When I dream, I dream in compost.

I love frolicking through snow drifts.  Sledding in the park.  Curling my frozen fingers around a steaming mug of hot chocolate. Snowshoeing and nordic skiing. I love these winter pastimes with an all-consuming joy. Yet, after two days of pretending I’m a creature out Jan Brett’s The Mitten, I’m ready for the thaw.

Within 72 hours of a blizzard, I start fantasizing about leafy vegetables and tanned skin. Lucky for me I work at a place that has a greenhouse. It’s no Longwood Garden, but our tiny green oasis gives me a leap of joy. It reminds me that spring isn’t so far off and encourages me to start planning for the summer.

 Today, I am thinking about compost. Not so glamorous perhaps, but nonetheless exciting. Currently, Farm 51 has a two bin system set up. It’s pretty typical, with the addition of a few chickens nesting in it. I envision a third compost bin for the spring, making it easier and more accesible for us to use this coming growing season.

Beautiful B. in front of the compost.

 Any gardener will tell you the importance of compost in your garden. When it comes to organic gardening, ”Feed the soil not the plants,” is an especially important adage. Spreading compost each spring is a good practice as the added humus improves the quality of your soil dramatically. So, for those of you wondering exactly what compost is, I’ll provide a brief description…

Compost is best described as the product of decomposed organic matter. Ideal compost is a blend of various composted materials including nitrogen rich waste like grass clippings, fruits, vegetables, and coffee grounds as well as carbon rich materials, like straw.  Both these types of compost are extremely beneficial to a garden because they hold in moisture and soluble minerals which are important factors for effective production. If you are looking to maximize the efficiency of your compost system your goal should be a percentage of 30:1, carbon to nitrogen. Figuring this ratio out can be tricky but you can estimate by noting how much moisture is present in what you are adding to your compost. For example most dry materials (think sticks and straw) are primarily carbon, while wet items (your morning coffee grounds and various rotting vegetables) have a greater amount of nitrogen. Balancing these materials will allow for a more efficient rate of decomposition and therefore quicker turnaround for when you can use your compost.

A simple compost system is made up of a bin which you pile waste into. Unless you have a very large system, you should avoid putting in dairy, meat, and animal products because they are slow to breakdown and many furry little critters have a taste for these items.  By simply “turning” the waste, i.e. bringing what is on the bottom up to the top, you can assist in increasing oxygen which stimulates more bacterial action.  The bacteria break down the waste products and leave you with a rich humus. More serious or large-scale composters utilize a three system compost. By setting up three compost bins you are allowing yourself the space to have a starting bin, a bin for compost in process, and then a final bin for the finished compost, ready to be used. If you don’t regularly add compost to your garden, give it a try this spring and I think you will be pleasantly surprised at what comes forth from your soil during the growing months. Let me know how it goes!

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