomes!!)
- Shrub trimmings (from Waxleaf Ligustrum which was getting wooly)
- Newsprint, wadded up and wet
- Repeat layers (green, brown, green, brown) until supplies are used up.
Ligustrum Leaves Only (Branches Set Aside)
Bag of Leaves (Plastic Removed and Recycled)
One New Compost Pile
Gardening Organically is So Very Important
Building compost is much like building a campfire. Carbon (brown organics) is the kindling, nitrogen (green organics) is the flame, and water and sunshine are the fuel. Once the microbes get to work — and provided you have the right combination of ingredients — the pile is off and cooking and ready before you know it. A good slow burn is what you’re looking for.
Earthworms enrich the soil with their castings with every bite, further releasing plant nutrients back into the soil to be recycled again into another plant’s root system. If you’re fortunate enough to have the Ox Beetle in your area, you may even find very large grubs, and that’s okay. These larva eat decaying matter like leaves, twigs, and rotting wood that earthworms can’t easily manage. It’s the way of nature…so let it happen, and get out of the way.
Just like us, these beings don’t tolerate a lot of salt in their diets. When synthetic fertilizers are used in the garden or when you water regularly with treated water, these salts build up in your soil, chasing all your wonderful earthworms to better venues. In return, you’ve unwittingly undone everything you hoped to achieve by your method. As go your worms, so goes your soil. It’s tough to work in an environment that is inhospitable.
Be good to your worms, bacteria, and fungi. Only use products in your garden that are labeled organic, or (like me) don’t use any at all. Don’t be tricked by short-term gains or promises of pest-relief. Nature is the best defense against weeds and insects, so strike the balance by learning what works and why.
In only a few weeks, you will notice the materials significantly breaking down as your new compost pile shrinks noticeably a few inches in height. There is an entire underworld of beings doing the real work and heavy lifting — bacteria breaking down ‘green,’ fungi breaking down ‘brown,’ insects and earthworms gettin’ fat and doing the rest. Your pile will be completely broken down into beautiful rich humus, directly into which you can plant that season’s vegetables.
I promise you, it’s a whole lot easier than it looks. The hardest part was juggling a camera with my mucky hands. Really.
Cheers, all my Happy Garden People. Now, go whip up some lasagna and feed your worms!
Organic Dirt Lasagna a/k/a/ Compost
- green material (nitrogen, the ‘fire’) — grass clippings, shrub trimmings, kitchen waste, and/or manure
- brown material (carbon, the ‘kindle’) –newsprint, twigs, leaves, phone books
- water (the ‘fuel’)
- oxygen (soil creatures breath air!)
- absolutely NO meat, NO dairy, NO charcoal or wood ash
Helpful Tools: wheelbarrow, hose sprayer, compost bin/frame, someone to bring you a beer
- Determine the size of the pile and gather your ingredients. For a 4-cubic-foot pile, you would need three large bags of leaves, the entire Sunday newspaper, and three bags of fresh grass clippings (or other green). It is roughly a 5:1 ratio of carbon to nitrogen.
- Location, location, location. You’ll want something that is easy to get to all the way around and that gets plenty of sunshine. Make it a short walk from your kitchen, if you can.
- Place the containing walls of your compost pile into place, if you have some.
- Start with a layer of wet cardboard which will both smother any grass and invite your labor (worms) to show up.
- Put a layer of twigs and any weeds that you pulled as the bottom layer.
- Begin layering: green, brown, and water…repeat. You will do this lasagna style until all of your materials have been used up. Wad up pages of newsprint to put pockets of air in between layers. Alternately, you can stack some twigs.
- Treat your earthworms with scraps and rinse water from your kitchen occasionally while ‘cooking.’ With a pitchfork, push aside a hole, dump the scraps into it, cover over lightly and with leaves or other compost. This will discourage other pests from stealing any of your worm’s lasagna.
- Cook in shade or sunlight, 3 to 6 months. ‘Flip it’ when you are ready to plant for the season. The top part of the pile begins the next pile elsewhere, and the bottom of the pile becomes your next garden space, for planting seeds.
Shannon @ DirtNKids Blog
See Mish Mash Monday for a great video How-to on
Building Compost. I don’t make dirty videos!
Giveaway Winners: Your Dirt! The Movie DVD’s have all been mailed.
Please let me know if you didn’t get them.