Thursday, July 24, 2008

Keeping it simple, Composting, Worm Bins, and Soil Compaction

Composting, and worm bins are something every serious gardener must deal with and both can be messy, smelly, time consuming, complex, and unpleasant in a variety of ways. Here is how to make it all as easy to do as is possible and done in the shortest amount of time possible.  At most, all you need is two plastic five gallon buckets with lids and a shovel.  It can be done without lids but you won't like it.

Composting and worm bins are portrayed all over the web and in books as complex procedures using expensive containers or tumblers and methods that are far more difficult than need be.  All you are doing is making dirt.  How hard can that be?Plants, especially perennials, will grow in any kind of soil if you amend it with kitchen garbage and yard waste.  The easiest way is to plant the tree or bush then put 4 gallons of garbage (any compostable material, remember the gopher, kept in a covered bucket outside the kitchen door until you are ready to use it)  into a hole dug next to the plant root zone.  Cover the garbage with the soil you took out of the hole then put a rock or other marker on it so you can remember where your compost hole is.  Next time you accumulate 4 gallons of garbage, dig a hole next to the rock and repeat the process.  Just keep plugging the garbage into holes as it accumulates until the plant is surrounded with it.  Then start on the next circle around the plant, if you expect it to grow large enough to take advantage of it (roots usually grow as far out from the plant as do the leaves).  Long story short, just dig a hole, put in the garbage, cover it up, tamp it lightly so it is almost equal with the surrounding ground level.  This provides a composted area into which the roots can grow over a short period of time that is long enough for composting to complete before the roots get there.  You have an instant compost pile already incorporated into the ground and worked over by worms.  However, you have none of the smell, bugs, visual impingement, or mess created by dogs, raccoons, possums, rats, and skunks finding fun things to play with in a compost pile.  If you do have a digging critter problem at your new compost hole, put a paver or large flat stone over it for a week or two.  

Making an annual planting bed is just a matter of putting the plugs in lines instead of circles and doing it far enough in advance of the planting season for the material to begin to degrade so you can plant over the composted holes.  

By composting in this manner you provide ready compost when and where the roots need it and you will grow worms in your yard precisely where you want them to be.  This creates worm inhabited, looser, nutrient filled soil in the root zone.  Plants will grow vigorously when they reach this area.  It is easy to add yard waste to this procedure.   Above ground composting and worm bins are eliminated in one clean operation that saves you time and space while saving your neighbors and you lots of smell, mess, pest problems, and the aggravation of discussing these problems amongst yourselves.    

No plant material (or animal) should have a reason to leave your yard in the trash, green recycle, or down a sink disposer.  None.  It can be a matter of pride to change your small bit of the earth for the better and it only takes moments to do.  

If you want to do some creative composting, separate citrus, fruit, tea bags (paper only), and coffee grounds (with the filter paper) from your other garbage for use with plants that prefer an acidic soil condition.  Check the Western Garden Book or google your plant of choice to determine which plants these are.  Blueberries come to mind immediately.

Soil compaction is what keeps most plants from growing to their full potential. Every time you step on the roots you break some and make it far more difficult for the rest to grow through the hardened soil. Roots need the little spaces between the soil grains for ease of growth.  Step on the soil and those spaces are gone.  Make pathways and stay to them.  Stepping on the ground in the root zone is very much like taking a handful of each of the plants nearby and breaking it off.  It has the same effect on growth of the overall plant.  Where is the root zone?  It is your entire yard.

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