Thursday, September 29, 2011

Compost Like George Washington

George Washington, our first president whose handsome mug graces our $1 bill, also built the nation’s first known compost bin! (Woo hoo, history!!!) Not surprisingly, the father of our country has much to teach us about backyard composting.

Cover Your Pile
Washington was worried about too much rain leaching nutrients from his “dung repository” so he built a roof and open-walled structure over the 31 x 12 foot compost pit. Covers are, of course, also great for keeping out unwanted pests and maintaining the proper amount of moisture in the bin.

Compost Everything Possible
Washington believed you should throw trash “of every sort and kind” into the compost pile. Obviously he didn’t have to worry about plastic trash but he was on to something. If you look into your garbage there are probably items you could be composting.

Along with “leaves of trees, corn stalks, thistles, and coarse weeds,” Washington also likely composted “tanner’s bark, woolen rags, cuttings of leather…hair, bones ground or powdered…human urine and soap suds.” Eww, sometimes it’s good to live in the 21st Century.

Location, Location, Location
A compost bin has to be convenient to use, otherwise most of us will be too lazy to compost. Washington’s compost pit was actually close to his Mount Vernon mansion and very convenient to the horse stables.

George Washington believed that agricultural advancement was important for the new America and he fashioned Mount Vernon to serve as a model for the “new” science-based agriculture. Washington made composting an integral part of that model. Hmm, composting as an integral part of America…I like the sound of that.

“Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth.” -George Washington

Visit the Mount Vernon website for more information

Monday, September 12, 2011

Five Ways to Use Finished Compost

Thar’s gold in them thar hills!

Or at least “brown gold” in that thar compost pile. Have you seen how much non-composters pay for high-quality compost at the garden store? Here are five easy ways to cash in your harvest and make use of finished compost.

1. Amend Your Soil
Compost is not exactly fertilizer. The real “pay dirt” of the compost is that it improves soil tilth and helps feed soil microbes. The HCSWCD recommends adding 25% compost if possible before planting a new area and then testing the soil to see if you need anything else.

2. Substitute for Mulch
Finished compost is beautiful stuff. You can spread 2-3 inches around flowers as an alternative to store bought mulch. Compost “mulch” will help hold moisture around plants and eventually incorporate into the soil.

3. Brew Some Compost Tea
“Steep” a shovel full of compost in a 5-gallon bucket of water for a few days. The result will look similar to tea (do I really need to say “Don’t Drink This”?). Use the “tea” to water your plants. Compost tea makes the finished compost go further in the garden.

4. Improve Your Lawn
If your yard is more lawn than flower bed, simply sprinkle 1-3 inches of finished compost over the grass and rake it evenly. In a week or two the compost will settle and disappear into the lawn, improving the soil, and making your grass look as good as gold.

5. Create a Potting Mix
Your potted plants will enjoy compost too. Mix 1/3 finished compost, 1/3 soil, and 1/3 sand to create a DIY potting mix.

Isn’t the beauty of composting that we are making something valuable out of what other people think of as garbage? I’ll be pondering this as I dig for brown gold this week in my compost bin.