Thursday, January 6, 2011

How to Build a Layered Compost Pile

To kick off the new year right, Madeline Dorger from the Civic Garden Center of Cincinnati has submitted a guest post about building a layered compost bin, compost crabs, and googly eyes (you will just have to read the post to understand). Layered compost bins are a great, low maintenance way to get the right balance of carbon and nitrogen and a good amount of circulation without turning.  

 Compost is possibly the most concrete life cycle example we have in the garden. We pull our frosted tomatoes, animal waste, and fallen leaves out of gardens, barns, and yards – put them in a pile – and in a couple months we have living soil full of bacteria and bugs that aerate, nourish, and sometimes even water our crops for us. The composting gardener is not a vegetable gardener but a micro-organism farmer.

Now our compost piles are frosted and snowy, but it’s never a bad time to be thinking about compost. A couple weeks ago Max and I were working in the Race Street Children’s Garden taking all the slimy frosted tomatoes and putting them into compost piles.

We loosened the soil as deep as we could go. (Ideally it should be 2 feet, but I think I only did 1 ft). We laid down sticks and old corn and sunflower stalks in a 2 ft by 2 ft square. The sticks help with aeration. Air can get underneath the pile as well as on the sides. Then we piled 2 inches of old dried out yard waste – flower stems, straw, and some bean pod shells – 2 inches of manure and green waste – those frosted tomatoes – and 2 inches of soil or finished compost. Then we layered our inches of waste until there was no more room and covered the whole pile with leaves.

When we were finished the little domes of compost had a couple stray sticks poking out of the bottoms that looked like little legs. We named our piles the compost crabs. Maybe before summer starts we’ll go back and put big googly eyes on our little compost monsters.

Layered Compost Pile
Layered Compost Pile

Adjectives like cute or beautiful are odd attachments to piles of poop and rotting vegetables, but decay is beautiful and alive. Perhaps the googly eyes are not the best method for teaching kids about life in a compost pile. In the early summer, we’ll peel back the leaves, scrape some compost with our trowels and watch the worms and rolly pollies scuttling and squirming. The kids will gather round and tentatively hold the crawling, inching, critters in their hands and learn about the farmers living in our soil.

More and more scientists are looking at the biodiversity of soil rather than the nutrient content. You can actually have your soil tested for beneficial bacteria and fungi. Bacteria counts can tell you how much nitrogen and phosphorus your plants are getting, how much air is getting down to the roots, and what kind of diseases live in your soil. ATTRA lists a number of places you can send soil samples for alternative soil test: ( ).

And in the meantime, as the seed catalogs are coming in and you are getting antsy about planting your garden, plan to give a little treat back to your garden beds this spring. Toss in a little compost.

- Madeline Dorger
Youth Education Coordinator
Civic Garden Center of Greater Cincinnati

Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District also offers soil testing for residents. Call 513-772-7645 for more information.

Check out the Civic Garden Center's blog with some great tips about gardening here:

No comments:

Post a Comment