Now We’re Cookin’!

Before I got serious about gardening I had no idea how much there was to learn, especially if you want to be self sufficient and rely as little as possible on the commercial systems in place to provide you with what you need to be successful.

Compost is one of those things I was completely ignorant about. I knew you could buy bags of it or even buy entire truck loads full, but I didn’t really understand the process that went into making it or just how valuable it is to a serious gardener. The first time I saw a video about “cooking compost” and saw the steam rising out of a huge pile of well mixed ingredients, I burst out laughing!

Mostly I laughed because of my own ignorance. Having grown up in the San Joaquin valley where steaming piles of manure from the many feed lots which greeted me along my bus ride to school reminded me of the whole “cooking compost” thing.

I still get reminded of my childhood every time the farmers “compost” their fields around here and the stench of manure permeates the air. Of course depending on the time of year, they use slightly different things, and so should we. I learned there is a fine line between compost and fertilizer when it comes to farming and gardening.

The simplest way to distinguish between compost and fertilizer is to remember this: Compost feeds the soil and fertilizer feeds the plants. Fertilizer adds to the soil’s nutrient supply, but instead of feeding the soil food web, the ingredients in fertilizers are intended to meet the needs of fast-growing plants.

I am surrounded by elements of composting every day. One of my favorite yard antiques is our manure spreader, which technically is a compost spreader. Our chickens and ducks and pheasants are prolific fertilizer and compost-ingredient makers.

Our vast expanse of lawn also provides us with grass clippings, another ingredient in good compost.

The flowerbeds give us an abundance of weeds to pull and use. And of course all the branches and dead stuff from our trees and shrubs can help make compost. Then there’s all the leftover veggies, coffee grounds and even clippings from my indoor houseplants to add to the mix. I keep a little pail next to the coffee maker to collect coffee grounds and kitchen waste now.

We actually started a big pile of all the ingredients we’d need to make our own compost a couple of years ago…

…but we never got around to actually doing it ourselves until this year when we built our compost beds from old pallets.

We also found this compost tumbler on Craigslist for a fraction of the retail price and put it next to the poultry pen.

Then, when we were chatting with one of the neighbors the other day, telling them all about our plans to cook up our own compost, he made us an offer we couldn’t refuse (no pun intended).

“I can get you all the free compost you want from my work!” he exclaimed.

Free? Compost?? Yes, please!

He runs the county waste water department and they make compost all day, every day, so he brought us a dump truck load to use on our beds and it is fabulous! Probably better than what we can make ourselves, really.

But we still plan on cooking our own compost anyway, just because we can (well, theoretically!). Any extra we have we will just pass it along to anyone else who may need it. 🙂

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