Friday, May 2, 2014

Hitting Paydirt

What is it about making compost that makes one feel accomplished?
I read a comment on Facebook yesterday that said "I finally feel like a farmer; I made compost", and I had to giggle. Later, I was reading one of my favorite blogs, Homestead in Africa, and found a post about her compost success (Click here to see how easy compost can be, even in a simple pot!), which also made me smile. It's so nice to know that I'm not alone in my compost joy. :)

Noah and I 'harvested' a full 5 gallon bucket of rich, sweet-smelling black compost. I am a little surprised by how excited I get about compost, but anything this beautiful and filled with good nutrients that came from garbage ought to be celebrated.

My hubby bought and constructed our compost ball a couple of years ago, when I became obsessed with  interested in gardening. I knew that I only wanted to go organic. Since I had never gardened before it was going to be simpler for me to ignore the chemicals, but I knew after only consulting a couple of sources that compost was going to be an absolute must. I told my hubby I had no idea where we would make compost in our limited space. Well, leave it to my tech geek hubby to go searching online for the most efficient (according to reviews) compost bin he could find.

I was thinking scrap lumber fashioned into a box...he was thinking fancy plastic miracle compost maker. Since he bought the compost ball as a surprise to me, and it showed up on my doorstep like a shiny happy birthday gift, I could hardly complain. In fact, I was downright giddy. Craig may have thought that the gardening bug had bitten me a little too hard, but he jumped in and found his own ways to contribute (see him building the ball here). This compost ball cost more than I'd EVER want to spend, but he claimed he got an incredible deal and I'm going with that.

So. We started dutifully using our compost ball, which was supposed to produce a whole bunch of black gold within months. Just fill it, spin the ball often, and voila. We definitely had fun filling it, and the closed design kept all bugs/smells away. Since the ball is right in the middle of our south-end garden beds (squished up right between the property line and the house), the lack of stink and flies and critters was a huge plus.

But within a few months of feeding the beast, that ball became much too heavy to spin. In hindsight, I could have tried opening the larger 'door' on the ball and stabbing the garbage with a stick, knocking it around a bit to distribute the weight better. At the same time, though, the inside of the ball has bunch of arms inside that are hard to work around. Spinning the ball really is the best way to 'turn the pile', and that just wasn't possible.

We stopped spinning the ball (sadly, since it was so fun) and just began stuffing it. Without being moved, the waste inside kept shrinking down, and we just kept filling. I stuffed grass clippings, leaves, straw, veggie waste, spent plants. Never spinning it (trying sometimes with no avail), and I began to look at the ball as an interesting garden sculpture that may or may not ever give us anything...and that was keeping a lot of waste from going to the landfill. Since we always opened just one side, all we could see was the most recent waste, and I didn't think the ball was working. This past summer, I pulled a bit of compost from the bottom of the ball, but it seemed like such a tiny amount, and I began to lose faith that it would ever produce much. I built another bin out of pallets in the backyard with hopes of some real compost production, and began to think maybe we should get rid of the ball, to provide more precious growing space.

My opinion of the compost ball changed considerably last week. Noah and I were doing a little cleanup in the south beds and he started picking up dead leaves in the neighbors yard right next to us, and throwing them around. To keep him busy, I opened up the ball and told him to start putting all the leaves he could find in it. "But hold on, let me see if I can figure out how to move this thing around. If we ever plan to get compost out, we should have one the doors facing the ground..." I grabbed a stick and starting redistributing what looked like just old garbage, and a whole lot of straw, until I began to see the black peeking through. "Huh, do we actually have some compost?" With my stick I kept stabbing and moving stuff around, and it became apparent that there really was a large amount of beautiful black treasure hiding out. I just had to dig for it.

We hit paydirt!

Under a layer of straw, the black gold sat waiting

A 5 gallon bucket full may not seem like much to any experienced compost grower, but I am beyond thrilled. The compost ball can stay, even it isn't what I expected it to be. Instead of expecting new compost every few months, as promised by the ball's manufacturer, we will fill it every year and hope for a load of compost in the spring in the bottom of the ball. I stopped feeding the ball back in the fall, so there wasn't any super-fresh garbage to sift through, which is a huge plus!

I recently read an article about having several types of composting going on at once, and it makes sense. I'll have the compost ball slowly filling, the much bigger compost bin filling up and being stirred in the backyard, and my worm farm inside. (Yep, the worm farm is coming! Stay tuned!) The compost may not all be ready at the same time, and may not be used for the same purpose. But with three systems occurring simultaneously, I'll have access to a lot of good nutrients for my garden.

After our harvest, we started the cycle anew, with a fresh batch of waste.

We did have to reach in, move the straw layer aside, and grab/shovel the compost out--all of which I wouldn't dream of doing in the heat of summer for fear of critters (yeah, I'm a baby). But in the crisp cold of the early spring day, I had no fear going deep into the cool, black compost. And as the bucket filled up, so did my excitement to get this garden season going!


  1. That ball looks so cool! I actually love the idea of putting the things in it and forget about it attitude. Composting shouldn't be too complicated..

  2. This is so awesome! Congratulations on making that great compost, your garden will be so happy :) I've been meaning to ask you if you have a blog email address? You always leave such lovely comments on my blog and I respond to them, but unfortunately doesn't notify non-Wordpress users when a blogger has responded to a comment. I usually email the responses out to non-WP users!

    Also, I have a gardening question (I hope that's okay, I just don't know many other organic only gardeners!) When do you start using fertilizer? My seedlings are about 1-1.5 months old, are being hardened off this week, and are going to be container planted outdoors next weekend. Some of the tomatoes and peppers look a bit wilty and I think they are starving for nutrition. I wasn't sure if it's too soon to start fertilizing? Thanks so much, and sorry for such a long comment!

    1. Hi Cailtin! Nice to see you! :) I don't know if I have a blog email address or not, but I have been getting notifications from your blog. :) Thanks for thinking of me...I love your blog and I visit often.

      As for the seedlings; I usually feed my babies diluted fish emulsion every 2 or 3 weeks. If they are looking wilty, I'd go ahead and give them some. Have you used fish emulsion before? It's sooooo stinky, but the smell will dissipate..and your babies will be very happy.